Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections


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Sojourners in Need of Sanctuary

What is this? In the August issue of National Geographic, the Big Idea column was titled, “We are all migrants”. The author makes the case that as human beings, we are all of us, are on the move from youth to adulthood to elderly, from one location to another, one relationship to another, and one job to another, and so on. The columnist calls out the current political division between “natives” and “migrants”, encouraging us to realize that, ultimately, we are all migrants and refugees dealing with change, sorrow, and trying to find our way. Therefore, we need to have more empathy, understanding, and acceptance for the migrants that come to our borders, work in our cities, and live in our communities. While I certainly agree with his extended metaphor that we are all refugees on some level and, as a society, we need to be more hospitable to immigrants among us, I don’t find much hope for real change in his appeal for a better world if we somehow tap into our potential and try harder as humanity to be more tolerant and kind. Sorry, Lutheran pastor here, prone to skepticism and real about sin. The bible,  human history, and my personal experience confirm we simply do not have the capacity to “evolve”. The gospel is blunt, you, me, and the cosmos need a Savior.

What does this mean? I have always loved the biblical metaphor from Hebrews 11 that as people of faith we are travelers, sojourners, and aliens in this earthy life. I say that because I fancy myself a traveler, enthralled with exotic destinations like Lebanon and Singapore. I suppose I am a sojourner, in that I have lived an itinerant life, at least before marriage. I was constantly on the move, never quite settled, restless for new experiences. An alien, in that I have been shaped by a troubled family, bouts of depression, our son’s autism, and God’s mercy in the wake of such difficulties. Maybe we are all a mix of that, thrilled with the new and novel, restless and relentless in pursuit of inner peace, and wounded and worn down by our earthly losses and liabilities, and hopefully healing and growing through it all. Abraham is lifted up as our father in the faith, “even though he didn’t know where he was going, by faith, he made his final destination the promised land, so like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents….for he was looking forward to the city (New Jerusalem) with foundations whose architect and builder is God”. What fueled Abraham’s faith to live as a sojourner was hope from heaven, that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Yes, God came down, born into poverty to an unmarried couple, forced to flee to Egypt as a refugee to escape Herod’s reign of terror, working a blue-collar job, living under Roman occupation, before becoming an itinerant preacher, angering the religious establishment, rejected by the very people he came to save, then dying a condemned criminal on the cross, and finally raised from the dead through the miracle of the resurrection.

What is the takeaway? Jesus (Our Savior) has been where we have been; a refugee on the run, working for a living, having good friends, rejected by people he loved, moving from place to place, enjoying a good party, and, at times, feeling alone, full of sorrow, and wondering if God had abandoned him (on the cross). This matters because Jesus has also gone to where we will be one day, post-resurrection. Jesus is our great high priest, who mediates between the worldly sojourners and the Heavenly King. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, so to help us get from here to there, we need Jesus to advocate for us. That means Jesus prays for us (see the Apostles Creed). We need Jesus to direct us, the Holy Spirit is our local guide, to get us home. And we need Jesus to be our sanctuary even as we are on the move. Jesus is a place of refuge, our constant companion, forgiving, energizing, and equipping us for holy work. As we move from birth to death, baptism to resurrection, from this life to the next, we need to rest, refresh, and reconnoiter with fellow sojourners, around the cross to worship and receive bread and wine to continue the journey. Back to the National Geographic column, there is something powerful and particular, that we are all migrants on the move. With Jesus as the First Refugee of the Coming Kingdom, may we lean on Him to guide and get us there. And along the way, may the Spirit give us the grit and grace to be merciful and generous to our fellow travelers, remembering they are a lot like us.

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Sun, Summer, and Sabbath

What is this? Earlier this month, our family vacationed on Guemes Island, accessible by a small, local ferry from Anacortes. Elizabeth’s family has had a simple A-frame cabin on the island since the 1970’s with no TV or telephone. It is simple, secluded, and sacred, the perfect destination for a Sabbath break. What a great place to read, sleep, and relax. Of course, the challenge for me was that our autistic son Mark was along. Nervous energy incarnate packed into a wiry fifteen-year-old frame and I was his handler. So we hiked up the island’s mountain a couple of times, stopped and shopped at the only store on the island, played basketball at the park, hit rocks on the beach with driftwood branches, drove around so he’d get some internet time on my phone, and ended up the day back at the store for ice cream. Sounds manic, but it was actually magic. Being outside, on the beach, at the park, away from TV, unplugged and unfocused, all with Mark who is good company, quirky and crazy (aren’t we all), with an emerging sense of humor. Elizabeth was with us, but the plan was to give her plenty of alone time in the holy family manse. Caroline was back home, working hard, trying to earn enough money to buy a car (See Driving Miss Caroline posts). We need times and places like Guemes Island to restore us to sanity. God has created us with the intrinsic need to rest, recreate, and be revitalized so God gives us the Sabbath. To encourage us to take our rest, God has to command us.

