Tag Archives: Christmas

Unlikely but Certain

Shepherds near here live in rustic, tiny wagons with rounded tops.  Pretty shabby accomodations but then shepherds are on the bottom of the food chain; they don’t command per diem expense accounts in fancy hotels.  Same thing was true in biblical days: shepherds were considered to be a pretty low and sleazy lot. 

Kings, on the other hand, jet around the world in private, posh comfort and command the highest respect and fanciest privileges.  As they have for thousands of years.  (Ok, they didn’t have Lear Jets back in the Bible days, but you get the idea…)

These days, the nations surrounding Israel want to wipe her off the map and take her land for themselves.  As was also the case a few hundred years before Christ.  And, just as they were about to conquer Israel, God made this astonishing promise:

“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.  (Micah 5:1-5a)

Quick paraphrase.  God said, You, Israel, are about to get wiped out by your pagan neighbors.  But after you have been destroyed and things look hopeless, I will send you a King Who will be a Shepherd to His people.  His mother will give birth to Him in Bethlehem, the least likely of places.  But eventually, His reign will be accomplished by My unlimited power.  He will incorporate people from every nation into His flock and His reign will be supreme even to the ends of the earth.  He will bring peace because He will be peace. This may seem unlikely, but it is going to happen, because I planned and ordained His coming from ancient days past.

His birth was extremely unlikely.  But it happened, just as God said it would.

His dual role as Shepherd/King seemed like a ridiculous oxymoron.  And yet He affirmed both.

Perhaps least likely of all, that anyone one man could reign supreme to the ends of the earth and bring peace.  But His reign is already being established, growing and spreading around the globe.   Unlikely, but certain. 

The Day Will Come

My brother and I would blast out the bedroom door, take a quick left and a right, and then tumble down the stairs, barely touching them.  The long wait was over; Christmas morning had finally come!  How well I can remember the excruciating wait for Christmas.  The days dragged by.  It seemed Christmas would never arrive. And when it did, we couldn’t get out of bed and downstairs fast enough. 

These days I feel a similar sense of anticipation, not for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but to get the party started celebrating His second coming. 
There were 400 years of darkness and confusion for God’s people, leading up to the birth of our Savior.  How they yearned for God to fulfill His promise. 
True, when He came, not everyone could see Jesus for Who He was.  But when they did (and when they still do!) their darkness was overcome by His great light, their despair was swallowed up by deep joy.

As we wait for Jesus’ return, once again there is darkness and confusion running loose on the planet.  I don’t need to list the examples; you watch the news, too.  Once again, we yearn for Christ to come.  It seems as though the day will never arrive.  But God is faithful and that day will surely come. 

For some, His coming will bring complete destruction as He sweeps away the wickedness and darkness. 

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”  (Malachi 4:1-2)

Just like my brother and me on Christmas morning…

Words of a Stranger

Perhaps he was known by most as “that crazy old geezer.”  But he was not crazy; he was eccentric – dialed in to a different station.  Luke says “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Wow…   Think of the turmoil in Israel during that time, as everyone had to register in his family home town.  Roman soldiers were stomping around, belligerently exercising their positions of privilege and power.  It was not a time to be expecting anything hopeful.  Most people were focused on simply getting through the day without running afoul of the guys with the whips and crosses.

But not this guy.

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26)

Knowing that the Messiah was about to show up, he spent his final days hanging out up at the temple.  Watching.  Waiting.  And, somehow (Holy Spirit again, no doubt), when Mary and Joseph brought their 8 day old Son to be consecrated, the “crazy old geezer” knew Who it was.  How many people were thronging through the temple that day?  How many babies were being carried through that massive courtyard?  What can you see of a baby who is wrapped up in “swaddling clothes?”  But Simeon was watching, waiting and he knew Who the baby was.

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “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.”” (Luke 2:28-32)

Again, Wow!   Imagine what was going on in Joseph and Mary’s hearts at that moment.  How amazed and exhilarated…    But Simeon was dialed in to a different station and he was not done.  After praising God for this Good News, he chilled their bones with this:

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”” (Luke 2:34-35)

I wonder who it was Mary told about this astonishing and yet horrifying encounter.  I can’t imagine how she felt that day.  Or, how she felt, calling those words to mind when they had been violently fulfilled.

Oh, wow…

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Listen to This!

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:16-18)

“Blog” sounds like something you stepped in and stuck to your shoe.  But it’s the best I got.  The best way I know to “spread the word” about what I found, what I’ve seen and heard, but mostly about what I’ve experienced since I made my way “to the manger.”

I was raised in a “Christian” family, which, in the 50’s mostly meant we went to church every week because that’s what everybody did.  My folks believed in Jesus in much the same way they believed in Santa Claus.

(spoiler alert: Virginia, you might want to stop reading)

They pretended to believe in Santa, just like everyone else believed in Santa, because, if they did, it made Christmas nicer.  Trouble was, they also had to act on Santa’s behalf to make him seem real.  Santa’s bills showed up in their mail.  They took the same approach with Jesus.  “We know He wasn’t really any different than you and me, but He sure said some wonderful things in the Sermon on the Mount.”  My dad, who was an elder at the church for years, eventually told me he didn’t believe Jesus was ever really a person – just a myth that had developed over the years to help people get through life better.  Consequently, he also believed it was up to him to measure up to all the moral standards, to make Jesus seem real in his life.

