Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Reflection #8

This reflection also comes from Brennan Mannings' The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus and the chapter entitled "The Shipwrecked at the Stable."

"But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreaking of God Almighty, because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statute in a crib, He comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that He came to light."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Christmas Reflection #7

On a recent trip to California to attend a senior adult ministry conference, I had a chance to read Brennan Manning's (author of The Ragamuffin Gospel) book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.  The final chapter is entitled "The Shipwrecked at the Stable" and contains this paragraph.

"The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances; no one can say exactly where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and His chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God."

I love the expression Manning uses to describe those who gathered to witness and celebrate Jesus' birth--the shipwrecked at the stable.  For many whose ships have been dashed upon the rocks and shoals of stormy seas, the promised Messiah waits to bring hope, wholeness, and healing.  Love's greatest gift, heaven's stooping to earth to bless us with the birth of God's Son, is a priceless possession offered freely to all who by grace will accept His salvation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Christmas Reflection #6

Here's the latest installment of Christmas reflections.  This one comes from this month's issue of Joyful Tidings, our senior adult newsletter.

When God chose to announce the birth of His Son in Bethlehem, He didn’t call a press conference or leak the news story to the Jerusalem Tribune. There was no social media network to employ like Facebook or Twitter, so God did the next best thing He could do. He sent a choir of angels to some shepherds who were tending their flocks on the Judean hillsides outside of the city of David. That might seem like an odd choice on His part if the purpose of the announcement was indeed to broadcast the news of the Messiah’s coming. Common sense would dictate that employing some official channel of communication would function better than revealing this momentous event to a class of society looked down upon by the general public. God’s plans rarely coincide with ours though.

As it turns out, God’s choice of the shepherds proved to be fortuitous. These nomadic wanderers would crisscross the Palestinian landscape throughout the year, moving their herds in search of green pastures and fresh water. Undoubtedly for years to come after the night that they paid a visit to a young couple in a Bethlehem stable and observed the young boy lying in a manger, they repeated the story of what they had experienced. The dazzling light from heaven, the angel’s astounding message of good news of great joy for all people, and the angelic choir singing God’s praises must have been topics of conversation with other wandering shepherds each time they camped and sat around a nighttime fire.

I think that’s the best possible explanation for the amazing response of the people to the preaching of John the Baptist when he emerged as the forerunner for Jesus’ public ministry. For almost thirty years the people had heard stories of that night’s miraculous events, and now they were eager to hear the one whose message pointed to the Messiah’s appearing. May we also like the shepherds never tire of telling the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An Amazing Story

I'm interrupting my series on Christmas Reflections to highlight something that really touched me today.  If you don't regularly read Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like, you are missing a real treat.  Today's blog post deals with the story of how God used a flute that was included in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox to touch lives in Vietnam.  It's definitely worth reading, but you might want to make sure you have a Kleenex nearby as you read it.  Here's the link.

Christmas Reflection #5

This latest installment of Christmas musings and reflections comes from last year's Joyful Tidings.

I was re-reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth this week in preparation for Advent and the celebration of Christmas. A verse I had read dozens of times spoke to me in a new way. Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph’s planned response when he learns that Mary is expecting a child. He clearly knows that he isn’t the father, and the law of Moses would have allowed him to have her publicly shamed and stoned to death as an adulterer. He would have assumed of course that the child had been fathered by another man as there was no other logical, human explanation for her pregnancy. The Bible says that because Joseph was a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, he decided to send her away secretly.

That statement prompted me to think about how true righteousness impacts the way we live. Far too often, the pharisaical kind of self-righteousness that so many practice leads to condemnation and harsh judgment of others who fall into sin. Joseph’s righteousness prompted him to exhibit grace toward Mary—not “ungrace,” to borrow a term from Phillip Yancey. Even as heartbroken as he must have been at the thought of her infidelity, his love for Mary prompted Joseph to show grace and protect her from both shame and death. His actions strongly suggest those that his earthly son Jesus would later take when confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The passage suggests that true righteousness isn’t displayed most clearly by the visible sins that it is willing to denounce, but by the love and grace it shows toward those who stumble and fall. The Christmas message is that God’s love and grace led Him to give His Son for a stumbling and fallen humanity—each and every one of us.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Christmas Reflection #4

Here's another Christmas reflection from a previous edition of our senior adult newsletter.  This one comes from the 2009 Joyful Tidings.

One of my favorite Christmas songs of recent years is an arrangement done by Point of Grace called “Let There be Light.” There’s a verse in it that speaks so powerfully to my heart about the mystery of the incarnation and the glorious truth that God chose to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The verse says,

He spoke after centuries of silence
In the midst of a still, starry night.
And Immanuel came down among us
And the Father said, “Let there be light!”

Two or three things jump out at me from this beautiful song. First, God broke His silence of approximately four hundred years since the time of the final Old Testament prophet Malachi when He sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son to some common shepherds tending their flocks on a hillside near Bethlehem. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Surely the nation of Israel was longing for a fresh word from God after four centuries of silence, and God answered their hearts’ plea with a definitive word by sending them His Son.

Secondly, the word Immanuel is highly instructive. As the angel appeared to Joseph to assure him that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to him but rather that the baby she carried was a miraculous gift of God, he told Joseph that the baby was to be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The God of the universe invaded planet Earth in the person of Jesus to reveal God to us and to redeem us from our sins.

Finally, the text of the song imaginatively records God the Father saying once again, even as He had at the dawn of creation, “Let there be light!” While perhaps those very words weren’t uttered by the angelic hosts, the message certainly was present. Writing in the prologue to his gospel in John 1:4-5, the beloved apostle penned these words, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” I’m so grateful at this Christmas season as we observe the beautiful decorative lights, that God sent the true Light, His Son, into the world to show us His love.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas Reflection #3

This reflection is a bit more current than the recent two.  It's something I shared with the church family in this week's newsletter.

I suspect that many of you who grew up in Baptist churches share a similar experience of not being introduced to Advent celebrations until in recent years.  I don't recall my small hometown church in Texas ever even mentioning the word during our preparation for Christmas.  We would typically prepare a Christmas cantata, the children's choir would sing, and we would often go caroling from house to house in our town, but Advent as such was unknown.

I'm grateful that more and more Baptist churches are including Advent in their church calendars as we approach the Christmas season.  The emphasis upon waiting for the Lord's coming and celebrating His arrival reminds us anew and afresh of the significance of Jesus' birth and God breaking into history after almost four centuries of silence.  With the passing on the last Old Testament prophets, it must have seemed to the Israelites that the heavens had been sealed tightly, for no fresh word was received from God for four hundred years.  Surely devout Jews continued to anticipate the coming of the long-promised Messiah, but many generations passed without experiencing the fulfillment of that prophetic promise.  

When God did break that silence, it was certainly worth it, for He chose not to merely speak through another prophet but to become a man and live among us.  I love how John expresses that truth in John 1:14 when he writes that the eternal Word "tabernacled" among us.  For a period of thirty years, God pitched His tent among humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  That's good news worth celebrating and sharing in this season.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Reflection #2

This reflection is taken from the December 2006 edition of Joyful Tidings.

As we prepare to celebrate the gift of God’s Son to the world in this Christmas season, my thoughts turn to birthday celebrations. Christmas is the celebration of the greatest gift that we have ever received, but it also marks a very special birthday—the birth of our Savior, when God’s Son assumed human flesh and entered the world in the most humble of circumstances. Rather than in a royal palace with comfortable and luxurious surroundings, God purposed that His Son would be born in a stable, with a feeding trough for animals as His crib. The birth announcement wasn’t proclaimed to the rulers or the wealthy upper classes, but the angels’ song came to some lowly shepherds tending their flocks on the Judean hillsides near Bethlehem. How characteristic of God that the poor should be the first to learn of the Messiah’s birth.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth was also in many ways a subdued affair. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to the stable where they found Mary and Joseph and the baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes as the angels had said. They shared with Jesus’ parents about the angels’ appearance and the words that they had heard. Then they returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. They brought no gifts to the newborn child and His family, other than their own presence. Perhaps that suggests to us that the greatest gift we can offer to the Lord in this Christmas season is the gift of ourselves to Him. As senior adults, many find themselves with much more time on their hands than at any previous stage of life. That time can be well spent in serving the Lord and in demonstrating God’s love to those around us in many practical ways.

I hope in the coming year to help our senior adults focus even more on service and ministry projects in addition to our wonderful times of fellowship and inspiration. Frederick Buechner writes the following about our vocations, but I believe his words apply to ministry in retirement as well. “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs you to have done ... The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” May the joy of the Lord be yours in this Christmas season as you serve Him wholeheartedly.