What does this mean? Sabbath comes from the Hebrew, literally meaning to “cease and desist”. Sabbath ceasing means more than to just cease working. The Fourth Command is, “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy”. In Genesis, God worked, blessed, spoke, created, named, & evaluated for six days, but on the seventh day, God rested. From the very beginning, there is rhythm and repetition to the Sabbath and it is hard-wired into our very physiology. Studies show that humans operate at optimum capacity with a day of rest after six days of labor. Over the long-haul, to accomplish more and stress less, we need that time to cease and desist. To be fully human, engaged and effective, we require rest and recreation. Marva Dawn writes, “One of our main causes of modern stress is that we have too much to do. Our false need to be productive builds stress, especially when cannot meet our own or others’ exorbitant expectations. We scramble after social status or are afraid to let someone down. We fail to appreciate others, especially family. We may be blind to all that God has given us because we’re caught up in accomplishing more”. On the Sabbath, we focus our time with God, setting aside our anxieties and impulses, trusting God will handle things while we take a break. What we fail to grasp is that when we let go, let God with the Sabbath we are exercising our faith and loving God.

What is the takeaway? Jesus offers us this standing invitation, “Come to me, all whose work is hard and load is heavy and I will give you rest”. This is just what we need. A new Gallup poll reveals that 55% of Americans feel stressed much of the day, 45% said they are worried quite a bit, and 22% said they were angry much of the time due to stress. in 2018, America was the seventh-most stressed out nation in the world. We do well to meditate on that. Let’s start with the obvious, our nation has unparalleled wealth, opportunity, and freedom. It makes you wonder why we’re so stressed with so many people in developing nations dealing with war, poverty, hunger, and safety concerns on a daily basis. A trip to Costco stresses us out; trying to navigate the shopping cart rush hour, being overwhelmed with too many product choices, fighting off the temptation to stop at the Food Court, and then hoping to escape the parking lot alive. When I start whining about this or that, my good friend Brent typically responds, “That is a first-world problem. If that is your biggest problem, you have no problems.” Then are those times when each of us faces real suffering; grief and loss, divorce, someone we love has cancer or mental illness, financial anxieties, or spiritual pain. That brings us back to the Sabbath. Whether your life is running smoothly, in crisis, or out of control, you need the peace and perspective that Sabbath brings. Not just to rest and recreate, but even more importantly, to hear God’s Word and be with God’s people. To remind you, thankfully, that you are not alone, and not everything depends on you, because everything depends on God. That should help you sleep well tonight!


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A Lutheran in Lebanon

What is this? Having recently returned from two weeks in Lebanon as missionary, nomad, and tourist, I am still processing all that I experienced, enjoyed, and absorbed. Our six-person mission team worked with True Vine Baptist Church in Zahle, about an hour east of Beirut. Going in, I thought we’d stay in tents and be eating a rough diet, but we actually had comfortable accommodations and tasty food. Our mission work focused on reaching out to the Syrian refugees forced to leave the country due to the Syrian War and Isis-related activity. There are more than 5 million Syrian refugees and 2.5 million relocated right across the border to Lebanon. These are not established camps sponsored by the United Nations with peacekeepers around to keep order. These are basic, make-shift settlements, less than sanitary, where the landowners permit them to temporarily reside if they pay rent. Each day we traveled to two or three of these encampments to provide children’s ministry, dramatize a parable, sing songs, hand out shoes or toys, and preach the gospel. Wherever and whenever we showed up, we were swamped by these beautiful children, a fair number of mothers, and even a few men. There were plenty of translators on hand to help us communicate, but between tossing the children in the air, playing with the parachute, and taking thousands of pictures, we didn’t need translators as much as you would think. While the joy of the children boosted our spirits, their lack of a future and the poverty broke our hearts.

