“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other………I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:30-31, 34-35)
There is a perspective of Christmas that may well precipitate a great let-down after the holiday is past. When all the focus is upon the buying and giving of gifts, being with family and friends, putting up and enjoying Christmas tree and decorations, singing and listening to carols, all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes that remind us of this special season; when it is abruptly past how do we feel? What does this say to our carrying the message of Advent into and throughout the New Year? The Bible’s perspective is never like this. The Bible speaks nearly always about Advent in its twin phases; like two mountain peaks, one behind the other that appear in our perspective to be right up against one another, when in reality there is a great plain that lies between them. But the great plain is not important, the nearness of the two peaks is. When biblically aware Christians celebrate the first Advent, the birth of Christ, they anticipate all the more the Second Advent, the return of their Lord.
Jesus saw it no differently even at the young human age of his early 30’s. From His perspective His return was near. In the same passages where He spoke of its nearness, He also said that no one knows the time of His return, not even Himself, only the Father in Heaven. So what did Jesus mean when after events are described in Matthew 24 leading up to and including His return, He says that all this will happen before this generation passes away? Some feel that the word “generation can be translated “race, speaking of the Jewish people; they will not pass away as a race until all these things have happened including the Lord’s return. That may well be the correct translation, yet the nearness of Christ’s return was not only His words, but is the message of the Bible: “Behold I am coming soon, “The Judge is at the door, “For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
This is exactly the perspective that Jesus desires you to have, whatever your generation. It is not untrue nor without essential spiritual power to every believer even though 2000 years have passed from when Jesus spoke those words. C.S. Lewis captures beautifully the meaning of this in his article “The World’s Last Night: “The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that we do not and cannot know when the world drama will end. The curtain may be rung down at any moment: say before you have finished reading this paragraph. This seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were going to get married next month, perhaps you were going to get a raise next week; you may be on the verge of a great scientific discovery; you may be maturing great social and political reforms. Surely no good and wise God would be so unreasonable as to cut all this short? Not now of all moments!. . .The doctrine of the Second Coming, then, is not to be rejected because it conflicts with our favorite modern mythology. It is, for that very reason, to be more valued and made more frequently the subject of meditation. It is the medicine our condition especially needs. What death is to each man, the Second Coming is to the whole human race. We all believe, I suppose, that man should “sit loose to his own individual life, should remember how short, how precariously, temporary, and provisional a thing it is; should never give all his heart to anything which will end when his life ends.
The passing of Christmas 2010 means for believers that the Second Coming is nearer and is near. In the truest perspective “the Judge is at the door, our Bridegroom is on his way, and our life in 2011 should reflect our meditation on that glorious truth. If in the New Year “the curtain rings down on you individually or on the entire world, will you be prepared to go out to meet Him?
“Rejoice all you believers, and let your lights appear; the evening is advancing, and darker night is near: the Bridegroom is arising, and soon He draweth nigh; up pray, and watch, and wrestle; at midnight comes the cry.
(1st verse of Laurentius Laurenti’s hymn, “Rejoice All Ye Believers, 1700)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
Don’t Have An Ichabod Christmas!
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. Luke 2:29-32
Who would ever name their son Ichabod? Perhaps we know the name best from the main character, Ichabod Crane, in Washington Irving’s tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His story and personal attributes are so sad no parent would choose his first name for their own son. But it is the original Ichabod of the Bible who first gave the name its undesirable reputation. The birth and naming of Ichabod in the Book of 1st Samuel follows the delightful story of the birth of Samuel to a long barren mother, Hannah, who was rewarded for her steadfast faith with a baby son whom she with her husband appropriately named Samuel, meaning, “God heard. Samuel became one of God’s greatest prophets. There is simply no comparison between the number of parents down through the ages who named their son Samuel with those who chose the name Ichabod. I don’t know any.
Ichabod’s mother gave him the name just before she died in childbirth. She had gone into labor early with the news that her father-in-law, the prophet Eli, had died of a broken neck and her godless husband had been killed on the battlefield. Even worse in her and Eli’s estimate, the Ark of the Lord had been captured by the pagan Philistines in the battle. She named her son Ichabod, because it means “the glory has departed. It was a time of great despair for Israel. In contrast the announcement of the angels on the first Christmas and the words of Simeon when he held the weeks old baby Jesus in his arms spoke of the entrance of glory into the world in the birth of its Savior; a vast contrast to the birth of Ichabod.
Still the birth of Ichabod, glory departed, and the birth of Jesus, the entrance of glory, means little to us if we do not grasp the meaning of glory. What does glory do for you, for your children, for all mankind? Do we truly want this glory of which the Bible speaks so extravagantly? The concept of glory can fill a library of books, yet it can be simply defined, if for nothing more than to wet your appetite to dig deeper. Glory is your salvation; it is bringing to fruition all the magnificence which God personally created you to uniquely be; it is the removal of the dross and impurities in you which drive you to despair and loss of all hope; it is the perfected, realized answer to the question: “Why do I exist? Your glory is inextricably tied to the babe in the manger, to the crucified Savior, to the risen Lord, and to the reigning King. This is why the apostle says “Christ in you, the hope of glory, all which in your innermost being you hunger to know and be.
Yet, if you are still here tomorrow morning, you continue to face the typical burdens of this life. We know what the Bible means when it says the creation in which we live was subjected to frustration (Murphy’s Law), and will be until it and we are liberated from bondage to decay. Who can deny that we hunger for some glimpse of glory in our life while still dwelling in the dust and fog of this battlefield? The birth of Jesus is our reminder that glory can be experienced now, that we might yearn for it all the more in our heavenly home. Paul conveyed this to the Corinthian church, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Don’t take it from me; take it from Him!
God’s children have experienced glory in the worst of circumstances and situations. The stable birth and manger bed confirm it. There in the vulnerable elements which threatened His infant life, glory came down and dwelt with us. He did so that we might in our own “stables and “mangers know the glory that He desires to share. It is why He came. In an act of faith you must think about it, so it may infiltrate your mind and heart. I think you best solidify such thoughts when you speak about it to your loved ones. Nothing clarifies your own understanding better than having to explain the concept of glory to your little child in a way that he or she gets a picture of what you are saying. Mind you it is not impossible for them to understand. If it were so God would not have encouraged us to tell the next generation about the glory of the Lord in passages like Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, and Matthew 18. If you fail in your family for your generation how will your children and their children know? Do not test God by counting on Him to do for you what you are unwilling to do.
Far too many experience an Ichabod Christmas, where the glory has departed. The believer need not have it so. It rests with you.
“Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born,
If he’s not born in you
Your soul is still forlorn.
(Anonymous, 3rd Century)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
Amazing, Pondering, Treasuring
“So they hurried off and found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:16-20
Have you ever wondered what became of these shepherds, whatever their number, who were, as far as we know from the Bible, the only people other than Joseph and Mary who witnessed and worshipped God in the flesh, a new born baby, in a Bethlehem stable the day of Jesus’ birth? They are never spoken of again in Scripture. Did any of their own babies die when Herod perpetrated his terrible slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem over a year later after the visit of the wise visitors from the East? Were any of them around to see and hear Jesus when he began his public ministry thirty years after?
In any case the Scriptures seem to imply that these lowly shepherds surely believed and can be counted among the saints of glory, for Luke tells us they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen. But what about those to whom they spoke of their glorious experience. Luke’s account tells us they were amazed by what the shepherds told them; they were astonished, surprised. When we examine the use of this same word “amazed elsewhere in the New Testament, we find that simple amazement does not always produce a faith that transforms one’s life eternally(compare Matthew 13:54-58 or even later in the same chapter of Luke verse 47). Very possibly some came to faith while others did nothing to follow up their amazement with a desire to know more about what they were told by the shepherds.
Amazement or astonishment does not always lead to a pondering or treasuring of these life-transforming mysteries as did Mary here and again in Luke 2:31. Though she was specifically chosen to be the Mother of God, even Mary did not immediately understand the mysteries that were invading her life. Nevertheless, she pondered and treasured them in her heart. This is exactly what the mystery and the Advent of Christ asks of each one of us: a “pondering leading to “treasuring. Saving faith knows nothing of amazement and astonishment that leads to less; a pondering (earnest, continuing, probing, meditative thought) drawn to treasuring the mysterious, personal One who through faith inhabits your life; not as some distant relation, but One who is personally close and intimate unlike any other.
The human spirit is amazed and astonished by all kinds of incitements in the world: birth of children, particular people in our life, sex, food, money, discovery, sights, music, success, failure, unexpected healing or sickness, “coincidental occurrences, tragedy, and appropriate to this time of year, surprise gifts. We tend to place Christ and the eternal future of our souls in these same temporal categories; among those “amazing and astonishing things that often pass until the next one arrives. We go from one to another, while not pursuing or pondering Christ’s coming to us (i.e. an Advent). We experience one amazing moment and are all too quickly anticipating the next, while not understanding that only One Object of our heart search will ever satisfy and never disappoint or fade away; rather the relationship grows, as the Bible says, from glory to glory.
Again this Advent Season you will experience some “amazing moments; eliciting joy, sadness, passion, or something else. The opportunity is there to meet Christ in it; pondering and treasuring who He is and who you are in Him. In essence did Mary ponder anything more than this that first harrowing Christmas night in which she gave birth? Mary must have thought to herself, “Who is this baby? Who am I in relationship to Him? Why are these shepherds here in the stable telling this mysterious story? The amazing moments are not just Mary’s. They keep on coming in your own life with a purpose of drawing your thoughts and affections in a Christ-ward direction. The spiritually thoughtless life leads eventually to despair; pondering and treasuring Mary’s way leads to heaven.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
(4th verse of Phillips Brooks Christmas Carol hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem, 1868)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
Advent: Foolishness or Mystery?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:18-21
Not only is the message of the cross foolishness to the scholars of this world, so is the story of the nativity; God becoming flesh that he might save men and women, young and old, even babes in the womb who have not seen the light of day. I never would have believed it if I did not see with my own eyes the furious, raging frustration today in those who consider themselves the “brilliant minds of the world, as they “pull out their hair over Christmas celebration in the public square, or anything smelling of Christianity, offending their “scientific nostrils and “superior minds to no end. Such consternation seems particularly explosive each time the Advent/Christmas season dares to come round once again. Despite their fairly successful war to cleanse public schools and government grounds of any and all expression of Christmas; despite the fact that the only reason December 25 is a national holiday, and that Thanksgiving to the end of December is vastly different from all the rest of the year, simply because the birth of Jesus Christ has been celebrated for centuries around the globe; its message cannot be silenced. It is there to be heard for those whose ears are open to hear; in every carol, in numerous symbols, in countless homes, in myriads of churches, in movies, plays, books, radio and television, and in the book that has been with us for thousands of years, the Bible, the nativity story lives because it is real. And because it is real it places demands on each and every life.
But in reality by the measuring standards of the world the story of Christmas, the Advent of the Messiah, is “foolishness. A young Jewish girl, still a virgin, yet mysteriously pregnant, avoids stoning even though her betrothed husband never had sexual relations with her. She is forced to travel on a donkey in her ninth month because both she and her husband are of the lineage of the House of David and therefore required to register, pregnancy or not, in David’s place of birth, Bethlehem. She has her first child in the most primitive, unhygienic, and uncomfortable place imaginable, with no help of a midwife other than her husband. Shepherds, stirred in their hearts by a most unscientific announcement by alien beings lighting up the night sky, come directly to the stable where they find the Savior of the world: an hours-old infant. Sometime later when the infant has become a toddler, scholars from a distant land directed by astronomical signs in the sky and a star that stops over the place where the child lives, come to worship him, bringing strange gifts. The gold is not so strange really, but frankincense and myrrh certainly are, though not without purpose. A king with great power and soldiers at his beck and call attempts to have the child murdered by killing all male infants and toddlers of Bethlehem in the expected age range; yet the young Jesus with his parents escape to the neighboring country of Egypt, fulfilling a centuries old promise. The details go on and on, but no one can doubt the “foolishness of the story, at least from the world’s perspective.
An old Spanish proverb goes, “Every man is a fool in some man’s opinion. The nativity of Jesus, just as the Gospel itself, is indeed foolishness in the opinion of many who are wise in their own eyes. It is not foolish to the One who alone defines foolishness. He says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God, and “The message of the cross (and the stable) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. There is no doubt that the nativity, the cross, and the gospel are steeped in mystery, but mystery simply because it is mystery does not equate to foolishness, as those who think they are wise claim. The Apostle Paul, with wisdom from God hungered for the saints to experience the “full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)
We cannot deny that there is great mystery in the nativity as there is in Christ, himself, but mystery does not make it or him to be foolishness. Rather, foolishness resides in those who refuse to un-wrap the mystery of the ages and instead scorn the gift that gives forever. If the Christmas story holds no mystery for you worth dwelling upon this Advent season, you need to dig below the surface of shallow thinking and behold “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
“O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel……………….. shall come to thee, O Israel.
(4th and 5th verses of a 12th Century Latin hymn of Advent)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
Your Response to Middle Advents of Jesus
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly. John 10:10
A recent issue of World Magazine recounted the story of Sam Kolden. He is a Wisconsin High-Schooler who has autism. From the eighth grade to his senior year Sam practiced and participated with the Menomonie Indians football team. On homecoming night this last October his years of perseverance and commitment paid off with a 66-yard touchdown play which none of the spectators, coaches, and players from either side will soon forget. Late in the fourth quarter when the Indians were leading 46-14, the Menomonie coach yelled over to the opposing coach with a request. Would the Superior Spartans, who were already soundly beaten, be willing to fulfill the dreams of a developmentally challenged young man? He asked the Spartan’s coach if they would allow Sam to catch a pass and be sure to not injure him by tackling him gently after he caught the ball. But the opposing coach, Bob DeMeyer, had a better idea: “Let’s let him score a touchdown, coach. That’s what it’s all about. So on the next play, Sam ran into the left flat, hauled in a short pass, and raced 66 yards past the futile tackling attempts of the Spartan players. The touchdown ignited a cheering frenzy throughout the stadium of fans from both teams appreciating a moment far grander than any common football contest. Sam’s father, watching from the sidelines, was deeply moved by this display of character and sportsmanship. Sam’s teammates who had known and played on the same team with him for years celebrated enthusiastically, while the opposing Spartans’ reaction was even more impressive. Once downtrodden from suffering their fifth straight loss, they now saw the game in a whole new light. One of them put it into perspective, calling the moment “the highlight of anybody’s life.
This act of kindness, compassion, and concern for the other stands out simply because it is not the expected behavior of man. We notice when behavior does not conform to man’s typical nature. Oh yes, as we have heard so often before, there are those who will describe such an event as proof that most people, if not all, are “basically good at heart. But any thoughtful observation of humanity puts the lie to such an idea quickly. At least it ought to. Even those in the football stadium who were so impressed in the moment would not necessarily be transformed by it. Within a day or two they might not show even their spouse the same compassion and concern displayed that night.
This is the first week of Advent, a season of the year with the glorious purpose of reminding us of our Savior’s Advent in history, and of His promised Advent ahead. St. Bernard (not the Swiss mountain dog, but the saint) in one of his Advent sermons contrasts the devoted disciple of Christ with those who pay no attention to the coming of the Savior. These are in no way aware that they even need a Savior! Consequently, they are unaware of His presence. Bernard develops in his Advent sermons the idea of the “three Advents of Jesus. The first and the last are obvious to us: Jesus’ incarnation and birth and Jesus’ return, His promised coming again. The first is that in which He comes to seek and to save that which was lost. The third is that in which He comes to take us to Himself. But what is this second, or “middle Advent of which Bernard spoke?
He describes it like this: every moment of time between the first and last Advent is a moment of judgment; that Christ is passing by and that we are judged by our awareness of His passing. If we join Him and travel with Him to the Kingdom, the judgment becomes for us salvation. But if we neglect Him and let Him go by, our neglect is our condemnation! The night last October in the Menomonie Football Stadium was just such a “middle Advent; Jesus was there and He gave those who witnessed and participated an opportunity to respond to His grace and be transformed by it. This “Sam Kolden story did not just happen as though man’s nature in itself would produce what took place. There are countless “middle Advents in each of our lives. Just as Jesus’ noticeable “visit in the stadium that night, so he passes by in each of our lives over and over again. Sometimes we notice His presence, while other times we may be completely oblivious. Meditating on the first and the last Advent of our Lord and Savior awakens us to His countless “middle visits where we are judged by our response to Him. Think about it. This is a season to do just that. But there may not be many more.
“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray; bless all the dear children in thy holy care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
(Last verse of the “Cradle Song attributed to Martin Luther, Away in a Manger”)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional