An Advent introduction

Happy birthday, JesusI don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to skip over the introductions to Paul’s epistles and go right to what seems like the real meat. I recently noticed that in the Book of Common Prayer, one such introduction, Romans 1:1-7 is one of the appointed readings for the Sundays in Advent. It seems good to pay closer attention.

Paul had never been to Rome when he decided to write a letter to the Roman church. Therefore, he needed to introduce himself in greater detail than in the letters to churches he himself had founded.

On the other hand, he was too humble a man to write about himself more than absolutely necessary.… Read the rest

The return of Christ and the harrowing of hell

Harrowing of hellAdvent is a time of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ child. Less often acknowledged, it is a time of preparing our hearts for the return of the triumphant Christ. Are we perhaps too comfortable with the homey images of the baby Jesus? Perhaps we should pay more careful attention to what the uncomfortably supernatural Jesus Christ has already accomplished in his first coming.

He was born of a virgin, as God promised as early as Genesis 3:15. There we read that the “seed of the woman” would crush the devil. He lived as an ordinary human, suffering every temptation any other human has ever faced.… Read the rest

Hard times, a song of joy, and the meaning of Christmas

Today’s news seems bad all around. Pollsters find an unprecedented level of pessimism and anger at the ineptitude of our national government. Besides the sour economy and a bipartisan failure of leadership, we are beset with a number of foreign challenges. Do we have to shut out current events in order to find anything to be glad about this Christmas? Probably so for people who only celebrate the season. Not at all for people who understand the meaning of Christmas and celebrate the birth of the Savior.

The prophet Isaiah lived in bleak times. Early in his ministry an ungodly king, Ahaz, made a cowardly alliance with the Assyrian empire, which reduced the once proud kingdom of Judah to vassal status.… Read the rest

Mary and the sneakiness of God

There is nothing subtle about how the world operates. We measure power by size. Each industry has one or two dominant and large corporations. The most powerful nations have some combination of the largest economies, international trade, military power, and diplomatic reach. Politicians vie to amass the most money so they can parlay their fundraising in to the most votes. God doesn’t work that way. Just look at how he prepared Mary for her role in God’s sneaky counterrevolution against the devil.

Satan appeared to win a great victory in Eden by corrupting the man and the woman God had made.… Read the rest

The birth of Christ happens every day


The New Testament uses the phrase “in Christ” or something similar more than a hundred times. It refers to Christ being in the believer less often, but those references are very important, especially during Advent as we look forward to the birth of Christ. In Colossians 1:27, Paul summarized his message as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And how does Christ get in us? The same way he got in Mary: it takes a miracle. If every day by that miracle someone accepts Christ, then the birth of Christ happens every day.

The day began for a young girl in Bethlehem the same way any other day of her life began, but at some point her life took a dramatic turn.… Read the rest

Roadwork on the way to Bethlehem

In this Christmas season, many of us bustle around trying to get ready for Christmas. We take to the streets to buy decorations, presents, and special holiday foods. We take to the highways to travel. While we get ready to go to Christmas, are we observing Advent and preparing to go to Bethlehem? Christmas is where we celebrate an anniversary. Bethlehem is where we meet Jesus. If we don’t make it to Bethlehem, making it to Christmas counts for nothing. And whatever the condition of the streets and highways we drive on for Christmas, the way to Bethlehem requires major roadwork.… Read the rest

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us

While the stories of Jesus’ birth provide the narratives and symbolism for the religious observance of Christmas, Christians who attend churches that follow a formal lectionary, at least, hear John 1:1-18 on Christmas day. After all, we do not worship a baby. We do worship a man, but not just any man. We worship the man who from the beginning is also God. Here is what we learn from the appointed reading from John’s gospel:

  • The divine Word, referred to subsequently as “he” and not “it,” existed in the beginning. The divine Word, a person, was somehow both with God and God himself.
Read the rest

The Visitation: Don’t forget Elizabeth!

Between the dramatic stories of how the angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah and then to Mary, Luke mentions that Mary paid a three month long visit to Elizabeth, one of  her blood relatives and Zechariah’s wife. Although artists have painted or otherwise portrayed The Visitation for centuries, it is all too easy to read right past it. So let’s give Elizabeth her due.

Luke says she and her husband were blameless, but they may not have looked blameless to the rest of the people in their community. After all, the old priest Zechariah had never been chosen to light the incense in the temple.… Read the rest

Preparing for the birth of Jesus, image of the invisible God

The season of Advent looks forward to the human birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem only because of human sin. The early church leaders who devised the Christian calendar recognized that  it would be inappropriate to celebrate his birth without a season of penitence to prepare for it.

We have forgotten that in our society. Today, we prepare for the birth of Jesus (or maybe just Xmas) by spending money we don’t have for things perhaps no one needs, and in some cases, to give them to people we don’t much like. If we’re not careful, the only times Jesus will intrude on our thoughts will be when we come to church on Sundays or if we happen to notice the Christmas carols piped into the mall.… Read the rest

Two narratives, one birth: one Jesus Christ

All we know about the birth and lineage of Jesus comes from accounts (including genealogies)  in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But they seem so different! That’s because they have different emphases and different perspectives. Before exploring the differences, it is important to emphasize what Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-3 have in common:

  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem
  • Jesus was raised in Nazareth
  • He was a direct descendant of King David
  • His parents were named Joseph and Mary
  • Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born
  • An angel told both parents (separately) to name him Jesus.
  • Herod reigned as king in Jerusalem

Matthew’s narrative

Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ legal lineage from Abraham and David in order to establish his royal credentials.… Read the rest