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
by Linda Rex
One of the things I can’t help but reflect on as I go through the Christmas season is how at one point in my life I totally misunderstood the celebration of Christmas. It did not make sense to me why everyone made such a big deal about a baby being born and laid in a manger. Sure, he was the Lord of all, but why worship him as a baby? He was human after all.
I believe a lot of people go through the holidays and do not have any foundation for the celebration of them. This, obviously, may be why Thanksgiving has lost its luster, and Christmas has become a major marketing tool rather than the celebration it was meant to be. We can celebrate the solstice if we wish, we can light candles for Hanukkah if we wish, and observe whatever festival we wish. But there is no reason to celebrate Christmas if we remove Christ from it. Why?
The celebration of the “Christ mass” (Christmas) was set at the same time as an old pagan holiday, because of the Christian tradition of replacing the pagan with Christ. Replacing the pagan with Christ is fundamental to the whole Christmas story and the Christ child.
In the Christian Scriptures the apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of God that is in reality wiser than any human wisdom. This wisdom, or foolishness, however you wish to look at it, is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. For in him, God has made possible and real the perfection, redemption, and restoration of each and every one of us. For Christ has taken our place: he stands in for us, being our goodness, holiness and purity, in our place. (Gal. 2:20) It is Christ who makes us new creatures.
He did this, as the apostle John wrote, by coming as the Word of God, God’s one and unique Son, and taking on our human flesh. (Jn. 1:14; 3:16) The baby in the manger we read about in the Christmas story was God and yet was at the same time fully human. It seems foolish that God would put himself at risk in this way—but in order to bring us as humans in with the union and communion of the Father, Son and Spirit, he sent his only Son to live in human flesh—to go through all the human experiences we go through, living in the Spirit as we are called to do, dying a horrific death in our place—so that one day we could dwell with God.
God risked it all for us—even the eternal fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit—the love that God lives in. As Jesus hung on the cross and cried out in pain, feeling the separation caused by the evil we as humans embrace, all of that oneness and love hung in the balance. All of us and our relationship with God hung in the balance at that moment—as God said ‘No!’ to evil and ‘Yes!’ to us being with him forever. It is in Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we have hope. For Jesus did in our place what none of us could do. His perfect response to the Father on our behalf in the Spirit made possible a future that otherwise could never have happened.
So the foolishness of a little baby in a manger which we celebrate at Christmas actually shows God’s tremendous and loving wisdom. Reject it, ridicule it, mock it if we wish. But it is still true. It is still there for us. The perfect gift, from a perfect God—a life filled with love in his presence forever. It is through the miracle of Christmas and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who once was a baby in a manger, that we enter into a new day—the Lord’s Day—and a new life in fellowship with God forever.
May you find comfort, peace and healing as you believe and receive God’s perfect ‘foolish’ gift of Jesus Christ, his Son, to stand in your place. And may God bless you with his hope, peace, joy and love throughout this New Year!
Thank you so much, Lord, that you are so much wiser than we are, and that you were willing to be ‘foolish’ so that we can participate in your holy fellowship of love and eternal life. Thank you for giving us a place at your table. We celebrate you and thank you for your precious gift. Bless us throughout this New Year with a deeper appreciation for all you have given and do give, as you pour out on us every heavenly blessing in Christ Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Cor. 1:30-31 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15
Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.
The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.
Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.
The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.
As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.
Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.