CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 6

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Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Christmas Treasure (Luke 2:15-35)

 

The baby has arrived. Mary has nursed him and now lies resting. Joseph has taken the gauzy cloths from around his own waist, traveller’s garb in case of unexpected death on a journey, and with it swaddles Mary’s tiny son. Lined with fresh hay, the cave’s manger becomes a cradle for the infant. Humble beginnings. As the first light of dawn chases away all but the brightest of stars a small group of shepherds arrive, breathless with excitement. They pause at the cave’s door; will the sign given by the angel be as he said? Does the Messiah lie within?

 

After hearing their incredible story Joseph wakes Mary and admits the visitors. He tells her they are looking for a baby in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. ‘How did they know?’ her eyes silently ask. At first sight of the baby they fall to their knees in wonder, worshiping God. Murmurs of praise rise from their lips. Why has the Almighty One chosen them to be the first to witness such a prophecy’s fulfillment? Great treasure lies before them. The Messiah, Savior of the people, has finally come!

 

Now, forty days have passed since the baby’s birth. He has been named Jeshua–‘Yahweh Saves’ (Jesus) as the angel directed. With two pigeons in hand, Joseph arrives in Jerusalem with his young family, making the required offering to redeem and consecrate a firstborn son. Entering the temple courtyard they are greeted by an old man, eyes blazing with a holy fire. He wants to hold this baby and none other, so Mary transfers Jesus carefully into the aged arms. Trembling, the old man gazes at the child he holds. What treasure! Tears course down his face and into his white beard as he raises his voice to heaven.

 

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

Simeon’s prayer is one of grateful thanksgiving. As a conduit of the Spirit of God, he speaks of a prophecy fulfilled, a promise realized, a salvation prepared for all people. He sees beyond the simple garb of the baby’s parents; they bring the lesser sacrifice of pigeons because they cannot afford a lamb. Simeon’s aged, watery eyes see in this child salvation for mankind, glory for the people Israel, and light for a world of people God wants to bless. He holds in his arms God incarnate, Immanuel.

 

“Now dismiss your servant in peace”, he prays. Nothing greater in life can compare; he has held the Christ of God and he is ready for the Holy One to take him home.

 

Simeon’s prayer has something for us today. It reminds us that God is faithful. His promises are given so that we will take them seriously. We, like old Simeon, will only have eyes to see His Treasure as we ponder His promises and wait. Breathless, hopeful faith, the kind that puts all ones eggs in one basket is the kind of faith we must set before ourselves. The promises involving Jesus are many. We need to become obsessed with them, ponder them, praying for their fulfillment in our lives. Then we, like the shepherds, like Mary and Joseph, and like the old man Simeon, will honour Jesus as the greatest treasure of all time and beyond.

 

We bless you, Sovereign Lord, for keeping your promise to us. Thank you for giving us the priceless gift of Jesus. He is truly our salvation, the light of revelation and of glory. This is Your treasure, Your Christmas gift to us. Thank you.

 

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CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 5

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Light on a Dark Night (Luke 2:1-14)

Months have passed and Mary’s time to deliver is imminent. Her wedding must have been unusual—a pregnant bride claiming to be a virgin; she and Joseph have commenced married life in small town Nazareth amidst the whispers of neighbours and disappointed glances of in-laws. When the Roman prefect announced the Emperor’s edict to enforce a census, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Now she and Joseph are traveling to the urban centre to register themselves. The dictate makes no room for extenuating circumstances. An imminent birth simply means one more Jew the Romans can tax.

The newlyweds are feeling more than taxed. They are overwhelmed by the stresses of the past months, and now, weary travelers, they look for a place to rest their aching feet. It seems a cave behind a noisy inn is the best they can find. Joseph clears away barn-like debris and spreads sweet-smelling hay to make a cushioned bed-pallet for them. Mary’s labour-pains pierce the stillness of the night. She catches a look in Joseph’s fearful eyes and feels the despair of the moment. Where is God now? Has He abandoned them in their greatest need? Is this what it means to be a servant of God?

They cannot yet see that in that simple cave-stable, a golden thread is being stitched into the complex tapestry of God’s plans for the world. The embroidering needle pierces the canvas with every stitch (Mary and Joseph wince with each threading) but the beauty of the finished work will be nothing less than stunning.

“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” (Micah 5:2). Plans for this moment were laid long before the foundation of the world. Prophecies have spoken of it for centuries. The Ancient of Days becomes one of us, and it is happening this dark night.

I guess most of us can relate to moments like that. Life’s challenges and difficulties seem to descend upon us with suffocating weight at times. We are discouraged, frustrated and hurting, unable to find hope in our impossible plight. Good things seem to come to others, but we are stuck in a cave in the dark, feeling agonies worse than any labour pains.

I love how this story goes. Do you remember the shepherds who are also in the dark some miles away, watching over their sheep under the vast night sky? An eons-old promise God made to Abraham one other starry night is being fulfilled, and the shepherds will be the first to know. Flashes of light fill the sky as celestial messengers announce the birth of God’s Messiah to these simple farming folk.

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Read that with exclamation marks throughout its staggering message. Read it again. Here’s the amazing news: Fear is conquered. Great joy replaces it like flashes of light on a dark night. We are rescued from our plight not merely by a plan but by a person—the very Son of God, born to us, not just to Mary and Joseph.

“The people walking in darkness
 have seen a great light; 
on those living in the land of deep darkness 
a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

Let’s enter into the Christmas spirit, and let His Spirit enter into us. That baby was Mary’s son, He is God’s Son, but Good news of great joy He is ours too. He is ready to be everything to anyone who will accept Him as Savior. Admit it. Let His light dawn in the very core of your being. This is the message of Christmas.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulelijah/7107118693/”>Paul Kline</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

 

 

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 4

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Spirit-Inspired Prayer (Luke 1:57-80)

The eight-day-old baby needs naming. It is tradition to wait for this day. Friends and family are gathered around the grey-haired first-time parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. It is strange how Zechariah has remained unable to speak these past nine months, but now, more than ever, he needs a voice; it is time to name his infant son.

Some well-meaning friends speak up, happy to speak his mind for him.

“Little Zechariah”, they murmur approvingly to one another. His tiny wrinkled face looks so much like his father’s.

“No! He is to be called Jochanan (John)!” insists Elizabeth. The group freezes in surprise. This childbearing must have been too much for the elderly woman. What foolishness is she speaking? Does she not know the traditional method of naming children? Who in this family was ever named Jochanan? Someone snatches a writing tablet and thrusts it toward Zechariah. If you cannot speak sense for your old wife, at least write it!

“His name”, the old man’s stylus scratches into the waxy tablet, “is Jochanan”. And like a bird breaking free from its snare, words pour from his mouth in praise of God. Fruitful wombs and mute tongues rejoicing can only be the work of God’s Spirit.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Why is the aged priest now speaking of God’s faithfulness through David? The people’s king of centuries before was from the Hebrew tribe of Judah, but this baby, Jochanan, is from the tribe of Levi. Has fatherhood addled the mind of this old man? Does he not remember a father’s blessing over his firstborn son must refer to that son?

All in good time. Zechariah, we are told, is prophesying under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. ‘Redeemer’ and ‘horn of salvation’ refers to another baby imminently due to be born of a virgin. Zechariah’s newborn son is merely a forerunner of the greater Son coming into the world. He refers to the other baby as ‘the rising sun (who) will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in the darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Zechariah’s benediction begins with Christ. It looks back to an ancient oath sworn to Abraham, a promise to King David and a covenant to a world of people who will accept it. Prayer is like that when the Spirit of God is in us. Spirit-driven prayer speaks truth. It opens our eyes to the works of God that we might so easily overlook. It shows us divine plans have priority over our small pedestrian ideas. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, our prayers and our small steps of obedience to God’s Word allow His Spirit to indelibly inscribe truth into our lives. Our minds become less ‘me-focused’ and more ‘Christ-focused’. He begins to use us in ways we never thought possible.

Come, O Spirit of Truth, O Father of Lights, O Redeeming Son. Inspire our prayers. Speak truth through our mute tongues; guide our feet into the path of peace and set us free to serve you all our days.

 

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 3

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On Being (Luke 1:39-56)

As if one bombshell wasn’t enough. Mary is left in the silence of the angel Gabriel’s departure with ears ringing. Not only is she, obscure teen girl, to bear Messiah; her childless menopausal cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant. The angel’s final words pound in her head: ‘Nothing is impossible with God’! The thought echoes off the adobe walls of her room like lamplight in the temple’s gold-plated sanctuary. Who can understand the plans of God? Why has God chosen her? And why now bless her aged cousin’s womb? Pondering these things, Mary seems to think of only one thing. She needs to see Elizabeth. Driven by some unknown dogged determination to visit, Mary gets herself ready and hurries off to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home.

Sometimes life’s like that. We know our routines. We have our hopes and dreams. We have plans for our future. And then God comes along. Bursting into our conscious lives, often through upsetting those plans, we are urged to take a new direction. Not that our previous paths were wrong. In fact, like Mary, it is the day-to-day living in humility that prepares us for the God-nudges in new directions. And when His Spirit does speak His Word to our hearts, that humility will help us move into the new path to be taken. Perhaps, like Mary, we will even pursue it joyfully, pondering how, ‘nothing is impossible with God’.

Now Mary arrives at her destination. She must be full of wonder as she sees dear aged Elizabeth whose robes cannot hide her changing shape. ‘Savta’, old childless grandmother will become ‘ima’, mother; the grey-bearded, voiceless Zechariah smiles a welcome, touched by the girl’s surprise visit. As Mary’s greeting rings out, the room is electrified by something holy. We are told the baby in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaps’—I imagine a resounding kick is what it was, O joyful reminder of God’s faithfulness to the elderly woman. Elizabeth finds herself singing out a blessing to “the mother of my Lord”, likely surprised at the words coming from her mouth. God’s Spirit is almost tangible in the room as Mary replies with her own blessing-prayer. She praises God’s faithfulness to the humble, to those who are hungry for His work in their lives, to those who see themselves as His servants. She comments on His mercy, His mighty deeds, His lifting and filling and helping; His holy name.

Hearing this story some two thousand years after the fact is challenging. It’s tempting to nod and smile and think how amazing it must have been for Elizabeth or Zechariah or Mary. God sure did amazing things back then.

Yet ‘nothing is impossible with God’. Is not His Spirit still alive and well? For those who have committed themselves to be disciples of His Son, the impossible continues to be done; greater than the temporary condition of a miraculous pregnancy, more awesome than the one-time Spirit–filled blessings of Elizabeth’s pronouncement and Mary’s ‘Magnificat’. God’s Spirit is alive, well, and dwelling constantly within US. His energy is leaping within our spirits. His love is moving us to live out the new life that is within us. What is to be our response?

Just Be. Be humble. Be a servant. Be a blessing to others. Be open to praying prayers of thanksgiving that exude from a Spirit-filled heart. Be His conduit of miraculous work in His world; He loves to work through us. What else comes to mind when you think of what the Spirit of God wants you to be? Nothing is impossible for Him, so, be it.

 

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 2

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Gabriel’s Message (Luke1:26-38)

Having set in motion the series of events we call the first Christmas, the angel Gabriel has a second visit to make. Six months have passed since he informed the elderly priest Zechariah that his prayer was being answered. His grey-haired wife is now in her third trimester, savouring every moment of this long-awaited blessing. The angel now makes a visit to Elizabeth’s young cousin, Mary.

“Good morning, daughter of God’s Chosen People. You’re more chosen than you realized! God is with you!” Even the most joyous of Gabriel’s greetings strike hearers with a certain amount of fear and this one is no different. Like Zechariah, Mary is surprised and not a little frightened. She has never before had a response to her morning prayers like this.

“Don’t worry, Mary, God sees your heart and likes what He sees; He has found in you someone who is simple enough to be responsive to His will.” Gabriel goes on to explain how God’s presence in her will take on new proportions. She will bear the Father’s Son through the conceiving work of the Holy Spirit. She will deliver the long-awaited Deliverer of mankind. The covenant made by God millennia earlier to bless all nations through an offspring of Abraham will be fulfilled in the child she will bear.

The angel’s one instruction to her?  “Give him the name Jesus.” Call him Jeshua. Yahweh saves. The Regent of heaven will come to humanity, a baby born of a virgin. Mary doesn’t understand it fully but accepts the angel’s words. She submits to Yahweh’s will.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” she replies. “May it be to me as you have said”.

Like Mary, we who have submitted ourselves to the greater authority of God are sometimes surprised and a little fearful of His plans for and through us. His greatest plan is to transform us from within, through that same Jesus Mary bore. The eternal life of Jesus pulses within our being as a result of our own servant-like attitude. Like Mary, the greatest daily prayer we can breathe is to say, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

Speaking through an earlier servant, the prophet Isaiah, God reveals His heart to those who will listen: “This the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Our acceptance of the indwelling life of Jesus in us can transform us into people esteemed by God. We know ourselves well enough by now. Humility does not come naturally to us humans. To be contrite in spirit? Not easy. To tremble in awe of God’s plans without doubting that He is able? Rarely. Yet this is what God wants for us today. The life of His Son is to be at our core, empowering us, flowing through us, moving us to love those around us. It starts with a prayer of submission. Let’s pray it.

‘O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel!’

 

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 1

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Long-Unanswered Prayer (Luke 1:5-25)

Some prayers are barely out of our lips and the answer comes. I remember perching atop our aged chestnut gelding one snowy day, thinking we’d go for a walk around the neighbourhood. We had hardly left the yard when old ‘Fair-O’ was spooked by something: perhaps it was a car speeding by, a dog barking, or a garbage can too close to the roadside. In any event, my mount was feeling skittish and began to sidestep toward the snow-covered ditch. In a flash I envisioned him slipping into the meter-deep trench crushing me beneath his heavy sides, flailing hooves bruising my soft tissues.

“O God, help…” I breathed. And like a frame on a filmstrip the danger was past. We were back on steady hooves and solid ground as if it had never happened.

Some prayers, though, seem to fall on deaf ears. They hound us for years, never fully leaving our conscious minds, pleas for help that seem to go unanswered. The story of the first Christmas begins with such a tale; a story of long-unanswered prayer.

The pungent aroma rising from incense tickles the nose of the grey-bearded priest. Lit by the centuries-old oil-burning lampstand, the enclosed space is pungent with the history of God’s presence. Beyond the cedar walls the old man hears the assembled worshipers beginning to pray that God would be present to accept the offering. Zechariah, lying prostrate on the ground in prayer, suddenly sees a pair of feet before him. He lifts his eyes in speechless wonder. This is no natural man standing before him. With a shudder he squeezes his eyes shut. Perhaps the stinging incense has caused him to see visions.

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” the angel explains. Yes, the Lord hears the corporate prayers of His people, thinks the old man; the incense is acceptable.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name Jochanan (John). He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

What? His wife become pregnant? Her aged body finally bearing the fruit they had longed for all these many years? Impossible! And yet, Yahweh remembers. Zechariah’s own name, given to him by his father, is a testament to that. Yahweh is gracious. Could it be? Is the long-unanswered prayer finally becoming a reality?

Emerging from the Holy Place, Zechariah looks wonderingly at the assembly of praying people. They are awaiting the ritual blessing he, the priest, is to voice. But he is speechless. He has heard the pronouncement of God. The prayer of an old man is finally to be answered and it will be far greater than he ever imagined in his wildest dreams. God’s timing will dovetail the birth of this child with the birth of another Child, the Messiah. Jochanan will prepare these people for Immanuel.

Like Zechariah, we praying folk sometimes become jaded with certain of our prayers. We’ve prayed them so long we no longer imagine them answerable. Yet God’s ways take everything into account and bring answers at just the right time, in just the right way; His time, and His way. Let’s trust Him for that. Let’s receive what He plans for us with hearts open in wonder. The season of God’s answers always follow the season of our prayers.

 

GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 4

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Journey of Belief

Our life journeys are predictably unpredictable. With regular irregularity our spirits rise and fall with external events like the ragged breathing of a sprinter. The blind beggar of John 9 had thought this day would be like every other until he met Jesus. Now, moving about in the confidence of his newly received sight he finds himself ostracized from temple life for defending his healer. One moment it’s euphoria, the next is shock as he finds himself labeled now another sort of outcast. It is all a bit puzzling. The road of healing is not as smooth as he had imagined it would be.

Some of us know what that feels like. We’ve been touched by the Healer of all wounds; we’ve been given new hearts, new eyes, new leases on life. But we find ourselves facing different sorts of challenges that can be puzzling. We may even begin to ask ourselves if Jesus really is who we at first experienced Him to be.

Jesus knew what was going on in this man’s life. He had heard about his excommunication from temple life. And we’re told Jesus came back into the neighbourhood to find him.

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

This interaction is so characteristic of Jesus. He heals, He forgives, and He continues to pursue because He knows that belief grows in spits and spurts. Finding the man, the first thing He asks is, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” That was vernacular for ‘Messiah’, the One prophesied to come and fulfill all of God’s promises for mankind.

The man’s response is open. He is honest about his growing understanding of God’s purposes for him. He says ‘I know the teaching about Messiah, but I want to know HIM. Tell me who he is so I can invest my faith in a person, not just a prophecy.’ I’m sure Jesus’ face breaks into a smile, a glowing, joyful beam of pure pleasure as He faces the man who only hours earlier had never before seen a face.

‘You’re looking at HIM!’ is Jesus’ response.

This was the ‘aha’ moment we experience in those spits and spurts of growing faith. The man recognizes it and worships Him then and there. No need for an external temple, onerous rules or Pharisaic dictates. This is the Messiah, and nothing but worship is more appropriate right now. This is the purpose for blind eyes being given sight.

Step into that man’s sandals. Better yet, let’s step into our own. We have our own story and Jesus is in the process of touching our hearts and making them glow with new life. He is healing our poor blind eyes so we can catch glimpses of Him closer than we ever before realized anyone could be. And He is reminding us that He is the One prophesied to fulfill every promise God ever spoke over us. He is our Healer, Helper, Pursuer and Lover of our Soul. Our rightful response is to worship Him, here and now. That’s prayer.

“Jesus, Healer of…”