By Linda Rex
It’s hard for me to imagine ever walking the streets of Jerusalem in this life. It must be a powerful experience for a follower of Jesus to walk the same streets he walked, seeing and hearing similar sights and sounds. It must be very inspiring to look down upon the city from the Mount of Olives and to imagine what it must have been like on that dark night when Jesus poured his heart out to his Father in surrender.
God chose the people of Israel and its city of David to fulfill his plan for the redemption of the world. Jerusalem is a good example of the reality that God does not leave us as we are, but is continually in process, moving us toward a beautiful, redemptive end.
It’s a little difficult for me to get my mind around the idea that God might single out a particular city to place his name and to call his own. Yet it was Jerusalem Jesus came to as a youth to sit at the elders’ feet in the temple. It was Jerusalem that was the center of so much of Jesus’ life and ministry, and where he was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
And it is Jerusalem that over the millennia has been the focus of strife, division, and war. It is instructive that when human beings are involved, even those who call themselves Christians, there is so much disagreement, hostility and disunity.
Thomas F. Torrance lamented that even in Jerusalem, the city of David, the place of the ultimate sacrifice by our Savior, Christians will not gather together at the table to partake of the Lord’s supper together. Their divisions over matters of doctrine and even the manner of partaking of the eucharist are so intense, there is no common ground on which to gather together, even though Jesus Christ created that common ground within himself when he was here on earth.
God never meant for us to live our lives divided from one another or separated in any way from him. We as human beings focus on what divides us rather than on what brings us together. We focus on our distinctions while God focuses on our unity within the Trinity—all made in the same image of the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
It is so important to us in this modern world to have a distinct name that is our very own—our own identity and personhood—a sense of individuality. It is ironic that so often we want to “be different” so we dress and act like everyone else who is trying to “be different.” Our unity, though, is not a matter of us all being the same, thinking the same thoughts, having the same aspirations and preferences. Our unity is in the One whose name we bear, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our unity is in what he has done, is doing and will do in our place and on our behalf.
Unless we are in tune with the spiritual realities, we do not realize it is in our personhood as made in the image of God in his likeness that we find not only our commonality but also our uniqueness of personhood. We do not get lost in the unity within the Trinity, but rather we become more fully our own true selves—those who are the beloved adopted children of God Most High—created in his image, to reflect his likeness.
He is the Name Above All Names. He has named us his very own in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. No one can take his name from us because he has joined himself to us in our humanity, taken it through death and resurrection, and lifted us up with him to be forever in the presence of the Father in the Spirit.
The body of Christ bears the name of Jesus Christ as she walks with him down the path through death to resurrection. She is the Bride of Christ, and when he returns to earth in all his glory, she will bear his name forever. She will dwell in the New Jerusalem, the new Zion, which will be filled with God’s beloved adopted children, all bearing a new name which God alone will give them.
God has a new name for Zion. He, in Jesus, has remade and is renewing all things, including the broken, embattled city of Jerusalem. One day this historical treasure will cease to exist as it does today, and will become what God envisions her to be. In the same way, the body of Christ—the universal body of believers, the Church—will become all that God meant for her to be.
I believe this is God’s word for Grace Communion International as well. We have been through so much as a denomination. We are much like a forsaken, and rejected spouse (Isa. 54). But God is gathering us back, building us up, and making us new. He has given us a new name, and this name is in his Son Jesus Christ. We have nothing to fear and everything to hope for.
There is much yet to be done in sharing the good news of all God has done for all humanity in and through Jesus Christ. We have a great story to tell of God’s redemptive purpose and power. We have the gifts and blessings of the Holy Spirit. We have come to see our center is in Jesus Christ. We are finding our identity, purpose and value within the Triune God as we participate in the divine love and life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We have gone with Jesus all the way through death and resurrection. God isn’t done with us yet, but is just getting started. He has given us his name, and is causing us to shine with his righteousness and his salvation so that all nations may see and turn to Jesus. May God be glorified in and through us as we share with Jesus in his mission to the world.
Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us to be a part of what you are doing in this world, and allowing us to participate with Christ in both his sufferings and his glory. Continue to write on us your Name that we might effectively bear your good news to every part of this broken and hurting world. Lord, please demonstrate your power and your great love through your people, and specifically through us as members of Grace Communion International. Give our pastors and leaders wisdom to know your will and to follow you wherever you lead. By your Spirit, bring healing, renewal, and transformation. We thank you in advance and trust you for all of this in and through the mighty name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, / And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, / Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, / And her salvation like a torch that is burning. The nations will see your righteousness, / And all kings your glory; / And you will be called by a new name / Which the mouth of the LORD will designate.” Isaiah 62:1-2 NASB
by Linda Rex
This season of year has its ups and downs. It can be so heartwarming and inspiring, while at the same time full of stress and anxious care about shopping and decorating and family complications. I have a special fondness for this time of year since God has awakened me to the wonder of its deep meaning. Understanding the mystery of the incarnation (can one truly understand a mystery?) carries me through all the hassle and frustration which can come from the external efforts to celebrate Christmas.
At this time of year I’m especially mindful of the time in my life when I distained Christmas as being a pagan holiday we should not celebrate if we are true Christians. While I’m still trying to determine exactly what a “true Christian” is (as compared to a “false Christian”), now I see a whole lot more clearly how we can get so caught up in a religious paradigm we cannot see what is right in front of us. We can be so focused on the “truth” that we miss seeing the living Truth who has entered our world and has begun to transform it from the inside out.
Today is Epiphany, and the gospel reading from the lectionary for today is Matthew 2:1-12. Here we read about the magi from the east who traveled many miles seeking to find a newly born king of the Jews. They followed a star and ended up in Jerusalem. I’m sure it was quite unnerving for King Herod to have these men asking about a king he knew nothing about. And no doubt it made him feel quite insecure about his throne.
So Herod called all together the chief priests and scribes—the ones who were supposed to know the Hebrew scriptures and history—and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. The high priests and scribes were the ones who probably would know the answer to the magi’s question, so Herod addressed the question to them.
They told the magi to look for the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now, it seems to me, if they had a real interest in knowing about the Messiah or in seeking him out, they would have been alert to what was really going on. They would have joined the search party, or would have maybe even led it. But King Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem and told them to look for the child and to tell him if or when they found him. And the magi left all by themselves, with no Jewish people in their party.
These people who were trusting in astrology to guide them, who were in essence, pagan Gentiles, were seeking to find a child who was Jewish. Now there were some Jews who were pagan enough that they believed the stars ordained certain events. But the Jews had nothing to do with the Gentiles, and because of this they missed something very important which was happening in their world. Their religious paradigm did not allow them to believe that someone other than a Jew might know something about the Messiah they had been expecting for centuries.
Is it possible to have the light of God available to you and still wander around in darkness? Apparently so.
The gospel story we read in the Bible shows us that these Jewish leaders were a whole lot more interested in retaining their positions of power and influence and in restoring the Jewish nation to prominence than they were interested in finding out if the messiah had arrived and had something important to say to them as his people. Their paradigm assured them the messiah would appear in a certain way, he would do certain things, and he most certainly would not look, talk or behave anything like Jesus Christ.
When I was growing up, I was told a lot of things about the Christmas holiday and what it meant and why it shouldn’t be observed, but no one ever told me the truth. I was told a lot of superstition, a lot of hearsay, and a lot of heated explanations of why observing Christmas was a sin, but none of those things turned out to be based on facts or on a mature, well-examined explanation of Christian history.
I remember one afternoon sitting in the audience at the Ambassador Auditorium listening to a performance of Handel’s “Messiah”. It stirred something deep within me. I knew the event of Jesus Christ coming to us and dying on the cross was significant, but I still missed the crucial point—God came into human flesh to live and die and to rise again, and now he bears our perfected humanity for all eternity in the presence of the Father. Forever, we are with God, in Christ by the Spirit. We are embraced, held, in the life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by God’s infinite grace through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
We can focus on whether or not something is pagan, and miss the light of God in the midst of the darkness. Whatever we observe as human is bound to be pagan in some way because we are all broken people. All our righteousness ends up being filthy rags to God—we must never forget God reconciled all things to himself in Christ Jesus.
Whatever we offer to God is broken and flawed—our efforts to get it right are feeble at best. This is why we follow the lead of the Spirit and the guidance of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We count on God’s grace to carry us. We need to be alert to the living Truth in the midst of all our darkness and brokenness. The Light has come—we need to pay attention, turn to the Light and allow him to show us what is really going on, and to follow where he leads us rather than stay in our misguided paradigms.
Who we listen to is crucial. The magi listened to God when he spoke to them in a dream (would we ever consider doing that)? These people who the Jews distained listened to God and obeyed him, and went home a different way, and in the process, they were kept safe from King Herod’s evil plot. They had followed the light of a star, had worshiped the Light who had come and offered him gifts, and by the light of the revelation of God in a dream, found their way safely home.
When Jesus grew older, the scribes, the high priests—this group of people who should have known, recognized and received him as the Light of God—were the very ones who rejected him and crucified him. As John wrote in his gospel: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:9–11 NASB) Their preconceived notions of how things were supposed to be, and their preoccupation which the things of this life—money, power, prestige—blinded them to the true Light which was in their midst.
On this day of Epiphany, it would be good to pause for a moment and to consider this Light of God who has entered our world and brought to us a whole new way of being—the life of God in human flesh. It would be good to ponder the ways in which we close our eyes to the light he wishes to bring into our world: What paradigms do we need to set aside? What old ways of thinking and believing do we need to suspend in order to embrace the possibility we could be wrong or might need to change? What things are we trusting in which have nothing to do with God’s values and God’s desires and what he wants to accomplish in this world?
God’s Light has come, and he is renewing our broken world and existence from the inside out. We have a wonderful opportunity to embrace this New Year in a new frame of mind and heart—one in which Christ is the center rather than us. May your 2017 be full of an abundance of all God’s blessings in Christ!
Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son, and for the gift of a new year ahead of us. You are always working at creating new beginnings. Grant us the grace to keep our life and our being centered in your Light, in Christ your Son, and to stay in tune with and obedient to your Spirit of Life, through Jesus our Lord, amen.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. … No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.” Isaiah 60:1–3, 19 NASB