It’s the beginning of Advent!
I always think of Advent as stretching Christmas out for a month. Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas, in this case it began November 29. Though there are different traditions involved, generally each week focuses on different facets of Advent.
Advent is multi-faceted
Let me explain…
There is a Greek word that comes up several times in the New Testament: Parousia. The word means “coming,” or “arrival.” Here’s an example:
Parousia is often merely a reference to Christ’s Second Coming; the visible return of Christ from the heavens, to raise the dead, judge the living and the dead, and set up the kingdom of God.
What does this have to do with the Christmas season?
Well, parousia translated into Latin is adventus, or simply Advent. In other words, Advent starts with the arrival of Christ as a babe in swaddling clothes, but it also emphasizes an altogether separate arrival: his Second Coming!
Advent is about Jesus’ arrival(s)
That cute little nativity scene actually lurches forward in anticipation of a Great Story unfolding: when the Messiah will come again to renew and restore all things to Himself!
Prepare Him room!
As the Christmas carols start playing tomorrow, the tree farms turn on their lights, and shelf space fills with holiday memorabilia, let even these things serve as a reminder; let them stir in you that same anticipation which must have been in the original cast in the stable on that day. Jesus is coming back! The story is not over. He will return to renew and restore all things.
Prepare Him room in your hearts this week. As you go about regular activities, regularly ask yourself if you would do that said thing differently knowing Jesus was about to personally arrive right where you are any second!
I must admit–assuming the usual caveats about Christmas being about Jesus–that the actual date of December 25th is one of the most difficult for me.
I do adore my Christ. I do love the celebrations. I love the church services, and the church family. I love the sermons I get to study, write, and pray over. I love the usual busy work that surrounds the offices leading up to Christmas. But where I struggle the most is when after these festivities, everything closes for Christmas day. Well, everything but my restless mind.
I've learned–to my discomfort–that I enjoy being busy, even if I'm not doing much in particular.
Because I am busy with my thoughts, or busy in conversation, or walking a busy street. Yet on Christmas day, I'm robbed of my busyness when every venue, outlet, and commercial expression is taken from me. It's the one day in the year I can't do anything. This is, on the surface, a classic first world problem! Yet a guy who's that stimulated by productivity will sometimes mistake productivity for faithfulness to God. And this is where I sometimes have a problem. I'm learning that they aren't the same.
Perhaps I equate being busy with being faithful because I really just want to know that what I'm doing matters to God.
The only way I can secure that is through busyness.
(Cue the sad music, and the sermon on how the gospel frees us from thinking we can secure God's love through hard work).
Yes, I know. I shouldn't think that ever. But I do. Who doesn't? And Christmas, it turns out, is the forcible action that confronts my idolatry. It does this by keeping me helpless. Silent. Not busy. There are no chores to do. No errands. There are no check-lists to keep track of, no vision to cast, and no sermon to prepare. I can't meet with anyone, because they're all with family. I can't think deeply about things, because friends and extended family punctuate every minute with the laughter of inside-jokes. There is nowhere I can go to find a “safe place,” by which I mean, work. I am unsafe. But from what? Well…myself, I suppose. My idol of productivity–of busyness.
Christmas exposes me as my own worst enemy.
And sometimes it takes the town shutting down to pull me out of my comfort zone. I'm learning that silence isn't all that bad–though it feels like it–and is even a great outlet for prayer, as counter-intuitive as that seems. But I still don't like it. Perhaps that's my problem: words (in prayer) help me feel productive; the discursive thoughts Richard Rohr often warns about in his instruction on contemplative prayer, that we mistakenly assume are meritorious to God. Rohr, in his book, A Lever and a Place to Stand, suggests “Prayer beyond words” instead (59). So I tried it. But it's increasingly uncomfortable to leave words behind, when words are all you do in life.
We have to have a slight distance from the world–we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for meditation, for prayer in what Jesus calls “our private room.” However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same, loving it, feeling its pains and its joys as our pains and our joys. ~ Richard Rohr, 2.
In other words, we must all learn to withdrawal in holy silence, yet re-engage the pressures of “productivity” when our spirit is revived; after all, we're never not supposed to be productive. The Bible simply chooses an alternative: fruitfulness.
Our lives are not supposed to be marked by busy work, but by the characteristics (the fruit) of the Spirit.
Sometimes this happens when you're busy, and sometimes it happens when you're not. After reading Rohr's line, I experienced an epiphany: God used December 25th to slow my life down enough to show me that he doesn't need me. Yet in the sermon I gave the night before, I also explain how the birth of His Son proves that he wants me (and you). Now, we're on another level.
Because while it's uncomfortable to feel unneeded; it's downright devastating to feel unwanted. But to be unneeded while knowing you're still wanted is one of the most liberating things the soul can ever know.
And on this Christmas week, I'm trying to ride the border of that mysterious truth, if only because the shutting down of Santa Barbara forced it upon my over-productive mind. And to think some people don't believe in effectual grace! Tsk tsk. That's what a busy mind will sometimes do to you. Can I share something with you, from one mad thinker to another? (One that I robbed from a local bumper sticker)…
Slow down Santa Barbara.
God's presence is worth the reflection.
Habakkuk 2:20 ~ The Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.
Matthew 3:16-17: “After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. And there came a voice from heaven: ‘This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!'” (HCSB)
What beautiful elements to this paragraph! “[The Holy Spirit was] coming down on [Jesus]….[says the Father]: ‘I take delight in Him!’
Matthew is unambiguous in his mention of the Trinitarian God. He not only mentions them, but he depicts them in a wonderful dance of inclusion and delight. The Spirit is happy to descend upon the Son; the Father delights in the Son; the Son joyfully welcomes both the Spirit and the Father!
The first thing that comes to mind in this passage is the sheer girth of the coming announcement. This is not a footnote–it’s the red carpet of the cosmos, and Jesus is walking across it.
In other words, this is a BIG deal, so pay attention to what God is about to say.
God the Father says something alright. He publicly identifies Jesus’ unique Sonship. This is not sonship as we might entertain–that of genealogical descent. This is God’s “proleptic enthronement” of Jesus to the highest status, the highest office, and the highest ministry (Keener). What ministry?
There is an Old Testament parallel in Ezekiel 1:1, where the prophet “asks God to tear the heavens and come down to redeem his people” (France). What Matthew is clarifying is that this is the unique expression of who God is. In other words, don’t send a man to do what only God can do; send God to become a man.
Here’s a paraphrase of Matthew by Dale Frederick Bruner:
“If we know this, we know the most important fact in the world. ‘Here,’ God is saying in so many words, ‘in this man, is everything I want to say, reveal, and do, and everything I want people to hear, see, and believe. If you want to know anything about me, if you want to hear anything from me, if you want to please me, get together with him.'”
Jesus is the only person who can fulfill the ministry of the Father in redeeming His people.
Not only does the Father make a big deal about Jesus (Trinitarian), and crown him as the hope of the world (coronation), but he then pronounces His personal delight in Him. Now stop for a second and let that sink in. Delight. With our modern, presuppositional lens of a far-off God who doesn’t get involved in much, but still requires good behavior–the way a CEO might expect of a cashier in a distant franchise, without caring for them personally–this should blow your mind. God delights in something. Not anything, but something specifically. He delights in his Son. The Fathers love of the Son was before the world’s creation (17:24), meaning that the love shared between them did not begin at a certain point, and not exist before that–it always was. And as Michael Reeves explains, there is a certain shape to that relationship. “The Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved.”
But why does this seem to be the climactic point that the Gospel writer, Matthew, ends on? Because of its implications for those who believe in Jesus! Reeves goes on to say, “Therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved.”
