On the Ninth Day of Christmas

The night Jesus was born an angel appeared to some nearby shepherds and told them about Jesus being born in Bethlehem and how the sign would be a baby wrapped in strips of cloths and lying in a manger.  The story doesn’t end there.  Luke continues:

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.”

It is hard to fathom what it must have been like for those shepherds.  It was super exciting!  First the good news of great joy for all people, the news of the birth of the Savior and him lying in a manger.  That was followed up with the visit from the angelic choir praising God.  It is exactly what is meant by the expression, emotional mountaintop. 

But notice what comes next:  “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds didn’t just sit around and bask in their good feelings.  They immediately took appropriate action!   The next verse says, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:16)

There is an example there for us to follow.  There is a sense in which the whole Christmas season is a spiritual mountaintop.  (There is also a sense in which every worship gathering is a spiritual high point.)  I have observed that sometimes we are tempted to bask in the glory of those times but then not take appropriate action!  Think about it…  Have you ever “enjoyed the sermon” then neglected to apply it to your life?   The next time, you have a spiritual high point, hurry off and do the appropriate thing (whatever that is).

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” (Luke 2:21)

When my wife and I were expecting our children we spent massive amounts of time choosing their names.  There were all kinds of factors that entered into our decision-making process.  It was much easier for Mary and Joseph.  Luke tells us that they used the name the angel had given him.  Luke is referencing a story that Matthew wrote about.  “… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

The English name Jesus comes to us from a Hebrew name, having first passed through a couple other languages along the way. If it had come directly from Hebrew it would have been Joshua.  But the name was first translated into Greek, and from Greek it was adapted into Latin, and then from Latin to English.  In other words, when it comes to its meaning, Jesus and Joshua are the same name. 

The original Hebrew name back in the Old Testament meant, “God saves.” The New Testament Greek form is basically, “God is salvation.”  In other words, because Joseph was obedient and used the name the angel gave him, Jesus’ very name expresses the truths that he is God incarnate and that he is our Savior!  Remember that whenever you say or hear his name.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

On the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to some nearby shepherds and said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)  The angel continued and told them the specifics of the good news:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  The angel went on to say that there would be a sign (signal) for this good news that would be the cause of great joy for all the people.

For such a huge, significant event it is fitting that there would be a sign!  This time of year, when I think of a sign to signify an event I can’t help but think the New Years Eve Ball Drop in Times Square.  It’s a sign that’s big and fancy.  The kind of sign that is fitting for the occasion.  So what kind of sign would be fitting to signal the birth of the Savior of the world? A sign that is big and fancy, of course.

Then the angel announced explicitly what the sign would consist of:  “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

What?!?  That is the opposite of big and fancy!  How could that be the right sign?  But that’s just the way God is.  Even though he’s all powerful he’s also humble. The strips of cloth and the manger set the tone for Jesus’ entire life.  He started in humble circumstances and lived his entire life that way.  It not only signified the birth of a Savior, it signified the kind of Savior he was going to be!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

The night that Jesus was born, as Luke reports it, “… 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.‘” (Luke 2:8-9, emphasis added)

More often than not, good news is exclusive.  That is, most of the time, what is good news for some is bad news for others.  For example, yesterday’s news included the story of the Green Bay Packers beating the Detroit Lions.  To me, that was good news!  But it was bad news for Lions’ fans.  Financially, a buyers’ market is good news for buyers but bad news for sellers.  The opposite is true when it’s a sellers’ market.  Politically, what is good news for one party is bad news for the other party.

But this news was different!  This good news would bring great joy to “ALL THE PEOPLE.”  Think about it.  Whether you are Packers’ fan or a Lions’ fan, this was still good news.  It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, it’s still good news.  Young or old, rich or poor, Republican, Democrat or Independent, it doesn’t matter; this is still good news!

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that conditions us to value exclusivity. God clearly valued being inclusive! This is an area in which we need to be countercultural. May the angel’s proclamation remind us that our “club,” the church, was never intended to be exclusive! 

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, December 29, 2019

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached or heard on a previous Sunday.)

This morning Pastor Chelsie gave us a list of some of God’s attributes and many of us were surprised that the list included, “vulnerable.” The explanation reminded us that while we often equate vulnerability with weakness, it doesn’t really work that way. Being vulnerable means being, “open to being hurt.” You can be strong and vulnerable. Or in God’s case, he can be all-powerful and still be vulnerable. This is easier to see when one considers that Jesus was the best most perfect revelation of God. Jesus was vulnerable in multiple ways including allowing himself to be crucified.

As it relates to us, we were told that in spite of some of our own efforts to reduce vulnerability in many ways, Jesus didn’t come to eliminate vulnerability but to help us embrace it because, “love necessitates vulnerability.”

Forgiving someone makes us vulnerable to being hurt by that person again. Sharing our food with someone makes us vulnerable to hunger ourselves. Turning the other cheek makes us vulnerable to get struck on the either cheek. etc.

Ironically, we are called to follow Jesus’ example and becoming vulnerable ourselves for the express purpose of helping others who are vulnerable.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

Today, I want to play myth buster.  I’m aware of a myth that basically says that if you follow Jesus, he will bless you in such a way that life will be comfortable, easy, and convenient.   It is certainly true that he will bless you, but not in that way!

Recall that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that everyone had to travel to their home towns to register for a census.  Mary and Joseph got caught up in that and had to travel to Bethlehem.  Picking up the story as Luke recorded it:  “[Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Having to travel while expecting a child was not very comfortable or convenient.  Giving birth away from home (and family) was not very comfortable or convenient.  Not having a good guest room in which to stay was not very comfortable or convenient.  They didn’t have a nice baby blanket or even a crib.  That wasn’t very comfortable or convenient, either.  Mary and Joseph were flexible and resourceful and made due by wrapping the baby with strips of cloth and laying him in a feeding trough. 

As followers of Christ, I don’t think we should expect things to be any different for us.  We shouldn’t expect everything to be comfortable and convenient.   We shouldn’t be discouraged when everything doesn’t fall smoothly into place. The truth is, following Jesus will often mean life will become very inconvenient and out of our comfort zone!  Like Mary and Joseph, we should be flexible and resourceful and obediently move forward.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Where are you from?  My own answer depends on who’s asking and why.  If I’m traveling and someone asks, I tell them I’m from Kenosha, Wisconsin.  It’s where I currently live.  To a family researcher, I might answer that I’m from Flint, Michigan, because that’s where my birth certificate says I was born.  At other times I claim to be from New Lothrop, Michigan.  That’s where I was taken when I left the hospital after my birth and I lived there until I was a teenager.

Where was Jesus from?  I can give three different answers, each one fulfilling an ancient prophecy!  Putting together Matthew 2 and Luke 2 gives us this scenario:  Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth when Caesar Augustus issued the census decree which forced them to travel to Bethlehem.  That is where Jesus was born.  Then the Magi came, tipping off Herod on the way.  Herod plotted to kill Jesus but Joseph was warned in a dream so Mary and Joseph hurried off to Egypt where they stayed until Herod died.  After Herod died, they returned to Israel, but to avoid Herod’s son, Archelaus, they settled back in Nazareth where they had been before the census trip to Bethlehem.

God had inspired ancient prophets to reveal that the Messiah (the Christ) would be from Bethlehem, that his son would be called out of Egypt, and that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.  On the surface, those prophetic words seem confusing and even contradictory.  But God wasn’t confused; he just had a big-picture perspective. Scholars could not have predicted how the Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth prophecies would come together.  This is one more example of the truth taught in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God is active in our own lives, both doing things and teaching us things.  We can’t always see how everything fits together but we can have the confidence that God knows what he is doing.  If Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth could be reconciled, God can handle your journey, too!

On the Third Day of Christmas

After Matthew tells us that the virgin birth took place in fulfillment of God’s word (see yesterdays devotional), he shares the prophesy to which he was referring:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).”  (Matthew 1:23)

Immanuel!  God with us. That is always said as if it’s a good thing.   My friend and colleague, Pastor Chris Baker, recently pointed out that whether or not, “God with us,” is a good thing depends entirely on who God is.  That is truly a profound thought.

The reality is, that for most all the pagan world, “god with us,” was not a good thing!  Pagan gods were known to be selfish, uncaring, unmerciful, and capricious.  But the one true God, well that’s a different story.  The one true God is a holy, just, merciful, and loving God!  He is the kind of God that makes him being with us a truly, absolutely, wonderful thing!  We celebrate, “God with us,” because of who God is.

On the Second Day of Christmas

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When we have a great story to tell, we like to start with a grand build up.  We excitedly preface the story by saying things like, “this is incredible,” (the word incredible literally means, “not credible”) or, “you’re never going to believe this.”  Matthew shares an incredible, unbelievable story and he does so with no buildup!  He just states it in a matter-of-fact, nonchalant manner. With no grand buildup, he just dives right in and says, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)

In spite of the words, “before they came together, she was found to be pregnant,” Matthew seemed to think the story was entirely believable and credible.  How could it be that Matthew thought that such an incredible story was so credible?  I think he gives the answer to that question just a verses later (v. 22).  He reports that, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” 

For Matthew, if God said it, it wasn’t unbelievable! For Matthew, since God said it, it would have been unbelievable if it had not happened!   That’s why Matthew was able to say, “before they came together, she was found to be pregnant,” without thinking it incredible (not credible).

Let’s be like Matthew and not be surprised when God’s word comes to pass in our own lives!

On the First Day of Christmas

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For the first day of Christmas, let’s start at the beginning. The beginning, that is, according to Mark.  Matthew and Luke each share parts of the story surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.  Mark doesn’t.  He does, however, claim to start at the beginning.  Specifically, his gospel (“good news”) starts like this:  “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,   as it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” (Mark 1:1) 

From Mark’s perspective, “the beginning of the good news,” came way before the birth of Jesus.  For Mark, the story began with the prophecies of Isaiah.  The Isaiah prophecies formed the basis of my own Advent sermon series at my own church this year. Spending that time in the book of Isaiah highlights the truth that the coming of the Christ (Messiah) was part of a master plan that God revealed hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.  The “good news,” and therefore, the Christmas story, didn’t begin with the birth of Jesus; it began with the proclamation that God was going to take action and send his Son, the Christ, to reconcile the world to him.  

In the classic TV series, The A-Team, the team leader was often known to exclaim, “I love it when a plan comes together!”  The birth of Jesus on the day that we now celebrate as Christmas, didn’t just happen.  It was all part of a plan; a plan that came together!