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“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy…….for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” Luke 2:10,11
“Joy to the world, no more let sin and sorrows grow”. “I bring you good news of great joy” Joy? Really? Have you seen the world today? Have you seen my life? Where do I start with what’s going wrong! Joy? Really? This is more like a time of depression and despair instead of joy. Maybe there was joy back then but joy? Today? Really? I often I see these type of sentiments expressed in many different forums in today’s world. Thus what should be our reaction to the reason for the season.
Yes joy, really, absolutely. So do understand, I do know depression for I have battled it. I know disappointment, even and especially at this time of year. From and where and why should I or do I have any right to have joy when I look at the state of the world or the state of my life?
We’ve heard an aspect or narrative of Christmas being under attack. From the outside, it can be considered insensitive to those of other faiths or no faith, to use the words Merry Christmas. Religious symbols should not be shown in conjunction with government or even public places. Santa Clause is okay but Jesus Christ is not. Yes I will admit that the worldly want nothing to do with the Christ in Christmas.
Yet I’ve also seen a trend of late in houses of faith that I believe is rooted in a proper intent but that can also minimize or, in fact, leave out the message of joy altogether. I’m talking about the desire to strip away the colorful “mythology” that has grown around our Savior’s birth and stress the “factual reality” of the occasion. True, the bible has no drummer boy. We read nowhere of animals talking at midnight at the birth of Christ. Yes the shepherds would have been looked down by most of the society at the time. However, the very real challenge of wanting to dig into and focus on the “factual” nature of world of the time is to minimize the otherworldly, virtually incomprehensible, utterly immeasurable, joyous event and gift that took place on that day.
Joy? Why joy? Quite simply because God came to earth! God came to earth! Well Doug, you might ask, hadn’t God been to earth before? Yes, there are brief instances where God came to earth, but only momentarily and also He came as God of Heaven, in heavenly form. God came in a form that no person could behold and live. Moses, one so close to God and such a wonderful servant of God, could only glimpse God’s back in passing or Moses would have been destroyed. Now God was again coming to earth. But now He was also coming in human form; and not just some shell or likeness of human. No in some miracle too wonderful to fully understand; Jesus Christ was full human and fully God in one being.
Joy? Joy really? In other religions, did’t their gods come down to earth and take human form? Yes in the worldly religions there are stories of gods coming to earth, but more often it was for selfish or even sinister reasons. The One True Son of God came down, not to trick, not to get revenge, not to dupe some unwitting soul; no, Jesus Christ came down for one reason and one reason only. Jesus Christ came to save you and I. He came for our salvation. The only way Jesus Christ could do that was to take our place. To suffer the judgement we so deserve and He never did.
Jesus Christ came that through Him, we might live in relationship now and forever with our Father in Heaven; to live a life of abundance, knowing a peace and yes, joy that surpasses all understanding. Joy, absolutely Joy.
Also understand this; this was defeat for the enemy. When Jesus Christ came, the enemy lost the war. Yet, even though defeated the enemy still has not stopped fighting. That is one of the reasons that this time of year can be such a fraught filled time. The enemy will throw everything he can at this time to try to rob us of joy. He will try guilt, sorrow, worldly desires, worldly distractions, misdirection; whatever he can do for us to lose focus and turn away from Jesus Christ and the celebration and joy that should be natural from His gift of salvation.
Not only for us, but the enemy wants to show the world, believers acting without joy at this time of year. Why should people who don’t know Christ, feel positively toward seeking Christ if his own followers can’t or won’t feel and express joy at this time of year.
Thus Dear Sisters and Brothers, reject the world and its temptation toward darkness especially at this time of year. While our joy can and should be triumphant, it should not be separating or prideful. That is to say, we deserve the joy and you, unbelievers do not because we are better. No, instead let our joy be infectious and inviting. Let it be a shining light placed on the proverbial hill for all to see; people of faith or not. Let the joy be humble, acknowledging that it comes solely and souly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the plan of our Heavenly Father, revealed to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Joy? Yes Joy! Joy to the world! And in that more recent song written and sung a few millennia Joy to you and me! May you have a joyous Merry Christmas as well as joy filled next year.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, that we cannot adequately express our profound gratitude at the gift of sacrifice of Jesus Christ should not keep us from trying. We thank You that Your plan for Christ was that of salvation and not judgement. Through Your Spirit, reveal to us the true joy and peace that we should be feeling and expressing at the coming of Jesus Christ. Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when allow the despair of the world to rob us of the joy You so desire us to have. Through Your Mercy and Power, restore us to a sense of joy, peace and reverent worship, that will be inviting to those who don’t You and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
“And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:39
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem…and fell among thieves….a priest….when he saw him passed by on the other side…” Luke 1o:30,31
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…..” John 1:14
There are many stories that often come to mind when we (or at least I) think about Christmas; the choir of angels, the Magi, the star, and the manger, just to name a few. However, at first glance, until I thought about, I would not have added the parable of the Good Samaritan as one of them. Yet upon further reflection, I’ve come to feel that it is a perfect story to illustrate an aspect of what Christ’s mission to earth was all about.
Let me explain. We all probably know the overall story well; however, there are some particular facets of the story I would like to highlight. It starts with a man coming from Jerusalem heading for Jericho. While the parable doesn’t specifically state this, it is inferred that this man was of the Jewish faith. We get the sense that this was a man whom, until unfortunate events befall him, probably a priest or a Levite would have been glad to talk to or have been seen with. But then the world intervenes, for this traveling man, through no fault of his own, is robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead. Now mind you he is not dumped into a ditch or tossed behind some trees. No, he left out, next to the road in plain site. So it is that this man, who would have been seen as upstanding in any other circumstances, had become messy. He was messy and his situation was messy. So messy in fact that a priest sees him and actually crosses the road to pass him by. Likewise, a Levite, a devout member of the tribe set aside by God to serve God and His people, also passes by without offering one inkling of help or hope. They won’t get involved.
Then enters the Samaritan. Now understand the Samaritan has no business helping a Jew. The Jews despised the Samaritans thinking they were a low and fallen people. No upstanding Jew would have anything to do with a Samaritan. However this Samaritan, coming upon the scene doesn’t pass to the other side, does not see a mess to be avoided but sees a human being in great trouble, in terrible need. With a great sense of selflessness and compassion the Samaritan treats the broken man’s wounds with his own costly oil and wine. He puts the injured man on his own donkey and he walks so that the man can ride. He brings him to an inn and continues to minister to the injured man and then pays the innkeeper a considerable sum and even promises more to continue to care for the man until he is returned to health. Finally understand this, the Samaritan continues on his journey, he was not expecting repayment or reward from this man. The Samaritan had practiced a messy, radical type of love.
The context of this story is also very important to understand. As Luke tells us, the whole story comes about because first a lawyer, sent by the council was trying to put Jesus to a test. He asks Jesus how does one obtain eternal life. When Jesus turns it back on the lawyer by asking him what does the law say; the lawyer recites those two greatest commandments, about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. But the lawyer isn’t done, to test Jesus more and justify himself, the lawyer asks the question that echoes down to us this very day: “And who is my neighbor?” In essence who is it really that I’m supposed to love like myself?
Here’swhere I see the direct connection to Christmas. You see, John tells us in his gospel that Jesus was there with God, indeed was God from the very beginning. Until coming to earth, Jesus existence was perfect; he knew no pain, no hunger or sorrow. Yet Jesus looked from heaven and He saw messy. He saw a broken world beset with evil after evil, people wounded, stripped and robbed of their humanity. Jesus could have passed by, He could have stayed in heaven. Instead, Jesus decided to get messy. Following His Heavenly Father’s plan, He came to us and bound our wounds. He poured out His very blood and flesh to make us whole. He placed us on His shoulders to carry us when we can go no further and when it came to paying the price; the price for our salvation, Jesus gladly paid it in full on the cross.
This Christmas, Jesus Christ is asking us: Are we looking to get messy? Are we looking for those who may be in our own families, our own congregations but equally as much or even more so, are we looking to those out in the world who are broken, stripped of dignity and passed by and left behind by everyone else in the world? Even if that person wants nothing to do with us are we willing to do whatever we can for them? When we think, at this time of year, of the present of love that Jesus Christ gives to us by coming here to be with us, are we willing to gladly share that love with others? That messy, radical, overwhelming love is what Christmas is all about.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we are filled with joy and praise as we consider the gift of Jesus, God who came to live among us. We can not begin to understand the depth of sacrifice that leaving Your Side and sojourning with us must have been. Fill us with Your Spirit that we would long to emulate that example as we reach out to those in this world who are messy, broken, left behind. That by following the example of Christ we will be living lives of honor, glory and praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke 2:1
“You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11
Power. The world’s power. It can surely seem that world is powerful; powerful in the extreme. It may feel that today you are being swept along in the grasp of the power of the world. You may feel that you have no power, no influence, no control concerning what is happening in your life. Maybe it’s a government power, maybe your work or your boss, maybe it is family members or some other power or combination of powers that feels like a flood, sweeping you to a place where you will be lost.
