Tag Archives: Advent

God’s People, part 144: Magi

Read Matthew 2:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12:3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

TheMagiPart 144: Magi. Last year, the church I currently serve participated in a town event which was trying to promote Small Business Saturday. While my church was supportive of being involved in it, and many of our members were there singing Christmas carols (mostly Christian carols, mind you) there was some buzz from others who thought that was a bad idea because the theme of the event was Harry Potter, and the church should not be “promoting sorcery and witchcraft”. Of course, Harry Potter is a fantasy fiction, just like The Chronicles of Narnia (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, but from the viewpoint of some people, there was “evil” at work behind the fiction.

During Advent, I raised the issue in one of the sermons I preached, regarding the Magi. In that message I said, “I find it ironic that some Christians get up in arms over Harry Potter because it is a story about wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians and astrologers; yet, their hearts get ‘strangely warmed’ when hearing the story of wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians, and astrologers coming to visit baby Jesus in a manger.”

Okay, so I stretched it slightly using the words “wizards, witches, sorcerers and magicians,” but I did so to make a powerful point” of which I’ll explain in a little bit. Still, the principal behind the words above is not scandalous or heretical; rather, it is the truth. In the account of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, we must realize several things in order to truly grasp the power of the account. Let me list those things off for you:

  1. The Magi were not kings, and we do not know how many of them there were. We often think there were only three because of the gifts that they brought; however, there is no evidence whatsoever that there were only three.
  2. The word magi is plural of the Latin word magus, and the Greek word magos, which was derived from the Old Persian word magâunô, which was the priestly caste that Zoroaster was born into. Also, magi is the root of the English word magic.
  3. The Magi were, thus, Zoroastrian priests who were known for their practice of astrology (reading the stars), as well as divination, both of which are forbidden practices in Judaism.
  4. The Magi would not have been sorcerers or magicians, properly speaking, because sorcery was forbidden in Zoroastrianism, and they viewed astrology and divination as a science. Still, for the Jews, astrology and divination are linked to sorcery in Judaism. Jews were supposed to steer clear of such practices and place their faith in God, not in their own ability to see the future.

What we have in Matthew’s account is amazing, then! These Gentiles/pagans from Persia traveled from the East, following the stars and divining that a great King had been born in Bethlehem. Matthew does not record this event as scandalous, though others would have read scandal into it, but as something joyous!

This story reveals two great things about God! First, God can and does work through anyone! Pagan or otherwise, Jew or Gentile, God can work through anything and anyone to bring people to Christ…to Salvation. Second, the Magi showing up that day (Jesus could have been as old as 2 years by the time they arrived) gave us a divine epiphany: God’s salvation plan does not just include one group of “special” people, but that the WHOLE world was to be blessed with Salvation through the Christ, just as God promised Abraham!

To come full circle, the point I was making in the sermon was that if God can work through divination and astrology to lead the Magi to Christ, surely God can work through fictitious novels such as Harry Potter. These things only have as much power as we put in them. God, ultimately, is the only true source of power and we should trust that God is working through us in the world. That is why I choose to participate in community events, even if I don’t agree with everything going on at them. God is the one in control, not me. What’s more, we’ll witness far more to God’s LOVE by being present in community, rather than protesting in opposition to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus met people where they were, he did not make people conform to him before engaging with them. We ought to learn to do the same.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to operate from faith instead of fear. Amen.

God’s People, part 143: Shepherds

Read Luke 2:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ShepherdsPart 143: Shepherds. We all know the nativity scene, right? Set on a starry night, fairly dark with the exception of the bright star shining down on a basic looking stable. In the stable, there’s Joseph along with Mary hovering over a manger (or feeding trough) with baby Jesus serenely lying in it.

Also in the manger are some sheep, a cow and a donkey. Just at the door of the stable are three kingly looking figures kneeling and giving gifts, while their camels await them outside. Above the door floats an angel pronouncing Christ’s birth. Finally, and no nativity scene would be complete without this, there are shepherds with their flocks, staring in a the babe with awe and wonder.

