Christianity 201

December 24, 2020

Messy Emotions, But a Merry Christmas: Two Very Different Kings

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by Clarke Dixon

Christmas can be a time of wide ranging emotions from excitement & happiness, to dread and sorrow. It is said that depression is a bigger problem during the Christmas season than any other time of year. Our emotions can get really messy with highs and lows, sometimes even in the same day.

While mixed and messy emotions may be part of our Christmas, especially this year, they were part of the original Christmas also. We become especially aware of this when we read Matthew chapter 2. The exceedingly great joy of the magi on the birth of one child stands in stark contrast with the great sorrow in Bethlehem on the death of many. These emotions are important for two reasons.

First, the emotions of the Christmas story speak to influence and relationships.

The contrasting emotions in the Christmas story are a result of contrasting leaders. There is joy over the birth of a new and better king. There is sorrow because of the rule of a bad king.

The sorrow in Bethlehem is a result of a very far-from-God kind of person in leadership. Herod the Great was really Herod the Horrible. He was great if you like buildings. The rebuilt temple was impressive among other building programs he was responsible for. He was horrible if you like people. He had one of his wives executed, plus several of his sons. He even arranged for many Jewish nobles to be executed when he died so that there would be weeping instead of rejoicing at his death. Thankfully, that was not carried out.

His son was not much better. In fact the Romans gave him the boot, which is why you have Herod ruling as king in Jerusalem at Christmas, but by the time of the events of Easter you have a Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, in charge instead. Indeed the ruthlessness of Herod’s son is the reason Joseph and Mary headed back to Nazareth on the return from Egypt. This was still a time of fear. People can create incredible fear and sorrow in people.

The joy of the magi was over the birth of a closer-to-God-than-the-magi-knew kind of person born to be the new leader. The magi would hardly have known the full calling of Jesus, but they had joy over the birth of a king, a king that had a right to the throne, unlike Herod. This new and true king would potentially rule, not just over the people, but for the people. The Old Testament prophecies speak to this hope:

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

The magi would likely not have expected the death and resurrection of Jesus and all that would mean, but they did expect a good king! They expected a leader far greater than Herod. They expected a king that would bring joy. People can bring incredible joy to people.

What kind of people are we? What emotions do we create in people through our influence in their lives? Do we bring about joy in people? Or do people breathe a sigh of relief when we no longer have influence in their lives, like at Herod’s death? Are we like Christ? Or are we like Herod? Just as the magi had joy when they saw the sign of the star, do people have joy when they see the sign of our street? They can’t wait to see us. Or, as with Herod, do they find another route so as to avoid us, so as to avoid the hurt created by us? Christmas can be a time of heightened emotions because of family dynamics. In our relationships are we peacemakers like Jesus, or joy killers like Herod?

Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ in our influence over others, and less like Herod. Let us pray for the Herod’s of our world, that they would be more like Christ.

Second, the emotions of the Christmas story speak to death.

The weeping in Bethlehem is directly related to death.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”

Matthew 2:16-18 (NLT)

It is estimated that between ten and thirty infants would have been killed that day. Even one would be too many. Can you imagine living in Bethlehem at that time? The whole community, likely a thousand people or so, would have been gripped with sorrow over such needless and untimely death.

Much fear and sorrow in people’s lives relates to death. We have all faced restrictions in our day because of the fear of death, and rightfully so. The potential of people dying from COVID-19 is a big problem for our leaders to navigate. Death is not actually our biggest problem, however. Death itself is a symptom of a bigger problem, a problem we can not deal with on our own. That problem is the problem of sin that separates us from God.

The magi would not have known that this infant Jesus would take on more than the injustice in the land as the new king, he would take on the greatest reason for fear and sorrow as Saviour. He would take on the reason for death itself, the problem of sin at the cross.

There is a verse in the Bible which speaks to our emotions regarding death:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NLT)

We do grieve when there is death and loss. But we grieve as people who have hope. There is an element of joy when the one who trusts in Christ thinks of death. Death is not the end of the book, but the turning of the page, concluding one chapter, and beginning the next. The story does not end. The best is yet to come.

What are our emotions when we think about death? Is it all fear and sorrow? Grief is real, and a certain amount of negative emotion is normal, even healthy and necessary. But as you think about your own death, does the thought fill you with dread, or is there an element of joy stirring in your soul?

Is there space for both sadness and joy in your Christmas this year? There may be much to grieve, it is natural to feel sorrow over loss and change. There is also great reason for incredible joy.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Posts here at C201 appear first at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Today’s full reflection (sermon-only video) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression” (full video).

December 21, 2020

Jesus: A Paradox and an Oxymoron

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.
 – 1 Corinthians 1:27 NLT

This is our third time looking at what I consider a significant book dealing exhaustively with various aspects of the life of Jesus. Jesus: A Theography was written in 2012 by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola.

A Culture of Paradox

Great power resides in the small, spare, simple.

A box cutter brought down a skyscraper and nearly bankrupted a nation.
A pamphlet on common sense sparked a revolution.
A song about overcoming changed the world.
A little town birthed the Messiah.
And a small room on the lower level (a dirty room called a stable) cradled the Son of God.

Little is large if God is in it.

■■■

In the Bible, Jesus always comes in surround sound. If you hear only one thing, you aren’t hearing Jesus. It is a sign of Jesus’ greatness that one thing can be said about Him and the opposite be true at the same time. Jesus is a paradox and an oxymoron rolled into one.

That makes Christianity a culture of paradox. Swiss theologian Emil Brunner pegged it right: “The hallmark of logical inconsistency clings to all genuine pronouncements of faith.”

The Living Water gospel is a cocktail of opposites, a paradoxical brew of hydrogen and oxygen, fire and wind, “Lord I believe” and “help my unbelief,” as well as…

Come and live. Come and die.
Be as wise as serpents, innocent as doves.
My yoke is easy, my burden is light.
You want to be first? Be last.
You want to find yourself? Lose yourself.
You want to be famous? Be humble.
The Prince of Peace came bringing a sword.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

Jesus never tried to unknot His contradictions. Rather, he used these knots as rungs in the ladder to enable us to climb higher in truth and revelation.

What brings the opposites together and connects them is the sign of the cross. The Bible in general (and John’s gospel in particular) is sometimes called the Book of Signs. But the sign above all signs is the cross, which brings together the vertical and the horizontal. Jesus’ love is agape love. Agape love is made of two dimensions: love of God and love of neighbour. The horizontal and the vertical go hand in hand. How do you show love of God, love of neighbour, and vice versa?

The gospel goes parabolic beginning with Jesus’ birth, where God works little large with the whole of faith encapsulated in a very small package: one little act of love. Jesus is the definitive localization of the Creator’s universality. The incarnation is the original “small is big.”

■■■

Look again at the babe from Bethlehem and see a King who was destined to redefine power, glory, and peace. And he would do it by subverting the kingdoms of this world by a cross–an instrument made of the same material that composed the manger into which He was born: wood. Even so, God’s glory was revealed not in the manger but on the cross. And therein lay His destiny.


Excerpted from pages 52, 53-54, 71; This 448-page hardcover is a steal at $19.99 US; learn more at ThomasNelson.com.


Previous excerpts from Jesus: A Theography here at C201:

April, 2013: Intricacies in the Jesus Narrative.
May, 2013: Jesus is the New Temple.


For my friends in the UK and in Ontario and Quebec, Canada (which is 61.5% of all Canadians):

I know announcements of increased lock-downs are discouraging. I felt impressed today to share the song You Are by the band Sonic Flood which is based on Psalm 91. When I checked however, I found that we did that already, during the last lock-down in April. Still, I felt someone here needs to hear this, so check out A Psalm We All Need Right Now.

December 20, 2020

The Scandal of Mary’s Pregnancy and its Implications 30+ Years Later

CEB.Luke.1.28 When the angel came to [Mary], he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.

Chris Tiegreen is an author who has worked on over a dozen of Tyndale Publishing’s One Year Book of… series of devotionals. He writes,

…Sometimes lost on us is the stunning way in which God clothed himself in human flesh. It’s easy to be sympathetic toward Mary and get angry at the people who would have tried to stone her if they knew she was pregnant. But have you ever considered how you’d respond to a teenage girl who became pregnant and then said God did it? Even with the biblical precedent of Jesus’ conception and the annual reminder of it at Christmas, we still wouldn’t think it’s true.

We’d be right, of course—the incarnation was a once-in-an-eternity event. But imagine being a real person in real history in the real culture of Mary and Joseph. Imagine how ludicrous it must have sounded. “I’m pregnant, but it’s okay; I’m still a virgin!” Only divine intervention would convince us that there was a remote possibility of that being true. In all honesty, we have to admit that we’d assume the worst and, in fact, judge Mary more for the lie than for the immorality.

It’s a wild story, and the only reason we believe it wasn’t a fabrication is the proof of Jesus as God’s Son years later. But the people who knew the young Mary, even her own family members, didn’t see the end of the story. They had never heard Jesus teach or seen him heal. They had no framework that would cause them to say, “Yes, God must have done this wonderful thing!” It was undoubtedly a very traumatic, very contentious, and even very demeaning episode in Mary’s life. The only thing that could have sustained her was the absolute certainty that God was the author of this plan…

continue reading here

Author and Pastor Alan Rudnick writes,

…It has been well documented that Mary’s pregnancy would be cause to shun Mary out of her community. A scandal! To be pregnant before marriage was grounds for divorce in the Old Testament. Even Joseph thought about leaving Mary, but a divine message changed that….

But then he quotes an alternative view from Lynn Cohick, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was a legally binding arrangement in the Jewish culture. All that awaited the couple was the wedding. If they engaged in sexual intercourse with each other, that was not seen as a violation of any cultural norm. Later rabbinic writings allowed that a future groom who had sexual relations with his bride-to-be at her father’s house was not guilty of immoral behavior.

If pregnancy occurred before the wedding, this was not a problem because the parentage of the child was secured. What is shocking is that Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows he is not the father. The problem is not that a betrothed couple had sex, but that presumably Mary had sex with another man — she committed adultery.

…continue reading Alan’s thoughts at this link

Marg Mowczko has tirelessly devoted her entire scholarly career to tracking the place of women in the scriptures. She’s also one of only two authors ever to issue a take-down notice against Christianity 201, but I really like this insight and I’m trusting she’ll grant us two sentences:

Apart from Elizabeth’s enthusiastic response when Mary visited her (Luke 1:41-45), and apart from Joseph’s initial concern, the scriptures are silent about how people took the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Was there was no proper accommodation made available to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem because of a sense of scandal (Luke 2:6-7)?

read her full article here… (including the citation of an alternative view from Timothy Ralston, similar to what we quoted from Lynn Cohik.)

Had news already reached Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem? It’s an interesting speculation.

So why the reference to 30 years later in today’s devotional title? That’s because of something that frequent C201 contributor Ruth Wilkinson posted today:

Listening this morning to Joseph’s story, and being reminded of the reality of Mary’s situation–what legally could have happened to her–reminded me of the time a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus for judging. The penalty would have been stoning to death. I wonder what connections triggered in Jesus’ mind in that moment…

It is interesting to re-read that text with this in mind:

NLT.John.8.3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

 

 

December 18, 2020

The Birth of Jesus is a Study in Contrasts

At different eras in the Christian Church there have been different emphases in preaching. In the last several years, this has been evidenced in the Christmas narrative.

Emphasis #1 – No place to stay

With our current awareness of social justice issues, homelessness is a problem in our world — even in some quite affluent countries — to which the church must respond. So we often hear emphasis on Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem with no place to stay but a barn.

Without considering the (literally) hundreds of views on this, I currently lean to the idea that the night lodging for the animals may have been more of an annex to the house; in other words, not even an out-building. The phrase (Luke 2:7) “for there was no room for them in the inn” is not unique to the KJV, but the CJB has “there was no space for them in the living-quarters;” the NIV states, “there was no guest room available for them;” while you have to love the ambiguity of the NLV, “There was no room for them in the place where people stay for the night.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber.” But other respected versions such as NET and NASB stay with “the inn.”

I also reject the idea that they arrived in Bethlehem without any contact persons; not knowing anyone. If this was Joseph’s ancestral home, (“because he belonged to the house and line of David” 2:7) then he had relatives there, even if they were distant relatives. Remember this occurred in a society where tribe, family, clan, etc. mattered.

But we do tend to seize on the plight of Mary and Joseph, and in no small measure this is completely appropriate, as Jesus was born in an unexpected place (due to “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken…” 2:1) and in less than ideal circumstances (the not-inn, not-guest-room; and the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy.)

Emphasis #2 – Exile to Egypt

This is the preaching emphasis that Jesus was a refugee. We know that they left abruptly for Egypt (Matthew 2:13) and that in at least one, and probably two dreams Joseph is counseled that it is safe to make an adjusted return to Israel (2: 19-23); but we know absolutely nothing about their time in Egypt, though novelists like to speculate on this time.

With countries like Germany and Canada opening their doors wide to Middle East refugees in the last decade, it’s easy to see why this can be a highlighted subject in contemporary preaching.

Not Emphasized – Honor and Fabulous Gifts!

The story isn’t all bleak. Any contemporary emphasis on one element of the story is going to cause lesser emphasis on another, but Jesus, to use a game show phrase, does receive “cash and fabulous prizes” when the kings/wise men/astrologers come to visit. They recognize that something special is taking place; they come to pay homage; and they don’t arrive empty-handed. Matthew’s Gospel tells us,

Matt.2.1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… …10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

So we see that they bow down and worship him.

I’m sure that thinking of Gabriel’s announcement,

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32-33

Joseph and Mary looked at each other and said, ‘Ah…That’s more like it;’ when in fact the exile is just around the next bend.

Gabriel’s words and the honor of the kings/wise men/astrologers is indicative of a long-time eternal destiny; a time to come when Revelation 11:15 states.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

This text is familiar to us at this time of year as part of the lyrics to “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah, but as climactic as that song is at the end of Part II, it is with these words from Revelation 5:12 that the oratorio ends;

In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

This should be the ultimate emphasis of our preaching in our churches and our sharing of the Christmas narrative individually to those with whom we come in contact.

December 26, 2019

A New King in Town at Christmas

Dealing With the Powers That Threaten Us

by Clarke Dixon

What is the biggest threat to your well being this Christmas? It might be health, family dynamics, addiction, work or a lack of a work. It could be Christmas itself, with all the stress that often comes with it. For many it is the anxiety in the air thanks to events and politics all around the world. What was in air when Mary and Joseph were making their trek to Bethlehem? What was felt to big the biggest threat to everyone’s well being that first Christmas? Luke mentions it when he begins to tell us about the birth of Jesus:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Luke 2:1 (NRSV)

The emperor was the big threat of the day. Rome was looming large in the background of the Christmas story. The power of Rome was looming large in the background of everyone’s story. When Luke describes what happened on that first Christmas, he tells us in a way that subtly shows a contrast between the emperor and a new king. There are subtle hints of a movement from the powers that be, to something much greater. As the angels announced to the shepherds; there is a new king in town.

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:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” Luke 2:10-14 (NRSV)

Let us consider this move from the emperor, to the true King.

