The beginning of January always carries with it certain rituals for me. I clean out my files, both paper and electronic, and replace the batteries in the smoke detectors. I review my insurance policies and start preparing my annual report to the IRS.
If you remember the story of the wise men from Matthew 2, you probably remember that they did something that might strike you as a little odd. They brought stupendously valuable gifts to a baby, gold and incense and myrrh. And these three kings, these powerful, influential, important men, bowed to a child.
While on a mission trip to Honduras, I visited a gift shop that featured handmade items from the local community. I wanted to support the economy of that village, still struggling to pull itself out of the mire left behind by Hurricane Mitch. Some rustic earthenware might be a nice addition to my ceramic collection, I thought. But there among the pots was an ornate wooden cross, obviously handmade out of native wood and intricately carved with a coping saw. "How much is this cross?" I asked the clerk. Her answer told me more about how much the cross was ...
I learned recently that Tanzania is proceeding to cut a highway through the Serengeti National Park, endangering one of the last pristine wildlife refuges in the world. Add this to other worrisome topics, like the economy, the Wiki-leaks fiasco, or Ted Turner's opinion that we should adopt the Chinese policy of one child per family, and the list of world woes can seem impressive.
It was just a pack of three dishcloths, a small and simple purchase. At home, I tore off the label holding them together and learned that my miniscule purchase would help support the Giving World Foundation. I Googled the name and found the website for Giving World, of Williston, Vt. Its motto is "Helping People to Help Themselves," further explained as helping the disadvantaged become self-reliant with an emphasis on programs to aid women and children in India. Foundation dollars go to schools, abandoned children, the children of prisoners, crime prevention and rehabilitation of criminals, even teaching people behind bars ...
Everyone knows that there's no surer way to make friends than going around telling people they are wrong, right? OK, I know you're wiser than that: People hate to hear that they are wrong. They fire back with insults, accusations, rationale and everything else to avoid the dagger of those words. We don't like to hear that we are wrong, but that's the message John the Baptist was screaming in our section of Scripture today, from Matthew 3: "Repent." And that's a message we all need to hear.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the paradoxical story of God becoming a human being. It is a story which upends most of the world's history of approaching God. While other religions usually attempt to span that unfathomable gap between God and humanity by human effort, Christianity claims that God solved the problem by becoming one of us.
The section of God's Word we're looking at today is Luke 23:35-43. It's the story of Christ on the cross. That might seem like an odd section of Scripture to be looking at at this time of the year, but it's chosen because here at the end of the church year, we have this Sunday called "Christ the King" Sunday. And this text with Jesus on the cross is all about Christ being our King.
There's a scene in the movie version of "The Sound of Music" when Sister Maria (Julie Andrews) led the Von Trapp kids in singing "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things." There were no iPods or Wii's to chase away their fright that stormy night. Instead, they dreamed of snowflakes on their eyelashes, and warm woolen mittens.