A New Year is one of those times when I just need God to tell me:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix you attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” [Romans 12:1-2 MSG]
II Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11
II Corinthians 11:21-23 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I’m their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can’t believe I’m saying these things. It’s crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I’m going to finish.)[MSG]
The familiar Christmas song Do You Hear What I Hear came to mind when I read Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians.He felt foolish having to justify his credibility to them after his perseverance in teaching them the truth of the Gospel.He felt frustration over their attraction to what they saw and heard from those “egomaniacs in the pulpit.”Paul’s own plea to the Corinthians could have been these very words…
Do you see what I see?
Do you hear what I hear?
Do you know what I know?
God has used the Apostle’s frustration and the lyrics of this contemporary  Christmas song as a reminder of the servants who’ve been part of God’s preparation for me.They persevered week after week in their own preparation to teach me the reality of living a life of faith only to discover how easily I could be distracted from what they were trying to help me see, hear, know and remember. I know they’ve all walked the same path as that Apostle, faithful and sometimes frustrated.
My Christmas gift to those servants this year is that they be remembered.Only a couple will receive a note in the mail but there are others who’s names I’ve long forgotten and lost touch with.Their gift will be given with the unique delivery system only God can provide.I promise you I will remember to thank them all for being an “old friend” foolish enough to believe this gift would ever come:
I see what you see –
I hear what you hear – I know what you know – Listen to what I say!
The Advent has come!
“The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light.”
“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the mashiach [Messiah], and though he may tarry, still I await him every day.” [Click here to read Rambam’s 13 Principles of Jewish Faith then click the word(show) to view.]
We know the desire of Israel’s heart was that Messiah would come as a powerful and conquering King.Remember that? They were tired of war but who would choose a helpless baby to win a battle?Answer: God himself.I hope you’ll click on the link above and read all 13 Principles.They are powerful and beautiful.I think they will surprise you as they did me. Moses’ and the prophets are still our truth.The big change for us is the tense in that twelfth principle has changed for us from “will” to “has.” That one “small” variation is what we’re celebrating in this season of preparation.
Now we are in the “New” Testament and Paul tells us we are still at war.We fight a war against strongholds, arguments and pretensions that keep people separate from the knowledge of God. We fight hoping to capture their minds and hearts forever. This is the reason we remember and celebrate this season: God’s own gift “has” come with the power to assure our confidence in Him and ensure the certainty of His promise to us that insures our success. Today Scripture is the final word for us.
“II Corinthians 10:3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
I’m diverting from II Corinthians because at the moment you’re reading this I’m on the high seas for a 3-day cruise but thanks to WordPress I can schedule this story and at the appointed time [I hope] it will be told.
Thank you Lord for the image of “your” new life, your Son, lying in a Cradle of circumstances. This time of preparation shows us how important this annual pilgrimage is to our celebration of that birth and that Cradle. It was your own preparation for us that made Advent a celebration at all and Jesus your special gift of access for us.
We all enter the Kingdom of God through that same Cradle: another “new” life born in the midst of a broken world. The Cradle still contains the memory of God’s preparation. It still holds the promise of what new life can become through the stories of wise men, shepherds and angels, even in a still-broken world.That Cradle is the shelter of God’s provision for us when there doesn’t seem to be room for us anywhere else. This annual journey shows us one more time where we’ve come from, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.There will be emotional and physical joy and hardship involved in that journey but…
• We have wise men today that have found their special path to that Cradle to offer their treasure and then share their story with us so we can follow and find our way too.
• We have shepherds today who despite their own fears rise and boldly share your Story.
• We have angels in our lives who sing your praises and share your promises of renewal, restoration and grace that prepare us to recognize and receive your gift of forever…again this year.
II Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Paul’s words about gifts brought this “gifting” process to mind: * Choosing, * Presenting, * Receiving.
* Choosing: God chose a part of himself, Jesus Christ, to be his gift to us and for our celebration.
* Presenting: God chose to present himself to us in a surprise package for an unusual reason. A baby is a far more intimate gift than the might be expected from the supreme ruler of the universe.God chose intimacy not intimidation and possibilities not preconceived ideas as his preparation for us to receive.
* Receiving: God chose and presented his gift. Now all that’s left is opening that surprise package filled with growth, change, nurture, grace and His own will for us to give ourselves back to him.The gift has been successfully delivered.Open it and follow the example of the church at Macedonia to keep the gift going. “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”
II Corinthians 7:13b In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.
Paul’s phrase about Titus, “… His spirit has been refreshed” has become this part of my Advent journey.Long ago the Sovereign God first chose to create new life from dust and a rib…and here’s the key to remember: God was there with those new people, when their spirits were refreshed he shared that intimacy in his own Spirit.When that relationship was ruined he could justly have chosen to end the poison of sin right then and there, but for the second time he chose life for them.
They would live with the consequences of that poison – their own brokenness and separation from God, but they were not abandoned.The people he loved had been caught in an unnatural separation but God would continue to offer to refresh their spirits through the instruction and opportunity of the law and prophets until…“The Advent.”
Jesus Christ, Son of God was born!For a third, and final, time “The Advent” is God’s choice for new life. This time his choice is an eternal one for us; a relationship that will save, restore and refresh our spirit with his Spirit for the rest of time.Paul’s words describe the refreshed spirit of Titus but they read like God’s own words of encouragement for our choice this Advent journey.“And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.”
I Corinthians 7:8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Paul’s reference to sorrow caused by his letter has been my Advent preparation trigger.I read his words as if they were God’s words.Sorrow began in that place of creation where those first two people lost their perfect status as companions of God.Life would go on…and on…and on…and that lack of perfection would continue to be a source of sorrow, so God wrote a letter to his people on tablets of stone.That “letter” clearly showed the solution to worldly sorrow but their damaged mindset was still the problem.They “thought” the answer to their loss of perfection, and the sorrow it caused, was to be more committed to trying harder.
Fast forward from God’s letter to that “first season” we now call Advent.God was going to show his creation a new message: Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the antidote to the poison of man’s damaged mindset. Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the image of restored perfection and new life. Jesus Christ, Son of God born to overcome the futility of worldly sorrow and reveal the power of Godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” Jesus Christ, Son of God, born to be our Christmas Joy.
II Corinthians 7: 5 For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, 2018.I have often used a list of Advent readings and explored this season through the eyes of those Scriptures other people chose.This year I’ve made the choice to look for Christmas preparation with my own eyes as I continue exercising my mind in II Corinthians and see where my heart takes me.Today it begins with Paul’s words “we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us…”That reality has made the Bible an enduring treasure that still comforts us in our response to the realities of life and provides transformation along with information.Experience has shown me every part of the Bible supports the choice God made on our behalf long ago: the birth of Jesus.Faith in God’s choice changes our choices.
Advent reminds us transformation came in a “small” package to provide a lifetime of therapeutic doses of comfort [grace] that will fill the gaps left by wrong choices and ultimately overcome the accumulation of fatigue, stress, conflict or fear, so our “joy” will be “greater than ever.”That’s my choice for this Advent season.
I hope it will be yours too. Read whatever Scripture you pick with your eyes, your mind, your heart AND your experience.Let’s take God at his Word that Christ is his choice made on our behalf for our transformation and choose to find our Christmas joy in His choice
"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)