Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Holy Night

It's Christmas Eve.  Advent is coming to a close for this year.  Tonight our fellowship will gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Luke 1:68
68  "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 


Luke 2:6-11
6  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.   
8  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

There is a legend in Northern Canada taht at Midnight on Christmas Eve, a mysterious peace comes to the land.  The deer and moose stop, even kneel on the ground.  The cattle and sheep lower their heads and stay still.  The legend says it is the natural world in adoration of the super-natural.  It is Christmas Eve peace they say has settled on the land.

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet (act 1, scene 1) of this Christmas miraculous peace.
Some say that whenever that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated
The bird of dawn sings all night long;
They say that no spirit can walk abroad;
No planet strikes,
No fairy takes,
No witch has power to charm,
So hallowed and gracious is this time.

It is Christmas Eve, and my prayer and heart for you is that this holy night is also a time of faith renewal in Jesus Christ - Immanuel - "God is with us".

Peace


Friday, December 23, 2016

Wise People Seek Him

It is Friday, Day 27 in the Fourth week of Advent.  Christmas Eve and Day are almost here.  Last minute events and preparations are also still here.   I was walking – as I normally do – and doing some thinking, praying, and processing.  I couldn’t help but feel a sense of “it’s almost over” settle over me.  A bit of sadness I admit, along with a question to God:  “Lord did I take the time I really needed to take to spend time preparing for my Lord’s coming”.  It took me back to another Advent passage:

Matthew 2:1-2
1  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,
2  saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:9-11
9  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

And one more that seems to sum up the story so well:

Hebrews 11:6
6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As I walked the road I couldn’t help but think about Advent as a time of “seeking”.  As a child we played “hide and go seek”, a game with stealth and laughter...it was fun to seek.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I “enjoyed” my seeking.  At times it seems so hard to “be still”, “be at peace”, “rest in me”, “wait upon the Lord”.  I’ve been busy with many things and now that the time is at hand I still want more of Jesus’ presence and less busyness.  Do you too?

Finding a quiet place of prayer, reflection, time to just think and imagine are priceless gifts in a world filled with technology that makes everything so “NOW” and immediate. 

Let me urge you to do what I want to do today.  Take some time, be alone, be quiet, and as you wait,  pray – “God, I am your servant, your child, and your friend...I wait to listen to you and to just spend some time in your presence...be with me please and open my heart and my soul to listen to you. Amen.”

Then, be quiet...let the thoughts come and take them where God would have you go.  Pray, listen, be still... because Wise People Will Always Seek.


Peace

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Peace in the Trenches

It’s Thursday,  Day 26 in the Fourth Week of Advent.  The Christmas Story is remarkable for the Angelic proclamations.

Luke 2:8-14
8  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

The words they proclaimed – “Glory to God in the highest”... because the miracle of the Incarnation is in God who sends his only Son into the world to “be with us”.  It is God who deserves Glory, honor, praise for the wonderful plan to redeem a lost world.  The last part of that sentence reminds us of the results of this plan.  “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”...which reminds us that Jesus’ life is peace for all who receive him.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this that has ever occurred happened in World War 1 in the trenches of Europe between the German and English, French and Belgian soldiers at the front lines in 1914.

As Christmas Eve day came, the Germans placed candles on their trenches and Christmas trees, and then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man's Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent.
Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year's Day in others.  Unfortunately it didn’t last.  Soon the fighting continued.  Yet for a brief time – at Christmas -  the time of Advent brought those who fought against each other to a place of peace.

We live in a world today where once again we long for peace.  It seems so elusive and perhaps we will never see the end of national hostilities as long as the Prince of Peace does not rule the earth.   Yet we need to understand that “Peace”, Biblical Peace from God, is not simply the absence of hostilities.  Peace is not when we stop arguing, or when we walk away without fighting. 
Peace is when Jesus Christ becomes the reason for our decisions, for our attitudes and actions.  Paul reminds the Galatians that the Fruit of the Spirit in us is “love, joy, peace...”  and he reminds us in Ephesians 2 that “He himself is our peace” (vs 14). 

In 1867, Phillip Brooks was on horseback riding in Israel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  As he rode closer to the city he heard choirs singing Christmas carols of faith, hope and love.  It inspired him and he sat down to write “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.  The second verse speaks of this peace:
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!


Peace 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Gospel to Shepherds

It's Wednesday, Day 25 of Advent.  This is from the Gospel of Luke and it is something that I've thought about often.  How we as ordinary "nobodies"... not known outside our family, community, friends... How we fit into God's great plans to "be" the Gospel to others.  It struck me as I read this account taht shares about the Gospel to the Shepherds.

Luke 2:7-20
7  ...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Giving gifts, receiving gifts, sending gifts, buying gifts...we use the phrases at this time of the year often.  We sent our gifts through the mail, ordered them on Amazon, had them shipped to our house, sent overseas, across the country...gifts moving seems very normal at this time of the year.

That first Christmas, the gift of God came without fanfare.  Jesus was born to Mary in a manger stall...and no one but Joseph witnessed the birth - until God decided sent His angel chorus into the nighttime skies to a group of nobodies.  Think about it:
  • ·         Tell the news to Herod's court?
  • ·         Send an Angel to the Pharisees and High Priest?
  • ·         Tell Bethlehem’s mayor so he can tell the town?
  • ·         Well, at least the Innkeeper and his wife can see?

No, it's to ordinary laborers...shepherds...the minimum wage earners of the first century that God tells first.
Shepherds who had the least "witness believability" of anyone in that society.  Anyone else...a governing authority, a priest, a religious leader, a shop owner, or tradesman...would have had a hearing among the people of the area...but not Shepherds.
Nobodies...We might as well hear the voice through the drive up loud speaker saying, "Do you want fries with that?"  You hear the words, but you don't think, “gee I’d like to meet that person, they must be important”.  

Shepherds...REALLY?  WHY THEM?

It hits me that two significant things are related by Luke.  First, even though they were  startled, even afraid,  what they saw amazed them and they were willing to go and seek out the news for themselves.

Luke 2:15  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 

Their response was more than just a curiosity - startled by the angelic host praising God, their night turned from the hum-drum to the amazing.  Yet they didn’t settle for a visitation, they decided they need to seek and become visitors to this news.  It’s one thing to hear the words of God, it’s quite another to go after what God’s word says and own it for ourselves.

Secondly, and perhaps even more important, they returned to their work...changed...willing to share the good news...and thus entered into Heaven's hall of fame as the first human beings to declare “Immanuel” - God is with us.

Luke 2:17  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child... The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

We don't need to have a PhD, be a Pastor, get a Seminary degree, have a Masters on the wall...or, if I might say so boldly, even graduate from High School...to be a person God can shows things to, and ask to tell these things of God to the world around us. We share with others what we are convinced we know...and we know what we experience.  It’s those experiences that can never be taken away from us.   We may be nobodies, but God delights in showing His greatness through weakness.  

That's the key, there are no insignificant people in the world...not them, not you, not me.  We are all known by God and we are all cared for by Him.  This is the Gospel, good news that began with Shepherds.  
This was God’s gift to them – and to us – that first night.  It wasn’t the elite that got it, it was the nobodies!  The power is in the Gospel, God's word, not in us.


Peace

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No Room?

It is Tuesday, Day 24 of the Fourth Week of Advent.  The story of the birth of Christ includes many characters...Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, the Angel Hosts, all are the good ones.  In most Christmas plays the character that seldom gets good reviews is the innkeeper in Bethlehem.  The story of the innkeeper is legendary.

Luke 2:4-7
4  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

It is interesting, the text does not say there was an "innkeeper".    Instead the text  says , "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born..."(vs 6)   Since the reason they traveled was because of the order of the census  the town would  have been bloated with extra people.  The birth of Jesus in a manger – an animal’s stall – was because “there was no place for them in the inn”.   The inference of an innkeeper is from the text and he usually gets bad press.

