Yesterday, the Wednesday night group went back to Haggai after a Christmas themed break. We were able to make it to one of my favorite passages in the Minor Prophets, found in ch. 2.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The Beta on Blogger is messing up my formatting from Word--anyone know why or how I can fix it? Thanks.
The Call to
a. After Jesus was born in
b. Look at the Magi—they were willing to travel a great distance just to meet this newborn King. They put in miles that puts to shame most if not all traveling done in America today—and they did it essentially on foot. That required some serious motivation and determination. To pick up and go for 1000 miles based solely on an observation of the heavens.
c. Whey would they care so much about seeing a new king in
e. They are from “the east” which is generally understood to be Mesopotamia—in the regions held by great kingdoms like Assyria, Babylonia and
f. Most of the Jews never returned to the
h. But if everything else lined up right—in a way that God has a tendency to do—the Magi could themselves be Jewish or partially Jewish. Part of a faith community that always wondered what it would have been like if they had gone home with Ezra, Nehemiah and the others. It’s as if God still sees them as part of the Remnant that He had promised to call home.
a. Instead of being in a far off country—this call came to those who were close-by. There’s a sense of urgency—that God wants them there—to not miss a moment of what He is doing.
d. They were the last ones a normal Israelite would choose—but they were God’s first choice. They were the reminders of where the nation of
a. Imagine all those God could have chosen to bring His Son into the world. There were great and powerful men and women.
You have a part to play… God is inviting you to truly worship Him and come home to restored and genuine relationship—just like the Magi
You have a part to play…God is inviting you to see, to witness, to testify to what God is doing in your life—just like the Shepherds
Joy is not determined by location
Joy is not determined by the size of your bank account.
Joy is not defined by circumstances, nor is it manufactured by a sheer act of will.
Joy comes from God—if God were not here, active and present in this world—all joy would cease.
Joy to the World occurs because God gives it in the fact that “The Lord Is Come”
Isaiah 12:6--Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you."
Joy is a gift from God and does not come naturally to us. It is a product of restored relationship and is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit—
Galatians 5:22—“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”
The Joy of Restored Relationship to God is at the heart of Christmas.
Luke 2:10-11—“But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of
Jesus came bringing Joy and desires to give it generously to His people. Jesus Himself takes joy at seeing a vibrant and growing faith in us.
John 15:11—“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Joy to the World, The Lord Is Come
Rejoice in the Lord Always, I say again Rejoice.
JUDE 1:24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
This wasn’t the end of your giving, it was just the beginning—You willingly gave Your life to purchase our freedom—freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the dominion of evil and darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light.
You have left your throne in heaven and celebrated your birthday with us. Thank you Jesus for accomplishing the task the Father sent you for—saving Your people from their sins.
· Thank You for being my Wonderful Counselor
· Thank You for being my Mighty God,
· Thank You for being my Everlasting Father
· Thank You for being my Prince of Peace.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The last couple of Wednesdays, our small group has been taking a careful look at the Birth Narratives of Jesus and comparing them to the traditional mental picture we get around Christmas time with the various Manger scenes and other popular depictions. Some of this may be new to you—so I hope it is enlightening. The answers seem to get longer as it goes—and, I still can't figure out how to make this formatting consistent--sorry about that!
How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?
1. What is the traditional biblical story of the journey from
The traditional picture has a tired and desperate Mary & Joseph trudging/rushing into
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture—it’s the most popular—but is it the most accurate to the biblical texts?
2. Were they traveling alone? What biblical evidence do you have to support this?
We get a few clues to suggest they were not traveling alone.
First, in Luke 2, since everyone had to travel to their own hometown to register—it’s safe to assume that other people had to do some traveling to register as well.
Third has to do with the time of year the events actually occurred which we’ll get to later—let’s just say that in order for them to get to Bethlehem, Mary & Joseph had to pass through Jerusalem (Bethlehem is about 5 miles South of Jerusalem whereas Nazareth is considerably north of Jerusalem)—Jerusalem was the center of political and religious life in Israel so pilgrims of all sorts were on the roads to Jerusalem all the time.
Fourth, most people traveled in family groups or with friends whenever possible. You see evidence of Joseph & Mary doing this just a few verses later (Luke 2:41-44) when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus stayed behind in
3. When was the baby born?
a. Mary barely made it into town
b. The first night
c. Some time later
Luke 2:6 says “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born”. The implication of that statement is that M & J arrived in
Given the later accounts of the Magi in Matthew—it’s obvious that J & M stayed in
4. Does that change the nature of the location of Jesus’ birth if it happened some time later—in other words, couldn’t Joseph had found some other place after a while?
If they had been there for a few days at least, then the likelihood that Joseph couldn’t find any place to stay is a stretch. After some time, he would have been able to find something and they would not have been cast out to the animal pens. Why would they go there then? We’ll talk about that later.
5. Were Mary & Joseph alone while in
The traditional picture is them alone and afraid. But why were they going to
Yet if that were the case, why would they have to go out to the animals? That would be affected by several things one being the nature of the place they were staying. First, let’s look at something that isn’t obviously related, but it is.
6. Luke 22:10-12—What was this room like?
In this passage, Jesus is preparing for the Passover feast and He sends Peter & John in to find the right place—He says—“He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."
This “guestroom” was a large room that many houses had for family gatherings, meals, or visiting relatives—it was big, generally open and several families could sleep there at the same time.
If you didn’t know, Luke uses some of the best Greek in the New Testament, fitting for his life as a physician. He is precise in his words and this is important.
7. Back in Luke 2, what is meant by the word “
Interestingly, the word that Luke uses in ch. 22 translated “guestroom” is the same one used in ch. 2 translated “inn”. The problem is that “inn” carries many different connotations—our mind pictures something like a Motel 6—large building with many small rooms that you can rent for the night. If Joseph was there for an extended stay—at least 33 days according to Leviticus 12 for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22) this would quickly become an expensive venture.
As shown by their sacrifice of 2 small doves in the temple and not a lamb—they may not have been well off financially—much less able to stay in a
But if the word is not translated “
8. Typically we see Mary & Joseph as being banished to the stable. How could it have been a good thing for them?
They problem wasn’t that they were alone and desperate, or that there were cruel, heartless innkeepers who wouldn’t bother to find them a spot—the greater problem was that there was a lot of people—and even a lot of family and friends is no place to have a baby! How many women do you know that want to have a baby in a crowded room where everybody and their dog could watch. Sure, some have given birth on a plane, in the mall, but certainly that wasn’t their first choice!
So going to the room for animals—likely something built onto the house itself or even under the upper room—was a good thing, a helpful thing, a privacy thing. There, they won’t have to worry about people watching, kids tripping over them or all the other inconveniences a woman in labor would want to avoid. Similarly, since it didn’t happen the moment of arrival, I’m sure they had the opportunity to make sure the place was cleaned up or prepared for Mary to have a baby down there. Going to the stable was a good thing for Mary.
The stable would have given privacy, if they were really around family, then Joseph would not have been the only attendant Mary had, but other related women who had been through the process before themselves. They may even have known a local mid-wife to assist in the delivery.
9. Was Jesus really born on December 25th?
Most of you know that December 25, was a chosen date that co-opted a pagan religious winter festival. If you didn’t know, there you go. The likely time that shepherds would be out in the fields at night is springtime, while the lambs were being born. The shepherds were out to guard and assist their flocks in their deliveries. That would put Jesus’ birth closer to Passover.
In which case—the reason that
The census was taken over a period of time (even years from its issuing) so there was not a hard deadline for Joseph to meet—so presumably, he combined his registration in
The other interesting imagery is the fact that one of the titles Jesus is given in Scripture is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. To participate in Passover, Jewish family had to sacrifice a year old male lamb. These sacrifices were to Atone for the sins of the family. The sacrifice only covered the sin—the unintentional sins. There was no sacrifice for deliberate sins and they certainly didn’t take away sin or it’s consequence. But that is what Jesus, the Lamb of God was promised to do.
The very lambs that the shepherds were watching born in front of them would be next year’s offering—but they were able to bear witness to an even better Lamb, that could do even more.10. Why is it unusual for shepherds to be witnesses to this event?
12 How many Magi were there?
As mentioned, unless the star appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth, there’s no way they could have been there the night of. In the east, the wise men saw a star that pointed them to a King being born to the kingdom of the Jews. They would have to see it, interpret it, decide what to do about it, prepare for the journey and then make the trip up the Euphrates river, west along the fertile crescent, then south through Syria and the coastal territories—a several month long journey.
13. When did the Magi arrive?
14. Why Magi and why would they care what was going on in
There is so much in these birth narratives that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. If you’ve made it this far, I hope that you have benefited from this breakdown of the text and related cultures.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Credit must be given to Phillip Yancey and his book, “Disappointment With God”. It was my opinion that many points he made would be helpful in Christmas discussion.
In Don Richardson’s best selling book, Peace Child, he tells of going, accompanied by his wife Carol and 17 month old child to the Sawi, a headhunting tribe in
At last, the warfare and barbarism between the Sawi and their neighbor tribes grew so intense that Don and his family decided to leave. But when the Sawi heard of it, they were deeply disturbed. They had come to love and trust the
The next day as Don watched with growing curiosity, the peace ritual began. Young children from the warring villages were to be exchanged, and as long as any of those children were alive, the peace would continue.
It was an anguishing ritual, for every mother feared that her child would be taken. But after a period of emotional indecision, the chief himself grabbed his only son and rushed toward the enemy tribe, literally giving the future of the tribe to his enemies. In return, he received a son from the other side. Peace descended across the mountains.
As Don pondered the significance of the ceremony, he realized there was a powerful Redemptive Analogy. Shortly afterward, Don gathered the elders together and told them how God, the Heavenly Father sent Jesus to earth as His Peace Child, to make peace between God and man. It was a lesson they understood and embraced at last.
Making the Connection between people who have different cultures can be extremely difficult. That is why the story of Christmas is so vital to the world and what God was hoping to accomplish. God desired to bridge the Gap that separates humanity from Him.
1. God in the Thunder
a. The majority of appearances by God in the Old Testament reflects the pattern found in Exodus 19:16-19 & 20:18-19. He was the God in the Thunder.
b. Exodus 19:16--On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.
c. Exodus 20:18-19--When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."
d. God tries to get closer to the people and His presence engulfs an entire mountain in cloud. His voice rings out in Thunder, lightning & fire rain down. This is the essence of Fire & Brimstone as the cities of
e. God’s Thunder kept people at a distance and kept them afraid.
f. It is hard to have a personal relationship with someone that you are afraid of. It is difficult for love to truly exist when fear is so prevalent.
g. It’s no wonder that when an angel appears to most people, like Zechariah, like the Shepherds, the first thing he has to say is “Fear Not, do not be afraid”. An appearance by God or even one of His representatives typically blew people away.
h. A God who elicits this kind of response is exactly what made the Incarnation necessary. It’s what makes what we celebrate in Christmas so much more vital to our faith & the world. Because, after all,
2. Expecting the Grand Entrance
a. Read the story of the First Christmas through the eyes of someone expecting to see a grand entrance from God. Hear the story as if you were someone who only heard the grand entrances from the OT. You’d expect to be blown away by the magnitude and power of God.
b. Read Luke 2:4-7, 16-20
c. Is the Grand Entrance what you see and hear from the Manger? When Joseph and Mary trudge into
d. Does the voice of Jesus shake the ground? Does it cause all those around Him to shrink away in fear?
e. No, the ground does not shake, the people of
f. In the best possible way, God does not overpower, intimidate or elicit fear. Who can be afraid of a tiny baby and their wiggling arms, eyes that cannot quite focus, their total dependence, their diapers… OK, I know a few guys afraid of the diapers.
g. That is the miracle of the Incarnation.
3. The Incarnation– in the Incarnation, God spanned the vast chasm of fear that distanced Him from His human creation
Paul expresses some of these ideas in the famous passage, Philippians 2:6-8
PHP 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
One philosopher/theologian named Soren Kierkegaard wrote a story that has shared many variations that you are probably familiar with. “Suppose there was a king who was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this king was melted by love for a humble maiden.
How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or she would live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind. Would she be happy at his side? How could he know? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross over the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her in disguise, with a worn cloak fluttering about him. It wasn’t just a disguise, but a whole new identity he took on. He gave up his throne to win her hand.
a. Jesus Shared the nature, essence and being of God, so equality with God was not some prize or award He had to earn or attain.
b. The one who was existing in the form of God took on the form of a servant. The word "taking" (labon) does not imply an exchange, but rather an addition. The "form of God" could not be relinquished, for God cannot cease to be God; but our Lord could and did take on the very form of a lowly servant when he entered human life by the Incarnation.
c. How did Christmas day feel to God? Imagine for a moment becoming a baby again. Giving up language, your muscle coordination, control of your bladder, or the ability to eat solid food. Even that does not truly explain what it was like for God. Instead, try to imagine life as a bacteria or virus. God was willing to go to any length, descend from infinity to humanity, in order to connect personally with you and me.
a. Ironically, while the emptying involved much humiliation and descent, it also involved a kind of freedom. I have spoken of some of the “disadvantages” of infinity and God’s power.
b. A physical body freed Christ to act on a human scale, without those “disadvantages” of infinity. He could say what He wanted without His voice blasting the treetops.
c. He could express anger reaching for a whip and clearing the temple, rather than shaking the earth with His stormy presence. And He could talk to anyone—a prostitute, a blind man, a widow, a leper, a shepherd, you and me—without first having to announce, “Do Not Be Afraid!”
d. But the greatest expression of Jesus’ humanity and what the Incarnation accomplished can be found near the end of His life on earth. We are able to see the Passion and Love of God. Jesus weeps and says…
e. MT 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
f. We are able to see and hear the passion in Jesus’ voice. This here is a demonstration of why He came and was born among the animals. God longs to gather His children together. He expresses is tenderly, with passion.
g. What Did God Accomplish with the Incarnation
i. Direct Face to Face Communication
ii. Non-Fear Inducing Conversation
iii. A Declaration of Love
iv. Guidance to Serve
v. Invitations to Eternity
h. The voice of God no longer needs to come through the Thunder Cloud. Instead, the Word of God entered this world with the cries of a little baby. Jesus’ voice no longer drives people away in fear. The first Christmas ensured that His voice is tenderly calling to you in order to establish and reconnect you with the source of all life. To my knowledge, the story that I shared earlier about the king who desired to win the love of the peasant does not resolve. We don’t know whether the king was successful in winning the love of the maiden. Has this King, the King of Kings won your love? His voice is calling you.