“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11
The Magi seem to have come much later to Bethlehem, but they came joyfully and prepared to worship the Lord. The afterglow of Christmas had not worn off for them because they were seeing Jesus for the very first time. Every time we see Jesus is like the first time, so sweet is His countenance, so enveloping His presence.
As we prepare to put away the decorations and presents, finish off the leftovers, and throw out the tree, many of us experience a letdown. The celebration of the New Year seems anti-climactic. Friends we have not acknowledged during the preceding year will recede into the background of our lives for yet another year. There is no one to wish merry Christmas and no one to wish us happy holidays. The greenery and colors are gone and we recess into the bleak midwinter of January.
It was not so for the Magi. Their joy was not with a season or a holiday. No such attachments and traditions existed for them. Theirs was the joy of the discovery of a Savior-King. Take a page from their notebooks. Our joy is in Jesus! He is our cause for celebration every day. He is our hope for every New Year and every new day. He is reason for singing and our cause for living. For Him we would traverse the farthest desert or face the most difficult circumstances.
Post-Christmas blahs are a normal emotion phenomenon, but Christmas joy is for every day of the year. After Christmas can be as special as Christmas itself!
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice.
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this.
He hath opened heaven’s door,
And man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this.
(Medieval Latin Carol, Translated by John Mason Neale, 1853)
In Christ, all reconciled people are new creations with a mission and message of reconciliation to a world where people live in alienation and isolation from God, themselves, and each other.
As I wandered through today's readings, I had some thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2.
I was reminded of the labels we assign to people socially, racially, ethnically, nationally, politically. ideologically, and arbitrarily. For most purposes, these are antithetical to the gospel of reconciliation and the theology of the new creation.
New creation changes the way we view people, even the way we look at ourselves and the way we look at Jesus.
From now on, we look at all people through new lenses - the heart of God who loves, cherishes, and calls each person with purpose and promise.
"From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. "
One by one, we name our biases because they are being shaped by love. Black lives matter because, so often, they have not. Brown lives, European lives, blue lives, one by one, for so many different reasons of naming, we can name them, until we can realize what all lives really means. It means we can name the categories so we can be freed from their constraints and liberated to celebrate the uniqueness associated with them.
Even our own identities are given a fresh newness, a clean slate, and a restart. Everything about us and around us is new through the transforming grace of God.
"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
God has done this thing.
This is a God thing.
It is God's idea and implementation.
It has happened through the miracle of reconciliation.
This reconciliation is personal, incarnational, and sacrificial. God does it, acting in the physical body of His Son. He does it by erasing the stain and demerits of our trespasses.It is supreme gesture of grace and mercy.
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. "
Now, we, new people we are, are appointed with the good news message that this door is now open. It is God's message in our lives and on our lips. God is speaking through us as we hold out the word of reconciliation. We are whispering and shouting, "God loves, calls, and accepts you! Come! Be reconciled!"
If we all spent even the next year, devoted to this work of reconciliation and we announced it with passion and love, would it make a difference?
Would it change our biases, prejudices, bigotry, and dialogue?
Would it change the climate of the nation?
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
Whether it gets the results or not, it is our identity and it is our call. It is the purpose for which we were born and for which we were saved. We, and I can only speak for the Ecclesia of God in Jesus, are ambassadors for Christ. We were chosen and we chose to represent Jesus. That is who we are. That is why we are here. In building bridges and tearing down walls, we are representatives of the Kingdom.
In an enormous and magnanimous act of identification with humanity, Jesus, the Christ saturated His identity with our sin, becoming sin on our behalf to demonstrate, appropriate, and activate the power of God to see us not as sinful, but as redeemed and righteous.
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
We are not independent agents.
We are not mere recipients.
We are not alone.
God invites us into a partnership with the Trinity!
That implies partnership with each other.
We have not been drawn to faith and forgiveness to become part of an exclusive club, but to work with God in announcing God's Kingdom, inviting all people to participate and embracing humanity in the circle of reconciliation.
In all of this, God is helping us.
We are agents of reconciliation in the world!
"As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, 'At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.'"
When do we start? Tomorrow for the New Year?
"See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!"
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” - John 1:1-3
God spoke. He has always spoken. There was never a time when God was not speaking. His very nature is revealed in His Word and His Word is inseparable from Who He Is.
God Is. God speaks.
These are two basic corollaries of any Christian theology.
When God speaks things come into existence. All that is was once spoken by God. Nothing has been made apart from His Word. His Word is living. His Word is a person. His Word is as real as He is.
Jesus is first of all, the Word of God, co-equal and absolutely reliable. He is the heartbeat of God’s will, the expression of God’s love, and the demonstration of God’s purity and holiness.
Christmastide is about celebrating the Word of God in Jesus Christ and is most appropriately celebrated with an open Bible and an open heart.
The season drives us back to the scriptures to seek understanding of the ways of God. It prompts us to yearn for deeper understanding in the pages of the Bible that we might ascertain God’s eternal purposes and His plan for the people of His world. We become like the Magi, seeking the wisdom of the ages.
This is bible time. Begin with the eternal pre-existent Word and orient your understanding around Him.
God has spoken. Let us listen.
The Lights on the Tree of Life
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” - John 1:4-5
Your community has been lighted with beautiful reminders of the Christmas season.
The colors shining in the night can be seen from afar and even from space. They are at the same time happy and holy, gaudy and dignified. They serve as reminders of joy and correctives to the harsh edges that so often dominate the landscape of our cities and our lives.
It is clearly, visibly, and festively Christmas and post-Christmas where we live and the light is shining in the darkness.
In fact, it is in the darkness of night that we most often venture forth from our homes to view these lights and celebrate the profound contrasts that they afford.
From simple candle lights in the windows of homes to magnificent displays in the public squares, we behold temporal illustrations of eternal reality: The evergreen trees which live long through Winter when planted in the soil of the earth are types of the tree of life which is planted in the fertile soil of God’s truth. In and from that life, which is Christ, flows the life and light of men.
And that light shines in the darkness beckoning men and women who live in darkness to come.
To those outside on the cold dark streets of our cities, shivering from the frosty darkness that envelopes them, the flickering lights from a Christmas tree in the window of a warm home serve as an invitation to come to something better. They softly hum the call of God to enter into His brightness and the warmth of His presence. They sway to the melody of each sweet carol, “O come, let us adore Him.”
The light is shining and it is, indeed, the light of men.
The Unknown Light
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: “- John 1:9-12
The lights on the trees are synthetic. Though lovely in their appearance, they are temporal and will fade away, burn out, or be immediately extinguished as they or their power source is broken. They are not true lights.
They do not shine universally, but only within the close proximity of those who light them. There are dark places where their ambiance is not known. There are pockets of despair in the world where the lights of Christmas have never been lit.
But the true light shines on every man while in pervasive blindness, there are many who do not and will not see. Hardness of heart and bitterness of spirit obscure the view of those for whom the light is intended.
We live in a land of shadows and distortions where every ray of light is filtered through our prejudicial thinking and blind ambition. We stumble in our assumptions and trip over our own dark thoughts oblivious to the Light that has come into the world and is already shining on us.
Many there are who do not recognize him when confronted by Him, who sing the songs of Christmas, hang the decorations on their trees, gasp at the beauty of the colors of the season, and greet one another with manufactured cheer. Yet they do not see him to whom all the signs and symbols point.
Those who do become the children of God, playfully unwrap their spiritual gifts around the tree of life.
SEEING THE WORLD THROUGH THE INCARNATION
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” - John 1:14
There is a vision without which, we are blind and lifeless.
It is the vision of one who sees us as we are and envisions our world from the inside out and the outside in.
