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For Sunday, December 27, 2020

ISAIAH 61:10-62:3

THE BACKGROUND

This part of the book of Isaiah was written about God’s people, who were returning home from exile.  God has saved them from what could have been the end of their culture. These are also very fitting words of praise to God who saves from a different fate.  He gives us the gift of his Son, who saves us and adopts us as heirs of the kingdom.

THE DETAIL

  • Verse 10 starts right off with praise for God’s saving actions.  They are likened to clothing—garments of salvation. Party or wedding clothing!  You can feel the joy and celebration.
  • Israel was experiencing a new beginning.  There was great hope, like the hope you have when planting a tree. That hope was that Israel would grow and be a shining example of God’s greatness.  Their vindication, or come-uppance, would show the world how great they and their God are.  After Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the church spread rapidly to “all the nations” (v. 11)
  • When I read the words of 62:1, I think of the pop tune by Cat Stevens. The song begins “I can’t keep it in, can’t keep it in.  I’ve gotta let it out!”  This is the Christmas joy we should all have, knowing the wonderful free gift that our Savior brings to us.

THE TAKEAWAY

With Jesus’ birth on Christmas, we get a wonderful gift. Immanuel—God lives with us.  He comes to heal, to teach, and to save. Let’s go tell it on the mountain!
 

GALATIANS 4:4-7

THE BACKGROUND

Sometimes, the apostle Paul is very wordy, and other times he is ultra-concise.  Here, in the span of three verses, we get a view of the beautiful, intimate relationship that we can have with our Lord.

THE DETAIL

  • God had to wait until the right time before he sent his son.  At the time that Jesus came, Greek was the universal language, much like English is today.  This allowed free communication throughout the Roman Empire.  The relative peace that Roman occupation provided, along with the roads they built, helped people like Paul to quickly travel and spread the news.  This, to me, is what Paul meant by the “fullness of time”.  Then, and only then, did God put is saving action into place. He sent his Son, born of Mary, born a devout Jew (“under the law”), all with one purpose in mind—so that we could be redeemed, and be adopted as God’s very children. (vv. 4-5)
  • Because we are his beloved children, he sends the Holy Spirit to help us call him our Father.  The word “Abba” is the Hebrew (Aramaic, actually) word for Father, but in the familiar form.  It is what a child would call their father—“Dada” or “Daddy”!  It does sound like something a baby would say, doesn’t it?  The point here is that we don’t just get to call God “Father”, but we get to use the intimate, loving term of Daddy. We are members of His family.  (v. 6)
  • Verse 7 might seem a little odd, since Paul is talking about slavery.  At that time, about a third of the population was slaves.  It was commonplace, and not considered morally wrong.  Paul often uses it as an illustrative example, to show our prior relationship with God.  In his letter to the Romans, he says that in our former lives, we were slaves to sin. Now, as believers in Jesus, we are children of God.  In Roman times, when a Roman citizen died, the children were his heirs, and the slaves got nothing.   Paul uses this to show us that now that we are the adopted children of God, we inherit eternal life.  I know it doesn’t say all that here, you’ll find it in Romans and some of Paul’s other writings.  We studied those passages a few months ago.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Before Jesus left his throne, and came to walk with us, we were merely Gentiles in the darkness.  Now, we are God’s very children, able to call him “Daddy”!

 


LUKE 2:22-40

THE BACKGROUND

I am amazed that the amount of travelling that Joseph and Mary undertook.  It would be one thing if they had a nice little motorhome.  Instead, they did it all on foot.  Old paintings show Mary riding on a donkey, but none is mentioned in the Bible.  They travelled on foot from their home village of Nazareth, to go to Bethlehem.  I looked it up.  It is an 84 mile journey.  Can you imagine walking that distance?  It’s like walking from Tryon to Charlotte!  That had to take at least three or four days, maybe more with a wife ready to deliver a baby. 

Now, they are off to Jerusalem!  The Jewish law requires that Jesus be circumcised eight days after his birth.  Since they were in the neighborhood, they did this in Jerusalem—it was on the way back from Bethlehem, only 8 miles up the road.  After that, they still had 78 miles to go, before they were back home in Nazareth.  Later, they would make the long journey to Egypt, but we’ll save that for another day.

 

THE DETAIL

  • So, in obedience to Leviticus 12:1-8, they bring the baby Jesus to the temple. (vv. 22-23)
  • They bring the prescribed offering of four birds.   This tells us that Mary and Joseph are poor.  They do not bring the regular offering prescribed in Leviticus 12:6, but the provisional one in verse 8, for those who cannot afford a lamb.
  • Here’s where the story gets fascinating.  An old man approaches, and takes Jesus in his arms!  He says those words that many of us know as the Song of Simeon (or the Nunc Dimittus).  (vv. 25-32)
  • You can imagine how the parents felt!  The bible tells us they were “amazed”.  They were probably feeling a lot of other emotions, as well.  Then, Simeon turns to Mary and makes a prophetic proclamation.  We believe the “sword piercing Mary’s soul” might have something to do with watching her son suffer and die on the cross.  (vv. 33-35)
  • If that wasn’t enough, an elderly prophetess approaches them as well.  She praises Jesus, and talks about the redemption of Jerusalem. (vv.36-38)
  • After an exciting day in the temple, they return to Nazareth, where Jesus will grow “strong, filled with wisdom…”  (vv. 39-40)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Simeon waited most of his life for the chance to see the Messiah.  Now that he has seen and held this precious child, he is at peace.  In his song, Simeon essentially says “Lord, I’ve seen him! You can take me now.”  We have “seen” Jesus through the stories given us in the Gospels.  We can be at peace, knowing that our eyes have seen God’s salvation.

 

Reflections for Sunday, December 20, 2020

2 SAMUEL 7:1-11, 16

THE BACKGROUND

This is a story about King David.  At this point in the story, he is close to reaching the high point of his career as a warrior-king.  He is taking a break from his battles, and is resting in his cedar palace.  Nathan is the prophet to David’s court.

The tabernacle was a large tent complex.  There were rooms within the tabernacle, which were used by the priests for religious ceremonial purposes.  The innermost room was called the Holy of Holies, and contained the Arc of the Covenant; this arc was thought to be God’s dwelling place on earth; God’s portable “house”.  The tabernacle and the Arc of the Covenant were built during the time of the Exodus. The Arc has even been taken by Judah’s soldiers into war, to protect them from defeat.  (This didn’t always work.)

THE DETAILS

  • In the first paragraph (vv. 1-3), King David is resting in his palace.  It occurs to him that his “house” is much nicer than God’s “house”, the tent/tabernacle.  He shares this with Nathan, who agrees with the king.
  • That night, God sends a message to Nathan in a dream (v. 4).
  • Basically he tells David, “Who are you to tell me where to live?  I’ve been living in my tent since before you were born!”
  • God then makes a word game with the word “house”.  He proclaims that he will make a “house” for David.  But he doesn’t mean a building, he means a dynasty (vv. 5-11)
  • Then, in verse 16 comes the promise that is the key to our Advent season.  God says “…your kingdom shall be made sure forever…”.

THE TAKEAWAY

God promise to David bears fruit with the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.  Jesus’ ancestral lineage goes back to the house of David.  We are all part of the kingdom of God, so Jesus’ reign does indeed last forever!  
 

 

ROMANS 16:25-27

THE BACKGROUND

These three verses are the last lines of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  They are also a benediction and a summary of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

THE DETAIL

  • The Benediction: If you are familiar with Paul’s writings, then you know how wordy he can get.  To see the benediction, you must look at the first few and the last few words of this passage.  Here they are:  “Now to God… be the glory forever!  Amen.”
  • But all those words in-between are really good!  Let’s take a closer look at those, breaking them down into bite-sized chunks. The takeaway for each chunk appears with them, after the label “TA”.
  • God is able to strengthen the Roman church (and us) because of the good news (the gospel) work of Paul. (v. 25b) TA:  We have heard the gospel message, and believe. Let us not hesitate to call upon God for spiritual strength.
  • The secret of God’s salvation has been kept secret from us Gentiles for a long time. Now, through Jesus, this salvation has been revealed to even us Gentiles!  (vv. 25b-26a)  TA:  In times past, only the Hebrews knew God’s steadfast love.  Now, it is freely available to the whole world!
  • Through Jesus, our new commandment is to be obedient in faith to God.  (vv. 26b-27a)  TA:  Usually, we think of obedience being connected to a rule, or the Law of Moses.  But here, Paul talks about the “obedience of faith”.  Faith is the key to our salvation, not obedience to the law; so it is right to direct our obedience to faithfulness.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

During this season, we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival on Christmas Day.  We are renewing our commitment to be faithful to Him in thought, word, and deed.  We are obedient in faith.

For centuries, God’s favor was only with his “chosen people”.  With Jesus’ arrival, we Gentiles now have access to God.  It is easy to take for granted this free gift of God’s grace that we receive through the birth of His son.  So, with Paul we may say “Now to God be the glory forever! Amen!”
 

 

LUKE 1:26-38

THE BACKGROUND

The verses just ahead today’s passage tell us about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  Elizabeth has conceived the child who will grow up to become John the Baptist.  She went into seclusion for five months.

THE DETAIL

  • “In the sixth month” (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), an angel pays Mary a visit.  (vv. 26-27)
  • Mary is a teen-aged girl in a backwater town called Nazareth, who is engaged to be married. Gabriel, and angel of the Lord, enters and says “Greetings favored one!  The Lord is with you.”  (v. 28) I do think that she would be much more than “perplexed”, and “pondering what sort of greeting this might be.” (v. 29)  I think this young girl was probably scared half out of her wits!
  • Gabriel calms her down (“do not be afraid”), and tells her the good news of God’s plans.  Mary:  “I’m gonna have a baby?  Sure, probably, I’m engaged to be married after all.”  Gabriel”  “No, not later.   NOW, you will conceive a baby…” (v. 31). Gabriel goes on to explain that this baby will become the messiah, as foretold by scripture (vv. 31-33).
  • Mary has questions.  Wouldn’t you? “How’s this going to happen?  After all, I’m a virgin.”   (v. 34)
  • Gabriel goes on to give her the details (vv. 35-37)
  • Here’s the remarkable part.  Mary agrees to the plan (v. 38).

THE TAKEAWAY

Gabriel tells this unwed teen that she is going to be a mother.  Mary’s first reaction is to be expected, predictable.  But when Gabriel explains God’s plan, she responds in a very unpredictable way.  In faith, she sets aside the fact that she will be shamed socially, for becoming pregnant before marriage.  She will have to face her fiancé and explain it all.  (How do you think that will go?)  Why did she do this?  She did this because she had faith, and trusted in the Lord.  Doing the Lord’s will was more important to her than social standing.  It was worth risking a relationship with her fiancé, and worth raising a child whose father could not be identified. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mary’s obedient faith serves as an excellent role model for us. How can we exemplify Mary’s obedience in our faith-walk?

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