Advent thoughts: December 17

“It is too light a thing that you [Jesus] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6—read Isaiah 49:1-7).

Abraham was told that, from his family, living in the Promised Land, a blessing would arise for the entire world. Isaiah also reported that the Messiah would come, not only to rescue Israel, but to redeem the entire world. Jesus raised the ire of his neighbors in Nazareth, not by preaching that he is the Messiah—they were fine with that message—but by promising to save the entire world.

Not only from his birth, but from eternity Jesus was destined to be the ransom and the redemption of sinners. His glory is to bring the people of the world into the kingdom of God. Mary and Joseph were both told that his name was to be Jesus—Y’shua, which means “the Lord saves.” The angel who announced his birth to shepherds identified him by three other names: “A Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Isaiah describes Christ as God’s secret weapon, a sharp sword hidden in his hand, a polished arrow concealed in his quiver. Many people did not recognize him even when they stood near him and spoke with him. The Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus because he did not fit into their religion. The Pharisees thought they could save themselves by obedience to God’s Law. The Sadducees thought that they earned salvation by performing sacrifices in the Temple. Neither group could see that the perfect obedience of Jesus replaces our flawed and broken obedience. Neither group could see that the sacrifice of Jesus completes the work of which the Temple sacrifices were only a picture.

Yet others did recognize Jesus. Simeon recognized Jesus forty days after he was born in Bethlehem. He held Mary’s infant son and called him “a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of God’s people Israel.” Simeon knew the promise of Isaiah that the Messiah would be a light to the nations. To other people in the Temple Jesus might have seemed to be just another baby, but the Holy Spirit gave Simeon eyes to see the salvation promised through Jesus.

Even today people are confused about Jesus. Some call him one of the prophets and say that he is nothing more than a prophet. Others say he was a good man who told us to love one another and say that he is nothing more than a good man. A few dare to claim that Jesus never even existed. But Jesus is real. He is more than a prophet (but not less) and more than a good man (but not less). He is the Son of God, Lord of the universe, having been given all power and authority. He is the Head of the Church, caring for his people in this world and promising eternal life in a better world. He is the Light of the world, showing us the way to be right with God, not by our works, but through his righteousness and his sacrifice.

All this was planned from the beginning of creation. Before he said, “Let there be light,” God knew about the sins that would be committed. He knew about the sorrow and suffering and death that those sins would cause. He knew about the price he would have to pay to redeem sinners. God loves the people he created, and he decided that we are worth the price of redemption. We belong to him because he made us and because he paid to redeem us. We are safe in his hands forever. Thanks be to God! J.

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Advent thoughts: December 16

“He [Jesus] will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:2-3—read Isaiah 42:1-9).

Each of us is the bruised reed and the faintly burning wick that Jesus will not break or quench. We wish we were the strong ones, warriors for the Lord, bringing glory to his name and winning victories for his kingdom. Instead, we find ourselves trapped in sin, overwhelmed by evil, struggling to get by in a world polluted by sin and obsessed with death.

When John the Baptist was sitting in prison, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus was the Messiah or if John should wait for someone else. John knew the answer to this question. Perhaps sitting in prison he felt abandoned. Perhaps he thought Jesus needed a reminder of his job. Perhaps John simply wanted his disciples to hear from Jesus himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus quoted from Isaiah and pointed to what he was doing as evidence that he is the Messiah. Jesus quoted, “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Yet John remained in prison and was eventually killed in prison. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and worked many other miraculous healings, but he did not release John from prison.

Sometimes we can relate to John’s situation. We know that Jesus is the answer for all our problems, but we trust Jesus, and the problems remain. We know that Jesus hears and answers all our prayers. But we pray about our problems, and the problems remain. Jesus does not give an instant “yes” to our requests. Instead of removing our burdens, he lets our burdens remain to strengthen our faith and increase our hope for the future. He will release us from those burdens, but at a time of his choosing, a time that he knows is best for us.