The Incarnate Lord made His dwelling among us. Literally, He pitched His tent here.
I had read about California all my life, seen it on TV and in the movies, but I only truly experienced it when I moved here many years ago.
But the vision message of this verse is not that God learned to experience our life by becoming flesh, but that He made it possible for us to experience Him and to behold His glory.
We have a new vision of God because of Jesus and can now view the world through His eyes because He dwelt among us as one of us.
So, must we dwell among the people, indwelt by Christ that they may behold His glory as we see then through His eyes.
The Miracle of Christmas
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. “ - John 1:14
As God speaks, flesh is formed, holy flesh, incarnate divinity, whimpering wonder, tiny testimony to His love and presence. It is a miracle. God spoke in this little bundle of flesh and blood as helpless as He was with more profound clarity and unmistakable volume than in all of history. God performed the miracle of Christmas.
One night in Bethlehem, as the light shone in the darkness, the Word, eternal and perfect, became flesh and began to dwell among us.
He began as we begin. He grew as we grow. He struggled as we struggle. He was tempted as we are. He overcame as no man ever has before or since. In all ways, He was like us, yet without sin.
And we saw something in him we have never seen before in any man as we saw it in Him, the glory of God.
It had been reflected off the face of Moses, but it emanated from Jesus the Christ. The people could not look at Moses and live. We live by beholding Jesus.
It was the glory of the unique, only begotten of the Father, the eternal Word of God. It was real glory we saw, real light, and true life. It was glory that is full of grace and glory that is full of truth.
No where else in the drama of the cosmos have grace and truth been so compatible in one event. Truth lands on earth with the piecing weight of uncompromising reality and shouts, “Here I am.” This is it!” Grace creeps into our lives and settles our hearts. It injects truth into our souls without sting or invasion and speaks compassion to our hearts.
Truth may seem harsh, but grace and truth are as welcome as Christmas and are, in fact, what Christmas is all about. This is the miracle of Christmas is that the truthful, loving Word of God has become incarnate in human form and we can see Who God is in all of His glory and live.
Poor David had a bit of a blind side in his self assessment. Or did he?
If God forgets my sin and separates them from me as far as the east is from the west, why should I wallow in guilt of that which is forgiven.
God sees me through different eyes than I could ever see myself.
He see the future/present me ... perfected in Christ, made complete by grace.
Only that which is Christ in me, the hope of glory, comes to His attention. He looks a my little, pitiful efforts to follow Him and calls the angels over so that He can brag about His child.
Maybe I can sing these verses in faith after all!!!!
It is all about GRACE!
" For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt. So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight."
In distress we call ; In reverence we fall; In joy, in sorrow, all ..., We bring to Him and crawl To be lifted. Enthrall ... The nations. Install ... His glory. Each wall ... Collapse. Each hall ... Be filled with wonder and praise!
"I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies."
"The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me."
"In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears."
“John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” - Revelation 1:4-6
As a corrective to some bad teaching, we went through a societal emphasis on self-esteem and feeling good about ourselves.
Perhaps we went a little too far or made drew some conclusions that went beyond our healthy intentions. However, the effort to let children know they are valued is essential to them becoming all they can be.
Children with a distorted concept of themselves grow into troubled adults. Without a sense of value and worth, people disrespect themselves and tend to disrespect others. Sometimes this disrespect leads to crime or anti-social behaviors. It is self-destructive and manifests itself in unhealthy families. It is visited upon children and children’s children.
But the remedy is not found in superficial affirmations of our essential worth or in the denial of sin and darkness. It is to be found in God and His esteem for us. He loves us because of His amazing grace, tender mercy, and sovereign choice.
All of this was bestowed while we were yet sinners. He saw what we could be.
God, has called us out of darkness.
He has freed us from sin by the blood of His Son so that every impediment to who we were intended to be has been removed.
The outcome is that God’s vision of us as His people is an elevated vision. He does not look upon His children, who have received His grace, as miserable sinners.
God sees us as a kingdom of priests who serve and exalt Him. That is, in reality, who we are. All other visions of self are false and deceptive. We are kingdom people and we are priestly people with a high calling and a sanctified standing. It is by grace and it is complete.
God’s glory is manifest in His loving esteem for us.
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." - Matthew 2:16-18
How far will evil go to carry out its evil ends?
Moved by humiliation and anger, Herod’s insult was matched only by his wicked lust for power.
Lashing out against the threat to his illegitimate monarchy, he flung his nation into a time of evil that was inconceivable in its sheer horror. Sanity questioned lunacy with the haunting cry, “Is there no limit to such evil?”
There is none.
Evil will not stop itself. It perpetuates its terrors. It knows no boundaries. It will progress and regress beyond any hint of decency as it grows immune to conscience and compassion.
That is the bad news. The good news is that there is, in fact a limit, but it is not pretty. Not until the death of Herod did the madness cease.
The good news is, furthermore, that God’s good is greater than man’s evil.
God is monitoring the progress of wickedness and restraining its instinctive intrusion into the affairs of human history.
A loving God allows us free will and its consequences because He does indeed love us, but He will only allow it to go on for so long. The length of its duration is a mystery to us.
Sometimes, He will allow suffering to accomplish His purposes and, when they are complete, He will stop it.
When evil, which is not of God, ceases to work toward God’s redemptive purposes, it reaches its limit. We don’t understand it, nor can we predict its course, but we can trust in a God who is working all things out for our good and His glory.
When evil prevails, God weeps along with Rachel, but in the end, righteousness prevails and God says, “Enough!”
Evil will not stop on its own. It is always brought to a stop by the intervention of God and, sometimes, God through God's people. This happens in history in one way or another.
From day one on this planet, Jesus was among us as vulnerable.
From the beginning, he was among the poor, the refuge, the oppressed, the hunted, the one unwelcome by powers, but longed for by the lowly.
This was day one.
It was day two as well, and later, expelled from his land, fleeing with His parents, in mortal danger, He was among us as one who could remind us that God sees us in our lowest estate and comes to us with good news.
How long did Mary and Joseph remain in the stable before they found a room or a shanty?
We do not know. They still had to stand in lines to register for their taxes. They had to remain in a place far from home. There are so many gaps, but all we need to know is here in the text. From the text, we know this: There was no room for Him.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” - Luke 2:7
Everyone knew what a manger was and it was no place for a king. Everyone knew what swaddling clothes were and that they were unfit garb for the Lord of glory.
Nor should he have been relegated to a barn.
They just didn’t understand and we are still having a hard time “getting it.”
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.”
This is His poverty, His willing emptying of Himself, His lowliness and love to identify with the least and the lost among us.
No crib - no bed – no amenities – no sanitized conditions – just a trough where the livestock were fed, just rough clothes to cover Him and keep Him somewhat warm. He became as the lowliest among us.
“The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.”
He was there, helpless and sweet, all God and all man, emptied of all the riches and prerogatives that were rightfully His, poor and needy like us. Who couldn’t love such a baby? Who wouldn’t?
“The stars in the sky looked down where He lay.”
No one standing by would have known how all of creation that night was subject to that little bundle of new life. Humanity has no capacity to notice when millions of angels bow and worship. And yet, it was happening all around them.
Humanity continues to turn a blind eye toward the presence of Jesus manifest in the least of His poor brethren. We do not see Him in the hungry, longing eyes of the children. We do not see Him in the faces of the displaced and disinherited. He is among us in the company of the poor and we look for Him elsewhere.
“The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.”
God grant that we not miss Him lying there or among us. May we not overlook Him, take Him for granted, or minimize His importance. He is so easily discarded and disregarded, but He cannot be ultimately ignored.
