A familiar Advent scripture says that a child will be born to us and the government will rest on his shoulders. A less obviously Advent-related scripture explains what that government will be like. The child, of course, is Jesus. In both scriptures, he has an extensive list of important titles.… Read the rest
God commanded Ezekiel to pose a riddle and speak a parable to his people, which comprises Ezekiel 17. At the time, it was a commentary on current events. For us, it’s ancient history. Many people these days have trouble grasping why ancient history matters today. In fact, the difference between Ezekiel’s time and ours is no more than window dressing. Today’s societies all exhibit the same sins as his.
The parable concerns two eagles and a vine, which all behave like humans in both their glory and shame. We don’t have to guess what it means for ancient Israel. The chapter explains the allegory in detail.… Read the rest
After the dramatic stories of Gabriel’s appearances to Zechariah and Mary, Luke 1:39-45 describes Mary’s visit to Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth. The two women were related.
Although artists have painted or otherwise portrayed the visitation for centuries, it’s easy to read right past it. But like many minor characters, Elizabeth has a special message for us.
Mary, probably a girl of about 14, has just become pregnant as a virgin. That’s what Gabriel said. The townspeople would eventually know only that she was pregnant out of wedlock.
Gabriel had also told her that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age. (That likely means 40, give or take a few years.… Read the rest
In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel had good news for both Zechariah and Mary. They both asked him similar questions. Zechariah’s got him reprimanded and punished, but Mary’s did not. Why? Maybe the questions aren’t as similar as they might seem at first.… Read the rest
In 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, Paul reminds us that now, we know only in part. Our knowledge of God’s ways and plans is like looking at an image in a dirty mirror. We can at least clean up the mirror a little by looking at less-familiar scriptures from time to time.
Our focus on Christmas (and Easter) is like taking a picture with a telephoto lens.
The familiar Christmas story in the gospels portrays a young peasant woman becoming pregnant in an unusual way, then having a very ordinary pregnancy.
The birth experience was certainly inconvenient, but many other women have given birth in awkward circumstances.… Read the rest
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. God planned for that from the beginning.… Read the rest
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
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:… Read the rest
Revised November 29, 2021
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.
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.… Read the rest