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Happy New Year! I thank all of you friends and folks for your warm New Year wishes and visiting my blog. On this first of a new year 2010 I pray that all of us lead a happy, peaceful and prosperous life all year round. I just found a poem by English Poet Lord Tennyson about embracing a new year. I just want to share it with all of you.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Once again have a great new year!

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His Kingdom Will Come…

“The Lord will settle international disputes. All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end.” Micah 4:3 NIT

In the time of Jesus the people of Israel were still looking forward to this restoration. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples were confident that Jesus would go about fulfilling Micah’s prophecy by ridding Israel of their Roman occupation and bringing them peace and prosperity. But their hopes were dashed when he died. However, after his resurrection from the dead, the disciples quickly resorted to their earlier hopes and asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus made it clear in his response that his kingdom was not that kind of kingdom. Instead, he indicated that Micah’s prophecy would be fulfilled when his eternal kingdom, populated by the redeemed, is established.

This is the kingdom for which Christians pray repeatedly, “may your kingdom come soon” (Matthew 6:10) and about which Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Wars will cease one day, but only when Christ’s eternal kingdom comes. Until then, Paul’s words speak loudly: “Do your part to live in peace with everybody, as much as possible” (Romans 12:18). We may not be able to stop war. But by God’s grace we can obey this command and, “as much as possible,” live in peace with others.

In Hoc Anno Domini

So the Light came into the world…

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression—for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since in the Wall Street Journal.

Christians awake salute the happy morn
by John Byron

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God incarnate and the Virgin’s Son

Then to the watchful shepherds it was told
Who heard the angelic herald’s voice: “Behold,
I bring good tidings of a Saviour’s birth
To you and all the nations upon earth
This day hath God fulfilled His promised word;
This day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.”

He spake, and straightaway the celestial choir
In hymns of joy, unknown before, conspire
The praises of redeeming love they sang
And heaven’s whole orb with alleluias rang
God’s highest glory was their anthem still
Peace upon earth and unto men goodwill

To Bethlehem straight the shepherds ran
To see the wonder God had wrought for man
And found, with Joseph and the blessed Maid
Her Son, the Saviour, in a manger laid
Amazed, the wondrous story they proclaim
The earliest heralds of the Saviour’s name

Let us, like these good shepherds, them employ
Our grateful voices to proclaim the joy
Trace we the Babe, who hath retrieved our loss
From His poor manger to His bitter cross
Treading His steps, assisted by His grace
Till man’s first heavenly state again takes place

Then may we hope, the angelic thrones among
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song
He that was born upon this joyful day
Around us all His glory shall display
Saved by His love, incessant we shall sing
Of angels and of angel-men the King.

May we all be able to have awoken this morning and rejoiced in the celebration of Christmas.

And May God Bless Us, Everyone!

The Eve of Christmas…

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)…” Luke 2.

The reading of the nativity narrative from Luke has been a part of my every Christmas Eve dinner since I was born. This is one of our enduring family traditions, giving focus to why our family is gathered, what the celebration is about, and beginning our worship cycle for the year.

The family sits gathered at the Christmas table and my father’s basso voice deeply enriches the Word as he reads from the Gospel of St. Luke. We listen, and give thanks for family and friends gathered near and far. Those with us and those separated from us are remembered in prayer. We pray fervently for our nation and her leaders, and continue to petition that His peace be spread on earth, and that we continue to have good will toward all men.

We pray our thanks for the blessings of each other, and our own, asking for each of our family and friends to remain safe and finally concluding our pre-meal devotion in simple praise for the events of a little over 2000 years ago.

We then go to church and watch the Christmas pageant, hearing and seeing those words, still fresh on our minds, acted out on stage.

For me, and my family, this is the way Christmas should be – a day focused on our Savior deigning to become human and dwell on earth with us for a while.

The Gospel of St. Luke is all about what happens to common people in a world that is dark and then suddenly the glory of the Lord is revealed. Like the characters in Luke, the players in a church Christmas pageant are common. Common children and basic costumes, replete with forgotten lines, stage fright, and funny bloopers.  But, what a story these children tell. In all that is common, a quite extraordinary story is told. In all that is commonplace about that quiet night, and extraordinary moment occurs. The Christmas program reveals God coming to earth as an infant. The quiet night reveals to us that the world will be no longer silent.

God meets us. God is revealed to us. All this glory through a baby that Mary and Joseph called Jesus.

Max Lucado says it best in his book, “The Glory of Christmas.” He writes,

“There is one word that describes the night he came – ordinary.

The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were diamonds sparkling on black velvet.

The sheep were ordinary. Some fat. Some scrawny. Common animals. No history makers. No blue-ribbon winners.

And the shepherds. Peasants they were. Probably wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just as wooly.

An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of the ordinary, the night would have passed relatively unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.

But God dances amidst the common. And that night He did a waltz.

The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep; the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.

The night was ordinary no more.

The announcement went first to the shepherds. Had the angel gone to the theologians, they would have first consulted their commentaries. Had he gone to the elite, they would have looked around to see if anyone was watching.

So he went to the shepherds. Men who didn’t know enough to tell God that angels don’t sing to sheep and that messiahs aren’t found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough.”

God didn’t come for the perfect. God didn’t come for those of us that have it all together. He didn’t come for those of us who can go through life on our own. God came for the clumsy. For the meek. For the frightened and the lost. God came as the most helpless of all creatures – an infant – to show us that we need not be rich or famous or special for God to love us.

Isn’t it funny that these little Christmas pageants that we have year after year, appear to be so mediocre compared to what really happened that night? What if we tried to recreate here, the spectacular events that unfolded the night Jesus was born?

To start, it could begin fairly simple. Just some shepherds resting on a Judean hillside, watching their flocks of sheep. Our shepherds could just be standing over to the side, tending to a few of the younger children wearing sheep ears.

But then, what would we do next? How could we portray the next scenes that play out? Suddenly the scene is filled with the light of glory. This light of glory is beyond anything we can ever imagine. How would we portray that? No lights we have could do that. We’d have to have a million deer shining lights for that.

And then the matter of the angel, and another and another, until there becomes a heavenly host, and the shepherds become terrified. We’d have to have 500 people playing the parts of angels, strung up on the ceiling, singing the most beautiful music you have ever heard in order to try to recreate that event! And that would not come close to doing it justice.

Maybe the point isn’t to see how spectacular one can make a Christmas pageant. Decorations and costumes and technology isn’t what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about welcoming the baby Jesus with an open heart. It is about believing that God has done a wonderful and special thing by coming down into our world.

It is about wanting to make room for a Savior to be born. Only for us, the Savior will be born in our hearts. What in your life needs that newly born Savior? Where are you hurting the most? What needs to change for you this year?

Remember that we are told, “With God anything is possible!” (Phil 4:13) With God, we can be comforted in our grief. With God, we can overcome depression. With God, we can pursue long-held dreams. With God, we can reach out to serve others in ways we never imagined.

I pray that each one of us can be moved with the gift of Christmas. May each one of us, in our own ways be filled with the gift of grace that came in the form of a baby.

As we prepare for the coming holiday season, the pageantry, the anticipation, the exchanging of gifts, the subjective increase in good will between people, the lights, the trees, the decorations, family, friends, neighbors, and the breaks from school and work one begins to think about the meaning of this time of year.  People get into all sorts of debates, everything from “commercialism v. religious observance”, to “’holiday’ v. ‘Christmas’”.

While preparing for Thanksgiving last month, some of my students heard the reason why a celebration for giving thanks to God was such a huge deal. The Puritans didn’t believe in celebrating what we consider “traditional holidays”. They believed it violated the regulative practice of worship. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there are some today that continue this concept of 400 years ago.

There are many devout Christians that do not celebrate Christmas or Easter. Part of the objection of these modern day Puritans to celebrating Christmas is the legend of Santa Claus, a wholly understandable objection. It is argued that the making of Christmas wish lists, writing to Santa, and hoping for gifts requested is covetous and therefore sinful. It feeds into the sin of greed, and this leads to the increasing commercialism of the season. These are traits that certainly take away from what is often referred to as “the reason for the season”.

Another argument is that the against the celebration of a “made up holiday”, is that it was placed on the calendar in order to coincide with the pagan observance of Saturnalia. My question to those today that do not celebrate Christmas, yet call themselves Christian is this: “When is it ever a bad time to commemorate the Grace of God in His sending of His only begotten Son to us as a human, to live among us, to prepare for the day He was to take on the sins of the world, past, present, and future, sacrificing Himself for our salvation.? To me this is a worthy cause of celebration.”

If you say December 25th is a bad time, given the history of that period of the year and previous pagan celebrations, when would be a good time? Then I challenge you to explain why one time is inherently “better” than another when discussing the eternal gift of salvation. Discussion of this point, of course, logically leads to the celebration of Easter. When is it a bad time to commemorate the life of the Savior of the Universe?

While one can make the make the argument that Christ’s birth is not clearly documented to determine with any degree of accuracy to a time period certain, the same cannot be said of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These events are specific to the Jewish calendar. These events occurred during Passover, a religious observance that had been celebrated for more than 2000 years before Christ walked among us.

This is a holiday in which even the name “Easter” is derived from the pagan Celtic goddess “Eostre”. If you celebrate Easter, but not Christmas I would love to have you explain your logic behind that one. If you celebrate neither, how can you call yourself a follower of Christ when you refuse to acknowledge the very culmination of His purpose for His life on Earth?

Was it not Him that directed us: “Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!

15 The LORD has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.

17 The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “The sorrows for the appointed feasts
I will remove from you;
they are a burden and a reproach to you.

19 At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you;
I will rescue the lame
and gather those who have been scattered.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they were put to shame.

20 At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the LORD.

Canticle 9

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Philippians 4:4-7

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told

them. 14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Networking has been an established social function in society for as long as there have been people. We often use our connections to get us into social circles and places we might have difficulty getting into alone, or feel awkward if going alone, as I would have this morning when I went to a friend’s church with her.

On television shows and in the media we see people getting things they want because of their family connections or social circles. Most of us have probably done the something like that too. For example, we would rather go to someone we know or to someone recommended than go to a stranger for a haircut or to get our car fixed. That sort of networking is harmless, right?

But when does it cross the line? What about when we find ourselves connected to an individual or a group that demands respect when, in fact, they are driven by arrogance and a misplaced sense of entitlement? Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t you know who I am?” Have you ever witnessed someone being excused from what would normally be inexcusable behavior because of their connections to a family, a community, or even a belief system?

It doesn’t just happen on TV; it happens anywhere there are people. And it isn’t just a modern day issue.

We hear John the Baptist in our gospel today chastising the crowds before him for this very thing. “You brood of vipers!” he accuses.

“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

What vivid imagery! What a dire warning. But most of all, what a reminder of the power of God.

John is telling the crowd and telling us that what our ancestors have done in the past doesn’t matter now. It is what we do in the present that matters. There is an immediacy in John’s declarations. God’s power is being stirred up, and we don’t know what form it is going to take or what the outcome will be. We are powerless before the mystery of God.

Like anyone who feels threatened, the people in the crowd listening to John wanted to avoid judgment, avoid God’s wrath, and avoid pain. They panicked. Human nature hasn’t changed much over the centuries. We still feel the same way in the face of the unknown. We want to control it, we want to analyze it, and we want to have power over it. When we can’t do that, we transmit our anxieties to others who we think we can control and have power over. Exploitation makes us feel better.

It seems as if greed, accumulation of material things, and apathy toward others can create a protective shield around the fearful trembling of our distorted hearts. Like the strange, frightening picture in Oscar Wilde’s story of Dorian Gray, our true selves, our inner selves that should be turning to God, end up atrophied and diseased as we slowly become monsters of our own making, while everything on the outside seems to be going along swimmingly.

“What then should we do?” We ask with the despairing crowds.

John tells us we must bear fruits worthy of repentance. We must turn to God – our hope and our salvation.

This calls us as individuals to decide how we will open our hearts, tearing down our useless shields, to let the love of God, through righteousness and justice, bear our fruits of repentance. It is through righteousness that we restore the relationship between us and God, as well as the relationship between each other; and through justice that we restore our relationship with material things – being good stewards of all that we have.

John, in essence, tells the crowds, the tax collectors, and soldiers that the first step to a restored community as God intended is to redistribute wealth and stop exploitation.

Each individual’s decision is key – it is the idea we have today of thinking globally, but acting locally. Systems don’t change all at once, but through one person at a time. This may be something as small as being honest if a cashier gives you too much change back or going through your closet to give away clothes that another can use. Every small action leads to a larger transformation, not just of ourselves, but of the world around us.

We are to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Our hearts are filled with expectation and questioning.

We know the answer to the crowd’s question of “Who is the Messiah?” because we have heard this gospel story before. Yet, even though we know that God is about to do something new by being with us in the flesh – Immanuel “God with us” – and we claim to believe that God is still doing something new – revealing, redeeming, sustaining, and moving in the present time – what are the fruits of our repentance? How are we living our lives with righteousness and justice?

We hear the prophet Zephaniah and the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the goodness of the Lord in our Scriptures today; what hope they hold! “The Lord is in your midst,” Zephaniah exults. How then, do our hearts respond? Are we living as if we believe this?

Sometimes it seems that since the gospels were written in a different time and different place, they are not applicable to the world we live in today. What we often forget is that the same God that came among us back then is in our midst now, stirring up power, doing new things. The God of the gospels is the God of the twenty-first century, and He is still calling us to transformation.

If a doctor diagnosed someone with heart disease or diabetes and then gave that person instructions on how to keep it from getting worse, we’d hope that person would follow the doctor’s advice. After all, we trust doctors to prescribe the right diet and medication. But if we ignore our doctor’s advice and adopted the attitude of “this can’t happen to me,” then we are just asking for trouble.

So, too, with our spiritual lives. John the Baptist is helping us prepare a way in our hearts for the Lord to come.

This is an exciting time. We do not know how God will stir things up – but we do know that God’s work always comes to good. If we don’t clear a path, then how will we be able to respond with joy when the Lord is in our midst? How will we be able to hear the call for transformation in our lives and in the community around us if our shields are up?

We have the choice to allow God to come afresh into our lives, giving us new eyes, deeper wisdom, and profound compassion. We have the ability to repent anew and to affirm the covenant made in our baptism, proclaiming the good news to all people. This is no longer our parents’ choice, or our grandparents’ choice, or our ancestors’ choice – we cannot rest on their laurels. The choice is ours. May we choose wisely.