Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time

One of the great hymns of the church- “O God our Help in Ages Past”- has a line in it which says: “Time like an ever-flowing stream bears all who breathe away…”

I guess many of us think about time this time of year as 2009 fades into 2010. Whenever a year passes, we say things like: “time and tide wait for no one,” or “time sure flies when you’re having fun.”

When you’re young time seems endless, the future is spread out in front of you. When I was in first grade, our teacher asked us to think about what we would be doing in the year 2000. I remember thinking: “Will I live that long? Will I be able to do anything if I do?”

Shaun Connery was being interviewed on late night television. He told about filming a movie deep in the hinterlands of Scotland. Every day he said: “I would rise up early and have breakfast. My limousine driver would meet me out front and I would get into a temperature controlled car and ride a few hours to my destination. At the end of the day, I would get back into my car and ride back to my motel.”

He said: “Every day I noticed an old man. On my way out he was walking, and on my way back in he was walking back.”

He said: “I asked my driver to stop one morning and I asked the man if we could give him a ride. I told him that we would pick him up in the morning and take him to where he wanted to go and then on the way back we would pick him up and take him home.”

The man said: “No…” Connery said: “Why not?” The man said: “What would I do with all that time?”

Connery said that he and the man were living in two different worlds. I was living in a fast time, moving as fast as I could get to where I was going. The man was living a step at a time.

The truth is that when we get older time doesn’t go faster really. It’s still 24 hours a day. But, it sure seems to go faster, doesn’t it?

Last Sunday, I used Paul’s letter to Galatia as my text: Chapter 4:4-7. Paul says: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law…”

In the fullness of time means when the time was right, when the time was ripe, as ripe as a peach on a tree, God sent forth his son. We would say that when Jesus was born it hardly seems like the right time. But, some theologians say that the time was ripe in that Rome had built roads to everywhere in the known world to enhance trade. Even sea routes were regularly travelled to import and export goods.

The time was right for the Gospel to be spread throughout the world.

In a day or two, many will gather in Time Square to await the coming of a new year. Many will not think much of the meaning of time.

Our culture, in fact, teaches us that if time is to have meaning it must come from us. Time is something to be manipulated and planned out. Our faith teaches us that if time is to have any meaning at all, it must come from God. God has plans for us that we do not yet know.

Only God knows the times. Time is a gift to be lived, not frittered away. In our time, God sent forth his son to claim us as his children.

Happy New Year!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nativity Story

We watched the movie: The Nativity Story. About 70 or so people came. Children, youth, and adults all came. And, when it was over, we all had wet eyes. It is one of the most moving movies on the Christmas story that I have ever seen.

It is beautiful in its simplicity, just like the Christmas story itself. A young mother, a really young mother and an older Joseph are married. Their marriage is arranged, as all marriages are arranged back then. Mary and Joseph both see angels and hear them speaking. Mary is pregnant, “with child” as the King James version says it.

Her would-be husband is astounded at it. Her parents are embarrassed. The community gossips and points. Still Mary maintains she has done nothing wrong.

In the middle of it, an order comes from Caesar that everyone should return to the town of their origin to register for the tax. Joseph and pregnant Mary start out; she is riding a donkey. He is walking, leading the donkey.

There’s a wonderful scene when they get to Bethlehem. Mary is just about to give birth. In desperation, Joseph carries Mary in his arms from door to door asking for a place to stay. An innkeeper tells them that he only has room in the cave, where the animals lodge.

Within minutes, Mary delivers the baby Jesus and Jesus is laid in a manger. Heavenly visitors have proclaimed to the shepherds that Jesus the Savior is born. Astrologers from the east arrive after months of tracking a star.

The whole thing ends with Mary and Joseph running to Egypt to escape the furor of Herod. It’s a simple, wonderful story of love and hate, of violence and peace, of suffering and joy.

One person said that they had forgotten just how hard people back then had to live. But mostly it was the simplicity of a mother expecting a baby and a husband remaining faithful. It was the simplicity of a God who comes into the world, not by going down to capital city, nor to the religious and political leaders, but to Bethlehem to a simple couple.

The God whom we worship and adore is just the kind of god who makes his appearance in the filthiest place in the world, in the place where animals lodge. Every baby is a miracle, but this baby is Savior of the world. This one is the Redeemer in flesh.

In the midst of a world of turmoil and violence and change, in a world of hatred and bitterness, in a world of darkness, like our world, the Messiah is born. Listen as the baby cries in the night. There are so many babies crying on this night. But, this baby cries so that no one ever will have to cry in the night again- without hope.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mighty God

During these Sundays in Advent, we have been using Isaiah 9:6 as our focus. In this passage, it’s the eighth century. The Assyrian Empire lurks at the borders of Israel (the northern kingdom). Israel has entered an uneasy alliance with Syria in the hope of keeping the Assyrians back. But, all Assyria wants is to gobble up every small country on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Soon Israel will be overwhelmed by the Assyrians and Judah (the southern kingdom) will be threatened by the approaching empire. But, something happens, an act of God, and Assyria turns away. Judah will go another 150 years or so before being overrun by the Babylonians.

In this darkness, in a world that is changing rapidly, in a world threatened by empires and kingdoms, Isaiah speaks his word. Isaiah 9 foresees the coming of Messiah. A child will be born; a son given to us. His name shall be called: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The church looked back at that passage and heard Isaiah speaking his word and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of this prophecy. Jesus is: Mighty God. He is Messiah come to save the world.

Last Sunday I talked about “Mighty God” and its meaning. We know about might in this world. We think of power and strength. The word for God here is “el”, a familiar name for God in the Old Testament. We see it in the name of our church- Bethel which means house of God.

Messiah is God mighty in power, wisdom and love. You can see why those who expected Messiah did not see it in Jesus. Jesus is born in a stable, the place where animals lodge. He, who had no place to lay his head, comes to offer himself is love for the world.

This is “mighty God”. This is God’s might clothed in weakness and wonder. Isaiah was probably foretelling the coming of the king Hezekiah. But, the church looked at it and said: “More is going on here than we know.” Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem is the Messiah. He is might clothed in weakness.

Every Christian knows that this is the way God does business. God does not come to live in palaces or great kingdoms. His kingdom, his reign, is present in weakness, and in suffering love.

At a recent graduation, I heard a woman from the Middle East crying out in faith and in celebration: “El,El,El”. She sang it rapidly in that high, squealing, voice which which we are familiar. We hear it on television sometimes when there is a funeral procession in the Middle East. She is crying out: “God, God, God…”

During Advent, we yearn for that Messiah who has come and will come. We yearn for his kingdom of love and light. We yearn for the one who will make true peace. To him and for him all our prayers ascend.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Sermon Player -

Welcome

Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
Blessings!
Dave

About Me

A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee

Wall Street Journal

NASA Image of the Day