Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Regrets? I've had a few

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret (2 Corinthians 7:10).

“Regrets?  I’ve had a few.” So go the lyrics to a famous song by Frank Sinatra.  As another year draws to a close, I’m sure you have some regrets that you’d like to put behind you.  Harsh words that caused damage to an important relationship.  A broken promise that caused someone to feel bitter disappointment with you.  A careless mistake that cost a whole lot of time and money to put right.  A carefully thought-out decision that turned out badly because of unexpected consequences. 

Looking back on 2013, I’m sure there are things that you wish could be undone.  Regrets?  You’ve got a few.  We all do.  We all behave badly. Sometimes we are impulsive when proceeding with caution is the better course; other times we drag our heels when decisive action is needed.  Sometimes we are brash in giving our personal opinions, as if there are no other valid viewpoints; other times we keep silent when a voice of reason needs to be heard.  We can be arrogant and pushy, shallow and wishy-washy, selfish and downright rude.  These kinds of behavior result in a lot of conflict, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships.  Regrets?  We’ve got plenty.

The nice thing about tomorrow is that the year gone by will be replaced with twelve months that are shiny and new, ripe with wonderful possibilities.  But we enter this promising New Year the same flawed individuals that made so many mistakes in 2013.  Why should we expect that 2014 will turn out any better for us? 

At New Year’s you need two things: release from regrets over past mistakes, and hope for the months ahead to go better.  These two things, freedom from guilt and hope for the future, can be yours.  The Lord God Almighty offers you these blessings through His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus can take away regret by forgiving you and easing the pain of the people that you’ve hurt.  The Son of God can help you make better use of the months to come by teaching you how to replace selfishness with generosity, anger with peace, fear with confidence, and pride with humility.  Sure, you’ll still make mistakes, still cause aggravation and pain, but with Jesus’ help and forgiveness, the year ahead can be one that you’ll remember fondly when the next December 31st arrives.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas announces God's victory

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.  For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this
(Isaiah 9:2-7).

The prophet Isaiah spoke many wonderful things about the coming of our Lord Jesus, but this passage is perhaps one of the most beautiful.  In just six verses, Isaiah sums up what Christmas is all about.   So let us consider the true meaning of Christmas according to Isaiah the prophet of God.

He begins, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  Right away, we think of the opening verses of the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  Both Isaiah and John use the imagery of darkness to describe man’s lost and hopeless condition.  Light gives life; a houseplant near a sunny window will grow, while a plant in a dark basement shrivels and dies.  Anything forced to live in perpetual darkness will gradually curl up and perish.  In the Bible, darkness represents ignorance of Jesus and His saving love; to live in spiritual darkness is to slowly wither in the shadow of death.  In the 23rd Psalm, David picks up this imagery when he writes Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  David hoped in the deliverance of the Lord, the same deliverance Isaiah speaks of when he writes, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  David, Isaiah and John all find hope in the light of life that God reveals to believers through His Son, Jesus Christ.

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.   Isaiah intends us to think, not of an earthly harvest, but the spiritual harvest that the angels of the Lord gather as saints are brought into heaven.  It is the people of the world, who are hungry for the light of God’s love, that Jesus speaks of when He says, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:37).  The nation of God rejoices as the harvest is brought in, as sinners see the light and are saved. Jesus said, I tell you that…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7)

Heaven also rejoices as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.  Our Lord Jesus has been fighting a war with Satan since Adam and Eve fell into sin.  But when Jesus died on the cross He won the victory over sin, death and Satan.  By paying the blood-price for our sins, Jesus freed us from the grasp of darkness so He could take us to heaven as His treasures of war.  The kingdom of God rejoices because we have been liberated from the devil’s control.

For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  Midian was the mighty country that Gideon faced with a much smaller army.  Any general would have said that Gideon faced impossible odds; but with God on his side, his small force of 300 men killed 120,000 of the enemy and freed God’s people from oppression.  Isaiah predicted that in the same way God would provide a Savior who, though appearing vastly outnumbered and overpowered, would shatter the yoke that oppressed God’s people.  That yoke was the yoke of sin.  Think of the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol; remember Marley’s ghost?  He was forever burdened by the weight of the money that he lusted after in life; his sins of greed were a constant yoke that held him back.  All sin is a burden.  That is why Jesus said, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  The yoke of Jesus is a life that rejects sinful pleasures and follows Him, eager to serve.  The reason that His yoke is easy is because He bears it with us; He walks at our side every day, shouldering most of the burden for us.

Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.  Because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, the war with Satan is nearly over.  When Jesus died in your place, He destroyed the only weapon that Satan could actually harm you with—guilt.  With your sins forgiven, the devil can no longer go to God and say, “He is a sinner! He deserves to be in hell with me.”  As soon as Satan tries to accuse a believer of anything, God replies, “it is true that he has sinned, but I have forgiven those sins at my Son’s request.”  With our guilt off the table, the only weapon Satan has left is temptation, and Scripture assures us, God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13).  James tells us, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you (4:7-8).  Satan has lost the war, and very soon Jesus will return to send our wicked foe to a place where he can never tempt us again; when that day comes, the clothing soiled by war will be taken off and burned because we will never have to struggle against the enemy again.

Isaiah goes on to identify the person who will do these wonderful things for us. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  Our Savior will come as a lowly child.  The government will be on His shoulders; the responsibility of governing heaven and earth will be His.

He will be called Wonderful Counselor.  Every human king needs a few counselors he can turn to for help in making wise decisions; every president needs the officials of his Cabinet.  But the Savior who comes as a child doesn’t need counselors, because He is the Wonderful Counselor—He is the Wisdom from on High, who shines the light of truth to dispel the darkness of lies and ignorance.  His wisdom is beyond our comprehension.  Only He understands the universe, only He understands the human heart; He alone can rule wisely. And so we pray to this Wonderful Counselor for good sense when making decisions, because only He can see clearly the best path to take.  The Wonderful Counselor cares deeply about each and every one of us, and He is happy to share His wisdom through the words of Holy Scripture. 

He will be called Mighty God.  Although an ordinary-looking child, the Savior is actually God’s all-powerful Son. This child will tell storms to be quiet, command fevers to leave the sick, and call the dead from their graves.  This child will feed a crowd of more than 5,000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish, and He will feed believers everywhere with His own body and blood through the miracle of Holy Communion.  This promised child will endure the torments of hell for the sake of fallen humanity, and rise from the grave that our countless sins buried Him in.  This child is our Mighty God.

He will be called Everlasting Father.  The Savior of mankind is much more than a prophet—He is the equal of His Father in every way. Jesus said, I and the Father are one (John 10:30).  Like the Father, Jesus is everlasting; He was with God in the beginning (John 1:2).  Christ shared in the work of creation with His Father; through him all things were made (John 1:3).  God forgives our sins at Jesus’ request, and the Son of God has been given authority to judge us when He returns at the end of time.  And Jesus shall reign over all creation forever; of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  This means that we can put our trust in Him, because Jesus isn’t going anywhere; our Savior will always be here to help us.

He will be called Prince of Peace.  Without faith in Jesus, we are allies of Satan and enemies of God; but when Jesus puts faith in our hearts, He frees us from Satan’s domination and brings us into the army of heaven.  We are no longer at war with God; as a result, we have a peace that no one else has.  Because we are at peace with God, we know that our guilt is removed.  Because we are at peace with God, we can let go of lingering grudges and be at peace with those who have hurt us in the past.  Because we are at peace with God, we know that death, as unpleasant as it is, is no worse than the pain of childbirth; death is a pain that leads to glorious, unending life with God.  The Prince of Peace makes it possible for us to live in confidence, not fear.

He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  God made David king over the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  And God promised David that one of his descendants would rule God’s people forever.  Jesus is that child.  Through His human parentage, Jesus was a descendant of King David, heir to the throne over God’s people.  But today God’s people are found all over the world; they are the members of His Church.  Christ’s eternal reign has already begun, and it is based on justice and righteousness.  It is our Lord’s justice that demands that all wrongs be redressed; those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus as their king will be condemned forever.  It is our Lord’s righteousness that led Him to the cross to redeem us, so those who trust in His mercy and submit to His will might be saved. 

Isaiah concludes, The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.  God’s love for us is not a passive love, not a quiet love.  Our God loves us fervently, actively.  God did not wait for us to come to Him; Paul writes, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  When we were still enemies of God, He loved us and He did something about that love—He sent His Son to be born a baby and cradled in a manger, so that the sins that kept us away from God might be forgiven and we could love Him in return.  God’s love reached out to us in Bethlehem and it continues to reach out to us today.  A zealot is passionate in pursuing the thing he loves, and our God loves us that way—it was this zeal of the Lord Almighty, this passionate love, that rescued us from our sins and promises us peace in heaven.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

God came down from heaven

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

The greatest miracle of Christmas is this: that God came down from heaven to rescue us. 

We needed God to come down to us.  We cannot fly up to seek Him.  We are caught in a tar patch of black corruption.  Sin constantly pulls us down like greedy quicksand.  Whether we struggle against it or passively give in, either way we are trapped and doomed to suffocate when death finally pulls us under.  We cannot rise to God; in fact most of the time our energy is focused on sinful matters to the exclusion of everything else.  It rarely occurs to us to cast our gaze heavenward in search of rescue from our struggles.  We needed God to come down where we are, grab us by the hand, and lift us from the problems that are caused by sin.

In Jesus, God left the riches of heaven to join us in poverty.  We are impoverished because of sin.  The dark urges that consume our thoughts and drive our behavior are destructive—they ruin our most precious relationships, they make us slaves to shallow pleasures that don’t last and constantly demand more than we have to give.  Through Christ, God breaks the cycle of failure and disappointment.  In Jesus we are offered forgiveness for our wrongs and a path through life that ends in paradise.  In the Son of God we find treasures that make even the poorest man wealthy beyond measure.

In Christ, God made His place among us.   He came in humility to a world that prizes arrogant use of power.  Instead of arriving in a luxurious palace, Jesus was born in a humble cattle shed.  Instead of being greeted by wealthy socialites, Christ was welcomed into our world by peasant shepherds.  Our Lord cares for all people of every station; He came in such a way that no one need feel embarrassed to come as they are and kneel at His manger with devotion in their hearts. 

In the Messiah, God joined us in our humanity.  As sinners we deserve punishment from God, punishment that makes us shiver with dread.  But Jesus came to satisfy the demands of justice on our behalf.  He was born a child that He might die a man, suffering the consequences incurred by our guilt.  Christ gave His life in exchange for ours, a trade that was grossly unfair and absolutely necessary to spare us from hell.  Then Christ walked from His grave alive, the Resurrected One who alone can guarantee our welcome into God’s home.  In Jesus, God enters our lives and works changes that are simply incredible.

Meeting God

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

God is in the habit of getting involved in our lives.  In the Garden of Eden, the Lord walked among the trees with our ancestors until their sinful rebellion got them ejected from His holy presence.  At Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the design for a place of worship, a tent of meeting where God would come to earth and spend time among His people.   This tent of meeting, this tabernacle, was eventually succeeded by the great temple in Jerusalem.  In these sacred places, hidden behind thick curtains, the God who made all things came to forgive His sinful followers and bestow on them His blessing.

The Garden of Eden is no more.  Neither do we have the tabernacle or the temple.  The places where God came to be with us are no longer available, even though we desperately crave His presence in our lives.  Thankfully, the Lord has provided us something even better to replace them.  God has given us His Son, the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Savior.

The Gospel of John says that in Christ, God made his dwelling among us.  Literally this verse says that He tabernacled among us.  Jesus told the people of His time, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?"  But the temple he had spoken of was his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken (John 2:19-22)

In Christ, God tabernacles among us.  In Jesus, we find the holy place where God comes to forgive our sins and dispense His wonderful blessings. On one occasion the disciple Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'?  Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:8-11). This is what gives Christmas its magnificent splendor—in Christ, God makes His dwelling among us!  In Jesus, we have the privileged of meeting our Lord Almighty face to face. Through God’s eternal and beloved Son, we can experience the full extent of heavenly grace and love.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Home for Christmas?

 I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow (Jeremiah 31:13).

Most Christmas songs are happy, but not all.  One example is I’ll be home for Christmas.  The singer is miles away from family and friends.  The verses are filled with nostalgia over happy Christmas celebrations of the past.  But the last verse shows that a holiday reunion is not in the cards this year; I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Christmas is the time of year when people think about home and family.  Most are willing to endure long lines in airport terminals or treacherous driving conditions in order to celebrate with loved ones.  Being alone on Christmas is a tragedy; so is being overseas on deployment. 

When Jeremiah spoke as God’s messenger, many Israelites were far from home and unable to return.  The people had largely abandoned God because they were too busy doing other things to pay Him the attention He deserves; as a result, the Lord punished Israel by allowing the nation to be conquered by invaders from the Middle East.  Most of the Israelites were deported to Babylon and its environs.  They were scattered among people who did not share their language, customs or values, and they were not permitted to return home.  The people of Israel were full of sorrow over their situation; they mourned the loss of home and kin. 

But God’s message to them was one of hope.  When they realized how important God was to living a happy life and begged His forgiveness for treating Him like dirt, the Lord would forgive them and bring them back home.  He would turn their mourning into gladness and give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  It took 70 years for the Israelites to come around, but when they humbled themselves to the Lord, He graciously took them back as His own special people.

Those Israelites of long ago are much like us today.  We have a tendency to shove God to the side because we have other things to do.  God deserves our time—time spent in worship, time spent in prayer, time spent reading the Bible.  But we spend our time on other things—watching TV, texting our friends, playing games.  God deserves our appreciation—but instead of giving generously to the church, we spend our money on expensive foods, cigarettes and liquor, shopping and gambling.  God wants us to help enlarge His kingdom by bringing relatives to church and telling our friends about Jesus; but when we socialize with others, our conversation focuses on gossip and crude jokes.  Do you let God’s law guide your decisions, or do you do whatever you want regardless of what the Lord says?  Do you look at going to church as an opportunity to visit with God, or as a chore that has to be done at least occasionally?  How important is God in your life?

I’ll tell you how important you are to God.  You are so important that He made you different from everyone else, someone unique and special.  You are so important that God adopted you into His family through the washing of Holy Baptism.  You are so important that God sent His Son to the cross so your sins can be forgiven, making you clean and welcome in God’s immaculate home.

That’s what Christmas is all about—God inviting you into His family, God opening His home to you.  Sin has made us homeless wanderers in a foreign land.  Sin makes us unpleasant to be around, so we often find ourselves alone with our sorrow.  Sin makes people do things that are foolish, dangerous and completely self-serving; as a result we live in a world that often makes no sense, and we mourn for a life of love and stability. 

But sorrow and mourning can serve a useful purpose when they drive us to our knees and turn our attention to the Savior.  We are full of pride; we act as if we have all the answers and can handle any problem on our own.  In reality we need God, but we are often too stubborn to admit it.  Sometimes we need sorrow and mourning to rip away our pride so we might turn to God for help. 

God wants us to repent; He wants us to admit that we’ve messed up big time and cannot fix things on our own.  When we trade pride for humility, the Lord is ready to forgive us.  He will turn our mourning into gladness and give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. 

This was Jesus’ mission when He came to earth on the very first Christmas.  The Son of God came to turn mourning into gladness and give comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  All mankind lived in sorrow because of sin; everyone mourned because death stole away their loved ones.  Jesus came to change all that.  Christ was born as a human being so He could live the life that God expects from each of us; Jesus submitted to God at all times and obeyed the laws of heaven perfectly.  Jesus was also born as a man so that He could die in our place; on the cross our Lord paid the penalty for every time we have made God angry.  Jesus lived for us and died for us, that we might have gladness, comfort and joy. 

How do we know that Jesus satisfied God on our behalf?  Our Savior rose from the dead on Easter morning, triumphant over sin and death!  God rewarded His successful work by seating Christ at His right hand and granting our Savior complete authority over our lives.

Why did the Son of God go through all that?  Why would the Prince of heaven spend His first night in a cattle shed?  Why would the Messiah live as a wanderer with no permanent home?  Why would God’s Chosen One let Himself be accused of crimes He did not commit and suffer a painful death that He did not deserve?  It can all be summed up in one word—love.

1 John 4:8 says, God is love.  Everything He does is motivated by love.  Sin makes people miserable—God punishes sin so that we might repent and seek His help to live happier lives.  Sin makes us turn away from God; Jesus suffered and died to free you from sin, so you can be part of God’s family forever.  God’s love is for everyone, and Jesus did His work for the sake of everyone; God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  Jesus was not born in a palace, where no one but royalty could see Him—He was born also for shepherds, also for us.  Jesus lived a life of easy accessibility so that people from every background could approach Him.  Jesus never turned anyone away, regardless of the shameful things they were guilty of.

