Light in the Lord
by Linda Rex
March 19, 2023, 4th Sunday in Preparation for Easter or Lent—Last Friday, like many others here in middle Tennessee, I found nighttime approaching and was unable to turn any lights on. With the power out for several hours, I had given up on trying to use the laptop and phone, wanting to save my limited battery power for emergencies. I began to bring out my old candles, and after lighting several of them, their warm glow filled the rooms in my home. It was good to be able to see, to chase away the darkness with a small bit of light.
The apostle John has a lot to say about light and darkness in his gospel and epistle. In the gospel story for this Sunday, John 9:1-41, a man who was born blind encountered Jesus. Jesus told this man, who had spent much of his life as a beggar and dependent upon others, to go to the pool of Siloam and to wash off the clay Jesus had spit on and placed upon his eyes. And he did.
On his way back from the pool, the man who had been blind encountered people who were shocked by the realization that the blind beggar they had seen every day in the temple was now able to see. This was an impossibility!
The people brought him to the Pharisees, who focused on Jesus’ “sin”, that he was a sinner in their eyes, rather than on the miracle of how Jesus had brought light into the blind man’s darkness, changing his life forever. To them, what was more shocking than the blind man’s healing was that Jesus had done something considered sinful—made clay with spit and dirt—on the Sabbath day, and even so, this man was healed.
Thankfully, the man who was born blind was not blinded by the same prejudice or pride which dominated these leaders. He was able to see what the religious leaders were unwilling to see—that Jesus was the Son of Man, the Son of God, the One who was his Lord and Savior. He believed, and his life was never the same again. The light which entered his eyes was eclipsed by the divine Light which entered his being and brought him to his knees in worship of Jesus.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:8-14, tells us we are “Light in the Lord” and because that is true, we are to “walk as children of Light.” There is a difference between a life walked in Light and a life walked in darkness—the difference has to do with who we fellowship with and what we participate in. We may fellowship with the evil one or fellowship with Jesus Christ. We can participate in the things which are “deeds of darkness”, like the people in John’s story, who chose unbelief, dishonesty, arrogance and pride. Or we can participate in what Jesus is doing, through humility, repentance and faith, thereby bringing healing, reconciliation, and renewal to a broken and sinful world by allowing the Light to live in us and through us by the Holy Spirit.
It all begins with a person—the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is the Light of the world. In Jesus and by the Spirit, we have been given fellowship with the Maker and Sustainer of the cosmos and all that is in it. We can participate in what Father, Son, and Spirit are doing in this cosmos, or we can participate in what the darkness—the evil one—is doing. Who we fellowship with and what we participate in is evidenced in how we live our lives day by day, and whether the result is life-giving or ends in death.
Today, this day, where are your steps taking you? Are you tired of wandering about in the darkness? Do you realize that no matter where you are or what you are doing, the Light of God shines on you, in you, and through you because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Do you hear Jesus’ call to be washed anew in his rivers of living water, to be bathed in his wonderful light, and to turn again back into face-to-face relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit?
Lord, you are the Light of the world. I don’t want to walk in darkness, but in your marvelous light, now and forever. Wash me anew in your living streams, that I may ever reflect your glory and goodness, in your name, Jesus. Amen.
“… for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ ” Ephesians 5:8–14 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/03/olitlight-in-the-lord.pdf ]
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A Shiny, Salty Heart
by Linda Rex
February 5, 2023, 5th Sunday in Epiphany—The two courses I am currently taking with Grace Communion Seminary are both related to the practice of ministry. The practice of ministry involves taking what I believe and applying it to what I do in my everyday life and activities in caring for others. For many people, practice of ministry comes instinctively and naturally because they are gifted and designed in that way, while for me it is a real challenge and requires intentionality and discipline, and a whole lot of the Spirit of God.
In the New Testament passage for today, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, the apostle Paul tells his readers he didn’t come to them in superiority of speech or wisdom when he preached the gospel to them. If anything, he was weak and fearful, speaking solely what the Spirit gave him, rather than using rhetorical skills and persuasion. His point was that he wanted their faith to rest on something other than his ability to present the gospel in intriguing and captivating ways—he wanted it to rest on the power of God rather than the wisdom of men.
When it comes to the presentation of the good news, what do we rest on? A lot of times we get focused on the presentation itself, or on knowing the right information, or on being able to prove or explain what we believe to be true. The focus becomes ourselves, our own abilities (or lack thereof), and our effectiveness. In reality, it isn’t be about any of these things. Yes, I suppose it would be helpful to learn more or be more adept at expressing ourselves or demonstrating God’s love, but when it all comes down to what really matters, it comes down to Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.
What Paul had that was so persuasive to his hearers was the indwelling Holy Spirit, filling him and pouring out from him through his words and actions. This mystery, of Christ in us, was predestined by God, for he always intended us to live in oneness with him through his Son in the Spirit. Our ability to comprehend the things of God comes from God himself—the Spirit living in us and through us, simply because Jesus lived a truly human life, died a truly human death, and rose from the grave, bringing our human flesh home to Father in the Spirit.
What might this mean for us, then, as we live our everyday lives? Too often we live as orphans, believing it is all up to us. We live in our own strength, according to our own agenda and our own plans. When the world does not function according to our expectations, we become angry, frustrated, and/or depressed. What may not occur to us is that our rage against God and how he is running his world may look a lot like the rage which drove Saul to arrest and imprison the followers of Christ, believing they were unholy heretics which needed to be stopped.
What did it take for Saul to make the about-face transition to being a follower of Jesus Christ, the powerful advocate for the gospel, the apostle Paul? It took a personal encounter with our living Lord, Jesus Christ. It took the powerful healing and transformational work of the Holy Spirit. It took something, or Someone, beyond his physical self to bring about such a radical change. It took God himself, working in Saul/Paul’s life to move him from persecuting those who believed the gospel into believing and preaching it himself.
One of the phrases I often hear in modern literature and media is “you need to follow your heart.” Whenever I hear that, I often hear echoing in my mind what I was told as a child, a scripture I had to memorize, which said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9 KJV) Sadly, what I didn’t pay attention to in all those years is the context of that passage and what the entire Bible said about the human heart.
Before this, in verse 5, the prophet writes, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” In verse 10 it says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Then, in verse 14, Jeremiah says, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, …” On the one hand, the prophet was talking about how wonderful it was when a person followed God, but on the other, he reminds his readers that going down a different path will end in destruction, and then states that we cannot be healed or saved unless God does the healing and saving.
Do you see how we can believe something about ourselves which isn’t really true and end up in a totally wrong place? What we forget is that God did not create us with a wicked, deceitful heart. God created our human flesh with a heart designed to love him and love others in a warm fellowship of other-centered love. God did not lose his desire for us to share in that relationship simply because we turned away from him. He began to work in human events and circumstances to bring about, in spite of our surrender to evil, sin, and death, what he always intended. What Jeremiah predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34 was that God would give us a new covenant, writing his law on human hearts and minds. In other words, this heart which is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” is not the truth about each of us. God knows our hearts and minds, and, in Christ, did what was necessary to heal and save us in his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension, and in the giving of his Spirit. Jesus became a curse for us that we might be included in his own right relationship with God.
Jesus told his disciples they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–20). They were not salt and light by their own efforts, but because of who he was—the Light of the world, the Creator of salt and the earth, present with them. It is his life in us by the Spirit who shines brightly in a dark world, adding flavor and zest to our mundane human existence and frantic struggles to survive. Notice that Jesus did not say in this particular place that we needed to find some way to make ourselves a light source. He simply said to put ourselves as a light in a place where we will shine brightly and provide illumination to a specific area. He quite clearly said we can’t make salt salty—but we can be the salt we are as God’s presence and power at work in and through us by the Spirit in a place which needs spiritual flavor.
God has given us Christ in the Spirit, living his life in and through us, in a dark world which desperately needs light and could really use some heavenly flavor. He has given us Jesus’ heart and mind by the Spirit. How do we express his heart and mind in and through our everyday lives as we walk and talk on this planet Earth? All of life is a participation in Christ’s life by the Spirit. Jesus told us he was in the Father, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. That means our everyday life is Spirit-infused as we trust in Christ and walk hand-in-hand with Father through each situation and circumstance we face. This is the meaning of eternal life—and we participate in it right now, in this moment, through Jesus and by the Spirit who lives in us.
Thank you, Father, for giving us your heart and mind through Jesus in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to shine with your light, to salt this earth with the heavenly flavor of your eternal life of love and unity in this tasteless human existence. Amen.
“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and’ which ‘have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, ….” 1 Corinthians 2:1–12 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olita-shiny-salty-heart.pdf ]
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When Light First Dawns
by Linda Rex
January 22, 2023, 3rd Sunday in Epiphany—Recently, my husband remarked about my preference for darkened rooms. I’ve always preferred a more dimly lighted room to one that is filled with bright light because of the sensory overload that I experience from constant intense brightness. When the Scriptures speak about the light which is Jesus, I often wonder if our experience of Jesus can also make us prefer a less intense experience of the truth and grace which he brings. For some of us, hiding in the darkness of our human experience is preferable to facing up to the reality that we may have aspects of our person which need redemption and healing.
The good news is that this is the reason Jesus came. He did not come to condemn us, he said, but to save us and give us eternal life (John 3:16-17). His purpose is not to shame or diminish us in any way, but to bring us into the fullness of all that he intended from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-6), when light first touched this cosmos—life in relationship with God in the Spirit.
In our gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 4:12-23, the apostle quotes a passage from Isaiah 9:1-4, saying that Jesus’ life and ministry in the Galilee area was a fulfillment of this particular prophetic word. When looking back at the history of ancient Israel, we see that this area of the country was constantly invaded as a consequence of their repeated infidelity to God. Because they chose to continue to live in the darkness of sin, they ultimately experienced invasion and deportation by the Assyrians.
In Matthew’s day, the area of Galilee was distained by the people in Jerusalem and much of Judea, for the area was filled with Gentiles and surrounded by Hellenistic Jews who had in many ways assimilated into the Greek culture of their day. That Jesus would grow up in Nazareth and spend much of his life and ministry in the area of Galilee is remarkable and a telling witness to the grace and love of God for his people.
The dawning of the light of God in his birthplace of Nazareth, though, was met with ridicule and disbelief. So, Jesus went to Capernaum to live and work, and traveled around the region of Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing the people. Here the light of God, Jesus, announced the present reality of the kingdom of God, calling the people to repent. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was present and active in the lives of those who lived in darkness, calling them into his light, into life in relationship with his Father in the Spirit.
What is our experience when the light first dawns for us? What is our experience and response when first encountering the reality of Jesus and his claims upon us and our lives? Are we one of those who walks over to the light switch and shuts off the lamp because it is blinding us, or are we so blessed by the invasion of light in our darkness that we welcome it?
The issue may simply be that we are not clearly hearing or intently listening to and heeding what Jesus is saying. Perhaps we might want to look a little more closely at this simple message that Matthew puts forth as Jesus’ gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In that brief statement, there is a blinding light being projected, meant to illuminate the darkness which had covered these people for centuries. All of their messianic expectations needed to be revised, and all of their preferences reexamined. And this is why, perhaps, some may simply have preferred to turn the light back off rather than allow it to penetrate into their darkness.
