There are many well-known passages of scripture that make their way onto Christmas cards and into sermons this time of year. Prophesies of Isaiah and Micah foretelling the Messiah are common, and the birth of Jesus is recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. While Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christ child, there’s a lot more going on than just a birthday. The incarnation is about God robing himself in flesh. Emanuel is God with us, and the New Testament has much more to say about the incarnation than it does the night it happened.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20, ESV)
If you want to know how much God loves us, look in the manger. If you want to see how much God hates sin, look at the cross.
Joy Williams is a celebrated Christian singer/songwriter. She released Here with Us in 2005. Some how, some way, I had never heard it until last year. The video above combines her song with images from The Nativity and the mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. Christ coming into the world is cause for celebration, but don’t loose sight of the fact that… he came to die. Continue reading →
Christians do not agree about the celebration of Halloween. There is some dispute over Christmas. Let’s embrace Thanksgiving for all its worth.
There is an argument to be made for the Christian roots of Halloween. The very name is created from the words Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day. But let’s be honest, unless you’re Roman Catholic most American do not celebrate All Saints (or even know what it is). Would you celebrate Christmas Eve if you didn’t believe in Christmas? Halloween may also have roots in paganism, and is certainly associated today with the occult and many “non-Christian” activities as well. Continue reading →
Four verses from Philippians, two from Hebrews. Each describe the voluntary act of Jesus humbling himself to the Father’s will. Each describe him as smaller, weaker or lower than his original state, and each ends in death. But as far as we are concerned, his death was his greatest moment. He tasted death so that none of us have to. Death that is separation from the body maybe, but not the death that is total separation from God. And he defeated the one with the power of death, that is the devil.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
(Hebrews 2:9 ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
(Hebrews 2:14 ESV)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV)
Jesus alluded to this truth in the parable of the tenants. Colossians 1 describes the preeminence of Christ in all things, calling him the images of the invisible God. Galatians 4 describes how God sent his son “when the fullness of time had come.” Ephesians 2 elaborates on Christ making peace by the blood of his cross. But this passage in Hebrews has a poetic quality to it. This one paragraph encompasses all of these other references in one beautiful synopsis. It’s about Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. It tells the reader who Jesus is and what he has done. It describes the incarnation, ministry of Jesus and his current office as high priest.
I find this short passage simple, beautiful and powerful. This is just the opening statement; have you read the rest of Hebrews lately?
I’m a Trekkie. I don’t think it’s ever come up here before, but I make no apologies for being a big fan. I don’t have a Star Fleet uniform or anything, but do enjoy most of the series. The original Star Trek aired on NBC from 1966 – 69. That series made social and political commentary, sometimes dealing with very controversial issues, but in a sci-fi setting. Gene Roddenberry wanted to share his vision for a better world, a world of peace and racial equality, not just entertain an audience. There was always a “moral of the story” but some people were so entertained they were unaware of being educated.
Each Trek series has at least one character wrestling with the idea of being human. Continue reading →
Today is Easter Sunday. Lent bagan 40 days ago, Palm Sunday was last week, 2 days ago was Good Friday. Holy Week is about the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Not too long ago – it’s been about 4 months – we celebrated the beginning of his life on earth. Do you remember that story?
Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, to be counted in the Roman census and taxed. Baby Jesus was laid in a manger, shepherds came and worshiped, and the wise men traveled from afar. They followed the star and brought gifts fit for a king. Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold makes sense; no one would mind getting that present. Frankincense is an incense, a sweet perfume. It’s actually a resin, made from the bark of a tree. Myrrh is very similar, but bitter. It’s most common use in the first century was anointing the dead. Gold is an awesome gift, perfume maybe, but… you wouldn’t give a newborn embalming fluid.
Once you know how the story ends, the beginning makes more sense. In literature, it’s called foreshadowing. Jesus was born to die. He came to be a sacrifice. The unusual gift brought by one very wise man reminds us what is really important about Christmas. The gifts that were given to Jesus pale in comparison to the gift of Jesus. Throughout his ministry Jesus understood his mission, even when his followers could not. The disciples were told plainly that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by men, even that he must die. Jesus told them, more than once, that he would rise again. Eventually they were afraid to ask.
The real story of course begins before the incarnation and does not end with the crucifixion. Today is Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That still isn’t the end of the story. Jesus wasn’t just resurrected; he is the resurrection. The story of God’s coming kingdom isn’t over yet.
When the wise men came from the east seeking Jesus, they went to Jerusalem. They were looking for a newborn king, so they naturally went to the palace located in the capital city. King Herod knew nothing of a king being born, because the birth of Jesus was not one fit for a king. Continue reading →
The nature of all sin is that we are so easily willing to settle. We could have the very best of all that God has in store for us, but all too often we take the easy way, the short cut, the path of least resistance or instant gratification. Instant gratification may the biggest temptation our culture offers today. A functional relationship with an actual human being takes time and effort, whereas “hooking up” for a one-night stand requires no long-term commitment. I contend that the long-term benefits make the commitment a worthwhile endeavor. A thief – or simply someone who is lazy – is thinking hard work pays off eventually, stealing pays off right now. But there are also consequences for cheating to get ahead. Sin is almost always an attempt to skip to the good part. Satan tempted Jesus three times with shortcuts; turn this bread to stone, prove yourself by jumping from a high place, bow down and worship me. (1) Any of those would have brought more immediate although less rewarding gratification than by taking the slow, painful path to the cross. Sometimes God’s will is the slow, tough path. The problem is that we are willing to settle for less.
God manifests himself in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to recognize the Father and Son in many of our Christmas stories and traditions, but the Holy Spirit is sort of the missing character. That’s just in our remembrance of the story; in the Biblical account, he is all over that story.
If we’re aware of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas narrative at all, it’s probably when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive, Luke 1:35. That’s just the first time Luke will mention the Spirit. Continue reading →