The Story behind today.

St. Paul’s Arts ‘n’ Kids tell the story of Christmas (2010). (Presented at GLOW Carols by Glowstick on 12 December 2010 at Vector Arena, Auckland.)

Now consider the implications of The Incarnation, spoken word by Odd Thomas:

“Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”
—Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

Enjoy a special FREE Christmas song, written and sung by Aaron Sternke: “Our God, Here to Save Us

The paradox of Jesus come as the God-Man shows the great creativity of our Creator, and the lengths to which He has gone to bring us back to Himself:

”He was poor, that he might make us rich.
He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.
He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.
He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.
He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven….

That the ancient of Days should be born.
that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle….
that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;
that a virgin should conceive;
that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made,
that the branch should bear the vine,
that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,
and the child in the womb bigger than the mother;
that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God

Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven

If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us.

Behold love that passeth knowledge!”

—Thomas Watson

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God With Us: the end of fear. [a reflection on the good news of Christmas]

Willamette lights by Jordan Chesbrough

Have you ever felt afraid? Even in the happiest of times, fear can haunt our hearts, nagging, keeping us from experiencing true joy and peace.

What if I lose my job? Did I get the present I hoped for? Why was my friend acting mean to me? Why wasn’t I invited to the party? Will I make the team? Will I get accepted? Will he always love me? Will we have enough? Will I be healed?

As you read the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2, you’ll find angels appearing three times, messengers from God sent from heaven to give the world wonderful news about the Savior Jesus Christ. The angels appeared to a man named Zechariah, a girl named Mary, and a group of shepherds in Bethlehem. Each was occasion for celebration, for the angels brought the greatest news the world would ever hear. But do you know what happened each time the good news came?

Those who heard were afraid.

Zechariah was afraid (1:12). Mary was afraid (1:19). The shepherds were afraid (2:9).

And all three times the angels spoke these words:

“Do not be afraid.”

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” —Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

These heavenly messengers were the first to declare the Message of Christmas — that God so loved us that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will never die but will have eternal life.

Christ is the end of fear for all who believe. Why? Because Christ conquered the source of fear. He triumphed over sin and death, trampling Satan once and for all, delivering us from evil and delivering us into the God’s glorious Kingdom. But sometimes—just like Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds—we can actually be afraid of the message of Christ. We can be afraid of really trusting Him. What will He make me do? we wonder. But Christianity isn’t primarily about what God asks us to do but what God has already done.

What has God done? He has loved us.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him…. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” —1 John 4:9, 18 (NIV)

As you welcome Christ in your hearts and home this Christmas His perfect love will cast out all fear. (You know who wasn’t afraid in the story? The angels. Perfect love does cast our fear.)

Look to Him and hear His words, “Do not fear, only believe.” No need to fear; God is with us.

Merry Christmas.

For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.
The government will rest on His shoulders.
And He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

—Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

Reflection questions for discussion:

  • When were you afraid this year? How did you respond when overcome with fear?
  • What are you afraid of today?
  • Is there any aspect of that coming year that makes you feel afraid?
  • How does Christ’s presence remove that fear?

Grace and Fullness we have received.

Re-post: originally written 24 Dec 2009 at deTheos.com.

Wonder what Jesus looks like?

We don’t know. One day we shall see Him as He is, and become like Him (1 John 3:2). (Doubt He looks like the blue-eyed, blond-haired version sold here in the States as “Jesus junk,” that is, as trinkets.) Yet, we do have some clues as to what He is like. His character shines through brighter than His physical appearance. He’s full of compassion (Matthew 9:36: σπλαγχνίζομαι = moved with compassion), which is much deeper than mere emotion. More broadly, He’s full of grace and truth. He is the living embodiment of Grace, and Truth became a Person. Grace is meant to be experienced, truth intended to be known in the same way. We are to “receive” them as we receive Him. God’s grace never fails, and as wholly true He is completely faithful. (He’s not like us.)

Yet, He became like us. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in the Gospel of John, first chapter, verses 14 & 16. It reads:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

In His incarnation, Jesus stepped down into our world, showing us the worth of God in real-time. Someone has said the Incarnation is “deity for dummies.” God made Himself obvious and visible. Jesus was overflowing with the two essential qualities of perfect humanity: grace and truth. Those twin perfections remind us of God’s essential character: “steadfast love [Heb. hesed] and faithfulness [Heb. ’emet]” as revealed about 1,500 years prior in Exodus 34:6 (cf. Exodus 33:18–19). Moses asked to see God in all His glory. Yet the great patriarch was only  able to see the back side of God’s presence passing by. Here in Jesus we see God making Himself known as a person. To be known, experienced, treasured and loved. If God is a theory or His Son simply a business transaction to get us to Heaven, we we’ll miss everything in between. This relationship of love is founded on endless grace and rock-solid truth. God intends Jesus to be sufficient for our failures and sweeter than our failures. He is Grace & Truth in action, making life worth enduring until the end. The Triune God enjoys a fullness that spilled over into this world.

A few years back pastor John Piper wrote about these Scriptures and the Incarnation in a short article on these verses (read the entire thing here). Here are some highlights:

  • …the one from whose fullness I am being drenched with grace is the Word that was with God and was God (John 1:1-2), so that his fullness is the fullness of God—a divine fullness, an infinite fullness;
  • …this Word became flesh and so was one of us and was pursuing us with his fullness—it is an accessible fullness;
  • …when this Word appeared in human form, his glory was seen—his is a glorious fullness;
  • …this Word was “the only Son from the Father” so that the divine fullness was being mediated to me not just from God, but through God—God did not send an angel but his only Son to deliver his fullness;
  • …the fullness of the Son is a fullness of grace—I will not drown in this fullness but beblessed in every way by this fullness;
  • …this fullness is not only a fullness of grace but of truth—I am not being graced with truth-ignoring flattery; this grace is rooted in rock-solid reality.

As I savor this illumination of Christ’s fullness, I hear Paul say, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). I hear him say, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). And I hear him say, “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Can we see how deeply that God’s glory resides in Jesus? He intends us to seek Him in that one place alone: in Christ. Piper continues:

Paul prays that we would experience Christ’s fullness. Not just know about it, but be filled with it. Here is the way I hear him praying for me:

That I “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The “fullness of God” is experienced, he says, as we are given the “strength to comprehend” the love of Christ in its height and depth and length and breadth—that is, in its fullness. This is remarkable: The fullness of God is the spiritual apprehension (experience) of the fullness of the love of Christ. This love is the grace and truth that fills the Son of God and pours out on us.

Experiencing the fullness this Christmas. Pray you are as well.

Keep the X in Xmas.

It seems popular in recent years to bemoan the fact that CHRISTMAS is often truncated to X-mas (or Xmas) in written communication. “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” is the rallying cry. I agree. Keep Christ in everything. Everyday. Always. Not just from the day after Thanksgiving until the New Year. Nor only as a Baby in a seasonal nativity scene.

It may be helpful to take a step back and realize what that “X” stands for.

X marks the spot where God’s glory was revealed, on the cross. Every time I see Xmas I think of the Cross. More to the grammatical point, X is the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter for Christos, which is Jesus’ title: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He’s the true human, the God-Man who came to rescue us from sin, death and Satan (and ourselves). It seems that many of us need rescuing from ourselves even more now.

I’m not sure there really is a culture war over “X” instead of “Christ.” It’s the other instead-of’s that we need to war against: those idols that steal our joy and captivate us from fully following Christ. What is ultimate to you? What do you build your life upon?

While about 20% celebrate Christmas (or Xmas) as a secular holiday, I wonder if the key is to bring the Gospel back in the forefront for the 3/4 of us who claim Christmas as a religious event.

  • Who is Jesus?
  • Why did He come?
  • What does it mean to follow Him?

Jesus is the Good News. He brings us the resources to look past ourselves, not be offended by those who do not know God, and to respond with compassion and grace — and in creative ways in keeping with our being made in the image of God. Americans know why we Christians are outraged at the X instead of Christ. Do they also know why we think Jesus is a big deal? Do they see His life portrayed through ours? Do we make them want to know what the X is all about?

To broaden the discussion, I find that having a shared season of “Happy Holidays” is a great antidote to the otherwise break-neck pace of our culture.

If Jesus is special grace (John 1:14-16), then the pause in American society of this week and next is common grace. Most people have time off, get to be with family, and are simply nicer to be around. Even with “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas,” it’s like we all have a headstart on conversations. Those terms may not be a simple pathway to getting my views heard, but it is an easy pathway to valuing people, slowing down, asking questions, and even challenging assumptions.

People generally don’t care about my personal relationship with Jesus. They do care how my life reflects Him.

Because of the Cross and who Christ is, I say keep the X in Xmas.

————

For a little background on how X represents Christ, we can quote R.C. Sproul:

“The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”



Image credit: “In the key of X” by Miskan

Re-post: originally written 23 Dec 2009 at deTheos.com.

Advent: enmeshed in human suffering.

Advent proves God is quite aware of our suffering, and not willing to stay at arms-length from it.

“We sometimes wonder why God doesn’t just end suffering. But we know that whatever the reason, it isn’t one of indifference or remoteness. God so hates suffering and evil that He is willing to come into it and become enmeshed in it.”

How so?

“When September 11th happened and [it hit home and we] started to suffer, you heard two voices. You heard the conventional moralistic voices saying, ‘When I see you suffer, it tells me about a judging God. You must not be living right, and so God is judging you.’ When they see suffering, they see a judgmental God.

The secular voice said, ‘When I see people suffering, I see God is missing.’ When they see suffering, they see an absent, indifferent God.

But when we see Jesus Christ dying on the cross through an act of violence and injustice, what kind of God do we see then? A condemning God? No, we see a God of love paying for sin. Do we see a missing God? Absolutely not! We see a God who is not remote but involved.”

—Tim Keller, “The Gifts of Christmas,” pages 38-39 in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: experiencing the peace and promise of Christmas, edited by Nancy Guthrie. Adapted from “Mary,” sermon by Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, December 23, 2001.

Advent: God with us.

Advent: God With Us from The Village Church on Vimeo.

Christ is coming. He has come, and He will come again. This is the message of Advent.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. —Galatians 4:4-5

Lyrics of GOD WITH US

Poem by Isaac Wimberley

The people had read of this rescue that was coming through the bloodline of Abraham

They had seen where Micah proclaimed about a ruler to be born in Bethlehem

Daniel prophesy about the restoration of Jerusalem

Isaiah’s cry about the Son of God coming to them

So for them—it was anticipation

This groaning was growing, generation after generation

Knowing He was holy, no matter what the situation

But they longed for Him

They yearned for Him

They waited for Him on the edge of their seat

On the edge of where excitement and containment meet

They waited

Like a child watches out the window for their father to return from work—they waited

Like a groom stares at the double doors at the back of the church—they waited

And in their waiting, they had hope

Hope that was fully pledged to a God they had not seen

To a God who had promised a King

A King who would reign over the enemy

Over Satan’s tyranny

They waited

So it was

Centuries of expectations, with various combinations of differing schools of thought

Some people expecting a political king who would rise to the throne through the wars that he fought

While others expecting a priest who would restore peace through the penetration of the Pharisee’s façade

Yet a baby—100% human, 100% God

So the Word became flesh and was here to dwell among us

In His fullness, grace upon grace, Jesus

Through Him and for Him, all things were created

And in Him all things are sustained

God had made Himself known for the glory of His name

And this child would one day rise as King

But it would not be by the sword or an insurgent regime

It would be by His life

A life that would revolutionize everything the world knew

He would endure temptation and persecution, all while staying true

Humbly healing the broken, the sick and hurting too

Ministering reconciliation, turning the old to new

A life that would be the very definition of what life really costs

Saying—if you desire life, then your current one must be lost

And He would portray that with His own life as His Father would pour out and exhaust

And Jesus would be obedient to the point of death, even death upon the cross

So just 33 years after the day that He laid swaddled in the hay

He hung on a tree suffocating, dying in our place

Absorbing wrath that is rightly ours, but we could never bear the weight

So He took that punishment and he put it in the grave

And He died

And when I say that He died, what I mean is that He died

No breath, noheartbeat, no sign of life

God is a God of justice, and the penalty for our sin equals death

That’s what Christ did on that cross

Then… On the third day, in accordance with scriptures, He was raised from the grave

And when I say that He was raised, what I mean is that He was raised

Lungs breathing, heart pumping, blood pulsing through His veins

The things that He promised were true

He is the risen Son of God, offering life to me and you

Turning our mourning into dancing

Our weeping into laughing

Our sadness into joy

By His mercy, we are called His own

By His grace, we will never be left alone

By His love, He is preparing our home

By His blood, we can sing before His throne

Jesus paid it all

All to Him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He washed it white as snow

So now we, as His bride, are the ones waiting

Like the saints that came before, we’re anticipating

He has shown us that this world is fading

And He has caused our desire to be for Him

So church, stay ready

Keep your heart focused and your eyes steady

Worship Him freely, never forgetting

His great love for you

Immanuel, God with us