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Advent Series 2012, Pt. 6 | Shepherds in Search of a Lamb

Advent 2012

The silence of the night was broken by the bleating of new lambs being born. It started out in the distance. One or two at first. The birthing of hundreds of new lambs was beginning. It was going to be a long night. Everyone knew it.

Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. This was the biggest birthing season of the year. Everyone had to be alert and watchful as the ewes went into labor. These new lambs would serve as the sacrifices for the upcoming Passover feast. It really was an odd event. New life, born only to die. It was one of the oddities of the religion of Elohim. Even to speak the name of God was forbidden because it was so revered.

The full moon was just beginning to reach that point in the night’s sky where it appeared larger than was even possible. It was so close you could reach out and touch it on its journey through the sky. Keeping the sheep out without a lighted moon could prove hazardous to both sheep and shepherd. The light of the moon made the long nights more bearable. It kept the thieves and beasts at bay.

Except for the strange feeling that hung in the air, this was a night like every other . All of the shepherds felt it, but could not explain what it was or where it was coming from. The talk around the various fields had been of the strange sight in the heavens. One of the stars appeared to shine and sparkle just a little bit brighter than all of the others. There were even hushed comments regarding the strange way it seemed to hang over the town of Bethlehem. This was quickly dismissed as ridiculous.

Even the older men were saying that never in their lives had they seen such a sight.

“This is an omen!” exclaimed Elias after finishing his rounds around the flocks. Elias was the newest and youngest member of the shepherds. He did not know it, but the new guy was always made to make double the rounds until he figured out what was going on. The record was three fortnights. Elias had not been out in the fields very long but, he was confident without being arrogant and many of the older men liked him. Even if they weren’t going to tell him as much.

“Take hold of your senses,” said Caleb. “Don’t you know that if this was a sign people would be talking about it? It’s nothing to worry yourself about.” Caleb has been a shepherd for his family long enough to know when to cut a line of thought short. “Did you finish the rounds?”

Elias, ignoring the rebuke, still found himself thinking, “You’ll see. There is more to this than meets the eye!”

The thought had no sooner left his mind than an explosion of light, light like the sun at midday caused everything that had eyes to fall to the floor in absolute terror. The scramble had begun. Shepherds began grabbing cloaks, rods and staffs. The sheep were bumping into each other, some had not made it back to their feet and were being trampled by the other startled sheep. If they didn’t calm the flocks down they would be roaming the country side for hours looking for lost sheep. They all knew that would only mean more work with no more pay.

Caleb looked around, found his belongings and gathered his bearings. He began looking around. The other under-shepherds were quickly heading to their assigned areas. Caleb was looking for Elias.

“I like that boy, but sometimes…,” he muttered under his breath.

Caleb finally caught sight of him. “Elias. Elias! Go to the south field. Make sure that none of the ewes have wandered. If they are startled while they are in labor we are going to lose more than the ewes and lambs! This will be the end of us if we don’t get this under control.”

Caleb was the most respected shepherd in the company. When he spoke you obeyed. What no one knew at the time was that Caleb was scared beyond words. He had never experienced anything like that explosion in his life. He would tell the others, but he did believe that star was a sign…but for what. He did not want to find out.

Caleb gathered his thoughts and decided to worry about the oddly shaped clouds forming in the sky to the east. They were rolling in like a fast moving thunder storm. the clouds when up as far as the eye could see. They were voluminous, like cotton after its been picked. The lightning was made of odd colors. Colors that were not natural and only added to the disturbing sight. What really made the sight unnerving was that there was no sound. Nothing at all. It was as if all the sound had been sucked out of the world. Even the sound of new lambs and startled flocks had become nothing more than a whisper.

Elias walked up behind Caleb.

“Caleb.” He did move. Frozen in place like a statue.

“Caleb!”

Caleb jumped this time at the sound of his name. Elias new better than to laugh at the senior shepherd. He was curious at what had occupied the senior herdsman’s mind.

“I just checked the south field. Everything looks alright. A couple of the the ewes were flustered, but it seems to have passed.” Elias waited another moment before asking the question stuck in his head.

“Caleb, What was that explosion?”

“I don’t know, Elias. But, I think you may have been right. That star is an omen. I just don’t think I want to know for what.” They had both turned to the little town in the distance. The star really seemed to be hovering over it.

Bethlehem was abuzz with activity. The great and wise Roman emperor had called for a census and people from all over the world were coming in. Apparently you had to go to the home of your ancestors. If you wanted to count people, just count them where they are. Why make them move? It just didn’t make any sense.

The shadows of men, women and children moving around in the buildings danced like black ghosts against the walls made of earth and wood. There was something eerie about the whole seen.

Caleb felt a hand grabbing his shoulder, shaking him back from his silent reflection. It was Elias. As Caleb turned, he felt Elias’ hand fall from where it had been. Caleb turned just in time to see what looked like a hole in the sky starting so small it looked like another star in the sky. The edges where sharp, distinct and unmistakable. The problem was it kept growing larger. Light shone through as bright as the sun, but it didn’t hurt to look directly at it. Both men were mesmerized by the sight.

There was something moving in side the hole in the sky. It was moving toward them. As it approached it became easier to see that these things were men. Or at least they appeared like men. But, there was something different about the way they looked. They were tall and slender. Each had a white robe that shined white like a piece a metal the blacksmiths pound into a variety of tools after it had been heated. It was hard to see their faces, but their words were unmistakable.

Caleb and Elias took in the sight. It was a memory forever etched in their minds. Both men had the same thought running through their minds, but neither spoke them out loud, “We are going to die.”

To their surprise, seconds turned to minutes and still they stood beholding the heavenly sight. After what seemed like days a sound like a rolling surf crashing on the beach began.

At first as a whisper, barely audible, even pleasant to listen to. It continued to grow finally reaching its crescendo when one of the angelic figures proclaimed in a voice that sounded like a thousand roaring lions, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

“Was this thing crazy!” thought Elias as he jumped to the ground. “What does he mean fear not?! I don’t think I could be any more afraid than I am right now.”

It took several moments for the words to be processed and the message understood.

The omen. The various words formed into thought and thought to clarity. The omen that Elias had believed was marked by the star in the sky was a sign. It was the sign of the arrival of the heir to the throne of the great King. Elias remembered the stories he had heard. His father had told them to him since he was old enough understand. His father’s father, and his father before that had all believed that this One would come.

“What did they call him?” Elias tried to remember.

Something was wrong. This was not the way he had heard the stories. This didn’t make any sense. Why would the king be born in Bethlehem? Why would this marvelous sight be seen by lowly shepherd who were tending sheep during birthing season? Elias remembered being so enraptured by the stories of The Great King to Come.

This was all wrong. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. And yet, here they were, simple and humble shepherds hearing this great news. Elias’s mind was racing. He could not wrap his mind around what he was seeing and what he had heard.

As he was mulling over what was happening in front of him, something began to stir within him. It was confirmation of what he had sensed earlier in the night. This was the beginning of something new, and he was going to be a part of it.

As soon as he had finished the thought all of the figures before him exclaimed at once, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Both hearts lept at once. The both needed no convincing. The exulted song they had just heard was the greatest news they had ever heard.

In the blink of eye it was over. The sky was as dark and cold as before. Had they imagined the whole thing?

The only sight, the moon as it continued to rise. The only sound the shuffling of feet by thousands of sheep.

They looked around. Then at each other. The feelings of awkwardness and trepidation had lifted. The negative thoughts regarding the sign in the sky has shifted to thoughts of hope and peace. The angels message had brought comfort to their hearts. The question now was, “What will we do?”

As men who had trained to care and tend the flocks they turned toward Bethlehem and marched toward the star. The were determined to see the great sight.

They did what came instinctually. They were shepherds. Shepherds in search of a lamb.

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Advent Series 2012, Pt. 5 | Who’s your Daddy?

Advent 2012

I can’t think of any character more mysterious than the man who became the earthly father of the heavenly son. Of all the people in and surrounding the story of Jesus’ birth Joseph stands alone as the most awkward and underscored entity. He does not appear to have a role or a proper place in the story. Even the writers of the Gospels dismiss him and don’t even include him except for Matthews passing acknowledgement that he was informed of the coming of the birth and that he should not so quickly discard his betrothed.

At first glance we do not have a flattering picture of Jesus step-father. We are almost left with the impression that Joseph played an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things. This view of Joseph, however, would be terribly short-sighted and tragically uninformed. What we have in the limited information provided is the picture of a man who possessed attributes suited to nurture the young Jesus. (Even that last statement feels “wrong” somehow, but we have to maintain realness of the Jesus human nature.)

As I have read and looked at what Matthew says about Joseph there are four identifiable attributes that emerge. Let’s look at Matthews retelling of Jesus’ birth narrative.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew lets us into the mystery of Joseph’s personality by revealing that Joseph was well suited to be Jesus’ step-father. In the gospel we find Joseph to be a Just, Honorable, Faithful and Gracious man. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Joseph was…

…a Just man

The idea here is that a just man knows right from wrong. It is interesting how this is the word that Matthew uses to begin describing Joseph as he finds out that his soon-to-be wife is pregnant. This must have been horrible news. I do not know how he took it, but it would be safe to assume Joseph did not take it well. Being a just man his moral compass was properly calibrated. Joseph knew that he had been “wronged” and he made up his mind to do something about it.

The reality of this situation is that Joseph was doing all the right things for the right reasons. Given the predicament that he found himself in he did what any just man would do, he sought to rectify the situation by the means available to him. What we will see is he was not only just, he was also willing to do something unthinkable due to his love for Mary. This leads us to the second attribute in Joseph.

…an Honorable man.

Of all the actions that Joseph could have taken or should have taken, he probably picked the least likely and most perplexing. When we consider that in divorcing Mary while she was pregnant, after they were betrothed to him, Joseph was leaving the community with only one conclusion. Everyone in town would see Joseph in a negative light. They would think that Joseph had taken advantage of Mary. To “divorce her quietly” would be to assume all of the shame and guilt of the pregnancy even though he knew that the child was not his.

Consider the selflessness of this action. In the same way that Mary modeled and possibly spoke to Jesus about how to accept God’s will, Joseph modeled what it was like to take the shame of another out of a deep love for them. Joseph was a living example of propitiation. He took the shame of another and bore in upon himself. By doing this Joseph spared Mary the penalty of her alleged infidelity. Honor is something that emerges from within and sustains us through difficult circumstances. Joseph was an honorable man. He could have allowed the laws of the land to destroy Mary and the child that was growing in her womb. However, Joseph chose a different path. A difficult path. Joseph chose honor.

… a Faithful man.

Faith should be the defining characteristic of those who love God and obey his commands. Here we see the third attribute of Joseph’s life. He had so many competing and conflicting thoughts and emotions. I simply do not have the ability to understand what must have been going on in his heart, or what thoughts were running across his mind. How many tears must he have shed? How many longs walks to clear his head? How many nights lying awake in bed? There was only one truth that sustained him, it was his faith in God.

Only a faithful man would take the word of the Angel of the Lord and fulfill his vow to marry and live in peace with Mary. Only a faithful man could pick up the pieces of his broken heart and entrust them to God to mend. Only a faithful man could look into the eyes of his future wife and stay by her side as she gave birth to another’s child. Joseph was a faithful man. He heard the message and in the midst of his own sorrow and pain believed the word of the Lord. Faith will not always be easy, but it will always be the best path to choose.

… a Gracious man.

The final attribute that is demonstrated by Joseph is the one that we know the least about. However, it is there. Joseph was a gracious man. What does this mean, Joseph was gracious? It means that Joseph understood how to extend to others what was in their best interest. And, he did this out a genuine heart. I have drawn this conclusion from the fact of the previous three attributes that we have seen demonstrated. Joseph could have picked another path. he could have chosen another way, but he did not. Joseph married Mary and did not obligate Mary to consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born. This is just one example. The second is even more poignant.

Joseph did for Jesus what many men would not do. Joseph raised and loved Jesus as his own son. I think it would be foolish to think that the home life of Mary and Joseph was difficult or turbulent because of Jesus presence. God picked a man who had the capacity to love the son of another as his own. Jesus learned his “father’s” trade and became a carpenter as well. Of the many questions I would love to ask Jesus one of them will have to be about Joseph. “How was Joseph as a father as you walked on earth?” I just have this feeling that there will not be a negative recollection.

What About You?

As we continue our journey toward Advent allow me to ask you one question: What about you? Would God have considered you? The responsibility of representing the love the Heavenly Father to the Heavenly Son could have been overwhelming. I just don’t think that Joseph even worried about it. He had a young family to tend to. He lived out his faith each and everyday, trusting in God to get them through. What about you? Who are you trusting in?

Joseph’s life is largely veiled in mystery. What we know about him is limited. However, what we know about him reveals a man who was well equipped to raise Jesus and teach us about the kind of people we ought to be.

Praying that you have a blessed and happy Advent!

This is one of the few musical examples considering Joseph role in the life of Jesus. If you have others I would love to know. Enjoy!

Advent Series 2012, Pt. 4 | Mary: The Mother of God

Advent 2012

Before people scream “heresy” or “blasphemy” I would ask you to consider the plain and simple truth that Mary was the mother of God, even if she did not fully understand that to be the case. As a Protestant I do not believe that Mary should hold some elevated status. She was a simple and frail human being just like the rest of us. I think that there are some within the Christian family that have gone too far in seeking to praise Mary for her role in the Christmas story. However, I do believe that those of us on the other side of the family do not go far enough in recognizing the remarkable fact that Mary was the one chosen for this sacred task.

I have often asked the question to myself, “why did God choose Mary?” I will admit that we will never fully know why God chose Mary. That isn’t for us to know. But, we can get a sense of what God was thinking based on the way Mary interacted with the angel Gabriel. The Bible provides for us a clear and concise depiction of Mary and her response to what God was placing upon her young shoulders. There are two characteristics I believe highlight God’s choice of Mary. These two attributes are seen in Mary’s response to the message brought by the Angel of God.

Continue reading Advent Series 2012, Pt. 4 | Mary: The Mother of God

Advent Series 2012, Pt. 2 | Who Doesn’t Like Baby Jesus?

Advent 2012

Where has 2012 gone? Another year almost in the record books, but we still have one more month to go. December is an amazingly busy time around the church. There is a lot going on, but one of the realities my mind turns to around this time of year is the fact that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was born in the home of ordinary and humble people. I think that we take for granted that there was not anything overly remarkable about Jesus earthly parents. I don’t know if Mary and Joseph fully understood what it meant that the baby born in the stable that first Christmas night would be the Messiah. I am not fully convinced that they fully could comprehend what God was going to do through their faithful obedience. What they did know was that this little, precious bundle of joy was going to change their lives forever! I think every parent understands this even if they are not sure how.

The mystery of Advent (what us church nerds call this time of the year) is that God became like one of us. The technical term for this is “Incarnation.” When we talk about Jesus coming into the world as a baby we are saying that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, took upon himself something that he did not have before the moment of conception! The Trinity existed as spirit. But, after Jesus descended into the womb of Mary he no longer exists in this way. The great miracle and mystery of this truth is that Jesus voluntarily confined himself to the body of a human being so that we can enter into fellowship with the Father.

Continue reading Advent Series 2012, Pt. 2 | Who Doesn’t Like Baby Jesus?