A look around us at the state of the world and where it’s going can produce panic. That’s how the Israelites felt as the Assyrian empire threatened to obliterate them. (Read in Isaiah, particularly in 28:14-16, 30:1-7, and elsewhere.)
When they weren’t in denial, they devised strategies. Their confidence was in bribing their enemies, making deals with potential allies (e.g. Egypt), and trying to build up their defenses (e.g. horses). God compares this kind of security to a “foundation made of lies” which will be swept away in the flood, or “a bed too short to lie on” with “blankets too narrow to cover” the sleeper! (28:17-20).
Instead, their confidence should have been in the “foundation stone…a firm, tested and precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.” (28:16) Safety and security in their own land would be assured if only they would obey God. But would they?
As 2012 begins, I want to keep in mind some of these words from Isaiah 26:
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you…
You are a God of justice…
Our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.
All night long I search for you…Only when you come to judge the earth will people turn from wickedness and do what is right.
We have this assurance: those who belong to God will live; their bodies will rise again…and sing for joy!
What names were given to Jesus at his birth? And what is their significance? Each of them has a special meaning. Here are some of them:
Christ/Messiah—King appointed by God
Emmanuel—God with us—this time “with skin on”!
Every one of these indicates a relationship. He saves us, rules over us with love and justice, and lives/stays with us. He is not a God who is far away but one who cares and delights in every detail of my life. What comfort, security, and hope.
Jews had expected their Messiah for hundreds of years. We are told that every Jewish girl entertained the dream of being the mother of the Messiah. What some people expected was a human champion to deliver them from oppressive foreign rule and them set up a just and righteous rule. Others may have expected a supernatural figure to appear suddenly from nowhere and do the same.
But when God Himself showed up in human skin, to be born and grow up among them and pass through all the experiences of normal life with them—well that was too much! As Michael Card puts it, “Their wildest dreams simply weren’t wild enough!”
What wild dreams does God have in store in our time and experience? I pray that I will be ready and able to recognize and embrace His work in my life and around me. Wouldn’t it be too bad to miss out on something He’s doing right under my nose because of my own preconceived notions?
You know that game where a small gift is wrapped in layer after layer of boxes and wrapping paper. It’s passed around a circle and the size keeps shrinking as everyone unwraps some of it. And then finally the last person person finally tears off the last layer. This is his/her Christmas present.
In Jesus, it’s quite the opposite. A very large gift (the Infinite God) was presented in a very small package (a tiny baby). And as time went, He not only grew in size, but his glory (i.e. Godhood) was revealed more and more. Finally, as His body was torn (and with it, the veil in the Temple that separated man from God), our Christmas present from God was complete: a perfect Savior in whom we have forgiveness, new life, direct access to God, hope of heaven and God’s presence throughout, and much, much more. The gift you can’t live without!
Thanks be to God for his indescribable Gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Our pastor wrote about the Christmas season—is it characterized by RUSH or by HUSH?
This year is very different for me. The house looks like Christmas. The tree is up and decorated. Candles and greenery and snowmen are in their normal places. But many of the other “normal” things aren’t there. No family here this year. Our kids are all grown and halfway around the world with their own families. My sister and brother-in-law with whom we usually spend Christmas are also in the US. Even my husband has gone to the bedside of his dying father.
Our 36-year-old tree that used to be laden with gifts is rather bare. The Tupperware containers that used to bulge with cookies and candies are mostly empty. My calendar, which in former years had events scribbled on almost every December date, looks pretty pristine. I don’t need those things.
What I do look forward to this Christmas is more in the “hush” category—
–Listening to beautiful music celebrating the King’s birth, including Handel’s Messiah.
–Reading through the book of Isaiah, marking the myriad prophecies of my Savior’s birth, life, death, and future reign.
–Singing (and yes, eating, too) with dear friends.
–Sitting and gazing at the beauty of that old Christmas tree with its ornaments accumulated over the years, each with special memories.
–Giving thanks to God, rejoicing, praying.
I’m spending Christmas with Jesus this year, and that’s exciting!
When I was a kid, we four siblings would take turns planning our family worship time in the evening. Occasionally one of us generated an impromptu quiz in which two questions were inevitable (to give our younger brother and sister something easy to answer): “Where was baby Moses?” and “Where was baby Jesus?”
Both of these babies were in quite unlikely places—a basket floating in a river, and a feeding trough.
Both of them had to be rescued from kings that wanted to kill them. Both of them rescued their people. Both of them served as intermediaries between God and people. Both of them lead/led their people through many hard experiences before finally reaching a wonderful destination.
My father-in-law is about to reach that destination, having walked with the Lord all his life. As he lies there getting weaker and weaker, we anticipate the joy he will soon experience upon seeing Jesus’ face, feeling His arms around him and hearing His voice saying, “Well done, Son. Now enjoy your new eternal home.”
Meanwhile for me still wandering around on this dangerous and difficult earth, I want to keep my hand tucked securely in that of my Shepherd. Hmmm…mixed metaphor! Imagine a sheep holding the shepherd’s hand .
From a Roman census to a Roman cross. Were Jesus’ life and death dictated by politics or by God’s plan? How do the two intersect?
Hundreds of years before Rome became a force to be reckoned with, God told Micah (5:3) to write that the eternal Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem. And long before that, God moved David to describe in detail the horrors of the crucifixion (Psalm 22).
I don’t pretend to understand how God weaves His sovereign will through the events and personalities of history, but I do know that God’s plan trumps all human schemes. Think how He used Pharaoh and the Assyrians, Cyrus, the Roman emperor and even Pontius Pilate—all proud and willful men who believed they were acting on their own.
So when the earthquakes and floods come, when evil people rule and oppress, when the world threatens to implode—God is not threatened. His plan is not thwarted. He is on His throne, and I am in His hands .
How controversial can a Christmas tree be? There are a few Christians who reject them because of their “pagan origin.” But on the other hand, Christmas trees have lately become controversial to unbelievers. How ironic.
We see in the headlines that Christmas trees have to be called something else, because even the mention of “Christmas” in unacceptable in public.
Now Korea is another story. Did you read about the three huge towering “Christmas trees” that South Korea has lighted near the border with their northern neighbors? This has totally infuriated that northern neighbor. Why? Does the Christmas tree mean something that they want to keep out of their dark county? One might conclude that the tree is not seen as a mere decoration but is, in fact, associated with the message of Christ, shining with light and hope. I pray that the message of Christmas gets through—there and everywhere.
Maybe a Christmas tree can be a witness, after all.
A profound line comes at the end of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee [Bethlehem] tonight.
How can both hopes (positive) and fears (negative) be “met” by one event?
“Met” has to mean two different things here. All mankind’s best hopes are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus—salvation, God’s presence, love, joy, a meaningful life, God’s just rule and peace on earth…some of these are still on the way! Without Jesus, none of this would be possible.
How are the fears of humankind “met” in the birth of Jesus? They are not fulfilled but they are dispelled! The worst fears would include death, hopelessness, war & fighting, loneliness—whatever is the opposite of the “hope” mentioned in the same line. In coming to earth, Christ has provided a way out from these for all who accept His gift.
Now, that’s the reason for joy at Christmas!
Some of my favorite Christmas tree decorations are crocheted snowflakes I’ve had for about 25 years. They’re so nicely starched and shaped that I hate to wash them—so I haven’t! Every year when I get them out to put them on the tree, I am appalled at how gray and dingy they have become, especially when placed beside newer ones. BUT when I hang them on the tree, they look fine. White enough in contrast with the green of the tree.
When I read Isaiah 6 this morning (and then heard a sermon on it later in the same day!), I noticed again how Isaiah only realized his own sinfulness when he was confronted with God’s absolute holiness. Until then, he probably thought he was fine—certainly much better than the corrupt Israelites all around him.
What about me? How holy am I? Am I comparing myself with others or with God? Oh Lord, show me how you see me. Then break me, cleanse me, and use me to share Your message of light and hope in this dark world.