Questions and Reflections

December 2015

January 2016: What makes a new year "new" to you?

2016 is here! Does it feel any different from 2015? To me, New Year's Day always feels like my birthday: when someone asks me if I feel any different, my answer is usually "no." It takes time before a new year feels new to me. And that's probably one of the reasons New Year’s resolutions are so popular to make and so popular not to complete. We want to make a change but, as normal life keeps happening, we lose the time we need to make the change stick. 

2015 was a faith-filled year at CLC. We fed over 40,000 people in one afternoon, welcomed Jewish Temples and Christian Churches into our sanctuary for Thanksgiving, and our annual Trash & Treasure sale funded projects in the church and all over the world. We have a habit of making a difference in the world and 2015 was a great example of that. We do what we can to live our faith out loud.

But why do we feed others? Why partner with traditions other than our own? And why support projects in Nepal and right here in Woodcliff Lake? If you've ever wondered why we do what we do, I invite you to read the Bible with us in 2016. In one year, we'll walk through the entire 66 books of scripture. We'll start with Genesis, wrap up with Revelation, and discover if Obadiah is really a book of the Bible (hint: it is). We'll offer drop-In Bible studies at church (Wednesdays at 11:30 am - bring your lunch, and Thursdays at 7 pm), include a special Bible reading in worship each Sunday and dig into scripture at special events. If you've always wanted to read the entire Bible but haven't, I invite you to join us. I'll be sharing special notes, moments, and thoughts through social media in case you can't join our studies. Visit our website www.clc4u.com for more information and a monthly scripture guide.

It only takes 3 chapters a day to cover Scripture. You can do it.

See you in church,
Pastor Marc



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A reflection on Micah, the town of Bethlehem and why a savior comes from there.

Our first reading is Micah 5:1-5

This text from Micah 5 is one of the texts we point to as a prophecy for Jesus Christ. Ever since the early church told stories about Jesus, Micah 5 has mattered. The magi, when they come from the East (see Matthew 2), use this text in their conversation with King Herod. The text talks about a child born in Bethlehem who will become king and who give everyone peace. That's our Jesus.

But the text does more than just name the location where this king will be born. The text is pointing to how "God delights in upsetting human expectations," in the words of Anne Stewart from Princeton Seminary. The prophet Micah lived during a time of extreme change in the land of Judah and Israel. The Assyrian Empire expanded into the land, destroying the kingdom of Israel (Samaria) in 722 BCE/BC and marching to the gates of Jerusalem in 701 BCE/BC. In preparation for the invasion, the king of Judah (Jerusalem) built huge defenses in many different towns. The king of Assyria marched in and destroyed them all. One of the towns that was fortified, and destroyed, was Bethlehem.

Micah's words are more than just foretelling a location of the birth of the Savior. Micah's words tell that God will save the world from a defenseless and destroyed town. God doesn't rely on our walls and defenses to save the world. God, through the unexpected, will bless the nations. As Christmas Eve breaks upon us, let's remember that these familiar Christmas stories describe God acting in unexpected ways. God's promises are certain but God acts in ways we wouldn't and shows up in a manger. 



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A reflection on Zephaniah and God, the warrior

"The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing" 

That's verse 17 in our reading from Zephaniah today. Do you know why this verse is so strange? Because it comes from a time when God wasn't seen as a mighty warrior. Some scholars have argued that the last chapter of Zephaniah is a little out of place. The previous two chapters (of this three chapter book) is focused on the day of the Lord. There's a lot of talk about judgement for the people of Jerusalem and for the surrounding nations. There's a slight hint that, if the people repent, God might not judge harshly but that still might not be enough. The people of Jerusalem have been doing things they shouldn't, following foreign gods and no longer act as God's people in the world. So Zephaniah calls them to account, promising that God is breaking into the world, right now. And when God does break into the world, everyone will be held accountable. 

But the last chapter, chapter 3, seems very hopeful. Disasters will be taken away from us, God will deal with our oppressors, and that people should not fear. This is a text that seems out of place compared to the rest of Zephaniah. It doesn't fit the flow of the rest of the prophet's words. But something interesting happens if the text was composed during the time of Jerusalem's exile. The Babylonians destroyed the city in 566 BC/BCE, sending the population into exile. On the surface, God's people were destroyed. God, the mighty warrior, was defeated by the armies and gods of Babylon. God looked defeated. 

So how can God promise victory after a defeat such as that? 

This is partially what Advent and Christmas season is about. God promises the world that our defeats cannot defeat what God will do. The story of a baby in a manger isn't a story about a cute baby. It's a story about God doing the unexpected thing to love and change the world. We expect armies and swords but God comes in a swaddle cloth in a stable. The world can't be saved by an army but it is saved by a God who faces our darkness and won't let it win. 
 



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A reflection on Malachi and the Lord showing up

Today's first reading is from Malachi 3:1-4.

Do we really want God to show up suddenly? 

When God shows up, according to Malachi, God is doing more than just acting on our behalf. God isn't a superhero, moving us from danger and letting us live like was always have. When God shows up, God's intervention grows. Being with God is like being a lump of rock taken to a blacksmith shop or smelter. From God's first interaction with us to our last, God is busy refining that lump of rock into something new. When we're claimed by God in our baptism, we're tossed into a refiner's fire. This experience isn't easy. We rarely want to feel like we need to be refined. We might admit to a few problems we have or rough edges but we assume God can take a little sandpaper to us and, in a few moments, smooth us out. But refining takes more. It involves struggle and conflict, doubt and fear, joys and confusion. It can involve tough questions and tougher experiences. We can turn from God only to be turned right back, finding ourselves facing God face-to-face. This is an experience of God that is difficult to put into a stain glass window because when God shows up, God refines and purifies.

But what is God refining and purifying us into? That question is part of the mystery of this season. The description of God's presence above fits well into an image of God as powerful and strong, molding us in a blacksmith shop that's filled with steam, flame, and iron. But, when God shows up on December 25, God isn't iron. God is a babe. This is who will refine us. This is who will change us. This is who will get us to be honest with ourselves and our need to be refined. This Christ will make us uncomfortable but we won't be left there. Once the refining begins, we can't be left where we were.  The good news, as Professor Anne Stewart writes, is that we "will be reformed and refined" and to become, as Martin Luther shared, a Christ for our neighbors and our world.



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