Category Archives: Theology in Practice
Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Yes, Teacher,” he said, “tell me.”
41 “There were two men who owed money to a moneylender,” Jesus began. “One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. 42Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?”
43 “I suppose,” answered Simon, “that it would be the one who was forgiven more.” Luke 7:40–43. GNT
Then he said to the disciples, “Where is your faith?” Luke 8:25 GNT
A “mystery” is a hidden secret that is not known; and the “mysteries of the kingdom of God” are the things in the kingdom of God, as for example Christ with all his grace, which he manifests to us. He who knows Christ aright understands what God’s kingdom is and what is in it. It is called a mystery because it is spiritual and secret, and it remains so where the spirit does not reveal it. For although there are many who see and hear it, yet they do not understand it. There are many who preach and hear Christ, how he offered himself for us; but all that is only upon their tongue and not in their heart; for they themselves do not believe it; they do not experience it.
The Truth was hunting for those who would receive it, and relatively few did, for “many are called, but few are chosen.”
When I first started listening to language with these discriminations, I realized how thoroughly culture-conditioned I was. Talk about being conformed to this world! My use of language in the community of faith was a mirror image of the culture: a lot of information, a lot of publicity, not much intimacy. My ministry was voiced almost entirely in the language of description and of persuasion—telling what was there, urging what could be. I was a great explainer. I was a pretty good exhorter. I was duplicating in the church what I had learned in my thoroughly secularized schools and sales-saturated society, but I wasn’t giving people much help in developing and using the language that was basic to both their humanity and their faith, the language of love and prayer.
I think we need to spend some time thinking through Luther’s idea that people (and some preachers) do not believe the gospel we preach (and preach clearly and well) because we have not experienced it The faith remains mysterious to them (ok, us) because we are so caught up in the details and questions, that we fail to simply be in this intimate relationship with the Lord who died for us.
Jesus’ interaction with the “used-to-be-harlot” and Simon the Pharisee demonstrate this all too well. Simon doesn’t understand the gratitude of this lady who knows the depth of her own sin, now forgiven. But she does, she has experienced Christ offering himself for her, even before the cross. She is being made whole, she realizing that her re-creation is God re-creating her in His image once again. At least she understands this in her psyche, and the gratitude–well that is an unprovoked response to His love, to His care, ot he intimate relationship she found herself in, so different from the physically intimate relationships she surrendered herself to. Simon doesn’t think he needs to be as forgiven, so he receives little forgiveness. And the disciples in the boat, haven’t experienced it either, for if they had, their faith would be automatic, and they would be at peace!
This is what Peterson is getting at with his use of language–he elarned it was time to stop talking about Jesus, but time to demonstrate and live talking to Jesus, and hearing Him. THat’s what this pastor’s people needed, it is what my people need as well.
Experience is what Tozer is getting at, as well. Jesus didn’t say I will teach the Truth, the Way and the Life. He said He was the Truth. The Truth that frees us, the Truth that changes our lives. the Truth that is our life, as we live in Him. That is the experience that causes our faith, our trust in and dependance on Him to grow. FOr faith is not a group of beliefs, faith is a relationship you know you can invest in, because you have experienced that the other Person has done just that. Jesus is the Truth that hunted us down, and we are thankful He did!
Heavenly Father, please send the Holy Spirit to cut through our hearts and minds, cutting away all that is not of You. Help us to rejoice, to celebrate, to be in awe of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives, and then guide our lives lived in awe and gratitude. We pray this in Jesus name! Amen!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 51–52.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 99.
Glorious! (not dark despair)
† In Jesus’ Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, which eliminates all darkness in your life, reveal to you the freedom and victory won for you… and those around you!
- Titus 3:3—So once were you
Someone once said that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. When it comes to politics or military strategy, education or sociological phenomena, it seems pretty accurate.
It is different when it comes to our faith.
We are not condemned to relive our past—We just condemn others to repeat our lives without God.
Paul discussed this with Titus in Chapter 3 this way:
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:3-5 (NLT2)
This is the view that complements the view of Isaiah. Isaiah says—you have hope, this is going to happen…. Paul says—this has happened don’t forget it.
