Monday, December 9, 2013
Christmas Lights, Jamestown, NC
Suddenly, bright lights are beginning to shine through the darkness all around the neighborhood as the Christmas season draws near once again. It’s the season of light as people everywhere celebrate the coming of the Light of the World! The apostles writing in the New Testament books could only resort to poetic analogy to describe the birth of a child that was the Word made flesh. And they compared this mysterious and momentous event to a great light coming into a dark world and the darkest corners of men’s hearts. John expresses the sentiment precisely when he writes in the opening chapter of his book that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it”.
Now it’s up to us to keep reflecting the Light—the Light of Peace, the Light of Hope and the Light of Love that the Creator brought into His creation. If we allow the true Light to guide our life’s path, we’ll never again stumble in the darkness. And it’s no mere coincidence that this redeeming Light came into the world just after we experience the shortest and therefore the darkest days of the year!
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Radiant Sunrise, WB, NC
At this holiday season of Christmastime, we’re bombarded with television and print ads that promote the “spirit of giving”. Marketers in our consumer driven culture of unabashed materialism are very good at exploiting our weakness for all manner of stuff. But it’s not all bad. There are lots of examples of people giving their time and resources to help those that are less fortunate. It’s a time of the year when if there ever is a glimmer of hope for all mankind to exhibit generosity and good will, now’s the time!
It all began over two thousand years ago, possibly in a cave behind a traveler’s inn where farm animals were housed. A child was born. Not just any child of all the billions of births on earth. The conception and birth of this child was announced by angels. This child was the ultimate gift of self. This child was Emmanuel, God with us. This child was the manifestation of our Creator and was the Word in flesh. This child was both human and divine. This child was God without beginning and man with a beginning. This child was creation’s Creator. This child was invisible in His own nature, but visible in ours. This child entered into a human existence to experience our joys and our suffering to assure us of His empathy as we too experience this earthly life. This child was the very definition of self-sacrifice, as God affirmed His righteousness and offered himself to atone for mortal humanity’s shortcomings and light the way to an eternal spiritual life.
The dawn of that first morning following this divine birth could only have been bathed in radiant, ethereal sunlight. For a people walking in darkness, a perfect light had dawned. This child was the Light of the World who would teach us of love and how to live. This child would grow up to show us all how to reflect his light into the darkest corners of men’s hearts. He left no meaningless material part of his life, as the Word became flesh to leave a legacy of words to restore life for all who would listen. And most importantly, this child showed us that the most precious gift a parent can offer sons and daughters is the priceless gift of self.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Love, London, England
There’s an interesting comparison of how opposites relate in the physical world versus the emotional. Laws of thermodynamics show that cold is not only the opposite of hot, but actually the absence of it. Likewise, darkness is not only the opposite of light, but actually the absence of it. Hate is considered the opposite of love, but does not necessarily result as a consequence of its absence. However, if there is no love, a void exists and there is a better climate for the growth of hate in the environment. We understand that God is the essence of love and we were created in His image. His Son taught that there is one basic guideline to live a good life: to love God and others. As the world celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, many are revisiting the legacy of his life and his words. Perhaps the following quote encapsulates why:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
11:02, Chicago Art Institute
The clock of life is wound but once
and no man has the power
to tell just when the hands will stop
at late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
The world paused for an instant at 11:02 in Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. The image above is from a special exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. The scared remains of this wrist watch were found in the rubble after the devastating atomic bomb blast that hastened the end of WWII just days later. Nagasaki was a secondary target that day as Kokura was the primary. But cloud cover diverted the B29 superfortress bomber “Bockscar” to a fateful divergence with history that morning. An inoperable fuel pump also limited the plane’s range. Because of many earlier air raids, the people below had actually become somewhat complacent about the sirens and many were not taking shelter. The unfathomable energy released by that single weapon killed seventy thousand people below in an instant. And no one understandably knew how to treat those survivors exposed to radiation poisoning.
Malcolm Gladwell notes in his new book on David and Goliath that forty thousand Londoners were killed over a period of eight months during the German Blitz of 1940. We all have a fear of fear, but after so many near misses, human beings actually begin to conquer it. The Blitz actually resulted in the exact opposite effect of instilling hopeless fear in the British people. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 about this theory of “desirable difficulty” which actually strengthens us. Unfortunately for the people of Nagasaki, this new weapon raised the bar of human warfare to the top of the post. These hands of time serve as a mute reminder that humankind can never remain with a feeling of complacency in this nuclear world. Could it be that the ethereal being in the image above was wearing that watch almost seventy years ago and is desperately trying to convey its apocalyptic message even more fervently today? And remind us to always live, love and toil with a will as no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Christmas story as told in the gospels has the birth of the Son of God and humanity’s savior as the focal point. Scholars have long disputed the exact time of this birth as they attempt to piece together clues of the year of Herod’s death after a lunar eclipse and the execution of all boys two years of age and younger. So the birth date of Jesus has been estimated to be between 6 and 4 BC. The Star of Bethlehem is only found in the gospel of Matthew and scientists have also strived for centuries to retrace the paths of the stars back to this period to attempt an understanding of this phenomenon which led the wise men from the east to Christ’s birthplace. The book of Numbers contains the Star Prophecy which the Magi may have studied that foretells of a star that shall arise out of Jacob and a man shall rise up out of Israel.
Astronomers have speculated that a nova, a comet or possible planetary conjunctions might explain the star that arose in the east which captured their interest. One of the primary scientific theories concerns the planet Jupiter. In 7 BC, Jupiter and Saturn moved past each other three times in the constellation Pisces. This only happens every 900 years. Jupiter symbolized royalty and Saturn represented a deity who protected Israel. Ancient astrologers also associated Pisces with the Jewish people. In 5 BC. Jupiter was traveling eastward that year when it appeared to reverse course and then move westward in what is defined as a retrograde motion. This phenomenon was due to the fact that our Earth has a faster orbital period than Jupiter. Somewhat like observing a faster car overtake another, Jupiter appeared to be standing still for about a week and then receding. The astrologers may have considered this to be a momentous sign. The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to worldly events concerning important people. Perhaps that is part of a divine plan of the Creator who has set the universe in motion.
The Magi quite probably interpreted the starry heavens to be revealing some very significant imminent birth. It’s interesting to note, however, that when the Magi found their way to Jerusalem they had to stop and ask for directions to worship the King of the Jews. The priests quoted Micah 5:2 that prophesied seven centuries earlier that he would be born in Bethlehem. But what of the account in Matthew that they were then led by a star in the east directly to the house where the child and his mother Mary resided? There are numerous accounts in the Bible of what appears to be “uncreated energy” that emanates from the divine presence and is manifested in supernatural acts. This divine brightness was in the non-consuming burning bush that appeared to Moses, the bright pillar of fire that led the freed Israelites through the desert at night, the uncreated energy that later appeared to be a consuming fire on top of Mount Sinai, the tongues of fire that hovered over the apostles’ heads at Pentecost, the blinding light that struck the apostle Paul as he was converted and the radiant transformation of Christ on a high mountain.
It’s interesting to consider that the astrological events involving Jupiter did indeed alert the Magi that a momentous event was at hand. But perhaps it may well have been supernatural “uncreated light” emanating from God in the flesh that precisely guided those first worshipers to acknowledge His coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As a child and even today, I’ve always considered the Star of Bethlehem to be a miracle of God without a scientific explanation. The appearance of the star was like a heavenly laser beam of pure Light announcing the long awaited arrival of a savior whose mission was the redemption of all mankind! John later quotes Jesus in 12:46; “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Covenant Reminder, Chicago, IL
There are accounts scattered throughout ancient cultures of a great cleansing flood which destroyed most of mankind that had devolved into an unredemptive state of depravity. The great flood in the Old Testament Genesis account is one of these significant accounts of divine retribution where God had become so aggrieved that he set out to destroy all creation. Fortunately, Noah and his family found favor in the eyes of our Creator and the future destiny of mankind was secured—but not until all others were lost. God subsequently established a covenant with Noah and his family to never again flood the entire earth and the rainbow was designated as an eternal reminder. Later He established a covenant with Israel to be the means of salvation for all nations.
We then fast forward to the good doctor Luke’s New Testament account of a new covenant for all people through the birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Every birth is a miracle of life, but this birth was God in the flesh. One of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs asks, “Mary did you know when you’ve kissed your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God”? After all, Messiah means “God with us”. Thankfully, it would seem that God took on a radically different mission this time. Instead of destroying His creation, He chose to personally provide for its redemption, while still leaving us in a broken world that tests our free will choices every waking day of our lives. The divine presence within human flesh that entered the world in Israel over two thousand years ago not only taught us mortals how to live with unconditional love, but willingly went to the cross as a blood sacrifice to save our spiritual souls. And the cross has remained as an eternal reminder since that very Black Friday.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Healing Light, Jamestown, NC
My favorite definition of God’s grace is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We are forgiven and saved by the gift of grace alone or “sola gratia”. This concept of unmerited favor cannot be earned by good works, but doing good becomes a free will response to saving grace.
And there are a legion of worthy mediators who become the vessels God uses to seamlessly dispense His grace to others at all times. The lamp of grace is always burning and giving off its healing light, but we do have to acknowledge our need for it and exercise our free will to accept it.