May your heart today become His manger, your flesh, His swaddling clothes, and your heart like the stars in the sky that bow before Him.
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40
“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord …” – Luke 1:46
The Magnificat remains one of the most glorious expressions of praise in all of musical literature.
Perhaps, someday, in Heaven, God will allow us to hear a replay of the day Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth or the day the angel visited Mary and announced God’s intentions to her. We would hear that conversation that altered history and sweet sound of her acceptance of God’s great gift of His Son to and through her.
The music of absolute surrender would call us to worship and we would join her in exclaiming,
“My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!”
No less significant was the day your heart responded to God’s grace and declared, “be it unto me according to thy word.”
That God would regard the low estate of His handmaiden and plant the seed of redemption within her womb is a magnificent thing indeed. That God would regard our low estates that Christ might be conceived and born in our hearts by faith is astounding!
We cannot help but sing His praise. We cannot resist the call the worship. We cannot feign to exalt His Name and rejoice in the miracle of His coming. As Mary conceived without human agency, so, that which is born in us of God is without human effort.
Welcome Him to your life anew today and join in chorus:
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. - Matthew 2:7-11
Isn’t it wonderful that the Magi observed Herod’s words and not his intentions?
Once launched in the direction of Bethlehem by the deceptive words and commands of an evil king, they were again at the mercy and beckon call of the King of Kings. They followed His star to the destination where they would meet Him. When they found Him, they worshiped Him.
In the middle of their diligent search for truth, they were sidetracked by a liar, but not for long. God will not allow those whose hearts are intent upon finding Him to be lost in the search without hope. He will again intervene and guide them to Himself.
“Seek and ye shall find,” the Master promised.
From Jerusalem, there was a false launch, but God intervened and provided a sure landing in Bethlehem.
There will be circumstances in your life that are not of God. There will be people of malicious intend who will try and launch you in directions that approximate truth, but miss the mark entirely. Be cautious, but not fearful. God is greater than our circumstances and the schemes of evil entities. His light is more powerful than darkness. Follow the star and bring what is in your hands to Jesus, worshiping Him with all of your heart and soul.
You may have any number of dubious launches in this life, but if you seek Him with all your heart, you will always land surely.
Correggio, 1489?-1534. Adoration of the Christ Child by the Three Wise Men, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=47013 [retrieved December 22, 2018]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.
Matthew 2:5-6 - And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Like young David, tending the fields of his father, Jesse, the City of David was often thought of as the least among the princes of Judah.
Greatness often takes us by surprise.
It took David by surprise. It certainly so took Jesse and his brothers.
Who me? We surmise by our surprise that our eyes have been playing games with our minds and our ears have distorted the garbled sound of, “Yes, you.”
It took a miracle of the manipulation of history for a Nazarene couple to fulfill prophecy and experience the birth of this son in Bethlehem. It took the hand of God guiding events that would seem much larger and more significant than this to bring it all to pass.
The Son of David would be born in David’s city. The unlikely King would provide a line of succession for an unlikely Savior born in an unlikely place.
Never underestimate the greatness of God’s plan for your life, your place, and your time. He is still guiding the course of events to His own ends.
Bethlehem, the House of Bread, figured into the redemption story in a way that might have seen disproportionate to its civic significance. God, on the other hand, measures importance by what He brings forth from our lives, places, times, and events.
As I reflect upon the friends who have lifted me in life, some lean right; some lean left ... and some lean so far in one direction or another that it is amazing that they could share the same circle of friendship and love, but they do. I am glad they do. In my circle are all sorts of folks. I sure do love you all and value your perspective. Your range of thought keeps me coming back to my center. Thank you for what you all mean in my life.
“And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” - Matthew 2:4
You can’t accuse Herod of not being religiously curious and hungry for religious knowledge. He was desperate for information, but he had no intention of using that information for good. He had every intention of misappropriating it for his own evil ends.
For Herod the Great, it was how he was supplying his arsenal to hold onto power. He was willing to abuse his power and God's power to keep his power. It was his addiction.
Some of us, at times in our lives, are curious for information about God – for no particular reason other than to satisfy our curiosity. Such knowledge is benign. It does us no harm. It does us no good. You can go to Sunday School all of your life and come out no better or worse for it if what you learn never goes from your head to your heart.
Herod may not have attended Synagogue, but he was surrounded by scholars who did. When he needed factual knowledge, he drew upon their education, but Herod was not seeking out the scholars in a game of religious trivial pursuit. He had a sinister purpose for what he wanted to know.
Some of us, at least at points in our lives, gather religious information for malicious ends. We have no intention of being transformed by that knowledge. In fact, we collect it to use as a weapon against other people – friends, enemies, spouses, children, parents, and entire groups of people with whom we disagree and with whom we spar for power.
We want to learn enough to give us an edge. We are filling our arsenals with biblical darts so that we might pierce the armored resistance of our opponents. There is no holiness in such pursuits. There is no honor. There is no edification.
God provides us with truth that it might change us from within. He is fashioning us according to His image and forming us for time and for eternity. Don’t be like Herod in your pursuit of spiritual truth. Come to the Word of God prayerfully and openly.
Lord, speak to me and transform me as I receive what You wish to say to me. Amen.
“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” – Matthew 3:3
Every prophetic function with its fulfillment has its counterpart in our lives and it is up to us to seek it. What does it mean for us, as the people of God, to prepare the way for the Lord? How have those who have gone before us prepared a straight path for Him in our lives? How have events and people shaped us so that we could be ready to receive His Word?
God’s ways always involve preparation. He does nothing haphazardly or without thought and planning. When He desires to speak, He prepares the message, the messenger, and the hearer. When He is about to act, He informs His servants the prophets. He is a God of precision and perfect order. He does all things well.
John the Baptist was God’s man in God’s timing. His life was his ministry and he learned to look beyond the obvious and to seek God deeply. He patiently awaited the coming of the messiah and faithfully proclaimed the message God had given him through the days of waiting.
God never wastes time or calls us to bide our time. Everything, all time, all preparation is meaningful and purposeful.
The psalms give voice to the deepest pain, anguish, fear, despair, and sometimes, anger of the human soul, direct that voice God-ward where God seems to say, "I understand. It's OK to feel this way. It's OK to tell me. I hear you. We are going to get through this together. Trust me. I love you."
Here, our tug-of-war between fight and flight are met with a new option: flow.
" My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”"
“When Herod heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with Him.” - Matthew 2:3
Herod was troubled. We might say he was scared to death. You know that sinking feeling when the free ride is about to come to a screeching halt, when your charade is about to be revealed, and your scam is about to be uncovered.
Herod was a pretender. He knew he was a pretender. The notion that the authentic king might have been born was more of a threat than he could bear.
We are most threatened when we are least honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. We are terrified when we try to maintain our deception against all odds. We flail about, plot, and scheme when our straw houses begin to crumble around us – and we trouble all of those around us who have bought into our lies.
Are you like Herod, thoroughly invested in a false sense of who you are without which you would not know your own identity? Are you like those in Jerusalem who rode his coattails, riding the wave of someone else’s “power grab”? Or are you like the Magi, with no vested interest in protecting their positions or status, merely eager to embrace the reality of God’s presence in the world, anxious to find the King that they might worship Him?
Jesus invades our spheres of influence and our little kingdoms to establish His own rightful rule. There is no need to be troubled. The greatest honor and freedom in life is found when we step down from our thrones and let Him take His place of Lordship.
We are threatened when we compulsively protect what is not really ours. We are troubled when we see Him coming and convince ourselves that He is coming to rob us of our lives. We are terrified at the prospect of having to forge a new identity from the self we have deluded ourselves into believing was real.
In fact, He comes to reclaim what is His – the throne, our lives, and even our identities. We have been living in a delusion and only realizing the tiniest fraction of our potential. It is only through surrender that we gain victory. It is only by relinquishing the throne do we become truly great. It is only in denying ourselves do we find our true selves and begin to live.
What Herod rejected out of fear, we must embrace by faith.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” - Matthew 2:1-2
When Jesus was born …
How common the words, how incidental they sound. Yet, they introduce an event of such significance that all of time is measured as before and after the coming of this one child into the world and the drama of His life, death, and resurrection.
When Jesus comes, it is a new day. Governments are in place imagining themselves all powerful and enduring and suddenly they sense that they are temporal and vulnerable. The truly wise recognize the waves of change in the cosmos and once again become seekers moving in the direction of the source of that change. They that move with the currents of change come to worship. New days and new years are best observed by recognizing God and worshiping Him.
We measure small blocks of time in seconds and move up the continuum, pausing to recognize the passing of years. In a year we circle the sun and pass through all of the seasons. We count them off and, as they pass, we find ourselves counting faster and faster.
We mark off the old and look with anticipation upon the new.
And while all of that is going on, something is being born, a new life, a novel opportunity, a fresh idea, a renewed hope, and occasionally, a burst of light. We follow that light and it leads us to a manger where, in unassuming splendor and simple elegance, we encounter the Son of God.
There we worship.
Because of that ever-present possibility of meeting God in the passages of time, we peek around the corner of every new day and every new year with anticipatory wonder.
We know, as did the wise men, why we have come to this time. We have come to worship Him.
"Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." - Matthew 1:22-23
How lonely Joseph must have felt, not to mention Mary’s loneliness. God chose two lonely young people to use as a vehicle for the end of loneliness.
To be a virgin and conceive is an unparalleled experience. Conception always involves ensemble and grows out of a deep partnership. Mary’s only partnership in this conception was with the invisible God and it led to more isolation from humanity – even her betrothed.
Joseph was also isolated by this event. Intimate trust had, in his mind, been betrayed. He could not receive counsel because there were none who could understand his mixed emotions.
Out of this loneliness would come a new partnership between God and this young couple and out of His work and their commitment would come a new reality – the persistent and consistent presence of God among people: Emmanuel.
(24)Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
At some point, prior to or during this encounter, Joseph has fallen asleep. God often speaks to us in the loneliness of slumber, but it is when we are awakened that we reveal the power of the encounter. Joseph believed and received the word and his solitude ended. He obeyed God.
(25) And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Fulfillment involved restraint and rejection of superficial intimacy. The depths of what God was doing would require patient expectation. The honeymoon would wait because God had something marvelous in store for humanity through His Divine intervention in history and the commitment of two solitary youths, brought together by grace and empowered by the promise of the presence of God.
Are we as willing, as they were, to offer our lives to the purpose of Christmas, that the God of the Universe might be revealed to a lonely world? Are we willing to leave some of the gifts under the tree for a while that the Giver of all gifts might bestow the gift of His eternal presence in the temporal realm?
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
The name, Jesus means Yahweh Saves. In a wonderful application of that meaning, the angel informs Joseph of the role of this boy who Mary carried in her womb. His life would be the very saving presence of God among His people.
Let us meditate upon the significance of this coming. The Son of Mary, who is the Son of God, would bear a name that others had borne before. But He would bear it with authority and purpose. Others wore that name as a prophetic reminder, He would be the authentic fulfillment of the promise incarnate.
This salvation that He brings is not just from the destructive power of armies or the oppressive arm of dictators. It is also from ourselves, our sins, our choices. It is the offering that He brings with His life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus comes to save His people. Joseph, no doubt, heard this as the household of Israel, but God sent His Son to save the whole world. His saving arms are long enough to embrace all people and gather them to Himself. And so, His arms are open to you this day to rescue you from whatever wars against you and to deliver you from your sins.
"...Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him." - Matthew 2:2
There is one flower that reminds us of a star and there was a star that pointed some people outside of Israel’s fold and covenant to the Savior of the world. God uses all sorts of means to draw people to Himself.
Christmas flowers are special gifts.
For one thing, we do not expect to have many flowers in the winter.
For another, they remind us that Christmas is a colorful season that touches the deepest beauty of our noblest aspirations and sentiments.
Poinsettias became associated with Christmas in 16th-century Mexico.
There was a legend of a girl named Pepita who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. According to the story, an angel inspired her to gather weeds and place them in front of the church altar. The crimson blossoms that sprouted became poinsettias.
The bright red flowers were known as the “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.”
A former Ambassador to Mexico named, Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced them to America. Later planters and business opportunists built on the legend and cultivated the flowering plants we have today, named for
The star-shaped leaf on the Poinsettia is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. The red color represents the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.
Whether or not there is any truth in the legend, the story points to God’s provision for a gift of worship through a humble child and God’s gift to the world for our salvation through the coming of the Christ child.
We do not always know the story behind our traditions. We may not always know what they symbolize, but they usually mean something and knowing their meaning can add depth to our celebrations.
Father, may I never look at a flower or anything in Thy creation
"Adoration of the Child " Honthorst, Gerrit van, 1590-1656
"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." - Matthew 1:21
Call his name, “Jesus.”
It was the core of the angelic message that was delivered to Joseph. Mary would have a son. There were no ultrasound tests in those days that could have predicted gender. Only God could know.
Only God could know the meaning of that life. God knew and shared that knowledge with Joseph through His angel. You will call Him Jesus – not because it was a common name among the sons of Israel; such a designation was not unheard of, but neither was it common. Call Him Jesus – not because it was a family name or because it had a ring to it.
Call Him Jesus, because that name, like His life, like this great event of miraculous conception means something. Of all those who have ever borne the name, He would most embody it and fulfill its promise.
Call Him Jesus because it means that God is Savior and God saves. Call Him Jesus because it for the purpose of saving His people from their sins that He came. Call Him Jesus and never forget that you are part of something greater than your own self interests.
There is no evidence that the angel shouted these words or sang them, but never has there been a more dramatic proclamation in the annals or oratory or a grander crescendo in the history choral repertoire. Thus, whenever we recall them theatrically, homiletically, or musically, it is almost impossible to restrain the enthusiasm.
What God spoke to the disoriented and discouraged Joseph in the dark quiet of that moment has resounded through the ages as great exclamation mark in salvation history.
He shall save His people from their sins!
The experience of Joseph has become our experience and the culmination of its advent, we have come to call, “Christmas.” Our sins, so profound and so hideous with their dire consequences in our lives have met their match in the One we call Jesus.
"But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." - Matthew 1:20
Sometimes it takes a messenger from God, human or angelic to interrupt our thinking and redirect our beliefs so that we can see that the seemingly negative events in our lives are nothing less than something conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph was thinking as a natural man with the information he had and the beliefs that focused his thinking. He was filtering reality through a mindset that had not even considered the possibilities that were about to be revealed to him. As a result, he had come to certain conclusions, made certain decisions, and experienced a range of emotions including fear.
The angel’s message suggests that he might have toyed with the idea of marrying Mary in spite of everything, but fear prevented him. He needed a word from God to give him courage and assurance.
Joseph was thinking. Perhaps he was brooding. He may have been playing various scenarios in his mind, rehearsing his speech, considering and reconsidering his options. He must have been on an emotional roller coaster and had drifted into the oblivion of racing thoughts when waking or sleeping, he saw what he had never seen before – an angel.
