Dec 24 2009

O Holy Night

Breaks Winter vIt’s Christmas Eve!  Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Christ the Lord.  This is truly a special time.  Late this evening folks will meet at the church I serve for a candlelight Christmas Eve service.  We will gather in a beautiful, warm and safe sanctuary to remember the events of the first Christmas but the fact that we will be in a “beautiful, warm and safe sanctuary” will stand in quite a contrast to what Mary and Joseph experienced long ago.  I doubt if the place where Jesus was born was any of these things.

The stable in Bethlehem may have been little more than a small cave.  There would likely have been more animals (domestic and wild) present for Jesus’ birth than persons.  The one who created the world would take his first breath surrounded by all that he made—the animals, the hay, the stars above.   Trees would have made possible the manger he was placed in and it would have been nature, too, that provided the material for his “swaddling clothes.”  Mary and Joseph were not the only ones to welcome the world’s Savoir, Creation embraced him as well.  That would be only fitting for as the apostle Paul later wrote, “all things were created by him and for him.”   (Colossians 1:16)

As humans, we are included in Paul’s “all things.”  We, too, were created by Christ and for Christ.  His coming into the world opened a way by which we might enter into a personal relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth.  It is for this very reason we celebrate Christmas.  This night truly is different; it is a “holy night.”

I’d like to close this Christmas blog with the words of Christina Rossetti’s carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter“What can I give Him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what can I give Him; give my heart.”

Merry Christmas!


(I used the image above on this year’s Christmas card.  It was taken at Breaks Interstate Park, about 35 miles from my home.)

Sep 27 2009

Down By The Riverside

Cumberland Falls fall river view vThis past Wednesday I led a Bible study on Acts 16.  In the story of Paul’s second missionary journey he and his partners pay a visit to Philippi.  When Paul entered a new city he would typically begin his work by speaking at the local synagogue.  Philippi did not have one so we read, “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.”  What Paul found was a group of women praying.  From this group would emerge the church of Philippi—the recipients of the Book of Philippians.

I find it interesting that Paul and his companions “expected” to find a place of prayer down by the riverside.  Why?  What was it that led him to believe this?  Apparently it was not uncommon in that day for people to gather by a river to worship.  In the case at Philippi it may have been that the river “outside the city gate” provided some protection from local authorities who might not understand this group’s beliefs.  Still, we know that others in different locations also gathered by rivers to worship.  Why?

Rivers play a prominent role in the Scriptures.  In numerous instances it is by a river that God makes Himself known to someone.  People such as Jacob, Joshua, Ezekiel, and Daniel could testify to this, as could Jesus.  It was by the River Jordan that Jesus heard God say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  

In that time, rivers came to represent the source of life for many.  This makes sense considering most of the biblical narrative unfolds in an arid region.  Rivers have also long been associated with cleansing.  Most of the world’s religions have rituals involving water and usually they imply cleansing.  Christianity is no different.  Later some came to see rivers as symbolic of God’s ever-flowing love and mercy.  For others, a place to lay down their burdens as suggested by the song, Down By the Riverside.

Perhaps people have gathered near rivers to worship simply for the beauty and peace they find there.  For the way that God seems nearby in His Creation.  I’m certainly glad we have beautiful sanctuaries to worship in today, but like those in the Scriptures, I often find myself drawn to a riverside, a forest or a mountain to worship my God and Savior.  I cannot help but believe that there is good reason to do so.


(The picture above is of the Cumberland River at Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky.)