Christianity 201

December 21, 2017

The Rescuer Has Come! Don’t Be Surprised By Weeds

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Some people can’t wait for Christmas to come. Others can wait for it to be over. Unfortunately there are many in the world who are waiting for something much deeper. Many are waiting for something good to happen. Many are waiting for something bad to stop happening. Many are waiting for a rescue. Having recently watched the latest Star Wars movie I couldn’t help but wonder if its release was timed for Advent. The theme of waiting for a rescue during a time of struggle is key to the season of Advent, and is also the theme of Isaiah 61:

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Isaiah 61:1-3

While the news is good, the situation leading up to announcement has not been. The words describing the desperation of God’s people pile up; “oppressed . . . brokenhearted . . . captives . . . prisoners . . . mourning . . . faint spirit.” Perhaps some of these describe how you might feel sometimes. Further,

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. Isaiah 61:4

“Ruins” and “devastations”. Perhaps there are moments that it feels like your life, health, finances, or relationships are in ruins. Or that your experiences have been devastating. Like God’s people in the prophecy, significant changes are needed. You need a rescue.

Good news does come. And the coming of Jesus into the world is good news indeed. In the first teaching of Jesus that Luke focused on, Jesus read the words quoted above from Isaiah 61:1. What happens next is significant:

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:20-21

God’s people were waiting for the Messiah, and here is Jesus saying “your wait is over, Here I am!” Good news indeed, and as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would teach us, this is not just good news regarding the relationship between God’s people and the Romans, but good news regarding the relationship between all peoples and God. This was not just release from captivity to a stronger nation, but release from something darker and more sinister, release from the captivity of sin itself. The waiting of Advent is over, the good news has been announced. The Messiah has come! This is a large part of what we are celebrating at Christmas. The Rescuer has been born!

However, when we come down from all our Christmas celebrations, life goes on, and we still find ourselves waiting. Waiting for bad things to stop happening, and good things to start happening. If Jesus came to rescue us, then why do we find ourselves in the same boat as God’s people waiting for a rescue? Part of the answer lay in the fact that while the Rescuer has come, the rescue itself is still underway. Let me illustrate with a story:

When I was younger I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong. Now Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming unless you go for a swim in the middle where it is not so weedy. So I would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake. On one particular day I took a young lady sailing (no, not the young lady who would become my wife – that is another story!). Being a very gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried, and I tried to help, but to no avail. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What to do? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now you remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I was telling you about? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds.

What has this to do with our rescue? God’s people in waiting for the Messiah, were like people stuck in the middle of the lake with the promise of a rescue. Advent is about waiting for the Rescuer. We live in a moment of time where the Rescuer has come. Jesus’ hand is stretched out to us. Don’t hesitate to take hold of his hand, for He will grasp your arm and not let go. However, we are still in the water so don’t be surprised by the weeds. The rescue is underway, we will get to the shore, but there are still weeds. Peter has a word of encouragement for us when we get to the weeds:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

While some people can’t wait for Christmas and others can’t wait for it to be over, the Christian is waiting for Jesus. But we don’t just wait, we make progress, we point others to the outreached hand of the Rescuer, we encourage those who are feeling overwhelmed by the weeds. The rescue has come, but don’t be surprised by the weeds. May you have a Merry Christmas, and a hope filled Advent no matter how weedy life gets.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV


December 14, 2017

Here Is Your God. A Comforting Thought?

by Clarke Dixon

Suppose someone who knows you very well, based on your habits, intentions, thoughts, use of time, money, and giftedness says “Here is your god!”. To whom or to what would they be pointing? In Isaiah 40:9 there is an important announcement:

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!” Isaiah 40:9 (emphasis mine)

This announcement is the central thought of a prophecy that looks forward to the time God’s people would be brought back to their own land from exile. When the nation had fallen to the Babylonians and the people taken away to other lands, God himself “left the building” so to speak, and the symbol of God’s presence, the temple, was destroyed. So when the announcement is made “Here is your God!” not only have God’s people been brought back from exile, most importantly, God Himself has also returned! This is great news, comforting news:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God. Isaiah 40:1

What do we learn from this message of comfort in Isaiah 40:1-11?

First, God’s arrival is comforting because the penalty has been paid:

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:2

When our children were young we would give them “time-outs” according to their age. So, for example, when they were each three, they had to sit quiet in one spot for three minutes. When they were four, they had to serve four minutes and so on. Now that I am forty-five, I just wish someone would give me a forty-five minute time-out! For the children, it was always good news when Mum or Dad announced that the sentence had been served, the time-out was completed.

In being exiled, God’s people were on a time-out. Now the penalty was paid, the time-out was over, they could return home, and God Himself would also arrive. That was a very comforting thought.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news; “Here is your God” . It is good news, it is comforting news for likewise, a penalty has been paid:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

Second, God’s arrival is worth preparing for and getting excited about.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain. Isaiah 40:3-4

The image here is of preparing for the arrival of a ruler. The appropriate preparation for a ruler was to make sure the road was in really good shape. The appropriate preparation for a divine ruler is repentance. Now before you think something like “I hate it when preachers preach on repentance, it seems like such a negative thing”, let us consider that there is very positive aspect to it. The most exciting moments of my life have been my wedding day and the birth of our three boys. These were moments worth preparing for. Your wedding day is a day when getting “cleaned up” is not a chore, but part of the anticipation. Putting together a crib is no easy task (I speak from experience), but something done willingly in anticipation of the arrival of someone very important.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. He will arrive again, an arrival worth getting excited about and preparing for.

