Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Daily Readings for SUNDAY, December 18, 2016- 4th Sunday in Advent

Light four candles to watch for Messiah:
let the light banish darkness.
He is coming, tell the glad tidings.
Let your light be shining.

First Reading
from the Old Testament

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. (Isaiah 7:10-16, NRSV)

This is the Word of the Lord

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 Prayer for Israel’s Restoration
1  Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2  before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
3  Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4  O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5  You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6  You make us the scorn[a] of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7  Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
16  They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17  But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18  Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

Second Reading
from the Epistles

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7, NRSV)

This is the Word of the Lord

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

The Finger Prints of God....Visible - The Sunday Sermon for SUNDAY, December 18, 2016 - 4th Sunday in Advent

The Holy Gospel
according to St Matthew, the 1st Chapter

Glory to You, O Lord

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV)

This is the Gospel of the Lord

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus who is the Christ. Amen

"The Finger Prints of God....Visible"

Each and every Christmas I am amazed at the impact of the old, old story of God’s incarnation has on people. We have not grown weary of this ancient story. A baby in a manger. Shepherds in a field. The light and music of angels filled the dark sky. After 2000 plus years of exhausting repetition why do the events in the small Jewish village of Bethlehem still intrigue us?

Is it the momentum of long established traditions? Homes are decorated with juniper and holly. We deck our shrubs and frame our homes with tiny white lights. Our living rooms display a decorated tree. Ornaments commemorate vacation memories past or family history. Nativity scenes grace our lawns and mantles.

Ironic, all this decking and glitter when the movement of God that Christmas recalls is away from glitter and tinsel.

The event of Christmas is about remembering who is responsible for this whole Christmas thing. The truth of Christmas is wrapped in the words of the angel. “Today a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” It was and remains a message of joy. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever would believe in him might have eternal life.”

It was a very bold thing for God to do. God chose to take upon Himself human finger prints. Unique. Special. The baby, born in Bethlehem, to Mary and Joseph, like every other human baby, was born in the normal way. Yet, at the same time God Himself, the Creator of the universe decided to enter human history and possess his own special and unique finger prints. Mary and Joseph gave him the name Jesus, just as the angel had told them.

Did you know that Christmas was originally a worship service called the Christ Mass, a celebration of the Incarnation? It was and is a celebration of the first in kind event when God became a human being; deity put on flesh and blood. For a period of time, the invisible Creator of all things came to live on earth as a human being.

The great theologian G.K. Chesterton correctly called the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem an “enormous exception”, something absolutely unique.

We realize that in this economic driven culture in which we now live, the word “incarnation” does not sell toys. The celebration of the “Christ Mass” will not bring human eyes to view the windows in the stores of merchants.

To be sure most people believe that there was some kind of Creator or “Intelligent Designer” who made the universe and then stepped away. The scientific fact that galaxies don’t crash into each other and the knowledge that gravity holds things in place cannot be a random accident.

But to acknowledge that an omnipotent Creator would take the form of a helpless infant, in which the hands that made the universe would become hands too small to reach beyond a crib, staggers the human mind. Yet this is the miracle of the Incarnation. This is the celebration of the Christ Mass.

Never before, nor sense, has any religion ever even hinted that the One invisible maker of all things became a human being and dwelt on earth, but this is what Christianity claims for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It was a bold thing for God to do in order to be known.

He chose to have the fate of the world rest upon the response of a small town teenage girl and her 20 plus year old fiancé. How many times did Mary go over the words of the angel, as she felt the growing infant kicking against the wall of her uterus? How many times must Joseph have second guessed his own encounter with the angel – just a dream?

How easy it would have been for Joseph to explain away a dream while living under the gossip of neighbors who could plainly see the changing shape of the woman he planned to marry.

I am impressed that when the Son of God became a human being he played by the rules, harsh rules. For we all know small towns do not treat kindly young boys who grow up with a questionable paternity.

When the story of the “incarnation” was told the Romans laughed at the idea of a “god” becoming flesh with real finger prints. Oh, sure, a Roman “god” might have a fling with a mortal woman and then disappear to a better realm. But then, you know your side of the tracks and the gods know theirs. The Creator of the Universe taking upon himself flesh and bone, born into the world as an infant…Hilarious!

The celebration of the Incarnation; the celebration of the Christ Mass… is politically incorrect. The word Christmas may work very well if one has lost true reason for the season. Growing up did you ever think that even the word “Christmas” would become a political hot potato? And so, in a world that does not want to dig deep into the meaning life and death and God’s offer of eternal life seeks a new word: Holiday Trees. Holiday Lane. And Happy Holiday.

