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Dec 29, 2011

Mere Shepherds

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We know very little about these shepherds, who as a group, of whatever number, are the best known shepherds in history. The nativity story has few details in it of which many ask questions and wonder concerning the authentic answers. General imprecise knowledge of the culture of the first century has led scholars to surmise certain details which have no incontrovertible proof; such as, the true age of Mary and even Joseph, the location and nature of the stable, whether a cave, a stone or wooden structure, how many shepherds, how many Magi who came later guided by the star, and what later became of both shepherds and Magi who worshipped God in the form and nature of an infant, the nature and properties of the guiding star, et cetera, et cetera. Mary, by cultural norms, is considered to be in her mid-teen years. We simply do not know such to be accurate. In any case, by any generational norms, she, like Joseph in the Old Testament, is quite mature for her alleged age, and, like Joseph at seventeen, very devout.
From the little we know of the shepherds from Luke’s account, I believe they were acquainted with the prophecies of a coming Messiah in the Old Testament Scriptures. Shepherds, again by scholars who look for indications as determined by the knowledge of the culture, were assumed to be uneducated, poor, non-credible witnesses, and even thieves. But such stereo-typing does not tell us about the true nature of these shepherds. God, the Holy Spirit, has chosen to tell us all we need to know, and He has given us enough information to come to some fairly accurate conclusions about these men despite the lack of certain details. Any truly objective and intelligent reader of the nativity accounts should know immediately that this is not the story any human would make up to explain an entrance of God into human history, taking on flesh and becoming man in these particular, revealed circumstances. The skeptics are only blowing smoke. Their minds are made up and simply are not swayed by truth. An open, observant, thoughtful mind has much to contemplate and consider for his own great benefit and spiritual health. Pity those who ignore such a magnificent beginning to the story of salvation.
Like us the shepherds were men who were terrified in encountering something totally foreign to their previous experience as the heavenly host lit up the night sky. Yet they believed the message and responded to it immediately and eagerly. What they saw, they believed. This was the promised Messiah, this Babe in the manger! Then they told about what their eyes of faith had beheld. Apparently their hearers believed them because of the genuine character of their testimony. But this is the last we hear of these shepherds. This is also the case with so many who had a life changing encounter with Christ in the Gospels; we do not hear of them again. We would love to hear sequels of their lives, but the Holy Spirit now keeps such information from us. There is so much that awaits us in eternity.
In pondering what happened to the shepherds, or the Magi, or the Samaritan woman at the well, or many of the miraculously healed; and having no following information, I came to a conclusion that these historical accounts are turned back on us. What happened afterward to you? What transpired in your life after you encountered Christ? This is the more important sequel to know and to live. One day you will sit down with one of or all of these shepherds and hear the rest of the story. But today it is your time to create your “after-story. As you do, their “continuing story may take on greater clarity in your mind and heart. What is the nature of your life as you leave the manger, or the cross, or the empty tomb, or the Mount of Ascension? What is your story going to be tomorrow? Will it be an account you will want to tell to your children, your family, and all you meet? And just possibly they will marvel at the things you are able to tell them.


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Dec 22, 2011

Mary, Did You Know?

