Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Star and the Cross

Black was the sky of the oriental night
Bejeweled as an empress displaying her might.
Lost in the tedium of nocturnal watch,
The wisest of wise appraised a new sight.

High in the heavens and brighter than most
A dazzling new object had joined the host.
The astrologers pondered and ventured a guess:
“A mighty new monarch this beacon does toast.”

Consulting their sources and making their plans
The seekers trekked westward across the hot sands.
They followed the beacon that showed them the way
To the City of David, and the Savior of man.

By day and by night they followed the trail
Of their guiding light with much travail,
For a curious sight its beams had revealed
— The form of a cross in full detail.

For two years they followed their stellar guide
Until it rested, and shown with pride
O’er a humble house and the family there
Who with the Mighty King did abide.

So they offered their gifts, their praise to assign
As the cross and the star continued to shine,
And knowing not why, their burden was lifted;
The child in the house did their sorrow consign.

Some thirty years later, on a cross made of wood
The child, now a young man, there hung in the nude,
And the bright Star of Bethlehem continued to blaze,
The King of all kings gave His life to conclude.

Three dark days later the Star’s light broke through
Announcing the hope of a life that is true,
And all who will venture their life to yield
To the Star and the cross will gain life anew.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke2:14)

Peace.  Such an elusive word.  So full of hope, and yet so seemingly unattainable.  The angels proclaimed “peace on earth, and good will toward men” as they announced the Savior’s birth that holy night.  There was no peace on earth at the time of that proclamation.  The Roman Empire was in control of a major part of the western world, and there was unrest in the land of Judea as one uprising after another was crushed by the heavy hand of the Roman legions.  Things then were not much different than what we see today – unrest in the Middle East, the constant threat of war, Korea bent on becoming a nuclear power, China vamping up her navy and playing havoc with the American economy, Europe on the verge of economic collapse.  There is no peace on earth.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men.

Then, in despair I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth good will to men”

But the hope of peace is strong within man, and so the lowly shepherds to whom the announcement was made, left their flocks in hope of catching a glimpse of the tiny Prince of Peace that had come into the world.  He would later say, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  Amidst all the trouble and chaos of the world, He still promises peace and encouragement: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Then peal the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth good will to men.

A dear friend recently enlightened me to the fact that “Joy to the World” is not really a Christmas carol.  It is not about Christ’s first coming; it is about His second coming!  There will be no peace on earth until the King of Kings comes to reign over all of His creation.  At that time, it will be most appropriate to sing:

Joy to the world the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Or thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Writing almost 800 years before the first advent, the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The tiny babe Whose birth we celebrate this Christmas is the hope of peace for a troubled world and the realization of peace for those who know Him as Savior.  Let us find our peace in Him!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary's Little Lamb

He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed …But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. (Isa 53:5-7)[i]

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

One of the hazards (if you can call it that) of knowing the Bible is that it makes it difficult to enjoy any movie that attempts to portray a biblical account.  Without much effort, one can find a plethora of inaccuracies with the retelling of the story or with the theology that is presented.  Anytime such a movie comes out, I am usually skeptical about wasting God’s money to go see it, but recently, there have been some very good exceptions to the rule.  “The Gospel of John” is an excellent example of well made Bible movie that remained, for the most part, true to the biblical text.  As I watched that movie, I found that I could recall exactly what chapter and verse was being depicted on the screen – much to the annoyance of my wife who was trying to enjoy the movie.  Another masterful rendition of biblical text was Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.”  Even though the dialogue was in the original languages of the time – Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic – I had no trouble staying up with the story line.  Except for the presentation of the origin of certain “relics,” the movie so stirred my emotions that I found little to criticize.