Third, when God arrives, his glory will be seen by all. It will be a world-changing event:

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5

However, it felt like the return from exile never really lived up to this promise. It was not world changing. God’s glory was not evident in the way it was in the past. But it was part and parcel of world changing events that were yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. In Jesus God’s glory has been seen:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Historians and scholars debate many things, but there is no argument about the fact that the arrival of Jesus has been world-changing. His return will also be world-changing and God’s glory will be seen by all!

Fourth, God’s arrival is comforting news because God keeps His promises:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:6-8

That God keeps His promises is in contrast to people who can and do fail us. God can be trusted. However, in Jesus’ day some may have doubted that God had kept all His promises. The Romans are in charge, this can’t be what it is supposed to look like.

The promises to Israel were part of a much bigger promise to the world which we can read about in Genesis chapter 12: “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  It is not that God had kept all His promises in the return from exile, but that He was keeping His promises and the exile was part of that. The rest is yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. It is not that God has already kept all His promises through the birth, life, death, and resurrection ofJesus, but that He is keeping His promises and Jesus’ arrival 2000 or so years ago was part of that. He will arrive again. The announcement will be made “Here is your God”. The rest is yet to come. The promises will be kept.

Fifth, God’s arrival is comforting news because He comes with responsible power.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:10-11

The Lord comes as one who is both mighty (verse 10) and compassionate (verse 11). If God were mighty but not compassionate, that would be scary. If God were compassionate but not mighty, that would be disappointing. God is both, and that is comforting.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”.  In Jesus we see both the power of God to deal with sin, and the Good Shepherd who deals kindly with us.

We return to the original question:  if someone who knew you well could say “here is your god”, to whom or to what would they be pointing? If it is to the LORD who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, then there is great comfort. If it refers to anything or anyone else, comfort will not be the appropriate word. No one else, and nothing else . . .

  • Can pay the penalty God has already paid for you.
  • Could cause such excitement, worth getting ready for.
  • Will have an arrival that is such a world changing event.
  • Keeps promises like God does, or can even make the kinds of promises God makes in the first place.
  • Has both the might and the shepherd’s heart to be able to take care of you, now and for eternity.

Here is your God. To whom or to what am I pointing?

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 3, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This Sunday morning, being the season of Advent, many churches may have looked at the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that goes by the title, The Magnificat. That name is based on the first word of the text in Latin, and three other prayers or exultations with regard to the birth of Christ have names based on the first word in Latin. The passage in Luke 1 begins:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,

This announcement is also sometimes referred to as the annunciation, again based on a Latin word annuntiatio.
The full text in English reads:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

The text contains allusions to at least a dozen Old Testament scriptures with which Mary would have been familiar. (Some set the number much higher.) Mary is conscious of the implications of the role to which she has been called, saying “Many will call me blessed.” But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Some additional resources:

Here is a somewhat recent version of the prayer set to music by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Second, the following resource was posted, with permission at the source linked, but the link in the introduction itself is no longer working. We felt this work was worthy of further exposure.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

Here’s a prayer based on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55). It was written by Janet Morley, and posted on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank website.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

(based on Luke 1: 47-55)

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
the humble remain humiliated,
the hungry are not filled,
and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us.

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.

—Janet Morley, in Tell Out My Soul, Christian Aid, 1990. Reprinted by permission.
From Bread of Tomorrow: Prayer for the Church Year, ed. Janet Morley
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p. 151.

Go Deeper: We looked at The Magnificat in much greater detail in 2013 at this article.

December 23, 2016

God With Us: A Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This was part of the service we attended Sunday morning and I asked if we could have a copy of it to share here. Pray along as you read.

God of every nation and people,
You have made known your love
Through the gift of your Son
Who bears the name Emmanuel, “God with Us.”

In the fullness of time the Christ-child came
To be the Good News to all humankind.
Emmanuel, God lives with us as one of us;
Christ, the Word made flesh
Has come to us as a vulnerable,
Weak and dependent babe;

A God who hungered and thirsted,
And longed for human touch and affection;
A God who chose to be born
In obscurity and shame, with
a borrowed manger as a bed,
In a tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.

Oh, Mighty God, of humble origins,
Christ, the Messiah, whom the prophets foretold,
You were born at a time, and in a place
Where few welcomed you or even recognized you.

Have we, too, lost a sense of joy and anticipation
In what the Christ-child may bring?
Have we been preoccupied with endless activities,
Distracted by the tinsel, decorations, and gifts
Busy preparing for the birthday of Christ;
So busy that there’s no room in our cluttered lives
To welcome Him when he comes?

God, grant us the grace to be patient and vigilant
In watching, waiting, and listening attentively.
So that we won’t miss Christ …
Remove whatever hinders us from receiving
The gifts which the Savior brings
Joy, peace, justice, mercy, love …
let these be the gifts we share.

Christ, you are our hope,our wonderful Counselor
who encourages and consoles,
The Prince of Peace who calms our troubled minds

Christ, you who are the radiant dawn,
Shine on those who live in darkness and in shadows,

Christ, You who are the Light of the World,
Help us to radiate the warmth of your presence.

