Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Meditations’

Zechariah and the Angel: Scene 1

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain.                          

Actually, the Bible does not say the angels were singing, but let’s not quibble. We want our singing angels at Christmas.

My son, Pastor Nick, preached a message recently about Zechariah that got me thinking about the very human responses to the angel of Christmas. What can they teach us?

Scene 1: Zechariah

Even after 430 years of Divine silence, the priests continue in the temple rituals. A faithful priest and devoted husband, Zechariah’s name comes up in the temple service rotation. He is this day performing his duties in the Holy Place with great care.

Suddenly, an angel appears. Four centuries of holy blackout end. An angel! And he’s not singing o’er the plain. He’s standing between the altar of incense and the table of showbread.

 Gabriel. Serious. Artwork by Ron DiCianni

Gabriel. Serious.
Artwork by Ron DiCianni

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this scene. Nor should we underestimate the importance of Zechariah’s response.

Anytime God appoints a human being for a particular task, He takes a great risk. We can always doubt. We can always say no. Or argue. Or try to bargain.

The Angel Speaks

You will notice that when angels appear in the Bible, their first words are, “Do not be afraid.” I need not elaborate.

The angel has a fair amount to say, which you may read for yourself in Luke 1:

  • Your elderly wife will bear a son.
  • You will call his name John.
  • You will be very happy about this, as will many people.
  • He will be a great man, filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.
  • He will prepare the way for Messiah.

How will Zechariah reply? What would I say? What would you say?

Zechariah Responds

Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman. (Msg)

One of my favorite commentaries comments: “There was something evidently blamable in this hesitation on the part of Zacharias to receive the angel’s promise.”

Evidently.

The angel, Gabriel by name, Mighty One of God, special messenger of good news, finds this reply plenty blamable. I see him drawing himself up to his full angel height, boring the priest with his fiery angel eyes, and saying in unmistakable angel terms: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. But since you seem to have trouble believing it, you will be deaf and mute until the baby is born. Not good, my brother, not good.” (My paraphrase, obviously.)

It is interesting that Abraham and Gideon got away with responses full of doubt. No deafness or muteness or angelic scolding.

Why does Zechariah suffer such consequences?

Perhaps because there is no time for doubt. The clock has run out. Messiah is on the threshold. Doubt must not overtake any of the players in the Unfolding Mystery.

C.S. Lewis suggests that, “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

It is something to think about at this Christmastime.

Thursday: The Angel, No Doubt: Scene 2 (Mary)

Light at Last

I am sitting here today thinking about Jesus as the Light of the world and reading through Isaiah 42.1-6. And I am struck (no pun intended) by the hard edge of truth in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. This one, written in a vivid form of Hebrew poetry, is no exception.

 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

Grab your Bible. Here is my take:

  • Vs. 1: The character and mission of the Christ are clearly stated. No equivocating or hedging here.
  • Vs. 2:  His voice will be quiet and gentle and He will not seek attention through noisy demonstrations. The Christ will not do celebrity interviews or make movie deals.
  • Vs. 3:  With the weak and depressed in spirit, Christ will deal tenderly, not violently. This is a precious promise. Where the flame of devotion burns weakly, He will take care not to quench it. He will tend it until it burns more brightly. His love for you will fan the flame of your devotion. Guaranteed.
  • Vs. 4:  His tenderness is not weakness. He will be firm and unbroken. He is a man’s Man. Stop with the doe-eyed Jesus thing already.
  • Vs. 5:  The prophet makes it clear that the announcement of the Servant and His mission are from the Almighty. Thus says God, the Lord. Is this clear enough?
  • Vs. 6:  His light will now shine on all mankind. No second-class citizens. Repeat.
  • Vs. 7:  He will cure physical and spiritual blindness and deliver from spiritual bondage. Bam!
  • Vs. 8:  He is all that the name Jehovah signifies: eternal, omnipotent, impossible to recreate. Period.

The Light from the stable will grow and spread and purge and purify. It will never be extinguished. If I am willing, it will illuminate and love through me. That is my challenge.

O Savior, illuminate and love through me.

This One Shall Be Peace

Messiah comes. He will be peace.

In the late 8th century B.C., a prophet named Micah, wrote a small book. And in chapter 5 is a great Messianic prophecy.

