The Irony of Jesus’ Birth

[Archived post.]

The visit of the Magi occurred after Jesus’ birth, but it points to the significance of God’s promise centuries before that he would one day dwell among his people and be Immanuel, God with us.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14.)

Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli ca. 1474-74 (Wikipedia)

These Magi in search of the promised Son were likely royal counselors or other government officials, possibly from the region of ancient Babylon. Yet they left their lives of privilege and those royal courts they served in and enjoyed. They left the royalty they knew and traveled far in search of a different kind of King, a King who stepped down from his own throne and himself traveled far in order to search for his people.

The Irony of Jesus’ Birth

Centuries before, soon after Isaiah prophesied about the birth of the Messiah Immanuel, Jerusalem was conquered and its people carried off. The conquering king, Nebuchadnezzar, brought the defeated Israelites to Babylon, his capital city.

But with the drawing of the Magi to his cradle, God brought Babylon to Jerusalem. The reversals are striking:

  • Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem came at the tip of a sword, an act of God’s righteous judgment on his faithless people; the Son of God’s birth came in a manger in Bethlehem, an act of loving faithfulness fulfilling the promise God had made to his people.
  • The Jews were exiled to the east and forced to serve a pagan king; the Magi made their way west in search of a King they willingly worshiped and adored.
  • Nebuchadnezzar looted Jerusalem’s temple and royal palace, bringing their treasures to Babylon; the Magi brought treasures with them from the east to lay at the feet of the new-born King.

God’s graciously gave us himself. He chose to leave his heavenly throne to be with us: you, me, and every single one of his people in all times and for all eternity. Now that’s a King worth worshiping.

***

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anticipation in Advent – learning from those who waited first

[For Advent: updated from the archives.]

Before the birth of Jesus there were those who lived in the anticipation of his coming, people who knew prophecies such as this:

“I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:7.)*

Here are a few of those people who lived under that prophecy: one not yet aware that she will be giving birth, one not yet born, and a pair of people whose years had been dedicated to nothing less than looking forward to the fulfillment of their hearts’ desires.

Mary

The angel tells Mary, who’s under contract to marry Joseph, that she’s going to have a baby. Not just any baby, but the Messiah who will fulfill all prophecies, the “Son of the Most High” who will “sit on the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32.) Mary explains that she’s never had sex (as if God didn’t know!). The angel announces that God will take care of it. Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38.)

Did you catch that? Mary says she now desires the fulfillment of God’s word, even if it means being pregnant, a pregnancy that could very well lead to divorce, shame, becoming an outcast among her people. She looked forward to God’s fulfillment of his promise, the Messiah, despite these possibilities. She knows that God will take care of everything, even though she may not understand how, and she looks forward to the fulfillment of his promise to her and to his people. She anticipates his goodness being fulfilled.

I want to live in constant anticipation of God’s goodness being fulfilled.

John

Mary hurried to her older cousin, Elizabeth, to tell her the news. The interesting thing is that before Mary had a chance to explain anything, Elizabeth already knew something was up.

The Visitation, Philippe de Champaigne 1602-1674 (Wikipedia)

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:41-45.)

John (the Baptizer, not the Apostle) leaped for joy. In the womb! Now that’s anticipation.

I wonder sometimes why I do not have that same sense of urgent anticipation about Jesus.

Simeon

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26.)

Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple and God brings Simeon to the young family. Simeon is almost overcome with the fulfillment of his heart’s desire:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32.)

This is serious anticipation: “waiting for the consolation of Israel”, “would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah”, “you may now dismiss your servant in peace”.

I want to know that type of satisfaction that comes from faithfully waiting for my Savior.

Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38.)

Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus, Rembrandt ca. 1627 (Wikipedia)

Anna had been waiting a long time, wanting nothing more than to be in God’s temple as she waited for the Messiah. Do you see what she did? She gave thanks to God, which is something we could have guessed would happen. But Anna knew there were others like her, other people who had been waiting and wanting, and she let them in on the good news, speaking “about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” She was eighty-four years old and still active in her ministry as God’s prophet.

Will I spend the rest of my days, even if they are long and I live to eighty-four or beyond, telling people that God’s redemption is at hand? That is anticipation worth living out.

Song of Anticipation

Here’s a song worth singing in the weeks approaching Christmas:

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Most people sing it as a Christmas carol of Jesus’ birth, but I sing it as a reminder that we also still await our Savior, that we are living in advent of the second coming of Jesus. After all, this song was written not about the Messiah’s birth but about his return as prophesied in Psalm 98. I like to sing it at Christmas because it reminds me as we celebrate our Savior’s birth – the miracle of incarnation, God with us in the flesh – that we still wait and want, that we still anticipate his return, and when he does return all heaven and nature will “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” (Psalm 98:1.)

