By Linda Rex
JOY—Who is Jesus to you? At this time of year, we often focus on an infant, born in Bethlehem, who was placed in a manger. The Christmas story can seem like a sentimental fairy tale which really has no application to real life. How is does any of this apply to those of us who are struggling to find the strength to go through another day, to keep from drowning in sorrow and grief?
This sweet child in reality came into a world under Roman rule which was plagued by unrest and discontent. Jesus Christ was born in a Jewish culture which over the years had mixed with Greek Hellenism, and had substituted a historical religious faith with one based on political expediency, money and power, and faithfulness to a human standard and the seeking approval and applause of others.
The circumstances of this infant’s birth illustrate the difficulties which arise when a couple struggles to obey God’s call upon their lives while living in the midst of an often violent and officially pagan culture. It seems that often their obedience to God was intertwined with their necessary obedience to the government. Joseph found he had to go to Bethlehem, to the region of his forefathers, because of a Roman census. But in doing so, he fulfilled the prophetic word about the Messiah. The family was told they needed to flee the wrath of the king and go to Egypt, and it turns out this was prophetically exactly where they needed to be to fulfill Scripture.
We are often so immersed in our culture, our circumstances, and our experiences, that we can easily believe God is uninterested, uninvolved, and indifferent to our struggles and suffering. We feel as though we ourselves cannot change anything, or that we must bring about change.
In reality, God is the one who must bring about real, lasting change. We forget that whatever we do if it is not founded in God himself, has no enduring value. What this means is that all which God created from nothing was going to return to nothing apart from the entrance of God himself into creation to redeem, restore, and renew it.
God worked even from before the beginning of this cosmos to ensure that what he made would endure and fulfill the purposes for which it was created. This meant orchestrating different events, working with and through different people and patiently enduring their failures, stubborn willfulness, and disobedience. And then, when the time was exactly right, when all was prepared, when the world and the Jewish people were prepared to give birth to the Messiah, the Word took on our human flesh.
The human story is one filled with struggle, pain, suffering, and death. But it is also filled with joy—joy in the midst of sorrow, grief, and dark nights. There is great joy expressed in the Scriptures by those who experience God intervening in their difficult circumstances and saving them in impossible situations. It seems that in reality, our Lord is a victorious warrior who loves to rejoice over us as we experience his love and grace in the midst of our darkness, hopelessness, and despair.
On that dark night when Jesus was born, the shepherds saw and heard the angels share the wonder and joy of God over his Son’s birth. Our heavenly Father had waited and prepared for a long time for this special event—it was a wonderful, joyous occasion which he knew would change things forever. He knew that in giving his one unique Son, he would in time have many other adopted sons and daughters as his beloved children. And this would bring him even greater joy.
Advent is a great opportunity to reflect on our need to wait on God—to learn to wait as God waits. We wait, not apathetically, but intentionally, working to prepare the ground for the planting of the Word of God. John the Baptist came to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah. He had a significant role, for he was to testify that this person who he baptized and who received the Holy Spirit in a special way was indeed the Messiah.
His words seem harsh to us—he was critical of the religious and civic leaders, and called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. But he never pointed to himself—he always pointed away—to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus would transform our humanity in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and would send the Spirit so that each and every person could participate in that true renewal and transformation he had forged for them.
Today we wait for the return of Christ, the second Advent, in the same way. We prepare our hearts and our lives by removing the weeds of sin, self, and Satan through repentance and allow the seed of God’s Word to penetrate into the core of our being. We receive the gift of God’s indwelling Christ, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and we walk in the Spirit day by day. We daily testify to the truth of who Jesus Christ is—our Savior and Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.
We testify to the reality that Jesus Christ, beyond his entrance into this world as a tiny infant, is our divine warrior who went into battle on our behalf. He left behind all the glories and privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity. And he fought in hand-to-hand combat against sin, evil, Satan, and even death. His weapons of warfare involved submission, humility, and simplicity, and the ultimate weapon—death and resurrection. And he won. He rose victorious, ascending to his Father, carrying all of humanity into his Abba’s presence.
What Advent and the birth of Jesus mean for us today is that in the midst of darkness, loss, sin, evil, and even death, we can have joy, real deep joy. This joy reaches beyond our human experiences into the true spiritual realities where we are held in Christ in the presence of Abba by the Spirit. There is hope, peace, joy, and love in the presence of Abba, and it is all ours—we are fully victorious in Jesus Christ. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God in Christ. We, even on a dark and gloomy night, can gaze upon the face of the divine Son and rejoice, because he is a victorious warrior!
Thank you, Abba, for the precious gift of your Son. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, pain, and sorrow, but for lifting us up and giving us the victory over evil, sin, Satan, and death in Jesus. Holy Spirit, bring us close and enable us to see clearly the face of the Father in the face of his Son, so that we can fully participate in the divine love and life Jesus has created for us. Abba, fill our hearts overflowing with your joy, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zeph. 3:17 NASB
A video of this blog may be accessed here.
By Linda Rex
Yesterday I took my child to Franklin so she could participate in a career assessment. The event included a rather lengthy presentation by two army recruiters, who were doing their best to inspire the teens who were present to join the Army or one of the branches of the military.
From where I was sitting, I could tell that there were a few of the teens, who with the encouragement of their parents, would probably enlist in the near future. Some of them were from military families, who were well acquainted with the rigors of this life.
I reflected back to that morning when I had read about King David in 1 Chronicles 12. I had had one of those epiphanies the Spirit gives sometimes when we are reading the Scriptures. It was something I had not really put together in that way before. Let me share it with you.
David was a simple shepherd boy, the youngest of eight brothers, when the prophet Samuel anointed him king over Israel. God arranged the circumstances in his life so that he served and trained in the presence of King Saul, in the royal court. He became a close friend to Saul’s son Jonathan, and grew into a powerful warrior and leader of Israel’s army. In time, the blessing of God on his life could not be hidden, and Saul’s jealousy drove him to seek to take David’s life.
So then we see David hiding in the wilderness, running from place to place so that he did not need to engage King Saul in battle. He had a couple opportunities to kill the king, but chose not to, choosing instead to let God take care of removing King Saul from office. Eventually King Saul and his sons died during a war with the Philistines.
But even then, David did not take the kingship to himself. His tribe of Judah declared him to be king, but other men wanted Saul’s son Ishbosheth to be king. That, however, did not last long. In time all of Israel turned to David and he became their ruler.
In the centuries after these events, King David was often used by the prophets as an illustration of the coming Messiah who would restore Israel’s glory. What came to my mind yesterday was that King David’s experience in the wilderness is a good illustration of the ministry of God in the world today.
Just as David was anointed by God in his humility to be king and yet lived in obscurity for many years, our Messiah Jesus Christ was born and raised in humble circumstances, living as the Son of God in our humanity and experiencing all aspects of our lives. The evil one sought to destroy him and his work at every turn—and in many ways, like David, Jesus’ real glory as the king of all was hidden in his humanity. Even though he was tempted by Satan to take the throne of the earth on his own terms, he refused to, trusting his Father to bring it to pass in his good time.
In Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, he was anointed by the Father to be king of all. And even though Jesus is the real king, right now we live in a world that is ruled by a dark king who acts as though he is still in charge. He seduces, twists people’s minds and hearts, steals all that we cherish and value, lies and deceives, and somehow continues to keep people enthralled by his reign.
But Jesus is the reality of the kingdom of God here on earth, though we do not fully experience that kingdom in all its fullness right now. Through the gift of the Spirit and the calling of the church to bear witness to Jesus Christ, we see God bringing his kingdom into new places and to new people in new ways all the time.
The scriptures call our God a warrior, who, like King David, is assembling a great army against the darkness and evil that exists in the world today. Each of us is like the warriors who came to David and gave themselves to serve him in battle. We are each participating with Jesus in this battle to bring light into dark places.
The good news is that Satan’s rule is over. It is only a matter of time and he will be gone and righteousness, life, and light will truly reign in every part of the cosmos. At that time there will not be any room left for evil or for those who committed themselves to participating in the darkness. At some point, there will only be room for light and life, and God, with his people, will reign in triumphant glory. We anxiously await that day.
But in the meantime, we are at war. Like the mighty men who were equipped for battle, each of us has been equipped by the Holy Spirit with gifts, talents, abilities, experiences and resources to be used in this divine warfare. We have each been placed in certain circumstances around certain people and given opportunities to participate in God’s work in this world to bring light into dark places.
The picture of Jesus on the white horse with his armies following him, is reminiscence of King David with his warriors and raiding bands and armies. And it also is a good picture of God at work even today through Jesus and in the Spirit as he works through people all over the world who are actively bringing life to dead places, light into darkness, hope to despairing people everywhere. Churches, parachurch organizations, food pantries, caregivers, people working to protect and heal the environment—the list goes on. People in every area of life, in every place, are all participating in God’s work to retake this world for Christ.
That leaves one question: Will you join in? I cannot promise that the benefits are superlative. There is a possibility you may suffer and struggle, be wounded in battle, maybe even die. But I can promise you that in the end, you’ll be a whole lot better off than someone who joins the other side—because they’ve already lost the war.
Lord, you are a Mighty Warrior. We are so proud to be a part of your conquering army. Finish what you have begun in us and in our world. We need your kingdom to be fully earthed so that all of life reflects you and your glory. Even so come, Lord Jesus, in every area of life and fully in each of us. In the name the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army alike the army of God.” 1 Chronicles 12:22
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, he will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. Zephaniah 3:17