31. Egypt?

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 31. Egypt?

Mt 2:13 “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.”

Sneaky or clever films don’t end up as you think they are going to end. In fact life frequently doesn’t end up in the direction you think it will go. Some of us make great provision for our children’s education and give them every opportunity in life, but you can never be sure how they will end up, because life is all about people with free will and, as Solomon showed, even the wise can get it seriously wrong. This is not to be pessimistic but just realistic and it is into that realism we are to guide our lives as much as we are able.

We have just seen Joseph and Mary provided for by the Wise Men  but shortly afterwards Joseph has another of his convincing dreams, to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt because Herod will soon be sending soldiers to kill his son. He has learned that such dreams from God are to be followed and so the little family goes south. Very often in dramatic novels in the back part it goes very dark and it looks like the hero or heroine’s life is under threat, and then comes the wonder, they find a way through.

Joseph has no way of ‘finding a way through’, He has no power, he has no influence, he cannot persuade Herod to spare his son. All he can do is rely on the guidance God is giving him and trust that it will eventually work out all right. Centuries before Hosea had written, When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hos 11:1) It was no doubt originally a reference to the Exodus, but Matthew, ever looking for prophetic input to lighten what was happening in the present, picked up on this (Mt 2:15), suggesting that, yes, this had been part of the divine plan known about long before by God; this was no accident.

Why does the Messiah end up in Egypt? Is that the end? Does Israel miss out on his life? I ask these simple almost naïve questions to highlight the point – this is simply the next stage of this saga and we now know how it continued and how they returned to Nazareth and the rest, as they say, is history. Wherever we are in the 2020 Pandemic saga, and currently there is light at the end of the tunnel as far as vaccine is concerned, it has not ended. There is more to come but wherever it goes, we go with God. He never abandoned His Son in Egypt; He will not abandon us in this alien health and declining economic environment we have been in this year. Wherever the year ahead leads us, be at peace in Him. Kneel and commit the coming year to Him, committing your life to following Him wherever He leads. He has more on His heart for you and me. Amen

30. Wise Men

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 30. Wise Men

Mt 2:1 Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”

As we approach the end of this year and look back, one of the many things we have been learning in the midst of the Pandemic is to appreciate people. Facebook, each morning, pours a wave of people from around the world that I know as well as people in my locality. What a varied bunch we are, all with our different concerns, different outlooks, different hopes and dreams. Ask people how they come to have those particular hopes and dreams and you will find a host of stories that show the variety of the human experience – with God..

These Advent accounts have all been about people. Not Christmas presents, not decorations or recipes for Christmas food. Those are things that are gone so quickly but people last, people endure; even in the awfulness of a Pandemic, most of us are still here.  We will be contributors to next year, we will each continue to add our part to that which we call history. We will each have our sphere of influence, people our lives interact with, unknown to the vast majority. Things will happen, people will be met, about who at this moment we have no thought, for the future is always mostly unknown.

And so it was with this little family we have been focusing on. They are still in Bethlehem, Joseph no doubt finding local carpentry work in and around that small town. They have no idea but God has for some time now been guiding some men who will be turning up soon with gifts of such value, when sold they will provide security for some time to come.

Magi (priest magicians), astronomers, wise men, call them what you will but not Jews or Israelites. Foreigners or aliens, strange men with gifts. One thing they were sure of was that they were led to find the newly born ‘king of the Jews’ before whom they would worship (suggesting something more than an ordinary king). God looks for people with open hearts, often people we wouldn’t have chosen,  people He can draw into His plans and purposes. These men add life and color into the lives of this little family still in Bethlehem.  Would we have welcomed these strange men? Could God have called us to follow his ‘star’? Interesting thoughts for meditation. They expand our understanding of the ways of God who does things beyond our understanding. Led by a star? Astronomers? From Mesopotamia? Non-Jews to bless a Jewish family? Boundary crossers?  Strange, different from ‘us’. Has the year of Pandemic opened our minds to new things, new ways of living, of worshiping? Or are we still trying to regain the old ways? Watch out for more ‘wise men’ who God may bring into our lives.

