Monday, December 28, 2009

“Snow-Bound” Advent Chat Transcript

Several of us had a Skype conversation on our snowbound Sunday (December 20th) and there were several excellent questions, a couple of which I thought I’d post here for others to see.

- [Ok john... (1) When was Jesus really born (2) Why is it celebrated on Dec. 25th?

Pastor John: Two good questions. First, by most modern accounts Jesus was most likely born between 3-6 BC. We get that date by using the dates we have for Herod's reign, Pilate's reign and then dating backwards using the best [information] we have for Jesus' age at the time.

Our current system of AD and BC was developed hundreds of years ago using the best data [available] at the time, but they didn't have a lot of archaeological stuff that we have now. We've only had independent (outside the Bible) confirmation that Pilate even existed for about 50 years or so.

Why is Jesus' birth celebrated on the 25th? A lot of answers to that one and the bottom line is - we don't know for sure. Here are some of the best answers we have.

In the 200's, one of the early church father's suggested that Jesus was conceived on the Spring equinox. That, more than anything, popularized the idea that he was born in December, specifically the 25th.

There's also a manuscript from the 350's that gives the date as December 25th.

December 25th also corresponds to some of the pagan holy day celebrations of the Roman period of the early church. There's a lot of speculation that the church settled on the December date so that Christians had a festival to go to while all the pagans were going to their festival. It served as a sort of "replacement" for early converts. Since the exact date really didn't seem to matter - they settled on one that worked in a more practical way.

- [Ok if's that's the case...then why are the pagans so damned and the Bible says in some verses that "do not do as the pagans do, when they have such similar relations taken from them....and yet shunned now a days???

Pastor John: Those quotes (and there are several) "do not do as the pagans do" are referring to the specific practices that took place during the pagan celebrations. The mystery religions were very popular in Rome during the time of the early church as well as the Saturnalia festival and Bacchanal. All of them had at least several things in common: public drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and general overindulgence (especially eating).

When Paul says, "don't do as the pagans do" he's referring specifically to those things. Don't get drunk and run the streets like fools. Don't participate in the sexual immorality of the festivals, don't overeat until you vomit, don't overindulge the appetites of your flesh.

It wasn’t referring to the specific dates, but the specific practices of the pagan festivals.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Angel Tree 2009

Sunday was "Angel Tree" Day.  We delivered gifts to needy families in our community.  About 19 families, over 80 kids plus their parents, a couple-three gifts per child and a gift for the parents.

This is a huge effort that involves a lot of coordination and a lot of volunteers to buy gifts, wrap them, sort them and deliver them.  Even the blizzard of 2009 wasn’t enough to stop our Angel Tree leaders (thanks to all of you!!) from getting the gifts out to families this weekend.

Angel Tree 07 We moved all of the furniture out of the Chancel to make room for the gifts and we quickly started to run out of room.

Angel Tree 03 We had over a dozen bicycles and a  “power wheel” along with clothes, games, and other toys!

Angel Tree 04 I took these pictures on Saturday afternoon when a little over half of the gifts had arrived!  Once the rest of the gifts were dropped off, there wouldn’t have been much room for the pastor!  But that’s okay, I can’t think of a better picture – all of these gifts covering the chancel and surrounding the altar.

Angel Tree 08 Angel Tree is an amazing ministry at First Saints.  This is an opportunity to thank everyone involved and to give thanks for the privilege of serving people in our community. 

It’s also a good time to lift up the challenge to live this life of service all year round.  Christ came at Christmas to show us how to live each and every day!  May we continually respond positively to that challenge, as individual Christ-followers and as a Church.

Merry Christmas and Godspeed!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A “Snow-Bound” Advent Study for 12/20

All of our worship services were cancelled for today and many of you have e-mailed me that you wished there was a chance to worship or study at home.  -Wish granted!-

I’ve attached a short outline of a study that you can use for a personal study time, with your family, or even a small group of neighbors that wants to brave the cold and gather together.

I’ll be on Skype tonight between 9-10 if you want to have a conversation about this or any other Advent/Christmas topic.  Look for me at jmw3wookiee.




The traditional themes for Advent are: Love, Hope, Joy and Peace.

This Advent …


Luke 1:5-25


  • Consider that hope is born in barrenness not easy and prosperity.
  • For Elizabeth and Zechariah that was the case.


  • What do these verses say about Elizabeth and Zechariah’s character?
  • Luke 1:6.
  • Luke 1:8-9.

Hope always looks for light.

  • Read Luke 1:78-79.

Where have you seen hope this Christmas?

  • Is there something you’ve seen in the news that gives you hope?
  • Is there something that’s happened in your life during the last 3 weeks that gives you hope?
  • Check out


Isaiah 35:1,5-7 & Matthew 1:18-25


  • How do you define joy? How is it different from happiness? Is it different?
  • Consider how quietly the joy represented by God’s Son comes into the world.
    • A small town in an out of the way province of the Roman empire.
    • A peasant woman betrothed to an unknown laborer .
  • In Matthew there are no choirs of angels. Just an angel in a dream to Joseph.
    • Why did God choose to have Jesus born this way?
    • What does the setting of Jesus’ birth tell us about God? What does it tell us about ourselves?
    • Look up the story of the Joshua Tree. How does the Joshua Tree become a symbol of Jesus’ birth and life?
  • Where in Isaiah 35 do you see a message of joy?
    • What specific images in the chapter resonate with you the most?

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens said that Scrooge learned to “keep Christmas well.”

    • What do you think he meant?
    • What role do you think joy plays in keeping Christmas well?

Where is your joy this Christmas?

  • Where is God’s joy invading your life?


Isaiah 2:1-5; Isaiah 7:14 & Isaiah 11:1-10


  • Last week we sang the lyric, “Do you see what I see?”
  • As followers of Christ we are called to see what others cannot see.
    • Peace may be one of the most important things that we are called to see that others cannot.
  • Read these verses from the prophet Isaiah.
    • Isaiah 2:4.
    • Isaiah 11:1-7.
    • The coming of God’s kingdom is the coming of peace.
    • What does that peaceful kingdom look like to you?

As a follower of Jesus, what can you do (are you doing) to make peace a reality?

  • “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world at arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • “Peacemaking requires a life of prayer. It demands ongoing resistance to the forces of violence. It necessitates true community. Peacemaking requires living and working among the poor and the broken.” – Henri Nouwen.
  • How would express God’s call to peace?

How are you experiencing peace this Christmas?

  • Are the people in your life experiencing you as peace?


Isaiah 9:2-7 & Matthew 2:1-12


  • Read Matthew 2:1-12.
    • Can you understand why the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Magi would have been surprising and troubling to Joseph and Mary?
    • How long do you think it took them to process and understand all that happened?
  • Read Isaiah 9:2-7.
    • Where is the love of God expressed in Isaiah 9?

How have you experienced God’s love?

  • Have you experienced it personally?
  • What difference has it made in your life?

Put these two Scripture passages side-by-side.

  • Together, what do they say about God’s love?
  • Where do they speak to you most clearly?

Can you define love the way God defines love?

  • How have you experienced that kind of love in the weeks leading up to Christmas?
  • How have you been the bearer of that kind of love?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Isaiah, Matthew, JFK and You

Sunday’s sermon pulled together four stories with a common thread. 

722 BC (Isaiah 35) – Isaiah’s prophecy of the exile’s return from captivity in Babylon.  During a dark time for Judah; their country overrun, their capital city destroyed, their people deported – it must have seemed like all of God’s promises would be left unfulfilled.  “How can we worship our God in a strange land?”  Conquered by Babylon: this was the darkest day for God’s people.  And yet, Isaiah speaks to them of hope and peace.  All is not lost.  God has not walked away. 

