Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Immanuel Saves

In Matthew chapter one we read of Joseph's plan to divorce Mary quietly when he discovers she's pregnant before they've been married. An angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because her son has been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover he is to name the child "Jesus" (rough Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Y'shua, "Yahweh saves") because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew then reminds us of the prophecy of Isaiah that the virgin will conceive and bear a son and his name will be called "Immanuel, meaning God with us."

These two names, Jesus and Immanuel, summarize the plan of God for salvation. Yahweh will deliver his people. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. As He once carried the children of Israel up from their bondage in Egypt, so once more, God would reach down and save not only the family of Jacob, but would bless all the families of the earth by freeing them from their greater bondage to death and sin. And He would do it by coming among us. He would live the life of a man. He would suffer and be tempted as we are. He would take up into himself our broken, corrupted flesh. He would die our death accursed and forsaken and so pay the price of our sin. Then in that same frail, dead, human flesh He would rise again transformed and renewed, made perfect in obedience. He would receive from His Father the name that is above all names and be proclaimed in power as the one and only Eternal Son of God. In that death and resurrection and ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father, He too would raise all those who by faith are found in Him to a new and indestructible life eternal.

Immanuel, God himself with us, was Jesus, the sign of salvation and deliverance for all.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Judah's Praise

    Here's the second Jesse Tree entry, the one on Judah

    Judah was Jacob’s fourth son and the son of tag-on wife Leah. He wasn’t

in a position to compete for his father’s love like Reuben the first-born or Joseph and Benjamin the sons of beloved Rachel. As a young man he seems to have been resentful and scheming. It was Judah who realized that the brothers could still get rid of Joseph and make a profit if they sold him into slavery instead of killing him. Later he became a double crosser and a lecher who unknowingly slept with his daughter in law, whom he was cheating, thinking she was a prostitute. When his sin was made known, he had to publicly acknowledge the women he was about to burn for her sin was “More righteous than I.” He was the fourth in a string of disappointing sons for Jacob.

But there came a day when Judah’s story changed. In the face of a past of bitterness, greed, scheming, double-dealing and lechery there came a day when he offered his life for another. Judah, who had hated Joseph, offered to guarantee Benjamin’s safety so the brothers could return to Egypt and buy food for their starving family. When Benjamin was threatened with Egyptian slavery for theft, Judah offered to take his place and so save Jacob from fatal grief. At the end of his life, Jacob prophesied of Judah that the scepter would never depart nor the ruler’s staff leave his feet. From Judah’s son Perez, born of adultery with Tamar, came the line of David and the kings of Israel and the Savior of the world.

Judah seemed a failure, but God changed his heart and gave him a place in the plan of redemption. Is your life like Judah’s? Do you feel like you’ve let down God and those who have counted on you? Ask God to change your heart and renew you like Judah. Judah’s name means “praise.” Wherever you are in life, take the time to praise God for the redemption and freedom that come through Judah’s son Jesus.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mary's Road

This fall I got the opportunity to write two entries for our church's Jesse Tree Advent Devotional. The Jesse Tree idea is based on the prophecy of a shoot from the house of Jesse and looks at God's plan of salvation as revealed in the lives of those in Jesus' family tree. I got to write devotionals based on Mary and Judah. This is the Mary devotional.

One day a little while before Jesus was born the angel Gabriel appeared to a teenage girl in Nazareth. “Hail, you who are highly favored,” he said. “You will bear a son and call him Jesus, and he will reign on the throne of David forever.” Bewildered, she asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” “The power of the Holy Spirit will accomplish it.” “Let it be to me,” she responded, “As the Lord wills.”

Imagine what that moment must have been like. We know from Mary’s song when she visited her cousin Elizabeth that she expected and longed for the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from oppression by the Romans and the Herodians. But she could not have imagined that God’s answer to her and her people’s prayers would involve her so intimately and dangerously. Before that hour how could she know that she was the Virgin Isaiah had foretold who would bear the One in whom the presence of God would walk among us. She heard shepherds tell how an army of angels had appeared praising God that this child was “The Messiah, the Lord.” Simeon told her that this child was the promised salvation of Israel and a light to the Gentiles and a sword that would pierce her own soul. Could she see that the boy who so impressed the temple rulers would one day be accused by them of blasphemy and be condemned? Could she imagine that there would come a day when she thought he was driven mad? A day when she watched him die, accursed by God and man. A day of mourning and fear that began with preparations for embalming a corpse but ended with an empty tomb, angels, and the words “He is not here. He is risen.” Could she look to the day of prayer and the mighty rushing wind and tongues like fire that signified the Holy Spirit poured out on His church. She stood balanced on the edge of the ages and she said, “I am the slave of God. Let Him do to me whatever He wills.”

Mary longed to see God’s salvation. When it came it was not what she expected or could fully comprehend, but she said, “Yes.” What do you long to see God do? Are you ready and willing to say, “Yes, Lord, I’m your slave. Do what you will?” Mary’s road held fear, doubt, confusion, and pain, but it led to resurrection and glory in the Kingdom of God. Is there some other road you’d rather walk?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Simeon's Glasses

Our intern David preached an awesome sermon this morning from Luke 2:21-38 and the stories of Simeon and Anna's encounters with Jesus in the temple. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple when he's about 6 weeks old so that they can offer the sacrifice for the firstborn and for Mary's purification according to the law of Moses. While they are there the old man Simeon sees Jesus and recognizes him as the promised Messiah. Shortly after that the old widow Anna comes up praising and thanking God for Jesus. It was especially funny hearing David wondering what one can see in a 40 day old baby. He's a young, single guy. Anyway, the gist of the sermon hinged on the description of Simeon in v. 25, "And the Holy Spirit was upon Him." David responded to three questions in the sermon: 1. How do I see Jesus? 2. How do I know it's Him? 3. How should I respond to the sight?

