Friday, 9 December 2011
But this baby, this God-with-us bundle of joy, Was and Is, before anything else was. With God himself, right when the world was first being made. Making it happen.
So in this Word, this revealer of the truth, this Person by which things happen, by a great mystery, he is a man to us but also light and life and goodness and God Himself. He showed us what God is like. He showed us the way back to him. The path of forgiveness and grace.
He wasn't recognised truly for who he was, not in birth, or life or in death. The empty tomb, the shining angels saying "He is alive", the wounded hands made it plain. And belief in this forgiveness-giver, life-giver, grace-giver and blessing-giver makes us children of Most High God.
And so I begin, this record, so that many will read and believe - I write so they might believe and have the life that is life. I write to add to the many books that will be written. The world is not big enough to contain all the books that could be written about the things our Lord did. I write so that our Lord Jesus might be known.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
John ch 1 vs 1-18 (NIV)
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.....Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
John ch 20 vs 31 and ch 21 vs 25 (NIV)
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismissed your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him."
Luke ch 2 vs 22-40 (NIV)
I have pondered the waiting widow of Anna many times. Simeon was also waiting but it is Anna, that I think of.
To be married only seven years, and then widowed and remain after that always alone. This is what stings the eyes. Of course, she was perhaps not always alone. She may of had family who took her in. She may of had sons and daughters. However, she remained unmarried and she was waiting along with Simeon. Maybe with a grief that never really fades. Waiting on God is not like waiting for a delayed aircraft to take off. It is not like waiting in a supermarket queue. It can seem much harder than that, because we worry that what we are waiting for; (a husband? a baby to be concieved? a friend to become a Christian?) might never come to pass.
Simeon, it seems was sure of what was coming. He knew and he trusted God. These things that trouble me, don't have that same certainty about them. But God is the same. God who sustained the widowed Anna, the waiting Simeon, the unbelieving Zechariah, the amazed Elizabeth, the fearful Mary, the bumbling shepherds, the searching Kings, sustains me. My cause is not dis-regarded. His understanding, no-one can fathom. My strength will be renewed. God is far bigger and more powerful than my concerns and worries. Waiting on God is not like a train station waiting room or a delayed appointment. There is nothing static about it. The real question is; how is God making me more like Jesus at this time? What is he teaching me? How can I serve him?
"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40 vs 21-31 (NIV)
Thank you for your recent letter. It found me well - but I was sorry to hear of your wife's illness and I hope she recovers speedily.
In recent weeks I have been looking at details of the birth of our Lord. It is hard to find in Nazareth stories of the young Mary and Joseph - although I have spoken with one of the sisters of the Lord Jesus who lives there with her family. We know that Mary and Joseph set out on the long journey to Bethlehem in the later stages of her pregnancy and so it is to Bethlehem that I have travelled. Again it has been hard to find people to talk to who are witnesses of what occurred. I have spoken with Simon who was a young shepherd at the time, and one of the group to whom Angels appeared to. They later went into Bethlehem that night and found the baby Jesus with his parents.
However, I wished also to speak to families who lost sons in the terrible blood letting that followed. King Herod had heard through the Magi and his advisers of the whereabouts of the child but both the Magi and then later Joseph, Mary and the child evaded him. Every boy in the town of Bethlehem under the age of two years was murdered. I was pointed in the direction of a lady called Keziah. Her younger brother was killed. She merely confirmed the little I knew. A bright white light from a new star had shone and then later faded in the days before the massacre. There was no warning, that dreadful night of bloodshed. Out of the night came Roman soldiers. Keziah described terrible screaming that night, and of course others were injured apart from the children. Frantic parents and older siblings trying to protect their young sons. Grief like a cloud descended and took many years to lift. The prophecy did come true.
The good news that came out of my meeting with Keziah is to know that she herself is a believer. She travelled to hear our Lord teach and heard much of his sermon on the mount. Later she heard of the crucifixion and resurrection and she too believed. Her heart has mended and had let the burden of grief down and knows promise of a place where all the tears will be dried.
It has been sobering though, to hear of the suffering that has taken place in this town of Bethlehem. I trust this letter will find you well. My investigations continue apace.
In Our Lord,
“My soul glorifies the Lord
I set out on my journey some weeks ago now. The roads have been very dry and dusty and the journey has been tiring because of this sickness. I hold my secret close like a precious thing. "Do not be afraid" echoes through my mind and so I concentrate on this. Elizabeth is a faithful friend and she will believe me. We had heard that she and Zechariah have their own miracle to treasure. Although it seems less complicated than my own situation. There is nothing to be mis-understood. They are married after all. I have decided though, to not worry about Joseph. I cannot help but think that for something so miraculous and wondrous, that the Almighty can reassure a man's heart and given him peace and purpose.
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
Now almost 2 months ago, I was at home cleaning. Waiting to go visit Joseph's family. It was an ordinary day, ordinary tasks and little things to do. Dusty Nazareth on a an ordinary hot and dusty day, and one of the smallest houses in the town. No-one important. Not the place of kings and no palaces to be seen. Quietly out of the mid-day heat came, this great being with great news. Of great joy. For everyone. And for me out of the amazement and fear, peace and a settled-ness, that God will care for me, as he saw me, that village girl. I have pondered this more than anything. The humility of it all. Not for me, but for God to be humble, to choose a person of no importance and no grandeur. It makes me wonder as to the kind of man, this Son of God will be. A humble king. A king not born in a palace.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
I am with Elizabeth now. It has indeed been a wonderful thing to come here. She knew immediately. Without even being told, she exclaimed that her own baby had moved within her. "But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?.....Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."
Another blessing. I was thinking that I would at the very least, have to tell Elizabeth my news and that she would hopefully believe me but I arrive, and she knew. She knew. I had not cried. But I cried with relief, then, because another person was filled with wonder and belief. The Mighty One is mighty indeed and he is doing great things for me. And how I am blessed!
To think that the Messiah is coming. The long awaited King. I look back and think of promises made. Isaiah the prophet. Ezekiel telling of a time to come. My people. My waiting people, wayward but praying for deliverance now, and waiting, so much waiting. And it is here! I want to cry out from the rooftops. Burning deep seated excitement and joy. There is a strangeness though to it all, that perhaps in this humble Son of God, born to this girl of no consequence, that there is something coming that we don't expect in a Messiah. Or might not want. "He will save his people from their sins", the angel said. No great over-turning of the Romans, but forgiveness of sins. So it is strange and mysterious.
Saved. A Saviour. "You will call him Yeshua. Jesus." Joshua. He Saves. He saved us from the Egyptians. He carried us in the wilderness. He brought down the walls of Jericho. He raised up a man after his own heart. Even after the disobedience of my people, He preserved a remnant. Mighty deeds with a mighty and loving arm. "For He will save his people from their sins".
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
This humble Son of God. Born in humility. My thoughts turn back to this, that God did not choose the great to bring his Son into the world. Not even the daughter of a Rabbi. Or a great and wealthy Jew. So much to ponder and treasure in this wondrous thing. I cannot comprehend it. I have to trust Him though. Trust in his power and his goodness. Trust that the God who can bring rulers down, will care for me and care for the baby to be born.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
My people. My waiting people. Oh that they will see, when this time comes. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.." Oh that they will see the great light that is dawning. Meanwhile, I wait myself. Wait for this baby to be born. I am safe with Elizabeth now but I will soon return home and my heart can fret. But I will not fret and God will care and provide.
Saturday, 3 December 2011
It has been a strange few months and of course Zechariah cannot speak, so the joy is pressed down and is truly "unspeakable". A consequence of unbelief. How guilty I had been of that myself. Doubts and un-met needs. Other people's children swirled around me in life and in my dreams. Chattering. Unfettered smiles and hearts. How fettered my heart had been with envy and grief. For childlessness is a grieving. A loss. We imagine them. A little girl, like me. Like I was, with a cheeky smile, and drifting soft brown curls. We give them names. Our children that never live have names. Hannah. Of course I would of named her Hannah. My alter ego of tears and grief and barrenness.
This is our story though of "How blessed am I..." Zechariah had been chosen on that day to go into the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Never before, but on this day, his name had come up, drawn by lot. They had tied the rope around his ankle in case he was struck dead in that terrible Holy of Holies. I had stood outside unsuspecting of what was going to come. He took longer that he ought and a secret dread and fear had crept into my heart. Would we hauling him out? My thoughts drifted to my own fear of God, the fear of not being struck dead, but a lack of goodness. Of with-holding. "No good thing does he with-hold..." And yet had I not had "good" things with-held from me...specifically running around, little, smiling, chattering "good" things.
I did not have much longer to wait for he emerged, pale and tired looking....and struck entirely dumb. Others around concluded he had seen some sort of vision. He had more duties for a period of time at the Temple and so could not immediately come home. I am still uncertain as to what actually took place and all that was said, and more importantly, it's significance. But it is significant. A much deeper purpose than our desire for children.
And so in the this new season, I am waiting. Suprised by new life, surprised by sickness in the morning. Surprised by the answer to this old-new begging aching pleading prayer. We are to call him John. Zechariah has told me this through writing it down. John who will be a joy, a delight, for whom many will rejoice. John who will turn people's hearts back to the Lord, who will prepare a way. In our hearts we sence preparation for Someone and Something else. Mary is coming to visit also from Nazareth. My deeply contained building excitment and wonder can be shared with this dearest cousin. God's goodness is a mysterious thing, hidden and not always obvious in it's purposes. I cannot peel back the cover but it is real. Real and sure. So I wait. Wait for family to visit, wait for this life to grow, wait for this Tree of Life, wait for a Coming.
1. Proverbs 13:12
2. Psalm 84:11
3. Luke ch 1:1-38
Friday, 2 December 2011
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.
You took the sin that stained me,
You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me,
That I should live in You.
Unless Your grace had called me
And taught my op’ning mind,
The world would have enthralled me,
To heav’nly glories blind.
My heart knows none above You;
For Your rich grace I thirst;
I know that if I love You,
You must have loved me first.
Josiah Conder (1789-1855)