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.  

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Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to preserve you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

There is real wonder and magic in the air as we tell the story of Jesus’ humble birth to the specially and specifically chosen young virgin woman. The enormity of God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the rest of creation to himself is written all over the way that these events transpired, and God’s heart for that redemptive work continues to be on full view throughout the life and especially in the death that Jesus was to encounter. So, it is of little wonder to me that God’s real intent in all of this is found in Jude’s few simple words of praise, for there is only one being who can do what is stated here. Jesus is the answer to all people’s need to become blameless before God just as He is the singular source of the wisdom, strength, and grace that are required daily to make it through life while living out those days righteously.

 

This redeemed life that Jude is praising is the point behind all that God did by and through Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate Himself to the world for any other purpose. He certainly did not need to undergo the pain and the suffering of living out a short lifespan in human flesh in order to be able to relate to us or to understand us, for these are things that God has been capable of doing in ways that are deep and profound from the dawn of our inception at His hand. Jesus was with us and journeyed along our pathways so that we would be more fully able to grasp the enormity of what has been lost to sin’s death and decay. In Christ, we are also provided with a tangible means of return to a now and an eternal place of right standing before our Lord as it is through faith in Jesus the Christ that all sin is forgiven and that our lives are transformed into ones that follow God’s design for living in the full appreciation of the Lord’s intent for us.

 

As I know this Jesus whose birth is celebrated in the festivities of Christmas, the true importance of Jude’s words of praise take on greater meaning for me. These are not just some spiritually right sounding words and phrases to recite in rote liturgical fashion; they are the essence of the calling that Christ has placed upon my life. Christ is shown most fully in His glory, majesty, dominion, and authority as I and other people of faith live out the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that the Lord has pour over and into us. The point of Christmas is that the lives of people in this world would be changed. The focus of that long-ago birth is the salvation of the people of this world from our separation from our Creator and thus from a death that starts at birth and that knows no end. We are each and all called upon to live out the salvation that God has gifted to us through Jesus. We do this by making Jude’s words of praise the on-going descriptor of the manner that we conduct our lives.

 

Blessings in Christ, and Merry Christmas.

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Jeremiah 33: 15

 

Those days and that time have come, and they are still on the horizon. The dawn of this new age when all injustice is abolished and wherein righteousness is the way of all life is still a promise. However, the One who brings about the realization of God’s promise has come so that His life is something that we can all enjoy. Jeremiah spoke with a view to a future that he believed in by virtue of faith. We live in a time when we can look back upon the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Christ and see the fulfillment of that which the prophet had to contemplate in trust and by that great faith. Now we live in a time between Christ’s advent and the ultimate and complete fulfillment of God’s plan for restoration of Creation.

 

Our days and these times are filled with the trouble and the anguish of a world that is still not cleansed of its sinfully rebellious ways. This creation where we dwell is torn apart by striving against its own Creator and Savior. It is fighting a lost battle with the Lord of the Universe over terrain that has already been consecrated by the sacrificial blood of the Messiah. So, for those of us who do know Christ, we are caught up in the middle of this war zone, and this place can bring with it challenges and hard times. However, the life that we are able to live because of the presence of Christ in us and with us is graced with that same hope that blessed Jeremiah’s journey. We have been granted the opportunity to see beyond faith to the reality of Christ’s redemption as we are taken deeply into the truth of God’s eternal wisdom while His unstoppable love is poured out upon us.

 

That righteous Branch, Jesus the Christ, provides for us a root that is unbreakable to hold onto through all of the days of this life. He grants to us His grace, mercy, peace, and strength so that we can dwell securely in the land where the Lord’s will has placed us. These are the days that God has given to each of us to fill with His presence. This is the time that He has ordained for us to follow Him and to proclaim Christ and His Gospel of life to the world around us. The Savior has come; this is no longer a future promise. Redemption is at hand for anyone who will turn away from the lost life of birth and embrace God’s promise of newness and rebirth as a beloved citizen of His Kingdom come. So, even in this world where struggle and chaos may seem to rule the day, we can be secure as we follow our Lord in doing His redemptive work, and we can hold onto Jeremiah’s hopeful vision of Christ’s final return and the renewal of all of Creation to God’s intended glory.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

to whom belong wisdom and might.”

Daniel 2: 20

 

Daniel is young but very wise. These qualities do not always converge, but in this instance, God has settled what is sometimes called “a wisdom beyond his years” upon the youthful Jewish Babylonian captive. He is going to volunteer to go before the most powerful man on earth and tell him the meaning of an unsettling dream. This is coming about after all of the wise men and the sorcerers that the king regularly employs have failed in this task and have now been sentenced to death because of their failure. As we can see, this is not a palace where grace and forgiveness lead to second chances. So, stepping up and sticking his neck out, as Daniel is about to do, may not be the safest thing that he could consider. Yet, there are times in life when each of us needs to trust in our Lord, lean on His wisdom and strength, and step out and step up to take on the challenges that are placed before us.

 

This specific challenge is huge, and Daniel takes it on with a humble heart and a mind that is submitted to the Lord. This is the attitude that he expresses in this poetic prayer of thanks and praise to the Lord that he speaks forth just before he goes to the king’s appointed executioner and asks him to delay the carnage for Daniel can interpret the king’s dream. Nothing that Daniel says in this prayer suggests that he is relying upon his own knowledge, wisdom, courage, or skill. He points toward the source of all of the ability that he possesses and clearly indicates that every good thing that he holds and all that is worthwhile that comes out of him comes directly from the one true God. The wisdom that was essential to interpret the king’s dream and to know how to approach this powerful and ego-driven man was something that God owned and that He has granted to Daniel as a gift. The Lord also provided the courage and the fortitude that were required to risk his life in speaking up.

 

The only thing that Daniel brought to this situation that came from within himself was his submission to God and his desire to know his Lord deeply and intimately while following His righteous will in all matters. This is a great story from the ancient texts in the Bible, but I don’t think that it is here for us today because it makes for good adventure reading. Daniel was an exceptional person, and he lived in remarkable times. Yet, what he shows us about living in the world as a person who desires to serve the true King, Jesus the Christ, is really a depiction of the nature of dwelling in God’s new kingdom come to earth and of following the will of our Lord throughout the days that we have been granted as a gift from God. During those days we all encounter the kings of this earth and can engage with their flawed understandings of truth and of the nature and the character of God. Christ provides us with opportunities to submit our wills to Him and to enter into His wisdom as we speak out to proclaim Christ’s gospel of love and righteousness in the various courts of worldly power where we travel each day. Daniel’s prayer of submission and obedience can be our own framework, and his faithful response can be ours as well.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!

Romans 11: 33

 

We humans like to engage in the debate, to reason things out, and to consider and reconsider our fundamental truths. God made our minds to be facile and flexible, and he granted us the right and the capacity to make decisions about almost everything that we might encounter in this world. This was true from the first breath of the first human, and it continues to be the case after thousands of years of our species’ walk upon this earth. Yet, there are limits to our ability to shape and define the truths that govern our days. God did not grant us the right to redefine Him, and He also set out His nature and will in terms that have long-standing definition in His Word. There are ways that people can choose to live and things that we can do that are inside of God’s will, and we call this way of life righteousness. There are other responses to our journeys through life that divert from God’s way and that follow a path of our own design and selection and God sees these as rebellious and sinful.

 

Everyone faces the conjunction of these two paths on numerous occasions during our days. Many of the decisions that we make are very small, but some of them are truly monumental. The greatest one that all people face is the one wherein we choose to follow Christ or to reject Him. All else, in fact, follows along after that point of decision. Yet, once we elect to submit ourselves to Christ and so to enter into a relationship with God, we have merely begun the process of making decisions regarding our will and continued submission to Christ’s way of living. There comes a point in that ongoing process of choosing to follow God’s Word that each of us needs to decide to simply accept the fact that there are truths contained within it that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our person desires, and that may alienate us from others in our world. Still, God’s truth is foundational to true life, and our acceptance of all of it will require each follower of Christ to submit ourselves to Christ and to accept His will and way on the basis of faith alone.

 

However, it is faith that brings us to this place of engagement with the deep mysteries of creation. Acceptance and belief in God the Father who created all that is, His Son Jesus the Christ who grants us our true life, and the third person of our mystically triune God, the Holy Spirit who speaks to our minds and our hearts on a continual basis is the greatest act of faith that any person can enter into. So, as we proceed along with our own journeys of faith, we walk in the light of God’s truth and within the pleasure of His will so long as we continue to submit ourselves to His Word and the leading of His Spirit. In doing this there is ample room for curiosity, questioning, and exploration; however, each of these God given human qualities reaches a point of termination when moving forward with our own thinking requires us to change the meaning and the intent of God’s Word of truth. In this there are certain basic terms and qualities that must define and describe the way that we conduct ourselves in our world. We are to be loving above all else, to be willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, to seek justice for all, to embrace those who appear to be our enemies with the love of Christ, and we are to be strong enough in our Lord to rise above all of the noise and the debate of our world so that the one valid answer to all that is wrong is seen and heard in us. Thus we bring the unsearchable and the inscrutable nature and character of God into the view of a world that needs His healing grace above all else.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 

There is an admission that I feel I need to make. I am actually a lot more distractible than I would ever like to think that I am. I lose sight of what matters, what is most important, too often and much too easily. Thoughts and ideas come along, and I go off in pursuit of them in a matter of moments. Issues arise, and I engage with them full on and go chasing after understanding and resolution before taking a moment to breathe and to listen to the Spirit’s direction. When these things happen, I can find myself miles from home, winded from the chase, and wandering defenselessly in a foreign land. Frequently this strange place is one where my actions and my manner of treating other people are not reflective of Christ. This is the territory where anger, incivility, and bitterness dwell, and none of these are the air that a follower of Christ should be breathing in to inform my heart and my mind.

 

So, I repent of this distractedness of mind and of the lack of faithfulness of heart that establishes it. I know the fundamental truths of the Gospel of Christ that Paul states here, but I don’t always take hold of them with such focus that they are truly “of first importance.” That is the key element in what the Apostle is saying. He was writing about the divisions that were happening in the church in his days, and in response to them, Paul directed the people of Christ’s body to look closely at what brought them together in the first place. This point of gathering in was Christ in the fullness of His sacrifice, which entailed the surrender of His position of power and majesty, the acceptance of mockery and death, and then in its aftermath, the resurrection to life that demonstrated God’s utter superiority over all else on earth and in the heavens. Jesus, the Christ, with His message of the Gospel is the center of all that we believe as Christians.

 

So, it must be the center of all that I think and do, as well. In placing the eyes of my heart squarely and singularly on Christ, I am looking outside of myself and away from my fears and concerns so that God’s truth overcomes the mental and the emotional clutter that our culture and my own mind create. With my eyes on Christ, it is much harder to see the differences that divide us inside of Christ’s family of faith, and these other people start to look more like the brothers and sisters that they are in fact. We live in times where truth and faithfulness to the Gospel are being challenged routinely. The air that surrounds us is polluted by fear based and defensive expressions of disunity and distrust, and I find that I do buy into spreading that sort of fouled air. So, I am committing here to turn my eyes and my heart toward Christ with my primary expression being that of the truth of His Gospel. Then, my wandering heart will be grounded in what is truly “of first importance.”