Advent 2019 – Week 1

Introduction:  During this year’s Advent season, I am writing a weekly blog post with a story from the Bible, followed by a few thoughts and questions to contemplate / think about during the week.  May this be a blessing to you throughout your time leading up to Christmas.  Feel free to share your comments.

Week 1 Reading:  Luke 1:5-25

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
(Luke 1:5-25 NIV)

In ancient times, being childless was often considered a social disgrace and a sign of God’s judgment on the couple.  Elizabeth and Zechariah were very familiar with waiting.  As the years passed, their hopes of ever having their dream fulfilled dimmed, flickered, then died.  While their hope of having a child went away, their devotion to the Lord did not.  As we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see that this social stigma was a wrong assumption about them, as they had lived and were living righteously in the sight of God (Luke 1:6).

After Elizabeth became pregnant, she went into seclusion for five months, praising God and rejoicing in God’s grace and love (vv. 24-25).

Some thoughts to ponder this week:

  • How would you describe your response to waiting?  Doing everything humanly possible to change your situation?  Give up, resigned to the idea that your situation is permanent?  Or looking forward to see what God will do during this time?
  • What does your response to waiting reveal about your relationship to God?
  • What is the one thing you are waiting for?  What value might there be in seeking solitude (as Elizabeth did) and sit with God during this waiting period?  Where, in your busy schedule, can you intentionally carve out some blocks of time for you and God to have some quiet and solitude together?

Blessings,
~kevin

Christmas 2018

This year’s Christmas posting is a bit late, as the time leading up to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the days after Christmas have been filled with reflections on Jesus’ birth and much travel to spend precious time with family and friends.

Last year’s Christmas theme was laser-focused on one word, one thought, and one Person – “Emmanuel” – God with us – God coming to earth in human form – fully God and fully human – in Jesus.

This year’s Christmas theme has been an interesting journey, filled with a variety of seemingly unrelated topics and things, yet somehow all interconnected:

  • The Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2
  • A full moon this Christmas season
  • A book about experiencing God through desert and mountain landscapes
  • An old Christmas hymn

As I read the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2, one verse seemed to jump out at me this year:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
(Luke 2:8 NIV)

Away from Bethlehem, away from the sounds of the city, out in the middle of nowhere, some shepherds were in the hillsides with their sheep, keeping an eye on them overnight from anyone or anything that would harm them or separate them from the flock.  Luke makes no mention of any issues with the shepherds or the sheep that particular night – probably a quiet evening as the sheep calmly grazed or bedded down on the hillside for the evening.

As I ventured outside in the evenings preceding Christmas, I was reminded of what it may have been like that first Christmas night – peace and quiet, a cloudless sky, a full moon giving sight to everyone and everything, the shepherds wrapped up, breathing in the cold, crisp air of the evening, a myriad of stars dotting the sky.

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the city are fun and exciting, but the peace that comes from the wide-open spaces transcends understanding and is a healing balm to our souls.  In the open landscape of the wilderness, we experience the vastness of God, inexpressible with words or even thoughts.  In the wilderness and mountains, we come to know the presence of God without all our trappings that we think we need to survive and prosper – truly, being in God’s Presence is enough.  Author Belden Lane expresses this thought well around one aspect of our relating to God – through prayer:

“The desert practice of contemplative prayer abandons, on principle, all experiences of God or the self.  It simply insists that being present before God, in a silence beyond words, is an end in itself.” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p. 12)

I am also reminded that this Christmas is the 200th anniversary of the traditional Christmas hymn “Silent Night”.  Much like the Christmas Story in Luke Chapter 2, the hymn was a culmination of both planning and what seemed like at the time an unfortunate circumstance – a request for a new hymn, and a malfunctioning pipe organ.  Rather than being led by the majestic reverberations of the church organ, this beloved hymn was led with a few simple chords strummed quietly on a guitar.

All four of these seemingly unrelated topics came together – the shepherds in the field in the Christmas story of Luke 2, the full moonlit night, the experience of God in the wide open spaces, and the simple lyrics of Silent Night – all are a reminder of the quiet, unassuming circumstances when our Lord made His way into the world, as a defenseless, helpless baby born to humble parents.

And yet, this was only the beginning of the story – about the Creator entering His creation and showing us how to live as He intended, giving us hope and purpose.

May we never lose sight of God entering into the everyday, both on that first Christmas, and today, right where we are.

May we carry that same reality into 2019.

Merry (Belated) Christmas,
~kevin

 

 

Christmas in a Word

Christmas is a yearly struggle for me for a lot of reasons.  For the past several years, I have found a way to way to reduce that struggle by focusing on some aspect of the Christmas narrative that captures the true essence and meaning of Christmas.

This year, I have been completely captivated by the telling of the Christmas story in a single word.

It’s a simple word, consisting of four letters.  It’s not a profane word, but it is a common word. You and I use this word in our everyday speech.

Are you ready for the word?

With.

W-I-T-H.

With.

And the context of this word?

God’s name, from Matthew 1:23: Emmanuel, God WITH us.

Stop and meditate on this for a bit.

The same God who created the universe now enters His creation.

  • The Incarnate takes on flesh, bone, and blood
  • The Immortal enters time and space.
  • The King becomes a pauper.
  • The One hoped-for becomes the living hope for all humanity.

As one author has said,
“In this season of Advent, presence is the central move of God.”
(Casey Tygrett)

The focal point, the theme of God’s sixty-six love letters to us, what we know as the Bible, is none other than Emmanuel, God with us.

  • Not just ancient history
  • Not just a future promise and a hope
  • But also a present living Reality here in our midst

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Here is a poem that describes this amazing event of Emmanuel, God With Us:
 “First Coming”

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

-Madeleine L’Engle, from The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle

 

To love someone is to be in their presence, to be with them, and allow ourselves to be loved and be present with them in return.

As you step through the rest of this Christmas season, may your hearts be captivated by the “with-ness” of Emmanuel, God with us, our Living Reality.

May you carve out some time to experience and enjoy the warm embrace of Christ with you.

Peace,
~kevin

Merry Christ-mas!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
(Luke 2:11 NIV)

A promise kept, and yet to come.

Merry Christ-mas!
~kevin

Prince of Peace

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV, emphasis mine)

Today we look at the fourth of four attributes of Messiah – “Prince of Peace”.  There is so much to share here – may you find comfort in these few thoughts.

The word “Prince” (Hebrew “sar”) means leader, commander, or captain – one who has authority and responsibility and is under another’s authority.

The word “Peace” (Hebrew “shalom”) means wholeness and unity of relationship.  The term “shalom” is about internal peace of soul and spirit and is separate and distinct from the external circumstances that surround us.

When God created the world and humans, there was peace, there was shalom between God and humans.  Adam and Eve chose to break that peace by deliberately disobeying God and choosing to live life on their terms.  Our selfishness created strife between God and humans, and among humans that is still in effect today.

God, in His grace and mercy, desired a restored relationship, complete shalom, between Himself and humanity.  Isaiah prophesied that Messiah will be the One who ushers in, who restores that peace and rules over it from that point forward.   Isaiah later describes the peace that will pervade all creation when Messiah takes his throne.

We cannot earn or create peace; God gives it as a gift.  Messiah was God’s gift of peace to humanity, to you and me, to end the strife and war between God and humanity.  We started the war by our deliberate disobedience.  God ended the war with the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf.  The question is, will we accept His terms of peace and surrender to Him?

 

Jesus gives instructions to His disciples (and to us) before He leaves earth, reminding them (and us) that we can still experience His shalom after He returns to heaven:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
(John 14:27, 16:33 NIV, Jesus speaking)

The Apostle Paul reminds us of the peace we now have with the God of the universe through Christ:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
(Romans 5:1-2a NIV)

And what is our role in this peace, as followers of Christ?  The Apostle Paul gives us some help:

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
(Romans 12:18 NIV)

Scriptures tell us that complete peace is not possible until the Prince of Peace comes back to restore His rule and reign.  Shalom started with God, and will end with God.  Between now and then, let us continue to share Messiah’s shalom with others through forgiveness and reconciliation, just as we experience it from Him.

A promise kept, and yet to come.

Blessings,
~kevin

Everlasting Father

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV, emphasis mine)

Isaiah continues with the third of four attributes of Messiah – “Everlasting Father”.

In our English translation, “everlasting” feels more like an adjective, a modifier describing the fatherly characteristics of Messiah.  According to Hebrew scholars, these two words are both nouns and are in reverse order in Hebrew.  The experts tell us that the literal translation of this passage is something closer to “Father of Eternity”.

When we stop to consider this phrase, it immediately feels like an oxymoron.  The word “everlasting” refers to both eternity past as well as eternity future.  How can someone or something be the beginning or start of something that has always existed?

The Apostle Paul gives us a little insight into Messiah’s role in eternity:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
(Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)

Paul reminds us that Messiah is the head over all created things from eternity past, including us.  Paul also tells us that Messiah is also the firstborn from the dead, making the way possible for us to have life in eternity future.

Isaiah is not saying that Messiah is also God the Father.  The term “father” is not biological in its context.  Instead, the term “father” here is referring to one who cares for and protects others under his care.  Jesus spoke best about this protective and provisional role in John chapter 10.  Jesus summed up His role as our “father figure” as protector and provider in verse 11:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
(John 10:11 NIV, Jesus speaking)

As you worship today, may you be reminded of Messiah’s care and provision for us, from eternity past before creation, in our current life, and through eternity future when we join Him in our final home and resting place in heaven.

A promise kept, and yet to come.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mighty God

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV, emphasis mine)

Today we look at the second of four attributes Isaiah records about Messiah:  Mighty God.

“Mighty God” is one phrase, consisting of two Hebrew words:

  • gibbor” – mighty (as a warrior), strong, powerful, valiant.
  • ‘el” – a deity, specifically, God (the God of Israel), taken from the last syllable of “Immanuel.”

“Mighty God” is one of the names God gives Himself to help us understand His character and attributes.

The order of these four attributes is also significant.  Isaiah says that the Lord is a Wonderful Counselor, possessing all wisdom and kindness, but also Mighty God, fully capable of carrying out His will and valiantly defending and protecting His own.

Moses understood God’s might and power and taught the children of Israel (and us) about Him:

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty [gibbor] and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
(Deuteronomy 10:17 NIV, bracketed text mine)

Moses continues, not only telling us what God can do, but what He has done what He is doing, and what He will do as the Mighty One of Israel:

18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.

21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
(Deuteronomy 10:18, 21-22 NIV)

God also reminds us through the prophet Zephaniah of His promise to be El Gibbor to His own:

17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)

Messiah may have come as a baby, given His life for ours, but has promised to come back one day as a victorious warrior to take back His own:

14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.
(Revelation 17:14 NIV)

As you worship Messiah today, may you be reminded of God’s faithful character and His power to carry out good and protect His own – yesterday, today, and forever.

A promise kept, and yet to come.

Blessings,
~kevin