A family gathering is not complete if someone stays away because of hurt feelings or an old grudge.  Jesus came into our world to forgive sins and bring families back together, teaching them to forgive each other as He forgives us.  A family is not complete when some members have been lost to death.  Jesus died and rose to assure us that at the resurrection all believers will be reunited, never to be separated again.  Through Jesus we can have the perfect family we’ve always hungered for.

God is faithful; when the people living in exile turned to Him for leadership, our Father in heaven forgave their sins, brought them together in the home they longed for, and replaced sorrow and mourning with gladness and joy.  The Lord is ready to comfort you as well.  Are you mourning some loss?  Is your life made bitter by sorrow?  God invites you to the manger where He presents the gift of His Son.  Jesus came to forgive your mistakes.  Jesus came to help you reconcile with those who’ve hurt you.  Jesus came to change death, so it is no longer a cold hole in the ground but is now a gateway into the glories of heaven. 

I started this message by quoting from a sad Christmas song.  Let’s close with one that echoes the joy of God’s message given through Jeremiah: God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day; To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The true meaning of Christmas

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world (1 John 4:9).

What is the true meaning of Christmas?  Is it love, generosity, the importance of friends and family?  Is it kindness, acceptance, the honoring of long-held traditions?  The true meaning of Christmas can be expressed with just one word—incarnation.  Incarnation is when something intangible is given bodily form.  A poet might have a beautiful notion about love; when he writes it down in verse his idea becomes incarnate.  A designer might have a wonderful idea for making life better; when the product is finally manufactured, his dream has become incarnate.  Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience things which are otherwise invisible and untouchable. 

On the very first Christmas, God became incarnate for us.  God is spirit, something our five sense cannot locate, identify or measure.  Although it is He who gives us life, love, and all good things, we stumble through our days questioning the whys and wherefores of our existence.  We wonder where we came from, what we’re supposed to be doing, and what the end of life will bring for us.  Because we cannot sense God in any material way, those questions go unanswered.  Unless things are changed, we are doomed to spend eternity lost and alone in the darkness of ignorance, pain and terrible despair.

Such a fate is not what God had in mind when He created us.  So He sent His Son to become incarnate for us.  In the womb of a virgin, God wrapped Himself in the tissue of a little child named Jesus.  Over nine months He grew and developed as all humans do.  When He was born it was in a stable, the only accommodations available to weary travelers who were far from home, and a manger served as His first earthly bed. 

Christmas is not about the exchange of gifts.  Christmas is not about finding comfort in cherished family traditions.  Christmas is about the incarnation of God among us.  Think about that!  The eternal God comes to earth to be born.  The King of the World comes to earth and His first hours are spent in a cattle shed.  The mighty Creator of All reveals Himself to us as a helpless newborn child.  The Prince of Heaven is greeted by shepherds arrived dirty from the pasture.  Incarnate as a man, God came to become one with us so we might see Him, touch Him, know Him, trust in Him. God became incarnate to gather us in His arms and declare us as His own. That’s the true meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas Carol (conclusion)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

In the last devotion, we were looking at Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Today we conclude our examination of this very familiar narrative.

When the Fifth Act opens, Scrooge is relieved to discover that it is Christmas morning—there is still time to salvage the holiday.  Ebenezer is a changed man; he credits heaven and Christmas-time for his new appreciation of life.  He is filled with laughter and nervous energy.  He pays a boy on the street to get the biggest dressed bird at the butcher shop and take it to the Cratchet home.  He dresses himself in his finest clothes and walks the streets, greeting everyone with a huge smile and holiday wishes.  He makes a huge donation to charity.  He visits church.  And finally he gathers his courage to visit his nephew’s home, and spends a joy-filled day with his relatives. The next morning, Scrooge greets Cratchet at work with surprising news—he gives his employee a raise and takes the family under his wing, becoming a second father to Tiny Tim and ensuring him the care necessary not only to survive but to thrive.  Dickens says that Ebenezer finished life well loved as a caring man devoted to philanthropy.

So ends the story.  Sadly, although raised in the Christian faith, Dickens missed the most important thing about conversion.  Regret over sin does not result in radical transformation; neither does fear of death.  Regret and fear prepare us for a change, make us desperate for a way out, a way up, but no sinner has what it takes to shed corruption on his own.  Forgiveness comes from Jesus.  Rescue from hell is only possible through the agency of God’s Son.  Conversion from life in darkness to really and honestly living in the light of heaven only comes from Jesus taking hold of your heart and guiding you to place your life in His care.  Although Christmas and heaven and the devil are all mentioned, Jesus is not given His proper due for turning Scrooge from a bitter old fool to a man filled with genuine love for family and his fellow man.  Charles Dickens placed the supernatural in ghosts, when the real supernatural power to change hearts resides in our Savior alone, the Son of God from whom Christmas draws its name.  If you see some version of A Christmas Carol this year, appreciate it for the brilliant piece of fiction that it is.  But I urge you to remember that without Jesus, no one can experience the kind of transformation that we see in Scrooge.  It is Christ alone who changes lives forever.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus
(Matthew 1:18-25).

A young secretary left the office building where she worked, only to find that her car had a flat tire.  It was a bitterly cold day and the sunlight was fading fast.  Some men who worked in the same building saw her problem and helped out by changing the tire.  As they worked, they joked about how their “good deed” should appear in the town paper, which often ran articles about helpful people.  But after the laughter settled down, they decided that this situation wasn’t special enough to warrant such attention.  If there had been some drama—maybe if the woman was pregnant or some thugs had been loitering nearby—that would have been newsworthy.  But ordinary people in ordinary situations just don’t make the news.