Seriously, we love the shepherds don’t we. We love that scene where they are outdoors tending to their sheep (a major sign that Christ’s birth was not during the week of the Winter Solstice) and the choir of angels appears to let them know that the son of David, the Messiah, was born that day in Bethlehem! We can imagine the glory of it all; however, the glory is where we end up getting lost in this story.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people in society. They were often viewed as outsiders because they lived apart from societies and were mostly nomadic. Almost always, shepherds were hired hands, tending to the sheep of others. What’s more, it was single men without children who became shepherds.

In some families, the shepherd was a part of the family. In those cases, the shepherd was usually either a youth or an elder who was not able to do harder work. The best Biblical example of this is in the story of David, who was out tending to the family’s sheep when Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse’s children as king. David was almost passed over because he was the youngest and out in the fields when Samuel arrived.

The point is, the Shepherd was pretty low on the totem pole in ancient Israel. As outsiders, they were viewed with suspicion and often with disdain. They often appeared like beggars, wearing dirty clothes and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture, if you know what I mean. They were not the folks one would invite to a kingly birth. Yet, the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold! Born to you this day in the City of David is the Messiah. You will find him laying…how?…wrapped in rags! You will find him…where?…lying in a feeding trough.

This king was the SHEPHERDS’ KING. And like the Shepherd, this king would be despised and distrusted. The challenge for us is to shift our understanding of God’s glory. It is not about kingly riches, a bright light show, and exquisite music. It is not Christmas as we know it; rather, God’s glory comes looking poor, beggar-ish, dirty, and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture. Let us shut down our over-the-top expectations and turn on our awareness of the REAL glory of God: Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” – Roy L. Smith

PRAYER
Lord, heal my blindness so that I may see from your perspective and not my own, for your glory and not mine! Amen!

God’s People, part 142: Baby Jesus

Read Luke 2:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The wise men] entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Iesus Christi, Filii DeiPart 142: Baby Jesus. So, here we have it. We’ve arrived at the birth of the Christ-child, and the delivery of Baby Jesus into the world. For those of you who have been religiously (pun intended) reading all 141 devotions that have led up to this point, you probably have been wondering what would be said about baby Jesus. Perhaps it is a surprise to you that I am talking about Baby Jesus as opposed to just Jesus himself.

If the latter is the case, put that question on hold for just a moment and bear with me. Yes, Jesus will be addressed more detail; however, it is important the 8-pound (give or take) baby Jesus gets his due so that it is possible to move beyond him. That may sound calloused, but I assure you it is not meant that way. I have nothing against the actual baby Jesus; however, sweet baby Jesus often becomes a distraction as to who Christ actually is and what Christ actually calls us to do. This is especially true within the church in America.

So, let’s talk about baby Jesus. It is important to note that the earliest Christians did not observe Christ’s birthday. To them, that was irrelevant because the Good News was not that a baby was born, but that God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. The Good News had nothing to do with an innocent baby, but everything to do with Jesus Christ who “though he was God…did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7a, NLT).

The earliest Christians did not view Jesus’ birth as special, but rather his life. More importantly, they viewed his death and resurrection to be the event worthy of observance. Thus, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter were always observed in the church from the Lord’s Supper onward through history; however, Christmas did not become an established feast day until Constantine and his successors in the 4th century.

In fact, only two of the four canonical Gospels even included a birth narrative. What’s more, while both narratives are in agreement as to Jesus divine conception and identity in God, they do not agree on many of the minute details surrounding the Birth. Matthew seemingly has Mary and Joseph living in a home in Bethlehem with no mention of any sort of census or journey from Nazareth. Luke, on the other hand, has Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth, and he has them traveling to Bethlehem for the census.

Matthew has the Holy Family living in a home when Jesus was born, Luke has the family in a manger because there were no guest rooms available to them. Matthew has Jesus visited by wise men and chased after by a megalomaniacal king, whereas Luke has Jesus visited by poor shepherds. You get the idea. The two accounts differ in such ways and, again, there are only two accounts out of the four that even bother to mention Jesus’ birth at all.

