Monthly Archives: December 2008
Our son, Charles Marshall Priest, was born at 11:00 am on Friday, December 26. He is still in the NICU but is progressing steadily. We are optimistic that he may be able to go home with us this weekend. We appreciate any and all prayers.
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”
In John chapter 14, the disciple Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” I love the often-clueless boldness of the disciples. Jesus replies to him, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
When Isaiah promised that there would be a child born who was called Immanuel, or “God with us,” even he wasn’t predicting God to be literally with us in the flesh. He had in mind the sense of God being with his people and strengthening them in battle, as with Joshua, or in deliverance, as in the Exodus, or in comfort, as in many of the Psalms, or in worship, as in Solomon’s temple. And Jesus did (and does) all of those things. Yet the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus, and what the New Testament writers go to great pains to tell us, is that beyond anyone’s imagination, God became man and truly lived “with us.”
When Paul writes that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” he is expanding on this idea of God being with us in the ultimate sense. God was not simply figuratively with us in the teachings of Jesus, but was physically, visibly with us. The wonder of the incarnation – literally, the “enfleshment” – of Jesus is that he who created all things came to us to reconcile us to himself. Though we were lost in sin, he has sought us out. Though we were dead, he has come to give us life.
“He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.”
John’s Gospel opens curiously. He begins the same way Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, begins and yet he quickly introduces a new wrinkle into things. In all of the prophecies about the coming Messiah, in all of the longing for a deliverer, none of the prophets could imagine that it would be God himself. So John begins: the Word, the true God who created all things, became a human being, like us. In the words of author and pastor Eugene Peterson, God “moved into the neighborhood.”
He quickly became a neighborhood nuisance. The equivalent of the homeowners association wanted him dead. He befriended the people whom everyone else had written off. He was more concerned with caring for the prostitute on the corner than making sure property values stayed high. City Hall made his death a public spectacle.
John writes that Jesus came to his own people but they, collectively, rejected him. Those who should have known didn’t pay attention. Those who should have listened didn’t hear. Those who should have seen were blind. But those who did believe, John writes, received more than they could have ever hoped for. Those who believed became children of God.
The Apostle John makes it clear that those, like him, who did believe and were born of God, saw Christ’s glory. They saw just a hint of the majesty of the one who created all things by his Word.
“And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”
I remember watching a late-night movie on Channel 13 many years ago, back when the station still ran the “Million-Dollar Movie” between 1 and 3 AM. There wasn’t much memorable about the movie (I think it was Christmas Lilies of the Field) except for the big musical number at the end – a version of the African-American Spiritual “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” It’s an add-on song, like “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” or “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The song ends every verse with:
“One for the little-bitty baby,
Born, born, born in Bethlehem.”
If all we get out of Micah chapter 5 is that the baby Jesus would be “born, born, born in Bethlehem,” we’ve missed the bulk of the announcement. Micah doesn’t simply predict that the Messiah would be from the lineage of King David and would be born in Bethlehem, he goes on to tell us about the character of the Messiah and what he would come to do. And the things he came to do should astound us, like they would have astounded Micah’s contemporaries. Those who were taken away in captivity would be brought back. God’s people would never again have to fear defeat because their king would defend them. The ends of the earth would know the Messiah’s name and his power.
We don’t have to simply spiritualize these things away to say that they’ve happened. Jesus’ arrival was the end of the exile of Israel. God’s people – those who believe in Jesus, the Messiah – never have to fear defeat because Jesus has won the victory. This doesn’t mean that everything in life will go smoothly; far from it! But it means that we can look to our good shepherd who rules in majesty for strength. He has given us the privilege of announcing to the ends of the earth that he rules and reigns over all things and is returning in glory to be our peace.
“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
In his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12, the Lord promises that through Abraham’s descendants, all the families of the world would be blessed. Salvation was never something to be limited to ethnic Israel – Israel was to bless the nations with the wisdom of God and his covenant presence with them. This was always the great hope of the Old Testament.
When Old Testament Israel was at her best, she reflected this hope and promise that the salvation of God would be for all nations. The prophet Isaiah echoes this in the promise of the coming age of God, in which the power and might of God would be revealed to all the nations.
From the very beginning of the New Testament, the writers call back to this theme that God’s salvation is not for Jews only but for all people. Matthew, in his gospel, makes it painstakingly clear that some of the first people to recognize Jesus as Messiah were Gentile Magi who brought him gifts fit for a king. From the very beginning of his life, Jesus was a blessing for people from every race, tribe and nation.
The savior of Jerusalem that Isaiah writes of in chapter 52 is not a savior of merely Jerusalem but a savior who starts with Jerusalem – with Israel – but extends his salvation before all nations! It is exactly the picture that we see in the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. Before his ascension, he told them to bear witness to the truth in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That remains our call today – to spread the good news of the power and mercy of our great God.
“[H]e shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
A lot of people face Christmas fatigue each year. The Christmas sales begin some time around Labor Day, ornaments decorate Highland Village by the time of the World Series, and stop-motion animation commercials begin immediately after Election Day. By December 25, many of us experience our highest levels of stress for the year. What should be a joyous time can quickly turn oppressive with the thoughts of unmet expectations and unfulfilled hopes.
And yet, Advent is a season to reflect on exceeded expectations and completely fulfilled hopes! Advent is a remedy to our culture’s incessant drive towards the trappings of the “holiday season”. It allows us to prepare our hearts to celebrate God coming through on his promise to destroy the serpent and deliver his people.
In the midst of a very dark passage, the story of the Fall, God gives us hope. This hope shines throughout the scriptures. God promises to save his people – whether that hope is a glimmer (as in Genesis 3:15) or a blinding sun (as in Revelation 21).
We await the coming of Christmas, yes, but we also await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ as our victorious Savior-King. Our Advent prayers and our Christmas celebrations are incomplete if we don’t look toward Jesus coming again in glory.