Are you ready?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

So here we are. It’s almost Christmas Day.

Most of us have spent the last several weeks getting ready.

Maybe this year you purchased a real tree and spent time setting it up and decorating it.

Perhaps you are like others and retrieved the one kept in the box and set it up and decorated it.

We’ve bought gifts and wrapped them.

Well, Heather bought our gifts and wrapped them. I just signed the cards. She is much better at the gift thing. 

Did you attend or host a holiday party?

Did the family gather and celebrate early?

Did you send your cards and letters out far and wide?

These are all wonderful things to do with your family and friends.

Soon, we will gather in familiar places with familiar faces and celebrate with family, friends and neighbors.

Together, we will sing the familiar carols, we will light and hold our candles, and we will retell that age old story. 

Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born! 

It will be beautiful. I hope you take time to take it all in. 

But here’s the thing. 

For all our preparation and for all the beauty around us, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more.

Something we miss in all our planning and preparation. All our decorations and gift giving.

So much of what we spend time and energy and money on has little to do with that simple, yet provocative, age-old story we read together each year. 

A story so familiar we almost know it by heart. 

A story about Mary and Joseph, a relationship filled with hardship from the get-go.

Difficult decisions to be made against traditions that point them in opposite directions.

A story about shepherds in a field. And Angels from the realms of glory.

A story so layered by tradition and Christmas card images, so softened by our focus on glowing candles that its meaning and challenge get lost in the grandeur of our celebrations. 

We know the story, but maybe we miss the struggle and tension that truly make it wonderful and miraculous. The parts we don’t put in Christmas cards to family and friends.

Things like the stark contrast between the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and Jesus, the Son of God … born in Bethlehem … laid in a manger. 

Or King Herod, sitting on his throne in the palace, threatened by the prospect of a new king. 

Or the harrowing story of Mary and Joseph making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. 

And the Roman legions who patrolled the streets and countryside ‘imposing’ their peace. 

Meanwhile, the heavenly host sings a proclamation of peace on Earth, good will to all. 

As we hear the story, we are left to ask ourselves …  

What is this story really trying to say? 

Which side of the story will we choose as our own to guide and direct our living?

What does all this mean for us today? 

What does all this mean for you today … with the world as it is and your life as it is? 

If there’s something in this story about peace on Earth that weaves itself around some deep longing within you … 

if there’s something in this story about everyone, not just the rich and powerful, having a place …

and if there’s something that brings into focus how you imagine life and this world might be, should be … 

… then how are you getting ready for that kind of Christmas? 

There’s something in this story about God with us that rings true for me … that tugs at my spirit. 

God with us. Not over us. Not judging or condemning us. 

God with us in this wonderful, complex, sorrowful, joyful thing we call life. 

God with you and me. With us and them. 

God here. God now. 

Just as you are. Just as we are. Just as they are. 

The cards and gifts, the trees and parties, the time spent with family and friends are important, and those memories can last a lifetime.

But remember the story. The whole story. 

Christmas Day is almost here.

I pray that all of us can prepare for that kind of Christmas.  

Are you ready?

Sometimes you need to go around

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

You find yourself standing in front of the tallest wall you have ever seen.

You were told by everyone around you that you needed to scale this wall and perch yourself on top of the highest point so that you can see what is on the other side.

The wall has some places here and there that you could possibly fit your hands and feet into.

There also seem to be some large cracks that look like you could really get a great hold on to pull yourself up.

You take a deep breath and start to climb.

Quickly, your body reminds you that you aren’t as young as you used to be, or that you are not in the shape you thought you were.

Probably should’ve used that gym membership you’ve been paying for but never actually use.

You climb back down.

Each time you try to climb, every place you put your hands and feet, it all seems to be too much.

Each time you tire quickly and must come back down.

You almost slip and fall so many times you’ve lost count.

Struggle as you might you just can’t seem to get there.

You begin to wonder and dream about the sights on the other side of the wall.

What will the world look like?

How much beauty are you missing because you can’t see what is there?

Is there a large lake or perhaps a beautiful frozen glacier that seems frozen in time?

You try again. No luck.

You are drenched in sweat and your muscles ache.

Your body is yelling at you to stop and rest.

But everyone told you that you HAD to get to the top, that what lies beyond the wall is something that MUST be seen.

How long would you try to climb?

How long would you push yourself past the point of exhaustion?

Wait! Did you bother to look to either side?

The wall doesn’t go on forever. If you walk a ways you can simply go around.

So you walk.

The walk seems to take forever but eventually you can see the end of the wall.

Your pace quickens.

Even though your lungs start to burn from the effort and your already shaky legs are about to give out, you find yourself inspired and full of hope because there it is!

The end of the wall.

You slowly and cautiously creep around the corner to view what is beyond the wall.

I find that there are many times I feel as though I am climbing that wall.

What I have to remind myself is that there are other ways of getting where I need to go.

The walk that I am on is not one that I journey alone.

I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who mentor me, guide me, and encourage me.

But most importantly, I walk with Jesus. I never walk alone.

The walk may be longer than expected and it might seem like it will never end.

But it will, eventually.

We don’t always need to climb the wall. Sometimes we just need to walk around it.

My prayer for you today is that you won’t walk alone.

That you will look to either side of you and recognize the cloud of witnesses that walk with you.

If you don’t see them, don’t look up at the wall.

Instead, look deep inside and know that you don’t ever walk alone.

Blessings.

What you think will happen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Have you ever played golf? See if this sounds familiar:

The pin is only 94 yards away.

You grab your pitching wedge.

Looking at the green, you line up your shot and step up to the ball.

As you settle in for the shot, you take a deep breath.

You transfer your weight slightly to your front foot as you begin your swing.

CRACK!!

You hit the ball and it flies in an almost prefect arc.

As it approaches the green you hold your breath.

The ball hits the green, takes two bounces and drops right into the cup for that elusive eagle! 

That’s what the mind creates as the perfect shot.

That’s what we convince ourselves will happen. We really do think it will happen that way.

What really happens is more like this. 

You are 94 yards away from the pin.

You grab your 9 iron because you know you probably aren’t going to make it there today with your pitching wedge. 

You line up the shot and swing.

Maybe you hit the ball. If you do, you probably hit it wrong.

it sails way left or way right and bounces off three or four trees before landing somewhere you’ll never find it. 
 
What we think will happen versus what actually happens. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

It’s interesting though that when it comes to other people or other things I can usually predict what will happen.

It usually turns out not too far off what actually happens.

But when it comes to me and things I do, it often turns out differently that what I expected. 
 
I started thinking about the ministry of Jesus, and how people who witnessed the miracles or heard him explain things most likely had no idea what was happening.

Whatever they thought was going to happen, Jesus usually did it differently.

Whatever the expectation, it usually happened in a very unexpected way.

I love that about Jesus. I love that his ministry was never what was expected.

For me, that’s one of the reasons why his ministry was so powerful, and continues to amaze me today.
 
Perhaps one of the reasons people aren’t hearing our message of love and grace as well as they should is because we aren’t allowing ourselves to be surprised.

Maybe we should indulge a little in what we think CAN happen and get excited again.

I love talking to people who are excited about things.

Even if I don’t understand or don’t agree with whatever they are excited about, I still love the fact that they are excited.
 
Jesus crafted his responses to those who doubted in a way that was unexpected, and performed miracles that often turned out completely different than the way people thought they would.
 
I hope and pray that you are surprised this week, and that your relationship with Jesus gives you a sense of excitement.

Maybe this week things can turn out the way we think they will.

But won’t it be incredible if they don’t?