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Archive for the ‘Advent 2010’ Category

Reading: Luke 2: 1-6a

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born . . . .

The day before The Coming! I’m sure Mary and Joseph knew that it was almost time. They didn’t have ultrasound, but they certainly knew the very day of conception.  Did they have a calendar with a certain day circled like we do today when we know we are going to have babies?  Did they think this baby might come early—like most first-time parents think today?

And I just can’t get over that very long, hard trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem in Mary’s last days of pregnancy! Doctors today will hardly let women travel any distance even with air-conditioned cars . Was Mary afraid for her unborn child?  Was she afraid for her own life?

The day before The Savior of the World is born! The shepherds had no idea; they were just watching the same old sheep wander around in the same old fields. The innkeeper felt sorry, perhaps, for the pregnant lady sleeping in his barn, but he was thinking about how much money he was making off all the census visitors!  The three wise men were just getting on the road. The star was pretty amazing, like they had never seen before, but it fit the description of the sign they had been watching for!  Somewhere a king was going to be born, and they had to get there!

The day before God comes down and dwells among men! Was there preparation in heaven? Did the angel choir have a special practice for their new song? Or were the heavenly hosts busy with the business of the spiritual realm, not knowing that in just twenty-four earth hours, something was going to happen that would change heaven perhaps even more than earth!

So few words are written about the birth of Jesus. In four accounts, Matthew focuses on Mary and Joseph, Mark gives us nothing, Luke rehearses what he heard from witnesses, but he had not apparently interviewed Mary—or she didn’t tell him much about the day.  And John is caught up in the theology of the incarnation, not in the story itself.

While the world slumbers, while we go about the Day Before, The Coming is about to happen! Everything is going to change. The course of the world, the meaning of life, the menu for lunch—everything is going to change forever!  The lights are going up! The curtains of heaven are beginning to open, the orchestra is tuned—it’s the moment before the greatest Moment.

It is the Day Before The Coming! I wonder what I should be doing?

Postscript:  I’ve really enjoyed these four weeks of preparation for Christmas and hope you have too. I am going to take a break to be with my family until after New Year, so you will see no new posts from me for a while. A couple of days after Christmas, you will see, however, a list of the top ten posts from me for 2010, which will give you something to read if you get tired of eating and watching football games.  Merry Christmas to all of you and a Blessed New Year!

Mark

 

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Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-17

1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”

4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”

17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

I wonder how many people have wanted to be the Messiah? History records a pretty good number, but I wonder how many men and women have longed for The Coming so desperately that they convinced themselves that they could actually deliver Israel or save the world?

While some—perhaps most—may have been power seekers or deluded with visions of grandeur, I wonder how many people after God’s own heart like David were motivated to build a temple because they loved God and wanted to honor Him above all else?

One of the most important, hardcore facts to know and understand deep within your soul—and I’m speaking to those of you who love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength—is that you are not the Messiah—and your birth is not The Coming!

In practical words, just like for David, it means that in spite of your very personal history with God, in spite of the fact that He has raised you up, blessed you richly, delivered you from your enemies—perhaps even made your name great, in spite of all of this, you are not going to build the temple. You are not the Messiah!

“The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you.”

It’s not that David didn’t have the resources; it’s not that David was less worthy than others; it’s not that David did not love God enough.  As St. Paul would say a thousand years later, “God does not dwell in temples made with hands!” It is not your place, it is not in your power to be the One Who Comes. You cannot be Emmanuel—God With Us!

You may be like me, however, and feel a great sense of relief that you are not the One Who Comes! You do not have to restore everything, you do not have to level all the mountains! Not that you don’t want to, but you know you can’t! Only God can do those things.

God certainly uses us to accomplish His will. David gathered materials for the temple; Solomon ordered the construction of the edifice—but it wasn’t the dwelling place of God until God came down!  It is our task to serve and to act according to His instructions, but it is not Christmas until He comes.

Mary and Joseph did not make it happen; the shepherds did not make it happen; the magi only followed a star.  Nothing happened until God Himself came down!

And then it happened!

So I give up any illusions of bringing peace and good will to earth, of creating streams in the deserts, of saving the world.  I am not the one to build the temple and establish the kingdom. I am not the One Coming!

I will be eternally happy if He just starts any sentence with, “Tell my servant Mark . . .

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

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Advent Day 25: Can You Dance?

Reading:  Luke 1:46-56

And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.

Occasionally I like to read from Eugene Peterson’s The Message to refreshen familiar texts. I usually don’t like it much for poetic passages such as this one, known as Mary’s Magnificat..  I really don’t like the first verse: “I’m bursting with God-news,”—the wording is too contrived for me.

But I do like the second line: I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.” For someone who is so happy that they burst into song, dancing around is just as normal as clapping or arm-pumping—or something!  Even professional football players in the NFL can’t keep from celebrating touchdowns, even incurring penalties for “celebration”!

Sometimes people in church want to throw yellow flags for celebrating also. On this day, Mary might have gotten a penalty!  But fortunately, nobody threw a flag, so years later her song is still being sung to celebrate the fact that God is with us!

Her themes are familiar to us after our daily readings from the prophets: Our God, who worked mightily in the past, leveling mountains and raising valleys, leveling nations and raising the oppressed, leveling the economy so that the gap between rich and poor disappears, our God has acted in this world to prepare it for The Coming!

His mercy flows in wave after wave before him.! I need wave after wave of mercy to prepare me for The Coming.  What if God had asked the question: how often should I forgive him? Seven times? Even seventy times seven? I would have been lost.  But his mercy flows in wave after wave, He piled on the mercies, piled them high, so I too can dance before the Almighty God.

Mary’s faith had been confirmed by her relative Elizabeth. She stayed until Elizabeth’s ninth month—perhaps long enough to celebrate John’s birth with this special older couple!

Now she had to prepare herself to have her own baby.  I think she danced every day!

The Coming is near!  Can you dance?

 

 

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Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”


I chided Elizabeth yesterday for being a little self-centered when she realized that she was miraculously pregnant in her old age.  Some six months later, she has come to a much better understanding of her role and the role of her unborn child.  She becomes the one to help Mary understand what is true!

Mary can’t wait to visit her relative Elizabeth, probably not only to see if what the angel said was true, but to share her news as well. It is easy to wonder how much Mary really understood. She probably didn’t feel pregnant—most women don’t only days after conception—so her faith would be based solely on her experience of the Messenger.

Any doubt that Mary might have entertained must have been erased when her older relative—her obviously very pregnant relative as all could see—started speaking so loudly about Mary’s baby.  Mary probably hadn’t told many people, so how could Elizabeth have known?

Mary hears the words “mother of my Lord” for the first, but probably not the last time. “You are blessed”—the same words that Gabriel had used!

You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Well, that must be true, Mary could have thought! I do believe or I wouldn’t even be here.  I am pregnant. I do believe that nothing is impossible for God—I’ve always believed that!

Just because she believed the Lord would do what he said?  That’s rather basic to Christian faith, isn’t it? Is that really enough to be chosen and blessed above all others?

That encourages me! Let’s give it a try—just believing that the Lord will do what He says! Let’s believe that He is Coming!

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Reading: Luke 1:5-25

5When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.[b] 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,[c] and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.

23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

As we saw from all of the prophetic passages, no story of The Coming is complete without the stories of The Preparation!

We talk often of how unusual and unexpected it was for the Jews to find out their Messiah had come to Earth in a stall, born to a carpenter and his young wife, then to be raised in Nazareth of all places.

Was not the birth of The Preparer almost as remarkable, if not just as unusual!

All the prophets talked of Elijah—the Jews were waiting for him!

Then there was this nice old couple at church! They had never had any children, but he was a simple priest and served faithfully. Everybody knew them—such a nice old couple—but no way they were going to be the parents of Elijah!!

Not even they could believe it! Zechariah’s faith only got him as far as talking with Gabriel. It is really hard to believe that something that is impossible could happen—no matter what your source is? Zechariah and Elizabeth had wanted children all of their productive years—but now they were old. It wasn’t possible anymore!

And why did God choose an old, barren couple?

Even Elizabeth’s reaction is all about herself! There is no praising God for fulfilling his promises in sending Elijah as the Voice! There is no anticipation of the Messiah, of the Coming.  There is only a kind of self-centered relief and thanksgiving that God has taken away her personal shame!

And why does God choose anyone? And why does God use people at all to fulfill His plan for the world?  And why does God use me?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. All I know is that He really chooses unlikely people, He asks them to believe that He can do impossible things, and He fulfills His promises to all of them.

This makes me think differently about myself—and about you!

 

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Reading: Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you![a]

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[b] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.[c]

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her

Her life was in a pretty good place. She was a young girl from a very small, nondescript village, but she was engaged to a very good man Joseph, who was a direct descendant of the great King David.  He was a carpenter, so they would lead a peaceful life together and have lots of children.  Her life would be just like the common lives that most of the women of her village had led for hundreds of years.

She was a good girl. She loved God, she loved the story of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, of receiving His precious law on Mount Sinai, of the judges and especially of David and his courage against Goliath and other enemies of Israel.  She loved the God of Israel.

It had been hundreds of years since anyone had really heard from Yahweh—you never said His Name aloud! That was much too presumptuous! The old stories were great and all, but it had really been a long time since anyone had experienced God personally.

And her people had been so abused! The Romans had done horrible things in the temple in Jerusalem! She knew the stories of the uprisings—which had caused everyone to think that The Messiah had come—or would come soon—but so far, the Jews still served Rome and the so-called messiahs were all dead!  So she didn’t really know what to think about the Messiah—but she knew that He would come some day!  In the meantime, she had Joseph and her life to live—a quiet, comfortable, and quite normal life for a young Jewish girl.

Confused and disturbed—what an understatement! Was the message she had just received a dream? No, she knew that something had happened—had happened to her! An enormous Power had come upon her—but she did not feel stronger, she did not even feel anything—except maybe a little frightened. Yes, confused and disturbed were good words to describe how she felt.

The Messenger was certainly from Yahweh Himself! He talked of God’s Holy Spirit, but Mary didn’t really understand that part. He talked about a baby who would be the Son of God. She knew about babies, but she was a virgin, so what did that have to do with her? She was bold enough to ask the Messenger—humbly!

He said, “Well, you probably haven’t heard yet, but your relative Elizabeth is pregnant!” That was so hard to believe because she was way too old to have children—and she had never even been pregnant when she was young!.  The Messenger seemed to know Mary’s thoughts and said, “You are right, girl! It’s impossible, isn’t it!

But you know, don’t you, that nothing is impossible for God!

That’s the sentence that Mary knew in her heart was absolutely true. Much of what the Messenger said, she didn’t completely understand, The part about the Holy Spirit she didn’t really understand much at all, the part about the Son of God—that was what the rabbis called messianic language—she knew about the Messiah . . . .a little!

But she absolutely believed that for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Exodus, the God of King David, that nothing was impossible.

So she chose in her heart in that moment to just trust that the Messenger was real, that he was from the God of Israel, and that what he said was true.

“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” She didn’t know what would happen, only that God was coming down to her. She would even go visit her relative Elizabeth to see if she was really pregnant.

Mary is chosen from among all women! We should tell her story from beginning to end, not just the one holy night! We should hold her up more to our daughters to inspire them to purity and to great faith! And to our sons to teach them how to respect women– how to respect and honor each woman’s relationship to God.

Her faith as a young girl should inspire, does inspire us all to greater faith and submission to the God for Whom nothing is impossible.

Lord, I am your servant. May everything you have said about me come true!”

 

 

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Advent Day 21: Time and Space

Reading:   Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus

The Coming began long before it happened. Over the last three weeks, we have seen how Isaiah and David and other prophets have described the Day of the Coming, the Power of the Coming, the Fear of the Coming, the Certainty of the Coming, . . . . just about everything to be known about The Coming.

But when The Coming really began, it got physical very quickly!

(I feel hopelessly lost here because when one starts to talk about the activity of God, we are forced to represent it in time and space, but I believe God is before and after Time and Space, and that He conceived the plan for The Coming before Time and Space—but we can’t talk about it without using Time and Space.  That’s an issue for us only until The Coming occurs and brings an end to Time and Space as we know it.)

A woman had to be chosen, a Jewish woman, old enough to have a baby, but not yet married. She had to be alive when the fullness of time came—and she had to have such faith that she would be willing.

Mary was chosen out of all women—but when she was chosen, Joseph was chosen also! Joseph is the son of David—it had to be so to keep from making the prophets liars. Joseph had to be a good man, one who would believe that he had heard from an angel and that it wasn’t just a bad dream.

And how would he feel about Mary being pregnant? Without him?  Did she tell Him that the baby was from the Holy Spirit? Surely she tried to explain . .  . but how could he understand such a story? Nevertheless,  he was good enough and loved her enough not to want to humiliate her with an open, messy divorce!

It took an angel talking to him directly to help him know what to really believe about Mary’s pregnancy—and I suspect that he didn’t understand all that much even after the dream.

Then Joseph had to be the kind of man who could obey and wait. He loved both God and Mary enough to obey the angel. Previous men of God had been known to argue with angels, to wrestle with angels, but Joseph was not one of those men. He obeyed and he waited.

He obeyed and waited as Mary grew more pregnant each day. He obeyed and waited to sleep with his wife. For nine months—just like everyone else—Joseph obeyed and waited.

And it was Joseph who named the Savior of the World! He did not give him his own name; rather, he gave Him the name spoken to him by the angel.  He named him Jesus—the Name above all names!

Mary and Joseph were real people long before they were characters in children’s Christmas plays. And God chose them both—in His wisdom—because The Coming had to happen in Time and Space—with flesh-and-blood people as the instruments of God’s eternal plan!

The Coming is about the Everlasting God coming down into Time and Space!  The Coming is about the Unfathomable God using a carpenter and a virgin girl to accomplish His plan from Beginning to End, from Genesis to Revelation!

The Coming is about God coming down into flesh—and they called his name Jesus! And He lived among us!

The Coming is about God!

 

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