Jan 5 2017

Christmas and Creation

_dsc3553“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Today is the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season. When you add the four weeks of Advent to the twelve days of Christmas, and then tack on all the pre-Advent weeks of Christmas decorations, music and commercials, Christmas seems to last forever these days.  I hope it has been a joyful and blessed season for you and before we officially leave it I’d like to pause one more time to consider the significance of the Incarnation.

a_dsc8008In today’s “Daily Meditation” by Richard Rohr he makes the claim that Christmas for many is an even bigger celebration than Easter. It would be hard to deny that claim.  In fact, I’ve often wondered why we go all out in our celebration of Christmas but seem rather subdued when it comes to Easter.  Rohr offers one reason.  He says “because for God to be born as one of us in this world among the animals and in a poor family shows that humanity is good, flesh is good, and this world is good!”  I’m not sure Rohr’s reason fully justifies the disproportionate celebration Christmas receives over Easter but he does point to an often forgotten truth that was made manifest when God took on human flesh that first Christmas. By entering this world and actually becoming a part of this world God revealed the goodness of Creation and humanity itself.  This goodness was already affirmed in the Genesis 1 account of Creation but by taking on human flesh and living in the midst of this Creation God affirmed their goodness on a whole new level.

Contrary to various philosophies that have dominated human thinking at times, this world is good and life in this world is as well. The birth of Jesus Christ offers proof of this.  If the world and life were not sacred prior to Jesus’ birth—and I believe that they were—they certainly were afterwards.  In a definitive way God added God’s stamp of approval on both when Jesus was born.

a_dsc1403At the end of today’s “daily meditation” Rohr says “Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega of history (Revelation 1:8), naming it correctly at the very start and forever alluring it forward. Love is both the cause and the goal of all creation. This is a meaningful universe, and meaning is what the soul needs to thrive.”   God’s love revealed at Christmas, and certainly Easter too, does in fact give meaning to the universe and life itself.  It also serves as a useful reminder that God is as much a part of this earth and this life as God is of heaven and the life to come.  I’m afraid far too many of us fail to recognize this.  If we fully understood this truth we’d be singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not just at Christmas but year round.

–Chuck

(I took the first and third image in Henderson County, KY., and the middle image at Yellowstone National Park.)


Dec 16 2016

A Seasonal Reminder

_dsc3637With the cold weather that has come our way the birds are flocking to my feeder. For that reason I’m checking the feeder regularly so that I can keep it filled with sunflower seeds for them.  Yesterday I pulled out a heated bird bath I purchased last year since the water was freezing in the one I had set out.  I know it’s important that birds have a good source of water this time of year.   I’ve seen a variety of woodpeckers around the feeder which has served as a reminder it’s time to put some suet out for them.  I really do try to take care of the birds that visit my yard.

_dsc3660As I watched my birds feed and drink earlier today I found some satisfaction in knowing that I am able to provide for them. This led my thoughts to reflect on how I, too, have someone who takes care of and provides for me.  This particular time of the year we cannot help but remember that in Christ God has graciously provided for our many needs. Although Genesis 1:1 teaches us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” the New Testament attributes the work of Creation to Christ or “the Word.” John 1:1-3 tells us that Christ has always existed with God as the Word and that “through him all things were made that has been made.”  In Colossians 1 Paul echoes this thought and says concerning Christ, “for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (v. 16)  Yes, the one whose birth we celebrate each Christmas is the one who created the world and in so doing provided for our many physical needs.

At Christmas, however, we tend to remember that Jesus came to provide for still other needs. The angels who spoke to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that first Christmas brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” and that good news was that “a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Having already provided for our physical needs through Creation Christ came to earth to meet our spiritual needs, especially our need for salvation.

_dsc4993Yesterday I read an article on Facebook that a friend had shared which stated that Jesus is not “the reason for the season.”  The writer explained that Christ had always existed with God so we cannot look at his earthly birth as his beginning.  He went on to say that the real reason for the season was you and me.  It was our need for salvation and eternal life that caused God in His infinite love to send Jesus into the world.  God saw our need and responded.  That’s why there is a Christmas to celebrate.

_dsc4950As I watched my birds earlier today and thought about all I was doing for them I wondered if they were aware that someone was taking care of them. I also wondered if they appreciated my efforts.  The same questions can be asked on a different level.  Do most people realize that there is a God who is taking care of them?  Do they appreciate what God is doing for them?  Hopefully during this busy and exciting season each of us will pause long enough to remember Someone is, in fact, providing for our needs.  Hopefully we will also pause and offer thanks for the way those needs have been met.  That would certainly be the appropriate thing to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I’ve included some pictures I’ve taken of the birds that come to my feeder.)


Dec 19 2015

Can We Help Bring Joy to the World?

_DSC2996“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns.  They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.”   It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation.  This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”  There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator.  I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation.  The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.

_DSC5464Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days.  When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder.  Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy?  Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy?  Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation?  Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?

e_DSC3071Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus.  More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas.  If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.

e_DSC3341But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others.  If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation.  Think about it…

If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it.  If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands?  How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please?  Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources?  Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others.  The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.

e_DSC3161I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet.  And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Nov 18 2015

Learning From Nature Not to Rush

e_DSC3033“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

For the most part nature is rather predictable.  It has its rhythms and patterns and they remain more or less consistent.  The tides ebb and flow, the moon goes through its cycle of phases, the sun rises and sets at its appointed times, and the seasons change pretty much on schedule.  There are of course some exceptions along the way.  This time last year we had our biggest snow since I moved to Henderson and winter was still over a month away.  All in all, however, nature follows its steady course year after year.  Uninterrupted, nature has its own pace and doesn’t tend to rush things.

e_DSC3171I believe we would be wise to note this attribute in nature and learn as human beings to not always be in such a hurry.  Nature generally takes things slowly while we seem to want to rush everything.  Years ago the country band Alabama had a song with the refrain “I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”   That could be the theme song for a lot of us.  Whereas nature takes its time, we want to beat time.  The tendency to rush through life keeps us from living in the moment and from experiencing what God has in mind for us here and now.