This is not to knock Christmas, as I happen to love that holiday and I look forward to celebrating it every year.  With that said, we need to come to a place of recognition that if the baby Jesus is the only Jesus we really pay attention to, we’re in error to say the least. Let us be challenged to seek out the risen King Jesus who is our sovereign ruler.

For it is that Jesus, not the cute baby we would rather not have grow up on us, that calls us to follow him. It is the risen Jesus who commands the direction of the Christian’s life and who we ought to worship. Anyone else and anything less is an idol. This Christmas and all Christmases, reflect upon the risen Christ who is Lord, and turn your hearts over to him who died for you so that you might live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter.” – George B. Hinckley

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move past your birth so that I might be consumed by your resurrection. Amen.

God’s People, part 141: Baby John

Read Luke 1:57-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”  (Luke 9:23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JohnTheBaptistPart 141: Baby John. One may be scratching their heads and asking why on earth would someone be writing about baby John? After all, there really isn’t anything in the Bible about baby John, is there? John isn’t really talked about until he’s a full grown, hairy, sweaty, locust-eating adult, right?

Well, that is mostly correct. John isn’t directly spoken about in the Nativity story with brief reference to him leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. In fact, it is only in Luke where we hear anything at all about the John’s family or his birth. In Mark, the Gospel starts with John baptizing folks and in Matthew, we first hear of John when Jesus shows up at the river’s edge. In the Gospel of John, we again first see John at the Jordan river baptizing people.

It is only in Luke, where there is any back story on John’s birth, on his family, and on his connections to Jesus. In fact, we find out in Luke that John is the cousin of Jesus, as both of their mothers are cousins. This fact is never even hinted at, let alone mentioned in the other three Gospels. Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, John is not just the forerunner crying out for people to repent and heralding the coming Messiah and his Kingdom, rather, he is also a blood-relative of Jesus’ and is a part of the extended Holy Family.

What’s also important to note is that, because of the miraculous nature of his conception and birth, John is seemingly dedicated by his mother to be a Nazarite. While the word Nazarite is not to be found in any of the accounts on John the Baptist, there is evidence in the Scriptures to back this up.

First, a Nazarite was someone who was dedicated to the service of God. They were not to cut their hair, or drink intoxicating liquors of any sort. Nor were they to handle or consume anything made from grapes. They were also to avoid becoming ritually impure. The Nazarite was someone who was considered holy unto God, and thus filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 1:13-15, Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

Thus, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to raise his son as a Nazarite from birth. At the end of chapter one, the author confirms that John’s family raised him according to God’s wishes as expressed through Gabriel: “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel” (vs. 80, NLT).

What if  Zechariah and Elizabeth decided not to follow through on that? What if they thought it unfair and even wrong of God to demand that their child be forced to follow the strict Nazarite code? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have listened to Gabriel and forced the Nazarite vow upon your child?

Would you never give him grapes, never let him attend funerals of family members, never let from getting married (sex ritually defiles a person due to the contact with bodily fluids), etc.? Would you send him off to the wilderness to live so that he has no temptations to live like the other kids in his neighborhood?

The challenge for us is to recognize the kind of commitment God is looking for from each of us. That’s not to say God is calling all of us to be Nazarites, but that God is calling all of us to be committed to Christ. Are you willing to forego all things for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow the Lord of all Creation, even if it costs you your very life? Reflect on these questions honestly, and draw yourself closer to the Christ, who denied himself, picked up his cross and died so that we might have abundant life in service to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How willing are we to follow Jesus Christ and how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

PRAYER
Lord, I am far from being as committed as I should be. Work within me so that those parts of my heart that are hardened to you and your call, may be softened bent toward your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 139: Elizabeth

Read Luke 1:5-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed…when I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  (Luke 1:42, 44 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

elizabeth-and-johnPart 139: Elizabeth. Here, in the New Testament, we come across a familiar tune as we saw with women such as Sarah in the Old Testament. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin according to Luke, is an older woman who is married to a priest named Zechariah. Luke says that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in God’s sight; yet, he also records that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child and, thus, her and Zechariah never had a child. On top of that, Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very old.

