Tag Archives: Christmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Gift of Immanuel

#FacesoftheChristmasStory

Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel–which, when translated, means, God with us.
Matthew 1:23, quoting a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel: God With Us. What a beautiful concept.
It’s out-of-this-world: a Person that is with us, but is also God. Of course, this was fulfilled in Jesus.
But Immanuel encompasses so much … SO MUCH. Imagine that: if God, the Maker of all that exists, was with you what would that really mean?
Let’s take a little look.
God With Us means that God would be among us. He would become a Man like us. He would eat our food, sleep in our human beds, walk our human roads, be involved in our human conversations, and be an all-round human. This is what God did when He became a man. Jesus grew up like a human would and fulfilled the Father’s plan. He was God among us, and He was human in every way. He felt like we feel and knows how we think. He’s been in our shoes, and He knows what we need at every situation.
God With Us also means that God would be, well, with us. Accompanying us. Involved in all of our things. What does that really mean? In Isaiah 41:10 God says, “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” God, with you, would give you strength, help you, and hold you steady.
Finally, to those who are saved, we can look back through the lens of the Redemption Work of Jesus to see that Immanuel means God is alive in us. That’s as close as anyone can get. He is at work in us, through His Spirit, to make us will (or want to do) and to make us do what will give Him most pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He is transforming us, making us more like Him, through His Spirit in us.
It’s a refreshing and amazing thing to have such a relationship with the One Who made us and knows us.

The Faces of the Christmas Story Project has shown us a glimpse into the lives of a couple of personalities involved in and affected by the coming of God as a man. The Christmas Story. But beyond and through it all, they also show us what God-With-Us means, for it was Him working behind-the-scenes.
The Prophets showed us that God is with us to fulfil His promises.
The Angels showed us that God is with us to favour us.
Zacharias showed us that God is with us in our doubts, and will not leave us even till we come to believe His Word. He is patient with us in our faith journeys.
Elisabeth showed us that God is with us to do His miracles in our lives, even to the impossible. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Caesar Augustus showed us that God is ruling in the affairs of men, even of those in authority, on our behalf.
King Herod’s story showed us that God is with us to affirm us, and that we need not live with a sense of inferiority, seeking the approval of men.
The Magi showed us that God is with us to make us so highly favoured that others will come to our rising, to receive of His Light shining in us.
The Shepherds showed us that God came for everyone, even to the lowliest.
The Innkeeper who had no room for Jesus to be born showed us that wherever Christ enters (even if it is a stable), He makes into something special.
Joseph showed us the life of a faithful man. God is with us through His Spirit to make us faithful.
Mary showed us that God is with us to make us partakers of His purposing, using us to bring it to pass on the earth.
All of these and more are encapsulated in ‘Immanuel’.
Over the past 11 days we have covered these 11 people. And now we are at the 12th person. The tagline of this Project is ’12 Lives Called to be a part of God’s Story.’ If you noticed, each of the previous articles had names of characters as their titles, but this one doesn’t. We’ve talked about the meaning of Immanuel, but do you get who the final person should be?
Who else is called to be a part of God’s Story?
It’s mostly conditional. Because that person is…
YOU.
The relevance of Immanuel to Christmas is that God has come for you. Not just the world, but you. The story is generally celebrated worldwide, but we must understand it at a personal level.
Immanuel is God with you.
Jesus came to die and rise, to make the way for you to come back to God. The way is still open. But at the personal level, it is completed when you receive His gift, and come into this Way.
This is the comfort and confidence and blessing of the Christmas story. At the personal level, the story is complete when you receive God’s gift of Eternal Life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Immanuel is God’s Promise to us. It may have seemed like He had abandoned us, like we were alone, like we were helpless. But no more. He came to be among us, He is with us, and now He is in us.

So what do you say?
Have you received His Gift?
Will you?

And when you do receive God’s Gift, you enter into the line of those who are a part of God’s Story, and He writes the best stories for His characters. He’s with and in every one of them, working things out for their good. In saving us, He has given us His best. And He is still with us.
This way, Christmas for us becomes a celebration of all God is to us and all He gave to us when He came to us. The birth of Jesus was just the beginning.
And now every single day becomes a celebration too, not only Christmas. Because we are never on our own, and never alone.
God has come to be with us.
Immanuel.

Thanks for joining this 12-day journey.
Have a Very Merry Christmas!

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FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Joseph

‘Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.’ Matthew 1:19

 

Joseph was a good man. If that’s the only line you read here, it’s enough. I’m going to be gushing about him for the rest of this article.

Every time I read about Joseph in the Bible I am inspired to be a better person. This mostly silent character played a major role in the unfolding of the Christmas Story. Who is this man that God entrusted with the fostering of His Son on earth?

Do you know that, throughout the accounts, we do not hear Joseph’s voice? There was no place where his speech is recorded, as far as I’ve seen. Though of course he was not mute but the writers did not major on his words. His actions, however, spoke so loudly about the substance of this man that though we barely meet him, we feel we know him completely.

He was a descendant of David the king. Growing up, he must have heard that Messiah would come through their lineage. Perhaps some of his relatives thought one of their children would be the promised king. Joseph had long given up on such fairy tales. If he was a king then perhaps it would be king of hammers and nails, being that he spent so much time with them. He was a carpenter.

But when we first meet him he’s just heard that the girl he is betrothed to is pregnant, and there is no way in creation that he is even close to being responsible. She claims it is the Lord that had – and he had to wash his ears for even hearing the blasphemy of it all— ‘conceived’ the baby in her womb. He felt hurt, cheated and taken advantage of. Had he been too nice? It would have been better if she had simply admitted to an affair with one of the other boys that tried to woo her. Or perhaps the deed had occurred during those three months she spent down south with her cousin. Now she wants to spout a ‘miracle baby’ story like her cousin’s?

He didn’t know what to think.

It made no difference, either way. By law, she should be stoned. In public. By the townspeople. By him.

But Joseph could not and would not let that fly, for her sake. He chose to live above his lawful right of vengeance. He chose to let the situation pass quietly, breaking the betrothal in secret. The girl’s pleading parents could not express their gratitude enough. But he was still hurt.

You know the rest of the story. An angel appears in his dream telling him not to walk out on Mary, because the child in her womb is really of God. Didn’t God just need Mary’s womb alone for a virgin birth? Why was Joseph so important to this plan? What was Joseph needed for? As the story unfolds further, we would see as this man supports his betrothed. In choosing to stay, Joseph risked all kinds of ridicule. But in all that time he did not expose her. He supported her all the way to the baby’s delivery and beyond, for a baby he did not sire. This was a just man.

There is nothing like having faithful people supporting you when you’re birthing something that is of God.

Another striking thing about Joseph is the ministry of angels in his life. God gave him instruction and direction through angels in his dreams, and he did not despise or discard them. These happened at least four times. First, when the angel told him to stay with Mary. When Herod’s men were coming to kill the baby, an angel told him in a dream to leave the country. When Herod was dead, an angels told him in a dream to return. When he found that Herod’s son was in power, an angel told him in a dream to go round to stay in Nazareth. Dreams, dreams, dreams. He was impressionable to God, and this is the kind of heart that God works with, guiding and protecting. This is the kind of person that God can trust with His instructions, because they will listen and obey.

Joseph was also devout, obedient to the law of God. Throughout Mary’s pregnancy, he did not have intercourse with her until the baby was born and they were married. We read of him taking the baby to the temple to be dedicated, along with sacrifices. We later read of him taking a 12-year-old Jesus to the temple and, when Jesus goes missing, he begins looking for him along with his wife. When they do find Jesus, the boy is conversing with the leading scholars of that day.

And when they tell Jesus they’ve been looking for him, Jesus replies, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you realize that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

And here’s the fourth thing I learnt about Joseph. He was aware he was raising a boy that did not come from his loins. Jesus was Someone else’s Son. Joseph was just a caretaker for this boy, though he loved him as his own. How do you think he felt when Jesus referred to his real Father to Joseph’s face?

Stewardship, servanthood— these are undesirable qualities in the me-first world of today, though they are desperately needed. To take care of another man’s property and value it like your own is faithfulness in action. That is the best path to sustainability of anything. Joseph did that, serving God by raising His Son like his own.

God could trust this man.

He raised Jesus and must have loved him like his own. He would still have other children, and his qualities would definitely rub off on them as well. But by the time Jesus begins His ministry, Joseph is no longer in the story. He had most likely died by then, but he had played his role.

There is a lot to learn from and about Joseph, but one is enough for now.

Jesus said to His disciples, “…whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

Even Jesus came to serve. In God’s Kingdom, service is not ‘just’ a step to greatness. In God’s kingdom, greatness is shown in service. Greatness serves. Service is greatness. Joseph portrayed this.

 

Jesus came so that as many as believe on Him can have the Life of God in them. With God’s Spirit in us, we have the ability to be faithful (Galatians 5:22). Such is the kind of person that He can entrust with the responsibility of being co-labourers in His reconciliation project, bringing men back to life in Himself. He can entrust these people with ideas and assignments that will bless many, feed many, lift many, and help people better see the love He has for them.

This is God’s intent.

These people have angels sent to do service for them (Hebrews 1:14). They are sons of God and are led by His Spirit (Romans 8:14). They follow Jesus daily and learn from Him to serve.

 

This Christmas, allow yourself to be used of God. Learn to serve.

3 days to #Christmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Inn Keeper

The Inn Keeper
“…there was no room or place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
 
“Sorry, we’re closed.”
The people in line groaned. Some muttered about having to go stay with some nosy relatives they were hoping to avoid.
The inn keeper rubbed his eyes, holding in a yawn. It had been a long day, what with checking in all these visitors. They had been coming in all week, none wanting to be far from their hometown when Caesar’s deadline arrived. Everyone under Rome’s jurisdiction had to return to their hometowns to be registered, per the imperial order. They would need a place to stay, and that meant big business for people like him. He had even cleared the storage rooms to make more bedding space. Bethlehem had not seen this large a crowd in years, But now, he was surprised how many claimed the town as theirs. Now, the last of the spaces had been taken, and even the lobby was full of people lying on their robes on the bare floor.
It had been a good day for business. He called for his servant as he prepared to close for the day.
A young man bustled in, frantically scanning faces. His gaze fell on the inn keeper. “Sir, please, we need a room.”
“You and every other person,” someone yelled.
“You don’t understand—“
“Sorry, we’re closed,” the inn keeper chimed in. “All the rooms are taken—“
“No, no, wait. It’s m-my wife, she’s with child. She’ll soon be in labour.” The accent was probably Galilean. The innkeeper had gotten used to distinguishing these accents over the past few days.
He looked out over the filled room. This young man’s ruckus was already drawing curious stares, some of which were not too pleased. He leaned in to whisper. “I wish I could help you, sir, but there’s no more space. Not even on the floor.”
“What about the roof?”
“Like I said, there is no space. You could try other inns. I could get Oved to show you a suitable one.” Oved, his servant, hurried over. His reddened eyes showed his need for rest as well. As soon as some of these guests registered with the government tomorrow, they would leave, more space would be available and work would continue. The sooner they got rid of this man the better.
The Galilean stared back out the doorway. “The other inns were closed. You’re my only hope right now. I’ll pay anything.” He was already reaching into his bag.
“Hey!” one of the visitors called out. “The man said there’s no more room! You deaf?”
Oved stepped in before the frantic father-to-be could respond. “Perhaps we should discuss it outside.” He also knew there was nothing he could do to help, but he needed to at least let him down easy. He stole a glance at his master as he tried to lead the Galilean toward the door.
“No, sir, please help us—“
A cry rang out from outside, drawing stares. The Galilean hurried out the door, Oved on his tail. The inn keeper was closing his desk when his servant peeked in at him through the doorway, concern etched on his face. The inn keeper sighed as he stomped over, making a mental note to remind Oved that this was a business, not charity. Sure enough, the Galilean sat holding his young wife by the doorway as she moaned. Oved still stared at his master with pleading eyes, but the inn keeper refused to budge.
“She needs help!” the Galilean cried.
“Sir?” Oved’s voice broke in. “What about the stable?”
He had not expected that. “There’s no way they’ll want to use that—“
“We’ll take it!” the Galilean said. “A stable would be fine.”
So they were desperate, willing to deliver her of this baby just feet away from the cow dung and sheep dip. Desperation was good for business. This was the part where he usually negotiated prices, but while he was a businessman he was no monster. He shrugged. “Oved, you handle this. I’m turning in.”
And with that he went in and took the stairs. What a day. A good night’s rest was what he needed.
Making his way past the lying bodies, he walked into his room on the corner of the roof where it always had been. His bed still sat in the middle, stately and rough. If Kezia was still around it would have been neater and he would have eaten a decent meal.
Kezia. Anytime he turned in for the night, the mostly empty room reminded him of her death last summer.
He fell onto his bed and groaned. A thought popped in his head, of how this would have been a perfect place for a woman in labor to give birth.
But just as swiftly, he shoved the thought as he plunged into dreamland. He had just about enough space for others and he had rented it out, but this was his room. His only lasting memory of her. There was no way he was going to lease it to some strangers.
This was their bed. His bed.
His heart.
 
 
While this is fiction, I really don’t blame the inn keeper. The real one, anyway. He really did not have any more room, so he let them use the animal stable. He had no way of knowing that the Son of God was about to be born as a man, and he had just let Him be born in an animal outhouse. If He had known, what do you think he might have done differently? He possibly would have herded the occupants of the best suite in his inn out the door and refurbished it to the best of tastes. He would have brought them to his own room, deeming it fit to sleep by the door than to let God’s Son be born in his stable. He would have made room because God was coming to his house. But he did not know.
Even today, it is easy to miss out on God’s gift because of how ordinary it may look. God’s help may come to us in the form of a person, or an idea, or even a message sent to us. All of that was encapsulated in the Word, God that became flesh, and many still do not know the Person born that day and what He came to do for us.
Sometimes we may be like the Inn Keeper of the story. For the right reasons, our hearts might be filled with a lot of things. Thoughts on how to pay the mortgage, plans for the next year, decisions to be made. All important things of our lives that we need to organise and plan.
Sometimes, what fills our hearts are pain and hurts that we find hard to let go of. Memories of times we were cheated, memories of times we were wronged, memories of times we made mistakes, memories of times we treated others unfair. Naturally, these memories shape who we become and how we think, for better or worse. A lady who has been cheated may find it hard to trust in another man. A person who failed an exam may find it hard to believe that he/she can ace it the next time. A man may hold on to the memories of lost loved ones at the expense of the comfort and healing the rest of his family and friends are willing to offer. Subconsciously, we hold on to these things believing that we have a right to them. They are our memories, a piece of our identity.
In the midst of all this, God wants to have room in our hearts, and we just don’t see how that could work.
But the truth is that we really do have room for Him. We just don’t realise it. He knocks on the door of our hearts and, if we let Him, He will help us clean house. Baggage we have carried with us for so long, he will carry out. Burdens that have driven us to the ground, he will lift off because He cares for us. With Him as our priority, He helps us to properly prioritise. He gives us wisdom in our daily living and endeavors.
The thing is that, many times, we feel we have to make room before He can come in and, in a sense, that is true. But the only way we make room is by actually opening the door and letting Him come in. We cannot deal with the mess by ourselves.
He sees the mess, and only He can take it out.
Trust Him with all of it. He can handle it.
He will amaze you and comfort you as he turns what was a hurtful memory into a testimony of His faithfulness. He will build you up and enrich your heart so that you can actually think about others, for good. Soon you will find yourself comforting others in need too, as He has comforted you.
Like an inn keeper making room for others to find rest.
But first, we must make room for Him, so that we also will find the rest we need.
 
Christmas reminds us that Christ came so that we can find rest for our souls in Him. Make room for Him to do what He will in your life. He gives healing, and fullness, and joy. And with His love abound in us, we too can make room for others. Give someone a gift, send someone an encouraging message, tell someone the Good News of God’s salvation, be willing to listen.
Make room.
 
 
 
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he [will eat] with Me.’
Jesus speaking in Revelation 3:20
 
4 days to #Christmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’ Luke 2:8

 

While others slept in the comfort of their beds, the shepherds were out in the fields at night, taking care of their sheep.

The work of a shepherd was serious business in those days. He practically placed his life on the line for each and every one of his sheep. He would lead them to suitable grazing grounds and protect them at all times. If he needed to sleep, he would herd the sheep into a pen and lie on the ground, across the entrance. If any wolf or predator tried to come in to get some mutton, the shepherd would be the first line of defence. He valued the lives of his sheep, possibly because of the income he would get from their wool or from their sale. But the more time he spent with them, the more he got to know each and every one of them, so that if one got missing he would know, he would search for it, and he would rescue it.

But the shepherds of Luke 2 were more than one, so the flock was probably much larger than a usual flock. While they could have been shepherds of different flocks in the same area, some believe that this particular flock belonged to the temple, a flock out of which the relevant sheep and lambs would be selected for the necessary sacrifices. Away from the bustling streets of Jerusalem, the hill country of Bethlehem was perfect grazing grounds for these sheep. The account does not ascertain if they were temple sheep or not, as the sheep weren’t the focus of the story. The shepherds were. Because that very night God gave them a front row seat at the 3DHD premiere of His salvation plan: God had been born as a human baby that day.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and God’s glory shone around them. They were scared at the sudden ‘close encounter of the third kind’ … or maybe of the ‘God’ kind. The angel, bursting with joy, said to them, “Do not be afraid; for look, I’ve got good news, great news for you, and it will bring you and all people great joy! For to you, this day in the town of David, a Saviour has been born. He is Messiah, the Lord! Here’s the sign: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—“

And suddenly, as if one alien invasion wasn’t enough for one day, the night sky was suddenly lit even more as thousands of angels filled the horizon. They were screaming and leaping and shouting their praises to God, filling the air with music and laughter and rejoicing. Their words were summarised as “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

It lasted a while, but soon the angels retreated through their portal to continue the after-party in heaven.

(P.S.: We looked into why the angels were so joyful a couple days ago. You could check it out, using the #FacesoftheChristmasStory hashtag)

The shepherds exchanged glances. Had they all seen the same thing? They had? So it … really was true? And soon the amazement at the angelic visit led to the realization of what they had said: Messiah had been born, in David’s town! Just down there!

And they hurried to Bethlehem to find this Baby. When they, they left to announce to anyone in town who listen, the wonderful things they had heard about this child.

Ever wondered what happened to their sheep? These guys prized the angel’s news over whatever advantage they could obtain from their flock. Nothing else could have drawn them away. Maybe they locked the pen before leaving. Personally, I think the sheep would’ve been fine either way.

The shepherds remind us that God came for us, even to the lowest of us all. They had no offices of governance or priesthood. They were just the working-class everyman, the man that worked day to day to put food on the table. But God called them to be the first to see the Baby, the One Who would be their salvation. God prized them, valued them, just as He values us all. He wants us to be a part of what He is doing, to receive the gift that He’s offered to us.

It is also significant because through Scripture, God had led His people like a shepherd. He had rescued them from their messes and protected them. He promised them that He would give them a shepherd who would feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23). He came to be that shepherd.

Since the prophecies came to Israel, Jesus even said in Matthew 15:24 that He had come “…for the lost sheep of Israel.” But now He had come to be a shepherd for the whole world, for as many as would come to His fold. Jesus would later tell us that He is the Good Shepherd. He would say of the Gentiles, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

God had come to lead us to a better place. And the first people He told were shepherds.

He came to be one of us, like one of His sheep, so He knows how we feel and why we do the things we do. And that leads to the even more interesting part of this.

Jesus came to be God’s Lamb on our behalf. (John 1:29)

In the Jewish tradition, a lamb was a very important part of the ceremony for an offering for sin. A lamb without spots or blemishes would be selected and sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the nation. The high priest would sprinkle its blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s throne, and the sins of the nation would be covered for that year. There were many other sacrifices for sin that involved lambs. God gave them this tradition as a picture of what He was going to do.

And in the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Perfect Lamb for us all. He alone was without sin, so He gave His life to be that sacrifice for us. When He rose, He ascended to God’s throne where He is now seated, as the One with all authority and as the One who has completed the sacrifice. Just like the blood on the Ark, Jesus is on the Throne. Now the sins of all who believe in Him are forgiven, because He stood (or sits?) in the gap for us. This is the perfect sacrifice.

God did that for our sakes, when we couldn’t. Like the Good Shepherd that He is. He did it in Himself and by Himself, because He loves us.

Christmas reminds us that God has come to lead us out of the dreary existence we were doomed to, and into a good and fruitful place where He can be with us and we can be with Him. He has come to save us, and He has!

Christmas reminds us that He is always with us, guiding us, leading us, feeding us and protecting us. He knows us all by name, our respective stories, our failures and our triumphs. He is here to bring out His best in all of us.

We don’t have to wander anymore. We don’t have to live without direction or purpose. We don’t have to be slaves to fear anymore.

We do have a Good Shepherd.

 

‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all…’

Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:6

 

5 days to #Christmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Magi

 

The Magi

‘…behold, there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ Matthew 2:1-2

OK, let’s get the controversies out of the way so that we can focus on the really important stuff. First, yes, the Bible doesn’t say there were THREE Wise Men, just that the Wise Men gave gifts of three kinds. They could have been more than 3 men, or even less. Second, it’s possible they met Mary and Jesus sometime after they had moved out of the stable, because it was recorded that Wise Men entered their ‘house’ and met the ‘young child’ (Matthew 2:11), as opposed to the ‘babe’ the shepherds met in a manger earlier (Luke 2:16). This explains why Herod killed boys ‘two years and under’, according to the time the Wise Men had said they first saw the star (Matthew 2:16). But, really, who cares? Just as we don’t know for certain that Jesus was born on December 25, it does not take away from the joy and excitement and meaning of it all, or from the Person we are celebrating. It is a time set aside to celebrate all that He means to us. If your church drama team puts all the characters in the same scene, it still matches with much of church tradition and is OK. It’s the meaning that counts. So don’t let the controversies distract you. We good? Happy now? Great.

Let’s roll.

The Greek word translated as ‘wise men’ is the word ‘magos’, which refers to The Magi. They were a priestly order of astrologers that navigated the stars as guides to tell the future or discern events. They were respected scholars, knowledgeable in the mystic arts and sciences, and even served as advisors to the kings of their lands. We see examples of them in Babylon in the Book of Daniel, trying to interpret the king’s dream and the strange writing on the wall. We see King Ahasuerus of Persia seeking their advice in Esther 1:13. Another ‘magos’ turns up in Cyprus named Elymas, an adviser to the Roman proconsul there in Acts 13:7. In those days, kings held the advice of such men in high esteem, as they seemed to have an in with the universe.

Magi did not worship the God of Israel, and the Lord had even discouraged his people from trusting in divination from stars (Deut. 18:10, or Isaiah 47:13,14). The stars, and all of the heavens, declare the glory of God, telling and showing us how awesome He is (Psalm 19:1). He wants us to trust in Him for direction, not in the stars. Or we might as well be trusting a loaf of bread to teach us how to bake, while the baker is standing right beside us.

But something invaded the world of the Magi. A new star unlike any they had ever seen appeared in the sky. It was not unusual for them to consider stars to represent kings and regimes, but they understood this one to be different. Further study showed them that it told of the birth of a new king, the King of the Jews. Whoever they thought this king would be, it was enough for them to leave their lands to journey all the way to Judea, because of a star in the sky.

And when they met the child they bowed to worship him. Men whose words shook the countenances of kings were worshipping a little child. To the casual eye it was strange, but they submitted their dignity and station for Someone who transcended the reaches of their scholarship and divination. God had invaded their field of knowledge.

They gave gifts to the child. Gifts of gold, frankincense… “But wait!” One reaches into his bag. “There’s ‘myrrh’!”

The symbolism of these gifts makes them extra special, though I don’t know if they knew.

Gold signifies royalty, as they recognised Jesus as a King. Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God on Earth, but would first establish it in the hearts of men. In the end, all will recognise Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A King who brings justice and righteousness to all in His charge.

Frankincense is an aromatic substance used in religious ceremonies (to be ‘frank’, most just call it ‘incense’), and it represented that Jesus was a priest or worthy of worship. He would be the High Priest that would enter into heaven’s holy place to offer a sacrifice for the sins of all, and this High Priest is also God Almighty.

Myrrh, the third, seems a little more awkward. It is also an aromatic substance, but while it was used in religious ceremonies for anointing (Exodus 30:23) it was also used as an ointment in the embalming of dead bodies (John 19:39). In case you don’t get it yet, when criminals were crucified they were given a cocktail of wine mixed with myrrh to numb their senses. Jesus was presented this on the cross, but he rejected it (Mark 15:23). Do you get it yet? The myrrh signified that Messiah, the anointed one of God, would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of others as our High Priest, and would die.

Looking over these, I don’t know if they all understood the significance of these gifts. But looking back we can have more understanding to the fact that even from the beginning, God was here on a mission to save our souls.

 

The Magi represent the Gentile world, a people who were presumed to be exempted from the plan of God for centuries. But Jesus came for all men to come to Life, to Jews and Gentiles alike. God used that star to draw them to see Jesus. It had been prophesied to Israel in Isaiah 49:6, “I will also give you for a light to the nations, that My salvation may extend to the end of the earth.”

The Magi also represent the worlds of religion and academia, both coming to worship the One that supersedes them all.

Through religions, men have tried to reach out to God for favour and help. But in Christ, God has come to men to bring them to Himself. To bring them to Light, to Life, and to His favor.

Through the academia we seek to understand the world around us, its principles and the laws that undergird the cause of nature. God made the world and all that is in it. He holds the secrets to all knowledge. We have discovered so much of His creation, but there is so much more – SO MUCH MORE — for us to discover.

The thing about religion and knowledge is that we can hold on to them so much that we reject Jesus, the One Who is the wisdom of God. Like the man who couldn’t see the forest because of the tree right before him. All that mankind has discovered and known is like a drop in a bucket. Do you know that the Earth is just one of many planets in a solar system, which is one of billions of solar systems in a 100 000-lightyear-wide galaxy called the Milky Way, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the ‘known universe’? There is so much beyond what we have discovered, but the more we do, the more we find that it is not about us. It is about the One who is greater, who made all of creation to declare His glory.

Despite all the academic knowledge we have gathered, and despite all the religious convictions we hold dear, to submit to Jesus would require giving up something. It is why many academics settle for atheism, and why some religions are either apathetic or antagonistic to the message of Christ.

But the Magi, for all their religious status and academic station, took the journey to Jesus and worshipped Him. To this day, it is still wisdom when a man lets go and submits to Christ’s Lordship.

And when we do, we see that the best of ourselves is not up to the least of Him. But He became the least of us so that He could give us His best. He did that in Christ.

Did you see how God spoke to them in the language they were conversant with? A star? He calls to each and every man, woman and child, coming to their level. Like He did when He came as a man. God has come to us and for us all.

That’s what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

6 days to #Christmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: King Herod