Jesus is gentle with us. He does not treat us as we deserve when we sin. Instead, he removes our sins and bears the punishment we deserve. Whatever goes wrong for us is not punishment from God’s hand. Whatever goes wrong is a consequence of living in a world polluted by sin. God can do anything; he could keep us from having any problems. Instead he permits problems in our lives. He permits problems so we continue to turn to him for help. He permits problems to strengthen our faith and our trust in him. He permits problems to give us opportunities to serve him, either by resisting evil or by persisting to do good in the face of adversity.

Jesus does not break the bruised reed. He does not quench the faintly burning wick. He loves us and cares for us, bearing our iniquities and giving us strength to continue on our walk of faith. He is continually transforming us into his image, reshaping us to be children of God in this world and in the world to come. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 15

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2—read Isaiah 40:1-11).

As a prophet of the Lord, Isaiah frequently had to deliver bad news to Israel and to Judah. In Deuteronomy, Moses’ farewell message, God had spoken about the covenant he made with Israel. If they were faithful to him and kept his commandments, he would bless them with peace and prosperity. If they turned away from him and worshiped other gods and broke his commandments, he would bring judgment on them and punishment. Throughout the time of the judges and the kings of Israel, the terms of this covenant remained in effect. The people fluctuated between unfaithfulness, which brought punishment, and repentance and faith, which brought relief. Eventually, the sins of the nation piled up so high that, under the terms of the covenant, God had to bring the Assyrians and Babylonians to the Promised Land to punish his people for their sins.

When Isaiah preached about the covenant, he could only offer bad news to the Lord’s people. But something bigger than the covenant also existed: the love and mercy and grace of God. Along with warnings of God’s punishment, the prophet could also share God’s comfort. The people had declared war upon God by worshiping false gods, but God in his grace declared the warfare ended. The people had acquired a debt to God by their sins, but God in his mercy pardoned their debt. In his love, God sent his Son to pay that debt—not only to pay it in full by his sacrifice, but to pay more than the full cost, to pay double for their sins, so no debt would remain outstanding.

Isaiah contrasted the covenant’s demands with the Lord’s grace. Under the covenant, the Promised Land became a wilderness; but under grace, a highway was built through the wilderness to bring God’s people home. Under the covenant, the people were like grass withering in the heat of the sun; but under grace they were sustained by the Word of the Lord, which stands forever. Under the covenant, the people received bad news from the Lord’s prophets; but under grace they heard good news of rescue and redemption. The good news was so good that they were to shout it from a high mountain—to “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.” God would come with might, not to punish sinners but to rescue his people from sin, to redeem them and to comfort them with his mercy and love and grace.

The glory of the Lord was revealed as a baby was born in Bethlehem, wrapped in cloths, and placed in a manger. The glory of the Lord was revealed as angels shared the good news with shepherds watching their flocks by night. The glory of the Lord was revealed as wise men came bearing gifts for the King. The glory of the Lord was revealed as the Son of God was sentenced to die on a Roman cross, paying double for the sins of his people so they could be ransomed.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” This Word is his promise of peace, of forgiveness, and of new life. No power in all creation can take away this promise, for God has spoken, and his promises cannot be revoked. Even as sinners living in a sinful world, we have this comfort that God has made us saints. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 14

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1—read Isaiah 11:1-10).

Jesse was the father of David, who became king of Israel. David was promised that one of his descendants would rule an eternal kingdom. But Isaiah foresaw a time that Jerusalem would be conquered and the king, the descendant of David would be made a captive in Babylon. Seventy years later the king’s grandson Zerubbabel would return to Jerusalem, not a king but a subject of the Persian Empire. For centuries the Promised Land would belong to other governments. The royal family would be a stump, the remnant of a tree that had been chopped down and removed.

Sometimes a new shoot comes from the living roots of a stump. Left to grow, that shoot can become another tree. Isaiah promised this for David’s family: when the time was right, a branch would grow from David’s family, and that branch would be the fulfillment of the promise God made to David, the promise that his descendant would rule an eternal kingdom.