Simeon looked at a baby and saw the salvation of God, revelation for the Gentiles, and glory for Israel. He could see this because he looked through the lens of the Holy Spirit that was upon him. If we want to see Jesus as He is then we too need to look through those same glasses. Without the work of the Holy Spirit no one will see Jesus the Deliverer.

When Simeon saw Him, he saw salvation, but from vv. 34-35, we also know that he saw opposition, scandal and a sword. He looked ahead and saw the division that Jesus brings. Shepherds heard of his birth and rejoiced. Herod heard and plotted murder. Crowds later flocked to hear him but the people of his own home synagogue tried to throw him off a cliff. The poor rejoiced to hear his good news and the religious and political leaders conspired to put him to death. Eventually his friends abandoned him and the crowds cried, "Crucify!" The real Jesus brings division. He was a sign for opposition but also for the rising of many. If we see the Jesus that Simeon saw then we will see the opposition as well as the acceptance.

When Simeon saw Jesus he knew his life was complete. He blessed God and proclaimed what he saw. When Anna saw Jesus she gave thanks to God and told everyone about him. So we should respond. Glorify and give thanks to God and spread the news to all who are waiting for His deliverance.

David ended by pointing out the trinitarian aspect of this passage. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna see the Son and give glory to the Father. Though only one became incarnate, the whole Godhead was involved in the work of Christ's life. After the sermon we had an open time for people to come for prayer. I got to pray with people to receive a new touch of the Spirit. I pray as well for all of us this Christmas that by the power of the Spirit we would receive a fresh vision of the glory and love of Jesus and give praise to the Father.

Simeon's song:

"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
And for glory to your people Israel."
Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Wonder/Horror Land

Walking out of work this afternoon was great. There was a light snow falling heavily. That it to say there was a lot of snow falling but it was just coming down in tiny flakes steady and sure blanketing the trees and the campus. I love the silence of snowfall. It was really beautiful. The snow was so light I could almost blow it off the car.

Of course, then I had to get in the car and drive home. In any winter storm it's a challenge getting on IL-22 westbound from Trinity. It's even more so this year since they've got 22 down to one lane in either direction for bridge construction. I decided to go east and try a different route over the tollway. Naturally I almost spun out on the bridge. I finally got back to 22. Then I ended up spending at least an hour and fifteen minutes on a three mile stretch of US-45. It took two hours to get home. With no snow it might have taken just over half an hour.

Still I'd rather have the beauty of the snowfall with the long, tense commute than not have the snow at all. Besides I got to spend two hours listening to Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy on CD. I don't mind waiting in traffic if I get to hear Willard talk about the Kingdom of God, the eternal kind of life now, and the authority of Jesus while I wait Some people on the expressways were looking at four hour commutes tonight. I don't mind two.

If only there were some way to keep the snow from falling on roadways, then it would have been perfect.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Blogging

Poor neglected blog.

I've been thinking a lot about Christmas this year, probably at least 1/2 as much as anybody who's liable to read this blog or maybe half again more. So I thought I'd do some blogging about it. Today I want to talk about my all time favorite Christmas gift.

I've gotten a lot of gifts over the years. I've forgotten most and have broken or lost most as well. Some really stick out. Granny and Grandaddy gave me a Star Wars Death Star one year. That was pretty sweet but it had too many parts to survive for long. I'm pretty sure there are a couple of fragments that remain in one of my boxes of toy soldiers. I got a cool castle set that even more parts survived from. I got Axis&Allies once after I helped Mom pick it out. I've gotten some nice sweaters and shirts (actually almost any sweater I have is likely to have been a Christmas gift. I'm not a natural sweater buyer or wearer, but I like some of them and wear them occasionally). I think I got a sled when I was real little. That was a great gift for many years and useful even in Kentucky winters. There have been many other wonderful gifts.

But my favorite gift was the Alamo that my Dad made me. I think this came up here once before after Jenn took me to the Alamo when I visited San Antonio last year. I've always had a thing for the Battle of the Alamo and by extension other desperate last stands. I defaced a children's library book about the battle when I was little cutting out all the cool pictures to play with. I got the John Wayne Alamo movie for Christmas a few years ago. I remember seeing and wanting an Alamo toy set that I saw in the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog and asking for it a few times. Finally one year I found an Alamo under the tree. It's not real fancy. It doesn't have a lot of detail. It's really only a wooden model of the chapel building (of course that's the iconic part of the whole thing. A wooden model of the corral wouldn't be nearly as impressive.) It's not really to scale with either size of toy soldiers I routinely played with being too large for both (unless you consider it's size in legend in which case it works pretty well). However, it was made by my Daddy and it was exactly what I wanted. Also it was essentially one piece so I couldn't accidentally lose the south wall or the bell tower and it was mostly unbreakable within the scope of uses to which I was likely to put it (I did drop it and break it once but we were able to restore with wood glue made from my tears--or by a wood glue manufacturer). It served as a fantastic fort and storage container for small toy soldiers for many years and still serves in the latter capacity somewhere at Mom and Dad's house. It has served even better as a symbol of my Dad's love for me. It wasn't showy or extravagant but it was simple and tangible and real and virtually unbreakable and, if not perfect, sufficient.

Each year at Christmas we remember an even greater gift from an even greater Father that is far more lasting and perfect. Sometimes we want to shout about the great gifts we receive and sometime we want to just sit quietly and appreciate them. I hope you find the time this Christmas season to do both. To shout with joy from the mountaintops that Jesus Christ is born and to sit in silent awestruck wonder at His love.