33. Into Waiting

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.33

33. Into Waiting

Matt 2:21-23 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel . But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.

We’ve seen over these past weeks that it’s all about God communicating with ordinary people and doing extraordinary things with them, as He brings His Son onto the earth. We’ve commented on how it’s so easy to become over familiar with the story and lose the wonder of what was happening. It’s a story of angels and of miracles of conception, of movement around the country at the whim of an emperor, and then out of the country by the guidance of God. Yes, we saw all the preamble, the birth, the shepherds, the wise men, the welcoming team in the temple and the flight to Egypt.

It’s like we’ve come to the closing scene of an epic film. All the big events have happened and now it’s anti-climax at the end. If you saw the Lord of the Rings films, you may remember at the end of the first film, after all the fighting, the hero and his helper slip quietly away in a little boat. After all the things that had gone before, it’s now a quiet, low-key ending – but we all knew there were lots more to come! That’s how it is at the end of what we refer to as ‘The Christmas Story’.

Joseph’s had his dream with an angel and starts to take the little family home. When he gets back to Israel he hears that the Herod dynasty still continues and so keeps on going, back up north to Galilee, to Nazareth. There’s mention of a dream – whether it’s the original one saying go home, or another one, is not clear. The fact is they reach home in the north and that’s where they settle. For us, in a few days time, Christmas and all its activities will be a past memory, and we look forward to just getting back on with life after the holidays, back to normality. That’s possibly how it was with Mary and Joseph. The great adventure, all the travelling, has come to an end, and so now they can settle down to normal life as a family. That’s how it will be for twelve years, until Jesus gives his mother cause to wonder some more (see Lk 2:41-52). It will be about thirty years before it all really starts to happen and until then it’s just a time of waiting, although they might not have been very sure about that. But that’s how life with God is: exciting one day, unsure the next.

Well, the year is almost at an end; in a day or so it will be New Year’s Day, and another year awaits us. What will it hold? We don’t know. What we do know though, is that God is there working out His purposes in perfect precision – which often means slowly – and so the call on us as we come to the end of this Advent series, is to remember the truths we have learned and to so remain faithful to the revelation we’ve had so far, and to watch and wait and be obedient as He leads us out in His purposes.

32. God’s Time

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.32

32. In God’s Time

Matt 2:19,20 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel , for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

Have you ever had a time in life when everything seemed to go wrong and you were left wondering whether you even had any future at all? Life is full of upheavals that sometimes we would prefer to call catastrophes. One minute everything was going fine, and then either gradually bit by bit, or even perhaps suddenly, it all started changing and you were left alone and in despair.

Well, the Bible is full of such incidents. Moses, the Prince of Egypt, was one such person. There he was; his future certain, as an adopted prince of the king of Egypt . But he’s aware that he’s different; he’s aware he’s an Israelite by birth, and one day he tries to help his birth-people and ends up killing an Egyptian. He has to flee the country and for the next forty years he is looking after sheep in the wilderness hundreds of miles away. Without doubt he must have given up any hope of any meaningful future. He would simply die as an unknown shepherd miles from anywhere. And then God turned up, and he became one of the most significant men in history!

But it doesn’t have to be forty years to feel you have no future. After the pain of personal failure, any period is too long. We don’t know for sure just how long Joseph and Mary and their baby were in Egypt, but they must have been wondering about the future, wondering what had happened. A year ago they were happily engaged in Nazareth, and now here they are hundreds of miles away in a foreign land with a tiny baby to look after. The visit of the angel to Mary was probably now over a year back and in a year your memory begins to dull, and when everything has not worked out as you expected, you can be left wondering was it all a dream – but then there is the baby!