Jesus is that branch. He was born in Bethlehem so he could inherit the kingdom of David. He grew up in Nazareth and was called a Nazarene—a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “branch.” The Holy Spirit led Jesus—the sevenfold Spirit described by Isaiah. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. All these qualities Jesus possesses, and he is the King who judges with righteousness as Isaiah also described.

Isaiah proceeds to picture the Kingdom of peace ruled by Jesus. Once predator and prey, now animals become friends and dwell together. Nothing in all creation is harmful; everything is at peace with everything else. This perfect peace, this Shalom, is the gift of Jesus. The new creation that begins on the Day of the Lord will be marked by that Shalom. From that time on, there will be no danger. Nothing will be poisonous; we will have no allergies. Fleas and ticks and mosquitoes will not annoy us, and we will finally learn God’s intention in creating these creatures in the first place. The balance of bacteria in us and on us and around us will be perfect; no germs or viruses will sicken us, but even the tiniest living creatures will act for our benefit.

This new creation will have no sin and no death. All people will live together in harmony with God and with one another. Many of our current occupations will not be needed. We will not need doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or therapists. We will not need police officers, lawyers, judges, or prison guards. We will not need pastors, because everyone will have direct and continuous access to the Lord.

Yet there still will be occupations and callings. Some will tend the plants and others the animals; others will work in art or in technology of various kinds. People will prepare food for others to eat. People will honor God and serve each other in a variety of ways. Probably the things you most enjoy doing now, those things that absorb your attention so much that you lose track of the time, these are the things you will do in the new creation for the glory of God and for the benefit of your fellow saints.

All this is guaranteed to us by the root and branch of Jesse, by Jesus the King who rules eternally. He was once mocked as King of the Jews, given a crown twisted out of thorns, a reed for his scepter, and a purple robe that was just a scrap of spare fabric. But this mocked and abused King is the Prince of Peace, the one who brings his people into a new creation to live with him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

PS: When I got home, I found that a circuit breaker had tripped, interrupting power to the modem, computer, and a few other outlets. I turned it back on, but it tripped again, with a popping noise in the dining room. It appears that rain water has gotten into the wall of the house and is interfering with the electricity. We are leaving that circuit off for the time being and will have it examined next week. Meanwhile, I have an extension cord crossing the room to bring power to the computer and modem.

Haunted Eureka Springs

With two family members I went up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recently. I say we went up because Eureka Springs is high in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Eureka Springs once billed itself as a health resort; it is now very much a tourist destination. Packed with small shops and historic sites, a trip to Eureka Springs is in some ways a journey into the past.

The three of us stayed in a motel on the main highway. I know I shouldn’t complain—our lodgings were probably better than those of half the world’s population—but the place was rather decrepit and poorly-run. The one lock on the main door to our room was hard to work—even the motel manager struggled with it. The door to the bathroom closed but did not latch shut. Both the heater and the refrigerator were loud, making it difficult to fall asleep once the lights were out. The cleaning service left a plastic cup on the floor behind the toilet and a slipper on the floor by the dresser. The complementary breakfast was missing, except for a little breakfast cereal and a pitcher of milk in the mini-fridge. Worst of all, the room we were staying in was haunted.

Let me immediately interrupt my account to say that I do not believe in hauntings. The Bible says that when a believer dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Paradise; when an unbeliever dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Hades. Human spirits do not linger on this planet. Accounts of hauntings are due to a combination of wishful thinking (or dread), imagination, exaggeration, occasionally deliberate fraud, and unexpected events that fool the senses into seeing or hearing something that is not really there. The fact that I do not believe in ghosts does not prevent me from enjoying a good ghost story. I’ve even written a ghost story, which you can read here if you wish.

The Crescent Hotel, high atop a hill in Eureka Springs, is claimed to be haunted. It opened as a hotel and currently operates as a hotel, but in between it has been a girls’ school and a hospital. The proprietors encourage legends of ghosts in the building and even provide a tour of the hotel to allow guides to talk about the history of the building and the ghosts that supposedly remain there. For example, one ghost lives in a certain room of the Hotel and generally leaves guests alone. If they are loud or quarrelsome, though, it has been known to take the clothing the guests hung neatly in the closet and drop them to the floor.

The three of us stopped by the Crescent Hotel, not to take the ghost tour (which all of us have taken before), but to look at Christmas decorations. We also drove around the city to look at other decorations. When we returned to the motel, we hung up our winter coats and sat down to play a card game. The hangers in the motel, like those of many budget motels, are not ordinary hangers with hooks on the top. Instead, they have pegs which fit into slotted knobs on the hanger rod. I guess this keeps guests from stealing hangers from the hotel, since those peg-topped hangers would be useless anywhere else. Like everything else in the motel, the peg-topped hangers and slotted knobs were worn with age and with frequent use.

So we were playing a card game—not being particularly loud or at all quarrelsome—when one of the coats across the room dropped to the floor. Its owner picked it up and hung it again. Soon the same coat and another both dropped to the floor. At various times each of us had to rehang our coats, although mine dropped only once. We congratulated ourselves at experiencing a ghost in Eureka Springs without having to pay the fee for the ghost tour of the Crescent Hotel.

During the night I was startled awake by a voice that called my name. It was a young woman’s voice, although not that of anyone I recognized. We agreed the next morning that I must have been addressed by the same ghost who played with our coats, and another of us had to search for her socks in the morning, as they were not where she remembered leaving them the night before.

If anyone wants to stay in the haunted motel room in Eureka Springs, I can tell you the name of the motel and the room number. But don’t expect to sleep soundly or to be fed breakfast in the morning. About all they have to offer is their ghost. J.

PS: Due to trouble with the modem that serves my home computer, I am having to reach WordPress at the library. As a result, you can expect some irregularity in the posting of my Advent thoughts.

Advent thoughts: December 13

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….” (Isaiah 9:2, 6—read Isaiah 9:1-7).

We all began in darkness. We all started as enemies of God, blind to his truth, unable to comprehend the things God was saying to us. Our nature was to be selfish, to demand what we wanted when we wanted it, to be unconcerned about the inconvenience we caused anyone else. We were at the center of the world. We were our own gods, and we demanded that everyone worship us and serve us.

It is one thing to teach people to be polite, to say “please” and “thank you,” to have good manners both in public and at home. But good manners do not dispel the darkness. They may hide our selfishness from others, but they do not cause our selfishness to disappear. Only the light can dispel the darkness. Only the light can clear away sin and cause people to be truly loving, true servants to God and to their neighbors.

That light has come. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light. Whenever light and darkness battle, light wins. It is the nature of light to shine and to remove darkness. It is the nature of darkness to be beaten whenever it confronts the light.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. He is not born only to Mary and Joseph; he is not given only to the two of them. He is born to all of us. The angel told the shepherds, “A Savior has been born to you.” As Mary represents all the believers of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church in declaring herself to be the handmaiden of the Lord, so she is in the place of all believers when she gives birth to her first-born Son. For the timeless Son of God was born once in time to redeem people from every time, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing to the last child conceived before Christ appears in glory to make everything new.

When Handel wrote music for these words of Isaiah, he put a musical pause between Wonderful and Counselor. They belong together as one name: Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor who tells us the truth we need to know because he is the Truth. He deserves our wonder, our awe, our amazement at who he is and at what he has done for us. Because he has redeemed us, we now receive his counsel to guide our lives and to grant us eternal life.

He is also the Mighty God. The child lying in the manger is running the universe at the very same time. All things are possible for him, but he only does the things that are right, that match his Law, that benefit the people around him. When Jesus began to work miracles, he only worked them for other people in need. He fed thousands in the wilderness; but when he was hungry, he did not feed himself. He healed others, but he allowed himself to be arrested and beaten and killed. He stopped storms, but he did not stop the crowd from arresting him or the Roman solders from mocking him.