We don’t know very much about Elizabeth other than that she is the much older cousin of Mary of Nazareth. I think, for that reason, it is important to pause and add some perspective to this story. In the end, the perspective will help us to look inward at ourselves and so that we might find areas in which we, as God’s people, can grow.

First, it must be noted that there is a trend in the Bible to paint the women as being the ones who are barren. It must not be passed over that the Bible was written mostly (if not entirely) by men, and the society in which it was written was very much a patriarchal society. What does that mean? Patriarchy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Thus, the focus is centered much more on Zechariah than it is on Elizabeth.

With that said, Luke is somewhat aware of that in his Gospel, for he tells how Zechariah ends up as the one who is silenced and Elizabeth becomes the one who has the voice. In fact, one cannot fully appreciate that until they realize that the society in which this Gospel was written was patriarchal. With that said, the Bible is filled with accounts of barren women, but there are no accounts of infertile men.

This was not necessarily intentional, but it does reflect the way that their society looked at men versus women. If a couple could not have a child, it was the woman paid the social price. She was considered “barren” and not able to have a child. If you stop and think about it, it is quite possible that Elizabeth was fertile and it was Zechariah who was infertile. Luke records that Elizabeth was barren, but how did they really know it was her and not her husband who was unable to reproduce.

I state this not to counter what the Bible says, but to make us aware of how easily we can scapegoat and stereotype people in way that are not so healthy. Regardless of who was infertile or not, God caused a miracle to happen and Elizabeth and Zechariah conceived and gave birth to a child. The challenge for us to reflect on how society informs who we are, both positively and negatively. In what ways do our social norms, rules and regulations form in us biases that are not of God? In what ways do we judge people based off of our social standards as opposed to God’s? Let us reflect and tweak where God is call us to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is our footing, our foundation, our structure, our walls, our ceiling, stairs, windows, and doors. Make Christ your home, not society.

PRAYER
Lord, immerse me in your presence and help me to make you my home.

God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JosephFatherofJesusPart 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 137: Mary

Read Luke 1:26-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said…Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them.”  (Mark 3:21, 31 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

the_nativity_story_15Part 137: Mary.

Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum. Benedícta tū in muliéribus, et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus. Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus, nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen.

You may be scratching your head and saying, “Well, that’s Greek to me.” Actually, it’s not Greek, but it is LATIN. It is the traditional Ave Maria prayer that has been set to some of the most beautiful music. My favorite rendition is Gounod’s setting of the prayer to his own arrangement of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846.

The prayer reads in English as follows. “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. It is a prayer to the Jesus Mother Mary, who is seen by Roman Catholics as set apart from other women because she is the Mother of God Incarnate. Some protestants like to state that this is idolatry; however, it really is NOT idolatry but rather an expression of reverence to Mary who did, Biblically speaking, who was set apart and chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation into the world. As a Protestant, I do not believe praying to Mary herself is necessary, or even effectual, but I do understand what is at the heart of it even if I believe it to be unnecessary and misguided.

The issue I have with this prayer, and our general image of Mary, is that it paints her as someone who is too holy to be human. We imagine her as a reverent, quiet, compassionate, loving woman. We think of her as having a halo over her head and as having guided Jesus from childhood to adulthood and preparing him for his ministry.

Roman Catholics, in fact, have the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which lies the belief that God removed Mary’s sin at the moment she was born. In other words, she was born untainted by sin due to God’s divine will. This doctrine officially came about under Pius IX during the 12th century in order to explain how Jesus was born without sin. If his mother was without sin due to divine intervention, then that makes the explanation easy.

Sadly, it also takes away the divine mystery of the Incarnation. What’s more, the Gospels do not all agree on how much on board Mary was with Jesus or his ministry. The power of the song, “Mary, did you Know?” (one of my all-time favorites), lies in the Biblical possibility that Mary did NOT know. For instance, while in Luke Mary clearly knew what was going on, in Matthew it is less clear how much she knew. In Mark, she seems to not only be ignorant to Jesus’ teachings and methodology, but to also be disapproving of him doing ministry in the first place. Don’t know what I am talking about, read the today’s suggested Scripture.