Though startled at first, imagine how Joseph must have welcomed the message he received. He could never have thought of it himself. It was like a breath of fresh air, a reprieve from the nightmare of recent days. It was a word of hope. The angel gave him permission to love the girl of his dreams and take her as his wife because the one impossible scenario was actually the truth: God had done this thing. . It was all His doing and it was good.
Is that not what we need to hear in the midst of our despairing conundrums? We need to know that however convoluted the circumstances and what we believe about them, that the Spirit of the Living God is at work and is working out His eternal purposes. Embracing that word, we are set free from fear.
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. “ –Matthew 1:20
It was the kind of conception that was hard to conceive of. Joseph is silent during this transaction with the angel. No words are recorded. If he spoke, he must have deemed anything he had to say unimportant, because he reported only God’s words through the angel.
For some reason, miracles often evoke fear, perhaps because God voice speaks so powerfully through them and we are overwhelmed by His glory. This was a miracle of reduction. All of God’s glory would be compressed into one tiny little baby and His developing body would be planted into the womb of Mary.
Joseph was asked to come along as a willing and faithful participant in this process, to take Mary as his wife, to exercise restraint and patience, to accept any shame, humiliation, and ridicule that might come his way, and to rejoice with her in what God was doing. He was asked to take a giant step of faith.
People raise their eyebrows at the notion of the Incarnation, but they also turn a skeptical eye toward testimonies of new birth. The church boldly declares that men and women can be born of the Spirit from above and that God can transform the life of the most miserable sinner into the most useful saint. The world scoffs, but the true believer keeps testifying to the power of the miracle. That is because we know it is true. We have experienced it. Like Joseph, we are dumbfounded and receive the gift with joy.
Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
(Isaac Watts, 1719)
About the Art
Angel of the Annunciation
The Ancient church of St Mary (Italian: Santa Maria Antiqua al Foro Romano) is a Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, built in the 5th century in the Forum Romanum, and for long time the monumental access to the Palatine imperial palaces.This church is the oldest Christian monument in the Roman Forum and includes the earliest Roman depiction of Santa Maria Regina depicting the Virgin Mary as a Queen in the 6th century. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_Antiqua)
The fresco of Mary as a Queen is badly damaged; it shows Mary as Queen on a jeweled throne, holding the Christ child. Joseph stands behind Mary, as the Wise Men pay hommage.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily." - Matthew 1:18 -19
If you were about to send your only son to faraway place and could choose a family for him, you would be very careful. God was no less deliberate about His choice for who would raise His Son.
We celebrate Mary who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit and nurtured Him in her womb before giving birth. In Mary were the finest maternal qualities.
But Jesus needed a man to protect Him and guide Him as well and God chose Joseph. First, He arranged the betrothal of Mary and Joseph through Divine providence. Then He kept them apart until He could work a miracle.
Joseph did not live in an age of miracles. The truth is, there has seldom been such a time. Miracles always take people by surprise and require a mind/faith stretch to be embraced. What Joseph did possess was a wonderful combination of integrity and compassion.
He was a just man. It would be no small thing for him to believe that his betrothed wife had been unfaithful to him. He would have been devastated and offended. As a man of honor, he would know that he could not simply overlook such an offense.
But he was also a man of compassion and, while it might have soothed his bruised ego to do so, he was not willing to make a public example of her. By public example, Matthew might have meant anything from humiliation and banishment to death. No more could Joseph turn off his love and compassion than his sense of right and wrong.
Such a man was chosen by God the Father to be a father-figure in the life of His Son. Such a man would model the Law of God and the love of God for the Son of God. Such a man would figure prominently in God’s plan to fill the life and heart of the Holy One who emptied Himself by taking the form of a Servant. Such a man was Joseph.
May the milestones of your life Be the ammunition to Confront the millstones in your way. May each be smooth enough To give pleasure to your touch Before you launch them ruthlessly Into your obstacles Shattering them into a million Milestones.
"In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD." – Isaiah 19:19
We mark things.
It is our habit and it is a habit born of need.
We need to remember and to remember, we need to be reminded.
That is why the children of Israel built altars. That is why we build monuments and put plaques on our walls.
That is why we surround ourselves with pictures, awards, memorabilia, and subtle hints to refresh our recollections of times gone by and people too easily forgotten.
It is why we write poems, journals, and songs to commemorate great experiences including spiritual milestones in our lives.
We need to remember.
We especially need to remember when we are far removed from the time or place where we met God along the way,
We need to remember God.
It is not that God needs us to remember Him. God deserves and desires to be worshiped, but He is neither diminished by our neglect nor enhanced by our remembrance. He is delighted when we come and bow before Him, but He is the same with or without our acknowledgment.
But we are not complete unless or until we remember Him and worship Him.
For that reason, we plant reminders all over the landscape of our lives – to point us back to true center and open our eyes to God.
God speaks in advance of our need. He looks down the road and knows what we are going to face. He sees the challenges before we do. He experiences our pain before it ever comes to us. He understands our sorrows and frustrations. He anticipates our doubts and every temptation we will ever face.
He knows there will come a time when we need a word of comfort.
He knew such a time would come for His people and prompted Isaiah to comfort them. He knew that in the fullness of time that word of comfort would come as the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. Try to hear these words from Isaiah 40 sung by soloist in Handel’s “Messiah” as you read them and experience them as a love song from the Father.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
It is God Himself who speaks the word of comfort through Jesus Christ. He speaks and we echo His Word to a world in turmoil,
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
His voice is gentle and comforting in Christ. We are to speak that same comfort to His people with gentle strength and quiet confidence.
… and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished,
It is the cessation of hostilities. The war is over. We don’t have to fight for our salvation. He has come in person and freely offers His peace.
... that her iniquity is pardoned …
God has taken the initiative to forgive, to heal the breach, to restore His people. What a privilege it is to announce pardon to those who will receive the message.
… The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Let us join the company of those who proclaim His coming. Let us not miss the opportunity this Christmas season. The world is hurting and listening.
There is a sort of spiritual depression that can either rise to or complicate emotional, mental, and physical depression. It is, in Greek, "barew," a verb meaning "to weigh down or depress."
Stay with me a moment.
Depression has spiritual, emotional, cognitive, physical, and biochemical dimensions. One can lead to the other. In the spiritual realm, there are spiritual remedies that can intervene.
I have met some very healthy people in mental hospitals - spiritually healthy, balanced, and centered people who are working to regain their physical, mental, and emotional health. Yes. I am changing the order of these words intentionally.
Spiritual health, in this arena, comes from watchfulness and a decision to not add weight to our already depressed thinking or to weigh ourselves down when we are not depressed.
From whence comes the weight of this particular form or complication of depression? It comes, according to Jesus, from three areas where we can make choices:
1. We respond to stress with excess and that is called "dissipation." In English, it means "to spread abroad, scatter, disperse; squander, disintegrate," It is followed by the condition where we "desire no more of something as a result of having consumed or done it to excess." Sometimes we respond to stress with excess. We do what brings us release until we pass out literally or figuratively.
Does this begin to sound like an addiction model or does it just sound like sin or are sin and addiction wearing each others' wedding rings?
Dissipation is the opposite of watching. When we watch, we are spiritually awake. When we dissipate, we are retreating from our stress into some substance, behavior, lifestyle, stinking thinking, or fantasy that gives us temporary relief. An endorphin release ensues and we experience momentary bliss followed by dissipation. Dissipation feeds deeper depression and the spiral spirals.
2. Drunkenness is next. It is "en krepalh," a word, common in the language of medical writers of Jesus' day for the nausea that follows a debauch. It is also an opposite of watchfulness, but it is a stupor, the basis of the adjective, "stupid."