29. Welcome (2)

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 29. Welcome (2)

Lk 2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna…. She was very old

The values of the world are very different from the values of the kingdom of God. For instance, the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Cor 3:19) meaning all human self-endeavours come to nothing, so often human wisdom falls short, human plans come tumbling down around our ears. Or try God’s dealings with Paul,”my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) Or Paul’s assessment of the whole thing: God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28)

I say all this because we have come to that point in Jesus’ history where in the temple Simeon has just been prophetically blessing the little family and then come a few lines about Anna. She’s nobody famous, in fact the temple authorities probably thought her a bit weird: “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Lk 2:37) She’s an eighty-four year old widow and all that is recorded of her is, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (v.38) And that’s it. But she gets remembered and Luke writes about her. It’s not much it seems, but perhaps in heaven she was one who was well known and highly esteemed.

This glorious, aged saint declaring the wonder of the Lord, is an example to the younger generations, an example for religious people who base their lives on ritual and rules. She Has a heart given over to God. She fits into the gallery of faith in Heb 11 (no, she’s not mentioned there), as one  who fits, “the world was not worthy of them.” (Heb 11:38) These are days for the aged. Put aside fears of Covid for the older generation, let’s pray for a ‘grey army’ who will be there filled with the Spirit and declaring, “The Lord is upright; he is my rock.” (Psa 92:14,15) She too recognized that the baby being presented was the chosen one of Israel. Can she, as well as Simeon be an example to those of us in the older age bracket to stand out as beacons of truth and love and goodness, still revealing the Lord to the world wherever we are given the opportunity, can we go for that? Put aside all the lies of the enemy that tell us, “Your day is gone, there’s nothing left for you. Be quiet. Sit in the corner and shut up.” Total lies. Anna shows that and is esteemed in heaven for it. If you consider yourself one of the ’little people’ in this world, think again! The world needs you.

28. Welcome

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 28. Welcome

Lk 2:25 there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon.”

Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, as we saw yesterday, walk in to Jerusalem to go to the temple to present Jesus to God, offer sacrifices and pay the redemption money for him.

We often think no one was expecting God to turn up after four hundred years of silence from heaven.  Zechariah certainly hadn’t been and Mary was surprised, but there is a Spirit-filled believer living either in Jerusalem or nearby, open to the Spirit’s guidance: the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Lk 2:25,26) What an example! A man with a heart open to God who, despite living in spiritually dark days, heard God. Moreover, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (v.27)

Three mentions of the Spirit, and so when the little family arrives, perhaps it is not surprising that he prays with prophetic understanding (v.29-32) and goes on to bless them with further prophetic understanding (v.34,35). In this day he is quite remarkable and stands out like a candle in the darkness.

In some ways he is the biggest challenge in the whole story. The others – Zechariah, Mary and Joseph – all had strong angelic visitations that impelled them along the course they are now on, but Simeon has no such strong encounters, just that of the Holy Spirit. He is not called a prophet (unlike Anna who follows) but an ordinary “righteous and devout” believer who is clearly open to God. Thus, when all around have given up any great expectations of God turning up for their nation and have resorted to ritual and law-based religion, this man is a demonstration of a child of God who is open to the Spirit and thus finds himself in a place where he is able to welcome the Messiah-child and bless his parents in prayer and prophecy.

In the post-birth accounts we are seeing examples that should challenge us as we near the end of the present dark year and wonder about the year to come. The shepherds with their open hearted, joyful reception of the good news, the wise men who traveled hundreds of miles to worship and bless God, Mary and Joseph who come in obedience with grateful and thankful hearts, and now Simeon, living in the Spirit, open to God, yearning for God, available to God, and who receives the privilege of blessing both God and His instruments who have been the vessels to bring the Son of God onto the world’s stage. Dare we pray, “Lord, make me like this old man, open to your Spirit when others are missing out. May I be light in the darkness.”    

27. Obedience

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 27. Obedience

Lk 2:22 Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”

A little over a month has passed and the little family must have found a more permanent place to stay in Bethlehem. Now these are a couple who are concerned to obey the Law of God so they walk into Jerusalem a few miles away, to the temple to make an offering to say thank you to God.

But it was more than being merely thankful, it was an act of obedience to the Law: “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” This righteous couple have clearly been taught in the synagogue each week and they know the rules and rituals of Judaism. Lev 12:1-4 lays down the rules after childbirth, a forty day period in which the woman is considered ‘ritually or ceremonially unclean’. This does not mean she was dirty but for the sake of the rituals of Israel, it was simply that she was not in a fit state to participate in such rituals, she was still getting over childbirth and needed to rest from such rituals, which would be a relief for her. However, to both recognize that as from God and that it had now come to an end, there came ‘purification’, bringing two offerings (Lev 12:6), a burnt offering (simply to establish fellowship with God and a sin offering (to acknowledge need of cleansing, forgiveness etc., all of us sinners before God), both acts indicating that she is re-establishing her part in the covenant worshiping community. After a time aside, focusing on having the baby, she is now reassured she is back part of God’s worshiping people. However, there is another element, the child is ‘presented’ to God. Since the Exodus, every first-born son was considered to belong to God (Ex 13:1,2) and to avoid simply a life in the tabernacle, now taken by the Levites (Num 3:12,13), each first born son had to be ‘redeemed’  by a payment of five shekels (Num 18:15,16). The whole picture speaks of and emphasizes covenant relationship since the Exodus. Thus this couple are not only expressing their thankfulness but also their obedience and declaration that they are part of the redeemed community of God To the wise, being thankful is an ingredient in all our lives all the time (1 Thess 5:18) especially when obviously good things happen – like food is on the table, Christmas has been and gone successfully and so much more. Here it is again, another reminder to live thankfully as the people of God. Did you know that according to research, thankful people live longer? Not just a biblical command, a wise command.

26. Shepherds

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 26. Shepherds

Lk 2:8 “And there were shepherds….”

OK, it’s time to bring on the low-life; that’s them, the shepherds, outcasts from society, living out on the hills on their own, not turning up for synagogue on Saturdays, the definitely non-religious. Who would think of inviting them as part of the divine welcoming party for the Son of God who has just arrived on earth?

But God lays on an incredible angelic choir complete with a mega-backing group and fills the sky, just to give these guys a sense of the rejoicing that’s going on in heaven. Caesar may be strutting his stuff in Rome but God is showing, here outside Bethlehem, the rejoicing in heaven as the baby arrives in a stable on earth.

Feeling uncertain, feeling a bit misunderstood, feeling a bit of an outcast? Well God comes to you today and says, “Hey, come and see my Son. He’s down there in a manger, isn’t he wonderful!”  Share in His joy; you have a special invite. Sing and dance and go and see.

The inclusion of the shepherds in the Nativity accounts challenges us and reminds us that the God we worship is a God of the poor and needy, a God who cares for the outcasts. I was struck recently, while reading Isa 56 how God seeks to reassure whoever seeks Him: Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” (Isa 56:3) Not exactly verses that would set us on fire but the Message version beautifully clarifies and emphasises the point: “Make sure no outsider who now follows God ever has occasion to say, ‘God put me in second-class. I don’t really belong.’ And make sure no physically mutilated person is ever made to think, ‘I’m damaged goods. I don’t really belong.” This is God saying to anyone who would reach out to Him, “I receive you.”

In Jesus’ day, later in the Gospels it is abundantly clear that religion was for the ‘acceptable’, the law-keepers and people like the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors were seriously looked down on by the religious establishment. In many parts of the world ‘churchmanship’ is for the respectable, for the suits and fine dresses and as much as Jesus does care for all peoples, such church life turns many away just as the ‘sinners’ of Jesus’ day were not the people known to be at synagogue on Saturdays. So the scruffy, probably smelly (they didn’t have showers out on the hillside) shepherds are given a grandstand view of heaven’s delight and their immediate response of ‘let’s go and see’ (Lk 2:15) is a childlike example to be followed.  Let’s seek him out.  

