Tag Archives: Advent

Jesus didn’t look like a King

Jesus didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  Kings raise armies and collect taxes.  Kings have subordinates.  They have grand, well-guarded homes.  They have pomp and circumstance. Jesus didn’t.  And yet people were talking about him.

“Pontius Pilate” by Michael Yazijian. The artist has a website at http://www.mikeyaz.com/

He was raising quite a fuss throughout the country.  There were stories of him feeding multitudes, healing the sick, forgiving sins, raising the dead, challenging authority, and disturbing the peace at the Temple.  People were talking, so when he was finally brought before the governor on charges of blasphemy and treason, Pilate already knew something of the man.  Pilate had heard of him, or he would not have asked him this question.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Pilate knew he didn’t look like a king.  He didn’t act like one either.  Jesus so much as admitted this.  If my Kingdom were of this world, Jesus explained, “my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders.  My kingdom isn’t from here.”

As far as Pilate was concerned, there was only one King. It was the man he answered to.  It was the man that gave him the power to rule.  The only King Pilate acknowledge was the Emperor of Rome.  All others were insignificant. Please don’t believe that Pilate was somehow a passive bystander as Jesus was led to the cross of humiliation, shame, and death.  Much evil has been done in this world by those claim that Pilate was an innocent bystander, manipulated by the bloodthirsty Jews.  Pilate was the unquestioned ruler.

Jesus stood before Pilate, accused of blasphemy, of which Pilate cared little, and treason, for which Pilate cared a great deal.  There was after all, only one King.

Jesus’ silence ultimately condemns him.  He never directly answers Pilate’s questions.  He never engages in Pilate’s rhetorical games.  Instead of answering questions, like a good subordinate should do, he responds with questions.  The Judean leaders had already made up their mind.  In the Gospel of John, they had decided long ago that he must die.  Pilate, who had little use for a poor Jew from the countryside, wanted only to maintain order.  So he had him crucified like he had thousands of Jews before.

“So, are you a king?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Left unanswered, the question has lingered through the centuries.  It has become a haunting reminder of Jesus’ life, ministry, and his untimely death.  It is a question that remains only for us to answer.

Jesus certainly didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  In two thousand years, that has not changed.  Jesus still does not look like a king, which continues to be a source of conflict in a world that worships power.

So, is Jesus King?

That question is now yours to answer.

Who is the King? Is it Caesar?  Caesar is the one who enforces order with the threat of terror.  His grip on power is only as strong as his army.  It is only as sharp as his sword.  Caesar is the one that rules by dividing.  He rules by accumulating followers that must serve him and him alone.  Any question or challenge to his authority is met with swift and devastating violence.  He guards the status-quo, protects the protected, and comforts the comfortable.  His peace has no justice.  His peace has no compassion.  His peace is no peace at all.

Who is the King? Is it Jesus? Jesus, whose power comes from being anointed by God.  His power comes from forgiving the sins of others, from welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the poor, the widow, the sick, and the foreigner.  His followers come looking not for favor, but for love, compassion and kindness.  His peace comes in the midst of terror.  He comes offering not vengeance, but the bread of life and the living water.  Jesus’ path to rule leads through humiliation, tragedy, mockery, and crucifixion.  Jesus wept for the death of his friend.  He wept for the people of Jerusalem.  His night in Gethsemane was marked with sweat drops of blood as he searched his own courage and found that God’s will was more important than his own comfort.  Is this the King that reigns?

He was the King that never looked like a King, and he lives and reigns and endures forever.  On this Sunday before Advent we pause for a moment and remember what we are celebrating.  Before the Church swings into high Christmas gear, we remember who reigns over it all.  Even though it might not look like it, we know that Christ is the King.

There are still many Caesars and would-be kings.  They sit on paper thrones and wear gilded crowns.  They are the kings of consumption, selfishness, revenge, bitterness, poverty, and disease.  The wield much power, and they continue to ask us all the same questions.

