In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. 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: 1-5

As we have just entered into the season of Advent, this time of waiting and of anticipation, I want to look at its inception. I admit that when I have considered this idea in the past that I have usually started the thread of this part of the story with the coming of the angel to Mary. This is then traced backward in time to Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah which are founded in God’s words about the crushing of the serpent’s head in Genesis 3. All of this would seem to ground the narrative of God’s plan and design for our salvation and restoration into the earliest days of humanity’s earthly existence. Yet, it occurs to me that there is a quality to this that is somewhat like crisis management. By the third chapter of Genesis our ancestors have already defied God and are being set out on their long and wandering journey through life.

Although God is the ever-present and only true answer to all of the crisis that come in life, the God that I know is not surprised or caught short by anything that we do or by what happens in the world. He knows and sees and is prepared to respond to all of it. Even in His power, knowledge, and absolute capacity and capability the Lord God is always the Father. Everything in His dealings with people is framed and motivated by His unending desire for us to have a deeply intimate relationship with Him. God yearns for the time when each of us will surrender our stubborn, isolationist ways and turn to Christ in humility and submission to His righteousness. God knew from a time when the concept that we consider as time had not been created that there would be a fatal break in our relationship with Him. Yet, He proceeded with the creation of humanity, but God did so with our restoration to a relationship with Him in full view.

This point in absolute pre-history would seem to be the true inception of Advent. God always knew that He would come to dwell among humanity. He was actively preparing for that time from before the moment that he first touched the soil of the new born earth in order to form the man whose descendant we all are. God imparted the life that came from His breath, that is His Spirit, into us, and He determined that we would be brought back to life from the self-imposed grave that we entered through disobedience. In our time, God has already come. Christ entered into our world, and the way to salvation and the means to transformation is present with us. Now we wait in anticipation of even more. The advent to come is the one in which all that is broken and diseased in all of Creation will be destroyed and heaven and the new earth will become one. Today we can live in the hope of the light that is Christ in us and the promise of His glory which truly overcomes all that is darkness in our world. 

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew 1: 1

The details of history that Matthew records mattered greatly to his primarily Jewish intended audience. They also matter to the rest of us. Matthew shows that Jesus has a direct relationship to both the foundational prophet for their people in Abraham, and He is also a blood relative of the anointed king, David. Thus, Jesus is the rightful heir to the one and only God-ordained role as ruler over all of God’s people on earth. Although Matthew places Jesus within a Jewish context, God has never been so limiting when He considers the extent of who are inclusive as His own people. The separation of humanity into races, tribes, and separate people groups is something that came about as a result of our departure from God’s righteous path for living. None of them are outside of God’s grace, and no one is excluded from God’s desire and intent to save and to redeem. So, from the beginning of time, the Father planned and prepared to send the Son into our world in order to effect and perfect their plan for setting forth that heavenly redemptive work.

Matthew sets out a part of the careful detail that God included in His plan for the coming of the Savior. There were no accidental twists and turns in this long history of human relationships, for it all led to that point in history when the time was right and the setting was established for God to step into the earthly narrative in a tangible and personal way. Jesus was born in improbability into a family of little to no means and raised in that obscurity; yet, He was filled with all wisdom and understanding in a manner that made His elders wonder when He was still a youth. Then, in or about His thirtieth year Jesus moved out into the public sector and did the Father’s ordained work until the established power structure became concerned about Him so that He was considered too dangerous to be allowed to continue on. As Jesus was not to be intimidated or bought off, His societally legal murder was orchestrated by those same religious and political leaders. However, death was not permanent, and silence was not secured by the cross.

Instead, the cross and the grave that followed it were just the first steps in the Father’s plan for the perfection of His eternal design for the redemption of creation. The initial aspects of this plan are demonstrated by the recitation of many of the names of the people that came before Jesus and that form into His human family tree. The existence of the plan is stated by numerous prophetic citations in God’s Word so that when Mary gave birth to her miraculous son she was in Bethlehem as had been prophesied, and that child had the right by reason of lineage to the designation of Anointed One, which had been proclaimed by God to David through Samuel. God’s heart is made glad when people respond to His call to come to Jesus in order to be reconciled with the Father. When this happens, God’s intricate planning and perfect execution of His means for redemption is fulfilled as we are restored to our place as God’s beloved children.        

The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

 You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Psalm 12: 6-8

David’s words are both a lament and a warning. He cries out in pain at the way that deceitful people rule over the land. David is aware of this evil characteristic in people as he has observed it or has heard of it from the past. In addition, he also possesses the ability to look ahead and to see that not much will change in the future. People will continue to lie, cheat, and deceive in order to gain power, and they will operate out of deception in order to hold onto it. Their words are vile in God’s eyes. This means that they are as unpleasant as it is to enter a closed room in hot weather and find that there is spoiled meat present. The nose is curled and Godly people are repulsed by what they are encountering. 

This is the sort of pollution that these liars and deceivers spread across the land. They fill our ears with words that lead away from life and into a form of death that is the reality of this world when it is experienced outside of God’s holy and righteous presence. Unfortunately, these same vile rulers are successful because their message seems to be a good one to many people’s ears. They like the flattery and they respond to the sense of power and dominance that is often an important aspect of these ungodly leader’s message. As earthly rule is ordained by God, and rulers are placed into power with a form of permission from God, people who serve in these manners are also tasked with following God’s Word and His will when they carry out the work of their offices.

Thus, the warning that is spoken forth in this lament is for them. The Lord may allow the ungodly to have a day to bask in the radiance of their positional power, but He will not let what is so repugnant to Him continue unchecked forever. There will be a day when the people that misuse and abuse God-ordained authority and wield power for their own benefit will be required to stand face to face with the ultimate righteous judge, Jesus Christ. Even before that time, people are held accountable by God for the way that they live and for the manner in which they adhere to His word of grace, love, peacemaking, and truth. The Lord does prevail in this world, and this is true even in days of darkness as well. Instead of listening to these promoters of lies, we can keep our focus on the face of God, remain grounded in His Word of truth, and worship the one true King whose word never fails and whose loving care for us is eternal.  

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6: 34

Sheep are remarkable animals. They can be very productive as they grow that woolen coat that can be made into clothing and many other useful items. They are also used for food, and their skins make great cold weather clothing. Sheep are smaller and so eat less than cattle and more can be kept on a parcel of land. Yet, they do need care and management. Sheep will not take care of themselves and thrive. One of the most impressive sights that can be seen in my part of the world is that twice a year migration when sheep are moved from winter pasture to higher elevation summer ones and its reversal in the fall. Then, large flocks of sheep are moved by a team of shepherds and sheep dogs, and these flocks are so large that their entire group cannot be seen at one time. Still, even in large numbers, they are not safe or secure without that human and working dog care, management, and direction.

People are similar. We may not seem to need the presence of that highly instinctual and well-trained herding dog nipping at our heels to keep us moving in the proper direction, or the skill and knowledge of the shepherd who leads us to places where good water and abundant forage are available. But, when I look at the sorts of challenges, trials, and struggles that people generate for themselves, I am not so convinced that we don’t need a little herding along the course of life. We might fight against the idea of management or control, for we are thinking and perceiving creatures and can sort out the best ways to handle whatever it is that life sends our way. However, it is my observation that people simply don’t always pick the best path, make the righteous decision, or seek to think, speak, and act in a manner that brings honor and glory to God. We need to be taught, we require correction, and we thrive when we are receiving nurture and encouragement along the way.

Christ provides all of this to His people. His Spirit takes us into the deep truths that are contained in the text of God’s Word, and He opens up our minds and our hearts to understanding the application of those words of life to the situations that we are encountering today. When we look at Mark’s account of the events that were happening in those days when Jesus was actively teaching and healing on earth, we see the Lord directly engaged with people in meeting their needs and providing care and comfort to them. This same real and tangible presence of our Lord is with us now, too. Christ gave us His Spirit, and He is at work in and with us on a continual basis. Our Great Shepherd walks through life with us, and He never fails to safeguard our souls or to feed our spirits. The Lord’s truth guides our steps and protects us from the deceptive traps that Satan attempts to set for us. As we navigate life’s journey with Jesus, we are no longer those lost sheep who are without a shepherd, for we are continually cared about and cared for by the one true and eternal shepherd, Jesus Christ, God With Us.    

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?

Acts 11: 17

Peter had just experienced one of those great moments of eye opening, blast of ice-cold water in the face truth revealed to him by God. He had been thinking that he had a responsibility to perform as a sort of filter on what would be acceptable to God and on how people could be made worthy of entering into the fellowship of people who believe in Jesus. Peter was wrong. He was absolutely and totally off track in his thinking, and his actions followed along after his thoughts. In this same light, it is interesting how much Peter was like me and so many other people that I know and have heard about.

It seems that we humans are very slow learners. Thus, it is a really good thing that the Lord is a very patient teacher. There is one and only one authorized and final judge who has authority over the affairs of people, and that judge is the resurrected One, Jesus the Christ. We are called upon by God to function as a continuation of Christ’s interaction with people here on this earth; for, people who know Jesus are the living Body of Christ in our world. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can possess the heart, mind, and the power of Christ in order to fulfill His mission for us of bringing God’s loving grace, restorative peace, and eternal perspective to this sin ravaged world.

There is no person who is so far removed from God that His grace cannot save them. There is no place that the Lord does not want us to go to tell His truth, and nothing should stop us from seeking to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in all aspects of living on a daily basis. When I start to apply standards to others that will get in the way of my ability to speak truth to them with the love of Christ on my lips, I need to stop and consider how my Lord would have approached the same person. These are often situations where my actions are more important than any words that I can speak. In these situations and circumstances service, sacrifice, and simple love are frequently the vocabulary that Christ provides for me to use. At these times of engagement with people, as in all aspects of living as a follower of Christ, I need to seek the Spirit’s leading and ask that Christ open my heart and fill my mind with His loving attitude and gracious words of eternal hope and salvation’s message of redemptive grace.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2: 5, 6

Paul has just made the statement that God wants all people to be saved; so, he states the reason and the way that this is to come about. Now the subject of salvation is one that should be of interest to virtually everyone, for we all find ourselves in situations and circumstances that bring forms of peril into our paths. Life in this world is not easy, and the journey that we are on through it is one on which things are guaranteed to get rough. This is just the way that it is in our neighborhood, and all people dwell in a place that has its issues and its challenges. Wealth, social status, nationality, and religion make no difference, for evil is everywhere and all of us are born into a life of opposition to God’s will and one wherein we will encounter strife that is poured out upon us and that is also caused by our own thoughts and actions.

No one escapes the need for being saved, and none of us are capable of doing that saving on our own. If being saved were as simple as it is sometimes depicted in adventure stories, then some of us might have a chance at effecting our escape from some of the perils that assail us in this world. But those stories are fantasy, and the conquering heroes that are depicted in them are seldom much like us. Real people have far too little strength, capability, and skill to successfully go up against evil giants and prevail without the intervention of something from beyond ourselves. All of this is even more so the reality of life when it comes to entering into the very real and ever-present struggle with spiritual forces and with the soul-deep need for rescue that we are each born into. Our birthright of separation from God demands resolution, and God has given us the gift of redemption, the One who paid the price of ransom that was required to set us free, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although this concept is very simple in so many ways, acceptance of God’s offer is often quite hard for people to enter into. For many of us doing this requires us to step out of logic and reason and enter into the most profoundly deep and life-altering relationship that we will ever encounter on the basis of that fragile and mystical thing called faith. This is admittedly hard to do, but God makes promises to us. He is committed to be with us and to take us through life with all that it throws our way. He shows us the greater reality of life whereby the lives that we are living here and now are nothing more than a dim shadow of the ones that we will know if we choose to enter into that relationship with Christ. God desires to be with each and every one of us in an eternal home that is our dwelling place after these days are accomplished, but He also wants for us to join with Him willingly and out of our own desire to be with Him. So, we can choose Jesus Christ and be saved in this life and into all of eternity, or we can reject Christ and be separated from God’s presence for all time. God’s heart and desire is focused on the first of those outcomes.   

Be not wise in your own eyes,

   fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3: 7

If only it were this simple. Just avoid the trap that is out there ready to spring. In this case that trap is an over abundance of confidence in one’s own knowledge, skill, and competency to sort our life. Then, hold the appropriate level of respect for God, and hold Him in that position of being the better choice as the source of that same desired knowledge, skill, and competency. Finally, we need to turn away from evil, and so, stop doing what is wrong and do what is right. Unfortunately, life is seldom that clear about these matters, and we are also not usually this ready and willing to just set aside the things that we have been thinking and doing and turn to a more righteous way of life. Some of this reluctance to change is based in stubbornness, other aspects of it are grounded in the way that we have learned to survive in this world, and much of it is established in a set of deeply held and complex views of what is right, just, and good.

However, most of the things about the way that we live that God would desire for us to change are grounded in our understanding of who God actually is and are set off against the nature of the position of authority that we ascribe to God in our lives. If we hold God in high esteem and consider Him to be relevant in all areas of our lives and in the operation of the world, we will tend to be willing to yield our wills, desire for control, and self-interest to the Lord and to follow God’s Word as the singular absolute source of knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, if God is understood as someone worthy of less than this high level of respect and not granted the same ultimate authority over all that takes place in life and in the world, then we will not be so inclined to subordinate our own logic, desires, and wisdom to His. Every person on the earth is traveling through life at some place on the continuum that is described above. Each of us gets to wrestle with our understanding of God and with our willingness to submit to Him and to follow His will over every other influence or source of guidance that we may know or hold as significant.

To me, there is one singular difference making element in this life-long tension that is set up by God’s having granted people the free will to make choices regarding how we relate to Him and in the sources that we will turn to for knowledge, guidance, and the wisdom that is required to sort it all out. God provided the world with His answer to the internal struggle that we are all faced with in the person of Jesus. In turn, He left us with His Spirit to dwell with us in the world and to literally reside within the bodies of everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Christ’s presence within our hearts and minds establishes a new foundation for understanding the nature, character, and will of God. The Spirit gives the gift of understanding and the perspective of eternal wisdom to all who seek this revelation from God. Christ changes the manner in which our eyes see our world by giving us a field of vision that is framed in by love, grace, mercy, and justice. He leads us into worshiping God in a manner that comes from deep within our souls as Christ within us causes us to turn away from evil’s attempts to deceive our minds and hearts and misdirect our steps away from God’s desired path.