Saturday, December 15, 2012

Praying for Families and Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.... In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears." (Psalm 18:2 & 6)

(On Sunday, December 16 during worship I prayed a Pastoral prayer based on the following…)

Lord, we sing joyful Christmas songs, but our hearts are broken -- pierced by grief over the tragedy in Newtown, CT. And while our secularized, happy-go-lucky merry Christmas celebrations have no words to address and respond to such senseless tragedy, the actual Christmas story of the Bible does -- an example of where the true Christmas story is more powerful than the watered down version that most of us celebrate in our culture today.

The true Christmas story of scripture reminds us that a similar tragedy occurred that first Christmas nearly 2000 years ago, when King Herod ordered the senseless slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem, as well, in his attempt to kill the future Messiah (Read Matthew 2:16-18). And there, the words of the prophet Jeremiah (quoted by the gospel writer Matthew) could well be the words of mothers and parents in Newtown this Christmas, as well: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:18).

And so, as we celebrate the holiday this season, help us remember that Christmas is not an escape from life, reality, tragedy, or challenge, but a poignant affirmation of the hope that it brings for a better world -- that in the midst of challenge and hurt was born one who is the Comforter and Healer of all; that in the midst of despair was born one is the Hope of the world; and that in the midst of violence was born one who is the Prince of Peace.

So, O God, when tragedy strikes our homes, communities and families, help us to face the day with hope and trust that your love with prevail in the end, even when senseless human choices lead to extreme pain and hurt. Give us courage to face the future unafraid, despite the awful circumstances and situations around us. In the name of your son Jesus, born to be our Prince of Peace, Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Travel Tips For Advent

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

The Christian season of Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day) is often called a season of preparation.  Not only are we preparing for the holiday of Christmas physically (with decorations, Christmas cards, shopping, parties, etc.) but also spiritually (by looking within ourselves for how God wants us to grow in our love towards Him and others).

With that in mind, a number of years ago I read an article detailing several “travel tips” that can help us spiritually “prepare” for our “journey” through the Advent:

1) PACK LIGHTLY: One of the indicators that our annual Christmas buying neurosis has gone wrong is this idea that those who give the most and get the most matter the most.  Such ill-gotten reasoning leads us parent-types to teach our children that Christmas is the annual bash we put on for ourselves, all the while trying to believe Bethlehem’s boy child is the “reason for the season.”  …But this myth can’t be disguised forever.  This year, why not pack lightly?  Rather than “shopping til you drop,” drop to your knees and ask the One Who Comes what he would have you do to make ready His coming.

2) WALK SLOWLY: Am I the only person who notices how rushed we get the closer “it” gets?  Was it only a few weeks ago that we started seeing signs saying “only 44 more days”?  Slow down.  Take time to sip cider with your mate.  Hug your kids.  Tell them the Advent-Christmas story and then live the story before them.  Refuse to sing Silent Night from a noisy heart.  Simply put, make the powerful emotions of these days your servants, not your master.

3) LISTEN CAREFULLY:  Someone you love very much is talking, saying something really important, maybe even life-changing.  Listen carefully and, who knows, you may hear the night wind speak to the little lamb and say “a child is born.” I can’t prove it, much less illustrate it, but I’m almost certain that most of us on the journey miss half the joy because we’re too busy talking; the sound of our own importance has drowned out the promise “I am coming soon.”

4) LOOK WISTFULLY:  Where, you ask, need I look?  My best advice is this: none of the obvious places.  Those who traffic in seasonal things know what easy prey most of us are.  “Get them in the stores, turn on the music and lights, plop the man dressed in red in the middle of it all and, bingo, it’s Christmas.”  Truth is, only those who look wistfully beyond what is to the One Who Comes really experience the mystery and miracle of Advent.  Why? Because Advent is a journey we take into the reality of the journey God made in Christ.  That journey, which included stops at such places as a stable, a hillside, a cross and an empty tomb, had one purpose:  to love the likes of you and me back to the God who created us.

So, journey on, fully aware that at destination’s end is the one who loves you and gave himself for you.  “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

[--Shared by Rev. Dr. Timothy Owings, former Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Augusta, GA in  an editorial in The Augusta Chronicle newspaper (exact publication date November or December,sometime from 1996-2000)]

As we continue to prepare for Christmas this Advent season, I invite you to allow these “tips” to become a reality in your life, as I seek to have them do in my own! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!