Christmas reading: Matthew 2:1-23

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled:

A sound was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone,
dead and buried.

Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:1-23; MSG

start where you’re at

“Joseph son of David…”

Matthew 1:20

2020 has been a most challenging years on so many levels. It’s hard to know where to begin, and what has happened this year has difficult as well as maybe some hopeful implications for what’s to come.

For us in Jesus, there’s always hope. Of course the hope we have is in Jesus, the Messiah of the world, our Lord and Savior, and God’s promise of a new world beginning now, to come to completion someday at his return.

There’s hope, as I just said, even in the here and now. Joseph was an obscure, humble man. He happened to be in the family line of David, but I’ll bet no one around him would have imagined that. Joseph’s story in the gospels, and particularly in this account is wonderful to consider. Mary was the mother of our Lord, but Joseph, who accepted Jesus as his son (see NIV heading) went through quite a lot himself, and I must say, admirably.

The “holy family” as they’re called in tradition: Jesus, Mary and Joseph was certainly if not quite looked down on, at least looked at with sideways glances, people wondering to each other just what was being hidden. Although it appeared obvious to anyone that there was a coverup of what was morally wrong. But Mary and Joseph pressed on. They continued on faithful, regardless.

But back to Joseph. He was certainly just one person, and seemingly of little or no consequence. But God took him where he was at, and even with what was not understood by others, and included him in a most important work by God.

God can and wants to do the same with each of us followers of Jesus. We’re “in” the greater David, Jesus. It doesn’t matter where we’re starting, or for that matter even where we end as far as appearances, or what the world may think. The important thing is faith and obedience. Learning to humbly follow and do whatever God asks of us. Yes, in difficult times, even through the darkest of times. God will be with us to not only see us through, but make us a blessing. In and through Jesus.

Christmas reading: Luke 2:21-40

When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.

Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.

In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,

This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.

Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.

When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.

Luke 2:21-40; MSG

in the hard, harsh world

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled:

A sound was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone,
dead and buried.

Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:1-23; MSG

Christmas Day as we celebrate it with all its festivities, opening of presents, and especially remembering the birth of Jesus, is a downright magical day. Good Friday and Easter might be the most important holy days and week in the Christian calendar, but without Christmas, and the Incarnation, there would be no Holy Week. But Christmas does have a unique charm all its own. We marvel at the mystery of God becoming flesh, and the wondrous story of a teenage girl who is told by an angel that she would become pregnant apart from a man. All the wonderful words and events which surround that. There’s nothing like it.

But in our world, and in that world at that time, after the shepherds came from the wonderful angelic visitation and announcement they had witnessed, it wasn’t long until harsh reality set in. More than a year had likely passed, so that evidently we might conjecture that Joseph was willing to settle down in that area, at least for the time being, but an unsettling would soon come. King Herod could brook no rivals, and any would be Messiah would not last in his kingdom. But Herod was not reckoning with what he was used to. Instead he was up against God and God’s kingdom.

We read in the above Scripture all that happened. The wise men, astrologers, astronomers, scholars, whatever they were called (even “kings” in Christian tradition) travel a long way guided by some astrological phenomena along with a cursory knowledge of Hebrew Scripture or the story of a coming ruler in them, and you have the unfolding of another part of what has become the Christmas Story. But there’s a quick and sudden descent into the darkness of that time as King Herod catches wind of what’s happening. An angel ends up warning Joseph who takes the “holy family” to Egypt for a time, before being led back to Nazareth, away from Bethlehem.

We’re reminded of our own time. Many of us were able to enjoy Christmas as the special day it has become. But now we have to face the real world where we live, the pandemic that is bursting from the seams once again before hopefully the vaccines can kick in and give the world something of an immunity against this virus. And all the turmoil surrounding it.

How to live during such times is another subject entirely, but the point here is that there’s no escape from the world in which we live, a world with a system that is opposed to the kingdom God brings in Jesus. But a world also that is redeemed in and through our blessed and wonderful King Jesus. Amen.

against perfection

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2:1-7; MSG

When we think of Christmas, our visions might be a bit idyllic. And there’s no doubt that no greater gift was given, and this is cause for celebration, even extravagant celebration. But what we need to not lose sight of in the backdrop and throughout is that this happened in the real world. God became flesh, fully human, yes, one of us, in this sad, weary, broken world. And the event itself was marked by just one conundrum after another. A fiancée near the end of her pregnancy having to go on a long trip, around seventy miles, over a three day journey on a donkey. When they get there, “no guest room available” (NIV). They ended up putting the newborn Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for animals (see NET footnote in above link).

One of the greatest enemies of faith is the desire and thought that life in God in the here and now is marked with perfection. If we can get rid of that thought, we’ll begin to experience the real joy and blessing. God-with-us in this broken world, in our own brokenness. We need to settle into that. Not imagining everything should be perfect now if God is really with us in Jesus. But that God-is-with-us in Jesus, Emanuel in the midst of the imperfection in everything, the real world in which we live. As we look forward to the change the one Perfection will bring, that little baby Boy to us, yes, and to the world.

giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

what we celebrate at Christmas

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John 1:14a

Christmastime is special for the church in that we remember and celebrate the coming of the Messiah. And as no more than a little baby, but no less than God. “God in the flesh.” God become human, the God-Man, the God-Human.

This means that God in the Person of the Son became fully human, one of us. So that God knows our struggles firsthand, in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Our Savior. Our Lord. The one hope of the world. That’s what we Christians celebrate at Christmas. No less and no more. In and through Jesus.

an early Christian hymn

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16

What is the difference for the Christian? What enables us toward true godliness? The simple answer is Christ, and Christ in his coming. What we celebrate at Christmas. And what we see in Christ in his incarnation, life and ministry of teaching and healing, his death and resurrection, his ascension and the Spirit being poured out, and the promise of his return when what he has accomplished will be completed.

The hymn like any good hymn gives us a particular focus. And the focus is on Christ himself, and the events and impact of that on the world. That makes all the difference. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

a big gospel (not only about us)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

The good news we celebrate this Christmas, and long to see completely fulfilled during Advent is God’s great salvation and kingdom come in Jesus. And it’s never just about God and I, and me getting right, and getting on okay in the world. Such a gospel doesn’t exist. It’s either for the entire world, including us, or it’s something man made up.

The gospel is as big as all the world since it’s for the world, for each and every part, the whole and all the parts. And Jesus longs for each person for whom he died, and that includes everyone. And it leaves no part of the world out. Period.

Too many Christian books and even churches give you the impression that the Bible is geared to you and your personal relationship with God through Christ. And over and over we’re inundated with that kind of teaching. So that by and by that’s how we see the gospel. It’s for everyone in a personal, individualistic way, and has little to do with anything else, except to touch, maybe even transform other matters in an indirect way through conversion. While there’s truth in that, it really is a distortion of what we find in scripture. God’s word is meant to bless us that we might be a blessing to others. Starting with Abraham (Genesis 12) and completed in Jesus. And it is no less than the new creation displacing the old.

No passion for the world, and for something other than one’s own salvation means no passion for the gospel. Yes, for you and I, but for everyone, for the world, and to be completely fulfilled someday, in and through Jesus.