Don't get stupid! The endorphin high that comes from alcohol can be produced by thought or behavior. Maybe you are addicted to wallowing in some injustice that has been inflicted on you. Maybe it is lustful thinking. Maybe it is some other habitual something that you do to find a place of release and release -- It can make you stupid!
We think "stupid" thoughts, we make "stupid" choices, and we keep doing the "stupid" things that dissipate us and make us stupid and "stupider."
We sink deeper into sin and addiction --- that is not to diminish the medical significance of addiction nor the spiritual significance of sin. They walk together and support each other.
Sin is, by definition, missing the archer's mark - that dead center where we are at home, at peace, and rightly aligned with God and our purpose. We cannot go to sleep on this -- no matter how much stress we perceive or how relentless the attacks, we must stay spiritually awake.
3. The third is what we think causes the other two - the care of this world. It is the load we either have placed upon us or place upon ourselves. It is "merimnai biwtikai," the anxieties of life. (I apologize for my clumsy transliterations of the Greek).
Can we control the anxieties of life?
Not entirely, but we can choose not to feed them, dwell on them, or add to them through dissipation and drunkenness --- or through our addictions to accumulation of wealth, power, importance, status, or control.
Jesus taught much, in his ministry, about the cares of life and how to release them. He taught trust, faith, and realignment of our sense of purpose and significance. He taught us to go up by coming down, to be first by becoming intentionally last, to win by losing, to release our anger and nagging need of revenge by forgiving, and to gain eternity by emptying ourselves before God. He taught us to come as children.
We cannot control the cares placed upon us, but we can reassign them and redefine them and refuse to allow them to become our defining factors.
These three things, dissipation, drunkenness, and cares of life become a trap that ensnares us, like addiction and like sin. As a snare. Luke translates Jesus into the Greek with the word, "pagi" from "phgnumi," meaning to "make fast a net or trap."
Robertson notes that "Paul uses it several times of the devil's snares for preachers ( 1 Timothy 3:7 ; 2 Timothy 2:26 )."
We can be watchful or we can become ensnared. Does Jesus have a word for those of us who might be trapped in spiritual depression as part of a systemic or systematic process of depression or addiction? I think so. We may need more than just spiritual therapy and prayer if we are there, but we can find spiritual health and watchfulness in the midst and we can find the way to function in this world through this admonition to wakefulness, watchfulness, and mindfulness.
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus."
efer to Robertson's Word Pictures for deeper study of this potent verse: CLICK
This is is a rather courageous prayer for any to make. He makes it from the dual standing of God's faithful love and his own integrity. The greater appeal is to God's character and all he has in his own is his earnest desire to align with that. To ask to be refined and purified is no small matter.
Am I willing to pray it?
Am I ready to commit to it?
"Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness."
“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord …” – Luke 1:46
The Magnificat remains one of the most glorious expressions of praise in all of musical literature.
Perhaps, someday, in Heaven, God will allow us to hear a replay of the day Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth or the day the angel visited Mary and announced God’s intentions to her. We would hear that conversation that altered history and sweet sound of her acceptance of God’s great gift of His Son to and through her. The music of absolute surrender would call us to worship and we would join her in exclaiming,
“My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!”
No less significant was the day your heart responded to God’s grace and declared, “be it unto me according to thy word.”
That God would regard the low estate of His handmaiden and plant the seed of redemption within her womb is a magnificent thing indeed. That God would regard our low estates that Christ might be conceived and born in our hearts by faith is astounding!
We cannot help but sing His praise. We cannot resist the call the worship. We cannot feign to exalt His Name and rejoice in the miracle of His coming. As Mary conceived without human agency, so, that which is born in us of God is without human effort.
Welcome Him to your life anew today and join in chorus:
How can I, God of mercy, How can I humble myself To seek Thy forgiveness If I am haughty enough to demand retribution From my neighbor? How can I seek pardon, Guilty as I am, If I withhold it from one who has offended me? Is there not one entry way to my soul for That which flows in and That which flows forth? If I close down the outflow of mercy, How can I drink of its inflow? God of love, I am a stained as anyone. I am as needy as the most despicable and defiled. You, who knows and sees all and Sees my heart, You know how dark it can be in there when The lights go out. I cannot live in the dark and, It is in the dark, The bleak and cold dark where I ... Seek only justice and revenge for myself ... It is in the dark where I delight in The pain of my enemy and The defeat of those who seek my defeat. I cannot live in such darkness. It is in the dark where I, who with my lips, Seek pardon, Refuse it for there is one word, Just One, Just one word of acceptance or refusal ... For myself and for my neighbor. It is either "Yes" or "No," And it covers us both. Cover me, Oh God of giddy grace, With rose pedals of yeses! Cover me with snowflakes of mercy and Forgiveness. Cover my face with smiles for my nemeses that they may be My soon friends. Cover my darkness with light and Obliterate the darkness of bitterness and Anger with The bright, sparkling, shiny glow of Love. In Jesus' Name, Amen and Amen.
Show me your pain and I will show you your passion. It is the same and it is transforming, first, by transforming itself ... into joy! Without the pain, there is no passion, Without the passion, there is no joy. Without the joy ... Without the JOY!?!? You must be kidding me! Without the joy, I'll go back to bed. But with joy, I'm going out there to passionately, make a difference today. And let me never forget, Oh One Who came to suffer and to serve, that it was through pain that You brought us life and through Your suffering that we, were set free and sent forth to serve.
We live in a world of pain and concentrated suffering. Where is your pain focused? You have your own and that is a given. Have you found that place where you have absorbed and borne the pain of some part of the world or some people or some cause?n Have you found that place in your heart where you can suffer with (COM-passion) others and feels their pain as much or more than your own?
That is where your passion will be an that is where you will be energized by God to serve and to change the world through business, ministry, or life. Whatever the venue, the source is within you ... where you hurt most is where you will find your greatest joy.
Explore these things. They are not for the faint-at-heart who desire to remain afloat in a sea of complacency and pseudo comfort, but they are for you ...
I know this because ...
You are still reading this while others have dropped off and because ...
You want to make a difference and because ...
You do know where you hurt and have moved beyond your personal pain to embrace the pain of others ... and ...
It makes you sick to your stomach to think of things going on as they are and you want to heal the broken people you see and you, you, you want to make a difference and this passion is not something you sought or something you made up.
Yes, it is. Only with an open had can I do either ... And the same hand that gives, receives. Lord, guide my intentions to give today. At the moment, my hand is empty, But I hold it out so that You might place in it ... What my neighbor needs and that I May not grasp it as my own. Amen.
Beyond alarm, beyond our pain, beyond all that is immediate in our lives is gratitude and submission. God has given us so much; all of Himself. We wonder what on earth we could do to show ourselves grateful.
First, he says, we take the gift. We take the cup of salvation. We call on the Name of the LORD. First, we receive. The first act of gratitude is to receive the gift being offered.
Then, we worship, we pay our vows. We do it in the presence of the people. We live our lives of faith and devotion to God openly, fearlessly, and purposefully.
Then, we live our lives until we die and, when we die, it is precious because it is day of completion. It is the day of culmination for our efforts and witness. It is the day when we begin the next journey of eternal thanksgiving and praise.
We are His servants. He has loosed our bonds. We sing. We worship.
"I said in my alarm, 'All mankind are liars.'
What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!"
Is David prideful, deluded, or something else in making these claims?
He, after all, has not always made the best choices.
It must be something else - the same something else available to us: a heart known by God, bathed in mercy, covered by grace, seen through the eyes of love, and living in a constancy of repentance, reorientation, and direction toward God, flawed, forgiven, rebounding, resilient.
