Follow the Star

A Devotion for Epiphany January 6, 2018
Read Matthew 2:1-12

“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:11-12

Wise men, astrologers, magi – all names for those men who went searching for a king with only a star to guide them and a prophesy to direct their way. It seems a strange quest, this following a star, this search for a newborn king. Yet, follow they do. These magi, search where the star will lead. The journey will cover a thousand miles with an uncertain destination. Yet they set out in a search not only for a king, a promised messiah, but a search for meaning and purpose. They will be surprised as they discover their destination is not a palace, but a humble home in Bethlehem.

Arriving in Bethlehem, they lay their treasures down. Being warned in a dream – they return home in another way. There is a sense that all of us, having gone to Bethlehem and arrived at Christmas, dare not return by the route we have taken. Christmas ought to change us, ought to cause us to be like those who are wise and be different from whom we were before we met the Christ.

It ought to bring us to a place of changed lives. Christmas, encountered in all of its fullness does change us. It causes us to take stock of our lives. It asks us to look at the values we are living by and rid ourselves of those that have neither merit nor value. Christmas ought to cause us to return home a little kinder, more generous . . . less fearful and more faithful. For if it doesn’t we haven’t truly encountered the Christ

The star continues to lead seekers to God’s truth, to kneel at Bethlehem’s child and leave as new people . . . People who have been set free from yesterday’s sins, failures, fears and doubts. Set free to live and love more graciously with a generosity of spirit and with hope in their  hearts.  Brian Wren’s Christmas Hymn shares the message of a changed life.

There’s a spirit in the air,
telling Christians everywhere:
‘Praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world!’

 When believers break the bread,
when a hungry child is fed,
praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world.

 Still the Spirit gives us light,
seeing wrong and setting right:
God in Christ has come to stay.
Live tomorrow’s life today!”

Prayer: God of the Christmas Star, guide each of us as we follow the stars you set in our skies. Lead us again to the Christ, give us dreams to follow and the courage to follow them. Lift our spirits and our eyes to see more clearly your vision for us.  Help us to  trust you to take us where you want us  to be.  May our lives be a blessing.      In the name of the Christ Child we pray. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here – Advent and Christmastide Devotions.

Turning the Pages of a Year

Turning the Pages of a Year

OXYGEN ChristmasI remember a year that I was really glad to turn the pages of. It began with our newly home from the hospital, preemie getting sick, very sick. Her first three months had been spent in the neonatal unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. After five weeks at home with six older siblings, she had been exposed to everything that was going around their school.  A day earlier, her six and a half year old brother was running a temperature of 105. By Friday night, of that 1st weekend of the new year, it was becoming obvious that what had appeared to be a small problem with my daughter was much larger. On Saturday, she’d been put in the pediatric unit of the hospital where our doctor practiced. By Sunday morning, the hospital called to tell us that she was being transported to life support at Children’s hospital.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday morning, our two year old, four year old and six and a half  year old were in the emergency room of another hospital, with bronchitis and tonsillitis. Later that week would see my four year old admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I don’t know how we managed to have children in two hospitals, but we did. Most everyone else was sick at home too, except for my two older children who avoided all of the rest of us. On the positive side, our yearly family deductible had been met for our insurance by the end of the first week of January.

I wish I could say that the rest of the year had gone better. The youngest was very sick again in February and hospitalized in March with bronchial pneumonia. A series of illnesses would plague her through the year, until in late December, she was back in life support at Children’s having an apnea study done. A heart monitoring system would follow that stay.

I think it was the overwhelming sense of everything going wrong at the same time, which made it so difficult. Like Mary discovering she was in labor at the very moment she and Joseph were being told there was no room for them in the inn. But life went on. The child survived. Difficulties were overcome. By the time the magi arrived at Christmas, scripture records the couple living in a house.