Christmas is not about a colorful package with a bow under a glittering tree. Christmas is not about what one finds in a stocking hung by the chimney with care. Christmas is about a baby! A crying infant desperate for the need of a warm breast, loving eyes and a soft voice. How foolish for the Creator of the world to choose his own set of finger prints.

Even the Devil could see God’s foolish decision. In the wilderness he offered Jesus the opportunity to be a real King with real geography and adoring crowds. Jesus declined.

One of the Christmas cards we received several years ago reminds of true joy that fills our hearts at Christmas.

“If our greatest need had been for information
God would have sent an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money
God would have sent an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure
God would have sent an entertainer.

But our greatest need was the forgiveness of sins
So God sent a Savior.”

The angel’s message had come to Mary. The angel’s message had come to Joseph, “Mary will give birth to a son by the Holy Spirit…”you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) It is appropriate that we sing the hymn Isaac Watts wrote almost 300 years ago. “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come, Let earth receive her King.”

The ancient words of the Apostle’s Creed …… conceived by the Holy Spirit born of a virgin Mary …… points to the fundamental fact of the Christian faith. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us. In becoming flesh, God did not delegate salvation to a surrogate. He came himself.

The event of Christmas recalls the moment in human history when the Almighty God deliberately put himself in such a state that Satan could tempt him, demons could taunt him, and lowly human beings could slap his face and nail him to a cross. What a fool hardy thing for God to do?

Against the claims of religious relativism, Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds accepted the angel’s message. The Apostle Paul explains the mystery of the incarnation this way. “God was pleased to have all of his full Deity dwell in Jesus. He is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) through this infant born of Mary. God the Father through Jesus “reconciled to himself all things, whether things in heaven or on earth by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.”

“Once you were alienated from God because of your evil behavior but now – through faith” in the Child of Bethlehem who was crucified on a cross – God has again established and secured forgiveness and brought about “reconciliation by the physical body of Jesus through his death on the cross to present you holy and without blemish and free from accusation for your sin – IF you,” (Colossians 1:20-23) like Mary and Joseph continue in your faith, trusting the words and promise of God through the angel. Unto you is born a Savior, Christ the Lord. The baby in Mary’s arms, the baby in the manger is God in flesh.

Listen to the story again as told by Walter Wangerin as taken from “The Book of God”.

On a cold and damp night the midnight fires of the shepherds had collapsed into sparks and red embers. The shepherds shared the long night watch and felt the silence of the stars, tiny dots in the sky. All at once the stars began to explode. The shepherds became wide awake. Frightened. The sheep began to bleat, looking for an escape into the dark. The stars, tens of thousands began flashing like white fires in the black sky.

The shepherds were immobilized. Between the glorious notion in the heavens and the dark earth below there now appeared a single endless pillar of pure white fire. The fire spoke: “don’t be afraid.” Within the fire a brilliant human form, smooth, huge and very beautiful, his feet upon the mountains.

The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy which shall come to all people. Unto you is born this night in the city of David, A Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign for you. You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Suddenly a swarm of fiery heavenly hosts swooped down and filled the skies praising God. The air itself was the music of the angels. The shepherds pushed the gate shut, testing the latch and began to walk up the valley. Their legs were light. They saw the fires of Bethlehem. There they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby.

“Does the baby have a name?” They asked. “Then Joseph remembered the words of the angel: “You shall call him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” Yes, His name is Jesus.”

The Creator of the Universe, who has the power to create life from nothing, the power to destroy the universe with a breath, chose to take upon himself His own personal set of finger prints. A mystery my mind cannot understand. God dwelt among us. By faith my heart acknowledges this historical event. God was about the task of bringing those of us who were separated from His holiness by our sinful behavior back into a relationship of love with Himself.

“Christmas demands faith, because the “incarnation” is a mystery. Our reason can not succeed in trying to understand how God could have loved us to such a degree. Martin Luther penned these words to describe the “incarnation”:

“O Lord, you have created all!
How did you become so small?
To sweetly sleep in a manger bed
Where lowly cattle lately fed.”

Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that he gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have eternal life.” 

(Corrie ten Boom)

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Sermon shared by Clarence Eisberg Dec 14, 2010.

LHM Daily Devotion - "Regrets"

And immediately his (Zechariah's) mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. (Luke 1:64, ESV)

Read Luke 1:64-66

Squeezing together at Christmas time can put a strain on even the closest of families. Cutting words can splinter and scar a family for years. Perhaps this Christmas will see empty places around your table -- and deep regret in your heart.

