As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

When I was on vacation after Christmas I went to church and heard a sermon that was on Matthew 23, with great focus on the image that comes at the end. Jesus laments for Jerusalem saying:

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

The preacher referenced a mosaic that depicts this, so I wanted to track it down to share it with you. It is found at a church called Dominus Flevit, which means ‘the Lord has wept.’ It is located on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and its architecture designed to resemble a tear drop.

It is humbling to think of the care Jesus has for us and how it extends even to those who reject him. He is brokenhearted over Jerusalem and only desires to protect and love its people.

Dominus Flevit Mosaic

Let the Little Children Come to Me

There is a short section in Matthew 19 that deals with children who were being brought to Jesus. The disciple rebuke the people then Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

How many of you find this to be a surprising text? Surprising not for the way in which Jesus reacts, but for the way the disciples seek to prevent the children from coming?

I was thinking about my own reaction to the story, and I think it is a great credit to the church today that so many are shocked at the disciples. We read it and say to ourselves, “Where do they get off trying to stop children, of all people, from coming to Jesus?” But we only say that because so many in the church have worked in the intervening centuries to do as Jesus did and welcome children. Children are to have a place in the church and we celebrate them. So many places in our society leave no place for kids. They are a nuisance or inconvenient. But in a church that seeks to follow Jesus here, the very opposite is true.

If churches were not a place that embraces children as a legitimate part of the community, but rather saw them as not-yet-important part of it, we’d read this passage and be more surprised that Jesus welcomes them. What the disciples did was probably not unexpected to their audience, but thankfully when I read it I’m taken aback and say, “What were they thinking?”

Good thing Jesus set us straight.

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins

On many a Sunday I had the privilege to announce an “assurance of pardon” during our church service. We go through a confession of our sins and following that I draw attention to the fact that we can rest assured knowing that we are forgiven. But I’ve had the conversation a couple times about what it is I’m doing when I make such announcements. The point that I try to make explicitly clear is that I am not the one doing the forgiving. I can’t forgive someone for their sins. Nor can I make atonement for them, pardon them, nor cleanse them from those sins.

So why have this as part of a service at all? What am I doing? As I’ve written, I “announce.” Jesus Christ is the one who can forgive our sins, and I draw attention to the gracious work that he has done.

We’ve read this week in Matthew 9 that Jesus ruffles quite a few feathers when he tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. He is accused of blasphemy, as though he acting out of order. But Jesus truly is the one with the authority to do this. It says in Romans 8 that Jesus he has power to judge us, but rather than condemn, he came to this world to die for us, and even now he intercedes on our behalf.

That is a savior worthy of proclamation, and his work for us is something I have the privilege to announce. I cannot forgive sins, but Jesus Christ, Son of God, can and does, and the good news I share is that in Christ, we are forgiven.

God is still guiding history, and he won’t take a day off tomorrow

mayan calendarDon’t forget to set your clocks tonight–the end of the world is tomorrow.

Or so some interpreters of Mayan calendars would have us believe. But there are some real easy reasons to ignore this and the many other claims like it that come up every so often. We aren’t looking forward to the end of the world. We aren’t looking forward to the end of our time on the world, as if we were to be snatched away. We are looking ahead when Jesus Christ will come back. That is what we believe the future holds.

Not this week, but later in Matthew we are told we don’t know the day nor the hour this will happen. (So if someone is real specific, that’s reason number one they are wrong.) We are to live always with vigilance in anticipation of his return and live in light of his rule. We need not be fearful about the end, nor do we need to worry or panic about its coming. We have read this week that God came into this creation. He did not create the world, wind it up and then let go. We aren’t chugging along on our own. God has created this world, but he has remained intimately involved with it. No end of times would spring upon us as though it snuck up on God, too. We need not panic for this world is not out of his sovereign hands.

Christmas shows us that God still cares and has not forsaken his people nor his creation. The opposite is true–he still has a perfect plan for us and nothing can stop him. Not even the Mayans.

Bonus: Enjoy REM singing happily about the end…

Into Darkness Christ Came: Matthew 2 and Reflections on Newtown, CT

We know about the recent events of Newtown, CT and the depths of darkness we see in such a tragedy. It make me ache to think of those whose lives were snatched away. It seems difficult to celebrate with joy the coming of Jesus when the world looks so dark.

