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.

trying to make sense of it all

When it comes right down to it, often life both in the short-haul, and frankly in the long-haul has some head scratchers. It doesn’t take long, or much effort to observe that. We’re left with gaping holes, and no explanation for some things. In fact life itself can seem quite counterintuitive to our sense of how it should be. Maybe like in the Job story where Job himself is never told the full scoop, and in the end to simply trust a God too awesome for him to understand.

We like to read novels, or watch films with many unpredictable twists and turns, and with enigmas that leave us wondering, and turning the pages. Life is simply not like the nice, and even to some extent good Hallmark films. We’re sometimes, maybe even often left wondering.

Scripture in a true sense is story, yes true story, but story. Humankind is made as the crown of creation, and yet is not true to their Creator, and therefore the brokenness that follows. God calls Israel to a mission to redeem and restore humanity, essentially to bring in God’s reign to an earth which wants nothing of it. Jesus is the fulfillment of that calling, which today is known and witnessed to in the church.

We all have a story to tell. It may be quite broken and disheveled, but it has its harmony and beauty as well. Somehow in and through Jesus, our story is taken into God’s story. To wonder about that, we need to look no further than the pages of scripture. Somehow something good will come out of the trouble we face in this life.

For me, having lived as long as I have (now over sixty), and continuing to see what I see, I don’t worry much about trying to make sense of everything, or even anything. I try to stay focused as much as possible on the big story, God’s story in Jesus. I want God to deal with all the scattered, broken, or lost pieces of life, according to his will. And go on.

So the story I want to focus on, and tell people about is God’s story in Jesus. And yet sharing my own story, and how it fits into that larger story. By faith we tell others God’s story, and the good news in King Jesus which is at the heart of that. And we wait to tell our own story, if and when that seems appropriate. As a witness to the larger story, to God’s faithfulness and love in his redemptive reign in Jesus.

“you made me, you bought me, I’m yours”

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleasedto have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:15-23

Jeff Manion at the church where we’re taking our granddaughter for the children’s program there gave what would probably be as close to an altar call as you would ever get at that church, summing up this pericope of Colossians, 1:15-23, entitled in the NIV, “The Supremacy of the Son of God,” with these words: “You made me. You bought me. I’m yours.” I think that is pretty apt, and certainly spoke powerfully into a culture in which the designations given to Christ in this letter, were given to the Emperor in that culture, to Caesar.

This passage teaches that God created all things in and through Christ, and for him. That God reconciled all of that creation to himself, including each one of us who by faith receive that reconciliation, through his physical body in his death on the cross. And that therefore, Christ as head of the church is to have the supremacy in all things. So that, as Jeff Manion put it, everything in our lives is to revolve around him. That he is to be the big thing in our lives. Of course Jesus bringing us to God, into relationship with the Triune God.

Without legalistically having to come up with something, I have to ask myself, just what do I need to give to God through Christ today. What might be the big thing to me, other than him, for my own self-interest, rather than Christ’s? Christ made me, he bought me, I’m his. Or maybe I would prefer to put it: God made me through Christ, and reconciled me through the redemption of Christ, and therefore I am God’s in and through Christ, which certainly includes Christ himself. But Jeff’s way of putting it is pithy, poetic, and therefore brings home a powerful point.

Right now there is something which stands out to me, which I would do well to address in my heart and thoughts and actions. It is something I perceive that God might be working on in my life, and wants me to totally surrender, and grow in that surrender. And I’m sure that there will be many other such things that will come up which will need addressed in my life along the way.

Jesus is to have the supremacy in our lives. As Jeff said, he already is the center, yet we also need to make him the center, as in submitting to that supremacy, to Jesus as Lord. As one who is a member of his body, the church: God’s unique place and entity in flesh and blood through the Spirit, in and through Christ, in the world.

Christmastide and the coming of the Savior

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

By creation we are God’s children, but we also need that distinction through the new creation. The law holds us as prisoners to sin, and acted as a guardian, or disciplinarian (NRSV) until Christ came. From that time we are justified by faith, simple faith in Christ Jesus. He came to redeem us from the curse of sin under the law through his crucifixion and death (Galatians 3:13).

Therefore we are God’s children and heirs of all God’s promises in Christ Jesus, since we are children of God in and through the Son of God and again, by his redemptive work for us. We are set free to live in faith and by the Spirit, and not under the law, which ultimately in and of itself would condemn us. Even though it also had its useful place in a formative period for God’s people. We are taught our need for God’s grace, our entry into that coming through faith and baptism in and through the faithfulness of Christ, in and through Jesus Christ himself. Whose coming was timely, according to God’s time and working.

 

meditation for the sixth day of Christmas: remembering the poor and those in prison

The Bible over and over again makes clear that God is an advocate for the poor, the destitute, the marginalized, the down and out. We need to read our Bible and keep reading it, I not less than anyone else. And something scripture affirms over and over again as well is our solidarity with the poor. Jesus identifies with his brothers and sisters who are poor in Matthew 25. And God is on the watch both to bless the poor and to judge those who oppress the poor. Let me add that scripture has much to say that can encourage prisoners. Whether or not they are guilty, Jesus came to set the prisoner free. Perhaps in this life they may not be free from incarceration, but they can be free in spirit and in truth in and through the redemption that is in King Jesus. We are called to bless the poor, to help those who are in need.

We should have no trouble identifying with the poor and imprisoned, regardless of our relative wealth and freedom. We too are dependent on God for “our daily bread,” for whatever material wealth and blessing we have. And we are either slaves of sin or set free to be slaves of God and of righteousness. The freedom that is ours in Jesus is a freedom to serve others in love. We need to do so sacrificially, remembering that we too are in need, poor in and of ourselves, as well as imprisoned in sin apart from Christ. We should be able to look anyone in the eye and identify with them, even as we help them come to look to the Savior and with us begin to find their identity in him.