Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email, provide your email address.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of "Christmas lists." Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red or green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the One whose birth they were celebrating.
If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God's service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23).
The most important gift we can ever receive is God's gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.
We pray that you will experience the peace of Christ
during this Christmas season.
The office staff will be taking a much needed break so Reflections will resume on Tuesday, January 3.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Prayer for Today
You overwhelm me with Your gifts, Lord. In return, I want to give You the very best present that I can. Please show me what You want most from me. Amen.
If you would like to follow along with daily readings from the Bible, you can find them at the PCUSA website.
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
One of my very favorite Christmas Carols, as performed by just about anyone, is the Little Drummer Boy, first penned as Carol of the Drums by Katherine Davis in 1941. It is the imagined story of the First Christmas through the eyes of a little boy who is invited to witness the miracle of the Christ child, and has no gift to offer but the playing of his drum.
The song has been popular for decades, perhaps because it was written in an era when so many people had so little to offer their loved ones at Christmas that wasn't handmade or didn't come from a store. That gift of the little drummer boy's talent and his presence over presents is a message that resonates still today. And it is scriptural.
In a day and time where the only day off was a Sabbath, a day given to God and not merely to self, the song was placed a context easily missed today. The modern concept of weekends and vacation days was unimaginable to those gathered at the manger. To be present was truly a sacrifice. By comparison, few of us have fields or flocks to tend. Being present to worship the Christ child is more about scheduling than sacrifice. And yet... are we present? Do we play our best for him?
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, will we bow before the Christ Child? Will we place all we have and all we are before the King? Will we bring and invite our children to the manger? Will we prioritize worship and make time in our busy traditions and gatherings to go and see this thing that has happened and about which we have been told?
I hope I will see all of you on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I hope you will go and find those who may be alone at this time. And then he will smile at you. Pa rum pump um pum. Amen.
Prayer for Today
Lord, come and fill my heart. Help me to come before you eagerly to offer all I have and all I am to worship you. Help me to find the time to be with you in worship as you have come to be with us in Jesus, Emmanuel. Amen.
When the weather is pleasant and I have the time, I try to walk to lunch at one of the nearby eateries. There are some really nice winding sidewalks along Medlock Bridge Road. But, the worst part is crossing at the light. First of all, it takes a while for the traffic signal to flash the white pedestrian crossing symbol signaling it is your time to cross. But even when you cross, the cars coming out of Bell Road do not always want to give you the right-of-way.
Yesterday, I walked the crosswalk at a brisk pace so the cars might still make it through the light. Once I got to the other side of the street, I thought I was safe -- until I noticed someone in a red car rolling down their window. I wasn't really looking in that direction until they yelled at me something like, "Hey, get out of the cross walk!"
As you might guess, my initial reaction was one of surprise and maybe a little anger. However, when I looked at the person yelling at me, it was one of our church members and a friend -- Bob Noland -- just giving me a hard time. (If you know Bob, this will not surprise you.) My expression of surprise turned to a big a smile when I knew who it was.
As I walked the rest of the way to the church, I thought about how quickly our impressions of others can change. What felt offensive at first quickly became a joke between me and a friend. That happened because of our prior friendship. Because I knew Bob, I knew Bob was not the kind of guy who would say something to hurt someone on purpose. I guess it reminded me how important our relationships are as we encounter others in the world.
This time of year we celebrate God sending Jesus in the world to build relationships - between us and God, and between us and . . . us. So may the peace of Christ fill your heart this season!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for sending Jesus into our world to restore relationships. As we draw closer to you, show us how we can come closer to one another. We pray this in the name of Jesus - the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:17 am
When you picture the story of Jesus' birth, how do you imagine it? If you were there as a character in the story, what do you think you would see? What would you smell? What would you hear? What would it be like for Mary to give birth in that place? What do you suppose Joseph is thinking/doing? What is the baby feeling or doing?
