33. Into Waiting


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.

30. Dream On


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!

19. A Sign


19. A Sign for You?

Luke 2:12-14 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

There is a desire in most of us that says, “Show me, give me a sign.” We feel sufficiently insecure that we desire to be able to see, to have our way ahead lit by a sign that says, this way, it’s all right. The strange thing though, when we come to the Bible, is that God isn’t very good with signs. The shepherds were offered a sign: a baby in a manger – but that meant they had to go down to the town first to find the sign: act then get the sign.

We come to God asking for clarity, light on the path ahead, and He tells us that we are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Faith in the Bible is responding to what God says, so our light is His word and that becomes a lamp to our feet (Psa 119:105), that’s why we need to read it more and more. We’re also called to be led by His Spirit (Gal 5:16,25) which again is something that happens within us, not through our eyes.

When Moses was talking with God at the burning bush, the Lord gave him a sign to prove He was with him – the promise that when he had led Israel out of Egypt, they would worship at this mountain (Sinai). In others words, when you’ve done it you’ll know it was me with you! When God speaks words of prophecy it is so often like that: He says it, you look for it, but don’t find it, He then does it and you look back and realize that it was Him. So often, it seems, God’s ‘signs’ require us to move first.

John in his Gospel speaks of the miracles that Jesus did as ‘signs’ (Jn 2:11, 4:54 etc.), but of course they were only recognized as such by those whose hearts were open and seeking. Others simply criticized and asked for more ‘signs’ (e.g. Jn 2:18). It seems again and again the Lord wants us to respond to what He says and then, and only then, it becomes clear. It’s when we step forward trusting, that a voice comes from behind us saying, “This is the way walk in it” (Isa 30:21). So if you’re looking for a sign from God, in His graciousness He may just give you one (e.g. to Gideon – Judges 6:36-40), but more often than not, He waits for you to act in faith before the sign comes.

So the angel tells them about the baby who will be God’s Chosen One, the Christ or Messiah (v.11). The fact that he’s there, as I said, will be sufficient for you to believe what I’ve said is true, is what the angel is saying. When you look, you will find – but you need to look first. That’s how it works with God – then and now!

Then it’s as if heaven couldn’t contain itself for suddenly there is a great company – very many – angels, all singing of God’s greatness. The Christmas story is littered with angelic appearances. It’s as if heaven is coming to earth to accompany the coming of the Son. Of course it wasn’t until much later that Jesus himself spoke about how he had always existed and had come down to earth from heaven (Jn 6:33,38,41,51,58). The glory that had been in heaven, now somehow compressed, was now on the earth (Phil 2:6-8). The presence of the singing angels is not the incredible thing; it’s the presence of the very Son of God who is the incredible thing, God on earth. This presence on earth of the Son was evidence of the wonder (glory) of God’s plans for mankind, peace that will be brought between God and man, through this Son. The angels are singing of the wonder that is possible for you and me – peace with God!

18. Why Shepherds


18. Why Shepherds?

Luke 2:8,9 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Being of a limited mind, there are a variety of things I would like to ask the Lord when I see Him. For instance, why the Shepherds? Why did an angel come to a bunch of shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem?  I’ve got various ideas but the Bible doesn’t actually tell us why shepherds. You’ve probably taken them for granted in the Christmas story, most of us have. But why do they get included?

Is it that God is just so happy that He’ll send His angels to whoever happens to be around? Was it because they were the only ones awake at the time the baby was born? Was it that God saw this bunch of social outcasts – because that’s what scholars tell us they probably were – and just took pity on them and so laid on an angelic visitation? I mean, those sort of things are typical of God. Rejoicing overflows from heaven, and the Lord is concerned for the poor.

Perhaps it is an object lesson for the world, as if the Lord is saying, see here, look, my Son is available to be seen by anyone. You don’t have to be rich; you don’t have to be religious. You can even be an outcast, and he’s there for you. That would certainly be true of Him.

Perhaps it is a symbolic gesture, sending shepherds to go and check out the latest birth of a sheep, or rather of a lamb to be more precise, one who would later be referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) who was slain in the place of sinners.

So how do those suggestions resonate with you? Do you know the God who is so full of joy that it overflows to His world (see Prov 8:30,31) or is the God you think about a miserable, vindictive old man in the sky who you do well to avoid? If He’s that latter, it’s time you readjusted your thinking about God because He’s far more like the former picture (see Isa 62:5, Lk 15:7,10). Oh yes, heaven is not a miserable place!

Do you still think you have to earn God’s love by being good or by being religious? Oh no, these shepherds challenge that, if nothing else in Scriptures didn’t – but it does! No you don’t have to earn the right to come into the presence of the Son who is now seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven reigning; you just have to acknowledge that you’re on the same level of these shepherds.

Do you still think you have to try and appease God and make up for the wrong things you do? You’ve never taken in the truth about the Lamb of God then, who died in your place to take your punishment, so all you have to do is come to the Father with gratefulness. If this story tells us nothing else, it tells us that God is the One who takes the initiative in coming to men, and He’s not put off by anyone – shepherds, you or me! God doesn’t look for good people, just receptive people – and we’ll soon see how receptive these men were!

But at the end of it, we still don’t know exactly why the shepherds, but that’s typical of God as well. He leaves some questions unanswered until we see Him face to face in eternity. Can you live with that? Have you that assurance? This is a very reassuring story, so if you’re not completely sure of your place in eternity with God, go back and reread some of the things above. They are true. The way is open for you. Rejoice with the shepherds.

9. God for me?


9. Is God for me?

Luke 1:28-31 The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.

If only God would stay in heaven, we’d be all right! I’m sure that’s what some people think. The ‘Deists’ of earlier centuries thought like that. They were happy to believe in a God who created the world, but they then envisaged Him sitting back and letting it get on without His interference. It’s more comfortable like that isn’t it! But this is God’s world and He delights in interacting with the human race. He made us for that purpose.

Yesterday we laboured over the possibility of God actually coming. Now we consider the more personal details of this story. Here we have a young Jewish girl and an angel appears to her. If that wasn’t bad enough – for when was the last time you encountered an angel? – the angel says she is highly favoured with God. In fact twice he says that. Now, as we’ve suggested in earlier meditations, we very often feel guilt about our lives and so the thought of God turning up doesn’t thrill us! When a heavenly messenger, in angelic or human form, turns up and tells you that God is blessed by you, for many that is almost too much to cope with. Mary was greatly troubled by the angel’s greeting; how would you have felt?

Seriously, suppose you were sitting alone at home one day and suddenly without a door opening, a figure full of light was standing there saying (in modern language), “Hi, I’m from God. He wants you to know He’s really pleased with you and He’s here for you”, I wonder how you’d feel? Full of immediate joy? I think you’d be more likely to be full of questions: why me, why at this time, what have I done to get God’s attention, what does He want?

I said yesterday that it’s sometimes difficult to get behind the Christmas story because we may know it too well. If you think coping with an angel is easy stuff, you’ve never really thought about it in depth. The truth is, of course, that whenever God turns up and says things to us, it is unsettling. There we were quietly coping (or struggling) with life and even though it might have been hard going on a bad day, somehow we can cope with what is familiar. Then God arrives and suddenly everything is changed. The Lord of the Universe has come to us, God Almighty, all-knowing, all wise, the One who is so different from us. That is unnerving!

For the moment, all He says to Mary, through the angel, is that she will be having a baby who she is to name Jesus. That seems fairly straight forward so far, but even this is a life change. Mary has got a question about it as we’ll see tomorrow, but for the moment, it’s only something she would expect to happen anyway. I mean, she about to be married and married people have children but…. Have you seen the ‘but’ yet? You’re still seeing it all through too-familiar eyes if you haven’t seen the ‘but’. But why does it need God to come and tell me the obvious. There must be more to this than meets the eye. There must be a catch in this. Yes, that’s the trouble when God turns up; there’s more to it that meets the eye. There’s more to come. Are you ready for God to come and speak to you like that?

2. History


2. Truth based in History

Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.

There are some people who have some funny ideas about Christianity and there are some people who just have funny ideas. The ‘funny ideas about Christianity’ people often think Christianity was just some fairytale set of ideas dreamt up by some mystics some where along the way in history. The people who just have ‘funny ideas’ often are people who are led by mystical ‘funny people’ who have just dreamt up some strange ideas somewhere along the way in history.

Now the truth of Christianity is far from either of these two groups of weird and wonderful believers. Christianity is rooted in down to earth, time-space history. Things happened and those things were recorded. Yesterday we started these meditations by considering Doctor Luke who wrote what we call ‘Luke’s Gospel’. He had gone to some trouble to make sure he had checked things out very carefully. Today’s verse is steeped in history. It identifies the time as that in history when King Herod ruled in Judea. It speaks of Jewish culture and life at that time, of the practice of Jewish priests coming from the tribe of Levi and specifically from the descendants of the family of Aaron in that tribe.

This says that all that we are about to read follows in the flow of history, and much of the culture and background is because of what has gone before. We are never simply isolated figures in history; we come into history, into a world that has been shaped by all that has gone before.

Later on, Luke was to write about the coming of a forerunner to Jesus Christ and described it as follows: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. (Lk 3:1,2). Those two verses are packed full of historical information defining the exact point in history when all this occurred. This is a writer who wants us to realize that this is all happening at a specific point of history in a specific geographical location, with a specific culture. You can’t be more down-to-earth than this!

In a day when political correctness or post modern rhetoric tends sometimes to spew out notions based upon emotion and little else, coming to the Bible and its concrete foundations may produce a sense of culture shock in some. There is nothing vague about the New Testament history; it is clear and concise, sometimes almost too much so. However, if we wish to use the Christmas story as recorded in the New Testament as a basis of our mediations, we would do well to face up to these things early on in the day.

What we are about to read is rooted in time-space history. Having read it verse by verse, word by word, for many years now, I am going to treat it as the accurate history that it is. If you have a problem with that, either stop reading these meditations now, or risk seeing how different they might be from the vagaries of unbelieving theologies. You might be pleasantly surprised! Risk it, stay with us!