Rejoicing


Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18: 4

Children are very interesting. There is usually a simplicity to the way that they face into life wherein they can say what they think without a lot of filtering or needless rambling around the topic at hand. They tend to trust those who care for and about them in a way that allows them to engage with direction or even with discipline with relatively easy acceptance. These young people can laugh in a manner that fills a room with their joy, and they are also not afraid to cry when things hurt and they need someone to hold and to hug them until the hurt fades. They also try things and risk failure with a certain carelessness that turns the failure into learning. This image of what a child is like was a part of what Jesus seemed to have had in mind as He talked about the life of a person who wanted to truly know and to follow God.

Unfortunately, people tend to lose much of this easy exuberance, trust, and simple faith as we age and leave behind the dependence of childhood and take on the independence of our adult years. It seems that we start to think that we need to possess all of the answers and have our responses to life figured out. This sets us up for both the appearance of arrogance and also for a false sense of self-determination and control. There is a fine balance to be achieved in all of this, for God has designed us to be thinking beings who take on responsibility and grow in wisdom and the strength that we require to serve Him well in our world. However, He also desires to remain involved and engaged with us as we go about doing His will, for God does not want any of his children to be separated from the influence of His Spirit or the fellowship and encouragement of His body.

Maturity in Christ is thus very different from the model of that advanced stage in life as it is often portrayed in our world. It is freeing in that it grants us permission to need the input and the involvement of others in our thoughts and actions. It also provides us with the ability to walk through our days in the company of others who are all seeking to serve the same Master with like-minded goals on view. We are set free to laugh out of the deep joy of Christ in our hearts and to cry with an openness that responds to the hurt and the pain that is all around us in this broken place. Childhood reentered in Christ is a blessing to our souls as it also brings that special sparkle of innocence and easy submission into a world that is too full of life’s heavy burdens. As adult children of the Father we are sent out on the great journey of service to God’s Kingdom while we are also held close in loving care and life-giving counsel and support.  

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But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.

John 2: 10

At this moment toward the end of that very short time that Jesus had to live in our midst, He does something that is so simple and yet is miraculous. They are all attending a party, a marriage celebration. These celebrations are very festive, and they are important for the entire community, too. For these people a marriage has symbolic and actual value. It is the actual coming together of two individual people who form a new family unit with all of its potential for productivity and fruitfulness. The marriage also symbolizes the continuation of God’s people as was promised by the Lord. So, I don’t think that it was  an act of coincidence that caused Jesus to perform this first of His numerous miraculous signs at this occasion.

It has long been my impression that this story is about Christ’s mastery over creation. I have considered the point to be specifically about how God’s love and compassion is brought to meet the needs of individual people. This still seems like a worthwhile concept to take from this event. Yet, I now think that there is something else here that is much greater in its significance. Jesus doesn’t use just any water. He uses water that was put into the jars that were designated for holding water for “the Jewish rites of purification”. This water was an integral part of their religious system, and it was essential for use in ritually cleansing the people who were participating in the feast and for doing the same for the utensils that they used. Jesus could have gathered water from other sources. He could have had it drawn straight from the well. But He directed that these jars be filled with water.

As we know, when the water is tasted by the presiding expert, the master of the feast, he proclaims that it is the good wine. Jesus has taken that which requires time and human labor in a process that can be challenging and filled with difficulties to produce, and He has accomplished it in an instant by the power of His word. Even more significantly, He has taken the water which was weak and temporary in its effectiveness to purify and to bring the people and the things of this world into a state of acceptance before the holiness of God, and Christ has changed it into the new wine that is perfect and imperishable. The old covenant of works and human endeavor has come face to face with the new one that is founded in the gracious love of God and that is made real in the sacrificial obedience of Christ. Here, at a humble wedding that was held in an outcast land, the reuniting of sinful humanity with its Creator is celebrated with a deep drink from the wine of salvation’s cup. 

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

When a child has completed a craft project or done a job around the house that required some special effort, she will often come to a parent with that special, expectant look on her face and an uneasy sort of anticipatory tension in her body language. The child is waiting for the look of acknowledgement and words of acceptance of the efforts that she has put out. This need to have the work that we have done approved by one who loves us and who we respect never goes away. We all still want to hear and understand that what we have done is good and worthy.

Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to give praise or to even make mention of the efforts of others. There seems to be an unwritten rule among people that says that everyone should just know when they are doing things well and that too much praise causes others to develop inflated egos or to become lazy. However, the Lord doesn’t seem to function that way. He never stops bringing words of encouragement to His children. Sometimes they are expressed in the form of a quiet voice that seems to just exist somewhere inside of me. He also speaks from the pages of His Word straight into my heart. In addition, God uses the expressions of other people as His way of telling me of His praise and approval. Regardless of the method, God is never silent.

During those times when I am questioning my direction, when I am wondering about the validity of my efforts, or when I am hearing disapproving voices, I can just suspend the busy activity of my mind and open my heart to listen to the Father’s voice. These are times when I need to stop and talk with Him, slow down and allow the deeper meaning of His Word a chance to be revealed to me by the Holy Spirit, and quiet my voice so that I can hear the Lord’s words to me. For, as a reminder to myself, God is never absolutely silent and He is always the One who brings praise and encouragement to my soul. 

C

Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,

Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2: 1, 2

These wise men were known as such because of their knowledge and skill. They were probably Persians, men who were from Babylon or near by to there. Today they would most likely be Iranian. This was a group of unknown number who were scientists in that rather broader sense of that term in those times. They used pragmatic understanding of this world and of the universe mixed with mystical revelation and even divination in order to both understand what was in our world and to predict what was to come about in the future. They were important people in a time when information was hard to come by and in which prediction might equate to survival. These spiritually oriented scientists were almost certainly polytheistic in their understanding of god; yet, it was quite likely that they were acutely aware of the God of the Jews from the years when devout Hebrew men such as Daniel had lived among their ancestors.

Now, at this point in time they have seen a sign that tells them that one of history’s greatest moments has come, and they respond by traveling a great distance in order to worship this new born king, Jesus. They join in with Jewish shepherds and with angels who have become visible and audible in our environment. It is likely that there were others who came to the side of Mary, joseph, and their little one as well, for God’s call to people to come and worship His Son, the One who was foretold and who was to bring salvation to all of the world, presented to many as a strong desire or even as a need to be at the side of the Messiah. These were imperfect people. Some knew God and others did not. All were living out their lives to the best of their abilities to do so, but all had, in fact, fallen short of the righteousness that God demands of us. These wise men from the east, the shepherds who left their flocks to come to Bethlehem, and all of the other people who sought to see this miracle from Heaven in the shape and form of a human baby were just like each of us and everyone in the world. They and we are sinners who are lost and separated from God without this Savior who was born to Mary on that day so long ago.

God calls to us just as He did to those wise men. He says that our past is of little to no importance now, for now there is born unto us a Savior, a Redeemer, a Lord who loves our hearts, minds, and our souls in a manner that knows no bounds and recognizes no obstacles to pouring out His grace and love onto each and every one of us. Our beliefs and their practice, our faith or lack of it, and our personal histories do not matter when it comes to drawing near to Christ. These wise Persians and those grimy shepherds were called to come. I believe that even Herod, with all of his evil and troubling deeds and thoughts, was granted the opportunity to come and worship when the travelers from the east visited him in his palace. God is calling to each of us now; we are to come and worship the King, the Lord of Creation, the Savior of our souls and the Redeemer of our days. If we know Christ, we are to come and know Him more fully, yield more completely to His will, follow His righteous way with greater focus and intensity, and as we come to Him, we can bring a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger with us to see first-hand the presence of the One who saves. The call that went out to the wise men is still ringing out. It is carried on the bells of Christmas Day, and they sing forth God’s appeal to all people everywhere, “Come and worship, Christ the King!”  

Sing to the LORD all the earth!

   Tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

   his marvelous works among all peoples! 