Zechariah knew that regret well. Nine long months went by since he spoke a word. Out of disappointment he last used his voice to blurt out his doubts about the angel's promise. Over the months his faith has been restored by the wonderful things he has seen and experienced, but his last words still echo in his mind.

But along with that echo are the words of the angel, "You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place" (Luke 1:20). One by one everything the angel predicted has occurred, and now the last piece has fallen into place: the child has been named John. In an instant God restores his speech. And the first words from Zechariah's mouth are words of blessing for the great things God has done.

Each of us carries regret over hasty words we have said. Perhaps you regret something you said to a loved one now gone. Just remember Jesus Christ came in the manger to win forgiveness for that sin. Because He died and rose again, we have new hope and new life. It's a hope that through Christ Jesus our fractured relationships will be repaired. We hope for this to take place in this life but even if it doesn't, for all who believe, it will in the never-ending life we will enjoy together when Jesus Christ returns.

THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, heal the wounds I caused by my hasty, hurting words; restore the relationships I have damaged, and fill me with peace and joy for Jesus' sake. I pray in His Name. Amen.

Use these devotions in your newsletter and bulletin! Used by permission; all rights reserved by the Int'l LLL (LHM).

Morning Devotions with Cap'n Kenny - Why We Celebrate Christmas

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23, NIV)

It really is an amazing thing, to think about the mystery of the Incarnation—that mysterious moment when God became a man.

Jesus Christ—God the Son—was born in a manger. He went from the throne of heaven to a feeding trough. He went from the presence of angels to a cave filled with animals. He who is larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young virgin.

Some people have a hard time believing in the Virgin Birth. If you believe the Bible, you need to believe in the Virgin Birth. The Bible teaches that God Almighty was supernaturally conceived in the womb of a virgin (see Matthew 1:23).

This makes sense if you think about it. If God had chosen to, He could have sent Jesus to this earth as a fully grown yet sinless human being. A shaft of light could have come out from heaven with Jesus descending to the ground as an adult man.

But if Jesus came to us in that way, who could have related to Him as a person, as a part of the human race? God also could have had Jesus come into the world through two ordinary human beings—but still with a divine nature. But then most of us would have doubted His divinity. That's why the Incarnation makes sense.

Christmas is the opportunity to worship God, to bow down and pay homage to Him for humbling Himself and appearing in human form (see Philippians 2:6–9). Why He would choose to love us so much to become one of us is the true mystery of the Incarnation—and the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Let's be sure to worship Him this week and to proclaim "good tidings of great joy" to a world that needs to hear good news.

In Jesus,
Cap'n Kenny

Devociones de Adviento - Divino heredero de David

Romanos 1:1-7

Les escribo acerca de su Hijo, nuestro Señor Jesucristo, que conforme a los hombres descendía de David. (Ro 1:3, RVC)

Si vamos al cine y nos preguntan acerca de la película que vimos, se espera que en pocas palabras podamos resumir la trama y narrar lo más saliente de su protagonista. Cuando se le pregunta a un cristiano acerca de su fe, se espera que pueda contar en pocas palabras quién es Jesucristo y qué hizo por cada ser humano.

El tema central de la Biblia es Jesucristo. Todo apunta a él y se resume en su persona y su obra. Cuando san Pablo introduce su carta a los Romanos, dice que escribe acerca de Jesucristo, que conforme a los hombres--según su naturaleza humana- descendía de David. Por otra parte, ese Jesucristo era de naturaleza divina. Ambas naturalezas se unieron en una sola persona, de manera indivisible, a partir de su concepción y continuarán unidas para siempre.

La persona de Jesús sigue siendo un misterio. A lo largo de los años, muchas sectas torcieron las enseñanzas de las Escrituras y "crearon" un Jesús distinto del que nos muestran los evangelistas y apóstoles. Una secta, el docetismo, enseñaba por ejemplo que Jesús era humano sólo en apariencia, por lo cual su muerte también fue pura apariencia. Sin embargo, Jesús, descendiente del rey David, fue capaz de sufrir, morir y resucitar. Él es el rey de Israel y vino para ser el rey de todo corazón arrepentido que busca a Dios sinceramente.

Aunque su historia arranque en un humilde pesebre y su trono sea la cruz, su reinado en nuestra vida implica el acceso a un reino lleno de promesas y esperanzas. Busquémoslo. Conozcámosle. Creamos en Él.

