HAVE THE SAME LOVE AS CHRIST . . . Focused on God and God’s mission in the world

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2 from Philippians 2:1-11)

It is Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve most things focus the evening hours, leading up to midnight when the hours of darkness slowly turn to the hours of dawn. And the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

But two thousand plus years ago, the story of Jesus’ birth tell us, the focus was the daytime hours and Mary & Joseph journeying into Bethlehem and the busy-ness and noise there. If you have ever played a part in birthing a baby, you will know the hours leading up to the birth can be fraught with pain and desperation. So this passage is quite conducive to the minutes and hours leading up to Christmas day.

Encouragement? I am sure Mary needed lots of encouragement. “I’ll find some place for us to stay tonight” Joseph must have said. “It’s only a little further” Mary must have told her self. “I’ll find something soft for you to lay down on” Joseph probably told Mary. “Lots of women have had babies and lived to tell about it” Mary probably told herself.

Consolation from love? Joseph loved Mary – he took her for his wife, braving the scandal. Mary loved Joseph – he believed she was special amongst all women, and not just because she was his wife. They both loved God and believed that God was with them and blessed them.

Sharing of the Spirit? Oh, the Spirit was there gentle reader. Make no doubt of that. No other baby had its birth announcement done by a heavenly choir.

Compassion and sympathy? While a stable might have been one of the worse places to give birth, it is a birth story that has moved countless millions and has engendered Mary and Joseph as celebrated of parents.

As for joy? The world have been moved by joy yearly.

Paul may not have intended for this snippet of his letter to the Philippians to be applied to the Christmas story, but I do not think he would be displeased. So would say to you also, gentle reader. Be of the same mind; trust in God as Joseph did. Allow yourself to be used for God’s plan as Mary did. And go out into the world declaring joy and peace as Christ did. Be of one mind with them all! Selah! And shalom for your day.

LIVE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL . . . That Christians and Christianity might look good

“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel . . . .” (Philippians 1:27a,c from Philippians 1:12-30 )

From December 23, 2008: “At the season of Advent and Christmas we do not ask ourselves or each other whether we are worthy of the gift of Christ. That is a question that comes later at Lent and Easter. Christmastime is a time when we celebrate the fact that “God so loved the world . . . “ I went on to make the comparison between God and Santa Claus, noting that God is more forgiving than Santa by not threatening to hold back the gift of Jesus Christ is someone is found naughty. In fact God would say if you are “naughty” you need Christ even more. Then I said, (again from 5 years ago) “Looking at Christmas in this way, we would be foolish to put more emphasis on the Santa-style of Christmas then the Christ-style of Christmas.”

But I made an error back then; I did not delve more closely into the passage but took only the surface meaning. In looking at it again, I realized this passage has little to do with Advent and the birth of Christ, and more to do with the commercialized Christmas – appearance and not inward intent.

But what then do we make of Paul’s admonition to be “worthy”? After I “wrestled” with the passage for a little while, I did a brief consultation with Barnes and his remarks showed me that Paul is telling the Philippians to act in a way that reflects well on Christians and the Christian faith. Not that their conduct be worthy of God and Christ’s grace and mercy, but that others might see and judge that Christians are good citizens and good people.

Early Christianity was lived out in the public eye, and appeasing the public eye was very much a concern. That is not to say that was wrong, nor that we should not take care to live good and wise lives. But appeasing the public eye should not take precedence over living as God has commanded us. Faith was a very private thing, and not shared much unless one specifically asked. When you fear being put together because of your faith beliefs, you are not likely to shout them from the roof tops. Nor by making use of a choir.

I think it is hard for us to conceive of a faith that needed to be hidden – especially at this time of year when Christmas decorations have been in displayed since before the third Thursday in November! If this passage had come earlier, I might not have erred in the surface reading. But here we are, two days short of Christmas, and Paul is speaking to us advocating care and caution in our daily lives.

Did it occurred to you that Christ did not live his life carefully? That he set a course for his life, guided by God, and proceeded to live the life even at the cost of the cross. That is what I would advocate for you gentle reader – live life fully and completely, confident that God is leading you well. Pay attention to scripture, reading it closely and completely. Pray often. Reflect on the inspiration laid down by the saints and spiritual ancestors before us. And celebrate Christ’s birth with choirs and compassion. Let no one come away from you not knowing that you believe fully and completely in our revealed Lord.

As I said last year (at least I got that right!) “May you find the true Divine Spirit of Christmas in your heart and in your home; and may the Divine Spirit be a part of you living all year round. Selah!” And shalom for your day.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A Hear Us Lord!

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalms 80:1-3)

In the scripture from the daily “Sip of Scripture” we read from I Kings chapter 8 where King Solomon is dedicating the temple. He is asking for God hear and heed the prayers of the Lord’s people. And the psalmist also asks that God her the cries of the Israelite followers of God. That it is King David – the father of King Solomon – who it is assumed is the psalmist, is just one example of scriptural symmetry.

So close to the Christmas event, the birth of Christ, our waiting has reached a fevered pitch. We are in need of a Savior, as much as the Jews were at the time of Christ’s birth. So much had gone wrong, and God’s people had gone astray or had been lead astray – again.

We may well join with our spiritual ancestors from the close past to the farthest distant past; “Hear us! Heed us! Come to us! Restore us!

Through the birth of your Son,
Who was, is and ever will be our Lord and Redeemer
Let your face shine upon us
As the star of Bethlehem shone down on his birth place!
Selah!”