He is the Everlasting Father. In the timelessness of God, relations are changeable, so the Bride of Christ can also give birth to him. We are all children of God through the work of Jesus, making Christ our Father as well as our Brother. Because he is the Son of God, God calls us sons—we are adopted into his family through Christ’s work. Because we are children of the Church, Christ’s Bride, Jesus is our Father just as his Father has become our Father.

He is the Prince of Peace. His entry into this world meant war with the devil and with the sinful world and with sin in general, but Jesus won that war. We started out in darkness as enemies of God, but through redemption God has made peace with us. That peace is Shalom—not merely an absence of conflict, but the presence of goodness: a place for everything and everything in its place. Peace is not boring: it is harmony like a symphony orchestra; it is a blend of colors like a painting or like a flower garden.

All this Jesus has done for us. He is all these things to us. Because of what he has done, Jesus has claimed us for his kingdom, and we belong to him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 12

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive a bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14—read Isaiah 7:10-20).

King Ahaz of Judah feared the alliance the kings of Israel and Syria had made against him. Ahaz did not turn to the Lord, but the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to speak to Ahaz. God already had a plan to rescue the people of Judah and to overthrow their enemies. Ahaz clearly did not believe the prophet’s news, so Isaiah invited the king to ask for any sign, any miracle from God to show that his promise was true. Ahaz, with false modesty and phony religion, refused the offer of a sign from the Lord. He perhaps remembered that one was not to demand a sign from God (Deuteronomy 6:16). If that is the case, he failed to see the difference between demanding a sign from God and accepting God’s offer of a sign.

When the Lord makes an offer, we should never refuse it. When he offers to forgive our sins, free of charge, we should accept. When he makes an offer to claim us as his children, we should accept. When he makes an offer to defeat our enemies, pay all our debts, and grant us eternal life, we should accept. There is no power in our acceptance of God’s offer: the power is in God’s Word, given to us. At the same time, refusal of the Lord’s offer has bad consequences that are eternal.

Because Ahaz would ask for no sign, God chose the sign. “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” The Hebrew word “alma” can be translated “young unmarried woman, “but young unmarried women who became pregnant were called other names—either victims or sinners. They were not called “alma.”

Who is this virgin who conceives? Matthew indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled when Mary conceived and bore Jesus (Matthew 1:23). That should be enough for us. But some people point out that the conception and birth of Jesus, hundreds of years in the future, could hardly be relevant to Ahaz with his problem. They wonder if some other virgin, or at least some young woman, conceived and gave birth in the months following Isaiah’s prophecy. If so, there might be two fulfillments, one immediate and a more important one later. Others say that there can be only one fulfillment to a prophecy, and that if Matthew says Mary is the virgin, then Mary is the virgin; no more can be said.

On the other hand, it might be even more complicated than that. For the book of Revelation—surely the most complicated book of the Bible—describes a woman who is clothed in heavenly glory, is about to give birth, and is threatened by a dragon. The dragon is later identified as Satan. The woman gives birth to “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5). That can only be Jesus. After he is born, the woman is hidden and protected in the wilderness, the dragon is thrown out of heaven, and he seeks to destroy the woman. Bu the woman is preserved as the earth swallows that which comes from the mouth of the dragon. This woman is later revealed to be the Queen of Heaven.

Who is this Queen of Heaven? Not Mary the mother of Jesus, but God’s people the Bride of Jesus. In the Old Testament God’s people are called Israel. In the New Testament God’s people are called the Church. They are one and the same. Israel trusted God’s promise that a Savior would come, and the Church trusts God’s promise that a Savior has come, but they have the same promise and the same Savior. Before Christ came, Israel was a virgin bride awaiting the bridegroom; the Church is still waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. Yet it was God’s people who produced the Savior, as Matthew and Luke reveal with their genealogies.

