Archives for December 2018

The grace and glory of God appear to us and grow in us

The grace and glory of God appear to us

Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel

A spiritually dark nation receives a peace-bringing ruler like David – and more.

2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

“Light has dawned” – Jesus the light of the world, John 8:12; 9:5, brings the light of His truth first in Capernaum, Galilee, Matt. 4:13-17.

3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.

“Enlarged” – after resettlement and growth.

4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.

5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“And He will be called” –  “Wonderful Counsellor” who carries out a plan with the power of “Mighty God” and the “Everlasting Father’s” compassion and protection, and ruling as “Prince of Peace” bringing wellbeing to all.

7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Luke 2:1-14 – Shepherds experience God’s glory in terror.

They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census

1-2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

“First census” – Jesus’ birth and then flight from Herod the Great must have been between 6-4 BC, before Herod’s death in 4 BC, in the first of two terms served by Quirinius.

3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

“Register” – for the Roman poll tax.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.

5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

“Living out” – between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known and the midwinter tradition arose much later from pagan origins.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

“Terrified” – majestic angels in blazing light appearing in the darkness.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”

“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know  God and God’s favour.

Titus 2:11-14 – Growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return

Christians are empowered to live above themselves while living in expectation

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

“Grace… offers salvation” – the word used specifically here to mean favour with God, never earned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to (not conferred on) all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed.

12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,

14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. The “blessed hope” is expectation that Jesus will come again. Meanwhile God’s grace enables us to live by these values.

IN PRACTICE  The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us and our choosing to ask Him into our lives; the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it, and nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all unable to see the spiritual realities of good and evil, walking in darkness. Then God’s glory was over Bethlehem and the most ordinary of people were impacted by God’s grace. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”. 

PRAYER  Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory.  May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparaing for the next.

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – Young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle

He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of Jesus

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.

19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.

“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.

20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.

“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s  description of he boy Jesus, Luke 2:40 and 52.

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Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple

He finds rabbis in the temple courts who allow Him to debate with them.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.

“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover (especially), Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16.

42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.

43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

“Unaware” – with whole villages and extended families travelling together.

44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.

46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.

“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.

“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were scholars of Moses’ law, who instructed by question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, more so to praise His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.

48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’

49-50 ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.

“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus contrasts His Father with his earthly parent. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.

51-52 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside, His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself)”, Phil. 2:7 Expanded Bible. There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth.

Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace

Growing in Jesus’ character  is what distinguishes the body of Christ.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, Deut. 4:37 and then of the Christian community, 1 Peter 2:9. Being chosen by God, a frequent theme in Paul’s letters, doesn’t lessen our responsibility to live unselfishly. “He chose us… to be holy and blameless in His sight”, Eph. 1:4.

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace in forgiving others.

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules and has lordship, His peace will act as an umpire and will result in unity embracing diversity, in Christ-like relationships.

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

“Psalms, hymns and songs” — psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and  spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.

“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — keep on growing in Christian maturity and show Jesus to others by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.

IN PRACTICE  The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – especially when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.

Defer to the Lordship of Christ

TLW 51 December 23 (Advent 4)

Theme: Advent ABCD – ‘D’ Defer to the Lordship of Christ

Psalm 80:1-7 (theme introduction) — Deferring to God in a plea for His grace. Restored favour with the Lord requires our hearts made right first

Micah 5:2-5a — A great ruler will emerge from humble origins. The whole earth will defer to the greatness of this Shepherd of God’s peace with ancient ancestry

Luke 1:39-45, 46-55 — Elizabeth’s unborn baby defers to the unborn Messiah. As the Elizabeth and Mary meet the Holy Spirit becomes a strong presence with them.

Hebrews 10:5-10 — Knowing and submitting to the Lord is true worship. The priesthood of the Old Covenant, with its elaborate ceremonial and sacrifices, now gives way to Jesus.

SUMMARY

From an insignificant place will arise a great shepherd of ancient origins and worldwide majesty. Elizabeth’s unborn baby leaps in the womb as she meets Mary, who is carrying Jesus. In the words of Mary’s song, God scatters those who don’t defer to Him while raising up those who do, in fulfilling His promises.

