Category Archives: Christmas/Advent

Magi Remixed: More than Sparkle & Shine

TZ-Star-of-Bethlehem.grid-6x2The story of the magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem could have ended much differently.

We know that these men from the east were likely royal astrologers in the court of the Persian or Babylonian King. They were obsessed with the movements of the stars and planets. They found great meaning in tracking their orbits and phenomena such as supernovas, eclipses and planetary conjunctions. They spent their lives with an eye in the telescope, and loved every minute of it.

They spent their lives as keen observers of the heavenly bodies.

Now imagine that they remained merely curious observers when the Star of Bethlehem made its grand appearance in the night sky. Imagine they came together and merely studied and marveled at and talked about this strange star rising in the sky?  Stars have all the qualities of the things in life that grab our attention and delight our eyes: They are bright, shiny, majestic, sparkling, alluring. They invite us to ponder the transcendent quality of the created realm, they “declare the glory of God” and “proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19).

In a phrase: They command our attention. And this is exactly the danger or temptation that faced the magi 2,000 years ago. They could have quite easily remained merely observers of that brilliant star. What a tragedy is when we are content to merely stare at an object that is intended to draw our attention to something far greater! Continue reading Magi Remixed: More than Sparkle & Shine

Wisdom is Pure (Jas. 3:17)

“Every good and perfect gift is from above,” James the brother of Jesus writes. This Advent we’re exploring the divine gift of wisdom that God desires to place under our trees, or into our hearts.

In James 3:14-16, we see what the counterfeit wisdom of the world looks like and produces. It is characterized by selfish-ambition, jealousy and factions, deceit and arrogance, and wherever such so-called wisdom is operative, it produces disorder and every kind of evil.

In contrast to such worldly wisdom, James 3:17-18 shows us the divine wisdom from above and what produces. The major argument of this series is that there is a wisdom that helps us get ahead, achieve personal success at the expense of others and leaves a trail of broken relationships in is wake. Jesus came to earth to show us the wisdom that helps us experience success and health in all our relationships.

We are unwrapping seven different characteristics of this divine wisdom from above found in 3:17, and how they can revolutionize our relationships with others.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. (James 3:17)

Let’s begin with the first gift today.

But the wisdom from above is… Continue reading Wisdom is Pure (Jas. 3:17)

7 Good & Perfect Gifts

Are you seeking that good and perfect gift this Christmas?

While the crowds chase after bargain deals at the malls on fitness watches, iPads, and other treasures, we’re inviting our congregation to ask for the gifts that don’t come in boxes under a tree this Christmas.

James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (1:17) and one of the most valuable treasures from God is Wisdom. “If you need wisdom,” James writes, “ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (1:5).

Now, most of us associate wisdom in the Bible with the Book of Proverbs and King Solomon. Solomon was once visited by God in a dream, and given the opportunity to ask God for anything!  Solomon famously asked God for wisdom to reign wisely over his kingdom.

God granted him wisdom, and he certainly was one of the wisest people to ever live. His wisdom helped him prosper in politics, building projects, international relations, and more. He accumulated unspeakable amounts of wealth. He was widely esteemed and sought after for his wisdom.

But…despite all his wisdom and success in many areas of life, he still failed in his personal relationships. When it came to his family and especially marriage(s) he proved to be a fool.

James offers us a new, improved, Jesus-shaped “wisdom from above” that takes us beyond the wisdom of Solomon, and helps us be wise and successful in our relationships!  This Advent we’re focusing our Sunday sermons on the 7 attributes or results of this higher wisdom from above that Jesus teaches us.

Imagine how your life and relationships would be improved if you were to receive these seven gifts this Christmas? Let’s unwrap each one this week — one each day — and reflect on them over the coming weeks.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

Far from being the pithy sayings of Proverbs or practical tips for “getting ahead”, this “wisdom from above” looks conspicuously like the fruit of the spirit, or the beatitudes, described elsewhere in the New Testament. Moreover, they are all characteristics that reveal themselves in our interactions with others. They are relational abilities and skills that help all our relationships flourish when present.

This week, ponder how each of these might aid you in your daily interactions with a spouse, child, coworker, or hard-to-love person in your life. Imagine how these 7 would aid us in our political conversations with people we disagree with.

Wisdom from above is:

Monday – pure

Tuesday – peace loving

Wednesday – gentle at all times

Thursday – willing to yield to others 

Friday – full of mercy and good deeds

Saturday – shows no favoritism 

Sunday – sincere/honest

Here’s a great introduction to the Letter of James from The Bible Project.

Scholar or Magi?

A friend passed this reflection on the Magi along to me. I’m not sure who wrote it but it’s a good challenge. -JB

I can see you there, you scholar, you teacher of the law, with your important position in Herod’s court. Busy, busy, busy with the work of the day.

The court stirs…a contingent of Magi from a far off land are welcomed in. They come with a question: where is the new born king, whose rising star trumpeted his arrival? You are summoned. Do you know the answer from your studies of the Holy Scriptures? This is your moment. You have studied. You know the answer. Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” Bethlehem. A few miles away.
The Magi are appreciative. Perhaps even impressed. Herod is troubled. He allows no competition. You wonder how this will impact your career, your work in the court.
Did it ever cross your mind to leave the confines of the court and travel with the Magi those few miles to Bethlehem? Did it occur to you that if God was calling people from far away to a Messiah born on your doorstep, that there was an invitation to you as well?
I will never know if those thoughts ran through your mind. But I will learn from your example.
To be busy with things that the world sees as important can put a person in danger of missing the greatest invitation from God.
Slow down. Listen. Where is God’s invitation to you today?

O Eve!

This was passed along to me – a very powerful image to ponder in this season of waiting, expecting, longing and hoping for the Christ who steps into the Darkness of our fractured world. -JB

From Ben Sternke:

The painting below was created by Sister Grace Remington of Our Sister of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. Try taking 5 minutes (seriously, set a timer), and just take the painting in.

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O Eve!

My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Forever
Life without end.

Makes me cry every time! We need this, don’t we? We need to learn to wait in hope, looking to Christ to save us from ourselves, and also to guide our feet into the path of peace.

I’ll leave you with the ending of a Eucharistic prayer we prayed every week in our first church plant:

Come and make of your gathered people
the real presence of Christ for the world,
living our prayer and praying our life
till earth and heaven are reconciled,
and all are free as Christ is free.

Quotables: St. Thomas Aquinas

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and how thy light.

Praise to thee in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
Those who trust in thee thou saves,
All thy mercy stands revealed.

-St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)