700 Years Before Christmas

nativityscene

 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

–Isaiah 9 ESV

Following 739 B.C., Isaiah exposes the hearts of the unrepentant children of God beginning in Chapter One, which leads up to this verdict:

…they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry…. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”–Isaiah 8.

The fall of Israel and, then, Judah lies just ahead. Slaughter and captivity await them. But hope is given to the faithful remnant. God will have the ultimate victory.

Isaiah 9 brings light to the gloom.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

For unto us a child is born…

In his magnum opus, Prof. John N. Oswalt writes:

Medieval Jewish commentators, combatting the prevailing messianic claims of Christians, argued that all this was simply in recognition of the birth of the crown prince, Hezekiah, and was only a simple royal birth hymn. However, this view flies in the face of the chronology of Hezekiah’s birth, and even more seriously, it is evident from the language that no merely human king is being spoken of. This is clearly an eschatalogical figure, the Messiah.*

The titles [9:6] underscore the ultimate deity of this child-deliverer. Although some commentators have expended a great deal of energy attempting to make these titles appear normal, they are not. . . .this is not a coronation hymn but a birth announcement. . . .the point remains that such extraordinary titling was not normal for Israelite kings. . . .All of this points to a remarkable congruence with the Immanuel prophecy.

(Isaiah, NICOT)

God with us.

*”The Targ. explicitly identifies the person as the Messiah.”

https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/immanuel-god-with-us/ Immanuel–wonderful video, words of Charles Spurgeon

Timeline B.C.

739 following–Isaiah’s Prophecies

721 Samaria Falls; the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

701 Sennacherib Invades Judah, deporting 200,000 to Assyria. ‘I shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage.’

597 Jerusalem captured by Babylon. Deportations begin.

586 Temple Destroyed

c.538 Edict of Cyrus. First return of captives

515 Second Temple Completed

4 B.C. Death of Herod which followed the Birth of Jesus

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Shepherds and the Shepherd King

cole-angel-shepherds-1

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 2 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.–Luke 2 ESV

The Shepherds and the Shepherd King

The angel Gabriel told Mary, “you…will bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He…will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David….”–David, the shepherd Psalmist, who was chosen by God as king of Israel.

In Genesis, God himself is called “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel”(49:24).

The Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were all shepherds. Moses, the shepherd, shepherded God’s people for over forty years.

The shepherd David’s most famous Psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

The shepherd Amos ended his prophecy of terrible judgments with the promise that, “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David….”

How wondrous, then, that an angel declared this to Shepherds of Bethlehem, “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

angel_shepherds_full

Still, today, in struggling with the existential conundrum of God vis a vis the Jewish people, a rabbi denotes ‘shepherd’ as “a root metaphor” standing behind the “community’s beliefs, values and behavior.”*

Modern attempts to dismiss the story of the shepherds as legendary propose motives such as this: “God’s grace is revealed to a group of people held in low regard (e.g. as thieves) by the Jews. But the evidence for this [low regard] is late…” (Luke, I. Howard Marshall).

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel notes: “In a Midrash to the Book of Psalms, the third century [A.D.] Rabbi Yosi bar Hanina noted that there is no occupation more degrading than that of a shepherd who walks around like a beggar holding a staff and bag in hand.”*

Taking this later situation which followed the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel and applying it to the time of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), creates an anachronism.

bethlehemshep

Making Christ Known

May we be mindful that we are called to respond to the Angel’s message just as the Shepherds did. For all who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb….the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of the waters of life”(Rev. 7:17).

*Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, A Shepherd’s Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought (New York: Kodesh Press, 2014).

Advent, The Shepherds’ Candle

Advent-candles-990x417

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

rembrandt-adoration-of-the-shepherds

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.–The Gospel of Luke

It will be wonderful to be glorifying and praising God in our gatherings during Christmas week. In this very familiar passage of Scripture, there is one line that seems unfamiliar, at least if we judge by our actions.

“…They made known what had been told them about this child…”

How many have heard us during this Holy Season?(link)

 

We have many wonderful works of art depicting the Angels and the Shepherds, and of the Shepherds at The Manger Scene. But how hard it is to find just one that depicts the shepherds sharing the Good News of  our Saviour’s birth.

shepherdstellstory

Can we Christians be found in that picture?

On Earth Peace . . .

PeacedoveGlory to God

in the highest,

and on earth peace

to men on whom

his favor rests.

Luke 2:14 (NIV)

We may pause amid this season’s bustle and reflect on familiar words–yet a bit unfamiliar in recent versions which bring out the Christmas message.  Peace is rooted in God’s favor, in his grace.  Peace comes through God’s act of sending the Christ for the purpose of bringing salvation to many.  Peace dwells in the household of faith.  For all this we with the angels may truly utter praise, “Glory to God . . .”

The clear note of the gospel is muffled by the phrase “‘men of goodwill’ [which] ought to disappear entirely from Bible translations and Christmas meditations!” (NIDNT).  And we ought not to muffle the message.  For multitudes, there is no peace, only dread.  Many long to hear tidings of comfort and joy, and to partake of that peace that passes understanding, singing with the redeemed, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”

The Faithful (O Come, All Ye . . .) will declare these tidings to their neighbor. God’s gift of peace is intimately joined with obedience to all that our Lord Jesus Christ commands (Isaiah 48:18), including his call to us to be his witnesses.  At Christmas, opportunities abound for sharing with those in darkness tidings of the Prince of Peace.

For those in darkness, George Fox was clear about the first step to peace:

I directed them to the Divine Light of Christ . . . by which Light they might see their sin and also their Saviour Christ Jesus to save them from their sins.  This I told them was their first step to peace . . .

We, too, must be clear about this.  Where “the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), and where peddlers abound selling panaceas for peace, we must declare:

Peace is not bought but brought;

not gotten but given;

not  “hyped” but hidden.

And for them that have faith,

faith in the only Son begotten of

the Father,

the promise is fulfilled–

Salvation comes.

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2), and through you this Christmas.

–First published in Quaker Life, December, 1985.  Here is one way to share the Christmas story with others.

nativity_lightened

Luke 2: The Shepherds’ Faithfulness

rembrandt-angel-shepherds300x329

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

rembrandt-adoration-of-the-shepherds

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

It will be wonderful to be glorifying and praising God in our gatherings this Christmas week. In this very familiar passage of Scripture, there is one line that seems unfamiliar, at least if we judge by our actions.

“…They made known what had been told them about this child…”

How many have heard us during this Holy Season?

We have many wonderful works of art depicting the Angels and the Shepherds, and of the Shepherds at The Manger Scene. But how hard it is to find just one that depicts the shepherds sharing the Good News of  our Saviour’s birth.

shepherdstellstory

Improbable Advent: “Prepare Ye the Way…”

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined….  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”–Isaiah 9

Before the bustle of the coming Holy Day consumes our time, now would be an opportune moment for us to pause and look ahead for opportunities to seize this time in order to share Christ with another.  How often are we given such a favorable time?

Most of our attention during this Season is focused inside the box, inside the four walls of our church and our home We rejoice in sharing Christmas through our church programs and presents; through worship and family gatherings.

Many churches follow the Advent calendar, seeking to prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, the Incarnation, the Light of the world. And we ought to remember His words to us: “You are the light of the world.”

What would this Christmas look like if every follower of Jesus Christ would prepare his heart to share this Light, this Story with one other person who is outside the box?…with someone who needs Good News?…with someone on the fringe of Christianity?…with some friend or co-worker or acquaintance who does not know Christ?

 

Such an event would be an amazing display of His lights in this world!

Such an Advent seems impossible, certainly improbable!  But it begins in each place with one person at a time.  Let it be you no matter what others may do.

Prepare your heart. Pray and seek God to guide you to that person.  Prepare to open the conversation.  Perhaps a Christmas book or video or cd can be the conversation starter.  Pray for God to guide you and to open the door.

Then, make a commitment to God to do it.  And ask fellow Christians to pray for you in this endeavor.  Trust in His strength and wisdom, not your own.  Leave the results in His hands.  All that any of us can do is to simply sow the Seed, give the Bread, shine the Light, and leave it in God’s hands as we remain open to whatever way He chooses to use us in this.

In this busy time of preparing for winter or for holidays or for travel and with so many heavy burdens, it would be easy for any of us to give up on such an idea.

But what if God had given up on us before that first Christmas?

Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914

Having just passed what was originally Armistice Day, the celebration of the end of  The Great War, and before we are all caught up in the new Holiday season,  I will add this to the book display.

U.K. Christmas Truce 1914 editor, Alan Cleaver, says, “…what a superb book. It’s obviously been a labour of love and it’s a fantastic read.”

A reflection on the Christmas truce of The Great War

Reviews: [Note, RIGHT Click to open in New Tab}

“Christmas Reading” (Catholic Media Review)

“…a truly moving account of the Christmas Eve in 1914…a worthy accompaniment to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas in bringing Christ’s light into the world.”

“Highest recommendation.”

“Reader Review”

“Christian Book Notes”

Emerging Journal

Everyday Christian

Look for opportunities to Share The Christmas Story through this unique story, with someone ‘outside the box’ this coming Christmas Season.

Book Page Display  including Johnny Cash on the Truce with link to Amazon