Archive - December, 2017

INCARNATION: The Outrageous Claim at the Heart of the Christian Faith, Part 2 ©

A couple of weeks ago the question was posed to the Warmed Hearts Sunday School Class (of which my wife is a member) at Arborlawn United Methodist Church along the lines of “what is the greatest miracle, the incarnation or the resurrection?” As my wife reported the discussion (I was not present), it is a fascinating question, and I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Even more, it is an excellent question. Regardless of how one answers it, the question takes us deep into the realm of core doctrines (teachings), which lies at the very heart of the Christian faith.

I suspect that a good argument can be made for either the incarnation or the resurrection. Even more, my hunch is that a better argument can be made that they are theologically (ultimately) inseparable. This much is certain. Both the incarnation and the resurrection are outrageous claims at the heart of the Christian faith. Hold them together. In one hand, the incarnation – “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14); in the other hand, the resurrection – “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. . . . If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4,14).

Today, the great celebration called Christmas, I’ll take the incarnation as the outrageous claim at the heart of the Christian faith. If the incarnation had not happened, the resurrection could not have happened. I return again and again to Martin Luther’s great series of Christmas sermons (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton). Luther is purported to have said, “The Gospel is not so much a miracle as a marvel” (Martin Luther, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton, p. 10). This is so true. We take miracles somehow as an action outside of known scientific laws. I think this is a mistake. (For philosophers who are reading, I would argue that such a definition is a “category mistake.”) The label “marvel” better fits, for the incarnation is a wonder to behold, to take in with breath-stealing awe. God is at work here in our world and even more, in our very midst!

Dr. Bainton (a great history professor and author of the award winning Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther) captures well Luther’s conviction about the incarnation. “Christian teaching is that in Christ God became flesh. Compared with that, no particular miracle matters much. If one could but believe that do lay in the manger, one could let go the star and the angel’s son and yet keep the faith” (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton, p. 12).

Recently a colleague encouraged me to re-read Annie Dillards’ marvelous book, Teaching a Stone to Talk. Dillard writes about attending a local church stuck back in a remote part of the country. “Week after week I was moved by the pitiableness of the bare linoleum-floored sacristy which no flowers could cheer or soften, by the terrible signing I so loved, by the fatigued Bible readings, the lagging emptiness and dilution of the liturgy, the horrifying vacuity of the sermon, and by the fog of dreary senselessness pervading the whole, which existed alongside, and probably caused, the wonder of the fact that we came” (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 39). As she reflects on the core of the Christian faith she is taken in by the incredible truth and awesome reality of the incarnation, of the outrageous notion that the God of the entire universe is actually with us and for us in Christ. She writes, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flairs; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return” (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, pp. 52-53).

Thus it is, I think, that we come to this day called Christmas and this truth of Christian teaching we call the Doctrine of the Incarnation. John the Evangelist is surely right. “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Here we must live and move and find our being. This is a stone on which to stand; a foundation on which to build; an outrageous doctrinal core to hold on to at all costs.

In his missionary classic The Christ of the Indian Road, published in 1925, E. Stanley Jones eloquently portrays the powerful difference Christ’s show-and-tell, personal revelation made:

                He did not discourse on the sacredness of motherhood – he suckled as a babe at his mother’s breast and that scene has forever consecrated motherhood….
He did not discourse on the dignity of labor – he worked at a carpenter’s bench and his hands were hard with toil of making yokes and plows, and this forever makes the toil of the hands honorable….
He did not teach in a didactic way about the worth of children – he put his hands upon them and blessed them and setting one in their midst tersely said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”…
He did not paint in lowing colors the beauties of friendship and the need for human sympathy – he wept at the grave of a friend.
He did not argue the worth of womanhood and the necessity of giving them equal rights – he treated them with infinite respect, gave to them his most sublime teaching, and when he arose from the dead he appeared first to a woman.
He did not teach in the schoolroom manner the necessity of humility – he “girded himself with a towel and kneeled down and washed his disciples’ feet.”
(taken from Give Them Christ by Stephen Seamands, pg. 46)

May the joy of the Savior’s birth be yours. Bishop Mike Lowry, Christmas Day, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Advent ©

Today, I offer a liturgy for the lighting of the Advent Wreath candles for both the fourth Sunday in Advent and for Christmas Eve. Traditionally (and usually) those are different days. This year, they fall on the same day.

