Star gazers from the east came to a foriegn land to see a foriegn king promised through prophesy and then they went home.
What were they seeking after?
What did they think they'd find?
These questions are vital not just to ask of their story, but also to ask about our own stories.
The concept of God can be overwhelming.
Above, beyond, eternal, creator, maker and judge.
We call out to God to hear us, intervene on our behalf and save us.
Only God is able to help us when all human methods have failed.
Only God hears us when everyone else has abandoned us.
Only God has the power to create and destroy the universe that surrounds us.
This mix can be incredibly comforting and incredibly fear-inducing. The power that is held in God can empower the powerless, but it can also create feelings of fear and insignificance.
This week we remember that in a humble stable this God of all power, presence and knowledge became like one of us. God became limited in the same ways that we are limited to make the vast love and power of God tangible.
When we feel all alone we pray to a God who was abandoned by all of those who were closet to Him.
When we feel powerless we pray to a God who experienced the powerlessness of being a child.
When we ask God to use power on behalf of the marginalized we are praying to the God who did that very same thing as Jesus Christ.
Because of Christmas God's power, presence and knowledge is personal. We are never alone and the difficult path to being fully human has been charted before us by Jesus Christ.
I wonder if at the 2016 Summer Olympics the athletes from Finland ever said, "It's not how you start, it's how you Finnish."
I'll start printing the shirts for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately the Finnish didn't finish well. They won a single medal. The bronze medal in women's boxing, lightweight division.
It was their poorest showing at any olympics in their history, which includes participation from 1908 until now. I think it's safe to say that it won't go on the highlight reel for Finland. I imagine they'll focus heavily on Nokia and their indestructible brick phones from the early aughts.
Now, in sporting competition it's easy to say that you didn't care that much about the games anyway. You can separate from the under-preforming and chalk it up to a bad year. But what happens when your national identity is tied to failure on the international stage? What if your country of origin is the butt of jokes around the world? What if people perpetuate horrific stereotypes about all the people from your country?
I would imagine that it could deeply impact your psyche and invite you to disassociate from your country of origin. You could start to question your abilities and successes because it will always be couched within a national identity of failure or shame.
If you are from an affluent Western country in the world today you may not identify with that feeling, but that's why we'll take a look this Sunday at the story of Jesus birth. This is the reality that Jesus was born into. The Jews were a conquered and globally insignificant people in the ancient world. They definitely had a defined culture, but defined cultures are usually only valued if they have international successes.
How is the birth of Jesus into a globally shamed nation instructive for our own stories? How can it help us disengage from our shameful or deeply proud national identities to see another identity Christ called "The Kingdom of God"?
I have played on a Portland City basketball team.
I am a graduate of George Fox Evangelical Seminary.
I am the husband and father of the Kroon family.
I'm a pastor of Cascade Church Portland.
What do these distinctions all have in common? They are groups that I have chosen to be part of.
Most all of the groups that we associate ourselves with are groups of our choosing. Where we work, where we worship, where we recreate are all reflections of choice.
One of the most fundamental groups that we are associated with is always outside of our choice. We don't get a choice in the families we were born into. It's easily the most influential group we will ever associate with and it is something that happens to us.
A formational aspects of growing up that we will likely face in our journey into adulthood is feelings of shame or pride regarding our family. What parts of our lives we are proud or ashamed of are often based off of messages we received from our family. We also think about our families through lenses of pride or shame based of our how we believe other people view our families.
What's so interesting about families is that we can feel a sense of pride or shame about things we haven't personally done in a group of people that we never chose to be part of. So how does Jesus invite us to negotiate this completely unique situation? Do we accept only the good things about our family and reject the bad? Do we need to accept it all? What does Jesus mean when he asks, "Who is my mothers and who are my brothers?" in Matthew 12?
Let's get crazy with the concept of reality!
How do you know that the things that have happened to you actually happened?
We rarely need to defend events in our lives that are common. I won't need to plead with you to believe me that I saw a car drive past me on the street.
"No, I saw it with my own two eyes!! It was a car that was moving at 35-40 miles per hour!"
"I heard the engine as it drove past! You have to believe me."
Most people are going to move past that experience without many questions or doubts. But when you share something that happened to you that isn's as common you will immediately be met with a flood of questions.