ASP0328Right now a lot of people are in a rush to get to Christmas.  As early as Halloween I was seeing Christmas decorations around town.  What’s the hurry?  Especially considering that Thanksgiving is still a week away.  Might we not want to slow down in the coming days to do what the old hymn says and count our blessings?  According to the liturgical calendar Advent does not even begin this year until November 29.  Why the rush to Christmas?  It seems like in so many areas of life it is when we get ahead of ourselves that we get in trouble.  There may well be blessings we will miss if we start focusing on Christmas too soon.

_DSC2191By paying more attention to nature we may hear God telling us to slow down and take it easy.  We might also find the Creator urging us to develop a more “natural” rhythm for our lives, one where we are content to be fully present where we are and not be always rushing to get ahead to somewhere we would rather be.  When I listen to the waves on a beach, look above at the stars in the sky at night, or simply walk through a forest I get the sense that God is calling us to find our place in this world just like the waves, stars, and trees.  I truly believe our peace is in our place and that we will never fully experience the peace God intends for us if we mindlessly rush through life and are always getting ahead of ourselves.  Perhaps I’m wrong about this but I don’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at John James Audubon State Park here in Henderson, KY.)

 


Dec 25 2014

A Baby Changes Everything

2014 Christmas cardLet me begin by wishing you a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you happen to be reading this.  Last night the church I serve had a late night Christmas Eve Service.  For the message I shared with them I found inspiration in the beautiful Christmas song penned by K. K. Wiseman a few years ago that was recorded by Faith Hill.  It is called A Baby Changes Everything.  Obviously the coming of a baby into any home “changes everything” but never was that so true as the child that Mary brought into the world that first Christmas long ago.

In my Christmas homily I talked about how the baby who was born in Bethlehem long ago went on to change how we look at God, how we look at ourselves and also how we are to look at others.  I very easily could have gone on to talk about how the coming of Jesus also changes the way that we are to look at the earth.  There are a number of different ways this is true.

_DSC4328The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear that the earth is “good.”  After each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was (is) good.  Later the Psalmist would declare that “the earth is the Lord’s.” (24:1)  The fact that God made and owns the earth would indicate that it is quite special.  But realizing that God actually came to earth and for a time made His dwelling here (John 1:14) makes it clear that the earth should also be viewed as holy or sacred.  This planet of our was blessed to be visited by its Maker.  That fact alone sets the earth apart.  We should learn to view this place we live as holy ground and treat it as such.

Jesus would also change the way we look at the earth when he repeatedly used the world of nature as teaching tools for spiritual principles.  The earth, for him, contained a repository of divine lessons.  He told us to pay attention to the birds above us and to the flowers at our feet.  In his parables he often pointed to plants and other natural objects as divine indicators.  The way Jesus looked at the world should change the way we look at it too.  Like him, we are to see the earth as a school of higher learning—much higher learning!

_DSC8035The one born at Bethlehem not only used the natural world as object lessons in his teaching ministry, he also sought the presence of his Father there.  We know that Jesus did attend the synagogues of Palestine and visited the Temple in Jerusalem on a number of occasion but we also learn in the Gospels that it was his custom to find solitude with God on lonely hillsides and in the stillness of garden enclosures.  Later some of Jesus’ followers would come to view the world as evil.  He, however, found it to be a place where God can be found and encountered in a multitude of different ways.  We should look at the earth in the same way.

Today I am very thankful for the many changes the baby born in Bethlehem has made in my life.  I, and hopefully others too, now see God, myself, others and the earth itself differently because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures used above not far from my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Dec 29 2013

The Holly and the Ivy

_CES2786It’s the Fifth Day of Christmas.  I actually enjoy these quieter, less hectic, days of the Christmas season.  There are far fewer distractions and that makes it easier for me to focus on the true reason for Christmas.  There is so much to contemplate when it comes to the Incarnation.  I will never be able to fully grasp the significance of what it meant and means for God to take on human flesh.  I do know, however, that if we focus only on the Christ Child and not the one who would lay down his life for us thirty three years later we miss out on the most important part of the story.  We may like to  focus on the baby in the manger but we must also keep in mind that this child was born to die, to die for you and me.

On December 1 my church had a Hanging of the Greens service.  I had never participated in one, much less led one, so I had to do a good bit of research.  I was surprised by some of the things I discovered.  I knew that the use of holly was commonplace in decorations during the Christmas season but did not know exactly why.  What I learned was that holly and ivy have long been considered signs of Christ’s Passion. Their prickly leaves suggested the crown of thorns, the red berries the blood of the Savior, and the bitter bark the drink offered to Jesus on the cross.

_CES2808I’ve known for a number of years that there was a Christmas carol called “The Holly and the Ivy” but had not paid any attention to the words.  The tune was familiar to me but not the lyrics.  The words to the song point us just as much to the Cross of Jesus as to his manger: The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet Savior. The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.  The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn. The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.”

The use of holly each Christmas now makes sense to me.  Learning all of this, it will be hard for me to not look upon holly bushes the same in the future.  When I see the thorns and red berries I will remember Christ’s love for us revealed at the Cross.  The denomination I am a part of—The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—happens to practice weekly Communion.  Every Sunday the bread and the wine point us to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  I am very thankful that now I have another reminder, one found in nature.  For those with eyes to see the beautiful holly points us to the greatest love and sacrifice of all.

–Chuck

(I took these images at my home in Pikeville, KY.)