Archive for December, 2010


The Mystery of Christmas:: 1

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Christmas is a season of mystery and wonder. I think we see it most clearly in the eager eyes of children. From waiting for Santa to shaking brightly wrapped presents, there is a sense of wonder and amazement as they celebrate the season shrouded in mystery.

But then they grow up like we did, and grown-ups know the answers. As adults we desire to solve the mysteries. Not just the mysteries that surround Christmas, but the mysteries of life. We view them as some form of boundary and so we press to push past them. We feel that if we can resolve the deep questions we can find some kind of fulfillment and meaning. But our quest for answers can have the opposite effect. Instead of enriching our lives the answers to the mysteries of life cause our lives to shrink. I think the lack of mystery and the loss of wonder from our lives brings poverty to our faith and shrivels our souls.

Perhaps no season is filled with mystery as the Christmas season. One of the great mysteries of Christmas is how God takes the little and lowly and makes it marvelous. He chooses people to serve as his instruments and performs wonders through them in ways we least expect.

Why Mary?
Why a baby who would live in obscurity for 30 years of his life?
Why at this time? After 400 years of silence with no prophetic word from the Lord?

Last weekend in worship I taught about the mysteries of Christmas and how God speaks his redemptive plan to the world. Using Luke 1:26-38, I observed that God’s great work begins when he speaks to his people. His word precedes his actions.

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28, NLT).

God speaks to his people when the time is right. Galatians 4:4 reads, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” The Greek language uses two words for time. The first, chronos (chronology) speaks of the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks that compose our calendars. The other word is kairos. This word describes the seasons of God’s movement and activity. Kairos is the word used in Galatians. In God’s appropriate season he spoke to Mary.

God also speaks to his people when they are listening. I’m fascinated by Luke 3:2, which tells us that in the year Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests in Israel, the word of the Lord went to John in the wilderness. If Annas and Caiaphas were the religious leaders of Israel, why didn’t the word of the Lord go to them? Why did the word of the Lord go to John who was living in obscurity in the desert?

The simple Christmas story reminds us that God speaks to his people. When his time is right and when people are listening, his word goes forth. And his word prepares us for his movement.

Categories : Advent, Christmas, Luke, Mystery
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Getting Ready for Christmas

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This weekend has been busy for our household. Thursday I put up the outdoor lights and on Saturday, the girls put up the tree. We’ve started our shopping and are working on the calendar to make sure we get to all of the appropriate places in a timely fashion. My favorite paradox of the season is the paradox of time. If you asked my kids how much longer it is until Christmas, they might say something like, “a million years.” If you ask me or my wife, we’d say something like, “we just had Christmas, didn’t we??” It’ll be here before you know it.

Since most of us sense that Christmas is coming like an oncoming train, let me give you some suggestions that will help keep the real reason for the season in sharp focus.

1. Put a nativity under the tree. For most of western civilization Christmas represents gifts under the tree. When we love someone we put our gifts under the tree. When God loved us, he put his gift on the tree (the cross). Placing a nativity under the tree is a tangible reminder of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

2. Help the poor. For some time our family has made it a practice to help provide Christmas for a needy family. In years past we’ve even adopted an entire family. We took our children shopping for the family and along to deliver the presents. By helping the poor during the holdiays we’re reminded that the greatest blessing of Christmas is not in receiving but in giving. Even in a tough economic year its important to remember that if you make $10,000 per year you out earn 84% of the world’s population!

3. Serve others. Check your community calendar to find where you can serve others during the holidays. Helping out with serving a meal at a homeless shelter or carolling at a nursing home are two simple ways to serve others. If your community has a Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, sign up to ring the bell. There are ample opportunities to serve during Christmas. Get involved!

4. Listen to Christmas music. Perhaps the most timeless music in America is found in Christmas carols. Christmas music, old and new, adds a special touch to the season.

5. Read the Christmas story from the Bible. One of the traditions that my wife brought to our marriage was the custom of reading the Christmas story before we open gifts. There’s something special about reading the Christmas narrative with your family and then joining in a time of prayer. When our children were younger, we’d have them role play the story with the figurines from the nativity display.

6. Worship together. I used to say that Christmas was for children. Now I say that Christmas is for the children of God. I believe that Christmas is a celebration that belongs to the church. If anyone should enjoy the holiday, it should be the people of God. There is a multiplied joy that comes when believers come together for worship during the holidays. Make it a priority to worship together with your family. If your church doesn’t have a Christmas Eve service, find one in your community and participate.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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When God Speaks

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In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”  Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
(Luke 1:26-38, NLT)

It was in the quiet routine of the ordinary that the angel appeared to Mary. Mary, who was probably around the age of 14, was engaged in life as she knew it. It would not have been uncommon for a young Jewish girl to have plenty of regular household duties. It is not beyond reason that a young girl like Mary would work in the fields. In addition to her many responsibilities, she would have been preparing for her marriage to a young man named Joseph.

One of Mary’s becoming qualities is faithfulness. There were and still are plenty of people who are faithful for the sake of noteriety. But Mary would not have had any means of being the center of the public eye. She was faithful to God in ways and in places that people would never see, hear, or know.

Her character and faithfulness garnered the attention of heaven’s throne. She would be selected to live the dream of every Jewish girl that age:  to be the “God-bearer.” In the midst of her faithfulness God watched, then spoke.

Mary’s story stands in contrast to what I see, hear, and read people do to get heaven’s attention. It’s as though we have tried to develop processes that guarantee God’s visitation to our lives. We need to be reminded that we cannot manipulate God, nor can we conjure God’s voice through formulas. We must trust that if God could find Mary in her quiet obedience, He can certainly find us right where we are.

After all, God found Abram in Ur, Joseph in prison, Moses in Midian, David on a Judean hillside, and Peter, James, and John in a fishing boat.

God speaks to faithful people in their faithfulness. Mary is a wonderful example of one who was tuned in to God’s voice. She lived in anticipation and readiness. When God spoke, she heard and responded. And when God speaks, He changes the world.

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