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Dave Greco, our area director, emailed us in anticipation of this Sunday’s celebration of the Resurrection. In his email, he reflected on a missiology lecture given during his days at language school. In the lecture, the guest speaker recounted the events of Christ’s passion–the betrayal of a friend, the abandonment of his followers, the mockery of a trial that led to his execution, even a plot used to cover up the resurrection. He reviewed them all to emphasize his point. “God is not limited by circumstances. He is well able to work His will, even in corrupt situations.”

Even though it seemed that Satan was given a free hand to accomplish his will, even though it seemed that everything that could go wrong did, the empty tomb on Sunday morning proved that God still won the day.

As we look at the situation in Mexico, it may seem that evil has had it’s way. The news reports of assassinations, kidnapings, and war between drug traffickers and the government paint a desperate picture, but God is not limited by circumstances.

So this month, on the eve of the celebration of our Savior’s resurrection, I’d ask that you’d pray, that in the midst of this corrupt situation that God would show himself to be sovereignly in control in Mexico. Pray that in this country where sin seems to increase, that grace might increase all the more. Pray that where evil has held this country in slavery redemption might occur, and that where hope seems to have died, a resurrection might take place.

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The following is a sermon that I preached last Sunday. I felt that I wanted to share it as well with you.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
–Luke 2:6-7

The temperature has dipped and another page on the calendar has turned. The holiday sales have begun, and the bonuses are being paid (“El aguinaldo” or 13th month of pay is a right of the worker in many Latin countries.) It’s official, the holiday season has begun. In our house, the tree is trimmed and the manger scene has been set as our thoughts turn toward December 25th and the celebration that is Christmas.

Still, though, I’ve been wondering lately. Although it seems that this is a season that we anticipate from the start of the year, could it be that it has caught us unaware? Although we’ve made the preparations in our homes and our budgets, have we overlooked Christmas in our minds and hearts? Will Christ be relegated to the outer confines of our lives because there is no room for the what He desires to bring into our lives?

Two thousand years ago, Jesus left the glory of heaven to become flesh and live among us. God literally broke into history to take up residence here on earth. Luke allows no questions about this fact, dating the time, “in the days that Caesar Augustus issued a decree” and the place, “Bethlehem the town of David,” that Immanuel, God with us, was born into this world.

The God who fills the heavens had come down. He who in the Old Testament could not be approached but once a year, and only then according to a strict ritual, had decided to take up permanent residence among us. He who invoked fear in the hearts of His people who dared not come near to the Mountain of the Lord in the book of Exodus, now invited this world to reach out, to touch Him, to hold Him near to their hearts.

Still, we read that this God-child received a less than wholehearted reception. Instead of a royal palace and a team of mid-wives to ensure a successful delivery, his birthplace was a less than accommodating stable. Luke, the physician, mentions no attendants at the birth of the Savior, instead we see the image of a solitary woman wrapping her new-born in the cloths that she could find and placing him in a bed borrowed from the animals that dozed nearby. A misfortune wasn’t it, that Joseph couldn’t find a spare room on this night of nights, or was it? Was the holy family turned away because they lacked reservations or because the innkeeper simply didn’t want to receive the new-born king?

No room could mean a lack of space, but it could also mean discrimination. The Jews during the time of Jesus followed strict laws of ceremonial purity. Those who desired to worship had to follow a strict dietary code as well as avoid situations–sicknesses and certain household uncleanliness that would contaminate this purity. One of those situations that a faithful Jew needed to avoid in order to maintain their ceremonial purity was the birth of a child.

The woman who gave birth during this time would be unclean for at least seven days. For those seven days, she would have to withdraw herself from contact with others. Those who were unfortunate enough to have contact with her would be subjected to a bath and be unclean at least until the end of that day. So it would have been in the best interests of any self-respecting businessman or head of the household, if in fact the inn was nothing more than a guest room, to shut out the hassle and potential contamination that a first-century birth would bring. Therefore, it is a distinct possibility that the conditions that Mary and Joseph faced were brought about because the people who received them just didn’t want to be bothered.

The shepherd boy: Truth or Fiction?

The shepherd boy: Truth or Fiction?

This certainly seems to work together with the surrounding details. Directly following the account of Christ’s birth we read of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds. For this reason, our Nativity scenes usually include a rosy-cheeked boy with a lamb around his shoulders–a placid picture of what we consider a pleasant occupation, but reality presents a different situation. Shepherds in this day were the outcasts of society, a smelly dirty lot, so disdained that they were inadmissible as witnesses in a court of law. And therein lies the irony, who better to witness to the birth of an outcast king than this society of outcasts?

There we have the original Christmas scene. Jesus, God made man had come down, but instead of receiving Him, His own people shut him out. They looked on Him as a problem to be avoided, a situation to be deal with instead of a King to be worshiped.

Over two-thousand years have passed since that day, but still the question nags me. Have we truly received the Christ that we celebrate during this season, or have we continued to shut Jesus out in the cold? Of course, it’s possible that each of us place the nativity scene in a central location in the house, and we might proudly wear our buttons that read “Jesus is the reason for the Season,” but does He still exist on the fringes of our lives? Many of us adore the child of Christmas, but have we prepared ourselves to receive the Christ of Christmas?

A case of mistaken identity

One time, I was walking on the campus of Evangel University. I was working there while a group of Chi Alpha campus pastors were meeting. In this group were several that knew my twin brother, Mike, but had never met me. On this day, as several members of this group approached me, they began to greet me as if we had know each other for some time, but I was, in their eyes, oddly silent, unable to return their greeting. When I asked them if perhaps they had mistaken me for my brother, they thought that I was joking. Only when I produced my driver’s license did they understand their error.

How do we see the Christ of Christmas?

How do we see the Christ of Christmas?

Perhaps, as we get closer to Christmas, we’ve committed the same error. Perhaps we’ve mistaken Jesus for someone He isn’t–a baby and nothing more, or much worse just something to fit into our schedules that are overwhelmed with activities, gifts to buy, and family to visit.

Jesus is so much more than that, but in order to find out who this Christ of Christmas, we need to open our Bibles to the ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah and the sixth verse. There, we find the hope of a Messiah that the Jewish people had, and there we find the complete identity of the Savior whose birthday we celebrate.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wonderful Counselor (With recognition given to Dallas Willard for much of this content.)

The age in which we live is called the Information Age. CNN the 24 hour news network has as it’s tag line, “Because you need to know. Always.” (Translated tag line from CNN en español.) Those that know, win. Those that don’t, lose. Therefore, when we look for someone who can give us advice, we usually look for those who are the most up-to-date in our area of need.

But what happens to Jesus in this Information Age? If he remains as a baby in a manger, we push him aside. Statistics state that the majority of Christians don’t consider Jesus as someone who has reliable information about their lives. Not even one in a 1,000 people would describe him as well-informed, brilliant, or intelligent, but could we imagine that Jesus could be Lord if he wasn’t intelligent? Being divine, could he be dumb? I believe that our response has to be no.

Like Isaiah says, this child, our Savior Jesus Christ is the Wonderful Counselor. Paul the Apostle says that Jesus is the one in whom is hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Still, how do we accept Him in this way if we’ve lost our respect for Him as one who can inform our present situation? We can start by letting Him redefine our existence.

During the Christmas season, I believe more than the rest of the year, we experience the struggle between the world’s way of thinking and that of the Bible. The world tells us that the children that have the most gifts are the happiest, as are the parents that are able to buy them, but in this commercialization of Christmas, we can see the world’s philosophy–the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what man can do–creeping into our hearts and minds.

On the other hand, Jesus says to us that we are more than our bank account or the sum total of our possessions; we are eternal beings that need to know God more than the latest fashions. Therefore, if we really are eternal beings, we must understand that true happiness doesn’t come from what we can get at Wal-Mart on Black Friday but instead from our growing dependence on Christ’s counsel for our lives.

A stanza of the hymn “The Steps of the Master” reads:

I want to follow the steps of the Master.
I want follow my King and my Savior,
And allowing Him to mold my character
I sing with joy to my Redeemer.

When we reach the point of recognizing the Christ of Christmas, our Wonderful Counselor, we won’t only sing these words, we will live them.

Mighty God and Everlasting Father

This seems to be the paradox of all time. How I wish that I had been with Isaiah when he penned the those words. How can a child be God Almighty and a baby the Everlasting Father? Certainly the innkeeper couldn’t understand that the child that Mary carried was his Creator. If he had, he certainly would not have denied Him a room on that day.

Jesus’ neighbors couldn’t recognize this either. When He taught them, years later, in his hometown of Nazareth they marveled at His words and asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?”

Even His disciples, those who had placed their faith in Him, failed to understand who He was. Philip, one of the twelve who had been with Jesus from the beginning asked, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough.” He couldn’t see that Jesus was, as the writer of Hebrews tells, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.

And we as we unwrap and hold that porcelain figure of the baby Jesus in our hand we are just as incredulous; how can it be that this baby so beautiful, so innocent, can hold together all things? We forget the fact that this child grew to become the One who fed the multitudes, the One who healed all those who came to Him. The One who defeated the powers of darkness, humiliating them by His death on the cross, and the One who triumphed over even the grave with his resurrection on the third day. We take Him for nothing more than a baby.

