Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

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Devotion: Care for the Poor

Read Amos 8:4-12.

Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30″

One of the aspects of Advent and Christmas we often forget is how God’s birth and reign turned the world on its head.  We want to think of Christ as bringing love and happiness which he certainly does.  But Advent is also a time of repentance, a time to consider the ways in which we have not acted in holy and just ways.  In passages like the Magnificat, we hear that the hungry will be filled and the rich sent away empty (Luke 1: 53).  At this time of year, we also hear words from the prophets who warn us what will happen if we refuse to take care of the poor.

Amos warns us what will happen if we “trample on the needy” (v. 4).

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The Greatest Gift of All

Linus recites Luke 2:

Linus recites from Luke 2

Sometimes, we can feel like Charlie Brown. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and wonder, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, much like the angels on that first Christmas, remind us what Christmas is all about.

“Peace and goodwill toward men.”

Peace and goodwill is hard to come by these days, as it was that first Christmas.  Charles Campbell reminds us, “The political powers, in both Jesus’ day and our own, play on fear to get their way – whether it be the fear of the emperor, the fear of terrorists, the fear of the ‘other’ (the immigrant), or the fear of death.”

Government mandated oppression.

Discrimination against those were different than them.

The poor were kept poor.

People suffered from hunger.

Violence was evident on the streets daily.

But, that was in “those days.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, NRSV).

The arrival of Jesus brought with it a “new day.” There is no longer need for fear, only joy. There is no longer need for corruption, only freedom. There is no longer need for hunger, only feasting. There is no longer need for occupation, only liberation. There is no longer need for war, only peace.

And yet, we struggle to see this “new day.”

Political parties inspire fear of the other party.

Hatred and bullying of someone, anyone, who is different from us is rampant.

The great divide between the have’s and the have-not’s gets wider and wider.

People suffer from hunger.

Violence is evident on our streets and in our schools.

And there is something deep inside of us that wants to cry out like Charlie Brown, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Sure, we get all these warm fuzzies at this time of year that make us feel so good. It’s great giving and receiving gifts. It’s great going to parties. It’s great having family and friends around.

But, at least for me, there is something hard to swallow about Christmas. That is with all the joy, there is grieving and hopelessness. And I don’t mean to be a damper on things. From Central America and back, I have seen suffering at the hands of poverty, addictions, and violence. And while we try to not think about these things at Christmas, we have to remember this is why the baby boy was born. This poverty, these addictions, and this violence is the reason God became man. This suffering is the reason that Jesus was born.

Jesus is not just the reason for the season. Jesus is the greatest gift of all. In that lowly manger sits hands of grace that bring healing and hope into our hopelessness.

John’s gospel talks about Jesus’ birth as a great Light that penetrates  the darkness of the world. Matthew quotes Jesus telling the disciples that “You are the Light of the World.” This is just one of the many commissioning sayings of Jesus. God sent Jesus as the Light, we are the light-bearers. It is now our responsibility to carry that Light into the dark crevices of the world. Because we claim Jesus Christ, we now become a gift to the word.

Taking the Light to the oppressed.

Taking the Light to the poor and the hungry.

Taking the Light to the bullied and the bullies.

Taking the Light into the violent streets.

It is us who must act. It is us who must bring peace and goodwill to all. It is our gift to give.

Led by the Spirit

Read Luke 1:39-45.

Here we have two women. One young, the other old. Both pregnant. Both marginalized by society. Mary because she is unwed and pregnant. Elizabeth has been disgraced by her community because she is old and barren. Both of their lives are changing. One bears the messenger, and the other bears the Message.

During this visit, Elizabeth is the first to declare Jesus “Lord.” Luke does not tell us what Mary does, if anything, between the angel’s visit and Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. What prompted this visit? What was the motivating force behind her actions?

The short answer is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that calls to us to act, to move, or to change. It is the force that gives us our power to do good. It is the motivator that causes us to seek out wisdom guides or mentors along our journey. Elizabeth is such a person for Mary. A mentor, a wisdom guide, a prayer partner.

Who has the Holy Spirit led you to as a faith mentor? Who is your wisdom guide? Who is your prayer partner?

Mary Had a Baby Boy

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

My cousin is in the hospital awaiting the arrival of her first baby. As I’ve been talking with her and praying for her, I’ve also been thinking about what it must have been like that first Christmas. And the more I think about it, I think about how incredible the incarnation is. God became a human being.

God became a baby.

God became just like us. And in that moment, God was poor and helpless. The God of Creation became a crying baby boy. And the prophet Isaiah calls this baby, “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Before anything else, Jesus was Mighty.

Before changing water into wine. Before teaching the masses. Before walking on water. Before raising Lazarus. Before the Cross. Before it all, the baby was Mighty. This baby is the Mighty One who saves. This baby is the Mighty One who will change the world.

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a sermon preached to a church in Havana, Cuba, said, “But now it is true that in three days, Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten.”

Tears are Falling

“Heal the broken hearted, and bind up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

Tears are falling today in light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It is difficult to understand why anyone would do such a horrific thing.

Advent is a time when we long for the One who will come and wipe our tears away.  Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the One will heal all of our brokenness and pain. Advent is a time when the One who is coming will speak peace into our violence.

We need the Christ Child now more than ever.  Join us as we pray for the Sandy Hook community.

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