Word, life, light: the eternal side of Christmas

I decided to do something different for my LifeSign sermon this weekend. Normally for Christmas, we look at the accounts of Christ’s birth given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark starts with Jesus’ baptism rather than his birth. John describes Jesus’ incarnation from His eternal perspective as the Word of God who became flesh. Part of John’s opening is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not seize it.” Since there’s a lot of darkness in our world right now with school shootings and fiscal cliffs in the news, I felt called to preach on John 1:1-5 about the hope that is established by the incredible eternal identity of the baby who was born in Bethlehem. I will summarize my message below. Here is the audio: Continue reading

It’s the beginning (again), not the end!

beginning is nearWell today is the last day on the ancient Mayan calendar, so I expect there will be a lot of jokes and memes all over social media. Since the doomsday prediction is coming from a different religion, I doubt that the far-right fringe of the Christian community will embrace it. I did see a new phrase that has been coined by the Daily Beast: the Barackalypse, which refers to the way that Obama’s reelection has sealed the world’s fate. I remember when the turn of the millennium was approaching, there was a lot of excitement in the fundamentalist Christian community that some members of my family are connected to. They were stockpiling food and digging private wells, yearning so hard for Y2K to bring about a global computer crash. I’ll bet that more than half of the American middle-class secretly wants for the world to end. We have intractable social problems; we have few authentic friendships; our jobs are tedious; life feels like an exhausting treadmill. The thing is, this world which seems like an inevitable dreariness really can disappear without volcanoes and meteors and seven bowls of wrath. Jesus began a new world a long time ago; it’s just that very few of His followers actually live in the kingdom He created. Continue reading

Garden Walls (a reappropriated love song about prevenient grace)

In 1999, I wrote a sonnet while sitting on a couch at a party watching the girl I had a crush on make out with another guy about 5 feet away. I turned it into a song with the same chord pattern as U2’s “With Or Without You” a couple years later and it became the opening song on the only album of my short-lived rock band the Junior Varsity Superheroes who broke up after our CD release party in 2006. About three years ago, I started to get the sense that Jesus feels the same way that I felt at that party every time He sees us make out with idols. And today He told me to record it. I added some interspersed Biblical narrative to the original song. Tell me what you think. It was recorded by my iPhone on my favorite piano in the world in Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School at about 1:50 pm on Monday, October 15th, 2012.

“I am not the messiah!”

So how many of you know something about John the Baptist? If you had to describe him in one word, what would it be? What about humble? Well it’s not the first word that comes to my mind either. Some of you know that Pastor Larry and I try to preach on the same passage each week. So when Pastor Larry told me the topic for this week was humility and the model for humility was John the Baptist, I was perplexed. John the Baptist was loud and rude and judgmental. He was a fire and brimstone sidewalk preacher. Continue reading