Anticipation…

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Four weeks later, we will have Christmas Day. For some, the time will pass in a frenzy of shopping and wrapping– the time will fly by! For some, the time will pass in meditation and reflection– it may seem to crawl. For some, the time will pass with no difference from any other time of year. For most of us, there is a sense of anticipation…we are waiting for something: the “Christmas Spirit,” the festivals and events, the time spent with loved ones far and near…

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Christmas, more than any other day, brings this sense of expectation. We sing songs, listen to stories, reach out to friends and neighbors– all in anticipation of a single day. And sometimes, the anticipation and expectation exceed the realities of the day. We feel disappointed in the gifts, or the weather, or the circumstances. But our anticipation shouldn’t be about the single day on the calendar. Christmas is so much more than just a day, or even just the “spirit” of the day.

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We don’t know the actual, historical day when Christ entered human history as a baby. As the Gospel of John relates– “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.” (John 1:1) But this Word, this Only Begotten Son of the Father, this second person of the Trinity, DID enter human history as a member of the human race. He came and dwelt among us, His creation. He walked and talked, ate and slept, worked and wept, lived and died as a man. The Lord of All Creation tasted freshly baked bread and felt the first raindrops of Springtime. The King of the Universe wiggled His toes in the sand, and wiped sweat from His brow. The Lamb of God shared belly-laughs with His friends over a shared joke. The Lion of Judah wept over the death of His friend. The Author of Life knew what it was to die, abandoned and betrayed.

None of this is anticipation for us, as it was for the prophets of old. It is history. Christ has already come. He already lived a life of compassion and grace, wonder and weariness, agony and anticipation, and, most of all, Love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.” John 3:16 Christmas for us is not about anticipating Christ’s arrival. Christmas is the celebration of what that arrival means for us all these years later and forevermore. And we can celebrate all the wonder of Christ on any day of the calendar year. But there IS real anticipation at Christmas– the anticipation of Eternal Life and Christ’s triumphant return. Just like the prophets waited and wondered, we wait in Hope of a glorious reunion.

Christmas, December 25, 2022, may be a disappointing day–it may be dreary, gloomy, lonely, or disappointing in its circumstances. It may bring us bad news, or heartache. But it will also bring us another opportunity to rejoice– to rise above whatever circumstance brings to focus our thoughts forward and upward, where Christ, who once came as a baby, now reigns and rules and waits– anticipating the same reunion that brings us hope and healing.

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The Now and the “Not Yet.”

As followers of Christ and believers in an Eternal God, we live in the “here and now,” but we also live in something called the “not yet.” Our life here is finite, but our life in the “not yet” is eternal.

Most of what we pray for belongs in the “here and now.” We pray about what we see and know. We may pray for an upcoming surgery, or a looming job loss, or give thanks for something that happened in the recent past, but most of our prayers do not venture into the eternal future.

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Yet, God speaks to us of things to come. No, He doesn’t always reveal details or give us a calendar of times and dates; but He does remind us that what we see is not the whole picture. And we need to remember this when we pray and when we look around us.

Much of the Old Testament, plus parts of the New Testament, are given over to prophecy– visions, promises, warnings about the future. Many of the prophecies have already been fulfilled– in detail. Some of the prophets prayed for revival in Israel and Judah; others prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Their prayers were answered– but not always in their lifetime, and not always in a way they understood. The Apostles, writing to Jesus’ followers looked forward to His return– but they never saw it in their lifetime.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:1, 6 (NIV)

Following Christ involves living in both the “now” of immediate life, and the “not yet” of our faith. We can have confidence in what was, what is, and what is to come. And we must learn patience, and stand firm in God’s promises, as well as living “in the moment” of service and obedience,. We cannot sit back and wait for life to come to us; neither can we live such short-sighted lives that we waste our energy chasing after constant gratification and emotional peaks. Sometimes, the very circumstances we are praying for God to “change” or take away are the circumstances He will use to teach us, grow us, and bless us!

Prayer is not just about us and our immediate needs. Today, spend some time praying with an eternal mindset–that God’s will would be done, in His time and His way. And then, trust that whatever is going on in the “here and now,” it is all part of God’s perfect plan. One that we will understand more fully in the “not yet.”

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Hallelujah!

Christmas Eve–people around the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Some will meet for evening and midnight candlelight services tonight. Others will begin celebrating tomorrow morning. Some will celebrate with great solemnity; others with great festivity; some, like the monks chorus above, with laughter and frivolity. Even amid continuing pandemic travel and gathering restrictions, families and individuals will celebrate with music, gift-giving, phone calls, small gatherings, reading Bible passages about Jesus’ birth, feasting, sharing memories, and praying.
There are only a few occasions throughout the year that can be said to be nearly universal, but Christmas comes close. Even where it is not celebrated as a cultural phenomenon, complete with tinsel and trees, lights and decorations, it is celebrated by the faithful who thrill with joy at the reminder that God Himself chose to come live with people He created– that He came to share in their day-to-day triumphs and struggles; so much so that He chose to share in our fate: Death. GOD cried out in hunger. GOD shivered with cold, and felt exhaustion. GOD suffered shame and misunderstanding and abandonment. GOD felt agony and struggled to breathe as blood and sweat ran down His brow and into His eyes. And by His coming, and suffering, and dying, HE brought us life and hope, eternal joy and peace! It is the very greatest reason to celebrate– bigger than national holidays or seasonal festivals; bigger than cultural differences and vast distances; bigger than mere tradition or historical remembrance.

Hallelujah!

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For many, this Christmas will be bittersweet– we have suffered greatly; some of us are still reeling from loss and grief. Others are living with fear and confusion about the future. In many ways, our situation is not so different from that first Christmas in Bethlehem. We feel “taxed” by events and circumstances. The world seems dark and dreary and cold. More than ever, we need to listen for the song of the Angels– for “good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

And, maybe more than ever in our lifetime, we need to be like the shepherds–eager to seek out the gift of the newborn Savior; Eager to embrace the wonder of Emmanuel; eager to share the hope we find at the manger. Hallelujah! Unto US a child is given; unto US a son is born! (Isaiah 9:6)

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I’ve been writing a lot about Advent and Christmas lately, rather than focusing on Pursuing Prayer. But they are part of the same whole. I pursue a life of prayer precisely because Jesus came in the flesh and lived and died and rose again. I believe in the power of prayer because Jesus modeled how to pray– even as He faced betrayal and death. I believe in the gift of prayer because Jesus prayed for me long before I was ever born (see John 17). I pursue prayer with confidence because Jesus keeps His promises.

Hallelujah!

Go! Tell! Witness! Believe!

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:15-17 (ESV)

Go! Tell It on the Mountain! The ancient prophets foretold it. The Angels brought the news to the shepherds, who told it to their neighbors: Jesus, the Christ, is born! He is here among us! God in the flesh! What amazing and glorious news! This same Jesus told parables, shared prophecies, and spoke the Truth– and taught His disciples to do the same! Through the centuries, witnesses have spoken words of hope, healing, and salvation to the next generation, taking the Word as they spread throughout the world.

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…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.

 
John 1:1; 14
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“Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading..”

What Child is This?

Jesus, who spoke the universe into existence, came into His own creation in silence as a newborn baby. The angels announced His coming; the shepherds spoke of Him; the Wise Men came to honor Him. But His arrival was just the beginning. In His ministry, He would speak words that echo through the centuries– words of hope; words of warning; words of life and salvation. And He challenges us to speak as well– to share the Gospel; to be His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth (see Acts 1:8).

Our words matter. Our words have power– power to build up, and power to destroy. We have opportunities each day to speak Truth, Hope, Joy, Peace, Compassion, Love…or to stay silent. And we must be careful to speak the truth– even when it is inconvenient, unpopular, or risky. We must not compromise by speaking pleasant platitudes or ignoring danger. Truth is not always pleasant–Jesus’s words were not always welcomed; not always comforting. But they brought healing where it was most needed, and hope where there was darkness.

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And more than words must go out into the world– Jesus didn’t sit in a comfortable corner of a bistro waiting for the hurting and hopeless to come to Him and hear His words. He climbed mountains and crossed lakes; He traveled from town to town; He shared meals and participated in the Synagogue services; He touched lepers and spoke to outcasts. Today, we have amazing opportunities to spread the Good News–technology and media; the ability to meet others in person (COVID permitting!) or via Zoom or Skype or even cell phone; and, in many places, the freedom to speak without fear.

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 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)
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The Word came down at Christmas. Let’s make sure the Word goes out this Christmas– the Savior has arrived! He is Christ, the Lord! Joy! Peace! Hope! Celebration! Go! Tell it on the mountaintops and in the valleys and across the seas!

Then, He Smiled at Me…

The story of “The Little Drummer Boy” is nowhere in the Bible. It is very unlikely that such an event ever took place. Yet it has become a classic Christmas song. I think it is easy for us to identify with the singer– a poor boy who wants to honor the Baby Jesus, but has no gift to offer. What he does have– a drum and the ability to play it– he offers gladly. He asks permission of Mary and she nods her consent. But the highlight of the song is when the Baby Jesus smiles His approval.

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At Christmas, we welcome a Christmas card-picture perfect stylized Baby Jesus, who smiles, never cries, charms all the animals of the stable, and merits the singing of angels choirs among the heavens. But we have a tendency to leave Him in the manger, where He can be a tiny miracle; a gift from God, bringing hope of peace on earth, and teaching us to give gifts and celebrate life.

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Somewhere along the way, our picture of Jesus tends to change. The adult Jesus is kind, wise, compassionate, and even passionate– but He is a man of sorrows. This is not “wrong” theology– the Bible describes Him as a man of sorrows; one who was despised and rejected by His own people, and condemned to die by those He came to save (see Isaiah 53). But we don’t tend to think of Jesus smiling, His eyes crinkled in a grin, dimples appearing as He delights in sharing time with us. Yet this is also Biblical (see Zephaniah 3:17).

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What an amazing image– Jesus, a radiant smile on His face as He listens to our prayers; a grin of delight as we speak words of encouragement to our family members and joyful greetings to those we meet throughout the day! Jesus smiling as we take out the garbage (without grumbling!); Jesus laughing along with us as we share treasured memories (or make new ones) with our kids; Jesus listening to our confession and responding with a warm smile of forgiveness and compassion; Jesus smiling as we sing along (maybe even a little off-tune) with one of our favorite songs on the radio, or tap our fingers on the steering wheel, or bob our head along with the rhythm, oblivious to onlookers!

We pray to the very Lord of the Universe– but He is not a stern and joyless God. Jesus wept while He was on earth (John 11:35)–but He also laughed, and ate, and hugged, and sang, and ran, and danced for joy! And He is no less joyful in Heaven as He watches over us. He delights in our smallest triumphs. He cheers us on in our battles every bit as enthusiastically as a fan cheering on his favorite sportsperson. And when we stumble, He is there with the kind of smile that welcomes us to get up and fall into His arms.

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There is only one thing we must do to experience His radiant and glorious smile– “Come!”

I Wonder…

Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time of wonder. But it is also a time to wonder–to ponder and reflect on the meaning of Jesus Christ. Why did He come? Why did He choose to be born where and when and how He did? The Bible gives us some of the “big” answers– He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45); He came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37); He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17); He came to give salvation and everlasting life (John 3:16)–and more. But there are still many things to ponder.

I wonder why Jesus came as a helpless infant. He could have taken on flesh and appeared as a full-grown man, and a king at that. He chose to come in weakness and in need– the Lord of all Creation needing to be fed and clothed and carried from place to place.

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I wonder about His early life. Jesus had to learn how to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run, to write. Imagine, the eternal Word of God having to learn to speak! The One who would one day walk on water had to learn to take His first steps on land. He was once toothless! Did He lisp when He was first learning to talk? Did He fall down as He learned to walk? Did He run too fast, and skin His knees? Were there foods He didn’t like, or others He preferred? Did the other kids tease Him and hurt His feelings? Did He suffer from headaches or toothaches or upset stomach (or even diarrhea)? Did He get splinters working with Joseph in the carpenter’s shop? Did He have a favorite teacher? When did Joseph die, and how did this change Jesus’s family situation?

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Jesus was fully human, and He lived as a baby, and a child, and as a man. His ministry spanned only a short three years– less than a tenth of His earthly life. What did He see in those years? What did He learn? What did He “wonder?”

I wonder.

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What if part of the process of Jesus’s earthly life was to remind us that God is with us from our earliest, neediest, and most vulnerable moments to our last breath? What if it was to remind us that even Jesus had “bad hair days” and skinned knees? That He came to experience ALL that is part of being human, including the long wait to grow to maturity and to fulfill His mission, and the hundred little obstacles of everyday life? Or maybe it was to remind us that there is awesome wonder in the ordinary–that even God found it worth marveling over those little moments with family or friends, or watching a glorious sunset, or catching a firefly.

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It’s so easy for us to lose the wonder of the Christmas season. But it’s also easy to lose the wonder of those ordinary moments–a shared smile or tear, the excitement of someone else’s birthday, the taste of fresh-baked bread, the way the sun sparkles on the lake. Jesus came to redeem us. And in the process, He came to redeem our sense of Wonder, too.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years..

My paternal grandmother was born in Shanghai. But not the Shanghai most people think of. Not a great Eastern city of importance, but a tiny settlement called Shanghai (or Shanghai Corners) in southwestern Michigan. It doesn’t have a post office; it’s not even listed on most maps. And it wasn’t named directly after the great Chinese city– it was named after a breed of chicken (most likely the breed now known as Cochin)!

Jesus wasn’t born in Jerusalem. He wasn’t born in Rome or Athens, or New York City or London or Johannesburg or Tokyo. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It wasn’t as small as Shanghai Corners, Michigan, but it wasn’t a city of great importance, wealth, or industry. And yet, it was the place where history would be reshaped. Our modern calendar divides into what happened before that night in Bethlehem and what came after. More than two thousand years later, no event has been able to displace it as the pivotal event of recorded history.

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And this division wasn’t caused by a revolution, or a series of wars. It wasn’t shaped by disaster or plague, victory or catastrophe. It came silently with the birth of a single baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed into a makeshift bed. But all the years revolve around that single birth. All the great triumphs of history– the moon landing, the invention of the printing press, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the building of the Sphinx–all are placed in the context of the arrival of God in human form. God stepped into the limits of human history, and the timeline was permanently altered. Before His appearance, prophets and seers looked forward. After His arrival, history looks back. But His birth is the focal point; the period. The end of the Beginning and the beginning of the End.

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The hopes of all the ancients–shrouded in mists and wonder– were given flesh and bones. The fears– dark and amorphous– were blinded by the light of His Presence.

What hopes and fears are we carrying today? Our hopes have a name– Jesus; Emmanuel! Our fears have nowhere to hide from His power. And this wondrous gift, while it first arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, reaches around the entire Earth– to Shanghai, and Shanghai Corners; New Delhi, and St. Petersburg; Dallas and Buenos Aires; Cairo and Caraballo; Los Angeles and Lagos; and thousands of small towns in between.

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“Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in:
Be born in us today.”

Peace on Earth

Christmas is a joyful season– for most people. And it is a giving season; a busy season; a bright and noisy season. But for most of us, it is NOT a peaceful season. Our small city had a lighted parade the other night. It was festive and bright; there were a lot of happy people cheering on marching bands, floats, dancers, decorated fire engines and tractors, horse-drawn carriages, and other entries. People were eating, drinking hot cocoa, enjoying the entertainment, and even singing carols. The whole downtown was decorated with brilliant lights and banners and festive plants. But before the parade started, and after it ended, there were angry drivers trying to find (or leave) parking spots, bawling toddlers, rowdy people who had more to drink than just the cocoa, and several others who were just tired, and cold, and overstimulated.

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While parades and festivities, parties and pageants have become part of the seasonal celebrations in many parts of the world, they are not what Christmas is really about. Jesus did not come to the world to bring “fun.” He did not come to bring toys or games, parties or feasts. He did not come to bring cheerful songs and fragrant holiday decorations, or hot cocoa and cookies. The angels who announced His arrival did not bring good tidings of candy canes, flying reindeer, or twinkle lights.

We sing about “Peace on Earth.” We talk about it, send greeting cards about it, and pray for it. But what do we MEAN when we talk about Peace on Earth, Good will to Men (Humankind)? For many, it is a wish or a prayer that wars would end, or that the petty differences between rival political factions or even rival churches would end. We speak of global peace or universal peace– peace between men (and women). And it is good that we should want such peace. But is that really the kind of peace Jesus brought with Him? He didn’t put an end to wars and disagreements during His ministry here. He didn’t “settle the score” for those who experienced oppression– the Roman Empire remained; the tax collectors still took more than their fair share; there was still slavery and abuse; greed and adultery and murder did not cease. And the world has been noisy, and messy, and angry and depressed in the two millennia since. And yet…

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There IS peace on earth–it is the profound peace that comes with “Good will to Men.” God’s good will found its ultimate expression in the gift of the Savior. There may still be wars and pestilence, angry drivers, bad hair days, injustice, confusion, grief, and pain among people. But there is power to be at peace in the midst of it all– the power of a Peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7); the power of Peace with God (Romans 5:1).

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Jesus came to a world that knew only the rumor of such peace. Even King David– a “man after God’s own heart,” a man who wrote songs about peace and safety and joy in God’s presence–knew this kind of peace as something that had been promised. David could know the immediate peace of God’s forgiveness; he could know the blessings of obedience and the restoration of the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12). But the everlasting Peace that has been accomplished by the Advent of the Christ– David, Moses, Abraham, and all the prophets had longed to know it; to experience it from within.

And THIS Peace we can experience– not just during the Advent and Christmas Season, but throughout our lives. Chaos, loneliness, grief, separation, injustice– it HAS BEEN defeated. It has no power to separate us from God’s Good Will or from His Loving embrace! The noise and anger and clutter and abuse is still real. We should not ignore it, and we certainly must not contribute to it or sanction it. But we no longer have to live without hope; we no longer have to fret and live in constant fear or defeat.

There is no parade tonight as I write this– there are still lights and occasional noises downtown– a door closing, a dog barking, a car passing. But there is Peace within– no matter how loud or bright, how festive or even forlorn things seem.

Imperfect Parents

When I was very young, I liked to believe that my parents were perfect– at least as close to perfect as people could be. When I was a teen, I realized that my parents were NOT perfect. In fact, it seemed that I knew much better than they did, and much more as well! With time, I’ve come to realize that they did the very best they could with what they had and what they knew. They were never perfect, but they were good parents, and I’m very thankful for them.

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Jesus had imperfect human parents. Mary, though chosen by God to bear the Savior of the World, was not chosen because she was perfect. Nor did she become perfect in her own obedience. Jesus was HER Savior, too! Mary and Joseph did the best they could with what they had and with what they knew. But they still managed to “misplace” their own son at least once that we know of (see Luke 2:41-52). Such an incident today might be grounds for Jesus to be removed from his home and placed in foster care.

But Jesus also had a perfect Father– God. Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man– completely Divine, and completely human.

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As we travel through the Advent season, it is good to remember that the same Jesus who called on His perfect Father, is the same Jesus who taught us to pray, “Our Father.” Not all of us have had “nearly” perfect human parents, but ALL of us can call on a perfect Father in Heaven. Jesus came to earth, not just to die for our sins, but to show us how to relate to this Divine and Holy Father. We can call on Him in our need; we can call on Him with our sorrows and agonies, as Jesus did in the Garden; we can call on Him when we are alone; we can call on Him in a crowd; we can listen and obey His voice; we can please Him! We can trust in God’s faithfulness through every moment of every day, every step in our journey, and every valley we must face.

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Jesus wasn’t created, as we were– He was “begotten” of the Father–“born of” the Father, in the way we are born of our parents’ DNA. (see John 3:16, John 1:18, and Psalm 2:7) And this relationship is eternally existing– “Ere the Worlds began to be” and throughout all of time. It is not a relationship that can ever be dissolved or altered. Jesus will never “become the parent,” nor will God cease to be the Father. Though He is equal in divinity and power, and equally worthy of our praise, Jesus will always act in accordance with the Father’s will– never against it or in His own separate motivation.

It is difficult to understand, that Jesus always exists, yet He was “born” at a particular time in history and “lived” only 33 years as “one of us.” We see time as being linear– everything has a “season” or a time of beginning and end. Not so with Jesus. As a human, He had an experience of “life” similar to ours– days and nights, weeks and months, festivals and birthdays, growth spurts and hormones, toothaches and hugs and laughing so hard His sides ached.

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The Advent of the Christ was not the “beginning” of the Christ–only His arrival at that particular experience in time as we know it. Yet this arrival was so unique, so miraculous, so spectacular, that all of our human time is divided into “before” and “after” that single event. We don’t divide time by human achievement (i.e. Before the moon landing/after the moon landing or before the invention of the printing press, etc.) or by natural phenomena (before the last Ice Age or after the eruption of Vesuvius). Time centers on the single act of God’s begotten son arriving as a helpless baby in the middle of an otherwise ordinary night.

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Mary and Joseph were mere mortals, ordinary human parents entrusted with fostering and caring for the very incarnation of their Divine Creator. They were imperfect. But they were guided, empowered, and held fast by the very God growing up as a child in their midst.

And when they “misplaced” their son? He was, as expected, not “lost,” but merely visiting His “Father’s house.” He could not have been safer. They need never have worried or felt ashamed.

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This season can be difficult for families– some of us have hurtful memories of our childhood with imperfect parents. Some of us are overwhelmed by guilt or frustration as the imperfect parents of our own children. May this season bring us renewed hope and joy in our unshakeable, unbreakable relationship to our perfect Heavenly Father, through the gift of His only Begotten Son. We can rejoice and feel secure– Evermore and Evermore!

The Right Time

But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children

Galatians 4:4-5 (Good News Translation– emphasis added)

At just the right time Christ died for ungodly people. He died for us when we had no power of our own.

Romans 5:6 (New International Reader’s Version–emphasis added)

Do you ever wonder at God’s timing throughout the Bible? Why did He take the Israelites up to the edge of the Red Sea and THEN send the entire Egyptian army after them? Why did He allow Haman to trick the king into signing an edict that would wipe out the Jews and THEN send Esther to try to save them? Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus was dead to visit His sick friend? Or God’s timing in our own lives? Why didn’t He make it possible to get the job I wanted when I first applied, instead of nearly a year later? Why is life so stressful all at once? Why does God seem to give me wisdom AFTER I’ve messed up? And yet, God’s timing is perfect. Not that it seems that way–in fact, it often seems like God is not paying attention to timing at all.

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Even in Christ’s birth, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been worse–Joseph and Mary forced to travel far from home, only to find that there was no room anywhere for them to rest. And then– THEN–the labor pains began! It was cold, dark, filthy, lonely, and frightening. And not just that evening: the Romans ruled a significant portion of the world with an iron fist. Jews were not forbidden from worshipping God, but they were heavily taxed, regulated, and watched over by their invaders. This newest census was just another part of the bureaucracy and endless government red tape. It seems like it would be the worst timing ever for Emmanuel to appear.

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And yet, Scripture says it was “just the right time” for Christ to come. So what can we discover about this “right time?”

  • God had been silent for 400 years before this– almost exactly the same amount of time the Israelites had been in captivity in Egypt before God sent Moses to lead them out. Coincidence? I’m not so sure…God uses patterns to illustrate concepts. Just as the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians, so all of us were slaves to Sin and Death. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” John 3:14 (New American Standard Bible)
  • The prophets made hundreds of statements about where and how Emmanuel would be born– some seemed completely contradictory; yet they were all fulfilled exactly. Again, this wasn’t a coincidence– God orchestrated events over centuries until it was “the right time” for them to all come to pass. Only God could have coordinated it all–the census, the genealogy of Jesus, Joseph’s hometown, Mary’s contractions coming THAT night in THAT cattle shed, instead of on the road somewhere, or in a private room where the shepherds couldn’t visit…
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  • The Jewish people had been in exile off and on throughout the centuries; under Rome, even though they were conquered, most of the Jews who had returned to their homeland were still living there, much as they had centuries before. That wasn’t the case four or five hundred years before– it isn’t even the case today– more Jewish people live outside of Israel than in it!
  • Rome had established its rule over most of the Western World– and with it, they had established a system of roads, common currency, and a complex legal system. All of this played vital roles in the advent of the Savior– from His birth, through His ministry, and even in His trial, death, and the spreading of the Gospel. Before them, the Greeks had established cities and trading centers that would form the basis of the first missionary trips of the Apostle Paul. And they had created a “common” language in which this Good News was first written and spread. Just a few hundred years earlier, the spread of Christianity through letters and traveling ministers would have been much slower, less efficient, and more dangerous. Just a few hundred years later, the Roman Empire would be in shambles; travel would require going through regions separated by differing languages and governments.
  • To me, one of the most fascinating things to imagine is what it might be like if Christ had not come until our own time. First, there would be no Christianity, and none of the work of Christians over the centuries would have been done. But even if we imagine that all of history had unfolded and the present was much as it is, Christ’s birth would not have happened in the same way. Bethlehem would not be under the rule of Rome. In fact, Israel might not even exist; as it is, it exists in hot contention between the Jews, the Palestinians, and their close neighbors in the Middle East. There would be no census, and no need for Joseph and Mary to travel– and certainly not by donkey! There might be “no room at the inn,” but Joseph and Mary would be sent to a homeless shelter, filled with other hapless travelers. The shepherds, seeing angels, might still be filled with fright– mistaking them for missiles! Even so, it would only take minutes for a team of journalists to arrive with cameras, microphones, and commentary! The message of the angels would be dubbed “false” information or “fake news”, as would most of the prophecies about His arrival. “Fact checkers” would “kill” the story, and Mary, Joseph, and all the shepherds and wise men would be “cancelled” or receive threats.
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Or not–I can only speculate. But I can say with confidence that God’s timing, even when it seems odd or “wrong” by our limited perspective, is perfect and worthy of our praise. All that seems “odd” or “wrong” about Christ’s coming when, where, or how He did, is just our limited perspective, and our tendency to doubt whatever we don’t understand.

Emmanuel came! He came at “just the right time” to fulfill all the promises and complete His ministry on Earth. Everything happened just as God designed it. And over two thousand years later, we still “Rejoice!” We sing songs, celebrate, and worship. We breathe in Hope, we give gifts, and we cherish the story of Christmas in hundreds of different ways.

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This same God has a plan for us today. Throughout our lives, He sends blessings, allows struggles, and patiently stands by, offering help and hope to each of us. There is not a single detail of our lives that escapes His notice or is beyond His capacity or willingness to restore, transform, redeem, or renew.

Emmanuel– God WITH us–at “just the right time!”

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