Jesus Our King

This is the last reflection in a series of teaching tools used by our author, Martha, at her congregation during Advent. What does it teach you?

King: The baby sleeping in the hay has come to earth in the humblest of surroundings: There is no room for him in any inn, and so he is laid in a manger. What a contrast to the  surroundings of an earthly newborn king, and how much vaster a contrast to the glory and majesty of heaven, which he has chosen to leave! But Jesus – fully human and fully God – is born into contrasts.  The contrast between the mortal and the divine is seen in the ones who make their way to the place where the infant is staying. First the shepherds come.  Shepherds were at the bottom of the social scale in Israel, and they come in wonder, their  eyes full of light and their ears filled with the song of angels.  Then the wise men arrive – kings from the East who follow a star to find a greater king to worship. Surrounded by all the trappings of wealth they can transport in their caravan, they fall to their knees when they see the infant Jesus, and they offer him gifts: frankincense, which marks him as a priest;  myrrh (a resin then used in embalming the dead), which marks him as a sacrifice; and gold, which marks him as a king.  The love and joy of Christmas will come to all who approach the manger in humble wonder, eyes full of light and ears filled with song, and fall on their knees to offer him all that they have and all that they are and acknowledge him as Lord and King of all.  

For more about the Christmas see::

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE (Written in 2014)

A Different Kind of Christmas Service

Beginning the Work of Christmas

Jesus, Our Savior

Once again, a reminder that this series of posts were written by our author, Martha, as a teaching tool during the Christmas season.

Savior: We have considered Jesus as the Great High Priest, preparing the sacrifice that will atone for our sins once and for all. We have watched him become that sacrifice, taking those sins onto himself and dying on a cross to defeat death forever. Now we see the resurrected Christ, his triumph over the grave complete, granting us eternal life.  We have known about this child in the manger since the beginning of time; God told Adam and Eve that one day a child would come who would crush Satan’s head. Where Adam’s sin brought sin to all, this child will bring redemption to all. This child is the physical manifestation of the mercy and grace of God: mercy because we do not receive what we deserve, and grace because we  receive what we do not deserve.  Without the grace and mercy of God, we would walk in  darkness, but the birth of this child is the coming of the light into the world. Every baby is a miracle, but this one is the greatest miracle of all: the miracle of God’s love – the miracle that he loves each one of us so much that he would die to purchase us back from death to life.  This child in the manger has come to accomplish all that. His birth will reveal both his godly and his human natures: He comes amid the glories of heavenly hosts to a world that barely has room for him. He is visited by kings, but first he is visited by humble shepherds. He will be hailed by those who recognize him when he is presented in the temple, and then he will be forced to flee in the night to escape those who would have him killed. And in the end, he will be killed, but only to rise again and bring us salvation and eternal life.  

For more about Jesus, our Savior see these posts:

No One is Good Except God Alone

The Way to the Savior by Jeff and Abbey Land–Book Review

Make Jesus Your All in All

Jesus, Our Sacrifice

This is the second in a series of Christmas reflections written by our author, Martha. You may connect it to our topic this month (teaching) by remembering that it was originally used as a teaching tool in Martha’s congregation.

Sacrifice: The Old Testament tells us much about the nature of sacrifice in the ancient  Hebrew culture.  In Leviticus we read the rules for sacrifice; they specify that the animals to be sacrificed must be spotless. Not one of us would qualify for the final sacrifice; only if God himself, in the form of his Son, were to come to earth would there be a sinless man who could bear the burden for all.  In Genesis, God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son, and Abraham was obedient. In that event, God sent a substitute sacrifice, a ram, to take Isaac’s place. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, no substitute came forth—he was the substitute for us.  Just as the blood of a sacrificial lamb was used to mark those who would be saved in In the Exodus story of the Passover, we are marked by the blood of our Savior. In his first epistle, John says when we walk in the light and have fellowship with one another, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.  Most important, Jesus himself said of the cup of wine—the same wine we share in the celebration of the Eucharist—“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”  At the gates of Eden, God told Satan he would send a man to defeat him. The baby  lying  in  the manger will become that man. 

For more posts about sacrifice see:

The Sacrifice of Separation

The Ultimate Sacrifice

One Sacrifice

Jesus, High Priest

The next few posts are taken from Advent reflections written by another Lutheran lady who has posted in the past (Martha). They were used in her own congregation during the Christmas season and focus on the roles of Jesus.

Priest: Most of us have heard Jesus called the Great High Priest before, but that’s not a role in which he was seen during his time on earth. For one thing, Jesus was of the tribe of Judah. The priests, on the other hand, were descendants of the tribe of Levi–in Deuteronomy, God establishes the priesthood in the family of Aaron, Moses’ brother. They were Levites.   There was, however, a precedent for having a High Priest outside of the Levitical line, and that was Melchizedek, a king of Salem (associated with Jerusalem). He was also a High Priest. He lived in the time of Abraham, and Abraham honored him as a priest. Jesus, as Psalm 110 tells us, was “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

  What does it mean that Christ is our High Priest? Israelite priests followed rules of ritual  purification and the High Priest was the only one who could enter the Holy of Holies  (but only on Yom Kippur). Jesus, being  without sin, was pure from the beginning.   The priests served as intercessors between the people and God. Jesus (with the Holy  Spirit) became our intercessor; moreover, by tearing the veil of the temple with his death, he gave us direct access to God the Father.  The High Priest made sacrifices for the people on the  Day of Atonement. Jesus sacrificed himself in the final atonement for all of our sins.  Remember as you contemplate the baby in the manger that this tiny child is for all time the  High Priest of all people at all times in all places.

 Remember, too, that we are called to be “a royal priesthood” because we have  been adopted as children of God.  

Wake Up!

There’s a lot of hype these days around the word “woke”, which has come to mean
alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism. Another kind of wake-up call has been evident in my spiritual life lately.

A few weeks ago my husband’s sermon was based on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew chapter 25). If you recall, all ten took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. He took so long to arrive that five of them fell asleep. By the time they woke up, it was too late to go out and purchase oil for their lamps, and they missed the wedding feast.

The following week, we worshipped at a different Lutheran church. Both the Sunday School lesson and the sermon that week centered around Matthew 24, a section that discusses the second coming of Jesus (this wasn’t planned, it just happened). We’re told to stay alert and ready because nobody will be able to predict when this will happen. Finally, my reunion group friend, told me this verse came up in the community Bible study she attends:

“(Behold I am coming like a thief) Blessed is the one who says awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed>’ Revelation 16:15

I guess you can see the theme that is developing. Advent is a time of waiting for our Savior to come. He came once, and He’s coming again. We need to anticipate that coming all year, every year, not just for a few weeks before Christmas. If we’re not “woke” to the magnitude of our sin, to our need to repent and live in a way worthy of our King, we’re not going to be ready to meet Him when the time comes.

So, if you’re already awake, stay that way. If you’re not, wake up! It’s not too late, but it might be soon.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” Matthew 24:45-46

For more about being ready see:

Perhaps Today

The End of All Things

Get Ready to Get Dirty

Cheer up! You’re Worse than you think!

I’m currently reading a book about spiritual formation, and the author mentions the Jack Miller (pastor, author, missionary) quote I’ve used as the title of my post. I liked it, because it reminded me of something I was thinking about during the readings at our Sunday worship service. Here are the verses that caught my attention:

“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgement. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1-5

In other words, we’re going to be judged someday by God Himself. That should strike terror in us! But often we read these verses smugly, thinking, I don’t do those things. I haven’t committed adultery or practiced sorcery…. I’m not even an employer so I can’t be guilty of unfair wages. I practice hospitality, and so on. I’ve thought these things myself.

However, Jesus teaches us to look deeper. We’ve committed adultery in our hearts if we think lustful thoughts about someone other than our spouse; the clothes on the backs of most Americans are produced through the exploited labor of people in other countries; many argue that our immigration laws and policies are unfeeling and unfair toward immigrants (our sojourners), we don’t fear God because we secretly think we’re the “good” people … and so on. I don’t claim there is an easy answer to these issues, but we must face up to the fact that we are indeed worse than we like to think. We sin in thought, word and deed and we do it every day.

Jack Miller evidently had a response for this too: “Cheer up, God loves you more than you know!” We’ll be judged for our sins, but not condemned, because God Himself has paid the penalty. That’s what Advent is really about. So be merry, not because of the gifts under your tree, but for the true and lasting gift of salvation given to those who believe.

For more about sin see these posts:

Sin and Grace

Occasions of Sin

Martin Luther on Sin

New Month/No Theme

Well readers, another month has passed — it’s December already! This month there will be no theme, but for many people, one particular theme will be on their mind — Christmas. As Lutherans, however, we know that “Hello – It Is Not Christmas Yet”. It’s Advent. We’re in a season of waiting, not celebrating. That puts us at odds with much of our culture This month is a time of stress for many.

Have I purchased all the presents I need? Have I completed my decorating? My baking? Are all the Christmas parties scheduled and planned? We’ve turned what’s meant to be a time of peaceful anticipation into a whirlwind of activity. When we do this, we’re worshipping the gifts, instead of the Gift Giver.

I’m as prone to give into this as everybody else, but this year I’m going to try to focus on the essentials. Christ is coming! He has given us the best gift ever — salvation. It doesn’t matter how many other gifts I get, how many get togethers I attend, or whether people enjoy my pumpkin bread. What matters is the God who came down to us when we were unable to reach Him.

Give thanks. Don’t stress. The heavy lifting is already done.

Follow the Star

William Law (1686 – 1761) was a Church of England Priest.  I found this quote in my daily devotional, Joy and Strength by Mary Wilder Tileston.

“When therefore the first spark of a desire after God arises in the soul, cherish it with all they care, give all thy heart into it.  It is nothing less than a touch of the divine loadstone, that is to draw thee out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity.  Get up, therefore, and follow it as gladly as the wise men of the East followed the star from heaven that appeared to them.  It will lead thee to the birth of Jesus, not in a stable at Bethlehem in Judea, but to the birth of Jesus in the dark centre of thine own soul.

William Law

Why the Shepherds? Part 2

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s and was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador, December 2008.

There is an analogy about God’s grace that goes something like this:  we poor sinners are like swimmers drowning in a pool of sin, and we can only be saved by the life preserver of God’s grace that He throws out for us to grab onto.  My husband, a pastor, like to take that example a step further.  He maintains that we should not fool ourselves — we are not swimmers, we are drowned corpses lying on the bottom of the pool, unable to lift a finger to help ourselves.  We are saved by grace alone.  As Lutherans we hear it over and over again, but we still need to be reminded.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8).

The baby Jesus was the ultimate gift of grace.  God chose an isolated, unimportant spot to reveal this plan.  He chose shepherds, some of the most marginalized people in society, to witness His glory.  They had nothing to boast about.  They were not rich or intelligent or particularly religious.  They had no resources for spreading the word.  They weren’t the kind of folks people would listen to.  But God was not looking for the most influential or the most deserving to experience His grace.  He was looking for those who needed it the most.

The joyous message of the angels was “for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  It still is.  The angels appeared to the shepherds in a cold, lonely place, in the midst of their daily lives.  They appeared during the night when the shepherds were tired and dawn seemed far away.  Into this darkness, the glory of the Lord and the fulfillment of His promise shone out like a flare at the scene of an accident.

Most of us sometimes feel like the shepherds:  forgotten, unimportant, worn down.  The glitter and bustle of the secular Christmas season may depress us if we are alone, grieving, or without resources to celebrate in a worldly way.  At these times, we need to remember what the shepherds learned that night:  God is with us wherever we are.  He breaks into our messy lives when we least expect it with a promise of hope and peace.  Jesus says, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

This Christmas season, and throughout the year, take time to remember the shepherds.

Why the Shepherds? Part 1

This article was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador in December 2008.  It seemed appropriate for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

As a naturally curious person I can spend hours just thinking and wondering about things.  Recently I was reading the Christmas story in the book of Luke, and one aspect about it had me puzzled.  Why did God send his angels to the fields outside of Bethlehem to announce the news of Christ’s birth?  Why did He choose a few shepherds to be the first hearers?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the angels to appear in the Temple in Jerusalem?  Shouldn’t the priests who prayed daily for the coming of the Messiah be first to learn that He had arrived?

Or why didn’t God tell the angels to go to the Magi in the east?  There men were wise and learned, they had figured out on their own that a great king was about to be born.  Didn’t they deserve this heavenly confirmation of their theory?  Even the courts of King Herod would be a plausible choice.  Herod was not a good man, but he was powerful.  The sudden appearance of  “a great company of the heavenly host”  might well have persuaded him to fall in with God’s plan and spread the news of this miraculous birth far and wide.

I thought and thought.  I read some commentaries and the notes in my big study Bible.  Finally I prayed (which I should have done first and saved myself some time).  Immediately this verse from 1 Corinthians popped into my mind:

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;  God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things –the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

The Christmas story is not about what we can do for God.  It’s about God’s gift of grace to us.  God purposefully chose to come to the “nobodies”  living in the “no-places”  so that there could be no doubt–the power, the action and the results are all His.

For more about being “nobody” go to these posts:

I’m A Nobody

I’m Nobody, too

To be continued ……