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Martin Luther in one of his Christmas sermons on the Incarnation preached: “Wherefore, Saint Bernard declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of the three. The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin had been chosen to be the mother of God. In years of meditating on the Biblical record of the nativity, I have often lingered on the portion concerning Mary; her response to such an overwhelming message when, in the understatement of understatements, it was least expected. Luther was certainly moved by his own meditation on the young woman who carried the Son of God in her womb.
Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement is one of the finest confessions of faith in human history. Not knowing all that it would entail, she, nevertheless, replied with no apparent hesitancy, “Be it unto me according to your word. Her engagement to be married was shattered by the prophetic circumstance soon to be reality. How do you explain to your betrothed that you are pregnant, yet have never slept with a man, least of all him? How do you manage days of journey on the back of a donkey in your last month of pregnancy? How do you accept the un-antiseptic and uncomfortable accommodation for delivery? How do you care for a flesh and blood infant who is very God of very God? Shepherds coming to the stable hours after giving birth; Magi coming to your humble home in Bethlehem; soldiers coming with intent to kill. Who else will come? When? There are no directions to follow or guide book with details of what to expect next.
Do you not wonder what must have coursed through Mary’s brain? What was the content of her ponderings, the things she kept deep in her heart; from which she drew as years later Dr. Luke interviewed her? What did Simeon’s words that a sword would pierce her own soul do to her outlook on life each day? What was it like as a sinner to mother a sinless boy? To ask him why he put them through their anguished anxiety when he was missing from them three days in Jerusalem? God gave us His Son to care for and now we have lost him at age twelve? How embarrassing! Yet neither she nor Joseph understood his explanation. How many times was that the case? You must wonder if Mary thought back, or how often, to those words she spoke to Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to your word.
What about you? Have you not also said to the Lord at one time, “I am yours, be it unto me according to YOUR desire? Is that not the essential confession of true faith? Look at all you know from the brief accounts in Scripture of Mary’s life, and fill in the rest with your own pondering. And look at your own life and ask, Would I rather be a man or maidservant of the Lord of all creation, even with thorns or soul piercing sword, then one to whom He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you? Mary’s faith is a precious nugget of hope to us, who like her are sinners, who do not always understand what God is saying, or what is happening, or what will take place next in your life. If you are His, and you believe it by your faith, then Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is your song! Read it and put yourself in Mary’s place. If the King of Kings is your King surely every generation one day will call you blessed, even as Mary was blessed through all that “be it unto me entailed for her; and what it entails for you. Mary’s hope is yours too!
Merry Christmas to you from the Paul Anderson Youth Home family!


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Dec 01, 2011

All Packed In Until After Christmas!?

December 1st . . . . . . and not nearly enough days before Christmas to do everything on your schedule! Every year is the same, especially if children are still at home; the calendar leading up to Christmas is crazy full; children’s Christmas programs and class events to attend; Christmas parties and gatherings in your home or others’; Church services and Advent choir presentations, family coming to you or you going to them; Christmas shopping to finish; Christmas cards and letters to send out; and so many other things to add to it all. Whew!
Job’s revelation about God above came after all was said and done concerning the trial that shook his life to the core. It speaks volumes, unfortunately, in describing the story of many a common Advent season; Christmas holidays following one year upon another. In this season we HEAR much about God, and His Son, from carols playing everywhere to the retelling of the familiar nativity story; singing Silent Night by candlelight in many a Christmas service; and going through all the traditional motions of “celebrating the most important birth in human history. Yet our eye too frequently doesn’t SEE Him as Job came to see Him following his intense wrestling with God in his deep “valley of the shadow of death. The atmosphere, the schedule, the “rush distracts our attention from the all-important truths of Advent, and hence from seeing Him as He wants us to see Him. Yes, we do hear about Him with our ears, but our eyes do not pierce the clutter to see Him to the end that our joy holds true, and will not fade when the “rush recedes and January comes.
It is not that we should give it all up, escape town, and ignore our Christmas/Advent family traditions. There is much that is good in what we do here with good intentions. The failure is that we do not carve out personal time and protect it to sharpen our Advent sight; eyes that look back with eager searching to the nativity, the cross, and the resurrection and forward to the “blessed hope of the Second Advent. This is the message with which Paul exhorted Titus (2:11-14): “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting (that is, looking with Advent eyes) for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. While Jesus’ faithful disciples saw magnificent things done and spoken by Him while He was with them, He told them they would see greater things than even these. (John 1:50) But eyes with an ever sharpening vision is not a given for believers simply because they are believers. Job was a believer in Job 1, indeed a very disciplined and devout believer, yet it wasn’t until the last chapter of his book that his spiritual vision is awakened, giving him a perspective on an all new level. Such “seeing only arises out of time alone with God, in His Word, in prayer, and in soul-ful meditation. If you do this you will follow a pattern Jesus set in the midst of an all-consuming public ministry schedule.
Perhaps there is no more demanding time of the year for you to forcefully (what it requires!) carve out time alone with God to focus on the meaning of the Advent (1st and 2nd) in your life that you might gain and nurture an ever more intimate, personal life with your great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. A test such as this reaps rewards not only for a meaningful Advent now, but as a pattern for the whole year ahead! In doing this all else will be enriched in your Advent season; and there is good promise that what you bring from your Advent eyes to those around you will penetrate their perspective as well. Advent 2011 is here. Don’t just HEAR about God and His Son this year; SEE Him!


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