Wise Worship

The Christian calendar for 2018 marks January 6th as the day of Epiphany.  What is Epiphany? 
- The religious tongue defines Epiphany as "the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." 
- The less-specific tongue defines Epiphany as "a moment of sudden revelation or insight."

Let the languages meet! 
- As the religious and secular speak in accord, they highlight the joy of fresh discovery.  John Henry Hopkins wrote of one such discovery - the Epiphany - when he penned a Christmas carol in 1857. 

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.
While, most likely, not kings nor three, curious travelers nevertheless brought gifts and followed yonder star while traversing afar.  The second chapter of Matthew provides the account of a group of magi (astrologers) who journeyed to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King of Israel.  Those travelers were indeed wise. 

They were wise through contemplative academic study.  They were also wise because they allowed the Holy Spirit to guide their hearts.  They chose not to reason away the unique, strange even, urging to head east in search of a king, a king of a kingdom not their own for that matter.  They trusted and, therefore, traveled.  When they arrived in the village of Bethlehem, they walked to the house of Joseph and, upon seeing the Christ, bowed in reverence.  While their gifts to Him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were significant, their best gift was their bowing.  It foreshadowed the glorious day to which Paul referred.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
The greatest gift we can give Jesus is reverence.  He deserves it and any who deny Him that gift will, regardless of what else they give, fail to offer their best.  I possess no frankincense or myrrh.  My only gold forms a circle around the third (not counting the thumb) finger of my left hand.  So what can I give Jesus this year?  To name a few:
- my marriage
- my parenting
- my finances
- my trust
- my preaching
- my writing
- my health
And, most importantly, my reverence

12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:12-14 (NIV)



Saint Stephen's Day

On this, the twenty-sixth day of December, children wake to play with toys only yesterday received as moms pick up the remains of shredded wrapping paper and dads rinse the special dishes that appear on the dining table but once a year.  Others begin their Kwanza celebrations or enjoy the holiday named after boxes.  Still others pause to remember the life and death of the early (some say first) Christian martyr on this, the Christian calendar date dedicated to a young man who spoke boldly and stood faithfully for Christ.

The first words about Stephen in the biblical writings refer to him as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit."  The second statement about the chosen servant for the noble task of feeding widows describes his character and acts.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:8 (NIV)
In addition to displaying God's power, the young deacon declared truth with great courage - even as stones careened toward him as angry hypocrites hurled them.  Near the end of his sermon summarizing the highlights of Hebrew history, Stephen quoted words of Isaiah, the prophet of old.
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’"
Acts 7:49-50 (NIV)

Those words from Isaiah 66 declare the majesty of God.  Once the prophet did such proclaiming, he continued writing by describing those who please God. 

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word."
Isaiah 66:2b (NIV)

After Stephen quoted Isaiah, he described those listening to his message . . .

“You stiff-necked people!"
Acts 7:51a (NIV)

On this twenty-sixth day of December, just days away from a new year, a careful look at the descriptions is worth the effort.

Isaiah's favored one: 
     humble, contrite, trembling at God's word
Stephen's listeners: 

I'd rather be described as the former.  To live the Ordinary Life in a Christ-worthy way is to loosen one's neck.  To live the Ordinary Life is to love, laugh, honor, forgive, and walk humbly in our everyday lives.

As you offer toasts as 2017 gives way to 2018, lift a cheer to Stephen in appreciation of his job well done and example well set.


Handling Eves' Next Days

The next two Sundays, in various ways, people across the globe will celebrate two Eves.  Not two spouses of Adam, mind you; but two evenings prior to significant calendar days - the Eve of Christmas and the Eve of 2018. 

Eves serve as periods of anticipation. 

The two in December offer times to anticipate a joyous celebration of the first century birth of Jesus the Christ and the arrival of a fresh set of 365 days. 

During the next set of days, you will experience many more eves - mostly non-calendared.  Eves occur as expectant mothers prepare for their baby's introduction to the world.  Eves occur as terminally ill patients' days shorten.  Final exams serve as eves as do performance reviews.  Whether an eve is calendared or unexpected, the day that follows it holds surprises - always! 

Those surprises take the form of things like:
- exciting mysteries at the foot of your Christmas stocking
- "It's a girl!"
- aced exams
- "negative" results on biopsy tests

Those surprises also take the form of things like:
- disappointment upon unwrapping your gift
- "We need to get her to the NICU!"
- C-s or, worse yet, Fs
- "positive" results on biopsy tests

We have no way of knowing, with complete certainty, what each tomorrow (each day after our eves) will bring.  We do know, however, how we can handle each eve's next day.  We can handle those days' events when we echo (and believe) the words of Job.

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

And we embrace the words of Jesus.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”     Matthew 28:20b (NIV)

The eves are coming; as are the days after.  As they do, we will do well to echo the words of Ira Stanphill from his song, "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow." 

"Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."