Tag Archives: Nativity

God’s People, part 142: Baby Jesus

Read Luke 2:1-7

“[The wise men] entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Iesus Christi, Filii DeiPart 142: Baby Jesus. So, here we have it. We’ve arrived at the birth of the Christ-child, and the delivery of Baby Jesus into the world. For those of you who have been religiously (pun intended) reading all 141 devotions that have led up to this point, you probably have been wondering what would be said about baby Jesus. Perhaps it is a surprise to you that I am talking about Baby Jesus as opposed to just Jesus himself.

If the latter is the case, put that question on hold for just a moment and bear with me. Yes, Jesus will be addressed more detail; however, it is important the 8-pound (give or take) baby Jesus gets his due so that it is possible to move beyond him. That may sound calloused, but I assure you it is not meant that way. I have nothing against the actual baby Jesus; however, sweet baby Jesus often becomes a distraction as to who Christ actually is and what Christ actually calls us to do. This is especially true within the church in America.

So, let’s talk about baby Jesus. It is important to note that the earliest Christians did not observe Christ’s birthday. To them, that was irrelevant because the Good News was not that a baby was born, but that God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. The Good News had nothing to do with an innocent baby, but everything to do with Jesus Christ who “though he was God…did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7a, NLT).

The earliest Christians did not view Jesus’ birth as special, but rather his life. More importantly, they viewed his death and resurrection to be the event worthy of observance. Thus, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter were always observed in the church from the Lord’s Supper onward through history; however, Christmas did not become an established feast day until Constantine and his successors in the 4th century.

In fact, only two of the four canonical Gospels even included a birth narrative. What’s more, while both narratives are in agreement as to Jesus divine conception and identity in God, they do not agree on many of the minute details surrounding the Birth. Matthew seemingly has Mary and Joseph living in a home in Bethlehem with no mention of any sort of census or journey from Nazareth. Luke, on the other hand, has Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth, and he has them traveling to Bethlehem for the census.

Matthew has the Holy Family living in a home when Jesus was born, Luke has the family in a manger because there were no guest rooms available to them. Matthew has Jesus visited by wise men and chased after by a megalomaniacal king, whereas Luke has Jesus visited by poor shepherds. You get the idea. The two accounts differ in such ways and, again, there are only two accounts out of the four that even bother to mention Jesus’ birth at all.

This is not to knock Christmas, as I happen to love that holiday and I look forward to celebrating it every year.  With that said, we need to come to a place of recognition that if the baby Jesus is the only Jesus we really pay attention to, we’re in error to say the least. Let us be challenged to seek out the risen King Jesus who is our sovereign ruler.

For it is that Jesus, not the cute baby we would rather not have grow up on us, that calls us to follow him. It is the risen Jesus who commands the direction of the Christian’s life and who we ought to worship. Anyone else and anything less is an idol. This Christmas and all Christmases, reflect upon the risen Christ who is Lord, and turn your hearts over to him who died for you so that you might live.

“There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter.” – George B. Hinckley

Lord, help me to move past your birth so that I might be consumed by your resurrection. Amen.

God’s People, part 140: Zechariah

Read Luke 1:5-25

“The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Zechariah 1Part 140: Zechariah. In the Gospel of Luke, we receive a unique Nativity account to the one that is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is important to realize some facts about the Nativity before talking about Zechariah and his story. First, out of the four canonical Gospels, only two included the Nativity story. Mark does not, nor does John.

Second, Matthew’s account is quite different than Luke’s account. In Matthew, we have Mary, Joseph, King Herod, and the Wise Men as the predominant characters. There are no choirs of angels, shepherds, Wise Men, and certainly no manger in Matthew’s version. In fact, there’s not even a mention of Nazareth or any journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it reads as if Joseph and Mary were from Bethlehem and only ended up in Nazareth because they fled to Egypt from soldiers carrying out Herod’s villainous orders, later returning and settling in Nazareth.

In Luke, on the other hand, we have Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, August Caesar, Quirinius, Shepherds, Choir of Angels, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. It is Luke’s account that is most familiar to us as the Nativity story, but our typical picture also includes pieces of Matthew’s account blended into the story.

Zechariah, according to Luke’s account, was the husband of Mary of Nazareth’s cousin Elizabeth. He was a priest and a person who had status, power and authority in terms of the religious life of Judah. In fact, he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel spoke to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child and name that child John.

Unlike Elizabeth, Zechariah had a powerful voice in society. He was someone of prominence and religious leader in the community. If someone wanted spiritual advice, they would go to Zechariah or other priests, not his wife. He was someone who was supposed to be in tune with God and someone leading the people of Israel in the act of repentance, sacrifice and worship. Yet, Zechariah did not believe what God was telling him was going to happen.

To be fair, who would believe that two older people, past the age where childbearing is a possibility, could bear a child? But Zechariah, steeped in the Jewish religious tradition must surely have known better, right? He knew the account of Sarah, of Rebecca, and other women who God blessed with children. Yet, he vocally refused to believe what he heard from the angel Gabriel that day.

As a result, God took away his ability to speak. I guess one could say God gave Zechariah a time out. In fact, Zechariah would not get his speech back until after his son, John, was born. We must keep in mind that Zechariah had no way of communicating to his wife, or anyone, what he heard that day in the Temple. As such, we can deduce that Elizabeth probably had no idea that she was going to get pregnant.

This is important to note because, when she did conceive a child, she went into seclusion (probably to protect herself from the community who would be marveling at such a miracle) and spoke the following words: “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). Did you catch that, Zechariah’s pride rendered him speechless, yet Elizabeth, in her humility, found her voice. What’s more, she instantly recognized, believed and gave credit to God for her miraculous pregnancy. Her reaction to the news, as it were, was on the complete opposite spectrum from her husbands.

The challenge for us is to reflect on our own faith in God. Do we have faith? Do we believe God is God? Do we believe, for instance, Christ’s words when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”  (John 14:12, NLT). The challenge for us is to reflect on our own belief and to grow in our willingness to TRULY believe that God’s power is not only at work within us, but THROUGH us as well.

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JosephFatherofJesusPart 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A Carpenters Christmas

dsc05349“It is the week of this Christmas and all through my mind,
Came the need for a holiday and some time to unwind.
I have written so many devotions with love and care
In hopes that you’ll discover the Christ that I share.”

While I have taken some time off of writing for the holidays, here’s a look back at a devotion that is no doubt as relevant today as it was when I wrote it. Click here to view today’s devotion.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Nativity Stor(ies)

Read Luke 2:1-16

“[The Wise Men] entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11 NLT)

The-Nativity-StoryWe all know the Nativity Story, right? The angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she will be with child, who is to be named Jesus, and that her barren cousin is already 6 months pregnant. She humbly accepted it and went on a road trip to visit her cousin. When Mary arrived, the baby in Elizabeth’s baby jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary praised God and texted a psalm to Elizabeth as a keepsake. okay, she didn’t do that, but she did sing a new psalm to God. Have you ever wondered how that got recorded if no one was there to witness it or write it down?

Anyway, Mary returned home and Joseph noticed that she was pregnant, which was obviously pretty big surprise to him. He thought about quietly dumping her, but an angel came to him in a dream to tell him that the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant and that her child was actually the SON OF GOD. Joseph took Mary as his wife and then set off to Bethlehem to comply with a census that Caesar Augustus made the Jews participate in. There in Bethlehem, Mary’s water broke and the poor couple ended up searching house to house, inn to inn, in order to find a place for her to deliver baby Jesus. With there being no room for her at the inn, let alone anywhere else, Mary and Joseph found a stable and laid Jesus in a manger wrapped in strips of cloth. Following that, she was visited by Shepherds who were told by a choir of angels that the child was being born. She was also visited by three wise men who bore gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Herod, fearing that a new king was born, ordered that all male children 2 years old and younger be slaughtered, but the Holy Family escaped into Egypt. Following the death of Herod Mary, Jesus and Joseph returned to Israel and settled the Galilean town of Nazareth.

While this is the story we all know, the truth is that it IS NOT the nativity story that is found in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, all of the elements listed above (minus Mary texting Elizabeth) are found in the Gospels…but not altogether. In Matthew, Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant and chooses to marry her after a dream. It is in this Gospel that we find Herod and the wise men visiting Jesus in a house, as well as the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. In Luke, we find the story of Gabriel telling Mary she and Elizabeth are pregnant, of the angels singing to the shepherds who also visit the holy family, of the trip to Bethlehem, and of Jesus being born in stable, wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a manger.

The two stories are actually remarkably different from one another. If this is a surprise to you, if you didn’t realize that Matthew and Luke both had different stories to tell when it came to Jesus’ birth, then it is time for you to read each of the Nativity stories for yourself. Many have looked at the differences and called them contradictions; however, they are not contradictions as if Luke and Matthew were written to be factual histories; rather, the two Gospels were written as theologies and both give a unique insight into the birth of Jesus and the significance that the advent of the Christ-Child has for the world. Neither story is definitive or complete, but are meant to be glimpses into the activity of a God who refuses to give up on humanity even when humanity has given up on God. Today’s challenge is for you to search the Gospels, read them closely and make note of their commonalities and differences. In doing so, you will have a much deeper and dynamic view of the Christ who came as a Savior for the world.

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” – Benjamin Franklin

Lord, stir in me a desire to study Scripture; however, also spark in me the desire to go beyond just studying Scripture into the realm of living by it. Amen.

Why Advent?

Read Isaiah 11:1-9

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3 NLT)

Advent2Advent is one of my favorite times of year. It is true that I am not a big fan of winter or its weather, I really love the season of Advent and of the great hope that it stands for. Throughout the majority of Christian history, the church has in one way or another celebrated the coming Christ. With that said, Christmas (aka the coming of the Christ-child) was not always celebrated by the church. In fact, it was quite a controversy early on and, in some Christian circles, it is still a controversy.

The  church didn’t officially recognize the “feast day” of Christ’s birth (what became known as Christ’s Mass or Christmas) until the fourth century, and when we look at the Gospels themselves, only two of the four canonical Gospels (Matthew and Luke) actually account for the birth of the Christ-child. The other two canonical Gospels (Mark and John) do not mention the birth of Christ at all. Mark starts off with Jesus’ baptism and John merely makes mention that the WORD of God manifested itself in the flesh as Jesus (John 1:14). They clearly did not feel that there was any significant reason to include the story of the Nativity in their Gospels.

So, then, why Advent? Regardless of the fact that only two of the four Gospels include the Nativity story, each of the four Gospels have the Advent story! In fact, the entire Bible is an Advent story. Advent, of course, means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event”. All of Scripture is pointing to Advent, when you really think about it. All of Scripture is pointing to the advent or arrival of Immanuel, of “God with us.” From the first humans through the Exodus, from the age of the kings through the prophets, from the exile through Roman occupation, from the birth of Jesus through his resurrection, from the apostles through our the age in which we find ourselves, this world is SCREAMING for the advent of God’s Kingdom, the advent of hope, healing, wholeness, justice, mercy, compassion and grace!

Why Advent? Because we live in a broken world filled with broken people such as ourselves. Why Advent? Because we live in a world filled with social injustice. Why Advent? Because we live in a world where people pour lighter fluid down the throats of teenagers and light them on fire. Why Advent? Because we live in a world where a few have everything, and a majority people have nothing. Why Advent? Because we all play our part in the reality of sin. Why Advent? Because we desire justice, we long for mercy, strive to live humbly.

Unfortunately, in the longing for Advent, we often miss a hugely important point. Immanuel has already come. GOD IS WITH US! GOD IS WITHIN US! While we certainly await the coming of God’s Kingdom in all of its fullness, and while the Bible is all about advent, it also points us to the reality of God’s presence with us, God’s love for us, and God’s holy spirit within us. The question really isn’t why Advent? Rather, the question should be why wait?

What are we waiting for? God desires that we see God’s presence with us now. We no longer have to lie in wait. We no longer have to sit and hope for some savior to come and rescue us. That savior has already come, that savior has never left, and that savior has no intention of leaving. So long as there are people who open themselves up to God, the Savior will always be present in the world. Jesus didn’t call us to wait, but to BE AWAKE. Jesus didn’t call us into waiting…but he sent his disciples and he sends us into action. Instead of waiting, actively take part in showing the world that GOD is already here…that GOD IS ALREADY WITH US…THAT LOVE WINS.

How are you bringing the reality of Immanuel into the world around you?

Lord, I am your vessel of hope, healing and wholeness. Use me as a witness to your presence among all people. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Woken Up in a Dream

181817372While it is important to keep moving forward, sometimes it is also important to pause and look back at what we’ve learned from the past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this post from December 2012. It is just as relevant now as it was then.

Click here to view today’s devotion.

Many blessings,

Pastor Todd