He is a fully integrated human with a singular, though imperfect heart for God. His life is oriented around an enduring center.
That is the nature of integrity.
"Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness."
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us ... - Luke 1:78
My mid goes back to childhood, that stage of life when waiting is such a stretch of endurance.
I would nearly burst with excitement as I anticipated the visits of distant relatives - especially at Christmas. Their suitcases always contained gifts. Their stories always transported me to distant places. And their jokes always seemed funnier than any I had heard for a long time.
I remember the emotions of wonderment and joy and, at times, disappointment when our guests suddenly had a change of plans and could not come.
The waiting would start all over again.
God’s people had been waiting for a long, long time. Most had stopped watching – stopped believing that He would really come. Their hearts had grown cold, their hopes had dimmed or even died.
Still others prayed and remained alert. They knew the visitation would come, that the dayspring would spring forth and hope would arise on the earth. They were waiting for Jesus and knew it not. To such, He appeared in the fullness of time.
Such tender mercy that God shows toward those who toil through the night. Dayspring comes. It bursts forth in the darkness and illuminates every hidden thing. With Him are freedom, hope, consolation, and joy. In Him all of our longings are answered. Anticipation is rewarded and gifts are abundant.
"Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek ... to be loved as to love."
It seems easy, God, Until I try. Maybe I am not aware of how much I seek to be loved. Maybe I am not aware of how insecure I can be and vulnerable ... And needy: To be regarded, respected, and renowned ... To be chosen and cherished ... To be welcomed and warmed ... To be a friend ... But, Aha! Lord ... There is my choice: to BE a friend is to be and to act and to serve LIKE A FRIEND. If I seek it, I will be it. If I seek to love, I will love. Grant that I will reject reciprocity in this matter and think nothing of ... Quid Pro Quo ... Teach me to love by loving through me. Teach me to love by knowing again and again and again, how deep, How wide, How long, How long-suffering, How patient is Your love for me and that ... It is all I need. So, filled with love, I can give love. In the Name of the Lord of Love, Amen.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8
Everything is wrapped up in the babe who was wrapped in swaddling clothes. In a tiny bundle of newborn humanity is the sum total of all truth and meaning.
In that crude cradle of creation, lay the Creator of the universe. His Incarnation condensed onto one representative human life the start and finish of history and the cosmos. Though He presented Himself in time and space as a participant our history, He is beyond history. He is the Lord of eternity, the Almighty. And we knew it not.
The grand spiritual, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”, way it succinctly, “We didn’t know it was you.”
But it was Him and is Him and always will be Him. What child is this? On, so much more than we could ever imagine. He s Alpha and Omega, the A and the Z. He starts things and finishes them. He always was and yet, is present. And He always will be. Divine mystery is flesh. John wrote that we could touch Him, the Word of Truth.
"What wondrous love I this, that caused the Lord of bliss” to come and live among us?
We didn’t know who He was and then, in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John allows us to see what He saw and He conveys to us His vision of the risen and exalted Christ, the Eternal One.
He is, from start to finish, the start and the finish. All of time is wrapped up in Him who was wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Broken hearts can be mended. In fact, they can be made stronger in the broken places. Broken-heartedness is actually seen, at times, in a positive light in the scriptures.
Psalm 51:7 says that the sacrifices of God are a broken heart along with a broken and contrite spirit.
There are many good reasons for having a broken heart. Show me your broken heart and I can tell what drives you and impassions you.
It is only normal to have a broken heart for injustice in the world, for poverty of soul and life, and for suffering that we can prevent or alleviate. That kind of brokenness energizes us.
It is also normal to be broken within over the pain that we cause others and God through our own negative choices. That sort of brokenness leads to and predicts the possibility for change in our lives. Without it, we lost some of our own humanity and pliability.
What we cannot afford is loss of heart.
II Corinthians 4;1 says that we do not lose heart even when our outer man is perishing. Hebrews 12:3 reminds us not to lose heart when we face opposition and Hebrews 12:5 makes the same demand on us when we face correction by God.
So, the things that most commonly cause us discouragement are ...
our own human frailty and limitations as expressed especially in aging,
opposition from people,
and God's correction in our lives.
Returning to II Corinthians 4:1, Paul gives us one rationale for maintaining heart - our ministry. Because we have purpose and calling in our lives, we keep on keeping on. The broken heart of calling becomes the heart that beats on when we might too easily become disheartened.
Furthermore, Hebrews expands on that rationale with two admonitions: that we remember the example of Jesus and that we remember the love of God.
Losing heart is simply not an option - even when we know that the heart that can be warmed by a loving embrace can be broken by pain. No walls are allowed here. All protective devices are disabled.
We must be vulnerable and valiant and that is the path of joyful calling.
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots … “Isaiah 11:1
When Jesus stepped into time and history, there was a lot of history behind Him leading up to the one great event that was His life. Coming from God, He entered a body and that body had a history. He was a rod from a stem, a branch from some very deep roots. God had been building and planning and working for centuries in anticipation of the day when He would send His Son into the world as the heir of David’s throne, the promise of Abraham’s seed, and the new Adam to create a new race of humanity.
The plant kingdom can teach us much about how things are passed through history. From their history, we can visualize how genetic information is transmitted in human history along with cultural history and family values. From there, we can begin to apply spiritual principles to see how God is at work through the roots, the shoots, and the fruits of the called and chosen.
I am learning about gardening. The more I learn, the more I appreciate the Master Gardener. Some plants have very deep and intricate roots and some stay pretty close to the surface. It is pretty hard to kill basil. Its roots run deep and strong and find water where there seems to be none. That is my experience.
God prepared a long history for His Son, an entire nation with an intricate and strong root system, a living story of redemptive history, and a legacy of faith. Israel had an identity that any could recognize and many feared.
Whenever I see anything that grows, has flowers or leaves, or bears fruit, I think about these things. Everything necessary for that growth was here on the first week of creation. All that would be made life was present when God declared “Light!” Everything has existed since the time God called everything into existence.
It is a good thing to celebrate Christmas and Advent with living remembrances but the coming of Jesus is the continuation of life itself and the beginning of new life.
Father, out of a deep root, you formed a branch, a rod out of a stem. Father, out of our beginnings, you are forming something new.
Because Thou hast sent Thine Only Begotten Son, We are a part of the vine that grows from Him. May we produce the fruit He intends so that every day shall be Christmas
"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." - Psalm 90:4
" But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." - 2 Pet 3:8
Advent is a time of waiting. It causes us to think about time, how it passes, hoe slowly, how quickly, how seemingly unpredictable.
It raises the question, "When, Lord?"
Where will you be a thousand years from now? Ten thousand? A million? A billion?
We live in time and space and are subjects to the limitations of such. Time is depleted and never regained. Not so in our Father’s house. There will be no wasted moments or years. There will be no waiting, no boredom, and no hurry.
Time will be turned upside down, inside out, and all around. It will be but a faded memory. Eternity, of which we are now at least somewhat ignorant, will be as real as the second hand is today. What is incomprehensible will be comprehended. What is vast will remain vast, but our capacity to experience it will be transformed.
We may not comprehend it, but we don’t have to be ignorant of it either. We can at the very least, know this: There is so much that we do not know now, but someday will know fully even as we are now fully known.
It is about becoming eternally minded, living every day with eternity in our focus, in our hopes, and in our hearts. We are called to live on a different plane with a an attitude of amazement.
“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…” is how Paul put it in II Corinthians 4:18. It is a matter of choosing our view and sticking with it.