25. Arrival

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 25. Arrival

Lk 2:7 she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

It’s happened; in the midst of all the hassle of conforming to a ruler’s wishes, they are safely ensconced in what seems to be a stable and Jesus is born safely. Mind blowingly, God has arrived on earth. No fanfare of trumpets (yet) just a usual messy birth, and then, there he is, safe and sound, mother and baby doing well. Text your friends, put it on Facebook, he’s arrived and all is well!!! No don’t bother, God’s got His own way in announcing it. Just rejoice in the wonder of this day. If you are a mother empathize with Mary. If you are a new excited dad, rejoice with Joseph. It’s happened! It really did! Rejoice!

Depending where we are today and on what government dictates we are having to conform to – or not – today will be a strange Christmas. Around the world we celebrate it in different ways, some with lots of fanfare, others less so. Depending on whether we are sensible rule-followers or flamboyant risk-takers,  today we will be celebrating either alone or in families, but whatever it is, there is this thing hanging over us called a Pandemic, and until proven vaccines are fully in use, it will continue. This year is different from a year ago.

And isn’t that how it must have been for Mary & Joseph. A year ago they were planning their wedding. They were betrothed and life was good. And then an angel turns up and it is all changed. God steps into their lives in a way they would never have dreamed of and suddenly life is different, uncertain, and the future has a major question mark over it – and it’s all God’s fault. No, ‘fault’ is the wrong word, it’s God’s doing. Fault implies blame and for the moment He certainly is the cause of them having a baby on their hands, but blame implies a negative view of responsibility. Yes, God is responsible for sending His Son to the earth in the form of a tiny baby and some thirty-three years later he will offer himself for our sins and redemption is achieved. Yes, perhaps God could have stepped in and prevented Chinese scientists being careless and allowing this virus to break out. Yes, perhaps God could have stepped in and prevented hundreds of people being silly and having too close a contact and ignoring the advice and so catch or pass on something that may result in premature death. But God has to work into a fallen world and He works with fallen, imperfect people to achieve His goals and seems to hesitate overriding their free will. The equation God + woman (Mary) = miracle, is amazing and one that deserves our worship this day. Don’t be too busy to worship.

24. Providence 2

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 24. Providence 2

Lk 2:1 “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Joseph has had a dream and in it an angel tells him he is to marry Mary and give her son the name Jesus. It is such a convincing dream, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.” (Mt 1:24,25) All seems well and good – silent night, holy night stuff, all is calm all is bright, until….

This Caesar guy is a pain in the proverbial! He is feeding his ego and disturbing the lives of millions. He has a decree sent out round the empire. He wants to know how many people he rules over. The Rome bureaucrats decide the only way to do it is to have certain registry centres, places where family trees relate to. In Israel, Bethlehem happens to be one of them. So anyone who relates back to Bethlehem, people of the family tree of David, need to go there to be registered.

A couple of them happen to be Mary and Joseph who, because of Joseph’s family background, are now going to have to go all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem – and she’s a long way on in her pregnancy!

Rulers (and haven’t we had them this year!) often lay down rules that we’re often unhappy with. Yes, unlike Caesar’s, they may be essential, and who looked forward to two or more lockdowns in the UK and even more uncertainty this year?

But the truth is that God was working within this and there are valid reasons (think about them) why Bethlehem was a good place for them: it enabled them to start life with a baby away from the gossip of Nazareth, it was the place prophesied as the birthplace of the Messiah to which the wise men with their financial support would be directed, it was near to Jerusalem where they would receive prophetic encouragement, and it was easy to escape to Egypt for protection, all things God knew but they didn’t. When circumstances take a direction different from what we expect, the response of the believer is to seek the One who knows all things and ask Him what is going on. In the meantime, until He reveals His plans and purposes and why things are happening, we have to rest in peace, trusting Him and that He knows and it’s not all out of control. We may need more grace to cope with the days – just like Joseph and Mary must have done – but He will be watching over us as He did them and it will come to a good end – somehow! He is working for our good in the midst of it all, remember. (Rom 8:28)

23. Pondering

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 23. Pondering

Mt 1:20 as he considered these things.”

