The WordPress.com stats people prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog, and I am grateful for their work.
Based on the following report, it has been another great year of: conversation, engaged discourse, and pondering; of readership and growth; of new topics and questions. Looking back at 2015, I am grateful for all of you who continue to join me in the conversation. I look forward to where our conversations in 2016 take us. If you have particular topics or questions that you would like me to consider on the blog in the new year, please let me know.
Thank you for continuing to be part of the conversation, and I hope to continue the discussion in 2016.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
My wife Allison and I both preached at Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington this past weekend, preaching on the gospel text from Luke 2:41-52. What follows is the majority of the text that I preached Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
Grace, peace, and Christmas blessings and surprises to you!
I will let you in on a little secret, as someone who has been a seminarian this first weekend of Christmas has been a very common one for me to preach on at my home congregation and ones I served back in Minnesota. I am relieved in a way that this year’s gospel passage is about smarty pants, and just about a teenager Jesus in the Temple, and not about the death of the innocents. I have had to preach on that text before. It’s an awfully hard one to preach on just a couple days into the twelve days of Christmas.
Today’s story though is one that we probably all hear a bit differently. If I were a twelve year old or a teenager I might think, “see, even Jesus had to shrug his shoulders at his parents.” “They worry too much. Why do they get so worked up?” Or, maybe Jesus was kind of like some kids at school who might even try and hide their awkward family from meeting their friends?
Or, maybe you are a teenager who is looking for some good come backs to your parents? It wouldn’t be too hard to read this gospel in the tone of a sarcastic teenager, would it?
If I were a parent, I’d probably be more empathetic to Mary and Joseph in this story. I imagine that they were panicked and stressed. “Where’s our son? What has happened to him?”
Maybe you have a story about a time that you thought you lost your kids or loved ones at the store? The mountain or the beach? Or, maybe you’re like my family? How many of you have been to Disneyland?
For the record, I did get permission to share this story, something important given that mine and Allison’s families are here today.
It was the one of the trips to Disneyland when we were younger. We had had a full day and were capping it off at the shops and stands along Main Street. My Grandma and Grandpa were with us, and my parents, brother, sister, and me. Well, we all thought that we were together anyway. After a couple minutes, where we had been in a few different smaller groups looking at things and window shopping, we came back together and then someone noticed. I think it was Mom who noticed and asked, “Where’s Tamara?”
My little sister was nowhere to be found. We all assumed that she was with someone else in the family. The mood instantly changed to one of panic, fear, and worry. Where’s Tamara, where could she be? We all started looking and retracing our steps, but in what felt like 30 seconds, there came this guy walking with our sister. Tamara, to our surprise and with great relief, was there, all fine and back with us.
We gave her a hug, and before we could turn around to thank the gentlemen who had found her, he was gone. Today I’m sure that was one of the Disney employees who does that daily. But at the time, I thought that he must have been some guardian angel. They’re not mutually exclusive. Maybe those people are every day angels?
I share this story, because it really happened. It was no one’s fault, just like it was no one’s fault that they assumed twelve year old Jesus was hanging out with someone else in the family on the trip home from Jerusalem.
The beauty of this passage for me is that it gives voice to the most human emotion, anxiety and worry. Mary flat out says, “Child why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Despite the good news of the promises of God, words of promise that Mary herself proclaims in the Magnificat, and the fact that the savior has been born for us, we all can and do get swept up by our fears, our worst case scenario thinking, and wondering what could go wrong next? Mary and Joseph, the holy family got caught up in these feelings and were surprised when they found Jesus. I find that reassuring. We’re not all that different in that way, are we?
Throughout the scriptures, it’s a common story to hear of people or things being lost and then surprisingly found- like the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son.
In this story, where we see Jesus; as a 12 year old, who some might say was showing off in the temple even though he was fulfilling his calling… we also get the one glimpse in the gospels of Jesus between the time of his birth and his baptism and start of his formal ministry at age 30.
Today’s story, of a pre-teen twelve year old Jesus makes it possible to remember that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. We often focus on the divine, but miss the reality of Christ’s humanity. We fixate on his birth in a manger, and then on the cross, death and resurrection, but we sometimes overlook the fact that he lived. He breathed. He came and lived not just like us, but as one of us.
The big theological word that comes to mind is incarnation. It basically is, “The out-of-this-world notion that the eternal and infinite God came down to this earth in the finite and first-century Jesus of Nazareth.” (Rolf Jacobsen, Crazy Talk, 92). We believe that Jesus wasn’t just pretending to be a human. He was really born. I would imagine he also had to learn how to be some kind of potty trained, to walk, to talk, to eat… he had to learn to do everything that’s a basic necessity of life as a human being, just like we all did and do, even if those sorts of details aren’t in the Bible.
Before we could come around this table and remember Jesus’ body, he first had to grow into that humanly body. I suspect that it wasn’t always easy for Mary and Joseph, while Jesus was growing up. I suspect it wasn’t always easy for Jesus either. During those years of growth and development, naturally come the challenges of change. Maybe it’s just me, but it wasn’t always easy to grow into the late 20-something I am today. Puberty, a voice change, being a teenager, going away to school, moving across country, and back… that’s not easy stuff, and I doubt it was for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as well.
That being said, that growing time is a holy and wonderful thing. If Jesus’ formal ministry didn’t start until age 30, 18 years later than this story we hear today, that means Jesus had 18 more years of learning, listening and being as Jesus grew up kind of anonymously, at least in the Biblical narrative.
Growing up takes time, and it’s all about change. And change is hard. Results may not be immediate, and they certainly are not what you might expect.
When this congregation sensed a call to serve North Clark County with a mission start, there was a sense of call, but no one could have predicted or expected how the Spirit might move and the congregation might grow. In its short five years, North County has been a ministry that has grown, slower than some might like, but full of surprises. Because of it, the congregation has grown. Messiah now has people worshiping regularly from as far north as Longview, and even to as far south as Salem. That’s a wonderful and unexpected surprise.
The story today is full of surprises in another way, which I think ultimately Mary and Joseph embrace once they move past their anxiety, and return to “treasuring these things in their heart.” This twelve year old Jesus was carrying on with a bunch of highly regarded elders and teachers. That would be like your child captivating the hearts and minds of the most respected professors, thinkers, and pastors in the world. You might hope for that for your children, but I wouldn’t think anyone would expect it. That would be a crazy surprise.
This story is just one of the many surprises we celebrate and remember during Christmas. Even though God promised a Savior, and the prophets like Isaiah proclaimed about the Messiah’s coming, it was still a surprise for God to be born into the world and be part of the world. It was a surprise for the Magi to see such a bright star shining in the night sky. And it’s a continuing surprise to discern how God through the incarnation turns our human conceptions and expectations on their head.
Today’s surprising story, of two anxious parents and a missing son, ends well as they are reunited, and returned together to Nazareth. Mary did treasure all these things in her heart, and as the gospel writer writes, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor”- though what exactly happened over those 18 years is a mystery, and we’ll fast forward through them in a couple weeks with Jesus’ baptism.
But for the rest of the 12 Days of Christmas take some time to be surprised and to live in the joy of the season. Today’s only the third day of Christmas after all, so there’s plenty of time to be surprised.
God’s at work in ways we can’t always recognize or understand. Sometimes this uncertainty can cause us to be anxious or afraid, just like Mary and Joseph in today’s story, or also like them, to not always understand what’s happening.
We have the benefit though of being able to remember that God has already done the hard stuff- coming into this world, living in this broken yet beautiful world, growing up through puberty and being a teenager, dying and then being resurrected to overcome death, suffering, and sin. All of these could be surprises, but maybe surprises are just God’s normal way of being?
Since I started by sharing a secret, here’s one more. I used to think that I liked having all the answers. I have learned though since moving to Minnesota and back here, being surprised is a lot more fun of a way to live.
Enjoy the surprises this Christmas season, and share that joy and wonder. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. No one here does. But I do I promise you this, because God promises this, that God is with you, and God is for you.
There will be surprises along the way. When you see them, treasure them in your heart and, take the time to wonder, “what might God be up to?” It’s probably something pretty cool, wonderful, and unexpected, the best kind of Christmas gift. Amen.
During Advent this year, I have been reflecting daily using this Advent Photo Devotional. The word designated for today, Christmas Eve, is #Love.
At the heart of who we are and who we have been created to be, is love. That’s something I hope that we are reminded of on this Christmas Eve. This love is something without limit. It’s a gift from God, but one we can’t help but be so moved to share with others. At least, that’s what I believe anyway.
How do you feel and sense love this Christmas Eve?
A song that says this better than I probably could is, “Love Has Come”:
Love has come, a light in the darkness! Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies. See, all heaven has come to proclaim it; hear how their song of joy arises: Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior! Love! Love! Glory to God on high.
Love is born! Come, share in the wonder. Love is God now a sleep in the hay. See the glow in the eyes of his mother; what is the name her heart is saying? Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers; Love! Love! Jesus, Immanuel.
Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free. Love is Jesus within and among us. Love is the peace our hearts are seeking. Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas. Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high!
I invite you to join my prayer today: Thank you God for the gift of love we know in Christ Jesus. May that love be born in us anew this night. May love, the gift of Christmas, fill our hearts, souls, bodies, mind, and strength. May we share that gift with those near and far in all that we think, do, and say. Amen.
To all of you, friends, colleagues, conversation partners, and connections across time and space, Merry Christmas from my home and family to yours!
Credit: “Love Has Come,” Ken Bible, F. Seguin, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 292.
During Advent this year, I am reflecting daily using this Advent Photo Devotional. The words designated for December 22nd was #Justice, and for today, December 23rd is #Truth.
It’s really easy to look around and see the things in the world that are hurting and broken. Sometimes I seem to fixate on them. Politicians and those running for office always seem to focus on them, and use them to perpetuate fear, scarcity, and increase anxiety. Collectively we lose sight of the good in the world.
As we approach Christmas Eve tomorrow we do so knowing this world is good, for all the reasons listed above and plenty more, but also broken. People war with each other. There are great injustices even in our own communities and country. From Minneapolis to Texas, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, we have seen them this year. We ask, “how much longer, oh God?”
God’s justice and truth broke into the world anew in the form of a baby about 2000 years ago.
God’s justice and truth breaks in, in a new today through the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the reading of the Word, the waters of baptism, and the simple meal of bread and wine. We see signs of this justice and truth when people join with their neighbor in need because that’s exactly what God in Christ tells us to do.
Truth and justice in God’s eyes seem to be grounded in love. A love the Triune God has for us, and that we feel for God, and all of God’s people and creation.
On this day before Christmas Eve, I pray: Come soon Lord Jesus. Guide us to love and help us to be bearers of your truth, justice, and grace this Christmas. Amen.
How do you see God’s justice and truth in the world?
Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and I need to catch up on these posts. I am writing as I currently sit in a hospital waiting room. I’m here on a visit for a congregational member about to go into surgery.
It might seem to be a weird place to start reflecting about peace and freedom, but I think it makes sense. There’s a sense of peace with the patient and in the waiting room. This procedure has been long hoped for. If all goes well it may even provide a new sense of freedom and mobility. No matter what happens though there is an assurance of “the peace that surpasses all understanding” and a sense of freedom that that promise provides.
Allison is preparing for her first Christmas in a collar. Last night we drove around and looked at lights in our neighborhood and neighboring neighborhoods. We also practiced our duet for Christmas Eve. And yesterday we also both wrote drafts of sermons for this coming weekend. Even with all this, and with much still to do, there’s peace.
Whether or not we are ready God is already present with us. God is here at the hospital. No matter what happens we will celebrate God being born into the world. That’s freeing to know that it’s not up to us.
I hope you are feeling that sense of freedom and peace in your own life too.
Each week on the blog I get to share some of what I have seen, read, and found interesting and thought provoking over the past week. To help make sense of all of these links, I have grouped them by the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Social Media & Blogging; Stewardship; Vocation; and Miscellaneous. As you might guess, this week’s set of links include a number of Christmas related posts and topics. I hope that you enjoy these links, and that you have a Merry Christmas!
Are you looking for a faith community to worship as part of this Christmas? If so, I invite you to find a congregation near you here. If you are in the vicinity of Vancouver, Washington, I invite you to join me Christmas Eve at Messiah Lutheran Church for worship at 10:30am, 5pm, 7pm, 9pm, and/or 11pm.
Christina Embree shared some thoughts about why she doesn’t like church Christmas programs. These are some interesting thoughts. I think Christina is on to something especially in moving toward the importance of cross-generational and inter-generational ministry. I’m not an advocate for getting rid of Christmas programs, rather, one who would advocate for them being more intentional and part of the worship experience of the congregation involving the entire congregation. My mom comes to mind as an example of a person who has written countless programs for different congregations which are contextually relevant to them, and incorporate different parts and members of the faith community as away of building community. At its best, I think that’s what a Christmas program does. At its worst, it’s just an opportunity to put kids up front in worship and say, “how cute.” What do you think?
Gini Dietrich shared a look at “Eight PR Trends for 2016.” The trends that she outlines are: better content marketing; content as product; livestreaming; private communities; paid amplification; virtual reality; semantic search; and measurement, measurement, measurement.
Scott Savage at Thin Difference unpacked “7 Benefits of Tough Conversations.” The benefits he highlights are that: tough conversations communicate value; they reveal blind spots; they stretch our leadership; they can increase trust and respect; they clarify the future; they create opportunities for growth; and can focus your development and coaching. If you needed a reason to have that tough conversation you have been avoiding, here are seven good reasons to take the courageous step to have the conversation.
Heidi Oran at Thin Difference wrote and asked, “Are You Serious About Chasing Your Dream?” Within this post, Heidi shared five questions that dream-chasers can ask themselves: Is it really what you want? Are you overly attached? Are you ready to hustle? Are you prepared to be in it for the long haul? And, are you flexible enough to welcome necessary change?
This time of year can be hard for people, especially those who are grieving or lonely. In response to this faith communities often offer, “Blue Christmas,” “Longest Night,” or “Comfort and Hope” services. The church that my wife Allison and I are currently serving this year had a Comfort and Hope service last week, and Allison preached, sharing this message that, “Hope is Terrible I Mean Great: Blue Christmas.” Even if I say so myself, it was a beautiful and powerful message. I was moved by her stories and connection, as well as her closing thoughts, which she wrote: “The love, respect, and trust of others that I was seeking did not come from my checking off my list of things successful adults do. It came from God. It’s a big risk to hope – but I’ve found that you don’t find God’s hope and God’s peace by being right. You find it, by being open—which is SO hard, trust me, but God has never been about clenched fists, and has always been about an open hand. I wish I had a 1-2-3 step process for you, but I’m kind of glad I don’t. Because none of us can find peace from a list, or a checklist. We find peace when we fall on our knees, with our faces set to the rising sun, realizing God’s been there all along. It’s the most unglamorous picture, but it’s where we’re tired, and muddy, and we’re done dwelling in fear that change can happen, and in our darkness shines a glimmer of light. I hope you see that glimmer, if not tonight in the days to come, like I saw in my friend, because God’s hope holds you tonight and shines on you in the rising sun. Let it be so.” Please go and read the whole reflection, you will be glad you did.
In the neighbor love in action story of the week, news broke yesterday of how “Kenyan Muslims shielded Christians in Mandera bus attack.” This is the kind of solidarity we should be showing to our Muslim neighbors in the United States now. This is what solidarity looks like between people, citizens, and neighbors. Thank you to the Kenyan Muslims who shielded Christians in the bus attack. Let us all be as such neighbors in our own communities to all people.
Over the weekend my wife Allison and I had the privilege of going to see “Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.” We loved it! So did our friend J.W. Wartick who shared this review and “Christian perspective.” Matt Zoller-Seitz also shared this review on Roger Ebert’s site. Also, if you are willing to re-consider episodes 1-3, you might want to read Ebert’s review of Episode 1. I have always been of the opinion that the public has been too hard on George Lucas and the prequel. I think it did it’s job at setting up the series. Could it have been better, probably, sure. But it was still pretty good.
That concludes this edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them. As always, if you have particular questions or topics for me to think about on the blog, please share them. Also, if there are things you would like to see included in the links, please let me know that too. Just so you know, there will likely not be any links next week as I take some time off to relax during the days between Christmas and New Year’s. The links will return as normally scheduled on January 5th. Until then, I hope that you have a Very Merry Christmas, and a blessed holiday time with family, friends, and loved ones. Thank you for being a part of the conversation here on the blog this year, and I look forward to continuing it with you in 2016! -TS
During Advent this year, I am reflecting daily using this Advent Photo Devotional. The word designated for December 19th was #Singing.
Sometimes pictures speak better than words. I have said lots about singing lately, but here are some more photos of singing- sharing the joy of the season over the years.
Do you sing? Do you proclaim and share with your singing?
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope that you can share the good news through song, and join the angels in singing:
“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’ Joyful, all you nations, rise; join the triumph of the skies, with angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’ Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king!”