Maybe it is for this reason that He remains in the perimeter of our lives. We have problems with our health, our families, our faithfulness, but we have the tendency to hide it as if we were trying to hide candy out of the reach of a child. Have we forgotten that the child that was born on that night was God Himself? Have we forgotten that He still lives and is waiting to help us, to guide us along the path that we should take? Have we forgotten that this child is the One who knew us even before we were born?

Prince of Peace

Imagine the scene. Jesus had arrived, and what’s more, He arrived early. There was so much to do: dishes to wash, a table to set, food to prepare. And, instead of helping, it seemed as if everyone had sat to hear Him talk. This was the situation of poor Martha.

In the manner that Luke describes it in the tenth chapter of his gospel we can almost see her going in circles in her kitchen. “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” And the frustration grew with each circle until she exploded and said to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

But Jesus’ correction reveals the problem:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Christmas can be a season of stress much like the first two thousand years ago, but now, instead of a census that calls us to travel, the calls of relatives urge us to leave. Or maybe it’s our turn to host the family. We have to prepare the house, buy the gifts, and make the traditional meal, all in order to celebrate this special holiday. We’re upset, worried about lots of things. Maybe we’re lacking peace because we haven’t recognized this Prince of Peace. Like Martha we treat Him like any other guest when in our home is One who can calm us and speak to the storm, “Quiet! Be still!”

Thinking about my attitudes, I have to admit that I’ve failed to recognize the One that we celebrate each Christmas. There are times when I act like the innkeeper, worried more about completing my list of chores than about preparing a place for my King. It bothers me that Jesus might yet remain outside of His central place in my life, but tonight He makes us another invitation.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, wants to live with us this Christmas.

Maybe up until this moment we’ve failed to recognize His voice, but He continues to call. Maybe we’ve been worried about other things, but He waits for us. Why don’t we draw close to Him this Christmas? Why don’t we get to know Him as He is, the Master of our lives, the Author and Finisher of our faith and He who can give us the peace that passes all understanding. Why don’t we invite Him to to enter our lives this right here and right now?

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Easter Cross

Many thanks to all who were instrumental in prayer during this trying week. Kelly and I were both down dealing with different sicknesses. Hers was an amoebic infection while I was flat on my back for many days as the doctors tried to determine which antibiotic was going to vanquish my dreaded nemesis, the sinus infection. We are both back on our feet again, the blessed recipients of the care and concern, (thanks Kazims), prayers (thanks especially to Carlos who called and prayed with me), and the understanding of 3 wonderful kids (thanks Rebekah, Joseph and Jonathan.)

During my convalescence, I had little to do save read, and read I did, voluminously. My most profound experience came through the words of Philip Yancey in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew.” It is an excellent work on the Jesus that came near, analyzing his personhood, teachings, miracles, and legacy.

A concept in this book spoke to me as I lay there waiting for my body to respond to treatment, waiting for my healing to come. There were moments of despair, frustration and to be sure pain. I was “in-between.” I had been given what I had needed in order to heal. I had the promise of health from the doctor, I just needed to wait. However, as the moments stretched to hours and the hours to days, the waiting was difficult, tedious, dreadful. I was tired of the delay.

We who hope for redemption are in this state of “in betweenness,” the time between Christ’s ascension and His return. Yancey says it is a sort of Saturday. He states that both the other two days, Good Friday and Easter Sunday have names on the Church calendar. But we who live in this time live on Saturday, the day with no name, the time between the promise and the fulfillment, and to be sure we fret, and become frustrated, and we despair. All around us are the signs of the decay of this world–sickness, corruption, poverty. Even our own bodies remind us that, despite our struggle to overcome, we’re made of the stuff of this earth. Yancey explains:

What the disciples experience in a small scale–three days in grief over a man who died on the cross–we now live on a cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda, and inner-city ghettos and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth?

And I ask myself: can I trust that God can make something holy out of my setbacks, my failures, and even my infections?

It’s Saturday on planet earth; will Sunday ever come?

Yet in the same way that three days of grief came to an end that Easter morning now over 2000 years ago. Our promise too will be realized because:

Easter opened up a crack in the universe winding down toward entropy and decay, sealing the promise that someday God will enlarge the miracle of Easter to a cosmic scale.

My waiting of sickness is over. My body has responded, I’m recovering, and thankfully, so is Kelly. Still, in the meantime we wait; we wait for all to be set in order, we wait for our final redemption while we hold out hope to a world increasingly reluctant to respond. But we know, despite what Paul calls our light and momentary troubles, our waiting is not in vain. Our King will come!

Photo by jaqian

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