What does this mean? The immensity of the need is overwhelming and the fact you have seven years of refugee children who have not been educated is reason to be full of sorrow. The boredom, hopelessness, being homesick for Syria, and just trying to survive make life for refugees worse than just exile. Yet, as is so often the case, God shines a light into the darkness of the refugee wilderness. True Vine’s senior pastor, Pastor Jihad (no kidding), told us that they believe God has given them an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their Arab sisters and brothers. In partnership with an enormous Egyptian church, they are pouring their manpower, manna, and ministry into these refugee settlements. As hard as it is to believe, the pastors suggest that what has opened the door for Christianity in the Middle East was the horrific events of Nine-Eleven. When local Muslims experienced the violence of, not only the regimes in power, but Al-Quaeda, Isis (home-based in Syria), and the Muslim Brotherhood, many rejected the Muslim faith. Whatever the reason, the Holy Spirit is moving in the Middle East. True Vine has weekly baptisms, a medical clinic, a thriving school, and an active outreach for children, all in the last six years. I know it is difficult for we science-centered Westerners to comprehend, but we heard countless stories of miraculous healings, faithful Muslims having visions and dreams of Jesus causing them to convert, and many planning to return to Syria to share the gospel with Muslim family there. On the ground, it feels like another Great Awakening, right out of the Acts of the Apostles. Our host pastor said something rather prophetic, “Here we (the church) started and here we will end”. On the first Pentecost, the disciples went out to make disciple of all nations. Now, the church is right back where it started, witnessing to the last frontier for evangelism! Thanks be to God who is always more active, invested, and intrusive than we believe.

What is the takeaway? The whole experience was so humbling. Who was I to witness the work of the Holy Spirit in such God-forsaken circumstances? With a dynamic team from Egypt and the True Vine people, I was basically a pastoral waterboy. Holding their coats, while they fought the good fight. Even still, it was energizing and I hope to bring that home to my congregation. If I had doubts about the gospel going nowhere in this world, that got blown up, big-time. This is all God’s doing. My hope is others will rejoice in hearing what God is doing among the Muslims. Mercifully, may God be active and on the move in our churches. We in the American Church tend to arrogantly believe we are so essential for mission work to get done around the globe. Pastor Jihad offered a refreshing viewpoint closer to Scriptural reality, “You know, we don’t really need your financial support here. We have God and the Holy Spirit that have been supplying us with all we need”. Amen. After the mission, a friend and I enjoyed a few days in Beirut; relaxing, sight-seeing, and having a beer overlooking the Mediterranean. This pilgrimage had all the elements that I look for in travel; exotic destination, encounter a different culture, and experience God at work in new ways. I have been blessed to see God at work first-hand- calling, redeeming, blessing, changing, forgiving, and reconciling in unexpected places; a cancer hospital, an orphanage in Mexico, building houses through Amor, a drug and alcohol rehab center, and now in the refugee camps of Lebanon. The really good news is the same Holy Spirit is at work in your congregation in unexpected ways. May God give us eyes to see, faith to believe, relationships to reinforce, and experiences to comprehend this holy work in our lives and churches. This Lutheran is constantly surprised and refreshed by God’s amazing grace!


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Endgame: Miss Caroline Drives Herself

What is this? It has been almost a year to the day when Caroline started driver’s education and just this week received her driver’s license. It has been a hard year for me, Caroline, too, I think. Twelve months ago, we started with 911 Driving School, where former police officers run a very law-n-order program. One driving instructor, “Joe” (not his name) was Caroline’s nemesis, snapping at her, questioning and correcting her every move. So I tried to be the Anti-Joe, encouraging, sometimes harassing Caroline to come driving, and holding my tongue when I wanted to scream as certain death approached. Relational education is part of life, we hopefully learn the signs before us to relate to the people we love. Of course, everything you thought you knew about your kids goes right out the window when they hit adolescence. There is a reorientation for teenagers (personality disorder) and parents (your head explodes), as children move toward adulthood. I’ve always loved Luke’s story of 12 year-old Jesus telling his parents to “chill out” when they are in a panic trying to locate him, asserting his independence from Mom and Dad. Since Jesus never sinned, that means his rebellion is not wrong, just routine as one grows up. Still, you wish the relationship police were around to pull others over when they can’t read the signs and won’t obey the rules. If they had a hot line, I’d turn my own kids (and Elizabeth) in.

