For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
Much faith, hope and trust has been placed in governments through the centuries, whether ruled by kings and queens, presidents or prime ministers, emperors or premiers. There is a longing of the people to serve and be served by the good will of leaders looking out for the people’s best interest. Rarely does the reality match the hoped-for dream.
Governments recently have been taking some hard hits. Bankrupt European countries hope for assistance from their neighbors and allies. Within the last year, Egypt and Libya lost leaders to the will of the people sustained by sheer numbers and media influence. Similar opposition has risen up in other Middle East and North African countries. A divisive election=year U.S. argues on about the issues of individual vs. states’ rights in response to federal dictates.
No government has the power to sustain the people forever as there will always come ever greater challenges, more immense tragedies, leaner economics, never ending dissent, and flawed human leaders.
So the concept of the gift of a child bearing the government on his shoulders seems truly ludicrous. If the strongest government can’t last despite wealth and power and might, how can it be borne up by one individual?
Because there is nothing stronger than love. And never will be again.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
How often do we walk in total darkness? As little as possible. It is petrifying to try to find one’s way around when the power goes out on a moonless stormy night, trying to find where the candles are stored, or the flashlight that isn’t where it is supposed to be. Toes get stubbed, knees get bruised, heads get bonked. It is a feeling of complete vulnerability to navigate without light.
The darkest place on earth may well be underground in a cavern with no light source. There is no sun, no moon, no stars. You can’t see your hand right in front of your face. It is what the blind experience day and night, but one minute of that blackness can be overwhelming to the sighted who plead for the lights to be turned back on.
And so we long for light to illuminate the dark pathways of our life, to plunge the shadow of death into the dawn.
The light will rise, bringing us with it.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Is there anything darker than what the world witnessed in the shocked and bewildered faces of the Japanese refugees who lost everything in the tsunami? Their homes and possessions, their livelihoods, their friends and family? Is there anything worse than a mother describing how she lost her grip on her daughter’s hand, to watch her swept away in the waters? Is there anything thicker than the darkness that covers these stoic people with the deep despair of fear of the unknown?
There is something darker. Darkest of all is separation from God.
There is no loss to compare with that abyss.
As Job said in the midst of his desperation, after he too lost everything, all at once: “I know my Redeemer lives…”
He had lost everything, but not that certainty.
And with that certainty, there is a new dawn.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
We’ve not known major natural catastrophe here in the northwest for many generations–our crises are mercifully small scale compared to what has happened elsewhere in the world. Blustery windstorms, flooding, the occasional drifting blizzard, spouting volcanoes, the rare minor earthquake.
Awaking to a glowing sunrise is encouragement after such an event. Clouds become a canvas backdrop on which a vivid palette is able to be painted–the same clouds that had created havoc, floods, power outages.
Then the sun rises above it all.
Startling, wondrous magnificence beyond imagination. Grace that brings us to our knees, especially when we are mired in trouble.
Drink deeply of this.
Hold it, savor it and know that to witness any sunrise is to see the face of God.
But who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can stand when he appears?
For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
Misperceptions about judgment day swirl around freely these days. In sixth grade a friend told me he hoped his name would be in the Book of Life and I barely slept for weeks, fearful of whether my own name was in God’s eternal ledger. Meanwhile, many contemporary Christians wish to do away with judgment and Hell in light of our culture. Some regard these realities as harsh myths that could never be reconciled with their vision of a loving God.
Both viewpoints hide a kernel of truth, but taken on their face have done gross injustice to the truth about final judgment. No one will be able to stand when he appears, no one will be able to endure the day of his coming.
Who is this ‘he’? We know from Scripture (Matthew 25, II Timothy 4 are but several examples) that Christ is the one who returns to judge as the one who has already been judged. God said the final ‘yes’ to humanity in Christ, yet still says no sin. Though we will never be rid of sin in this life, we cannot keep up the act of deciding for both God and sin.
During this Lenten season we bury ourselves only into Christ, knowing he alone can mediate as the one who took the fullness of God’s judgment…and knowing he alone acts as the one who can lead into a new creation. ~Ben Gibson
For thus says the LORD of hosts,
Once more in a little while,
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,
and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
The devastating earthquake in Japan almost a year ago could have been anywhere on the earth–and it has been at one time or another over many millenia. We happen to live on uneasy soil. Previously the devastation has been in Chile, Haiti, Sumatra, Philippines. It could have been right here in the earthquake prone and long overdue Pacific Northwest. We tread carefully, wondering if with the next step, the earth will rise to meet our feet, alive and seething.
There are many interpretations about what this might mean. Some imply it is judgment. Some dismiss it as simple relief of seismic pressure, building since the last major earthquake in the area in 869 A.D.
The Lord controls what happens “once more, in a little while.” It is a reminder we are only along for the ride; we don’t do the steering, and we’re not in control of the itinerary or the timing of the destination. We are shaken awake, not out of judgment (which has already convicted us all), but with the shattering realization that our rescue is at hand.
We must reach out and hang on tight, once more, in a little while.
Every valley shall be exalted,
every mountain and hill made low;
the crooked straight,
and the rough places plain.
From most vantage points in Whatcom County, we see the strong silhouette of Mt. Baker every morning, unchanging and unblinking as the clouds swirl past, the snow falls, or the sun shines. The peaks are just as impressive as they must have been for the coastal native populations centuries ago, with the river valleys at its feet just as green and lush.
As permanent as it seems, it is an active volcano, still steaming from its vent on the coldest of mornings, a plume visible dozens of miles away. The lesson of Mount St. Helen taught us that the constancy of rocky peaks is illusory. In an instant it can be laid low, the valleys obliterated in a sea of lava, the rivers gorged and gushing with mud, the ragged geography covered and soon forgotten.
There is nothing permanent under the firmament. Every earthquake and tsunami proves that again and again.
All that is lasting is the kingdom of our God incarnate, who walked in living flesh on this impermanent earth, in order to bring His people to home everlasting.
Knowing this, we can be rough no more.
The voice of him that cries in the wilderness,
prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
The beginning of Lent comes at a time of year when I tend to get off track. Lost and wandering in a wilderness of winter doldrums, I yearn for respite. And so today, a voice cries out to prepare. It is time to look where I’m going, to walk a path with a goal in mind, and stop meandering meaninglessly. My path, if straight and true, will join thousands of others harkening to the call. I am not alone on this road. Nor are you.
As we enter the season of Lent, according to Joel 2:12
The LORD said:
It isn’t too late. You can still return to me with all your heart.
As part of the Body of Christ, and as a community of believers, we will be observing Lent over the next few weeks to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The daily readings that start tomorrow are suggested scripture verses to read alone or together as a family for devotional study.
The scripture readings are taken from King James Bible verses used by Handel as he composed “The Messiah” which celebrates the life, death and resurrection of Christ.