Advent: No Detour from Calvary

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”   — Luke 2:6-7

Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, He surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, He could have.  And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family.  He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness.  He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane.  He could have come down from the cross and saved himself.  The question is not what God could do, but what He willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.  The “No Vacancy” sign over all the motels in Bethlehem was for your sake.  “For your sake he became poor” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

no-room-for-an-inn

God rules all things — even motel capacities — for the sake of his children.  The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said, “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go!” (Matthew 8:19), Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth.  But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

— from John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy

 

 

 

Advent: Christingle

In the Czech Republic and other places, the Christmas celebration includes “Christingles.”  A Christingle is an orange, representing the world, with a candle placed in the top of it to symbolize Christ, the light of the world.  A red ribbon encircles the orange, symbolizing the blood of Jesus.  Four toothpicks with dried fruits are placed through the ribbon into the sides of the orange, representing the fruits of the earth.

Christingle

This simple visual aid vividly represents the purpose behind Christ’s coming — to bring light into the darkness and to redeem a broken world by shedding His blood and dying.

In John’s account of Christ’s life, the disciple describes Jesus as the Light of the world.  He wrote of Christ:  “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).  Not only did Christ the Light come to penetrate our world’s darkness, be He is also “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (v.29)

Think of it!  The baby of Bethlehem became the living, risen Christ who has rescued us from our sin.  And so John instructs us to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7).  May you find in Jesus the peace of walking in His light.

— from For God So Loved:  10 Reflections from Our Daily Bread 2015

For God’s Little People

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…. And Joseph went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem…to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”   Luke 2:1-5

nativity scene table decor

 

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige?

If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy.  For it it implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people — the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  God wields an empire to bless his children.

Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened.  It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart.  And to that end, he rules the whole world.  As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

— from Good News of Great Joy by John Piper

Is Jesus Still Here?

burned house

Ted Robertson’s home in Colorado was one of more than 500 destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in June 2013.  When he was allowed to return and sift through the ash and rubble, he was hoping to find a precious family heirloom made by his wife — a tiny ceramic figurine of baby Jesus about the size of a postage stamp.  As he searched the charred remains of their home, he kept wondering, “Is the baby Jesus still here?”

When our lives are rocked by disappointment and loss, we may wonder if Jesus is still here with us.  The Bible’s answer is a resounding Yes! “Neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow…will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

In a corner of what used to be his garage, Ted Robertson discovered the burned remnants of a nativity scene, and there he found the baby Jesus figurine undamaged by the flames.  He told KRDO NewsChannel 13, “[We’ve] gone from apprehension to hope . . . that we’re going to recover some parts of our life that we thought were lost.”

Is Jesus still here?  He is indeed, and that is the everlasting wonder of Christmas.

— from God with Us:  Christmas Reflections from Our Daily Bread.  Pick up your free copy at the church.

Advent: Angels

“…for who can endure the day of his coming?”

Malachi 3:2

angel

When an angel
snapped the old thin threads of speech
with an untimely birth announcement,
slit the seemly cloth of an even more blessed
event with shears of miracle,
invaded the privacy of a dream, multiplied
to ravage the dark silk of the sky,
the innocent ears, with swords of sound:
news in a new dimension demanded
qualification. The righteous were
as vulnerable as others. They trembled
for those strong antecedent Fear nots,
whether goatherds, virgins, workers
in wood, or holy barren priests.

In our nights
our complicated modern dreams
rarely flower into visions. No contemporary
Gabriel dumbfounds our worship,
or burning, visits our bedrooms.
No signposts satellite hauls us, earthbound
but star-struck, half around the world
with hope. Are our sensibilities too blunt
to be assaulted with spatial power-plays
and far-out proclamations of peace?
Sterile, skeptics, yet we may be broken
to his slow, silent birth, his beginning
new in us. His big-ness may still burst
our self-containment to tell us,
without angels’ mouths, Fear not.

God knows we need to hear it, now,
when he may shatter, with his most shocking
coming, this proud, cracked place,
and more if, for longer waiting,
he does not.

— from Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw

Advent: God’s Tears

You could try it — when you lean your body way to the left, or when you lean way to the right, sooner or later you’re bound to fall.

And inside of every single person walking on God’s globe, there beats this heart with a very bad lean to it.

Our love didn’t lean toward the one real God, with His arms wide open…..Our love leaned toward these selfish things that we made into our own fake gods — these little idols that have no real arms at all, so when we lean toward them, we just fall.  Hard.

God looked at all the hearts leaning away from Him, and His bruised heart swelled with sadness.  “His heart was filled with pain” is how God felt when he looked around and saw everyone sinning and leaning and hurting (Genesis 6:6, NCV).  God’s tears fell like a flood.

His heart hurts not just with a few teardrops of ache, not just with a slow drip of a bit of sadness — no the whole gigantic enormity of God’s heart swells wore with what hurts your heart — and His tears of sadness flooded the world.

global flood

God leans to us who are falling in a hurting world, and He catches us.  He whispers, “I love you…”  God’s love for you made Him weep over all our sadness and sin, and His heart filled with ache and spilled like a flood.  And God offered everyone a gift, a rescue, a massive wooden ark — an ark much like a cradle on water — and He whispered, “Come to the ark.”

God sees our tears now.  And the hurt flooding our world right now.  And He offers everyone the greatest gift — a rescue, a wooden cradle, a wooden cross — and He whispers, “Come to Jesus.”  Noah and his family were saved by an ark.  You and the whole family on this earth are saved by Jesus alone.

Some horrible, awful, miserable, very bad days, you may look around and say, “If there’s a God who really cares, He’d look at our world, and His heart would break.”  And God looks to Jesus, who went to the cross, that real tree, and says, “Look — My heart did break.”

While Jesus hung on that cross, soldiers speared His side, as if they were piercing straight into Jesus’ heart, filled with sadness for all the world’s pain, and it was like the water and blood of His broken heart gushed right out — like a flood of…..love.

So when those floods of bad things happen, if you lean toward Jesus — if you incline toward Jesus, if you rest in Jesus — you get the Gift of Jesus, like an ark of love, holding you, carrying you, raising you gently up through any flood of sadness that fills the world.

— from Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift:  A Family Celebration of Christmas

The Search-and-Save Mission

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:10

Advent WEb

The word advent means “coming.”  In this season of the year, we focus on the meaning of the coming of the Son of God into the world.  And the spirit of our celebration should be the spirit in which He came.  And the spirit of that coming is summed up in Luke 19:10:  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The coming of Jesus was a search-and-save mission.

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and save lost people from the wrath to come.  God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:10).  It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God — that He is a searching and saving God, that He is a God on a mission, that He is not aloof or passive or indecisive.  He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting.  He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving.  That’s the meaning of Advent.

The book of Acts is a celebration of this advent heart of God’s — on the move to seek and to save the lost.  It’s a narration of Jesus’s ongoing advent into more and more peoples of the world.  Acts is the story of how the early church understood the words, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).  It’s the story of how the vertical advent of God in the mission of Jesus bends out and becomes the horizontal advent of Jesus in the mission of the church.  In us.

Jesus came into the world at the first Advent, and every Advent since is a reminder of His continual advent into more and more lives.  And that advent is, in fact, our advent — our coming, our moving into the lives of those around us and into the peoples of the world.

— from John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy