Posts Tagged With: Christmas

God’s Righteousness and Justice. V: The Birth and Life of Christ

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The LORD our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from needpix.com, published under a Creative Commons license.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on the justice and righteousness of God. They were key elements of the Jewish people’s Messianic hopes and essential to Jesus’ reasons for coming into the world. (Take some time to read Mary’s song of praise, traditionally known as The Magnificat, in Luke 1:46–55, and you will see her hope of God’s judgment and mercy.)

The Jewish people suffered oppression throughout their history. The nation of Israel had grown as slaves in Egypt before Moses led them forth. By the time Jeremiah prophesied, the northern tribes of Israel had been overthrown by Assyria and taken into exile, and the southern kingdom of Judah was beginning to experience the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah proclaimed God’s promise that, someday, the Jews would receive deliverance. They would return to their homeland. Eventually, God would send a great King, a descendant of David that would reign in God’s righteousness. Anticipation of this coming King, the Messiah, comforted and inspired the Jews throughout the centuries that followed.

Even after returning from Babylonian exile, the Jewish people would experience more oppression: the Medo-Persian empire, then the Greeks, and later the Romans. When Jesus was born, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, ruled by Roman governors or puppet kings.

Jesus’ birth brought the promised “Lord our righteousness” to Earth. The fullness of God dwelled within Him (Colossians 2:9). Jeremiah, recalling Isaiah 11:1, called Jesus “a righteous Branch” of David; the name of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, is derived from the Hebrews word netzer, which means “branch.” The Branch of David, the Messiah, grew up in the town of the branch.

When He came that time, Jesus brought spiritual salvation, not only to the Jewish people, but to all humanity. The Bible repeatedly tells us that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). The fullness of God’s righteousness will appear when Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end,” as the Nicene Creed says.

Christmas reminds us that God sent His Son to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). He has brought God’s righteousness to us. We can and should trust in no savior except Jesus Christ, who is The Lord our Righteousness. No religious or political leader can bring God’s righteousness and justice to us. Nobody else is worthy of our praise.

Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas: God’s Light in the Darkness

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:2, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

2020: A year most of us will never forget; a year that will live in infamy. Many of us have encountered death. We have lost loved ones and/or mourned with friends who lost loved ones. We have faced the fear of catching a potentially fatal disease. One year ago, if we washed our hands 20 times per day, it would be considered a sign of a psychological disorder; now, it is an official public health policy. The insanity goes beyond the coronavirus, though: protests against police brutality and racial inequality exploded into violent riots and feeble attempts to create anarchist utopias; the year is ending with a disputed, controversial presidential election; and somehow, we all forgot about the murder hornets. Many of us have prayed that God would intervene (without the hornets).

Image via pixy.org

As we approached the end of the year, it seemed as if God was sending us a sign. During the last week of Advent, Jupiter and Saturn came so near to each other in the night sky that it reminded many people of the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the wise men to find Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12). Since many scholars believe the Star of Bethlehem was actually such an astronomical conjunction, the timing seemed almost prophetic.

When Jesus came into the world, people were looking for hope. Violence, death, and political corruption were rampant. A dictatorial regime ruled the known world and oppressed the Jews. People needed hope.

The names have changed, technology has exploded, but the human condition remains much the same. Perhaps “Star of Bethlehem 2020” was a sign from God. People have been reminded to look to God amid the darkness.

Christmas lights and snow outside my apartment building. Photo copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch.

Even when there are no dramatic astronomical events to grab our attention, God’s light shines. Jesus is the light of the world, and we can look to Him for light, life, healing, redemption, and hope. Christmas reminds us that God became one of us, enduring everyday human hardships, surrounding Himself with suffering, so that He could redeem us and give us eternal life.

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9–10).

God has been with us throughout the pandemic and every other crisis of 2020, and He is not leaving us. Let us keep looking to His light to guide us through the darkness.

How have you seen God’s light in 2020? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas: The Love of God Revealed To and Through Us

Image provided by YouVersion.com.

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and followers of Darkened Glass Reflections! There is a popular seasonal song that proclaims “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” I usually find myself thinking it is the most busy and stressful time of the year. It is easy to lose sight of the birth of Jesus when your attention is drawn to the commercialized elements of the holiday.

As I write this post, my wife and I are preparing for friends and family to arrive, so this will be a brief post. In my devotions today, I came across this passage worth reflecting upon:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12, ESV, emphasis added).

The entire life of Christ—from conception, to birth, His earthly life and ministry, to His death, resurrection, and ascension—revealed the love of God. It was an invitation to unite the life of God with the lives of mankind. It is easy to view passages like this one as simply “Jesus came and died so we would not go to hell.” But, it is more than that. In Christ, God has revealed Himself to us and shown us what a true man or woman of God is like. This passage goes on to speak about how God sent us His Spirit (v. 13). The Spirit-filled life of a Christian is one filled with the life of Christ and the love of God in our hearts.

What does this love look like?

  • It is active. When mankind fell into sin, God did not merely throw up His hands in frustration and mumble, “Well, you guys screwed up; you’re on your own now.” Instead, He launched a plan to redeem us from the wages of sin. That plan demanded that Jesus take action to live and die as one of us.
  • It is sacrificial. It cost Jesus everything to come to earth (Philippians 2:5-11). He thought our souls and eternal lives were worth the price. He stepped down from his comfortable exalted throne to be born in a manger and die on a cross.
  • It is merciful and gracious. We did not deserve God’s love, but He loves us anyway. He does not hold back His love because we do not deserve it; instead, His love compels Him to raise us up above our sins and shortcomings.

Let the love of Jesus guide us as we celebrate His birth and life. Let our love be active, seeking opportunities to bless those around us. Let our love be sacrificial, seeking to bless others even if it costs us time, money, or comfort. Let our love be merciful and gracious; let us love others, even when we think they do not deserve it. Instead of letting the commercialism of Christmas interfere with the spiritual part of the holiday, let the active, sacrificial, merciful, and gracious love of Jesus motivate our gift-giving and gatherings.

Most of all, let us keep the message of Christmas in our hearts year-round. May the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace rule and dwell in our hearts through His love every day.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Nature and Personality, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Warfare XVIII: Concluding Thoughts

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:7–13; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Demonic threats forced Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt early in Jesus’ childhood. Spiritual warfare is very much a part of the life of Christ, including the Christmas narrative. Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, ca. 1423, from Uffizi Gallery [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When we began this series on spiritual warfare in September, I had no idea that we would reach the end just before Christmas. Yet, here we are: Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Tuesday, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. I have a few friends who may refer to Santa Claus as “Satan Claus.” Other than that, most Christians do not want to talk about demons and spiritual warfare. The feel-good “holiday movies” on Hallmark Channel and UP TV are more pleasant.

However, Satan does not care about our calendar. He will attack whenever it is convenient for him. Life and hardship continue in spite of Christmas.

In fact, we cannot remove Satan or the demonic from the Christmas story. The passage above appears right after a vision that looks back on the birth of Jesus (Revelation 12:5). The passage focuses on Satan’s attempts to keep Him from coming into the world and fulfilling His mission of redemption. Whether the “woman” is Mary (as many Catholic commentators say) or the entire nation of Israel, the main point is that this is part of the war between the dragon (Satan) and the male child (Jesus). The “woman” is involved in the battle because of her relationship with Jesus, and so is anybody else who has a connection to Him.

In Matthew 2, we read how Jesus was threatened with death even as an infant or toddler. When the magi came seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” Herod wanted to kill him. He viewed Jesus as a threat to his throne. When the magi did not cooperate with him by telling him exactly where Jesus was, Herod sought drastic measures. Joseph, as Jesus’ guardian, had to take drastic measures as well:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13–16)

Satan, working through the paranoid heart and mind of Herod, would kill all of the babies in Bethlehem if that was what it took to kill Jesus. Revelation 12 may speak in very symbolic language, but Matthew 2 reminds us that spiritual warfare manifests in raw, real-world, life-and-death situations. People suffer; some die; families’ lives are uprooted and thrown into chaos.

So, with that in mind, I offer a few final thoughts about spiritual warfare:

First, to win the battle, we must be ready to believe God’s truth and not the lies of the world and the enemy. The entire account of Jesus’ birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about people who were willing to take unprecedented leaps of faith and trust God, believe His Word, and accept the call to be part of His plan to redeem mankind. Mary had to believe that God could bring forth life in her womb without the intervention of a human father; she also had to trust that He would take care of her so that all would succeed. Who would really believe her story that she was still a virgin, even though obviously pregnant? The sentence for adultery (including sex before marriage by a betrothed person) in the Old Testament was death by stoning; people might show even less compassion for a pregnant unmarried woman telling unbelievable stories accusing God of having sex with her (as her story would sound). Joseph had to believe the angel’s message, which came to him in a dream, was really the word of God and not his own made-up wishful thinking. Why should he risk his reputation and life for a baby that he knew was not his? Since he married Mary in spite of her pregnancy, people might have suspected that he was really the father, and was sexually immoral himself, thereby risking his own reputation. Was it worth it?

They could only accomplish their calling by believing God, even when the message defied all logic and the mission came with great risks and sacrifices. Make no mistake: Joseph and Mary were drafted into spiritual warfare from the moment of Christ’s conception. They had to do battle against their own doubts, their egos, the suspicions and accusations of their neighbors (and perhaps even families), and Satan himself.

Second, to believe God, we have to accept some uncomfortable inconvenient truths. The Bible says that there is a literal hell and people will suffer there for eternity. It speaks of a literal, real being named Satan. If you call yourself a Christian, you have to believe in hell and Satan. Not only are they taught in the Bible, but also most of what we know about them comes from the New Testament. Most of it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself! To not believe in a literal hell, real eternal damnation, or a personal entity named Satan is to accuse Jesus of being a liar.

This is a major reason why many Christians are living defeated lives, Christianity’s influence on American culture is in decline, and many young people are flocking to false religions like paganism and the occult. Many Christians and churches are spiritually impotent because they do not believe the truth about their enemy. They think spiritual warfare is about fighting their own personal apathy or fear. They think the devil is just a symbol representing evil. Before long, people mistake “evil” as a synonym for “discomfort or displeasure.” They think something is evil because it hurts their feelings, not because it is contrary to the will and nature of God. For them, spiritual warfare is a form of emotional shadow-boxing against an imaginary opponent.

In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis makes the following observation about demons:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

As we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, and as we prepare for the New Year that awaits us, let us renew our resolve to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–2) and, like Him, resolve ourselves to destroy the works of the enemy. The battle is real, but we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) as we remain faithful to Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shepherds, Wise Men, and Ordinary People

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:8–16, ESV).

04567_christmas_nativity_scene_at_the_franciscan_church_in_sanok2c_2010

Nativity scene at Franciscan church in Sanok, Poland. Photo by Silar (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The nativity scene (or crèche) is one of the most popular Christmas decorations. Many homes and churches display one throughout Advent and Christmas. According to tradition, it was invented by St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181–1226) as a simple teaching aide to help people remember the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. All the key players are present: The Virgin Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a few shepherds, three wise men, one or two angels, and a bunch of animals. In a society when most people could not read, such a visual aide was necessary to teach a central story of the Bible.

It may not tell the story perfectly. For example, the shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus possibly within 24 hours of his birth, whereas the Magi (who were not kings) came possibly as late as two years later, when the Holy Family was now living in a house. Nevertheless, we can see the main figures in the account of Jesus’ birth together in one location at once. However, it works as an effective story-telling device.

The story of Jesus’ birth has become so familiar to most Christians, though, that many of us miss a few key points. Consider the key characters:

  • Mary was a virgin, but could anybody really believe that? An unwed woman could be pregnant in only one way: via premarital sex. In a very religious society, the punishment could be as severe as stoning. At the very least, she could face rejection by the community, perhaps even her parents and immediate family. The best she could hope for would be a quiet divorce by her husband and a life of shame and rejection (betrothal was legally binding). She actually got better than she hoped for.
  • Joseph was a working-class artisan, probably living day-to-day. Although we think of him as a carpenter, he may have engaged in other skilled work with his hands to build and repair things. Could he really believe Mary’s excuse, that the baby was sent by God and she had not had sex with another man? If he married her, it would suggest to the rest of the community that he must be the real father. One can only imagine how his carpentry business would fare when he is known as the reprobate who could not control himself until his wedding night.
  • The shepherds: We like to think of them as gentle souls who spent their days taking care of cute little farm animals. However, most people in Bethlehem would have a different perspective: a bunch of dirty, uncouth rogues who smell like sheep droppings, among the outcasts of society. They may not be as bad as tax collectors and harlots, but they would still not be likely to get an invitation to celebrate the birth of a King.
  • The wise men or Magi were perhaps some of the worst pagans a Jew could imagine. Tradition refers to them as kings, but they may have been emissaries for a king. Magi were actually astrologers, who made their living engaging in a practice deemed abominable in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Isaiah 47:13–15).

Who is missing from this story? The Roman emperor with his appointed regional vassal King Herod, the wealthy, the religious elite, the powerful, etc. The people whom we would most likely include in a strategy to save the world from certain doom are not in the nativity scene. God chose to send His Son into the world through the womb of an ordinary woman, one whose family would never appear in the historical records otherwise, into a very ordinary family, in a small town within a politically insignificant occupied territory within in a pagan empire. He chose to reveal His Son first to people from the outer fringes of society and pagan astrologers who found out about Him via a condemned occult practice of observing omens.

However, you do not need to be left out of the nativity scene. Jesus came to invite you to have eternal life with Him and His Father. While the world worships at the altar of materialism and Santa Claus, join the shepherds and wise men to bow before the Son of God in the manger. Invite Jesus to take His place at the center of the most ordinary aspects of your life, so that Christmas can remain with you every day.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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