Not because you will have to repeat it, but because there are people you need to help rescue from the darkness you once knew.
- The pressure of dark despair
I don’t know how few of us remember the darkness before we realized the love of Jesus. Most of us plod through our spiritual lives, knowing God is there, but not walking closely with Jesus. We know hard times, depressing and oppressive times, but the light is always at the end of the tunnel.
Can you remember life without that? Where the darkness and despair doesn’t just threaten to overwhelm us, it completely has taken over life.
That’s what people deal with, every day of their lives. No hope in this life, just the illusion that success or money or sex or fame brings with it joy… and peace.
That empty, that lost, that not even aware that there is a God out there, who knows their name—and loves and cares for them.
Hear the promise to them again:
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
We may not remember this transformation… from absolute oppressive darkness to light, but God has definitely removed the shadows, or comforted us in the midst of them.
C.S. Lewis talked of people caught up in the darkness and despair and being so used to it that they cannot cope with the light and joy and peace, so they desire to return to despair.
But remember—Paul reminds us we were once there…
- But now… in Christ—the Victory….of all victories- shattering everything
How did you feel after nearly 2 weeks of rain, when the sun came out this week? I was walking from the sanctuary back to the office, and I just stood along the sidewalk and just wanted to soak in the sun’s warmth, even though the breeze was cold..
It was just incredible to stay for a moment in the warmth and light of the sun.
Even more awesome was it for the apostles and all Israel to revel in the presence of God, the son, Jesus the Messiah. Even though they didn’t understand what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah—the world went ballistic following Him as we heard in the gospel.
Think about it, people would leave their family and home, their farms, their animals, to wander out to find this man that everyone was talking about.
Even more we know it, for we clearly understand what it means for Christ to come and be born of Mary, live, teach, suffer, die, and rise from dead.
We know what God has done as well, for as Christ died and rose, we have died to our sin, and the darkness and despair, and risen with Him into a new life.
Hear the rest of the promise of Jesus’s actions,
3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and, like warriors, dividing the plunder. 4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
This is describing a victory beyond victories.
IN a couple of weeks, there will be a football game, and in a couple of months the Stanley Cup playoffs. When those teams play, there will be a winner, and a parade, and some tears of joy. A big deal will be made out of it, and everyone who is a fan of the winning teams will go crazy!
But that is nothing compared to the celebration of Angels when one person is baptized, and they go from the darkness to the light of God’s glory
All of heaven celebrates that victory as much as they did the birth of Jesus.
A similar joy in heaven occurs when God’s people realize they are freed from the darkness and despair as their sin is forgiven, or a communion feast is given, which is a tiny sample of our homecoming feast—the wedding supper of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit dwells with us, right now, right here. We dwell in the presence of the living God, as much as Moses at the burning bush, or Solomon in His temple, we dwell in the glorious presence of God
These moments, when we experience the love and peace of God, are what awaits us, every moment of eternity.
And are available, not only to those who believe, but are available to everyone…
Paul described that this way…
He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:6-8 (NLT2)
I continually explain this for this reason, that we teach those around us about this loving God, who draws us into His glory. Paul insisted that we do this as a church—and we shall.
For we dwell in God’s glorious love and peace—even though we can’t understand or describe it.. but we know we are kept there. By Jesus. AMEN!
I do this in order that they may be filled with courage and may be drawn together in love, and so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings. In this way they will know God’s secret, which is Christ himself. 3 He is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3 (TEV)
All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
When he was dead and buried, his followers did not get together in a little liberal clique and comfort themselves with the fact that they still had his teachings. It was over. Mostly his disciples seemed afraid that they might share his fate!
To remit a man’s past without transforming his present is to violate the moral sincerity of his own heart
The apostle reminds us that we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our persecutors, who, to a great extent, are to blame for the distress of the saints. It is well to observe that we are not merely advised, but commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them; such is the fruit of the Spirit.
The observation in blue is one we need to meditate on, this dramatic and unexpected change in the lives
From locked in a room, scared out of their wits, grieving the loss of their mentor, the One who gave them life, to praying in jails, to rejoicing in martyrdom.
The change is stunning, and some would call it evidence of the resurrection.
I think it is more than that, for the Lord Jesus had promised something when he went away, that He would send the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16, 15:26)
It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us, for God could not simply forgive our sins. There had to be a reason for that, and that reason is fellowship with God. That transformation Luther discusses as well, for there is no reason to love our persecutors, to do good to them, and to speak well of them. The Holy Spirit draws us together in the love that the Trinity shares, that Jesus embodied, that the Holy Spirit pours into our life, as our transformation is accomplished.
This changes us from a liberal or conservative clique into the body of Christ, gathered around His altar, celebrating His love and His work. I am not trying to diminish the importance of the Resurrection, but the transformation in Christians is due to work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and preserves us.
This is why the change in the apostles and disciples is so radical, and why it is proof of something far more potent than a resurrection 2000 years ago.
This change testifies to and celebrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in His people, the church.
God is with you – right now, right here…
and He changes everything….
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preacher,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 73.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 20.
34 *Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If anyone wants to come with me,” he told them, “he must forget self, carry his cross, and follow me. 35*For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36Do people gain anything if they win the whole world but lose their life? Of course not! 37There is nothing they can give to regain their life. Mark 8:34-37 GNT
But, my dear hearer, it does not matter much whether you know all about the arts of nature and the wisdom of the world. Be satisfied with what your experience and common sense teach you. It is enough for you to know that in the summer other work must be done than in the winter; that you know how to attend to your farm, stock, home and children. Beyond this think only how you may know Christ. He will teach you how you may know yourself, who you are, and what power lieth in you. Then you will know God and yourself, which the masters of the arts of nature and the wisdom of this world do not learn.
But a solved life is a reduced life.
There are days where I would love the idea of a solved life. To have a place for everyone, and everyone in their place. (same thing for…things) The clean desk, the organized calendar, the perfect family. To have a government that isn’t petty, but actually does it work with the intent of providing peace and safety to all.
It sounds like a nice utopian village, and is utterly, completely impossible.
And as I think about it, I am glad it is.
For knowing that life will be chaotic is a blessing, for it strips away that part of me that wants to play God. There is no illusion in my life that life is under control, much less “solved”. I have to approach life much as Luther indicates, satisfied to know the basics of survival – and what must be done now, With that, I find more time to seek after Jesus, to be drawn by the Holy Spirit into His presence. Or to see that presence revealed, for Jesus was there all the time.
This resonates with the gospel of Mark, where Mark is urging us to set aside everything–to lose it–in order to see Jesus save it. For we can’t save ourselves, or even manage our lives once they are saved.
Being not in charge means living in a way that seems out-of-control – even chaotic. But that is okay, when we realize the promise of the one who does understand, and shapes all that chaos into blessings beyond our expectation. Blessings that are full of peace and joy, for they are given by the Lord who is present. I might hate the chaos, but in Christ, we will thrive on it. That isn’t a paradox, it is a promise of God Almighty and All-knowing. Understanding this doesn’t make the chaos any less hectic or disturbing, but it can build a joyous expectation as we wait to see how God will make it all happen.
Heavenly Father, when life seems chaotic and out of control, remind us of Your care, and Your will for us! Amen!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 13–14.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 72.
8 Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD. The bread is to be received from the people of Israel as a requirement of the eternal covenant. 9 The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the LORD.” Leviticus 24:8-9 (NLT2)
The rites and liturgy of man acquire the power to evoke the divine mystery that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard and that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Words, therefore, become seeds of prayer and of contemplation, instruments of man’s transfiguration into the likeness of the Holy God Whom no one can see without dying. Words and symbols lie in the depths of man’s inherited store of knowledge and memory and even in the souls of men who have completely forgotten God these archetypal seeds of divinity and mystery still lie hidden, waiting to germinate like the grains of wheat laid away thousands of years ago, with a Pharaoh under his pyramid
Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?
Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?