Matthew was not wrong to say that the prophecy was fulfilled in Mary. Mary was all of God’s people condensed into one historic individual. Her submission to the will of the Lord is shown in our faith. Nothing is impossible for the Lord—not the virgin birth, and not our salvation. The sign given to Ahaz is a sign for all people, past, present, and future. It is a sign of the defeat of God’s people and the victory of God’s chosen Savior.

Ahaz was worried about Israel and Syria. God answered his problem with a bigger problem: the Assyrian Empire. The Egyptian empire was like a swarm of flies, but the Assyrian empire was like a swarm of bees. They came with great power, bringing destruction in their wake. Yet they too were repulsed when they took their stand against Judah and Jerusalem, the people and the city of God. They were defeated by the Babylonians, who were defeated by the Persians, who were defeated by Alexander the Great, who died young, leaving his generals as his heirs, and the descendants of those generals were defeated by the Romans. And so it goes.

But a power stands greater than the power of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Alexander, and Rome combined. That greater power is Immanuel. God is with us. God became one of us as Jesus Christ, and he defeated greater enemies even than the Assyrians or the Romans, those who made the power of Israel and Syria seem puny by comparison. Whenever we worry about the things that seem big and fearsome to us, God responds with promises that are far bigger and grander. He responds with redemption, the grandest promise and victory of all. Thanks be to God!

Advent thoughts: December 11

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Psalm 45:6-7—read Psalm 45:1-17).

The Psalms contain too many pictures and descriptions of Jesus to be covered in one Advent season. Keeping with the theme of the royal Messiah, Psalm 45 portrays his rule and also the King’s wedding. We know that the Church is the Bride of the King. So the first verses of this Psalm are addressed to Jesus, and the remaining verses are addressed to us.

Jesus rules an eternal kingdom, as was promised to King David. Yet Jesus has enemies that oppose his rule, sinners that revolt against him and break his commandments. Psalm 2 threatens judgment upon sinners. Psalm 45 portrays the victory of the King over his enemies.

Yet Jesus has chosen not to treat sinners as his enemies. He treats us instead as sheep to be rescued. His true enemies are also our true enemies: the devil, the sinful world, the sin still within us, the sins we have committed, and the final enemy: death. All these enemies Jesus fought, and over each of them he won. His resurrection was the final announcement of victory, although he has delayed claiming that victory in its fullness until more sinners have heard his message, have repented, and have come to saving faith.

Jesus is the true Messiah, the true Christ, the true Anointed one. Kings and priests were anointed in Old Testament Israel. They were messiahs, but Jesus is fully the Messiah. They were christs, but Jesus is fully the Christ. He is the true King, the One of whom others are only pictures. He is also the true Priest, offering a sacrifice which his predecessors could only imitate with bulls and sheep and goats and doves.

Now our King has come to claim us as his Bride. “Forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Psalm 45:10-11). We turn away from our old sinful ways, turning instead to the Redeemer who has ransomed his life to rescue us forever. No longer do we wear the old sinful rags of our tarnished righteousness. No longer do we seek to hide our shame with fig leaves that wither and dry and fall to pieces. Now our King dresses in the royal gown of his righteousness. Now we enter his presence with no shame, but adorned with the glory he has given us.

As yet we are still engaged to Christ. He has not yet come to claim his Bride. But in the darkest night we will hear the shout: “The Bridegroom comes!” We will rise to approach him and we will enter his Kingdom to live with him forever. Thanks be to God!

Advent thoughts: December 10

“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7—read Psalm 2:1-12).

The doctrine of the Trinity was not invented in fourth-century church conferences, as some conspiracy-minded historians claim. Nor was the doctrine of the Trinity first revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with Trinitarian language. Moses writes of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord in a way that shows that they are one God but three Persons. Psalm 2 also speaks of the Father-Son relationship in the Holy Trinity. As John describes Jesus as the only-begotten Son of the Father, so this Psalm also pictures the Messiah ruling on his throne while also being eternally begotten of the Father.