That the Father delights in His Son means that when we are united to His Son, the Father delights in us, too! Now, this doesn’t mean we are the same as Jesus–as Matthew clearly depicts, He is the unique Son of God. It means we are sons and daughters of God by adoption (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5; Eph 4:5), and only through union with Christ. So even if you are a murderer, an alcoholic, a tantrum-thrower, a failed entrepreneur, a recovering hypocrite, or a struggling mother–in Christ, you become the delight of God! This is the greatest story ever told, and the single most liberating truth on the planet.
The unique Son of God on a mission to find the downtrodden, and bring them into the delight He has known for all eternity.
- R.T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007). p.121
- Craig S. Keener. The Gospel of Matthew: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). p.135
- Fredrick Dale Bruner. The Christbook: Matthew 1-12. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004). p.111-112
- Michael Reeves. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2012) p.28
The #1 mobile activity is accessing maps and directions.
I believe it. You should see a typical drive in the car with my wife and me. I’m usually the one working a maps application–of which I have plenty versions from which to choose–while she, with her photographic mind, is calling out directions on the go. She remembers details, I prefer to have them organized in Evernote, and dictated to me by Siri. She tells you to turn as the intersection is upon you, I like to know where that turn is before I even leave the house. Don’t even get me started on climate control. She like the car to resemble a sauna; I like icicles to form on the dashboard. We are so different in our approaches to driving that it’s easy to forget one thing…
We both just want to know where we’re going.
In the second part of our series, Faces of Jesus, we encounter a promise for finding directions. But rather than getting a list of turns, street names, or miles, we get…a person.
Matthew 2:6 ~ “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel” (HCSB).
Everything you need to know about this post (or finding direction in your own life) is encapsulated in the word shepherd.
What does a shepherd do anyway?
1. They direct sheep.
Perhaps a better word is, he leads them. Check out this descriptive story from Lois Tverberg’s blog,
Judith Fain is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Durham. As part of her studies, she spends several months each year in Israel. One day while walking on a road near Bethlehem, Judith watched as three shepherds converged with their separate flocks of sheep. The three men hailed each other and then stopped to talk. While they were conversing, their sheep intermingled, melting into one big flock.
Wondering how the three shepherds would ever be able to identify their own sheep, Judith waited until the men were ready to say their goodbyes. She watched, fascinated, as each of the shepherds called out to his sheep. At the sound of their shepherd’s voice, like magic, the sheep separated again into three flocks. Apparently some things in Israel haven’t changed for thousands of years.
2. They were despised.
This is echoed in the words of Joseph, that “all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). The Messiah comes as one of these, for “his rule is to be that of a shepherd. He will have no power but the power that comes from his love of the lost sheep of Israel” (Hauerwas, 39).
Jesus is the despised shepherd, who leads the lost sheep.
The verse in Matthew is a quotation of two passages in the Old Testament–the first half quotes Micah,
Micah 5:2 ~ Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity (HCSB).
The second half of Matthew’s verse quotes Samuel,
2 Samuel 5:2 ~Even while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led us out to battle and brought us back. The Lord also said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel and be ruler over Israel (HCSB).
You may notice a couple things. One, Matthew’s wording isn’t an exact quotation. Two, Matthew used both Old Testament passages when maybe one would have sufficed.
When Matthew quotes Micah, he alters the wording ever so slightly in a couple places; I just want to focus on one of those places. Where Micah says, “you are small among the clans of Judah,” Matthew quotes him, saying, “you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah.” So it goes from you are small to you are by no means the least. Matthew is simply inserting his theology into this Old Testament prophesy, because, having witnessed (through the Apostles) to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he knows Micah’s prophetic promise has been fulfilled. Bethlehem used to be small; it is now significant because it hosted the Ruler who’s “origin is…from eternity” (Mic 5:2).
R.T. France also observes that “the two Old Testament passages are closely related, 2 Sam 5:2 giving God’s original call to David, and Mic 5:2 taking up its language to describe the future roll of the coming Davidic king in fulfillment of his great ancestor’s achievements” (72).
