"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wisdom like Wise Men

Last week was my sister’s birthday.  I forgot.  I normally do.  Have you ever missed a birthday that you really shouldn’t have missed?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”Matthew 2:1-2

These are men from far away.  It is most likely that these were not Jewish men—not a part of God’s chosen people.  Yet, the irony is they are pointing out to the people of Jerusalem that the king of the Jews has been born, and the people of Jerusalem are completely unaware!

But look how they respond!

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.Matthew 2:3

There was no air of excitement.  No belated-birthday cards.  Though the people were anticipating the coming Messiah, they were comfortable with the way things were.  When new kings come along, things get messy, and so instead of being excited like they should be, they were disturbed.

Herod had been ruling for 35 years, and he was jealous!  He didn’t want ANYONE to have the title of king but him.

So, he calls The leading priests forward to find out where the king is to be born, not so much so he can help his visitors out, but so that he can find this child and kill him (…murder was one of Herod’s favorite past times)!  He tells the Wise men to report back to him so that he too can go worship the child.   He has no intention of worship, but rather of violence.

 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:6

So they find out that the child will be born in Bethlehem.

I love road trips—the epitome of modern day adventures.  I think the story of the wise men would make a pretty great road trip movie.  They have this goal of finding this king.  They don’t know who he will be, or where he will be, but they step out in faith.  They follow this star as their GPS, and it keeps on showing up when they need it.

Though all of Jerusalem should be celebrating with them, worshiping with them, seeking out this child with them…the Wise men go alone.

This has been a long journey.  We find out later in the chapter that the star first appeared to the Wise men 2 years ago.  They have given up there time and energy to find this king, when Jesus’ own people hadn’t acknowledged him.  Finally they find him.

He’s not in the stable we see in nativity scenes or Christmas pageants.  They place the wise men there to condense the story, but Matthew clearly mentions a “house” rather than stable, and “child” rather than baby.  Jesus was probably one or two at this time.  

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:9-12

I wonder what the Wise men were thinking when this king they were seeking for years is in the home of peasants, not recognized by anyone else as the king he truly is. 

They fall down and worship him. 

In a small village, in the home of a carpenter and his young wife, they bring extravagant gifts.  What a stark contrast, laying these gifts before the child.  Wrapped in these gifts was the identity of the holy child.  Gold, because he is a king, frankincense, because he is divine, and myrrh—used to anoint a body for burial.  From the very beginning, Christ’s life pointed towards the cross.

The Wise men gave their best to him.

Herod on the other hand, decided that he would kill all the baby boys two years and under in all of Bethlehem in order to wipe out this new born King, Jesus.  (Spoiler alert: Jesus escapes)

The Wise men pursued Christ, bowed in worship and gave their best to the king.
Herod, in pride, destroyed others to hold up himself as king.

What are your pursuits?  Who or what receives your worship?  For what do you offer your best?  Who is king in your life?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A peculiar gift in a strange package

This past week for youth group, we did a white elephant gift exchange.  I like these exchanges because they are complete surprises.  Often, the box or wrapping paper gives no clues as to what lies inside.  During the Christmas season, gifts can so quickly and easily become a distraction from Jesus—the true reason we celebrate.  This year, I want to invite us to look at our gifts as a reminder of Jesus.  When Jesus came down at Christmas, he became God’s ultimate White elephant gift to humanity—a peculiar gift—the fullness of God, eternal and holy—wrapped up in the flesh of a helpless infant.  We did not know the greatness of the gift we received.

This is such a spectacular truth—Jesus Christ: fully God and fully man—that we don’t really know how to fathom it, and so we take Christ’s birth and make it something worthy of a Hallmark greeting card.  After all, he was the son of God!   We paint this picture: the stable is neat and tidy—no manure caked in the hay. Mary is pristine, beautiful, and solemn; not a teenage girl desperate, terrified, sweaty, and screaming in pain.  Joseph is a carpenter…with a minor in midwifery…and knows exactly what he’s doing when he delivers that baby.  He couldn't possibly be a desperate man praying for God’s help in a healthy and safe delivery; scrambling to find some rag to wrap the baby in and something sharp and clean cut the umbilical cord.    The star in the sky casts a perfect spotlight on Jesus as he lies in a plush manger crib—no dried animal slobber, wooden slivers, or jabbing straw to be found.  Jesus is a perfect, beautiful baby, complete with heavenly, glowing aura.  There is no afterbirth.  He is not sticky and wet.  “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…”  Ok, let’s brush off some of the glitter and push aside the tinsel.  Let’s be realistic.  There was no “silent” night.  Jesus was a baby. A human baby.  Exiting the balmy 98.6 degree climate of his mother’s womb out into the chilly night, breathing air for the first time into his lungs, I am sure like every baby, Jesus put those lungs to good use, screaming and waling… and waking up an animal or two. 

This peculiar night when the Holy Lord came into the world as an infant…was a profoundly human event.  It was messy, scary, dirty, and lowly.  There was pain and uncertainty.  It’s as if God went out of his way to point out just how human Jesus was.  Being born in a stable, and laid in a manger, he made himself even more vulnerable than most.  In all of the chaos, it was not a silent night…but it was a holy night.  This little baby boy, crying in a manger, sticky with afterbirth…was Holy God!  Multitudes of angels sang in worship at his birth.  Prophets foretold his coming.  He shall be called Immanuel—“God with us”!

Unique amongst all, Jesus alone existed before his birth.  “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” John 1:14.  He chose to be born as a human and dwell amongst us.  He chose to leave the glory and splendor of Heaven, giving up power and becoming a helpless baby.  He chose to be born to a teenage mother with an unbelievable story of being a pregnant virgin by the power of God.  Who would look with favor on that family?  He chose to be a homeless wanderer, despised by the religious leaders of his day.  He chose to face a criminals death on the cross—all of this for our sake.  Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served—that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Not only did he choose to live our experience, he also lived this life with the ultimate purpose of dying for our sake.

Jesus understands life.  He knew trial and temptation—and he conquered them through his power.  He is God.  Demons fear him.  Angels adore him.  He holds all authority, yet chose to surrender his life for our sake.  Because he is man, he can relate to us—cry with us, feel our pains, joys, happiness and sorrow.  But because he is God, he can conquer our pains, our sin—he can save us because he has the authority!

Job longed for a mediator; someone who could stand on his behalf before God.  God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.  If only there were a mediator who could bring us together, but there is none.” Job 9:32-33.  Jesus became that mediator!  Augustine said, “He is mediator between God and man, because he is God with the Father, and a man with men.  A mere man could not be a mediator between God and man; nor could a mere God.  Behold the mediator: Divinity without humanity cannot act as a mediator; nor can humanity without Divinity; but the human Divinity and the Divine humanity of Christ is the sole mediator between Divinity and humanity.” 1 Tim 2:5-6 says, “ For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”

John Calvin said that as God alone, Christ couldn't feel death, but as man alone, he couldn’t conquer it.  So he coupled both natures together.  He faced death…and conquered it, so that we might be free!
 If Jesus had not become man, we would have no one to relate to—no one who has faced our trials and triumphed, no one to put our hope in, but we are made holy by Christ.  For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Hebrews 10:10

Jesus made the greatest gift exchange—he became human…so that we might become holy.  He chose us so that we could choose him.  He gave us his very life.  Will we give ours in return?

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shepherd and the Lamb

It’s a cool evening.  You are sitting on the gentle slope of a hill overlooking your flock of sheep.  You hear the soft murmur of an occasional sheep’s bleating, there is a slight sent of sheep manure in the air, but you are used to it.  You warm yourself by a small fire, the flames cast a gentle dancing glow in the star light as you and your friends share stories and laughter around the fire…

  I shared this story with the youth group my first year here at the church.  It was right at this point of the story that I screamed.  Everyone jumped.  Startled, they wondered what was going on.  Even so, I’m sure it was only a fraction of the fright and confusion the shepherds faced that first Christmas when all of a sudden an angel of the Lord appeared to them!  

 … “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2:10-14 

                Why did God send Angels to the shepherds as the first proclaimers of the Messiah?  I think God can relate pretty well with shepherds.  In fact God calls several shepherds in the bible into places of leadership.  God calls Moses, a herder of sheep to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.  God calls David, a protector of sheep to rule over the nation of Israel.

We are a lot like sheep…and that’s not a flattering comment.  I’m not talking about how cute and gentle we all are!  Sheep are dimwitted, vulnerable animals that would run to their deaths if it weren’t for their shepherds watching them.  No one ever talks about the great authority and power of a sheep.  They just weren’t created that way.

God can understand shepherds, because he is a shepherd.  There is a reason the bible refers to us as sheep. We, like sheep have gone astray.  That’s what Isaiah 53:6 says.  We are foolish people who run to our own deaths without the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our Great shepherd. 

I wonder—did God first announce the arrival of Jesus to these Shepherds, because Jesus would be our shepherd?  And not just that…Jesus would be our sacrificial lamb!
The Jewish people would sacrifice lambs for their sin.  It’s interesting to think that perhaps even some sheep in those very shepherds’ flocks would be used as offerings.   Jesus Christ became the perfect offering—once for all—the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, so that when we believe on him we are saved!

I think that’s why the angels came to these poor, lowly shepherds—because Jesus is the great shepherd and the sacrificial lamb.

Look how the shepherds responded to the angel’s message! 

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.Luke 2:15-17

They ran off and told everyone!  Their Messiah had been born.  He had come at last!  Who was watching there sheep? 

I’m guessing they didn’t care.

What can we learn from the shepherds?  Does the truth— that Jesus has come and died for us, and that our messiah reigns on the thrown of heaven—does that excite us?  Are we sharing this with the excitement and vigor of the shepherds?  Do we recognize Jesus as our shepherd?  Are we following his leading as our authority?   May we be filled with the excitement and joy of an angel-startled shepherd this Christmas season!