Have mercy on your pastor this Mother’s Day

When the COVID pandemic first began, I saw a lot of blog posts and articles pleading with people to be compassionate towards their pastor because he had likely never shepherded people through such an occasion before. It would take time to discern the best course of action in response to ever-changing information, and he had people on opposite sides of every fence involved.

Pastors face a similar dilemma on Mother’s Day, no matter whether this is their first pastoral Mother’s Day or their 50th. They will likely have people in all these circumstances in their congregations:

  • women who desperately want to have children, but God has not granted them yet
  • women who love their children but are tired and discouraged
  • women who are in despair over their parenting failures and need guidance
  • women who have no desire to be mothers
  • women who are single by choice or by circumstance
  • women whose children are wayward and breaking their hearts
  • women whose children have died
  • people whose mothers were not honorable
  • people who are estranged from their mothers
  • people whose mothers have died
  • people who don’t even know they need a Savior

Anna Jarvis probably had no idea she was creating such a minefield when she sought a simple way to honor her mother.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook already indicating that Mother’s Day shouldn’t be observed in church because it’s not a national holiday. Prophets and preachers in the Bible spoke about current events, and honoring parents is a biblical teaching. So it’s not wrong to observe the day. But whether that observation should be just a passing acknowledgment, or the whole service should be built around it, is up to each pastor’s leading of his particular congregation.

Whether pastors let the holiday go by unobserved and carry on with whatever book or series they are preaching through, or they choose to honor mothers in some way, someone is going to be offended.

Can I urge us as Christian women to be mature in response to whatever path the pastor chooses to take? To remember that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). To understand that there are different needs among the congregation? No one sermon will meet them all except as it points us back to the only Savior who can help and heal and provide grace.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Whatever God lays on the pastor’s heart to preach this Sunday, if it is based on the Word of God, it will be profitable for us.

Let’s pray for our pastors to preach the message God wants him to preach that day. Let’s pray for grace for our particular triggers, seek to get from the message what God has for us, and seek to encourage others rather than focusing on self.

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Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Reading from C. S. Lewis. is a compilation of selections from his writings.

C. S Lewis is one of the most quotable Christians to have lived, maybe second to C. H. Spurgeon. In fact, I have a book titled The Quotable Lewis. So any book of quotes by him will have value.

By the title of this book, you’d expect an arc of quotations on the subject and application of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, leading up to Easter Day. If there was such an arc, I didn’t detect it. The book just seemed more like a random collection.

Of course, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ touch everything in the Christian life, so, in one sense, any subject within Christendom could be related. Yet many selections in this volume didn’t seem to fit the theme. For instance, one had to do with the value of myths. Did the compiler feel that any part of the true Easter story was a myth? Or was he applying this quote to the bunnies and eggs part of Easter? I don’t know.

The book is set up to begin about six and a half weeks before Easter, with the last reading for Easter Day. The readings aren’t numbered in the book, but I numbered them in my notes. I was confused when I ended up with forty-seven. Then I remembered some day’s readings contained two short selections. So, as the title says, there are fifty readings, but not over fifty days. I started a week late, so I ended the Sunday after Easter.

Some readings are familiar quotes, such as those from the Narnia series or Mere Christianity. Others are from more obscure sources, like private letters. I’m always amazed at how literary Lewis sounds even in a letter. I wonder if he was a perfectionist who made several copies of a letter until it sounded just right? Or did such prose just flow from him? I remember reading somewhere that his books did not need much editing, so perhaps the latter is true.

Though some of the selections were easy to grasp, some suffered from the loss of their context.

I was also reminded that, though I love much of what Lewis wrote, I don’t agree with him on every little point of doctrine. I have several of those places marked, but I don’t think I’ll list them all here for the sake of time and space.

So, all told, I was more than a little disappointed in this volume. Nevertheless, as I said, there are always rich nuggets in his writing. Here are a few I found:

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions (p. 7, originally from The Four Loves).

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? (p. 14, originally from Mere Christianity).

We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience (p. 15, originally from Mere Christianity).

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same (pp. 60-61, (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 80, originally from Mere Christianity).

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in (p. 212, originally from Mere Christianity).

One of the most poignant passages to me was a letter from Lewis to a Warfield Firor about facing the ramifications of aging (including compulsory retirement and rheumatism) and letting those “begin . . .to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one” and remind that “what calls one away is better” (pp. 138-139). (A portion of the letter is here.)

Though I doubt I’ll reread this book in coming Lenten seasons, I was blessed by some of its pages. I was also encouraged to reread Mere Christianity some time and to look up The Letters of C. S. Lewis.

 

 

Easter Teaches Us of New and Better Life

Several years ago, we got word that a lady in our former church had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had been one of the merriest people I’d ever known. When we went back to that town for a visit, it was hard to see her in the church lobby looking confused and suspicious.

When our former pastor announced he had pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I was stunned that God would take someone in his prime with an active ministry and love for people who was doing so much good. Our pastor admitted he was going to have to take by faith that what God had for him in heaven was going to be so much better, because what he had on earth up til that time was pretty good.

I wondered why God would let one of His beloved children end up in pain or confusion.

But then I remembered this was not their end. Alzheimer’s and cancer were just stopping places in their long journey home. God promised that their sufferings would produce and eternal weight of glory.

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

We get so caught up in the things we have to and want to do, our families, our ambitions, that we forget this world isn’t all there is.

We look forward to heaven . . . some day. But when we get there, we’ll probably wish we could have come sooner.

C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend of the unpleasant effects of aging: “the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do,” studies one could never take up, facing retirement and “the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some sort of new life somewhere,” and so on. “I am therefore (with some help from the weather and rheumatism!) trying to profit by this new realisation of my mortality. To begin to die, to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus world has fastened on one.” He acknowledged that a good night’s sleep or a pleasant day would likely dispel his gloomy mood. But, he went on to say:

One ought not to need gloomy moments of life for beginning detachment, nor be reentangled by the bright ones. One ought to be able to enjoy the bright ones to the full and at that very moment have the perfect readiness to leave them, confident that what calls one away is better. . . (Letters of C. S. Lewis, October 15, 1949).

It was said of those in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 that they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (verse 16).

I admit I am too caught up in the bright moments of this life. God kindly breaks in and turns my attention up and away to that world to come. “Eternal glories gleam afar . . .”

I’ve found a Friend, O such a friend! All pow’r to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course, and bring me safe to heaven.
The eternal glories gleam afar, to nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war, and then to rest forever.

James G. Small, “I’ve Found a Friend, O Such a Friend

Easter speaks to me of many things—redemption, forgiveness, new life, and more. But this year it reminds me that this world and its pleasures and problems are temporary. We’re going to spend a lot more time in eternity than we did here. Are we ready?

Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, God in flesh. He lived a perfect life in our place because we never could. He died to take on the punishment for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. When we repent of our sin and believe on Him as Lord and Savior, His righteousness goes on our account: God sees Him instead of us.

Forgiveness of sin, His presence, His peace, his help, His grace—and heaven too!

Do you know Him? Are you ready for eternity?

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Merry Christmas! Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

I wish for you and yours a special time of wonder remembering God’s love for us and showing His love to each other.

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

From “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker

Book Review: Loving My Actual Christmas

Though we love Christmas time, its busyness stresses us out. Calendars are full anyway, and then we add gatherings, programs, extra shopping and food preparation, wrapping, decorating, and various traditions.

Alexandra Kuykendall tried an “experiment in relishing the season,” as her subtitle says. Instead of an idealistic or nostalgic or “perfect” Christmas, she wanted to create a realistic Christmas that didn’t leave her exhausted and frustrated when it was over. She lets us in on the experiment in her book, Loving My Actual Christmas. Though she includes ideas and tips, “it’s more for your spirit to absorb the message of the holiday among the lights and gifts.”

She chose the four weeks and themes of advent to guide her. She wanted not just to “do better” organizationally, but to implement, foster, and be guided by hope, love, joy and peace.

Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping, and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don’t want to resent this actual Christmas, I want to love it.

For each week of Advent, she wrote down her approach, the Scriptures she read, a daily recording of what happened that week, a summary of what she learned, a list of what practices she’ll continue, and questions for reflection.

One of the first things she did was consult with her family about their desires. Expectation can make the holiday sweet and exciting but also set oneself up for a letdown. So they discussed the different programs, traditions, etc., to see what was most important to everyone and what, if anything, could be left out for sanity’s sake.

Here are some of the quotes I highlighted:

Circumstances may not be what we want, but we can step over the “whens” and “if onlys” to notice God’s gifts right in our midst.

“And heaven and nature sing.” Because he rules the world, all of his creation rejoices. That’s it. It doesn’t say heaven and nature sing when the Christmas card is beautiful and perfectly photoshopped, but because he rules the world. That’s it then. Joy does really come back to Jesus.

My people don’t need the perfect Christmas, but a present mother, daughter, wife, friend.

Christmas isn’t a race that ends on the 25th with recovery after, but a true season of relishing.

Jesus didn’t come to earth in order that we might overspend every December and have terrible arguments about the holiday bills. He came that we might have life. Let’s figure out what we can afford and live within those parameters.

You don’t want to end the party season depleted by executing the details, but energized by the relationships that are strengthened by a shared time together.

There are no awards shows for Christmas party throwing. No prizes for “Best Able to Pull It Off Alone.” Ask guests to bring food or help with decorations, invitations, setting up, or cleaning up.

There was one place that made me wince a bit. In discussing the circumstances of the first Christmas and Mary’s quiet pondering mentioned in Luke 2:19, the author writes, “Here Mary has just given birth to God . . .” I know what she meant. Jesus was (is) God in flesh. He didn’t originate in this birth: He existed eternally. And He is part of the Godhead, along with the Father and Spirit. The author would agree with all this, so she’s not saying God had His beginning here. She’s just pointing out the wonder of a young woman giving birth to the Messiah in such a setting. But the way it was phrased was a little uncomfortable to me.

Most of us have to do some mental adjusting about the holidays by the time we’ve had many Christmases as adults. We have to continually reminds ourselves what the season is actually supposed to be about and adjust our perspective. I found the author’s thoughts and tips very practical and helpful.

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Christmas Lights

symbolism of Christmas lights

Christmas lights are my favorite holiday decorations. Just when the landscape becomes bare and dreary and the nights are longest, cheery lights go up inside and outside. I miss them when we take them down at the end of the month.

I don’t know if I did a good job teaching my children the symbolism behind many of our Christmas customs. But the symbolism behind Christmas lights is a favorite.

God began creation by saying “Let there be light”. But He soon saw His world engulfed in darkness when sin came in. Nevertheless, He promised light would shine again.

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:6-7).

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

The Isaiah passage that foretells of the child born, the son given who will take David’s throne, rule in righteousness, whose “name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” begins with “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).

Scripture points repeatedly to Jesus as the light.

Jesus said, “ “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).

When we believe on the Lord, His light shines through us:

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light (Ephesians 5:8-14a).

The NKJV renders that last phrase “But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.”

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1: 5-7).

Someday, for God’s children, “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). How desperately we need to choose light now, because those who don’t will be “thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

For now, though we have the light, we live in a dark world.

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God (Isaiah 50:10).

Keep looking to the light!

In your light we see light. Psalm 36:9

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Book Review: The Women of Easter

Women of Easter book The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs, as the title suggests, tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of these three Marys.

Liz lays out the narrative in eight chapters. I chose to read one a week most of the weeks leading up to Easter.

We learn about each of the the Marys. Mary of Bethany and the famous incident with her sister, Martha, the death and resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, and her anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, wiping them with her hair. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons (Luke 8:2) (and who is never called a harlot or prostitute in the Bible, though movie writers like to depict her that way).

Liz seamlessly weaves their stories in with the last several days Jesus spent on earth, using multitudes of Scripture references in different translations and snippets from commentaries. I can’t imagine all the study she did before writing this book.

Here are just a few quotes:

When Jesus “no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea” (John 11:54) because people were after Him:

Jesus was neither afraid of them nor avoiding them. He was simply acting according to His Father’s will. Whenever my prayers are answered with a firm directive to wait, I remind myself that even Jesus had times of waiting, and more than once He did so in a desolate place.

Of Mary of Bethany’s wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair:

This devout follower, this beloved sister, used her long hair to dry a man’s feet—the “lowest job for the lowliest servant.” … Her perfume wasn’t the only thing she sacrificed. Mary laid her whole being before Him: her pride, her reputation, her social standing, her clean hands, her pure heart. She asked nothing of Him, sought no sign of approval, begged for no favors. Confident of His love and acceptance, she simply gave, expecting nothing in return.

