Monthly Archives: December 2015

What Child is This?

“We’re in territory we’ve never seen in December.”

“The enormity of this … cannot be overstated. This is a true watershed event.”

“I don’t have enough adjectives in my arsenal to describe how massive this is.”

It’s “unprecedented.”

A senior media analyst was trying to describe the record-breaking turnout for the latest Star Wars movie.

The irony, of course, is that Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered one week before the world would celebrate a far greater event – more massive and unprecedented than anything the earth had experienced before – or since.

Guided by a star, kings would come bearing gifts for the new-born Prince of Peace. All of heaven and earth would awaken to the coming of the greatest Force in the universe.

The arsenal of adjectives would be nearly depleted as humankind strained to describe the wonder and the joy; the majesty and the glory of the birth of the Messiah, Christ the Lord.

George Frideric Handel, composer of the immortal Messiah, nearly collapsed in his joy-induced fervor.

The enormity of this cannot be overstated.

This was a true watershed event.

Seven-hundred years before Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah punctuated his condemnation of apostate Israel with a promise amazing in its detailed beauty.

After describing the encroaching anguish and darkness, Isaiah wrote of the advent of a “great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2, KJV).

What was this light? What was this promise?

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given …” (9:6, KJV).

A baby would be born to us.

A son would be given to us.

He would be given as a gift to you and me – and to all those who would believe and receive.

The Apostle Paul – reaching for an adjective – called the gift of our Savior “unspeakable” (II Corinthians 9:15, KJV).

It is indescribable – there simply weren’t enough adjectives in Paul’s arsenal to fully express the mystery and profundity of the coming of Messiah.

When the angels of heaven came down to the shepherds that night to make their announcement, they mirrored Isaiah in the intimacy of the gift:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, KJV).

“For unto you…”

But not just to the shepherds – Jesus was born to all of us and to each of us.

Christmas is a holiday for families. There is no other time of year when the sense of community – of shared humanity and togetherness – is as great. We cherish those traditions and the love they represent.

At the same time, Christmas is a very intimate and personal celebration. For this child was not only born to the world – he was born to you. This Son has been given to you.

Had you been the only person who ever lived on the earth, Christ Jesus the Lord would have come here for you – such is the depth and breadth and the wonders of God’s love.

This is joy to the world, yes, and the weary world should rejoice and fall on its knees. But it is also a deep and abiding joy for every individual who has trusted him and made him Lord.

Upon the shoulders of this child, upon this Son, says Isaiah, the government shall rest.

At a time when the world is witnessing a widespread crisis of leadership; and in our own nation we despair of finding courage and integrity in our leaders, it is good to remember that Jesus Christ is our ruler and our authority. He reigns supreme over all. He is the King of all kings; he is the Lord of all lords.

“He’ll take over the running of the world” (9:6, The Message).

Of his government, declares the prophet, “there shall be no end” and he will “order it” and he will “establish it with judgment and with justice … forever” (verse 7, KJV).

Truth and righteousness are the twin pillars of his eternal reign.

No term limits.

So while we are properly concerned, we need not panic or distress over the outcome next November.

What child is this who has been given to us?

He is the mighty King. He is over every civil authority on earth.

Isaiah writes that this child shall be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (verse 6, KJV).

The full and uncompromising deity of Jesus Christ was set forth seven centuries before his birth.

We rejoice.

In the midst of threats and turmoil and the coming turbulence of an unknown future, we look at this child and we give thanks that he is our Lodestar – the anchor of our faith, the strength of our courage, the comforter of our souls and the hope of our hearts.

Forever.

On the night he was born, the earth shouted its joy; the sea proclaimed its praise and all living things joined in. The rivers clapped their hands in glee and the hills sang out their songs of joy before the Lord (Psalm 98: 7-9).

And heaven and nature sang.

“O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”

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The Force

Tomorrow Hollywood will make history.

It’s the opening day of what could be the biggest film ever made.

Some are saying it could eventually earn $3 billion worldwide.

Advanced tickets have already earned more than $50 million. One of those tickets was purchased several weeks ago by a long-time fan. Gil is my beloved son-in-law and he’s been counting down the days like it was a space launch.

Well, it is, sort of.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past month, you know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally here. The wildly anticipated seventh film in the iconic franchise has reawakened (sorry) familiar words and images for those of us who remember seeing the first Star Wars in theaters 38 years ago.

We were introduced to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and a mysterious but very wise hooded hermit named Obi-Wan Kenobi. We met a couple of interesting robots (droids) called C-3PO and R2-D2.

And then there was Luke’s dark diabolical father, Darth Vader, whose true identity is hidden until a later movie.

I enjoyed holding my hand beneath my nose, breathing heavily and imitating James Earl Jones to my daughters – or my friends.

“Luke, I am your father,” I’d slowly intone, like a baritone on oxygen.

Now a whole new generation is excited about this enduring saga.

Why? What’s the hold? Why does this story captivate the imagination so powerfully?

Star Wars is nothing more – and certainly nothing less – than an old-fashioned morality tale in science fiction garb.

The forces of good are arrayed heroically against the forces of evil. Greed, ambition, power and control are all manifest in the struggle – so is courage, perseverance, sacrifice and nobility.

Set in space, the conflict takes on cosmic dimensions. It seems almost a battle for the universe.

At the center of the action there is the ubiquitous Force.

Obi-Wan – later known as Ben – explains this to young Luke:

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi (a warrior) his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together”.

When once asked where he got the idea for the Force, Star Wars creator George Lucas mentioned a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and a cinematographer named Roman Kroitor – who later invented IMAX. McCulloch argued that human beings were nothing more than highly complex machines.

Kroitor disagreed:

“Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”

Lucas said his idea for the invisible but powerful and ever-present Force was “an echo of that phrase”.

In his artistic creative genius, here is man grasping for some transcendent meaning in his life. Through the medium of film he explores a higher power “behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us”.

Lucas may not have intended to create a spiritual film but in some important ways Star Wars has rich spiritual implications for the Christian. The fact that it is set in outer space and on other planets underscores the cosmic nature of our spiritual warfare. Paul reminds the Ephesians of the invisible forces of good and evil in heavenly realms that battle on a daily basis.

In the movie, the Jedi warrior is trained for this battle and joins it.

So too the Christian soldier is prepared and exhorted to battle evil. We are told to put on our spiritual armor and stand for that which is good and right. There is no more pervasive metaphor throughout the New Testament for the Christian life than that of conflict, struggle and victory.

It is the empowering presence of the Force within that makes all the difference. And so the exhortation “May the Force be with you” entered into the lexicon of American pop culture.

It is only fitting that this latest Star Wars film open one week before Christmas.

Recent events in our world have created an odd juxtaposition.

There is fear and sadness in the world as we celebrate joy. There is despair as we celebrate hope. There is doubt and uncertainty as we celebrate faith. There is hate as we celebrate love.

But the Dark Side can never win.

Paul told us that faith, hope and love would outlast doubt, despair and hate. He told us these virtues of the spirit would endure and never end.

At Christmastime we celebrate the promise and the hope of the greatest Force in the universe – the love of God.

Christmas tells us that the Light of God’s love shall one day vanquish the darkness of hate.

The baby in the manger is the King of kings before whom one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

Long ago – before the worlds were made – in a heaven far, far away, God loved you and me.

No power of evil can ever separate us from the love of God. His love surrounds us and penetrates us.

God is with us.

He is our life’s force.

This is the true meaning of Christmas.

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Incognito

I’ll admit it.

I’m not much into reality TV.

I like heroic characters and happy endings. There’s just too much reality in reality TV. What’s not boring or silly is irritating and painful.

But there is one show I find quite entertaining. It’s called Undercover Boss.

The president of a large company decides to go undercover to work among his employees. He changes his appearance and enters incognito. He becomes just another new employee, learning the ropes. He has a boss and must take orders and pay attention to instructions. Sometimes he does OK but sometimes he doesn’t and everyone has to be patient with him.

Sometimes he gets yelled at. It’s very humbling.

He learns a lot by working with the workers. He observes and listens. He discovers special needs or wishes that some of the employees have. He is moved to compassion and impressed by their dedication.

Nobody knows who he is. Nobody knows he’s the boss. Nobody recognizes him.

At the end of the show, he gathers his entire workforce together and reveals his secret experiment – and his experience. He tells his workers how grateful he is for them and what he has learned from them – and about them.

He meets privately with the very employees he’s been interacting with. How surprised they are to learn his true identity. He remembers what they told him about their lives – their hopes and dreams and challenges. They are moved to tears by his kindness and generosity.

He helps each one.

It’s his way of showing his appreciation for their faithful service.

When God decided to enter the world he had made, he came incognito.

Nobody expected the Ruler of the universe to come through the virgin womb of a peasant girl by way of a cow stall in a cave. That’s not the way the Queen of England gets around; it’s not how the President travels.

The King of kings and Lord of lords went undercover. From his ivory palaces in heaven, our Messiah chose to come here in poverty.

On the night of his birth, with the exception of an angelic visitation to unknown shepherds in desolate fields, things went on as they had. Bethlehem bustled because of the coming census.

Nobody paid much attention to his birth.

Nobody knew who he was. Nobody recognized him. Nobody knew he was the King.

Some did perhaps. They had inklings. Mary and Joseph had a sense; old Simeon who heard the baby cry in the temple; the shepherds maybe; the three kings from the orient who followed that strange star.

But Jesus Christ entered history in the most unlikely manner.

It’s not the entrance we would have planned for the Creator. But we’re not God and this was his plan.

The way Jesus came was the precursor to his life and ministry among men and women.

He forgave prostitutes and touched lepers. He healed those marginalized by society; embraced crooked tax collectors, picked uneducated fishermen and owned nothing but a cloak. He was the scourge of the hypocrites and self-righteous but loved by sinners, to whom he came. The despised half-breed Samaritans seemed always to win his attention and his favor.

This is the irony of God. It is the wonder of Christmas.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul beautifully describes the miracle and glorious mystery of the Advent.

Jesus Christ is in the very “form of God” and “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6, KJV).

In the meaning of the original Greek of the New Testament, Paul tells us Jesus is “essentially one with God … possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God; he did not think this equality with God was a thing to be grasped or retained” (The Amplified Bible).

Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant …” (verse 7, KJV). He “stripped Himself of all privileges and rightful dignity so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being” (The Amplified Bible).

The King of glory washed the feet of men.

And before his life on earth was over, Jesus would humble himself further to die a painful and shameful criminal’s death on a cross.

For you and for me.

This is what we celebrate. This is the true reason for this season.

Jesus Christ emptied himself of his eternal power and position in order to become one with us.

The heart of Christmas is the incarnation. The heart of the incarnation is the Kenosis – the voluntary self-emptying of our Savior.

God humbled himself.

In his Son and in coming to earth, God gave up the independent exercise of his divine power and privileges. He consented to the limitations of human form.

He became one of us that he might save us – and that in our times of pain we would know that he knows.

In Christ God went undercover.

This is the joy of Christmas. This is the meaning of Immanuel.

This is the beauty of God With Us.

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