What does this mean? One of the relational rules, a sign that I see a lot more often is “Road Closed”. Communicating is much more than the words we say, there’s eye contact, body language, voice inflexion, and what I hear much more these days, VOLUME!!! There have been times when I have pushed, prodded, & preached at Caroline, “time to practice, have to get those 5000 hours of driving in”. What I get is a painful look, a loud groan, and a long list of reasons why this won’t work for her (she is in her pajamas watching “Teen Mom Season 2”). My tendency has most always been to press someone when I want to talk about something I deem important. My family has helped me to learn, that simply does not work. To get along, you have to respect boundaries, be aware of timing, and be open to approaching some topics in a different way, head-on is not always the way to go. It is telling in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that the Father waits for the lost son to come home while he seeks out his elder son when he refused to come to the party. In my relationship with God, I have experienced God waiting on me to “come to my senses” and other times seeking me out, even slapping me upside the head to get my attention. While I have matured in my relational skills, now I have to withstand the verbal assaults of my children when they want to discuss their topic NOW! As I put up my own “Road Closed” sign, I am watching NBA basketball (hey, it’s the playoffs), I realize how annoying I have been all these years, so maybe it is God’s perfect justice in the form of parental payback.

What is the takeaway? All the drives, coaching, encouraging, and near-death driving experiences boiled down to taking the written and skills test. Piece of cake, right? Not quite, we walked-in for the written test, waiting, waiting, waiting. Caroline is as anxious as can be, this is thee right of passage. She goes in while I sit, waiting. As parents, we sure spend a lot of time waiting, watching, hoping, praying, in suspense, rooting for our kids to pass the test, make the right choice, meet the right person, find the right job. We are so invested, yet so helpless. In some ways, so is Our Father with us, his earthly children. Sadly, Caroline did not pass, so tears, sadness, discouragement follows. I told you this was hard on me. Caroline wanted to take it the next day. Finally, she passed! We went to THE HUB to celebrate, she did it. But, now there is the skills test. Just as I learned to play basketball, repetition, repetition, repetition, so she was going to prep for the test. Ninety minutes before the test, we practiced parallel parking and backing around the corner again, again, and again. When it came time for the test, I told Caroline I arranged to have her old nemesis Joe accompany. “Not funny, Dad!” When she passed the test, Hooray, and we went to DMV for her official license, it was sweet victory,. I think Caroline was happy, too. This chapter was over, she had accomplished a milestone and we could relax. As we enjoyed a delicious Mexican lunch in Bremerton, she asked about getting a car.


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Retirement: The Promised Land?!

What is this? Coming up on 59, I’ve been wondering what will retirement look like. I still enjoy my work. That is good news, because the reality is I am an old parent, kids are expensive so I won’t be retiring for a long time, or so I’ve been advised. Having said that, how is our Christian vocation modified and transformed in this new chapter and in what ways does it remain the same. Elizabeth and I have discussed mostly in the abstract “The Promised Land”. We have financial plans and hope to be prepared. However, retirement seems like one of those things you don’t really know until you get there, you have to see for yourself, find out what works for you. Plenty of church people have invited me in to help them discern “WHAT DO I DO NOW?!” In my experience, those “greatest generation” retirees, mostly men, have the most difficult transition, work had always been their identity. So retirement can be a time of loss, they are looking for something to give them purpose and fulfillment. Some of my marriage counseling is for retired couples who are now both at home and wondering, “why is this person in my space all the time? They need to find a job, a hobby, some friends, or the senior center, in other words, ‘get a life!” I do marvel as some retirees that strike a marvelous balance; service to the church without being an indentured servant, support the grandchildren without being a full-time daycare provider, and travel/recreation without emptying the retirement account. I can imagine that kind of meaningful, family-oriented retirement with some merriment tossed in for good measure.

What does this mean? Over the last seventy-five years, retirement has been marketed as the never-ending vacation, with days filled with golf, happy hours, naps, and leisure. For those that can actually afford that lifestyle, people get bored. In 2019, seniors can expect to live for 20-30 years into retirement. Not only do you have to fund that, but you need to find purpose and community, what an opportunity for the church. When seniors tell me they have served long enough, I quote a favorite Christian author, “You are not done until you are dead”. Scripture is full of people being called to the ministry well beyond retirement age. There is Abraham and Sara, parents at 100 and 90 respectively, Moses comes to the burning bush and gets his Exodus assignment at 75ish, and prophets Simeon and Anna who hold the baby Jesus soon after his birth. I’ve been blessed to have some remarkable leaders and impact players in my congregations, that shatter the sad stereotypes of docile, irrelevant, and bland retirees. The church should lead the societal revolt by calling, encouraging, and challenging our older population to make a difference at whatever age. There is no denying that advancing age brings serious anxieties; losing your independence, loneliness and accumulated losses, and, most of all, death and dying. No question, God saves the most difficult, demanding, and unpredictable part of life for the end. And remember, we are all going to be there. I would say that if the purpose of the church is to prepare every soul for eternity, then the day of retirement to your deathbed are critical and concentrated for Christian formation.