As we wait for the dawn
Of the coming of the Christ-child,
We do so with anticipation
Of new and unexpected challenges.
Like Mary, we sense the birth pangs of a new era,
A new kingdom waiting to be born.

May we, like Mary, be filled with courage,
Openness, and receptivity
To be the bearers of the Christ-child
In receiving and bringing forth the Good News

In the words of Isaiah
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.
The glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

Even though darkness shall cover the earth
And over its people,
Yet the LORD will be your everlasting light.”

December 1, 2016

Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins . . .

by Clarke Dixon

If someone asked you to tell them the story of Christmas, where would you start? With the angels announcing to Mary and Joseph that a baby is on the way? Or perhaps with the prophets of the Old Testament announcing that the Messiah would someday be on His way? That is still not going far enough back for the Christmas story goes right back to Creation. How so?

Imagine you are attending a synagogue service sometime before Jesus is born. The rabbi has read from the scroll of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. You wonder what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden before the Fall. You ask yourself “What did Adam and Eve enjoy during that time that we are missing out on now?”

Perhaps some of you will think of being naked and unashamed! Perhaps not. Some of you may think of the wonderful non-violence of that time and place. Even in the animal kingdom there was a sense of peace and non-violence:

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. Genesis 1:30 (NRSV)

How things have changed, with violence marking both the animal kingdom, and so called civilization.

However, the biggest change of all, and the thing you should miss the most, is the full-blown presence of God. God is spoken of as walking in the garden as any person might, and only after the “apple debacle” do Adam and Eve feel that His presence is a scary thing.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NRSV)

We get a sense that before the eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could spend time with God as easily as we might spend time with a family member or good friend.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would miss the presence of God without someone pointing to the Temple. The Temple was a symbol of God’s love; “I want to dwell with you.” But it was also a symbol of separation; “Because I am holy and you are not, I must dwell separated from you, in a holy place.” The Temple was a constant reminder that we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Adam and Eve enjoyed the full presence of God without the need for a Temple.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without the need for a priesthood. The priesthood was again a symbol of God’s love; “I want a relationship with you.” But it was also a reminder of separation; “I am holy, and you are not, therefore we cannot have a relationship. You need people who are holy, separated out from you, to stand between you and me.” Adam and Eve could speak freely with God with no need for priests.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without all the rigmarole of religion. The ritual purity code again is another reminder of separation from God. By setting up the religious code, God was revealing proper morality, yes, but was also in effect saying; “There are a lot of things you need to change about yourself before you can even approach me.” Adam and Eve did not need to get all religious when in the Garden.

So does Christmas change anything? There are signs that Christmas is part of everything changing! If you were God and you chose to be incarnate, where would you choose to be born? Perhaps in the Temple to remind the people of the separation that exists between yourself and humanity? God chose a different emphasis. Could you get any less temple-like than being laid in a manger? This is an “unclean” place.

Likewise, if you were God, who would you invite to be the first to come and see your infant Son? Perhaps it should be the priests, the people most focused on holiness? Nope, the Lord sends an invitation to shepherds, whose ritual holiness would be impossible to keep given their work with animals. And they come straightaway. No need to stop for purity focused observances. They come to Jesus without getting all religious about it.

The point is clear. God’s focus at Christmas is to be with us, right here in our mess, even though we are not worthy of Him. In place of our worth, is His grace. Where the temple, the priesthood, and even religion stood as symbols of separation, Christmas stands as a symbol of Presence.

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I don’t recall where I first heard this, but Christmas is God with us, while Easter is God for us, and Pentecost is God within us. We can point to “the end,” to Christ’s return as our being with God as Adam and Eve were with God in the beginning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; Revelation 21:1-3

Just as there was no temple in the Garden of Eden, that symbol of our separation from God is not found in the future:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Christmas, with its emphasis on “God with us,” points back to Creation when God was with Adam and Eve, to the present time as we enjoy God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, and forward to the great re-Creation when God will be with His people in the profound way He had in mind from the beginning.

What is your greatest delight at Christmas? Perhaps family? Or turkeys? (Hopefully you know the difference!) Perhaps time off work? Time away? Gifts? Or eggnog? God’s great delight and desire, which Christmas points to, is the realization of His original purpose in Creation; a loving relationship with people. While you may be into the eggnog, He is into you. He has prepared a wonderful Christmas gift, His presence, now, and for all eternity. Have you received that gift yet?

 All scripture references are from the NRSV

For those reading this the first week of December, 2016, click this link for a puppet script which was also part of the service containing this teaching.

December 23, 2015

When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV


December 4, 2015

Preparing the Way of the Lord

Today we paid a return visit to  I had forgotten what a wealth of devotional articles this site is with top authors such as Charles Stanley, Robert Morgan, Billy Graham, Ann Spangler, Craig Groeshel, Louie Giglio and many more. The devotion we selected is from author Kenneth Boa. Click the title below to read at source, then click “devotionals” to look around the site.

John the Baptist: The Forerunner

Luke 1:57-66, Luke 1:80

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son… On the eighth day [her neighbors and relatives] came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. – Luke 3:3-6

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’  – John 1:6-9, John 1:15

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ ”)


A King was on His way. And they might have missed Him, the King who would fulfill Old Testament prophecy and become the main subject of the New Testament. So John was sent as a herald. John is the bridge, the threshold between what had been and what was about to be. He is the precursor, the forerunner, the opening act, the appointed messenger, carrying the promise that the centuries of waiting and preparing and anticipating were about to come to a great and glorious fulfillment. In John, the prophecies began to be fulfilled. And a few people understood it — the early adopters, those quick to catch on. But even to these, his own disciples, he pointed to Jesus, the One whose sandal he was unfit to tie.

