Monthly Archives: December 2016

Why We Celebrate Christmas

thenativity%20600%20x%20300After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, we might be tempted to take it for granted.  Yet if we think about it, God’s willingness to become one of us is the greatest act of humility and love in all of human history.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” John 1:14

Here we have God, the Father, creator of all that exists, creator of the millions of galaxies and the billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years; this God who created the atom and the molecule whose size is measured in nanometers – that’s one billionth of a meter; this God who created the human being with a body, soul, spirit and mind, became one of his created in order to free each of us from our sins and the world from its bondage to sin – to reconcile us to him and one another.

Father William Barry, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God no service if we downplay what God has done in becoming human.”

God in Jesus was a real human being, born of Mary in the humblest of circumstances in a cave or stable with animals nearby.  He had to be toilet trained, learn a language, be raised by real parents, work out his vocation and discern the will of God just as we do.   His family was forced into exile to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod.  After assuming his public ministry, the leaders of his own religion handed him over to the Romans to die a horrible death.  God is no stranger to suffering.  God in Jesus knows what human life is like from the inside.  His desire for friendship and to dwell with us and in us knows no bounds.

A cobbler does not become a shoe, a cabinet maker does not become a cabinet, but God the Father and creator of all that exists became one of us.  Little wonder that history’s calendar is measured in terms of before and after this event.

Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus for what it is – the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.

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An Incarnation Analogy

dsc00166-jpgc200Do you ever struggle with grasping the full meaning and purpose of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus Christ?   

For many years radio commentator Paul Harvey shared the following story at Christmas to help us understand.

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The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man; generous to his family, and upright in his dealings with other men.  But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time.  It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.  He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.”  He said he’d feel like a hypocrite.  That he’d much rather stay at home, but that he would wait up for them.  And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall.  He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.  Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another.  Sort of a thump or a thud…at first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.  But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. 

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony.  That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.  Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.  He opened the doors wide and turned on the light, but the birds did not come in.  He figured food would entice them.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable.  But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.  He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm lighted barn.

And then he realized that they were afraid of him.  To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them.  But how?  Because any move he made tended to frighten them and confuse them, they just would not follow.  They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language.  Then I could tell them not to be afraid.  Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn.  But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”  At that moment the church bells began to ring.  The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind.  And he stood there listening to the bells, listening, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.  And he sank to his knees in the snow.


Have a blessed Christmas!

Light, Salvation and Peace

candleLight, salvation and peace were to accompany the coming of Jesus, according to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Simeon, and the angels appearing to the shepherds.

Light

Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, after proclaiming that John would be called “prophet of the most high,” said “the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”  Simeon, who was in the temple at the presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph, declared that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” echoing the words of Isaiah.

Salvation

Zechariah said that John, in preparing the way for Jesus, would give people “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”   Simeon said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Centuries earlier Jeremiah predicted that God would make a new covenant involving the forgiveness of sins, “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”   On the evening of Jesus’ birth, the angels declared to the shepherds, “Today in the City of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”  And, the very name of Jesus means, “The Lord saves.”  

Peace

The angels also declared, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Isaiah called him the “Prince of Peace.”

In the cosmic battle of good versus evil, and God versus Satan, God moves in an entirely unexpected way in becoming one of his created in the person of Jesus, to lead his human creation back from destruction and death, to life and God’s presence.  

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day never expected God to act in this way.  A king would never be born in a cave in the presence of animals with a feeding trough for a crib.  The innkeeper who turned Joseph away certainly did not recognize that he was denying a room to the “King of Kings” and the “Lord of Lords.”

The coming of Jesus brings us the light of his revelation and truth to overcome the darkness and errant ways of the world.  He brings us salvation through the forgiveness of sins.  He brings us the peace that passes all understanding if we trust in his care and provision.

On the eve of the celebration of his birth, the world slows down, his peace descends, “all is calm; all is bright.”  The Holy Spirit brings quiet; the night is silent.  Goodness (God) prevails.  

 

 

 

An Important Announcement

If you had an important announcement, how would you go about it? 

In today’s world we would likely hold a press conference at a noteworthy location such as the nation’s capitol, with various news reporters and TV networks beaming the message across the land, coupled with postings on all of the internet social media.

God took an entirely different approach in announcing that he would become one of us in the person of his son, Jesus.  First, he speaks through the prophets in sometimes obscure ways hundreds of years in advance to people who could not possibly be alive when the event takes place.  Next he takes a more direct, but very private approach, by sending angels to speak personally to Mary, Zechariah and Joseph. 

On the day of the grand event – the birth of his son, Jesus – he sends a group of angels not to the temple in Jerusalem to speak with the leaders of the Jewish faith, but to a group of obscure shepherds in the remote hills outside of the small village of Bethlehem.   The angels announce that today a savior who is the Messiah and Lord has been born in Bethlehem for all people.  While Luke reports that the shepherds made known the message they were given by the angels and “all who heard it were amazed,” the number of people who heard this news from these unlikely heralds had to be minimal.

Any reputable public relations firm in our day would consider all of this a complete communications failure. 

But God was not done.  He still had John the Baptist.  Still, John’s initial effort was not so much involved with announcing the coming of Jesus as it was in preparing people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus.  He was calling people to repent of their sin.  Instead of John going to where the people were, he went out to the desert along the Jordan River and the people came to him.  Mark reports, “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” (Mark 1:5)

Think of how powerful the Spirit of God must have been working in John to cause people to make the strenuous journey, walking for a day or more over rugged roads from Jerusalem and other parts of Judea to the Jordan River! Then, after they got there, he asked them to confess their sins and be immersed in the river.  Even the Pharisees and Sadducees made the trip.  What a revival it must have been!

God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Is.55:8)  We see a foretaste of the power of Holy Spirit working in John which he says Jesus will pass on to us.  “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mt. 3:11)

Come Lord Jesus!  Come Holy Spirit!