Familiar and Comfortable

Did you have a good Christmas? Before spending most of the day with my parents, I walked across the road for a family service led by a couple of friends. They talked about how Jesus came into the world as the light of the world, and one sentence stayed with me from the sermon. “We’re comfortable moving around in darkness when we’re in familiar places.” I think I liked it because that was a picture of the start of my Christian life.

When I first came to know Jesus, I wasn’t particularly miserable. My gran had died that year, so I was feeling down about that, but otherwise, I was doing very nicely, thank you very much. Then suddenly, sitting in a church, I heard a verse I didn’t know was in the Bible: “Envy rots the bones”, and I was confronted with my own sin. I knew for the first time that hell was real, I was on my way there and I couldn’t fix myself.

Nobody could have told me that. In fact, I’m glad the moment came in church and not through personal confrontation because if someone had said: “You need Jesus,” I probably would have bitten their head off. I didn’t see myself as being in need. Life was familiar and it was comfortable, but without Jesus, it amounted to nothing, and I was heading in the wrong direction. Sometimes people criticise preachers for talking about the fire of hell, but I was glad of it that night in 1999, because the Holy Spirit used it to shake me out of my complacency and prompt me to reach out to God.

When I heard God say in my heart: “Come because I love you,” I had no concept of the effect it would have on my life – how it would change my priorities and open my eyes to the needs of others. I don’t regret saying yes to God. I’m glad that as I live for Him, Jesus does what I couldn’t do and takes away my sin. Because of Him, I can look forward to an eternity not in hell, but in heaven where there are no more tears, and sin and suffering will be gone forever.

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This was read every Christmas at my primary school, and my child’s mind couldn’t wrap around it. I never knew this Word was a person. The person called the Word, who was with God in the beginning and who was God, His name was Jesus. I never understood that, even though John explains it a few verses later. “The Word became a human and lived among us” (John 1:14). That’s the very thing Christmas celebrates: Jesus coming from heaven to earth.

But that’s not all; here are three other things the Word does:

  • He creates. “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
  • He controls. “The Son is … sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
  • He cleans. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
  • I’ve got Jesus to thank that I’m even in His church, being made holy before God. I’m so glad He came.

    Love Unchangeable

    My Facebook newsfeed has really touched me tonight. I’ve read about someone who’s away from their spouse for Christmas (Christmas Eve is a night more than any other when you just want to be held), someone else in prayer for a family-member, and another in horrendous physical pain. Maybe ‘Happy Christmas’ isn’t quite the right thing to say this year.

    My heart goes out to you, however you’re feeling today. Maybe you’re in prayer for a friend or family-member, whose circumstances are changing when you’d rather they didn’t. Maybe you’re grieving. Maybe the hope of ever seeing a change in your circumstances is slipping away. Wherever this Christmas finds you, there’s a God whose love for you never changes, who sent His Son into the world to be our Immanuel – God-with-us: God with us in our loneliness; God with us in our suffering. We can give all our worries to Him.

    Circumstances may change, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He wants so much to be invited into the nitty-gritty of your life, and to give you the hope of a future with Him in heaven. Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is love, and there’s none greater than the love Jesus showed. Will you love Him back this Christmas?

    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.

    31 Jesus-Benefits: Christmas!

    Today I want to focus on something I’ve had a new appreciation of since being a Christian, and it’ll soon be here again:

    Christmas!

    The carol encourages us (whilst taking in the snow outside) to see in our mind’s eye Jesus, born for us here on earth. “Lo, within a manger lies ~ He who built the starry skies”! The meaning of Christmas, its very centre, is Jesus coming into the world as a tiny, helpless baby.

    I remember 2001, going to church on Christmas Day. I loved it! My pastor asked us what time we got up, and someone (an adult, not a child) got up at five fifteen! Me and him were going through the same thing – our first Christmas with a church-family. Being around other believers on such an important day still holds a specialness for me.

    “While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby, and she gave birth to her first son. Because there were no rooms left in the inn, she wrapped the baby with pieces of cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough” (Luke 2:6-7).

    What I Woke up to on Christmas Eve

    This morning I was listening to the breakfast show on my local radio-station. When a change to the law brought in same-sex marriage, people said it wouldn’t be long before someone decided to marry their dog … Well, in the news today, a lady has married her cat. I was so sad to hear this. It makes marriage look like nothing more than a gimmick, and yet God says: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one.”
    To me, it’s still holy.

    There’s also a local pub, which has gone into the Guinness book of records for selling the world’s biggest Christmas dinner. They try to make it more palatable by saying that for every meal ordered, they’ll donate the equivalent in weight to their local food bank, and of course people could share it or take home the left-overs, but with a challenge like this to eat a 10,000-calory dinner, it’s no wonder that people associate Christmas with gluttony.
    To me, it’s still holy.

    Please enjoy this holy time. Why not celebrate how God sent His Son into the world as a baby, who would later die on a cross to take the punishment for our wrongdoing? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

    Before the World Began

    I saw a nativity on Facebook this afternoon. It was performed by some kids at a church in New Zealand. I liked it because of the way God was portrayed – compassionately looking at all the wrongdoing on earth; being sad that He was so far away from His kids; making a plan to step in; letting the angels sing because His heart was touched by their love for Jesus. It was incredibly sweet, but as I thought about it afterwards, I realised it was missing something.

    And all these chronological Bibles that put the events in date-order for us, what do they start with? Genesis. I’ve never seen a Bible that starts with Ephesians chapter 1, but in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul tells us something happened before Genesis. In Jesus, God chose us before the world was made. He had already decided to make us His children through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). That means in the run-up to the birth of Jesus, God wasn’t looking at the state of the world thinking: “’Oops. Not quite what I had in mind.”

    The truth is that before we were even created, God knew about the first-ever disobedience and the tendency we’d have from then on towards wrongdoing, and He’d already planned that His Son Jesus would step in as our way back to Him.

    The timeless God, knowing what would happen in time before time began. The God who loves us and looks for the best in us, knowing our worst and making provision for it. Doesn’t that fill you with awe and wonder?

    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.

    The Three Generations of Christmas

    I had a thought just yesterday – something I’d never noticed before. I was reading about Liz Curtis Higgs’ book “The Women of Christmas” and it hit me. She’s written the book about Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother), Mary (Jesus’ mother), and Anna (the prophetess who saw Jesus after He was born).

    Last year, I wrote about Anna, and said I wasn’t sure whether she was eighty-four or a hundred and five years old (it depends on the translation you look at).

    So, we have Anna (who’s over eighty), Mary (a young girl from Nazareth, possibly twelve to fourteen years old), and Elizabeth (past childbearing age but sprightly enough to bring up John the Baptist, so maybe in her fifties or sixties). Three generations: Young Mary, Elizabeth in the middle, and the elderly widow Anna. Isn’t that how the body of Christ should be – people of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, each playing their part in the kingdom? Mary wasn’t too young and Anna wasn’t too old. After all, God is timeless/eternal, and one day we’ll be like Him. When we ask God for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, let’s not be surprised when it brings generations together to give Him glory.

    I’m thankful that Mary, Elizabeth and Anna were each willing to play their part.