Sadly, that is just the sort of world to which Christ came. It is why he came. This place is not as it should be nor is it as it was created to be.

When Christ came, did waves of goodwill roll out from Bethlehem enveloping the whole world? Sadly no. Immediately the dark powers of this world were in full force. Jerusalem was distrubed, but the king–the man with power and power to lose–escalates the situation. Hate takes hold, fear drives him on. And so soon after Immanuel, Jesus Christ is born, children are slaughtered by Herod to protect his place as King.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2

How can we even claim to be a people–a world–worth saving? From his first to his final breath, we see how the world reacts to its savior. Jesus comes to bring peace on earth, to make peace between humanity and God. Yet Herod seeks his life at his birth, and the crowds are calling to crucify him before his death.

It is terrible. And this world can still be terrible. It can terrify us. But that is why he came. And that is why we need his peace. Only Jesus has the power and authority to say in John 14, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

But it is hard to live with his peace, especially in trying times. I am reminded of the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and this stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hate is strong. There is evil is this world. We can’t ignore that. We can’t deny it. The events of the world do not make sense if there is no sin. It is a powerful force pulling and pushing us. But there is more. Hate is strong, sin and death are powerful, but they do not have the victory.

It may appear that they do, but we are to live according to what is unseen. We are to step out in faith and believe that Christmas does mean peace on earth and Jesus has come to save. It does not always look like this has happened. But by faith we say we will not live according to the darkness. We won’t live according to the ways of the world nor the values or this world. We, by faith, seek to be children of light and live in light of God’s rule. We live as followers of a new way.

He did not design his people for hate and fear. He called us to love and service. We are called to live in a way that is a great ‘yes’ to God and his ways, and is a resolute ‘no’ to the evil we know tries to overwhelm the world.

Christ came into a world not unlike what we see now. Full of fights for power, with greed, fear, and hate. A world with sin. The fight looked to have been lost to all who knew him for those powers had won. The powers had put him on the cross. It looked like the day was lost–that love had lost. But we were wrong. Christ defeated such powers and did so through sacrifice, humility, love, and obedience. The cross looked to become a sign of the victory of all that is wrong in the world, but appearances can deceive. Hate was strong, Christ was mocked, there seemed to be no peace. Despair seemed the only option for his disciples.

But the truth of God can go unseen for a time. Sin and death were no match. We were wrong. When it looked like Christ had failed and God had died, he had won the victory. The Christmas carol concludes:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

By faith we hear those words and sing that song. There still is hideous evil in this world and we mourn. But we Christians are called to live out our hope. We live unlike those who believe hate gives strength and power prevails. We follow a savior who had power in humility and submission. Our savior died at the hands of evil, but he died for us, and he now lives. At this time of year we celebrate his birth, but every Sunday we celebrate his resurrection, and the resurrection is victory over the powers of sin and death.

Jesus Christ came to a world created good, a world that fell–but did not fall from grace. God’s grace endures. Christ came to this world bringing grace, making peace, and doing so because it is a place in the greatest of need.

Today the world needs Jesus Christ. We need him. Only he is our peace, and when we place our faith in him, look to him for our hope, and live in his love, then we make a stand. We draw a line and say ‘no.’ We will not let sin masquerade as sovereign on earth. We will not forsake this world to evil. God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Christ rose and we will carry his name into a world in desperate need and live according to his rule, anticipating the day when he will come again.

Advent reading this week for Year in the Bible

You may have been longing for some Advent readings for Year in the Bible and if so, this is your week. We are in the third Sunday of Advent and we open up the Gospel of Matthew. It is also our last of the four gospels and it’ll be a bridge from the Fall to Winter quarter.

Take your time with familiar passages like these. Even though we hear about Christmas every year, we always can return to these cherished texts. And it is easy to “hear about Christmas” every year and for that to mean a lot more about shopping and family get-togethers than Immanuel.

We are almost to our final winter quarter so keep your eyes peeled for an updated reading guide to take us all the way to the end.