Many years ago (40 yrs) I came upon a story in a now forgotten publication – a story of a Christmas pageant.  It is a story of an innkeeper, but not the kind we think of in the Christmas story.   It is my most favorite Christmas story entitled “No Room in the Inn”.

No Room in the Inn
The story, now a legend, is told how Wallace Purling added a new touch to the Christmas play in a small town in the Midwest. Wallace was a little slow in the learning department. He was nine at the time and should have been in the fourth grade but was still in the second. In spite of his mental slowness, he was liked by the other kids in his class even though he was quite a bit taller and bigger than they.
According to the legend, Wallace fancied being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the director, Miss Lumbard, thought he might better fit the role of the innkeeper. After all, he wouldn't have too many lines to remember and, because of his size, he would be able to present a more forceful refusal to the much smaller Joseph.
So the big night came. Behind stage, Wallace was so totally engrossed in the play that Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
Then came Wallace's part.
Looking exhausted from the long journey, Joseph and Mary slowly approached the entrance to the inn. Joseph knocked. The door opened immediately, and with Wallace putting on his gruffest voice declared, "What do you want?"
'Seek elsewhere,' Wallace barked. 'This inn is filled.'
"We seek lodging," Joseph replied.
"Seek it elsewhere," Wallace barked. "This inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There's no room in this inn for you," Wallace stated strongly.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired," Joseph pleaded.
For the first time, Wallace the innkeeper began to let down his guard and relax a little. There was a long pause ... and silence.  Now the audience was beginning to feel tense.
The prompter from the wings whispered "No! Begone!" .
"No!" Wallace repeated automatically."Begone!"
Joseph looked at Mary, put his arm around her, and with heads bowed in sadness, they slowly walked away.  But the innkeeper didn't close the door and go inside. He stood there with mouth open watching the forlorn couple leaving his inn. He was genuinely upset. His eyes unmistakably filled with tears.  Then totally unexpected, Wallace departed from his memorized script...
"Don't go, Joseph," Wallace called out. "Bring Mary back."
And then with a broad grin lighting up his whole face he spoke loudly and clearly, "You can have my room."
Some in the audience felt Wallace had ruined the pageant. Others, however, felt it was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.

I love the story and have read it every year for forty years now.  It is a story of a soft heart, and a boy who couldn’t do what the scripture says the innkeeper did – he couldn’t turn Jesus away.  “You can have my room” reminds me of the scripture in the book of Revelation where the risen Lord Jesus speaks to the Churches:

Revelation 3:20
20  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

For all of us, the story of Christ’s birth is a reminder that not only did Jesus come into the world to live among us, but he comes to us even today and it is up to us to open our hearts and welcome him in.

Peace

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Risks and Courage

It's Monday, the fourth week Advent, day 23.  It's now the final week and for a lot of people the presents have been bought, the arrangements made, the decorations are up and the cookies and desserts are being planned and made.  The lists are gradually being ticked off and one by one the countdown to Christmas has begun.

It's a magical week for most, but for some, it's a week of "what ifs"...  Let me share the passage from Scripture that made me "muse" on this theme for today.

Matthew 1:18-24
18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23  "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."
24  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.


 I used the word Courage to describe Joseph.  He took a courageous risk.  Courage isn't the absence of fear...it's the presence of faith in the midst of the fears. 
Firemen are courageous
Police and ambulance emts are courageous
Doctors and Nurses making decisions around a bed are courageous
Soldiers in the field make life and death choices "courageously".
We don't define courageous as foolish, but rather as a decision to act when - many times - everything inside of you says "don't".  It's reasoned for certain, but its a reasoning that often cannot be explained.

Joseph is courageous.  Everything in normal life tells him that he needs to flee from Mary.  She has explained to him what has happened, but he cannot accept it...and he makes a rational, even merciful decision to divorce her quietly...let her go.  That is, until one night while he is sleeping.  An angel of the Lord visits him in his dreams and tells him "do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."  Try to explain that to your family and friends.  If you thought Mary had a rough time, just think what Joseph had to go through. 