“So, is Jesus the King?”

Ours is the answer.

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You are Highly Favored

“It is no small thing to be highly favored by God.  Especially when you are acutely aware of how preposterous this idea truly is.”^

To know that you are higly favored by God can be a life-changing moment.  It is the kind of thing that changes your perspective on the world.  I remember when I realized that I was highly favored by God.  It didn’t come to me an instant.  It was something I realized over time, and when it finally struck me, it changed my world.

When you realize that you are highly favored by God, nothing will ever be the same.

For me it came in junior high.  The realization came to me when I realized that God loved me for me.  It came to me when I knew that nothing I did or said could earn God’s love.  When I knew that I was highly favored by God I learned that my missing homework assignment couldn’t change that.  My disappointing test couldn’t change that.  The things that I forgot, misplaced, or mishandled were not bigger than the steadfast love of God.

I can’t point to any one moment when I realized that I was highly favored by God, but it was no small thing, for it changed the way I saw myself, and it changed the way I saw the world.

In the Gospel of Luke we find Mary’s Song, also known as The Magnificat.  It is Mary’s song of glory after meeting Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, who was herself expecting a child whose conception was surrounded in mystery, was filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounced God’s blessing upon Mary and her child.  Mary’s response:

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Mary is highly favored by God, and it is no small thing.  When she came to that realization, she sang praise to God.  She realized that through her the promise of God would be fulfilled.  She sings a song of praise and promise.  It is praise to the God that has held her in favor.  It is praise of the God that will turn the world upside down.  It is a song of the promise of God that this has already been fulfilled in the baby she is carrying.  God’s promise has not begun with the coming of Jesus.  It has been fulfilled.

The gift of Jesus is from the God that scatters the proud and fills the hungry.  This is a God that has turned the world upside down by becoming flesh.  Everything would be different because of the coming child.  For all of this, Mary sings out in praise and thanksgiving.

This however, was not Mary’s first reaction.  A few verses earlier, when the angel told Mary what was coming, her response was marked with confusion, fear, and a quiet resolution.  It took Elizabeth to stir in her the power of praise.  There is a lot to be said of the bond of one mother to another.  Elizabeth was a person that Mary knew and presumably respected.  She was a relative – maybe a cousin, certainly older.  I like to think of her as Mary’s aunt.  Mary went to her Aunt’s house when she was in trouble.  She found there a woman who loved her, who comforted her, and who made her feel empowered in a way that even the angel could not.  I can imagine the remarkable bond between Elizabeth and Mary because I knew an aunt much like that.

In the midst of her trouble and fear Mary was given hope and grace through the words of someone that loved her.  She realized that she was highly favored by God.  Her response was a song that has lived through the ages as a testimony to God’s power.  It is a song that reminds us that God used Mary to fulfill God’s promise.  It is a song that we may rise and sing today.  In the midst of your trouble and your fear, I want you to know, “You are highly favored by God.”  Trust in God’s love, and your life will never be the same.

Know that God loves you and wants to use you to fulfill God’s promise.  You are highly favored by God, let your heart glorify the Lord.

 

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^I wish I remember where I read this.  As I was doing some reading for my sermon this Sunday on the Magnificat, I read these words on someone else’s blog.  They hit me with such a force that I didn’t even keep reading, but I built my sermon – and this blog – around this idea.  This might not be a direct quote, but I didn’t feel right not attributing this to someone.

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Waiting for the child

My perspective on waiting for Christmas was forever changed when my wife was expecting our first daughter.  During my first Advent as a  pastor, I was not only expecting the coming of the Christ child, but was eagerly anticipating the coming of my first daughter (who would be born in January).

Anticipating the coming of a child is like no other kind of waiting I’ve ever experienced.  We did our best to prepare.  We put together a crib.  We stocked up on diapers.  We were given clothes and books and toys and countless well-wishes and prayers.  We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our family and friends.  As we waited for the child to come we knew that we were surrounded by an entire church family that was eagerly waiting with us.

It was appropriate that the process of giving birth began in church.  At the end of a Bible study, surrounded by a few of our closest friends, my wife knew that the baby was coming.  About 18 hours later we were holding our daughter.

I held that precious, fragile, resilient little baby in my arms and I knew one thing: I was not ready.

There is no way to be totally ready for a baby to come.  There are certainly different levels of preparedness, but no one can anticipate, guess or even imagine what it is like to suddenly be entrusted with a child.  In that moment I knew that I would do anything – any thing – to protect that child and her mother.  She changed my perspective.  She changed my goals.  She changed my dreams, my hopes, my fears and my worries.  For the rest of my life my joy would be magnified by her smile, my despair would be multiplied by her tears, and my peace would depend on her safety.  A baby changes everything – and that is the message of Christmas.

The birth of Jesus changed everything.  The eternal Word of God was made flesh, and nothing would ever be the same.

At Advent we are called to prepare the way of the Lord.  There are many things that we can do to prepare the way of the Lord.  I’ve been tweeting #BeChristInChristmas with ideas and ways to work for the Kingdom of God during the Christmas season.  We can read the Bible, pray, study, worship, serve, and wait.  There are so many ways that we can prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but the fact remains is that we can never be fully ready.

The birth of Jesus changed everything, and as we move through Advent my prayer is that Christmas can break through the hearts and minds of all who would separate themselves from God.  Allow God to change your perspective.  Allow God to change your goals.  Open up and let Jesus change your dreams, your hopes, your fears and your worries.  Allow your Joy to be magnified by the glory of God.  Invite the Holy Spirit to weep with you in your times of despair.  May the peace of Christ – the peace that surpasses all understanding – be with you.  This Christmas, Jesus can change everything.

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Advent in Two Minutes

This is a great two-minute video that was produced by a Catholic group called Busted Halo.  They have a lot of short educational videos.  The one below is very good.  It explains the relationship between Advent and Christmas pretty well.  I found it by f0llowing @rethinkingyouth on twitter.  The Rethinking Youth Ministry website is a great resource.

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Healing

I love Christmas lights.  I don’t put very many up myself, but I love other people’s (from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.  I’m not so much of a fan of them on Valentine’s Day).  I especially love displays that have well-synced flashes.  I remember as a kid there was a house on our block that always had perfectly neat and straight lights running along their gutter, and they blinked in a way that created a wave.  I thought they were so pretty.  The ones I didn’t like so much were the ones that blinked, and you could could exactly how many strands of lights were strung together because each one blinked at a different time.  It seemed like every once in awhile they were merge and it would look like they were synced, but it was just a trick of timing and pretty soon they would all be random again.

I think our lives are a lot like Christmas lights.  Sometimes it seems like everything is happening at random and there is no way to sort out the mess.  Things are happening, but there is no way to make sense of any of it.  Then there are the times when we are synced up.  There might be a lot happening, but we feel like we can handle it.  I know that there have been times when the Christmas lights of my life looked liked this:

This is an amazing video to watch.  Isn’t it great when our lives feel like this?  When everything just seems to fit.  To me, this is what healing is all about.  Healing is not the absence of disease. It is the presence of order. The source of cure is the chemical compounds that I do not unerstand. The source of healing is the mystery of God that creates order out of chaos, creates light out of darkness, and gives new life to what was once dead.

Healing was a huge part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and as Christ’s Church it needs to be a part of what we are doing.  Unfortunately in most churches healing is seen either as a money-making gimmick of sheisters, or it is limited to the “concerns” part of the congregational prayer.

I believe we need to reclaim the healing ministry of Jesus.  We need to stop focusing on cure, and start thinking of how Jesus orders our lives.  That amazing light display took hours of time.  It took a central computer to coordinate all of the parts.  All of those blinks and flashes, if seen on their own, would have appeared to be nothing more than a random display.  But since all of those lights were plugged into the central source of power, you get to see this remarkable display.

