Advent 2022: Jesus Came for You

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why would the God of Glory send His Son to be born of impoverished parents, in a mean stable among filthy animals? He is the Son of God, should He not be born in a palace befitting His supreme identity? Should His birth not be hailed by princes and royal guests and feasts and celebrations in the grandest style? Should His mother not be cared for by the best physicians in the land? Perhaps that is the way we would have written the Christmas story, but that’s not how the original Author presented it.

He was born in a stable, on loan for the night. His mother had only her frightened husband, Joseph to aid her in delivery. He was greeted by cattle and sheep and all the filth that comes with them. And rather than a soft bed of luxurious silk, He was laid in the animal’s feeding trough, on a bed of scratchy, rough hay. Is this any way to bring a King into the world?

Maybe God sent His Son in this way so the child born in a tiny tin hut in Haiti or on the filthy floor of a crack house in New York would identify in the most basic way with Jesus. Maybe it was so those who have nothing can find a connection with the God who wants to give them everything. Jesus’ birth is God coming to the forgotten, the lonely, the impoverished, and the lost on common ground. He wanted to reach the “poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty” (Matthew 5:3-10). I don’t know if you are rich or poor, living a life of advantage or hardship, sleeping in a mansion or a homeless shelter. I do know that Jesus was born for you. And He died for you. The Christmas story is your story too. Yes, Beloved even – especially – you.

Advent 2022: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Try to wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin woman and the Son of God. The Scriptures say “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . . “ Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14.  I know – you’ve heard this scripture a hundred times at least. But have you stopped to consider what it really means? The Protestant Church refers to it as “the virgin birth.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “The Immaculate Conception.” We tend to fly over it but we need to give it some time and attention because it is important.

The word “immaculate” means spotless, without flaw or error, stain or blemish – perfectly pure. That could never happen with two human parents. Joseph was a righteous man, but he had a sin nature like every other human being. Mary was a virgin and she was“highly favored” by God, but she had the same sin nature. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father, but not his “biological father.” Mary, however, would be His biological mother – therefore she had to be a virgin – sexually pure.

The Scripture said that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as the “male party” to conception. In researching the word this means that He filled Mary with creative energy, much the same way He worked in the creation of the universe. More importantly, He provided spiritual purity so that the child would be the only human born without a sin nature. Now I am a Bible teacher. I like to make difficult things understandable. But I cannot explain how this occurred. It was a divine action that we must accept with wonder.

Why does this matter? Because you and I are unholy people in need of a holy Savior. Under the old covenant, sacrifices had to be made every year to atone for the people’s sins.   Only a divine sacrifice could guarantee salvation. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could atone for the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. Thus Jesus came from the union of God and humanity. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sinful nature. It is the only hope you and I have.

Beloved, I encourage you to slow down through the familiar Christmas account. Take in every scene and ponder every word. This is not just a warm, fuzzy story to tell around the tree. This story is life. Eternal life. It is wonder and awe. It is Jesus – the God-man who came to save you.

Advent 2022: Right Place, Right Time

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” Micah 5:2

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a map with one red dot that says, “You are here,” and another red dot way on the opposite side of the terrain that says “God’s purpose for you is here.” I’m so very far away.  Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy, a young woman was startled to learn that she was pregnant with the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  So was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  The Sovereign One had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5). Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – through the “whim” of a Roman ruler who had no reverence for the God of Israel. I find tremendous peace in that.

God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when you need to be there.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill His purpose for your life.  Hear me on this Beloved, wherever you are today is not the end of your journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.

Advent 2022: Pondering Christmas

Image: “Mary and Baby Jesus” by Jean Keaton
 https://www.jeankeatonart.com/…/pro…/mary-and-baby-jesus

I posted a meme earlier in the week of Jesus saying, “Listen carefully. I don’t want to end up with four different versions of this.” It’s funny, but there is a reason for the four gospels. Each author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to a different “target audience.”  Matthew wrote to assure the Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Mark wrote to the Romans while Luke’s intended audience was the Greeks. John, some scholars say, wrote “Heaven’s perspective” revealing Jesus as the divine Son of God. When you read all four gospels in harmony, it is like turning a diamond to see all the different facets that make up the whole. Only Matthew and Luke covered the birth narrative.

Luke’s purpose in writing his Gospel account was to “carefully investigate everything from the beginning,” using the testimonies of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:3, 2). Tradition holds that one of those eyewitnesses was Jesus’ mother Mary. That is why we find such a rich account of our Savior’s birth. Who would be better to retell that wonderful story?

Luke added:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). That always touches my heart as a mother. I have my own “treasures” of my son’s birth and early years that I often pull out and remember. Every mother has a treasure trove of memories from the birth of her children. Mary had much to ponder and no doubt wonder what it all meant. Gabriel’s announcement to her – “You will be with child and give birth to . . . the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32). Her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:42). Joseph’s loyalty – “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The long, difficult journey while she was heavy with Child (Luke 2:4-5). The mean and lowly stable and the animals who witnessed the birth (Luke 2:6-7). A group of stunned shepherds talking excitedly about a chorus of angels and the brightness of God’s glory (Luke 2:8-18).

No doubt she remembers counting His fingers and toes and smoothing the curl on the top of His head as He slept contently in her arms. For the moment He was Mary’s sweet little baby boy, but he also held the hope and promise of God’s redemption for the whole world.

For the remaining days before Christmas, let’s spend some time pondering who this Baby in the manger truly was. Let’s look for the details of the Christmas story. Then let’s join Mary and treasure them up in our hearts and remember them all year long.

Advent 2022: Do You Really Understand Christmas?

Our granddaughter was born with syndactyly, the malformation of the fingers on her right hand. To us, she is still “practically perfect in every way.” We believe God is going to use that little hand as a powerful testimony to His glory. Still, she is starting to notice that it – and she – is different. Not less than anyone else, just different. She asked me yesterday, “Nana, why is my hand like this?” I told her that is just how God made her. “God didn’t make me,” she said. “Joy,” I asked, “what is your memory verse from Honey (Sunday) School?” She said, “God made everything!” complete with hands spread wide. “So if God made everything He made you, too, and your hand” I answered. “Oh!” she said, “God made me!” “That’s right, sweet girl!” Joy knew the facts, but she didn’t understand what they meant.

It’s Christmas time and that means it’s time to think about the Baby in the manger and about shepherds, angels, and wise men. But just like Joy, if all we know are facts then we don’t understand why He came at all. If we don’t recognize that this Baby is about us and for us then we don’t know the whole story of Christmas. This Baby came for more than parties and pretty paper and ribbons and lights all aglow. He came with a mission. When the Lord sent a dream to Joseph to tell him about the Baby in Mary’s womb, He said, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Luke records Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s you and me. The Christmas story is about God sending His Son to find us who are lost and bring us back home.

And the Christmas story is as much about the death of Jesus as it is about His birth. If God only sent His Son to be born then we are still lost. If He does not grow up then you and I have no real hope. The Baby in the manger must become the Man on the cross if we are to be saved. He must become the resurrected Lord if we are to have eternal life. This innocent and precious boy must bear the weight and punishment of all of our sins or Christmas means nothing.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Beloved. But more than that I wish you the heart of Christmas: “that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep” is God’s love for you (Eph 3:18).

Advent 2022: Mercy

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46)

Joy. Peace. Hope. Love. These are the words we most associate with Christmas and for good reason, the birth of Christ ushers in all of these good things. Joy abounds in this season, especially on the faces of little children. The angel brought “good news of great Joy” (Luke 2:10). And he declared “peace on earth” (v. 14) to the stunned shepherds. Many a war has called for a “Christmas cease-fire” so that there might be peace, at least for a moment. The birth of Christ holds out the hope of God for all men everywhere. And Jesus is the embodiment of perfect, holy love. Those who believe and receive Him are filled with holy love for God and the world. These are perfect words for the Christmas season. But one word gets forgotten during this holy time of the year.

Mary’s song – called The Magnificat – is a beautiful and moving oration inspired by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a humble girl. Mary’s song doesn’t focus on joy or peace or hope or love. Mary sings of the mercy of God. She says “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50). Mercy is as much a part of the Christmas story as the “big four.”

God’s mercy and His love are interchangeable and intertwined in Scripture. In the Old Testament, the word ḥesed is often used for both “love” and “mercy.” You can’t describe the love of God without His mercy and vice-versa. Mercy is love. Love is mercy. Mercy is the outward, active evidence of God’s love. Love moved the heart of God, mercy built the bridge. Love desired to save us, so mercy went to the cross. And that is where the Christmas story truly becomes a love story. Because Christmas, with all its joy and celebration, is meaningless without the cross. The story of Christmas is the story of the love – and mercy – of God displayed in the tiny Baby in the manger who would grow up to be the Man on the cross. And He did it all for you, Beloved.

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse

Oh, my soul!

Advent 2022: Asleep on the Hay

“To us a Child is born,” Isaiah 9:6

To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Eyes closed to the world, mouth soft in repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.

Advent 2022: Joseph – A Man of Mercy

In the telling of the Christmas story, Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ of Jesus doesn’t get much attention. Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4). But I learned something recently about him that had previously escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – becoming pregnant as an unmarried woman was bad enough but to conceive a child with someone other than her betrothed was unforgivable. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21). It was a sin that merited public execution. Instead, Joseph chose to handle the situation quietly to spare her from disgrace and punishment. And because he acted mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8). His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). I think, sometimes the church has it backward. Much like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy. After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love poured out in mercy to sinners like you and me through Jesus Christ.

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love? No, they probably don’t deserve it – but neither did you. It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, Beloved, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

Advent 2022 – Blessed are You Among Women

Image: “Jump for Joy” by Corby Eisbacher corbysart.blogspot.com

Advent day 2 – Read Luke 1:39-45

“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.”  Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth.  The angel had also said something strange about her cousin – that she was going to have a child – in fact – he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t?

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah?  Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor?  Someone in a high position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No.  She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea.  This was just not possible.  She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her.  The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart.  It was true!  Elizabeth was pregnant!  If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Bless are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true!  Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, believing is the sweetest blessing of all.

Advent 2022 – Gabriel’s Announcement

“The Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci

Day 1: Read Luke 1:26-38

She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her.  It was all so surreal.  She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time.  She had heard a rustling beside her and turned to see a man – but not a man – an angel?  Yes, it was an angel; he said his name was Gabriel and he called her “highly favored,” but surely he meant someone else.  She was a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.  Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family.  She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling  – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30).  Mary pointed out that she was a virgin, wondering – not if – but how this would happen.  He spoke of the Holy Spirit, an overshadowing, and the impossible becoming a reality.  Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of God” (v. 35).  Oh my!  Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? It was every Jewish girl’s dream. 

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears.  She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God.  She was put in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. It was an inconvenience, to say the least. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, perhaps even shocking?   It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or a great sorrow.  How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender?  Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?