Beyond Secular Santa—Epiphany

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Peace,
John

Scripture Focus: Malachi 4.1-3
1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. 

John 21.17-19
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 

Reflection: Beyond Secular Santa—Epiphany
By John Tillman

Secular Santa is just the kind of god some people want. 

Santa talks a big game about rewarding the good and punishing the bad, but in the end no one ever gets coal. He’s kindly and jolly and sweet but ultimately meaningless because he never truly stands against evil. That’s fine if the worst “evil” you’ve experienced is pestering from your siblings in a happy suburban home. But for those who have experienced true evil, a winking, smiling expression of justice that never punishes anyone is unsatisfying.

Santa (as typically defined in westernized culture) is really just a god of self-gratification through whom we expect to have our desires and wants fulfilled by magic that comes without a price. Santa is the prosperity gospel version of Jesus. Be good and be blessed. Name it and claim it.

In Santa’s defense, even he has been dumbed down. Saint Nicholas was not a wishy-washy wish granter but a helper of the oppressed. He used wealth to free the enslaved and impoverished not to pile up possessions for the already rich. He is also remembered humorously for “punching heretics” after losing his temper and slapping Arius at the council of Nicea

Even “Santa” has deeper meaning for the mature. The point of “Santa” becomes not to get gifts but to give them. We become like Santa, a giver of gifts to others. When practiced properly, even secular Santa traditions point us to Christ, sanctification, and discipleship.

As much as we may desire trinkets and toys from a magical gift-giver, what we all truly desire at heart is justice. Our sin-sick souls echo the sighs of the earth, seeking restoration and release from the curse of Adam. That day is coming, Malachi assures us. The “sun of righteousness will rise” and evil will be crushed and burned. Jesus is coming to town. On that day, we’ll frolic and play in ways no scene of Christmas morning can compare to. 

In the meantime, we wait and work. Like Peter, we are called to maturity, to transition from a recipient of grace to a granter of it. For mature believers, we are to feed his sheep rather than ourselves. We are called to follow Jesus in every way possible. We must take up our cross rather than lay burdens on others. We must stretch out our hands to work and establish justice or die trying.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
And now I saw heaven open, and a white horse appear; its rider was called Trustworthy and True; in uprightness he judges and makes war. His eyes were flames of fire, and he was crowned with many coronets; the name written on him was known only to himself, his cloak was soaked in blood. He is known by the name, the Word of God. Behind him, dressed in linen of dazzling white, rode the armies of heaven on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword with which to strike at unbelievers; he is the one who will rule them with an iron scepter, and tread out the wine of the Almighty’s fierce retribution. On his cloak and on his thigh a name was written: King of kings and Lord of lords. — Revelation 19.11-16

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 4 (Listen -1:06) 
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

New Year’s Day Readings
Genesis 1 (Listen -4:55) 
Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 2 (Listen -3:42) Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)
Genesis 3 (Listen -4:14) Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)

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Today is the last day to give this year! Don’t miss your chance in 2020 to support our 2021 content with a one-time or recurring gift.

Read more about Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany
Christ’s declaration in Nazareth must echo through each of us. The Spirit of the Lord that was upon him, longs to manifest himself in us.

Bearing Reproach—Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Malachi 3.1-5
1 I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. 
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. 
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

John 20.17-20
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. 
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Reflection: Bearing Reproach—Epiphany
By John Tillman

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is a cliche based on the fact that messengers may be treated badly for faithfully stating the truth.

This is perhaps especially true of the Lord’s messengers. They are criticized and laughed at. Words like “crazy,” “out there,” “heretics,” “unrealistic,” and “mad,” are tossed around.

Malachi’s prophecy is often tied to John the Baptist. Jesus said that John was mocked for elements of his Nazarite vows. John was discounted as crazy by the religious establishment and was murdered by the government for his sexual ethic. (Matthew 11.18-19; Luke 7.33-34)

All four gospels (especially Mark and John) name Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the gospel of the resurrection, (Matthew 28.1-10; Mark 16.9-10; Luke 24.5-11; John 20.11-18) yet she is disrespected both within the Bible and in church history.

Mary’s testimony, and that of the other women, is not believed and is referred to in a dismissive fashion, implying their report is considered unreliable. (Luke 24.22-24) In addition, Mary was falsely slandered centuries later by church leaders’ poor teaching. Three biblical women (none of whom are called a prostitute in scripture) were amalgamated into one false picture of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. (Who is Mary Magdalene?, by Mary Ann Beavis) 

John was dismissed as a madman and beheaded for his moral stance. Mary was slandered as a prostitute. Even the Magi, to whom Christ is revealed on Epiphany, were under threat by the angry king Herod, who, unable to reach them and desperate to kill Christ, slaughtered innocent children. 

We must not be surprised at our mistreatment as the Lord’s messengers, whatever form it takes. 

When Christ appeared to his disciples, he brought peace for us to share with the world. The next time he comes will be different. John the Baptist says Christ will wield an axe. Malachi promises fire and harsh, burning, launderer’s soap that will wash away the filth Malachi described in the previous chapter. 

May our offerings be brought in righteousness. May we testify of the gospel to sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers. May we stand against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and who deprive foreigners of justice. 

By these things, we are the Lord’s messengers, preparing the way, carrying the gospel to all around us. We must be willing to bear any reproaches that come because of it. It is not we who are being attacked but the precious cargo we carry and the precious lives of those who are yet to be saved. 

Bearing the gospel will also mean bearing reproach.
May we be faithful in both.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 3 (Listen -3:13) 
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

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Don’t miss your chance in 2020 to support our 2021 content with a one-time or recurring gift.

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
As the world investigates Jesus in our lives, we can expect the same treatment that Jesus received.

Priests of Life and Peace—Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Malachi 2.5-7
5 “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. 
7 “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.

John 19.35-36
35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” 

Reflection: Priests of Life and Peace—Epiphany
By John Tillman

From the moment of his birth to his death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies concerning the awaited savior and faithful witnesses recorded these events.

Jesus proclaimed that the promise of a savior to come and a light to dawn in the darkness was fulfilled in himself. (Luke 4.17-21) He told the religious leaders that Moses wrote about him. (John 5.46-47) He gave Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus a walking masterclass about himself. (Luke 24.25-27, 32) He promised his disciples the Holy Spirit would teach them how all of scripture testified about him. Here in Malachi, we see some shadows that pointed toward the Christ to come. 

The Levites had a covenantal, priestly role. They were to be light to the people and the people were to be light to the nations. They were to have words of life (Malachi 2.5-7) on their tongues and in their teachings. But the Levites failed to honor God.

Their ministry was so corrupt that God set out to reverse their work. The God who had promised to “Bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you,” (Genesis 12.2-3) reversed course, telling the corrupt leaders that he will “curse their blessings.” (Malachi 2.1-2

God also promises to smear “dung” on their faces. This feces is from the skin, intestines, and waste of sacrificial animals. (Exodus 29.11-14; Leviticus 1.11-13) This waste would normally be carried out of the camp and burned. This is another reversal. In their commissioning, Levites had the blood of the sacrifices daubed on them to represent holiness. (Exodus 29.19-20) Their faces, smeared with feces rather than blood, graphically showed that they would be discarded and replaced.

God’s purpose is not to end the priesthood. Instead, through Christ’s sacrifice, he instituted a new priesthood for all who follow Jesus. (Genesis 14.18-20; Psalm 110.4; Hebrews 7)

As Christians and priests, may we maintain the new “covenant of life and peace” in Christ’s blood. 
May we “walk in peace and uprightness” so that our blessings may never be cursed by God.
May we be covered in the righteousness of Christ, not the dung of our own sins.
May the gospel of grace speed our feet toward the ends of the earth.
May acts of generosity and justice be wrought by our hands.
May words of life and light be on our lips.
May we be faithful witnesses of Christ, our high priest.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 2 (Listen -3:12) 
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
Even a tiny seed may, when planted, produce a great harvest, and it only takes a small patch of grass to grow over and beautify a bare acre of earth.

Read more about Making Him Known :: A Guided Prayer
For the sake of your Name and the salvation of the nations, glorify your Son, Jesus Christ, through us no matter what we may suffer.

How He Loves Us—Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Malachi 1.2
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. 
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ 

Reflection: How He Loves Us—Epiphany
By John Tillman

It is notable that the word of the Lord from Malachi begins with a declaration of God’s love for Israel. God declares his love because he knows his people have doubts.

Malachi ministered about 100 years after the first exiles returned to Israel and about 430 years before the birth of Jesus. The temple had been rebuilt by Ezra. Jerusalem’s wall had been rebuilt by Nehemiah. But, after a brief period of exuberant celebration, the people’s dedication to God was still a crumbling mess. 

