Advent Attitudes: Reverence

Advent 4

When we worship God we make Him known.

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year.  Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again.  it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February!  In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.

“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:

‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…’
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…’”

“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’”

One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and he only received three things.  So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.

As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears.  When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded “How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”

(http://desperatepreacher.com/christmas/xmashumor.htm)

Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence.  We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting.  We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.

Reverence is quiet.  It is understated.  It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us.  Hands need to be folded and kept still.  Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.

  1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving (Matthew 2:1-12).

Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time.  We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST.  Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.

In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.

In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.

Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed.  This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.

In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable.  For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.

Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews).  That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.

Their journey had some danger.  In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.

From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts.  Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added.  People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols.  What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor.  What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”

God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt.  They were small but sold for a hefty price.

  1. The angels worshiped God with their singing (Luke 2:8-20).

The song was the culmination of their message.  The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”

“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”

The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”  In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.”  Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”

“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.”  What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.”  That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV.  It should actually read as the NIV translates it.  The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people.  Paul confirmed this teaching in RMS 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

Worship is more about the singing than the song.  Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship.  Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD.  Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords.  I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper.  As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.

Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.

Three wise men walk into a barn…yes I said BARN…and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said “I have brought gold for the child.”
Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said “I have brought frankincense for the child.”
Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.

The third wise man said “But wait there’s myrrh!”

It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  They are so named in the book Ben Hur.

I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques.  Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia.  He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.

When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews.  When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”

Jacques merely waved him off.  He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”

<https://upjoke.com/three-wise-men-jokes&gt;

Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence.  May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you.  May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.

When we worship God we make Him known.

With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas.  Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.

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Advent Attitude:Obedience

Advent 3

Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

            If you haven’t discovered it yet, please take a look at the website Bible Gateway.  It is a handy way to do research on the Bible and you can read from many different Bible translations without requiring loads of Bibles in book cases.

Bible Gateway reported last week the most often-searched Bible verse of 2018: “Out of more than 2 billion page views conducted by visitors to Bible Gateway during 2018, the most popular verse for the year was Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2018/12/this-is-the-most-popular-verse-in-2-billion-pageviews-during-2018-on-bible-gateway/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=58037004&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1541969998&spReportId=MTU0MTk2OTk5OAS2

You would not want to read too much into this one factoid, but 2 billion is a big number, except in comparison to the federal debt.  So it may be safe to infer from this choice of Jeremiah 29:11 that people are looking for some reassurance.  We who believe need to be reminded from time to time that the trust we put in God is well-placed.  We need to be encouraged to continue to be faithful that our obedience to God is making a difference.  We need to hold fast when trials discourage us.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

  1. Joseph obeyed God (Matthew 1:18-25).

He was the type of man who you’d expect to obey God.  Matthew lists five obedient qualities Joseph evidenced.

He was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (v. 19).  Normally, we think of RIGHTEOUS as obeying God’s law.  However, in this situation the “righteous” thing for Joseph to do was to divorce Mary.  Jewish custom required divorce to break an engagement where adultery had been committed.  The little word AND figures large in this verse.  Joseph was RIGHTEOUS and yet, he did not want to make a public issue of Mary’s pregnancy which was assumed to be the result of adultery.  So there’s something deeper at work in Joseph’s heart than legalism.  Love is there, too, and it tempered the legal response.

He did not want to EXPOSE Mary to PUBLIC DISGRACE (v. 19).  The Greek word for PUBLIC DISGRACE is fourteen characters long.  It meant to punish someone by exposing them to the contempt of the community.  The punishment was shunning; making the person an object of scorn and ridicule.

Adultery was supposed to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and John 8:3-5), so there’s a greater danger to Mary than that of a broken heart.  The point is that Joseph was looking for a way to obey God, keep his honor, and not punish Mary.  He was merciful instead of being vengeful.

In the original language, the phrase AFTER HE HAD CONSIDERED THIS (v. 20) means that Joseph came to this decision after a lot of thinking about it.  He did not act rashly.

But when it came to being obedient, Joseph did not take his time; he obeyed immediately (v. 24).  The text plainly points out that when Joseph awoke from the dream, he brought Mary into his home as his wife.  He brought her under his protection.  He accepted her shame as his own and defied the customary response to cases of adultery.

Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions and, on his own initiative, went beyond them (v. 25).  Matthew points out that Joseph gave up his  conjugal relations with Mary.  He was not instructed to do this, so it may have been something he felt honor-bound to do.  He may have had the foresight to know that any relations between them might cause some to say Jesus was his son.  This way, it is historically clear Joseph was not the birth-father of Jesus.

Obedience in this matter would cost him.  Matthew identified two costs Joseph paid for His faithfulness to the angel’s message.

To accept PUBLIC DISGRACE with Mary.  As far as anyone else knew, Joseph was the injured party here.  Mary had wronged him; she had been unfaithful to him.  As a man and as the innocent party, Joseph held all the cards and Mary’s life in his hands.  He chose mercy before God explained the real reason for Mary’s pregnancy.  After that, Joseph changed his mind about the marriage and proceeded with it.

It cost him what most people would consider a “normal” marital relationship, the customary way to consecrate a marriage.  The Bible confirms the marital rights of husband and wife.  It is an important aspect of the relationship.  Their marital relationship began under a cloud of suspicion.  Instead of the week-long celebration most Jewish couples enjoyed, Joseph simply set aside custom and took Mary into his home immediately.  And, as Luke tells us, one of the first things they did as a couple was to pack up and make the long journey to Bethlehem.

  1. Mary obeyed God (Luke 1:26-38).

She was the type of person you’d expect to be obedient to God.  Luke details five virtuous aspects of Mary’s character.

As the text tells us several times, Mary was A VIRGIN.  Mary had been moral and observed God’s command to have sex only in the marriage relationship.

She was HIGHLY FAVORED by the LORD (v. 28).  This Greek word (charitoo) literally means “full of grace.”  It is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6 and indicates we are recipients of God’s grace, not dispensers of it.  The use of this word shows that Mary is on the same gracious status as the rest of us; she should not be made semi-divine.

THE LORD was WITH her (v. 28).  This explains the grace we just mentioned.  God is gracious by being present with us and by working His will in us.

She identified herself as THE LORD’S SERVANT (v. 29).  Mary’s faith was mature enough to make her humble.  She knew her place in relationship to her Creator.

Though the angel’s message GREATLY TROUBLED Mary (29), she was obedient.  The appearance of the angel and the greeting alone prompted this reaction and caused her to WONDER what this was all about.  Gabriel’s response was to answer her questions and try to calm her fear.  (In the previous section, Zechariah questioned the angel that appeared to him and was disciplined by being rendered mute.  Mary does the same thing and is not disciplined.  There is no obvious difference between the questions, so the difference my lay in the people.  Zechariah must have disbelieved the angel but Mary believed him.  She asked a question out of curiosity, not out of disbelief.)

Her obedience in this matter would cost Mary.  Luke’s Gospel and a little reasoning reveal four ways in which agreeing to carry God’s Son would require sacrifice on Mary’s part.

We go back to the PUBLIC DISGRACE we mentioned in regard to Joseph.  As the apparently offending party, and as the woman, Mary would have suffered a greater share of the DISGRACE.  Contrast the DISGRACE the people of Nazareth threatened with the grace God offered Mary in v. 28.  Remember our comment on the phrase HIGHLY FAVORED?

As we noted with Joseph, there is the problem of starting a marriage under these adverse conditions.  This initial awkwardness was expertly portrayed in the film “The Nativity Story.”  I recommend it.  (Incidentally, the two leads would also appear in Star Wars films.  From the Star of Bethlehem to Star Wars – it’s a fun bit of trivia – look it up!)

Mary would have to face the physical and emotional conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth.  We can’t assume that just because she was carrying the Savior that she was spared morning sickness, getting kicked, labor pains, etc.  The conception was supernatural, but we can assume the rest of it was natural and typical.

This is not affirmed in Scripture, but I think we can assume that both Joseph and Mary were concerned how Jesus might be treated by their family and the people in Nazareth.  In that culture, an illegitimate child would probably have to bear that stigma and be treated cruelly.

This happened once when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His public ministry.  In Mark 6:3 someone referred to Him as “Mary’s son.”  This might be taken as an insult, that Jesus was no son of Joseph.  While we know that was biologically true, it’s unlikely this remark referred to His divine father.

Thankfully, this was not always the case.  Luke 2:52 reports, the boy JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MEN.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

Obedience that costs us nothing is not going to be worth much.  Being faithful while trying to take control isn’t a great act of faith at all.  Obedience to God is risky, difficult, and in some places in the world, downright dangerous.

Mary and Joseph are examples of obedience that was costly.  Mary’s obedience took her all the way to the cross.  That was a sword that cleaved her heart in half.

In a December, 2012 article for Relevant magazine, Nick Price wrote, “As we approach Christmas, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.”

There is a place where you have not really said “yes” to God.  There is something He’s called you to do and you haven’t yet obeyed.  Advent is an especially good time to begin a life-long habit of obedience.

 

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon

Blue Christmas

blu xmas

If you are having trouble being “merry” this Christmas, come to Emmanuel Baptist Church on Friday, December 21, at 7:00 pm.  You are invited to a “Blue Christmas” service of worship.  This service recognizes the painful reality of loss and invites a faithful dialogue with our Creator about the sadness that becomes keenly felt during times when others want to celebrate.  If you’ve lost a loved one, bring along a small picture or any article of remembrance.  Call 336-6780 for more information.

Advent Attitudes: Expectation

Advent 2

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

(Please read Luke 2:21-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

          The Reader’s Digest published an article last year explaining why September Is the Most Popular Birth Month in America, and These Are 3 Fascinating Explanations.  It was written by Brandon Specktor.

