My Christmas Wish

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

There it is, recorded for posterity in anticlimactic language – the moment God came to be not only with us, but as one of us.

When I really meditate on the implications of the Almighty Creator as a human infant without even the ability to control His limbs or focus His eyes, it fills me with an emotion there are no words for. How can any act of humility be too great for me to submit to in light of what He’s done for me? How can I not feel awe and reverence and wonder?

But then… I think we humans have a great capacity to trivialize. We see the image of that first Christmas everywhere this time of year, but it is sanitized and greatly altered from the reality. Modern Nativity scenes are filled with a couple of peaceful animals, a Western-style barn, a lovely winged lady, and a small gathering of predominantly white people.

Not remotely realistic. Nor very awe-inspiring.

I wonder sometimes if in this age of rapid technological advances and torrential information overload, we’ve lost our sense of wonder? When we can describe a chocolate bar as divine or a movie as awesome, have we lost our sense of what Divinity and Awe really are?

If we have Westernized and sterilized the Nativity to the point of losing that peculiar mixture of terror and joy brought about by the Most High’s astonishing incarnation, it’s no wonder we so easily lose sight of the purpose of His birth.

Forgiveness of sin. Eternal life. These are tremendous, staggering concepts, but we so often treat them as background information – a side show to the really important stuff of shopping and eating and watching shows. Or at least that is what an objective observer would likely think by the way we spend our time and dollars.

However, no matter how fleeting our thoughts on the Blessed Event of our Savior’s birth, no matter how little value we place on the priceless gift He gave by His death and resurrection, I guarantee there will not be a single human being unaffected by His future return as King of kings!

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Revelation 19:11-13

Visualize that moment. It’s hard for me not to feel awe. And the crazy thing is, no matter how easy Yeshua may have been to overlook at His unassuming, anticlimactic First Advent, He will not be easily dismissed at the Second.

So today, this season, spend some time reading and reflecting on what it means that the Creator God came to earth as a human child…

That He learned to eat, crawl, talk, walk…

That He experienced the range of human experience and temptation without falling into sin…

That His only experience of sin was on the cross when He bore the weight of all of our crimes…

That He did this for YOU…

That despite the humiliation of an ignoble birth, a life devoid of worldly success, betrayal, the shame of public execution, and all of that, He will come again, but this time in all His power and splendor…

And that next time, you will recognize Him and honor Him whether you believe now or not.

Next time, there will be no decision to make; your decision will be made already – too late for some. Next time, if you haven’t chosen to surrender to Him willingly now, you will surrender… but it will be too late to be saved.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

So my Christmas wish this year is this: Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, consider my Lord Yeshua. Read His story. Think about these things. And give your life to Him so that we can talk about the wonder of His mighty saving grace for eternity.

Choose Jesus, Yeshua Messiah. Choose life.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…

Deuteronomy 30:19-20a, emphasis mine

Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.