God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; She has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
~ Luke 1:52-52
I believe there is more gold in this sunset on the Washington coast than there is in Fort Knox.
When we hunger for good things – beauty, love, companionship – we are satisfied.
When we crave wealth, power, and status, we go hungry.
On this Christmas, let’s give and receive what matters most.
REFLECT: Christmas Day reminds us that humans are special. God loves us so much that God was born in the form of a tiny baby, someone so young that needed lots of help to live. Today, remember that humans are special. Remember that your family is special. Remember that YOU are special.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
~ Luke 1.49
I was born in the mountains, and to this day that is where I am most likely to find the holy in life.
Mountains can be mighty without being arrogant. They are mighty simply being themselves. They provide challenge. Beauty. Wonder. Splendor. Mountains make me feel small, in the best possible way. Not insignificant, but in perspective. Surrounded by majesty such as we saw near Banff, Alberta, we skied through mighty mountains that exist on a different scale than I will ever achieve.
Mountains. Mighty One. Holy.
For me, they go together.
SHARE: Ask someone you love about a time when they felt mighty. They might tell a story about when their muscles felt strong. Or maybe they will tell a story about when their heart felt strong. There are lots of ways to be mighty. We can be mighty in our bodies and in our minds and in our hearts.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
~ Luke 1.46-48
Zion National Park is an impressive sight. Huge cliffs spring up around a roaring river. The scale of the scenery can feel overwhelming, even scary, at times. And yet, even in Zion, little things matter.
Angel’s Landing is a well-known hike in Zion. The trail climbs 1,500 feet in just over two miles, culminating in a dizzying perch that looks as if only an angel could land there. Ultimately, I turned back at the top – it was simply too scary for me to continue. But I still remember this pool, an enchanting spot that we hiked by on the way up and down.
A lowly pool remains precious to me. A frightening scramble on high rock – not so much.
REFLECT: Magnifying means making something bigger. How can you magnify a picture? How can you magnify a worm? How can you magnify love? How can you magnify kindness?
Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"
~ Luke 3:12
It seems that Jesus didn’t have standards for the types of people who he interacted with. I grew up believing that church and life in general required standards, high standards. And most of the time I didn’t meet them. But slowly I learned that even I have a place in the realm of God. Even I can approach Jesus and ask, “Teacher, what should I do?”
I’ve learned the same lesson about natural beauty. I used to think that beauty was only found in the standard places – national parks, expensive resorts, private beaches. But I’ve learned that it is possible to find beauty in every location, every life. Even in a county park in arid central Washington state, surrounded by snakes, on a hot afternoon. Even in my life, when I am feeling dried up and cracked.
ACT: Every person is precious. Today, tell everyone in your family “You are a beloved child of God. I love you.”
Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
~ Luke 3:
The concept of repentance can seem very unappealing, even destructive. I was raised to think of repentance as feeling extremely sorry, admitting guilt, owning up to being wrong. But I often missed a critical part of the concept.
Change. To repent means to change. Change your exercise routine and diet to lose weight. Change your route to go in a new direction. Change your life. It is not a passive activity. It is active. Real.
To have a life changing experience like seeing a frozen waterfall in Yellowstone Canyon, one must be willing to go out into the cold.
WATCH: The world around us changes every day. Look for how something changes today. Maybe it’s how much light there is when you wake up. Maybe it’s how much snow is on the ground. Maybe you change how you feel during the day. Pay attention.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. YHWH is near.
~ Philippians 4:
This pastoral scene from the Cotswolds in England speaks “gentleness” to me. But it might be too much – too gentle. The image of this ewe and her lamb takes gentleness to the level of stereotype. There were lambs frolicking everywhere when we visited. At the same time, lamb chops were on sale in all the food stores.
It’s easy for me to be sarcastic in the face of gentleness. But which is more valuable. I find it easy to get my fill of oh-so-witty humor, but I’ve never overdosed on gentleness.
When’s the last time you thought the world was too gentle of a place?
REFLECT: How do you be gentle? How do you touch something gently, like a baby bunny? How do you say something gently, being very kind and careful? Who is gentle to you?
Sing praises to YHWH, for God has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
~ Isaiah 12:
When we were children we used to groan at our mother’s comments while driving. “Isn’t that beautiful!” she would gush at the most mundane scenery. Even in the middle of eastern Montana where to our young eyes there was nothing.
And so we treat life, expecting to find the glorious only in specific places, with specific people, and specific times. We attempt to surround ourselves in just the right circumstances so that we can live gloriously. But glory is clever. It pops up when least expected. And at times, the more glorious experiences are those that we almost missed.
I didn’t expect to see this glorious scene in Kings Canyon in California. But as the sun set, there it was.
SHARE: Tell someone you love about a time when you saw something “glorious.” When you were surprised and amazed by something, whether it is really big like a mountain or really small like a mouse. Sometimes glory is surprising!
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
~ Isaiah 12:
It’s easy to take water for granted, until you’ve been extremely thirsty. Out on a dusty trail with nothing to drink. Or filthy. Covered in dust and dried muck, stinking, with no way to clean up.
But water is so much more than a necessity. It is a seasoning for life, adding flare and beauty to any scene. These fall leaves in Vermont were beautiful in their own right, but reflected in water they became incredible.
Let our lives be like water. Reflecting the beauty and kindness around us. Amplifying it.
WATCH: Watch for where you see water in your home and in your neighborhood. How does the water shape things around it?
At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says our God.
~ Zephaniah 3:2
I’ve traveled a lot in my life. For years much of my travel was for work, but even in the early days I made time and money for pleasure travel. And my memories of those trips are precious to me.
And yet, I always am ready to be home again. I love the beauty, adventure, and excitement of travel to out-of-the-way places. But home really is where my heart is.
It doesn’t hurt that home has places like Mount Rainier to visit.
Bring us home on love’s renewing tide to the place of our belonging…
REFLECT: What makes a place home? What people? What places? What things? How do you make a home?
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
~ Zephaniah 3:1
When I was young I used to long for a life of pure joy – day after day with a lightness of heart and a smile on my face. Over the years I lowered my sights a bit, wishing for weeks, then days of pure joy. And now, in the wake of the death of my brother, I’m happy with a moment or two.
Our time under these amazing trees – the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland – was joyful, but getting to them was less of a delight. We rode through the rain and took several wrong turns on our way to see them. And then we almost missed the spectacle because we stopped for lunch under some much-less-impressive trees a couple miles away, thinking they were the dark hedges. Our time under the hedges was made more joyful by the effort.
Pure joy seems to come only in moments. Perhaps that is what makes it so precious.
ACT: How can you bring joy to someone today? Do something kind and loving for someone who might not expect it today.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist