Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Favorite Christmas Ornament

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 20When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 25but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NET)

Do you remember when you found out you were going to be a parent?  I remember that pregnancy test home kit, and seeing the blue check mark.  But, most of all, I remember my husband's reaction. Basically, he was so overwhelmed with emotion at the prospect he was "zombie-fied" for about 3 days.  I imagine that is how Joseph must have felt:  a carpenter who dreamed of the birth of God.1

Today, Christians talk about Jesus' return, and we say we believe this to be a certainty.  I'm sure that the Jews of Mary and Joseph's day felt the same about the coming of Messiah.  But, I'm equally sure they felt that "someone else" would be chosen to be His earthly parents.  What a shock this must have been!

The mystery of the Incarnation.  I can't wrap my mind around it.  A friend of mine wrote a Christmas song in which she tried to express the unfathomable fact that Mary gave birth to the One who had created her, who had known her before her own birth.  "We Have Met Before" :

"Newborn Son, yet Ancient of All Days"...

God the Father gives to us God the Son.  This is the essence of Christmas:  God gives us the only path to soul salvation, His very own Beloved One, His Only Begotten. 

Do you have a favorite Christmas tree ornament?  I do.  It is the subject of the picture at the top of today's post.  It is not a particularly beautiful ornament, in the aesthetic sense.  In fact, it looks out-of-place, nestled in the "front and center" of our tree.  The ornament is a long iron stake, a "nine-inch nail", if you will, suspended by a scarlet red ribbon.  What is the meaning there?  It symbolizes the culmination of Jesus' first Advent, the stake mimicking one that nailed his wrists or feet to the harsh wooden beams, the red ribbon symbolizing His precious blood, spilled for me.

This poignant ornament is there to remind me that Christmas was only the beginning of Jesus's earthly ministry. If He had only been born and then had lived a life marked by sinful choices, or if He had refused to fulfill His purpose here, there would be no spike ornament on my tree, nor would there be any reason for a Christmas celebration at all.

God With Us...Immanuel.  You can't take the Babe without the Broken and Suffering.  You can't worship the Newborn without embracing the Triumphant King.  There is no worship of Jesus apart from embracing His finished work on the cross and His earth-shattering emergence from the borrowed tomb.  He loved us ... to death, and back again.

Even after He returned to Heaven, to sit at the right hand of our Father God, He did not leave us comfortless.  Through His Holy Spirit, God is still with us, with those of us who have believed and confessed, "I am His and He is mine."

As he lay dying, the renowned 18th c. Methodist evangelist John Wesley is said to have uttered these words:  "The best of all is, God is with us."

Amen and amen.

Thanks be to God, for His indescribable Gift!  2 Corinthians 9:15


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent Number 1? Number 2?

The word "Advent" means "the arrival of a notable person".  In the case of the Christian church, it means the arrival of Jesus Christ.  And, this "arrival" usually refers to His birth, which some refer to as His "first Advent".  Interestingly, in today's Advent meditation from A.W. Tozer (see source below), he focuses on Christ's second Advent.  I found that a curious focus, until he hammered me.

The essential point Tozer makes is that celebrating Christ's first Advent was important to the early Church, but the anticipation of His second Advent (sometimes called His second coming) far eclipsed the first in their hearts.  Why, do you suppose?  In modern day Christianity, the birth of Christ receives far more attention...

There's certainly nothing wrong with anticipating the celebration of Christ's birth.  Doing so, meditating on prophecies of His birth, celebrating the amazing work God did in sending Christ to us, adds richness to this special season.  Tozer doesn't take anything away from that when he states that the return of Christ is "all but dead among us".  Do you believe that to be true today?  Is it true in your life?  I had to ask myself if it is true in mine; I didn't like the answer.

Members of the early Church expected the Lord to return to Earth during their lifetimes, at any moment, in fact. They were mistaken about the time of His return, but they were not mistaken in their attitude to expect it at any moment.  (Were they?)

Tozer poses several reasons for why the longing that burned in the breasts of the early believers seems to have "burned itself out" today.
1.  A relational love for Jesus Christ has been replaced with a detached, contractual obligation.  Love will carry you where mere duty never will.  Unfortunately, modern-day Christendom has overemphasized the "duty" of faith so much that the adoration of the Savior has fallen away. The drudgery of "taking up the cross" in discipleship has squeezed out the beauty of the One who died upon it.
2.  Conversely, many Christians are so comfortable in their cocoons of this life that they have little desire to leave them. This is especially true in parts of the world where faith in Jesus Christ exacts no extreme personal cost.  As long as we are healthy, happy and able to practice a "safe faith", a faith that can veer off into mere "religious entertainment", why should we forsake it for a world about which we know little?  Why should we long to be with Christ, face-to-face?
3.  And then, some just frankly don't really believe He will return at all.  "Certainly, if such an advent would occur, it won't occur for years and years....far after our generation is long gone..." Right?

A gospel song we used to sing when I was a child was called, "Will Jesus Find Us Watching"?  I've reproduced the lyrics at the bottom of this post.  I can't recall a single, modern-day song sung in church today about the second Advent, actually...can you?  Leave the title in the comments section of this post, if you can.

I don't know about you, but I always find thoughts of Jesus' second Advent very personally convicting.  "Am I loving Him as He deserves?  Does my love for Him translate into spending my days WELL?"  How would our daily lives be different, if we truly were looking for Jesus' return any day now? Would priorities re-align?  I'm quite sure they would.


  Tozer, A.W. From Heaven. 2016. Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Runner and The Chaser

Imagine you are able to go back in time to Bethlehem and have the privilege of approaching the stable to kneel at the manger.  Can you picture it?  Can you see yourself?  What are you wearing? Are your clothes spotless?  Is your body clean?  Do you smell good?  At Advent, this is something we do: in our hearts, we approach the manger, to worship the King.  And, this is good and right.  

Many times, though, as we come to worship, we have manure on our shoes, and our pits stink.  There are food droppings on our chest from where we've been careless in our eating.  Our hair is tangled or our beards are nasty. There is crud under our nails.

The latter is a picture of our sin, our personal running from God.  It dirties us up so that, when we approach His presence, we are soiled, stained, ruined, in need of salvation, in desperate need of grace.

Ann Voskamp points out that repentance "is the only way to be ushered into grace."

Repentance means literally "to turn around and go in the opposite direction".  In the case of the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, it meant to cease from running from God, then turning around and going toward the pagan city of Nineveh.  In our situations, it means to come to a full stop, turn around and move toward the God who chases, seeking His will in our lives.  

When we move toward Him, our hands cannot bring our beloved sins with us. 

No, in our turning, we must lay them down and leave them behind.  Only cleansed, covered by His grace can we truly bow at His feet in worship.

Jonah not only represents us.  He also pre-figures, foreshadows Christ.  We read Jesus' own words in Matthew 12:40 - - 
"For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish (Greek: κήτους ) three days and three nights,
so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."

It is because of these words of the Lord that many Bible scholars believe that Jonah drowned before being swallowed up by the great fish, and that after being dead for 3 days, God resurrected him.  I will not debate this point; I merely offer it for your consideration.

Whether at Advent or not, we often find ourselves drowning in life's stormy waters. We cry out, "I can't handle this!"  So true.  We can't.  But God can.  No storm of life can submerge me beyond where His goodness, mercy and grace can resurrect me!

I am so glad that God chased after Jonah.  I am so glad He passionately chases after you and me.  He does so ... not only that we may carry out His perfect plans, but to rescue us, to wash and restore us, to resurrect and bring us out onto dry land. 

It's right there in Psalm 23:6 (The Message) - -

Your beauty and love chase after me, every day of my life.

False gods expect us to perform, to measure up.  Our God comes down to us, in the form of a Baby, and He chases and chases and chases us.  The Hebrew word for "chase" in verse 6 is "radaph", which means "to pursue", "to hunt down".  My God, the Lover of My Soul, never gives up on me.  He chases me to repentance, pursues me with His love and grace.

Stop pursuing your image of "a better life".  Recognize that the Author of Abundant Life is pursuing you.  Stop running.  Allow yourself to be caught today.


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Sunday, December 16, 2018


Christmastime, like most celebrations, is a visual feast.  Everywhere we look, people are focused on the glittery and the flashy.  Our family had a college graduation party yesterday for our two sons.  I had ordered a cake, decorated with a little mortarboard, etc.  Very flashy and appropriate for the occasion. In fact, you see those little spindly things?  They moved with the ceiling fan's breeze!  I was told this masterpiece tasted delicious too, which is major.  Really, if the cake tastes bad, who cares how fancy the frosting is?