Jesus didn’t focus on the benefits of being one of the chosen people. He didn’t celebrate the religious activities of the elite or promise blessings for obedience. At the same time, Jesus’ call to repent wasn’t a call to shame or guilt. It wasn’t a ridicule or a criticism. Instead, it was a call to a change of mind and heart—an invitation to turn around and go the right direction.
When in a darkened room, it is hard to see another person. If a person lives in darkness long enough, they lose their ability to see anyone or anything. If someone else is in the room with them, they wouldn’t know it, unless perhaps they heard them, because they wouldn’t see them. Jesus was inviting those who heard his message to see the reality that God was with them (in him) and they needed to turn around and get back into the face-to-face relationship with God they were created for. Jesus’ call to repent was a call to come back home, to live in the truth about who they were. Repent, Jesus says, and invites them into warm fellowship with himself, and thus with the Father in the Spirit.
Having reminded his listeners to come back into relationship with God through him, Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is Matthew’s euphemism for the kingdom of God. In Jesus, God’s kingdom was present and real, being established in a new and real way in his person. As the one through whom and by whom all was created, the Word of God in human flesh, Jesus was the one who ruled over all that was made. As the king of the kingdom, present in person, Jesus was calling all people to turn around and participate with him in the reality of God’s reign over all.
And that’s the catch. That’s where we get up and reach for the switch to turn off the light. We don’t want God invading our space or telling us how to run our world or our own lives. We don’t want anyone dictating to us. And we most certainly don’t want to admit that perhaps we need a power beyond ourselves in order to solve our problems, fix our world and our relationships, or even to change ourselves. We dive deeply into anything we can get our hands on that might possibly solve our problem, or at least anesthetize us from the pain, because we certainly don’t want to have to surrender to God.
What is sad, is that we as Christians are often the most guilty about avoiding the light. We find so many ways in which to bury our heads in the ground or rewire the light switch so that we don’t have to face the reality that we have turned our backs upon our relationship with God or have abandoned our dependence upon the One who has redeemed and saved us.
The good news is that Jesus comes to dark places, places like Galilee, where for a time, darkness reigns. Jesus is the Son of God who temporarily set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity in order to turn us back to God. Jesus says to all of us, “Follow me,” and invites us to live and walk within his own personal relationship with Father in the Spirit. He encourages us to live life in relationship with him day by day, in the humility of total dependence upon him, and daily welcomes us come home. As we are willing, he shines his light into our dark places, bringing renewal, healing, and restoration, and a deeper experience of God’s love.
Thank you, Father, for including us through Jesus in relationship with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to turn away from ourselves and this world and to turn again to Jesus, allowing your light to penetrate down into the deepest and darkest places within ourselves. May we discover that in the blackest places, the light of Jesus already shines. Amen.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:12–23 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/olitwhen-light-first-dawns.pdf ]
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And Then It All Changed
by Linda Rex
January 1, 2023, CHRISTMAS | New Year’s Day—Do you remember anything from when you were a toddler? One of the stories that goes along with the birth of Christ is an event which occurred when Jesus was about two years old. At that time, Scriptures say that Jesus and his family were living in a house in Bethlehem. What kept them in Bethlehem those two years? Were the couple there simply to avoid the notoriety going back home would give them?
The magi or wise men from the East came to visit Joseph and Mary, bringing gifts for the newborn king. Unfortunately, in their search for Jesus, they stopped in Jerusalem and enquired of King Herod as to his location. Herod asked his counselors what they knew about the prophecies of the coming Messiah and they told him that Bethlehem was where the Messiah would arrive. In response Herod sent his visitors from the East to Bethlehem with instructions to come back and see him and let him know where the baby was, so he could also pay his respects.
Even though the magi didn’t know the truth, God knew King Herod had no intention of letting the baby Messiah live. For that reason, he sent an angel to warn the magi, and they took a longer, more inconvenient way home so they could avoid returning to Jerusalem and endangering baby Jesus by reporting to Herod where they had found him.
This is where our gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 2:13–23, begins. Joseph, warned in a dream about Herod’s evil intentions is told to take his family and flee to Egypt. He immediately obeyed God’s instructions and began the dangerous and arduous trip, which was lengthened by the necessity of avoiding Jerusalem. Matthew recorded the horrific massacre of all infants under the age of two years which occurred shortly after they left Bethlehem. How must have Mary and Joseph have felt when the news reached them in Egypt of their close call!
Joseph, realizing that the hard work of his past two years disappeared in an instant simply because Jesus needed to be kept safe, must have had some real challenges in having to relocate and find work again. It is interesting God permitted circumstances to occur which would require that they end up in Egypt, and eventually then have to move back from Egypt, though up farther north in Galilee. Matthew, when recording these events, pointed out how each of them was a fulfillment of the prophetic word regarding the Messiah. Even though to Mary and Joseph these seemed like random events, in reality they were events which fulfilled God’s plan and purpose for his Son Jesus.
God grants us humans great freedom in living our lives, making decisions, and choosing whether to obey him. But none of the decisions we make prevent God from ultimately accomplishing what he has in mind. What they often do is complicate our lives and create issues for us when we don’t follow God’s leadership and guidance, or we work in opposition to God. But God can even take our opposition to him and use it to accomplish his best purposes and plans.
The story of the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem is tragic and heartrending. In many ways, it was a foretaste of what would happen to the Messiah himself. The blood shed that day pointed to the blood Jesus himself would shed on the cross on behalf of every person, including all those innocent ones who lost their lives. It was never God’s intention that the children die—that was the plan of the evil one and a sick king. But having happened, every child who died that day participated in Christ’s own crucifixion by the hand of broken, sinful people. And they rose, and will rise, in Jesus’ own resurrection.
Tears are often a part of our story. We’d all like to have stories which never have dark places in them, but the reality is that a good story includes both light and darkness. It is the conflict between the two which speaks to our hearts and captures our imagination. We know that our human existence in this crazy world is full of both sides of the coin. That is the reality of life right now apart from Christ.
What brings us joy, peace, and hope in the midst of such a place where evil stands in such strong opposition to what is good is the incarnation. It is that this God, who is greater than any evil that exists, has come into our human existence and taken on our human flesh. This God, though attacked by evil even as a child, continued to realign our human flesh with his eternal purposes and plans throughout his time here on earth, forging within our human flesh a capacity for genuine, other-centered love toward God and one another.
No matter how dark things get in our world, Jesus brings light. No matter what the evil one may attempt in a parasitic effort to destroy God’s good purposes and plans, he will ultimately fail. This child, born in such humble circumstances and threatened by human powers and evil plots, was guarded by his heavenly Father. He experienced the crucifixion of his human flesh in so many ways besides what happened on the cross. Here, in this part of his story, he became the one who lived when others died. He became the one who escaped while others suffered. But at the same time, he was the one in whom they suffered and died in his own cruciform offering. And he was the one in whom they will rise again in his own resurrection.
What darkness are you facing today? What battle are you fighting? What loss are you grieving? What addiction are you shackled by? Does the New Year look bleak considering what you are facing?
Jesus reminds us that whatever our story may be, it is caught up in the midst of his Father’s great big story. And however bad the evil may be, it is no match for the greatness and goodness of our loving God. And it’s never over, until God says it’s over. So there is always hope, peace, and joy in Christ as we are held in the midst of God’s love and grace. We are forgiven. We are accepted. We are beloved. And we most certainly are included—invited into and held within the inner circle of Father and Son in the Spirit. Praise God!
Thank you, dear Jesus, for going to such lengths to make us a part of your Father’s story. Thank you for forging for us the gift of life in the midst of death, of grace in the midst of our failures to love and serve. Thank you for including us in your life with the Father in the Spirit. Amen.
“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children whom God has given me.’ Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:10–18 NASB
“Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.’ So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.’ But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.’ So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’ ” Matthew 2:13–23 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitand-then-it-all-changed.pdf ]
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Christ the Image of God
By Linda Rex
July 17, 2022, PROPER 11—Yesterday, my son told me about another mass shooting that had occurred—a heart-rending devastation for innocent people just going about their everyday lives. These aches joined with angst over the increasing inflation and some recent experiences of rampant disrespect expressed by the loss of simple courtesies, made my heart ache even more than ever.
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Amos 8:1–12, as well as the psalms, Psalm 52 and 15, express a cry from God’s heart against all that is destructive and evil in this world. The evil one seeks control, disunity, and destruction, while Christ seeks to express his love, restoration, and unity by his Spirit through human hearts. Too often we respond to the inner cry to do as we please, to seek self-gratification and self-glory rather than to humble ourselves to be who we really are, the ones created to reflect the love and other-centered way of being of the God who made us.
How easy it is for us to get sucked down into the vortex of self. Its cry is siren and its influence is strong. It is seductive—we are often halfway into our surrender to the pleasure before we realize that we may never get out again. What we defend as our freedom to choose is so often a lie. What we lose sight of is that God has given us freedom—but in Christ he has freed us to truly be ourselves—children of God who love him and one another, who are free to know and be known by God down to our deepest level. This is true freedom.
We shine with the majesty of God’s nature when we are being true to who we are as God’s children. When we live in other-centered ways, making room for one another, we shine out as lights in a world darkened by satanic self-absorption and self-will. The darkness does not appreciate the entry of true light into its sphere. We cannot shine with our own light, though—it is too easily dimmed or refracted. We must draw the light with which we shine from the true Light, Jesus Christ, in order to be true reflections of God’s glory in this dark world.
This is an incredible mystery—how we shine with the light of God’s very being as we open ourselves to the Spirit of Christ, allowing him to live in and through us that life which he forged in our humanity when he walked the earth. What we used to believe about God is held up to the mirror of Jesus who is the exact image of the Father, being God in human flesh. We discover, when looking into the mirror who is Jesus Christ that we are not alienated from God or hostile to him, but we are held with Christ in God by the Spirit, participants in his very life and love.
It was the Father’s good pleasure that the fulness of the divine One dwell in Christ, in his human flesh, living our life, dying our death, and rising up into new life. God was pleased to have his Son dwell among us, taking our human flesh upon himself to be redeemed, restored, and renewed, enabling us to be fully reconciled with God in every way. And indeed, in Christ, we discover that God has reconciled all things, in heaven and on earth—an incredible thought that I struggle to get my mind around. How far is the extent of the reconciliation or peace God achieved for us in Christ if it includes both heaven and earth? Apparently, it has no end.
The mystery arises again—how can we shine brightly when our flesh so often seems to fill this world with darkness? We live in that complex place where the kingdom of God reigns and yet the kingdom of darkness attempts to maintain control of what God has declared is his. We are in the midst of the already-but-not-yet of God’s kingdom, where we only experience bittersweet glimpses of the world to come. We are ambassadors of Christ—finding ourselves as foreigners in a world that doesn’t understand or accept us at times. Our customs and ways of living may seem odd to those around us, because we have adopted a design for living—our true way of being—which is often counter-cultural.
