REV. JANE FLORENCE, FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OMAHA
Matthew begins his story of Jesus with a list of genealogy. He shares the lineage of Jesus' birth spanning generation after generation (Matthew 1). The roll call includes kings and paupers, noblemen and unknown, Hebrews and immigrants, a domestic violence survivor, a prostitute, a murderer and adulterer. Matthew must have had some purpose in naming all the skeletons in the family closet.
Matthew shows us divine work through imperfect human hands. Matthew shows us divine work that does not quit. Matthew shows us the wisdom and works of our ancestors that flows into us.
Peoples of the Middle East and the Far East, Celtic peoples of ancient Europe, native peoples of Africa and Australia, peoples from around the world were open to hear the wisdom of ancestral knowledge whispering through the generations. The same was true of early Christians. They told the story of Jesus encountering his wisdom teachers on a mountaintop (Matthew 17). Moses and Elijah lived centuries before Jesus, yet they shared in dazzling community together.
As we celebrate Emmanuel, God is with us, may we open ourselves to all the mystery and wonder of the universe. May we listen with open hearts for the wisdom of God's love birthing through our hands peace on earth and goodwill to all.
REV. GARY ELLER, OMAHA PRESBYTERIAN SEMINARY FOUNDATION
Every year preachers read from Matthew or Luke and try to say what Christmas means.
And we are far from alone. There is always Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” Handel's glorious “Messiah,” or even dear Charlie Brown to tell us once more “the real meaning of Christmas.”
This Christmas Eve let me invite you to try a slightly different approach. Thumb through your New Testament until you land upon the very short letter of Paul to young Titus. There, in Chapter 2:11-14, you will hear another voice alongside the gospels that points us toward the enormity of God's grace and love. At the same time, the letter to Titus underscores the importance of honoring God with our gratitude.
How might “an attitude of gratitude” change the way that we prepare for Christmas? How might our hopes and expectations for “a really good Christmas this year” be adjusted when the focus is on our gratitude to God rather than on a plan to pile up more stuff than ever? And what might our vision for God's new year just ahead of us be if we approach it too as a people filled with thanks rather than more treats than we should eat?
May the holiness of God be upon you and those whom you love this Christmas. And may your gratitude shine for all to see.
REV. TONY LOMBARDO, CHRIST OUR LIFE ANGLICAN CHURCH
When was the last time you were caught off-guard and unprepared? At a wedding in which I was a groomsman, I didn't realize until the last minute that I would have to give a speech at the reception; what a train wreck it was! My disjointed, rambling “speech” evidenced my lack of preparation, and I was embarrassed.
In our Gospel reading, we are reminded of the Advent figure, John the Baptist. What was the Baptist's role in God's plan? To prepare the people for the coming of Jesus!
Now, depending on what it is that you're preparing for there are a number of different kinds of preparation that might be appropriate. If you're preparing to take the ACT exam, you will need to bone-up on your basic math, science, English and reading skills. If you're preparing for a meal, you will need to go to the grocery store, cook and perhaps prepare the house to receive guests.
But just what kind of preparation is required for the coming of Jesus? In a word: change. Or, to use the Baptist's word: repentance.
The air just got sucked out of the room, didn't it? If there's one thing human beings resist and despise with all our might, it is change. And do you know what the hardest change of all is? The kind that implicates us.
To repent is to change, and personal change is the only appropriate means of preparing for Jesus' coming.
It's one thing to proclaim the need for personal change, but how does one go about this? It is to this question that the Apostle Paul attends.
In three short verses, Philippians 1:9-11, Paul provides a beautiful framework of the entire Christian life, designed to prepare us for Christ's return.
So, what's the point? Loving the right things, namely Jesus Christ and people, leads to genuine knowledge and godly wisdom; this results in a changed lifestyle that glorifies God. While loving the wrong things, what the Bible calls idolatry, leads to false belief and folly; this results not only in a failure to glorify God, but as many who have followed this path can attest, even our own destruction.
This Advent, let's examine our “loves”— for our preparedness, or lack, hangs on these!
DAVID EDWARDS, THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
Over the decades, my father-in-law has meticulously measured the growth of his grandchildren with pencil marks on the laundry room wall.
We have continued the tradition in our home, marking the top of each grandson and granddaughter's head on our laundry room wall. We measure their growth twice a year, when school starts and ends.
Each time we measure, the next pencil line is a few centimeters above the previous line. All the grandchildren are excited to study the new marks on the wall, clear evidence they are growing. Eventually the growth marks will remain the same and then they will probably lose interest. Their physical growth has been fun for us to chart, but the children's spiritual growth is not evident with this method of marks on the wall.
I believe it is through serving others that we can grow spiritually. It is during those times that we reflect back and remember how much we have spiritually grown. Unlike physical growth, where genetics and nutrition determine the final outcome, we can choose when our spiritual growth ends. It is through our church service, outreach to help others and attending church regularly that we can protect ourselves and insure that we never stop growing spiritually.
In Isaiah 54:2, Isaiah proclaims: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen the stakes.”
This reference “lengthening the cords” is about the tent of Zion where we make a small tent larger by pulling up the stakes of the tent and moving them further from the center pole. But the same principle can be applied to each of us suggesting that we stretch our spiritual muscle and improve our service to our fellow man.
At this Christmas season, let us make the service to others part of our gift giving. I believe that when a gift requires some sacrifice it becomes more precious, both to the giver and to the one who receives the gift of love and service.