31 AD (Matthew 11) – Israel lives in the land that God had promised them, but they live their lives under the heel of a Roman boot.  Their political life, their religious life, all exist at the whim of a foreign emperor.  Any “peace” that they seem to enjoy comes at a very high and very violent price.  Those calling themselves “messiah” have risen up before, only to be killed by the swift and merciless Roman legions.  The violence of those times is still fresh in everyone’s minds.  John the Baptist is in jail and must know that he will never get out.  His days are numbered.  He sees Jesus’ ministry begin and wonders, “Are you the one?  Are you the one, because we can’t stomach another disappointment?  When those other pretenders got put down – all of us suffered.  Things are just too hopeless to tolerate another reminder that God has abandoned us.”  Jesus says, “Report what you see and hear.”  I am He.  All is not lost and God has not walked away.  True peace is coming to Israel.

October 1962 – The Soviet Union has moved nuclear warheads into Cuba and The US (led by President John F. Kennedy) is taking a hard stand.  No one budges.  No one blinks.  For two weeks, the people of the United States are truly frightened.  For the first time, the threat of nuclear war and the horror it could unleash become real and palpable to the American people.  Panic sets in.  The future that once looked so secure has evaporated overnight.  The prosperity that we had struggled for suddenly seems vacuous and futile.  Many people wake each day thinking, “This could be the last day of the world.”  Nuclear war seems like a certainty.

It was in these moments that a New York songwriter experienced a change of heart and decided that the time was right to cry out for peace.  That cry is remembered for us in the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  It is one man’s cry for peace and hope in a world that seemed void of both.  All was not lost.  God has not abandoned us.  Peace and hope are not just pipe dreams.  They are possible.

December 2009 – Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not doing great.  We are struggling and things are looking a bit bleak.  For many of us, this is not the American Dream we signed up for.  Jobs, retirement funds, security – all disappearing overnight.  People are losing hope.  Iraq, Afghanistan, let’s not forget North Korea, Iran and those other “trouble spots.”  Peace doesn’t even seem like a realistic thing to talk about.  And yet, God is still God.  We have not been abandoned.  The hope and peace we find in Isaiah and Matthew are extended to us.  Even when its seems like all is lost – all is not lost

The message of this season is this: there is always hope.  There is always a chance for peace.  If we will keep our hearts and eyes open, we can find it.  If we “report what we see and hear” (Mt. 11:4) others will find it too. 

I pray that this Christmas you will “hear what I hear” and “see what I see.”


Thursday, December 10, 2009

NO Merry Christmas For Charlie Brown!

Did anyone else watch “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” on ABC on Tuesday night?  I sat down to watch what has to be one of the greatest Christmas cartoons ever and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

ABC cut the thing to shreds.  What was missing, you ask?

Only … Sally's letter to Santa, which ends when she says she will settle for 10s and 20s.

Only … Shermy’s only line.  He was complaining because he always had to play a shepherd in the Christmas pageant.

Only … Schroeder's multiple versions of "Jingle Bells" from his toy piano.

Only … the gang catching snowflakes on their tongues.

Only … Linus using his blanket as a slingshot to knock a can off the fence.

Why?  Why would you castrate a holiday classic that’s been running on television since 1965?  Simple.  ABC had to make more room for Advertising.

It is possible to more completely miss the point of Charlie Brown’s Christmas?  The irony of this is just amazing.  I think ABC needs to watching the (uncut!) version of the cartoon again and get a refresher course on what “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” is trying to teach us about the commercialization of the season and how we obscure Christ in the process.

The highlight of the cartoon for me was always that moment when Linus walked to center stage and recited the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.  Charlie Brown had asked, “Can’t anyone tell me what Christmas is really about?”  Linus walks to center stage, asks for the lights and begins, “It came about in those days …”  When he’s done, he turns to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.”

Somebody needs to remind ABC.