Remember when you discovered that Santa was a lie that everyone else was in on  except you?  That’s how I felt about Jesus when I began to discover how skin deep faith was for most of the people I had grown up trusting.  I resolved to never, ever again buy into any religion or myth.  I hated the idea of playing “let’s pretend” in real life.

About the time I turned 38, I began to feel a steady pull to draw closer to God, even though I did not believe in Him.  A series of weird, seemingly coincidental experiences heightened this desire.  Also heightened was my determination to not be fooled.  But one day these two contradictory impulses came to a head.  Jesus showed me Who He was.  If you had been there you would not have seen Him.  But for me to describe the events of that day in a lesser way would be dishonest.  One day, I too found myself kneeling at the manger – figuratively speaking.  I discovered Jesus and surrendered to Him, because I knew He was God.

I had no idea what to expect.  Best way to describe it is that I became alive in a way I had never known was possible.  The line from Amazing Grace, “was blind but now I see” is a pretty good description.  And Jesus began to live in me, making gradual, steady changes in how I saw life and how I responded in life.  He is doing it, not me.  This new life is exhilarating and is still growing, almost 30 years later.

The shepherds stumbled out of town, grabbing anyone they met to try to tell them how excited they were.  No doubt most of those people thought they being accosted by drunks or madmen.  But they had to do it; they couldn’t keep silent about such good news.  Me?  I blog.  Merry Christmas.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Just Wonderful

Blow-up snowmen on the front yard look really festive at night, but the next day you drive by and, deflated, they look like a heap of old construction plastic, blown onto the lawn.  Doesn’t have quite the same effect.  The word, “awesome,” has become deflated by overuse and now lies, lifeless and ineffective.  Mostly, things called “awesome” don’t begin to fill us with awe.  Likewise, the word, “wonderful.”  Originally, that word meant something that would fill our hearts and minds with gaping wonder!  Something “wonderful” would take your breath away and cause your knees to fail.   When an infant opens her eyes for the first time, when she begins to try to imagine where she is and what is happening, she is seeing something “wonderful.”

Hang on to that full meaning of “wonderful” and read this portion of the Christmas prophecy of Isaiah:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful …” (Isaiah 9:6a)

Lots of people laid eyes on Jesus, but not all of them had the “eyes to see” Him.  His disciple, Thomas, didn’t “see” Him fully until after the resurrection when Jesus invited him to touch His wounds from the cross.  Something clicked for Thomas at that moment.  He saw that Jesus was “Wonderful.”

“Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:28)

Crossing over from looking at Jesus to truly “seeing Jesus,” knowing He is “Wonderful,”  is sort of like opening a valuable Christmas present.  For days you have seen it, wrapped, but you didn’t know what it was or even if you would like it.  Every now and again, you open a gift and discover that what’s inside is beyond anything you might have imagined.  When that happens with Jesus, you will call Him “Wonderful!”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

The Costliest Gift

Hammacher Schlemmer offers a slot car race track for $125,000!  I wonder who will be getting one of those for Christmas.  What is the most extravagant gift you have ever received?  How about the most extravagant gift you have ever given?  What did it cost?

Chances are pretty good that you have a Christmas card, sitting in the pile, that contains these words:

“For to us a child is born…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

The hope and joy expressed in those prophetic words make them a favorite for the makers of Christmas cards.  Isaiah knew Who was coming and wrote those words 700 years before they came to pass.  But the familiarity of those words might obscure the angst of the next phrase:

“…to us a son is given…”    (Isaiah 9:6b)

Brand new parents are fun to watch because they barely touch the ground.  They radiate joy and excitement and intense possibility.  But, as I remember well, a new father becomes instantly protective in a fierce way.  He is possessed by an instinctive and powerful readiness.   It’s like a one man Secret Service detail.  I cannot imagine what it would take to willingly give a newborn son.  The young mothers who give up their newborn babies for adoption, do so at unspeakable cost.  I honor them as heroes.  Perhaps they, more than any other, know how to read this phrase:

“…to us a son is given…”

The Father gave His only Son – gave Him to you and me – knowing from eternity past how that Gift would be eventually rejected and mistreated.  Amazing love…

“…to us a son is given…”   

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Just the Name

Iraq and Iran attacked the northern part of Israel, trying to conquer it.  Israel fought back, after making an alliance with a part of Syria.  To strengthen their forces they also asked Judah to fight with them.  Who?  Judah was a small part of the original nation of Israel, the only part left after the north seceded in a civil war.  They even lost the name, Israel, to the north.  Anyhow, when they won’t join the fight, they get attacked by their former brothers.

Sound like the future?  Nope, it was the past – roughly 2750 years ago.  The more things change…

Anyhow, the King of Judah decides to join forces with Iraq (then called Assyria) to protect himself from Israel and Syria (then called Aram).  He calls for his Secretary of What God Says to Do (wouldn’t it be great if we still had one of those?), a guy named Isaiah, who tells him, “God says don’t do it; He will keep you safe.”  The armies are marching, and the King is getting nervous.  And skeptical.

So Isaiah says, “God offers to prove it to you; ask Him for a sign – anything!”  The King thinks this has gotten weird; he is wasting time.  He’s got to strike a deal with Assyria before its too late.  So he says, “Thanks anyway…”

So, the Secretary of What God Says to Do says,

“...If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’ ”” (Isaiah 7:9b)

And then this:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

The king did not “stand firm in his faith” and missed the sign. Eventually both parts of Israel were wiped off the face of the map.  For a time.

But you don’t need to miss it.  You don’t need to know all the history, Just the name of the child.  You just need to know Who He was.  “Immanuel” means, God has come to live with us.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.