We are observing the circumstances of Joseph as we near the Nativity, his thoughts and feelings that, once he has received help to see the way through, show he is not only a righteous person – which does involve obedience – but he is also gentle, compassionate and caring. Compassionate and caring people tend to not only be people of emotion but they are people who think, who see the situation, think about it, see there is a need and think how they might resolve that need. Such people very often become charity workers or workers within society meeting the needs of society.

Joseph has been thinking about the situation he finds himself in and his thoughts (wanting to be obedient to the Law) are tempered by compassion and love, hence we read, did not want to expose her to public disgrace,” (v.19) and so we find, “he considered these things.”

Now this is still before Joseph has had angelic revelation in a dream. It seems he feels mystified by what is happening.  He loves Mary, he is betrothed (our ‘engaged’) to her, he is looking forward to actually getting married and he trusts her. And now he finds out she’s pregnant and he knows he is not the father. Something is not right here. He ponders on it, considers all he knows. So he is a good example of a godly man who sees only half the picture and is unhappy about that fact. We aren’t told he prayed, but that would need to be our first stopping point. Unsure? Uncertain? There’s a lot of that around this year. The first stop is to pray and listen. Have we done that? Had any revelatory dreams yet?  Just listen then. But at this time of the year, usually at least although it will be a bit different this year, we get caught up with so many preparations, as we noted on the 19th, we get caught up with getting the presents, getting food in, putting up decorations, and so on. Perhaps this year it may be more simplified and the burdens of activity are not so great. Time will tell. But usually, let’s be honest, activity triumphs over having time to think about these things, think about the reality of the things we’ve been considering this month, thinking about where they should lead us, and because of that we are spiritually poorer. I have lost count of the number of times, either I or someone I know, have commented that they are glad that Christmas is over and they can return to their usual spiritual routines. It should not be so. But it is the danger of any such celebration, e.g. Thanksgiving – do we make a big thing of thanking God?  or birthdays and anniversaries – do we do the same realizing that life is His gift to us. Joseph ‘considered’. May we do the same.  

22. Limited

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 22. Limited

Mt 1:19 Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

I suspect there may be those who came to the end of yesterday’s study and rather like some of Jesus’ early disciples said, “This is a hard word,” (Jn 6:60) the call to enter into Spirit-empowered living and ministry, so different from so much of what we find in the modern church. I understand. So let’s see what we can learn from these verses.

Joseph struggles (and we’ll consider that more fully tomorrow) and the source of his struggles is the demand of the Law which now confronts the events surrounding him. But here’s the point I want us to take hold of here: Joseph lacks understanding, he has only a part picture of what is going on. What he sees is not right, it offends the Law and so, being a gracious person, he wants to back away from it gently so as not to disgrace Mary. But the crucial thing is that he hasn’t yet had the revelation Mary has had. When he does get it, he conforms to it straight away.

Many people in ‘the Church’ are fearful when, for example, we start talking about Spirit-empowered living or ministry or moving in gifts of the Spirit or gifts of ministry. I understand that but as I have watched church life across a wide number of denominations and streams over the years here are some of the things I hope will help.

First, none of this talk detracts from us being human beings and so sometimes these things are not handled sensitively or wisely, I know that; I’ve seen it. But I also know that when they are handled sensitively and wisely there is a beauty and wonder when we respond as Mary with open, gentle hearts, making ourselves available to Him to flow through us, bringing new life, supernatural life. If we don’t live these sort of lives, experience this sort of ministry, I would suggest it is because we are in still in early-Joseph-mode with limited understanding and experience and we just can’t see how healings, deliverances and all the rest can come into ‘my’ church.

I wonder how often so many of us live limited lives because we have only partly seen the divine picture. This year has been turning everything on its head and so we each really need to pray, “Lord, please open my eyes that I may see AND understand.” I am certain we will be facing days when the Lord will be coming in power (I don’t think it is in the sky) and what we experience will depend in some measure on our openness. Let’s pray.