It is for this reason I have a LOT of trouble with the Christmas season.  Do you wonder why I blog nearly every day of Advent?  At a time of year when there is already SO much to do?  It's because ... I don't want to miss the cake for all the frosting.  In the middle of the massive hustle and bustle, I often find myself craving "cake."  Many days, I don't get to the cake until the end of the day, because I am too rushed in the mornings to sit down, meditate on the Scriptures and blog.  At least, then, it is good to end the day with some healthy heart food, meditating on the Bread of Life, the true cake of Advent.  All the rest is frosting.

Take a good look at the Reason for the Season.

Some of us are hyper-focused on the visual; others are blind as a bat.  Some have excellent gifts of intuition.  Others are clueless as a goat.  I have a friend who is SO good at this - - - noticing how others are feeling, knowing exactly what to say at the right time.  It is hard not to be envious of such a great gift.

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. 
Psalm 146:8a

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.
The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. 
People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

It gives me a little comfort, as one lacking great gifts of discernment and "noticing", that Samuel wasn't so hot at this either.  God had sent him to anoint the next king of Israel.  Like most of us, he was making judgments based on what his physical eyes saw, rather than what the Holy Spirit was whispering to his heart.  

He was missing the cake, for the frosting, you see (pun intended).

God the Father wanted us to focus with a laser-like beam on His Son, at His birth.  I think this is why Jesus' birth was so simple and unadorned.  Other than the angelic announcement, which a few straggling shepherds witnessed, there was nothing majestic about His birth.  He knows we are distracted by glittery things. That is why He removed those distractions, so that we could truly see.

In 1 Samuel 16:3, God promised to show Samuel, to open his eyes, so that he could recognize the next king of Israel.  If we but take the time to seek Him in these last days of Advent, open our hearts to Him, He will enlighten the eyes of our hearts as well, open them as only He can.

Lord God, in this Advent season we need to get past the frosting to taste the cake, get past the wrapping, to get to the Gift inside.  Don't let us miss hearts this Christmas, Lord, especially Yours.
In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Minor Characters

One of the many, great paradoxes of the Bible is that the only wise God, the omnipotent, omniscient God is also the God of the Minor.

I am so glad that He is concerned with, what on the world scale, must be considered "minor incidents" or "the little people".  I am so glad that He chooses "minor characters" to become the heroes in history ("His Story").  If He can choose and use Zechariah and Elizabeth, He can use anyone.  Their story is found in Luke 1:6-17.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of the Levitical tribe, that is, both descendants of Aaron, were (beyond that) just an ordinary, old couple.  Most folks paid them little attention, I'd guess.  In a society where most things centered on the large, extended family, this old couple had none.  This is because, while they should have been at least grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents, they had no offspring, no descendants.  They were pretty much alone.  To their credit, we read in verse 6 that, despite what had to be this deep disappointment, they continued to honor God with their lives.  Two ordinary, old people whom God chose to play a leading role in mankind's redemption story, not in their timeframe, but in His.

At the beginning of the A.D. era there were approximately 7000 Levitical priests serving at the Jerusalem temple.  These were laymen, who only served there two weeks out of the year.  One of Zechariah's "weeks" fell during the feast of Yom Kippur, during the year in which this story is set. Of the hundreds of priests serving that week, Zechariah's name was drawn "at random" to go into the most holy place of the Temple ("the Holy of Holies") and make an incense offering.  This was a very rare honor.  Most priests like Zechariah would live all of their lives without having their name drawn. You might say he "won the lottery".  Then, if that were not miraculous or unlikely enough, he sees an angel, who delivers to him a miraculous message.

It is very significant that there had been no "word" from God since the book of Malachi was written, 400 years earlier.  There had been no recorded angelic appearances, no prophets. Don't be fooled, though.  God was not idle, even if He was "silent".  I am sure that many had decided that Jehovah's dealings with the Jews were "ancient history" and irrelevant to "modern people".  Not Zechariah or Elizabeth, however.  Their faith had not wavered.  What an inspiration they are!

Even so, when Zechariah saw the angel Gabriel and heard his message, his faith wavered.  Who can blame him?  Certainly not me!  (Most likely I would have pulled a "Sarah", and laughed.)  At any rate, Zechariah (whose name means "God Remembers") and his wife Elizabeth (whose name means "My God Keeps His Word") conceived and birthed that promised son.  And, Zechariah, who had been struck mute in the most holy place, found his tongue freed to praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords when asked about the name of his newborn boy.  John - - - an unusual, one-of-a-kind name - - for an unusual, chosen boy.  This boy was filled with God's spirit while still in his mother's womb, causing him to leap for joy there when he heard the voice of His Savior's mother for the first time. God is sovereign, faithful and good.

In today's picture the old woman's hand holds the hand of her toddler son.  There are no "unlikelies" with my God.  Nothing is minor to Him.  You may be praying, as I am, for a Christmas miracle this season.  Keep praying.  God is listening.  He bends down to hear the whispered prayer of the broken, the anguished, the weary.  Keep praying.  He longs to give us not only our needs, but the desires of our hearts.

Oh Lord, Seer of All Hearts, You know our needs.  And, You know our deepest desires.  Your grace begins with giving us more of You, and Your blessings flow from that priceless gift.  None of us, none of our needs are either minor or unlikely.  Thank you for meeting them in the most unlikely of ways.  I love You, Lord, and praise You for Your goodness.  In Jesus' name, amen.  


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Means

Each year, my very sweet and generous cousin, Jon, and his wife, Diana, grace my family with a Christmas gift, usually an edible one.  They live in Lexington, Kentucky; so, the gift arrives in the mail a few days before Christmas.  Today was that day.  Often, theirs is our first gift of Christmas. 

Eagerly, I opened the package, grateful not only for the delicious chocolates revealed therein, but more for my cousin.  This year, there was a note included.  It was so beautiful and touching, I decided to share it with you.

Christmas Means

Christmas means we are not an accident
                                                                          or temporary.

Christmas means purpose
                                                        and eternity.

Christmas means Creator God took the initiative to reconcile willful man
                                                                        to Himself.

Christmas means God works the miraculous through the unexpected
                                                                                   for the undeserving.

Christmas means His suffering was more
                                 than we could endure or repay.

Christmas means the purpose of life is preparation
                                                    for eternity with God.

Christmas means the Light of the world 
                                      that centuries of evil still cannot extinguish.

Christmas means Jesus in the Christ
                                                     the truth,
                                                             the way,
                                                                   and the life.

Christmas means ministry to others in His name, 
                                           all year long.

May our inadequate expressions of love and gratitude
                           remind us of the overwhelming magnificence 
                                       of all that Christmas means.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Letting Go

It has been an emotional week.  In previous posts, I mentioned my dear friend's loss of her daughter.  The funeral was today, and what a blessing it was to worship with those dear, dear folks.  Talk about letting go....dear God.... If you would, please lift my friend, Lynn, up in your prayers, and her family also.
Then, in yesterday's post, I told of the sweet arrival of our newest family member.
In addition, our two sons graduated from college this week, two commencements in two consecutive days.  (Seriously?  Yes.)

Letting go....

I did not think I would be one of "those mothers".  Yet, as I sit here confronted with Christmas task after task after task, the weight of letting go presses tears from my eyes.  My boys are men now.  They have completed their formal educations, and are transitioning to the world of full-time work.  My sister has undergone similar losses in the past three months.  Her younger, a son, got married and established his own family.  Her older, a daughter, is the one who gave birth a couple of days ago, making my sister a ... well, I think she is going to be known as "GranJan", a moniker I absolutely love!

She and I have not talked about this "letting go", but if you have been through it, you know it isn't easy.  When they start school, you have to let them go...but they come back home for dinner and bedtime!  As our children grow and mature, they mark off other milestones.  But, this moving out business...that's a whole seismic shift that never gets back to the way things were.  Like it or not, the family dynamic is forever changed.

No matter what, when the children are gone from the home, we mamas miss them, whether for the short-term, like taking a trip (shout-out to my friend, April) or on a more permanent basis.  I remember chafing under the wings of my parents and being eager to get out on my own; my sons are no different.  It's a healthy thing, really, but that does not make it any easier, in the moment.  That's where I am at present - - "in the moment".