Read Luke 2:1-20
Think about the ways that Jesus would have been like any other child. Jesus was unique but also, he was a regular kid. Often, we think of Jesus as this perfect guy, with a halo around his head, walking on water. Why do you think it might be helpful for us to remember that he was a person just like us as well -- that he cried when he got his baby teeth, that he got hungry, that he played as a child, that he had to go through all the growing pains of the teenage years? What other regular human challenges do you think Jesus faced as he grew up? How might his life as a teenager have been like yours?
Jesus changed the world. What do you think about that? How is a baby born as a peasant into a violent culture able to change the world? In what ways, do you think the world is different because Jesus was born? In what ways is your life different? What do the lyrics "He showed us heaven with his hands and his heart" mean to you?
Take a moment today to name and pray for "children" of all ages both near and far in need of the good news of God's love that Jesus shared with his life and ministry.
Prayer for Today
Lord, whose light shines in the darkness, have mercy upon us. Christ, whose birth gives hope to all creation, have mercy upon us. Lord, whose advent brings us joy and love, grant us peace. Amen
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
-John 1: 1-5
I love the lights on our Christmas tree. When our children were younger we would have them wait upstairs until we turned on the lights on the tree so that they would serve as a beacon of welcome; the light shined in the darkness and the light welcomed in joy.
Recently I heard about the light of Christmas really shining in the darkness in a totally different way. Have you heard of Operation Christmas that was conducted by the Colombian military? They have been fighting a guerrilla insurgency for decades. Deep in the darkness of the jungles the guerrillas would make their camps from which they waged war. Many of the guerrillas are children who were kidnapped and forced to become fighters. Most of their mothers never quit praying for their deliverance.
The Colombian military decided that rather than by fighting force with force they would welcome the light of Christmas into the darkness of the jungle. So they chose 9 trees, 75 feet tall that lined a path that the insurgents traveled. The trees were decorated with Christmas lights with messages that encouraged the guerrillas to lay down their weapons and come home. It worked! Hundreds of insurgents returned home safely to their families and now live in peace. Truly the light of Christ shines in the darkness and serves as a beacon to return home. To God be the glory!
No matter what battle or war you might be fighting in your life, may the light of Christ come into your life at Christmas and shine brightly in the darkness.
Prayer for Today
Shine your light into our lives, O God, so that our spirits will be renewed and we will live in your glorious peace. Amen.
Each week as we light the candles on the Advent wreath we focus on one word. This Sunday it is love. In a devotion I was reading focusing on Advent and love, this scripture passage was included. This is not a passage that I read very often.
And I'm going to set aside a place for my people Israel and plant them there so they'll have their own home and not be knocked around anymore. Nor will evil men afflict you as they always have, even during the days I set judges over my people Israel. Finally, I'm going to give you peace from all your enemies. Furthermore, God has this message for you: God himself will build you a house! Your family and our kingdom are permanently secured. I'm keeping my eye on them! And your royal throne will always be there, rock solid.
-2 Samuel 7:10-11, 16
We like having our own space. A place that is ours, where we feel safe. One of the ways that God shows love to the people of Israel is through giving them this safe place all their own. It's been rough for them, so God declares that the people get their own space where they will be left alone, where they can rest. Sometimes, we are the ones that get a safe place, and sometimes, we are the ones that make sure that somebody else has a safe place.
What are some of the ways that you experience God's love for you? Go into this week knowing that you are loved by God. You always have been. You always will be. How can you go and share that love with the whole world?
Prayer for Today
God, thank you for safe places and for those who help make them safe for me. Show me how to do that for someone else so that they may feel your safe presence. In Christ's Name, Amen.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. - Micah 7:7
We love our rituals. In fact, we need them. They give us meaning and routine and a certain level of comfort. They serve as reminders to the things we value and prioritize. I have a ritual with our fourth grader when I drop him off for school in the morning. As we drive up to the school building and get in the car drop off lane, I have him repeat the following three phrases - One at a time after me... I am good. I am smart. I am loved... after which, I enthusiastically say, "Yes you are!" And he descends into giggles and he's ready for his day. It's one of my favorite rituals.
