21 Dec 2014

Christmas through eyes like yours and mine: Bethlehem

We may not like to have anything more to do with politics than complain over coffee-shop talk and online chats; but all our lives are shaped by politics. So was the life of the King of Kings and Lord of lords. 
When God sent Jesus into the world; he was not exempted from the political realities of his day.

His birthplace, Bethlehem, a small town, was under seige by the Romans. His parents actually lived in Nazareth (more than 100km away - and note, no cars then so the journey was a long and arduous one); but because of a political decision; they had to make the long trek to Bethlehem.


This is where most of us feel lost. But in the Bible, God stands over politics.

Bethlehem was mentioned a few hundred years earlier by a minor prophet Micah (he is minor not because of age but because the book that bears his name is a short one):

 But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; [yet] out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). ~ Micah 5v2 (amplified version) 
So yes, the poor young couple.

God knew they had to make that crazy journey. 

It's not honeymoon. It is so inconvenient! What about setting up home first? How about being near immediate family?Surely God could choose a better time? We ask these questions of our lives, we who buy into the lies that the good life, even the God-favoured one is full of clappy-sappy-goodness.

No, not in God's plan.

God's plan to save you and I involved a young couple going through disgrace (see how the modern facebook version may go: Joe's fb account (imagined) ), leaving the familiar, making a long, tiresome journey to end up in a small town and - not being able to find a room; and so had to stay in some sort of out-house (the Bible doesn't use the word 'stable') because the inns were full.. and there, in a strange place, Mary delivers into the world its Saviour!

I remember reading this when I was nearly six months pregnant with my first child. By then, the worst of the morning sicknesses had passed. But my heart entered a new deeper place as I understood then what it felt like to be with child. I was bemoaning some of my circumstances then, but all I hankered after was personal comfort and affections of loved ones... and all of it for myself. Mary was carrying a child of eternal import and yet, her circumstances were so dire and threadbare.
Did God subject His Son and his vessels to all of these?

Yes he did.

We so don't get God's heart and His ways.

Even if I have said my prayer to ask Jesus into my life; I say it again often - especially this Advent season; because I so easily shut the door at him all over again as I whine about my life and confuse gifts with entitlements, losing sight that it is all Grace!

God puts His plan into motion. Human agencies and political powers all comply - knowingly or not, willingly or not.

You and I, brought into His house (for Bethlehem is the house of bread) to eat and to take what we are given and share - will we willingly and knowingly comply with God's plans?

And if I can find a clue for how Mary did it; it must be in the song she sang months earlier in response to God:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One hs done great things for me -
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.... ~ Luke 1v46-50

Mary sees God's plan as a stupendous outpouring of mercy and that His choice of her is All Grace and will lead to exaltation. Wow. What will happen to us and how we live through our days if this is our view of things?

What if this is our view of politics too? I cannot tell for sure if Mary never grumbled against the Roman oppressors; but I see her view as higher than that. The Saviour she was privileged to raise certainly never fought the powers head-on; knowing they are but instituted by God and needed to remember their place.

What is your view of your life this Christmas?
Is God over all, and will work through it all?
Is Grace your story and exaltation by God your glory?

other prophecies about Jesus {click}

18 Dec 2014

Christmas through eyes - like yours and mine

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Christmas’?

Even as a pastor I find a little effort is required to focus on the Christ of Christmas as images of silly reindeer, a fat man in a red suit shouting ho-ho, jingles, bright lights and presents crowd into my view.

You too?

How did we get to see everything the same way? Big media. The loud, powerful, bright images and scintillating words have trained us over the years with the repetitive snapshots of buy-spend-eat Christmas.

But, the first Christmas, was a very different story.

It happened in a small sleepy suburb that was stirring only because some political order was given that made everyone pack a mule and muck some miles. Beyond this sudden influx of original inhabitants that needed to return to comply with a census, everything and everyone was going about business as usual; which wasn’t exactly a roaring city-scene.

I think if we step back from all that the media is yelling at us; if we stayed home just one night and refuse to turn to any form of media; maybe, just maybe, we can come closer to what Christmas is truly like. 

Maybe we can come closer and identify with some of these who were present when it all happened:

“and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were terrified….Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God..” ~ Luke 2v8,9,13

I am guessing you never had an angel suddenly appear as you are marking those exam papers or reading your emails. I haven’t. But if I did, I would feel terrified as these shepherds did.

But what do we have on our greeting cards? Some meek, fairly frozen guys in robes, usually one cuddling a lil lamb. Pretty. Hallmark. Yes, it’s become hallmark; but it’s wrong. Those shepherds were anything but calm and relaxed!

First one angel, and then a whole lot of them – the whole night sky ablazed as heaven invaded earth-o-sphere and the usual blackness of the night sky is shining with light hitherto unseen. We don’t know how long this heavenly presentation lasted... but when it ended; the shepherds did what they felt compelled to: figure out a way to settle the sheep and go check out the news.

To a group of powerless, sheep-smelling men God chose to reveal the greatest event in humankind. (if our news networks got it today; what would become of it?). Simple shepherds who would be at a loss to find words to describe whatever they experienced except in the simplest of terms were privileged to receive the news. These shepherds, all shaken and awakened from their soporific states “spread the word …and all who heard it were amazed.”

Why cannot you and I share this such that those who hear it are amazed?

It’s become too familiar and not frightful enough. God came! We ought to get off our derriere to check it out and try to put it all in words!

For some of us, our spiritual awakening was indeed like the shepherds: we were going about our business and it got interrupted so big time we had to make a break with whatever we were doing in order to break the news.

But we find God-interruptions quite inconvenient. We wish they cease so we can return to ‘normal’; not realizing what we have isn’t normal by design at all. God breaks in to break us out of moulds that would stifle and eventually kill us. Like the shepherds, we need to find a way to check out the interruptions and find words to express what it all means.

Those shepherds probably remained shepherds. But the quiet as the sun sets, the grass, the night sky, even the sheep – have forever been touched by heaven. God can break in and what seems so mundane, ordinary and even, hopeless has forever been touched by glory. And their lowly jobs with those dumb, stubborn creatures? Well, you never know, angels show up.

And this openness to heaven, to God interrupting, to surprises, to angelic visitations lingered on in the church :

“do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.” ~ Hebrews 13v2

Has 2014 sprung some surprises for you?
Did any of it feel just like heaven invading your earth-space? Is God wanting to share some news with you?
How can you live more ready for God-interruptions?
How can you be more careful about what feels 'normal' to you so you won't end up God?

 Next stop: Bethlehem

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16 Dec 2014

a thousand lights that won't lead us home.. but one that will : Christmas peace friends!

Every year, the main shopping belt in Singapore gets lit-to-the-max. Yes, it is Christmas, the season for shops and retailers to cast a wide net and gather a huge catch. Lights help here: those glorious baubles, stars, 3D castles, machine-generated snow... the gold, blue, red, diamante colours.

It is a beautiful and enchanting sight that lifts the soul, if for a few moments, to some higher plane of wonder, delight, and relish.

Yes, we even call in those arctic creatures, the reindeer to help rein in the crowds and gamely remind them of the ho-ho of it all - the goodness of giving and receiving.

Perhaps these lights draw us in and lift us because we are afraid of the dark and darkness. Which one of us has not had a frightful experience with that? The child begs for the light to stay on for monsters lurk in the dark. When we cannot see, our minds run a lil' wild.

But there are lights, and there are lights.

Leaving a lil night light is helpful enough, but there are lights we torch that can hurt us ~

...all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand: you will lie down in torment.
~ Isaiah 50v11

Major ouch.

A lack of peace,
a turning and a tossing,
a fearful anticipation.

fretting over gifts (we hope to have and wish to give)
worrying we may forget someone 'important'
feeling still angry, even hating
knowing deep within we are unforgiven and unforgiving
afraid as the days are turning into a new year and your plans are drafts

For everyone single one of these we may well have some plan, answer or defense made ready.
But our little torches of how to answer and 'don't dwell on it' won't suffice to get us to experience the angelic announcement over this season: peace on earth and goodwill to man.

You have no idea how much light you need if you won't consider how dark it can get.

No one brings a toy torch light or a half-filled gas lamp for a camping trip in the wilderness.The dark will soon overtake and it will be futile. We are camping for a while in a wide wilderness, en route home. Yes, we can build a campfire in this case. But sometimes. the journey takes us to deserts and strong winds and all we have is sun, moon and stars. The Bedouins learn to rest when it's too hot to travel and navigate by moonlight and stars.

But we? We just push on. City folk with our days made long by artificial light, our sense of prowess and control reiterated to us with every successful sale, every goal attained, every relationship milked. We push on. When we are not sure, we look inside our bag for another torch to light the way.

All this while, the darkness can be encroaching upon us. We wake up and we are shocked at the world news. What has our world come to?!

Christmas is God entering this world engulfed in darkness and piercing the dark to let in the Light.

The storytellers are right: it is an epic battle of dark and light.

A battle out there,yes, but really, it begins inside us. Each of us.

How about this Christmas we let the smaller lights remind us of the Great Light.

Jesus said,
I am the Light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. ~ John 8v12

In the wild as in the desert, no one travels alone. You file up and you want to make sure you follow a trustworthy guide. Jesus offers to lead us, to light the way. He invites us to fall in step.

Stop dashing around. Stop ignoring your heart's cries, aches and longings. The caverns of our soul is a huge space for Light to enter and shine around - as the darkness flees.

This Christmas, amid all the lights and sights, how about slowing down and sitting with Jesus, rest from the heat of the day and talk about your heart; and invite the Light in.

Peace on earth, goodwill to man - - because peace in us, goodwill to you!