At this point, let’s break from exegesis, and take in the sweeping power of the Psalmist’s poetry when he goes on about the Shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake (vv.1-3)
He lets us lie down in green pastures. Check out this four minute video I found on Lois Tverberg’s blog. Then join me in the next line…
Jesus is a ruler, but he’s also a shepherd. He leads by feeding us in green pastures, by directing us when we’re lost or out of food, by protecting us from wolves. This Savior (Messiah) came out of the lowly (Bethlehem) to be lowly (Shepherd). And he comes to a world of people who just want to know where they’re going. Many are so lost in the details of figuring out the directions, that their whole lives will be spent driving in circles.
If that’s you, stop the car.
You don’t need directions–you need a Shepherd.
R.T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007)
Matthew’s first five chapters show the different faces of Jesus as revealed in His birth–catch up on the introduction!–so we begin with chapter 1:1-17.
Starting off with a genealogy, the introductory chapter of Matthew appears anticlimactic. No one starts off a book with an historical record! Well, no one today. But the Biblical authors did this often. If you put yourself in 1st century Jewish shoes while reading this chapter, you’ll get sucked into the drama instantaneously.
A better hero
Socio-Rhetorical scholar, Craig S. Keener, points out that “The names in the genealogy — like Judah, Ruth, David, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah — would immediately evoke for Matthew’s readers a whole range of stories they had learned about their heritage from the time of their childhood.”1 What appears tedious for contemporary readers is a type of literary device used by the author to open the eyes of the readers of his day, and to focus them, “by evoking great heroes of the past like David and Josiah, Matthew points his readers to the ultimate hero to whom all those other stories pointed.”2
In fact, genealogies usually list a person’s descendants, not ancestors (Gen 5:1; 10:1). “Matthew’s point here is profound: so much is Jesus the focal point of history that his ancestors depend on him for their meaning.”3
A better ruler
“Son of David” has messianic connotations, and is used by Matthew 17 times, more than any other book in the NT.4 The connection to David in these “boring” genealogies shows Jesus’ royalty. To see this, you have to go all the way back to Read the rest of this entry
Last year, Adorn hosted a Christmas gathering for our college students and 20-somethings that seemed to strike a nerve for a few people. So I thought I should offer it here again. But first, a little background…
This is a short Christmas story, told from the perspective of a low-ranking demon. The events that transpire are taken from the context of Revelation 12:1-6.
“I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” -Jesus (Luke 10:18)
And Revelation 12:7-12… (it gets cut off prematurely, but you get it)
May you be filled with a sense of awe at the peerless wonder of Jesus Christ this weekend!
[Outline of both sermons are found here.]
I want to share with you five recent interactions that cause me to suspect that “Jesus” is turning into a byword.
Jesus’ name in prayer
Evangelicals are often reared to pray in “the name of Jesus,” or “in Jesus’ name.” What this sometimes equates to is a literal attaching of the phrase “Jesus’ Name” to the end of every prayer.
Jesus’ name in song
A few months ago, a well-meaning man approached me after I had led music worship at our church to tell me that none of the songs in the first set ever “mentioned the name of ‘Jesus.'” He suspected that a lack of verbally stating Jesus’ name would detract from the glory given to Him. Ordinarily, I would agree with such beautiful Christology for music—except that in this case, the songs he was referring to that morning were Come Though Fount and We Exalt Thee.
They didn’t mention Jesus’ name anywhere, but…how much more Christ-exalting can a song can be than these?
Jesus’ name in evangelism
Let’s get this straight: I believe that the Gospel must be proclaimed and lived out in unison, without compromise between either. Most Millennials resonate with this (especially the “living out” part). But on occasion, people will insinuate how important it is to bring up the name of Jesus is in every conversation that takes place between believer and outsider. It sometimes feels as though the verbalization is of more importance to the said believer—like a check mark on a to-do list—rather than a carefully established relationship and opportunity to witness, to the outsider. Once again, evangelism (sharing of Good News) is watered down into a formula in this case, called “Jesus’ name.” Read the rest of this entry