Unlike the exodus from Egypt, the return from Babylon was not a sudden, dramatic exit. It was slower, political, methodical. God worked in the second exodus by softening, rather than hardening the hearts of kings. There were no plagues, no pillars of fire or cloud, no miraculous deliverance through the sea. 

Israel was slowly learning again how to be the people of God. They had experienced generations of oppression and suffering caused by the sins of their fathers and mothers. Now, like the former Egyptian slaves in the desert, they doubted the love of God. They showed contempt for the sacrifices of God. They showed selfishness in both worship practices and social policy. Doubting God’s love, they showed little love for him in return and little love for the poor and needy around them.

We, too, have passed through many traumas this year. Our exodus from many of 2020’s traumas is incomplete. The COVID-19 vaccine has been called a “medical miracle,” but we still haven’t crossed the Red Sea, out of danger, much less the Jordan, into a land of promise. We languish in the in-between—in the desert of deferred hopes.

Malachi’s audience was about to enter a different kind of desert—a desert of silence. Malachi’s message would be the last prophetic message or vision until Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist, followed by the birth of Jesus.

Jesus is the ultimate declaration of God’s love and, in Christmastide and Epiphany, we celebrate this love’s manifestation. May God’s love made known to us be made manifest in us and through us.

As we exit this year, let us dispel our doubt of God’s love so that we may dispense the love of God to others.
Let us ensure ourselves of God’s generosity so that a spirit of generosity may inspire our giving of both tangible and intangible gifts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Set a watch before my mouth, O Lord, and guard the door of my lips; let not my heart incline to any evil thing.
Let me not be occupied in wickedness with evildoers, nor eat of their choice foods.
Let the righteous smite me in friendly rebuke; let not the oil of the unrighteous anoint my head. — Psalm 141.3-5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 1 (Listen – 2:47) 
John 18 (Listen – 5:16)

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Read more about In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer
As Advent moves into the twelve days of Christmas, we participate in the revealing, the epiphany, the manifestation of Christ.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 14.27
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Matthew 1.20-23
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Isaiah 9.6-7a
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Reflection: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was written during the American Civil War by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Longfellow’s wife had died in an accidental fire and his oldest son had been severely wounded in the war, so it is no surprise that when he penned the lyrics on Christmas Day 1863, he included somber words:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Fifty years later, a war broke out across the world so terrible that it was called the War to End All Wars.

Germans invaded France and Belgium and some front-line trenches were only fifty yards apart. At the end of 1914, initiatives for peace were rejected, including a request by Pope Benedict for a truce on Christmas Day.

A miracle took place on Christmas Eve. Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial Christmas Truce.

Private Frank Sumter of the London Rifle Brigade journaled,

We heard the Germans singing “Silent night, Holy night”… and we joined in… One German took a chance and jumped up and shouted, “Happy Christmas!” Our boys said, “If he can do it, we can do it,” and we all jumped up. A Sergeant Major shouted, “Get down!” But we said, “Shut up Sergeant, it’s Christmas time!”

Troops from both sides climbed out of their trenches, wished each other “Merry Christmas,” played games, and shared gifts. For a few hours, the peace of Christmas prevailed on the fields of battle.

This is what Christmas does. Jesus radically breaks into our cold, dark, and hostile world. 

The world says, “Get down. Don’t try to make peace. Don’t cross enemy lines. Don’t befriend people whose race, politics, culture or nationality are different from you.”

Jesus says, Shut up world, it’s Christmas time!”

The world says, “In despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said.” 

Jesus says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”

The world says, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!” 

Jesus says, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

History reminds us the War to End All Wars did not do so. Physical wars continue but so do wars of words, ideologies, and cultures. Strife and discord still exist in our world. 

Jesus brings a new kind of peace, not only absence of war, but a new way of living. It is a peace that allows us to take risks by loving both our neighbor and our enemy, by being a voice of hope and the hands and feet of God in the world. 

Each and every year, this peace is available to all who find rest in the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Listen: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Bryan Duncan
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org
Bonus View: Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas Advert on the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truces

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 11 (Listen – 2:40)
John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

Christmas Day Readings
Zechariah 12.1-13.1 (Listen – 2:30)
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 13.2-9 (Listen – 1:40) John 16 (Listen – 4:14)
Zechariah 14 (Listen – 3:52) John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

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Read more about The Peace of Christ :: Peace of Advent
How many Christ-Followers have come to fully understand the divine reality that peace is our inheritance?

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