There is movement from the peace of Rome to the peace of God. There is an expression, pax Romana, which refers to a time when there was relative stability and peace between nations and peoples, thanks to the Roman Empire. However, this peace could be defined as an absence of conflict. It did not mean there was perfect harmony. It was the kind of peace that is held when a bigger power threatens to wipe you out if you fight with your neighbour. With this baby king, there would come a different kind of peace, the kind of peace implied by the Hebrew term “shalom.” It goes far beyond absence of conflict, to the presence of perfect harmony. This kind of peace comes when you love your neighbour. This baby king will bring true peace; reconciling us to God, and teaching us to live reconciled lives with others.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (verse 14).

There is a movement, from the privilege of one class of people, to the opportunity for blessing for all people. The Roman empire could give you great freedom and opportunity, if you are free, and not a slave, if you are male, and not a female. Life in the empire was not that great if you were not born in a privileged position. The angel announces good news for everyone: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (verse 10 emphasis added). Because of this new king, Paul could later write:

. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NRSV)

There is a movement, from indifferent and uncaring, to intensely interested and caring. Augustus would have known nothing about Mary and Joseph. Caesar Augustus didn’t know, and likely didn’t care that his census made life difficult for Mary and Joseph. God knew Mary and Joseph. God chose to announce the new king’s birth to shepherds. In doing so, God showed his intense care and concern for the regular folk.

There was a movement from taxes gained to a gift given. The purpose of a census in the ancient world was to predict military strength and tax revenue. While the Jews were exempt from military service, they were not exempt from paying taxes. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem so that the powers that be could figure out what they would be getting. In the bigger picture, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because there was a precious gift that God was giving.

There was a movement from a small world to the universe. “All the world” (verse 1) was not all the world, it was just all the world under Roman jurisdiction. It felt large to the people of that time and place. But it was not, especially compared to all the world, or better, worlds, under God’s care. The angels announce “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (verse 14). God’s sovereignty stretches everywhere. This new king was a much bigger deal than Augustus.

There was a movement from a very temporary Augustus to an eternal Lord, God. The Christmas story begins in chapter two, verse one with Augustus, the most powerful man of that time. The angels announce the birth of  “the Lord” in verse eleven. Augustus Caesar is dead and gone by chapter three. By the end of the whole book, Jesus is killed, but not gone. The Lord God is eternal, here long before Caesar, and here here long after.

There was a movement from the fear of Rome, to the love of God. The cross was originally a symbol of fear, the fear of Rome. It was a method of execution and it induced terror. The word “excruciating” comes from crucifixion. The pax Romana, the “Peace of Rome,” existed partly due to the Roman cross. Crucifixions were common and public. You could see people hanging on crosses on your way into town. Step out of line and you could end up on one yourself. However, the cross has now become a symbol of love, of power turned on its head. It is the symbol of God’s reconciling love through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Rome used the cross, and the fear it represented, to keep the peace of Rome. God used the cross, and the love it represents, to bring us peace with Him.

Rome loomed large as a large threat in the days of the first Christmas. Indeed, the Romans did eventually destroy Jerusalem. Augustus, and Rome, had the power to destroy many an individual, and a people. We may feel threatened by the powers looming in our lives. There is a downturn in the economy, or in a company. There is a downward spiral of ill health. There are powers that threaten to undo us, which are indifferent to us. However, there is power which holds us, and rescues us, which is intensely interested in us. Christmas is a signal of a big change; from the power of Rome to the power of God. What is your Rome? What is the power looming in the background of your life? This Christmas, make the move from the fear of Rome, to the love of God. The Christmas story begins with the power of Rome, but ends with the glory of God. Will yours?

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” Luke 2:13-14 (NRSV)


► This week, a bonus item from Clarke Dixon which he wrote for his church family in Ontario, Canada:  Shortbread for Christmas on a Journey of Grief.

June 25, 2019

Light Has Come Into the World!

Today marks six months to Christmas, and we tend to focus on different scriptures at certain times of year, but not at other points on the calendar. Today is different. I ran this 3½ years ago, but in the busyness of the season, many may have missed it…

The Voice BibleSeveral years ago we were introduced to The Voice, a new Bible translation which we’ve used here a few times at C201. One of the interesting things about The Voice is the use of explanatory or transitional passages — they call them narrative links — which add commentary and context to what you’re reading. Further, in John 1, the phrase ‘the Voice’ is used where we are accustomed to hearing ‘The Word.’ Following our tradition here, I’ve left the Bible verses themselves in green, but the other sections which form part of the excerpt are in teal. (If too many Christmases have left you feeling you’ve heard the standard texts too many times, then just read the teal sections, but I assure you that you haven’t heard these texts themselves in exactly this manner.)

We start with John’s prologue in chapter one:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

The Voice was and is God.
2 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
3 His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
4 His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
5 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

6 A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this Light. 7 This baptizer put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light so all might believe through him. Some wondered whether he might be the Light, 8 but John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. 9 The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos.

Jesus as the Light does not call out from a distant place but draws near by coming into the world.

10 He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. 12 But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will.

14 The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth. 15 John the Baptist testified about Him and shouted, “This is the one I’ve been telling you is coming. He is much greater than I am because He existed long before me.” 16 Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination. 17 You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth. 18 God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son, straight from the Father’s heart.

Before Jesus comes along, many wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One sent by God. But when Jesus appears in the wilderness, John points others to Him. John knows his place in God’s redemptive plan: he speaks God’s message, but Jesus is the Word of God. John rejects any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepts it with a smile, but only from a few devoted followers—at least at first. Of course John is crucial to the unfolding drama, but he isn’t the long awaited One sent to free His people. He preaches repentance and tells everybody to get ready for One greater to come along. The One who comes will cleanse humanity in fire and power, he says. John even urges some of his followers to leave him and go follow Jesus.

We also read from Hebrews 1:

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

3 This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4 This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.

Most images of angels are influenced by art and pop culture—and are far removed from the Bible. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and it can refer to either a human being or a heavenly being. The Hebrews author is writing about heavenly messengers.

In the Bible, heavenly messengers have several functions—executors of God’s judgment, guardians of God’s people, heralds of God’s plans. They appear at critical moments to chosen people who play important roles in God’s salvation, such as arriving to announce the birth and resurrection of Jesus and to transmit God’s law to Moses. They are no more than messengers, created beings, who serve the will of God and His Son. Recognizing their place, they bow before the Son in loving adoration.

And also Luke 2:

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke describes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Finally, here is a short excerpt from Matthew 2, after Jesus has already been born:

9-10 The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; 11 and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They unpacked their satchels and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are exceptionally good gifts, for gold is what is given a king, and Jesus is the King of kings; incense is what you expect to be given a priest, and Jesus is the High Priest of all high priests; myrrh ointment is used to heal, and Jesus is a healer. But myrrh is also used to embalm corpses—and Jesus was born to die.

12 And then, just as Joseph did a few months before, the wise men had a dream warning them not to go back to Herod…


Read an excerpt of what we call the Palm Sunday passage in Luke 20 from The Voice.

Below is a page sample of the end of Mark 1 and beginning of Mark 2 showing the dramatic script translation style, and two types of transitional notes.

The Voice Bible - Sample Page

 


Related: Romans 5 in The Voice

February 1, 2019

Never Say “The Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics”

This is our second time featuring the writing of Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World.

Yes the Bible talks about politics. All the time.

You’ve heard it.  I’ve heard it.

We’ve all heard it.

“Jesus was never political. He was only interested in saving souls and building his church.”

The problem is, the Bible is a very political book. And the scriptures have a LOT to say about how we should organize ourselves as a society.

Remember all that stuff about orphans, widows and foreigners that Jesus emphasized? That’s deeply political. Because we vote for people who make decisions about the poor, on our behalf. That’s what our love looks like in public.

Now Jesus was no Republican. Nor was he a Democrat. And he wasn’t a capitalist OR a socialist.

As Jim Wallis says, “The right doesn’t get it. And the left gets it wrong.”

The way of Jesus is the Third Way.

And this Jesus-way of bringing his Kingdom, ON EARTH as it is in heaven – has a lot of political implications.

Look at the context. Almost the entire Bible is written by people living in the shadow of one political Empire or another. The first readers of our scriptures were slaves and fugitives, fishermen and fools. They were the oppressed of Egypt, the exiled in Babylon, and the peasants under Roman occupation.

And so, it made perfect sense that Jesus would choose to come as one of those underdogs of a political Empire—a vulnerable child with nowhere to go, his parents shuffled about by the Roman demand for a census.

But here’s what we miss about Jesus’ birth. There are really only two goals in carrying out a major census – the kind that framed his entry into the world. Just two reasons to go to all that extra expense and bureaucratic hassle to count every single head in the entire Roman world (Lk 2:1).

The first reason is to determine the number of people who can pay taxes.

And the second, is to figure out the number of men who can fight in an army.

Tax and War.  Money and Power. Politics.

In other words, the birth of Christ took place in the shadow of the twin pillars of a typical political Empire: economic power and military might.

Isn’t it interesting then, that when Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is asked what it means to repent, he directly addresses the representatives of those two pillars of Empire by calling on the tax collectors (representing economic power) and the soldiers (representing military might) to act with justice (Lk 3:12-14).

Then, Jesus comes along preaching a radical alternative to this type of Empire. Something he called the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven).

Jesus’ subversive Upside-Down Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the way we like to do politics. It’s something that will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Whereas Empire comes on a white military horse wielding weapons of shock and awe, the Upside-Down Kingdom comes on a donkey’s back and says love your enemy, even if he crucifies you. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire consolidates power and says let’s make our nation great, the Upside-Down Kingdom kneels with a towel and washes feet, saying I come to serve – even those of other tribes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire honors the influential and celebrates the celebrity, the Upside-Down Kingdom welcomes little refugee children and gives food to the hungry. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is about power and status and tax breaks for the rich, the Upside-Down Kingdom is led by a handful of unemployed fishermen, rejected bureaucrats, a prostitute and some failed revolutionaries. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is a rat race to the top, the Upside-Down Kingdom says the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most important among us will do the dishes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Such a radical alternative to the Empire could only lead to one outcome – the leader being silenced and murdered by the State. And that’s exactly what happened.

The fake divide between our personal morality and political morality is a lie. We vote for the kind of society Jesus wants – or we don’t.

The Bible is deeply concerned about how a nation treats its poor, which is a political issue (though you might argue about how a government can do this most effectively).

The nation of Israel was punished for its disobedience in this regard:

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

Here’s the problem. Many of us live lives that are comfortable enough to be untouched by politics.

We’re not affected by refugee quotas, or welfare systems, or how much money is put into inner city schools.

We can do what we want, go where we want, and educate our kids in whatever damn school we want.

We can wash our hands of politics, and turn away from our poor neighbors. We can insulate ourselves from the needs of the world and make our faith a private, individual affair..

And our hyper-personalized theology reflects that privilege.

But instead, I’d like to invite you to consider a different path. I invite you to walk amongst the poor… Read Mary’s Song (Lk 1:46-55)… Visit a refugee holding center… Stay overnight in a slum… Find some way, somehow, to overlap with those on the margins.

And then tell me government policies don’t matter for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner – and that Jesus doesn’t care about all that.

Cos our faith is always personal, but never private.

December 28, 2018

Recurring Fulfillment: A Virgin Shall Conceive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today’s post is new, but first I want to refer back to something we covered in 2012. At the time — as we will also consider today — the question was, “How can a prophecy which was so clearly fulfilled at ‘Point A’ in time, be considered to be one which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’? Or to put it the other way around, “How can something which is so clearly speaking about something which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’ be said to have already been fulfilled at ‘Point A’?

At the time I shared this:

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the a text in Luke [21] would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

When you’re in the moment however, things are different. In 2011, we shared this:

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned the possibility of herself being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior.

That brings us to today’s thoughts, our second visit to the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales.

The virgin shall conceive…?

Isaiah 7:1-17 [click here to read the whole passage]

King Ahaz has a problem: enemies are marching on Jerusalem, and he needs help urgently. The prophet Isaiah goes to meet him and declares that God will intervene. God even offers the king a sign of his own choosing, to bolster his faith. But Ahaz refuses – faith plays no part in either his religion or his politics. He has already made up his mind what to do – which is to entrust the fate of his people to the Assyrian empire (II Kings 16:7,8) – and he doesn’t want to be proved wrong.

But God doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer! David’s family cannot treat David’s God in such a cavalier fashion; so instead of being given a clear sign of God’s favour, they will be given an enigmatic one that they cannot understand…

“Therefore the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)

In its immediate context, this prophecy refers to a certain young woman (the Hebrew word literally means ‘young unmarried woman’, but those who translated the Old Testament into Greek chose to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’). She is known to the king (the virgin), and there is no suggestion that her child will not be conceived in the normal way, in due course, when she has a husband. Her son’s name is a statement of faith, echoed in the following chapter: “God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). So the kingdom of Judah will not fall. In fact, the crisis will be over (because Judah’s enemies will have been crushed by Assyria) before the boy has even had time to grow up (Isaiah 7:15,16).

On the face of it, this prophecy was a straightforward one, fulfilled within a few years of its pronouncement. Why should it have anything to do with Jesus? Certainly the Jews never expected their Messiah to be born of a virgin…

And yet… there is nothing particularly unusual about a young woman having a baby (those of us who work in contraceptive clinics know that it happens all the time)! And after the solemnity of Isaiah’s preamble (“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights”), this is surely something of an anticlimax! Perhaps this is one reason why the old translators used the word ‘virgin’. It was an interpretation rather than a literal translation; nevertheless, their instinct was sound.

However, it was only after the Messiah was born of a virgin mother that the full significance of this prophecy was realised (Matthew 1:20,21). ‘Immanuel’ turned out to be not a prediction of His name but an accurate description of His nature: Jesus is not a symbol of God’s presence with us, but its reality (John 1:14).

December 27, 2018

Herod and a Ruined Christmas

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

You may have the kind of Christmas that is not Christmas-card-perfect. There are a great many things that can be the “ruin” of Christmas. We fret over things like finding that perfect gift, or having the perfect family gathering around the perfect Christmas dinner enjoying perfect relationships. Reality may stay from those ideals. For others, Christmas is ruined by grief. There is one less setting at the table. Christmas may not be Christmas-card-perfect for you this year.

You would not be the first to have a ruined Christmas. Herod ruins a perfect first Christmas for Mary, Joseph, and many others as we discover from a Bible passage we often associate with Christmas:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16–18 NRSV)*

Christmas is ruined. However, was it even a Christmas-card-perfect Christmas before Herod’s killing spree? Rumours would have been swirling about Mary and the legitimacy of this child. Remember that Jospeh needed an angel visitation to be convinced. Bethlehem was an ancestral home, but Mary and Joseph were hardly home for the holidays. There was no room at the inn. There was no family gathering, in fact the first to show up were complete strangers. Meanwhile Mary and Joseph were bringing a child into a rather unsettled world. Roman power is in the background, indeed it is why they end up in Bethlehem. When Rome spoke, Jews jumped. At least, according to the Romans. Jewish people-power is in the foreground. Herod was stuck between Roman leaders, for the Romans said he could be king, and the Jewish people, many of whom were saying he ought not to be king. These were dangerous times and revolution hung in the air. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with Mary and Joseph forced to flee to Egypt as refugees with their baby. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with the grief of many mums and dads who lost their babies. The first Christmas was anything but Christmas-card-perfect. Herod made sure of that.

How do you define the perfect Christmas? Is it the perfect family with perfect people with perfect lives gathering for the perfect dinner, carrying out the the perfect family traditions, enjoying perfect Christmas baking while opening perfect Christmas gifts fetched from under a perfectly decorated tree? A lot of that stuff doesn’t happen for a lot of people at all, never mind perfectly. For some people, “Merry Christmas” is met with “I think I’d rather give it a pass this year.” For many people Christmas is a hot mess. Life itself just gets too messy for Christmas.

What really makes for the perfect Christmas? Christmas is not the celebration of sentimental moments that are free of mess. Christmas is the celebration of the moment God stepped into our mess. Every year around Christmas we mention Herod. Herod reminds us of the mess God stepped into through Jesus. So if your Christmas is messy and less that Christmas-card-perfect, celebrate God who steps into our mess. Let’s focus, not on the celebrations themselves, but on Him Whom we celebrate.

Herod ruined Christmas for himself. Look again at Herod. How was his first Christmas? Herod was self-focused. Herod was paranoid of losing a throne he did not belong on. Indeed historians tell us that Herod was so paranoid he had his favourite wife and some of his own children killed. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Herod was troubled by the news from the magi and indeed sought to destroy the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Herod knew he was king of the Jews thanks to Roman benevolence, but not by birth. It is no surprise that such a self focused person as Herod would have trouble celebrating the birth of Jesus. Nothing ruins Christmas like a focus on oneself, and one’s own power. Such a self-focus causes us to reject, rather than celebrate, Jesus.

God stepped into a messy world that first Christmas. But Herod was too self-focused to notice. God steps into our mess, but if we insist on being front and centre, if we insist on being the hero of our story, we won’t notice. We try to be the hero when we try to fix every problem. We try to be the hero when we act as if life can go on without God in it. We put ourselves front and centre by trying to put God in our debt, as if He owes us something. When we think of Santa Claus, we may think we are owed not a lump of coal, but a good gift, for we have not been naughty, but nice. However, the original Saint Nicholas gave gifts, not because he owed the help to anyone but because people needed help. His inspiration was Jesus. God will never be in our debt, but He will give us the gift of eternal life, not because we are owed it, but because we are in need of reconciliation with Him. Christmas could have turned out very differently for Herod had he thought about himself less, and thought about God more.

If we are really focused on the birth of Jesus, rather than on the celebrations themselves, or on ourselves, then Christmas can never be ruined. No one can ever take away God’s Christmas gift to us.


*The magi were most likely not included in the manger scene we envision in Christmas scenes. They likely arrived later. However, they are very much part of Jesus’ infancy so we traditionally associate them with Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 22, 2018

Christmas: The Birth Story is a Death Story

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us. (Thanks for those of you who send recommendations.) Michael James Schwab has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005; “cooperating with God” at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com.

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.
Amen.

—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.

January 6, 2016

Blustery Winds and the Prevailing Will of God

•••by Clarke Dixon

To read this at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, click this link.

Only twice in my life have I capsized a sailboat. The second time my future wife was onboard, until the boat ended upside down by which time no one was onboard. Long story, but it wasn’t even windy that day. The first capsize, however, was the result of a very unpredictable wind and my failure to see a major gust until it was too late. In sailing sometimes the breeze can be nice and steady, on other days it can be very shifty. Life may feel like that for us. Things may seem nice and steady one day, wild and unpredictable the next. We may even feel we are under the threat of a capsize.

An old expression goes, “It’s an ill wind blows no one any good.” There was an ill wind blowing hard on the heals of Christmas. The Magi had come to worship the newly born king of the Jews and so made inquiries to king Herod. This Herod had no right to be the current “king of the Jews” apart from the fact Rome said he could. This Herod was also in the habit of murdering anyone who threatened his power, and by anyone we include even infants:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more. (Matthew 2:16-18)

Herod’s was not the only ill in the ill wind that blew in those days. Satan himself was in on the attempt to destroy Jesus:

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. (Revelation 12:3-5)

Despite the ill and blustery winds that blew in those days we see the hand of God involved in keeping the child safe. As we read Matthew 2 we find that God used dreams four times to warn and direct, ensuring the safety of the child. Despite the ill and blustery winds, this ship would keep sailing in the course God had chosen.

However, Satan’s ill winds would keep blowing in continued attempts to blow Jesus off course. There was the temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry which we can read about in Matthew 4. The promise of kingdoms and power in exchange for devil worship was an attempt to steer Jesus away from the journey to the cross. Likewise, we hear of another attempt when Peter declares that Jesus must not die.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. (Matthew 16:21-23)

And finally in the Garden of Gethsemane, though we are not told that Satan was present, we do know the same temptation to steer clear of the cross was:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want. (Matthew 26:39)

As Jesus prays in the Garden we might wonder if the prayers he taught his disciples were reflected in his own prayers in those moments: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” which is easier prayed than done when the doing requires a cross. “And lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one,” which would require Jesus suffering the worst that evil could deliver, so that God’s people could be delivered from evil. Ironically, when the ill winds of Satan blew in the direction of Jesus, they were an attempt to kill him as a child but to keep him from being killed as a man. God the Father protects Jesus from death in Matthew 2, but the cross looms in the future. The rescue of this one baby was to ensure the rescue of all God’s children. His will was, and is, being done.

These are things we can keep in mind when the ill winds are blowing hard and blustery in our own lives, when they seem so unpredictable we feel a capsize might be imminent. Whatever the winds are, the will of our Lord is the prevailing will. His will is steady and predictable. Whatever gusts threaten us for the moment, keep on the course the Lord has set. The good sailor adapts to the winds moment by moment, trimming the sails, planning an unexpected tack to keep course for the chosen destination. Just as Joseph and Mary adapted to the changing conditions, becoming refugees in Egypt for a time, so too we adapt to the ill winds even as we look to God for protection, direction, and for his prevailing will to be done. Though sometimes the winds are wild, we could not ask for a better journey. Or a better destination.

December 17, 2014

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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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:

 

December 15, 2012

An Unlikely Event in an Unlikely Town Remembered for an Unlikely King

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From Allen White at the blog Galatians419, this article, Getting What You Deserve

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

God delights in the obscure and the humble. Bethlehem wasn’t the big city. In fact, for Joseph and his family, Bethlehem was a good place to be from. The town was important for Joseph’s ancestral heritage. But, that’s about where Bethlehem’s importance ended for them.

Lowly Bethlehem was much like its most famous resident: King David (Luke 2:4). When Samuel, the prophet, approached Jesse’s family to anoint the new king of Israel, Jesse lined up all of his sons. Well, almost all of them. Jesse presented the top seven of his sons anyway, but “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has not chosen these.’” (1 Samuel 16:10).

“So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’

“‘There is still the youngest, Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep’” (1 Samuel 16:11).

David wasn’t his father’s choice for king. In fact, David wasn’t even considered a possibility in his father’s mind. David was tending the sheep. Yet, this humble shepherd became the king of Israel and the great, great, great, great…grandfather of the King of kings.

Jesus was born in humble circumstances. Not only was his birthplace in a small town, he was born in a stable in a small town. Jesus was born into a working class family that didn’t have a lot of money. We don’t even know that Jesus received a formal education. From a worldly point of view, Jesus really wasn’t set up for success. These were humble circumstances for the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

God’s power doesn’t need a “leg up” from our social standing, education, wealth or pride. In fact, God’s power is clearly demonstrated in weakness, not in high stature. When we see God use a person who we might not expect Him to use, then we can see God’s hand very clearly. When we humbly submit ourselves to Him, and He allows opportunities or gives insights into situations we wouldn’t have on our own, we know that God is working in us.

How is your heart inclined today? Are you working hard to promote yourself or to humble yourself? A clear indicator is what you feel that you deserve right now. The less deserving we feel, the more humble we are becoming.

December 28, 2011

Poetry Corner

Different people I know react to poetry in diverse ways. The Bible has five books which we call “the wisdom literature” which are poetic, though each in various ways. However, the song lyrics and poetic forms are found throughout both major and minor prophets, as well as in the historical books.

In the gospels we have the four examples of song associated with the birth of Jesus, with the Magnificat in Luke’s gospel being the best known.  And we have Paul’s Philippians passage beginning, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…” which many believe had become a hymn of the early church.

Modern Bibles indent poetic sections or typeset them in verse form so that we recognize the change in form, though they do not all agree as to which sections deserve this treatment. Many contemporary writers wish to place Genesis 1 as poetry, while others cringe at what they feel is taking the passage down the road to a more liberal interpretation of the creation story.

How do you react to the poetic passages?  Or contemporary verse?  If you have an ‘artsy’ temperament you probably relate better than those not so inclined.  Either way, poetry can’t be absorbed with speed reading. It requires you to slow down and adopt a more meditative posture; I would argue it also requires more than a single reading.

Today we have two post-season reflections on the incarnation.  The first by Thomas Watson comes by way of Ann Voskamp by way of David Fisher:

”He was poor, that he might make us rich.
He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.
He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.
He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.
He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven…
that the ancient of days should be born.
that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle….
that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;
that a virgin should conceive;
that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made,
that the branch should bear the vine,
that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,
and the child in the womb bigger than the mother;
that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God

Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven
If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us .
Behold love that passeth knowledge!”
~Thomas Watson

The second is uncredited from Daniel Jepsen’s blog, and is perhaps his own work.

I have sometimes wondered, dear Christ
Which was the greater sacrifice
Was it the tomb or the womb?

Dark death held you inside
Three days, and nights beside
Imprisoned in the world you had framed

But nine months did You face
There in Mary’s dark place
Growing in the woman you had made

Did You know even then
You were the Savior of men
Or were your thoughts in darkness as well?

And as Your mind came to life
Could you sense of the strife
You would endure on Calvary’s Hill?

I have sometimes wondered, dear Christ
Which was the greater sacrifice
Was it the tomb or the womb?

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