December 26, 2019 No Peace, but a Sword- the Holy Innocents – Matthew 10:34, Matthew 2:1-18

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“Do not think that I (Jesus) have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:1-18 (ESV)

As much as we are enraptured by the Christmas story, the very next chapter is tragic. Herod sends the wise men (or more accurately “magi” or astronomers) to find this king of the Jews, not because Herod had any plans of worshiping the infant Jesus, but because Herod wanted to take out the threat.

What Herod didn’t realize is that God has ways around the sinister designs of man.

What the people of Israel didn’t realize was that Messiah wasn’t coming as a bread king or as a military conqueror. He was coming to heal the sick and raise the dead, but also to turn over the moneylenders’ and temple vendors’ tables. He was coming to tear the temple curtain in two, to judge the living and the dead, and to defeat sin, death, Satan and the hordes of hell.

The fallout from the Incarnation of the Holy One of God- destruction by the sword -would begin with the male children of Bethlehem, and it continues to this day.

The Child in the manger would be the cause of the deaths of countless other children- slaughtered simply because of Herod’s desire to keep himself in power.

The Child in the manger- Christ, the Lord, calls us to die as well. Life in Christ is death to everything the world holds dear. We willingly forfeit power, influence, and comfort and in certain circumstances, our own lives, to follow Him. In some places in the world today to proclaim Christ is literally asking to lose one’s head. Martyrdom is still happening in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we really understand the purpose behind what appears to be the senseless destruction and waste and death and sorrow in this world?

Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

The church has historically called the little boys killed by Herod’s mobs, “the Holy Innocents,” yet there are no humans on this earth untouched by the corruption of original sin. Those little boys were innocent of temporal crimes, but were still under the curse of the Fall. The truly Innocent One was also put to death, thirty years or so later, but His death was the end of death.

Jesus brought- and still brings- a sword. The sword that split the temple curtain so that we could be in the presence of God is the same sword that divides families and nations.

Today’s rude awakening right on the heels of the amazing blessing and wonder of Christmas seems a bit harsh, but in the middle of the valley of the shadow, He is with us.

Emmanuel, God with us does not abandon us, even in those times and places when our pain and mourning is beyond words.

Emmanuel, God Who took on human flesh, knows the agony of sorrow and of physical torment.

Emmanuel, God does bring a peace beyond all understanding- peace that can override the chaos, peace that knows that God is in control even when we cannot see how.

Jesus isn’t done yet. He is returning- returning for those who believe and trust in Him. He is coming back to remake the heavens and the earth. He will wipe away every tear and sorrow will be no more.

December 8, 2017 – Credibility- Jesus’ Sheep Know His Voice- Luke 2:4-5, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 22:22, John 10:27

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Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. Luke 2:4-5 (NRSV)

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7 (NRSV)

I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. Isaiah 22:22 (NRSV)

Luke takes a great deal of care in discussing the genealogy of Jesus, primarily because he was speaking to fellow Jews. These were people who knew that God’s Messiah would be a descendent of King David.

Credibility is a big thing these days. Everyone wants the genuine article, which is why Luke goes into such depth.  It was important to Jews to know that Jesus was of David’s line to believe that He is truly who He said He is.  Even today, most Jews do not believe that Jesus is God’s chosen One in spite of Luke’s genealogy.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see and know the credibility of Jesus. If we look to the credibility of other Jesus followers, we aren’t always going to see Him reflected in those people’s behaviors and actions. Yet we will see Him when we look for Him.

(Jesus said:) My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NRSV)

Are we listening for Jesus’ voice?

August 15, 2017 – Mistake or Magnificat? Luke 1:46-55

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And Mary (Jesus’ mother) said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”               Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Those of us who know the story of Jesus’ conception aren’t terribly surprised by Mary’s song of praise and thanks for the impending birth of Jesus that we know as the Magnificat.  She was blessed like no other woman has been blessed- she was chosen to be the earthly mother of God-in-the-flesh.  None of us can claim that our own children are the very Son of God.  Any of us would be deeply awed and humbled by such an honor- or would we?  In the real world, Mary’s situation was not an easy one.

Mary faced some very real possible consequences connected to her unwed pregnancy. She could very well have been stoned to death had she been accused of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Had it not been for an angel of God coming to Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was of God and not from a forbidden liaison, (Matthew 1:1-18) he would have quietly ended their betrothal.  A woman so shamed did not have good opportunities for marriage, and in that day, a woman’s survival depended on being able to marry well. Yet God made a way, so Mary would not have to go through this experience alone.  Even so, Mary, and especially Joseph, would have to have endured snickers and aspersions among friends and family, and no doubt there were “mathematicians” in the community who would be very aware that the timing of Jesus’ birth wasn’t quite consistent with the timing of his parents’ wedding.

Today unplanned or unwed pregnancy isn’t as culturally unacceptable as it was in Biblical times, but women still face hardship in many instances when pregnancy happens at a difficult time or under difficult circumstances. While there is much to be said for the protective boundaries God gives us for our behavior, we all are prone to venture outside of those boundaries. (It’s called sin, folks… and we all sin in one way or another.)  We all make mistakes, and mistakes in this realm of human behavior are very common.  How we react to the consequences of our actions can decide if an unplanned child is a mistake, or a cause to break into praise like Mary does in the Magnificat. God can take our tragedies and mistakes and turn them into blessings and joy, if we surrender ourselves and our situations to Him.

How are we supposed to know who that child may become, or what gifts he or she has to contribute to the world?

Sometimes in a troubled pregnancy situation, the mother or child has health issues. Sometimes the father of the child wants nothing to do with either the mother or the child.  Other times women who choose life for their unborn children face opposition from the child’s father, or even from their own parents. Unplanned pregnancy almost always brings economic and social burdens, even when mother and child are in good health.  Bringing a child into the world is a major life upheaval under the best of circumstances, let alone with a backdrop of hardship or abandonment.

In difficult situations- whether we contributed to them, or we came into them through no fault or planning of our own- can we still praise and magnify the Lord, and trust that He will make a way?

Sometimes situations that appear to be hardships or burdens- or even tragedies- are blessings in disguise, ways in which God comes to us with healing, divine provision, redemption and new life.

May our souls also magnify the Lord.

December 21, 2016-Simeon’s Answered Prayer: “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”-Luke 2:25-32, Revelation 21:3-4

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Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32 (NRSV)

The above passage is known as the “nunc dimittis“- meaning,”now You dismiss Your servant,” and it is also known as the Song of Simeon.  In some traditions it is used as a prayer for the ending of the day, or for the ending of a worship service.

There is nothing more joyful than experiencing answered prayer and the fulfillment of much-longed for dreams.  It is hard to imagine Simeon’s delight as he held the infant Jesus and realized: This child is the promised Messiah.

What an incredible blessing God granted Simeon in that moment, that he would come face to face with his Savior, and that he could die in peace.

We are still waiting in our “not yet” world.  Waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.  Some of us are holding on to a breakthrough in a hard situation. Some of us are walking through the stages of physical, emotional or spiritual healing.  Some of us are weighed down in depression and grief and just can’t see the way out of the dark.

We may not be blessed in the same way Simeon was, that we may see the face of Jesus before we die (although that is not impossible!) but we can trust God that His word is true.

One of the most encouraging words to the weary, to those who most need to experience the presence and healing touch of God is:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

God Himself is with us.  And in this “not yet” world, we can know in Christ that death and mourning and crying and pain are not the end.