We need to stay focused on Jesus Christ, the true Light. We draw our real existence or life from him. We are held with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and what matters most is that in Christ, we live face to face with the Father in the Spirit. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who holds us safely in the presence of the Father, in his eternal embrace of love. No person, no force, no created thing—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39). This is God’s word to us as his children.
Just as the Father is the fulness of Christ in their divine oneness in the Spirit, we find our fulness in Jesus’ humanity held in the presence of the Father in the Spirit. All things in heaven and earth were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. He has always existed, and holds all things together. He is the beginning and the end—the Lord of all. He has done, is doing, and will do, all that is needed to finish what he has begun in us. That is our comfort and peace—thank you, Jesus!
Heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us and for making us your very own. Thank you, Jesus, for holding us ever in the eternal embrace of the Trinity, enabling us to participate in your life and love. Thank you, Spirit, for making all that is ours in Christ individually our own, enabling us to see the face of the Father in the face of his Son. Amen.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I 1do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Colossians 1:15–28 NASB
“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.; But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’ ” Luke 10:38–42 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/christ-the-image-of-god.pdf ]
Stop Living in the Tombs
By Linda Rex
June 19, 2022, PROPER 7—I remember years ago receiving a phone call from a nurse who had helped in the delivery of my child. She lived down the road, and had seen me out walking, along with my newborn child in a stroller. She had called to tell me that my doctor wanted to see me.
The reason she had called was a good one. She was concerned that my postpartum depression had turned into clinical depression, and she wanted me to get the help I needed. What I had not known back then was that my mother had struggled with this same difficulty, and this was a genetic predisposition that could be passed down from one generation to the next.
I am, in a way, thankful that the recent pandemic has brought to the attention of many the importance of good mental health. Within churches, there has been a tendency to shun any discussion of mental health issues, or to lump them all under the heading of Satan’s work or demonic affliction. In my birth family, we discovered the painful consequences of being ignorant with regards to mental health issues—it’s important to be honest and upfront about our human brokenness and frailty, and to get the appropriate help when we need it.
If we look at the scriptures, we can see that struggles with depression and mental health related issues are addressed in the same way as many other of the struggles we have as human beings. Take, for example, the story of Elijah the prophet. Just after he had experienced a major triumph against the pagan prophets championed by Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, Elijah was threatened with the loss of his life. He ran to hide, ending up in a lonely place in the wilderness. There, he simply asked God to take his life. He didn’t feel he had anything else to offer—he was all alone and broken in soul, and done with the battle he had been fighting.
What is interesting about that story is that God didn’t magically take his depression away. Rather, he met him in the midst of it. He didn’t meet him in the great wind, nor in the tremendous earthquake, nor did he meet him in the massive fire. The way God engaged Elijah was through his still, small voice—meeting him right where he was and asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then, having been present with him in the midst of his despair and distress, God gave him a new purpose, and sent him out with a firm, “Go, return on your way… (1 Kings 19:1–15a).”
I was reading Psalm 42 and 43 which are readings for this Sunday, and was reminded of how helpful the psalms were when I was in my darkest days. The writers of the psalms (or songs) captured many powerful emotions and our common human response to crises, tragedies, and affliction. Pondering these poetic expressions of the inner soul, allowing them to resonate with what is going on within our own soul, and even using them as prayers, can awaken us to the reality that God understands our difficulties and is present with us in the midst of them.
Listen to what the “sons of Korah” wrote in this excerpt:
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’ My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: … But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. … Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:1-3, 8; 43:3-5 NLT)
If you read the entirety of these two psalms together, you will see that the psalmist is wrestling with deep, passionate feelings of isolation and discouragement. He rightly interprets this longing of his soul as a need for God’s presence in his circumstances. He needs to know he is not going through this all by himself. He needs to have some glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness.
In verse 3 of Psalm 43, the cry of the psalmist is, “Send out your light and your truth.” There, right there, is where we see a glimmer of the answer to our struggles with depression, despair and discouragement. God did send out his light and his truth. We find in the person of Jesus Christ himself, the One who is the Light and the Truth, what we are longing for. We find that God himself has taken on our human flesh, to live our life and die our death, to experience the worst that humans could inflict upon him, even to the point of suffering and death. He knows the pain of losing people dear to him. He knows the grief of being rejected, insulted, and falsely accused. And he knows what it is like to be betrayed and abandoned by his friends.
What God did was to enter into the midst of our human experience and bear it all upon himself. He went all the way into death itself, to bring our human flesh up into the presence of God, to be there in Christ forever. He sent the Spirit from the Father so that our human flesh becomes the temple of God’s presence, the place where we are able to worship him in Spirit and in truth. That means, in the midst of our darkest inner gloom, God’s Light is present and available. When it seems we have no hope, our heavenly Hope is present and able to lift us once more into a new place. We can seek the Lord, and when it feels as though our prayers never penetrate the ceiling, we may suddenly discover he has been right with us the whole time.
Jesus knows what it feels like when it seems we are all alone in the dark night of our soul, wandering about the tombs of our dreams. He knows what it feels like to barely be able to take another step. He knows the agony of one more moment of painful life. On the cross, he drove out the Satanic spirits of despair, desolation, and despondency—let them go. He clothed us with his righteousness—put it on. And he offers to you and to me his endurance, his forbearance, his hope, and his peace. He holds us and is faithful to us even when we are ready to give up.
Yes, there are times when we need to ask others for help. If we need to take medication to balance out our body chemistry, then we need to take it faithfully and consistently. If we need to talk with a therapist, then we need to have those conversations. But in every case, we always have Christ present in us and with us by the Spirit, giving us hope and strength. He will not abandon us, no matter how much in the moment it may feel like he has. Choose to ignore the lies that tell us God doesn’t love us or that he has abandoned us. Choose, by God’s grace, to believe Christ is still there, beneath all that mess, holding us steadfastly by the Spirit in the Father’s embrace. Let Jesus be who he is—the Light and the Truth at the bottom of the deep well of our darkness.
Thank you, Father, for never abandoning us or leaving us alone in our dark places, but coming to be with us and in us by your Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for being the Light and the Truth who holds us safely in the Father’s embrace, filling us with the hope to go on. Grant us the grace to take one more step, to find the strength for one more day, even if that is all we can manage right now, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Psalm 22:24 NASB
“So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in the tombs outside the town. … A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been freed from the demons. He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. … The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.’ So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:26–27, 35b, 37–39 NLT
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/stop-living-in-the-tombs.pdf ]
The Poetry of God’s Mercy
By Linda Rex
March 14, 2021, 4th SUNDAY IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER OR LENT—I may be mistaken, but every generation seems to have its own story of struggle and difficulty. I often hear how the world today is such a mess, so much worse than it ever was before. And yet, I wonder if that is the way the Jewish people of Jesus’ day felt about their experience under the oppressive Roman government.
No doubt, there are a whole lot more people on the earth today, so there is a whole lot more room for evil and sin to abound in and among us. But the cry of the human heart for redemption from oppression is one common to the human experience throughout the centuries. We must be honest about our experience wherever and whenever we live—all people are messy creatures in serious need of healing and transformation!
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that our only hope of salvation was in looking up to a crucified Savior in faith, as the Israelites looked up to the bronze serpent on a stake. The problem is, though, that we as humans often choose hiding away from God rather than living in the light of his love and grace. If only we understood that the Light of God, Jesus Christ, is not a destroying flame, but rather a healing and restoring fire that seeks to make all things new.
In Ephesians 2:1–10 the apostle Paul reminds us that even though we as humans were caught in a way of being that was not what God designed us to be as his image-bearers, Christ came and via the cross, lifted us up into the divine life and love. It was never about us or our ability to earn eternal life, but simply a gift of grace. God was not going to allow his masterpiece to dwindle into nothingness, but determined to restore and renew it. In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ forged within our humanity the capacity to participate in the divine life and love—reforming us in himself into the image-bearers of God we were always meant to be.
In the spirit of us as God’s children, being his masterpiece, his poetry, I include this little poetic creation:
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!
We need broken, Lord,
Rebellious children that we are,
But mercy, mercy, mercy!
Burn us up completely,
Consume us in your fire
Of love and grace,
That others too may experience the flame.
Mercy, mercy, mercy!
O, that we could see your face,
Know the power of your love,
Know the power of your grace!
Burn us in your flame
That all people may catch fire with
Your love and grace,
Be ignited, each and every one.
Mercy, mercy, mercy!
O, we are desperate for a change,
To see the power of your love,
To see the power of your grace!
Mercy, mercy, mercy!
Lord of all, fill us with the joy
Of I in you
And you in me.
Ignite us with your eternal flame
Of I in you
And you in me.
Mercy, mercy, mercy!
© Linda A. Rex, 3/5/2021
We can have great joy that God has included us in his life and love—not because we deserve it, but simply out of his love and grace. We look up to Jesus Christ in faith, we receive all he has done for us, and we live into the reality that we are God’s adopted children, included in his life and love now and forever.
God has gone to great effort in Christ to free us from evil, sin, and death—to bring us into his Light. Now we come to the difficult question—what will we do with Jesus Christ? Will we continue to live with our backs to the light, living as though none of this happened—as though God doesn’t love us and doesn’t care? Or will we simply turn to the Light, turn to Jesus, and allow him to illumine every part of our life, our being, our existence? You are worth so much more than you ever thought—you are God’s priceless masterpiece, his treasured poetry! Run into his embrace today!
Dear God, thank you for valuing us so greatly, that you would go to such great lengths to ensure that we are with you now and forever in an intimate relationship of love and unity and peace. Lord, we turn away from all that is evil and sinful, and we turn to you, Jesus, trusting in your love and grace, and opening ourselves up fully to your gracious presence by the Spirit. Amen.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:14–21 NASB
Called to New Beginnings
By Linda Rex
January 10, 2021, BAPTISM OF THE LORD | EPIPHANY—Recently my son and I visited the new location of the Tennessee State Museum here in Nashville. The time tunnel, which I clearly had issues trying to follow the timeline on, began with the origins of earth. Over the years, I have read many different versions of the creation story, so I was not surprised by the approach used by those who wrote the inscription for the display.
Often, we as human beings are intrigued by beginnings. As my family had a celebratory meal at a local restaurant recently, we noticed a pictorial history of the restaurant was posted on the wall and was being played on a television screen high over a window. Beginnings do matter, for often they explain how and why we end up the way we are today. What happens along the way also matters, because the circumstances in our lives affect where we are and who we are. The choices we and others make also play a big role in where and how we end up—examples of such consequences filled the walls of the history time tunnel I visited.
In the book of Genesis when it says “In the beginning…” we find the Spirit of God brooding over the nothingness and God’s voice speaking life into it. The apostle John began his gospel with the words, “In the beginning…” The Word of God through whom all things were made out of nothing had come into our humanity, the apostle John wrote. It was as though he was rewriting the human story beginning with the coming of the Son of Man into our humanity in the incarnation.
There is something significant here we should attend to, I believe. This God by whom all things came into being from nothing sent his Word through whom all things were made by the Spirit to be embodied in human flesh in the womb of Mary. This Son of God and Son of man, Jesus, was born like a human baby is born and grew up as every human child does. Christ brought his divine life into the darkness of our broken humanity and into this world which we have filled with our human depravity, evil, and sin.
Once again God created something out of nothing. As God in human flesh, Jesus Christ forged into our humanity the capacity for God to dwell in man. When Jesus rose from the grave after his crucifixion, he sent the Holy Spirit so that each human being could participate in his life with the Father in the Spirit. The Spirit he sent awakens us to our new birth in Christ—we are new creatures. What we lost in the fall, Jesus redeemed, restored and renewed and offered back to us in the Spirit.
When the apostle Mark described John the Baptizer, he showed us a man who acted and looked like Elijah the prophet, ate locusts and wild honey, and baptized people for the remission of sins, telling them to repent and turn to the Messiah who was coming. The other writers of the gospels say the Baptizer pointed out the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders at that time, told soldiers not to practice extortion but to be content with their pay, and instructed others of their need to repent and change the way they lived.
John was doing a powerful ministry, calling his people to repent of their sins and to be baptized even though they thought they didn’t need to be baptized—after all, they were God’s special people. But then John did a very special baptism. John the Baptizer was so humble that he did not even feel worthy to loosen the strap of Jesus’ sandal—but here Christ was, wanting to be baptized. The Baptizer knew then that Jesus would baptize in a way John never could baptize. John could only baptize people in water—Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit.
How did John know this was the case? God had told him that the person on whom the Spirit would descend like a dove was the Messiah, the One who would baptize with the Spirit. So, one day Jesus came to be baptized. He didn’t have any reason to be baptized—he was the sinless Son of God. Why be baptized? Perhaps this was his initiation into his official ministry. Perhaps he was showing us what we are supposed to do as an entry into the congregation of the people of God. Certainly, it can be seen in this act of baptism that he identified with each and every sinner in the world and as the representative sinner was baptized in our place and on our behalf.
When Christ rose out of the waters of the Jordan River, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending upon him as a gentle dove. He heard his Father’s voice, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” We see present in this moment the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit—the unity of their purpose, love, and blessing. We heard the voice of God speaking to Jesus and today it resonates within our own hearts as we picture ourselves within the Holy Son, rising out of the waters of baptism to receive our own blessing by the Father.
We can take comfort that no matter how we were baptized, when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we share in his inheritance as the Son of the Father. While we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism, we share in his receiving of the Spirit as well. The Holy Spirit comes to live within, gives us new life, allows us to participate in Christ’s life with the Father in the Spirit and to share in Christ’s mission in this world of spreading the good news.
In Jesus Christ, we find both God and man in one being. In Jesus we find that God has made something new—a restored humanity in which God dwells by the Spirit now and forever, enabling humanity to dwell with God today in the Spirit and tomorrow in the new heavens and new earth in our glorified humanity. In Jesus we find a capacity to be the human beings God created us to be—image-bearers of the divine being—to love God and one another as we were meant to, beginning now as little children, and growing up into Christlikeness as we mature spiritually.
Whatever state we may find ourselves in today, we can be assured of this—no one is so far gone or so insignificant that God cannot redeem, restore, or renew. We are free to say no to God, as we so often do, and to reap the consequences that go with having done so. So, just know—God is as equally passionate today about removing evil, sin, and death from us and our world as he was when he hung on the cross to get rid of it within our humanity. In Christ, God has done everything we need for our redemption and restoration and has sent his Spirit to awaken us to this new life. Perhaps others may not receive this gift and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior. But what really matters right now is, what about you?
Do you believe that Jesus is God come into our human flesh to live our life, die our death, and to rise again, freeing us from evil, sin and death? Are you committed to turning away from your self and your way to Jesus Christ, surrendering to him as your Lord and Savior? Will you receive and welcome his gift of the person and presence of the Holy Spirit? Do you believe he will come again one day to deliver us once and for all from evil, sin, and death, and to usher in the new heavens and new earth?
If you wholeheartedly say yes to all these things, then I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit as a public affirmation and celebration of this commitment and be joined together in Christ with his body, the church through baptism. All of us at Grace Communion Nashville would love to join with you on your journey with Christ—it takes a lifetime, even an eternity, and a village to come to fully know and be known by the One who saved us. Let’s do it together!
Abba, Heavenly Father, I receive your gift of life in Christ Jesus–may your Spirit fill me to overflowing, and may my life from this day forward fully reflect your glory, life and love. Finish what you have begun in me this day–I am yours and you are mine, one in Jesus my Lord by your heavenly Spirit. Amen.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’ ” Mark 1:9–11 NASB
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Genesis 1:1–3 NASB
The Dark Side of Christ’s Advent
By Linda Rex
December 27, 2020, HOLY FAMILY | CHRISTMAS—A lot of times we include the visiting of the magi from the East in the Christmas story. The wise men followed a star, or angel, to Jerusalem, asked King Herod about the Messiah, and found he was to be born in Bethlehem. Having heard this, they left to find the child in this place. And this is where we encounter the dark side of the Christmas story.
It was significant that these wise men from other nations were seeking out the Messiah, while apparently, the chief priests and elders of the Jews only looked into it when King Herod asked them to. It was tragic that King Herod used the information he was given to have the infants of Bethlehem slaughtered. He didn’t want to risk losing his throne to a messianic upstart. Having been warned ahead of time by an angel, Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt, while the infants in Bethlehem were being killed by Herod’s soldiers. There was horrible loss and suffering that was experienced by so many because of Herod’s evil actions. He had no idea that his violent attack upon Jesus in this way predicted what would happen to Jesus as an adult when he died on behalf of all people, young and old.