Our lives are no different.  If we are not connected to the central source of power – the Holy Spirit – we will be nothing more than a collection of random blinking.  When we connect to the power that is offered in Jesus Christ, watch out.  Amazing things can happen.  Much more amazing even, then the video above.

So this Advent season, as we prepare the way of the Lord, let us first prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.  Do as Jesus said, and “Open Up.”  Open up to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Open up to healing.  Open up to forgiveness.  Open up to reconciliation.  Open up to grace.  Open your heart to the power of the Holy Spirit, and watch what can happen.

At Riverside UMC, we will be offering people a chance to open up every Wednesday evening in Lent.  We will come to the chapel with the sacrament of Communion laid out in front of us, and we will open up to the power of the Holy Spirit.  So come every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. and be healed.

Advent Poem

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Keep Christ in Christmas

I tell people, “Happy Holidays.”  Does that make me any less of a Christian?  I don’t think it does, but apparently some people do.  As we approach the holiday season, I am bracing myself for the onslaught of “Keep Christ in Christmas” slogans on facebook.  I decided to make a preemptive strike, and created this picture.

Happy Holidays

It seems to have struck a chord.  Maybe I’m not the only one that is tired of the righteous indignation of people that think that there is a war on Christmas because a department store puts up a sign that says “Happy Holidays.”

Believe me, I want to keep Christ in Christmas, but I’m not looking for Christ at JC Penny or Kohls.  If I want to find Christ in Christmas I will look to a local food pantry or a wardrobe ministry.  I will look to a homeless shelter or domestic abuse shelter.  If I want to find Christ in Christmas I will go to worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I will sing the songs of the ages, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.  I will invite my neighbor to worship with me, or I will read the Bible and pray.

Nothing can keep Christ out of Christmas if I endeavor to be the body of Christ this Christmas.  So please, spare me the “war on Christmas” rhetoric.

Do you want to know who is waging a war on Christmas?  Do you want to know who is spoiling the birth of Christ?  It is not the people that have the gall to greet you with “Happy Holidays.”  The ones waging a war on Christmas are those that think greed and discrimination are Christian values.   They are the ones that think that performance fleece, ipads, diamond earrings, and flatscreens have anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And before I get too carried away with this rant, let me pause for confession.  I know that I can get caught up in the consumerism of it all.  I enjoy buying presents for my family and my daughter.  I enjoy receiving presents, and am already thinking about “What I want for Christmas.”  I know that I will enjoy a holiday in a warm home with plenty of food, and a few gadgets that I certainly don’t need.  But I’m going to try.

I’m going to try and live simpler.  I’m going to try and seek the true gift of Christmas – the peace of Jesus Christ.  I am going to pray more.  I am going to read more.  I’m going to give a little more.  I’m going to sin, but I’m also going to forgive.  My economic gain or lower prices will come at the cost of another, but I’m also going to do justice.  I’m going to be selfish but I’m also going to show mercy.  I’m going to be very happy if this little picture catches on and goes viral, but I’m also going to try and walk humbly with my God.

I’m going to do all of those things because that, I think, is the true meaning of Christmas.

On twitter use #BeChristInChristmas to share how you are working for the Kingdom of God this Christmas season.

11 Ways to Be Christ in Christmas

Be Christ This Christmas – Another poster for Facebook.

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Keep Christ in Christmas

This is the time of year when people start to talk about the war on Christmas. It is a popular slogan to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” There is nothing wrong with that sentiment, unfortunately for many the battleground for the war on Christmas is in slogans, names and semantics. It’s just a matter of time before someone targets a store to boycott because they have the atheistic gall to put up signs that say “Happy Holidays.”