In the Methodist traditions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Eve as a sign and symbol of welcoming the newborn Savior into our lives and the life of the world He came to save.  Jolynn and I will be lighting the fourth candle before our traditional Christmas Eve worship this year. We will then use the liturgy for Christmas Eve on Christmas morning. I urge families to use the liturgies in whatever way appears best for their own special celebration of the Savior’s birth. The liturgy is based loosely on an ancient sharing of the Passover meal modified and adopted for Advent. -Bishop Mike Lowry

The Fourth Sunday of Advent
(For use with a Family Advent Wreath)
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7

(Open by reading the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Isaiah.)

Light four candles as the family says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

A child asks: “Why do we light four candles?”

A parent responds: “The first candle reminds us of the hope we have in the Savior’s coming. The second candle reminds us of the love of God given to us in the baby Jesus. The third candle shares the joy of the Savior’s birth. The fourth candle stands for the peace of the Lord. In the birth of the baby Jesus, God comes in human flesh and rules among us with peace and justice.”

Read:   Luke 2:1-20

Sing: “The First Noel”
“The first Noel, the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel!”

Prayer:
Lord God, we who live in a world torn by violence; we who live in a culture of clamor quietly approach a Bethlehem stable longing for your peace. As we too receive again the good news of your birth in the baby Jesus, may your peace settle on our hearts, minds, and lives. May your peace which passes all understanding encompass our world and inhabit our homes. Come Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

 

Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
(For use with a Family Advent Wreath)
Scripture: Isaiah 52:7-10

(Open by reading the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Isaiah.)

Light four candles and the center Christ Candle as the family says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

A child asks: “Why do we light four candles and the Christ Candle?”

A parent responds: “The first candle reminds us of the hope we have in the Savior’s coming. The second candle reminds us of the love of God given us in the baby Jesus. The third candle shares the joy of the Savior’s birth. The fourth candle stands for the peace of the Lord. Today (or tonight) we light the Christ Candle in celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, God with us! “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light” (John 1:3-5).

Read:   John 1:1-14

Sing: “Joy to the World”
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and heaven, and nature sing.”

Prayer:
Dear Lord God, on this day (or eve) of your birth as the baby Jesus, we come to give our overwhelming thanks and praise. Your hope is with us; your love surrounds us; your joy fills us and peace settles upon us. In the birth of your Son our Savior and Lord, you declare once again your eternal love for us and for all human kind. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. Amen.

INCARNATION: The Outrageous Claim at the Heart of the Christian Faith, Part 1 ©

“Whew! You’d better take that sweater to the cleaners,” exclaimed Jolynn shortly after Thanksgiving. I confess, she was right. I had been holding (as much as I possibly could) then seven weeks old Adam Amittai Gabrielse-Lowry on my shoulder. He had rewarded my enthusiastic affection and joy by spitting up, multiple times, on the sweater. The smell of sour milk had left its marking scent all over me.

As I put the sweater in the car along with other clothes to go to the cleaners the following Monday, my thoughts had turned to Advent. Advent is the great time of preparation for the coming of the Savior. Thus it was a short mental leap for me to move from my beloved newest grandchild to the coming birth of the baby Jesus. Frederick Buechner’s words about “God in diapers” stuck in my mind.

Stay with me here, for this is the outrageous claim at the heart of the Christian Faith. God has come to us in the person of a baby named Jesus.

This outrageous claim is embedded firmly in John the Evangelist’s great symphonic opening overture. “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Many a scholar has noted that the phrase translated as “made his home among us” (CEB translation) or “dwelt among us” (KJV) means literally “pitched his tent among us.” Luke offers the awesome grandeur of an angelic announcement. “Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). Matthew shares in a more prosaic phrasing; “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place…. She gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus” (Matthew 1:18, 25). Mark, well Mark only gets at this universe-shaking change of reality in a roundabout way. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, … After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:1, 14-15).

Each gospel in its own unique way announces a cardinal, core conviction of the Christian doctrine (teaching). It is called simply the Doctrine of the Incarnation. The great Nicene Creed puts it this way:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Scholars define the term “incarnation” as literally meaning “enfleshment.” As one eminent scholar puts it, “incarnation expresses the belief that the divine took human form, or to be more specific, that God’s Word became the human being Jesus from Nazareth” (James D.G. Dunn, “Incarnation,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 I-Ma, p. 30). This outrageous claim lies at the heart of the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul understands full well what is at stake in the doctrinal conviction of the incarnation, especially as it plays out in the death and resurrection. “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

This claim of incarnation, of the God of the entire universe coming in human flesh and living among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, must be at the very heart of our preaching, singing, prayers, and sharing at Christmas. Frederick Buechner grasps the essence of this outrageous doctrine at the heart of the Christian faith when he writes, “The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers…. Until we, too, have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.”

To us, a “savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). May we sing with the angels and come with exuberant awestruck joy to a Bethlehem stable to peer over the shoulders of kneeling and behold God with us.

A Message for Advent 2017 ©

Bishop Lowry shares an Advent message of hope for a bruised and battered world – a hope that comes in the form of a baby at Christmas.

Please share this with your church, small group, friends and family by clicking either the share icon (second top right corner of video below) or the link at the bottom of the video player.

 

Bishop Lowry’s Message for Advent 2017 from Central Texas Conference UMC on Vimeo.

 

The Third Sunday in Advent ©

Today, I offer a liturgy for the lighting of the Advent Wreath candles.  As I wrote in my blog “The Advent Wreath,” for our family, the lighting of the Advent Wreath and the sharing of the accompanying liturgy around the kitchen table became a central element in our preparation for Christmas. Even now, with our children grown and having children of their own, this remains a central part of our devotional preparation for the coming birth of Christ.

The liturgy is based loosely on an ancient sharing of the Passover meal modified and adopted for Advent. This Friday, I offer a liturgy for use as a family (whether it be one person or many) in preparation for the birth of the Christ child on the third Sunday of Advent. Those wishing to receive the liturgy for the First Sunday in Advent may email my Executive Secretary, Mrs. Pattie Wood, (PattieWood@ctcumc.org) and she will send you the liturgy for the First Sunday. 

Bishop Mike Lowry

The Third Sunday of Advent
(For use with a Family Advent Wreath)
Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-2

(Open by reading the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Isaiah.)

Light three candles as the family says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

A child asks: “Why do we light three candles?”

A parent responds: “The first candle reminds us of the hope we have in the Savior’s coming. The second candle reminds us of the love of God given us in the baby Jesus. The third candle shares the joy of the Savior’s birth. The Prophet Isaiah said, “The desert and the dry land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the rose [KJV translation].”  This is why the candle is often pink. We come to a Bethlehem stable with great joy and celebrate the birth of our Savior in the baby Jesus. May we prepare for Christmas with joy in what God has done and is doing in our lives.

 “The desert and the dry land will be glad;
       the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the [rose] crocus.
They will burst into bloom,     
      and rejoice with joy and singing.
They will receive the glory of Lebanon,     
     the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the Lord’s glory,     
     the splendor of our God.” (CEB translation)

Read:   John 1:6-8, 19-28

Sing: “What Child is This?”

What child is this, who laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Prayer: “Lord Jesus, we come to you with joy as we prepare again to celebrate your birth.  May praise, laughter, and goodwill fill our hearts and burst forth in sharing. May the songs of this season engulf us with the joy of your presence, care, and all-consuming love. You are indeed the baby Savior and the Lord of all life born among us. With glad hearts and excited minds, we come to the celebration of your birth. Lead us to share your joy, hope and love with those who stand in great need and even greater want during this season. Let the goodness you instill in our heart and minds spill forth in joy for all people in your name and at your coming.  Amen.

Advent Gratitude ©

Each Advent season, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we go into overdrive deciding on who we need/want to get a gift. In my better moments, my energy to find gifts is driven by gratitude. As I reflect on the people who have especially blessed me, I find myself instinctively giving thanks.

Recently, I received a special gift that gave me pause for special Advent gratitude. It came in the form of a letter from Bishop Hector Ortiz Vidal, bishop of Methodist Church in Puerto Rico.

Dear Bishop Lowry:

Peace and Grace in Christ be upon you, your family and your Church.

I wish to express our deepest gratitude for your offering. Your offering has helped us alleviate the pain of our people and support the Ministries and Mission of our Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. Hurricane María destroyed most of our Island, but she could not destroy our passion to serve and love the ones in need. Your help represents a gift from heaven that humbly and gratefully we receive.

The Spaniard author Saint John of the Cross, in his work The Dark Night of the Soul. tells us about the adversities human beings and institutions face in our walk through life. Puerto Rico and The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico have lived “the dark night of the soul,” but on this dark moment, you have been light that enlightened our lives.

In this Christmas Season, may the Star that lit the Manger and all that was accompany with peace hymns illuminate your life as you enlightened ours.

With the appreciation and esteem always,

Bishop Héctor F. Ortiz Vidal

We who live in such abundance are called at this season to remember that the Christ child came to a poor family looking for shelter and hope. The faith of the Methodist people of Puerto Rico serves as a reminder to me (and to us) that we have so much for which to be thankful.

I am thankful for you, the people and congregations of the Central Texas Conference (CTC). Your response is an overwhelming blessing to those in need. David Stinson, Comptroller and Treasurer of the CTC, reports the following Disaster Relief funds received as of Dec. 11, 2017.

