GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
Recently, I was asked a question that I've been asked a number of times before - "When western Christian churches celebrate Jesus' birth on the 24th and 25th of December, why do eastern Christian churches celebrate His birth nearly two weeks later
While we in the Western Church emphasize the Birth of The Christ Child in the Bethlehem cave stable, the Eastern Church emphasizes showing That Baby is God coming to all people as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ – a wondrous epiphany we celebrate with the wise men on the often ignored January 6th festival of THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD – on the day after our 12 days of Christmas end.
At the time of Jesus' birth, as Israel walked about in a time of spiritual darkness, an even greater spiritual darkness permeated the Gentile world.
In Old Testament times, the rulers of Assyria had a dream – the creation of a one world order that was a paradise to be produced by people without God’s help. They did conquer the world - but they obviously didn’t create their human paradise and their empire toppled.
The rulers of Babylon had the same dream. In their attempt to succeed where the Assyrians failed, they created the magi. That word entered our language as "magician" - but the original magiwere a brain trust of people deemed capable of creating Babylon's godless paradise.
The hierarchy sought out boys barely in their teens who displayed great intelligence and aptitudes and placed them in a palace college where they were trained in their respective fields with the tools to produce that human paradise. The prophet Daniel was magi and the one voice proclaiming God’s Word in that brain trust.
The historian Rousas J. Rushdoony writes that “When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the world had reached a dead end. …. The ‘wise’ men of Babylon had failed; so had the ‘wise’ men of Persia, Macedonia, and now Rome. All sense of meaning was departing from life. In the Roman Empire, life was increasingly reduced to one dimension alone, and the life of that day had a familiar ring: the people saw no meaning in life except pleasure.” (WISE MEN STILL ADORE HIM by Rousas j. Rushdoony. NEW WINE MAGAZINE. December, 1981) A great lesson of human history is that any society, nation or world that believes we’ve outgrown our need for God and His Word is doomed to collapse.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM JESUS TRUE GOD THROUGH ALL ETERNITY AND TRUE MAN BORN IN A BETHLEHEM STABLE, CRUCIFIED FOR OUR SIN, AND RISEN FROM THE DEAD TO PROCLAIM OUR ETERNAL VICTORY
When the time came for the purification according to the Law of Moses. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to The Lord. They came to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in The Law of The Lord - a pair of two young pigeons.
As Paul wrote to the Galatians (4:22), when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under The Law. In order for Jesus to offer Himself as The Perfect Sacrifice for our sins, He had to live the perfect human life – live perfectly under The Law. Since the time when God sent the death angel to take the lives of every first-born male in Egypt sparing only the first-born sons in the homes of God’s people who faithfully painted the lamb’s blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes, God’s chosen people were to recognize their first-born sons belonged to God in a very special way. Mothers were required to bring their eight-day old first-born son to the temple to be offered to God for a lifetime of service in God’s priesthood. The tribe of Levi was called by God to serve in the temple in place of the firstborn sons who were redeemed or bought back with the gift of a lamb or – if the parents were poor and could not afford a lamb – the gift of two young pigeons.
When Jesus was 8 days old, Mary and Joseph traveled with Him from Bethlehem, where they were staying, to the temple in Jerusalem. Coming up from the south, they saw the magnificent temple complex high atop Mt Zion. They worked their way through the sellers of wares and mementoes and climbed the huge steps to the beautiful temple courtyard. As they entered the huge temple porticoes where moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals hawked their wares, Joseph purchased two young pigeons.
Leaving the porticoes, they entered the large Court of the Gentiles where pilgrims, tourists, Roman soldiers and temple police mingled with rabbis addressing their groups of students and curious travelers. They moved swiftly to the north to the entrance to the Court of the Women.
The Levites who served as priests in place of the redeemed first-born sons received the offering of the two young pigeons by the treasury area in the Court of the Women.
THE HUMAN TENDENCY TOWARD EVIL
Eighteen years ago – as the 20th Century ended and the 21st began - Billy Graham commented on how the 20th Century had truly been the century of scientific advances. Such a myriad of scientific wonders to behold and the 21st Century is bringing even more.
Still Billy Graham reminded all of us that there are three great problems science and modern technology cannot solve:
(1). The human tendency toward evil. Since Adam and Eve yielded to temptation in Eden, greed and selfishness have been an undeniable part of human nature. Anger, crime, and war never disappear. And all of us find ourselves doing things we regret doing and wish we had been strong enough not to do.
(2). Human suffering. It is also part of the human experience that all of us have a share of suffering in our lives — and some of us seem to suffer through most of our lives. Science can make great strides in alleviating some forms of suffering, but it can never eradicate all suffering.
And (3). Death. That ultimate enemy from which no one escapes.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
The first rays of sunshine announced the dawn of another day as Simon ben Judah, Aaron ben Khalil and three other Pharisees began to walk northeast across the Holy City on a mission for the high priest. Exiting the city, they hurried across the Kidron Valley and over the Mount of Olives.
The climb up the western slope was strenuous and they reached the top out of breath. Under a solitary tree, they rested and drank sparingly of the water each carried.
To the north - on their left - Abraham ben Isaac was taking advantage of an early morning breeze to do some threshing. Yesterday, he had stacked newly-harvested stalks of wheat on a limestone platform atop a small hill.
At first light, Abraham rolled over the stalks with a threshing sled made of pieces of wood into which holes have been drilled and filled with pieces of basalt rock. The weighted sled crushed the mixture of wheat and chaff on the hillside ground.
With a mild morning breeze moving across the hill, Abraham used a winnowing fork to throw the piles into the air. The soft breeze carried the extremely light chaff to form new piles which were gathered and burned. The chaff has no other purpose than as fuel for fires.
The heavier wheat fell back to the ground forming piles that were gathered and prepared for the making of bread.
Barely past the Mount of Olives is Behurim. When David’s son Absalom rebelled against him and forced him to flee for his very life, David had fled with his head covered (a sign of mourning) and his feet bare (a sign of total humiliation) – weeping uncontrollably as he went. As he passed under Behurim, relatives of the former King Saul cursed him and hurled rocks, dirt, dust and human waste upon David and his party.
Four hundred years after David journeyed his “Path of Defeat”, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, fled across this same path fleeing the horrors of a starving and totally devastated Jerusalem. He made it all the way to the Plains of Jericho. There, by order of King Nebuchadnezzar, he was forced to watch as his two sons were executed, then he himself was blinded and dragged in chains to Babylon. The kingdom was destroyed – the people carried off into exile on the “Path of Defeat” in 599 B.C...
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR - JESUS THE CHRIST.
Every year someone approaches me in a store or calls me on the phone to announce “I just read a real important article. The writer says we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas on December 25th. He discovered Jesus really wasn’t born on December 25th. The date is all wrong. We shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.” I just shake my head – wondering why paper is wasted publishing an article refuting a claim no one is making.
I know of no credible Christian theologian – living or dead – who has said Jesus was born on December 25th. While we know when Jesus was crucified and when He rose from the dead, no one knows the date of Jesus’ birth. Historically, there are a number of reasons we celebrate Christmas this time of the year - none of the reasons have anything to do with the actual date of Jesus' birth. Christmas does not commemorate a specific day in history. Christmas is far more than that.
Decades ago – when I was writing my weekly column – I wrote one about the two holidays we celebrate each December – Christmas and Winterfest. Today when a festival called “Christmas In July” has become so popular and the secular Christmas celebration begins when the children have barely stopped “trick or treating”, the distinction between the two December holidays has become increasingly indistinctive.
Christmas is really our Christian celebration of the greatest miracle in all of human history. That miracle of miracles is God’s total love for us – God loving all humanity enough to come into the world God created as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ on our behalf and for our eternal Salvation. God entering our world as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ is to Christian believers the beginning of the most wondrous event in all of human history.
The best explanation of the meaning of Christmas, for me, is contained in words which God spoke through the Apostle Paul in his EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS - Let this mind be in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men: And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Let this mind be in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Believe totally and completely in God as Jesus Himself believed totally and completely in His heavenly Father. Believe totally and completely in God's Plan of Salvation as Jesus totally believed and lived that Plan of Salvation - even when it meant suffering and dying on the cross. Love God, ourselves, and each other as Jesus did and does.
Christmas celebrates the miracle of God's Love for us.
Why should we be amazed that, through the virgin birth, God became the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ – was born in the likeness of men and found in human form? With God, nothing is impossible. If God wants to do something, of course, He can. That's basic to God being God.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN – EVER PRESENT LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS CHRIST.
In the 39 years since I studied in the Holy Land, I have shared this picture with you several times. Advent’s Divine Message of fulfilled Hope still shouts from that wilderness.
The Greek noun, "ϊρημος" means “desert wilderness”. As an adjective "ϊρημος" means “solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited”. The word has come into our language as “arid”, but the many shades of meaning in the Biblical ϊρημος certainly fit the Judean wilderness. Once you’ve experienced that wilderness, it becomes permenantly etched in your mind’s eye and has ever remained for me the ultimate and joyous symbol of our Ultimate fulfilled hope being loudly proclaimed in the place where otherwise there is no hope. It sparks our anticipation of celebrating God’s entrance into the world as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ and the eternal dimension He gives to our lives.
There are absolutely no natural resources in the ϊρημος - no way for edible plants to grow or for human beings or animals to survive even on the most primitive levels of existence.
Mentally and spiritually ϊρημος is unforgetable – “precisely because a person cannot by himself or herself live there. It is in the place where people have to choose whether they will put their trust totally in God or whether grumbling and impatient at having to depend only on God’s Grace, they return”³ to an unsatisfying status quo whose only benefit is familiarity with it.
For those who do not know Jesus, life itself is a barren wilderness.
In the year 26 A.D., much of the talk around the Holy Land was about a thirty-year-old preacher named John or, as many recognizing him from Isaiah's prophecy, THE VOICE OF ONE CALLING IN THE WILDERNESS.
1500 years before, the ancestors of the people now flocking to hear the fiery young preacher had lived in a wilderness like the one that surrounded his outdoor church — wandering there with nothing to guide them but God’s Own signs — living there with absolutely no water, no food, no shade except that with which God miraculously provided them. Those ancestors had lived there in that wilderness for forty years and, during that time, God’s people had been taught by God what it means to trust in God for everything. They weren’t able to buy groceries in a supermarket or even gather them from their own gardens. They certainly weren’t able to find them growing wild in that wilderness. Every meal came to them as a twice daily miracle from God. Water came through yet another daily miracle. God lovingly and faithfully even gave them the ultimate blueprint and guide for living these temporal years in The Ten Commandments.