This week, as I was dropping him off, we completed that ritual and pulled up to the curbside. Usually, a teacher or the school resource officer is ready to open the car doors of everyone who has pulled up to the curb. On this morning, they were a little short-staffed. And as we waited, he had his hand on the door handle and was quietly chanting to himself, "I like waiting. I like waiting. I like waiting."
It brought to mind our ritual as believers of the season of Advent. The waiting time. And I wonder how many of us do the rituals, both the religious and secular, with anticipation, but without truly reflecting on what it means to wait for the Christ child. Do we find ourselves trying to convince ourselves... I like waiting. I like waiting. With my family in another state, and several years of transition recently, I find myself missing the rituals of an Advent calendar and daily readings of scripture that help to center my mind and spirit in a way that helps me enjoy the wait.
What are your rituals of waiting? Do you have a Calendar? An Advent wreath at home? Will you watch your favorite Christmas movies and quote the birth story from the gospel of Luke with cartoon shepherd Linus? This week, I hope you will find time at least once a day to sit and reflect and wait in the holiness of the moments that pass before Christmas comes. And I hope that you will share those practices and moments with me when I see you next.
Prayer for Today
Lord, I like waiting. As I wait, send your spirit to fill me and make my waiting a holy moment. As I wait for family, as I wait in line, as I wait in worship, help me to spend that time with you and to grow in faith and love this advent season. Amen.
Yesterday it was grey and rainy around Johns Creek. The day before, Pam and I had traveled up to Pennsylvania to hear our daughter Maggie's last Christmas Vespers Concert in the Packer Memorial Chapel at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. (We could not help but repeat our little joke that we were journeying to Bethlehem this Christmas!) I have never heard the concert before and it was amazing to hear the sounds of the choirs echoing around the cathedral dome.
Because Bethlehem is farther north, it gets darker sooner than here. The weather was colder up there with some snow still on the ground from the day before. And yet there is something about that kind of weather that makes me want to go inward. Maybe it is simply the cold and the desire to pull my coat up around my neck. Or maybe it is the weather that makes me want to be more reflective about life. While a brisk walk in that kind of weather may feel invigorating as the cold air fills your lungs, in the long run you just get cold, so I try to turn off my senses to the ever-increasing cold around me.
But, that just drives me inside where I think about things - life, the change in seasons, the meaning of Advent and Christmas. It is when I think about those things that I feel a sense of wonder about the amazing fact of Christmas: God came into the world in human form - the form of a little baby born two thousand years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. God thought it was important and necessary to come to us in the flesh - to be one of us. It makes we want to ask a question like "Why did God choose to do it this way?" There are many answers that have been given, but whatever the reason, God did not stand at a distance and send messages to us. God came in human form - God wanted to be with us!
As you wait for Christmas, remember that God is with you!
"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").
-Matthew 1:23, NIV
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for coming as "one of us." When we feel alone, tired, or even reflective - help us to sense your presence with us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:12 am
I noticed something new while I was reading on-line this week. My computer boots to a MSN news service and I explored a wide variety of options. My standard fare is Sports, Money and News; not necessarily in that order. As I surfed through my typical menu, I spied a new addition; one that I hadn't seen before. The title: Good News.
I decided to check it out. The first story featured an inspirational piece on Lowes hiring a veteran and his service dog. Another was about a Georgia woman who was fighting for her son with Downs Syndrome. There was a video entitled Churches divided by slavery aim to heal racial divide.
I'm not sure of the strategy, but the tab for good news was placed between crime and politics.
When you read the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthew 2 you see a reason for placing good news between crime and politics.