PSALM READING AND THEME INTRODUCTION

Psalm 80:1-7 – Deferring to God in a plea for His grace

Restored favour with the Lord requires our hearts made right first

A lament from the time of the fall of the northern kingdom, 150 years before the fall of Judah and Jerusalem.

1-2 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

“Between the cherubim” – in the most holy place, the top of the ark of the covenant formed a ‘mercy seat’ with two cherub forms in gold on either side, symbolising the throne of God and therefore His presence.

“Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh” – northern tribes. “Joseph” represents all the tribes.

3 Restore us, O God; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?

“Your anger… against the prayers” – Some prayers can provoke God’s anger, and the plea for a change of heart recognises this. The question is, what attitude underlying the prayers is so offensive?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.

“Object of derision” – for the Lord to have allowed Gentiles to prevail over them

7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

“Restore us” – a prayer for a change to know God’s favour again, in the context of a change of heart and repentant spirit.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Micah 5:2-5a — A great ruler will emerge from humble origins

The whole earth will defer to the greatness of this Shepherd of God’s peace with ancient ancestry

One of the most significant prophecies about the coming of Messiah, which draws out the connection with the nation’s greatest king who was also born in the Ephrathah region. David, as the youngest son of Jesse, was an ‘unlikely candidate’ and was not originally included to appear under the prophetic scrutiny of Samuel, 2 Sam. 16:10-13. In Jesus’ time, Bethlehem was a remote and insignificant village. However, some scholars of Jesus’ time saw in this prophecy a possible association of Bethlehem with the awaited Messiah. 

2 ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’

“Ephrathah” – the district where Bethlehem (‘house of bread’) is located, and where David was born, 1 Samuel 17:12. David was an unlikely choice as king; Bethlehem was an unlikely home town for a subsequent and greater David. 

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

“Abandoned” — the nation Israel was without a king from the exile in the sixth century BC onwards.

“When she… bears a son” — can be interpreted as Mary, the mother of Jesus; or Bethlehem bearing a son; or a son born of the righteous remnant; or (taking the whole verse) the end time deliverance of those able to participate joyfully in the coming of the fullness of the kingdom, Micah 4:9-5:1.

4 He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.

And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

“Shepherd His flock” — a common metaphor for ruling a nation.

5 And He will be our peace.

“Our peace” — shalom is a broad term of general well-being and prosperity, but in this context, Mic. 5:5-7, peace from Israel’s enemies symbolised by Assyrian invaders.

IN PRACTICE  The need for personal, repentant change in preparing for an encounter with the Lord has been an emphasis of previous week’s. Now it’s about being prepared to change — to accommodate the unexpected ways of God’s order. Corrupt spiritual leadership, Micah 3:9-11, and its consequences — Micah lived at the time the northern kingdom fell to Assyrian attackers in 722 BC — is contrasted with God’s constant heart to restore and bring people back to Himself, all through the Book of Micah. When God moves in restoration the demand in us to change our mindset is the greatest. God is good all the time, but we have to trust Him to allow His goodness to be realised.

QUESTION  What do we have to do to experience God’s desire to be our peace?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 1:39-55 — Elizabeth’s unborn baby defers to the Messiah

As the Elizabeth and Mary meet the Holy Spirit becomes a strong presence with them

39-40 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

“Hill country of Judea” — A four-day journey.

41-42 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

“The baby leapt” — a remarkable response which the Holy Spirit caused. The baby John leaping in the womb recognises he is in the presence of someone greater; Jesus is not just a prophet. John is already announcing the coming of the Messiah.

43-45 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

“Leaped for joy” — Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, has prophetic insight about the baby within her expressing joy.

46 And Mary said:

The words that follow are Mary’s Psalm-like song of praise commonly called (from Latin)  the Magnificat, which means ‘glorifies’.

47-48 ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.

49 From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.

“Humble state… all… will call me blessed — At a stroke Mary has changed from a poor Hebrew girl in humble circumstances to a path that will make her the most honoured woman the world has known.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.

51-53 He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

“He has performed” — Mary’s experience of change is set in greater and wider change, in which the expected order is turned upside down, and the ones favoured by God’s mercy are simply those who turn to Him without any merit of their own. God is ‘performing’ this.

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.

“Brought down… lifted up” God’s reversal of the expected order, an emphasis of Luke and Acts. Jewish culture generally saw power and wealth as evidence of God’s favour, and questioned why someone of humble state should be chosen. Mary is part of this reversal which anticipates the reversal to come at Jesus’ coming at the end time.

