December 12, 2022 (The second day of the third week of Advent 2022)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a virgin and born under the rule of law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption as God’s own children.’” (Galatians 4.4-5)
The God who dwells within us makes us His people!
The God who dwells within us reveals Himself in Word and Action!
The God who dwells within us will not forsake His Word of Promise!
There is a reason why we have the stories of our spiritual heritage from the past recorded in scripture. The gospels of Matthew and Luke include the lineage of the earthly parents of Jesus (Matthew provides the lineage of Joseph while Luke provides that of Mary.) Within rabbinic tradition, when both father and mother are of Jewish heritage the legacy is passed down through the father’s “family line.” If the mother is Jewish and the father is not, then the legacy proceeds through that of the mother’s “family line.” It becomes interesting to see the dynamic as it plays out in the evangelistic ministry of the two gospels. It is by the validation of Joseph with an angelic visitation (perhaps by Gabriel but the angel is unnamed in Matthew’s account) which authenticates the rule and place of Jesus in the world according to “the Law” set forth by God. His ministry is directed toward empowering the nation of Israel to be that long-expected prophetic voice into all the world leading all to come into the presence of God with thanksgiving and praise. In Luke, we see the angelic authentication coming to Zechariah and Mary who represent the prophet and priestly ministry which brings righteousness to bear before all the world. As we remember Simeon and Anna in the Temple offer their prophetic claims on Jesus and, of course, through Zechariah we will hear the last Old Testament prophetic voice through John the Baptizer calling the world into an awareness of grace which fulfills the Law of the Lord. The focus of Matthew is obviously to the Jewish community. That of Luke is gratefully to those who are the outcasts both of the House of Judah and Israel (the former Southern and Northern Kingdoms) and to us. God can work all things together for good!
What is ultimately key and critical is the fulfillment of the Law which we hear Jesus declare as recorded in the gospel of John, the beloved of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever would believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world (according to the stricture of His Law) but that the world through Him might be saved (giving us the hope of His Law by mercy and grace.)” (John 3.16-17) So while John may not have a nativity story within his gospel telling, there is nonetheless the prophetic voice “as one crying out in the wilderness, repent and be baptized and thus find it possible for the Father (Yahweh Elohim/Abba) and the Son (those who are made children of God through having faith in and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord as the True Son of God) to have no detour between them. It is John’s means of declaring the truth of Immanuel, God with us and within us, where the “Word is made flesh and the flesh be known by the Spirit who dwells within Father, Son and all who will believe.” In Paul’s letter to the community of faith in Jesus as the Christ found in the province of Galatia, we hear this same declaration as the hope of all who would believe regardless of the “family line” and spiritual heritage. What was tantamount to the faith was not about so much what was “behind them” but now because of the grace of God what was “before them.” Even the crucifixion story of Jesus hung between two thieves reiterates the dynamic of contrast between the Rule of Law and the Rule of Grace. The thief who would not confess his sin and profess Jesus as Lord was condemned by the law of Rome as an enemy of the state and also by the Law of God as an enemy to the command “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and equally to love your neighbor as yourself.” But, for the penitent thief the promise of entering into Paradise with Jesus as the Christ was extended and fulfilled especially when he declares to his former brother in crime, “Can’t you see this man is innocent and does not deserve to die?”
Mighty ones of God, believers in Jesus as the Christ born of Mary and of God, can we not see that the authenticating message of Christmas is “none should die as God does not will the death of anyone.” And while the works of Christmas are intended to level the “playing field” of the world so that none will go without, the greater message is that “none will go without hope for life in the state of Immanuel. Even the original “Saint Nicolas,” Nicolas of Myra, after whom the legend of Santa Claus was fashioned, embraced giving to the poor children a sense of inclusion in the hope of God to provide for them so “they would not die.” He did not provide for those who already had hope in life and were not filled with the dread of having to survive. He gave to the poor, the needy, the lost not that they become rich or spoiled. Rather, he gave out of the grace extended to him by the Word of the gospel to care for the lame, the blind, the deaf, the prisoner, the forsaken, the outcast and the lost sheep who belonged within the sheepfold of the faith in Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of God’s flock. We are all God’s people and the sheep of His pasture. This is the hope, the blessing and the joy which is Immanuel. How distant this word would seem from today’s “Christmas” celebration. While tokens are given to the poor like alms in a beggar’s cup who sits on the Temple steps or scraps of food tossed to the poor outside the rich man’s gate, those who have lavish even more on “their own.” I am convicted of this reality and, as in the words of Ebenezer Scrooge to Jacob Marley responding to the offer of spirited visitors with “I think I’d rather not” would rather not bear the burden of such truth. But, I do. And in all our charity where is the message which is full well intended by the angel’s declaration to the shepherds who represent “the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the nearly forgotten and too quickly assumed as provided for” when they say “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” Does our charity intend to bolster the world’s view and standard set for a secular Christmas or does it prosper the spirit and truth of Christmas which we are intended to offer in authentic and prophetic worship? If our Advent and Christmas heart, mind and soul are preparing to remember the birth of the Savior who is coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords to rule and mete out final justice on earth, then by what standard will we be judged as worthy? It is time we not only have this fierce conversation with ourselves but include the plan to live it out more fully and completely to the welfare of the lost and to the glory of God who has made it possible for the lost to be saved! And shall we remember, “That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…on a cross.” Perhaps, we need to cross some things off our Christmas list this year and include Immanuel.
Father, Your truth strikes to the very heart and soul of who we are and we dare not put it away. Forgive us where we fall short. Empower us where we are determined to do better. Share with us in spirit and in truth the hope of salvation which is for all people who is Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.