Matthew 2 begins with the politics of King Herod fearing that a new king was born on the horizon; at least that's the news to which the star pointed. When the magi wouldn't participate in Herod's palace intrigue Herod perpetrated a great crime, genocide, to obliterate the newly born messiah. He didn't succeed because Joseph, Mary and Jesus went into exile in Egypt.
Almost as if on cue, the tab for good news was nowhere to be found. It must have gone into hiding; just like Joseph and Mary hid the new born Messiah. Mysteriously the good news reappeared later in the week. Good news always finds a way to be proclaimed!
Here at JCPC the Lessons and Carols worship service serves as a welcomed reminder that good news is to be found in our church. Squeezed out in the world, every week you can hear the good news proclaimed in word and ritual during our worship. To God be the glory!
Prayer for Today
Ready our hearts to receive your good news, O Lord, and push away all the other noise that attempts to silence your gospel. In Jesus name we pray.
Joseph . . . whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. -Acts 4:36-37
An old Merle Haggard song, "If We Make It Through December," tells the story of a man laid off from his factory job with no money to buy Christmas gifts for his little girl. Although December is supposed to be a happy time of year, his life seems dark and cold.
Discouragement is not unique to December, but it can be amplified then. Our expectations may be higher, our sadness deeper. A little encouragement can go a long way.
Joseph, a man from Cyprus, was among the early followers of Jesus. The apostles called him Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement." We meet him in Acts 4:36-37 when he sold a piece of property and donated the money to help other believers in need.
Later, we read that the disciples were afraid of Saul (Acts 9:26). "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles" (v. 27). Saul, later called Paul, had formerly been trying to kill the believers, but Barnabas defended him as a man transformed by Christ.
All around us are people longing to be encouraged. A timely word, a phone call, or a prayer can bolster their faith in Jesus.
The generosity and support of Barnabas demonstrate what it means to be a son or daughter of encouragement. That may be the greatest gift we can give to others this Christmas.
Prayer for Today
Thank You, Lord, for the gift of encouragement. May we encourage others as they have encouraged us. Amen.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
There are lots of characters doing lots of things in this chapter of Luke. I don't remember the first time I read a scripture and imagined myself as one of the characters in the story. I was young. I often imagined myself as heroes and other characters in books like My Side of the Mountain and Robin Hood. So it seemed the next logical step. At some point, a teacher even encouraged me to do this. I've found it's one of my best spiritual practices for reading scripture. In fact, choosing different ones each time is challenging and helps me see new perspectives, to try on each person and perspective, to not only give that character a life and depth they had in ancient times, but to see things with new eyes.
This can be an amazing opportunity as you read these familiar stories at Advent. Perhaps you've always liked the shepherds and wondered at their emotions and experiences being invited in that way and being the first to see the Christ child. Perhaps there's a point of view you've never explored. Have you ever imagined yourself as a part of the heavenly host singing? Maybe you're a teenage girl and you've never imagined being a Magi or you're an older man who has never tried to imagine being a teenage girl expecting a child out of wedlock in that time and place. Or perhaps you're not of middle eastern descent and every point of view is new for you. Perhaps imagining being someone young and vulnerable from that area of the world who then has to flee persecution with your family would be a holy exercise for you this season that might shape your worldview and politics and radical hospitality.
As you read these stories at home this Advent, and I truly hope you do and will, and as you hear them read, my prayer is you will reawaken an imagination that maybe you don't use so often or for such holy purposes. I hope you will imagine you are these people in these moments. And I hope you'll allow the Spirit to come and fill you with insight and wonder, as they surely were.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to have eyes to see as your chosen people saw in Bethlehem. Help me to have a heart shaped by miracles. And Lord, help me to be transformed by these experiences and eager to share them. Amen.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV
For me this is actually one of the more brilliant passages of scripture. First of all, notice what it does NOT say. We may be tempted to misread it thinking it says, "Give thanks for all circumstances." And we would immediately think of some of life's circumstances which are awful and wonder why we should ever give thanks for something like that! When genuinely bad things happen, we should never give thanks for them. Thank goodness our scripture doesn't tell us to do that!
