A is For…Complete

 

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As I come to the “A” in the word Christmas using the word structure from the song made famous by Jim Reeves (C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S), there are not so many Christmas related words. The short list I have includes angel, antlers, artificial tree, and advent. Perhaps there are more, but not on my radar screen.

 

In the song the “A” includes this line “A is all He stands for”. Each letter in the song has referred to some aspect of the Bethlehem story of the Christ child. With this line, the focus is the theme of who this baby in the manger really is. It may beg the question of what is it He stands for as well.

 

One of the ways to consider who He is and all He stands for is to consider the names used for Him. What a list it is! Let me list some of the words/terms used for Jesus: the Son, the Babe, the Son of God, I AM, the Alpha and Omega, eternal life, the Word, son of David, a man of sorrows, Savior, the Christ, Lord Jesus, the lamb of God, the Bridegroom, the Way, the Vine, the true Bread from heaven, the Light, the Morning Star, the Rock, the Redeemer, a sure foundation, the last Adam, the Holy One of Israel, and Prince of Peace. This partial list would be longer as well if we included all the names of God.

 

Our challenge is to acknowledge our vocabulary is inadequate to fully express who He is and what He is and represents. Finite humans have tried for thousands of years in words and songs to communicate this One who changed the world forever at the first Advent and continues to influence its course and the lives of those who believe.

 

His Second Advent will expand our sense of Him even more.

 

For so many reasons such as these, when I think of the line in the song that focuses on “A” I believe it stands for complete. Any careful reading of the gospels and epistles provide confirmation of that choice of word. When I tease out a few of the synonyms for the word, complete, it rounds out what I seek to convey. Synonyms like total, entire, full, greatest, maximum, the sum total of, and everything flesh out that word.

 

Paul’s words in Colossians 1:19 (ESV) speak to that:

 

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

 

Commentators note the word fullness (complete) was used by Paul to remind the Colossians that there was nothing lacking in Christ because the fullness of deity, power, and grace are His. It is clear that only One who was complete could accomplish the will of the Father to bring reconciliation, redemption, and salvation to the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve (you and me). They (we) were forever tainted with the stain of the forbidden fruit that cast them out of the Garden of Eden and into the darkness of their fallenness that was passed on to us all.

 

Nothing mankind could do could bring about what was needed, no sacrifice we could offer would pay the debt charged to us except One who was already complete, perfect in total. The staggering truth is that once we accept this Babe in the manger, this Jesus, and soon coming King, He makes us complete in Him, through Him, and by Him. Because of Him, His shed blood and perfect sacrifice, His triumph over death and hell, and return to life, our permanent debt (as Jerry Bridges would say) is now paid in full once and forever.

 

As my writer friend, Susan Chamberlain Shipe recently wrote looking at Luke’s description of Jesus, “Doctor Luke researched, learned, investigated. He found Jesus Christ to be full and complete…”

 

As we gather this Christmas and consider the story of the birth of Christ and all He stands for, let us never cease to be grateful that His love and grace offers to make us complete in Him. He is our “all in all.”

 

As Paul says in Ephesians 11:36 (ESV):

 

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

 

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M is For…Humble

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As I continue my journey through the letters of the Christmas song, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, I arrive today at the letter “M”. A Christmas vocabulary list for this letter will include: merry, mistletoe, mittens, myrrh, mince pie, Merry Christmas, and manger (the word the song references).

 

I know most of us are struck by the place and surroundings for the birth of Jesus, but it also provides additional symbolism. A manger is a long open box or trough for horses or cattle to eat from. That seems inauspicious indeed for Jesus, the Messiah, and the Son of God. It certainly speaks to meekness, lowliness, simple, modest, unostentatious, poor, undistinguished, and humble.

 

To be humble is a struggle and not always even revered in modern times as valuable, but in Jesus we see immediately a disdain for riches, pomp, and worldly status. He epitomizes humility in showing a low estimate of His own importance, rank, or position. He chose (with his Father) to lay aside his place next to the Father in heaven and arrived in human form in the lowliest of places and circumstance. Do we even consider how great a love was shown to give all of that up even before we get to the agony of the cross, the betrayal of disciples, and the harangue of the Pharisees?

 

When I consider words that are synonymous with humble, it fleshes out an extended awareness of what that means when we apply it to this Jesus of the manger in Bethlehem. Some synonyms to consider would be: courteous, gentle, polite, respectful, soft-spoken, content, deferential, demure, submissive, and reverential.

 

How could He be all these?

 

One reason is that He did not esteem Himself to be above his Father.

 

Jesus had been with his Father always…before the foundation of the world, at Creation and ever afterward…He knew Him intimately and submitted to and joined the grand plan to reconnect and reconcile with mankind after the fall in the Garden of Eden. He honored his Father and though equal to his Father in the Trinity, He did not place Himself above his Father. I love the way The Message reads Paul’s words about this in Philippians 2:6 (MSG):

 

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

 

Wow! What a challenge from Paul to each of us!!

 

Only through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can we hope to attempt even a little of His likeness in this.

 

There is one other symbolic piece of this manger I would ask you to consider. God never wastes any opportunity to enrich what He wants us to see if we look a little closer.

 

A manger was a place for feeding and sustenance. That night in Bethlehem so long ago when Jesus was carefully laid there, it was as well. He was “food and sustenance” for any and all of us who would believe. Note John 6:35 (ESV):

 

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

 

The manger, the trough, that had held food for horses and cattle, now held a child, a Savior, who would feed and nourish us all.

 

Yes, there was the miracle of feeding of the five thousand and then four thousand at another time. That was food and sustenance for the physical bodies of those who were seeking and following Him, but to be the “bread of life” was to offer us something so much more. It gave us real life! It gave us life eternal! It fed us with nourishment that would help our hearts and spirits to withstand living in this fallen world until He returns to take us with Him.

 

Looking back at the original purpose for the manger is to be aware the cattle and horses would need to bend their heads (humble) to eat and gain nourishment. We, too, need to bend our heads and not esteem ourselves too highly, to be humble to eat from this precious “bread of life.”

 

 See how Matthew so beautifully describes what that looks like in Matthew 11: 29-30 (MSG):

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

 During this holy season that is often too busy, He invites us to the manger to humble ourselves, to feed on Him, to eat from His table in His Word, to learn of Him and “the unforced rhythms of grace.”

 

He invites us to “keep company with” Him!

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T is For…Seekers

 

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Today we come to the sixth letter of the Christmas song made famous by Jim Reeves, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. If you have been following this series, you already know I am looking a bit beyond the word used to identify the letter in the word Christmas in the lyrics. If you’re curious about the other letters before “T” and missed them, you can go back and check them out on my website.

 

When we consider the words beginning with “T” associated with Christmas, we can find a number of words that probably come to your mind. Here’s my list: tidings, tinsel, toboggan, toys, tradition, trees, trimmings, trips, and togetherness. In the song that creates the structure of this series “T” stands for three wise men (sometimes referred to as three kings).

 

This visit of the wise men, magi, or kings as they have variously been called shifts the scene from Luke’s narrative of the shepherds in the fields and the angelic host. The scene of the wise men actually occurs later because scripture points to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus being in a house in Bethlehem when they arrive, not the manger where the shepherds visit. The exact length of time is something that scholars debate even as they do who they were specifically and their origin.

 

What are some of the things that make their part of the story of Christmas significant?

 

The first thing to note is they followed a strange star that some now suggest may have been a comet or an asteroid of some sort. The second clear statement in scripture is that they came from a distance to worship Him. Wow! That makes evident they recognized He was of great importance and worthy of worship and a long trek to get there.

 

Some had thought these wise men were astrologers or astronomers. They also surmise these were men of position. What is interesting to remember is that Matthew’s gospel where the account appears does not say there were three of them. Tradition passed on by songs, poems, and art has shown three, but that may have been related to the number of gifts (3) presented (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). Their standing or position may also be deduced because these gifts were things that were costly and could not have been afforded by poor men.

 

Consider those gifts for a moment.