$159,270.12 UMCOR USA Disaster Relief.
$2,074.00 Hurricane Irma
$3,983.55 Hurricane Maria
$366,613.75 Hurricane Harvey

Add to the above, 2000+ cleaning buckets assembled in the CTC at an estimated value of $130,000; plus an additional 5,000 hygiene kits for Harvey impacted families at a value of approximately $60,000.

When you add that all up, the Grand total given in hurricane relief (so far) comes out to about $721,941.42. This is truly an Advent of gratitude and an outreach of love in helping! God bless and keep you!

By way of follow up, $70,000 of the Hurricane Harvey funds were sent on Nov.1 as an initial seed offering to help the churches of the Rio Texas Conference. Dawne Phillips, CTC Director of Missions, adds that “approximately 1000 [cleaning buckets] went to Harvey impacted areas with volunteers driving trailers to either Conroe or Kerrville depots, and the rest going with ERTs as they responded to the crisis. 2500 [hygiene kits] have gone to the gulf coast. We have sent cleaning and hygiene kits to UMCOR’s Sager Brown warehouse in Louisiana to help stock them for Hurricane Irma and Maria relief, and we have restocked our own depots so that we are ready for the next emergency.”

Well done, thou good and faithful servants, well done indeed!

The Family Advent Wreath

While serving at Asbury United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Rev. Monte Marshall and I regularly put together an Advent Devotional Booklet. At the beginning of each week in the devotional booklet we wrote a short, lectionary based liturgy to use with a Family Advent Wreath candle lighting liturgy. Devotionals for each day of the week were written by various members of the congregation.

In our family, the lighting of the Advent and the sharing of the accompany liturgy around the kitchen table became a central element in our preparation for Christmas. Even now, with our children grow and having children of their own, this still a central part of our devotional preparation for the coming birth of Christ.

The liturgy is based loosely on an ancient sharing of the Passover meal modified and adopted for Advent. Each Friday in Advent I will offer another week’s liturgy for use as a family (whether it be one person or many) in preparation for the birth of the Christ child. Those wishing to receive the liturgy for the First Sunday in Advent may email my Executive Secretary, Mrs. Pattie Wood, (PattieWood@ctcumc.org) and she will send you the liturgy for the First Sunday. Bishop Mike Lowry

The Second Sunday of Advent

(For use with a Family Advent Wreath)

Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11 

(Open by reading the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Isaiah.)

Light two candles as the family says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

A child asks: “Why do we light two candles?”

A parent responds: “The first candle reminds us of the hope we have in the Savior’s coming. The second candle reminds us of the love of God given us in the baby Jesus. God’s outpouring of love calls us to prepare ourselves with love for others as we celebrate the coming of the Savior into our lives and the world. We prepare for Christ’s birth through acts of love and kindness towards others, especially the poor and lost.”

Read:   Mark 1:-8

Sing: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,

                And ransom captive Israel,

                That mourns in lonely exile here,

                Until the Son of God appears.

                Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee,

                O Israel!

Prayer: “Lord God, You call us to prepare the way for the birth of your Son our Savior and Lord. May the love which you pour out upon us so fill us with love that your love overflows our lives on to others, especially those forgotten, neglected and rejected. Help us to be so involved with loving others in your name that we make straight your way in the desert. In the hungry, sick, poor, lonely, imprisoned, and stranger may we see you present with us. Fill our lives with your Spirit of love and sharing during this time that we may so prepare for your coming birth by sharing and loving others. Amen.”

 

 

Recovering Doctrinal Greatness Through Advent/Christmas Hymns ©

Even when announced and printed in the bulletin, as I turn in my hymnal to #211 “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 211), the words from this great hymn slip in on me and catch me by surprise. They manage to be at once both a caress and a jolt. I suspect that there is no greater Advent hymn than this one. The music is sublime, the words poetic, and the theology arresting in its greatness.

A footnote in The United Methodist Hymnal tells us that it comes from the 9th century. It adds that the original verses were in Latin. A modest amount of internet digging reveals that it has roots even deeper than that. Wikipedia notes that it probably came originally from a series of “plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas.” More, so much more, than just a catchy tune, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” plunges us into the depth of Christian doctrine.

Consider the first verse:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Springing from the biblical texts of Isaiah 7:14 (“Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.”) and Matthew 1:23 (Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. [Emmanuel means “God with us.”]), the song not only captures our longing for a Savior but denotes our exile from our proper home with God. It does all this through adherence to the Hebrew Text (Old Testament) and the historical reality of the Babylonian exile. Taken as a whole the longing evokes a theological awareness of how lost we are without a Savior.

Thus in a few short verses this great hymn shatters any self-help notions of personal salvation. We too are Israel; we too are lost and stand in need of a Savior.

Look at verse three:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The words of this version of the hymn in verse three were translated by H. S. Coffin in 1916. The emphasis is on our need for divine help and for the “ordering” of all things, both far and near. The very concept of biblical wisdom is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The verse faces without flinching how disorderly our world is. Have you read the headlines or watched the news lately?

As in all the verses, the refrain brings us back to the great promise of salvation. We who live in a disordered world desperately needing wisdom from on high searching for the path of knowledge move towards a Bethlehem stable with joy. Emmanuel, God with us, will come to us. In the chaos of our day and time, this is surely the greatest news we can ever receive!

With news of North Korea conducting missile tests, the ever-continuing war in the Middle East, and violence in our own cities, the seventh verse almost demands to be sung.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We are in the midst of international strife, whether the nations (including our own) realize it or not. Christ is the deepest desire of our hearts and minds. As the Prince of Peace approaches, rightly we pray for and work towards peace; “bind all people in one heart and mind!”

Notice too as you sing, how the verse bids us lay down sin both individually and collectively. “Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease.” The version of this verse contained in The United Methodist Hymnal offers a slightly different rendering: “From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife.” It recognizes and offers our highest allegiance to the creator God who comes to us in the baby, Emmanuel, God is with us! Notice how the seventh verse spills forth in a prayer, “fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

There is more, much more to said and shared, but I invite us to not only sing the hymns of Advent/Christmas but also to take the time to dwell in deep reflection on the wisdom and doctrinal greatness of the words. In the music, sung, chanted and prayed, God speaks to us once again.

Encountering Jesus on the Journey ©

In the church, we make much of the journey to Bethlehem. The tale is framed by the simple phrasing of verse 4 in Luke’s second chapter: “Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.” (Luke 2:4) What is often forgotten is the bookend of this epic journey found in Matthew 2: “When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.’ Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)

The story closes with a paragraph rarely preached from our pulpits.

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee. 23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19-23)

Approaching the joy Advent (the coming of the Christ-child) and the festive time of our Christmas celebrations, it is hard, if not painful, to remember that the holy child starts his life as a Christmas refugee, as migrant living in strange lands.

The Council of Bishops (COB) of the United Methodist Church has called on UMCs to observe Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3, though churches may choose to observe it on another Sunday if they prefer. I join with my fellow bishops in asking the churches of the Central Texas Conference to pause to recall the tragedy of global migration in our time.

I am also quite conscious that many churches already have extensive Advent plans set in motion.  As such, if you wish, it would be appropriate for a congregation to remember Global Migration at some other time. Such a time of remembrance, prayer, learning and commitment should not be lost in the hectic pace of other activities. I specifically request that every church in the Central Texas Conference make time to observe Global Migration Sunday between now and the end of May 2018.

Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, wrote a letter to the United Methodist Church as a whole (one we shared in a banner headline on the CTC website on October 18th) in which he reminded us that…

“From Asia and Europe to Africa and the Americas, the plight of more than 65 million men, women and children forced to leave their homes and migrate to places unknown calls all Christians to remember what God requires of us.

Wars, natural disasters, persecution, economic hardships and growing violence around the world are the major root causes of the unprecedented global migration we witness with grave concern today. As if these deadly forces were not enough, migrants also face myriad problems including hazardous travel, cultural barriers and the physical and emotional costs of arriving in strange lands where they are not always welcome and they often face persecution.

For most of these migrants, the decision to flee their homeland comes as a last resort effort to live. We are reminded of Joseph and Mary as they sought to save their lives and especially the life of the Christ child as they fled to Africa to escape the wrath of King Herod, who (threatened by the birth of Jesus) ordered the massacre of children (Matthew 2:13‑14).”

We who journey to a Bethlehem stable are called to go with baby Jesus all the way. We too are called to join the Savior in the journey of migration. For most of us, following the Christ does not mean leaving home, let alone flee persecution. For this blessing, we should appropriately thank God. We are fortunate and blessed to live in a freedom! With this blessing, we should appropriately join the Lord in serving the refugee. Remember what the adult Jesus, who himself had been a refugee, said, “When you welcome the sojourner, you welcome me.” (Matthew 25:35)

Whenever you choose to observe Global Migration Sunday, I recommend that you visit umcmigration.org/resources and review the wide array of video, multi-media, presentation, digital and worship resources in several different languages.

The Migrant (from UMCMigration.org) from Central Texas Conference UMC on Vimeo.