How long will we be here? Will God speak to us again? Will it ever be safe for us to return? Surely these must have been some of the questions going through their minds. One long day followed another. Did Joseph get a job or did they just live off the gifts the wise men had brought them? This is not their land. These are not their people. What are we doing here? And then God spoke. The trouble about this is that we can go weeks or months just wondering and then, it’s as if He came suddenly, and He spoke. There is usually no warning. He just turns up and speaks. A few hours before you might have been wondering if you’ll ever hear from Him again, and then without any fanfare He speaks – and it all starts over again! Is this Him or is it wishful thinking. Joseph has another dream and the angel appears again but now to tell him it is all right to return home; it’s safe now!

Do you see this? So often we just read this story with so little thought. Oh, Joseph had another dream; how nice! Yes, but that was after days and weeks and months of uncertainty. If you think the Christian life is one of daily conversations with God, you are half right. You can talk and talk and talk (it’s called praying) but sometimes it seems like a brick wall and you hear nothing in return. Then – at just the right moment – He speaks. You’d almost given up, but He hadn’t! If you haven’t ever seen how important timing is with God, check it out – Rom 5:6, Gal 4:4, Gal 6:9, Mk 1:15, Matt 10:19, Mt 26:18, Jn 7:6,8. Jn 7:30. Oh yes, it’s all about right timing and God knows when it is, so rest in that knowledge today. Your times are in His hands. Be patient and rejoice in that!

31. Harms Way

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.31

31. Out of Harm’s Way

Matt 2:14,15 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The world in which we live today seems increasingly unstable. Three or four years ago, terrorist threat became a very real feature of modern life and that has continued. In the past years the forces of nature have also wreaked havoc in many parts of the world, and it seems that no area of safe from possible natural catastrophe. Fear has become a very real part of many people’s lives as society has changed out of all recognition from fifty years ago. Where is there some source of stability?

As we look into these verses today and yesterday, we find our answer. Hollywood has produced various films where rogue government groups hunt the hero. This could be one such story and the rogue authority is Herod. He is shortly going to have every child under the age of two killed in an attempt to purge the land of a potential competitor to his family dynasty. Very soon the land is going to be very unsafe for this little family; their lives are under a very real threat, even if they don’t realise it fully yet.

And that’s where God’s intervention comes in. God has bound Himself to permit us free will – and that includes allowing evil men to be evil, so the murder of the infants will happen. As terrible as that is, it cannot be avoided. This is what sinful men do! However, while the plans of Herod are being made, the Lord speaks to His servant, Joseph, in a dream, knowing that this is a man who has proved that he listens and obeys. Possibly God was speaking to all the other parents with young children, but few if any heard.

Where does Joseph and Mary’s security come from? It comes from hearing God’s words of guidance and protection and responding to them. Note the twofold aspect of that. God speaks AND they obey. God could have spoken and they refused to go. In such a case Jesus would have been killed! No, their security came from obeying what God said to them; it was that which put them out of harm’s way. Does God not move sovereignly to protect His children? Yes He does, but more often than not, it seems that He wants our co-operation. The story of Peter’s escape from prison, from the plans of a later Herod (see Acts 12), is a classic example of this. God’s angel told him what to do and opened up doors for him, but he still had to get up, get dressed and follow the angel, step by step, out of the prison. Do you see this? Our security is not some passive thing, whereby we just sit back and let God pander to us. He wants us to be an active part of His plans and so He involves us in our deliverance from harm.

Is this easy? Is this easy, this listening to God and responding to Him? In as much as it requires us to learn to listen to Him, and the old natural ‘us’ would prefer to reason out our own lives, no, it’s not easy, but this is how it works! It’s what we’ve been saying again and again: this Christmas story is not a comfortable soft and mushy children’s story; it is an account of how God actually moved in the affairs of men and women, and it challenges us who call ourselves His children, to walk in the same way as them – the way of faith. When we learn to do this, we can be at peace, in the strong assurance that God is for us, and He who knows all things will lead and guide us – as much as we will allow Him to lead and guide! Maybe you have a steep learning curve ahead it you – but it’s worth it! Go for it!