Yet Joseph acts courageously.  He takes a risk!  He steps out to say, "Yes" to God.  Yes to misunderstanding, to accusation, to humiliation and finger pointing.  Yes, I'll do it, represents RISK, COURAGE, OBEDIENCE to GOD above all other things.

It's Advent's last week...and everything is almost ready, isn't it?  Maybe...what strikes me in reading this is how relationships are always about risk, and courage.  Too many times we walk through life without a willingness to be courageous, take risks.  I know too many people who say they are Christians but don't want to belong to a church because they don't like the people!  I know too many couples who have decided to live together and avoid the commitment of marriage vows, because it's easier to control.  
It takes courage to take a risk.    
Tim Keller said it this way:  "The early church was strikingly different from the culture around it in this way - the pagan was stingy with its money and promiscuous with its body,  A pagan gave nobody their money and practically gave everybody their body.  And then Christians came along and they gave practically nobody their body and they gave practically everybody their money."

The Risk, the Courage to do in relationships the thing that most glorifies God and most brings about the redemption and reconciliation that our society desperately needs is still needed today.  Joseph said "Yes" to God...and he took Mary as his wife, and it has made all the eternal difference we can ever comprehend.

Peace

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Time and Eternity

It is the beginning of the last week, the 4th week of Advent.  On this Sunday in Advent, I want you to think/muse with me about Time and Eternity.

Galatians 4:4
4  ...when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 

Luke 2:4-7 
 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


Think about this, the plans of God are timeless, therefore eternal.  Yet, we live in time.  We order our lives around time.
Today, seven years ago, my wife and I were surprised by the birth of three Grandchildren - all on this same day - Dec. 18.
Twins came to our Lindsay & Pete in England - Raewyn and Theo.
Chris and Sarah surprised us with a middle of the night phone call that our grandson Leo was born.
It was not a surprise that the three were coming, it was a surprise that all three came on the same day.

Time...we live by it, and we order our lives around it.

Doctor appointment - Wed. at 4:00
Oil Change - Friday at 9:00
Football game - 12 Noon
Taxes - before April 15
Church - Sundays at 9:30 (except today, we've cancelled because of the weather)
Christmas Eve Service - 7:30 pm, Dec. 24
Girls spending the day with Papa and Nana, Wednesday...

We live by time, and we try to keep a handle on our time.  Sometimes it overwhelms us - too many things happening in too short of a "time".  We complain about time - delays, waiting, late, early...etc.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
1  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
2  a time to be born and a time to die...


The fact is Time is Not In Our Hands...It is God's.  It was "in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son..."
In other words, just at the right time as God had planned it, he said to the Son, "NOW".

Have you ever heard the saying, "You want to make God laugh, tell him your plans"?
Our lives are lived with interruptions and hopefully they are good ones - like today's three grandchildren's birthdays.  But sometimes it's not.  There are those days, the time is interrupted, and something happens we were not ready for - not preparing for - not wanting.  Like the days when our lives are interrupted in our family or with our friends and "it was a time to die".

Here is where our faith kicks in.  Do we believe that time is God's?
Can we focus our attention on God then?
Can we believe He is good, merciful, kind, gracious, loving and all-knowing?
Can we see that our days are meant to be fulfilled in ways that bring meaning to our lives, as well as fulfillment to God's purposes?

Mary knew she was going to have a baby.  Joseph knew they were going to have a baby.  The innkeeper saw that she was going to have a baby.  God chooses this "time" and makes "holy" the time as His Son comes into the world of humans.

May God "interrupt" our times so that we might see Him over and over again.

Peace

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The House of Bread

It's Saturday, the 21st day in the third week of Advent.  The scripture reading for today follows yesterday's and brings us back to the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

Luke 2:1-7
1  In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3  And everyone went to his own town to register.
4  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


All over the world people gather to worship during Advent - proclaiming Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.  All of this is done in the midst of everyday living...with work to be done, appointments to keep, shuttling children to school and events, helping with homework, doing the wash, making meals, going to the office, arranging for the plumber or electrician to come...everyday stuff.
The world today is filled with the mundane...even in the midst of wars, economy, political realities and nations posturing for power.

We focus on our world and the "urgent" among us and often forget that God as it work behind the scenes.    Caesar is on the throne.  His armies have moved in Gaul, conquered in Arabia, marched on England, and Rome is filled with the politics of building projects, raising taxes, and power moves.  Caesar believes HE is the most powerful person in the world.  They named him "Augustus" - the "holy, revered one".  Some of his lackeys ruling in his empire name places after him...they did in Israel with Caesarea.  One Roman coin discovered has a picture of him with the words "savior of the world".  It is the cult of Caesar that dominates the news.

Behind the scene, several thousands of miles away, God is at work.  God uses the decree of the Emperor to fulfill an ancient prophecy in the book of Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  NO ONE thought much of a young couple traveling on donkey from the north to the south of Israel - to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem - "The House of Bread"

  • King David was born there, and was a shepherd there.
  • Boaz had married Ruth there.
  • Jacob had buried his wife Sarah there a 1000 years before.
A small village built on steep desert hills.  Micah 5:2 
2  "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 


Bethlehem, a small village...like Cambria where I live  Who believes anything good can come from a small village like that?  God did.
Caesar was on the throne and he ruled over the whole known world...but what he didn't know that day was that God's Kingdom was about to invade the earth!

The lesson?  Do not believe the news...our world in turmoil lay the hymn says, but God is still on His throne, his will to be done.

Peace

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Politician and Advent

It's Friday, Day 20 in the third week of Advent.  Reading the Christmas narratives in Matthew are a bit different from Luke.  They both contain information about "how" the birth of Jesus took place, and they both involve the Angels.  Luke takes us through the experiences of Zechariah and Elizabeth and then Mary to the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem...here's where I find myself "musing" today.

Luke 2:1-5
1  In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3  And everyone went to his own town to register.
4  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.




If anything has not changed in 1000's of years it is governing authorities and the exertion of their will on the populations they are over through laws and decrees.  Most of the time we are silent...we just do it.  Pay the taxes, register for the draft, fill out driver's license renewal forms, etc...  We do it because "everyone" has to do it.

Joseph and Mary were from Galilee but Joseph was originally from Bethlehem...about 80 miles to the south.  I took this journey 18 months ago.  I drove in a car and it still took almost three hours.  Hills, valleys, twists and turns, up and down...Israel may be the land of milk and honey, but that's because Cows, Sheep grazing and Bees making honey is about the only thing you can do with much of the land.  It's full of high mountains, valleys, and it's more desert-like that it is anything else.

Joseph and Mary travel on donkey those 80 miles...because Caesar had some cockamamie idea that he needed to tax and count all of his subjects.  Isn't that typical of power...make people do something regardless of whether it makes sense or not, simply because you can.

BUT, "Ah, Hah"... behind the decree a Sovereign God is at work.  Thousands of miles away from Israel sits an emperor who "all of a sudden" thinks I need to tax and count my people...and the beginnings of an ancient prophecy begin to be fulfilled.

Joseph and Mary travel overland to Bethlehem - 80 miles - why?

Micah 5:2
2  "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 



The ancient prophecy of an Israelite from Israel.  Bethlehem means "house of bread"...more on that tomorrow.  BUT, here God leads - through a pagan emperor - and this couple, she very pregnant, he probably grumbling about "stupid politicians"....go to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken 600 years before.

Do you see?  This is our God.  The one who works all things together for the good of those that love him (Romans 8:28)...that's you and me...and we can trust that even today.

Peace

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dwelling

It's Thursday, Day 19 in the Third Week of Advent.  This morning I am still thinking about our friend Sharon, who unexpectedly passed away yesterday.  Sometimes we have time to prepare for the death of a friend or loved one, and sometimes we don't.  We didn't think that yesterday would happen.  She is home in God's presence, and singing with the Angels to the glory of God.  Yet she leaves behind her husband Bill, and her two sons, their spouses and grandchildren.  It was a sad day yesterday, and it comes at - probably - the worst time of the year.

Christmas is a celebration of Jesus who came to dwell with us.
John 1:14
14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.