54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, just as He promised our ancestors.

“Remembering… just as He promised” — Mary is aware of the enduring force of God’s covenant promises. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary spoke of God’s covenant with David, Luke 1:32-33, 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, and here Mary recalls the older covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12:1-3, 17:3-8.

IN PRACTICE Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we naturally think of God’s favour resting on people who, in our judgment, have merit. The problem is the value we put on our judgments about people, forgetting that God looks on the heart and places high value on those who have dealt with their pride and self-sufficiency to ‘fear’ God as His humble, dependent and genuinely loving worshippers. Hence the huge responsibility assigned to Mary and Joseph. The challenge to change for us, is that God finds it easier to use us when we have taken off our medals and badges or rank.

QUESTION  What worldly honours or positions do we need resign from, prayerfully and perhaps practically, to be eligible for God’s next assignment?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 10:5-10 — Knowing and submitting to the Lord is true worship

The priesthood of the Old Covenant, with its elaborate ceremonial and sacrifices, now gives way to Jesus

5-6 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.

“With… offerings You were not pleased” — a quotation from the Greek version of David’s Psalm 40, about simple submissive obedience to God’s will being the superior replacement, which God far prefers to the sacrifices of Mosaic Law.

7 Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, my God.”

8 First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”– though they were offered in accordance with the law.

“Offerings you did not desire” — the ceremonial system was a stop-gap measure until Jesus should come and die, once, as a final sacrifice for sins. The writer implies that God never liked the previous complex and superficial means of holiness.

9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.

“The first… the second” — Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of Himself sets aside for all time all previous sacrifices as a means of sinners being made holy.

10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

IN PRACTICE   God is holy, and He seeks holiness in those who are His. The change which is this week’s theme is in how we see the path to holiness. We have two options: to be transformed by inviting Jesus to be lord of our lives as the One who has offered us salvation in Him — a new identity, revealed by His Spirit and centred on receiving new life in the basis of what He has done for us. Option 2 is that we try to achieve holiness by whatever means of ceremonial and modern sacrifice we can devise, in a church setting that mimics the Temple and its worship. Option 2 presents itself as an easier path — we can rely on a modern day priestly figure to do most of the work for us — but, as this passage and Psalm 49 makes clear, it doesn’t work and it ignores God’s good intentions for us. This Advent, get back to what pleases God — our simple, dependent obedience, relying on Jesus and our relationship with Him.

QUESTION  Why do we complicate things? Is it an easier path to follow, or ultimately a harder path that doesn’t find the destination?

PRAYER   Lord, we are creatures of routine and habit and look for security in what is familiar when we should find our security in You. Help us to accommodate change, and to be willing to be changed, as we worship You in the Spirit and in the truth of who Jesus is, the only name under heaven by whom we can be saved, and in whom we come to You in prayer. Amen.

Villagers arrested by something God had never done before

Meme of Christmas God's Gift of Jesus, Grace and Glory of God

CONTENTS
Christmas Day OT reading
Christmas Day Gospel reading
Christmas Day Epistle reading
Christmas Day application
Sunday, December 30 OT reading
Sunday, December 30 Gospel reading
Sunday, December 30 Epistle reading
Sunday, December 30 application

THEME 1 (DECEMBER 25):

THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEAR FOR US

Readings are in Bible order, Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, following the logic of progressive revelation. Some churches use a liturgical order with the gospel reading last.

DECEMBER 25 – OLD TESTAMENT READING

Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel

A nation in spiritual darkness receive a peace-bringing mighty king of David’s lineage but heavenly origin


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

“Have seen” – prophetic vision that sees the future with the clarity of it already having happened.

“Light has dawned” – Jesus the light of the world, John 8:12; 9:5, brings the light of His truth first in Capernaum, Galilee, verse 1 and Matt. 4:13-17.

3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.

“Enlarged” – no longer a small remnant after five centuries of resettlement and growth.

4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.

5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.

“Wonderful counsellor” – the titles reveal Immanuel as both human and divine:  a ‘counsellor to carry out a plan or action; with divine power; bringing the Father’s compassion and protection; and exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

DECEMBER 25 – GOSPEL READING

Luke 2:1-14 – shepherds experience God’s sudden blaze of glory in terror

They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

First census” – Jesus’ birth and then flight from Herod the Great must have been between 6-4 BC, before Herod’s death in 4 BC, and therefore during the first of two terms (separated by 10 years) that Quirinius served.

3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

“A census” – for the purposes of the Roman poll tax. Joseph was of the house of David, Mary possibly so.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.

5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

“Out in the fields” – so probably between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known. The midwinter tradition arose much later from Christians re-purposing the pagan midwinter festival.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

“Terrified” – by the majesty of angels in bright light suddenly appearing in the darkness.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”

“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know  God and God’s favour.

DECEMBER 25 – EPISTLE READING

Titus 2:11-14 – We’re growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return

Christians are empowered to live above themselves while expecting Jesus to appear in glory

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

“Grace… offers salvation” – the word ‘grace’ is used generally and also specifically, as here, meaning the favour with God, unearned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to, not conferred on, all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed by this grace.

12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,

14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation (also called justification, Titus 3:7) and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. Jesus will come again, the “blessed hope” we wait for. Meanwhile, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables us to live by these values.

IN PRACTICE  The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us – the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it. However, there is a personal, active choice we must make to turn to Jesus and receive His lordship. Nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all walking in darkness, as Isaiah describes, not able to see the spiritual realities of good and evil. Then God’s glory visited the village of Bethlehem and God’s grace was experienced, by the most ordinary of people. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”.

PRAYER  Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory.  May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparing for the next.

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THEME FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30 – THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROW IN US

DECEMBER 30 – OLD TESTAMENT READING

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – the young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle

He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of the boy Jesus

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.

19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.

“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn over the robe, by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.

20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.


“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s  description of Jesus as a boy, see Luke 2:52 below, also Luke 2:40.

DECEMBER 30 – GOSPEL READING

Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple

Unknown to His parents, He spends time with the teachers of the temple courts who, remarkably,  allow Him to debate with them.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.

“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16. Galileans and others at a distance would try to keep Passover at least.

42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.

43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

“Unaware” – often entire villages and extended families travelled and socialised together.

44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.

46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.

“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.

“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were rabbis, scholars of Mosaic law. The style of rabbinic instruction was question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, let alone be enthralled by His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.

48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’

49-50 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.

“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus makes it clear that God is His true father. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.

51-52 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself).” There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth, and in this passage we see Him growing up like any other boy.

DECEMBER 30 – EPISTLE READING

Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace

God is love and Jesus demonstrated unconditional love; growing in His character of kindness and gentleness is what distinguishes the body of Christ.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, and then of the Christian community, Deut. 4:37; 1 Peter 2:9. Election, being chosen by God, is a frequent theme in Paul’s letters. It doesn’t lessen our responsibility to live unselfishly but increases it, as this passage states. Similarly, “He chose us… to be holy and blameless in His sight”, Eph. 1:4.

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace to others. Being forgiven by God means we, too, must forgive, without condition.

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.,

“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.


15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules, where Jesus is accorded His lordship, His peace will act as an umpire. Allegiance to Christ outranks differences between believers, and will result in unity embracing diversity, in Christ-like relationships.

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

“Psalms, hymns and songs” — the model is the book of Psalms, which includes psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and the spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.

“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — the bottom line is a requirement to keep on growing in Christian maturity and TO show Jesus to others, by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.

IN PRACTICE  The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – never more powerfully than when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.


QUESTION  “It’s just the way I am” – but God sent His son and may not accept that limitation! What can you do this Christmas that will release His change?


PRAYER  “Lord, I thank You that You came – and have come for me. I give what I have, myself, to You and I receive from You new grace and life in Jesus. Amen.”

Contents

Download TLW52 booklet Dec 25/30 to print for your church

Change! The Righteous Lord is coming.

His winnowing fork is in His hand… (Image credit http://www.stmarycanons.org/blog/category/chapter-05)

(TLW50) Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 16, Advent 3

Theme: ABCD of Advent – Change as Christ’s coming beckons

Zephaniah 3:14-20 — The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing.
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

Luke 3:7-18  — Whose values are we agreeing with?
John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

Philippians 4:4-7 — Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes.
Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

Also: Song of Praise: Isaiah 12:2-6

SUMMARY   The Lord is taking delight in His faithful people, gathering them and bringing them home. John foretells that One greater than him will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, warning people to get right with God. Paul reminds his churches, don’t be anxious but rejoice, for the Lord is near!

OLD TESTAMENT READING 

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing

God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

14-15 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.

“Be glad and rejoice” — a complete reversal of the pronouncement of woe and wrath earlier in the chapter, after which a remnant arises again to find God’s favour.

The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

“Taken away your punishment” – stated as if judgment day had already happened. God removes His wrath and lifts the curse of transgression through Christ.

For further study, read Romans 5:9, Rom. 8:1, Gal.. 3:13-14.

“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you” – the true king of Israel was always the Lord, Yahweh, and other rulers were to represent Him. The NT uses this title of Jesus the Messiah, John 1:49, Matt. 27:42 and John seems to apply this verse to Jesus at His Triumphal Entry, John 12:13.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

“Hands hang limp” – do not be discouraged.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’

“The Mighty Warrior” – Yahweh is the supreme Commander, Psalm 24:8.

“Will… delight in you” – like a bridegroom with his bride, Isaiah 62:4-5, Isaiah 65:18-19. Zephaniah was possibly a disciple of Isaiah who shared something of the same vision. His message is that when God’s people seek Him, Zeph. 3:12-13, and rejoice in Him in a relationship of trust, vv.14-15 above, the Lord is so delighted He bursts forth with celebration and loud singing.

18 I will remove [or gather] from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

“All who mourn over the loss” – all translators agree that this is a difficult verse. The context esp. vv.19-20 below suggests this is God’s promise to make things right, by both gathering and removing those who remain rebels to God’s truth, and also gathering and bringing back those driven from Jerusalem by oppressors.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [bring back your captives] before your very eyes,’ says the Lord.

“I will rescue… gather… give honour and praise” — special favour in an intimate way for those who have held on to faith through the deprivation and shame of exile.

The weak and humble that the rebel majority abused (Zeph. 1:9; 3:1–2; cf. Ezek 34:21) are the very ones upon whom Yahweh’s justice would shine (Zeph. 3:5; cf. 2:3; 3:12)

IN PRACTICE  This week’s theme of ‘Be Prepared’ starts with a passage that is set in the context of God’s wrath. The start of Zephaniah 3 is about Jerusalem, the city of oppressors, and God’s judgment which, as always is intended to be a wake-up call and bring correction, Zeph. 3:1-7. However, following the inevitable punishment, a refining takes place and God delights in those that remain, who have kept faith in Him. In our world, we can see where God’s judgment for ‘doing our own thing’ has resulted in a dramatic fall in church attendance and prosperity. Perhaps it’s needed, so that we wake up and think again about whose church it is,  and whether we are in love with God the Father and His Son Jesus, or the traditions we are attached to. The bottom line is that God is good, He loves us and He has a real purpose for all of us – for which some discipline is also a measure of His love.

QUESTION  What does God want from us as a faith community, that is a tension with what we want?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:7-18 – Whose values are we agreeing with?

John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

“Vipers” — a way of challenging them about having become the seed of the Serpent, Gen. 3:15, in their attitudes and actions. These vipers, Isaiah 59:5 are the rebellious people of  God who turned the way of the Lord into crooked roads, Isaiah 59:8.

“We have Abraham” –  the erroneous and somewhat arrogant belief of some Jews who believed that descent from Abraham was their assurance of salvation, John 8:33-39, Acts 7:2.

“The axe… tree… good fruit” – genuine faith produces good fruit. Claiming the ancestry of Abraham was meaningless if not matched  with righteous, just and generous-spirited living including a willingness to engage in repentance responding to John’s call.

10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.

11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’

“Two shirts” – a long tunic undergarment.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ He told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked Him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’

“Tax collectors…soldiers” – probably a form of police in the employ of Herod Antipas to protect the tax collectors, a rejected community seen as supporting the Roman oppression. John preaches honesty and concern for those in need, against the fraudulent dealings and extortion that had become part of the accepted way of life.

15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with [in] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with [in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

“The Holy Spirit and fire” – a holy ‘drenching’ that will transform and purify.  Fire is often used in the OT as an illustration of the judgment that purifies, exposing what is insubstantial and ‘combustible’. The Holy Spirit also reveals what is not of God and exposes our self-deceptions in a transformation that can be a fiery and radical purification.

17-18 His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

“Wheat… chaff” – the righteous versus the unrepentant. John’s theme throughout is on the need for a humility before God which brings with it a sincere dependence on God and a lifestyle of willingness to recognise and deal with everything in life which is not God’s way. “Winnowing fork” – many Jews had assumed a false sense of entitlement, believing that when the Messiah came, only pagans would be singled out, but John makes clear that judgment and punishment that judgment will come on all who do not repent.

“Proclaimed the good news” – John’s message heralded the coming of a Saviour, both imminently and also in the final judgment – a message of joy and justice for all who would receive Him but a stark warning for those who would not, both present and future. 

IN PRACTICE  The Jews were confident that they deserved favour from God because of their heritage, rather conveniently overlooking the swatches of of their Scriptures (Old Testament to us) which speak of rebellion and apostasy and the inevitable consequences which they suffered in exile and then a series of invasions. The hated (but for the most part, just and professional) Roman rule was just the latest of a number of occupations.

What about us? We live in a so-called Christian country. We may have served our church or fellowship faithfully, with others looking to us as the ones who ‘keep things going’. But has that given us a false sense of entitlement? This “be prepared” season is a good time to ask if we are holding faithfully, or perhaps just tenaciously, on to what God actually wants us to let go of, so He is able to “do a new thing”, Isaiah 43:18-19. And to be humble enough to let go of any sense of entitlement is definitely a good way to “be prepared”.

PRAYER  Lord, as I mentally line up for John’s baptism and wonder what in me has more of the hallmark of the snake, rather than the Spirit, help me to let go of attitudes that need to go, and to embrace the change and holiness You are revealing in this season. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 4:4-7 – Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes

Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!

“Rejoice… always” – the back-story here is a disagreement – we might say, a church split – serious enough for the parties to be named in a letter to be read out. The enemy’s strategy is always to find ways to cause disagreement and division, and the God-given remedy is the capacity that Christians have to see beyond themselves, and find agreement. Rejoicing is an attitude of relationship with God, not circumstances, and in that relationship His way becomes clear.

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

“Gentleness” – the quality of Christlike consideration, generosity of spirit, especially required of church leaders, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 3:2.

“Near” – A reminder repeated elsewhere in the NT that the next great event in God’s salvation schedule is Christ’s return. The whole span from Christ’s coming at Bethlehem to the final consummation of the kingdom is “the last time” in which, from God’s perspective, a thousand years are like a day,  . “Near” or “at hand” also speaks of the Lord’s nearness in the prayer relationship, the presence of One poised to return.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

“Do not be anxious” – because the Lord is near. Prayerful thanksgiving in every situation is the antidote to anxiety which makes way for God’s peace.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“The peace of God” – the assurance of those who know their sins are forgiven and, receiving God’s love, can trust Him beyond their perspective of circumstances.

IN PRACTICE The Lord is gathering those that are really His with rejoicing, not with arguing. However, we have an enemy who is utterly opposed to the love, grace and acceptance that is the heart of the Gospel, and will work on our thoughts wherever our independence from God (the short word is ‘sin’) has given him a way in… and we may not realise where it from until it is too late. Church politics, often linked to religious inflexibility, has resulted in millions that believe in God but don’t believe in His church. If, however, we are characterised as those who “Rejoice always” because we know that God is good even when things are challenging, then that is a very attractive proposition. Anxieties abound in our complex and conflicted world – and everyone is looking for the people who can deal with doubt and fear by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. A tall order? God has called us, as Christians, to live differently and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do it.

QUESTION  The adversary, Satan, was real enough to Jesus – in the wilderness and wherever He found people oppressed by sickness or other difficulty. Have I become too rational and educated to look for these spiritual realities, and tackle them as Jesus did?

PRAYER  Lord, as I draw near to You in this season of preparation, I recognise that preparation involves change, and You are asking all of us to be prepared to check our thoughts, consider our priorities, review our responses – and give them all to You! Help me to let go of all that hinders, so I can grasp with both hands all You have for me that is lifegiving. In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.

Also: Isaiah 12:2-6 – Song of Praise

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defence [or song];
He has become my salvation.’

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4 In that day you will say:‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name;
make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.

5 ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.

6 ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’