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.
It’s glorious to remember isn’t it?
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.”
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
II Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be [KJV adds unequally here] yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
We know from our most reliable examples, Jesus and Paul, these verses mean something more than turning your back on unbelievers. These two men were real evangelists. That makes this Scripture passage thought provoking. The word comparisons are easy. We know righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common, nor do light and darkness or Christ and idols. “Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” What is this separation that protects righteousness, fellowship and harmony so it’s clearly the antidote to wickedness, darkness and idols? What is the concern about being “yoked” together?
The idea of a yoke sounds helpful. My definition of a yoke is a device that enables two separate animals to pull together to purposely lighten the weight of a load and accomplish a specific task. If you look at my definition as a believer coming along side an unbeliever to “yoke” up with them to deal with a load of sin and accomplish the specific task of salvation it might seem to be a reasonable definition of evangelism. But…
What if Paul’s warning is for us to recognize the reality that being “yoked” is only a forced restraint of the fundamental incompatibility of purpose and task for the unbeliever. The Lord’s reality is that righteousness, fellowship and harmony come from the unyoked evangelist who has the courage and the strength to lead that unbeliever “As God has said: Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate.”
II Corinthians 6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [from Isaiah 49:8] I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
To my co-workers:
“Now” seems like such an insignificant little word compared to these other words in the verses; God, grace, favor, helped and salvation. How important could one little word be? I can answer that for you.
If it weren’t for that one little word we’d have to settle for other words like “then, later, eventually, and sometime.” Ask yourself: how significant faith would be if those words were all God had to offer you?
“Now” may be a small word but it’s an indispensable part of the grace we are urged to receive and respect. “Now” is why God’s Word is called “living.” “Now!” Is the whole point of the narrative of faith.
God – Now! Grace – Now! Favor – Now! Helped – Now! Salvation – Now!
Genesis 18:25 Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous” the Lord chose to go and check it out for himself. It’s personal for him. “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
It’s personal for Abraham too. The fruit of the promise the Lord had given him long ago is in sight. “…the Lord said to Abraham…I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Two of the guests had left for Sodom and Gomorrah but “Abraham remained standing before the Lord” to negotiate? [pray?] about how many righteous people it would take for the city to be spared. His heart was filled with concern because now this would be his son’s future too.
Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Fifty righteous people became 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [God] answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home” …to wait for the future.
Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
The answer to my question is “both.” We negotiate? [pray?] to reassure ourselves and the Lord that we do care about the righteous and the unrighteous no matter how shortsighted our faith is as we wait for the future and wonder “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [NIV]
“Did God really say…? [fill in the blank] Isn’t this question the beginning of any test for a believer in God and a follower of Jesus Christ? The problem isn’t the question itself. The problem is desiring options that will give us the answer we’d rather have.
The woman had the truth from God. She had the right answer but the problem was the serpent‘s test had a trick question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Did you notice the crafty option in the serpent’s lie…the word “any?” The serpent cleverly twisted reality from the one tree God warned them about to “any” tree. One small lie was enough to become the fruit of doubt with the power to make desire a more palatable option than God’s truth. Word’s matter!