What is the takeaway? Retirement does bring some “Promised Land” possibilities but also some inevitabilities that we do well to consider realistically. Plus, for all the plans and pipedreams you anticipate, things happen. Suddenly, you have a serious health condition or a family member does so you become the de facto caregiver. I know many of you have been through or will be going through those kinds of interruptions. With all the blessings, uncertainties, possibilities, and potential hazards of retirement, you need Jesus more than ever. For many, retirement is the second call, a new season of service, reflection, and spiritual growth, finishing school for eternity. To papaphrase the old Star Trek theme, as believers when a new adventure comes along, we ought “to boldly go” where we have not been before. We can do that because Paul reminds us that, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. That means by faith you are free to do most anything in retirement; take some risks with a new venture, rest when you feel like it (I’m looking forward to regular afternoon naps), utilize your talents, possessions, and experience for the gospel, and remember and rejoice in the family and friends God has given you. Part of our Christian stewardship is to be intentional in leaving our legacy. Yes, your financial legacy to your family and to the church, as well. But, also to consider your relational legacy, how will your children and grandchildren remember you? Who have you blessed and who do you still need to bless? And if mobility or mental issues arise, someone you love is dying or does die, you are going to need to lean on the Lord more than ever. But, the promise is God’s grace is sufficient for you and me from birth to middle school to parenthood to retirement to deathbed and on to the real Promised Land. Take heart, you are the Lord’s.

 


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Mr. Mom’s Perspective

What is this? At a recent bible class on Genesis, we were trading insights and insults (in fun) about what it means when God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. The creation account in Genesis 2 is more intimate, pedestrian, and “on-the-ground” than the view from On-High you get in Genesis 1. Here, God takes the time to evaluate the situation, contemplate a solution, make the woman from the rib of the man, literally bring her to the man, and the two shall become one flesh. Such a mystery yet such a necessity, so extraordinary yet so everyday, so magical yet so very functional. One of the great gifts of marriage is the division of labor, especially if you get a hard-working, efficient, intelligent, and committed partner like I did with Elizabeth. For many years, I admit I have taken that for granted, Elizabeth will get that done. So I can go merrily on my way: saving souls, writing sermons, counseling hurting people, and enjoying those leisurely pastoral lunches. Well, that has changed recently. Elizabeth, the stay-at-home mother/household CFO/repairman/shopper is now working a full-time teaching job and many of her former duties have fallen to me. Now don’t worry, she still does the really important stuff like banking, taxes, and making big purchases. But, now I am Mr. Mom with two high school students learning first-hand just how much Elizabeth and mothers in general have done, are doing, and are expected to do everyday!

What does this mean? When our children were young and I would return triumphantly home from another ministerial day, I’d burst through the front door, “Daddy’s home!” Of course, the kids were napping and Elizabeth was enjoying a few moments of tranquility, until I would blow it up with my grand entrance. Such has been my naivete about how mothers operate. One of my new responsibilities is to supervise, most nights, preparing meals and making sure all are fed sufficiently. This was easy for a while, I wondered what was the big deal. I’d just take a survey 30 minutes before mealtime, “What do you want tonight kids; pizza, burgers, Thai, or teriyaki?” and go get carry-out. A couple things happened to upend that strategy, the credit card bill exploded and Caroline, our 16 year-old became a nutritional Nazi. So we scaled back on take-out and started planning and preparing together simple (and they better be healthy!) meals. I respect and revere women and men who are skilled and creative cooks, what a daunting task! I don’t care what internet resources you have or how good your cook books, it is a real challenge, to do this undervalued, indispensable task everyday. Yet, mothers have been doing this since the dawn of time; planning, gathering (shopping), get the firewood (cooking), feeding (critics, too), and then being expected to clean up, too. NOW, I feel your pain.