He made his dwelling with us.  The word "dwelling" is from a Greek word that means "to tabernacle".  The Old Testament Tabernacle was designed by God, constructed under Moses' supervision and was consecrated in the Wilderness so that the nation of Israel would know that "God was among us".

We all live in "Dwellings"... we call them Homes and we create a place that is "Ours"...safe, comfortable, even sacred.  God dwells with us.

"Immanuel" means "God with Us"...Jesus came to dwell with us...to make His home with us. Jesus came to live among us so that His life would pave the way for an eternity of Life with God.

We need to remember that dwellings here on not permanent.  Paul writes to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 5:1-2
1  For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,




All of us live temporarily in these "tents" which we call our body.  In these "tents" we groan, because we long to be at "home"...in the dwelling that ultimately God has fashioned for us.

Exodus 15:13 
13  "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. 


That's the promise we must hold on to.  As Jesus came to dwell among us, so also he said "I go to prepare a place for you."  This is the promise we have, that we have a dwelling being prepared for us by God's own promise through the Gospel.

Our friend Sharon has just received hers!

Revelation 21:3
3  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 


Peace

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Place For Mystery

It's Tuesday, Day 17 in the Third Week of Advent.  The story of the first Advent is full of "impossible "things...if you believe in the impossible.   Zechariah and Elizabeth "can't" bear children.  Mary is a Virgin.  Angelic visits tell them both that the impossible is about to happen.

The person who cannot believe the impossible sits in a quiet place wondering what to do.  Joseph is pledged to be married to Mary...but Mary is pregnant, and they are not yet married.

Matthew 1:18-19
18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.


Who is Joseph... He is first of all "a righteous man".  In our present day culture that is usually said of those who think they are better than others.  It's not a phrase for a Godly person, it's a negative comment of those who are pride filled and aloof.  This is not Joseph...he is not "self-righteous", but a man who cares deeply about God, His word, and His ways.  He wants to be obedient to God.

So, Joseph makes a humble, and yet obedient decision (as far as he knows)...he decides to divorce Mary.  That's confusing for us in our present day...they are not yet married and he is going to "divorce" her?  Yes.  A man and a woman "pledged" to be married in that time were legally, religiously considered married...all that remained to do was a formal ceremony and the consummation of their marriage...and that now could not happen.  Joseph does not want to hurt Mary, but he also was not going to do what he considered to be dis-obedient.
Joseph is a "righteous" man...and look at what he does.  He decides to obey God, and exercise mercy.  Those are great character qualities we would be well to emulate.

Then a place for mystery appears.

Matthew 1:20-21
20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 


He "considers this"... not after the Angel came, but before the Angel's visit.  It is intriguing, and makes me wonder.  Do we prepare ourselves for God to talk to us by "considering" our events in light of God?  He is wondering what is going on...it doesn't add up.  Mary is not that kind of person, and she says the impossible has happened...an Angel telling her she is going to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God?...how can it be?  He is pondering, considering, thinking, meditating, musing...

What is happening to Joseph is a place of mystery is entering into his heart, mind and soul.  While all things don't make sense, still... AND THEN, it happens.  He sees the Angel in a dream...and the mystery becomes reality.  What was impossible, crazy and beyond reason all of a sudden becomes possible, reasonable and understandable.
His fears are turned into faith, and his mind is filled with joy...it's all good...because it's all God.

What I am thinking is simple:  Do we have a place for mystery?  Do we have a place where the impossible can become possible?
C.S. Lewis once said, "Perfect humility dispenses with modesty".

Joseph is my Advent hero...quiet, unassuming, humble, willing to embrace what others will not understand.  Advent means we wait, prayerfully, quietly, willingly asking to have the reality of "God With Us" - Immanuel - to be real in us.

Peace

Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent Alone

It's Monday, Day 16, The third week of Advent.  I think one of the hardest things about Advent and celebrating Christmas is when people are alone.  I have a couple of friends who have lost loved ones and they come to Christmas thinking of all the times they celebrated together, but now they have to do it alone.

