Messiah

“A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was a good man who was devoted to God. He was waiting for the time when God would come to help Israel. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah from the Lord” (Luke 2:25-26). Messiah is a Hebrew word. Christ is its Greek equivalent, and both mean the same thing: Anointed One.

In the time before Jesus was born, the Jews used anointing oil. It was a sign that God had chosen someone (or something) for a task and they were fit for purpose, but the anointing oil was just that – a sign. Now, we no longer need oil to be anointed because we have the Holy Spirit.

We’ve seen that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so from day one, Jesus was anointed, but when He was baptised by John, His anointing became visible. “I also did not know who the Messiah was,” says John. “But the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘You will see the Spirit come down and rest on a man. He is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen this happen. I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on this man. So this is what I tell people: ‘He is the Son of God’” (John 1:32-34).

Nowadays, although the Holy Spirit anoints Christians, oil is still used within the church. “Anyone who is sick should call the church’s elders. They should pray for and pour oil on the person in the name of the Lord. And the prayer that is said with faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will heal that person. And if the person has sinned, the sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15). Oil, and a prayer said in faith. In other words, we’re acting as people have for thousands of years. The oil is a sign that we welcome the work of God in someone’s life. When Jesus taught His followers to pray, one thing He said to ask for was that God’s kingdom would come on earth, as in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus, I welcome You and Your kingdom. I welcome You as my Anointed One – my Messiah.

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Lord

“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Saviour was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).

The story of the shepherds is well-known, but God sometimes surprises me when I think again about the familiar. This verse seemed to jump out at me recently: “When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that has happened which the LORD has told us about’” (verse 15).

I’ve often heard those shepherds referred to as the lowest of the low. Jewish maybe, but nowhere near Rabbi status; undoubtedly smelly; considered nothing more than outcasts, and yet … ‘Let’s see this thing which the LORD has told us about’? They didn’t say ‘God in heaven’, or even ‘The God of our ancestors’; they called Him LORD. Here were this group taking care of their sheep, and already under God’s authority – so much so that when a prompting came from Him, they hurried to follow it.

I really want to be like those shepherds – quick to obey, and quick to praise. After their time with the baby Jesus, Luke tells us: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Wouldn’t it have been great to be in the fields near them? I wonder what the sheep made of it all.

Deity

I want to think today about what Gabriel told Mary. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).

The wise men who came to see Jesus gave Him gifts (Matthew 2:1-12). To them, they may simply have been mementoes from their country, or perhaps they fully understood what these gifts represented. Had they been Jewish, frankincense might have reminded them of the fragrant incense offered before God. “Take these sweet-smelling spices: Resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense. Be sure that you have equal amounts of each. Make incense as a person who makes perfume would do. Add salt to it to keep it pure and holy. Beat some of the incense into a fine powder, and put it in front of the Ark of the Agreement in the Meeting Tent, where I will meet with you. You must use this incense powder only for its very special purpose. Do not make incense for yourselves the same way you make this incense. Treat it as holy to the LORD” (Exodus 30:34-37). “Aaron must burn sweet-smelling incense on the altar every morning when he comes to take care of the oil lamps. He must burn incense again in the evening when he lights the lamps, so incense will burn before the LORD every day from now on” (Exodus 30:7-8). Offering frankincense to Jesus was basically spelling out what the angel Gabriel had said – that He came from God.

As we count down to Christmas and turn our focus towards it, this might be a good time to think what you believe about Jesus. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” – C. S. Lewis.

Bethlehem

This is a song I wrote at Christmas 2007. My pastor had just preached on how Bethlehem is so small, and yet so significant. I had also watched a Christmas play with a line about a ‘New baby King’:
O tiny little Bethlehem, despised among the towns;
Out of you will come a King in humble circumstance:
He won’t cry in triumph for all to know His name,
But to those who seek Him, His power will be plain.

Just outside of Bethlehem, the shepherds could be found;
The angel of the Lord appeared, and glory shone around:
They heard the joyful tidings that Christ had been born,
And hurried there to find Him – the Shepherd of us all.

Wise men in a far-off land looked into the sky;
The shining star directed them to Wisdom from on high:
They knew to expect a new baby King,
And so they went to Bethlehem – to go and worship Him.

You may seem insignificant; you may seem very small,
But don’t forget what God can do; all things are possible:
He knows all your problems; He’ll take away your shame;
He’ll honour those who honour Him, and make His people great
.

If you’d like to hear the song, it’s on the album “Same Applies”. You can find it here.

Link

I must share Robyn’s post with you, because it taught me something new about Jesus’ family. She writes about their stay in Bethlehem: “Why they didn’t make room for a girl about to deliver a baby is still a mystery”, which made me think. If she’s right (and I think she is) that the inn where they sought refuge was owned by Joseph’s relatives – after all, Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown; that’s why they were there, then surely under normal circumstances, those relatives would have made room for Mary. The fact they went out of their way not to seems to me like a snub: A statement that she’s not welcome in their home, this girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. It seems they had no faith in Joseph’s choice to stand by her, and no compassion for them after such a long journey, not to even give them a warm bed for the night. How different it might have been if their extended family had taken them in, and listened over breakfast the next day, as both Mary and Joseph told of being visited by angels and of their special child who was to come.

Instead, they and Jesus were ostracised; put in the stable away from the rest of the household. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be despised and rejected by men, and He was, before He was even born into the world. I hope my heart doesn’t do the same. Please help us, Lord, to make room for You in our lives this Christmas.

Peace in the Storms

It’s time again for OneWordAdvent, and this week’s word is peace.

Last time, we looked at John the Baptist’s parents – how they struggled with childlessness until finally, God answered their prayer. We never hear from them again.  It seems they had their happy ever-after and rode off into the sunset.

 

But there are some for whom when they’re called by God, life goes anything but smoothly. One of those is Mary.  When Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John, Mary was visited by Gabriel – the same angel who’d visited Zechariah.  The angel had similar news for her:  She too would bear a son, but Mary was a virgin.  Far from rejoicing at her son’s birth, people would be whispering and questioning the boy’s paternity.  Mary was aware it could cost her the man she was due to marry.  His obvious conclusion would be that she had broken their commitment with another man.  Despite this, Mary submitted to God’s plan for her life.  “May everything you have said about me come true,” she told Gabriel, and the adventure started.

 

Joseph cared deeply about Mary. Her pregnancy gave him the right to stone her to death for her supposed adultery, but he had no desire to.  He would settle for ending things quietly, perhaps resigned to the fact he had lost her to the father of her child, but God stepped in.  An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth.  One storm over:  Joseph stood by Mary, helping her to parent Jesus.

 

At the end of her pregnancy, the unanticipated census sent everyone to their hometowns to be registered. There were no postal votes in those days.  Mary had to go with Joseph to the town of his birth, Bethlehem.  As she made the long and gruelling journey, did she reach out to God in prayer?  Was the memory of Gabriel’s words a comfort, helping her to trust God for her baby’s safety?  They were taken care of when a kindly innkeeper offered them a roof over their heads in his stable, where Jesus was born.

 

In their Jewishness, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple at the appropriate time to fulfil the Law. They were probably keen to show Him off, like any other new parents with their baby, but one old man stood out among the rest.  Simeon seemed particularly eager to hold Jesus.  The Holy Spirit had led him there that day and shown him who Jesus was – the Saviour of Israel and a Light to the world.  Then Simeon turned to Mary.  Perhaps in his voice, she heard another impending storm:  “A sword will pierce your very soul.”  What would this soul-piercing be?  And when would it come?

 

Was Mary’s response to give in to anxiety, or to cling to the truth she had already learnt – that peace comes when you put your life in God’s hands?  She had seen Him speak to Joseph’s heart.  She had seen Him take care of her during her pregnancy, but when Jesus hung on a cross – hands nailed behind His back, it must have been impossible to imagine how God could work that out for good.  Impossible, but maybe somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Gabriel’s words rang out.  “Your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.”  Nothing was impossible with God …

 

And He proved it again with an angel, sent to roll away the stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead, and as she ran from the open tomb to pass on the angel’s message, Mary met Jesus (Matthew 28:1-9).  No questioning her response this time, as she saw the One who’d conquered death to become our Saviour:  She worshipped Him.

 

Perhaps this Advent season, we can thank God for Mary’s story – the way He controlled events and took care of her. Perhaps, as the angel’s words helped Mary, her story can help us to follow her example and trust God with the events in our lives.

The God of Hope

If ever anyone needed hope, surely it’s …  Well, sometimes I could say, surely it’s me.  Perhaps you could too, but the great news is that Christians serve a God of hope, who can fill us with joy and peace when we trust Him (Romans 15:13).

 

About fifteen months before Jesus was born, a man (one of the priests) was on-duty as usual.  In fact, the whole of life was pretty much going on as usual.  His wife was past childbearing age, and he had long accepted that the joy of bringing up children wouldn’t be theirs.  They both loved and served God wholeheartedly.  He could well remember the fervent prayers they had uttered time and again, but with the advancing years came a heaviness that settled on his heart.  As he saw new parents bring in their baby sons for the purification ritual, he would realise afresh that his and Elizabeth’s cries had been to no avail.

 

But God saw those baby sons too, as well as the pain of Zechariah’s loss, and He sent an angel to turn it on its head.  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” the angel said.

 

His season of pain was over.  The silence, the gnawing ache that had been there so long, and Zechariah couldn’t quite get it.  Imagine him saying through gritted teeth those words he must have repeated to himself every time that old, familiar desire clawed at his heart.  “I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”  Be reasonable.  These are the facts.  Get over it, but getting over it wasn’t in God’s plan for Zechariah.  His patience had paid off.  His prayer had been heard!  Their cries hadn’t been to no avail.  The God of hope had come into their world; flipped it over; given their lives a whole new and unexpected twist.

 

Nine months later, they and many others celebrated the birth of their baby son, later known as John the Baptist.  Zechariah must have remembered the angel’s words about him and marvelled as he watched them come true.  People did indeed rejoice because of his birth, and he would indeed go on to point people to Jesus and His future ministry.  Holding baby John in his arms and praising God, Zechariah was able to acknowledge:  “The rising sun will come to us from heaven … to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

The God of hope filled Zechariah and Elizabeth with joy and peace as they trusted Him.  He wants to do the same for us today.

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My thanks to Bonnie Gray for her OneWordAdvent. If you decide to participate in the linkup like I did, please tell me here in the comments.  I’d love to read your post.

A Lady in Waiting

This week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt is patience, and because of the time of year, my thoughts went to Mary. How patient she’d had to be throughout her pregnancy, knowing she was giving birth to the Son of God! What would He look like; the same as other babies or different? Did she search the pages of our Old Testament for clues?

And when He was born, Simeon came along – Simeon who’d had the revelation that he wouldn’t die until he’d seen the long-awaited Christ. Simeon cradled the babe in his arms, calling Him Saviour and the glory of all the Jews! Then he spoke to Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” How did she feel when she heard that?

Words are so powerful – the negative and the positive, and those must have stayed with her all through Jesus’ life. We don’t hear anything of Joseph after the incident when Jesus was twelve years old. Perhaps Joseph died, and Mary wondered if that was the piercing Simeon spoke of.

Years passed and Jesus began His earthly ministry. Mary heard about the crowds and the demands on His time. Thinking Him out of His mind to accept it, she set out to speak to Him. The sheer volume of people made it impossible to reach Him, but finally, she caught someone’s attention. She may have heard them relaying the message, and heard Him say: “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Sting. Surely this must be the moment?

She couldn’t have imagined how bad it would get, the depth of her pain as she saw her Son lifted up on a cross. But that piercing of soul, that depth of pain, eclipsed by the joy of seeing Him alive. Unashamedly falling before Him, reaching out to cling to Him, even to one of His feet! He lived! He’d conquered death! This was unparalleled – awesome – daunting. What did it all mean? She knew only the words He spoke: “Tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me,” but what would happen next, or how everything would fall into place, she couldn’t tell.

When we know only the next step, let’s be reassured that God knows our destination. Let’s keep those important words people have spoken over us and think on them, wonder at them, in the knowledge that God’s in control.

Never Too Late

I’ve just been reading about Anna – someone who saw Jesus when He was a baby.  There are just three verses in the Bible devoted to her, and here’s what I saw in them.

Let’s think about the Jews for a minute.  They’re waiting for their Messiah (literally God’s anointed One) to be a Deliverer for them.  So, if you’d been waiting all your life for this Messiah, praying to God and going without food sometimes – if waiting for Him was the purpose of your life, when you actually got to see Him, wouldn’t that just be the pinnacle of everything you’d hoped for and dreamed of – the very best moment of your life, the one all those other moments had been leading to?  Not surprising that Anna thanked God and spoke about Jesus (Luke 2:38).

But here’s the thing about Anna:  She was very old.  I’m not really sure how old she was.  The translation I read says she had been married for seven years and then was a widow for eighty-four (Luke 2:36-37).  People married young in those days, so if she married at fourteen, that would put her at a hundred and five.  Another translation says she was a widow until she was eighty-four (Luke 2:37).

Whether she was eighty-four or a hundred and five doesn’t really matter.  The point is, she saw the baby Jesus when she was very old.  The pinnacle of her ministry, the very best part, came when she was over eighty – perhaps over a hundred!  Wow!  It’s never too late to serve God, and don’t be surprised if the best part is yet to come.

My friend Becky has also written a post about Anna this month, if you’d like to read it.