Occupy the manger #9: Peace on Earth for whom?

“Peace on Earth, good will to men.” It’s a phrase that’s been uttered by thousands of seven-year old Gabriels throughout the history of Christmas pageants. Several Christmas songs include this phrase in their lyrics. And people argue on the basis of this phrase that Christmas is supposed to be about promoting world peace and showing good will to other people. This is the way that the King James Bible translates what the angels say to the shepherds in Luke 2:14. But if you look at Luke 2:14 in almost every current version of the Bible, it says something very different: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” So does this mean that Jesus’ birth is only supposed to mean peace for some of humanity, but not for all? Continue reading

Occupy the manger #8: A season of peace?

Yesterday, I had to do the devotional for our church staff meeting so I chose Isaiah 9:2-7 which is the Old Testament reading for this final week before Christmas. This is the passage that describes Jesus as the “prince of peace.” We pondered together what it means to understand peace as the agenda for Christmas. Continue reading

Occupy the manger #7: Mary’s uncomfortable prophecy

As our call to worship this Sunday in church, we read Mary’s Magnificat, a prophetic song that she bursts into in Luke 1:46-55 after her cousin Elizabeth confirms that she has the son of God in her womb. Verse 53 made me flinch because I wasn’t sure how people would react. It says, “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” This sounds a lot like what political pundits nowadays term “class warfare.” Is that what Mary’s advocating? Is she saying that God rejects people with money? I know quite a few people with money who like to spend it on God’s kingdom, and I don’t think that God sends them away empty. So this verse is worth wrestling through. Continue reading

Occupy the manger #6: God chooses homelessness

Now when [King David] was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent…” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle… Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. [2 Samuel 7] Continue reading

Occupy the manger #5: Giving up on perfect

Chapter 2 in Mike Slaughter’s Christmas is Not Your Birthday is called “Giving up on perfect.” He talks about the way that Christmas has become a time when we put enormous pressure on ourselves to make it the perfect experience. I’ve been a little sheepish to hear all the chit-chat that other people have been making about all the decorations that they’re putting up: the lights, the tree, etc. So let me just come out and say that my family does not have our Christmas tree up, nor our lights, nor any of the other knicknacky things that are still in a box somewhere. We haven’t even gotten done with raking our autumn leaves yet. Continue reading

Occupy the manger #4: Good news to the poor (Isaiah 61)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
    to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God. [Isaiah 61:1-2] Continue reading

Occupy the manger #3: the eternal Word (Isaiah 40)

Isaiah 40 is our Old Testament reading for Advent this week. Isaiah 40 is famous for being the prophetic text about John the Baptist: “the voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord,” etc. But I was drawn to a different aspect of the passage when I read it:

All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them…
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. [Is 40:6b-8] Continue reading

Occupy the manger #2: a landscape of glory (Psalm 85)

The word “glory” is one of those Biblical words that we use a lot without necessarily contemplating what it really means. I know there’s a movie Glory about black soldiers fighting in the Civil War that I’ve never seen. In one of my favorite childhood Disney Channel movies, The Fighting Prince of Donegal, Prince Hugh says before the climactic battle, “The greatest glory shall go to him who takes the greatest risk.” And then of course, there’s the popular church hymn that says, “To God be the glory for the things He has done.” Continue reading

Occupy the manger #1: God’s poverty

For the duration of Advent, I’m going to be focusing my blog posts on the concept of “occupying” the manger of Jesus, or making it our central focus in a time when so many things are competing for our attention. Every week in Advent, there is an Old Testament reading, a psalm, a gospel reading, and an epistle reading. I will be looking to these for inspiration as well as Mike Slaughter’s book Christmas is Not Your Birthday, which we are reading together as a congregation. My first devotion comes from Mike Slaughter’s book. Continue reading