What is the takeaway? What may be the biggest takeaway of my Mr. Mom experience is that you are always on-duty, always on-call (I need a ride NOW!!), always an ATM, must accomplish everything behind-the-scenes, with no need of acknowledgement or gratitude. DO YOUR JOB! There are moments I feel that way, I can’t imagine how much the REAL MOMS experience that. We are blessed with two great kids, as different as can be, who at their best, won’t clobber each other. Never know when Armageddon will begin. I’m sure I’m sounding like a martyr, but I am actually enjoying and embracing this time in life. Before they launch, I get to teach Caroline to drive a car and instill in Mark fitness habits. What I most appreciate is being able to be there when they get home from a stressful day at school, to hear of Caroline’s friend drama, and Mark’s escapades. Many days, we all go to the YMCA together. Mark pretends he doesn’t know me and Caroline is so into fitness, she doesn’t know I’m there. Then when we return to the house, we scatter to our respective screens for a few minutes before we come back together for dinner. Around then, the real mother shows up so we all check in for a few minutes. Having been on her feet all day, Elizabeth is a bit overwhelmed with the welcome. I remember I was on a Mexico Mission trip with a friend of mine. We were stuck in traffic in our rental van and started joking, “My wife is not here to tell me what to do, I am totally lost!”. There is more truth in that than I want to admit. The mothers are the heart, soul, captains, (brains, too), of the family. So much more than a suitable helper! Thank you Lord, for mothers!!


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Mother Mary vs. The Crown Prince MBS

What is this? Ralph Peters of the NY Post writes the world is descending into tyranny in 2018. Vladimir Putin was re-elected by 77% of the vote in a rigged election. He works hard at home to project a mythological figure, bare-chested and bold, like the czars of old. President Xi Jinping of China engineered a lifetime tenure (who needs an election?) and is the nation’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao in his heyday, the latest Chinese emperor. The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “The Punisher” by Time, launched his war on drugs resulting in thousands of murders by his death squads. There is Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, a would-be sultan, and good old-fashioned desert chieftans like President Bashar Assad in Syria and veiled in religion, the Ayotollah Ali Khamenei of Iran. The latest, greatest, and most lethal newcomer to this exclusive strongman club is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. MBS had the nation’s wealthiest princes and businessmen arrested, held captive at the Ritz-Carlton, in what was basically a shakedown. MBS had the Prime Minister of Lebanon kidnapped. Most recently, the CIA has concluded that MBS orchestrated the brutal murder (15-man team with a bone saw!) of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

What does this mean? Peters claims tyranny is flourishing because not everyone sees freedom as their top priority, preferring security. Many who are inexperienced in freedom, equate it with anarchy. Tyrants may oppress you, but they never demand you take personal responsibility, it is not your fault. They will find a scapegoat to blame and/or an enemy to demonize. Tyrants offer certainty, all you have to do is get out of the way, let someone tell you what to think and do. The Roman Empire was run by a tyrant, Caesar who claimed the title, “King of King, Lord of Lords” before Christ hijacked it for his own purposes. More locally, Mary and Joseph lived under Caesar’s governor and the regional desert chieftain, King Herod the Great. Talk about a paranoid, violent, and vicious strongman, killing his own wife and sons among others, to protect his power and throne. MBS could learn a few tyrannical tricks from cruel King Herod. Into this brutal world of Caesars, Herods, and repression, the Angel Gabriel comes to adolescent Mary with a shocking announcement, “Greetings, O Highly Favored One, the Lord is with you. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you will call him, Jesus”. One writer suggests both Gabriel and Mary are trembling at this point, because now it is all in Mary’s hands.

What is the takeaway? As to Christmas, Martin Luther claimed there were three miracles. One, that God became human. Two, the virgin gave birth. Three, that Mary believed, and that is the greatest of the three. Mary’s call is God’s response to a world of intimidation, tyrants, injustice, and bone-saws. The Christmas gospel is precisely what Paul is referring to, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. Christ comes at Christmas to disrupt the power structures and change the hearts of people, as Mary sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty”. Christmas brings a new day, a new reality, a new power from outside is coming to expose our poverty and enrich us with his eternal, expanding, and ultimately unstoppable grace. Right now, we see only glimpses of such grace, but they are there. Advent is a time to be on the lookout for God sightings. Next May I am joining a small group traveling to Lebanon to work in a refugee camp with an Egyptian missionary (Pastor Fawzi) and his wife (Haydi). Due to Assad and the Syrian war, refugees pour into the camp. Their specific ministry is to minister to young girls, think of Mother Mary’s age, who have been sex slaves to Isis. The hope is to witness the Holy Spirit bring healing, wholeness, and Christian faith to these young girls. I decided to go because I want to see first-hand how the power of God works among the wounded of this world. This is the hope of Christmas, the promise of salvation.