Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lazarus was intact

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from his tomb is familiar to students of the Bible. So it is always such a joy to find something new in it. Today I am thinking about how thoroughly Jesus prayed before he called Lazarus forth.

Lazarus had been sick and died. He was tended by his two sisters, Mary and Martha. They had sent word to Jesus telling him of this serious condition. Jesus did not immediately rush to Bethany. He saw that this illness could not take Lazarus' life. Perhaps he even realized that raising him up again would foreshadow his own approaching crucifixion and resurrection. He had already raised a young girl from death and halted a funeral procession to restore a young man to his widowed mother. He knew this event was for the glory of God. So he tarried for two days before journeying to Bethany. His disciples questioned his delay and he tells them "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.  They think sleep might be just what he needs to recover, but he then tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead. He continues, "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that you may believe; nevertheless, let us go to him."

When he arrives he tells Martha, who had said that if Jesus had been there her brother would not have died, that her brother will rise again. He assures her that he is the resurrection and the life. Those that believe in him, though they seem dead, yet shall live.

Sister Mary is prostrate with grief. He is deeply moved by her distress and asks where they have lain him. I wrote an article about that very question years ago. You can find it on the Journal, Sentinel, Herald site. It is a question to be considered. But what I saw this morning is something else.

Lazarus had been in the grave four days and Martha was concerned that he had already begun to decompose. Along with seeing that disease could not take man's life, Jesus had to handle the belief that man is material and the matter can spoil and rot.

When he calls Lazarus forth, wrapped head to toe in cloth, Lazarus comes forth whole and complete. There is no sign of any illness or any lasting effect from being buried for four days. Jesus will make this demonstration himself following his own ordeal and supposed death. He will walk forth from his resting place with no ill effects from the 39 lashes, the spear wound in his side or the nail punctures on his hands and feet. He will not have suffocated from lack of air or become faint without food or water.

Lazarus was intact when he came forth. That is something well worth pondering as we pray and work our way through our own challenges. If it was not part of God's creating, not caused by divine Love, it was never real and there could be not effects from any other cause. Only good being expressed.

Lazarus was intact and so are we. The same Christ is present today. Where have you lain, placed yourself? Rise up whole and free! Your relationship to God as His very own child, His image and likeness is undisturbed.

Monday, December 7, 2015

If it wasn' for Hanukkah there would be no Christmas

As we support all our Jewish friends who are celebrating Hanukkah, it might be interesting to ponder that fact that if it wasn't for Hanukkah, there might not be a Christmas.

Sarah Ban Breathnach writes about this in her wonderful devotional, Simple Abundance.

Originally known as the "Festival of Lights," Hanukkah commemorates a miracle that occurred in 165 B.C., after Judas Maccabaeus and his followers reclaimed Jerusalem from a Greek emperor who considered Israel a Greek province. In an attempt to assimilate conquered nations into a cohesive and controllable society, the Greek empire prohibited any other religion; Jews were forced to abandon their faith and ordered to worship Greek gods. The Temple of Jerusalem was turned into a Greek shrine. Many Jews disobeyed this edict  and died for their beliefs. After a three-year campaign, the Maccabees were victorious and the temple was restored to Jewish worship. As part of their rededication ceremony they began an eight-day purification rite, only to discover there was barely enough sacred oil to keep the temple menorah lit for one day.  Miraculously, the temple lamp burned continuously for eight days. Even since Jewish people have observed Hanukkah in remembrance of their struggle for religious freedom and their restoration, symbolized by the abundance of oil.

Had the Maccabees  not rebelled against the Greeks, the Jewish faith would have faded into Greek culture. There would have been no Jewish community for Jesus to be born into a century and a half later. No one would have remembered the messianic promises he claimed to fulfill. Without Hanukah, there would have been no Christmas.

The Maccabees refused to surrender what made them who they were. There are many parallels to that courage happening in our own day and age.  There are those who face challenges to their chosen religion every day as well.

The Hanukkah miracle was also about abundance. It appeared there was only enough oil for one night but the faithful saw that God provided all they needed in abundance.  Jesus would demonstrate that  on a mountainside when he fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes.

Let's pause a moment today to acknowledge the power of the Hanukkah story and rejoice that God's provision for each and every one of His beloved children is shown in a shower of blessings. It is moments like this the give us our own personal 'Festival of Lights".

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Be open to loving a Grinch this year.

Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated a Christmas story that is much beloved. Our family watches it every year. It is How the Grinch stole Christmas and the main character, the Grinch, just hates Christmas. He is most annoyed by the people living in the village below his mountain top retreat. Unable to go through another holiday of cheer and good will he decides to sneak down the mountain on Christmas Eve and steal every bit of their holiday decorations, food and presents.

Dr. Seuss writes that no one quite knows the reason the Grinch has withdrawn from society. Maybe his shoes are too tight or his head isn't screwed on just right. But most likely it was because his heart was two sizes too small. Whatever the reason there must be some spark of goodness within because his companion is his faithful dog, Max.

The Grinch is successful in loading all of their Christmas onto his sleigh and pauses, before he is going to dump off the mountain top, to listen to them waking up and finding it all gone. He is waiting for crying and misery. What he hears instead is singing. They have joined, hand and hand, and welcomed Christmas with gratitude and joy.

Slowly it dawns on him that Christmas is not about those material things at all. It is all about love. His shriveled heart grows several sizes and he returns everything. In fact, he joins them in their feast. It is a wonderful story of redemption.

This story has touched so many people over the years that the Grinch has become a symbol of someone who pooh poohs Christmas, going around with a frown and trying to spoil it for everyone else. We've all heard Grinch-like people bemoaning the commercialization of the holiday, the endless shopping, baking, parties. Most of those people are basically unhappy and instead of changing their thought, they want to bring everyone down to their level of misery.

If there is a Grinch is your work place, in your family, driving near you on the road, in line at the store...be more like those who gathered to welcome Christmas. We do not know what unhappiness has made them the way they are but a little warmth may just melt some of that frost. A kind word or a smile goes a long way.

As you pray during this holiday season, be sure to include everyone. Affirm that no one is left out of God's love and care. Everyone is loved, loving and lovable. Bestow the joy of the season. Let it beam out of your face. Revel in the knowledge that you are the beloved child of God, a God who loves you so much He sent His own son to bless and heal mankind.

Beware of Grinch-like behavior and conversation.
If you encounter a Grinch, share your love of the season.
Remember that we are all one family.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gathering at the manger

How are you gathering at the manger this Christmas?

Wise men saw a star whose light guided them to the child. They came prepared with gifts to celebrate with great joy and to worship him.

Shepherds tending their flock in a field that night were visited by an angel with news of the newborn Savior, the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. They came to the manger to marvel and with expectation.

How are we approaching the manger? The invitation has been issued. How will we respond? Reverently, with wonder?

This child was the greatest gift ever given.

Are we looking upward to the stars and appreciating the light of Truth?

Are we listening for angel messages from angel messengers?

Amid all the holiday preparations, the shopping, the wrapping, decorating the tree and the house, watching Christmas specials and playing Christmas music, have we set aside time for quiet reflection? Stepped outside on a frosty evening to look up in wonder? Are we listening for angels?

One way to honor Christmas is to thoughtfully read the account of the Nativity in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Those were real people, real places, real events.

Picture yourself drawn to and standing beside that manger. How does it feel to be in the presence of the Christ? Divine Love is radiating and encompassing us all the time.  Be quiet, calm, respectful.

Stand beside the manger in thought.

Praise God and let heaven and nature sing.