Among humans and in the animal kingdom, sons are born as babies and must grow up into adults to become the equals of their fathers. God is eternal and timeless. Jesus is always being begotten of his Father; but, as the Son of God, he is always fully mature, always equal to his Father. As a man he experienced moving through time, growing from a helpless baby into a boy, a teen-ager, and then a man. As the Son of God had had authority over the universe, yes, even as he lay swaddled in a manger in Bethlehem.

When it comes to Jesus, all people must take a side. You are for him or you are against him; there is no neutrality. You cannot say, “He is the Jewish Messiah, but I have my own religion.” Jesus rules over all the nations; the entire earth is his possession. Those who oppose him are rebels who will be crushed. Those who serve the Lord and kiss the Son are safe and secure; he is their refuge forever.

Yet all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Christ alone is righteous; the rest of us are polluted by sin. We are rebels against the King, for we have not done all the things he commanded, and we have done many of the things he prohibited. His Law judges us and condemns us as sinners. We deserve to be told to depart from him and to spend eternity in the outer darkness, in Satan’s prison, in the place where rebels belong.

Jesus has the right to break us with a rod of iron and dash us in pieces like pottery. He would rather be our refuge. Because we could not come to him, he came to us. The Shepherd went into the wilderness, seeking his lost sheep. More than that, he became the Lamb of God to redeem his lost sheep. He offered his life as a sacrifice to take away our sins and to cleanse us from the pollution of sin. He defeated all our enemies. Now that he has found us, he carries us home with great joy, where our Father will welcome us with equal joy. A celebration of victory and reunion is planned, a celebration that will last forever in the new creation, the kingdom of God.

Even kings are warned to be wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. When Jesus makes himself our refuge, we take our shelter in him. Then we need to fear nothing. We are always safe in his loving care. Thanks be to God! J.

Advent thoughts: December 9

“Jesus [said], “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’… But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21—skim II Chronicles 6:12-40).

King Solomon knew that God cannot be contained in a building. Other religions of the ancient world built temples for their gods, seeking to give their gods a dwelling place so the gods would be accessible to mortals. The true God fills the universe with his presence. No one can hide from God. No tree falls in the forest without God being there to hear it. Wherever we go, God is already there.

God directed Moses to have a tent built so God would have a visible presence among his people. God accepted the temple that Solomon dedicated to him. When the exiles returned from Babylon, God demanded that the temple be rebuilt. God cannot be contained, but he does want to be accessible. He wants his people to know where he can be found.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus Christ is truly God, yet he allowed his Being to be contained within a human body. Like God’s tent in the wilderness, Jesus was God’s presence in the midst of his people. And as first the Babylonians and later the Romans demolished God’s temple in Jerusalem, so Jesus gave up his body on the cross to rescue and redeem his people.

When Jesus ascended after his resurrection, he filled the universe with his presence. His body is not in storage somewhere waiting for the Day of the Lord. The human Jesus and the divine Jesus cannot be separated. Jesus, who is everywhere, is as human as we are. He understands our thoughts. He comprehends our needs. He knows what we experience when we face temptation, when we face danger, and when we face death. Jesus has already done all that.

Although we cannot see Jesus, we know where he promised to be found. “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20). The Christian Church is now the temple where Jesus can be found. Wherever Christians gather to hear the Word of the Lord, to baptize according to his command, and to eat and drink the special meal which Jesus gave to his disciples, Jesus is present. He is present to forgive sins. He is present to share his victory over sin and all evil. He is present to guarantee eternal life to all who trust his promises.

Jesus is the only temple we need. No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus. But wherever Jesus is found, the Father and the Holy Spirit are also present. And Jesus has promised to be found when believers gather in his name. He has established his Church, and no evil power can overcome the Church. Thanks be to God! J.