Keeping Christ in Christmas is about more than how you greet someone or what the sign at JC Penny’s reads, or what you call the decorated tree on the lawn at City Hall.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, do something that Christ would actually care about. Feed the hungry, cure the sick, share the good news of Jesus Christ, invite someone to church, pray for others, read your Bible. Those are the things that we can do to keep Christ in Christmas.

Here’s one way Chenoa UMC is trying to keep Christ in Christmas: by giving food to kids over Christmas break. We are trying something new at our church. It was an idea that started in a small group Bible study. Inspired by the call to Risk-Taking Mission, the group decided to try and make Christmas Lunch Boxes for elementary school students that would not have lunch over Christmas Break.

So they started collecting food, and telling others. In a matter of a few days a few hundred dollars and a table full of food has been donated. The principal of Chenoa Elementary was contacted, and a letter is going to go out to every student inviting parents to either make a donation or to call the church to get a Christmas Lunch Box.

We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we feel the power of the Holy Spirit in this mission. We know that there is going to be a child that wakes up on Christmas morning, and might not know a thing about Jesus or the Bible, but they will also not know hunger. That child will sit down at a table and eat a sandwich and Christ will be there – right smack dab in the middle of Christmas.

(If you would like to help with the Christmas Lunch-Box program, please call 815-945-7155, or send checks payable to Chenoa United Methodist Church, and mark them “Lunch Box.”)

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Advent Poem

I wrote and posted this poem last year, but only a few people were following this site back then.  It has a sort of Dr. Seuss rhythm that works better in some stanzas then others, but here’s my first try at poetry in over ten years:

“Established, Unfinished”
by Robb McCoy

Established, unfinished; at hand, yet to be.
For the Kingdom of God, we are waiting to see.

Where’s the Prince of Peace in the midst of such war?
Made the image of God, yet corrupt to core.
It is peace that we seek, for peace do we yearn.
While cities and buildings and children still burn.

Dividing walls built in hearts and with brick,
By people who hold onto Bibles so thick.
Telling us who we can and cannot love,
Like Pharisees all, they strangle the dove.

Through the darkness does break a beacon of hope.
In midst of rough waters a life-saving rope.
Lo a child is born in a manger so rough,
Letting us know that, YES, love is enough.

Love your neighbor, Love God, there is nothing more.
And at once the seams of the curtain, they tore.
In the midst of fighting and chaos and doom,
We know our Creator is saving a room.

The Kingdom of God is still unfulfilled,
We continue to struggle for what God has willed.
Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God.
Eat dinner with sinners, the poor and the odd.

Though sometimes the Kingdom comes painfully slow,
Together we struggle, together we go,
to the Kingdom of God, our victory won
Established, unfinished, our stuggle not done.

Another poem.  This one is called “Invitation (or Evangelism)”

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Etablished, Unfulfilled

It’s a little cheesy, and you can tell that I have been reading some Dr. Seuss with my daughter, but here’s my first try at poetry in over ten years:

Established, unfulfilled, here and yet to be.
People of God, unwilling to see.

Where’s the Prince of Peace in the midst of such war?
We’re in the image of God, yet corrupt to core.
Peace that we seek, for peace do we yearn.
While cities and buildings and children still burn.

Dividing walls built in hearts and with brick
By people who hold onto Bibles so thick.
Telling us who we can and cannot love,
Pharisees all try to strangle the dove.

Through the darkness does break a beacon of hope.
In midst of rough waters a life-saving rope.
Lo a child is born in a manger so rough,
Letting us know that, YES, love is enough.

Love your neighbor, Love God, there is nothing more.
And suddenly the seams of the curtain, they tore.
In the midst of fighting and chaos and doom,
We know that our Creator is saving a room.

The Kingdom of God is still unfulfilled,
We continue to struggle for what God has willed.
Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God.
Eat dinner with sinners, the poor and the odd.

Though sometimes the Kingdom comes painfully slow,
Together we struggle, together we go,
to the Kingdom of God, our victory won
Established, unfulfilled, our stuggle not done.

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