As great as the teaching of John the Baptist was, it was nothing compared to Jesus’ teaching. And how well John the Baptist understood his role and stuck to it.

What amazing clarity of purpose. Yet we can learn from him too. We can learn that preparation for the Messiah (then as now) requires a conversion and a transformation of the heart and mind. We can learn that the focus is not on us or on anything that we have done or hope to do, not even if it is for God. We can learn that our job, like John’s, is to spread the Good News, to point all people to behold Jesus and to seek His message of salvation.


Holy Father, Your grace humbles me without degrading me and elevates me without inflating me. You offer me great dignity and worth; without You I am nothing and have nothing. I am grateful that You have given me the astounding invitation to participate in something that extends so far beyond me, though I really have little to offer. I can only revel in Your kindness, grace and compassion. I know that You can accomplish what is needed in Your plan without me, and yet You invite me to participate in what will last forever. I ask You to guide me and to teach me how to fulfill Your unique purposes for my life. I pray that, by Your grace, I will become the person You created me to be, accomplishing the works you have prepared beforehand for me. In Your Son’s precious name I pray. Amen.

Excerpted with permission from Once-A-Day 25 Days of Advent by Kenneth D. Boa, copyright Zondervan.

* * *

Your Turn

Isn’t it astonishing that we are invited to join John in pointing people to Jesus? This Advent season, with whom are you sharing the Good News and your personal story of what Jesus has done for you? Come share on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

December 2, 2015

Christmas is On the Way. So is Jesus.

by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read today’s article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Christmas is on the way, but what kind of Christmas celebrations will there be for many Christians who have experienced persecution this year? Consider the outright violence and threats of violence. Consider the desperate times as ISIS spread across Iraq and Syria. Convert, pay a tax, or die. Christians in the Middle East are now among the most persecuted people groups in the world. We may trip over the words of Revelation 1:6 that speak of how God “made us to be a kingdom.” It can feel like a pretty weak kingdom.

It must have felt like a pretty weak kingdom to the first readers of the letter we now call Revelation. Those early Christians were facing greater amounts of persecution from a persistently powerful Rome. Though confessing “Jesus is Lord,” it must have seemed sometimes like Caesar was the more powerful lord, or at least the king of the winning team.

Having tripped over verse six, we fall headlong into verse 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen
(Revelation 1:7)

Here are some things to notice:

“He is coming with the clouds.” Clouds often signify the presence of God and so we have the assurance of the presence of God drawing near here. But there is more; “Coming with the clouds” makes us think of Daniel 7:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV)

In Daniel 7 there is a vision of four terrible beasts that come up out of the water, each one representing a kingdom. That these kingdoms are described as beasts points us to their inherent inhumanity. But these kingdoms each meet their end, and so begins a new era under a new king, one like a “son of man.” In other words one who rules in a truly human, or at least human as God originally intended, rather than beastly fashion. Revelation 1:7 therefore is not a new idea, but rather a confirmation that God’s Kingdom is coming, and it is Jesus who is the Son of Man, and so the true coming King. All the horrors that Christians might face at this time, no matter how beastly, will be swept away. Just wait.

“Every eye will see him.” Some people think that advances in technology will be what makes this possible at the return of Jesus as everyone will be able to see Him on their smartphones. I’m sure this is not a reassuring thought to technophobes! This actually describes a much more significant kind of event than a simple appearance of Jesus to be captured on an iPhone and shared through Twitter. The second coming of Jesus will be heralded with much more than a tweet. This is not like Christmas where we think of only the shepherds and magi having the opportunity to get close to him. While the conception of Jesus was supernatural, his birth was natural. You might even call it ordinary, except that every birth is extraordinary. The first appearing of Jesus was natural, the next time it will be supernatural. “Every eye will see him.” This includes even those currently without sight. This includes . . .

“Even those who pierced him.” Those responsible for the conviction and murder of the most innocent person in the history of the world will see Jesus. Noting that such people are currently dead, you will notice that a resurrection of the dead is therefore in view here. Again, “every eye will see him.”

As we think of those who were responsible for the murder of Jesus, we can think of High Priest following the arrest of Jesus: “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (Mark 14:61) Note how Jesus answers:

Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
(Mark 14:62)

Here again is that reference to the prophecy from Daniel 7. On the lips of Jesus we now realize it is not just the Roman rulers, but even the religious rulers of Jerusalem who are implicated as being beastly powers. And in referring to Daniel 7 Jesus is basically saying “you stand over me in judgement now, but just wait, someday I will stand in judgement over you.” That those who perpetrated the greatest injustice of all time will see justice is a great encouragement for the Christian who experiences the injustice of beastly powers. Just wait and see.

