Today is Epiphany. The day in the Christian calendar we recognize that God opened the Good News to all people by the star lighting the path for the Wise Men to find Jesus. What a great image of prevenient grace. God reaching out and using all means necessary to project a path to hope eternal. While the star would have been obvious to all – don’t miss that it was travelers from the East who took the time to notice and wander in the star’s direction.
May we lift our heads this day to the grace that is all around us but that often goes unnoticed.
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Book of Common Prayer
“I doubt that there is such a thing as a measure of spirituality, but if there is, gratitude would be it.”The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies) by M. Craig Barnes
If there is one metric to measure our faith, I am with Barnes that it is gratitude. The level of gratitude in our lives points toward an inner realization of what we have received. Little gratitude indicates a self-dependence, merit-based “I deserve” or “I earned” this mentality. Gratitude shows the inner posture of humility stemming from the realization that all we have is a gift from God (often through grace bearers God places in our lives.)
I also believe gratitude stems from a life well-examined. It’s not that we don’t want to be grateful, we often just rush to the next thing in our life and don’t take the necessary time to reflect and allow the gratitude to swell.
Rather than goals this year, I am focusing on habits, systems, and ways of living. Goals come and go. Once completed they are set aside and we take up new ones. But habits and systems form us for a lifetime. It has been said that we form our habits and then our habits form us.
I have been practicing gratitude by journaling for a few years now. It is part of my morning devotion. Taking time each day to reflect upon God’s gifts. A simple thing, not a time consuming thing, but an act that nonetheless changes me for the good as it shapes my perspective as a steward of grace instead of a consumer of goods.
1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
There are moments in time when you know God is up to something. It may not be a clap of thunder or an earthquake. It may rather be a timely word spoken confirming what you have already been thinking about or praying over.
It happened again for me as I listened to Mike Powers preach yesterday. Truth be told I was with him when he taped it on December 22nd! And he brought to our attention a good word for 2021. It is a word that I have been using and praying for the past few months. It’s a word that I don’t often use because it can be misconstrued as God likes one person or group over another or somehow we have done something to earn something from God. But there it was – once again – and this time from the pulpit and from someone I trust with God’s word because he has proven trustworthy.
What is the word?
I have been praying for God’s favor over the congregation and our families as well as my own life since the pandemic started. To know God’s blessing and to be a part of what delights God.
It’s not favoritism. It’s favor. It’s not getting something because God likes you more, or somehow you have earned it. Big difference.
Favor is God’s Spirit at work in your life so that you may work in someone else’s life.
It is God working in a situation so you too may do the same.
Praying and living into God’s favor is acknowledging that all gifts are from God and all gifts are meant to grow our love for God and love for others. Praying God’s favor is praying that God may work in a way that lifts all lives and offers our own as avenues for doing just that. It’s being in the game not standing on the sideline.
Favor – it is just what we need. A good word for 2021 and always.
Jesus was Born…just let that sink in for a moment. The infinite, uncreated, second person of the Trinity took on human flesh through being born. He didn’t just appear in Jerusalem at the Temple one day. He didn’t descend upon a mountain and wait for people to come and find him. He was born.
And while his birth is not a sacrament in our denomination – it is most assuredly sacred, and holy, and filled with grace. The ultimate expression of heaven and earth colliding is a babe lying in a manger in a far away home. The ordinary has become extraordinary. The subversive – sublime. The one who created us now makes his home with us.
And it all started as he was born –
Born during a census to remind us that in this world we will always have people more than willing to tell us what to do, where to go, and how to live. There will always be competing voices; compelling visions; coercive overseers demanding our attention. Meanwhile, God rests comfortably in a humble out of the way stable acting as a respite; a counter-proposal; and a subversive hope to the claims of the culture. Gentle and mild. Humble and meek. Peace in the midst of chaos.
Born in the city of David to remind us that God always keeps his promises. Noah, check. Abraham, check. David, check. Todd, check…you, check. In an uncertain era it is good to know that we have a God whose nature is fidelity to his word. So, of course he would be born in Bethlehem. That’s what he said he would do.
Born of a virgin so we might be reminded that all things are possible with God. The Lord chose to demonstrate what is possible by showing us that he can handle the impossible. Jesus would say it in his own words to the disciples much later as a reminder that the eye of a needle is more than capable of passing a camel if God is involved. Our Lord is capable. We are in good hands.
Born in a stable/cave so we might know that God’s work may be, at times, out of sight, but it is never out of reach. Our God is a grass roots, walk beside you, share your burdens kind of Savior. Humble. Never pretentious. Approachable. For heaven’s sake and our own – he was born in a barn!
Born in a stranger’s dwelling to demonstrate how dependent we are upon one another’s hospitality. Hundreds of miles from home. Without family or friends to depend upon. The newborn savior was at the mercy of a stranger. What kind of God does that? Entrusts the Word made flesh to a person without doing a background check or asking for references! The kind who says life is best lived giving people the opportunity to help rather than keeping others at arms reach.
Born in the flesh so we might be born of the Spirit. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, one evening late, about what it means to receive salvation. You must be born of “water and Spirit” Jesus said. The finite and the infinite. The temporary and the eternal. Born of woman and of God.
Born once so we might be born again.
What would it be like to start all over? No, better than that. To start from where we are with all of our past forgiven, our current doubts/anxieties/ sins healed, and our future secure.
[2 Cor 5:17-18] – 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
That is what tonight is all about. New beginnings. Fresh starts. Open doors. It is literally and figuratively pregnant with possibility.
Please don’t miss this moment. Jesus was born and it is our reminder that the new day has dawned. Let’s be morning people shall we?
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made to be your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit: through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever.