December 31 - Christmastide

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31 - Christmastide

We are in the middle of the part of the holiday known as 'Christmastide.' It begins the evening of Christmas Day (December 25) and ends the morning of Epiphany (January 6). There are two distinct parts of the Christmas season. Advent, a time of longing and anticipation of the birth of the Savior and Christmastide, the twelve days after Christmas which are marked by celebration, feasting and rejoicing.

Around the world varying days are celebrated during this period of time. St. Stephen's Day is celebrated on December 26). It is a day of giving to the poor and is sung about in the song "Good King Wenceslaus." While Stephen was the first martyr of Christianity December 27 is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the only one of the twelve disciples who was not martyred. The Feast of the Innocents or Childremas on December 28 remembers the slaughter of the children by Herod in Bethlehem. Though they did not know Christ, they were killed for him. By remembering them, we remember the hopeless and the lost.

The feast of Christ's circumcision occurs on January 1, but this is also a day that is the Feast of Fools. There was also a Feast of the Ass which commemorated the donkey that carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. People were to bray like a donkey at mass instead of saying Amen.

Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" brings us to the ultimate celebration of madness on the eve of Epiphany.

Many customs and traditions have sprung up around this portion of the holiday season, but it generally ends on Epiphany with all of the Christmas and holiday decorations taken down and put away for another year. It was considered bad luck to have any of them up after Epiphany.

Epiphany also commemorates the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Christ's ministry on earth. Three different events are celebrated: the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus (by John) and His first miracle - turning water into wine. With this, His time is at hand.

Happy Christmas!

December 30 - Prepare the Way of the Lord

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30 - Prepare the Way of the Lord - Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-19; John 1:19-28

Jesus has yet to enter into full-time ministry, so the focus today is on preparation for the entrance of the Messiah. I will focus on the Matthew passage, but all four gospels describe John's ministry.

Matthew 3:1. The Desert of Judea or in other translations, the Judean Wilderness, was a barren region just west of the Dead Sea. If you look at Matthew 3:5 you find that people came to him from Jerusalem, Judea and the entire region of the Jordan River. He did not go to them. His ministry was not to a people that were comfortable in their religion, but to those who wish to be separated from the norm and to be saved from their sins.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to see what was going on (Matthew 3:7), he called them out. According to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, the Pharisees were “a body of Jews with the reputation of excelling the rest of their nation in the observances of religion, and as exact exponents of the laws.” They were middle-class Jews, primarily associated with the synagogue. The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy associated with the Jewish temple. Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in the bodily resurrection, since they did not believe this doctrine was taught in the Mosaic Scriptures. They did not accept anything except the Mosaic Scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as authoritative.

(Source: Hughes, Robert B. ; Laney, J. Carl: Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (The Tyndale Reference Library), S. 397)

He preached two things: repentance (Matthew 3:11) and the message that the end was near and the Messiah was coming (Matthew 3:11-12).

The people had been saying for centuries that the Messiah was coming. John was calling out that the time was now, The Messiah was here.

Luke 3:19-20 adds information that John rebuked Herod because of his association with his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. That rebuke earned him a trip to prison.

While John refused to acknowledge that he was Elijah (John 1:21), he did acknowledge that he was the one Isaiah spoke of in Isaiah 40:3 (entire passage is Isaiah 40:1-11). He said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the lord.'"

This had to have struck fear into their hearts. John did not speak as a madman. He spoke as a man with the hand of God on his life. He was obviously a Nazarite (look at December 6) by the way he dressed and the food he ate. He had committed his life through a vow made at his birth to God. It was not a temporary commitment, but one that he had spent a lifetime enduring.

The time had come. From the moment that Zechariah stood in the Holy of Holies and heard from Gabriel, the plan that would save the world from it's sin had begun to be set in motion. The final preparations were happening. People were called to repent - to leave their sin behind and commit to a life of holiness because the Son of God, the Messiah, was about to be in their midst.

This Christmas season we are reminded of the birth of the One who will save us from the sins of the world. He not only came over 2000 years ago to begin this process, but He promises to return. How will we prepare the way for His return today?

January's Study - Paul

Monday, December 29, 2008

If you've ever been in a Bible Study with me and we discussed Paul, you know that it doesn't take long for me to tell you that the man drives me insane! I get annoyed with him regularly.

However. It occurs to me that being annoyed with the man who has written 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament and is prominently featured in another (Acts) is probably not the best way to approach Bible Study. So, if other people can fall in love with him and his writing, I can learn to at least understand him and maybe along the way, learn not to be annoyed by him.

For all of you who began this journey with me in October and have actually stayed with me, thank you! I would love for you to invite someone else to participate. Tell them about the blog, invite them to be a part of the email list (send email to nammynools (at) cox (dot) net). I am terrible at self-promotion, so it is painful to me to ask you to do that. I know that God has called me to study and to share what I study and that helps some because it becomes about Him and not me.

I will spend today and tomorrow working on the outline for this general study of Paul, his life and writings. If you have questions you would like answered regarding him, please feel free to email those to me or post them as a comment. I will do my best to answer them from biblical and scholarly sources.

May God bless your new year!

December 29 - Jesus Grows Up

December 29 - Jesus Grows Up - Luke 2:40-52

Luke's gospel is more than likely taken from conversations he had with Mary. Can you imagine her recounting these stories to him? Doesn't Luke 2:40 sound like a mother? "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wsidom and the grace of God was upon him." As she looked back over her son's life, how she must have treasured the memories, but in looking back, she would have recognized that God's grace was upon this child.

They took him to Jerusalem for Passover and somehow lost contact with him during the festival. Though the crowds would have been quite large, there would have been none of the fears surrounding wandering children that there are today. Entire communities were in Jerusalem for Passover and Jesus would have been expected to easily find his way among the crowded streets until he found someone that he knew quite well.

Mary and Joseph did what any normal parent would do after not finding him, they were frightened and lectured him on how his behavior affected other people. They didn't see the interaction He was having with the rabbis, they could only see their own fear.

As I read through this, I was surprised by the fact that they did not understand what he was saying to them (Luke 2:49-50). But, as I thought about it, I suppose that after 12 years of having a normal boy in their home, they no longer thought of Him as the Son of God, but began thinking of Him as their son.

Isn't that how we live our lives? We forget how close He is to us and that He lives within us. We go on with our lives as if that isn't a significant portion of our being. We certainly don't act as if Jesus is actually a part of our nature. We're selfish, self-centered, self-involved, concerned with how the world is treating us. We worry that we aren't getting everything we deserve and have earned. We act as if we are only human, when the Divine is right there before us.

Mary and Joseph had forgotten Who they were raising. We regularly forget Who we are following and Who resides in our hearts.

Though Luke 2:51 tells us that Jesus returned to Nazareth with His parents and was obedient to them, He had fully established His mission in these verses. His life was centered around the Father. There could be no other life for Him.

And so He grew - in favor with God and man. The child has come as a Savior, but He points the way to the Father ... while he was on earth and now, in our hearts. Will we follow?

December 28 - Return to Nazareth

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28 - Return to Nazareth - Matthew 2:19-23

It's a good thing that Joseph was open to hearing from an angel or who knows what might have happened to that little family?! But, the angel ensured that he knew Herod was dead and it was safe to return to Israel.

Notice in Matthew 2:20 that the angel does not specifically tell Joseph where to go - he was just told to go to Israel. Joseph gets up from the dream, packs his family up again and returns to Israel.

It looks as if, in Matthew 2:22, he was planning to return to Bethlehem in Judea. However, after Herod's death, his son, Herod Archelaus came into power. Archelaus was insane - probably from great inbreeding among the family. Caesar Augustus refused to give him the title 'king' until he could prove himself. Ten years later, cruel tyranny and defiance of Jewish law, brought so many complaints from the people about him, that he was banished and Judea became a Roman province.

Joseph was afraid to return to Bethlehem due to Archelaus' reign, so the angel returned a last time in a dream and told him to go on home to Galilee, to Nazareth.

There are many questions regarding the end of Luke's story regarding the young family and this portion of Matthew. They seem to be in conflict. However, many commentaries and scholars agree that just because the story is told differently, doesn't mean that they necessarily conflict with each other.

There is every probability that Joseph planned to stay in Bethlehem after Jesus was born. They obviously had family there, since both of them were required to register for the census. I'm certain that with the arrival of a baby, new friends were made and relationships cemented. Bethlehem was also very close to Jerusalem and Mary probably would have liked to raise God's son close to God's temple. As Luke closes his story, Joseph could very well have returned to Nazareth to gather their belongings and then returned to Bethlehem. This would very likely have happened before the Magi showed up and the young family had to move to Egypt.

In Matthew 2:23, he mentions that the return to Nazareth fulfilled prophecy. This sentence has actually confused scholars. There is nowhere in scripture that specifies the Son of God would live in Nazareth. They feel it is likely he is referring to Isaiah 11:1. The word 'shoot' is the Hebrew word 'netzer' which is the root of the name Nazareth. The town of Nazareth was such a small village that the scholar Josephus never mentions it in any of his writings and it was never mentioned in the Old Testament. John 1:46 asks the question, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"

And yet, in this insignificant community, our Lord, grew as a young boy.

December 27 - Escape to Egypt

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27 - The Escape to Egypt - Matthew 2:13-18

Matthew (who was one of Christ's disciples) believed and taught that Jesus Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of God's covenant with the Israelites. He saw the family's departure to Egypt as prophetically significant for Jesus' life. He saw the prophecy from Hosea 11:1 as a parallel between the original exodus and Jesus' experience. Jesus brought completion to these earlier events in Israel's history.

The passage from Jeremiah 31:15 that he quotes in Matthew 2:18 was used by Jeremiah to describe the passionate mourning of Israelite mothers when their children were taken from them into Babylonian exile. Daniel and his friends would have been part of that awful experience. Rachel was the favored wife of Jacob (renamed Israel) and represented all of the mothers that were in mourning for their lost children.

Moving back to Matthew 2:13, as you read the angel's words to Joseph, it is obvious that Joseph is only considered a guardian. Nowhere is he told to take his 'son' to Egypt, or bring him back. He is told to take the child and his mother.

There was already a large Jewish population living in Egypt and the young family would have been welcomed with no question.

They stayed in Egypt until Herod died. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived from AD 37 - 100 wrote "Antiquities" which is the early Jewish history. Much of his information validates scripture and anchored many dates and events. He tells that Herod murdered his wife and children and calls him a 'man of great barbarity to all equally.' (Antiq. xvii. 8.1) Josephus also recounts that Herod died a particularly nasty death as the result of a horrible disease.

However, before he died, he realized that the Wise Men had outwitted him and he flew into a rage. He had absolutely no idea how old the child, Jesus, was, but he insisted that all boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2 would be slaughtered. His awful behavior knew no bounds.

Matthew insists that we fully comprehend the power of God's prophetic word throughout the Old Testament and the fact that this prophecy finds its fulfillment in the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

God's plan has been put into place, He will bring it to fruition.

December 26 - Merry Day After Christmas!

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26 - Merry Day after Christmas!

by Hans Christian Andersen

It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own. So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had any one given here even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.

Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year's eve- yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out-"scratch!" how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.

She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into a flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what was still more wonderful, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled across the floor, with a knife and fork in its breast, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.

She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant's. Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.

The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. "Some one is dying," thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.

She again rubbed a match on the wall, and the light shone round her; in the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining, yet mild and loving in her appearance. "Grandmother," cried the little one, "O take me with you; I know you will go away when the match burns out; you will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree." And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there. And the matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.

In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year's sun rose and shone upon a little corpse! The child still sat, in the stiffness of death, holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was burnt. "She tried to warm herself," said some. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother, on New-year's day.


December 25 - Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December 25 - Merry Christmas

Rather than searching scripture today or tomorrow, I would like to share a couple of stories that I grew up with. Since my father was a pastor and we moved every 4-6 years or so, he managed to recycle some of his sermons. At Christmastime we three kids quickly became aware that he had a few favorite illustrations. We heard them a lot. They brought tears to my eyes every time he told them and as I read them now, my eyes still well with tears.

She was old and frail, unable to speak. But to the nurse in this 1979 story, she taught a real lesson about Christmas

A Song for Elizabeth

December 1995 , Guideposts

by Robin Cole, Veradale, Washington

December snow swept across the parking lot of Crescent Manor Convalescent Home. As the youngest nurse on the staff, I sat with the charge nurse at the North Wing station, staring out the double-glass doors and waiting for the first wave of evening visitors. At the sound of bedroom slippers flapping against bare heels, I turned to see Elizabeth, one of our patients, striding down the corridor.

“Oh, please,” groaned the charge nurse, “not tonight! Not when we’re shorthanded already!”

Rounding the corner, Elizabeth jerked the sash of her tired chenille robe tighter around her skinny waist. We hadn’t combed her hair for a while, and it made a scraggly halo around her wrinkled face.

“Doop doop,” she said, nodding quickly and hurrying on. “Doop doop,” she said to the man in the dayroom slumped in front of the TV, a belt holding him in his wheelchair.

The charge nurse turned to me. “Can you settle her down?”

“Shall I go after her or wait till she comes around again?”

“Just wait. I may need you here before she gets back. She never does any harm. It’s just that ridiculous sound she makes. I wonder if she thinks she’s saying words!”

A group of visitors swept through the front doors. They came in, scraping feet on the rug, shaking snow from their coats, cleaning their glasses. They clustered around the desk, seeking information, and as they did Elizabeth came striding by again. “Doop doop,” she said happily to everyone. I moved out to intercept the purposeful strider.

“Elizabeth,” I said, taking her bony elbow, “I need you to do something for me. Come and sit down and I’ll tell you about it.” I was stalling. This wasn’t anything I had learned in training, but I would think of something.

The charge nurse stared at me and, shaking her head, turned her attention to the group of visitors surrounding the desk. Nobody ever got Elizabeth to do anything. We counted it a good day if we could keep her from pacing the halls.

Elizabeth stopped. She looked into my face with a puzzled frown. “Doop doop,” she said.

I led her to a writing table in the dayroom and found a piece of paper and a pencil.

“Sit down here at the desk, Elizabeth. Write your name for me.”

Her watery eyes grew cloudy. Deep furrows appeared between her brows. She took the stubby pencil in her gnarled hand and held it above the paper. Again and again she looked at the paper and then at me questioningly.

“Here. I’ll write it first, and then you can copy it, okay?”

In large, clear script, I wrote, “Elizabeth Goode.”

“There you are. You stay here and copy that. I’ll be right back.”

At the edge of the dayroom I turned, half expecting to see her following me, but she sat quietly, pencil in hand. The only sound now came from the muffled voices of visitors and their ailing loved ones.

“Elizabeth is writing,” I told the charge nurse. I could hardly believe it.

“Fantastic,” she said calmly. “You’d better not leave her alone for long. We don’t have time to clean pencil marks off the walls tonight.” She turned away, avoiding my eyes. “Oh, I almost forgot—Novak and Sellers both have that rotten flu. They’ll be out all week. Looks like you’ll be working Christmas Eve.” She pulled a metal-backed chart from the file and was suddenly very busy.

I swallowed hard. Until now I had loved my independence, my own small trailer. At 22 I was just out of nurse’s training and on my own. But I had never spent Christmas Eve away from my parents and my brothers. That wasn’t in the picture at all when I moved away from home. I planned to go home for holidays.

Words raced through my head: They’ll go to the candlelight service without me! They’ll read the stories, and I won’t be there to hear! What kind of Christmas can I have in a little trailer with nothing to decorate but a potted fern? How can it be Christmas if I can’t be the first one up to turn on the tree lights? Who’ll make the cocoa for the family?

Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked them back. Nodding slowly, I walked toward the dayroom.

Elizabeth sat at the writing table staring down at the paper in front of her. Softly I touched my hand to her fragile shoulder, and she looked up with a smile. She handed me the paper. Under my big, bold writing was a wobbly signature.

“Elizabeth Goode,” it read.

“Doop doop,” said Elizabeth with satisfaction.

Later that night, when all the visitors were gone and the North Wing was dark and silent, I sat with the charge nurse, completing charts. “Do you suppose I could take Elizabeth out tomorrow?” I asked. In good weather, we often took the patients for walks or rides, but I didn’t know about snowy nights. “I’d like to go to Christmas Eve service, and I think she’d like to go with me.”

“Wouldn’t she be a problem? What about the doop doop?”

“I think I can explain it to her. You know, nobody else talks during church, so she’d probably be quiet too. Look how well she did this afternoon when I gave her something to do.”

The charge nurse looked thoughtful. “Things would be a lot easier around here if you did take her. Then you could get her ready for bed when you got back. There’ll be visitors to help with the others, but nobody has been here for Elizabeth in a long time. I’ll ask her doctor for you.”

And so it was that a first-year nurse and a tall, skinny old lady arrived at First Church on Christmas Eve just before the service began. The snow had stopped and the stars were brilliant in the clear, cold sky.

“Now, Elizabeth,” I said, “I don’t know how much you can understand, but listen to me. We’re going in to sit down with the rest of the people. There’ll be music and someone will read. There’ll be kids in costumes too. But we aren’t going to say anything. We’ll stand up when it’s time to sing, and we’ll hold the hymnal together.”

Elizabeth looked grave. “Doop doop,” she said.

Oh, Lord, I hope she understands! I thought. Suppose she gets up and heads down the aisle wishing everyone a doop doop?

I wrapped Elizabeth’s coat and shawl around her and tucked my arm under hers. Together we entered the candlelit church. Elizabeth’s watery old eyes gleamed, and her face crinkled in a smile. But she said nothing.

The choir entered singing. The pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible: “And there were in the same country, shepherds . . . ”

Costumed children took their places at the front of the church—shepherds and wise men, angels and the holy family. Elizabeth watched, but she said nothing. The congregation rose to sing “Joy to the World.” Elizabeth stood, holding the hymnal with me, her mouth closed. The lights in the sanctuary dimmed, and two white-robed angels lit the candelabra. Finally the organ began the introduction to “Silent Night,” and we stood again.

I handed the hymnal to Elizabeth, but she shook her head. A cold dread gathered at the back of my neck. Now what? Would this be the moment when she started wandering down the aisle? I looked at her wrinkled face out of the corner of my eye, trying to guess her thoughts. The singing began. I sang as loudly as I could, hoping to attract Elizabeth’s attention. As I paused for breath, I heard a thin, cracked voice.

“Sleep in heavenly peace,” it sang. “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Elizabeth! Staring straight ahead, candlelight reflected in her eyes, she was singing the words without consulting the hymnal.

Oh, Lord, forgive me, I prayed. Sometimes I forget. Of course it can be Christmas with only a fern to decorate. Of course it can be Christmas without a tree or the family or cocoa. Christmas is the story of love. It’s the birth of the Son of God, and it can live in the heart and memory of a gray-haired old woman.

“Christ the Savior is born,” sang Elizabeth. “Christ the Savior is born.”

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth,” I whispered, gently patting her arm.

“Doop doop,” Elizabeth replied contentedly.

December 24 - The Magi, Part 2 - Matthew 2:1-12

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24 - The Magi, Part 2 - Matthew 2:1-12

The Magi didn't actually go to Herod for quite some time. They came into Jerusalem and began asking questions about this new King. I doubt that it took long for word to get back to the palace. In Matthew 2:3, not only was King Herod disturbed but all of Jerusalem with him. The people had no idea what was going on. He was not favored by any means, but having foreigners come into town declaring that a king was born might have been a little confusing.

Two of the portions of the Sanhedrin were the priests and teachers of the law (scribes). These men would know more about the prophecies regarding the Messiah than anyone else. Herod didn't take long to draw them together. When he had done that, he posed the question to them "Where is the Messiah (Christ) to be born?"

Oh, it didn't take long for them to respond. They knew the answer to this question. They quoted scripture from Micah 5:2 and told him that the prophecy proclaimed Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.

Matthew 2:7 says that King Herod met with the Magi secretly. His motive was to figure out exactly when the star had appeared and the child had been born. He then sent them to gain more informatino for him regarding the birth.

This star was no ordinary star. It came from the east and then traveled with them until it not only stopped over Bethlehem, but directly over the home where Jesus and his family were residing. Notice that they are no longer in the stable, but are in a home at this point.

These wise men were overjoyed (Matthew 2:10) and recognized immediately the power of the King as they bowed down to worship Him. Gentiles, Magi, Persians. These men did not have to be converted to Judaism to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

They avoided Jerusalem on their return trip. Herod was frustrated in this attempt to discern the whereabouts of the child.

It's Christmas Eve. May all the blessings of a life filled with Christ's love be yours and may the joy of knowing this child intimately as your Savior fill your heart as you celebrate His nativity.

December 23 - The Magi - Matthew 2:1-12

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 23 - The Magi - Matthew 2:1-12

There is a lot of history that needs to be understood as we approach this passage of scripture.

Matthew 2:1 says that the Magi came to Jerusalem during the time of Herod after Jesus was born. This information (after Jesus was born) is going to be important to remember later on as we think about the seeming contradiction between this passage and Luke 1:39. But, that's for later.

Who was Herod? Herod the Great ruled as governor of the Galillean province from 47-37bc. He was famous for building cities, fortresses and temples throughout the land when the Romans put him into place as ruler over all of Palestine in 37 bc. He ruled, even though the Jews despised him, until his death in 4 bc. This historical fact is the main reason that the latest date possible for Jesus to have been born is in 4 bc.

Herod's three sons, Herod Archelaus, Herod Philip 1 and Herod Antipas divided his kingdom. His grandson, Herod Agrippa reunited the kingdom took Philip's territory in 34, was given Antipas' territory in 39 upon his death and then Archelaus' territory in 41 AD as a gift from his very good friend Caligula. He died in 44 AD and his son Agrippa II ruled the northern parts of the kingdom until his death in 92 AD and the dynasty was extinct.

In 40 bc however, the Persians joined with the Jewish rebellion to oust Herod from his rule. However, 3 years later, the Romans joined forces with Herod and he re-took the region and was given control of Jerusalem and Palestine. This helps us to understand why having Wise Men come from Persia would have disturbed him (Matthew 2:3). Having them look for the 'new king of the Jews' was not something he would want to support.

Who were the Wise Men (the Magi)? In Dan 2:2; 2:48; 4:6-7; 5:7 we read about them and find that they were part of the priestly caste of the Persians and Babylonians. The group that came to Jerusalem were astronomers. More than likely they had heard of the prophecy regarding the new king and recognized that the star they saw in the sky was not a part of the normal star patterns. Numbers 24:17 speaks of a star coming out of Jacob.

Because there were three gifts given to Jesus - gold incense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11b), tradition has assumed that there were only three Magi and even gave them names (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazzar). There is no historical basis for fact in that information. It is just as likely that there many more than that and that they traveled with a large retinue to maintain their safety in Herod's kingdom.

The arrival of the wise men with gifts seems to fulfill prophecy from both the Psalms and from Isaiah (Psalm 72:10–11, 15 and Isaiah 60:1–6).

Tomorrow I will go a little more deeply into the story of Herod's encounter with the Magi and their encounter with the little family. It is nearly Christmas Eve! Praise God for His most precious gift!

December 22 - Anna

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 22 - Anna - Luke 2:36-39

Today Anna the prophetess meets the Savior. I find it wonderful that we actually get to know these people who were part of His early life. We find out who her father was (Phanuel), which tribe she was from and that after seven years of marriage, her husband died and she became a widow.

I have spent the last week sorting through old photographs, newspaper articles and selected pieces from my scrapbooks. It's time to get them scanned and saved so that I can eliminate the physical things from my life. My history throughout the years has defined my in so many different ways. When I was in Clarinda, Iowa, I was the granddaughter of Rev. J.L. Greenwood, or the cousin of many that still lived there. I grew up as Frank Greenwood's daughter. Depending on where I go, I might be introduced as Carol or Jim's sister and I'm learning to enjoy being introduced as Matthew's aunt at his college. When I am in Ohio, I am known as Max's wife.

I think it is fascinating that decades after her father would have died, Anna was still known as Phanuel's daughter. I wonder what kind of man he was.

There is a bit of uncertainty about the translation of Luke 2:36 - whether or not she was 84 at the time of the meeting or she possibly could have been widowed for 84 years, which would have made her incredibly old.

In all of the churches I have been in, I remember several much older women - generally widows - who made the church an extension of their family. They would spend hours doing whatever they could just so that they could stay at the church. I will admit, that they were more often than not, busy bodies who stuck their nose in things they had no business bothering with and spent an extraordinary amount of effort being critical and unhelpful. What a blessing someone like Anna would have been in those churches. She worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. (Luke 2:37b)

Luke 2:38 implies that at the moment Simeon was prophesying over the child and His mother, Anna came up to them. She recognized the importance of the child and gave thanks to God. Then, she told everyone about the child. Notice, though that it doesn't say that she told everyone around her, she only told those that were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

I suppose that today we might look at her as a batty old woman, but God put her in place to be able to behold His Son. He ensured that Anna would be remembered throughout time in the Canon of His Word.

The last verse of the passage today (Luke 2:39) has caused some conflict with scholars. Luke implies that Joseph and Mary went directly from Jerusalem to Nazareth. This seems to make no sense when compared to Matthew 2: 13-23 (the Escape to Egypt and Return to Nazareth). Today, all I want to say is that we shouldn't make assumptions regarding timing based on tradition. There is no way that the Magi and the Shepherds were at the Nativity at the same time, no matter what all of our Nativity sets look like.

As I look at my outline, I see that I will be writing about the Escape to Egypt and the Return to Nazareth just after Christmas. I think I'll save my reading and research for those days. There is no easy answer, but there are possible explanations.

December 21 - Simeon's Blessing

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21 - Simeon's Blessing - Luke 2:28-35

As Simeon begins to speak, his words come out as a Hebrew song of praise, much like one of the Psalms. Luke 2:30 "My eyes have seen your salvation..." Consider the emotion that he must have felt holding the child in his arms. The promise of salvation was here. It had arrived. He looked into the face of a child and saw the salvation of an entire nation, but as he continued, he prophesied that this child would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles!

The Israelites had spent hundreds of years concentrating on their own existence, they had long since forgotten what it was to be evangelical. They were worried about keeping the race pure and for many years they were simply worried about how to live until the next day. They had fought among themselves and had been taken over by conquerors. They had been kicked out of Jerusalem and had their temple destroyed. The dispersion of Jews throughout the surrounding region when Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem had never ended, there were still Jews choosing to live in other countries.

For the most part, Jesus entered the world at a fairly peaceful time for the Jews. It was time to begin telling the world about a God who saves.

In Luke 2:33 we read that Jesus' parents marveled at what Simeon said about him. Remember, they knew of His purpose in saving Israel, but it would never have occurred to them that their son would bring salvation to the Gentiles!

Simeon follows up this word of blessing with a dire prophecy for Mary.

Jesus would cause people in Israel to stumble. Isaiah 8:14 says "and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." Romans 9:30-32 says, "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone.'"

Jesus was destined to be a "sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" (Luke 2:34b-35a). The word 'sign' here means miracle, a revelation of divine truth. We see throughout the Gospels that Jesus revealed the true thoughts of the people surrounding Him as He spoke to them.

Thirdly, Simeon spoke directly to Mary in Luke 2:35b, "A sword will pierce your own soul too." What frightening words to speak to a new mother. Great sorrow would occur in her life and it culminated the day that her son was on the cross. What a tender moment we read in John 19:25-27 when Jesus places her care into the hands of his disciple, John. Historians show that she and John lived in Ephesus for many years following the crucifixion and resurrection.

A day of great joy, a day of sorrow. Life with Jesus will never be easy ... but there will always be love.

December 20 - Simeon

Saturday, December 20, 2008

December 20 - Simeon - Luke 2:25-28

Before we get to Simeon's song of praise, I want to spend a day just looking at the man.

In Luke 2:25, we read that he was righteous and devout. In Luke 2:26, we find that the Holy Spirit had assured him that he would see the Lord's Christ (the Messiah) before he died. In Luke 2:27, we find Him allowing the Spirit to move him to the temple courts and in Luke 2:28, Simeon knows immediately who the Messiah is and gathers him into his arms.

The picture that we find is of a man whose life completely relied on the Holy Spirit and who made himself fully available to the movement of that Spirit in his life. We have just a few verses in Scripture to meet him, but I wonder at the life that he led and the impact that he had on the people around him. I think of some of the 'devout' people that I've known in my life and through direct or indirect contact with them, I am the person that I am today.

Not only was Simeon righteous and devout, he was known as a man who was waiting for the consolation (redemption) of Israel. He had read the prophecy and believed that it was true. He lived his life in preparation for this prophecy to come to fruition. What do we need to do so that people we associate with recognize the importance of the coming of the Messiah in our lives?

It is so easy to believe that prophecy regarding the second coming of Christ is something that will happen far in the future, but Jesus calls us to be ready at a moment's notice. Are you ready? What will it take for you to be prepared for that day? Have you done all that you can in preparation? Consider the warnings that Jesus, Paul, Peter and John gave on being prepared. Remember that John the Baptist came to preach a gospel of repentance and forgiveness prior to Christ's appearance.

God had given a special revelation to Simeon regarding the fact that he would see the Messiah before he died. It wasn't because he gave all of his money to the poor or to the church, though he might have done that. It wasn't because he was a good family man, though he probably was. It wasn't because of outward proclamations of his piety. Simeon's life had been one of righteousness and devotion to God. He lived through the spirit of the law. What an amazing reward!

The day came, the Spirit moved him to go into the temple courts. He obeyed. God knew that this servant would be obedient to the Spirit's movement in his life. This was the day that the Messiah would come to the Temple. Simeon was there. He didn't have to search for the family or ask questions of Mary to find the child, he simply had to obey.

Oh Lord ... let my life be one of obedience to your will so that I can be in the presence of the Lamb, the Messiah.

December 19 - Jesus Presented in the Temple

Friday, December 19, 2008

December 19 - Jesus Presented in the temple - Luke 2:21-24

Luke tells of several events in these 4 verses that are actually spread out over an expanded period of time. First of all, Jesus is circumcised and he is named. Notice the timing here. He wasn't actually named at his birth. That comes at the point of circumcision. The same thing happened for John the Baptist (Luke 1:59-60).

The purification that is spoken of in Luke 2:22 is that of Mary's. This occurs 40 days after childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8). She is required to present herself at the temple with a sacrifice. Of course, the temple is in Jerusalem, so the family makes the trek from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

The law also required that the firstborn son be consecrated. In essence, they had to 'redeem' Jesus. Every firstborn was actually offered to God, but the family would purchase him back at a cost of five shekels (Numbers 18:15-16). Firstborn animals were always offered as a sacrifical offering. Isn't God amazing? The redemption of the world comes through a first-born child, an offering, a sacrifice. Each part of Jesus' life pointed to the Father.

Leviticus 12:8 allows that instead of a Lamb, two turtledoves could be offered if the woman bringing the sacrifice was poor. Again, the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice came from a woman who didn't have the money to bring a lamb to the altar of sacrifice after His birth.

The word 'law' is used five times in Luke 2:21-40. Jesus came as an infant to a family that knew only the laws of God. By doing so, he allowed himself to be brought under the law, beginning with circumcision. Galatians 5:3-5 says, "Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law."

Jesus came to us through the law. He gave Himself up because of the Law. He freed us through His sacrificial offering.

The Savior, the Redeemer is here!

December 18 - The Shepherds Meet the Savior

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December 18 - The Shepherds meet the Savior - Luke 2:15-20

If a bunch of angels showed up and I had one of them tell me to do something, I'm pretty sure that I would have called everyone around me and talked about it for a long time before actually doing what I was told to do. I would have been completely stupified and so shook up that I probably would have immobilized myself.

But these shepherds simply said, "Let's go! The Lord told us about it and we should go see it!" (Luke 2:15)

Then, they hurried off (Luke 2:16). They hurried.

Now, we don't know what time of night this happened, but we can be certain that the shepherds didn't waste any time. They probably traveled, in the darkness to Bethlehem. While they knew the town quite well, they would have had no idea what the location of the actual birthplace was. It didn't occur to them to ask the angel for an address. They found the young family with no problem, though.

Imagine the difficulty of these shepherds as they realized they had to leave the manger and return to their lives. When we were at the Grand Canyon, there were points in time that I didn't want to leave. I was so wrapped up in the grandeur of the experience, I just wanted to continue gazing at the vista so as to absorb all of it that I could. I can barely translate that into gazing at the face of the Savior. Especially after seeing the glory of the angels!

After they saw him, they left and told everyone what they had seen. Before Jesus appears on the scene 30 years later, the people surrounding Bethlehem knew that the Savior had been born in their midst.

The shepherds returned to their normal lives. But, they didn't settle down, they returned praising and glorifying God.

An infant child changed the lives of simple shepherds in one night. Because of this experience, they told everyone they saw and then praised God. This Savior of the World has changed our lives. Tell everyone you know! Glorify and praise the God of Creation!

December 17 - The Shepherds & the Angels

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 17 - The Shepherds and the Angels - Luke 2:8-14

As I read various commentaries on this passage, I fell in love with it more and more. The first people that God chose to announce the birth of His Son to were shepherds. For six months out of the year, the shepherds took their flocks out to the fields and stayed there with them. Nights were temperate and they could allow the sheep to graze without worrying about the weather. They had probably built up huts or tents and several of them gathered to complete the night watch, ensuring the safety of the flocks around them.

The angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shone round them. Do you realize what this is? This is the glory of the Lord that passed by Moses in Exodus 33:19-23. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after meeting with God, his face was still radiant. (Exodus 34:29-34). This is the glory of the Lord that changed Jesus on the mountain at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-31). This is not only an angel showing up, but the Lord God Himself making this birth known to simple shepherds.

Notice in Luke 2:11 the angel does not say that a child has been born who will be a Savior. Though the words are only slightly different, the importance is immense. The Savior has been born! He is the Messiah. He is the Lord! All of these things were said so that we would know that there was no doubt about who this child was. Not who he would be, but who he was ... right at that moment in time.

And then, the angel told them to look for a child in a manger. Would the shepherds have been comfortable entering the home of a well-to-do community leader? Oh, of course not. What assurance God gave them that evening. The Savior of the nation of Israel was born. The Messiah had come. And He was completely accessible to everyone.

In Luke 2:13 we find a great company of the heavenly host joining the angel as they begin to praise God. This word translated as host actually means army. This is an army that is designed for warfare. They have come as one to declare peace on earth. That is amazing. God's design is for eternal peace.

The passage ends with the words 'peace to men on whom his favor rests.' (Luke 2:14) We can do nothing about this. We can't earn it or inherit it ... this peace comes because of the mercy of the Lord God. As He chooses, so shall it be.

God made it very clear, from the night of Jesus' birth, that He was reaching out for a relationship with everyone on earth. Simple shepherds, living in fields, watching their flocks are called to witness the most glorious birth every known to mankind. The gift has been opened, the Savior is born.

December 16 - Jesus' Birth

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 16 - Jesus' Birth - Luke 2:1-7

I suppose it seems a little early for this part of the story to be told, but in all honesty there is so much that happens after the actual birth of Christ! There are only 8 days between now and Christmas Day and this infant child has to meet a whole bunch of people.

Today the first two people on earth to meet God the Savior as an infant child were Mary and Joseph. We've met both of them in the last few days: Joseph, an honorable man, yet it took an angel to assure him of his place in the story and Mary, a young girl whose life was lived so that she could completely allow the Holy Spirit to work within her life! When the angel told her what was happening, she didn't question the reality of it, she simply said "I am the Lord's servant." (Luke 1:38)

I don't know if I would be that acquiescent - even to God! I want to be. I want every fiber of my being to yearn only after him and to allow His will to take precedence in my life. But, sometimes I forget what that is supposed to look like and I exert my will over everything around me.

How many of us believe that by allowing God to have His way in our lives, means that our lives should be better or easier? Surely if we are following God and allowing Him to work, it just shouldn't be that difficult, should it?

Well, Mary discovered that it wasn't that easy. She returned from Elizabeth's home to find that Joseph was prepared to take her in as his wife. That meant that she spent the next six months learning how to live with a man she barely knew and making the house into a home for a family that was about to be enlarged.

When Max and I got married, we barely knew each other. We knew a lot about each other - we had talked for untold hours on the telephone, yet we were still strangers in many ways. We loved each other deeply and that allowed us to get through the strangeness of living with someone new, but it definitely took longer than a year for us to be completely comfortable in the marriage. I can't imagine having been pregnant through that time and knowing that I had to introduce a child to our lives. But, this is what Mary was supposed to do.

And then, as the time grew closer for Mary to actually give birth, Caesar Augustus decided that he wanted a census. And this census wasn't about where you lived now - it was about where your historical family was from. Since Bethlehem was the city of David and both Mary and Joseph came from the historical line of David, they needed to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for this census.

Bearing the Son of God offered Mary no small measure of pain. God asked her to do something amazing and then, the world made it difficult for her to achieve the final goal. Traveling while expecting a child wasn't going to be easy, but they went ahead. I don't know of the two of them realized that they were fulfilling prophecy: "But, you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (or from days of eternity)." (Micah 5:2)

Mary gave birth to the Son of God, who came to the earth holding royal earthly lineage and having absolutely nothing of earthly wealth.

December 15 - To Us a Child is Born

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15 - To Us a Child is Born.

I'm going to ask you to do something a little different today. There are two passages from Isaiah that fill my heart as I prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Rather than read my words, read these two passages. Tomorrow we will begin the story of the Nativity.

Isaiah 9:2-7
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah 11:1-9
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

December 14 - Zechariah's Song

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14 - Zechariah's Song - Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah opened his mouth and began to praise God (Luke 1:64). People were wondering about who the child was going to be as he grew up because they could see that the Lord's hand was on him (Luke 1:66).

Zechariah, however, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. I think that he is one of those people that I would like to meet in heaven. He'd lived his life in service to the Lord. He screwed up and questioned the Lord when the angel Gabriel was standing right there. His son was destined to be the one that prepared the way of the Lord. This man has some interesting stories to tell.

He begins this word of prophecy by singing out praise to the ancient Covenant God of Israel, a people chosen. Psalm 18:2; 75:10; 132:17 all speak of the strength of the horn (Luke 1:69). The horn is a symbol of strength and courage and was also found on each corner of the altar of sacrifice. These words prophecy the coming of the Messiah and echo (Luke 1:70) the prophets of long ago.

We see again the reminder of the Covenant that God set forth with Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18. The promised Messiah would come to fulfill that Covenant and to return righteousness to the people of Israel. We see the continuation of this prophecy in Revelation as the Messiah, the Lamb returns to strike down the nations. He will be Lord of Lords and King of Kings. (Revelation 19:11-17)

Zechariah then begins to prophesy regarding his son, John. Zechariah knew of the prophecy from Malachi 3:1. Can you imagine the thrill that tore through his heart as he realized that his son, the son that he had waited 9 months to name, John was the fulfillment of that prophecy.

John did exactly what Zechariah said he would do. Luke 3:3 tells us that he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He prepared an evil world to accept the holiness of the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus.

As he finishes this song, he refers an Old Testament passage ... Luke 1:79 refers to Isaiah 9:2 (The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.)

The old priest has been blessed by God with a visit from an angel, a son in his old age and the knowledge that his son will prepare the way for the Messiah. He knows the Messiah is coming! Praise be to the Lord!

December 13 - John is Born

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 13 - John is Born - Luke 1:57-66

I grew up in small towns throughout Iowa. There wasn't much that happened, good or bad, that wasn't immediately known through the community. When I was born, my parents lived in a small town named Gravity, in Iowa. There were only 200 people that lived there. Imagine my mother's shock coming from Boston, Massachusetts to a little tiny town where everyone knew what was happening. There were no such things as locks on the parsonage doors and the women of the church believed quite seriously that the parsonage belonged to them and they could enter at any time, no matter what was happening.

I was born in 1959 and Gravity still had a local operator that connected all of the community's calls. She knew everything that was happening and probably listened in on most conversations. Mom and Dad went to Clarinda to the hospital and when I was born, the operator placed an all-city call. Every single telephone in the community of Gravity rang at the same time and the announcement was made that the preacher had a baby daughter. I suspect that was my 15 minutes of fame - all used up before I even knew what was happening to me.

Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives shared her joy in the birth of a son (Luke 1:58). I can imagine that the news of this spread like wildfire. Her home probably filled with people as the days progressed. Now, I know that I'm a bit of a cynic, but having that many people around just after a birth and this birth was happening to a much older woman, would have made me very cranky.

By the eighth day, it was time to name and circumcise the child. Genesis 17:12 and then again Leviticus 12:3 both tell of the command to circumcise boys by the eighth day. People were all around and being their ever-helpful selves. They were suggesting names and probably making it quite clear that she should name the boy after his father. When she told them what the child's name should be, these busy-bodies decided it wasn't enough, they needed to correct her and remind her (as if she had forgotten) that there was no one among the relatives with the name of John.

At this point I would have wanted to toss the lot from the house, but it got worse for Elizabeth. Since these people weren't going to believe her, they were going to frustrate Zechariah. He obviously could still not speak, and there is some implication that he couldn't hear either because they had to make signs to him asking him what HE thought they should name the child.

He asked for a writing tablet. Can you imagine the hush that came across the crowd as they waited for him to express his desire?

The writing table that he used was probably a piece of wood with a coating of wax on it. A stylus would cut through the wood, making letters. The other end of the stylus would have been flat for smoothing out the wax once he was finished with it. These tablets had been in use for quite some time and were perfect for writing short-term notes.

"His name is John." (Luke 1:63). Immediately Zechariah was able to speak and he began praising God. I imagine (this is in no ways implied or written in scripture) that Elizabeth smiled a tight little smile and stopped herself from stepping on people's toes or tripping them as they scrambled to leave her home and spread the news throughout the hill country.

With John's auspicious beginnings, the people began to wonder, though what he would become? Luke 1:66b "The Lord's hand was with him."

John was created for great things. In 30+ years, some of these people that had spread the news of his birth would hear him preach the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) and hear him call for preparation to be made for the Messiah!

December 12 - Betrothal

Friday, December 12, 2008

December 12 - Betrothal in a Hebrew family - Isaiah 62:5

Several (many) years ago, a friend led us into a beautiful time of communion by sharing the comparisons between a Hebrew betrothal and the commitment that God has made with His people. I was in tears by the end of the presentation and asked for his notes. These are some of the things he shared with me.

Housing in Israel was a series of flat-topped stone homes, one built next to another, like a series of wasps nests. Families would live in clusters of homes. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters - all from the groom's side. There could be over 100 people living in the same area. An entire lifetime would be spent with the extended family.

The groom would build the home for his bride within this cluster of homes.

When Jesus said, in John 14:2-4 that he was going to prepare a place for us in His Father's house, He was speaking as a groom would speak to His betrothed. He says, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." We are confident in His marriage proposal. He has promised to return for us to take us to the home that He is preparing.

The groom's father would choose the bride and would negotiate the price with the bride's father. A daughter was an asset and her father would need to be compensated. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, while speaking of the price of Christ's crucifixion is also a reminder of the relationship between Jesus and His bride. "You are not your own, you were bought at a price."

To seal the deal, the groom's father would pull out a flask of wine and pour a cup, then give this to his son. In Jewish culture, a cup of wine was a symbol of the lifeblood of man. Luke 22:20 says "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." The son would offer this to the bride, "by offering this cup, I promise that I am willing to give my life for you."

At that point the bride had two choices, she could choose to not accept the cup or if she drank from the cup, she was saying that she was also willing to give her life for him. They were then betrothed, and this betrothal could last for 9 months or as much as a year. She would wear a veil which showed her commitment.

The bridegroom would then say to her that he was returning to his father's home to prepare a place for you. He would go on by saying that he would return when he was finished to take her to be his wife.

The father of the bridegroom was the one who would declare that the home was ready. Only the father of the bridegroom knew what day and hour the room would be finished. He would be the one that declared the wedding day and the feast. (Matthew 24:36)

The bride had to keep herself ready. When the father of the bridegroom declared that it was finished, everyone would head to the bride's home. On the outskirts of town, the Shofar would be blown, the bridegroom would enter her home, pick her up and carry her to her new home.

John 3:29 says that the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. The marriage has been consummated and the groom declares that they are married.

Joseph and Mary were hoping for the excitement of a traditional betrothal and wedding, but God had other plans for them. However, it is absolutely amazing how God translated His love for His children into a betrothal between His Son, Jesus and the bride.

Keep yourself ready! The bridegroom is coming back for us. This is the time of Advent. This is the time to prepare for His return.

December 11 - Gabriel Reassures Joseph

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 11 - Gabriel reassures Joseph - Matthew 1:18-25

Poor Joseph. You almost have to feel bad for the guy. He is pledged to be married to this cute young gal, Mary. She takes off to visit her cousin Elizabeth and the world finds out she is pregnant! Joseph is stuck in Jerusalem by himself. He can't talk to her, he can only face down the embarrassment and frustration of what has happened.

No wonder Mary didn't wait until John was born to return home. Luke 1:56 says that she stayed for about 3 months and then returned home. It doesn't say that she stayed through the birth (we'll get into that tomorrow). But, if Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when Mary got there and she stayed for 3 months, the time was pretty close.

She hurried back to Nazareth.

In the meantime, Joseph was falling apart. He was going to do this as quietly as possible, but he was going to divorce her.

Until ...

An angel of the Lord shows up. Matthew doesn't tell us that this is Gabriel. Maybe he let another angel deliver this good news. Joseph didn't argue with the angel, he didn't disbelieve the angel. He simply obeyed.

The prophecy that is spoken of in Matthew 1:22-23 comes from Isaiah 7:14. The original Hebrew in Isaiah means 'young maiden' and doesn't necessarily mean 'virgin.' However, both Matthew and Luke are very clear in the Greek as they use the word virgin. They want people to know that Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no chance that the child is Joseph's. This child is God's.

By the time Mary returned to Jerusalem, Joseph probably had his head back together and he took her home as his wife.

There are some wonderful traditions wrapped up in the early Hebrew wedding. The marriage of a woman and a man offers many parallels to the relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church.

Tomorrow I want to look at some of these. I think you'll really enjoy it.

December 10 - Mary's Response

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10 - Mary's Response - Luke 1:39-56

The first thing that Mary does upon realizing that she is about to give birth to the Savior is head for Elizabeth's home. I'm not really certain, but I'll bet that she has heard about Elizabeth's pregnancy and the wonderful things of God surrounding the beginning of that child's life. Who better to share her news?

Do you suppose that she knew Gabriel had spoken with Zechariah and that she wanted to be where people would fully understand what had happened to her? We know that Joseph was upset about everything, I suspect that Mary's mother and father were pretty freaked out. Yet, the story was out about Zechariah's encounter. His home would be safe.

Elizabeth immediately recognized the importance of the child that had been conceived within Mary. Luke 1:41 is such an amazing verse. "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." Can you imagine what was happening to this woman? I simply cannot take in all of the flood of emotions and sensations that she was having. She was an older woman who believed she would be barren, yet she was pregnant with a child that would proclaim the coming of the Savior. Her niece, Mary shows up at her door and the child leaps inside her at the sound of Mary's voice and the Holy Spirit fills her. This is a lot of stuff for one woman. Luke 1:42 says that she exclaimed in a loud voice ... I'll bet she did! There was so much excitement inside her!

Her words of blessing on Mary are beautiful, but Luke 1:45 tells us a lot about the young woman, Mary. "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished." I want to be that woman - the one that believes that what the Lord says will be accomplished.

Mary's response in Luke 1:46-55 is called the "Magnificat," Latin for 'glorify.' This song is very reminiscent of Hannah's song (1 Samuel 2:1-10) that was sung when she delivered her son, Samuel to Eli to be raised in the temple. If you have the time, take it to read both of these songs.

As we come to the end of her song, we realize that she is quite mindful of the place that her Son will hold in the history of the Jewish people. He is fulfilling the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants.

Mary sings praise to God, who is able to do all things, yet has asked her to be the mother of a child that will save the world. What does she say, though in Luke 1:49? "He has done great things for me." Such gratefulness and humility.

This is the woman that God chose.

December 9 - Gabriel comes to Mary

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9 - Gabriel comes to Mary - Luke 1:26-37

A young Jewish woman from the town of Nazareth had her life turned upside down by a visit from the angel Gabriel. She probably had her life well planned out. A nice young man named Joseph was her betrothed. While the wedding and feast hadn't occured yet and she wasn't yet living with him, she knew that they would be together forever as husband and wife.

She was probably a teenager and hadn't experienced much of life yet. With that, I can't imagine her reaction when confronted with an angelic messenger. I honestly don't know what I would have done.

In Luke 1:28 we find Gabriel's greeting to Mary. "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." One of the first things to point out in this passage is that Mary had done absolutely nothing to earn or deserve this blessing. God favored her. She was chosen only by God's grace and favor, not by anything she had done.

She is fairly well freaked out, but I suspect her upbringing and sense of decorum stopped her from running away and screaming for help. In this day and age, I wonder if Gabriel would be able to get a word in without having the police and doctors ready with tranquilizers on hand to keep him under control.

Gabriel's words in Luke 1:30-33 are quite reminiscent of Isaiah's words in Isaiah 9:6-7. He phrased things to inform Mary of the true purpose of his visit. She would have recognized the implications and the meanings behind his words.

One of the commentaries I read asked why Mary imagined that the pregnancy would occur before she and Joseph actually finished the time of betrothal and were married. What a great question and there is no good answer. I can only believe that Gabriel's words spoke to an immediacy regarding the conception of the child. At what point did she know that this had happened?

Notice Mary's response to Gabriel in Luke 1:34. Compare that to Zechariah's response to Gabriel's announcement of Elizabeth's conception in Luke 1:18. Mary asks how it can happen. She wants to know the details. Zechariah, on the other hand, wants to know a very personal thing - something based on faith. How can he be sure of Gabriel's words. He questioned the one sent from God. Mary simply questioned the mechanics.

Gabriel was glad to tell her. He also told her about Elizabeth. The last words he says to her, in Luke 1:37 are, "For nothing is impossible with God."

Before Jesus heads to Jerusalem for the last week of his life, he continues to teach his disciples. In Mark 10:27, he teaches the same concept. "All things are possible with God."

Christmas is a time to believe that the impossible can happen. We know that it already has happened. A young woman, who was a virgin, conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and this child would become the Savior of the World.

December 8 - Gabriel

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 8 - Gabriel

I was relaxin' away after an awesome SingOmaha concert tonight, and realized I had totally forgotten to write my blog post for the day. Whoops!

One of the most intriguing characters in the Christmas story is the angel Gabriel. We meet him several times throughout the story, but he is not a new character on the scene.

In yesterday's scripture lesson, Gabriel announces who he is to Zechariah by saying that he stands in the presence of God. If you turn to Isaiah 63:9, Isaiah speaks of the angel of his (God's) presence that saved God's people.

Gabriel shows up to explain 2 of Daniel's dreams to him, the first time in Daniel 8:15-25 where he interprets a vision that Daniel had regarding the end times and then tells Daniel to seal up the vision because it concerned the distant future (Daniel 8:26) and then again for a second vision in Daniel 9:20-27 where he explains the 'sevens' to Daniel.

In extra-Biblical sources we find more about the Angels of the Presence - those angels who stand in the presence of the Lord. Tobit 12:15 says “I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord.” These seven angels are not named, but are mentioned by John in Revelation 8:2. He saw 'the seven angels who stand before god, and to them were given trumpets.'

I Enoch lists the seven angels as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel and Remiel. While these books are not part of the standard canon of Scripture, they are part of the Apocrypha that is accepted by many scholars.

We meet Michael in our standard scriptures in the book of Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 21, 12:1) in Jude 9 and in Revelation 12:7. Michael seems to be the angel that goes up against Satan, while Gabriel is the angel that transmits messages to humanity from the throne of God.

Paul warns against the worship of angels in Colossians 2:18, but they continue throughout both the Old and New Testament to minister to God's people. Psalm 91:11 "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."

Hebrews 1:14 asks the question "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"

Yes. Gabriel was sent from the presence of God to announce the birth of John, and as we will soon see the birth of Jesus to both his mother and his earthly father. While he is here with them, he comforts and teaches them.

December 7 - Zechariah's Doubt

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7 - Zechariah's Doubt - Luke 1:18-25

When I was a child, I got Zechariah and Abraham mixed up. I knew that one of them became unable to speak when he doubted that God could cause their older wife to get pregnant. It took a few years of learning to anchor it in my mind that it was Zechariah. But, the thing that finally helped me was in thinking about Zechariah in the Holy of Holies.

When I read Luke 1:18, I am shocked at Zechariah's question posed to the angel. It seems incredibly surprising to me that he could see an angel and not be willing to accept everything that angel says to him! But he asked the angel for assurances. Wow!

I can definitely imagine expressing shock that my family would be chosen for that honor and I can imagine being dumbfounded, but I can not imagine questioning the motivation and asking the question, "How can I be sure of this?"

God had moved beyond the physical limitations of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:9-15) and surely God the Creator could move beyond that age and physical limitations of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

However, before I question Zechariah too much, I have to look at my own lack of faith in God's commandments. I spent too many years ignoring God's hand in my life, not believing that it was really Him telling me to move on. I didn't know how to listen to Him! What are you missing because you don't believe that God is really speaking to you?

Gabriel identified himself to Zechariah. My heart is warmed as I read the words in Luke 1:19 "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God ..." I stand in the presence of God. Just think about that for a few minutes. I stand in the presence of God. Wow. I suppose I am a little envious, I can hardly wait to stand in the presence of God. And since the day that Gabriel was created, He was able to be there, in the presence of God. I'm overwhelmed.

I suspect that Gabriel was a little surprised at being questioned by Zechariah. As the angelic spokesman for God, I can't imagine that doubt was something he encountered very often. His power is shown when he is able to strike Zechariah dumb. Punishment for disbelief, but the promise of a child is still in place.

Luke 1:21 tells us that Zechariah had been in the Holy of Holies for a bit longer than normal. According to Numbers 6:22-27, he should have given the blessing upon leaving the Temple, but because he was mute, he was unable to do even that. He was in Jerusalem to perform his duty at the temple and had to wait to go home. We see in Luke 1:39 that he lived in the hill country of Judah. As soon as he was able, he went home to his wife and soon after, she became pregnant.

Elizabeth was in seclusion, because as an older woman who had not had children, she was in disgrace (Luke 1:25). Until her pregnancy was certain and it was obvious that she was going to have a child, she did not leave her home.

The child who was to prepare the way for the Messiah was conceived, the plan is now in motion.

December 6 - John's Birth Foretold

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December 6 - John's Birth Foretold - Luke 1:5-17

Each of the Gospels begin at different points in the life of Jesus. Luke begins with the birth of the man who would prepare the way of the Lord. He was the Elijah of that generation. The Jews had been without a prophet for hundreds of years. They had settled into a fairly secular way of living, though it looked quite religious on the outside. Herod was a puppet king, in place to keep the Jews quiet, but everything he did was at the behest of the Roman government. Things were actually pretty peaceful in Jerusalem, there was no religious uprising, just an uneasy tension between God's people and the rule that they were subjected to.

The time was becoming ripe for change. But, not yet ... the stage had to be set, the players put into place.

The first was John. His father was Zechariah, his mother was Elizabeth. In Luke 1:6, we read that both of them were wonderful, holy people, both from the tribe of Levi. Zechariah was a priest. We read in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 that there were 24 divisions of Levitical priests - Zechariah from the division of Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10).

Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the Holy of Holies. This was a once in a lifetime event. Everyone was praying outside. Can you imagine the anticipation in his heart? Even though he knew that the presence of God was to be found in the Holy of Holies, I suspect that there had never been a story told by other priests like the encounter he was about to have. Luke 1:12 gives his exact reaction - he was startled and gripped with fear.

He would have expected to enter the Holy of Holies and had time to pray - to lift up specific requests to Yahweh - but he would have expected to physically be alone in that space. Not only do we know that the angel was in there with him, we know where the angel was standing. (Luke 1:11)

With the stunning news that his wife would bear a child came the directions to raise the child as a Nazirite. There is a lot of similarity between this and the announcement of the birth of Samson, who was also a Nazirite (Judge 13:3-5). In both cases, the parents had been childless, and both children were set apart from birth for a special task. That Nazirite vow is found in Numbers 6:1-21.

Generally a Nazirite vow was voluntary and short-term. There were only three people that were committed from birth - Samson, Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptist.

Gabriel also told Zechariah that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. This fulfilled the prophecy from Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:6. The people of Israel prayed for the return of Elijah. John was the fulfillment of that prayer.

December 5 - Genealogy, pt. 2

Friday, December 5, 2008

December 5, 2008 - Genealogy, pt. 2 - Luke 3:23-38

Luke's genealogy of Jesus is noticeably different in several ways from that of Matthew's. Luke begins with Jesus and traces it back from there while Matthew began with Abraham and traced it forward. Luke also adds all of the generations from Abraham back to Adam and finally, to God. Luke found that it was very important for him to establish Jesus' historical ancestry not only to the nation of Israel but to the Creator Himself.

There are several different scholarly reasons why the genealogy is so different from David down to Joseph in the two Gospels. One reason given is that Luke actually traced Mary's genealogy, proving that physically (since Joseph was, in essence, a foster father) Jesus could trace His line to David and to Abraham. Luke does not name any women in his list. He does not find it important to tell the history of the Jewish nation while writing this list. Mary would not have been a part of any genealogy, but the actual line of descent would come from her ancestry.

Another reason is that Matthew was offering a legal line of royal descent, while Luke gave us the human line. Even a foster father offers his son legal rights to an inheritance. In Jewish culture, the father's ancestry would have been much more important and that would have been important as well to Matthew.

While Matthew's genealogy proves Jesus' legal right to the throne, Luke's proves Jesus' natural right. Luke's focus throughout his gospel is to prove that Jesus Christ came as the Son of Man. Matthew was writing for the Jews and his gospel shows Jesus' jewishness and the importance of His royal lineage. This is why we will see that Matthew finds the story of the Wise Men visiting Jesus important and Luke finds the story of the simple shepherds visiting the new baby to be critical to the story of the Savior.

We don't know for sure why there are differences in the last part of the lineage, but what we do see is that as Luke processed through this and took us back to a time before the nation of Israel was created, he places Jesus in a position to be a savior to all of mankind, not just the Hebrew nation.

Luke placed his genealogy of Jesus well into the story. Jesus has turned 30 and his ministry has begun. The Holy Spirit has just descended on him while he was being baptized and God announced that Jesus was His son. It was time for Luke to prove who this man was to his readers.

As for us, we are just beginning to look at the Gospel stories. The genealogies are important to have as background and foundation to the greatest story every told.

December 4 - Genealogy

Thursday, December 4, 2008

December 4 - Genealogy - Matthew 1:1-17

We began looking at this genealogy yesterday, but today we will look a little deeper. Matthew actually had several points he wanted to make as he listed Jesus' heritage. First, he established that Jesus was the Messiah by proving that He was the rightful heir to David's throne and secondly, he established that Jesus fulfilled God's promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.

Matthew 1:17 tells us that there are 3 sets of 14 generations. Because I love numbers and the way God uses them in scripture, I'm entranced that we see the number 3 here and that we see three sets of 14 - a number which is divisible by 7 (3x14 = 42). These two numbers (3 & 7) are found all through scripture and God makes them available to us in the genealogy of His Son.

In Exodus 19:11, Moses consecrates the Israelites and tells them to be prepared on the ‘third day’ for the Lord to come down. He came down and then gave the Commandments to them.

We know that Christ was raised from the grave after 3 days. And we find the beginning of the Trinity in Matthew 28:19 when Jesus gives the command to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The number 42 (3 x 14) can also be delineated at 6 x 7. Six signifies incompleteness and symbolizes humanity. Seven, on the other hand, is God's divine number - the number of perfection. I could go on and on describing the times that this number is used in scripture, but I won't do that here. Needless to say, it's pretty cool seeing that this Genealogy of the Messiah also uses numbers that signify both humanity and divinity.

(I also just read that the three letters of David's name - in their numerical terms - add up to 14. More cool stuff)

These three divisions tell of the major divisions of Jewish history. From Abraham to David it was a theocracy. God made the laws and dealt out the punishment. From David to the Exile it was a monarchy. This was the time of the Kings of Israel. From the Exile to the time of Jesus was what is called a hierarchy. The Israelites elected rulers from within their culture to rule varying areas. However, this rule always come underneath a different national rule (i.e. Herod ruled under Caesar).

Another wonderful thing about Matthew's genealogy is that there are 4 women named in the list. Traditional Hebrew genealogies never acknowledge women. And to top it off, these women are outside the norm for what would be termed a pillar of the faith. Matthew 1:3 - Tamar - tricked her father-in-law, Judah (one of Jacob / Israel's sons) into sleeping with her. She was accused of being a prostitute, but had proof of their assignation (Genesis 38:13-30).

Matthew 1:5a - Rahab. A Gentile prostitute who hid Joshua's two spies and was saved from the crushing of Jericho (Joshua 2:1-24)

Matthew 1:5 - Ruth was not even Jewish. She came into the lineage by marrying Boaz after leaving her home following her husband's death and staying with her mother-in-law, Orpah (Ruth 1:4).

Matthew 1:6 - Bathsheba, who became David's wife after he murdered her husband because he had made her pregnant. (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

The inclusion of these women in this genealogy shows God's grace and his sovereignty in choosing through whom He will work.

Matthew uses the term "Christ" three times in this Genealogy so as to firmly establish Jesus' identification as the Messiah. This title is his way of establishing the royal reign of Jesus Christ.

I found this genealogy extremely boring as a young adult. However, Matthew's readers would have read it with great interest as they traced their history through the Patriarchs, David, memories of the Exile and on to the Savior of the World.