“And on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” Why will there be wailing? Because those who dish out injustice do not like being at the receiving end of justice. The next time Jesus comes it will not be the stuff of cutesy Christmas cards. Some people find the concept of Jesus being just in His judgement as being distasteful. It can sound rather “unChristian” and “unaccepting.” Yet we fail to recognize that we naturally celebrate when good triumphs over evil. The original Star Wars trilogy would have ended horribly had the emperor not met his doom. Spoiler alert! The Hunger Games trilogy would have ended horribly had good not finally triumphed over evil. The return of Jesus will be the final triumph of good over evil. The cross of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

This is the season of Advent, a time of waiting and expectation. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who are not not looking forward to the return of Jesus. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who really ought to fearful of the return of Jesus. This is a shame, because Christmas points us to the cross where Jesus died in our place. It was at the cross that the greatest triumph of good over evil occurred. And it is because of His love that we can look forward, not with fear, but with hopeful expectation to the return of Jesus. His judgement of sin has already taken place for those who turn to him in trust and repentance.

So what kind of a kingdom do Christians comprise when we seem to be so weak in the world? One with the greatest King ever, awaiting the final triumph of good over evil. If you have trouble believing that, then just wait and see.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.


December 17, 2014

Amid the Bad News, There is Good News for All People

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I really appreciate Clarke Dixon’s weekly contribution here at C201. To read this at source (and find a puppet script that goes with it) click the title below.

Finding Joy

Where do people find joy in our society? Often through fun, entertainment, and pleasurable experiences. Which would you like first, the good news or the bad news?

Let me begin with the bad news: Whatever fun you are having, whatever pleasure you are experiencing, it will come to an end. Experience teaches us this. I love to watch the snow fall, the bigger the flakes, the more blustery the conditions, the better. Clearing it afterward, not so much. Think of any fun or pleasurable experience you have ever had. It always comes to an end. If we pursue joy through pursuing fun and pleasure, joy will always fade or be replaced by the not so fun and not pleasurable. As the Bible teaches: “Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want” (Proverbs 21:17 NRSV).

Now for the good news:

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV)

The angel described his good news as being “of great joy.” I am reminded of good news of great joy when I announced the birth of each of my boys to friends and family. It is not just a happy moment, it is a permanent change in circumstances. I am now a Dad no matter what happens. In Christ we are given the possibility of being sons and daughters of the King of kings, Lord of lords – no matter what happens. The child of God will not always be happy, but there is a joy in knowing you are a loved, forgiven, reconciled child of God. That fact is permanent. That joy is known even when happiness is not felt.

More bad news: Whatever fun you are having, whatever pleasure you are experiencing, it may distract you from what is really great. I had quite a bit of fun playing on an Atari 2600 as a young lad. But if I could go back, I would play fewer games and read more books. How did I miss so many great reads? Jesus confirms that the seeking of pleasure can distract us from what is truly great:

There is good news:

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV)

While pursuing pleasure and fun can distract us from what it truly great in life, we take delight in the the good news of Jesus Christ for it leads us deeper and closer to what is truly great in life. Justice is good. Jesus leads us there. Honesty is good. Jesus leads us there. Compassion is good. Jesus teaches us that. Forgiveness and reconciliation is good. Jesus brings it and enables us to do it. And on and on we could go through a list of truly great things that the good news of Jesus Christ leads us to. No wonder the angel said the birth of Jesus was good news of great joy.

More bad news: Whatever fun you are having, whatever pleasure you are experiencing, it may not end well. Again we know this from experience. How many people have sought happiness through sex and ended up making themselves, and others, miserable. How many people have bought something that will make them happy, only digging themselves deeper into debt and stress and therefore misery.

There is good news:

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV)

There is joy in the good news of Jesus Christ because in Christ things will end well. The book of Revelation is a great place to go and see this. The angel announces the birth of the Savior. That is good news of great joy!

Not only is there assurance that things will end well, there is also the distinct possibility that things can go well when we pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, the prompting of the Spirit, and the wisdom of the Word of God. Though being no guarantee that life will be easy, paying attention to God’s will and way will have a very positive impact on our relationships, our work, and indeed all of life. The angel announces the birth of the Lord, the Shepherd who leads. That is good news of great joy.

And some more bad news: Whatever fun you are having, whatever pleasure you are experiencing, it is exclusive, even elusive. Have you been to Disney-world? Congratulations, the majority of the children have not gone and cannot go. Do you like to watch tv? Congratulations, you have a privilege that is unavailable for many. I may be grumpy that my motorcycle trades places with my snowblower, but how many people have the opportunity to enjoy motorcycling as much as I do? Or how many people enjoy the use of a snowblower to deal with the snow?

But there is good news:

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV)

While a select few will ever have the pleasure of piloting an airplane, skiing the Swiss alps, or sailing the oceans, the good news of Jesus Christ is good news for all. Anyone can come to salvation through Jesus, no matter your race, your abilities, your past behavior, or anything else that you may think defines you. Anyone can know this joy. I hope you do.

Now take a look around. You will see people pursuing joy through fun, entertainment, and pleasurable experiences. Joy found through such will come to an end, may distract from what is truly great, and may not end well. Just as the angels announced to the shepherds, and just as the shepherds announced to others, we have good news of great joy to share this Christmas.

~Clarke Dixon

I don’t usually think of this as a Christmas piece, but as I was preparing Clarke’s notes today, it occurred to me that it would go well in a medley with Joy to the World.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything other than a brief audio excerpt. The song is Rejoice, Rejoice, Christ is in You by Graham Kendrick.  There is also this cover version:


November 23, 2014

Awaiting the Coming of Messiah

A little bit of explanation is necessary for today’s devotional. Today I rediscovered the blog Another Red Letter Day by Benjamin Nelson. Normally the connection I am looking for in seeking material here at C201 is a high value placed on scripture, and ARLD does that with each blog post. (And we might break our six month rule and revisit the website again very soon.) But I decided instead to go with one that actually contained no scripture at all but is based on the story of Simeon, the temple prophet who was awaiting the coming of the Messiah.

