“Jesus gave his body and blood to his disciples in bread and wine. Amazed at such a token, and little understanding what they did, Peter, John and the rest reached out their hands and took their master and their God. Whatever else they knew or did not know, they knew they were committed to him, body and soul; they were consenting that he should die for them, and that they, somehow, should live it out. The rooster had not crowed twice that night before Peter thrice denied, but still he knew he was committed to Christ, for Christ had given him his body and his blood. Christ’s body and blood lived in him, and Christ forgave him; there was no breaking of the sacramental tie. We are not worthy of Christ, but we are bound to Christ. With all the sincerity of our minds let us renew the bond, and pray to live for him who has died for us.”
Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year: Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. REFRAIN
O come, desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our king of peace. REFRAIN
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. REFRAIN
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Unslumbering God, at an unexpected hour you sent an unlikely liberator to an undeserving world. Keep us faithful in unguarded moments and alert in uncertain times, so that we may seek your unmeasured mercy, serve you with undivided hearts, live together in unbroken community and greet you with unending praise; for the sake of Jesus Christ, our undying life, in whom we know your unfailing justice, unfathomable grace, and unlimited love. Amen.
Holy God, you sent John into the wilderness to baptize and proclaim good news to all. Baptize us with the fire of your Spirit so that we may repent and bear good fruit, while we await the promised coming of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Holy God, through Isaiah and John you sent your word into the wilderness, crying out to repent, seek forgiveness, and prepare the way of the Lord. Now prepare the way in us and in our world for the coming of your living word, so that all flesh may know your saving grace; through Christ, who is coming to reign.
While the virgin birth may be difficult to explain in a secular culture like today’s, imagine what it was like for Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, in a small Jewish village like Nazareth. The gossip alone had to have been deeply shaming. Joseph’s capacity to endure the personal scandal Mary’s pregnancy represented must have been due to the angelic news that his son’s ultimate Father was none other than God himself. To underscore this, Joseph’s son would not take his name, which would have been expected, but the name “Jesus” because “he would save his people from their sins.” Joseph chooses to not be afraid of what God wants to do in his life. We don’t know much about the life or death of Joseph. The Bible gives us precious little information. But what we do know is enough: he wasn’t afraid to entrust himself to the miracle of Jesus, and his life was changed forever because of it. As you pray, ask God to help you to never be afraid of what he wants to do in your life through Jesus.
At first glance, a genealogy seems boring and unnecessary, until you take a closer look. As is common in most ancient genealogies, Jesus’ contains a long list of fathers - “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah…,” and so on and so on, but then we read, “whose mother was Tamar.” And this happens more than once. Five times actually - “whose mother was Rahab…, whose mother was Ruth…, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife…,” and finally, “Mary was the mother Jesus who is called the Messiah.” That’s the first thing to notice, the presence of women in the genealogy of Jesus. This is one reason why Paul says in Galatians 3:28 - “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But even more scandalous are the back stories of each of these women who find their way into the lineage of our Lord and Savior. Tamar posed as a prostitute, slept with her father-in-law, Judah, and the result was twin boys - Perez and Zerah (see Genesis 38). This insured that the messianic line of Judah would continue when Judah himself was doing everything possible to make sure this didn’t happen. Even Judah concludes in the end, “she is more righteous than I.” Rahab was a pagan prostitute living in the walls of the city of Jericho. She protected Israelites spies, which ultimately led to the first victory for God’s people in the promised land. Through this incredible risk of faith, she also provided deliverance for her and her family (see Joshua 2). Ruth was a foreigner from Moab whose commitment to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, in the face of tragic loss, provides one of the most incredible stories of love in the entire Bible. Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, was the victim of King David’s adultery and murder, and yet it was through her and their union that Solomon was born, the wisest and wealthiest of all humanity. You start to get the impression that the story of Jesus’ birth is an entirely different kind of story. How might you embrace the storyteller of this kind of story, which includes your story?
Leviticus 12:7-8 provides the backdrop for this story in Luke. “These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her and she will be clean.” Mary and Joseph were poor. The story of Christmas is the story of a king who came into the world through a poor country girl, born in a barn, cradled in an animal feeding trough. Not the most sanitary of beginnings. This is why Nathanael said, upon hearing about Jesus, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” This is why Jesus himself said, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Translation: he was homeless. And this is why Paul proclaims, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Once again, we are faced with the upside down nature of the kingdom Jesus embodied and brought from heaven to earth. A kingdom where if you want to live, you have to die. A kingdom where the last are first and vice versa. A kingdom where the way up is the way down. A Christian doesn’t choose “the road less traveled” at the fork in the wood. A Christian is guided to the road that “no one would ever want to take,” but Jesus took in our place, and now has me on with him. How might the Lord desire for you to respond to this kingdom dynamic today?
Have you ever known someone really old and a little crazy, who believed with all their heart that something was going to come true before they died? That was Simeon - “righteous and devout… waiting for the consolation of Israel… the Holy Spirit was on him… he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah…” You can almost see him shuffling around the temple, mumbling something under his breath, gentle and kind to everyone he meets, holding onto a hope that many dismissed out of hand. “That crazy old man…” It’s been so long. And then it happened. The arrival one day of a baby boy, only eight days old, and in a gesture that I imagine looking somewhat like the witch doctor holding forth Simba for all the world to see in The Lion King, Simeon, “moved by the Spirit… took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory of your people Israel.” “That crazy old man…” What is he talking about? An Israelite Messiah concerned about the Gentiles, too? Yes indeed. Mary and Joseph had the reaction God is looking for. They simply marveled at what Simeon said. Who is this son they tuck in at night? This Christmas, let your imagination run wild and marvel at this indescribable gift. “That crazy old man…” shows us how to become a child again.
There were three offices of leadership for God’s people in the Old Testament - prophets, priests and the king. Simeon was a priest. Anna was a prophet. Jesus is the king. Jesus is also a prophet and a priest; in fact, he is the only person in the history of redemption who occupies all three offices. Nevertheless, with the inclusion of Simeon and Anna in the birth narrative, Luke seems to be highlighting a number of things - 1) these three offices, 2) the significance of women (a theme throughout Luke’s gospel; in this story, Anna preaches about Jesus in the temple, perhaps while holding Jesus), and 3) what you might call the significance of the seemingly insignificant, or the marginalized (another theme woven throughout Luke’s gospel). Simeon and Anna are those the world chooses to ignore, but in all actuality, to borrow a phrase from the author of Hebrews, “the world was not worthy of them.” After Joseph and Mary leave the temple with Jesus to return to Galilee, I imagine Simeon and Anna huddled together by the altar in the temple, sharing a tear-filled-eyes moment of giddy gospel laughter - “our dream really did come true.” I wonder how much longer they lived before they died to live forever with the one they dared to bank everything on - that crazy old man and that poor old widow. Is there anything more beautiful than an elderly saint overflowing with the faith of a child? Regardless of how old you are, ask the Lord to give you this kind of beauty. I can’t wait to meet these two in glory one day.
This is the only vignette we have of Jesus’ life between his birth and public ministry. If you have ever been confused in your own personal faith journey with Jesus, take heart, even his parents felt this way - “they did not understand what he was saying to them.” It’s interesting that their confusion came on the heels of Mary saying to him, after she and Joseph finally found him in the temple, “your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Perhaps Jesus thought, “he’s not my father, mom,” before he asked, “didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” The point is that they find him, but they still don’t understand him. Ever been there? Listen, Jesus has been mysterious from the time he was only twelve years old. He amazed and astonished all those who came in contact with him, whether they didn’t know him at all, or thought they knew him better than he knew himself (which parents sort of have a way of assuming, right?). If you’re honest you probably see at least a little of yourself in Mary’s accusation, “son, why have you treated us like this?” Lord, why are you allowing this in my life right now? Why, O Lord, why? It’s not just the cry of the psalmist, but our own wracked and warped souls. To which Jesus responds, “just come to where I am. Come to my Father’s house because it’s your home, too.” As you pray, proclaim with the psalmist, “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”?
In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar says, “the weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” This describes John the Baptist rather well. He speaks what he feels, not what he ought to say. He lived at the end of the saddest of times in redemptive history, which gave way to the greatest of times in the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus himself said of this locust eating, camel hair wearing, raspy voiced prophet, calling out in the wilderness, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” It’s this guy, this guy that Jesus himself praises, who begins a sermon with these words in his introduction - “you brood of vipers! Who warned you flee from the coming wrath?” How much more scandalous can you get? And yet, this is not a arrogant message of judgment. He continues, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance… the one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke then concludes, “and with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” Becoming a Christian begins with the humility to accept the bad news because it’s only when you accept the bad news that the good news becomes really good. The gospel’s version of going from “good to great” is, of course, upside down. It’s being able to say, with a heart full of joy, hope and not a little humor, “I’m so much worse than I think I am, but I am also so much more loved than I could possibly imagine.” How powerful was this message? Luke himself tells us, “even tax collectors, who robbed people, and soldiers, who extorted money and falsely accused others, came to be baptized.” Not only that, they had the humility to ask, “what should we do?” Ask Jesus that question as you pray: “Jesus, what should I do.” He will be happy to show you, but at first, you might not like what you see; however, if you can embrace it, he’ll surely follow the bad news with the good news. And that will make you sing!