But, what this scripture does say is, "Give thanks in all circumstances." (Italics mine) There is a subtle, but very important difference. Giving thanks for all circumstances means we are somehow supposed to call evil good - and the core of our very beings reacts negatively against that.
But giving thanks in all circumstances means that even in the midst of the tragedies of life, God can and will work to create something good - often in response to the tragedy. For example, when someone is hurt or in trouble and someone else is willing to risk their own life to try to save them. Or, when someone is suffering and another person comes alongside them to be with them in their time of need. If we have eyes of faith, often times we can see the things for which to give thanks, even in the darkest times of life. They are the light of God's love shining through the cracks in the darkness.
In our Lords' Prayer, Jesus taught us to ask God to "deliver us from evil." I pray that you will not have to face the circumstances of life that fall into the category of "evil," but when you do, look for the love of God breaking through. It may be one reason that you can genuinely "Give thanks in all circumstances."
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we wish the circumstances of life were always good, all of the time - but they are not. For some of us our circumstances seem worse than for others. Lord, keep us from those difficult circumstances as much as possible, but when we face them - help us to see the reason to "Give thanks in all circumstances." We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 09:08 pm
A colleague recently shared this quote from Quinn Caldwell (All I Really Want: Readings for Modern Christmas), "There's waiting, and then there's waiting. Sometimes it's the oh-God-when-will-this-pain-end kind of waiting...but there's another kind...there's smelling the almost-done pie in the oven...there's feeling the baby kick you in the bladder a week before due date..."
Advent is a season where we experience both kinds of waiting. I have experienced seasons with both kinds of waiting in my life and they are each a reminder to me about God's promises for us. Advent is a season of both waiting for the birth of our Savior, and waiting for Christ's return.
While we wait, I believe Christ is calling us to remember this passage from Matthew:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" -Matthew 25:34-40
Our Advent calendar has already begun to fill up with wrapping presents, decorating the home, preparing for Christmas parties, addressing Christmas cards, and shopping for gifts. It can be difficult to set aside time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ during this season.
Jesus calls us to something greater in the gospel of Matthew. If Jesus is the person who is poor, hungry, in prison, then life is not just about what we can do for that person, but it's also about how we can be in relationship with them, meet Christ in them, and receive from them, too. I would invite you to enter the season of Advent with this in mind.
Advent is not only a time of preparing for the joyous celebration of Christ's birth, but a reminder that as Christians we are to be prepared to meet our Lord and experience God's grace in those unexpected places and unlikely faces. While we complete our gift lists and search for replacement bulbs in a strand of multi colored Christmas tree lights, we must also search ourselves and prepare for Christ's coming in our opportunities to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner.
Prayer for Today
Gracious and Loving God, Guide us as we enter this season of preparing for the miracle of Christ's birth. Open our hearts to share the joy of Christ's coming and unbridled love with those around us, both stranger and friend. Help us prepare ourselves to rejoice in Christ's coming through acts of kindness for those in need. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Gray, Heidi, and I shared a humorous moment as we were preparing for worship yesterday. We had made our preparations during the week so we were ready to lead worship, so as we milled around in the sanctuary,
I shared a dream I had the night before. I said that I dreamed that Gray had been looking for me and when he found me I asked him the time. In my dream, Gray said it's Sunday and 12:30 p.m.! I was supposed to assist in both worship services so this meant that I missed both services. Embarrassing!
Each of us laughed with Gray and Heidi sharing their own anxiety dreams about not being ready. I imagine most of you have had a dream or two when you were supposed to make a presentation and you weren't ready or prepared.
Being prepared is a major theme of Advent. Isaiah is often read during worship as we ready ourselves for the birth of the Christ child.
