Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas...

“I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children.” Who wrote this and when was it written? It sounds like something right off the web doesn’t it? Yet it was written by C. S. Lewis in November of 1953. Christians can just as easily get caught up in the frenzy of the Christmas Season. How many of you are stressed during this time of Advent? Indeed, what with its shopping, multiple parties, decorations, pageants, etc., etc., etc., it’s a wonder we even look forward to this time of year. Sadly, many of us don’t look forward to it. It doesn’t have to be that way. In years past, Advent was a time to eagerly reflect on the approaching celebration of Christ’s birth in much the same way that Israel did in her long anticipation of the coming of their Messiah. Instead of celebrating throughout the Christmas Season, Christians would actually refrain from celebrations, in much the same manner as that of Lent, in order to better understand the longing that Israel must have experienced. Christmas day would then bring with it greater significance through the joyous celebrations that would occur. The Bondage of Corruption by Keith Patman The world, upon its axis whirling, groans. The flitting sparrow flinches, flails, and falls. An aching hollow howls within the bones Of bird and beast and man; the death-curse palls Once-glad creation. Stung with sorrow, pain, We toil and struggle under leaden skies And wail like Israel in Pharaoh’s reign, “How long, O Lord, will you ignore our cries?” God’s Holy Spirit bears the troubled prayer Aloft, with a more deeply uttered groan Than ever echoed in earth’s bitter air, And lets the burden fall before the throne. God answers. From a starlit hillside crèche A pain-cry rings as cold air bites new flesh. Israel waited hundreds of years for the Messiah’s appearance. The Church has been waiting over two thousand years for His reappearance and the fulfillment of all things. God certainly works at His beckoning and is constrained by no earthly time schedule. Yet, even if the waiting appears to extend beyond our expectations, we need to understand that God does not waste time. Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7 (NET) (emphasis translator’s notes - “the fullness of time”, an idiom for the totality of a period of time, with the implication of proper completion) Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild? Have you ever noticed how truly non-threatening it is to have a nativity scene displayed in public? Granted, there are those who oppose such displays, but I would argue that such people oppose the displays due to their religious aspects and not because of any inherent revulsions they may have with the display itself. Would we see such non-threatening aspects to a realistic portrayal of Christ’s crucifixion? We may find out this February upon the release of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. Regardless, if we simply remember Christ’s birth, haven’t we shortchanged the Gospel? Am I recommending we celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at Christmastime as well? Hardly. But I am recommending that we take in the full measure of Christ’s identity in our appreciation of His Incarnation. It’s easy to get caught up in the innocence of Christmas celebrations all the while ignoring God’s purpose… God’s plan for humanity. Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. Then he took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it, my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together. – Genesis 22:6-8 (NET) (emphasis added) God will provide the lamb. The promise of Christ. Did God provide the lamb to Abraham? Abraham looked up and saw behind him a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. So he went over and got the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord provides.” It is said to this day, “In the mountain of the Lord provision will be made.” – Genesis 22:13-14 (NET) (emphasis added) Notice that God provided a ram, not a lamb, for Abraham. Significant? The translators evidently thought so. On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 (NET) (emphasis translator’s notes - Gen 22:8 is an important passage in the background of the title Lamb of God as applied to Jesus. In Jewish thought this was held to be a supremely important sacrifice. G. Vermès stated: “For the Palestinian Jew, all lamb sacrifice, and especially the Passover lamb and the Tamid offering, was a memorial of the Akedah with its effects of deliverance, forgiveness of sin and messianic salvation”) Where was the Lamb of God placed upon His birth? In a manger. In Greek, a stall… where lambs were typically placed. Lambs that, no doubt, would have eventually been slaughtered in temple sacrifice. Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:8-12 (NET) Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head. Important, to be sure. But that isn’t the Jesus who was flogged and nailed to a cross. Nor is it the Jesus we find in Revelation. Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11-16 (NET)

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