"What do you mean you SAW a UFO?"
"Your coffee was 1,000 degrees? How did the cup survive that heat?"
"So, when did this raccoon dunk a NBA regulation basketball on a 10 foot hoop?"
Now, a healthy skepticism is good when we encounter new information, but have you ever been on the receiving end of lots of skepticism about one of your experiences? It can put our reality into question and we start to doubt if we can trust ourselves. Very often this leads to a whole flood of shame.
If I can't trust my own lived experience, then I can't trust myself. I must be wrong. I need other people to tell me what is real and what false. This kind of doubt feeds shame.
Now imagine you are a young woman in a deeply religious town who has an unexplained pregnancy. Who is celebrating your baby bump? Who's believing your angelic visit or story? Do you even bother sharing it with people who will likely scoff and doubt you? Are you the one person who will usher in the God of the universe into the world or the town harlot who suffers from delusions of grandeur?
These are the questions we'll be looking at this week when we continue seeing our shame in the lives of Mary and Joseph and their improbable reality this Christmas season.
What do you think about when you hear the word "shame"?
I bet some of you can immediately identify areas of your life where you feel shame. I bet you can quickly go to times in your life where you've been ashamed.
Others of you aren't so sure. Shame can feel like a big, ambiguous word and you are fairly sure that it isn't something you deal with.
Here's a test to see if shame might be showing up in your life.
How do you respond when you are faced with something that you failed to do or did incorrectly?
If you start by explaining circumstances that created the environment for your failure, if you avoid the situation all together or if you try and deflect to another topic you are probably dealing with shame.
Shame is the belief that you are wrong. When your actions become so connected to who you are, you'll defend, deflect or blame to protect yourself when you screw up.
When you instead experience guilt, you can separate the thing you did from who you are and are much more likely to take responsibility and make amends. Guilt is knowing that you did something wrong.
Many times we have tried to confront a loved one with something they did wrong and they respond as if we called them wrong. This is the destructive power of shame in our midst and it derails us from living the lives God created us for and it sabotages many of our relationships.
"I'm so excited to purchase my first home!"
---- "Did you check for asbestos?"
---- "Blood diamond?"
"Who wants a cupcake?"
---- "Who wants obesity?"
We all know and have heard similar voices in our life. Sometimes they come from other people and sometime they come from inside of our own head. These voices exist to rob our joy and force a fear-based view on our world. The saddest thing is that many of us feel like these voices are right.
We shouldn't trust that good things in our life are truly good, because there's probably another shoe that will drop and expose that joy as a mirage. The only thing that we can trust is hardship and misery.
Have you ever considered the safety that the worst case scenario provides? When you live in a place of doubting really good things, then you feel the security of the floor beneath your feet. You can't be surprised by disappointment, because that's what you've been preparing for.
For people exploring faith, this is a message about the taunting voices in our head in our lives. How has God created us to live and navigate the world we're in!
I have had two dogs for over 13 years.
Frank and Beanie are geriatric wiener dogs. My wife and I have seen them move through various phases over the last decade. They've been energetic puppies, the king and queen of our house and grey-muzzled-all-day-sleepers. The one thing our dogs have always been is entirely in the moment and seemingly not consumed with self-doubt.
I'm obviously projecting on my dogs quite a bit, but let me present a situation I've never seen before that brings me to this conclusion.
I've never walked into the living room in the morning to find Frank with his stubby little legs kicked up on our ottoman looking pensively out our window thinking;
"Who am I to bark at the neighbor dog?"
"When I develop an authoritative enough bark, I plan on using it."
"I wonder if my owners would love me more if I ate less of my own feces?"
There's such a freedom in watching a creature be so uninhibited. While my dogs have many faults, I appreciate that it's all right on the surface. My dogs are many things, but they're never false.
This past week we talked about sitting with our inadequacies and not being afraid of them. This isn't so that we become more comfortable with wallowing in shame, but so that we can become free of it. The kind of freedom that I experience my dog having.
This week we're going to continue that theme through the book of Isaiah in seeing how God was calling the Israelite nation to see themselves differently and experience a freedom they were created for. It's a lesson that we can learn from our pets. It's a lesson God is inviting us into so that we can live into who we were created to be.