As a young Christian in the late 70’s & early 80’s, a product of the charismatic movement, I remember my mom taking me to a midweek church home group meeting. There were usually 30 or so of us meeting in the basement of a home. We sang (many) short, passionate songs to Jesus. We sensed the touch of God’s Spirit. They were precious gatherings I wouldn’t trade for the world. I can still see the blissful expressions, eyes closed, faces and hands lifted to heaven – “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, His name is called, Emmanuel…” Each of us half expecting to see Him physically standing with us when we opened our eyes. But, as I think back, this is just one of many choruses that didn’t quite capture the setting of the passage that inspired it. Fortunately for us, God isn’t bound by the limits of our understanding in the shaping and use of our lives.
In the opening passages of Matthew’s Gospel, we’re presented with Joseph’s encounter with the angel on the heels of Mary’s change of condition. The brief passage serves a number of functions. At a pastoral level, it tells me that God thought it was important for Jesus to have an earthly father – one that also stood in the kingly line of David (perhaps a subject for a future post, someday). But more importantly, it serves the larger purpose of telling us something of who this Jesus is and what is so important about Him. In this case, that His arrival will bring about the day of accountability for the congregation of God’s people – Israel. Continue reading Good News / Bad News→
What a task! Imagine knowing that your child – and first one, at that – was destined to be your people’s long-awaited Messiah. No guinea pigs to hone your parenting skills – just BAM, right out of the chute. When I consider the responsibility involved of raising my own children – all very special in their own right, but ultimately rather normal – I’m sometimes taken aback. I can’t imagine the being told that my first child was GOING to become the President of the United States, the next CEO of GM, or Billy Graham – you get the picture. I’m sure I’d find the prospect rather intimidating, to say the least. I expect that Mary and Joseph had similar concerns. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I suspect that this is at least part of the reason behind a young Mary going to visit her pregnant relative – Elizabeth, the wife of the priest – Mary needed insight as to what it would mean to be the mother of the Messiah!
While I’m sure they weren’t perfect – what first time parents are – the last half of Luke 2 gives some parenting insights that any Christian parent would do well to heed. In short, they ensure that the young Jesus is well established in their faith in God and the standards/expectations of their people/community. Continue reading Parenting Points – Advent Reflections from Luke→
Why bother? I mean really – no one liked shepherds. They’re dirty, rough, people – largely rejected by society and rather unrefined. Yet, God decides to send a personal birth announcement to these men rather than the “movers and shakers” in Jerusalem (well, apart from the signs surrounding the temple priest Zacharias, Elizabeth and the birth of their son John). These are the ones we would expect to be overlooked in the “strategic planning.” So, aside from the obvious “God cares about everyone” (something we dare not overlook), can we learn anything from the fact that God inspires Luke to include these societally irrelevant figures? Despite the fact that these were simple, uneducated men, despite the fact that they lacked refinement, these men are an example of how we ought to respond to the Word/proclamation of God. These were hard-working men. They worked long hours. They took shifts on the late night watch. But rather than rolling over and saying “A baby? That’s nice. Catch me in the morning” these men ACT on what they heard. Lets look at what they did in response to their visitation. Continue reading Mere Shepherds? – Advent Reflections from Luke→
Its not the way I would have gone about it. Lets be honest, which of us would? Entrusting the birth and raising of Messiah – the Mighty One of Israel, the Light of the Gentiles – to a young, unmarried, teen-aged girl!
Think about it? Could Mary possibly understand what she was getting herself into, let alone understand the implications of raising the Messiah? At one level, its clear she needed help. I presume at least part of the reason for her traveling across the better part of Palestine had little to do with mere family obligations to a relative. Rather, I assume she was at least somewhat overwhelmed with what she had agreed to and needed the insight of Elizabeth, wife of the priest, a faithful servant of God. And, if we’re honest, as we look at Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting (Luke 1:46-55), its clear that Mary’s understanding of her son’s purpose is not quite in alignment with what God had in mind for the moment. Far from the Suffering Servant come to free mankind from the tyranny of sin, it seems Mary (understandably) understood her son’s purpose as God’s means to free her people from the tyranny of Rome and to establish Israel’s primacy in the world. Yet, despite her inexperience and incomplete understanding of God’s program, He chooses her! Continue reading Just a Teen? – Advent Reflections from Luke→
I’ve often wondered why Luke devotes so much precious space of his gospel to the parents of John the Baptist. While I’ve seen a few theories, most aren’t satisfactory. The best (and most likely) ones play off the parallel with a barren Hannah and her son Samuel, the last of the judges before the kings and eventual kingmaker to David. Whatever the reason, I’m convinced that there must be a purpose beyond incidental detail. If nothing else, there ought to be something we can take/learn from the brief biographies that are included.
I think Zacharias often gets a bad rap for finding Gabriel’s announcement to be a bit much to swallow (1:13-18). First, both he and his wife, Elizabeth, are very old(1:7,18). The likely inference being that age had made conception a biological impossibility (menopause is past, and the little blue pill hasn’t been invented yet). Secondly, after years (perhaps decades) of trying to conceive – only to be disappointed month after month – to risk hope once again was more than Zacharias could bear (let alone subject his wife to). The reality is, faced with the same situation, there’s not a man I know who would have retained his voice – well maybe one or two, but my opinion of them is not very high (pig-headed fool(s) is the term that comes to mind). Rather, I think this passage describes a couple of extaordinary faithfulness. Continue reading Faulty Faith or Great Faith – Advent reflections from Luke→
That’s how long the silence lasted. For centuries, generation after generation of Israelites believed that they were unique among the nations because God’s presence was with them (Ex 33). God’s presence among them was made evident through the place of His dwelling (the tabernacle and temple of Solomon), and through His powerful deeds (the signs and words of the prophets). Even after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, Israel knew her place before God was secure because the prophets still spoke – until Malachi left the scene. Certainly God still worked among His people, but where was His voice? Where was the reminder that a Deliverer would come to re-establish David’s throne? Alexander and his armies stormed through – and while God spared them from destruction, where were His spokesmen to rally their spirits? A short-lived independence, followed after a time by Roman occupation – still God is silent. 400 years, where is Messiah, where is God’s voice? Maybe God has forgotten, or worse, abandoned them. 400 years, until an old, faithful priest has an experience that leaves him speechless …. after which, nothing would ever be the same again.
In this advent season, we not only recall the faithfulness of God in ages past, but in light of His past faithfulness we rekindle hope for His return and his promise to transform ALL His good creation to its intended glory. May the certainty of this hope begin to crystallize in your heart and mind this Christmas season.
As we have finished our fall focus on Romans at the church, I will be picking up some other themes on the blog. For those of you wanting more on Romans, fear not, I will continue the conversation (if only with myself) for the foreseeable future. However, as the pulpit focus for our Sunday services has moved to Matthew up through the Easter season I will begin to devote more time to Matthean themes. Also, please note that most of the Matthean blogs will likely take on a somewhat different theme. If my reflections on Romans have seemed too “inside baseball,” you will likely find the the material on Matthew a bit more engaging (but hopefully still as thought provoking). As I’m working up blog entries for Matthew, I’m republishing slightly reworked entries from the early chapters of Luke for this Advent season. God bless as you enter the Christmas season and the coming new year.