Can you imagine bright shining as the sun for eternity? I can’t either, but I can wait a little longer for it with the wonderment with which a child waits for Christmas. Now is the time to make decisions for eternity, because this is all the time anyone will ever get.
This is all the time that ever will be. We are about the step out of this realm into the timeless expanse of eternal glory. We are about to leap into God’s everlasting day.
Sometimes I need AN attitude adjustment. I just need to flip the switch from channel zero to channel one and start living on a higher level of thinking. It is possible, but there are some obstacles. It is then that I harness the power of one of many AN remedies:
The Complaint CAN - If I keep an actual or symbolic can available, with a lid, I can jot down every complaint that comes to mind and put it in the can. I CAN it.
The Trying PAN - You can have your frying pan for cooking up this and that concoction. I am going to use my Trying PAN for cooking up new ideas and launching new recipes for living. Instead of saying I cAN't, I give it a shot. If it flops it doesn't make me a flop; it makes me an adventurer. Eventually, I will find what works.
The Son TAN - Sometimes I just need to bask in the glory of God's Son and fellowship with Him. I have noticed that there are times I catch myself with a raunchy attitude and, with a little spiritual inventory, discover that I have not been still enough to know that God is God. I have been rushing through the most important time in my life, that quiet reflective tANning solon called personal devotions.
The Blessing FAN - Often my attitude suffers from exhaust. I have the fan inverted and am trying to suck up all the blessings for myself. Then I am reminded that if I broadcast them to others in all directions, the right ones will come back to me. I need to FAN out the blessings.
The Thinking PlAN - One of the problems we all encounter is that we don't plan enough time to think things through or we think about the wrong things or we just don't bother to think the right thoughts. Everyone has a certain amount of control over the subject, content, and intensity of his or her thinking. Philippians 4:8-9 gives us topic headings for constructive thinking. Take one a day for the next week and plAN to focus and think on that quality.
The Negative BAN - We just need to bAN negativity from our lives. Refuse to entertain the negative. Shun gossip. Ignore disparaging words. Govern our own words.
The God MAN - At the center of our quest for a positive attitude is a helper, forerunner, and example, Jesus Christ, of whom the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:5 to have the same attitude in us that was in Him. He is the key. He is the prototype. He is the one who transforms our thinking.
There is not a single human being who does not need periodic attitude adjustments, tune-ups, and reminders. A little tuning can make a big difference in our businesses, ministries, and relationships. Use AN as a guide if you like and get back to me with the results.
Ultimately, our attitude must be that which is outward-centered and fine-tuned toward that expressed in this song:
Beware when we get too attached to our titles and insist that everyone use them.
Beware when we ask for special privileges.
Beware when we start attracting undo attention to our grandiosity.
Beware when we devour widows houses while praying for hours and hours and putting you all to sleep.
Beware, but don't worry too much about how it is going to turn out. God is going to have some words with us.
God help me. pray for me today, Brothers and Sisters -- and beware of me.
The bottom line is that no matter how lofty and beautiful our words, if we do not live them in the way we treat the most vulnerable, they are meaningless.
"While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”" - Luke 20:45-46
What is all this cross talk at Advent and Christmas? it doesn't sound too gentle, warm, and cozy? What do you think he came for?
That little vulnerable baby calls you to a life of vulnerability, self-denial, and radical discipleship.
I write this hearing Bing Crosby in the background singing "White Christmas" and wishing me days that are merry and bright.
May you have some of those indeed. God grant it. But don't build your life around them at the cost of taking up your cross daily and following Jesus as a radical disciple.
You can have ease or purpose. I am going for purpose!
"Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." - Luke 9:23-26 NIV
Throw all the trick questions at Jesus you like. Question him about dead issues, irrelevant issues, side issues, peripheral issues, issues and more issues ... but he keeps going to the heart of the matter about God.
God is about living! And he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
It is rather simple in all its complexity.
"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”" - Luke 20:38
I love the way Jesus sees through my duplicity. I love it; I hate it; it makes me squirm; then I embrace it and love it and he says to me .....
Whatever He will say!!!
"He saw through their duplicity and said to them ..." - Luke 20:23
"… ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." - Luke 21:30-31
It may not be Springtime or Summer. It is Advent on the calendar that we use today and we are approaching winter. Be that as it is, we are looking at a spiritual springtime on this first Sunday o Advent as we jump ahead from the preparation for Christ's birth to the anticipation of His second coming.
Springtime is a precursor of summer. Each flower and each bud encourage us to wait a little longer.
Vacation is coming. Soon there will be picnics and trips to the coast, long days by the pool, lazy nights on a hammock, and all the wonderful t in the spring and summer. Tastes and smells of summer tantalize the nostrils even as fresh Christmas baking and evergreens fill the air.
At least that is the summer of our dreams and the Christmas of our dreams.
We don't think about slick roads with our Currier and Ives Christmas memories.
We don’t think about mosquitoes and perspiration, stepping on bees and humidity. Did someone forget to tell the boss that summertime is one long vacation? Maybe this is a good time for a reality check.
Maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is a time better spent experiencing the swelling excitement of winter snows, of emerging spring and of far off anticipation of summer fantasies inasmuch as they remind us of a far more fulfilling and assured blessed hope.
Jesus used the illustration of budding spring to remind us of our future hope. It is the hope of the redemption of the whole earth, and endless summer with no humidity and no parasites. It is the hope of the end of evil and the reign of righteousness. It is the hope of His coming and His coming Kingdom of peace.
The lion will lie down with the lamb.
Swords will be beaten into plowshares.
We will sing a new song.
No eye has seen what God has prepared. Nor ear has heard it. No tongue has confessed it. The Kingdom of God is nigh at hand and we have no concept of how wonderful it is going to be. This is our blessed hope, beloved. Let the excitement build; let the chimes ring; let every voice be lifted up in praise to Him.
We can be so sensitive, defensive, and aggressive about asserting that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
Jesus never demonstrated any of that sort of insecurity. He just put it all out there and people could see the truth if they would.
When challenged about his authority, he did not waste time arguing it. He knew where his authority came from.
That was a fairly important issue for any rabbi. Rabbis were first, students of some master rabbi and derived authority from that person's credibility.
Jesus knew that his credibility came from His Father. If the naysayers could not see that, he was not going to waste time building a platform for himself with them.
His attitude was relaxed: Here is truth. Take it or leave it. Many heard and took it, applied it to their lives, and discovered the authority of his words and deeds through the very witness of of the Spirit.
If you have something from God to share from his Word, share it, but don't get sensitive, defensive, and aggressive about asserting how right you are. If it lands on the right heart, God himself will validate the credibility of his Word.
" One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” "
(Luke 20:1-8 ESV)
The evil of the wicked will come to an end. It may seem out of control and all-pervasive, but it is really quite limited and terminal.
God feels indignation every day and prepares for reckoning with the ready invitation and admonition to repentance.
The psalmist says this with "matter-of-factness" and, a touch of glee.
Why? Does he like the idea of judgment, justice, reckoning, and retribution? You bet he does. He is sick and tired of getting pushed around and he wants God to act.
His great comfort in such a moment comes from believing that God feels his indignation at injustice as much or more than he does and that God is getting ready to straighten things out if folks don't change.
God does it better, more fairly, and more decisively than people do. He waits longer and more patiently than we would sometimes like. He ultimately uses the cross as a magnet and focus of His wrath and a place of repentance.
The emotions and indignation of the psalmist, who represents each of us, are validated by the assurance that God enters into our very human experience of anger at injustice. In fact, those feelings of humans are a dim and imperfect reflection of what is perfect and balanced in His own holy character.
The evil of the wicked will come to an end. Be patient.