 

Gold was not only costly, but may have been considered for its purity and to connect with His royal kingship. Frankincense was expensive and still can be. Its uses included incense and could represent the fragrance of the life of Christ. Most interesting of all was myrrh, a spice used in embalming. It seems certain these wise men did not go to the local bazaar and pick up random gifts. These appear to be thought out and be representations of their awareness of the person they hoped to see.

 

What data we do see suggests the men were Gentiles. Scholars speculate about their origin perhaps being northeast of Babylon, Arabia, or Mesopotamia.

 

But let’s pause and consider that experts believe these men who were studying and watching the stars in the heavens saw several conjunctions of Jupiter, a planet considered to represent kingship, along with Saturn and Mars. Some go on to theorize God may have organized the whole solar system and universe in a way that would signify the birth of Jesus. Because stars and planets naturally travel from east to west across the heavens, others wonder if the “star” these wise men saw and led them to a specific house in Bethlehem was the Shekinah glory of God, the same one that led the children of Israel through the wilderness.

 

Whatever the facts are these are fascinating things to consider beyond simply singing about the “three wise men who came from afar” or “three kings of the Orient.”

 

 What impacts me even above all of these is that these men were seekers of Jesus and not casual ones at that. They must have been students of not only the stars and planets and their meanings, but of prophecies they read about even if they represented a people and culture that were not their own. They were intentional and serious about their deductions as corroborated by traveling a great distance and the choices of gifts. They were wise as well because when Herod asked them to point him to where the child was, they did not comply and instead followed God’s warning in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

The truth of their seeking reminds me of Jeremiah’s words in Jeremiah 29:13-14a (ESV):

 

13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”

 

As Judith Kunst says in The Burning Word: “Turn it and turn it again,” the Talmud says of the scriptures, “for everything is contained  therein.”

 

When I reflect on all these things, I am provoked to consider the value of study and seeking the Lord even as a believer. Both Old and New Testament passages repeat the admonition to seek the Lord, it signals that I am to be intentional in my pursuit of my relationship with Him.

 

New Testament passages that come to the forefront are:

Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

 

Luke 12:31 (NASB)

“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

 

Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV)

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

 

There is an old adage that says, “Wise men still seek Him.” 

 

In the midst of the trappings of Christmas, will we take time to still seek Him?

 

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S is For…Light!

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In this series spelling out the word C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S the letter “S” has an abundance of words related to Christmas that people quickly can recall. Some of that lengthy list includes: Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Scrooge, season’s greetings, shopping, sleigh, sleigh bells, snow, snowman, stockings, and sugar plums. But the word I did not mention that the song highlights is of course star.sleigh_bell (1)

 

I am not talking about the star many will put on the top of their Christmas tree, of course, but the star Matthew writes about in his gospel in chapter 2:1-12 that tells the wonderful story of the wise men (magi). Sometimes the parts of the Christmas story get confused and people think it was the star that appeared to the shepherds rather than the wise men.

 

This famous star has created a lot of curiosity over time and a lot has been written and speculated about this particular star. Some have believed it was a luminous meteor that appeared under special laws for a special purpose. Others suggest that it was an extraordinary comet that appeared in lower regions of the air and differed so significantly from anything ever seen in the night sky that it signified something uncommon or extraordinary.

 

IMG_1415What scripture tells us in the passage in Matthew is that God used the star to guide these wise men to where Jesus was.

 

 

The wise men, magi, who followed this star are unnamed and though they came “from the East”, we do not have a clear indication of what nations. What is striking (and we sometimes miss) is these wise men were Gentiles. At the very beginning of Jesus’s time on earth, they gave regard and respect to Him and inquired of Him. (The Jews of that time did not.) How that speaks to how we sometimes miss that powerful truth until the conversion of Saul to Paul and the outreach to the Gentiles through him after Jesus has risen and ascended into heaven.

 

It also seems certain these men were scholars of that time who studied the arts and the teachings of cultures and places beyond their own homes. Their own culture might have been made of idol worshippers who took seriously the movement of planets and stars. When they first spoke to Herod about their journey and quest, it is evident they knew this was a sign of “the king of the Jews”. That is extraordinary and speaks to their studies and knowledge. What we know without question is they were a part of God’s plan and purpose.

 

They signaled that even though Israel was God’s chosen people, He loved the Gentiles and would make a place for them in His Kingdom through belief in Jesus and acceptance of His gift of grace.

 

The star was not unlike a candle in a window or a light streaming out over the waters from a lighthouse to help lead to home. It was a magnificent light, but there was a more significant light in this story.

 

The light of this star pointed to “the” light, Jesus Christ. Scripture makes this clear. One place is John 8:12 (ESV) when Jesus tells His listeners plainly:

 

 “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

 The light of the extraordinary star was pointing to a greater light,One sent to bring light into the darkness of this world. He was the One who was and is light and all who follow this Light will find their way home to our Father God.

 

I wonder how often we miss the symbolism God uses over and over again to tell us what He wants us to know about Him (and everything else). He is light! Nothing is hidden in light and light and truth are often used synonymously. How odd it is that we would be deluded into thinking God is unknowable or think He is obscure. What an enemy ploy that is!

 

He is not common, but extraordinary. He is light and truth and also mystical. He wants us close to Him always and yet He is holy. He is the Creator and we but the creation and still He longs for us to be His.

 

As we drive through our neighborhoods at this time of year, Christmas lights abound. They are beautiful and festive and give us a lot of pleasure to see, but let us not forget the star that gave light pointing to the Light of the world, Jesus. One of the reasons God sent Him to us was to point the way home even if we were far from Him. That’s still true today.

 

If we will follow the Light, Jesus, we will find the way, the truth, and the life!

 

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I is For…Chosen!

 

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Christmassy words we often hear related to the letter “I” are fewer in number than others in the word. The short list includes ice skates, icicle, icy, and ivy. That isn’t a very impressive list and none of the words point to Christmas directly. In the song C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S that is the structure for this series and that Jim Reeves made famous, the letter stands for Israel.

 

 Israel’s place and position in the world and with God have been a source of contention and debate in the world from the very beginning up to events of this week. For those who believe in the Bible as absolute truth, the evidence is clear. There are 22 Bible verses that refer to Israel being God’s chosen people. The first is in Exodus 19:5-6 (NIV) and reads:

 

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you (Moses) are to speak to the Israelites.”

 

Many might ask why God selected or elected this group of people, or this culture for such an honor. God answers the question in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (ESV) referring to the covenant He first made with Abraham, confirmed with Isaac, and confirmed again with Jacob (renamed by Him as Israel). Here are the verses:

 

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

 

Abraham’s faith and obedience honored and blessed God and the covenant was made and sealed between them. From that point on, nothing changed the commitment or the promise. Prophets foretold that from this people through David’s house, a Savior would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. And so it was.

 

God never said this was a perfect group, culture, or faith body, but His own words declare a covenant and commitment that puts Israel, as it should be in the song for the letter “I”. I think it should comfort those of us who call ourselves Christians to realize that since there is more than a little evidence to demonstrate that even after the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ we who believe in Him have faltered, failed, and fallen. We have many times been a contentious group within our own faith. And yet…

 

We, too, were chosen and the rowdy disciple and later apostle, Peter, makes that clear in his first letter written to Christians scattered throughout the world at that time as a result of the suffering and persecution of the church.

 

In 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) he writes these words:

 

“ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

 

Bible scholars point out that Peter’s words point to the consecration of sinners into new creations. God has graciously included the Gentiles (not just Israelites) in His purpose and plans. Peter may have been referring to prophecies such as Hosea 2:23 that foretold He would elect others to be a part of His kingdom.

 

So, how does all this fit with Christmas?

 

God chose His Son, Jesus, to be the “Curse Crusher and Covenant Keeper,” for the promises that He made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their lineage. He chose to make a way for any who would believe and receive the gift of grace, to be reconciled to Him, and join Him in ruling and reigning in His kingdom. He was and still is, the perfect gift, the first gift of Christmas! 

 

His birth that we celebrate tells those of us who believe in Him and receive that gift that He chooses us also. Since Christmas is traditionally known as the time of giving and receiving gifts, there is no better gift we can receive than to choose Him who first chose us.

 

That makes us chosen as well! What a Christmas gift He was and is!

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