Friday, December 9, 2016

Preparing For Christmas

We are in the heart of the holiday season, and most of us have one eye on Christmas even as we go about our daily tasks.  We shop, cook and bake, plan gatherings and parties, decorate, and send greeting cards.  It is a time of preparation!  In the midst of our busyness, though, I think one of the most important ways that we can prepare for Christmas is to consider how God prepared for Christmas.  Please join me in a brief journey through Scripture to observe a few highlights of God’s preparation.

In the Bible, the story of Christmas begins well before the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth.  It starts even before Genesis.  We read in Ephesians that our salvation in Christ is established before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).  Our all-knowing, time-transcendent God starts to prepare for Christmas even before He creates the earth—and us!

We read in Genesis the very familiar account of the creation, of the Godhead working in concert to create—out of nothing—this glorious planet and the living things on it.  By the third chapter we read of the fall, of the broken relationship between God and the man and his wife.  But as God pronounces the consequences of their pride-driven choice, He also offers a glimpse of His redemption plan: sometime, somewhere, Eve’s seed—Christ, God Incarnate—will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).

Generation after sinful generation follow, to the point where we read that the violence and Godlessness among mankind cause God to regret His creating them (Genesis 6:6).  But still God prepares for Christmas.  He calls Noah to build the ark and then saves him and his family as the remnant through whom Eve’s Seed would come.

Generations after Noah, through Noah’s son Shem, Abram is born.  God calls Abram and establishes His covenant with Abram, promising to make a great nation through Abram and to bless all families of the earth through him (Genesis 12:2-3).  God uses Abram to introduce the concept of righteousness by faith, and it is through Abram that we meet Melchizedek, the mysterious high priest of God Most High, a priest whose ministry is apart from the Law that is to come and who is forerunner of Christ. 

God continues to prepare for Christmas.  As He renames Abram Abraham and Sarai Sarah, He empowers them to have a son, Isaac.  Isaac and Rebekah have Jacob and Esau, and again, we see God’s careful preparation as He chooses the younger son, Jacob, to bear the covenant forward.  The story of Jacob and Esau does not make for pleasant reading, and the ugliness continues among Jacob’s twelve sons.  But God is not deterred, and His preparation for Christmas continues.  He uses Jacob’s 11th son, Joseph, to keep His chosen people alive in the midst of famine, and as Jacob—called Israel by God—dies, his blessing of Judah contains a prophetic glimpse of Christ the Messiah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

The Hebrew people demonstrate an appreciation for their heritage as the people of God, and even as they endure centuries of slavery in Egypt, careful record of tribes is kept.  When God finally calls Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, Judah’s descendants are among those rescued.  After 40 years in the wilderness, He calls Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land.  God’s plan for Christmas includes a place as well as a people. 

The Hebrew people are not particularly good at being God’s people, even after God has established them as a nation.  Even King David, the man after God’s own heart, commits  adultery and murder.  But King David’s flaws do not distract God from His plans.  We read in Psalm 89 of the LORD’s covenant with David, and His promise to establish His throne by a descendant of David, who is, of course of the tribe of Judah.  What is truly extraordinary is that in revealing a bit of His Christmas plans to David, God also gives future generations—and us—substance upon which His Messiah can be recognized.

As Hebrew history continues, the prophets are given glimpses of the coming Messiah.  Isaiah announces Immanuel born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and he speaks at length of God’s plan to bring to His people the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace who as a descendant of David will rule for all eternity (Isaiah 9).  Jeremiah communicates a word of encouragement from the LORD, that He will make a new covenant with His people and that His plans for them are for a future and for hope (Jeremiah 29:11).  Micah reinforces the Davidic line of the promised Seed in proclaiming that the coming Savior would be born in Bethlehem, David’s place of birth.  And again, the prophet’s words give those who heard them hope and give future generations assistance in recognizing the Messiah so that they could celebrate Christmas.

God’s plans for Christmas become increasingly detailed and specific as the moment approaches.  He breaks through a lifetime of infertility and the limited faith of Zechariah as He sends Gabriel to announce to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth that she will conceive the forerunner to the Messiah.  Six months later, He sends Gabriel to Mary to announce that she is the chosen bearer of the awaited One.  Shortly after, God communicates with Mary’s betrothed Joseph via an unnamed angel to assure him that Mary’s highly unusual pregnancy is of His doing.  And sure enough, Mary and Joseph are descendants of King David. 

As history’s clock ticks, God moves in the heart of the Roman Emperor to declare a census that requires Joseph and Mary to travel from their hometown of Nazareth to Bethlehem just before it is time for her to give birth.  Legions of angels await the opportunity to proclaim the great event.  And then it happens, a real event in real time, orchestrated by an eternal God.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the first Christmas, and we see the fruit of God’s preparations.  The long-promised and highly anticipated Messiah has come!  His natal star bears witness to this great event so that we see confirmation in the form of the three Magi who arrive probably a year or two later to worship the newborn King. 

God’s preparations for Christmas have been concluded, but as we read further in these Gospel accounts and beyond in the New Testament, we see that the birth of Christ is only the beginning of the great plan.  Approximately 30 years after that first Christmas, Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world by dying on the cross.  Redemption has indeed been accomplished but not yet completed.  We learn that God is not yet done with His preparative work.  While His plans to reveal the Messiah at the first advent of Christ have been accomplished and Christ’s saving work on the cross is finished, we know that He continues to plan and work toward the second advent of Christ, when the redemptive work of Christ will come to its full fruition, and the eternal reign of Christ will begin.

So as we continue to scurry and plan, may we turn thankful hearts to the Lord of our Christmas feast and joyfully appreciate His loving preparation on our behalf.  And may we also remember that God continues to prepare for the second advent of Christ and remain alert in eager and confident anticipation.

Friday, December 2, 2016

An Advent Thought For The Day

"Immanuel" carries with it three distinct but interwoven connotations:
               Jesus is God
               Jesus is human
               Jesus is with us

                                                           From Hidden Christmas, by Timothy Keller

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Advent Thought For The Day

Wise men still seek Him....