Month: December 2020

Advent Day 26 – To Those Who Grieve

I write this final blog of Advent 2020 to a select group of people… men, women, and children who are grieving.  Grief and Christmas do not really belong together.  Christmas should be a time of joy, of celebration, of family gatherings and festivities around the Christmas tree.

Yet for many it will not be that.  This year, our nation mourns the hundreds of thousands of dead who passed away from Covid or a Covid related illness.  The world at large mourns many others.  But more specifically, maybe you buried a loved one in the past weeks or months.  The grief is still fresh.  The memories bring a flood of tears to your eyes.

This is my fourth Christmas without my wife by my side.  I still don’t know what to do on Christmas.  I can get lost in my children and my granddarlin’s joy which helps enormously.  Yet, there is still much I must do alone.

The first Christmas was hardest, no doubt.  Pam’s death had just happened in August, and I was still in the early stages of processing her death and my father-in-law’s death which happened not quite two months prior.

Since that time, I have grieved the death of my mother and last year, one like a mother to me in my mother-in-law, Shirley.  Each death had its own particular pain, and each piles on top of the other in seasons like Christmas.

This season, our family passes through our first Christmas without “Mamaw.”  It hasn’t “felt” like Christmas for several years now, meaning it doesn’t feel like Christmas used to feel.  The old homes we visited have been sold and life goes on.  We can’t go backward.

But you press through it.  I promise you, grieving friend, next year will be easier.  And the following easier than that.  As I learned personally, grief is not just something you “get through” or “get over” like a disease.  It is a condition that changes your heart, and you learn to live not just with the pain, but with the fresh grace God gives us to bear it.  We press on.

The added dimension is this.  I have learned to look for something from Christmas that goes beyond sentimentalism, as important as that is.  I have learned to live with the reason the first people to receive the message that a Savior was born experienced: A joy that comes from looking again at Jesus, the reason for the season.  Beholding Him afresh.

And this Christmas, I wish for you the same “great joy!”

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!””  (Luke 2:10-14 ESV)

 

Advent Day 25 – A Christmas Poem

The joy of the season is not in the light,
The twinkle and tinsel and stars, oh so bright.
The joy of the season means all this and more.
It comes from our Savior, so meek and so poor,

Who lay in a manger surrounded by hay
And worshiped by shepherds and angels, He lay
In the arms of His mother all lovingly say,
“What child is this before us we pray?”

How silently, how silently the humble Christ is given,
Whose body would be torn, and by spear and nail be riven.
No gift could e’re match the wondrous One,
Who lay in the hay on that first Christmas morn.

So as we sing, and celebrate the season
May we never forget to mention the reason
The joy of the season is not in the light,
But in the Christ child, born to us that night.

Advent Day 24 – Incarnation

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory….”

Incarnation is not a Biblical word. It is a theological one and creates a category and a language system by which we can try and grasp its meaning. It is not an easy reality for us to put our minds around.

Dorothy Sayers, a British essayist, and novelist, said:

The incarnation means that for whatever reason God chose to let us fall… to suffer, to be subject to sorrows and death—he has nonetheless had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine…. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He himself has gone through the whole of human experience—from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death…. He was born in poverty and… suffered infinite pain—all for us—and thought it well worth His while.

God became flesh. He became One of His created beings, in a body that was prepared for Him. But this was no special protective armor He entered. It was as vulnerable as you or me, as humanity as we are, and required an enormous humility to undertake.

God became flesh. He became flesh to enter into our struggles, our restrictions, our limitations, and our joys and our pain. He came as a Jewish man in the most difficult part of their history as a people, under the occupation of Rome.

And He became a servant. Not just a “houseboy” or a waiter. He became a “slave” literally. He was treated as, and died as a slave: No honor, no respect, no rights, no sympathy. Slaves were little more than tools that bled.

Yet in that humility, the Bible tells us “we beheld His glory.” Though He had laid aside the privileges of equality with God (See Philippians 2), His glory continued to shine through. And it shines through to us at Christmas as we visit and sing anew the wonders of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

“Veiled in flesh, the godhead see, hail th’incarnate deity…”

Advent Day 23 – When did Christmas Begin Part 2

“He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:2-3 ESV)

This One called “the Word” was in the “beginning before the beginning” with God.  The Second Person of the Trinity was not an afterthought on the part of the Father.  God exists as a UNITY, and co-exists as TRINITY.  Being expressed as TRINITY does not in any way compromise His UNITY.  God is One.

But deep in the counsel of eternity, the decision was made that this “Word” would be the One Who would enter time and the earth as an infant.  Again, Christmas and the plan of salvation are not reactionary events.  They were intentionally planned.  Carried out personally by “the Logos,” (“the Word”) Who was “creator of all things… without Him was not anything made….”

So, the plan?  The Word was going to become one of the beings (called humans) that He created.  Enter the world through a virgin girl who had never known a man.  Come to the people He created, to perform an operation of rescue that was unheard of prior.  Become them, to save them.  God with us.

What a plan.  What a love.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Advent Day 22 – When Does Christmas Begin

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” John 1:1

Biblically we can go back no further than John 1:1 in tracing out the Christmas story.  It begins “in the beginning” with the second person of the Trinity, called “the Word.”  While many in our culture would answer the question, “Where did the Christmas story begin?” by talking about Bethlehem and angels and shepherds and wise men, it actually goes much, much further back.

We don’t know really how to talk about “infinity” and “eternity” in the sense of locating “the beginning” but literally it means “in the beginning of the beginning,” or one translator put it “the beginning before the beginning.”. Literally it says, “in A beginning,” not “THE beginning.”

John did not intend with these introductory words to locate a beginning “point” for the Savior, as though there is linear time in eternity.  It does not.  At least time as we know it, measure it, and understand it.

We can’t.  There was never a “time” when Jesus was not, when God was not, and when the Holy Spirit was not.  There is so much we cannot and will probably never understand about that.  We cannot even conceive of nothingness, because our view of nothing at some point has a backdrop.  For most people, “nothing” is dark, but dark itself means that something is there.

So anyway, we’re out of our depth.  We may as well talk about quarks and quantum physics, but some are smart enough to discuss those.  No one is smart enough to describe eternity.

But Christmas actually begins in infinity, in eternity, not Bethlehem.  This beginning-less One, known in eternity and referred to by the inspired writer of Scripture “the Word,” or “logos,” was not just “with” God in the sense you would sit “with” your friend in a restaurant.  He was “with” God, but He also was God.  There is no separation between the eternal Father God and the Word.

Ok, I’ve given myself a headache trying to think about all this.  It’s far superior to our ability to reason through or make sense of, but we will have all of eternity to try and absorb it.

But where does Christmas begin?

In Heaven.

Advent Day 21 – His Name Shall Be … Prince of Peace

“His name shall be… Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:7
One of the hardest places to believe that Jesus would be “the Prince of Peace” is in the midst of a war. Those who have spent the Christmas holiday on a battlefield or deployed and away from their family will nod their heads in understanding.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, this reality came home. The British and German infantry, weary from warfare, found themselves facing off over “no-man’s land.” This ground, a football field in length, was littered with the corpses of fallen soldiers, dead animals, and the hollowed-out husks of abandoned tanks.
But something miraculous happened that evening. The Germans had retreated to a monastery, and began to set it up with Christmas trees, Tannenbaum, and lights. As the evening went on, they started singing Christmas carols.
A couple of British soldiers saw what was happening, and against orders risked the long walk across no-man’s land. They approached and were welcomed by the German soldiers. Soon, dozens of other British soldiers came. A French soldier, a member of the Paris Opera, sang “O Holy Night.”
Over the next two days, the soldiers met together, exchanged gifts and souvenirs, and buried their dead. Games of soccer broke out between the soldiers. And on the evening of the second night, one of the men began singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
That evening, on the cold muddy, blood-soaked ground of Flanders Field, “all was calm, and all was bright.” The Prince of Peace had shown up in the middle of a war, and for forty-eight hours some homesick, weary, and hardened soldiers played, and sang like children.
Peace can come in the midst of your battlefield, too. Maybe you’re not facing off against an enemy combatant. Maybe your enemy is a family member, a marital partner, or your parents. The same One Who caused peace to break out on a muddy battlefield, surrounded by decay and death, can bring peace to your home, your family, and your heart.
Trust Him. He is the Prince. And where He reigns, there will be “peace on earth,” “peace with God,” and “peace in our hearts.” It starts with your invitation to allow Him to rule.
…Won’t you give yourself… and those you know… the gift of peace this Christmas?

Advent Day 20 – The Prince of Peace

The world has always been at war.  Man is at war with God… continually.  The Bible tells us that there is “enmity” between us and God.  And the reality is, as long as man’s relationship with God is not at peace, we cannot… indeed will not be at peace with others.

The coming Messiah, according to Isaiah, was going to be known as “The Prince of Peace.”  My, don’t we need a peacemaker in our world?  But that person is not going to be a diplomat, or a king, or ambassador, or the president.  You cannot MAKE peace if you don’t POSSESS peace.

He is the peace BRINGER, but more than that, He’s the peace MAKER.  I shared this recently in a message, but it suits this blog post so I share it again for those who might not have heard the sermon.

A few years ago, our church was involved with a church in Springfield working with the homeless.  On Tuesdays, we would go down and serve lunch to hundreds of homeless folk that would show up.

We also had the assignment of delivering bagged lunches to the residents of a high-rise, government subsidized apartment building across the street.  I usually went over with the kids we were working with from our church, mainly for security.

I was delivering meals on one floor during the Christmas season, and some doors were left partially propped open if the person inside couldn’t get up to answer the knock.  As I knocked, I looked down at the door and on it was a bumper sticker that had a picture of Jesus on it and the phrase “The Prince of Peace.”

But over time, the letter “n” in “prince” had been rubbed away, leaving a dirty streak and the word “pri  ce.” Jesus, the “price” of peace.  Indeed, He is both the “Prince” of peace, the peace maker and peace bringer.

And He is also the price paid that we may have peace with God.  “We now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The greatest price for peace that will ever be paid has already been paid by the shedding of His blood at Calvary.  If we ever know peace, it will only come as we know Him.

He alone is “The Prince of Peace.”

Advent Day 19 – The Everlasting Father

I write this on the heels of an exhausting conversation. The individual I met with is not a believer but is searching… and angry with her father. Disappointed perhaps. This father failed his children, his family. Sadly, it is the wreckage of that broken relationship that is keeping this individual from true and trusting faith. She is one of many I have spoken with over the years.

But it serves as a real though painful, backdrop of this aspect of the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Christ’s coming. We have already considered that this child born of a virgin was to be “a wonderful counselor,” or king. And that He would be “the mighty God,” or God come in human flesh, both fully God and fully human.

The third element of the prophecy, written some 800 years before Christ was born, was that this coming One would be called “everlasting Father.” There are far too many dimensions of this to explore in this brief devotion. Let’s leave it at this: Jesus would come and fill that void that so many people feel for a father.

It’s interesting how many contemporary movies (since the 1960’s) have at the center of their plot piece a child’s search for reconciliation with their father. The most emotional point of many of those movies is the moment the child and father reconnect, or even connect for the first time.

This pressing human need is evident in many ways today, and certainly their stories flood many counseling offices. We need a father.  A father who loves us, and who is proud we are his child. When we don’t know these things, our lives set off on many destructive tangents.

God was coming in Jesus Christ to take His rightful seat not only as King, not only as God with us, but as the Father so many of us need. He is the Father Who loves us unconditionally, Who is proud of us just because He created us, and Who will never leave us nor forsake us. (see Hebrews 13:5-6)

The everlasting Father… the Father Who never fails. The Father Who never forsakes. The Father Who always loves, no matter our failures and faults.

And if you don’t have a father, you can have one today: Just trust Jesus. He is ready to receive you, and never let you go.

He is the Father this world needs, and cries for every day.

Advent Day 18 – God in a Manger

One of the more controversial dimensions of Christian thought is captured in the question: “Is Jesus Christ God?”  Many people who might otherwise embrace parts of the Christian faith and worldview take pause here.

If Jesus is “the mighty God” as Isaiah 9:6-7 affirms, that changes things drastically.

  1. It means there is no way a casual observance or acceptance of Jesus is possible
  2. It means there is now demanded an absolute obedience to the words of Jesus, and not just an “appreciation” for them or admiration of them
  3. It means there is no way to follow Jesus without absolute surrender to His control.

In other words, saying we believe this is one thing.  BELIEVING it to be true is altogether something else.

When G.F. Handel premiered his oratorio, “The Messiah” in public, many of the singers and choristers and musicians were not necessarily sold-out Christian people.  They were just good at their art.

And when they sang the chorus from Isaiah 9:6-7 “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” they did not necessarily believe the words being sung.  They were, too many of them, just the right words for the song they were being asked to sing.

Some people are just like those choir members and musicians.  They mouth the words but know little of the devotion required by them.  If Jesus is truly all of the things the Prophet Isaiah claimed He was, then there is no proper response but absolute and unrestricted surrender of every part of life to Him.  He is, after all, God.

And when you think about that babe in a manger this Christmas season, pause and consider:  This is your God in that manger.  Deity in the body of a baby.  The Creator lying helpless and vulnerable in a manger because He chooses this way to come to us.

And never forget:

He didn’t have to come.

Advent Day 17 – The Newborn King

“He shall be called wonderful counselor, might God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

 

Jesus was born a King.  His first title, according to the Isaiah passage, was “wonderful counselor.”  On its face, this seems to assert that Jesus was going to be a wise and compassionate listener, advice giver, or life coach.  And indeed, He was those things.  But that is not what the prophecy is pointing toward.

Jesus was born to be a king; the continuity and fulfillment of the family line of David. In fact, the genealogy provided in Matthew 1:1-17, introduces Jesus as a member of the royal family line of David.  Through that genealogy Matthew’s gospel indicates that Jesus was legally entitled to receive the throne.  He was the fulfillment of the house, the lineage, and the promises made concerning David’s family.

It was for that reason that Mary and Joseph returned to their hometown of Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David himself.  What more appropriate place for the final Davidic king to be born?

Jesus was born to be a king.  The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Book of Revelation tells us.  In the Old Testament, a king was referred to as a “counselor;” ideally one who gives wise direction and leadership.  A king should be, as Solomon certainly showed, a wise person.  A wise leader.

Jesus was born to be a king.  “And the government shall be upon His shoulders….” He is a “wonderful” king.  An awesome king.  An astonishing king.  An eternal king.

Jesus was born to be king.  One day Jesus will sit upon the throne of this world.  Until then, we await the king’s arrival.

Jesus was born to be king.  And at Christmas, we bow before this great king over all of creation.  He is worthy of our adoration and worship and devotion.

He is, after all, a king.

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