That time has come when families gather to share meals and memories together. Many, however, will have an empty table. Some have one or more empty chairs.
My family has lost three family members this year. Their absence will scream to us. I chose to accept the absence as life’s final stage while I strive to fill that space in my heart and mind with happy memories from gatherings we had in the past. Yet work toward making new ones.
I am so thankful for each one…Mother, Uncle, Cousin… who was part of my life. Because of them my heart beats a happy beat and my face wears a smile even though my heart has been bruised and broken with their passing. It was wonderful knowing each of them. They left me a better person than I would have been had I not known and admired them.
I think of the words of Mr. Roberts, the TV star from yesterday’s programs. In his neighborhood he liked people as they were; not for what they wore, not for what they did, but for what they were. And with those words, I am determined to have a happy thanksgiving this year. Yes, I shall recognize the empty chairs. But there will be occupied chairs and their will be food to share, so, it is now their time. Perhaps, they will see a broken heart can love them just the way they are.
As I write this much of the Midwest as well as the eastern coast of the USA is experiencing wind , ice and massive snow storms. Highways and businesses are closed. Some are trying to get home while others are home and can’t get out!
In the second gospel, the book of Mark there is a story of a storm that came suddenly. The storm raging in the USA was predicted but the storm in Mark was not. You know in life we will experience storms both expected and unexpected. How do we survive? Can we prepare? Why do storms come to us?
Let’s look at the story in Mark and see if we can discover possible answers. Firstly, notice chapter 4 verse 35….. Jesus was talking to his followers and said ,”Let us cross over to the other side.” They were standing by the shore as evening was approaching. Evening was NOT a good time to cross over! Apparently though, they had faith enough to do what he said because verse 36 tells us they boarded the boat and left the multitude. Notice other boats went along too.
Now, listen, they were doing exactly what Jesus directed them to do. Yet a storm came….A TERRIBLE WIND STORM. I am a world traveler and can tell you for a fact that is a scary situation. Not only does a ship ride massive waves but is rocked and dipped to and fro. It is upsetting mentally, physically (as ones stomach churns) and emotionally as you wonder what to do to save yourself! I believe the passengers had those feelings too. Notice, they looked for Jesus….wise move! But he was asleep! What?! Asleep!!!
How could he sleep? Perhaps because he had already announced to them in the beginning that they were going to the other side. Did they miss that? ( Did you?) When Jesus speaks, it is truth. You can believe HIS word. I feel sure Jesus had no jitters, upset stomach, questions, concerns, because he had said they would go to the other side.
Notice, He did not say we will go smoothly, quickly, or any other way…He simply said we will go and he went with them. It is human nature sometimes to question why storms come to us. Perhaps we even judge the severity and think that means we have fallen short. Not always.
Christians, living on earth will experience life just as all humans do. Sometimes those storms are frightening. They can be financial, emotional, physical, Large and raging or small and sneaky, but cause us to question, lose focus, become sick with worry.
Lastly, notice Jesus did not rebuke them for having fear, but for not having faith. Yes, dear ones, life will throw out some surprises but we must keep the faith.
Is Jesus abiding with you? If we want to survive we must get in his boat. It is the only one going to stay afloat. Then we keep the faith!
Look at those gates. Were they made to hold livestock in or to open and let them out? They could do either, you say. I think a new year will afford us options too. We can open and find life, We can open to experience, or we can close to keep what we’ve had and let the old familiar stay with us. After all, change can be uncomfortable even sometimes painful, so why move?
Consider the fact those gates cannot do anything. They must be placed then operated by a living being. You are facing a new year….just as we all are. Will you change and experience life? All living things change…good or bad, fast or slow…change occurs. Are you ready?
Consider the faithfulness of our living God. He has set in motion a sun to always shine as it travels from sunrise in the east to setting in the west… every day and every night. No matter where we travel on planet earth we can see the faithful display of a living God.
Revelations 2:10 reminds us to be faithful unto death and receive a crown of life. You see, there is never a time to , “shut the gate,” We must keep on keeping on.
May you journey be joyous, your travels tearless, as you swing open 2016.
The shepherds’ lives were ironic. Their job was to care for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of their handling of these dirty creatures, they themselves were unclean and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law. And because they were ceremonially unclean, they were often regarded as untrustworthy, irreligious, and poor in reputation.
Nevertheless, it was also expected that one who did his job well, a good shepherd, would be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. A good shepherd was someone who cared deeply for the lambs under his watch, many of which were appointed to die on the altar of the Lord for the sins of the very people who looked down on the shepherds.
The shepherds’ lives were, in effect, sacrifices.
