Five days until Christmas (as I write this), and the to-do list is getting longer rather than shorter. This happens every year. I have grand schemes of all the things I’ll bake, all the gifts I’ll make by hand, and the traditions on which we’ll follow-through. And every year, I do less than the year before. “Lacking” had become the theme of my Christmas. With my sense of lacking comes discontent: all the thoughts of how I should be better, how we should be doing more God-ish stuff and less simply surviving, how I should be making better memories for my children than rushing to finish the laundry so we can pack for trips to the grandparents. There’s little we can call “peaceful” in these days. (Although a teenager who likes to wrap presents does help.)
When the people of Judah lost their king to the Babylonian conquerors, they also lost their queen, along with all the princes and princesses. There were no literal princes in their courts, and no peace in their hearts. I imagine shalom, that ubiquitous Hebrew word for peace which means far more than “absence of war,” felt foreign to those trudging, defeated masses making their way toward Babylon. Continue reading
This will be our second Christmas without my father. Hopefully, this one will be easier than last year. My father was a good man, and a good father, but he wasn’t perfect. And while his soul is everlasting (Praise God, I know my dad is in heaven!), his presence with me was not.
As the nation of Judah trudged into Babylonian captivity, many had lost their fathers, grandfathers, husbands, and sons to the war in which Judah was defeated. Perhaps some of the survivors barely had time to bury their loved ones, much less mourn, before the forced march began. Isaiah’s prophecy promised a time when they would no longer fight, when “every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:5). But in the moment, they knew the sorrow of great loss.
Did their hearts sting when they remembered the prophecy? Continue reading
There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.
It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.
I would hate to be that other Judas.
On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.
John 14:22-25. Continue reading
Hospitality, as we’ve learned this year, is an essential aspect of generosity. We looked at opening our homes and other spaces not only to our friends, but also to those who are different from us. But here’s a sad fact: We can open our homes without opening our lives. We can put on a happy face, decorate beautifully, and entertain graciously without ever letting people into our personal space. We can have inhospitable hearts.
I enjoy being in homes where they say, “Get whatever you want out of the fridge,” and they don’t bother to say, “Sorry I didn’t get the upstairs bathroom cleaned.” In such homes, I feel welcomed into their lives, into the space where they really live, not just into their square footage. And if their teenager left his clothes on the upstairs, uncleaned bathroom floor? Well, then I know we have something in common.
When we practice generosity of relationship, we break into our own personal space to offer understanding and authenticity. It’s a hospitality of the heart.
Jesus did it. He allowed us to enter His personal space and intimate relationships. Continue reading
The crowds just kept getting bigger. Jesus had healed many sick people and did other miracles. (John calls them ‘signs.’) When he tried to take a break, escaping by boat, many people followed Him around the Sea of Galilee to somewhere near Bethsaida (NIV Study Bible notes). Then He started handing out free food. He fed five thousand men, plus women and children, from the lunch box of one boy (John 6:1-14).
Not the way to thin your crowds, Jesus. Everybody likes free food. Continue reading
Mary peeked into the room. “Is he any better?”
“He’s the same as half an hour ago,” Martha whispered, “I thought you were going to get some sleep. It’s not even sunrise yet.”
“How can I sleep when my brother is so sick?” Mary forgot to be quiet. “What can we do? We’ve called three different doctors. We’ve tried every conventional treatment. We’ve sent offerings to the temple. He’s only getting worse! What else can we do?” Her voice rose in pitch with each sentence. Continue reading
The woman trudged through the field, walking the path worn by ancient feet and cemented by the townswomen’s continued daily pilgrimage for water. She squinted in the sun and flapped her arms a bit to force air toward her armpits.
Someone was sitting by the well. She slowed her pace, hoping he would move on before she arrived, but he seemed to be looking at her, waiting for her. With twenty feet still between them, she could tell he was a Jew. Her back stiffened; her jaw clenched. She was not only a woman but also a Samaritan: already two strikes against her in the eyes of this self-righteous Jewish man.
John 4:4-14. Continue reading