KING HEROD
“When Herod the king heard this, he was disturbed and troubled, and the whole of Jerusalem with him…” Matthew 2:3
Herod the Great was the designated king of Judea in the days when Jesus was born. Judea was already a client state of Rome and Herod was once a governor of one of its territories, the Galilee territory. When a conflict arose he hurried over to Rome to obtain favour with Caesar and, when Rome responded to quench the uprising and end the status quo hitherto, he was placed as ‘king of the Jews’, sent to rule over the entire country. He is largely remembered for his very ambitious and very expensive building projects such as the building of the cities of Caesarea, provision of water supply to Jerusalem, building of about five fortresses, and most especially the expansion of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a portion of which still stands today as the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). He sought to make Judea befitting to the standards of the world of his day. He also enriched and gifted other nations, creating a name for himself. These projects brought much employment to the people of Judea.
Son of an Idumean (or Edomite) father and a Nabatean (Arab) mother, his family was circumcised and converted to Judaism. But his decadent lifestyle undermined any religious identification he sought to portray.
The building of the Temple, and his marriage to a Jewess named Mariamne, was all a lobby for the favour of the Jews. But he didn’t stop there. He still lobbied for favour from the pagan population of his land and from Caesar, constructing a Roman Eagle statue over the very gate of the Jewish Temple (an abomination to the Jews), and also building the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste (formerly Samaria) in Caesar’s honour with many pagan idols and shrines. All his building projects were funded by a very severe taxing system that weighed heavy on the people. So while he transformed much of Judea, his motives were anything but selfless, and the people weren’t fooled.
He knew he was ruling a nation that resented him, so he was very paranoid for much of his reign. He had a secret police to monitor and report the general feelings of the populace, a bodyguard of about 2000 soldiers among other units, and he had his opponents forcefully dealt with. He actually had his Jewish wife and her sons for him executed on charges of unfaithfulness and incitement of revolt. So much for Jewish favour there, Herod.
For all his achievements, scholars report that he suffered through depression and paranoia throughout his lifetime. It was in these days that a contingent of Magi, a priestly order of astrologers and royal advisers from the lands of the East, came to visit him. Prepared to host such dignified guests, he was shocked when they declared that they were seeking someone who had been born ‘King of the Jews’, as they had seen his star rising all the way from their lands, and that they had come to ‘worship’ him!
“King of the Jews? I am king of the Jews!” He sent for them and when they had come, he confirmed their quest. It was clear they were seeking someone, and it was definitely not him.
It was all he could do to mask his terror behind a pasty smile. Of course he knew about the expectation in the Jewish conscious of a Messiah that was to come and deliver them from their ‘oppressors’, a term Herod knew many would call him. He mostly dismissed it as the superstitions of a weary people, but the possibility had always stood out in his mind.
Could it be true? Or had these men just come based on the rumors of another possible uprising? News of his turmoil spread to the rest of the city, and everyone else was troubled. They knew that, when Herod fears an uprising, there’s going to be blood in the streets.
Meanwhile, as his people entertained the Magi in an adjoining room, Herod paced. He had to tell them something, or these guys would consider him an uneducated idiot. He had to show these Magi that he was in the know of everything going on in his land. He wanted to find favour in the eyes of these men too. So he sent for the chief priests and learned men in Jerusalem. “So … about this Messiah you all keep talking about…” he began. “Where do the Scriptures say he will be … born, so to say?”
Without missing a beat, they replied him. “In Bethlehem of Judea, your majesty. For so it is written by the prophet Micah, ‘And you Bethlehem…’ ”
But Herod’s mind was already blanking out. He could see the priest’s mouth moving but his pulse thumped in his ears. He rubbed his beard. “Bethlehem, you say?”
His mind was in overdrive. He knew what he must do, but he had to be discrete.
With the priests dismissed he met the Magi privately. “How long ago exactly did you see this star rising?”
“About two years.” They even gave him the exact date, but much of their astrological jargon was gibberish to him.
Could he be late already? He directed them to Bethlehem, telling them to return when they’ve found the child, “…so that I too can come and … worship him.” He felt sick just uttering those words.
That night he stared out into the sky. It looked as normal as any other night sky. He had so much, he had accomplished so much, yet he felt so alone in the universe. No matter how much he tried, he much he acted, he never fully felt appreciated. Now someone else had been chosen to be king of the Jews. A child?! It brought a bitter taste to his mouth. He needed to end this.
But the days passed. And the Magi never returned. Herod was furious. The rejection and flouting of his orders stung. He ordered his soldiers to invade Bethlehem and its surrounding hills, to kill every boy two-years-old and under. Surely that would be his boot to squash this ant before it became a problem (spoiler alert: God sent angels in an undercover mission, i.e. while Joseph was asleep ‘under covers’ ;), to warn him to escape with the child and his mother to Egypt before the soldiers arrived)
But the massacre never brought Herod the satisfaction he craved. He died not much longer, but his last days were wrought with much turmoil and political intrigue. Quarrels with his eastern neighbours brought him into displeasure with Caesar Augustus, a relationship he had laboured to build for years. His health dwindled into a ferocious temper as his insides withered. He felt so much excruciating pain that he even attempted suicide. He is recorded to have said to his sister and her husband, “I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.”* He ordered that a multitude of distinguished men be invited and, upon his death, they should be killed so that there would, at least, be some mourning in the land. Thankfully, upon his death, his son cancelled that order.
He lived his life seeking the favour of men and died that way. He even tried to kill the One who had come to give him a full and abundant life. He didn’t know.
Herod’s story is a picture of many today. We live in a self-conscious culture where everyone wants to be affirmed and appreciated by others. It is a human desire which, in itself, is not bad, but is also sad. On the social media, for example, it is easy to judge our relevance and fulfilment by the number of likes and retweets on our posts and selfies, to feel hurt or that we did something wrong when we don’t get enough or any, to try to please men so that they can favour us. And this has been translated to how we live our lives. If we could, we would even want to know how many people would mourn us if we died!
It is why many are suicidal today. And it is not a joke.
We all want to be affirmed, because no matter how much we try, there is a void inside that cries for more.
And, as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. Our desire for affirmation tends to lead to selfish disregard for the well-being of others as we crush them in order to obtain some acceptance. We may not all execute those that hate us, but it has become the base evil of humanity. It was the root of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel because he didn’t get the favour he desired. It is the core of every villain, both in fiction and in reality. At their core, everyone, be they heroes or villains, wants fulfilment. How we go about obtaining that fulfilment tells on our very natures. The hero obtains fulfilment in helping others, while the villain obtains fulfilment in hurting others.
It is why people cheat, slander, betray … assuming that putting others down automatically lifts us up. But all it does is send us all sinking into miry clay (or quicksand). It ruins relationships and marriages too, when each person is seeking their own gain, focused on receiving from the other instead of giving, and judging them based on personal needs.
The void in man is a form of death, and it is a consequence of the sinful nature. There is nothing we can do to fill it, and it always cries out for more. Only Jesus can fill it, and that is what He came to do. God came that we may be whole, complete in Him, fulfilled and full-filled. He came so that we can have Life and live it to the full (John 10:10).
He fills our hearts with His love (Romans 5:5) and lets us know that we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10), lacking nothing. In Him, we see our true selves: beautiful, loved, accepted, affirmed. We are His own, and He is ours. The more we grow in Him the less we will base our fulfilment on the approval of others. Rather we will realise more and more, and it will be more real in our mindsets, how He fills and surrounds us with His everlasting and boundless love. We have never really been alone, and we never will be.
Immanuel.
Herod did not realise that he had a front row seat on God’s plan to answer the cry of his heart. Don’t miss out on the opportunity God has presented before you too. Call to Him. He is closer than near, and He hears. He wants you to know Him much more than you think. He’s got so much for you.
And, from this place of affirmation in Him, we can more effectively be a blessing to others. This is the kind of life that can give to others without expecting appreciation or reward, and would not be hurt if it doesn’t come. It is the kind of heart that can be slapped (or cheated), and will turn the other cheek. It is the confidence that will put out its best foot forward in love, knowing that it might be stepped on but not minding. It is the life that can break through cold hearts, and warm and comfort them with love.
It is the life Jesus spoke about. It is bizarre and crazy, like walking on water. But it is also supernatural and amazing, just like walking on water.
He showed us what it’s like, dying for us when we were still ungodly, sinners, in enmity with God and without a promise or care of responding to His love. He rose to make the way that we may be united with God in Him, by believing in Him. The way is still open today.
Remember that, this Christmas.
You are loved, and can love.
#7DaystoChristmas
*Source of Herod’s dying quote: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 6, note 5 (translated by William Whiston)

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Caesar Augustus

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Luke 2:1

 

Gaius Octavius was the adopted heir to the Roman throne, being the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. His road to the throne was not so easy, however, as the nation was in the midst of civil wars especially after Caesar’s assassination. Octavius came out victorious, returning to Rome as sole master at the age of 34. Consummate politician that he turned out to be, he settled relations with the Senate of Rome (something his predecessor had totally ruined with dictatorship), rejected any monarchical title like ‘king’, preferring to be called ‘First Citizen of the State’, spread the reaches of Roman rule through conquest of much of the known world, and he turned what was a Republic into an Empire. His reign was an era of relative peace, laying the foundation for the next 1500-or-so years of the Roman Empire. He had left many architectural achievements, initiated a taxing system, an official police, and even a fire-fighting system (yes, this was all BC!) among other things, including a steady constitutional framework. He was a lover of the arts as well, relating with poets and writing some literary works himself. The people loved him. To this day, many historians consider him Rome’s greatest Emperor, considering his many achievements. Some explain, though, that his peace actually came through disguised force and ruthless methods.

The Roman Senate gave him the title ‘Augustus’, meaning ‘the illustrious one’. It was a religious title designating authority over humanity and nature, and was the beginnings of a culture of emperor worship. Full of it, he went ahead to tack on, among many other titles, the title of ‘Son of the deified one’, or ‘son of god’ (the god here being Julius Caesar, who they had already elevated to god-status). Still, he hung the civic crown above his door, a crown that was usually placed over a general’s head as the Latin phrase ‘Memento mori’ was chanted, meaning ‘Remember that you are mortal.’ For all his claims to godly fame, he knew he was a man and would die someday. By 6 BC, as his age told more on him, he was already preparing his stepson, General Tiberius, to take the throne.

With his family name of ‘Caesar’, which he turned into a title for future emperors, Gaius Octavius is now more popularly known as Caesar Augustus.

 

One of the lands conquered by Caesar Augustus was a middling nation named Judea, which he then annexed to the province of Syria. Moving on to more lands, he had no idea that he had just plugged in to a livewire that predated him and sovereignly superseded any authority he thought he had. He had just been joined to the history of God’s chosen people, and the unfolding of God’s mighty plan.

As it turned out, Caesar sent out a decree for all in the Empire to be registered, like a census scenario, except that they would all have to return to their hometowns. This is what caused a Jewish carpenter and his pregnant wife to make the long journey from Nazareth to the carpenter’s hometown in the South. Bethlehem. It was in that town that their baby was born, a baby who was the true Son of the true God. Jesus the Messiah.

 

Caesar played a part in the Christmas Story and exited as soon as it was done. Really, his name only occurs in one verse. But God used this pagan ruler in the ordering of set pieces for the fulfilment of prophecy surrounding the birth of Jesus. Micah had prophesied that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but the key players were based in Nazareth. God used the Roman emperor to fulfil His plans for His own.

In the same way, God can order the political terrain of any nation, or any other official construct, to favour His children. He’s done it many times. Scripture tells us, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as are the watercourses; He turns it whichever way He wills.’ (Proverbs 21:1, ironically written by Solomon, a king himself)

God used Cyrus, king of the Persian Empire, to allow the exiled Israelites to return to their land and rebuild their temple. He caused Ahasuerus, another Persian king, to favour His servant Mordechai and deliver him from death. He revealed cryptic dreams to Pharaoh in Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, dreams that only His servants Joseph and Daniel respectively, could decrypt in order to elevate them and set them in positions where they could save many and rule with justice. He is still doing that today.

Many nations today are ruled by people who don’t know God. But that is not a barrier to the Lord, as He can cause them to order legislation to favour His own. Beyond governance, even in school or the workplace, the Lord can influence the management to make decisions that favour you. And, in some cases, when His people are thus rightly favoured and rightly placed, He can do even greater things in those offices.

This is what Jesus’ coming promises us. God still rules in the affairs of men. Even of those who have rule over you. The fact that they have become your governor or president or chairman has made them subject to God’s will for you.

That is something to be thankful for, and something we can trust Him for too.

 

Hold on, there’s more.

Caesar Augustus’ famous last words as he died were, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He considered the regal authority that he’d put on as emperor, as all play-acting. He knew he wasn’t the big deal they all made him out to be. Memento mori. He died in AD 14, in his 77th year.

You know, your leaders are human too. Even the worst despot has fears and doubts, dreams and aspirations, and loved ones too. They need the Lord just as much as anyone else does. The Bible encourages us to pray for all men, for our kings and leaders and all who are in positions of authority. It is pleasing in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Pray for them to have the right counsel, for their families, and for their souls so that they will know the Lord. As a part of God’s Kingdom, this is your duty. If all is well with your leader, the country will function well as well. As God’s children this is our charge, the watchtowers we are called to defend.

Remember, we are of a kingdom that transcends these, but it’s a kingdom that serves. Pray for your leaders too.

Christmas is a great opportunity for all the world to slow down and relax and rest. With fewer distractions, it is a chance for some to hear and see the true purpose of Christ’s coming: God’s plan for them through salvation in Christ. Pray for your leaders, that they encounter these opportunities and for their hearts to be receptive to listen.

Jesus came for them too.

 

#8DaystoChristmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Elisabeth

#FacesoftheChristmasStory
 
“Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men.”
Luke 1:25
 
She had grown up watching women get pregnant and giving birth, fantasizing about when she would do the same. She had probably even helped change the diapers of some relatives’ babies on occasion. She got married and couldn’t wait to have a baby. But she didn’t. As the months passed, the questions started coming. Aunts were all too willing to give their unsolicited advice on ‘successful baby-making’. At first it was amusing, until it became frustrating. The months turned to years. Her friends’ babies grew into adults, got married, and were having their own babies already.
The questions dwindled, soon replaced by whispers. Soon those whispers were replaced by silent furtive glances. Everywhere she went, she could feel them. Sure, the people respected her, but it was the things they didn’t say, the things she knew they were thinking, that stung the most. She was the barren old woman from down the street. Barren. A name she had never thought would be hers.
God knows how many times she prayed. Were they being punished for their sins? Her husband was a priest, and she was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. That alone should have given them points before the Lord, but still no babies came.
Was God hearing her? Was He even there? Questions she didn’t dare put to speech. After years of agony and sadness, she settled for what they had. After all, His ways and thoughts were higher than theirs. They served God faithfully still.
One day her husband returned abruptly from the Temple without sending prior word. Literally too, because he had no words, since he had been stricken dumb. Hours of panicking and frantic sign gestures later (and the mental note to learn sign language ASAP) she was finally able to get him to write down what had happened. Long story short, the Lord had sent an angel to tell them that they would have a baby. A son. (Why couldn’t he speak? You can read about it in yesterday’s post, or better yet, check out the real account in Luke 1:5-22)
It was hard to believe. It took her a while to accept it all, but in the days that followed, she knew. She could feel it … HIM … she could feel him forming in her. “Oh dear God! So this is what it feels like? I really am having a baby?”
It’s not that she had forgotten she had a womb, it’s just that she had not needed it or even had a reminder of its presence in over a decade! But this was new. This was…different.
What would she do? How would she live, taking care of her silent husband and nursing a pregnancy? How could she, a post-post-menopausal woman, move around town with the prominent bump leading the way, an embarrassing reminder that she was carrying something that was not for people her age? She felt ashamed. The rumours would only reach a fever pitch. She couldn’t dare go out again.
But in her heart, she was hit by the reality that God had blown the barriers she had settled for and invaded her space. Prayers she had long stopped praying were being fulfilled, right in her own body. Not her neighbour’s body this time, not a woman from the stories of the days of the patriarchs … but her. “Me…?” And it gladdened her heart. “So this is the extravagant way God wants to take away my shame?”
For Zacharias it was a son, but for her it was personal. She carried the pregnancy. God had done something in her body. Her own body.
It was a miracle. For a long time, miracles were just the stuff from the Scriptures. Like the Lord parting the Red Sea, or stopping time for Joshua’s armies to prevail, or making Aaron’s dead rod bloom. They were the stories she loved hearing as a young girl. But now, a miracle had been wrought in her own life – in her own body. The Lord had chosen her.
 
Elisabeth’s story is a picture of what Israel was going through. Their history was full of accounts of God’s miraculous intervention time and again. But for the past 400 years or more, precious little had occurred beyond the ordinary. Reality overshadowed them as foreign nation after foreign nation invaded and took over their land. Even the prophets seemed an order of the past, so there was little if any hint of divine intervention. Where was the arm of the Lord? For many, even if they did not admit it, the miracles were a thing of the past. Those historical accounts were little more than myths to some. God and His ways were probably just a coping mechanism, just in case. Still, Israel felt abandoned.
But God had not forgotten them. He was coming to them, and He was coming in a BIG way, in a way that would be so grand it would be embarrassing.
Like a soldier returning from war to meet his fiancé after years of separation, who lavishes her with lots of gifts, lots of money, a new car, teaches her to drive, and spends quality time with her … all on his first day back. Her friends are watching, bewildered as they whisper among themselves about all the attention she’s getting. And just when his fiancé has gotten embarrassed enough, a troupe of mariachis that he’s paid comes out of hiding to serenade her (she loves Mexican music … Why is it always Mexican music?). Her family has been in on the surprise, and they join the circle of onlookers with knowing grins as her Romeo drops to his knee, pulls out a ring and asks her the question…
“Will you … go see The Last Jedi with me?”
I’m just kidding. He asks her to marry him, while everyone stands in awe, literally going, “Aw…” The lady wipes a tear. (Hey, was the ring an onion ring?) You get the picture. He is with the love of his life, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. He will ‘spoil’ her with enough to make up for the lost years, and enough to set up their new life together. Enough to show her his boundless love for her and his delight in her.
This was God’s promise to Israel. He’d said, through His prophets, that He would not only save them from their enemies, but would also lavish them with His goodness, would give them a great kingdom with a great king, so that all the world would see His faithfulness. And He came to save, not only Israel but all the world, totally overshooting the ‘save-them-from-their-enemies’ bit, giving a new life and an inheritance to all who receive His salvation, making them part of His endless kingdom, where He is King. He is awesome like that, always doing exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think. He saves to the uttermost.
That’s the big picture, and I’ve not even come close to describing it.
But Elisabeth’s story shows us something even extra special. “God has come, for ME.” The blessing of God, in the form of her son, was a flashing neon sign to everyone around that God had done something supercalifragilisticexpialidociously AWESOME in the life a woman well past her prime. Everyone knew her as Barren. Now she was Fruitful. God had visited her life and left His fingerprint for all to see.
It’s the gift of God being with us, among us, in us, coming into our very situation and changing it with the peace and blessing of His very presence. Immanuel. God in the life of a person changes everything, setting things right.
It’s what He did in salvation. It is a blessing upon many, and a blessing upon each one that receives Him. A blessing upon you. That men will see His awesomeness in you as well.
It’s what He can do in your life. If you’re His child you are so much more set up for His hand to work wonders in your life.
And He does. Though our lives may seem to define ordinary, He has set things in motion on your behalf.
Sometimes we don’t think we see His miracles because they don’t all seem spectacular. How wrong we are. I think it was Max Lucado that wrote, “A coincidence is a miracle where God chooses to stay anonymous.” You walk into a building and the first person you meet gives you the information you need to avoid unnecessary stress. You feel a prompting to take a certain route on your way home from a stressful workday, and on that route you meet an old friend whose presence lifts your spirits. Sometimes miracles are like that.
Some miracles are a little more direct. Let’s go back to Elisabeth for a moment.
Remember she’s expecting a baby and supporting her mute husband. She’s going to need a lot of help. So what does God do? He’s set up Mary, her younger cousin, to come down all the way from the other end of the country to visit her (Luke 1:36-40). Mary stayed there until the Elizabeth’s baby was born. Many times, just like this, God uses people to help us. He may use someone to call you with words of encouragement at a moment when you’re feeling down. Someone else may be ready to mess up your day with an annoying Whatsapp chain message, but that person is suddenly distracted by joy at the news of his daughter finally gaining admission to the university of her choice. Wheels within wheels, God is working miracles just beyond our sight.
He may even use you in the working of a miracle in someone else’s life. He did that with Elisabeth. Mary had just been told that she too would have a baby that would be the Son of God. The young lady was still going over the ramifications of this when she entered Elisabeth’s house. Suddenly, the baby in Elisabeth’s belly leaped and she, suddenly spoke words that confirmed what Mary had heard from the angel, further establishing her confidence in God’s promises. God used them both to encourage and build each other’s faith. That’s His desire, to use us to bless one another. But first, like He placed the babies in the women’s wombs, He must give you His kind of heart. That is the kind of person He can use to do His will and be blessing. That’s what Jesus’ coming was all about, to make you that kind of person.
And, yes, God does overt miracles too, through the hands of His children. You can be used of God to heal the sick, cast out devils, and even raise the dead. These are the qualities He’s promised to all who believe in Him and His work of salvation (Mark 16:15-18). If you are Christ’s, this is your nature and ability. It’s all His gift to you.
 
There is so much more we can learn from Elisabeth’s story, but I’ve kept you here long enough. It was not an accident that the writer of the Biblical account told her story together with her husband’s, Zacharias (spoiler alert: he gains his speech back in the end). While Elisabeth’s story shows us that God can do great miracles, even the impossible, in our lives, Zacharias’ story teaches us about faith in God, even in what looks impossible. Needs are a very common part of the human experience, both those that can be met and those that are a bit harder to meet. In all things, let your faith be in God, and you will see His hand at work in your life.
Don’t let your heart get weary. Miracles are not alien to God’s children.
After all, they are our Father’s specialty.
Remember that, this Christmas.
 
May you grow stronger in faith, established in the knowledge of His faithfulness in Jesus’ Name.
Amen.
 
 
“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth speaking to her young cousin, Mary, in Luke 1:45
 
#9DaystoChristmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Angels

‘And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels…’ 1 Timothy 3:16

While the Bible tells us a lot about the activities of angels through the history of God’s people, they do not take centre stage and, as such, one can’t really trace the time of their origin. Some things we know, however, are that they are spirits, they were created by God, they worship Him, they are His messengers, they serve the heirs of salvation, and they do not die.
Also, they are so strong that one killed an army of 185 000 men in one night. And Jesus made reference to the fact that there are whole legions of them (over 80 000), so … yeah, they are quite a lot, and quite powerful too.
So picture this.
Did you know that the angels rejoiced at Creation (Job 38:7)? They had never seen a material world before, nor ever experienced such a dimension as Time, yet they watched as the Lord made these novel constructs, and they rejoiced. “How awesome is our Lord! He is in a class of His own … Holy!” Just when they thought God was so awesome He went ahead and blew their minds, making water and plants and animals and … to top it all, He wanted to make a being in His image and likeness out of, ahem, clay?! Of all the gems in the universe, He chose red earth? Oh well, He knew what He was doing. And what He made was a Clay-being, living and breathing. So much potential locked inside ‘walking Clay’. “Isn’t the Lord awesome?”
And God loved Clay. He gave authority in the material universe to Clay, and the ability to make things, to reproduce after his kind. They spent much time together, like friends. It was a privilege to watch, even much more to experience. But the angels could only watch in amazement as Clay experienced it all.
But Clay went ahead and ruined everything. He sinned and introduced an evil into God’s Creation, an evil that made Time a dreadful thing because of the end it promised. An evil called Death. And it was all because of Clay.
But the Lord didn’t turn away, loving as He is. He stuck with Clay and gave him rules and instructions to keep Death away a little longer, and to allow Clay and his descendants to still be able to interact with the Lord, in spite of their fallen, flawed and Death-tending nature. Over the centuries the Lord would even have to send the angels to help Clay’s people out of their self-induced mishaps and the consequences of their actions. Sometimes He sent them to help those that actually pleased Him. But in the end, Death still took over their bodies and they were separated from the Lord for the rest of eternity. For beings that lived all their lives in an immaterial realm, the ramifications of such a separation were stark and horrific to even consider.
Yet Claykind — or ‘mankind’, as they like to call themselves — lived their lives with its pursuits and desires, ambitions and dreams, oblivious to the larger supernatural world that surrounded and influenced their courses, oblivious to the battles the angels fought on their behalf in the unseen in obedience to the Lord’s orders, and oblivious to their impending eternal doom. Anytime they looked at mankind it was his cringe-worthy fallen state that stared back at them.
But then, the Lord had never strayed from His plan.
In the fullness of time, it all unfolded. The sacrifices and coded notes He’d slipped to mankind over the centuries through the prophets suddenly made more sense. He was going to settle the Man problem, by becoming a Man Himself.
Ah, the privilege! Such a wonder! Such a marvel! For the Creator of Worlds to take on the frame of the very creatures that had rebelled against Him. It was unspoken of in any other terms, but then it was the Lord here. He was coming in to make things right.
He had come, and He was a human baby.
“So this is what the Lord looks like? A Baby?! That’s Him right there, and the people are oblivious to even this? Have they no idea what’s just happened? Have they not an inkling of how privileged they are?”
Soon the order rang out, and one of the angels zapped over to a group of human shepherds to tell them the great news. Soon as he flicked the visibility cloak on, the men gasped in fear at the alien intruder. “Whoa, don’t be afraid! You won’t ever have to be afraid again, because what I’m here to tell you is GREAT NEWS about something that will bring joy to all your kind, EVERYONE! Because, for you, this very day, a Saviour has been born down in David’s town! He is Messiah, yes, the One you’ve been waiting for. He is the LORD! But instead of a shiny being, what you’ll find is a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger—” [a paraphrase of the account in Luke 2:10-12]
The men were still trying to grasp it all when the angel was suddenly joined by a heavenly knighthood, a multitude of them, singing and rejoicing! The skies were agog with light and music and joy so thick. The gist of what they sang was summarised as, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
They understood that God was bridging the gap between Himself and man, by Himself. But this would not be the end. They would watch Him grow as a man. They would watch Him die, and wonder why. They would watch Him rise, making the way for mankind to become a newer kind of being: sons of God. The Godkind. A people that are pleasing in His sight, and would do His will always. The product of God in union with man.
The journey to this was long and wrought with much agony, but it was the Lord’s doing. And He did it well. And the angels watched it all.
And they still watch, amazed by His goodness and faithfulness shown toward us. They are not to be worshipped, and they are quick to deflect any attempt to worship them, quick to point the attention to the One that deserves it all.
It was all His doing.
And when they look on the New Creation, the result of His sacrifice and victory, they are amazed over and over again.

“How favoured is mankind? The Lord has brought peace and goodwill to him.
How awesome is our Lord?
Just when we think He is awesome, He keeps on blowing our minds!
The Lord God Almighty is in a class of His own!
He is Holy!”

‘All [the prophets] were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves – through the Holy Spirit – the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!’
1 Peter 1:12

#11DaystoChristmas

Faces of the Christmas Story: THE PROPHETS

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.’ Hebrews 1:1

When we think of the prophets, much of the time we imagine old men with flowing beards bellowing words of doom with glazed eyes, ready to rip their clothes at the slightest hint of blasphemy from their audience. Well, some of them were like that. But some of them were kings like David and government officials like Daniel.
Whenever God wanted to let His people in on what He was doing, He spoke to His prophets who would then speak to the people. So, no, these prophets were not ‘fortune-tellers’.
The people of Israel lived through some of the worst times. From slavery to finding a homeland, to raising a kingdom, to occupation by invading armies, to a scattering and an exile and the plundering of their land, to their return to that land, to another invading army coming in … phew! Talk about a rags-to-riches-to-even-more-rags story! But in all this time, God did not leave them alone to face it. He had His prophets among them, men who would speak to them exactly what God needed them to hear. Sometimes theirs were words of judgment, sometimes they were words of comfort. But one thing the people of Israel knew was that God had not abandoned them. These prophets were given to God, faithful to Him so that they could be effective mouthpieces for Him to inspire His people.
In the midst of their prophecies and teachings, the prophets were inspired of God to utter and write about His Big Plan: God was going to save them! God was going to raise someone who would bring them to a prosperous place, a King that would bring them home and restore their glory. While these prophets had glimpses into these plans, they did not fully understand it, but they wrote the prophecies as they were inspired by God. Some had their contextual interpretations, but they did not fully know.
They told of how he would be born from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8), from the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and a descendant of King David. They told of a ‘son’ that would be born to rule them in a peaceful and never-ending kingdom, who would also be the ‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). They told of how He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
What they didn’t realise was that they also spoke of the same Person when they prophesied about an anointed one that would be killed for the sake of others (Daniel 9:26), a suffering servant that would be scourged to bring healing to others, be rejected and despised, stricken for the sins of the people (Isaiah 53). They probably thought they were describing their own pain and agony when they wrote about someone that would be forsaken by God, be pierced (long before crucifixion was even invented), and whose clothes would be gambled over (Psalm 22). They probably didn’t even link it all together when they wrote about someone who God would not leave in the land of the dead, but would raise to life (Psalm 16:10). They didn’t know this was all God was talking about when He talked of giving them new hearts so they can always do what is pleasing in His sight (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Only later, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, would the apostles look back and see the road map God had prepared long before, telling of what He was doing. They could look on this, gain more understanding, and edify one another, confident in God’s faithfulness to His Word. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
The Prophets lives were not wasted, however, because in the time before God would become a Man and set things right, these were the people He used to bring comfort to those around them. Telling them that God was still with them. They too were human with their failings and doubts, fears and questions. But God used them. And they knew there was something more coming, and they looked forward to it.
And God fulfilled His promises, by Himself. He became a Man and fulfilled all He had promised He would. Just as He had said.
Like these Prophets, the circumstances around us may seem to cloud our understanding of God’s Word. They may even make us doubt if He is even there. It may look bleak, like we are all on our own. But we are not. The grace they prophets looked forward to has arrived in the Person of Jesus. He has promised to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and He is true to His Word. He is alive in you, making you who He wants you to be. His promises for you are true, and He makes sure they come to pass.
Even when it doesn’t look like it. He is faithful and reliable, and you can trust Him, and in Him. Trust in His Word, in what He has said.
You don’t have to be in the dark about His faithfulness to you anymore. He won’t leave you in the dark. The Light has come. This was what the Prophets looked forward to. Now God can be known by all. Everyone.
Even you.
Trust Him.
The more you experience His love, the more it becomes a part of you beyond facts, and the more you can be a blessing to others. And they will see Him in you. That’s a life fulfilled.
It’s what God intended.

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.
Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son…’
Hebrews 1:1 and 2

#FacesoftheChristmasStory