Be Prepared II

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.”

Isaiah commands us to “prepare the way” of the Lord. The angel announces that John’s mission is to “make ready a people prepared” for the Lord. The focus tightens and becomes clearer.  God has important business with the human race. The implication is that we are not “prepared” or ready to encounter our Creator. What does this mean?

Ever since Adam life within the circle of the sun has been cursed. All of us are bent and twisted morally, spiritually, socially, economically, etc. Our relationship with God is bent and twisted (and with people and creation as well).  Meeting Him as we are would be awkward, painful, hopeless. Something inside us senses this is true and so we, like Adam before us, work at keeping God at a distance, out of sight.

Christmas is God’s offer to redeem the situation. Not by laying down the law, but by laying Himself down, first by taking on human flesh, then by living the life of fellowship and obedience Adam could not, and finally by paying the penalty earned by every lawbreaker and rebel with his human flesh and blood. Our redemption comes through Jesus as we believe He did it for us, and that it is enough. And when we believe, we are ready!

As Jesus comes to us again this Christmas I challenge you to be ready – not because of your hard work, but because of Jesus’ hard life, death and resurrection!  Rejoice!

Amen, let it be.

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Be Prepared

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”   Mark 1

I am grateful for the years I spent in the Boy Scouts – it shaped my life in important ways. One of the lasting influences I feel to this day is their motto, “Be prepared.”  I have found it a useful principle of life.

It may seem odd that God calls us to “prepare” the way for the Lord. In Jesus’ day it referred to the tasks to be accomplished when a king or other important person was coming to visit. A fresh coat of paint on the outside, a thorough cleaning inside. New clothes or at least freshly laundered. Supplies laid in for entertainment.

But neither Isaiah nor Mark have this in mind – they are going for the heart. They understand how easily people can be distracted, confused and lulled to sleep when it comes to spiritual things. Their job is to warn us to open our eyes, be alert to the times, so we won’t miss something of the greatest importance.

It’s the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus! Over time the ordinary and familiar become the enemies of the awe-ful and significant. The daily grind of the routine can drown out the sound of the approaching King.  So take some time to listen – really listen. Listen in silence before the Holy Spirit as you pray. Listen as you read the Word of God. Listen as you spend some moments in nature. God will reveal His approach. And as you listen you will be prepared to welcome Him – your Savior and Lord. Are you ready?

Amen, let it be.

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The Right to Become

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 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.             John 1

The Bible tells us that becoming a child of God is not a right we are born with but a right we are born to. Physical birth is all about human will: the will of a father to engender a child, the will of a mother to bear a child, and the will of the child to be born.

God is telling us that becoming a child of God is like the human birth process and unlike it at the same time.  It is alike in that both bring forth life. They mark the difference between existence and non-existence. They are alike in that the human will is necessary for the process to be successful.  One important way in which they differ is concerning the right to life. From the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg it becomes a living being and has the right to be born as a child of its parents. Becoming a child of God differs in that we have lost the right through rebellion and sin. Like Edmund in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, we are traitors. We are actively working for the enemies of God and have given up the right to a familial relationship with our Maker.

Enter Jesus the Son of God. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His offer to pay the deadly penalty in full for our rebellion changes everything. Jesus lived the pure, obedient, faithful life we were meant to live. He took the traitor’s penalty on himself and God declares us guiltless and bestows on us the right to become His children. 

It is necessary for us to receive Him and to believe in Him, but it would be for nothing unless God Himself had succeeded where Adam and all his children had failed. In this Advent season let us consider those things which hinder us from receiving and believing. And let us be grateful for all that God has done for us in His Son – Jesus Christ!

Amen – let it be.

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Christmas vs. Easter?

Our guest writer today is Jess Adams, wife, mother and mother-to-be! I am grateful that she has taken time from her busy schedule to share this important insight about Christmas!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
                                            John 1

It’s very common in the Christian community to hear about how much more important Easter is than Christmas. How Easter is the “Superbowl” and Christmas is over-hyped and over-done. Maybe it’s true, but I think more likely an overreaction to Christmas’ secular popularity. It’s dangerous to downplay Christ’s incarnation.  Christ, who was in the beginning, without whom not any thing made was made, became an infant. My child was an infant fairly recently. It was a stark reminder of how helpless babies are and how frightening the world is to them. Christ did not only sacrifice Himself on the cross. His sacrifice began when he became human. Our sins required Christ’s death, but first they required his humanity.

Easter is not possible without Christmas. Both Easter and Christmas remind of us God’s amazing love for us and His promise to come again. This Advent, may we thank God for the gift of his precious Son, who was and is and will be! World without end, Amen! 

Amen, let it be.
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A Promise Kept

Thank you to Lisa Andrews for writing today’s theme!

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’
-Zechariah 6:12-13 (NIV)

David seems like an odd character to read about in Zechariah – but God is reminding His people of the promises he made to His anointed. In 2 Samuel 7 the foundation was laid for Zechariah’s call to crown Joshua the priest as king. The Jewish exile has finally ended and God’s people are returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Under these circumstances they have two great needs: a priest for the temple and a king for the city.

This combination of church and state is new. There has never been a priest sitting the throne in Jerusalem. But Joshua is only a placeholder for Jesus, our great High Priest crowned in heaven above. Joshua returns and helps lead the people to rebuild the temple, but God’s glory never returns. There is still an emptiness that is only filled when He returns in the new temple – the body of Christ.

God never forgets His promises. Regardless of time and offenses. His methods and timing may be suspicious, but His goodness is unquestionable and His faithfulness unmatchable.

Amen – let it be 

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The Miracle of Christmas

Rejoice, our nature Christ assumes;
Born of a virgin, lo, He comes,
As a Messiah fore-ordained.
Adore and wonder, every land!

He left His bright, His glorious throne;
He bowed the heavens, to earth came down,
And thus His wondrous race began,
As God with God and Man with man.

Behold, a great, a heavenly light,
From Bethlehem’s manger shining bright,
Around those who in darkness dwell,
The night of evil to dispel.

St. Ambrose

Virgin birth, angel messengers, stars and wise men – we can wonder, question, doubt and struggle to give any credence to any of these miracles today. And if you draw your circle close enough “miracles” become impossible. In Narnia there was everyday magic that powered wands, inspired prophecies and gave life to naiads. But there was also the deeper magic which underlay all magic and all of Narnia.

Ambrose wrote of the deeper magic of Christmas. He rightly accepts the magic of the story, but he wisely uses it to point us to something deeper, more profound, and disturbing. Jesus’ coming is the end of evil. Something about this Child will do for us what no humans have been able to do for themselves – rid ourselves of evil. This alien Presence will somehow through his visit dispel – break the spell of – break the power and grip of evil on humanity.  Evil is in our dna, it is in our thoughts, words and actions. It defies our resolutions, turned leaves and incantations. It subverts and outlasts us. To the honest the promise that Someone can dispel evil is water in the desert, a warm fire on a cold winter’s night.

Ambrose points us to the light of the Savior lying in the manger, and invites us to wonder, believe and worship. The deeper magic is for me – and you!

Amen – let it be.

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The bigger/better problem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned                                                                                         until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.     Micah 5

Is bigger better, newer superior? In beverages and mobile phones I suppose so, but not in things that truly matter.  Micah wrote of the unknown future and promised that out of a small and inconsequential clan a powerful ruler would come. He warned that the fruit of a plan of ancient origin would be borne that would have powerful consequences for God’s people.

Pastor/poet John Donne wrote about the surprising and perplexing way God brought this to pass in the birth of the Son of God:

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,   

Now leaves his welbelov’d imprisonment,

There he hath made himself to his intent

Weak enough, now into our world to come;

The Immensity that is the Creator has somehow fit within Mary’s womb! He who could not be contained in the entire universe is imprisoned within His mother’s body.

Seest thou, my Soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how he

Which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?

Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,

That would have need to be pitied by thee?

How is it possible that the eternal God could subject Himself to the process of human birth? To go from fertilized egg to zygote to fetus – to pass through the birth canal and to fill His lungs with air for the first time?  All to fulfill a plan prepared ages ago, almost as soon as the apple hit the ground in the garden. This pitiable newborn, totally helpless and defenseless, has made Himself so out of pity. Pity for you and me – that we should receive pity through His pitiless death.

This deserves more attention than our typical 15 second span! A fast-food faith will get very little out of this ancient story. Fight the nervous tic and your feelings to give fifteen minutes to quiet your soul and consider the Word – written and in flesh. Don’t do anything or write anything – just think! What do the verses of Scripture and the poet say? What do they mean? Who is Jesus? Who am I? I pray you will be surprised and perplexed!

Amen – let it be.

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Your Very Great Reward

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”                        Genesis 15

What would it take for you?  Jeff Bezos adopting you and naming you his heir? Winning the lottery — the one where you get money for the rest of your life? Is it some thing – a house, car, computer or jewelry? Maybe an experience – travel, cruise, jump from a plane? How about a relationship – with that very special someone? What is “your very great reward?”

If we’re not careful christmas can crowd out Advent and when it is gone we will be left with only “things.” They may be pretty, shiny and fun, but we’ll get bored and tire of them early in the new year. They are not the reality of Christmas, they are only wonderful symbols.

In the story God calmed Abram’s worries about the future of his family and promised him something even better than economic stability and a lasting name. He promised him the gift of Himself.  Yahweh says to this fearful, flawed man, “I am the best thing that could ever happen to you and I offer myself to you.” It was hard for Abram to hear this so he went on about inheritances. Yahweh, rich in mercy and overflowing in grace, spoke Abram’s language and promised him a lasting bloodline.

During Advent we are invited to consider how God continues to keep his promise to Abram. God the Son came into the world through that bloodline so that we too can receive the “very great reward.” It is the reward of a restored relationship with our Father, once broken by Adam and Eve. It is the reward of renewed life through the Son, once lost through the curse. It is the reward of the experience of the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, once lost through the Fall.

God’s promise to Abram is meant for us today. This very great reward is for us to know, to taste, to feel, to see!  But it is only for those who seek it. It is for those who take time to look, to listen, who quiet themselves and turn aside to just “be” in the presence of the One who is our true Treasure – Jesus Christ.

What is your very great reward?

Amen, let it be.

 

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Are you afraid?

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.     Isaiah 11

Some people have trouble with the phrase, “the fear of the Lord.” To them God is all love and beauty, and fear is totally the opposite of God. I sympathize but what the Bible says is the truth of God, the Word of God. Since we can’t bend God’s Word to our understanding we must bend our understanding to the Word.

I guess I have an advantage in this because of my Father. My dad was an athlete, policeman, teacher, outdoorsman, lifeguard, and he lived with and loved my mother, his wife, until the day he died. He knew how to express affection and demonstrate love, and did so regularly. He also required respect, obedience and love from his children, and taught us how to give it. As a child I feared his discipline, as an adult I feared disappointing him. He’s long gone and I still love him.

People who have lost alot, who have known devastation perhaps can receive Isaiah’s message more easily than “winners.”  Notice the shoot comes up from the stump and the Branch from the roots. This is a tree that has been felled – it has no hope.  Yet God promises that from the unpromising remains something great will come. And this Someone will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” Great loss teaches us that life is fragile, that we are not as strong and wise as we thought. It knocks some of the self-confidence and hubris out of us. At the same time it forces us to turn to the Father – our only help and stay. And when we do we meet the awesome Presence, whose power, greatness and glory would crush us if He let it. And we fear Him, a thousand times more greatly than children would fear a thousand fathers. And fearing Him is our delight. We know that in all His greatness, power and glory that He is altogether, totally, unquestionably good. And so I give Him my fear, my trust, and my love.

What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of God?

Amen, let it be.

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The Glory of it All

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

                                                       Isaiah 40

The project of self-promotion requires constant attention and energy. Both the positive and negative sides must be worked at the same time: I want people to see my best and think well of me, and I’ve got to defend myself from anything that would diminish my image in the eyes of the world. Like all self-centered campaigns it is exhausting and frustrating. It twists me into a pretzel and drains the joy out of my relationships. It is a disordered way of living.

The message of Advent is that God will return. The Maker who does all things well will come to us and for us. He will reorder our lives and replace exhaustion and frustration with exhilaration and satisfaction. He will reveal His glory, His greatness, His beauty and splendor and that will become the focus of our lives. My glory was only ever designed to be a reflection of His. It is borrowed, secondary, as the moon is to the sun. The self-promotion project never delivers on its promises of greatness. When we glorify God through submission, obedience and service we achieve the greatness of a Mary. It’s what we were made for. This Advent season may you know the truth of God’s word as you choose God’s glory over your own.

Amen – be it so.

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