God is God, but I have to wonder what He felt, how He truly felt, about the Incarnation.   (You know...that's the $36 theological term for God pouring Himself into flesh and becoming Baby Jesus.) John 3:16 says God "sent" His only begotten son.  Sounds like some degrees of separation there, right?  God-being-God, who knows what it was actually like for Him.  (He's so incomprehensibly beyond us, it's hard to even fathom.)  Still, I think about that a lot - - - how the Triune God morphed and adapted to the Incarnation.  I mean, formerly, all three Persons were together, ruling and reigning in Heaven, interacting with each other, governing the affairs of people.  But, then, a rather momentous change occurred....God condescended to us, and then descended to us, in the form of a Baby because "God so loved..." and God sent....

So, I'm sure He knows what it feels like for the picture to change, for the routines to be altered, for the ways of interacting to be different.  He was okay with it, because He loved us that much...He loved us enough to "let go" of how things were between the 3 Persons of the Trinity and make room for "the new normal".  As the song goes, "when you love someone, you make room."  That includes making room to "let go".

There's this quote from Abraham Lincoln I wrote a few years ago on the back of a torn envelope and keep on my piano.  "I remember my mother's prayers, and they have always followed me.  They have clung to me all my life."  See, I dedicated those boys to God before they were born and reminded them (and myself) of that truth as I prayed over them aloud while they were children.  I still have to remind myself - - that they belong to God.  How wonderful, though, that praying for them does not have to end, nor should it, no matter how far they roam or how old they get.  I plan to pray for them the last day my soul inhabits this body, on this Earth.

What a blessing that I never have to let go of them in prayer!  What a comfort that my Heavenly Father understands a mother's loving heart and that His love for them far outweighs mine!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Blessings and Promises

This afternoon, I got to hold and adore the sweetest little baby!  Yes, one of my nieces gave birth early, early this morning to a 7-pound, 12-ounce bundle of joy!  What a blessing he is!  In keeping with the baby theme, resonating in my heart this evening,  let's look again  the two expectant mothers in Luke 1:41-48 - - - Elizabeth and Mary. 

...and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.42In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Mary’s Song
46And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.

Both of them claimed to be "blessed by God".  What does that mean, in their contexts, and in ours?

"Blessed", bless, "bless it", "bless you" - - - even that old Southern staple "Bless her heart!"  These are, for the most part so overused they have moved into the realm of meaninglessness.  In fact, the New York Times wrote an article last May, proclaiming that the hashtag #blessed had gone viral on social media!

When Luke interviewed Elizabeth for his gospel, she reported to him that she had called Mary "blessed" (vs. 42).  This particular form of the Greek word used for "blessed" here is "eulogemene", which means "to be well-spoken of by another".  The dictionary defines "blessed" as "divinely favored" or "consecrated".  "Consecrated" means "designated for a holy purpose".

So, Elizabeth and Mary were both proclaiming that God had favored them by fulfilling His holy purposes through them.  They were both ordinary women of the day who loved God.  They were not rich or prominent.  They were typical, godly Jewish women - - - one in middle age or later, and the other in her early teens.

Do you realize that, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, then you too are blessed? 

"But I don't feel blessed", you say.  That's human; sometimes I don't either.

Sometimes, our feelings or our circumstances can lead us into unbelief, error...a pit.  Let's look at the truth, presented in Scripture.

  • We are blessed with salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • We are blessed with the indwelling in our hearts of the Holy Spirit.
  • We are blessed with purpose, God's calling to each of us, according to the unique spiritual gifts and talents He has given us. "Consecration"
  • We are blessed with everything we need.  (I didn't say "want"; God is not Santa Claus.)
  • We are blessed with the many promises of God.  

Elizabeth made the following statement to Mary:
"Blessed is she who has believed the Lord would fulfill His promises to her." (vs. 45)

Listen to this powerful truth:  the promises of God transcend current circumstances and feelings.
Faith.  Belief.  Trust.  Rest.  Do you struggle with believing the promises of God?  Do you really believe that He is good....all the time?  Do you believe that He is at work behind the scenes, even when you can't see it?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NASB)
Oh Blessed One!  Oh Child, consecrated, "called according to His purpose"!
Maybe, like me, you need to remind yourself of God's precious promises to you. Here is a link that may bring you comfort when you doubt His goodness.  Go here and read about just a few of His many precious promises to His children.

Let's agree together this day, that our God is greater than all our blind stumbling around in the dark, our frantic groping for peace in the midst of severe pain.  Let's affirm that He will be faithful - - - that He who called you out of the pit of sin and eternal damnation LOVES YOU and WILL keep His promises to you.  Let's hold on with everything we've got to the beautiful truth - - - that He does not change.  His word is eternal. 

Darlin's - - - we don't have to "feel it" to believe it!

Ah Lord God!  I declare here, among Your people, that You are the Most High, the God of Angel Armies, and that what you promise, you will do.  
Just as you fulfilled Your promise of a Messiah, prophesied in Genesis, through Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah and elsewhere, you will fulfill your promises to Your children. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I will praise You! (Psalm 63:3)  In Jesus' name, that Name which is above every name, that Name at which every knee will eventually bow, amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Birthing Place

Here I sit, 5:39 p.m., in a lovely atrium, on comfortable furniture, listening to beautiful music, surrounded by lovely plants.  In front of me is a store, filled with precious little outfits and balloons and stuffed animals.  To my left is a mini-cafe.

I just returned from room E2, a labor and delivery room in a state-of-the-art hospital - - the Georgia hospital where more Georgia babies are born than any other.  My niece has been here for 12 hours, receiving excellent care (and a good number of pharmaceuticals), as she awaits the arrival of her baby son.  Another great-nephew, praise the Lord!

How different from what Mary and Joseph faced.  I can't even imagine.

Some believe Jesus was not born in December, but during the Jewish feast of Trumpets1, which takes place in Sept-October, depending on the Jewish lunar-based calendar.  In the year 3 B.C.2 the Feast of Trumpets took place in September.
If that is truly the case, then the weather in Jerusalem/Bethlehem (they are very close together geographically) could have been uncomfortably cold, especially at night.  The climate of that area is very similar to the metro Atlanta suburban areas in which many of my blog readers live.  If that describes you, then just imagine a Friday night football type of climate.
We know Jesus was born at night, based on the stellar astronomical display witnessed by the shepherds. Chances are, it was a cold night.

Second, Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in ... a stable?  That's what we have been commonly taught, isn't it?  But, if you re-read Luke 2 (the only biblical account we have of this story), you will find no mention of a stable.  Nor will you find an innkeeper, that turns the holy family away.  We do find mention of a manger (3 mentions - - vs. 7, 12, 16) and an "inn" - - vs. 7.
It is interesting to note in vs. 6 that the couple had been in Bethlehem for some time before Mary went into labor.  "While they were there..." (vs. 6) implies that they did not just ride into Bethlehem, after which Mary proceeded to give birth to Jesus right away.  Where were they staying when they first arrived?  One could deduce they were staying with relatives.  It is a reasonable assumption put forward by many.3

One reason for the innkeeper confusion is the poor translation from Greek to English of the word, kataluma.  Jesus used this same word (in the Greek, kataluma) to refer to a "guest room", the Upper Room of The Last Supper.  These are the only two times this word is used in the New Testament.  See, there is no good translation of the Greek kataluma into English.  Literally, the word means "to loosen down".  In a slang way, you might say this area/room was a place for visitors to "hang loose" or "let their hair down".4 
So, there most certainly was no inn.  There IS a bonafide Greek word for "inn", and we see it used in the story of The Good Samaritan.  It is where the Samaritan took the man that had been beaten nearly to death.  That word is pandocheion.

Where then does the manger come from?  If the guest room was overflowing, where DID they go? Many biblical archeologists have discovered that homes of that era in the Judean hill country featured a lower level, a first floor, where the family's animals would be housed, especially in times of inclement weather.  It is entirely possible that Mary and Joseph were sent to stay in the lower level of the home of one of Joseph's relatives, where they had been staying for a few days.  Animals were indeed present in this basement, or first floor, if you will.  And, there was a feeding trough, or manger, there as well.