1 Chronicles 16: 23, 24

We seldom use the word marvelous to describe things in our world. Either it has passed out of fashion or there is just not much left for us to marvel at. I tend to think that the later of those reasons is at play here, for the world that we know today is filled with things, with human accomplishments, that were not even dreamed about in the most fertile of our grandparent’s imaginations. It is hard to impress us, and perhaps, we don’t really want to be taken over and knocked off of our feet by all that much, either. We desire to be in control so that we have answers for any and all questions that might be posed to us. This is how many of us today see our world, but this was not what David saw as he looked out upon the nature of his day.

He was viewing myriad reasons to sing, and the song that he composed was one that placed the Lord squarely in the center of all of the goodness that was going on in the world. Now David was not an idealist and didn’t live a protected life. His world was not a calm and peaceful place, either. He resided in times that reflected the fallen nature of this earth. The culture in those days was just as broken, violent, and godless as is ours today. So, David’s reason for singing makes just as much or as little sense today as it did then. He sees the hand of the Lord at work in the world, and that same hand has never stopped being engaged with us and in our lives. God was present then; He is present now, and He will be present for all of the time to come!

God’s presence is not a passive or uninvolved hovering over us. He brings the hope of salvation to our need for redemption. God has granted us His Son, Jesus the Christ, as the answer to our need for a Savior. But the salvation that David was singing about is much greater and extends further than the miracle of eternity, for he experienced the form of saving grace that transforms the lives that we are living today into ones that know righteousness, justice, and deep love. Christ, present with and in His people, provides the lyric to the song of life that is the great marvel of all times. The fact that we can be redeemed from the state of rebellion against God that is our natural one is a wonder, and the lives that we can live as those redeemed ones of God is the most extraordinary expression of God’s glory that it is possible to utter. God’s love, sacrifice, and the salvation that comes out of it all provides the chorus to this life-long song of praise, and its verses are expressed by the love, grace, justice, and mercy that we extend to others in the name of Christ.  

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 29: 2

 

According to Merriam-Webster the verb ascribe has a simple definition; “to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author: to say or think that (something) is caused by, comes from, or is associated with a particular person or thing.”

Ascription indicates the source or the cause; so, when David tells us to ascribe glory to the Lord, he is saying that the Lord, Himself, is the one who wrote the book on glory. This form of brilliance is both greater than all light, including the illumination that comes from the sun, and also gives off a form of illumination that penetrates to the depths of the heart and the soul to reveal all that is to be found there. This is the glory that is of the Lord and that also emanates from Him. We cannot draw near to God and not be caught up in the power and the beauty of His light of glory.

 

So, if we seek to be close to God, we will encounter glory. As we seek to know Him, we experience this same great light, and the glow that comes from God’s presence is one that is infused with His holiness and that also pours out that same great cleansing truth over and into all who will accept God as our Lord. This is a wonderful gift and a marvelous reward for turning away from the influences of this world and surrendering to the love, grace, and mercy of the Father as expressed by and through Jesus Christ, the Son. In simple fact, we do not actually cause glory to be associated with God, for God is self-referential in this matter. We acknowledge what is there as we speak out our comprehension of the character and nature of our Lord and Creator. His glory is something that predates all of Creation. It is a part of the fabric of the universe as God imparted His great light of truth into all that His hands formed and granted life to. God’s glory is present in Heaven and in all that exists outside of it.

 

Although we encounter this glory in and around us in many places and as a part of much of our world, there is still only one source for it. In addition, all that is truly glorious in our world and in life comes from that same source. Now God is not stingy with giving out His glory to us; instead, He distributes it freely and widely. However, if we desire to know the source of this life-giving light, we must seek after and draw near to the Lord. As we call out God’s name and associate it with words of adoration, praise, and petition, we are engaging in worship. We also do this when we bring the pain and the struggles of our days to our Lord with trust in His goodness and mercy and expectant hope for His comfort and provision. The Lord is honored by the way that we live out our lives when we do so in response to Christ’s great sacrificial love for us, and He counts it as worship when we pour out justice, mercy, comfort, and protection upon people who are broken and downtrodden. Each and every aspect of worship comes about in response to who God is and as a reflection of the glory that radiates from His presence. As we worship we speak back to God the truth of His great love, and we open our hearts and our minds to encountering ever more of God’s awesome presence.

 

 

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