The challenge for us is to recognize that each of us is human. We must not put anyone on a pedestal as if they are holier than the rest. Whether it be Mary, the apostles, our pastors/priests, etc., each human being is just that: a human being prone to wander and sin. The only one who was and is sinless is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Let us put our trust in Jesus and show the kind of humble faith that Christ is calling for.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ in John 14:1.

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you. Have mercy on me when I don’t and guide me toward trusting you again. Amen.

The Path to the Dark Side

Read 2 Timothy 1:6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31 CEB)

yoda-jedi-councilOne of my favorite film series of all times is the Star Wars saga. I grew up watching the original series of films, “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “The Return of the Jedi”. While many people criticized the newer films, finding them to be more about special effects and less to do with plot and character development, I actually disagree with that. The Phantom Menace for example, which was my least favorite of the films, was still filled with the same story and character development as the others. And we find great wisdom in it as well.

In it we come across a young Anakin Skywalker who, as all fans know right from the get-go, will one day become Darth Vader. With that said, he wasn’t always bad and, in fact, a Jedi comes to see great hope in his abilities to naturally tap into the force and so he decides to train him. In order for Anakin to be trained, however, he would have to leave his mom (both he and his mom were slaves) as the Jedi could only secure his release. As it would any 9-year-old boy, having to leave his mother behind devastates and distresses him and he vows to come back and free her one day.

Yet, before any future Jedi can be trained, the council has to approve the person to be trained. Thus, the Jedi brings Anakin before the council to be questioned and, hopefully, approved. While they are impressed with Anakin’s natural ability to sense and use the force, Yoda (who is the head of the council) is concerned for this young boy as well. He states that he senses fear in Anakin. “You have much fear in you. You fear the loss of your mother, don’t you?” Yoda interrogated. Anakin replied defensively, “What’s that have to do with anything?”

Yoda’s face turned even more concerned. “Everything,” he exlaimed back! “Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering.” What Yoda is trying to convey to young Anakin is that, while fear is a natural part of life, if we allow it to control us it will lead us to dark and, often, deadly places. This is a profound truth and we don’t have to think far or wide in order to reach it. Look at post-World War I Germany. It lost a major world war, had been dumped with the expenses of that war by those who fought against them, and they had fallen into a terrible depression. Along came a young man, who was a former soldier, and would-be leader, who sensed the fear of the people, drummed up that fear, and used that fear to scapegoat groups of people as being the ones holding Germany down. Ultimately, Adolph Hitler’s personal fears, as well as the fears of Germany which he preyed upon, led to the rising up of one of the greatest evils in modern human history. Yes, fear is the path that leads to the dark side.

We live in such a fear-driven world right now. We are a people who are fearful of each other, we’re fearful of our leaders, we’re fearful of people with different politcial viewpoints, we’re fearful of people from other countries, we’re fearful of people from other religions, and we’re fearful of terrorism and a very real existenital threat to our lives and to our way of life. All of these things strike fear into the hearts of people; however, it is in that fear that I hear people suggesting all sorts of things that, in another time and place, they would be horrified at hearing others even suggest.

For us, the question is not whether or not we will experience fear. We will! The question should be for us, in the voice of Yoda, is this: “What, to fear, will your response be? Hmmmm?” Will you succumb to your fears and place your faith wildly in the winds of rapid response? Or will you place your faith in force…rather, in the presence of God? Will you let your fears drive you, or will you let your God guide you? The one way leads to the dark side (e.g. anger, hatred, and suffering), the other way leads to forgiveness, mercy, compassion, hope, love, joy and peace. Yours to make, young padiwan, the choice is.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” – Sophocles
PRAYER
Lord, drive my fears far from me, for they are not of you. Fill me, rather, with faith and hope and love. Amen.