The magi’s visit would force additional changes upon the young family. Being warned in a dream, Mary and Joseph flee the city with Jesus, to live in Egypt for a time. Once more their life had to be reconstructed. Fortunately, Joseph’s carpentry skills were useful anywhere. For the magi, that Christmas miracle, would send them home in another way, avoiding Herod and his plans to kill the child.

The gift of Christmas is not and has never been, a stress free – pain free life. Rather, the gift of Christmas which we carry every day, is that Christ has come.    What I treasure most about the gift of Christmas is knowing that whatever the new year will bring,  God is with us.   God will be with us in our joys and in on our griefs. God will be near to pour healing on our wounds, blessing on our prayers, and calming waters on our fears.  Christ has come to be with us in our pain and our sorrow, our joys, our dreams, our hopes and our fears. We have been visited by one who has chosen to live and remain among us.

A New Year – Leaving Christmas Behind

I have to admit that I stumbled across more than my share of impatient people on the highways in the past month. Some may have just needed a refresher course in driver’s ed, but I suspect what I’ve been witnessing is a deeper phenomena. We arrived at 2016 carrying stresses and strains of a difficult year.

The threat of terrorism towers over us. We were unprepared for ISIS with it’s barbaric ways. Yet, our faith calls us to trust, even in anxious times . . . To trust in the one who has provided for us in the past and promises to do so in the future. Our world sends us ample opportunities to get the lesson straight. One period in my life forever stands as a time of learning to trust. My personal world had collapsed. I wondered where on earth God had gone off to. Had God abandoned me? If not, where was God anyway? I’ve since learned that God is working hardest in our lives when we hurt most deeply. God surprises us in unexpected moments of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. I learned that God’s love is far greater than I had thought, for God’s love transcends our hurts, our sorrows, our worst mistakes; our most crushing defeats . . . even death and life.

The good news is that wherever we find ourselves today, we have been given the joy of new beginnings. Bethlehem is God’s commitment to be with us in all of life’s journeys. A promise that wherever we find ourselves, whatever our failures or successes, whatever our mistakes, whatever our sins, our personal struggles, God has chosen to enter our lives, to love, accept and be with us where we are.

On this day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that when the Magi came to Jesus, after offering him their gifts, they left and returned “home in another way.” The God who comes to us in our brokenness does not intend to leave us in our grief and sorrow, but rather, to lead us to a life of meaning and significance. May this New Year be one of trusting God, day by day. As you “Return home from Christmas” may you do so is such a way that you are touched by the transforming presence of the one who entered our world in Bethlehem. Of whom it was said, they will call him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

After the Celebration – Epiphany

Epiphany Wise Men Worship Background

Christmas came late for my family in 2014.   Oh there were celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but under it all was a time of waiting for the impending birth of my grandson. We walked through Christmas with a sense of anticipation and anxiety over pregnancy complications for a daughter and her baby. Then last week, a few days short of New Years, a new grandson arrived. We had both a healthy mom and a healthy baby. Who could ask for more?

I’ve felt somewhat like the magi who come late to Christmas, having followed a star for more months than a pregnancy lasts. On the journey to Bethlehem there are no angels pointing to the child of promise. No late night serenades along the journey or rushing shepherds telling everyone they meet about an incredible message filling the sky. Our magi arrived to find a toddler and his mother in a house. Though they are late, to find the child, they are overwhelmed with joy. According to Matthew this child is one who “Will save his people from their sins, a shepherd who will rule over Israel.” This child will be called “Emmanuel, God with us.” The magi’s celebration begins when others have lost their sense wonder of a night of angelic voices, and the exuberance of shepherds joy. Mary would ponder again the meaning of gifts given and wonder at the magi’s visit.

Too soon there would be a hurried flight to Egypt to protect the child. Rachel’s tears would flow in Bethlehem. Sorrow would rock David’s city. Emmanuel, God with us would carry the burden of those tears. One resurrection morning, this child would be revealed as Christ the Lord and death would lose its power.