But let me go back before this event. We often miss an important part of the story when we focus solely on the magi and the genocide in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with baby Jesus about forty days after he was born. They, as pious Jews, wanted to be obedient to the law of Moses as they understood it. So, they came to Jerusalem to do three things: 1) They offered the sacrifice necessary for Mary’s cleansing after having given birth to a son—forty days after the birth they offered the sacrifice of poor people of two turtledoves or two young pigeons. 2) They paid the redemption price for Mary’s firstborn son, Jesus, of five shekels. 3) And following the example of Hannah in the Old Testament, they presented their son to God for his service. The parents of Jesus, who was born under the law, fulfilled the requirements of the law as they understood them.
What would King Herod have thought if he had known the real Messiah was present in Jerusalem without his knowledge? It wasn’t like Mary and Joseph snuck in and out without anyone noticing. Luke tells about two elderly Jews who took special note of Jesus, acknowledging and proclaiming that he was the expected Messiah. Simeon and Anna were guided by the Spirit to affirm the special anointing which was on the Christ child. Anna celebrated loudly the redemption of Israel through this child. Simeon said that Jesus would be a light to the nations, but would face great opposition and one day Mary would experience the sharp pain of the loss of her son—there would be a dark side to Jesus’ life and ministry. I imagine the prophetic words of these two elders must have created a lot of talk among the people at the temple.
Somehow Mary and Joseph took care of what they felt was needed at the temple and returned to Bethlehem without raising the attention of the authorities or King Herod. We don’t know what they were doing during those first two years in Bethlehem before their flight to Egypt. Perhaps Joseph was doing work as a carpenter and was able to eventually provide them with a house to live in, for that is where the magi found them. In Christ’s story, we find Jesus identifying with a variety of people—working poor, pious Jews, humble shepherds, and in time, endangered refugees hiding in another land. If we look closely, we can see that as an infant and as a child, Jesus experienced the human condition—what people everywhere, in every nation, go through at some time and in some way.
Sometimes people project onto Jesus some fantasy childhood, where nothing ever went wrong and where his circumstances were always ideal. It could not have been easy for Joseph and Mary to drop everything to go to Bethlehem just because the Roman government was doing a census. What did they face due to Mary’s unexplained pregnancy? When they did arrive in Bethlehem, did they endure criticism or rejection from extended family members? When the baby came, did anyone help Mary out or was she left all alone with Joseph? What was it like for Joseph to be the guardian of his adopted son, knowing Jesus would never be fully his own? When Jesus’ parents knew that they had to flee Bethlehem, did their hearts ache for their friends and neighbors who were facing the loss of their children at the hands of the soldiers?
These are human experiences which can be found in nations all over the world among people of a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities. When Jesus came as a light to the nations, he did not do so externally to all we are as human beings, but as one of us within our humanity. He entered our human existence, to forge within us a new humanity able to share in his close relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He did not bring a political redemption, but a spiritual renewal and an ushering in of the age of the Spirit—a time when every human being could participate by faith in Jesus’ life of union and communion with the Father in the Spirit.
The prophet Isaiah celebrated this prophetically, saying:
“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (61:10 NASB).
He spoke of our salvation as something God clothes us with—”garments of salvation” and “a robe of righteousness.” These are not things we create for ourselves—our best efforts never gain us a right relationship with God, nor do they save us from the consequences of our sin and rebellion against God. Nor do they free us from evil, sin, or death. Only God could and did do what was needed in and through his Son. He even went so far as to adopt us into his family—to make us his very own children rather than just merely his servants.
But there was a cost to God’s Son coming into our humanity to bind us in himself to the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit. What those children and families in Bethlehem experienced was the dark side of the coming of God into our humanity—when evil resisted the goodness of God once again, turning the beauty of what God had done for each of us in the Christ child into something horrific and tragic. What Jesus experienced in the wilderness and later on the cross, what he resisted each time he healed someone or delivered them from an evil spirit, was that darkness which from the beginning has resisted and sought to overcome the light of God’s love and life. The reality is that Jesus came and did what only God could do—delivered us from Satan’s hands, freed us from sin and death, and rising from the grave, brought our humanity into a new place in the presence of his Father now and forever.
In our western world today, we often are so comfortable that sometimes we forget what it is like to struggle, suffer, or go without. When a tragedy, violence, or natural disaster occurs, we are faced once again with the reality that we live in a broken world in which evil is still at work. We, in the already/not-yet of God’s kingdom, experience both the blessings of God’s presence and power at work in this world, but also the opposition, oppression, and assaults of the evil one as he opposes every good thing God is trying to do. There is evil at work in this world—but evil is always a parasite on what is good—it has no power that is not derivative. God always and ever has the final word—and this is why we pray, resist Satan and evil, and seek what is good, even when doing so may cost us our life, our financial well-being, or our good standing in the community.
There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus said anyone who wanted to be his disciple needed to “lay down his life, pick up his cross, and follow” him. The price of doing this is what we may struggle with. But realizing that Jesus went first, and that he includes us in his perfect life of obedience with the Father, can enable us to do the difficult thing. Christ went first—and whatever we do, we do as a participation in his perfect and finished work. This can give us hope and courage when life gets hard, no matter who we are. We are not alone—he is present now and forever by his Spirit—and includes us as adopted children of a loving Father who by his Spirit affirms in our hearts that we are his very own, no matter the circumstances of our lives or the difficulties we face.
Dear Abba, thank you for making us your very own. We look forward to that day when evil, sin, and death are cast into the lake of fire and once and for all removed from our world. In the meantime, hold us close, Abba, and deliver us anew from evil people and the evil one, from the sin which so easily seduces us—we are helpless and hopeless without you. Thank you, Jesus, for sharing in our human existence so fully, and for coming to be with us and in us by your Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:4-7 NASB
See also Luke 2:22–40 and Isaiah 61:10–62:3.