The most recent example of a great Bible movie was released just a few years ago.  It is “The Nativity Story.”  The movie is not without flaws (mainly chronological discrepancies at the end of the movie), but it is by far the best rendition on the birth of Christ that I have ever seen.  The main characters are cast as common, ordinary people.  Mary is a young woman from a very poor family.  She is still interested in playing with her friends.  She helps with the family business – that of making and selling goat cheese.  She is certainly not interested in marriage and when Joseph comes to ask for her hand, she reluctantly accepts only to appease her father who fears losing her to Roman tax collectors, not to mention needing the economic relief of one less mouth to feed.  Mary is not portrayed as overly religious, but when the angel announces that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God she accepts without argument except to question the possibility of pregnancy since she is sexually pure.[ii]  Shortly thereafter she requests permission to go visit her cousin Elizabeth who is also expecting.[iii]  There, Elizabeth affirms what Mary already knows.[iv]  Following a lengthy stay in her cousin’s home, Mary returns to Nazareth to be greeted by the critical stares of knowing neighbors.  When she breaks the news to her family and to Joseph, all are devastated and incredulous at her claim that this was an act of God.  At Joseph request, she could have been stoned to death, but instead, although brokenhearted, Joseph chooses to reserve judgment.  In a dream, Joseph receives confirmation that Mary’s claim is true, and he decides to accept her as his wife in spite of the ridicule they are sure to receive.[v]  Later Mary chooses to go with her “husband” to Bethlehem for the census that has been ordered by Caesar Augustus.[vi]  Their journey is difficult and fraught with peril.  Along the way, Joseph’s selflessness endears him to Mary, and it becomes obvious that her feelings toward him have changed.  They finally arrive at Bethlehem, and it is there that the Christ child is born.

What moves me so in this story is the genuineness of the feelings expressed by the main characters.  Mary, though willing to obey God’s design for her, questions her worthiness to carry out such an overwhelming assignment.  Joseph wonders if there will be anything that he can teach Him.  Both wonder how they will know for sure that He really is the Promised One.  Will it be something that He says?  Will it be a certain look that He will give them that lets them know?  When the baby is born, both shed the tears and laughter of joy that all new parents experience at the birth of a child.  Then you see the tiny little baby.  So small.  So fragile.  So helpless.  Incomprehensible is the thought that this little bundle of flabby flesh is the Almighty God incarnate!  Then the overpowering reality grips your heart as you realize that this, Mary’s little lamb, is the Lamb of God that will be sacrificed for the sins of the world – your sins and mine.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE UPDATE.  Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.
[vii] Green, Buddy and Mark Lowry, “Mary Did You Know”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Almighty Creator in Infant Form

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

This time of year we expect to see the story of the birth of Christ played out in humble means by children in small churches, or by freezing “actors” in “living” nativity scenes, or in glitzy performances by mega church choirs.  Why, even the Rockettes present the Christmas story at the end of every performance.  All of these presentations begin with the typical scene of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, and conclude with an unbiblical menagerie of shepherds, wise men and angels worshipping the Christ child.

While this serves as a sweet reminder to get one focused on the true meaning of Christmas, it somehow misses the awesome significance of this event.  The Word, the Logos, the revealed Wisdom of God, was manifested in a tiny, helpless infant.  This now revealed Word, our verse tells us, existed with God at the beginning of time (v. 2), and He was, in fact, very God.  “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3).  “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).  And so, “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14) in the form of a helpless baby – a baby that, though He existed in eternity past, entered and grew in His mother’s womb from a zygote to a fetus that had to fight His way through the birth canal.  He came as a baby that had to be nursed at His mother’s breast.  A baby that had to be carried everywhere He went.  A baby that had to have His diapers changed.  This was God in human form – the Creator of heaven and earth cloaked in human flesh as a babe.

The idea of it all is inconceivable!  Yet, this was His plan from the beginning, so that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).  “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).  That is the message that is often overshadowed in the scenes of the season. 

The lyrics to Mark Lowry’s song, “Mary Did You Know” so poignantly express the significance of this blessed event:

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

This Christmas, try to think past the manger scene and see the babe for the God He truly is.