I must say that one of the charms of this little book is the beautiful poetic style of the prophet:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,                                                  bethlehem

Though you are little among

            the thousands of Judah,

yet out of you shall come forth

            to Me

The One to be Ruler in Israel,

Whose goings forth are from of

            old,

From everlasting.

Eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, the specific village of His birth was foretold.  Tiny Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem was known primarily as the birthplace of David, and the spot where Jacob’s beloved Rachel died hundreds of years earlier.

But its minor status was about to change. It would be the birthplace of Messiah. And a scene of slaughter: all baby boys under the age of 2.

Sharp Focus of Truth

I try to remember that Christ’s advent is not just about a star and a stable, a manger and shepherds and animals. It is also one of rejection and exhaustion, of the messiness of birth in dirt and darkness.

And months later, it is a story of massacre and the horrified screams of young mothers just like Mary.

This One Shall Be Peace

And yet, look at Him there in verses 4 and 5:

shepherdHe shall stand and feed His flock

in the strength of the Lord,

In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God

And they shall abide,

For now He shall be great

to the ends of the earth

And this One shall be Peace

Messiah, standing tall as the Good Shepherd, guiding His flock, watchful and ready to defend. His strength is displayed in the care of His people. He is clothed in the majesty of the Name of the Lord. He reveals the power of God.

And this One shall be our peace. This Ruler will not only bring peace, but He Himself shall be peace.

  • Siege, invasion, war? He is our peace.
  • Sickness, loss, uncertainty. He remains our peace.
  • Horror, tragedy, the unthinkable. He stands in the majesty of the name of the Lord as our peace.

It is something to ponder. To turn aside for a time from the shopping and parties and baking and busyness, and ponder.

Take Him. He is peace.

Christmas Meditation: It All Mattered

What does Alexander the Great have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel?

Or what does the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at a battle in Greece have to do with His birth and His message?

 Gerard van Honthorst Dutch 1590-1656

Gerard van Honthorst
Dutch 1590-1656

This time of year we like to go straight to the stable: backlit, with all the players carefully arranged around the baby in the manger.

I want to go to the stable, too. But I would also like some context, some idea why God sent His Son at that particular time in history.

So, here is some context.

The Great Silence

The voices of the prophets, which had encouraged and comforted, warned and judged the Jewish people throughout their history, were silent for more than 400 years – the time between the Old and New Testaments. 400 years. Can you imagine no Word from the Lord since 1612?

True, Temple worship continued, but the Law had been horribly perverted. The people were now crushed under a mountain of manmade rules imposed by a tough religious hierarchy.

And their territories were occupied by the greatest military force the world had ever seen.

God is never capricious, last-minute, or haphazard.  When He sent His Son, every detail was attended to. Even empire and language were in place.

Alexander the Great: Language                                                                                  

 Very young. Very   ambitious.

Young.  Ambitious.

Consider that 300 years before the birth of Jesus, a young Macedonian general named Alexander conquered the world from Greece to present-day Pakistan.

Why should we know this?

  •  For one thing, he showed great consideration to the Jews, sparing Jerusalem. He offered immunity to Jews settling in the new city in Egypt bearing his name: Alexandria. This was probably where Joseph took his small family while Herod raged in Judea.
  •  And consider that wherever he conquered, Alexander built cities, spread Greek culture, and established Greek as the language of the realm. Thinking ahead, how was the Gospel going to be preached and shared across numerous cultures in a short amount of time? Thanks to Alexander the Great, it would be in a common language: Greek.

Caesar Augustus: Empire

Thirty years before the birth of Christ, the Roman general, Octavian defeated the combined forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra in a battle off the coast of Greece.

 Ancient Roman road.

Ancient Roman road.

Rome now had its first emperor: Caesar Augustus – “Caesar” from poor Julius, and “Augustus”, meaning  “exalted.” His reign, as the Roman Empire expanded, marked the beginning of a long period of stability known as the Pax Romana. Orderly government. Rule of law. Trade flourished on the remarkable roads engineered throughout the Empire.

Why should we know this?

  • The Gospel spread swiftly throughout the known world on this very efficient (and generally safe) highway system.
  • It also moved quickly due to the relative political stability of the empire.

It all mattered.

When Jesus was born, the way had been prepared. Every detail, macro and micro. Emperor and innkeeper.

Fact is, He is no less mindful of me. I know the plans I have for you. . . (Jer. 29:11)

Do I believe that?

 

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