In order for the rites and liturgy of which Merton speaks do what he desires, we have to understand that the rites and liturgy of man means that he is an actor, a part of those rites and liturgies. He is not their controller, their guardian, their defender, or the one who manipulates them. They have to be Divine, the rites and liturgies that are soundly based in scripture and they must reveal Jesus to those who need healing.
Any other goal for worship, which deviates the attention of God and His people dwelling together as God heals hearts and souls, and bodies, that’s not liturgical worship. It doesn’t plant the word of God deeply in them, it doesn’t result in a spiritual connection. It blocks us from seeing what God is doing, replacing His actions with the actions man has done, or that the pastor/leaders want the congregation to do.
They may be highly motivated, they may be doctrinally astute, but that is not the purpose of worship. Worship is to give people what they need to know about Jesus, it is to comfort terrified and anxious souls (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV) The service provides the healing of souls, what has been called the cure of souls. It is what God is providing for His people, this miraculous work of His in our lives.
This is what Peterson is getting at – the difference between “running a church” and being a place where the “cure of souls” occurs. That cure results in a worship that is beyond just singing a couple of cool songs, it results in a transformation that is beyond words, and a peace that is beyond expression. Both a result of a love that is beyond logic.
And realizing that love, that mercy, that peace, is what we are to be doing…. and then responding with God’s people.
That’s what the scripture passage is really about – the fact that the offerings God’s people give are used to provide for …God’s priests. And since all believer’s now belong to the priesthood… God uses our offerings, our sacrifices – to care for us. (He certainly doesn’t need the $$) Again – a response to the cure of souls…
This is why God gathers us together, to care for us, to cure us, to make us whole, and wholly His.
Lord, help us to see Your work as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit, in Your Name! AMEN!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 60–61.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 70.
“The LORD told Moses *to say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’…. ‘Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. Obey my laws, because I am the LORD and I make you holy.’” Leviticus 19:1-2, 20:7-8 GNT
And all who heard were completely amazed. “How well he does everything!” they exclaimed. “He even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!” Mark 7:37 GNT
When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained,
as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:4 GNT
Therefore he first gives the law, by which man recognizes this sin and thirsts for grace; then he also gives the gospel and saves him.
None of us can approach a consideration of the eternal nature and Person of Jesus Christ without sensing and confessing our human inadequacy in the face of the divine revelation…..This is the only one who can assure us: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me!”
It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. It is not a narrowing of pastoral work to its devotional aspects, but it is a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death. Curing souls is a term that filters out what is introduced by a secularizing culture. It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.
I found one of those calculators that tell you how long you’ve been alive.
Over a half million hours. 30 million minutes, over 1,826,841,618 seconds – almost 2 billion seconds!
No wonder I feel old!
If I cannot even think through the enormity of those numbers, how in the world can I attempt to understand Jesus, who has been there. He knows me far better than I know myself – for I might remember a thousand or 2 of those hours– He knows every one of them.
What is overwhelming is that i remember as many of my failures and sins, maybe far more, than the good moments. Luther is right – the law causes me to recognize my sin, and thirst for this idea of grace! I hear the words from Leviticus–this call to holiness, and know I far too often fail spectacularly to meet that standard. I usually don’t even get to last part of verse 7, and the declaration that GOD MAKES US HOLY!
That is the point where a soul is cured. And it is revealed with more and detail every time we pray, every time we contemplate the scriptures.
It begins as Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus, who binds us to Himself in baptism, and brings us into the presence of the Father. And the ongoing work of revealing the cure our heart, soul and mind,
This is the work of the people of God, and those who shepherd them to Jesus.
It is why we pray, to revel in the relationship, to let God remove our burdens and empower us to live as Christ, giving hope to other sin the middle of their 1-3 billion seconds… to help them know they aren’t alone in this moment. This is what it means to be holy – to live in Christ, to love, to care for, to point people to the place where their souls find the cure they need. Even as the Holy Trinity provides the cure we need…
This is the work of the church…reviving the people Gpd called to be His own…seeing them cured.
This is the holiness God creates in us, as we are bound to Him.
Heavenly Father, help us see the cure provided as we are united to Jesus. Help us see that healing provided by the Holy Spirit, and help us look with joyous expectation to the moment we dwell with You forever! AMEN!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 9.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 68.
Thoughts which draw me to the cross
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begged him, “Let me go with you!” But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” Mark 5:18-19 GNT
1 I praise you, LORD, because you have saved me and kept my enemies from gloating over me. 2 I cried to you for help, O LORD my God, and you healed me; 3 you kept me from the grave. I was on my way to the depths below, but you restored my life. Psalm 30:1-3 (TEV)
Had not these shepherds believed the angel they would never have gone to Bethlehem, they would have done none of those things related of them in this gospel. One might say, I would gladly believe if an angel from heaven were to preach to me. But whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him.
The vocational reformation of our own time (if it turns out to be that) is a rediscovery of the pastoral work of the cure of souls. The phrase sounds antique. It is antique. But it is not obsolete. It catches up and coordinates, better than any other expression I am aware of, the unending warfare against sin and sorrow and the diligent cultivation of grace and faith to which the best pastors have consecrated themselves in every generation.
Luther points out something we know, at least we should know it. The shepherds, the first of the New Testament evangelists, went to share what they saw in a manger. This is what the angels shared with them, but their message was not about the angels, it was about the Messiah, who came to them.
Likewise, the man posessed by demons, commissioned to bring the gospel to his gentile community, is to talk about what God has done to him.
Hear the Psalmist as well, who understands that they’ve been saved at the gates of hell. Saved from those depths, and restored!
These are the seeds of a revival. These are souls that are being changed by God, souls that have been cured. There is little need ot but point them at their community, at their world and let them go bring the news about God’s ministry in their lives. (Luther goes on to say they shouldn’t remember the messenger – so overwhemed by the presence of God and His love.) This changes communities, it changes the world.
Revival doesn’t just target a demographic. It tells everyone, and they come, for they need God’s love and cure as well. This is so different from the Church Growth Strategies I’ve been taught over the last 40 years! Those strategies want the pastor and leadership to plan the ministry, to control the way the Holy Spirit focuses, bsaed on data and marketing strategies, leadership principles and, to be honest , investment strategies. (Investement of time and resources, not just money).
Revival means the pastor is, as Peterson notes – more focusd on helping people deal with sin and sorrow by planting seeds of grace, and encouraging people’s awareness of the Christ revealed to them in prayer, study, sermons and the sacraments. Done well, the people treasure these moments of being cured, and it is so amazing that they will share it with those they encounter. Their hunger is for Christ, and to see the Holy Spirit at work.
“Seek God first, and the rest shall be added to you” THis is true for the church, as well as for the individual.
Lord, please help us look to You, to cry out for Your minisry, for You to revive Your church. Help us to seek Your face, and then send us to tell others what You have done! Help us hear Your message, and to see You revealed to us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 456.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 65.
† Jesus, Son and Saviour †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, which you were meant to receive—united to Jesus, be evident in your life!
Close your eyes for a moment, and picture one of the Christmas Trees of your childhood. You see the packages there, all wrapped up nicely, the name tags properly hanging off of them.
Your eyes spot that one package, prior inspections tell you that this one is yours, and for some reason you know this is “the present”.It doesn’t include the socks or underwear or flannel pajamas (he we all didn’t grow up in California!).
It was that present. You knew it.. and you wanted to rip it open first!
Do you remember what that present was?
Now move your vision to the stable, and the manger, and realize that the present there was done with more thought, with more care….hear the prophet Isaiah’s words about this present…
For a child is born TO US… a Son is given TO US.
It is as if, on the manger, there is a tag on the manger.
To; The child I love.
So let’s look at this intimate, influential, immanent gift from which we are inseparable!
For the prophet teaches us a lot about our incarnate Lord Jesus!
- Wonderful Counselor–Intimate
The first words to describe Jesus is that He would be a Wonderful Counselor. The comforter whom you can tell anything too, knowing that they will support you through the crisis, through the time of reconciliation, through the time of healing.
