Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lessons and Carols Meditation - 2009

Pondering over the birth of the Savior is a good thing to do – and in this Service of Lessons and Carols that is exactly what we are doing together. Through these well known and oft read passages and through these old and familiar carols and choral pieces, the point is to join with our sister Mary and with the cloud of witnesses that have come since in honoring and pondering and worshipping Jesus who came in the flesh on the first Christmas.

Each year I take the opportunity to consider the words of Christmas sermons from St. Augustine who lived, preached, and wrote in the 4th century as Bishop in an area which today is known as North Africa, an area ruled in unbelief. A land that would do well to hear again the words from their departed saint. And we would do well to listen and ponder with him as well.

In one of his Christmas meditations, Augustine plays with the wondrous fact of Christ’s double birth – something I had not pondered before.

He writes: Christ begotten of the Father without a mother, Christ begotten of a mother without a father – two wondrous facts! The first begetting, eternal; the second, temporal. And when was He born of the Father? What is that – “when?” Regarding the first case, you are asking when – a case in which you will not find time? No, here you must not ask “when.” But regarding the second, you may ask “When.” “When was He born of a mother?” is a legitimate question; not so, “When was He born of His Father?”
He was born, yet is not bound to time. He was born from eternity – eternal, coeternal. Why do you marvel? He is God. Consider His divinity, and the cause of your marveling vanishes. And when we say, “He was born of a virgin,” this is something extraordinary – you marvel. He is God! You must not marvel. Let your surprise yield to thanksgiving. Have faith; believe, for this really so happened. If you do not believe, then this happened and yet you remain and infidel. He deigned to become man: what more do you ask? Is it not enough that God has been humbled for you? He who was God was made man. His was a poor little hut; He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger – who would not be amazed?

Augustine writes these simple yet profound thoughts – let me play with them for a moment with you.
First, everything about God is marvelous and in fact impossible to believe without faith. Some would say that we make Christmas so hard to believe and Christianity so hard to embrace in our modern world when we demand a confession that Jesus was born of a virgin. And yet, this is no harder to believe than to believe that Jesus is God, the Father is God, there is only one God, and yet they are two of three separate and distinct Persons of God. This is no harder to believe than the profession that God created all things from nothing by the power of His Word. This is no harder to believe than the doctrine that God has wonderfully predestined everything that comes to pass and yet we remain responsible individuals with real choices and real consequences before us.

Second, the miracle of the virgin birth is not simply about proving that Jesus must have therefore been God. More importantly it is a testimony to us that the Savior of Men, while having Himself to be a man, had to come from a new line, a new race – and so Jesus is referred to as the Second Adam. The Seed in the uterus of Mary was not from Joseph, nor any son of the First Adam. She was with child because this one was conceived of the Holy Spirit. A New Creation, a New Man, a New Way was coming forth. You and I, we need this new way – we need to be brought from the old race, the Old Adam, and be placed in the New Adam and the new Humanity. Only there will we find everlasting life and life removed from the curse of the old Adam.

All of these things require faith to believe – and that faith, like all faith, has to be rooted in an object – in this case a person. Let me spare you the lesson in apologetics and simply get to the point of meditation this evening. Pondering is a means by which God grants faith and grows that faith, matures that faith, and empowers that faith into a life of action – a life changed by these radical and wonderful truths.

Friends. Christmastime comes and goes as the years go by. Your life has come and in a few short years it will go by – it will whisp away like the smoke from one of those candles at your centerpiece on your table. What will never change – never go away – never end? This fact – God the Father sent His only and ever-begotten Son to save the world. Believe this and believe on Him – and you will be saved. What was only a whisp of smoke will be transformed into a sweet aroma of worship before the Lord. A life that would have only been used of God in revealing His wrath against unbelief and rebellion will have been transformed into an object of His mighty grace. This is the saving story of Christmas, of Jesus sent for you – if you would believe and come.

He has come to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. Therefore, join with the everlasting song – Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keeping Christ at Arm's Length in the Public Square

For any number of reasons, some Christians argue that we ought not to bring our religious beliefs into the public square (as if that statement were not in itself a religious belief). And yet God, in His providence over all things, has kept our nation singing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,” over the loudspeakers of shopping malls and public meeting places. In some ways, even the idolization of Santa is just filling the void left in a culture trying to keep Christ away from its need to celebrate, to be in awe of something transcendent, and to receive a gift it doesn’t deserve.

Is Christmas a Gift to the World?

Our nation does not need more sentimentalism, more commercialism, or more materialism. But our nation does need the gift of Christmas. We need nothing less than a Spirit-wrought reformation and revival and probably something the like of which has not been seen on these shores. And so why not celebrate Christmas? What happened in an animal stall on the outskirts of Bethlehem is the answer to all our problems, individual and communal. O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Savior of the nations, come. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” These are not simply Christmas carols. They are the prayers and petitions of the saints to God today: “come and save us from our sins.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Doubts and Fears About the Coming Son

Jesus said, "And blessed is he who is not offended (caused to stumble) because of Me" (Luke 7:23).

Looking at the Christmas season around and comparing it to how Jesus was recieved at His first Advent. Those who believed still had their doubts. The way God sent Him, the way He came in human flesh, and particularly the way He doesn't come in a blaze of fire to overthrow the Romans - really bothers even the loyal followers. The verse above is in response to John the Baptist seeming to doubt Jesus as the Coming One.

Today, we are still "doubting" the rule of this King of kings. If He is King now upon this earth, why is there so much of a mess? Why are His followers persecuted (as He promised they would be and as He was)? Why doesn't He just take down the wicked rulers?

This tempts us - causes us to stumble. Except for faith, the gift of God. And we must walk in this faith - in this humility which is Christ, the body of Christ. As we do so, worshipping Him, He will accomplish just what He promised - just as He did in His first Advent.

It just won't look like it much of the time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Have No Greater Joy

In Spurgeon's sermon on 3 John 4, he writes on the great joy a parent experiences in seeing his child walking in truth. In one section, he warns as well --

"No cross is so heavy to carry as a living cross….I pity the father whose children are not walking in the truth, who yet is himself an earnest Christian. Must it always be so, that the father shall go to the house of God and his son to the alehouse? Shall the father sing the songs of Zion, and the son and daughter pour forth the ballads of Belial? Must we come to the communion table alone, and our children be separated from us? Must we go on the road to holiness and the way of peace, and behold our dearest ones travelling with the multitude the broad way, despising what we prize, rebelling against him whom we adore? God grant it may not be so, but it is a very solemn reflection. More solemn still is the vision before us if we cast our eyes across the river of death into the eternity beyond. What if our children should not walk in the truth, and should die unsaved? There cannot be tears in heaven; but if there might, the celestials would look over the bulwarks of the new Jerusalem and weep their fill at the sight of their children in the flames of hell, for ever condemned, for ever shut out from hope. What if those to whom we gave being should be weeping and gnashing their teeth in torment while we are beholding the face of our Father in heaven! Remember the separation time must come. O ye thoughtless youths! Between you and your parents there must come an eternal parting! Can you endure the thought of it? Perhaps your parents will first leave this world: oh, that their departure might touch your consciences and lead you to follow them to heaven! But if you go first, unforgiven, impenitent sinners, your parents will have a double woe in their hour. How sadly have I marked the difference when I have gone to the funeral of different young people. I have been met by the mother who told me some sweet story about the girl, and what she did in life and what she said in death, and we have talked together before we have gone to the grave with a subdued sorrow which was near akin to joy, and I have not known whether to condole or to congratulate. But in other cases, when I have entered the house my mouth has been closed, I have asked few questions, and very little has been communicated to me; I have scarcely dared to touch upon the matter. By-and-by the father has whispered to me, “The worst of all is, sir, we had no evidence of conversion. We would have gladly parted with the dear one if we might have had some token for good. It breaks my wife’s heart, sir. Comfort her if you can.” I have felt that I was a poor comforter, for to sorrow without hope is to sorrow indeed. I pray it may never be the lot of any one of us to weep over our grown up sons and daughters dead and twice dead. Better were it that they had never been born, better that they had perished like untimely fruit, than that they should live to dishonor their father’s God and their mother’s Savior, and then should die to receive, “Depart, ye cursed,” from those very lips which to their parents will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Proportionate to the greatness of the joy before us is the terror of the contrast. I pray devoutly that such an overwhelming calamity may never happen to any one connected with any of our families." - Charles Spurgeon

Friday, December 4, 2009

But God, Who is Rich in Mercy

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7).

The previous verse (v3) declares that we were by nature children of wrath. But now, in contrast, we are objects of mercy. My knowledge of Jesus Christ, my salvation through Him, my hope for eternal life, my trust in God - is all becuase I am the object of His mercy. The reason I know any of this, believe any of this, embrace any of this, is simply because of one thing: God is rich in mercy.

Hence the Blog title.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Need Renewal? Psing the Psalms

One of the gifts that God has given us is the gift of music; the gift of singing. We need to use it and not abuse it.

Psalm singing is a wonderful gift. I have found on countless occasions that when I take the time to sing many psalms (I use the Cantus Christi - and God bless those folks in Moscow, ID) that I get my eyes properly OFF of myself while at the same time lift up those concerns, prayers, fears, and supplications that I need to lift up to the Lord.

In singing those Psalms I am directed away from my petty prayers - "O Lord, just hear me, and just bless me, and just..." and instead start to think, meditate, say, and sing the things the Lord would have me bring before Him.

Psing the Psalms. Psimple.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Setting Up

Well, I've done it, joined the crowded field, and here I am.