Tuesday, December 29, 2015

1/3/16---The Second Christmas

On this first Sunday of the new year, we remember the story of the magi coming from the east. Their story, found in Matthew 2:1-12, is a powerful message for us all.

Many of us have seen, or own, a nativity set that includes these magi, or wise men, at the scene of Jesus' birth. I hate to break it to ya, but they weren't there at the nativity scene. They showed up some time "after Jesus was born." This idea comes from the welding together of two birth narratives, the other in Luke 2, to create a third. Although they were not present (Matthew's Christmas story is in chapter 1), these characters have made their way into our collective memory of the coming of the Christ child. We may call their visit "a second Christmas," for it reveals, for the first time, that Christ came for all people.

These magi, these astrologers from the east, were not Jewish. They did not follow Torah. They were not part of the "chosen" people of God, but they found Christ after following God's light, and paid him homage. They gave him gifts fit for a king. They were the first people Matthew mentions as worshiping Christ! 

Even if the nativity scenes with magi present aren't completely accurate, there is a reason we do it. The shepherds and the magi, to us, may represent an initial snapshot of the folks to whom Christ was sent: the lowly, and the Gentile, that is, not only the high religious folks, but the meek, humble, and the seekers as well.

The magi remind me to “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8). They were the first seekers, and they found Christ by the light of God, the star. May it be for us as well.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015---"On This Day"

This Christmas, the message of hope, peace, joy, and love has never been louder in my ears. Perhaps it is because the voice of the world's pain has also never been louder. Usually, I think of the Advent message as a quiet, subdued, dignified whisper, speaking to me as if it were a lullaby. Not this year. I see and hear politicians promoting a message of fear; I hear stories of people overseas fleeing their homes because their lives are at risk; I see groups of people that thrive off of this fear. Perhaps I am paying more attention to the news and current events, but I believe that this is the world we live in. Fear is everywhere.

Luke 2: 1-20 tells the Christmas story of Jesus' birth, and it is a loaded scene. It begins with the phrase " In those days..." It begins in the old time, chronological time, time shaped by "the powers that be." The Emperor Augustus reigns. Time is denoted by who was in power: "Quirinius was governor of Syria." We live in such a time today, too: the time of the census and taxes and authoritative orders and pronouncements; time shaped by business as usual, by the world's accepted power structures; history defined by those in positions of power. So the story begins in the old time---the old age: "In those days..." Even the words sound tired and hopeless.

But something happens! In verse 11, the story ends on "this day." A new time has entered the world--a new age. This is not merely a temporal notation, it is time shaped by the character and quality of the new event that has happened and has changed the world--the birth of Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God. This new time is not characterized by the struggle of business as usual or the threat of "the powers that be," but the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and the "good news of great joy for all the people." From the viewpoint of the emperor--the "powers that be"--it may even be a treasonous time. For "this day" also has a political dimension; this "new time" is a direct challenge to the imperial world of "in those days." There is a new Savior, a title formerly reserved for the emperor. There is a new Messiah, the royal, anointed one who will liberate Israel from Roman occupation. And there is a new Lord, who will inaugurate a new reign. Indeed, this reign is signaled by its announcement to lowly, graveyard shift shepherds, rather than to those in the halls of power. A story that begins with a threatening decree of Emperor Augustus ends with the joyful proclamation and praise of shepherds. This day will not be characterized by fear, but by the freedom and joy of the announcement "do not be afraid."

Jesus accomplished many things for us, one the greatest being taking our fear away. We do not need to be afraid of what is happening in the world, and in our lives. This relief from fear releases us to love God and others, follow Jesus, and courageously act as God's people in the world. Someone may actually come to know God because you are not afraid to relate to them, because you reject the message from the "powers that be" that may divide us.

We live in a new time, and may it be characterized by the hope, peace, love, and joy you receive because Jesus was born, and given to us so that we may have a restored relationship with God.

Merry Christmas!

Rev. Jack Ladd

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sent: Jesus Brings New Life

The holidays bring about so many emotions. Some of us are on cloud nine: we are joyfully anticipating Christmas day, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the season, shopping, decorating, and eating the appropriate holiday treats. Some of us, though, dread the holidays. The feeling of loneliness and isolation are never as strong as when the holidays approach. The preparation and excitement are unnecessary and suck the joy right out of the season. Most of us, I venture, are somewhere in the middle. We like the holiday, but get annoyed with all of the "noise," or get easily stressed with all of the prep.

The one in the first scenario may wish that things will never ever ever change about this time of year, while the other two think they never will, although they could do with a little bit of holiday cheer, hope, and love.

Consider Ezekiel 37:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

When Ezekiel had this vision in the valley of dry bones. he did not seem to see much hope (why would he?). When asked, "can these bones live?" he replied (possibly with a smidgen of sarcasm) "Lord, you alone know." Can you relate to that answer? I can! I probably would have answered something like: "I have no clue, God. You know everything so why don't you go ahead and answer your own question and let me know. It is really possible for things to change like that?" In the middle of a vast valley of death, Ezekiel could not see what God saw---the possibility for new life.

So, this holiday season, my hope and prayer is that you may have new life through Christ. If you are an avid Christmas season enthusiast, may you see and experience the meaning behind it all---to share God's gift to the world in the baby Jesus. If these weeks are some of the most difficult that you face all year long, may God give new life to you and your "valley of dry bones" by showing you the love of God. And for those who are somewhere in between, may God's love show up in surprising ways, maybe even in the joy of picking out a perfect present or hearing that perfect holiday song right when you need it.

In the birth of Christ, God has shown that God is after each of us. Christ is the embodiment of relationship with God, given to us. May God's gift be a blessing to you this holiday season. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sent: Jesus is God With Us

Emmanuel. God is with us. The prophets (e.g. Isaiah 7:14; 41:10) and the Psalms (e.g. 46:7) are covered with language of assurance that God is with us. Scripture speaks about God's presence in people's lives, and with us, in both the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 1:9)  and New Testament (Matthew 1:23). This is a very common theme in Scripture, and I am so glad it is.

This word Emmanuel has become a defining term of how God relates to the people of God; this is a word that encompasses God's relation to the world. God is with us. 

During this Advent season, we focus on the terms hope, peace, joy, and love. We are assured that God is truly with us through Christ  because Jesus was sent to reconcile, set us free, and Jesus is Emmanuel (we will also discover/be reminded that Jesus brings new life, and Jesus changes everything). God is with us in the pain, the joy, through everything.

I believe that, especially during this special holiday season, that we long for this. We long for the hope, peace, joy, and love that God brings us through Christ. We long for God to be with us, and for all that brings into our lives and into this world.

There is no doubt much pain, confusion, and fear in the world today. Our hearts break for refugees in Europe, our minds are confused by the different messages we are told by our leaders, and we are scared of the world has become. But God says I am with you.

Emmanuel is not a solution to all of these problems.

Last night I was watching a rerun episode of one of my favorite shows "Modern Family." Phil was at a spa, where he started a conversation with some other women there. These women overheard a conversation Phil had with his wife, Claire (he had her on speaker phone), and they gave Phil advice. Claire was voicing her problems, and Phil was offering solutions to them. What the women told Phil was that she was not looking for solutions, she was looking for Phil to be with her, to offer her support and love through her problems.

God knows what it takes to have a true relationship with us. Yes, we look to God for answers, and God is there for us. But I believe that there is no greater portrait of love than to be with someone, with all of your support and friendship. God knows. God is with us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

12/6/15---Sent: Jesus Sets us Free

On this second Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of peace. We will hear a word of how Jesus sets us free. And we will partake in Holy Communion.

Peace, freedom, and Communion.

The Scriptures tell us:

Jesus Christ is our peace. (Ephesians 2:14)
He is the Prince of Peace, 
and the fruit of His presence is peace. (Isaiah 9:6; Galatians 5:22)
Christ comes to bring justice, wholeness, and harmony 
to every relationship throughout all creation.
He wants to continually grant us peace in every situation. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Luke 4: 16-19, our focus passage for Sunday, says:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In our Holy Communion liturgy, we remember that Christ did what God sent him to do:

Your (God's) Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
and to announce that the time had come
when you would save your people.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.

So come this Sunday, ready to be set free from your burdens, ready to be at peace with God and with others, ready to be nourished by the spiritual food that God has made ready for you in Jesus Christ.