The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Advent

Coming Christmas Morning

O PreacherChristmas morning.  Lois in the kitchen preparing for children and grandchildren coming later.  A few quiet moments for me to pray and ponder.  Reminiscing about long-ago Christmases when our son and two daughters were children.  A familiar reminder to you who have young children:  enjoy them this Christmas season.  They will soon celebrate in their own homes with their own little ones.

For some reason, woke this morning with these fascinating words from the apostle Paul . . .

The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
(Romans 13:12a)

It’s his reason for urging us to live morally upright lives as Jesus’ followers . . .

. . . you know that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.
(Romans 13:11,12)

I’m not thinking of Paul’s exhortation as much as the far-gone night and at-hand day.

I tend to see this world as “day.”  What lies out there in the future, even though Jesus promises glory beyond comprehension, seems “night” both because (unless Jesus comes first) I have to pass through the “night” of death and the future beyond death is unfamiliar territory.  But here Paul writes of life in this world as “night” and the future in the world to come as “day.”

It reminds me of Christmas morning when my brother and I were kids.  How hard to fall asleep the night before!  Too excited!  Too much anticipating what would be under the tree!  (Our parents never put our presents out until we were safely in bed.)  Struggling to sleep made Christmas Eve the year’s longest night.

But then the night was over!  I opened my eyes in record time (not like on school days).  I think my brother and I had it in our genes to naturally be as noisy as possible to wake up Dad and Mom.  Finally they rolled out, warning us to wait in our rooms until they made sure everything was ready, turned the tree lights on, and called us.  “Okay, kids.  Al.  Glenn.  Come on.”  Down the hallway we hustled toward the living room and the thrill of Christmas morning around the tree half-hidden behind piles of presents.

This world—the world where we live, the world we know, the only world we know—is “night.”  It’s filled, as Paul writes here in Romans, with “orgies and drunkenness”, with “sexual immorality and sensuality,” with “quarreling and jealousy.”  It’s also marked by disappointment and dissatisfaction and disability and death.  It never delivers on its promises.  Its “toys” always break down or wear out.  Oh, there’s goodness and joy to be sure.  After all, despite sin’s ravages, this is still my Father’s world.  But the evil one and our fallen natures corrupt and darken even the best of what God has made.

It is night.  But it’s “far gone”!  The day is at hand!  Christmas morning like none other is about to break into this darkness.  Jesus, born that first Christmas day, is coming again.  He who is the Light of the world will split the night with his glory.  He will call us:  “Okay, children.”  He’ll call us by name.  “Allan, Glenn, come.”  And we will rise with pounding hearts and wide-eyed looks and breathless hearts at the thrill of this “Christmas morning”  around the One who gave his life for us and comes now to gather us home to a world where it will never be night.

That day is at hand! 

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Holy Words

O PreacherRejoice!  It’s the same Old Story!


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.’  She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean,  but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour.  Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David;  he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ 

Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.  And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month,  for nothing is impossible to God.’  Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her (Luke 1:26-38).

 

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town  where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your child is blessed.  What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me!  When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 

Mary responded, “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior!  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed.  For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me.  His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him.  His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones!  He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.  He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.  And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful.  For he promised our ancestors– Abraham and his children– to be merciful to them forever.”  Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home (Luke 1:39-56).

 


Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.  As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).”  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife,  but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus (Matthew 1:9-25).

 

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own towns to register for this census.  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, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time. 

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. 

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, 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 terribly frightened,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!   The Savior– yes, the Messiah, the Lord– has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!   And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others– the armies of heaven– praising God:  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors” (Luke 2:1-14).

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has still not overcome it (John 1:4)!

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The Empty Christmas Chair

O PreacherAround many tables this Christmas an empty chair will sit.  A most-loved one will be missing.  Nothing will fill the chair nor the heart.  If all your chairs are full, some Christmas soon they won’t be.

” . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once”
(Hebrews 9:27, NKJV)

My brother died this year.  My sister-in-law wrote recently how some things don’t seem to change for the Christmas season, “but others are oh, so different.”  I can’t fathom the depth of the loneliness.  I’m not even sure that’s the correct word, nor that I can find it.  After so many Christmases, especially those with her son, how does she—how do they—“celebrate” Christmas?

It comes like a blow to the stomach, the thought that their story is replayed again and again and again.  Sometimes the circumstances of the passing are far worse, sometimes less so.  But surely all bear some brokenhearted void.

I dread the thought of Lois’ chair being empty, as I know she dreads the thought of mine.  After 53 years of a loving marriage beyond our dreams, how will one of us endure it?

Christmas tree in front of window

We’ll all come to that Christmas with the empty chair.  But  , , ,

. . . there was a baby in a manger . . . a sinless God-Man on a cross . . . an empty grave and an ascension into heaven.  Without the baby, we have no hope.  Without the cross, we’re  dead in our sins.  And . . .

. . . if we have hope in Christ only for this life,
we are the most miserable people in the world
(1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
. . . he was buried,
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3,4, ESV).

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)

“There are many rooms in my Father’s home,
and I am going to prepare a place for you.
If this were not so, I would tell you plainly.
When everything is ready, I will come and get you,
so that you will always be with me where I am.”
(Jesus, John 14:2,3, NLT).

There is, because of Jesus, another emotion, when we see the Christmas empty chair.  Emptiness, yes, but also longing.  C. S. Lewis wrote of it . . .

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

It’s our desire “for our own far off country”, he wrote, saying that sometimes we call it “Nostalgia” or “Romanticism” or “Adolescence” or “Beauty”.  But . . .

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—
are good images of what we really desire;
but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune we have not heard,
news from a country we have never yet visited.

At present we are on the outside of [that]world,
the wrong side of the door . . .
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour
that it will not always be so.
Someday, God willing, we shall get “in” . . .

And when by God’s grace through simple faith in Christ we do, we will find the empty Christmas chair filled with the one we love—forever.

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Advent Flesh

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God . . .
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it . . .
The true light, which gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world, yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,
but of 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 . . .
For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace . . .
No one has ever seen God;
the only God, who is at the Father’s side,
he has made him known (John 1:1-5,9-14,16,18).

 “The Word”—who was with God in the beginning, through whom everything was created, and who was God—became flesh and lived among us.  Ponder that Scripture above.  Think deeply about the statement I made to briefly summarize that Scripture.  Remember the newborns you’ve seen—or even held—in a happy hospital room.  Consider:  the Word who was with God, through whom God created all things, who was God, came to us like THAT.

No one captures the mystery and meaning of that wonder better than Max Lucado in “Mary’s Prayer” (from his book God Came Near.)Read it reflectively with me.  Stand in awe of the wonder.  Bow your knee at the manger.  And have a Christmas filled with joy and peace and hope and grace and truth and love . . .

God.  O infant-God. Heaven’s fairest child.  Conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace.  Sleep well.  Sleep well.  Bask in the coolness of this night bright with diamonds.  Sleep well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby.  Enjoy the silence of the crib, for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future.  Savor the sweet safety of my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands.  For though you belong to a king, you will touch no satin, own no gold.  You will grasp no pen, guide no brush.  No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious:  to touch a leper’s open wound, to wipe a widow’s weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane.

Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white—clutched tonight in an infant’s fist.  They aren’t destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony.  They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply, tiny eyes.  Sleep while you can.  For soon the blurriness will clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world.  You will see our nakedness, for we cannot hide.  You will see our selfishness, for we cannot give.  You will see our pain, for we cannot heal.  O eyes that will see hell’s darkest pit and witness her ugly prince . . . sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

Lay still, tiny mouth.  Lay still mouth from which eternity will speak.  Tiny tongue that will soon summon the dead, that will define grace, that will silence our foolishness.  Rosebud lips—upon which ride a starborn kiss of forgiveness to those who believe you, and of death to those who deny you—lay still.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest.  For many difficult steps lie ahead for you.  Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel?  Do you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk?  Do you wrench at the invasion of the nail you will bear?   Do you fear the steep descent down the spiral staircase into Satan’s domain?  Rest, tiny feet.  Rest today so that tomorrow you might walk with power.  Rest.  For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart . . . holy heart . . . pumping the blood of life through the universe:  How many times will we break you?  You’ll be torn by the thorns of our accusations.  You’ll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin.  You’ll be crushed under the weight of your own sorrow.  And you’ll be pierced by the spear of our rejection.

Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that final rush of blood and water, you will find rest.  Your hands will be freed, your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.

And there you’ll rest again—this time in the embrace of your Father.

“AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY . . . FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH . . . “

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Advent Servant Song

P.AllanLast Saturday in Brooklyn a 28 year-old loser-in-life murdered two New York City police officers as they sat defenseless in their patrol car.  Then, Sunday a parolee shot and killed a 45 year-old Tarpon Springs, Florida veteran police officer and father of six.  Now today a white policeman in Missouri shot and killed an 18 year-old black man who had pulled a gun on him. This violence comes in the wake of police officers elsewhere killing several African-Americans who apparently had committed crimes.  We might well observe with the prophet in  7th century B.C. Israel . . .

“So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous:
so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4)

Indeed!  Where is justice for crime victims?  For the guilty?  For the innocent?  For the police? Since the Brooklyn murders, I’ve heard “experts” opine a solution:  we  need to “come together” as a community.   They remind me of Isaiah’s biting words about the false gods of the nations . . .

“Behold they are all a delusion,
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind” (Isaiah 41:29). 

Coming together for conversation would be good.  But if we presume to find the solution in ourselves we have become our own false gods.  What will it take to stop supposing we can solve sinful violence if we just sit and talk it out?  When will we admit our helplessness and turn to God?  How like “empty wind” we are to infer that by law we can erase injustice from our hearts!

Old Testament Israel faced the same false-god foolishness.  But the Lord graciously responded through the prophet Isaiah by introducing his servant . . .

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or li
ft up his voice
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not
break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:1-4).

Three times the prophet proclaims the servant’s justice.  ” . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . he will faithfully bring forth justice . . . He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.”  Does justice not now go forth?  Is it forever perverted?  The prophet answers with this word from the Lord:  “Behold my servant . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

The Hebrew word translated “justice” refers to establishing, maintaining or giving others what is right.  It implies what the Lord makes explicit—over against all the false gods of the nations, there is one true God who will ultimately allow no counterfeits . . .

“I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 49:9).

“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6b).

We’ll never get true justice right until we get it right that there is one God—the God from whom Isaiah spoke.

“Justice” also implies the one God has sovereignly settled what is truth.  “My truth” and “your truth”?  What he witnessed and what she witnessed?  No!  There is only God’s truth.  Without “true truth” there can be no true justice. 

Finally, “justice” implies what the word means:   the righting of wrongs.  I’m thankful that I live in a nation whose legal system seeks justice, unlike that of, say, North Korea or Iran or China.  But even America’s justice system falls short of righting wrongs.

Take the Eric Garner case, for instance.  Even if police were guilty of Garner’s death, “justice” couldn’t bring him back to his wife.  Or the killing of the Tarpon Springs officer.  “Justice” won’t return that father to his children.  But the Lord will ” . . . create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Who is this servant of the Lord?  Sometimes in Isaiah, “the Lord’s servant” refers to Cyrus, the king of Persia who would order the exiled Hebrews returned to their homeland (Isaiah 45:1).  Other times, the Lord’s servant refers to the nation of Israel as a whole (Isaiah 44:1).  But in the four “servant songs” of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), “the Lord’s servant” is an individual man.  Which man?  Matthew the Gospel writer tells us.

“Jesus, aware [that the Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him] withdrew from there.  And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope'” (Matthew 12:15-21).

Which man is the Lord’s servant who will bring justice to our prejudiced, violent world?  Jesus. 

Street protestors won’t bring justice.  Community conversations won’t bring it.  Re-trained police won’t bring it.  New laws won’t bring it.  Only Jesus.  He inaugurated justice in his First Advent.  He spreads it now through his followers.  And he will consummate it when he comes again as Sovereign Lord in his Second Advent.

If we’re to seek greater justice in this unjust world, we must go back to Christmas and pray the Servant of the Lord to change our hearts that we might ” . . . do justice, and . . . love kindness, and . . . walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8b).

 

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Advent Provision

P.AllanA beautiful lady in our church family sent me this reading this morning.  It’s an Advent reading from author Ann  Voskamp.  May the Lord speak to your heart through it, as he did mine.

“Sometime later God tested Abraham.  He said to him, ‘Abraham!’  ‘Here I am,’ he replied.  Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’ . . . Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’  ‘Yes,, my son!?’  Abraham replied,  ”The fire and the wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’  And the two of them went on together.  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his had and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham!  Abraham!’  ‘Here I am,’ he replied.  ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said.  ‘Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Genesis 22:1,2,6-14).

It is a thing to call a place “The Lord Will Provide.”

It is a thing to name where you live “Provision”, to name the place you call home, “The Lord Will Provide.”

To take your tired hand and turn the knob of that front door marked “Provide” and step right into the widening vista of Advent and find that the literal translation of “to provide” means “to see.”

God always sees—and He will always see to it.

That is all that ever matters:  God always sees, and He will always see to the matter.

Your legs may be weary and your heart may be heavy and your questions may be many; but whatever you are facing, it is always named Mount Moriah:  The Lord Will Appear.  The Lord sees.  And He will see to it.  And He will be seen.

The act of God’s seeing means God acts.  God’s observing means He always serves.  This is the thing:  your God’s constant vision is your constant provision.

You don’t need to climb mountains named “I Will Perform.”

You don’t need to climb mountains named “I Will Produce.”

Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace:  The Lord Will Provide.

This is what Abraham knows.  You can see it in the way he obeys unafraid and unquestioningly, the way he walks unhurried and unworried, the way he lives.

Worry is belief gone wrong—because you don’t believe that God will get it right.

Peace is belief that exhales—because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere, like air.

In the thin air of Advent (Jesus’ coming), you may not even know to say it out loud: “I thought it would be easier.”  And your God comes near:  I will provide the way.  You may not even know who to tell:  “I thought it would be different.”  And your God draws close:  I will provide grace for the gaps.  You may not even know how to find words for it:  “I thought I would be . . . more.”  And your God reaches out:  I will provide Me.

God gives God.  That is the gift God always ultimately gives.  Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need.  God gives God.  God gives God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time:  time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet.

In this moment, in this middle of midwinter, in the dark of your very thickest thicket, there’s the rough bark of the Tree.  And there—you can feel it—the whitened wool of your willing Lamb.  You can feel the willing pulse of His warm heart. Advent is the time to see the Tree in your thicket and whisper the echoing words of your God:  Now I know.  Now I know.  Since You did not spare Your only Son, how will You not also graciously give us–even me–all things You know I need?  (Romans 8:32).

Now I know.  Now I know, because You have not withheld from me Your only Son.  Now I know You love me.

How He always has a ram in the thicket.

How He always provides—this bleating love calling you home.

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