Here's another bit of plausibility.  According to Source 4 below, some houses' guest quarters were sort of like a campground, near a water source.  There would have certainly been a place for guests' animals to be kept, in this scenario.  Keep in mind, though, the biblical account does not mention animals specifically.  Their presence has been assumed because of the three mentions of the manger.  Of course, you know what often happens when we "assume"...

The Cave Version:  A 2nd century A.D. false gospel, not included in the New Testament canon, The Protevangelium of James, contends Jesus was born in a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem.  This theory lacks credibility because the author committed so many egregious errors in the writing of the work.

So, the point is, no matter whether a guest room, a campground, a stable....
Jesus was born in less-than-comfortable set of circumstances, probably with Mary and Joseph dealing with the birth alone, except for the presence of God who most surely surrounded them.

Why God does AS He does is surely a mystery to me.  Aside from fulfilling scripture (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6) by having Jesus born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the City of David, I'd have had Jesus born in the most elegant circumstances of the day.  Wouldn't you?
Yet, He was born in a nameless place where animals were kept, with a food trough for His bassinet.  The lowliest of circumstances.  No high-profile birth, no elegant surroundings....

Perhaps God did things this way to convey an amazing message - - that the transcendent God condescended to come to us.  Instead of coming to Earth as a regent, a pampered prince, He was born in humility, as any, ordinary human baby, and in lowlier circumstances than many.  This conveys how accessible and available He is, with no high-falutin' to hinder our approach.  The Lord of Lords came to us humbly, and his first bed was a manger.






Monday, December 10, 2018

A Good Husband and Father

I find myself thinking about fathers this evening, as I light the Advent candle and think on the characters and events of Jesus' incarnation.  My pastor mentioned Joseph in his sermon yesterday, which is what got those wheels turning in my head.

You know, everyone wants to focus on Mary, especially at Christmastime, as if Joseph were unimportant.  There's plenty of reasons for that.  She was, without doubt, a one-of-a-kind woman.  God chose her, out of all women throughout all of time, to bear His son.  Honestly, speaking as a woman, it doesn't get much cooler than that.

But, consider Joseph:  while he was not the biological father of Jesus, he was incredibly important in His life.  We are not sure when Joseph died.  He is mentioned when taking his family to Jerusalem for Passover - - Jesus' first Passover celebrated in Jerusalem1, the Passover where 12-year old Jesus taught among the priests at the Temple (Luke 2:41-50).  There is no mention of Joseph in the New Testament after this time.

Joseph may have died in Jesus' teens or in his 20s.  God, in His infinite wisdom, chose not to reveal that.  It is interesting to me that NONE of the New Testament writers included details of Jesus' life from age 12 - 30.  Surely, the topic came up in casual conversation as the Master and His disciples traveled together those three years.  For that matter, why did God choose to keep Jesus' years 13-29 "silent"?  That is His prerogative and His business.

The thing is Joseph was just as "chosen" as was Mary, although with a very different role and for different reasons.  He was given an ultra-important role to play in Jesus' life, and he did God's will according to what was revealed to him.  Let's look at some of the decisions Joseph made.

1.  Being a righteous man, he decided to quietly break his betrothal to Mary when he learned she was pregnant.  (Matthew 1:19). This was his right, under Jewish law - - to break the betrothal, as it seemed "obvious" she had compromised herself.  In fact, he would have been within his rights to make a public spectacle of her, but he was a righteous man, which meant he was a humble man, because you can't be righteous and be filled with pride.  So, he had care for her reputation, so as not to embarrass her.
2.  When an unnamed angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, instructing him to follow through with the marriage, he resolved to do so.  He was a man obedient to God; obedience to God is another hallmark of a righteous man.
3.   Joseph kept himself from Mary, according to Matthew 1:25, until after she had given birth to Jesus.  He was a man familiar with controlling his sexual desires, an honorable and selfless man, additional characteristics of a righteous man. 
4.  He followed the civil as well as the ecclesiastical law.  We read in Luke 2 that he took Mary to Bethlehem to complete the census demanded by Caesar Augustus.  He trained Jesus to be an observant Jewish man, as evidenced by Joseph's taking Mary and Jesus to Jerusalem for the feast already mentioned in Luke 2:41-50.
5.  When given another dream, during Jesus' toddlerhood, Joseph quickly fled to Egypt until the death of Herod the King, who had resolved to murder all Jewish baby boys under two years of age.  Joseph's obedience and bravery saved Jesus' life.  How courageous Joseph must have been to leave his home country and sojourn in the somewhat strange land of Egypt for a short, few years.
6.  He provided for his family and taught Jesus a trade.  In Matthew 13:55, Jesus was called a carpenter's son, and in Mark 6:3, He was called a carpenter.  The Greek word used for "carpenter"2 could be more broadly translated "contractor" or "handyman".  Jesus and Joseph were builders, most notably perhaps, with wood, but equally feasible also with other materials. 

Humble, kind, obedient, honorable, selfless, a good citizen, courageous, hard-working...these are the character traits of Joseph, the leader of the family that raised God's only-begotten Son.

I'm grateful to have had a wonderful earthly father and to have married a man who fathered and raised our sons well.  Both of these men I've been blessed to love also exemplify these traits.  All godly Christian husbands and fathers do.  If you have been the recipient of such love, you too are most blessed and highly-favored!




Saturday, December 8, 2018

The One Who Busts Open the Gate

December is the month we usually think of doorbusters, not gate-busters, yes?

To use the word "busts" as a verb is improper English, of course. But, in the southern United States, it is a slang form of the word "bursts".  English lesson of the day is over.  Moving on... Those of you troubled by my colloquial Southern English, go read a Yankee's blog, lol!  (You know I'm just messing with you!)

Here at Advent we sometimes focus on the Messianic name, Immanuel, which means "God With Us".  We ponder how God could have poured Himself into the body of a human baby, to dwell with us, among us, for 33 years.  It is astounding.

In Micah, though, we find (and will look at tonight) an equally marvelous attribute of Messiah - - that of gate breaker.

"The breaker goes up before them; They break out, pass through the gate and go out by it. So their king goes on before them, And the LORD at their head."
Micah 2:13 (NASB)

Ellicott tells us that The Breaker was a Messianic title, commonly known and understood among the Old Testament Jews.  Micah's ministry occurred in the same time period as did Isaiah's, and both men spoke of the Messiah with various descriptions.  (Think of Isaiah 9:6, for example, probably the most famous of all the Messianic prophetic passages.)  Both men also prophesied that Messiah would gather together the captive, oppressed people of Israel and lead them into His kingdom.  Micah 2:13 is one such verse.

Now, Jesus people, those who claim Him as their Messiah/Savior, know that He did not fulfill Micah 2:13 during His first Advent.  However, during the Advent season, we celebrate both his first Advent (which has occurred) and His second (which has not).

Furthermore, we can celebrate that our Savior still possesses the attributes and characteristics highlighted in both advents NOW, in this present time.

So, yes, God came down at Christmas.  Immanuel - - God is with us.  Although Christ sits at the right hand of Father in the 3rd heaven presently (in our time-bound way of looking at things) (Hebrews 1:3), He is still with us, in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit.

In addition to that, though, He goes before us.  What am I talking about?

Ok, let's say you are the parent of a child, and the both of you must walk from the house to the barn, after a big snow.  Who goes first?  The child?  Certainly not!  The parent goes first, and then the child follows, stepping in the footprints of the parent, as nearly as he/she can.  The parent is "the breaker".  Or, maybe a parent and child are walking through the woods.  On the forest floor there are briars.  There are low-hanging branches to potentially hit the child in the face.  The good parent goes before and blazes the trail, making a way, busting open the gate, so to speak.

Do you need to feel the Savior's love in this way today?  Do you need to remember this, Saint?

Whether you are facing death - - - He has gone before you and has conquered it.  (Hebrews 2:9)
Whether you are facing fierce obstacles - - He has gone before and cleared the way. (Hebrews 2:10)
Whether you are facing a temptation that would wreck your life should you give in - - He was tempted too, and emerged victorious. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

And, my favorite Hebrews passage about the Door-Busting Messiah puts it like this: (oh, how I love this passage!)

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Message)

How was your day?  No matter how it was, no matter what you are facing - - if you have asked Jesus into your heart and confess Him as your Savior, run for your very life!  Run into the arms of the Gate-Bustin' Messiah.  Run into His arms and never let go of His unbreakable spiritual lifeline!

Aren't you glad He is there for you? At Advent ... and always!