The Manger and the Cross

Over two thousand years ago, in the small town of Bethlehem, a child was born. Many children were born in Bethlehem that year, but this child was unique. He was to all appearances an ordinary child, born to a young woman, and born into poverty. But this child’s father was God. Nine months prior to his birth the Holy Spirit had ‘come upon’ Mary and she had conceived. This child she carried for nine months and who was then born in Bethlehem was both God and man.

But why? Why did God become a man, spend nine months in Mary’s womb; go through infancy, childhood, and adolescence; teach for a few years; and then die on a cross? Jesus was born to die: to become an atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus was born so that through his death I might have eternal life.

Please, this Christmas, do not separate the manger from the cross. The manager, and the baby it held, only have significance because of the cross and the empty tomb. The Old Rugged Cross has just as much relevance at Christmas as Away in a Manger.

 

Isn’t There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?

Charlie Brown is struggling with all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when in despair he utters “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  And Linus leaps to the rescue with a recitation of the account of Jesus birth from the gospel of Luke, a part of which is below.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10-11 KJV

Popular cartoons are not always a good source of theology, but in this case I believe Linus has nailed it.  Christmas is all about the coming of a savior, good tidings of great joy to all people.  The angels announcement, the visit of the shepherds and magi, the manger and stable are all secondary to the savior who was born.  Even the birth of a baby who was the center of all the hoopla is not as important as who that baby was and why he had come.  He was a savior, a deliverer.  He was Christ, God’s anointed one.  And he was the Lord, one with power and authority, God. My favorite passage about the coming of the savior is not in one of the gospel accounts.  Instead it is in Philippians 2:5-11

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and become obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

At Christmas we generally remember Jesus being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.  But before Jesus was made in human likeness he was in very nature God, having equality with God.  Jesus was fully God before he made himself nothing in becoming a human.  In becoming a human, Jesus did not give up his divinity, but he did become completely human with all the limitations inherent in that.

This baby that we picture in the manger was God.  But he was also a helpless infant totally dependent on his parents to supply his every need.  We think of the cross as a sacrifice.  But is not his incarnation a sacrifice as well?

Jesus as God is the first stop in the story of salvation, while his incarnation is the second.  The third stop in the story told here by Paul is one of death, Jesus becoming obedient to death on a cross.

Jesus, as a man, was obedient to the Father’s plan for his life, a plan that took him to the cross.  The cross is why Jesus was born and everything is his life led up to this.  It is in his death that he became our savior, delivering us from destruction and into a relationship with our creator.

The final stop in this story is Jesus exultation.  Because of his willingness to go to the cross God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

At the manger the shepherds and magi knelt before him.  At the cross all believers bow before him.  But ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge he is Lord.  Jesus, that helpless infant in the manger, now sits enthroned in the highest place, the firstborn over all creation.

This Christmas, as you celebrate Jesus birth, let me encourage you also to kneel before your Savior and acknowledge him as Lord.  And in your celebration at the manger, don’t forget the cross and the throne.

Emanuel: God With Us

In Matthew 1:23 we find a quote from Isaiah 7:14 that is applied to Jesus:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  While the Isaiah passage is given as a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah, concerning his current enemies, the author of Matthew sees in this passage a look ahead to Jesus, who was “God with us”.

All too often at Christmas we focus on a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago; looking more at the circumstances of his birth rather than who was born.  Yes, we recognize him as the “Son of God” and that he was born to be our savior.  But how often at Christmas do focus on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, with their accounts of shepherds, wise men, Herod, angels, imagined inn keepers, sheep, donkeys and drummer boys; and treat Jesus as just one more character in the story?

That little baby, that so many of us picture laying in a miniature manger among our other Christmas decorations, is so much more than a baby.  John says that he was the Word, who was God, and who created this universe, who became flesh and lived among us.  Paul says that he was equal with God, but set aside his glory as God to take on human form and die for us.  The author of Hebrews says that he became a man, just like us, so that he could become a faithful high priest.

This Christmas, remember Emanuel, God with us.  That child that Mary bore and delivered under humble circumstances over 2000 years ago was God, clothed in human flesh.  Like the wise men, come and worship him and give to him the best gift you can: yourself!

Good News of Great Joy!

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

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Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 
       “Glory to God in the highest, 
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

 

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard itmarveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  Luke 2:1-20 NKJV

Merry Christmas to all.  May the love of Christ fill your hearts today and into the coming year.

2011 In Review, AKA the Christmas Letter

Well, as 2011 draws to a close it is time to do the annual, or bi-annual, Christmas letter; attempting to bore enthrall all of our friends and family with the hum drum exciting details of our past year.  I would dearly love to tell you enchanting tales of our mission trip to the Congo, the adoption of our new Ukrainian baby and our 3 week adventure in Australia and New Zealand, but alas I cannot.  Mostly because in reality our past year has been somewhat more modest.

Sue and I did make a week long cruise to Alaska with dear friends.  The trip was good and scenic and the food was good and abundant.  But the opportunity to visit with Randy and Tina was priceless.  It had been a long time and it was great to be able to spend the week with them.

We also faced Prostate Cancer early this year and elected to have a Radical Prostatectomy in mid February.  Ultimately everything went great, the cancer is gone and life is back to normal again.  It was an exciting adventure, but one I hope not to repeat any time soon.

Last year I began my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a 70 mile segment.  This past summer I got in the next 160 miles and am looking forward to about 300 miles next year.  Sue will be going along with the car to ensure that I survive the trip, meeting me periodically and making sure I stay fed and at least somewhat rested.  Plus we will get to see some of the off trail sights in the southern 2/3s of Oregon.

Full retirement has crept closer this year with a job change that has me working fewer hours and, best of all, from home.  Going ‘to the office’ in my PJ’s is quite a trip.  The company keeps dangling office jobs with more hours in front of me, but so far I have been able to see the barb on the hook and resisted the temptation.

Sue and I continue to enjoy working with our local churches, traveling around most Sundays to visit one or the other.  Sue is still the Administrative Assistant for the association and keeps all the rest of us in line.

Sue ran her first half marathon this past summer, nearly 3 years to the day after a major broken leg that had to be surgically repaired.  She dislikes running but finds this beneficial to her rehabilitation effort.  Hopefully she will learn to love it at least a little bit in the future.  She is already preparing for her second half marathon this next June.

The kids are doing well.  One is out of the Army, living nearby, and in school now and the other is still in the Air Force, far far away, and globe trotting.  Look forward to having them both home this Christmas.

Sue’s mom continues to live with us and is doing well.  She keeps a close eye out on all of the activity out the front window, putting puzzles together, crocheting, napping, etc.; her schedule is full.  She is still in good health and enjoys getting out as much as possible.

The Lord is good and we look forward to his hand in the coming year.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Why I Don’t Like Christmas

Actually that’s not entirely true.  There are actually two things happening this time of year that are both labeled as Christmas.  One is a celebration of the coming of our Savior to begin his work of redemption; and  that is meaningful to me.  The other is an excuse to give a shot in the arm to the local economy as well as go further into debt; and I’m not overly fond of that ‘Christmas’.

It is way too easy to allow the first to be lost in the hustle and bustle of the second.  I’m pretty sure there is no way to change the culture around me to give up on the secularized orgy of buying and selling at this time of year since it seems to be pretty deeply ingrained.  I mean, after all, we really do deserve to get a new car, be surrounded by diamonds and have unlimited data plans for our phones; don’t we?

But just because the world around me is going crazy decorating, buying, wrapping, cooking, etc., does not mean that I have to get sucked into it as well.  Yes, I have put up a string of lights around the house, and will eventually put up a tree and wrap a few gifts.  But I want to try harder than ever this year to keep Christ in Christmas.

And for those of you who are offended when others won’t say Merry Christmas and accuse them of taking Christ out of Christmas, may I encourage you to keep Christ in Christmas yourself.  Not just by saying that word, but by honoring him in the things you do this Christmas.  There are many ways to do this but I offer up a few thoughts here.

What is the highlight of your Christmas day?  Is it centered around a mountain of packages under a tree?  If so, I would encourage you to shift some of that focus to a baby born in Bethlehem some 2015 years ago.  And remember him, not just a newborn baby with shepherds, angels and wise men.  But remember him as God, come in the flesh, to live among us and to give his life for us.

Do you have a hard time knowing what to get for someone on your gift list?  If so, it may be that they really don’t need anything and your money might be better spent providing food and shelter for the homeless, gifts for a poor family in your neighborhood, or goats for a family in Africa.  There are so many opportunities to give to those in need this time of year.  And you can usually do it in someone else’s name, giving donation certificates to the folks on your shopping list rather than a gift that they may well not have any use for.

You might even take the time to get involved in a shelter or kitchen this year yourself, giving, not only of your money, but also of your time.  How better to honor the one who gave himself for us than to imitate him in giving ourselves to those who cannot repay us.

And spend time with your family.  Spend a little less time in the kitchen or watching football and spend some time with your husband, wife, children and others who are a special part of your life.  Go look at Christmas lights, attend Advent and candle light services, play games, or just sit and talk.  The memories of time spent together will last longer than the fudge, the game highlights or the unneeded gifts.

And remember what Christmas is all about.  And as for that other thing going on now: bah humbug!

 

Good News of Great Joy

The message from the angel to the shepherds was one of ‘good news of great joy for all the people’.  That day in Bethlehem was born Emmanuel, God with us.  That baby grew and became a man, but more than just a man, he was God in the flesh.  Jesus came to bring to us the greatest gift ever given, the gift of eternal life.  I rejoice this Christmas, not because a baby was born in Bethlehem 2015 years ago, but because through him I can know my creator and his purpose for me.  Take time this Christmas to celebrate the Christ, not as a baby, but as God’s Anointed One, come to bring salvation to all who would believe.  Have a joyous celebration.

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