30. Dream On

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.30

30. Dream On!

Matt 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt . Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

There are two forms of belief that are equally bad. There is the belief that there is no God, the belief of atheism that flies in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, but there is also the belief that there is a God but He stands outside of this world and has nothing to do with it. Now although all Christians, hopefully, would deny the latter belief, many in fact live as if it were true. In how many churches, and in how many Christians, is there the belief that God talks to his people? Again, many will say that He does, but live like He doesn’t! That is tragic, so we must look at these verses carefully.

Already we’ve seen dreams as a form of guidance twice in the Christmas story. Joseph is with Mary as the result of a dream. He committed his life to her on the strength of a dream. The wise men didn’t go back home via Herod as the result of a dream. Now Joseph has another dream, warning him to take the family south, out of the country into Egypt, before Herod comes searching for the child.

Now consider this more fully. How easy would it have been for Mary to say to Joseph, “Oh, don’t be silly, you’re just worrying unnecessarily. It’s probably because of what those strange men from the East said. Let’s just go home.” How easy it is to write off or find reasons to counter such things. This is the thing about divine guidance; most of the time there is room to doubt it. That’s what faith is about. It’s about responding simply to what God says, and that requires a belief, first of all, that it was God speaking. This is what makes the Christmas story so uncomfortable – when you stop to think about it. It’s about people who get tenuous guidance and base their lives on that. It reminds us that Christians are called to life by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and as one well-known preacher said a number of years ago, “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K!”

As we come near to the end of the year, the challenge that this story brings us, again and again, is will we be like these people in this story, will we simply respond to the simple word from God? In one sense, all else is secondary. It’s come up before in this story, and we need to hear it again – and again! Will we give ourselves to what God says? Sometimes we will hear His fresh word very clearly, and in those times it will be relatively easy to do His will. When we’ve had a ‘mountaintop experience’ and the presence of God has been very real, at that point it seems very easy to say, yes, I’ll go, I’ll do it! But what about those other times, the times that are, realistically, the majority of the times, when we are walking alone in the valley – for that’s what it feels like! At those times will our faith be expressed in keeping on faithfully doing the things He’s spoken in His word, the Bible, or the last thing He spoke to us at the last mountaintop experience?

Jesus once put it very simply: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). What he was saying was, when he returns will he find us full of faith, being who we’re called to be, doing what we’ve been called to do, with an ear open to heaven? Joseph heard God through dreams. That was the way the Lord seemed to use most with him. What is it or what will it be with you? Will you hear through His word, through the preaching, or through the quiet nudge of the Spirit? Dream on, read on, listen on, continue to be sensitive – or learn to hear through one or more of these ways. There’s nothing more important than hearing God – except obeying what you hear!

29. A Child is Born

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.29

29. A Son is Born!

Isa 9:6 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As we have gone through these Advent meditations, there has been a tendency to try to put ourselves in the place of the people concerned, in order to catch the reality of the events and the possible impact upon us today. In doing this we have almost ignored the baby! In a sense the baby is the most important person in the story but, by necessity, we focus on the people involved with the baby. In the last of these meditations we now seek to remedy that by looking at this Old Testament prophecy about this coming one.

A child…. a son is given….. the prophecy is all about a male human baby yet to be born who, from the descriptions that follow, will be far from ordinary, who will be ‘given’ as a gift from God!

…. and the government will be on his shoulders… he will carry the burden of rule, a quaint way of saying he will be a king.

….And he will be called…. when you call somebody something, you are acknowledging who or what they are.

Wonderful Counsellor… this is literally wonder-counsellor or supernatural counsellor, one who will come with great wisdom and insight that is beyond human capability. When Jesus came he came with a different level of teaching (Mk 1:23,27, Mt 22:33) and knew what people were thinking (Mt 12:25, Mk 2:8, Lk 5:22, 6:8, 11:17) and stopped with mouths of the religious teachers with his wisdom and insight.

Mighty God… what a staggering prophetic claim! The word mighty gives no room to go off into wondering if the prophet was going off into some fantasy New Age speculations, (“we are all gods”). No this is Isaiah saying this child will be Almighty God. Of course, as we’ve noted a number of times, this defies our intellect and was therefore a stumbling block for the Jewish teachers. But this is at the core of the Christmas story – today we celebrate the coming of God Himself to live on the earth in human experience!

Everlasting Father… again there is no room given by the prophet for us to speculate about this coming child. Everlasting has to speak of God Himself for no other being is eternal or everlasting. The concept of God as Father was limited in the Old Dispensation, and only came to fullness when God came in the form of His “Son”. Contrary to the so-often terrible role models of today, this Father is a faithful, caring, compassionate and understanding provider who is always there for His children – which is what He calls us when we come to Him (Jn 1:12, 1Jn 3:1). Within these latter two descriptions so far, is the sense of unity. Jesus is the Son, but he’s also one with the Father (Jn 10:30 ,38, 14:9). John makes over 110 references to the Father in his Gospel! He understood something of the incredible concept that Jesus was sharing.

Prince of Peace…. a prince is a son of a ruler… hence Jesus the Son of the Almighty Ruler of all things. His role? To bring peace between God and man, to reconcile us sinners to Holy God (Rom 5:11, 2 Cor 5:19). This is what this baby is going on to do. Without him we would be estranged from God and could never know the wonder of His loving acceptance and the blessings that follow.

That is the wonder of this day – God has come to bring the means to bring us to Himself. Rejoice in it! Celebrate it! Worship Him!  Have I received this gift from God?  Has Jesus become the ruler of my life?  Have I acknowledged him for who he is? Is he my counsellor, the one who knows all about me and who guides me?  Do I acknowledge him as God? Is he the way to my knowing the Father, the one who cares for me and provides for me?  Have I received the peace he brings?

If I can respond in the affirmative to all these questions then the only thing left is to thank God for all of those things –  for my gift of life, the leader of my life, the bringer of wisdom and all else that I need, my entry to heaven, my peace here on the earth.

Lord I thank you for all these things. Thank you for this day! Thank you for Jesus!

28. Worshipping Providers

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.28


28. Worshipping Providers

Matt 2:11,12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

We are almost there. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. For a large percentage of the population it will be a day of presents, large amounts of food and drink, possibly too much TV and, for some, parties into the night. There will be a tiny minority who will totally ignore the day, but in the middle of these two groups will be those of us who want to appreciate the day in the traditional way with Christmas lunch and so on, but who also want to hold onto the truth and wonder if what we believe, according to the Bible, took place on this day slightly more than 2000 years ago. For Christians it’s always an odd sort of day, trying to balance these things, but then the Christmas story is an odd sort of story. Today’s verses are about those who came and worshipped the baby. Can we retain worship in all that happens tomorrow?

The ‘Wise Men’ are a great example of worshippers. They worship the newly arrived Son of God by bowing down and by giving to him. It is a faith that expresses itself by far more than just words or certain spiritual actions. It is a faith that provides for him. Now isn’t that strange! God arrives on the earth in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby, complete with all the limitations of a baby. He’s going to grow, this baby, and when he’s fully grown, the power of God is going to flow through him as never seen before or since; he is God on earth. But, for the time being he is reliant upon Mary and Joseph to care for him and now, for the wise men to provide for him. Yes, God can do miracles, like providing life where there is none, but having done that He so often wants to use us as the means of further provision. The Christian life is a life of partnership with God (1 Cor 3:9. 2 Cor 6:1). Thus we’re told to work out our salvation, because God is also working in us (Phil 2:12,13).

So these worshippers come and provide for the child. They provide Gold, currency in any day. This is God’s immediate bank account for this little family. Frankincense is a pure incense used for worship offerings and for wedding processions in the Bible. Myrrh, another perfume was used as a perfume for bridal processions, and for funerals. Whether the two perfumes were given as symbols of what would be involved in this child’s life or whether they were just given as alternative forms of currency, things that could be sold for money, is not clear. They are however, clearly expensive gifts, lavish gifts, gifts what could be purely ornamental, but also very practical.

Some say the practice of giving gifts at Christmas (which is not done by Christians all over the world) derived from the Wise Men. Giving is a practice very much at the heart of love for God. For the Christian it is not just a ritual done to appease God, for He doesn’t need appeasing. It is a response of a freed-up heart that sees need and gladly rises up to meet it. In a world where so many charities clamour for our attention we need to learn to respond to God’s prompting to give, not the emotional pressures of advertising agencies working for such charities. Giving starts with those closest to us in need. Giving comes with a heart of love, a love that is moved by compassion and moved by relationship. John picked this up in his letter (1 Jn 3:17) as did James (Jas 2:15,16). We become providers for others, knowing God will provide for us (Phil 4:19).

Having come as worshippers, these men find a new form of guidance, as they too move into the realm of guidance by dreams! Yes, there is a truth here: true worshippers come into a new closeness with God where they can hear His guidance more clearly. May we each know it! May we bow before him today and tomorrow and every day and may we let nothing detract from our worship and become a people guided and directed by God for ever more.

27. Simple Seekers

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.27

27. Simple Seekers

Matt 2:9,10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Because we live in a scientific age, because we have TV’s, Hi-Fi’s, and Computers, and because many of us work in activities that are constantly measuring our work or our progress or our development, we tend to think we are clever people who have got life under control. The arrival of so-called ‘reality shows’ on TV should, however, alert us to the true reality of life. Watching families where the parents have lost control, families where the main partners are only too glad to get out and try a swap, or watching ‘Big-Brother’ or ‘Get me out of here’ shows, should make us realize that many of us are far from in control of our lives. We are actually unable to be in control and ‘be nice’. Nevertheless we do so often think we’ve got it sorted, simply because we know lots of information or have been through certain sorts of training. This makes us people who are not good in the simple faith realm of God’s kingdom.

Yet that is what believers, Christians, are called to do, to have simple faith. Now these ‘wise men’ put us to shame. They’ve come all this way because ‘something’ tells them there is a new super-king arrived on the planet who deserves their worship. They’ve got the last stage guidance from the leaders in Jerusalem who, you might note, don’t come with them – and they still follow the star! He’s in Bethlehem , they’ve been told, so why not just go straight there? Do you see what happens when you start thinking about aspects of this story? You have to start asking questions.

What are they actually doing? They are checking their guidance with the guidance of the people of Jerusalem.  But a star???? A meteorite perhaps? What sort of guidance about something that has happened on the earth, is that? Pretty freaky! Now don’t take this as an excuse to read your ‘stars’ in the paper. Doing that is a man-centred, man-devised, and a sign of being godless. If you need to think about that, just ask yourself, does ‘reading the stars’ draw you close to God and evoke worship in you? No? Well that’s what following this star did for these men!

Seriously, the simplicity of these men leaves our so-called modern minds befuddled. They leave us with our mouths hanging open. They know what they’re doing, these men, and it’s so simple! God has told them to follow a star. How do I know that? Well think about the possibilities. Would Satan tell them to go and worship Jesus? I think not! Who else knows about this? No one! As we might say today, the proof of the pudding is in the eating! These men travel hundreds of miles – without global positioning satellite navigation systems – and they arrive exactly at the place where the baby has been born! This may be freaky guidance – but it works!

That’s where we come back to simple faith. It may be that just recently you’ve responded to the promptings of these meditations and you’ve entered a new-found relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Welcome to the ‘Walking by Faith Club’! What is that? It’s being one of God’s kids, being led by His Holy Spirit in your daily walk with Him, responding to the promptings He gives you, checking it against His word, the Bible, and then just stepping out. You know what happens when you do that? You encounter Jesus and you realise the wonder of what is happening, you are overjoyed, and you worship! Go for it! The Wise Men did, and it worked for them!