On one particular night, in the pastureland skirting Bethlehem’s northeast side, some shepherds sat like sentinels at their posts, keeping watch over their flocks, unaware of the angel regarding them from the skies overhead.
What would an angel think of their strange vocation? It was God’s idea that in this world sheep would depend on shepherds to watch over them. The Maker could have made them differently—and yet there sat the musty men with their staffs and their rods, cooperating with the order of creation, lest the beasts under their care perish. Though their solitary work afforded them many silent nights except for the words they chose to speak or sing over their flocks, this night would be different.
A sudden, glorious light shone in the darkness as the angel of the Lord appeared among them. The shepherds were terrified. Of course they were. So wide was the gap between God and man that whatever information an angelic messenger was dispatched to deliver seemed more likely to be bad news than good. They were afraid because they knew they had reason to be afraid.
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. Listen, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”
The angel’s words painted a picture of the glorious presence of the promised Redeemer. He used names to describe the coming Messiah to these shepherds—names that spoke to the Messiah’s purpose. He called him the Savior, meaning that he would atone for the sins of the people. He called him Christ, distinguishing him as their deliverer. He called him the Lord, identifying him as divine.
The shepherds might have wondered why the angel chose to reveal this to them. This sort of news seemed to belong to people of influence or nobility. It was hardly the kind of report they ever imagined would be exclusively for men of their vocation, let alone reputation. But then the angel used one more expression that brought overwhelming clarity to this moment. He told them that Christ the Lord had been born “unto you.” The divine Savior and Messiah had been born unto them!
Though they lived most of their lives on the outside looking in, they would not be outsiders to this gift. They were the recipients of it.
This was big news. The shepherds sensed it, but the angels in heaven knew it, and their behavior offered a glimpse into the cosmic weight of this announcement. Initially, it was just one glorious but solitary angel who appeared to these men in Bethlehem’s fields. But as soon as he announced Jesus’s birth, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”
It was as if there were millions of angels hiding just behind some celestial door, and once they heard, “Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” they were unable to contain their joy any longer and all rushed in, praising God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
For the poor, helplessly earthbound shepherds, this was a lot to take in. What had they just heard? What did it mean? How should they respond? Wisdom suggested that if the angelic hosts of heaven offered unfettered joy in response to this message, their reaction was appropriate. Though none of those shepherds had ever before had an angel of the Lord tell them of the coming of the Savior of the world, the spontaneous eruption of angelic praise became the lens through which they would see this moment: God was at work. This much was plain. But why had the glory of all glories appeared to the lowest of the lows? Why had the angel chosen to reveal this message to mere shepherds, unclean as they were?
Because poverty is relative. Could it be that from the perspective of heaven, the poor shepherds outside Bethlehem were no more or less poor than the rest of the world sleeping under its watch? Could it be that the poor of the earth were in fact all the people of the earth—poor in spirit, mourning and meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness? Could it be that the Savior’s coming was for them as much as it was for anyone, and for anyone as much as it was for them?
The angels gave the shepherds a sign that left them speechless. Their Messiah and Savior could be found where the young lambs were kept. He would be the one not covered in wool, but wrapped in a swaddling cloth.
Where the lambs are kept? This they needed to see.
When they found Jesus in the manger as the angel said, the very location of his birth was drenched in significance. The Savior had been born into their unclean world in the same manner as a lamb. The symbolism was not lost on them.
When the shepherds saw Jesus there, they not only saw that he had come, but they also got a hint as to why. He came to be the perfect lamb, the ultimate, lasting sacrifice. This baby’s coming was to accomplish and establish peace between the God of all creation and his image-bearers who habitually rejected him.
And so it would be all his days.
From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, Jesus moved among the people, came into their homes, touched their blind eyes, and permitted their unfaithful hands to touch him. He taught them profound lessons from ordinary events. He defended the defenseless and opposed the self-righteous. He ate at their tables, laughed with their children, and wept over their grief.
Never did he abandon his purpose for coming, which was to die for a world of spirit-poor outsiders as the Lamb of God who takes their sin away. Jesus was born poor. He lived poor. And he died poor for the sake of his people.
The shepherds could not have known that this boy came into this world in the same way he would leave it: out in the open, among the outcast, poor, and despised, but driven by one purpose—to ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile until the Son of God appears.
When the shepherds arrived that night, looking to Mary and Joseph like men who had just encountered the angel of the Lord, they wanted to do more than see the baby. They wanted to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And that was the One whom they saw. But what they couldn’t have known at the time was that though he was rich, for their sake he became poor, so that by his poverty they might become rich.