Ornaments of Christ…a post by Joy

One of our family traditions when we are able to be together at Thanksgiving is to go to a Christmas tree farm the following day, go on the “hayride” tractor to choose the tree, then 1-2 members of the family collaborate to cut down the tree.

Hot apple cider is usually served at the farm, then we head home to “trim the tree.” Hanging the ornaments on the tree is a reminder of life that we have lived together for each has a particular meaning or memory attached to it.   Glass ornaments that are from one of our grandparents’ tree reminds me that this is a celebration passed on from generation to generation. Handmade ornaments made by our children when they were young exhibit how Christ loves us at all of our stages of spiritual transformation. Those ornaments made by their young hands and hearts are priceless to me. I’m reminded that Christ loves the ornament of “my gift” of whatever I am able to offer of myself to Him at different stages of my life.

This tradition is not just about decorating the tree. It’s about honoring each person: family member or friend, and a memory of how God brought our paths together. This is a tradition that helps prepare my heart through the Advent Season of reflecting on the goodness of God.

God valued us as human beings enough to send His ONLY SON, to become a human being.   As ornaments of Christ, or reflections of who He is fully in the Godhead, some may sparkle; some “just hang” onto the limb; some may lie on the branch; some of us may just blend in with the tree and not really want to stand out. All of us have a purpose to reflect His gifts of peacemaking, helping, loving, showing mercy, creating, advocating for others, joyfulness, loyalty, being organized and efficient with abilities of creating order, and discerning with wisdom.

All of these ornamental gifts are able to be reflected by the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May you each have a blessed Christmas filled with the joy of noticing His presence!

The Waiting Game, an Advent Reflection…a post by Jim

What is the proper etiquette for how much time it should take to answer a text? An email? Snail mail? What about a voice mail?

Seems like response time is shortening in our culture. If I send a text I can wonder what is up if a person doesn’t get back to me within 60 seconds! At most an email shouldn’t take longer than a day before I get a reply.

Last week was the first week of Advent, the days before Christmas day when we do our best to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. What struck me yesterday was the time it had taken for God to respond in a direct way to his people. 400 years since a prophet had said, “Thus says the Lord.”

400 years before a reply to his people. What is up with that? A 400 second wait tests my patience, making me wonder if someone cares about what I’m facing.

Jesus came in the “fullness of time” (i.e. at exactly the right time). There must have been a divine reason for the slow response. And when God did communicate with his people it wasn’t with the response people were expecting. As Isaiah described it, “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:2-3). He brought forth justice by dying and rising, not through power and might.

There must be an important reason why God doesn’t respond to me as quickly as I want. And when God does there is a good chance it will not be in the way I was expecting. God’s ways are not our ways. Can I trust that God is FOR me in Christ and is working for his glory and my good no matter how ‘silent’ he seems to be. That is my first Advent challenge—greater trust, peace, and confidence that my heavenly Father does all things well.

Advent and the Particularity of God’s Love…a post by Rich

The season of Advent is upon us and as Christians we turn our hearts in preparation for the coming celebration of the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. A theme we often attended to here at CrossPoint is the particularity of God’s love. Thomas Oden considered the incarnation the “scandal of particularity.” God in his wisdom makes himself know to us in and through a very particular Jewish man. But there is more to the scandal than God simply making himself know in Jesus. The crux of the scandal is that this Jewish man, with a real family history -hence the gospel genealogies- is in fact the Son of God! God is now made know to us and is with us in Jesus. As Jesus put it, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . “ (John 14:9) And as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, “but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son . . . He, (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God (the Father) and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3)  Scandalous it is, to say the least. God loves us in this very particular person, Jesus!

There is endless mystery and beauty within the story of our Savior’s birth. The humble and yet truly beautiful response of Mary to the Angelic announcement. The Angelic confirmation for the anxious Joseph that comes to him in the quiet dark mystery of a dream while sleeping. The notoriously dishonest Shepherds are the first to herald the good news- ah, God’s ways are not our ways. And the deep longing of the wise men compelling them to follow a star surrounded by the heaven’s darkness. And there is much more that is filled with beauty and wonder. But that which is most beautiful and for sure the grandest of all mysteries is that in this particular Jewish man, this Son of God, has come to show us the love of God and in so doing loves each one of us particularly.

The particularity of God’s acts in Christ manifests the particularity of God’s love. God’s love is not a generic love but it is a specific particular love of individuals. It is a love that greets individual men the likes of Andrew, Peter, James and John. It is a love that reaches out to the woman at the well. He touches deeply the lives of Mary and Martha. It is the love that notices the woman in the crowd who suffered so long and touched him. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. The blind man crying out for mercy, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” There is the widow of Nain whose only son died. Jesus notices and raises him from the dead. The gospel narratives tell us again and again of the wonder of the love of Christ that is specific and particular. A love that greets each person in the depths of their soul. And it is no less true for you and for me! What wondrous beauty what glorious mystery that we should be loved in Christ so deeply and lavishly by our Heavenly Father.

The humility that blankets the entire gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus points ahead to the great humiliation of the Cross. Here the love of God shines forth in its fullest glory for “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) The love of God is this particular! God’s love addresses the specifics of our individual and corporate sin. It enters the darkest places of any and every individual’s soul and brings “the light of life.” (Jn.8:12) And all of this love comes to us as a gift of grace, even more beauty and mystery. Who can truly comprehend this love? We need only to surrender and trust.

Our Savior has come! Immanuel, God with us. So then, we rejoice! We give thanks. And we rest in him. May it be so for each and every one of us in this Advent season. May we again receive afresh the love of God who sent his Son as our Savior and the Savior of the world!

Thank God for God in you…a post by Tom

This Sunday kicks off the first week of advent.   It seems like we just downed the last of the leftover turkey and now we are wading into Christmastide! This holiday season there are ample opportunities to be thankful. We can be thankful for all kinds of things such as material possessions, health, relationships, and the simple pleasures of life. However, the Apostle Paul begins his letter with a hearty thanks for God’s operative work of grace in the lives of those he cares about in Corinth. Paul is thankful for the God he sees at work in his loved ones.  In an oppressive and negative world, thankfully God is at work in others enriching them with Christ. When I see Christ in you then I can better experience the Christ in me! What else is there? Thank God for people like you who make Christ real and incarnate.

 

1 Cor 1:3-9

Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Merry Christmas from CrossPoint…a post by Rich

We at CrossPoint Ministry wish you all a very Merry Christmas. In a world polarized by and riddled with fear there is no greater message than of the one who is called “Immanuel” God with us. The Christmas story is magnificent in many ways. The angelic announcement to the shepherds of “good news of great joy,” the noble humility of Mary and her words “let it be to me according to your word,” and Joseph’s dream marked by the angelic voice saying, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And of course Joseph’s ensuing obedience to what he had heard. The magnificence of the arrival of the one who is “the Son of the Most High” is shrouded in simplicity, obscurity, and poverty.

Christian orthodoxy has for centuries contended that this child in the manger is the Mediator between God and man. He is the Mediator of the created order. All things are created by him, through him and for him. (Col. 1) He is the one in whom “all things hold together.” The very nature of this infant child is the one who creates and sustains all that is! Since the Son of God is the mediator of all creation everything in the created order is structured for relational participation. Nothing exists except through him and for him. Everything that is has his personal touch upon it. As Paul would say, “He is the firstborn over all creation!” God is with us beckoning us in all that is created to see his invitation for connection and communion.

But this God who structures the universe for relational participation seeks personal relational communion for his glory and our good. So the Son of God is born in the fullness of time and will save us from our sin. Sin anchored in mistrust is the great adversary of communion. The Son of God the very outpouring of the love of God comes so that we may each be loved beyond measure and by grace we are given faith to receive life in his name. And this life is eternal life because it is the very life of the Trinitarian God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is with us! He is with us in the depths of our being. His Spirit is permeating our souls ensuring that as sons and daughters of the living God we shall in Christ find the glory of Christmas becoming progressively more and more, “one degree of glory to another” our glory.

So Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever your present lot in life, whether joyful or sad he is doing far more in you than you think or imagine. He is the God who gives gifts that are beyond our comprehension! And so we say, thanks be to God for the Savior of the world, our Savior, has come and is coming.

Giver of Gifts…a post by Joy

As far as the eye can see, people across the world are experiencing the Advent Season as a time of waiting. Waiting in line for seasonal cups of coffee, waiting in the check -out lane with the newest toy or electronic gadget, waiting for gifts to arrive in the mail on time, and waiting for the beautiful Christmas Eve service that ushers in the dawn of another Christmas day celebration.

It seems that “waiting” is just as much a part of the Christmas season as all the other events. In fact, maybe having to wait is actually a gift to many of us. It gives us time to ponder about the people that we want to bless with our gifts because we love them. Reflections of Christ being the greatest gift ever given and meditating on what that means to each of us personally is also experienced during the Advent season of waiting.

For some, the Christmas season brings about anxiety and sadness because of past memories or present circumstances in life. In some cases, there may be those who “can’t wait until Christmas is over!”

During my “waiting season” this Advent, I have been reminded repeatedly that Christmas is also about celebrating the GIVER of GIFTS. When we receive gifts from our loved ones, we enjoy being “en-gifted” by them, yet we know that we love them more than the gift they have given to us. Christ is the gift to us all and He is also the Giver by giving Himself freely to pay for our penalty of sin. In one sense, we don’t have to choose to love the Giver more because He is both/and: the GIFT AND THE GIVER!

May we all be blessed and mindful of how Christ is continuing to work in us as we wait.

60 Years Gratitude and Thanksgiving…a post by Jim

This past weekend was as special time for me and my family. My son and his wife and son (my grandson!) as well as daughter came home for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day together. But the weekend also included another very special occasion. My wife celebrated her birthday for the 60th time! Consequently, there was another special meal with lots of cake!

Besides the obvious reasons for expressing thanksgiving motivated by a sense of deep gratitude I was reminded of God’s faithfulness through the years. Specifically, my birthday gift to Joy was a slide presentation of her 60 years (550 pictures them to be exact). Starting with a picture of her mother (when she was 18) followed by a picture of her dad as a young man and then their wedding, the slide presentation reviewed Joy’s life from a newborn until a few days ago.

Looking at the pictures made it clear again of God’s gracious blessings on her and our lives. It reminded me of the gift of memory and specific memories. At every stage in life God’s presence was clear, at least when looking back on things.

The Psychology of Gratitude (Robert Emmons) is the premier ‘scientific’ study on the role and benefits of gratitude. Gratitude, the author says as a result of many studies, leads away from criticism, cynicism, despondency, and depression. It leads toward a sense of thanksgiving, fulfillment, appreciation, and the capacity to be present. But the Scripture made this clear many years ago!

My encouragement to you as we begin the Advent season is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and express it with lots of thanksgiving. We honor God when we do that. And we make things a lot better for ourselves and others as well.

“Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

Surprised by the Shepherds

Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, the 4 weeks of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. Luke 2 records the appearance of angels to shepherds who, in turn, told everyone who would listen what they had heard and seen.

Using shepherds as the first spokespersons of the One who brings peace on earth is instructive. Meditating on the implications serves to prepare our hearts in Advent.

Two things surprise me about the shepherds being God’s choice to ‘advertise’ the coming of the Savior. First, shepherds were the last group in that society who would be considered credible. Religiously, they could not participate in worship because they were usually ceremonially unclean (when they touched dead animals). Socially, they were outcast because they tended to disregard the property rights of others (they often stole things while grazing their flocks on land that belonged to others). Legally, they could not serve as witnesses in a court of law (because they were considered unreliable).

That is the group that God used as witnesses to the birth of Jesus? Surprising to say the least! I can see how the wisemen were good witnesses because of the respect they commanded. But shepherds? Since God used shepherds then in seems that ALL of us are invited to be spokespersons of what we have heard and seen in Jesus. Our short-comings and failures are no excuse for being silent.

The second thing that strikes me goes even deeper. Somehow the shepherds were the very kind of people who could speak authentically of the core reality of the Good News. The Good News of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus matches the ‘upside-down’ life of the shepherds. The Good News says the poor in spirit are given the kingdom of God, those who mourn receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth. The upside-down message of the Gospel is that grace freely flows to those who least deserve it, that mercy is showered on those who embrace their brokenness, that forgiveness cannot be earned but only received by faith.

In short, the Good News the shepherds so effectively shared (“all who heard them were astonished”) makes it clear that it is in dying that we are raised to a new kind of life, that it is in surrender of our ‘old self’ that we are able to live into our ‘new, true self’, that in pardoning we are pardoned. Upside-down people are exactly the right group to proclaim this upside-down message!

I am surprised by the shepherds. Somehow they and the message they made known prepares my heart to celebrate the birth of my Messiah by sharing the message considered by many to be ‘foolish’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) even though I am flawed like them.