Advent: While They Were Sleeping

It was an evening like any other. Ordinary men were doing an ordinary job. Shepherds were “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Was it chilly? Were they tired? When angels appeared with news of a Savior, had the shepherds been talking about their troubles or sharing a good joke?

How quickly, how mysteriously, how unexpectedly an ordinary night became the turning point of human history. How remarkable that God chose to set his great rescue plan in motion when only a young couple was paying attention and only a few shepherds were awake.

sky space dark galaxy

God’s work is sometimes so secret we may wonder if he’s there or if he cares. The Christmas story tells us that God works out breathtaking plans for our lives in the dark, often while we’re sleeping or going about our ordinary routines.

Advent: The Perfect Gift

 

merry christmas gift box close up photo

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” At Christmas we celebrate God coming to earth to look outward with us in the same direction, from our perspective and experience.

Jesus was an ordinary person: He learned to talk and walk like any toddler, learned a trade from his father and acquired the habits of faith from his family. In adulthood, Jesus experienced life as we all do: the challenge of hard work, grief at a loved one’s death, heartache over oppression and the world’s great needs — but also joy in celebration, fellowship with neighbors and deep friendship.

God personally knows our every experience, emotion and need — because Jesus, while fully divine, lived as a full human being. He has gazed at the world, life and even death from our direction, giving us the perfect Christmas gift: love.

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

Advent: 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

Advent: 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