***

*That passage from Haggai is one of the bases for Charles Wesley’s hymn Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Release from our fears and sins, finding our rest in him, dear desire, and the joy of longing hearts. What does Advent mean to you?

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

An Advent of Falling Apart

[Today’s archived guest post is one of two on the blog this week prompted by a  Twitter exchange between Lisa Deam and Gwen Jorgensen about how life is hard, and at this time of year it can feel even harder. (Click here for Gwen’s post.) Lisa has lived through some truly trying Advent seasons; yet – as she shows in this post – she still hopes, and her hope encourages me. I hope it does you as well.]

***

Every year, my world falls apart during Advent. I’m not referring to a busy schedule or the general craziness of the holiday season. I mean that my world really falls apart. My family has had a lot of financial ups and downs, and the downs always seem to come in December. Last year at this time, my husband was between contracts. No job. No money. And no prospects on the horizon, since companies were waiting until the turn of the year to begin hiring.

This year is little better. Already struggling, we recently found out about a hefty spike in our insurance rates. I’m now looking into getting a “real” job, and I fear that my dream of writing will come to an end. As will other cherished activities, such as picking my children up from school each afternoon and volunteering in their classrooms.

I was driving down the highway last week, thinking about our financial distress and my shattered dreams, when another car cut me off. That was it. I lost it. That car became a symbol of my future coming to run me off the road. It awakened the deep-seated fear of failure I’ve been harboring for a long time.

I know in part why December days are often so dark. It’s the end of the fiscal year. For people experiencing financial insecurity (and many other people besides), it can be a hard time.

But I think there’s a bigger reason. I have a feeling it’s to remind me why Jesus came. My Twitter friend Gwen Jorgensen put it this way:

Jesus came because times are dark; he came into a world full of financial struggles and relationship problems and fear and hurt and pride. He doesn’t wave a wand and make these problems magically disappear. But he gives us hope where there was none before. He shines his light into our dark world. (John 1:4)

Saint Joseph charpentier, George de la Tour ca. 1640 (Wikipedia)

I wish I didn’t need such a big reminder about why Jesus came, but I’m pretty forgetful. Over and over, I’m seduced into believing I can shine my own light. Dark days teach me that I can’t even emit the faint gleam of a candle. I need the wattage of a savior!

My yearly practice of falling apart has led me to rethink a season often associated with good feelings. Maybe a “good” Advent doesn’t mean tingly anticipation or holiday cheer. Maybe it means being plunged into darkness. Maybe it means acknowledging that times are bad; that I can’t do it all; that I am, in fact, desperate. My crises have prevented me from getting ready for Christmas. But I bet I’ll be ready for Jesus.

Good Advents are not necessarily pleasant ones. I’d rather be filled with a warm glow as I walk the road to Bethlehem. Instead, I’m walking this road in the dark.

Night sky.

No stars.

Pitch black.

The conditions are perfect for a great light to shine.

***

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at lisadeam.com. Below is one of my favorite quotes from Lisa:

1d2peb.jpg***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Dark Storm of Advent, a Humble Light of Christmas

[Gwen Jorgensen’s archived guest post today is a companion Advent piece to An Advent of Falling Apart, Lisa Deam’s post coming up on Friday.]

***

It Happens Every Year

It happens every year. I’m no longer surprised by it, but brace myself against the rush of the dark storm at me.

Sometimes, the storm has stolen the ‘living in the moment’ from me. I cruise control and unplug till January, and find … I haven’t lived the Immanuel life, the very life we celebrate the coming of, at this time of year. I’ve usually gotten through Thanksgiving, but not always. Inevitably, though, it comes rushing at me, the storm that shouts and swirls about me, saying “This world is dark, and sad, and hurried, and desperate, and evil! You cannot carry candles here! Not allowed!”

And the message of the little Messiah in the manger? My candle flickers, falters. It’s covered up by Black Friday arguments, and competitions to lure you in best; selling is more hurry, and more worry. Then, ah, then, the lure of togetherness, of being with people you love, and celebrating the things most worth celebrating. Only trouble is, the people you dearly love, well, they’re not all in agreement about what the best way, or the most beloved things to celebrate are.  It’s covered by political ranting on all sides, by heart rending stories added to the ways your heart is already rented.

Source

Empty chairs at an empty table (Image source)

Loved ones have left, gone on. The empty chairs gaze at you from the table. It’s often covered by my battle of fatigue and pain and chronic illness of the last 27 years. The humble, simple story is dumped on by sheer busy-ness. Whether as a young mother, or mother of teens, or now an empty nester, or teacher of music students – the darkness has made it’s annual appearance. Depression, like mold, can grow in this petri dish. I know more now. I will not say it has made the battle go away, but it has made me aware of so much more.

Why the darkness, at this time of lights?

I think the dark storm rightly reflects the longing.  The longing to have it right.  The longing to know that war, hunger, despair, injustice, and poverty do not always have to be. The longing for evil to be over; the longing of restoration of a reeling, violent and angry world.

Increasingly, I know that I do not have to let the dark storm have the last word. Darkness just wants me to think it does, that’s all. The storm sharply juxtaposes itself near the flashing lights, and decking the halls, of which I am always behind.

I think it reflects, truly, the longing that Advent is.

The Humble Light of Christmas

Advent is more than lighting quiet candles.  Advent begins a fierceness of faith, that will be tried and tested, and put to walking out openness, grace and love.

It is Immanuel at work.

What’s  more, I’m learning that Immanuel goes deeper and further, and truer than I ever imagined. The storm shows the words of Christ to be not just platitudes, but a challenge to be his hands and feet.

A lifetime challenge.

If He chose to come in the most vulnerable form, to parents fleeing for their, and his very lives, in a world of politics that wanted him and everyone like him dead, wiped off the face of the earth; if Christ could walk through this dangerous, sick, angsty world, healing, touching lives, talking to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to … well, I think the light of Christmas is more humble than we could even imagine, and more powerful, if we are knowing that Immanuel is with us.

It has made the word ‘Immanuel” come alive with comfort and, yes, even a joy, though not always an earthly joy, even this time of year … when it should be rampant. I long for Advent now, in a way that grows more each year, yet, slowly, with more peace. The more I think about, and watch this, the more I see, Christ would not have told us to be a city on hill, or a light in the darkness, if he had not known he was leaving us in a dark world.  It is interior light he promised.

And what of the people who do not have Immanuel? Who do not rely on a Holy Spirit? Or worse, there are people who are suspicious or antagonistic towards my faith, or have had bad experiences with Christians.  Also, the thought comes to me of “the whole creation, longing/groaning to be restored.” (Romans 8:22.)

The storm is in need of ‘stealth grace.’ Yeah, I think that can be a thing. Christ will put the finishing touches on that, but, he left his candles here. Humble lights, if we choose. He left us walking around in our own skin, with our own fear, emotions, joys, despairs … all of it. We all walk around with different trials, joys, griefs, trials, yet the promise, is to be with us.

light-in-darknessWhen I think of who it is that is with us … when I stop my clamor and racing to keep up with the things that I must, and some I should just let go; I remember Immanuel, the one who walks beside us, when we are carrying heavy loads. Every. Single. Person. All who you see, may be carrying a very heavy load.

I’ve decided that if Christmas is ever how my idealist self wants it, it will be a total surprise.What better time, to cut some slack, give grace, be the hands and feet of Christ, even if it’s just opening a door, or giving a listening ear. “He comes to make his mercies known, far as the curse is found.” We get to be a part of that, even and especially when it’s dark.

So, may Immanuel be with you, a light to your path, and mercy to your neighbor.

Breathe Immanuel prayers to them.

***

Gwen Jorgensen describes herself as “Christ follower, living in more grace than I deserve, wife, mother, musician, music teacher. Watching the world, praying for the world; enjoying God’s gifts.” She can be found on Twitter and Facebook, and apparently hiding behind trees.

gwen-jorgensen***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Real War on Christmas Is the War Within the Church

[From the archives.]

The clerk at the grocery store said, “Have a happy holiday.”

Her inclusive greeting didn’t affect my ability to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The next store I went to had shelves of Christmas lights, Hanukah cards and Kwanzaa candles.

The mix of displays didn’t affect my ability to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The kids at the elementary school Winter Festival sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman, but no songs about Jesus or a manger.

The secular songs didn’t affect my ability to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

merryoldsanta

Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus (1881) Wikipedia

The Battle Lies Within

When some insist there is a WAR ON CHRISTMAS! (all caps and exclamation point required) you might think I disagree with them.

I don’t.

I completely agree there is a war on celebrating the birth of Jesus. Yet the attack comes not from the culture around us but from within the Body of Christ itself. Two examples – all too real examples – come to mind:

  1. It appears in the guise of a Christian filmmaker putting pressure on mothers to be always upbeat so their children think Christmas is never a sad time. (See, Kirk Cameron’s “Saving Christmas” Promo Puts a Heavy – and Heretical – Burden on Moms.)

    saving-christmas

    Apparently Kirk is going to “put Christ back in Christmas” by bashing people with a candy cane.

  2. It appears when a Christian organization puts national retailers on a naughty or nice list, depending on whether their stores overtly include Christmas greetings in their marketing or instead set up inclusive holiday decorations and instruct their employees to say “Happy Holidays” out of recognition that not all their customers are Christians. (See, The American Family Association’s Naughty or Nice List.)

You can probably add a third and a fourth and a fifth example. In the two I came up with, and many related instances, the horrifying aspect is that they are actually focused on money, not Jesus.

The AFA Naughty or Nice List, after all, is about where to spend your money. Never mind that the people who work at the stores in your town are your neighbors and can use the love of Jesus at Christmas. AFA says to avoid those people.

Kirk Cameron’s movie promo may sound like his concern is for moms, but in watching it I found it more filled with slick marketing than ministry concern. “Hey moms, buy tickets for my movie and you’ll learn how to be a super Christmas mom. Your family’s happiness depends on you getting this right!”

Getting the Season Right

Which brings me to what I mean by the war on Christmas being waged from within. Almost every time I read about it I see it in the context of money. Kirk Cameron is trying to increase ticket sales for his movie, and the AFA is telling you that your money is best spent at retailers who have learned how to market the birth of Jesus in their pursuit of profit.

 It’s an age old battle within.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13.)

It’s a battle that even religious leaders can engage in, as Jesus went on to explain.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:14-15.)

Why encourage turning Jesus’ birth, the Incarnation of Almighty and Eternal God, into a marketing tool for retailers and filmmakers and more? The only answer is that even some in church leadership and other prominent positions in the body of Christ “value highly [what] is detestable in God’s sight.” The insistence on supporting those who have shown they can market Jesus’s birth for their own profit is evidence of a love of money over God. These are modern Pharisees insisting they know best how to get to God, and that the way to show you are with them is by spending your money the way they tell you to.

That may be the way to show you are with them, but it is not the way to show you are with Jesus. This is the way to show you belong to Jesus, in the words of Jesus himself:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35.)

The only war being waged on Christmas is by those who are telling you that there is more to Christmas than loving God and the people God puts in your life, whether in your family or at the store.

Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washign Peter's Feet (1852-56) Wikipedia

Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet (1852-56) Wikipedia

How else will they listen to you long enough to have a conversation about Jesus? It’s true he’s the reason for the season, the one who came to live with those he came to save, and that’s the real reason to celebrate Christmas and tell others of his birth.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23.)

God is with you wherever you go: the store with the Kwanzaa candles, the checkout line where the clerk says Happy Holidays, the public school where the children sing of snowmen, reindeer and a jolly old elf. These are the people God wants you to love this holiday season and always.

You can do it because Jesus is Immanuel, God with you.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sorority Sisters, the Senior Citizen, and Singing a New Song

The women of Delta Delta Delta spent time singing carols and socializing with the residents at my Dad’s place the other day. Afterwards, Dad walked them to the door to see them off and started to step aside as they gathered together for a final picture. The sorority sisters were having none of that and brought him into their midst. They posted this on their Facebook page:

Dad and the Tri-Delts

At 93, it’s easy to tell which one is my dad. He’s the one not doing the sorority scrunch for the photograph. Dad told me all about the visit when we talked on the phone that night, and had a copy of the picture with him when I picked him up to go out for coffee a few days later.

Gray Hair, New Songs

There is something to be said about being young and about being old:

The glory of youths is their strength,
    but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.
(Proverbs 20:29.)

The kingdom of God brings both together, and does it like the women of Tri-Delta did: with song.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13.)

When God provides the song, he invites you to sing along:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
young men and women,
    old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
(Psalm 148:7, 12-13.)

He does not discriminate by age, nor by whether the person is a woman or a man, when it comes to speaking out the gospel – the good news – of Jesus. All can join in.

In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
(Acts 2:17-18.)

  • When the old sing the song of the gospel, listen.
  • When the young sing the song of gospel, listen.
  • When women sing the song of the gospel, listen.
  • When men sing the song of the gospel, listen.
  • When children sing the song of the gospel, listen.

No matter who is singing the song of the gospel, don’t just listen. Sing along.

And just what is this gospel?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
(John 3:16-17.)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1-2.)

Freedom from sin and death, and receiving eternal life with Jesus. This is good news worth singing about.

Join in the song.

***

In this season of Advent, here is a song of the gospel for us all to sing along with from Reawaken Hymns:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Joseph’s Pregnant Expectations: an advent tale

[Advent begins this Sunday, so I offer this post from the archives imagining what that first Advent must have been like for Joseph.]

***

I didn’t get any sleep last night. I haven’t been sleeping well for a while, in fact. My friends say that’s normal for someone about to get married, but it’s not just that. It’s about my Mary.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s the sweetest and wisest woman I’ve ever met. But right now we’re merely betrothed and haven’t had our wedding night yet. That’s why when she came to me a while ago with her news it caught me by surprise. Complete surprise.

“Joseph,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”

“I love when you tell me things, my sweet.”

I meant to make her laugh, but she looked down and drew a deep breath.

“You know I want to be the best wife possible for you.”

“And I to be the best husband I can to you.”

“Please let me say what I have to say, or I might not be able to say it at all.”

I stood in silence as I saw something in her eyes I’d never seen before. Was it doubt? Fear?

“Joseph, you are the only man I have ever desired to wed. There is no other for me.”

“Yes?” I tried to keep my voice calm but her words frightened me.

“But I … there is no way to say this without hurting you … . Joseph, I am going to have a baby.”

“Of course you are.” I laughed a little at what I thought were mere wedding jitters. “I hope we’ll have many children!”

“It is not a matter of us having a baby, Joseph.” She looked down again, then back up with a strength I’d not seen in her before, as if her spirit had been freshened. “Do you remember I went to see my cousin Elizabeth?”

“What about it?”

“I went to see her because she and I share something.” I was about to say that cousins share many things when she blurted out, “I’m pregnant. Just like her.”

***

I didn’t know what to say to her. I don’t know if I did say anything to her as a matter of fact. Not that afternoon anyway.

The next day I went to her father’s home to speak with her. I waited in my shop until I knew her father would be busy elsewhere and stood at the door asking her mother for a moment of Mary’s time.

“I didn’t know if you would come back,” Mary said.

“Neither did I.” I leaned on an olive tree in the courtyard as she sat on a little stone bench. “You’re sure about … ?”

“Very.” She straightened the skirts of her robe. “When I said I am pregnant just like Elizabeth, I meant it in more ways than one. That’s one of the reasons I’m so sure.”

I was about to tell her of my decision, the one that had kept me up all night, the decision to end our betrothal quietly rather than make a public spectacle of cancelling the marriage contract. I don’t know what kept me from announcing my intentions, but it was something about her calmness. She must have known I had no other course to take yet she still had that same look that came over her the day before.

“Joseph, do you believe those stories about angels visiting Abraham?”

“What?”

“Angels. Do you think they’re real?”

“Of course. They’re in the Torah, so they must be real.”

“I’ve seen one.”

“One what? A Torah scroll?”

“An angel. One visited me. And then I became pregnant.”

“Don’t make up stories, Mary. If you are pregnant, you don’t have to tell me by whom. But don’t make things up. This is too … it’s too … .”

“I know this is hard, Joseph. I couldn’t believe it either.” She reached for me hand and I let her take it. “So I went to see Elizabeth. Her husband Zechariah is a priest, you know.”

“The one who took ill and lost his voice,” I said. Where was she going with this?

“Not ill. This is one of the things I meant when I said I am pregnant like Elizabeth. Joseph, She and Zechariah are going to have a son in their old age by the power of the Spirit of God. But Elizabeth told me that Zechariah refused to believe it so God’s angel told him he would not be able to speak again until his son was born.”

“And now you are saying I too will be struck mute because I don’t believe you?”

“No, my love. I am saying that I too was told that I am having a son by the power of the Spirit of God. But this child will not be born of a human father like Elizabeth’s child but by our Father in heaven.”

“Only a miracle could accomplish that,” I said as I pulled my hand away. How much of this was I expected to take?

“I can only tell you what the angel of God told me, and that now it has come to pass. I am going to have a baby by winter.”

***

There were many more nights with little sleep after that. Yet this morning I rose refreshed, strengthened for the new day.

I too had seen an angel.

One moment I was lying there wide awake and the next thing I knew I was in a dream. With an angel.

“Joseph son of David,” the angel said to me, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

And then I was alone with the first hints of morning light resting on the window ledge beside my bed. I arose and dressed, waiting for the day to dawn fully so I could see Mary.

Her father was amused at my early arrival.

“Have you broken your fast, son? Mary is helping her mother prepare our morning meal. You can join us.”

“No, I … thank you, I mean … but I … .”

“Joseph, what has come over you?” He laughed as he added, “You look as if you are about to jump out of your skin.”

“Perhaps I am. Is it possible I can see Mary now? I know it’s not … .”

“Yes, yes, of course. She is your betrothed, after all.”

“Yes,” I said to his retreating back, “she is.”

Soon Mary came out wiping her hands on an apron.

“Joseph,” she said, bearing that same look of strength and peace, one I now felt must be mirrored in my own face. “Father says you have something to say that can’t wait until we’ve eaten?”

“Mary, I just want to tell you that I am going to be the best father I can to our children.” I took her hand and led her to the stone bench.

“I’m sure you will love your children.” She sat calmly as I knelt between her and the olive tree.

“I am here to promise you that I will love all children you bear, Mary. All of them.”

She smiled down at me. “You look as if you too have had a visitor in the night.”

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Men in Support Roles – following God’s calling to serve

[Today’s guest post is from Anu Riley, who provides a reflection on what it means to be a helper in God’s kingdom.]

The Bible says woman was formed to be man’s “helper”* (Genesis 2:18) but did the
Bible intend to limit that role to women? Here are a few examples of godly, helpful, and supportive men in the Word who exercised love, humility and obedience to the Lord.

Aaron, Moses’s brother

This man was so important because Moses was fairly resistant to God’s calling to go
back to Egypt and stand before Pharaoh. The Lord then offered to bring in Aaron to
make it a two-man operation instead:

“You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (Exodus 4:16-17.)

With Aaron by his side, being with mouthpiece and standing with Moses–one of the
greatest events in history and in the Word was accomplished.

Elisha

Elijah’s friend and successor to his ministry: After Elijah fled from Jezebel, the queen
who wanted to kill him, he became quite distressed and felt very alone. The Lord
assured him that he was not completely alone (1 Kings 19:15), and instructed him to
anoint Elisha to be a prophet in his place, and a partner in his current ministry

“And anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah to be prophet in your place… Yet I will leave Myself 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15-18.)

Not only did the Lord provide proof that he was not the only left who had not bowed to
idols, but now he had a friend, a servant and a successor to encourage him.

Jonathan, David’s brother in law and best friend

Jonathan would actually be considered the “rightful successor” to the throne, being
Saul’s oldest son. But that did not stop him from forming a strong bond with David. He
“ loved him as he loved himself.” (1Samuel 20: 17.) Their souls were “knit” together and Jonathan gave him his sword, his armour and robe. (1Samuel 18:1-5.)

After finding out and confirming that Saul was trying to kill David, he stood by David (and against his own father) and helped him escape. Their friendship was so deep that they openly wept as David fled Saul’s court. (1Samuel 20). Jonathan never spoke of or insisted on his right to be the next king of Israel when they parted. He only asked that David be kind to his descendants (1Samuel 20:14). Typically, a new king would wipe out any potential threats to his rule, but David swore that he would not do that.

Joseph, the husband of Mary

Mary is truly a central figure in the birth of Jesus. She is rightly admired for her
obedience to the Lord. But Joseph too plays a significant part.

After finding out that Mary was pregnant, he wanted to break the engagement quietly and not expose her to “public disgrace.” ( Matthew 1:17-18.) He was faithful to the law, but did not call for a public stoning as was the Jewish law in that day. He simply wanted to let her go without making any trouble for her. After an angel confirmed Mary’s story, he was believed the Lord (and Mary’s story) and married her.

This took great courage because along with Mary, he bore with the probable gossip and whispering from the community about her sudden pregnancy, and questioning Joseph for still consenting to marry her. He was so respectful of her that he waited until she gave birth before having marital relations with her. (Matthew 1:25.) If (as some traditions hold) they had no one to help them with the birth of Jesus, it is most probable that Joseph assisted her. After Jesus was born, he again obeyed the Lord and fled to Egypt in the middle of the night to protect them both. (Matthew 2:13.)

As far as we can tell, he raised Jesus well and treated him as a son, even though he was technically not his biological father.

Onesiphorus

“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 1:16-18.)

This reference is a bit more obscure and very little is known about him, but Paul’s words of gratefulness and strong language stand out. There was no prison directory or Internet services to track Paul down. And Rome was a big city to search! It took time, effort and great diligence for Onesiphorus to find him, just so he could refresh and encourage him. (I had help from the Bible commentary “Enduring Word” that gave much insight into this verse. The words are mine but the insight came from a commentator.)

Being a prisoner is a lonely, difficult ordeal. This brother obviously knew how much Paul needed a good friend and was determined to be there for him. Not only that, but he did not care what that might look like to others; he was not ashamed of  chains, perhaps because of his own status as a slave to Philemon. (Philemon 1:12-16.) Not only that, but he was a great help to Paul in “many ways” apart from his great gesture. Apparently he known for it, as he told Timothy.

***

Tim here: Have you ever seen your greatest contribution to be behind the scenes? What did that look like?

*The concept of “suitable helper” (ezer kenegdo in the original Hebrew) in Genesis 2 goes far beyond being someone’s helpful assistant. For more on the meaning and unusual power of the phrase, read Gail Wallace, In The Image Of God: Implications for Gender Equality.

***

Anu Riley is one of the most insightful people I read online. Her comments and observations always add to every conversation. I hope you have enjoyed her post here, and that you’ll connect with her on her Facebook page too.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Resisting Evil: The Incarnation and the Iconoclast

[Today’s guest post from Allison Quient is a follow up to Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith. This second part of her series is particularly timely as we move into Advent, the season we celebrate the anticipation of the Messiah and Savior who is Immanuel – God with us.]

***

Resisting Evil from Below

“And do not participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.” (Ephesians 5:11.)

So often the call to stand against evil comes from a triumphalist position of power. We are asked to rise from our lofty position of comfort and offer a hand from above to the unfortunate. More often, the stand against evil is thought to be against “known” agreed upon evil. Too easy. Minority group or person X is evil and hence they must pay.

But often the need for warriors and knights require material and social risk and when knights turn their backs, the one called to fight is the one being crushed. This brief reflection on the incarnation and the iconoclast reaches up to the discussion on resisting evil from below. It is especially for those facing destructive hostility on a prolonged basis and presents the audacious call to oppose evil from the ground.

The Iconoclast is a figure representing a power whether personal, institutional or mob. Often, it is an actual person who wants to destroy you for any reason: whether to feed their own ambition, greed, ego, sense of order or because they hate what you stand for. They may hate you for your faith.

Sometimes we face persecution for our faith and person from unexpected, even Christian, corners. In the end, the iconoclast does not value human beings as made in the image of God nor do they honor the call of God to be conformed into the image of Christ. Functionally, they may be bullies at work, abusive individuals at home or church, oppressive systems or to a lesser extent, merely cogs or a group identity that has taken on a life of its own transcending any individual identity.

Sometimes we are in positions where we can see another person being harmed by another and lend a helping hand, or at a place where we are slighted and can merely forgive and move forward. But what happens when your attempts to move forward are solidly blocked and you slowly realize you are caught in a nightmare, the other end of a targeted campaign of destruction? Maybe the person trapped is not you but someone else and you know that if you step in the person may come after you or you may have to face some other risk material or social. This latter can admittedly be more grey than clear, but here I will be dwelling on taking up that cross of risk.

The Importance of a View of the Cross

As Christians we worship a crucified savior, the image of the invisible God, raised on the third day by the power of God. Jesus came and fulfilled our vocational calling to love God and others as representatives of God on earth.

While on earth, Jesus associated with those the world deemed lowly but God saw infinite value in (a pattern with God throughout the Bible), he resisted the devil’s call in the wilderness to bend the knee, he called out hypocrisy and died on a cross all the while asking us to do the same. The Jewish leaders wanted to destroy him and all he stood for as a challenge to their power and the Roman empire appropriated his death to make a sick mockery of a defeated people (“King of the Jews”).

And yet, the cross is a symbol of the victory and power of God over sin and death that radically reoriented human history. Any attempts the iconoclast made to mar the image of God was subverted and their power inverted.

When Victory Burns in Your Heart

What does the above mean for us? It means, first, at the core of who we are as believers, the good news of Christ’s victory burns in our hearts and we cannot help but see in ourselves and others infinite value and worth as agents of God’s kingdom.

This is key in that the iconoclast seeks to destroy, devalue and reassign us a warped identity. In our person we refuse to believe the lies about our selves or the one targeted. And out of this, when the iconoclast destroys our reputation, livelihood, or bodies, we recognize the one we worship who walked this path ahead of us.

We see our own suffering through the lens of the one we love and represent. (Surviving Psychological Warfare From Abusive People.) The iconoclast has inadvertently identified us with the God of power and themselves in antithesis.

Second, we refuse to be truly destroyed recognizing that God’s future is for those formed in the image of Christ. The Work Place Bully Institute identifies adult targets as most likely to be highly altruistic, social and highly competent people. The iconoclast finds these qualities threatening and any attempts to stand up for oneself generally encourage escalation. They ultimately want you and others to see you in a new dark guise.

At the end of the day though, those of us who are in Christ must see the true challenge as remaining ethical and living out our vocational call to love and serve God and others. Our bodies are sacrificed to God and so we resist patterns from the world encouraging us to join in evil behavior. According to Romans 12:1-2, this is our rational (λογικὴν) outworking of who we are as worshippers striving towards the fully realized will of God (τέλειον). We protect ourselves yes, but we do not take revenge or resort in kind even if it means we “lose” from a worldly standpoint.

And then we also have the gall to do good whenever we can, even to the iconoclast attempting to overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:12.) We are only truly defeated when we let evil overtake us. Ultimately, we live as people of the day in a world of night (Romans 13:11-14) and get ready to fight the night with weapons of light.

Lastly for our purposes, we are not passive or content to let sin continue whether in the name of “letting go,” “moving forward” or even a false “forgiveness.” (Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith.) We are called to expose darkness. (Ephesians 5:11-14.) That is, we are called to shine a spotlight on evil. True evil thrives in shadows and distortions behind the scenes and does not want to be confronted or called out.

The iconoclast wants to mar groups and individuals into inhuman (or subhuman) categories. Often they want to remake those in God’s image into the “evil” to be destroyed or the “subordinates” to keep in line. Challenge these notions openly in word and deed whether it means maneuvering to expose what they are doing to you (ethically), arguing against the iconoclast, refusing to go along with their lies, stepping in on behalf of a coworker, standing up for women in the church, treating others equally or by associating openly with the underdog. (Romans 12:6.)

The Bible has a lot to say by example in shifting the balance of power via social engagement: Jesus ate with “sinners” and outcasts, put his reputation at risk by speaking one on one with a woman who slept around, and the New Testament church was called to not give better spots to people with more social clout (i.e. wealth) and women and slaves are given new family titles/positions in the church family as first-born sons. (Galatians 3. For more, tune onto the podcast Episode 14: Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender & Salvation.)

Resist the iconoclast by doing the same!

***

Allison M. Quient is a Ph.D student in Systematic Theology & New Testament. She is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (AP Research M.Div) and Biola University (BA: Biblical and Theological Studies). Her interests include hermeneutics and exegesis, gender theology, the formation of the biblical canon, apologetics and politics. You can follow her on her blog Split/Frame of Reference, Facebook and Twitter.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How I Spent Black Friday: a cautionary tale on apprehension

[From the archives.]

Black Friday holds no attraction for me, no allure, no batting eyelashes drawing me to the stores.

Black Friday - NBC News

What most malls look like on this day

Black Friday – NBC News

I went to the mall on Black Friday.

A Question Never Before Posed to Me

Late Thanksgiving night my wife asked how early I wanted to get up to go to the mall. This is most definitely not one of our annual conversations, because I’ve never gone to the mall the day after Thanksgiving. This year was different, though. There we were in San Diego visiting family, and our son was able to join us for the holiday for the first time in a few years. He was the one who wanted to hit the stores before they ran out of what he was looking for.

You might be thinking, But why did you need to get up to go with them, Tim?

Good question.

He was staying at his sister’s apartment near her university, about 20 minutes from my in-laws’ house where we were staying. She was leaving very early to spend the day in Disneyland with her young cousin.* That meant she couldn’t bring her brother to us so we needed to go to him. (For those readers with younger kids who look forward to the day when you will not be driving them around any longer, good luck with that.)

We awoke in the dark and drove through ground fog to pick him up. With all the horror stories about how bad Black Friday is, I was surprised to see an empty parking lot. Seriously. We pulled into a parking spot 3 spaces from the front door of the department store.

More like what we saw (The Bay City Times)

More like what we saw
(The Bay City Times)

My wife and son separated to find their stores while I went in search of coffee. I ordered a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee, sat down with my book and iPad, and waited for them to summon me when ready to go. An hour later they did and we left. The parking lot was barely more occupied than when we arrived. Then it was off to the next mall.

Unmet Expectations

Me being anxious (source)

Me being anxious
(source)

My expectations of the Black Friday shopping experience went unmet. This type of thing happens to me occasionally. It probably happens to you too.

Getting worked up over nothing is a common pastime. Jesus warns against it:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. (Matthew 6:34.)

There are doomsayers galore out there who try to convince me that all is lost. That’s what the reports about Black Friday shopping always say. And I bet there is partial truth to those reports, based on what I see on the news each holiday season. But there is complete truth in what God says:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans. (Psalm 118:8.)

and,

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25.)

Whether it’s shopping hype put out by retailers eager for customers and news media eager for viewers or it’s predictions of doom and promises of deliverance peddled by the latest huckster, trusting humans and living in fear of worldly events is a fool’s game. God is our refuge, the one who keeps his people safe.

After all:

Me being not anxious (source)

Me being not anxious

I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:11, NLT.)

With God, Black Friday is past. He has brought his people into the eternal Sunday of Resurrection life in Christ.

No wonder we can trust him.

***

*It was our daughter’s birthday the next day and this trip to Disneyland was our gift to her. Why I didn’t insist on going with them is a mystery.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments