Straw Almost As Sharp As Thorns

“The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.”
opening words by John Donne in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626

All is Fulfilled

My mouth will utter praise of the Lord, of the Lord through whom all things have been made and who has been made amidst all things; who is the Revealer of His Father, Creator of His Mother; who is the Son of God from His Father without a mother, the Son of Man through His mother without a father.

He is as great as the Day of Angels, and as small as a day in the life of men;

He is the Word of God before all ages, and the Word made flesh at the destined time.

Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun.

Disposing all the ages from the bosom of the Father, He consecrates this very day in the womb of His mother.

In His Father He abides; from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, under the heavens He was born upon earth.

Wise beyond all speech, as a speechless child, He is wise. Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger. Ruling the stars, He nurses at His mother’s breast. He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant, so much so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness concealed by His greatness.

For when He assumed a human body, He did not forsake divine works. He did not cease to be concerned mightily from one end of the universe to the other, and to order all things delightfully, when, having clothed Himself in the fragility of flesh, he was received into, not confined in, the Virgin’s womb. So that, while the food of wisdom was not taken away from the angels, we were to taste how sweet is the Lord.
~St. Augustine
How empty was the world before Christ! From Mary’s untouched womb to Joseph’s futile search for a place to sleep in Bethlehem, to the shepherds’ dismal existence on the hillsides, to Simeon’s arms aching to hold the Messiah, to Anna’s long wait in the temple. In a million ways, seen and unseen, the empty spaces were filled, the hunger sated, the thirst quenched, the rest assured. He joined us so we shall never lack again. He became one with us–all is fulfilled and filled fully.

~E Gibson from Barnstorming

Here is Your God

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up and do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God.”
 Isaiah 40:9

Who is your God? Flooded with images from commercials, billboards, books, and magazines,  we are given so many competing messages about who our God is. Whether it is a new technology, a new technique for overcoming challenges, a moment, an emotion, or a new self-help guru, we are given so many options of whom or what to crown as God. Our tendency, though, will always remain the same, we want to call out from the mountains that we are God. The search has ended and it is as we always anticipated, we—ourselves—are the beginning and the end.

This joyful cry from Zion that we often proclaim concerning ourselves foreshadows a sobering call in the New Testament that shows we are not the kings we have made ourselves out to be. In John 19:14, Pilate brings Christ before the people and proclaims, “Here is your king.” The response is pure and utter vitriol…we have no king but Caesar, we have no king but ourselves, crucify the one who would claim to be our king. We could not fathom that the good news of Isaiah could be the same news that nailed Jesus of Nazareth to a cross. If it is the same good news, we could never be the God or king we elevate ourselves to be. The proclamation of that king from the mountain turns out to be a cry of dereliction from the cross.

At a family gathering tonight one of my young second cousins raced around the living room, shouting his excitement about the presents to be opened. My aunt bemused that the present could never live up to the expectation. That will always be true, except in Christ. Christ’s most painful moment is our gladdest tidings…in looking at the cross we now say with all certainty and hope, “Here is your God. Here is your King.”

~Ben Gibson

Christmas Year Round

“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.
Acts 14:15

I recently downloaded Spotify, an online music listening software,  and have been indulging in a full-fledged holiday music binge. The Nutcracker in the office first thing in the morning, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing carols in the background of my classroom, traditional Advent hymns as I drive home. It might seem mildly obsessive to my students, coworkers, and roommates, but I feel as if Christmas music has a very limited shelf life and I need to take full advantage of the holiday cheer while it’s here. If it was socially acceptable, I’d likely to listen to Christmas music year round. I think I could make a good case for it too–after all, isn’t the good news good all year long?

There isn’t any particular time or day or month when Christ is any more or less present, is there? God’s gift of his son is open to us at any moment in any season, festive music or no. And yet in every season we somehow manage to get distracted by the shopping and the presents, the work and the stress, the early mornings and late nights. We are constantly forgetful of how close God is and how much He desires our attention.

“As an ocean floods the inlets, as sunlight environs the plant, so God enfolds and enwreathes the finite spirit. There is this difference, however, inlet and plant are penetrated whether they will or not. Sea and sunshine crowd themselves in a tergo. Not so with God. He can be received only through appreciation and conscious appropriation. He comes only through doors that are purposely opened for him. A person may live as near God as the bible is to the ocean and yet not find him. He may be ‘closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet,’ and still be missed.” –Rufus M. Jones

Unfortunately, my Spotify Christmas playlists will soon be out of season but the good news of Emmanuel, God with us, does not expire. So let us receive him. May we not miss the opportunity to turn from these worthless things to the good news in this season of advent; or on Christmas day; or during the inevitable dismantling of our decorations and detangling of our lights; or in the turning of seasons from winter to spring and spring to summer and summer to fall; or in the multitude of moments where God in his goodness is waiting to be with us, if only we’ll turn a listening ear to the knock at the door.

~Hilary Mulhern

Exceeding Expectations

But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
Luke 4:43

As we found out in the wake of last week’s tragedy, news travels quickly, but not always accurately. Names and motives become confused and soon we are only left with a fragment of the truth. The same is true of God’s Word. We have exchanged the truth for a much easier lie. For many in 1st century Judea that lie was one of establishing right relationship with God through rigorous covenant adherence. For others, it was the belief that the Messiah would re-establish Israel as a political power. For many today it is the belief that social justice or mere proclamation is enough to communicate the full truth of the Gospel.

Christ, in his incarnation, shows us something radically different. He is both truth and action. He looked on the people following him and saw that their understanding of His ministry was incomplete. He was not simply here to heal. He was not here to only be seen as the Son of God. He came full of compassion, knowing that he had to join truth and action for a world which had lost sight of both. This advent season, we anxiously await a Christ whose kingdom will not fit our expectations, but exceed them. Come Lord Jesus, come.
~Ben Gibson

For All the People

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Luke 2:10

Can there be more beautiful words than these?  It must be the most wonderful song ever sung:

Don’t be afraid; be holding on to these words tightly.

I have come especially to tell you this; you have been chosen to be the first to hear.

This isn’t just good news; this is the greatest news ever!

This isn’t just going to make you happy;  you will be overjoyed!

This isn’t just news for you alone; this is for everyone, everywhere, for every time, for evermore.

The best gift of all has been given; no one, not one, has been left out.

And this song was sung for us all to hear.

Behold.  Be holding tight.  To His Word.  To each other.  To Him.

~ Emily Gibson

reblogged from Barnstorming

Beautiful Feet?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

What’s with the feet here anyway?   How beautiful are the feet?   Few among us are tempted to put our feet on display, to invite comment on the aesthetic quality of these most pedestrian parts of our bodies.  Sometimes barnacled with bunions and  often clad in calluses, our feet look for a good place to hide.  So something out of the ordinary is happening when feet are placed front and center, inviting such a warm response.

The image set forth here bespeaks at least two realities:  great good news from afar, and deep longing, coupled with anxiety, among those waiting for the news.  The momentous event that impels the messenger could be a battle fought to success, or the impending arrival of someone else who comes to set things aright, or a return from afar with the promise of a new day.

In the incarnation of our Savior and the ensuing news of it, we are the recipients of all that and more.  Our King Jesus has engaged in a terrible battle for us, a battle in which he fought to the death and was slain.  But lo and behold, though dead, he now lives again and reigns gloriously in victory.  He is coming to set things aright here, among us, and the exiles are being freed, redeemed to return home for life in a new day.  What beautiful feet, indeed, that bring us this good news!

~Dan Gibson

Good News for Thirsty Souls

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.
Proverbs 25:25

Wilderness Camp is a yearly tradition at the school that I work at: during the first week of October, small teams of 11th graders embark upon a four-day backpacking trip into the woods and mountains surrounding Tokyo.  One inevitable take-away from the days of hiking and camping is a list of things the students had previously taken for granted.  Usually topping the list is water.  As trails steepen and the sweat starts to pour, water-breaks not only become a want, but a need.

Tired, sore and dehydrated, the way forward seems impossible, the next peak just a little too steep.  Water refreshes the thirsting, weary body, and enables the exhausted sojourner to press on.

What an apt analogy to describe the arrival of good news!  Though Solomon’s kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity, Israel’s position between major world powers was never entirely secure.  Sandwiched between powerful and vast ancient civilizations, the Israelites lived in the midst of tensions over land, resources and cultural differences that must have seemed so much bigger than them.  Surely their call to bless the nations seemed at times out of reach while living in expectation not of good news, but of invasion or rumors of invasion!

Yet the news that we now reflect upon in this Advent season was not merely good news; it was the best news!  Notably, the news wasn’t arriving in Bethlehem from a distant land; rather, Bethlehem was the epicenter and the news was to be broadcast to many distant lands, world over!  Millennia of stumbling, weariness and hopelessness arrived at that moment to receive nothing less than history’s greatest water-break.  We persevere today in the renewal and refreshment of the good news of Christ.  Quenched with this knowledge, our thirst slaked by Christ’s spirit, we push on, secure in the trust that the hike is not impossible.

~Nate Gibson

In His Presence

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
Luke 1:19

We don’t always recognize good news when we hear it.   It may be too surrounded by lots of bad news, or it may sound too incredible, or be beyond comprehension, or simply too good to be true.  Our response to good news may be less enthusiastic than the messenger hopes for.

So it was with Zechariah.    He seems underwhelmed in asking the question, “How I can be sure?”   This is too often our own reaction to the incredible:   “Show me proof.”  “Are you kidding me?”  “You are pulling my leg.”   “Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”

The angel doesn’t say “hey, choose to believe me or not, I’m only the messenger here.”  Instead he goes to great lengths to say exactly who he is, where he is from and from Whom the message is delivered.   Zechariah is promptly rendered mute, his unbelief no longer to be articulated aloud.   His silence gives him lots of time to contemplate the significance of this particular good news.

It came directly from one in the presence of God about one who is God.

Incredible news to hear indeed.  Worth contemplating and absorbing and believing —  especially in silence, in His presence.

~E Gibson

The Lord’s Breath

A voice says, “Cry out!” Another asks, “What should I cry out?” The first voice responds: “All people are like grass, and all their promises are like the flowers in the field. 7 The grass dries up, the flowers wither, when the wind sent by the Lord blows on them. Surely humanity is like grass. 8 The grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”
Isaiah 40:6-8

“The word of our God stands forever” – always the closing statement at the end of the scripture reading by a certain pastor.

While true, what a shock to see the context!

God’s breath brings judgement and death onto all the pretty false pleasures which we humans desire and pursue.

God breathes death onto all that is false.

BUT God’s breath breathes life into Adam.

God’s WORD – LOGOS -CHRIST  stands forever and gives us ETERNAL LIFE.

Pursue HIM!

~Pam Herbert