There is nothing you can say that would shock Him, for as God He knows your deepest and darkest secrets… and loves you still. This is the most intimate of relationships, one that goes beyond all defenses, for God knows you better than you know yourself
- Almighty God—Influential
The second phrase of the description is that Jesus, this child born TO US, this Son given TO US is that He is Almighty God. That power is wielded on our behalf, both to defeat our enemies of Satan and death, but also to change us, to transform us, giving us new hearts and minds that are Christ’s.
This powerful influence of God is beyond anything that can be described, as He uses all He is to transform and protect His people.
This is why Paul prays that “you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT2)
This is the Almighty God—who has come – and uses that might to influence everything for us us
- Everlasting Father—immanent
The next thing this child born to us, the Son given to us is takes a while to wrap our heads around. He is our Eternal Father.
From the Creation of the World to the recreation of the heavens and earth at the Judgement Day, Jesus, who is one with the Father, reveals the Father to us.
He is always our Father, always therefore us, because He has loved us and will love us. We call Jesus Immanuel as
The Lord of all, is our Father, and welcomes us to pray to Him, to ask for help, to let Him be our dad, for that is part of the revelation of the child being born to us
- Prince of Peace—Inseparable
The last description of Jesus, the last title in this list, the result of His being sent to us, given to us is that He is the Prince of Peace.
And as He comes to u-bringing that peace into our darkness, into our times of doubt, into our times where peace just doesn’t seem possible. Where it is beyond our imagination, but that is exactly what God’s peace is, – beyond all understanding.
I can tell you that, I’ve had too many experiences where peace should not be known. Times of doubt, times of anxiety, times of fear. And yet, in the midst of trauma, there is Jesus, the one born and laid in a manger,
the one who is Immanuel – the Eternal Father whose is always there,
The one who is Almighty, and uses His power to influence every aspect of our lives,
All because who is the Wonderful Counselor who intimately knows us.
This is the birth of our God, who dwells with us.
† Immanuel †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the love of God, which pours out blessings upon us.
Christmas day in the early 70’s was fun, even though the Parkers weren’t wealthy. We weren’t allowed “downstairs” until 7 a.m. Usually about 5:50 a.m. my brother Stephen and I would sit on the very bottom stair – technically not on the first floor—but we could see the tree – and were close enough to be warmed by the woodstove.
What I didn’t understand as a kid was my parents. They didn’t seem in a rush to open their presents, they just smiled and cheered us on as Stephen, Kelly and I opened ours.
I understand that now, as the joy they had was really watching us revel in the gifts we were given.
I think that there is a lot of God seen in that attitude, to revel, not in what you receive, but in what you gave to others. Even if it was only a life-savers book, that would be devoured by New Year’s!
As we look at the gospel today, as we see Jesus revealing to us the Father, and the heart of the Father, we need to see God’s joy, as we discover the gift He gives us in Jesus. And the gift Jesus gives us, that John writes about in verse 18.
- Near the Heart!
18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
This is how it works. Now one knows the Father’s heart like Jesus, and His mission is to reveal the heart of God to people who are anxious, and unsure of where they are in life, never mind where they are going. People who are broken by the world, broken as their health suffers, broken by the sinful acts done against them, broken by our own sin.
Without Jesus, what would we know of God? Our Lutheran Confessions tell us we would have no idea of the Father’s heart, no idea of what it means for God to be merciful. Without Jesus’ revelation, all we could expect is eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
But Jesus reveals God’s heart to us…
- Revealed God wants to be present in our lives
My parents love to watch us open presents, as they saw the eyes grow wide with each new discovery. In the same way, God the Father enjoyed the sense of discovery and joy that Adam and Eve had in the garden.
Those walks in the garden, those times of joy were long missed because Adam and Even being tempted and sinning. But we see how much God desires that relationship and Jesus comes and dwells with us, and according to Matthew, promised that God will always be there for us…
This is the heart of God—the God who would spend every moment with us, enjoying our discovering the work He’s done for us.
- Revealed God’s love and dependability never fails
Has anyone ever had a roommate who wasn’t exactly who they expected? Maybe it was a good thing—like you found out they were a chef… or one roommate—whose parents lived with us for 2 months, and did all our laundry, cooking, housecleaning. There are other stories, I am sure some of them are horrifying!
For God to come and dwell among men must have had all sorts of expectations.
More rigid rules?
Best behavior at all times?
That was not the key thing John took away, the part of Jesus that reflected the heart of the Father. It was something far more incredible,
He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
This is what mattered about Jesus, that he was full of an amazing merciful love, and that he was faithful, dedicated and true to His people.
Both words love and faithful are interesting translations. Other translations will use Grace and Truth instead of love and faithfulness.
The words in Greek are heavy in meaning – and can mean love/grace. We get the word charity from it, which has been a synonym for active love and care for a long time.
What John and the other apostles realized is that God the Son, and therefore God the Father loved them, was charitable towards them. Even for the Jewish people, this was unexpected, who would anticipate God being that loving.
It has been a long time since “true” was used regarding relationships. Being true is the ultimate version of faithful. No other interest: nothing but fulfilling the promise made in the relationship.
Jesus would be the ultimate partner, the ultimate friend, and He reflects the love and faithfulness of the Father.
- Revealed God’s glory
Therefore, John can say, “we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
What is God’s glory? Simple, it is His love and faithfulness, shown to us as He dwells with us. Therefore, we celebrate the birth of a baby in a remote village, in a powerless nation, nearly 2000 years ago.
His glorious unfailing love and that He is true to all He has promised. This made a difference in the life of John and all the apostles. It is what makes a different in 2000 years of His people He calls together; it is what makes a difference in our lives today, and we pray it is what makes a difference in the lives of those around us.
God is with us…. And therefore, we dwell in His unexplainable peace. AMEN!
(if you want to hear this service, please check out the worship service at bit.ly/concordiacerritos )
Moses said, “The LORD has commanded us to save some manna, to be kept for our descendants, so that they can see the food which he gave us to eat in the desert when he brought us out of Egypt.” 33*Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, put two litres of manna in it, and place it in the LORD’s presence to be kept for our descendants.” Exodus 16:32-33 GNT
The union of the Christian with God is the exact opposite of a Promethean exploit, because the Christian is not trying to steal something from God that God does not want him to have. On the contrary, he is striving with his whole heart to fulfil the will of God and lay hands upon that which God created him to receive. And what is that? It is nothing else but a participation in the life, and wisdom, and joy and peace of God Himself. This is greater than any other gift, higher than any other power.
In my reading this morning, I was struck by the detail given in the directions to Aaeon. Only put 2 litres (an omer) of Manna in the jar. It was something I had to go back and think about. Why 2 litres/quarts, Why that sampling amount?
The only thing I could find was that was the amount each person was supposed to collect off the ground each day, for that day’s need. 2 quarts and that was it – collect more and it spoiled quickly. Now think of the Lord’s prayer, where we are asking God not for a month’s supply, not a weeks, but the bread we need for this day. That is what we are to depend on Him for, one days need at a time.
I think this is to form us, to keep our conversation with God going. Not that God won’t provide it all, but asking daily helps us stay in communication with Him, and to realize He is keeping His promises. This is what Merton is getting at as well, our regular communication—and more. The more being a partnership – a fellowship, a sharing in the wisdom, joy and peace of God Himself. It is about walking with God,a nd realizing that is what He’s always done for His people.
The Manna was to help Israel remember God providing for them, caring for them – food, drink, protection, healing, forgiveness. He would provide for each, every day, that is the reminder of the 2 litres. He came to them and made sure they all knew His presence and that they could depend on His care! They could know He would provide, even though they struggled to talk with Him, preferring to use Moses as a buffer zone. They didn’t need this buffer zone, God didn’t want it, but He is patience with us. Even when we don’t understand how He works, even when we get anxious for next Tues, or next year.
The manna reminds us – give us this day…
Still He was there, a pillar of fire at night, the cloud of smoke by day.
He was there, as He is with us…and He gives us reminders of His presence and provision. May we appreciate these things that point us to Him, even as we worship and praise Him, right here where we live.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 34.