It certainly could have seemed like that for the Israelites during the time of Caesar Augustus when Rome occupied their land. They had to pay taxes to Rome. While they could still keep their religious practices, that freedom existed only to the extent that it did not question or threaten the total authority of the Roman leadership over every aspect of their lives. As an example, a leader over 1400 miles away decides that he wants to know just how many people are under his control; this may have been for taxation purposes or just to boost an ego, a feeling of power. So it one was one thing if someone was going to come by and count you but no, there was more. For some reason, you had to go back to your ancestral city, perhaps to keep from being counted twice. And now we come to the crucial piece; Joseph’s ancestral city; the city he was from, the city he would need to go back to was Bethlehem.
Fast forward 33 years. In the Roman’s mind, there was a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, a disturber of the peace; at least that’s what they were hearing from the Jewish leadership. The Romans were no strangers to conquered troublemakers. They knew how to deal with these types. They also had the power to do what ever the wished. Pontius Pilot tells Jesus just that when he asks Him; “Do you not realize that I have the power to release you or have you crucified?”. One wonders if a slight smirk, perhaps a small sad smile did not come upon Jesus’ face at the absurdity of Pilot’s comment. Here was one of the creation, saying to his creator: I have the ultimate power to destroy you. That I need to die and how I will die is far from your control; Jesus is telling Pilot in response.
So here’s the thing Dear Sisters and Brothers. In each of these cases; the world felt it had the upper hand. The world and the leaders of the world felt they had they were exercising supreme power. But wait there is more to the story; and that more shows just how much more powerful Our Heavenly Father is and/or how weak, worldly powers are depending on how you view it. For you see, 700 years before the birth of Christ, when Rome had hardly even begun, Isiah the prophet was prophesying that a virgin would give birth to The Savior, Immanuel. One hundred years after that, centuries before Rome thought of conquering the Jews, Micah was predicting that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem.
You see Dear Sisters and Brothers; Mary and Joseph needed to be in Bethlehem. Our Heavenly Father was going to be sure that His Son, to fulfill His own divine prophesy, was born in the City of David. For all their seemingly worldly power; the Romans were just carrying out the Will of a higher, The Highest Power. They just had no clue. Likewise, Pontius Pilot, believes he is the greatest power there in Jerusalem. He has the power over life and death itself. In fact, he is a weak, puny man. Even in the world, he can’t make up his own mind whether to free an obviously innocent man, or placate a hateful, spiteful crowd, with one man’s death. The decision is not in his hands. God’s Will be done.
You may feel that you’re being swept along by the powers of this world today. You may feel that you are powerless. You may even fear that there is no power to withstand the onslaught of the power of this world. Yet be open to this. It may not be the world pushing you somewhere as it is Our Heavenly Father, calling, directing you somewhere that you need to be. He may be using the world to bring about your change, but He is never leaving you subject to the power of this world. In bringing you to your Bethlehem destination; where God will richly bless you, will bring about your salvation, He will never forsake you.
You might ask, if I’m being brought to a Bethlehem moment; does that also mean there is a Golgotha moment, a horrible death for my sin moment as well? No! Never! For the truest blessing, the most merciful miracle, is that only One could bring about salvation by experiencing death at Calvary. Only the Perfect, Sinless, Son of God’s death, could and can cleanse our sin from us. Only through the power of God, is Jesus Christ raised up and by his sacrifice, we are raised up with Him as well. So in prayer and supplication, if you are feeling swept away by the power of the world; call upon Jesus Christ to give you, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the understanding that no earthly power has dominion over you. It is not so much about trying to fight the power of the world as it is receiving and moving toward the calling of Bethlehem, knowing that Our Heavenly Father uses all things; whether they know it or not, to see His Will be done. He loves you. He is with you. He will keep you. Merry Christmas.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father. We confess that we can become bewildered, confused and even fearful at the strength and power of this world. Forgive us when doubt Your Power to overcome the world. Pour out Your Spirit of discernment that will help us to realize that You can and will use all things to bring about Your Will. Comfort us when we feel overwhelmed or swept away by this world; testifying to us that You are bringing us to our Bethlehem moment; where You have authored our salvation. That in the midst of all things we would find the joy and peace to praise Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the Name fo Jesus Christ. Amen