There are those alone because - despite their longing and desire - no one has come along to become their partner in life, and while singleness has its benefits, many wish they could find the right husband or wife.

There are those alone because they have lost their marriage and someone they once loved has walked away...and somehow, all of the relationships that once surrounded their lives have been scattered.

There are those alone in hospitals in places of immobility.  They'd love to have others, but their time spent in a room is largely a time alone.

There are those who have come to their older years and life is restricted to a single room surrounded by others who share the space in their own nursing home rooms...still, they are alone.

Although I am a person who likes being alone, I wouldn't want to be alone all of the time.  Still, I'd like to encourage you to embrace the solitude and embrace the times alone as a time that God can have access to your heart and mind, and your prayers can be times of reality.  If you are a person who is alone that might be hard to hear, but consider this:

I have found all too readily that unless there are lonely times, times of solitude and silence, all other times of activity are in danger.  I have found that the more that I "need" others, the more I stop listening, and my speaking no longer brings help or healing, but only begs for being listened to.

My heart goes out to those alone...here's something that reminds me that in our loneliness and solitude, it is entirely possible that God will be able to invade our thinking.

Matthew 1:18-21
18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."


Joseph is alone...left in his thoughts of being betrayed by the one he had loved.   Yet in this time he prays, wondering what to do with the unexpected situation he now is in.  It is this time that God breaks in, the angel of the Lord speaks to him in a dream, and everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is different.
No matter that he is alone, he knows that God is near.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

God is With Us

This morning is the 15th day of Advent, and it's the beginning of the Third week of Advent.  This morning I gather with my friends in fellowship and worship.  I will be reminded that Immanuel means "God is with us".

We use that word "with" in so many ways.  But perhaps the most common way to ask for someone to come alongside and be "IN" our lives.  I asked my wife 45 years ago if she would marry me...I was asking her, "For the rest of our lives will you go with me?"

Will you go with me?

Partnership, sharing, journeying together, coming alongside.

As Joseph heard the news that his bride-to-be was pregnant, he didn't know what to do?
Then God broke through:
Matthew 1:20-23
20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23  "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."




Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

One of my favorite songs is "Immanuel" by Michael Card... the lyrics say it so well:

A sign shall be given a virgin will conceive
A human baby bearing undiminished deity
The glory of the nations a light for all to see
That hope for all who will embrace His warm reality

Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

For all those who live in the shadow of death
A glorious light has dawned
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your light has come

Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

So what will be Your answer? Will You hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His son but gave Him for us all
On earth there is no power there is no depth or height
That could ever separate us from the love of God in Christ

Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlXM98lRwwI


Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Grace of the Messies

It's Saturday, the end of the second week of Advent. I wrote some yesterday about the "messy" of Advent. We have nice neat nativity scenes in our houses, churches and even on our lawns...but we forget that there was really nothing very "nice" about Jesus' birth.

First of all, humanly speaking, Jesus didn't come from a long line of Saints. Consider Matthew 1's list of Jesus Geneology in vs. 1 - 17.

Matthew 1:1-17
1  A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2  Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3  Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,
4  Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5  Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,
6  and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,

7  Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
8  Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9  Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10  Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12  After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13  Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor,
14  Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud,
15  Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob,
16  and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17  Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ
.

The Good ancestry side is Abraham, David, Boaz, Hezekiah, etc...some great Godly leaders in that group. But then there is Judah and Tamar...that was a twisted story. Solomon, Rehoboam, Ahaz, Manasseh (who was called evil)...each of who led the nation towards ruin. Four women listed in here, but the circumstances of their lives were less than joyful.

I don't know my family geneology that well. It's been traced back about three generations...and I don't know if there were scoundrels in the list of family. Those sorts of things are often hushed up and parents don't want to talk about "that" one.

Jesus' geneology is a picture of God's Grace. The genealogy is easy to skip over, but take a moment and read the list again...there's something we need to catch. We all come from human beings that lived before us. It is the grace of God and His mercy that allow us to come into the family of God. The family of God is filled with perfect people...just forgiven ones.

Peace

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Tree of Family - It's Messy

It's Friday, the 13th day of Advent.  We went with some friends to look at some light displays near Milwaukee.  There's an entire section of the western part, officially in West Allis, that an entire neighborhood decorated their houses and lawns for Advent.  [If you're interested it's an area between 92nd & 96th street and Montana & Oklahoma).  They have called it Candy Land and the money raised is for a good cause - The MAC fund.
The drive through Candy Land Neighborhood is fascinating.  Most of it is quite inspiring with some amazing light decorations...but as always some of it is quite "cheesy"...even "Messy".

As I looked at the decorations I couldn't help but notice the many different nativity scenes.  They all have common elements - the baby Jesus, Mary & Joseph are the minimum.  Many have the Shepherds, some the Wise Men (Magi), some have animals, some have combinations of all of these three things.
What is missing from ALL of them  is the "Messy".
A lot of the Advent themes emphasize the Vision of all that was beautiful about it - after all, Immanuel means "God is With Us" and it means that the Most High God became a Most Lowly Human!
That is important for us to consider.

Paul summarized it so well in his letter to the Philippians.  He wrote to them about the necessity of seeking to be unified around their faith in Christ (something still desperately needed for us today).  In the second chapter he writes:

Philippians 2:4-8
4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!


Pure and Simple, Jesus traded the Glory of God for the Human Mess.  He entered into humanity as a baby, not a King.  He entered into humanity as a servant, not as one in charge.  He entered in as a normal human baby, not as one in royalty or privilege.
He humbled himself...and He took the Mess of our Sin and through Obedience went to the Cross.

I don't know how you would show that on a lawn decoration, or in a nativity scene.  Yet, whenever we see a nativity scene, let's remember - this is Immanuel being born as a baby.

Peace

Thursday, December 8, 2016

His Name is John

It is Thursday, the 12 day of Advent.  As I continue to read through the beginning of Luke's Gospel the story goes back to Zechariah and Elizabeth as the baby Elizabeth is carrying is finally born.

Luke 1:57-66
57  When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.
58  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,
60  but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."
61  They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."
62  Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.
63  He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John."
64  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.
65  The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.
66  Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.


  For the last 9-10 months Zechariah has been "mute"...not just that he didn't speak, or that he was quiet, but he was "mute"... he couldn't speak.  Do you remember why?  It was the angel Gabriel - who I imagine looked like Gandalf as he stood over Bilbo - who rebuked his stubbornness and told him:

Luke 1:19-20
19  The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
20  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."


The angel Gabriel had said that all would happen "at the proper time".  Then later Luke brings us  back to this time.  Elizabeth gives birth to her son, and everyone near and far, neighbors and relatives all come to see the new born baby.  The question they all ask is what we all ask when we hear of a new born baby:  "What will they name him?"
It is the one thing none of us have control of - our name.  When I was a young boy I hated my name.  No one else was named Elliott, and as a young kid standing out as different from others is always a negative.  My brother and I were named after the doctor that delivered us - Dr. Edward Samuel Elliott.  I remember asking my Mom, "Why didn't you name me Samuel?"  As an adult I love my name.  For one thing, whenever I hear it said, I know with a fair amount of certainty that it is me they are talking to!

Elizabeth is the one who speaks up because at this point Zechariah still cannot speak.  "His name is John".  Obviously Elizabeth didn't get that name on her own, she must have gotten this from Zechariah as he returned home, even though he had to write it out.  The relatives, neighbors were incredulous - no one in your family has that name; and they make signs to Zechariah to ask him to overrule Elizabeth.  Zechariah takes the writing tablet and reaffirms it: "His name is John", and immediately his mouth and tongue are free and he can once again speak.

His name is John which means "Jehovah is Gracious".  Zechariah began the Advent story, and he was a faithful priest who was afraid and full of doubt.  I think of that even in relation to my own life.  I would like to think I have tried to be faithful, but I have those same times of fear and doubt.  They seem to be fairly common human traits.
What we must remember is that Jehovah is Gracious.
All the things God does is gracious.  He is God of purpose, and He works His will in amazing, sometimes surprising and miraculous ways; but always with this Grace in mind.

Peace