For those of you who want your daily scripture reading direct, click here to read the story at BibleGateway of Simeon (and Anna, who also awaited the coming of the Anointed One) from Luke 2: 25-38. This is a great preparation as we head into the season of Advent, to understand the expectancy of Christ’s coming.

To read this at source (with a beautiful graphic image) click the title below and then take a minute to look around the rest of the site.


My father always said I should have been born a Levite. Even as a young boy I loved the days we spent in the temple. I grew up just outside the holy city, and so on Sabbath we would all go to the temple to gather for prayers and the reading of the scrolls.

Though I am of the tribe of Judah, my name is Simeon. All my life my teachers and rabbis said I was well named. My name means ‘harkening.’ They would call me ‘the little listener.’ When I was a boy, every Sabbath day there was a Levite who would tell us, the children, stories of our history. Sometimes it seemed the scrolls were nothing but a roll book, name after name – he begat him begat her. But many days he read us stories of the great deliverers of Israel.

We learned that the Lord Almighty had chosen us, the Jews, above all nations, When we would cry out to Him, He would rescue us. He used men and women from all kinds of backgrounds to liberate us from our enemies. I loved those days, those stories, of faith filled heroes like Gideon and Samson, Deborah and Ester, Joshua and Elijah.

These stories would stir up a hope deep in my being to see the Lord’s hand of deliverance once again. In those days it was the Philistines, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians. Today Rome occupies the holy city, and all of our lands.

Some say the Lord has abandon us, that we are a God forsaken nation because of our repeated rebellions. But they forget the promise God made to our people. He would send Messiah. The scrolls speak of One who would be born not far from here, in Bethlehem, born of the root of Jesse, the tribe of Judah, the son of David. He would be a deliverer. He would set us free once and for all from the hand of our oppressors. He would reign on the throne of David. The kingdom He would  established in Israel would have no end.

O how I longed to see this Messiah.

When I was a boy I didn’t understand the need. My parents protected us from indignities and persecutions we suffered as an occupied people. As I became a man, and began to raise my own family, I felt the oppression first hand. They let us worship after a fashion, but they demanded our money, tribute to their Caesers. They required us to give our children into their service, to do their menial tasks, all the heavy lifting. It’s hardly any different than what our forefathers suffered in Egypt.

I said I was a good listener. Sometimes I would hear things – hear things in my spirit. It’s hard to explain what I mean. In the scrolls we read of seers, those who had visions, even those who encountered angels. But I hear the voice of the Lord. At first I would tell everyone what I had heard, but they started looking at me like I needed special help. So I stopped sharing what I was hearing.

Early on I wasn’t sure if it was the voice of the Lord, but the things I heard always could be found in the scrolls. I would write out what I had heard and read it to the rabbi.  He would go and open the scrolls and show me a prophecy that said the same thing – that confirmed what I had heard.

About twenty years ago now, I think I was in my sixtieth year, I heard something that has thrilled my soul for these two decades. The Holy Spirit of the Almighty told me I would see this Messiah with my own eyes before I tasted death.

This I never shared with anyone. It’s one thing to compare what you hear in your meditations to the scrolls, but this was so personal. But I knew what I had heard. There was no question in my mind. Because I had tested this voice so many times, I knew the voice of my Lord.

It has been twenty years, and there have been days when I thought I missed it, and days when I thought I was crazy. But somewhere inside, I knew that I knew I would see this Long Expected One, the Lord’s Anointed.

It was eight days ago that I heard once again.

“The time is near.”

I began to fast and pray. I would head to the temple every day and worship before the Lord.

Today when I awoke, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, that’s the only way I can describe it. It was not like in the past when I ‘heard’ things. This was the presence of Holiness. I knew this must be the day, so I dressed and headed to the temple. I didn’t break my fast.

As I stood in the temple and ministered to the Lord, a couple came in with an infant. I could see they were here to dedicate Him to the Lord. As they stepped into the court where I was worshiping, my spirit leapt for joy. This child, this infant was the One, the Promised Messiah.

As they approached, I went to them and fell to my knees before this One born King of the Jews. The young mother handed the child to me, and I wept for joy.

I cried out:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

As I looked into the eyes of my Lord the Spirit of the Lord rose up in me and I began to speak what I was hearing.

This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,

A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—

But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.

My heart can barely contain the joy and peace I feel. I have been old but today all things are new. Though our oppression has not changed, today I am free. Though my joints ache and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I am leaping for joy and I have seen the Lord’s Salvation.

I am ready to go to the bosom of Abraham today, where I can tell my story to those who have gone before.

The day of deliverance is here.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

For further reading, click to read the same treatment of the story of Anna.

I know we’ve posted this song before, but I wanted to share it again with you:

March 8, 2013

What if God Were One of Us?

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Hebrews 4:15

AMP 15 For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning.

MSG 15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.

NLT 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

Today we revisit the blog of Murray Wittke where this appeared February 14 under the title God Was One of Us.  If you enjoy this type of good devotional reading, click through and then visit other articles on Murray’s blog.

In 1995 the top 40 hit “What if God was one of us” asked listeners what they’d do if God got up close and personal with them. Have you ever wondered how you’d respond?

The Christmas story declares God did become one of us during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Ancient Israel longed for God to rescue them but never actually expected God to show up personally. And definitely no one expected God to arrive the way the gospel writers say he did.

Matthew says God became one of us in the womb of a young woman named Mary. There within her God -infinite, omnipotent, and eternal- was united with a human ovum and became Jesus Christ, a person with both a divine and human nature. Nine months later he experienced a real birth and entered our world weak and dependent just like one of us. Just imagine… God with a belly button, here with us, one of us.

For thirty plus years he made himself at home with us. He felt hunger, thirst, and weariness. He experienced our joys and sorrows, our grief and pain, and our frustrations and disappointments. He learned what it’s like to live in poverty; to work at hard manual labour; and to live with political corruption and the threat of violence all around. He endured misunderstanding, hatred, and rejection from those he loved. And then publicly and painfully he died. His heart stopped, he breathed his last, and was buried just like one of us. God was one of us and with us all the way from conception to grave.

We show compassion and support for sick or bereaved loved ones by visiting and spending time with them. So does God. He could have felt sorry for us and remained at a distance but instead he joined us within the human predicament. As one of us Jesus Christ knows and understands all we’re going through. You’re not alone. God became one of us and He is near, Immanuel-God with us forever.

The song’s long gone but its questions remain… “What if God was one of us?”

~Murray Wittke

Blog Flashback:

Considering starting a self-directed Bible study? Here are some suggestions we introduced here two years ago, in a piece simply title Study. Perhaps your ideas might result in a submission to C201!

December 11, 2011

Advent: A Time for Waiting

This morning our pastor read a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison in which he compares the time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah to being in prison and awaiting release.  There are actually two relevant quotations available online, and I want to share both of them:

“A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent: one waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

—Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters and Papers From Prison (1997) as quoted in the blog, A Boat Against The Current.


“Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent—that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. “I stand at the door…” We however call to him: “Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!”  “

   –Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), A Testament to Freedom: the essential writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Geffrey B. Kelly, F. Burton Nelson, eds., HarperCollins, 1995, p. 186 as quoted in Christian Quotation of the Day.

While exploring however, I found an interesting sermon manuscript in the blog of First Presbyterian Church in Lodi, Wisconsin about how at least one denomination is changing its approach to the observance of Advent…

I know that if a lot of you had your way, we would be singing Christmas carols in worship by now.  That’s the way it used to be.  The carols would start with the first Sunday in Advent so that most of the popular ones had been sung by Christmas Day and we could then move on to the new year and think about something else.  Singing Christmas carols during Advent helped put us “in the mood” for Christmas and all of its trappings – most of which were unrelated to the real meaning of Christmas in the first place.  And I noted this week as I crammed in a little Christmas shopping that in at least half of the stores I entered, the background music wasn’t Christmasy at all.  By the music, you wouldn’t know Christmas was around the corner even though the decorations around you would tell you differently.  My guess is that there are those store managers and owners who have decided to set aside playing Christmas tunes this time of year in order that they would not offend anyone’s sensibilities.  Most of the music played in commercial places is of a secular nature anyway, with little if any allusion to the coming of Christ.

But somewhere in the last 50 years or so, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Lutherans began to take a second look at what the time of Advent means and what kind of music is appropriate for it.  The Roman Catholics have always held to the strong sense of Advent – a time of waiting for the Christ to come.  So, I suppose, in some sense, the so-called main-line churches have given a nod to the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledging that in this instance, they are right to take the position they have.  Advent is a time for waiting, for anticipating with hope the peace, joy and love that will prevail with the coming of the Christ.  Advent is also a double entendre – has  a double meaning:  we anticipate Christmas because we know the Christ child was born 2000 years ago; but we also anticipate during Advent the coming of the Christ for a second time.  And so we wait.  We hold off on our Christmas carols during Advent and we sing songs that reflect our anticipation of that coming.  And to satisfy those of you who prefer the familiar carols, we provide Advent lyrics to the favorite and familiar Christmas tunes.

But we wait.  And often we are impatient about it…

This is about the first one-third of the sermon transcript. I invite you to experience the rest of what the writer has to say.

November 24, 2011

Mary’s Song

The following is from a new edition of a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Magnify The Lord, which is based entirely on Luke 1:46-55.  This arrives just in time for Christmas and Advent meditations.

…Why is Mary magnifying the Lord?  Why does her spirit exult in God her Savior? She really surprises us with the answer.  It is not primarily because of what has happened to her.  She does not mention that: it comes in but that is merely an incident in her hymn of praise.  So what is the cause of her adoration, of her praise?  It is because God himself is who and what he is, and because of what he is doing with respect to the world.

Mary’s eye, in other words, is not upon herself. You see how certain parts of the Church have so abused and made an utter travesty of this. Mary is full of humility. She refers to herself as what she is — ‘the low estate of thine handmaiden.’ There is nothing here about the ‘mother of God’ and about ‘the queen of heaven.’ Mary is not thinking about herself. Mary has seen something that makes her forget about herself and this is the ultimate test of a true understanding of what happened when God in the fullness of times ‘sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law’ (Gal. 4:4).

Mary is rejoicing not so much in the fact that she is to be given this great privilege, she has been reminded by Elizabeth of what this is and of how people are going to caller her blessed, and she repeats that, ‘from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.’

But that is not the thing that really moves her. It is what God is doing: this historic event, this climactic action of God himself.  She is humbled and grateful at the thought of the fact that she is to be given a part and a place in this, but it is the thing itself that moves her and makes her sing and worship.

She is filled with a sense of amazement, of worship, adoration, and utter astonishment. She sees the inner meaning of the action. She has a glimpse and a glimmering of understanding of the whole purpose of salvation, what God is doing in bringing forth his Son into the world, even out of her womb.

Now that is the secret of this song. And it is also the secret of the whole Christian position.  What is it that leads to worship and to praise, to exultation, to adoration? And the answer is that it is always the understanding.

The only singing that is of any value in the sight of God is that which is based upon the understanding, the understanding of the truth…

Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Magnify the Lord, pp. 19-20

December 17, 2010

Key to Understanding Incarnation: Christ’s Humility

Our Friday feature comes to us from Joshua Hawkins who serves in intercession ministry with International House of Prayer in Kansas City, where it appeared under the title, The Humility of God in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the humility of God in the incarnation is one of the most considered aspects of Advent and Christmas. How could One surrounded by perfection and beauty descend to the lowest place and be born in a filthy animal feeding trough? How could one so highly exalted stoop so low to be the Servant of all?

To rightly understand His humility in becoming a human, we must be informed biblically on where He dwelt and how He was worshiped before He took on flesh. Only with this backdrop are we rightly prepared to experience the potency of His emotions and desires that flooded His heart and caused Him to constrain Himself to the poverty of a human frame forever.

Before creation, the Son was dwelling together with the Father, daily His delight (Proverbs 8:30). He was perpetually adored by all the host of Heaven from the moment of their creation, never ceasing to be recognized for who He was and never ceasing to receive worship. He was the preeminent One, beautiful beyond comparison, so excellent in all His ways. He was one with Yahweh, the LORD. There was no one like Him in all of creation.

In the Incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth from His throne at the height of the heavens, and chose to be born through a young frightened maiden in an obscure town in Israel. Of course the act of the eternal Son of God being born demonstrates spectacular humility. The apostle Paul says that He “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). That Jesus would actually choose to be born instead of simply appearing on the scene in glory is astounding, and speaks of His burning heart of love for fallen humanity. Later on in His life, Jesus spoke of His humility in emptying Himself of reputation and giving everything for love:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 NKJV)

Though His humility can be considered in every moment of His life, few things exemplify the humility of Jesus in the Incarnation more than the circumstances surrounding His birth. We know the story well (and perhaps too well that the weight of what happened does not bear down upon us as it should). Mary and Joseph had not yet been married, but were betrothed to each other. Mary went to visit her older relative Elizabeth who was miraculously with child in her old age. After returning to Nazareth months later, she was showing signs of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when she saw Mary’s belly? Soon, the news would fill the entire town – Mary had returned and was pregnant. Who was the father of Mary’s child? Was she unfaithful to Joseph during her stay outside of Nazareth? The rumors about her would most certainly be the talk of the town.

Jewish law typically required one to divorce an unfaithful wife, and that any woman found in indecency could be given a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1). The penalty was worse for a betrothed virgin – if she was found unfaithful, she would be stoned by the men of her city (Deut. 20:20-21). Joseph had considered the implications of “going public” and not accepting the child in Mary’s womb as his own, but because he was “righteous” (Matthew 1:19) he decided to “put her away quietly”.

The scriptures are silent on the social context in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, but we can only imagine what it must have been like for the young betrothed couple, bearing the stigma from their friends and loved. Undoubtedly Mary’s reputation in Nazareth was tarnished as she lived under reproach and carried the Creator and Ruler of all in her young womb. It wasn’t until six months later that the couple departed for Bethlehem and Mary delivered her firstborn Son in the abode of sheep, horses, donkeys, and goats. By man’s standards, her first pregnancy was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Remembering that angel told her she was “highly favored”, what must Mary have been thinking? Through the birth of Jesus, it’s clear that our modern Christian definition of “favor” and “blessing” is completely different from the Lord’s.

The circumstances leading up to our Lord’s birth are scandalous, and the trials did not stop after He was born. Herod had been informed of the sign of a King born in Bethlehem. Fearing political conquest by another King, Herod put to death all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Not only did Jesus escape death by the power-hungry sword of Herod and have men seeking after His life from a young age, but He grew up bearing the stigma of a child conceived out of wedlock.

The remarkable aspect of His humility is revealed through these early moments of His life when we realize that Jesus, the Holy One, actually chose these circumstances to be born and raised in. It was not fate, mere chance, or bad luck that hindered the Creator of all from a more “normal” birth. Jesus could have come into the world in a king’s palace under perfect conditions, and He still would have been unspeakably humble to do so when considering who He was and where He came from. But He went lower still.

If every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning the heart of God, what does this say to us about His humility?

Pondering the life of Jesus as a minutes-old baby to a two-year old toddler has got to be one of the most enthralling things for one to do! Not only does it thrill our hearts with God’s personality, but it beckons us into His likeness. May the Lord grant you grace to behold Him in His humility today and the rest of this Advent and Christmas season.

Joshua Hawkins

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