Advent 2015: Jesus as Author

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:3

 

Have you ever thought of writing a book? Perhaps some of you have actually done so, while others of us have only thought of the possibility. In the passage above from the epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is presented to us as author—the author of our faith. Ponder this for a few moments. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom John in the prologue to his gospel identifies as the eternal Word, source of all creation, is the author of our faith. He has written the story of life, including its salvation. What a story it is! Human beings, the finest, finishing creative touch of the Son, fell from the lofty heights granted them in the opening chapter of the story, to the depths of alienation and its accompanying misery. These real-life characters in the story, ourselves included, sought and continue to seek to wrench the pen from the hands of the author and write our own version of the story, full of backtalk, murder, mayhem, and self-congratulations.

Into this story, the author inserts himself, draws the errant story lines together, and writes in his own blood the message of rescue and reconciliation. He authors the entirety of the story, from our creation to our salvation, and himself brings it all to perfection at the end. Oh, tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word. This story is life itself.
~Dan Gibson

Finding Faith

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.

Malachi 3:2

The other day I received a message on my computer; evidently I had done something that fouled the computer and it could do some irreparable harm if not corrected immediately. I called my daughter Nancy, our computer person, and she came and rescued me.
We receive messages all the time. Most are non-threatening but occasionally you get one like the one about my computer.
The most important and sometimes frightening are the ones we get from the Lord. Such was the case with Malachi’s message to Israel. He came as a messenger from the Lord with a most alarming message. To an unfaithful  people, the Lord, the messenger of the covenant, would come, and would come suddenly. And he would come as a refiner’s fire to see if there were any who in faith revealed something of the likeness of their Lord. In the words of Jesus, “would he find any faith?”All he found were unrighteous, self serving covenant breakers. To keep covenant was to love God and their neighbor, but there was no evidence of this. Consequently God said, “I will come near to you for judgment.”(3:5)  But there is a word of hope a promise of rescue: “But to you who revere my name the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in it’s wings.”(4:12)
For us today the sudden coming of which Malachi predicts will happen once again. Once again the question Jesus posed will be valid, “Will he find any faith on the earth?”(Luke 18:8)
We live in a difficult day for Christians. Our testimony to the Truth is being challenged and abnegated with venom. Speaking the name of Jesus in the Public Square will, by some, cause you to be charged with Hate Speech.  We are going to be challenged openly and viciously at every turn. It will come to the point that our very lives will be in danger.Are you and I willing to give our lives for the Lord Jesus?  The “rescuer” says, “Fear not I have overcome the world.” I wonder if this is why Jesus posed the question, “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?”
~Pastor Jack Matheis

Shaking It Off

“This is what the Lord Almighty says:
‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth,
the sea and the dry land.
I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come,
and I will fill this house with glory.’”
          – Haggai 2:6-7
The pop singer Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” has become quite a hit.  It is a song about how she deals with her critics:
The players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake
But I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off!
That’s not bad advice for God’s people.  There will always be critics; there will always be hatred and injustice; and there is not much we can do about it.  So, shake it off and go on doing what God has called us to do.But God’s response to those who hate him and do injustice in his world is different.  He doesn’t have to just ignore it – shake it off – he promises to make it right!  That’s what he said here in Haggai 2: he will shake things up in his universe; he will shake out everything that opposes him; and the only thing left intact after that judgment will be his glorious kingdom.But this is not just a warning of coming judgment.  This is a description of what God’s promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ — the One ‘desired of all nations’  — will do when he comes.  And we know that when Jesus came, he did not just come to shake-up and judge the world.  He came to save – to forgive, renew, and bring those alienated from God into his kingdom, before he returns to judge.

That’s why we who are in Christ, can endure the injustice, love our enemies, rise above the nastiness of the world – in short, shake it off.  For, he has made us citizens of the kingdom that cannot be shaken.  And, that gives us hope, even in the world’s darkest days.
~Pastor Albert Hitchcock

Come, Deliver This World, and Us, Forever

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

This night of wonder, night of joy,
was born the Christ, our brother;
he comes, not mighty to destroy,
to bid us love each other.
How could he quit his kingly state
for such a world of greed and hate?
What deep humiliation
secured the world’s salvation!

Come, dearest child, into our hearts,
and leave your crib behind you!
Let this be where the new life starts
for all who seek and find you.
To you the honor, thanks, and praise,
for all your gifts this time of grace;
come, conquer and deliver
this world, and us, forever.

Words, verse 1: Johann Rist, 1641;
trans. John Troutbeck, ca. 1885; Words: vv. 2 & 3 by Fred Pratt Green

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The first time I ever heard this carol was when my father picked it for our family to sing for a church “gift exchange”.  I thought it odd.  I’d not heard it before and wondered why we couldn’t just sing something more familiar — some nice simple Christmas carol about that night in Bethlehem.

As an adult, however, I have come to understand and therefore love this hymn.  Let’s take a walk through it and I’ll explain why:

Verse 1:

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

Oh, how I have grown to see the darkness of the world we live in!  Evil really does exist.  School shootings, terrorists, destructive relationships in families that effect the children– these are but a few of the dark things that weigh on my mind.  And sometimes that darkness seems overwhelming, not only to me, but evidently to many others.  Today is December 21 — the winter solstice. When I picked this carol, the first line made me think about that so I looked up celebrations for the winter solstice.  One website suggested a “Candlelight Ceremony” where all the lights are out and participants “remember and honor the sun’s light” before starting with a big candle and lighting smaller one’s off  of it to fill the room with light.  Sound familiar?  We will be doing this during this Advent season.  HOWEVER, we will do it to honor the SON — that child spoken of in this verse who came to break the power of darkness — Satan’s power — and give us peace.  It is He who created the light of morning; it is He who is the Source, not only of that physical light but also of the light which overcomes the darkness of our world.

Verse 2:

This night of wonder, night of joy,
was born the Christ, our brother;
he comes, not mighty to destroy,
to bid us love each other.
How could he quit his kingly state
for such a world of greed and hate?
What deep humiliation
secured the world’s salvation!

Though my reason for picking this hymn is mostly found in verse 1, I had to highlight verse 2 for one simple reason.  The song “Glorious Day” by Casting Crowns has been an important one for me this past year as it has made me realize that Jesus left the glory of Heaven — His “kingly state” referred to in this carol,  to come HERE — to this dark, fallen world!  What a sacrifice!  It has struck me this year as I lament the evil and darkness of the world around me; Jesus willingly came here, knowing how messed up this world is, to “secure the world’s salvation!”  What a gift!

Verse 3:

Come, dearest child, into our hearts,
and leave your crib behind you!
Let this be where the new life starts
for all who seek and find you.
To you the honor, thanks, and praise,
for all your gifts this time of grace;
come, conquer and deliver
this world, and us, forever.

So today, let us honor, give thanks to ,and praise Jesus, the Son of God, who came to break the power of darkness in this world and in us.  Let our prayer truly be “Come, conquer and deliver this world, and us, forever.”  And may that prayer give us purpose and peace as we live our lives for Him.

~Tricia Hitchcock

 

 

Going Ahead of Us

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.  Just as in denying Christ, Peter said, “I do not know the man” so also should each disciple say this to himself or herself.  Self-denial can never be defined as some profusion–be it ever so great– of individual acts of self-torment or asceticism…Self-denial means knowing only Christ, who goes ahead of us and no longer the path that is too difficult for us.  Again, self-denial is saying only: ‘He goes ahead of us, hold fast to Him.’”   – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Why did Peter deny Christ?  This is something he vowed he would never do. “But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!’” (Mt. 26.35); yet come evening he found himself doing that very thing.

“Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Mt. 26.74 -75).

Peter was so quick to deny Christ because he was operating out of faith in his own ability to stay true to the Lord. He thought he would do what was right when the time came, by his own power, but instead he acted out of self-dependency and self-preservation.  He was unable to deny himself, so he denied Christ instead.  In fear and self-deception, he took his eyes off Christ and let go.

We are to know only Christ who goes ahead of us. We need to deny our selves and look to Christ to find our true identity, the self that He created. As His followers we are to count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus; our life is a new life in Him and this truth allows us to put off our old selves… and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. The reality is that our old selves have been crucified with Christ, He has gone ahead of us, we only need to hold fast and follow.
~Leslie Drury

 

Rend Your Hearts

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
Joel 2:13

As Christians approach the Lenten season of contemplation, reflection, self-denial, temptation, sacrifice and gratitude, we are reminded that our transformation is internal, not external.  We may wear ashes on our forehead as a reminder of our dusty origins and how dead we are in our sin, but it is mere symbol, like wearing our laments like torn sackcloth.

Because of Christ, we are so much more than ashes.  God’s breath powered our hearts to beat, our lungs to swell, our mouths to worship.  It is the rending of our flesh that matters, just as Christ was rendered on the cross.

Because of Christ, our ashes are blown into flame that burns with His Spirit; our hearts are open and ready.

As Christians we will walk together through these dark Lenten days of preparation, casting light and warmth in the midst of our earthly struggles.

Ashes no more.

~E. Gibson

With Friends Like These

Lent is a time to contemplate who Christ’s enemies really are.  It is too tempting to read the story of his trial, crucifixion and suffering and point the finger at Romans and Jews.  To the Pharisees, He was perceived as heretical to their rigid obsession with the law as the means to salvation.  To the Romans,  He was an inconvenient itinerant rabbi who tended to attract crowds of the rabble, the common people–an undesirable thing in the law and order world.

The reality is Jesus’ enemies weren’t really the Romans and Jews.  They were those whoprofessed to love Him the most but then turned away when loving Jesus meant suffering with Him.  The betrayals that take place, resulting in His arrest and death,  are not by those who hated Jesus.   Jesus told His betrayers the truth about who they were, and what was in their hearts, by shining His light on their weakness, illuminating their sin even before they committed it.  He does the same with us every day.  We cannot hide from His light illuminating the dark corners of our heart.

We must face the fact that we continue to betray Him, usually in small ways that we hope are insignificant or hidden because, after all, we are Christians, we pray, we go to church, we are “good” people who certainly mean well.

We do no less than what Peter did three times.   We deny knowing Him when it is inconvenient to admit it.

We are no less selfish than Judas selling out for silver when what is being asked of us is to give up the material things of this world we hold dear.

We are no less cowardly than the throngs crying “Crucify Him!” when only days before they were  lauding him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, going along with the crowd,  as it feels risky to stand out, stand apart, be utterly alone in our devotion to Him rather than live out our love affair with the world along with everyone else.

So with friends like us…

We have some serious explaining to do.  Amazing that He knows our hearts even before we utter a word.

~E Gibson