I imagine that you’d agree—ordinary people doing ordinary things don’t get much media attention.  Newsworthy people are those who hold positions of authority, whose decisions affect the stock market, public policy, and the assignments given to our military.  This tendency is also seen in the Church—there are a select few whose names we remember—names like Moses and David, Peter and Paul.  These men of God are remembered for the great things they did; they were the “headliners” of their times.

But the ordinary people who fill the earth are important too.  How much could the headline makers achieve without common people to support them or follow them?  This is especially true in the Church.  The great theologians preserve God’s truth, and the masterful preachers inspire, but it is in ordinary lives where “the rubber meets the road.” Ordinary people doing ordinary things—that is where the great battles of faith happen, that is the place where souls are won for heaven or lost to hell.  Being ordinary does not mean you have nothing to contribute—as an example, let’s consider the man named Joseph.

Some have called Joseph “the forgotten man of Christmas.”  There was a church that was putting on a Christmas pageant.  The afternoon of the play, a worried mother called the church office to say that her young son, who was to be Joseph, was too sick to leave the house.  The teachers did not have enough time to get another youngster ready for the part, so instead they wrote Joseph out of the script.  That night, very few noticed that the cast was incomplete.  The Christmas story is about ancient prophecies fulfilled, angels singing of Good News for all the earth, a virgin and her holy Child, and a darkened world receiving the light of its Savior.  Joseph is just not all that important to the story—but he was important to God.

Joseph was a very ordinary man living a very ordinary life.  The Bible doesn’t say much about him.  We first meet Joseph as a man engaged to be married.  His fiancee is Mary.  Like billions of people throughout history, he is going to get married and have a family of his own.  I’m sure that he was filled with happiness as he looked forward to his wedding day.  Joseph had some big names in his family tree, but he himself was nothing special.  He lived in Nazareth, an unremarkable village in the back country of Galilee.  He had the callused hands of a carpenter.  He was not in a position to give his young bride everything her heart might desire, but they would have each other and enough to live happily.

Joseph was a man of good character.  We see proof of it when his plans for a happy life with Mary seemed to hit a disastrous obstacle.  Mary had been away for three months visiting her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant and would soon give birth to John the Baptist.  When Mary came back to Nazareth, everyone could see that she was pregnant.  Joseph must have felt hurt, betrayed and humiliated.  We can only imagine what was going through his mind.  But his racing thoughts were moderated by two things—his love for Mary and his love for God.  Because he loved Mary deeply, Joseph did not want to hurt her; and because he loved the Lord, Joseph wanted to do the right thing.  Mary was pledged to Joseph; cheating on him was forbidden by law.  If Joseph had decided to press charges, the consequences for Mary would have been severe.  So instead he decided to divorce her quietly in order to cause her as little trouble as possible.  Certainly this is evidence that Joseph was a righteous man who was guided by the love of the Lord.

It was at this point that God helped Joseph with his dilemma.  The Lord sent an angel to let Joseph in on what was going on. Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  Can you what was going through Joseph’s head?  As a faithful Jew, this humble carpenter had been waiting for the Messiah, the agent of God who was coming from heaven to save His people.  How incredible to think that he, Joseph, a man who was nothing special, was involved in the coming of the King!

And so this ordinary man became a vital part of God’s salvation plan.  Although he was in the background, Joseph had an important role to play in the Savior’s early life.  He obeyed the angel and took Mary to be his wife.  He loved her and cared for her as they traveled to Bethlehem where she gave birth to the Christ Child in an outbuilding filled with animals.  When King Herod tried to murder the holy child, Joseph again obeyed the command of God and took his family to safety in faraway Egypt.  When it was safe to return home, Joseph kept the family fed and clothed, and taught his foster Son the carpenter’s trade.  This ordinary man was not so ordinary when he served the will of God.

The story of Joseph is a perfect example of how God usually works—He uses ordinary people to carry out His will on earth.  Even those considered great in the kingdom of God usually came from humble beginnings.  Before he was Israel’s king, David was a shepherd boy.  Moses spent 40 years as a herdsman before God spoke to him from the burning bush.  Jesus chose disciples with humble backgrounds—Peter was a fisherman, for example.  This is the way God usually works; Paul writes in 1st Corinthians chapter one, Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him

These words might also be said of us.  As we look at ourselves and those who join us in worshiping Christ, we see ordinary people who spend their time doing ordinary things—getting married and having children, playing sports and attending school activities, going to work and lounging in front of the television.  We are ordinary people.  But we are also God’s people, and no child of God can truly be ordinary.  Peter says, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who belong to God (1 Peter 2:9).  We are people who have been touched by the grace which comes down from heaven.  God has made us see that we are miserable sinners who are not worthy of love.  He has called us to forgiveness through faith in Jesus the Messiah.  He has taught us to trust Him and call Him “our Father.”  He urges us to give our entire being to Him as a “living sacrifice” so that our every word and deed might show Him the highest respect and the greatest honor.  Although we live ordinary lives, every day can be something special when we dedicate it to the Lord.  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 10:31, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Just think what this means for our lives!  We are God’s children, chosen by His grace, cleansed by the blood of Christ, and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The world we live in was created by God to be perfect, filled with love and joy and praise for its wonderful Creator.  But sin has mauled this world, robbing it of happiness.  Sin has distorted human thinking so that people only focus on themselves and how much they can get.   As a result, we have the task of being influential “salt” and a ray of hopeful “light” as we go through our daily routines.  As our ordinary lives touch the lives of others, God can use us to share something that is extraordinary.

We live in the age of the spectator.  We turn on the television and see incredible things, like a man walking on the moon.  We go to the movies and are blown away by the special effects.  Video games let us do things (virtually) that would ordinarily be impossible.  All of these mind-blowing experiences can make the day-to-day stuff seem pretty dull.  Sadly, this attitude can also affect life in the church.  Worship just doesn’t seem very exciting.  There aren’t many heroes in the church any more, great leaders who get you excited about following Jesus.  For many Sunday worshipers, nothing that happens there can equal the excitement of the afternoon’s football games.

Nevertheless, there is something exciting about living as a Christian.  The little things you do each day can have eternal consequences.  How well you teach your children about Jesus has a huge impact on how much they value having a loving relationship with the only one who can save them.  Each day we have all sorts of opportunities to practice God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves—or to turn away from the Lord by being cold and selfish.  Each day we participate in the battle between darkness and light; Satan tempts us to let destructive passions rule our hearts, while the Holy Spirit urges us to walk in the ways of righteousness.  Christians butt heads with each other over keeping traditions and exploring change.  Only God’s Word, studied and applied, can bring these conflicts to a satisfying conclusion.

Praise God because He does great things through ordinary people.  There are homes where Christ is welcome and the members of the household build each other up to face the battles of life.  There are Christians of all ages who are living their faith as they attend school, earn a living, and hang out with their friends.  There are followers of Jesus who do volunteer work for the needy, visit those in hospitals and nursing homes, teach Sunday School, and share their faith when the opportunity presents itself.  These individuals probably won’t be remembered with a plaque somewhere; they won’t be featured in the news or have people calling them to say “thank you.”  They are just ordinary people, God’s ordinary people. 

Are you just an ordinary person doing ordinary things?  Or are you willing to let God do something extraordinary with your life?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Christmas Carol (part four)

Christ Jesus…has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).

In the last devotion, we were looking at Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Today we continue our examination of this very familiar narrative.

As Act Four of the story opens, Scrooge is visited by an unspeaking spectre, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  This terrifying shade has the look of death itself, and it beckons the old man to visit places that no one wants to see.

First, Scrooge and his guide hovered near people on the darkened streets who were discussing the recent death of someone well known but not well liked.  One suggested that he would only attend the funeral for the free food served afterwards; another felt that the deceased had been claimed by the devil, as was only proper. 

Next, the phantom took Scrooge into the worst part of town, to a dingy shop where crooked dealings were underway.  Someone had recently died, and several people had rummaged through his belongings as he lay dead on his bed.  Now they sold what they had stolen, and told jokes at the expense of the dead man whom they all despised. 

After seeing even more people rejoicing over this poor man’s death, Scrooge was led to a cemetery.  A bony finger directed the old man’s gaze towards brand new tomb.  Although it filled him with dread to look, Scrooge was compelled to read the words on the gravestone—this piece of desolate ground was his!  Horrified that he would die alone and unloved, despised and ridiculed, Ebenezer swore that he was a changed man.  Could this future be avoided?

Death terrifies us all.  We fear the end of life, and we dread being alone when the last hour comes.  We want our memory to be cherished, not forgotten or despised.  We can understand Ebenezer promising to do anything to avoid such a terrible fate.  Sadly, Dickens fails to show the old man the one ray of sunshine he so desperately needs—the Savior who died on his behalf and stepped from the tomb restored to life, proving His victory over the cold grip of death.  No one dies alone and forgotten if they have the Savior as their Friend.  Forgiven by Jesus, even the worst sinner can find peace in a blessed death.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Christmas Carol (part three)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst offender (1 Timothy 1:15).

In the last devotion, we were looking at Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Today we continue our examination of this very familiar story.

In Act Three of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has been moved to regret for the joys in life that he chose to walk away from.  Now he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is tasked with showing the miser how other people are celebrating the holiday.  Scrooge finds his austere home now richly decorated with green—holly, mistletoe and ivy.  The room is lit and warmed by a roaring fire, and the spirit is seated on a throne of every kind of food and drink.  Scrooge is shown what he has been long denying himself.

Next is a tour of the streets of London, where people shout greetings to each other as they shovel snow and shoppers carry home the finest foods they can afford to serve for dinner.  Then, after church services are concluded, the time came to visit a few homes.  First up, the house of Scrooge’s employee Bob Cratchet, a humble dwelling where a large family enjoyed a dinner they could scarce afford, and a young disabled child reminded everyone to seek God’s blessings on their gathering—a sickly child that the spirit predicted would soon die if things did not look up for the Cratchets.  After this, the ghost took Scrooge to see other poor folk celebrating the holiday.  Finally they arrived at the home of Scrooge’s nephew to see the dinner and relatives Scrooge had been invited to join but had brusquely turned down.  Even though others in the room had no love for the old miser, his nephew stood up for him, loving Scrooge despite his faults.  Games and merriment followed, making the old man wish to stay just a bit longer before it was time to leave.

In writing these scenes, Dickens wanted his readers to join Scrooge in feeling guilty for hoarding his wealth instead of sharing it.  The author decorated Scrooge’s home with ancient symbols of pagan celebration—mistletoe and holly.  But although church services are mentioned in the narrative, Christ is not.  Yet clearly, Jesus is what Ebenezer needs.  The old man is starting to regret the decisions that he’s made—who can offer solace and forgiveness except God’s one and only Son?  Jesus loves us all as Scrooge’s nephew loved the old miser, loves us despite our faults.  Without Jesus, no Christmas celebration will have the kind of joy that it could have, the kind of joy that it should have.

Saturday, December 07, 2013


Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:46-48).

Most of us will never have the experience of entertaining someone famous in our home.  But if you found out that someone notable was coming for a visit, I imagine that you would spend time getting the place ready for his arrival.  You would want both house and family to look their very best.  You would want this special guest to feel welcome and comfortable.  You would want him to know that you appreciate his visit.

This is what Advent is all about.  A very special Guest once visited this world.  The Son of God took up residence in a human body and lived among us as a man.  His visit to our earthly home has changed things forever.  The age-old promises of God became reality and have given hope and direction for those who recognize Jesus as their Lord and Master.

Although Jesus eventually returned to heaven, He still brings us God’s love and mercy.  In Word and Sacrament He offers the forgiveness and eternal life that He won for us through His perfect life and sacrificial death.  Jesus comes to each of us, but how much effort do we put into making Him feel like a special guest?   The weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas are a great time to focus on hospitality—getting our homes, our families and our hearts ready to honor Jesus as the most important guest we’ll ever receive.

As an example for us to follow, let’s consider Mary.  When she found out from the angel Gabriel that God would take up residence in her womb as a baby, she said My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  As a faithful Jew, she treasured the ancient promises of God—how the Lord would send His Chosen One, the Messiah, to rescue the people from sin, death and hell.  Mary’s hymn of praise illustrates her familiarity with Old Testament prophecy.  The angelic messenger reinforced what she always knew—not only is God great and powerful, He is kind and good as well.  Mary responds as we should respond; she desires to praise God by magnifying Him.  To magnify something is to expand it until you can see nothing else; it becomes the primary focus of your attention.  When Mary magnified the Lord, she gave Him honor in two ways.  First she made a big deal about His goodness to her, giving the Lord praise for His generosity.  Second, by magnifying the Lord, Mary focused her heart and mind on Him alone, keeping her attention where it should be instead of on earthly distractions.  This provides a great model for Christian worship; when we magnify the Lord, we focus on Him to the exclusion of everything else and we make a big to-do about His greatness to show Him respect, honor and gratitude. 

As far as Mary is concerned, God deserves all the praise she can muster and more.  She calls Him Lord, a title that reflects God’s majesty, power and glory.  He is the Eternal One, the God who has no beginning and no end.  With just the power of His spoken Word, the entire universe was called into existence.  Incredibly, this mighty God chose the Israelites for His very own, chose Mary for His very own.  How could anyone praise Him enough?  And Mary also names this loving God her Savior, the God who showed mercy to His followers throughout the Old Testament.  As God freed His people from slavery to the Egyptians through Moses, He promised to free His people from slavery to sin, death and devil through the Messiah, the child that Mary would carry within her.  From ancient times, God’s followers have trusted in His power and mercy; this hope is summarized in Isaiah chapter 12: Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Mary was overcome with joy, knowing that through her womb the Savior would come.

I wonder when the last time was that you felt such joy in response to God’s mercy?  For many people today, Christianity has become a religion of  “gimme that.”  Their main concern is how much they can squeeze out of God.  Their prayers are focused on themselves.  They come to church seeking comfort and peace, but give no real thought to magnifying the Lord as Mary did.  In worship we need to shift gears; instead of complaining “Lord, here's what I need”, we should say “Lord, thank You for everything you’ve blessed me with!”  God is doing great things in our lives which would be obvious if you just took the time to notice.  It is by His Word that we have life and health, food and shelter, the love of family and friends, and a place to worship the Giver of everything.  He deserves much more praise than the paltry amount we give Him on Sunday morning and throughout the week. Listen to King David’s words in Psalm 145: Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.

Nothing shows God’s greatness and goodness more perfectly than the miracle of the Incarnation, where the Son of God dressed Himself in a human body and lived among us as a man.  Jesus stepped down from the glories of heaven to be born in a stable and spend His first night among us in a manger.  Jesus did not get the kind of welcome an important guest should receive, nor was His stay a pleasant one.  He was arrested on false charges, punished for crimes He did not commit, and was sentenced to an excruciating death on the cross.  But He endured all the pain and humiliation out of love for us; His perfect life became the atoning sacrifice for our sin-corrupted lives; the scales of justice tilted in our favor when He laid down His life for us.  We can’t begin to imagine what Jesus went through for us, but if you can appreciate the magnitude of His suffering even a little bit you’ll never be able to praise Him enough.  Santa and Jingle Bells are nothing but empty distractions.  In Jesus, God has come—He has come to be our Savior.   If you are going to sing, you should be singing words like these: "Hosanna to the living Lord!  Hosanna to th’ incarnate Word!  To Christ, Creator, Savior, King, let earth, let heaven hosanna sing!"

We praise God for Jesus’ coming.  Although we are unworthy sinners, He chose to send us His precious Son.  Mary knew that she was unworthy; that’s why she sang he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  Can you imagine how she felt?  The angel Gabriel told her, You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:31-33).  For thousands of years, women of faith hoped that God might choose them to be mother to the Messiah.  Now a poor girl, probably in her mid-teens, living in the backwater village of Nazareth, a person of no particular note, is declared God’s choice to bear His Son.  He would knit Jesus’ body together in her womb.  She would cradle the Holy One of God in her arms, nurse Him and care for Him.  Oh yes indeed, she was the “favored one”!

We can imagine that Mary often said to herself, “There must be other women who are far more worthy of this honor.”  This makes God’s rich mercy all the more remarkable.  He uses weak and fragile things to bestow great blessings.  Although we are unworthy of His attention because of our flaws, He puts us to work as members of His kingdom.  Like Mary, we should be astounded that God includes us in His plans.

Mary holds a special place in salvation history as the woman chosen to bring Christ into the world.  But Jesus also comes to each of us.  Like Mary, each of us has a role to play in the workings of our God here on earth.  And if you stop to think about it, God’s choice of you to work for Him is no less amazing than His choice of Mary.  We must face up to the fact that we are afflicted with sin; it infests us like cancer, and affects everything that we think, say or do.  If you looked at your life honestly, every day would provide examples of selfishness, lovelessness, and godlessness.  In Romans chapter seven Paul wrote, I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  So say we all.

