Christmas Eve Prayer

Oh God, it’s you who is the magic, the splendor, and the wonder of Christmas. You have set forth the brilliance of the stars, the magnificence of the angels, the perplexity of the Christ child. You created the whole, wide world and everything in it. You have shown us your covenantal love and faithfulness from everlasting to everlasting. May we never cease to be amazed by the work of your hand. As we celebrate the birth of your Son, help us to have the faith of children who marvel at your divine mystery that enchants us to celebrate you year after year. Help us to delight in you and your people, as you delight in us.

Oh Jesus, it is you who became God-with-us, the word made flesh. You came in the grit of childbirth and the filth of a stable to show us that your love does not shy away from the pain and grime of the world. You are the Messiah who is humble, who gets his hands dirty, who doesn’t avoid suffering; you are the visible evidence of the invisible, unfathomable love of God. Help us to always lean in and embrace people with the same courageous love that you modeled for us. Help us to fully commit to being your disciples, continuing the mission that you began by entering into a broken world.

Oh Holy Spirit, when our own souls are worn within us, when we lose our faith, our hope, our peace, and our joy, it’s your still small voice that reminds us of who we are and whose we are. It is you who sparks our hearts with light and life each year at Christmas, reminding us that the first coming of Christ was not a one-time event. You sustain our spirits as we wait for when Jesus comes again. When it seems like the celebration of the season is out of our reach, and when hope in a peaceful kingdom of reconciled people seems like a dream withered and deferred, it is your breath of life that comes blowing by reviving us in your fire.

Holy Trinity, three in one, we give praise to you on this glorious Christmas Eve. We have practiced hope, peace, joy, and love all of Advent doing our best to honor the kingdom that is already here. We hold dear to our hearts the birth of Christ as a promise of your kingdom come, when your goodness will prevail and all the virtues we have practiced will be the abiding law in all the world. When the celebration dies down, help us not to abandon this work and help us not to grow weary in our waiting. You have come, and you will come; and that is the fierce hope of Christmas. Alleluia, amen.

Advent 4: Love

Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

If you love, you get battered. It’s just true. You fray at the edges, then unravel. You get all used up.

Loving anyone or anything in any way empties you and dumps all your goodness out. Compassion fatigue and empathy erosion are real things that can take the kindest, tenderest heart and harden it up.

Love can break you down.

Love is always two-sided: you cannot love others if you do not love yourself; you cannot love yourself without loving others. Whether we like it or not, our hope, peace, joy, happiness, success, and prosperity depend upon each other. We need each other. You need everyone else. You are needed in this world. You need us. We need you, too.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

― Frederick Buechner

Love can break you down. If you seek out the love and care you deserve, it can break away the hardness of your heart and make it soft and caring again. You will be emptied of your love at the end of your life, but that can be good news. It can be a sign of a life lived well, filled with the care and love poured into you. Your goodness may be emptied out, but you can be full of the goodness of others. Love gives, and love receives.

You may be battered, but you may also be healed. Hold the tension of the battle scars, sutures, and balms that entail a life well loved.

Luke 1:46b-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 

Thoughts on “What is the Bible?”

I know there’s a big debate out there about Rob Bell. Some believe he’s not actually a Christian and that his writing is heretical, bordering blasphemy. Others adore him and claim that his writings have helped save their faith. Others roll their eyes thinking he’s wordy, or his scholarship is lacking, or they think he is going for the “shock factor.” Some simply don’t like his style.

Then there’s people like me who relate to him, his story and upbringing, and really just appreciate his insight. He has a specific style to his writing that I enjoy. He’s cheeky and funny. He’s open, honest, and dorky. He doesn’t gloss over hard topics, but does speak in a way that still conveys love, reverence, inclusivity, and understanding. If Rob Bell isn’t for you, then you can just skip this blog. If you’re interested, here are my thoughts on “What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.”

In this book, Bell wrestles with questions revolving around the Bible: inerrancy, contradictions, sin, wrath, ancient imagery and metaphor, violence and rape, and all other horrible, confusing, challenging, scary, oppressive, beautiful, funny topics the Bible contains. Bell encourages asking questions by using question and answers throughout his chapters, anticipating the questions the reader may have (and that he himself has had) and responding honestly toward them. “What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son? Not this one.” p. 111

Bell doesn’t pull any punches when talking about rape, murder, genocide, sexism, racism, slavery, and all other upsetting events that occur in the time the scriptures were written. He discusses these issues openly and honestly, while referencing the Hebrew and Greek languages, the historical context, and the culture influencing the writers of scripture. It doesn’t smooth over the horrible things people do in the Bible, instead it embraces the brokenness of the people and seeks to find truth and grace in the midst of chaos.

Bell reminds us of the brokenness of the human condition, which shapes the Bible while also honoring the living God, who has spoken and is still speaking. “Remember, the Bible was written over a thousand years before the printing press. People didn’t have their own copy of the Bible. At best your village may have had a scroll in the synagogue… These stories circulated as oral history, passed down from one generation to the next.” p 266 Bell acknowledges the Bible as the word of God, but reminds the reader that God is still speaking around us all the time. Our eyes and ears should be open all the time.

For anyone who hasn’t spent much time doing academic study into scripture, this book is a good taste of taking the entire Bible and studying it in depth. All those burning questions you have, the confusion, the frustration you may have been feeling are safely and openly addressed here. This book is a wonderful opportunity to wrestle and perhaps open your mind to scripture in a new way.

If you have studied theology like I have, this book will not contain new information or scholarship. Instead, it’s an easy read that digs in deep into the Bible, reminding you of so much you have learned throughout seminary in a concise manner, with very specific Rob Bell insight. You will laugh, smile, and be encouraged.