“According to real birth data compiled from 20 years of American births, mid-September is the most birthday-packed time of the year, with September 9th being the most popular day to be born in America, followed closely by September 19th.  The week and a half between September 9th and September 20th contains nine of the top ten birthdays in America, with the top three being 9/9, 9/19, and 9/12.

“The least common days to be born are, incidentally, all holidays: 12/25 rounds out the bottom, right after 1/1, 12/24, and 7/4. Strangely, in the 20 years analyzed above, there were even fewer births on each of these holidays than there were on February 29th, which only only appeared on calendars six times between ’94 and ’14.

“Why is September such a popular time to come into the world?

  1. Winter is for lovers.Turn the great clock back 40 weeks from September 19 and you’ll find yourself in the December holiday season. This makes sense: Many American students and laborers take time off around Christmas. [I suspect mistletoe is a factor here, too!]
  2. Our bodies crave winter cuddles.
  3. Every day is a popular birthday.The actual differences in birth numbers between common and less common birthdays are often within just a few thousand babies. For example, September 19th, has an average birth rate of 12,229 babies. Meanwhile, Christmas day has a birth rate of just 6,574 babies.”

https://www.rd.com/culture/september-popular-birth-month/

What have we learned?  Christmas is great time for beginning new things.  God the Father began a new thing with the birth of Jesus, who is God the Son.  Advent is a good time to conceive of a new, more godly way to live.  Forget about Santa’s “nice list,” it’s a great time of year to get on the “nice lists” of family, friends, and neighbors.

Our second Advent Attitude is that of expectation.  From the children building with excitement about presents to the maturing believers having a sense of anticipation growing of worship and family traditions,  This season is all about our expectations of what’s coming and our preparations to enjoy it.

  1. Simeon’s expectations were met by Jesus (25-35).

He’d been expecting the CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  What’s not obvious in English translations is the “Consolation” is a person, not a thing.  It was a title used to refer to the Messiah, the person God would choose to free His people.  (See Isaiah 25:9; 40:1-2; 66:1-11.)

In having this expectation Simeon was not unusual.  We read an example of this speculation at work in Luke 3:15: THE PEOPLE WERE WAITING EXPECTANTLY AND WERE WONDERING IN THEIR HEARTS IF JOHN MIGHT POSSIBLY BE THE CHRIST.  Of course, John the Baptist was

not the Christ, he was the herald, announcing the coming of the Messiah.  He positively identified Jesus as the Christ.  This verse indicates that there was a popular belief that the Messiah was coming.  Lots of people were, like Simeon and Anna, expectantly looking for Him.

Simeon was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke notes three qualifications:

He was RIGHTEOUS.  He was a good citizen and a good man.

He was DEVOUT.  This term refers to someone who fears God and is careful to keep God’s law (see Deuteronomy 2:4 and Isaiah 57:11).

The HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM.  His appearance at the temple at just the right moment and his recognition of a little peasant baby both came about by the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Before we note the particulars of what Simeon said about Jesus, let’s note what a leap of faith this must have been for Simeon.  His eyes saw a baby.  The Spirit said the baby was the Redeemer.  He followed the Spirit into the temple and into the revelation of the child’s true identity.  Simeon made four public comments and four private ones to Mary.  Publically, he said:

“You have kept your promise.”  This was something Simeon took very personally.

“Now I can die happy.”  I think this comment either sounds like an older man or someone who is making an exaggerated statement because he’s so happy.

“I have seen YOUR SALVATION.”  Popular expectation sought a political/military savior, but God planned for salvation from sin.

“PREPARED IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.”  (See Revelation 7:9.)

“A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES.”  Popular expectations for the Messiah probably didn’t concern themselves with the Gentiles, so this is another extraordinary mark; a sign of the Spirit’s leading.

“GLORY FOR YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL.” God will keep His promises to His people Israel.

Simeon’s private predictions to Mary were not good news.  He said Jesus was

“DESTINED TO CAUSE THE FALLING AND RISING OF MANY IN ISRAEL.”  In his first letter Peter picked up on this and referred to Jesus as a STONE that caused men to STUMBLE and FALL (1 Peter 2:8).

“A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST” predicted not only the verbal abuse Jesus suffered but includes the rejection of His teaching and His crucifixion as well.

All this because He would reveal THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS.” It is human nature and sin nature to resent exposure of one’s faults and sins.  But it was not so much that Jesus knew their hearts and exposed them as much as by their own choice to reject Him that they revealed the sad, sinful condition of their own hearts.

“A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO.”  This warning must’ve been something she pondered, just as she had the shepherds’ words, but she probably did not “treasure” it as she did in verse nineteen.  The word SWORD refers to a large and brutal weapon.  The word carried a more emotional impact.  The warning came to pass in Jesus’ arrest and death by crucifixion.

  1. Anna’s expectations were met by Jesus (36-39).

Anna had expected THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  This was a pious way of referring to every Jew’s hope that their nation might be set free (redeemed) from servitude to Rome.  The city of Jerusalem and the temple within the city were the focal points of the entire nation and were used to refer to the entire nation.

Anna was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke noted three qualifiers.

She was a PROPHETESS.  This title does not necessarily mean that Anna was given revelations of the future.  It more likely meant that she was a teacher, probably of women, there in the Court of Women.

She was a resident of the temple courts, spending her days FASTING & PRAYING.  It would have been unusual for anyone but a priest to have quarters on the temple grounds, so this indicates Anna held unique status as a PROPHETESS.

She was VERY OLD.  Luke’s language is a little ambiguous, but it’s most likely she was 84 years old when she encountered baby Jesus.  In a time when the average life expectancy was mid-40s, 84 is a very ripe old age indeed.

Anna became a witness.  We see her exercising her witness in two ways.  SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD, just as the shepherds had done earlier in this chapter.

SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD to everyone who looked forward to God saving His people and especially Jerusalem.  Anna may’ve been part of a group known as “Quiet in the Land,” people who were looking forward to the coming of God’s Messiah.

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

          In Luke’s account, Simeon and Anna appear AFTER Jesus’ birth.  Even so, they are two great biblical examples of people who have the attitude of expectation.  For YEARS they kept up their expectations of the coming of the Messiah, just as God had promised.  Can you imagine their great joy and deep satisfaction when God revealed the Messiah to them?  Maybe their first reaction was surprise.  A baby?  “Well, OK,” they may have thought, “everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

Notice that Luke implies that both Simeon and Anna were senior citizens.  It’s likely each of them had lived a significant portion of their lives with the attitude of expectation.  And then, God revealed His plan was not a man but a baby.  Wow!  Mind blown!

Here’s the thing: it seems very likely to me there was a moment after the excitement wore off a bit that they realized they might not live long enough to see this baby grow to manhood and accomplish God’s plan.  After all their years of waiting, God kept His promise, but they would not see the results.  In fact, as history tells us, it would be another THIRTY YEARS before Jesus began His ministry.  It’s likely both Simeon and Anna were long gone.

At first, this thought is frustrating.  All those years of waiting rewarded with only a glimpse of the one for whom they’d been waiting.  But you don’t get any sense of disappointment or frustration from Luke’s account, do you?  No, Simeon and Anna both demonstrate profound delight, a joy that burst forth in worship and witness.

They are an example to us of how the Advent Attitude of Expectation is supposed to work: when God answers our prayers, He often does so in ways we had never anticipated.  When He acts, can be sideways or backwards of what we expected.

Rather than be like a kid who opened a present to find a socks instead of a baseball glove, we can follow Anna & Simeon’s path and be delighted with what God did.  By faith we can trust and assume His gift is far above what we had asked for or thought about, much better for us anyway.

So I’m asking you, in these days of Advent, ramp up your expectation of what God is going to do, but then don’t be disappointed when it’s something different that what you expected.  Faith says it will be better.

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee

Advent Attitude: Joy

Advent 1

(Please read Luke 2:8-20 & 1 Peter 1:3-12 from your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to conduct my research.)

Last Christmas, grandpa was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead.  In each card he wrote, “Buy your own present!” and mailed them early.
In the usual flurry of family festivities he noticed the grandkids were a bit cold to him; a couple were downright angry. Puzzled over this, he went into his study to get some time alone to think about it. It was then he saw the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

Today we begin a journey that will end at a cattle pen near a village that had a lot of history, but not much to recommend it at the moment.  Advent is a significant time in the church calendar, one of two seasons of preparation.  I felt lead, this Advent, to explore some of the reactions to Jesus that people in the Bible demonstrated.  My prayer is that these studies will encourage us to be mindful of our own Advent Attitudes.

This thought is not original to me.  Darrell L. Bock expressed a similar line of thought in his commentary of the Gospel of Luke: “The variety of reactions to the birth of Jesus noted here should not surprise us.  People respond to him differently.  Some are amazed, but do not engage him at any deeper level.  Others offer praise, while others ponder what Jesus means.  There is no doubt that in this passage Mary and the shepherds are the exemplary characters, reflecting the testimony and obedience that should characterize saints.”  (p. 89-90)

We begin this series with JOY because it is the most common reaction to the birth of Jesus.  With the exception of King Herod, everybody in the biblical accounts seems really thrilled that God has brought this about.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

  1. Jesus’ birth brought joy to the Shepherds (Luke 2)

The angels predicted the Holy Birth would bring GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY to ALL THE PEOPLE (10).  GOOD NEWS is the Greek word from which we get our English word “gospel.”  It is significant that very word was used to announce the birth of Emperor Augustus.  Luke tried to evoke a similar vibe among his readers.

The angels promised GREAT JOY.  It was “great” in the sense of being giant-sized.  The size of the JOY is measured by the size of the recipients: ALL THE PEOPLE.  The size of the JOY is measured by the reactions of the shepherds.

Then angels promised that God intended this joy to be for ALL THE PEOPLE.  This is one measure of the significance of Jesus’ birth: it is important not to just one family or even one nation, but to ALL PEOPLE.  This is also the reason why the world must know and part of what motivated the shepherds to go and spread the word.  For us as well, the world must know so we must go tell them.

Another measure of the JOY is how the shepherds wasted no time checking it out (vs. 15-16).  They quickly agreed this was worth looking into and decided to go together (v. 15).  In fact, verse sixteen testifies that they HURRIED OFF to find the family in Bethlehem.

They wasted no time, spreading the word immediately (vs. 20, 16-17).  This is another reaction you’d anticipate from someone feeling GREAT JOY.

Luke may have these verses a little out of chronological order.  In terms of how the events happened, verse 20 should precede verses seventeen to nineteen.  Verse twenty describes the immediate effect on the shepherds; verses seventeen to nineteen describe the effect of their testimony on others.

First, the shepherds worshiped God.  Luke wrote that they returned to their flocks GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD.  They were gratified they’d had seen the Savior with their own eyes, that everything was just as the angels had promised.

Second, they told everyone about it.  The response to their excited witness is amazement (v. 18), except for Mary, who treasured these revelations and PONDERED them (v. 19).

  1. Jesus’ life brings joy to His followers (1PR 1).

Jesus Joy gets us through tough times (v. 6).  Peter wrote about our LIVING HOPE; a future God created for us through the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST.  This HOPE shields us, protecting us until our salvation is REVEALED IN THE LAST TIME.  He wrote IN THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE.  Remember, the angels announcing Jesus’ birth said it was GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.  Here is that expression again.

The JOY Jesus brings helps us endure GRIEF from ALL KINDS OF TRIALS.  Verse seven explains God’s purpose in trials; he uses them to “refine” our faith, the most precious thing we have.  While we might prefer that God refine our faith by gentler means, it is in trials that we most appreciate the value of our relationship with God.

Peter also encourages us to know our TRIALS – even the ones that are life-long – are only temporary.  They last only FOR A LITTLE WHILE.  Heaven is eternal.  In trials we most eagerly desire our deliverance, our salvation.

Jesus Joy is INEXPRESSIBLE and GLORIOUS because it is based on our salvation (vs. 8+9).  Jesus Joy is so wonderful, so supernatural, Peter wrote that it is INEXPRESSIBLE! This JOY is so deep it challenges our vocabulary to describe it.  It challenges our hearts to contain it.  It challenges us to properly express it in our words and deeds.  It is so contrary to ordinary worldly experiences, it defies all attempts to draw comparisons.

GLORIOUS means it is divine (from God).  It reflects the being, character, and will of God.  As our salvation comes from Him, so does this JOY that flows from our salvation.

In the Greek New Testament, the word JOY is written in the form of a command.  Peter is not just saying JOY is available to them, he is commanding them to observe it.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

It was the last case before the court went on Christmas break.  The judge was to wrap it up and allow everyone to leave.  Without waiting for the bailiff to announce the case, the judge barked at the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”
The prisoner replied, “Doing my Christmas shopping too early.”
“That’s no crime,” said the judge. “Just how early were you doing this shopping?”
“Before the store opened,” he said.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

I don’t imagine that guy made it home for Christmas.  When all your plans and the extra responsibilities of the season threaten to make you crazy, do us all a favor and remember the first and greatest Advent Attitude is JOY.  Begin each day of Advent with that thought and see how it transforms the season.  Seek joy for yourself and to share it with others.

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #1187

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edwin A. Blume.

The NIV Bible Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock.

Searching for the Perfect Gift

Gift

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Please read Matthew 7:7-12 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Last Christmas a little boy did not get what he wanted.  He decided to negotiate with Santa and wrote the following:

“Deer Santa, I am riting this on the day after X-mas and I am very sad.  I only received 1 of the 2 presents I asked for.  Sense you ate my cookies I will asoom that my missing gift was a miss take.  I will give you 1 week too fix this.  Jeremy.” (Spelling errors are his.)

His parents saw this as an opportunity to teach their son a lesson and composed a very professional-looking “reply” from Santa: “Dear Jeremy, I’m sorry you are disappointed with your presents.  You asked for two very expensive presents and Santa can only do so much.  You need to learn to be grateful for what you have, not upset about what you don’t.  If you continue to complain I will have no choice but to add you to the naughty list next year.  Santa.”

Jeremy fired back with another note to Santa: “Deer Fatty, your threats don’t scare me.  I played your game and you did not deliver.  This is not O.K.  I will give you 1 week and then you will pay.  Jeremy.  P.S. I don’t know why you care that it is expensive when you have elf slaves to make things for you.  I think you are naughty for having slaves.”

What would you do next?  Jeremy’s parents decided another reply from Santa was needed: “Dear Jeremy, You are being a very bad little boy.  Because you cannot be happy with what you have, I have talked to your parents and told them to take away your Wii U.  Now you have nothing.  Once you learn to be grateful, perhaps you can have it back.  I am very disappointed in you, Jeremy.  You will need to be an extra good boy this year if you want to make it back on the nice list.  Santa.”

Jeremy is one unforgiving kid.  He wrote a third letter; “Deer Santa, I do not like that stunt you pulled with my parents.  You are on my naughty list.  Be afraid.  You look slow and easy to kill.  Enjoy your cookys next year because the will be poison.  I hope you die.  Jeremy.”  (Emphasis his.)

(You can see these notes for yourself at https://thoughtcatalog.com/callie-byrnes/2017/12/this-boy-didnt-get-everything-he-wanted-for-christmas-so-he-decided-to-get-back-at-santa-with-these-hilarious-letters/.)

I wonder what Jeremy’s Christmas will be like this year?!!  This is a sad and ridiculous example of how disappointment can overtake a person’s better judgment, resulting in toxic words and deeds.

Sadly, sometimes people have this kind of feeling toward God when His answers to their prayers don’t match up.  I know a very intelligent man who remains an unbeliever because his childhood prayers were not answered as he wanted.

Today, we hope to encourage you to pray by proving, with Jesus’ own words, that prayers to God are always heard, always answered, and always make a difference, even if the difference is limited to our own attitude.

  1. Be encouraged: God hears & answers seekers (7-8)

Three verbs appear twice: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  There is an ascending level of commitment/ involvement.  Each requires more of you.  The verbs are repeated for emphasis and to model persistence in prayer.

The tense of the verbs is called “infinitive,” which describes a constant, ongoing activity.  We are to keep on asking, never cease seeking, and keep on knocking on heaven’s gate.    Persevere in prayer until you receive a clear answer from God or He changes your mind.

As God knows what I need better than I do, and as He will do what He wills, why should I pray?  There are at least four excellent reasons to PRAY CONTINUALLY, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says.

The first is the most obvious: God commands prayer.  Be obedient and pray.

The second is that God designed prayer for our sake, not His.  Let’s be clear; God is not waiting for any of us to pray to “activate” His will.  He does not depend on us for anything.  Instead, He commands prayer because communication is key to all relationships and loving communication promotes loving relationships.  God commands prayer to deepen our spiritual maturity.

James 1:5-8 gives specifics on what our attitude should be when praying: IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, HE SHOULD ASK GOD, WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.  BUT WHEN HE ASKS, HE MUST BELIEVE AND NOT DOUBT, BECAUSE HE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, BLOWN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND.  THAT MAN SHOULD NOT THINK HE WILL RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD; HE IS A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN, UNSTABLE IN ALL THAT HE DOES.

Third, we should pray because Jesus’ promises regarding prayer are unconditional.  For example, in this passage EVERYONE’s prayer is answered.  When people talk about “unanswered prayer” they really mean is “God said ‘no’ or ‘wait,’ or said ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want.”

Fourth, the Bible clearly promises that prayer changes things; it has an effect on our world.  As James 5:16b says, THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.

  1. Be encouraged: God’s answer is always what’s best for you (9-11).

More than any earthly parent, God knows our needs.  He will not tease or do evil to us.  Nor is He a child-centered parent who will indulge our wants.  Jesus used humor to make this point:

BREAD versus STONE = Some loaves of bread are baked so hard they become stone-like, some stones take on an appearance similar to bread.

FISH versus SNAKE = Both fishes and snakes have scales, some snakes swim and eels look like snakes.

The point is, if our earthly parents (YOU WHO ARE EVIL) can be trusted to tell the difference and not give us something bad, we can trust God (who is good) to do even better.

Whether God’s answer is what we want or not is not important; it is not the basis for evaluating prayer.  Rest assured God’s answers are always GOOD GIFTS.  Our theology of prayer is not to be centered on us.  God’s answer to prayer reflects His nature and His will.  It is never about our sincerity, posture, gesture, or choice of words.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is false.  Prayer is designed by God to be humbling and focused on Him, because self-focus is hardly ever healthy or helpful.

Full disclosure: it gripes me when people preach negatively about prayer: “Don’t do this or that.”  They reveal their ignorance of Scripture and the true purpose of prayer.  The best prayers are like tears: they flow from a heart overrun with either happiness or sorrow.  Prayer is the inner self expressing itself to God; every other consideration is secondary at best.

  1. Be encouraged: life with God is simple (12).

There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Following Jesus is not easy in the sense that it is a lifelong commitment to change and growth; hardships will be faced, expectations raised, persecution endured.

But living for God is not complicated.  Jesus reduced our ethical life to two commands, both to love, and one simple rule on how to treat others: just the way we want to be treated.

In guiding people’s behavior, you can take two approaches.  The Legalistic approach is to try to anticipate every kind of wrongdoing and write a law to cover it.  Congress is an example of this approach of multiplying the rules.

The Principled approach is to advocate for what is good by setting forth principles.  Everything else is evil.  As an example of reducing the rules is our work on constitution review.  One of our goals is to streamline the current constitution.

The Golden Rule – like the board game “Othello” – “takes a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”  Using this rule requires us to embrace the principle of the preciousness of others.  Paul explained this principle: Philippians 2:3 = DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF.  See also Romans 13:10 = LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR.  THEREFORE LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.

We will always learn new ways and be confronted with new situation in which we can apply this principle, because Jesus said we were to apply it IN EVERTYTHING.  Motivation to use the Golden Rule is also quite simple: it comes from a love for self.  To the degree that we have a healthy self-image and take care of ourselves, it makes it easier for us to treat others in the same way. It may sound backward to say it this way, but a sensitivity to others is founded on knowledge of self; particularly what makes me feel loved.

Interestingly, a variation of the Golden Rule appears in all the world’s major religions.  However, Jesus is the only one who expressed the principle positively.  All others said it negatively; “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”  In this, Jesus sets an example of positivity that we should seek to follow.  His positive version embraces both sides of goodness: it is actively doing good works as well as avoiding evil ones.  Jesus’ version can be applied more broadly.

  1. How to help another seeker find God.

A = Active Listening (withhold your own opinions, suspend judgment for the moment).

B = Begin Where You Meet Them (match the need(s) they express with biblical teaching & church ministry).

C = Consider Their Experience (avoid using terms or making references that they don’t know).

D = Develop Your Own Story (stress points of your own experience common to all and/or similar to theirs).

E = Engage in Dialogue (your goal should be to do about half the talking and half the listening).

F = Find a Time to Continue the Conversation (initial encounters should be brief, later ones lengthier).

G = Get to an Application (an invitation to church is the place to start, invite a decision as the Spirit leads you).

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Earlier in Matthew’s version of these teachings, Jesus taught His disciples to avoid praying out of a hypocritical motive (to earn the praise of others).  In this section, He clarified what our motive for prayer should be.  Then He told us how to live out the godly life that goes into our prayers.

Teaching about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another should go hand in hand, because people who love God will love others.  The Bible teaches a lack of love for neighbor betrays a false love for God.

This is one reason I felt lead to express some “ABCs” of how we can have conversations about God even when we have just met the other person.  We do all we can on Sundays and Wednesdays to present the word of God truthfully and compellingly.  But the living out of that word is something we all must do as much outside the church walls as we do within.

During this season, many of us will spend more time out in the public than we normally do, as we search for Christmas gifts.  (After all, you don’t want to let Jeremy down again!!)  Part of our ambition for the remaining days before the Christmas Holy Day must be to use these public moments to tell others about Jesus.  It is wise for us to make best use of the public’s general affinity for Christmas to make Jesus Christ more widely known.

The first step is to not be in such a hurry.  Linger in public places, make time for conversations.  Then start some!  Make an invitation to church.  We will have Christmas Eve at 6 pm.  Do someone an act of kindness and explain why you did it.  Start somewhere!

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #929

The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, Scot McKnight

Planting Tears, Harvesting Joy

advent three(From http://www.lifeway.com/Article/devotions-christmas-advent-week-three-joy.)

Please read Psalm 126 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare this article.

Jesus is our joy.  Our joy is our strength.

          From an anonymous author and for your Advent enjoyment, I present a “Theology of Christmas Toys.”   This humorous article answers the question, “If adults were as concerned about toys as kids are, how would different faiths think about toys?”

  • Atheism: There is no toymaker.
  • Polytheism: There are many toymakers.
  • Darwinism: The toys made themselves.
  • Capitalism: Sell your toys.
  • Communism: Everyone gets the same number of toys.
  • Islam: You can only play with my toy. Get rid of yours or else.
  • Buddhism: The world would be a better place if we all stopped asking for toys.
  • Presbyterian: These toys were chosen for you to play with and these toys were chosen for me.
  • Methodist: Consult the “Book of Discipline” for the right method of playing with toys.
  • Episcopalian: We don’t care where the toys come from, we just play with them.
  • Baptist: We have played with this toy this way for years and we’re not about to change.
  • Unitarian: There are no bad toys or bad players.
  • Pentecostal: Real toys can speak in tongues.
  • Assembly of God: Name the toy and claim it.
  • Seventh Day Adventist: Eat your vegetables and play with your toys on Saturday only.
  • Christian Scientist: Broken toys are a figment of your imagination.
  • Amish: No toys with batteries.
  • Orthodox: There is only one toy and it is in our church. It was our toy first.
  • Catholic: No, it’s our toy.
  • Televangelist: Send me $100 and I’ll tell you how to get more toys.

(Adapted from the Joyful Noiseletter, Dec. 2010.)

It turns out that the real joy of this season was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” not in wrapping paper.  Do you want to have a joyous Christmas?  Focus on Christ.                2

  1. The LORD’s restoration is the peoples’ joy.

Restoration brings joy.  The word “restoration” is one of two key words in this passage.   It is described as A SONG OF ASCENTS; a hymn sung as people walked up the hill to the temple.

The historical occasion is the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. RESTORE OUR FORTUNES…LIKE STREAMS IN THE NEGEV (4).  Traditionally, this psalm is believed to have been written by Ezra, the priest who helped lead God’s people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple.  The joy of returning home was no doubt tempered when they saw the ruins of the city and fully realized the work that lay before them.  That’s why verse four feels a bit out of place – a downbeat among all the excitement.  In the Hebrew, the word RESTORE is in the imperative voice, so it’s pleading with God (use an “!”).

In the region of the NEGEV, the STREAMS have dry up over the summer.   When winter rains fall, even just an inch results in rushing waters & flash floods.  Ultimately the water revives the land: there are blossoms in the desert.  To the first readers of the song this would have been a dramatic illustration as they would have experienced this personally.

Spiritually, this image means we are restored from slavery to sin with its deadly effects.  We are restored to fellowship with God and one another.

“Joy” is the other key word.  Their joy upon returning home was so deep, it was beyond understanding: WE WERE LIKE THOSE WHO DREAMED (1).  Have you ever said to someone, “Pinch me; I must be dreaming” and regretted it later?  Deep joy is one of those rare moments when life feels too good to be true and we are overwhelmed by joy.  It’s a more common experience to anticipate something but still be overwhelmed when it actually happens.  This passage reads like the eyewitness account of someone who’s experienced this kind of joy personally.

In verse two their joy found expression.   OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER, OUR TONGUES WITH SOUNDS OF JOY.  The repetition of MOUTHS and TONGUES is for emphasis.  The point: joy is sometimes so powerful we can’t hold it in.

LAUGHTER and SOUNDS OF JOY may be the same thing, but they certainly come from the same thing: profound joy.  Whether we celebrate with laughter or song, God wants us to worship Him with joyous hearts.

This is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: LEAVE BABYLON, FLEE FROM THE BABYLONIANS!  ANNOUNCE THIS WITH SHOUTS OF JOY AND PROCLAIM IT.  SEND IT OUT TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH; SAY “THE LORD HAS REDEEMED HIS SERVANT JACOB.” (Isaiah 48:20)

The phrase IT WAS SAID AMONG THE NATIONS means the message of God’s restoring His people was spoken so widely and with such intensity of joy even pagan nations knew God had acted on their behalf.

The deepest joy flows from remembering all the GREAT THINGS God has done for us (v. 3).  God so worked on the heart of Cyrus, the Babylonian king, that he allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland without paying any ransom.  He allowed them to take back temple treasures and even aided their return and reconstruction with generous gifts.  When enemies tried to undermine the Jew’s efforts, Cyrus took their side.

The rebuilding of the city, its walls, and the temple within was no small feat.  The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the obstacles overcome to achieve this.

Tears are “joy seeds,” as affirmed in verses five and six.  THOSE WHO SOW WITH TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY (5). Obviously we don’t weep seeds, so this is a poetic, symbolic statement.  It is a promise that our sorrows are not wasted.  The tears we cry are like seeds in the sense that they will bring better days ahead.

THOSE WHO GO OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH THEM (6).

The Jews struggled to emerge from their captivity.  The promise is overcoming.  It will make a difference.  Tears of grief and frustration will become tears and songs of joy as God rewards faithfulness with fruitfulness.

The Bible is clear on this point: our TEARS are important to God; He sees them.  As a psalmist wrote: Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record? (Psalm 56:8)  Other versions translate this verse as saying God collects our tears in a bottle.

From Egyptian times to the American Civil War and even to today, people have used small bottles to collect their tears as a sign of grief at death or parting.  These bottles are called “lachrymatories.”  (You can order them online, spending from $7 to $70.)

The agricultural metaphor implies that restoration is a gift that demands effort on our part.  As we’ve learned recently, our part is to be faithful and trust that God will make us fruitful.  For them, this involved risk; seed was buried in the ground and if it didn’t produce a crop, there would NOT be any for next year’s planting.  Faithfulness requires risk.

  1. Jesus’ birth was a joyous occasion.

The MAGI/wise men rejoiced (Matthew 2:9-10).  AFTER THEY HAD HEARD THE KING, THEY WENT ON THEIR WAY, AND THE STAR THEY HAD SEEN WHEN IT ROSE WENT AHEAD OF THEM UNTIL IT STOPPED OVER THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE OVERJOYED.

Elizabeth and unborn John the Baptist rejoiced (LKE 1:44).  “AS SOON AS THE SOUND OF YOUR GREETING REACHED MY EARS, THE BABY IN MY WOMB LEAPED FOR JOY.”

Mary rejoiced (LKE 1:46).  “MY SOUL GLORIFIES THE LORD AND REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOR.”

In Luke 2, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna gave glory to God when they saw the baby Jesus, which is exactly the right thing to do when we experience godly joy.

It has been suggested that we proclaim 2018 to be a Year of Joy here at Emmanuel.  Sounds good.  But proclaiming requires doing or we’ve only succeeded in exchanging words.  We’d all like a 52 week break from negativity and worldly concerns.

Theologian Huston Smith is quoted, “At the center of the religious life is a peculiar kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful ordeals, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome.”
(Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/huston_smith_613775)