The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why the virgin birth of Jesus was necessary

Adoration of the Shepherds / Murillo. virgin birth of Jesus

Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650

Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.

But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.

Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.

And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union.… Read the rest

Watching and waiting for Jesus

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth carving

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth / at Cloister’s Museum, New York. Artist unidentified

Thank you for coming to read this message. It means that you want to keep Christ in Christmas. And you know Christmas has meaning only because of a truth your church may affirm in the communion service:

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ is coming again.

This season of advent, we mostly prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but it also provides a time to prepare for his return, his second advent.

God’s judgment and his grace are joined at the hip. He freely makes his grace available to anyone at all, but only those who repent of their sins can ever receive it.… Read the rest

Preparing for Christ’s return

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The church sets aside the season of Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming. It is a season of penitence to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ. He entered the world by stealth, being born in an obscure village.

But the New Testament proclaims in many ways that Christ will return in triumph. Advent prepares us for that event, too.

Regarding John the Baptist, Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah that has not yet seen its entire fulfillment:

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Benedictus: Zecharaiah’s song

Zechariah--annunciation

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence

Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.

Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer?… Read the rest

Anticipation: the birth and return of Jesus

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The season of Advent is a time of anticipation. The word itself means “coming.” In secular contexts we can properly refer to the advent of any significant event. In the church year, it can refer only to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Scripture affirms that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again. Two passages commonly read at this time of year point to both the first and second coming.

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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

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