Monday, December 21, 2015

And Just Like That, It's Christmas Again!

   Where does the time go?

    This has been my first full year of keeping a blog, and I appreciate all of you who take the time to read it.  I seem to average about 40-50 views per post, and that's very flattering.  I am hoping this thing will grow over time, as my readership grows, but I'm happy either way.  The greatest hope of any writer is that people enjoy his words enough to come back for more.

     There are lots of things I could write about today, and no way to write about all of them.  So I thought that I might recap a few things that I talked about in church yesterday.  My sermon title was "Heaven Came Down."  As I read through a few verses from the first and second chapters of Luke's Gospel, I saw four occasions where heaven, quite literally, came down and intersected lives on earth in the course of the Nativity story.

   First, in the appearance of the angel to Zacharias in the Temple - here, heaven came down to an old man and woman, bereft of children in a time when your offspring were the only "Social Security" that there was.  They were facing the prospect of lonely old age, with no one to look after either of them once their strength and finances gave out.  Heaven came down and injected hope into a hopeless situation, creating life out of death, giving these two godly people the one thing they had always prayed for - but more than that, giving to all of God's people the messenger, the herald of the Messiah, that they had longed for since the days of Moses.  Four hundred years had passed since the last prophet spoke to Israel, and now God gently reminds his people, through this miraculous birth, that He is not done with them yet.  Even in the hopelessness of occupation and subjugation by Rome, God's plan was still rolling forward, and redemption was now at hand.

   Then there was the annunciation to Mary that her child would be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, who would redeem not just the sons of Abraham but all mankind from the hopelessness of sin.  Here we see heaven coming down at a time and place least expected, but most needed.  Who was Mary?  While there has been a ton of mythology attached to her name, in the end, what we know is sparse: she was a virgin girl of the ancient line of King David, living a normal life in Nazareth.  She was devout, and very knowledgeable concerning the Scriptures (in her song "the Magnificat" recorded in Luke 1 there are 15 direct quotations and/or allusions to the OT), and most likely very young.  This peasant girl from a small village in a backwater province of the Roman Empire would give birth to the most significant human being to ever walk the earth - and a messenger direct from the throne of God came and gave her this news!  Heaven came down when it was least expected to bring the news most needed.

  Third, there is the actual birth of Jesus - all the wisdom, love, and power of the Godhead poured into a frail human vessel, a tiny infant possessing the consciousness that created the Universe. "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory - the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  It would have been a step down of unimaginable proportions had God stepped into the body of Caesar Augustus himself!  But for the creator of the universe to incarnate himself into the body of an infant, born to an impoverished family, and cradled in a feeding trough for cattle - all to accomplish the redemption of a wicked and selfish people who had done nothing to earn God's favor or mercy!  Here is a love story beyond compare.

  Fourth and finally - heaven came down to pronounce the birth of the Messiah King, not in the Temple at Jerusalem, nor to the Forum in Rome - but to a band of penniless shepherd, camped in the field by night and tending their flocks.  Why God chose this unlikely band of witnesses to behold the arrival of His Son, we do not know - but it affirms the central truth of the Christmas story:

Heaven comes down to bring life to the lifeless and hope to the hopeless.  It comes down in the time least looked for, in the form least expected, and reveals itself to the least likely of audiences.  And yet - two thousand years later, we still remember and celebrate!

"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in."

Merry Christmas!

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