" A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
-Isaiah 40: 3
This dreamy vision of Isaiah is met with resistance even though it's good news! "A voice says, 'Cry out.' And I said, 'What shall I cry? All people are like grass and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall..." -Isaiah 40: 6-7.
Isaiah wasn't prepared to cry out as instructed. In the dream the time had come but he wasn't ready for the joy, hope, and love that was about to burst onto the scene.
Regardless of our preparations we seem to not be ready. Are you ready for Christmas today? I imagine not. Yet in a mysterious way that's part of the story. In our dreams where we aren't prepared, relief comes when we awaken and realize it was all a dream. In the story of Advent, the hope comes in that the dream is real!
Prayer for Today
Awaken in us, O God, the hope that dreams of your way are made straight in our world. Once again call to us to prepare, so that with heart, mind, and soul we will wait with joy for your arrival. Amen.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Do you ever talk to yourself? Sometimes when I'm working on a project-usually under the hood of a car-I find it helpful to think aloud, working through my options on the best way to make the repair. If someone catches me in my "conversation" it can be a little embarrassing-even though talking to ourselves is something most of us do every day.
The psalmists often talked to themselves in the Psalms. The author of Psalm 116 is no exception. In verse 7 he writes, Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Reminding himself of God's kindness and faithfulness in the past is a practical comfort and help to him in the present. We see "conversations" like this frequently in the Psalms. In Psalm 103:1 David tells himself, Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. And in Psalm 62:5 he affirms, Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
Reminding ourselves about God's goodness can keep us filled with His peace.
It's good to remind ourselves of God's faithfulness and the hope we have in Him. We can follow the example of the psalmist and spend some time naming the many ways God has been good to us. As we do, we'll be encouraged. The same God who has been faithful in the past will continue His love for us in the future.
Prayer for Today
Dear Lord, please help me to stay in touch with Your heart today by reminding myself of Your faithfulness and love.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:7-8 (ESV)
Facebook has a nice little feature called: On This Day. It lets you see posts from yesteryear, things you've posted on this very day a year ago or ten years ago, and so forth. On this day, 2 years ago, I'd shared a link to one of my sermons on "Tradition," a word on my mind lately. While my wonderful host family decorates the back yard (You've never seen the Zahnow backyard? Get that on your bucket list!) and my wife and I plan for a holiday that's mostly packed in boxes, our traditions are forefront this season.
One tradition that's fairly new is one I like to mention each Advent season, Elf on the Shelf. People are very divided on this little imp. If you don't know of this custom, parents get a little Elf on the Shelf, the kids name him/her, and then he sits in the house and watches the children's behavior and reports back to Santa. Teachers sometimes get one for their classrooms. Often, whether at home or school, while left unattended, the elf does mischief and makes messes around the room. Some parents rail against the expectations of more work in a holiday season. Some love the fun.
As someone who believes equally in grace and in mischief, this one is tough for me. I welcome a tradition that adds fun and anticipation to Advent for children. But I always add a word of caution about this tradition. As with Santa, we must be careful when we link gifts and good behavior. Because a GIFT is something unearned. If gifts are to be representative of the true gift of God's son or to represent the gifts of the magi, they are unearned, undeserved. We receive gifts not because of good behavior, but in spite of bad behavior. Any idea of Santa and his elves monitoring bad behavior for gift payout should be discouraged. It destroys any shred of the beautiful theology of grace.
So, be sure any elf of yours is a good-hearted elf, however mischievous, and that he's there for fun only. And, as you hang stockings or millions of lights, as you place your crèches and elves, do so in anticipation, include the children, and speak to them of God's great gift to us, unearned, undeserved, and so needed, God's light, God's love, God's son, Emmanuel. Teach them grace.
Prayer for Today
Lord, you sent your son into a world that did not deserve him. We are that world. Help us as we wait in hope for the coming of that light. Help us to see all our gifts as reminders of your grace and to share that grace with others, especially in this season. Amen.