When the disciples (not just Judas) rebuked Mary for her extravagance:

They didn’t just wag their fingers at her. They “scolded” (CEB) and “criticized” (GNT); they “censured and reproved” (AMPC). With no concern for her feelings, “they told the woman what a bad thing she had done” (ERV). Poor Mary of Bethany! To share something holy and then to be treated cruelly, not by strangers, but by those who knew her and claimed to know Christ.

Jesus offered a rebuke of His own, aimed not at Mary but at the disciples. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. John 12: 7

During the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday):

Worship isn’t a task. Worship is a response.

In preparation for the Passover:

Part of trusting God is letting go of our need to know and refusing to fret over the who, what, when, where, and why. When the time comes, the Lord will inform us, just as He did His disciples.

In a passage about Jesus being beaten:

During Lent it’s tempting to hurry toward Easter morning, eager to declare, “He is risen!” Yes, He certainly is. But reminding ourselves what came before His glorious victory over death is how we remain humbled by His sacrifice and grateful for His mercy. We were “bought at a price.” This was the cost.

On the way to the cross …

Jesus stopped to speak to the women. He sees us, beloved. He values us. He cherishes us. On that day He spoke a word of prophecy to these daughters, preparing them for even harder days to come.

When Jesus was buried:

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” Luke 23:55. Really, have you ever seen such perseverance? They stayed and they stayed and they stayed. This is one of the most important lessons these women teach us. Wherever He leads, follow Jesus. Whatever pain you are enduring, keep your eyes on Jesus. Even when hope seems gone, stay close to Jesus.

After the resurrection:

Woman. The first word spoken by the risen Christ, meant for all His daughters throughout eternity. Woman. An assurance that we matter to Him, that we count for His kingdom. Woman. A term of respect. The very word He used when addressing His beloved mother from the cross. Woman.

There were just a couple of places where I put a question mark, not sure if her observation or comment was exactly right. But I don’t recall that those points were anything major.

This book was a great way to prepare for Easter week. I’m sure I will use it again in the future. But, of course, it’s good reading year round since Christ’s death and resurrection affect us every day.

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Book Review: Good Tidings of Great Joy

I like to read an Advent or Christmas devotional in December. I didn’t have any new ones on hand last year and didn’t want to reread an old one. But then I came across Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon in my Kindle collection.

I thought I could read a bit at a time, like a devotional book. And I could—but I just wasn’t getting as much out of the sermons as I did when I read them one at a time in their entirety. The only days I could work in reading a whole sermon at once were Saturdays. So that’s why I am just now finishing a book of Christmas sermons.

Spurgeon was not a big fan of Christmas, according to these messages. He thought it was too often used as an excuse for excess. And he disliked a superstitious keeping of church holidays. But he did concede that hard-working people could use the time off and that the holidays provided a time to bring out particular truths related to Christ’s birth.

There are eight messages in all, each focused on a text connected to Jesus’ birth. I won’t go into an outline or summary of each message, but I’ll just share a few quotes.

I. The Birth of Christ, Isaiah 7:14-15: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!

And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy.

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory

II. The Great Birthday, Luke 2:10: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

It is clear that if God condescends to be so intimately allied with manhood, He intends to deliver man and to bless him. Incarnation prophesies salvation. Oh, believing Soul, your God cannot mean to curse you.

If you know yourself lost by nature and lost by practice. If you feel sin like a plague at your heart. If evil wearies and worries you. If you have known the burden and the shame of iniquity, then will it be bliss to you even to hear of that Savior whom the Lord has provided!

God’s Omnipotence comes down to man’s feebleness and infinite Majesty stoops to man’s infirmity!

III. A Visit to Bethlehem: Luke 2:15b: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

“Here,” says this faithful son of Abraham, “is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and promises! The hope, the expectation and the joy of my noble ancestry!”

Do you know, my children, that our comforts were purchased at the expense of His sufferings?

IV. Holy Work for Christmas, Luke 2:17-20

Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship.

That we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.

Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at first. Let Him be crowned anew by us.

We may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season. And considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it, after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.

The mystery of God Incarnate, for our sake bleeding and dying—that we might neither bleed nor die! God Incarnate descending that we might ascend! Wrapped in swaddling cloths that we might be unwrapped of the grave clothes of corruption!

Learning need not be an impediment to grace and may be a fitting weapon in a gracious hand.

Let every man who truly hears the Gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant you require for preaching the Gospel according to your ability. It is not every man who has ability to preach the Word. And it is not every man that we should like to hear preach it in the great congregation, for if all were mouth, what a great vacuum the Church would be! Yet every Christian in some method should deliver the glad tidings. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to every man. Yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister!

We set before you, now, another mode of keeping Christmas by holy wonder, admiration, and adoration.

Think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the Gospel.

You have heard the faults of the preacher—let him mourn them. You have heard his Master’s message. Do you bless God for that? Scarcely will you ever hear a sermon which may not make you sing if you are in a right frame of mind.

V. The First Christmas Carol, Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. They are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.

VI. The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

VII. God Incarnate, the End of Fear, Luke 2:10a: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not

Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all!

Now may I come to God since God has come to me.

That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedient to His command is to be cultivated.

VIII. A Christmas Question, Isaiah 9:6a: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

Now, my hearer, have you a fear of God before your eyes—a filial fear, a fear which a child has lest it should grieve its parent? Say have you a child’s love to God? Do you trust to him as your father, your provider, and your friend? Have you in your breast “The spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father?”

My favorite of these was the fourth, which looks at how different people responded to the birth of Christ.

I wish whoever had compiled these messages had included the dates they were originally preached.

Spurgeon is always good for a thoughtful read and for bringing things out of passages I hadn’t seen or considered in quite as much depth. I disagreed with him in just a couple of places due to our differences on the implications of election and free will. But overall I enjoyed this and benefited from it very much.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

A Perfect Christmas

(Photo courtesy of Bev Lloyd-Roberts at the stock.xchng.)

Most of us have a vision in our minds of the perfect Christmas: family gathered around, a clean and sparkling house, a beautifully adorned Christmas tree with piles of lovingly chosen presents underneath, a feast for the eyes and the table, scents of roasting turkey or ham, pumpkin pies, apple cider, everyone marvelously getting along like the end of a made-for-TV movie.

But what if that’s not reality this year?

What if one member is in prison? Or the hospital? Or overseas or across the country? Or in heaven?

What if a lost job or a major medical expense has led to a depleted bank account and bare cupboards?

What if grief overshadows joy?

Is Christmas then ruined?

Let’s go back to that first Christmas.

Mary and Joseph away from home in a strange city. They did not have a beautifully decorated house: they did not even have a hotel room. The only scents of the season were those of nearby animals. Mary, as a young, first-time mother, did not have the blessing of a modern hospital and sanitary conditions, a skilled nursing staff and childbirth training. Giving birth was painful and messy. If Joseph was her lone attendant, he would have been out of his element helping a woman deliver a baby. Perhaps he was dismayed or frustrated that he could not provide better for her in her moment of need. And after the blessed relief of a healthy child safely born, there was little acknowledgment of this Child. The shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and, later on, the wise men rejoiced in who He was. But soon the young parents would face the danger of a king bent on killing the Child in their care. Mary’s reputation would suffer as many thought her Child was illegitimate. The ominous promise hung over her head that a sword would pierce through Mary’s own soul.

What did Mary and Joseph have then, that lonely, uncomfortable, smelly night? They had the Child of promise. A Child whom they were told to name Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.” His very name is a promise. He would reconcile them to God by taking care of their greatest need: He would “save His people from their sins.” They had the realization that this Child was the long-awaited and longed-for Messiah, the King, the Son of the Highest. What cause for joy and wonder! They had no idea how it would all work out. But they had the promise, and because of the promise, they had hope.

It’s certainly not wrong to enjoy a decorated tree, presents, wonderful food, and family gathered. But we can celebrate Christmas even all of those elements are missing or less than ideal. We can celebrate in our own hearts and with those around us that same promise, that same hope. Like Mary, we can treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts. Like the shepherds, we can make “known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” and go back to daily lifeglorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 17-20). If all we have is faith in Jesus’ fulfillment of the hope and promise of that first Christmas, we are blessed indeed.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)