Oh Dios, gracias por darme un salvador cercano y poderoso que puede ocupar mi lugar, morir por mí y elevarme a tu gloria en la eternidad. Amén.

© Copyright 2016 Cristo Para Todas Las Naciones

Standing Strong Through the Storm - FROM OBSTACLE TO INSTRUMENT

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”

The persecuted church teaches us that everyone is either an agent of God’s will, or an instrument of God’s will. Everyone in this world has only two choices: they can choose to do God’s will by co-operating with God, or they can choose to defy God and do his will unknowingly.

“Remember, our God is so great even the persecutors serve him,” said a Chinese pastor wryly. He was referring to arch-persecutor of the Chinese church, Mao Tse Tung, who launched the fiercest anti-Christian campaign of the 20th century in the 1960’s. Called the “Cultural Revolution,” he swept away all churches, burned all Bibles, and imprisoned all the pastors.

Yet all he succeeded in doing was pushing the church deep underground, where it became embedded in the family structure and Chinese culture in a way 300 years of evangelism had failed to accomplish. From this fire emerged the world’s largest revival – where the church grew from 1 million in 1950 to over 80 million today.

“We say,” smiled the pastor, “that thanks to Mao – who thought he was annihilating the church – we have the greatest revival. He thought he was killing the church, but all the while he was doing pre-evangelism. God had the last laugh. Glory be to God – He always gets his will done.”

This truth is also showing up in India. Since 1997 violence against Christians has increased greatly as a result of the election of Hindu extremists. Yet the effect of the extremism has been to drive thousands of low caste Hindus into the church. The more Hindu extremists persecute Christians, the more moderate Hindus are drawn into the church.

It is a glorious truth the persecuted awaken us to. Everyone ends up furthering the will of God! Even those who put obstacles in the way of the church serve God, because God just turns the obstacle into an instrument. This means that we must not despair when we think conditions for the flourishing of our Christian lives or our churches are less than perfect. Take your worst enemy or the one feature of your life, society or church that causes you most despair, then put your mind into gear and think – how would God work his will through this obstacle?

Are you childless? Maybe God is using that to give you a greater ministry, impossible with the responsibility of family? Are you powerless? Maybe God wants to show his glory and make you marvel? We may not get an answer, but it is a thrill to try, because we know everyone is either a willing agent or an unwitting instrument of the will of God.

He’s too great, and he loves the world too much, for it to be any other way! God takes the obstacle, and makes it the instrument!

RESPONSE: Today I will be an agent to accomplish God’s will realizing He can make me an instrument.

PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of Your will and work as I choose to cooperate with You.

Un Dia a la Vez - Respuestas tardías

El Señor tu Dios es el Dios verdadero, el Dios fiel, que cumple su pacto [...] y muestra su fiel amor a quienes lo aman y obedecen sus mandamientos. Deuteronomio 7:9

Ya hemos hablado en este libro devocional que los tiempos de Dios no son nuestros tiempos y esto afecta en gran medida a ciertas personas.

Hay muchos de ustedes que no tienen mayor problema con sentarse a esperar que Papá Dios conteste a una pregunta u oración. Otros, por el contrario, son tan desesperados que necesitan las respuestas de inmediato y en cuanto las solicitan.

Cuando vamos a la Biblia, encontramos ejemplos que nos muestran que en algunos casos Dios tardaba mucho tiempo en contestar. Uno de estos lo tenemos en Job. Su tiempo de prueba fue tan difícil que se le murieron todos sus hijos, perdió todos sus bienes y terminó con sarna y rascándose con una teja. A pesar de eso, y en medio de su frustración, confiaba en que Dios no lo abandonaría. Aunque, claro, hubo ocasiones en que se quejó por la indeferencia ante la maldad y hasta le reprochó al Señor lo que consideraba su descuido cuando le dijo: «Recuerda, oh Dios, que mi vida es un suspiro; que ya no verán mis ojos la felicidad» (Job 7:7).

Luego, Dios cambió las cosas a su tiempo y le aumentó al doble la prosperidad anterior a Job.

Le extendió la vida a ciento cuarenta años y pudo ver a sus hijos, y a los hijos de sus hijos, hasta la cuarta generación.

El Señor no permite que suframos sin motivo, y aunque ese motivo esté oculto en los propósitos divinos y nunca sepamos el porqué, debemos confiar que Él siempre hace lo bueno.

Verse of the Day - December 18, 2016

Luke 1:68-70 (NIV) “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

Read all of Luke 1

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