But Advent starts the message of salvation with the words, your King is coming (John 12:15).  In a few weeks we will hear the angels say, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).  The New Testament goes on to tell us how this Messiah preached about the kingdom of God and then gave His life to establish it.  But the most mind-boggling part of it all, from Jesus’ miraculous birth to His terrible death, is that He did it all for you.  And so we sing, "Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me; died that I might live on high, lived that I might never die."

This is all God’s doing.  He chose us; we did not choose Him.  The plan of salvation was motivated by God’s love, not our worthiness.  Throughout the centuries, billions of people have walked the earth—yet as insignificant as you and I might be, God chose to touch us with His mercy through Jesus Christ.  He speaks the Good News to us in His Holy Word.  Through baptism He adopts us into His family.  He invites us to pray to Him as our Father.  God loves us and He saves us—that’s what Advent reminds us of.

The blessings of Christ are intended for everyone.  Mary understood how far reaching Jesus’ influence would be when she said, From now on all generations will call me blessed.  Christ has changed everything for all time.  Uncountable multitudes have faced death unafraid because in Christ their sins were taken away; they are in heaven with the Savior now, singing His praises far better than we do.  Mary stood at a new beginning for all mankind, and she rejoiced at the privilege.

Paul writes, God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  God made this clear to the shepherds when His angel said, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people (Luke 2:10).  This is why we sing on Christmas, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King!"  All over the world, people are getting ready for Christmas; sadly, a lot of them have no idea who the guest of honor really is.  They need to be told.  They need you to tell them.

Advent is a time of preparation.  In a few weeks, we will celebrate the Son of God coming to be our guest, the guest who suffered and died to turn our lives around.  He gives us gifts we are not worthy to receive and can never repay Him for.  Don’t let the meaning of Christmas be lost under the crush of worldly distractions.  Magnify the Lord, and you can keep everything in perspective.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Christmas Carol (part two)

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2).

In the last devotion, we began looking at Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Today we continue our examination of this very familiar story.

Charles Dickens was a firm believer in the potential for change in human beings.  Scrooge was in desperate need for transformation, and his old business partner Jacob Marley arrives as a ghost to effect that change.  Dickens enjoyed fairy tales, viewing them as stories designed to change the outlook and behavior of the children who heard them, so he used ghosts in his narrative to achieve a similar effect on the reader.  Marley had been Scrooge’s business partner, a man just like Scrooge himself—greedy and cold-hearted.  As a result of living a misdirected life, Marley was now condemned to an eternity in darkness, chained by the burden of a lifetime’s worth of regret.  Seven years into his everlasting torment, Marley warns Scrooge to change his heart before encountering the same fate.

The warning to change your ways before it is too late is Jesus’ message to all humanity.  But our God does not send ghosts from the afterlife to warn us.  He has sent angels in the past, prophets as well.  But the most compelling messenger of all is God’s own Son, born as a human on Christmas to bring us God’s message personally

The second act of the story starts when Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Looking back in time, Scrooge is reminded of the innocence and joy that he had left behind.  Happy Christmas parties with his friends and coworkers.  The blossoming of love with the woman of his dreams.  But we also see the darkness that will taint his soul—alone as a child at Christmas instead of celebrating with family.  Putting off marriage until he felt financially secure and losing the woman who loved him as a result.  In childhood Scrooge suffered hurts and made decisions that would darken his life as an adult.

As Christians, we know that no child is really innocent.  In Psalm 51 David writes, Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  This is just one way that Christ was different from us—He was the only child ever born truly innocent, untainted by sin.  Each of us is born into the darkness of corruption; each of us needs the light of Christ to fill our lives with the kind of joy that can overcome all misery.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Christmas Carol (part one)

My soul finds rest in God alone…He alone is my rock and my salvation (Psalm 62:1-2).

One of the favorite stories about Christmas is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  This book, written in 1843, has never been out of print.  It has been adapted for the stage and screen, radio and television, comics and opera.  When you add in the number of ways the basic plot has been copied or satirized, A Christmas Carol has appeared in about 150 variations since its first publication.  

Charles Dickens was raised in the Protestant faith, but religion was not his reason for writing this story.  As a youngster Dickens was exposed to the plight of the working poor, especially children.  As an adult the author wanted to push the people of England to recognize the suffering of the downtrodden and do something about it.  He used A Christmas Carol to make his point. 

Nostalgia for the good old days was sweeping Britain.  For some time, Christmas had been a solemn religious occasion.  Christmas Trees and Christmas Cards were fresh additions to the holiday celebration, and people were showing renewed interest in singing Christmas carols.  Dickens wove these elements into his story, putting the bright and cheery side by side with the dark and grim.  The result was an instant hit with the public.

The story was divided into five sections.  Part one introduced Ebenezer Scrooge and the world that he lived in.  The name Ebenezer comes from the Old Testament of the Bible—it means ‘stone of help’.  In Psalm 62 David writes, My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  God is the strong, dependable stone where we can find security and help—an ironic name for Scrooge, who is anything but helpful to those around him.  He has no sympathy for the poor, the orphans, the disadvantaged.  He has no use for frivolous things like family gatherings or festive meals.  He eats a poor man’s supper in a dark and chilly house, pinching pennies even though he has no plans for ever treating himself in the future.  Scrooge is the polar opposite of everything God intends for the Christian life.  The LORD loves us so we might share His love with others and enjoy being members together in His family.  He shows us mercy so we might realize our faults and seek His forgiveness.  He blesses us with good things so we might rejoice in His care and thank Him for His generosity.  Scrooge shows us what life is like when there is no Ebenezer to give it meaning.

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