Gaudete

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Gentle Reader,

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Expectation.

Preparation.

Hope.

Rejoice.

In one week the stockings come down and the presents unwrapped. A brief moment of cheer set against the bleak backdrop of encroaching winter. The days get shorter, the nights, colder. Twinkle lights and fires glow, pushing back the dark.

It doesn’t really matter that nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born, or that He probably did not pierce a winter’s night sky with His first cry. Celebrating Christmas near the time of the solstice makes sense. Nature itself provides the observant with a handy display, a physical manifestation of the weariness that we have all felt at one point or another. Bare tree limbs poke at the drab sky. First snowfalls have long turned to mush or melted away entirely, leaving a sickly-colored earth behind. Animals, when they stir at all, move slowly, as if gravity has become stronger.

What better time to stop and remind ourselves of the wonder that is the Incarnation?

I have often wondered what it must have been like for Jesus to fit Himself into a tiny baby body. He never stopped being God. He never forgot what it was like to be limitless and glorified. How odd it must have been for Him, to find His voice, the one that said, “Let there be light!,” reduced to the helpless squalling of an infant. How odd it must have been for Him, the first time He felt the pangs of hunger. I wonder if He ever looked at His mother and felt just a little sad, because He knows what it is to love the way mothers do and He knew her heart would be broken. I wonder if He ever experienced frustration over His lack of limb control or hated to have His diaper changed.

It doesn’t make sense, does it, that He would do this for us?

Yet He did.

He who heard the sound of angels now heard the snarfling of a donkey. He who breathed in holy incense now smelled the sweat and blood of a young woman. He who felt the weight of majestic robes now felt His earthly father’s beard brush against tender skin. He who rightly rules over all found Himself hidden away in a cave-barn.

I wonder if the angels stared at Him for a good long while before breaking into their song. I wonder if they were truly baffled at what He had done. I wonder if the animals in that cave understood that they were in the presence of the One who had made them. I wonder how the Father felt. I’m sure Satan laughed at the absurdity of it all.

The Incarnation will never be fully understood by us, this side of Eternity. Any question we might have answered will only lead to more questions. This is something that we accept on faith. God became man without sacrificing His Godness. This just is. We have to relinquish control and embrace the mystery.

Gaudete, my friend. Rejoice. Your King has drawn near.

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Photo Credit: Walter Chavez

Same Age as Jesus

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man…. He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.19.2

He was only 33.

Well, ish. Nobody really knows for sure exactly how old Jesus was when He gave up His life to save us. Tradition places Him in His early- to mid-thirties. There’s no reason to argue with that; it doesn’t matter how old He was when He died. What matters is that He did – and that He busted out of the tomb on that holiest and happiest of days.

He is faithful in all things. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who call Him Lord, and so He does.

“…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

– John 14:26 (NKJV)

He will teach us all things. A process that never ends.

Therefore, I find myself pondering the life of Christ in a new way.

I find it very odd to be the same age (or roughly thereabouts) as Jesus was when He took up the rough-hewn cross. He is, of course, eternal. Always existing, never created. But His humanity, the mysterious Incarnation – it was cut so short. Only a few gray hairs would have peppered His head. His face would have been relatively unlined. His body would have been full of strength and energy.

As they say, the prime of life. For us sinners, this age often means that the mistakes of youth are past and the winding down of middle age is yet to come. Barring illness, this is the peak of physicality before the downward slide (because no matter how well you eat and how much you exercise, getting older is a thing that you just can’t escape).

This moment on His timeline, this box on His calendar – He chose to sacrifice Himself.

When we read these words –

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

– Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

– we tend to focus on temptation as being exclusively tempted to bad. This is true. Yet consider that the Devil would have tempted Jesus with all the good and ordinary things that any man wants – a stable career, a loving marriage, children, a happy home life. I think of the men I know, those in their thirties, who want all these things. Who work for all these things. Who are full of plans and hope.

Jesus’ plan was to give hope by dying.

All the ordinary things He would have wanted, for His humanity was just as complete as yours and mine, lacking on the stain of sin. He set them aside. I certainly want comfort, security, rest. He lacked all of these things as He traveled about, inviting people into the embrace of Kingdom. He had no home. No income. No wife to smooth His furrowed brow. No children of His own to bounce on His knee.

An ordinary-looking man, as Isaiah wrote,

He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.

– 53:2b (NKJV)

But nothing ordinary about Him at all.

I am moved by His sacrifice in a way I’ve never before experienced, a way that I can’t quite express. It makes me ache to know that the Infinite Lord of all creation, who holds everything together by the power of His sustaining word, experienced the cruel anguish of loneliness. Of painfully standing out in and remaining apart from the crowd. He did not have what any of His male contemporaries had. He did not embrace the women who followed Him as anything other than sisters. He had no possessions. No position.

Jesus wasn’t just tempted to sin. He had to have been tempted to set aside the plan and follow the path of family and friendship, the very path that most of us walk without question. No wonder He retreated so often to pray. The tomb of Lazarus and the ground of Gethsemane cannot have been the only places witness to His tears. How He must have missed the intimate, equal, happy fellowship of the Father and the Spirit! How it must have hurt to be separated from them, even if only in a limited way for a limited time.

For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal.

– Philippians 2:6-8 (Phillips)

Utter obedience. Not just the obedience of the cross, an agony horrific enough itself. The obedience of daily, even momently, setting aside His human longings, showing us how to be fulfilled and content without any of the usual trappings.

What a marvel He is.

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Merry Christmas

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The snow falls gently, pushed here and there in the slight breeze. The street is quiet. The tree continues in its long, silent vigil.

In my heart, anticipation builds.

Advent winds down. The day is coming. Our minds draw back to that night so long ago, when the cries of a newborn pierced the air. The Word, whose voice called all of creation into being. Whose hands hold the atoms in place. He set aside His rightful glory, His awesome majesty, to save His people from their sins.

To save us from our sins.

I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that you allow yourself time and space in order to reflect on the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. I pray that you are blessed with a renewed sense of His lovingkindness and intimate presence. May you be surrounded by loved ones. May your days be filled with joy and peace.

My journey to faith. (15)

Immanuel

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Gentle Reader,

Immanuel.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

– Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV)

I feel tingly inside when I think about Christmas.

October may be my favorite month, but this is my favorite season.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year are filled with light and life. The scent of pine and sugar cookies dance in the air. Dogs are decked out in ridiculous Santa outfits. (Not mine. They have respectable red-and-black plaid vests with faux shearling collars). Kids belt out tunes from the church Christmas play at the top of their lungs, never quite getting the lyrics correct. People walk around with little smiles on their faces, thinking of secret goodies for loved ones tucked beneath sparking trees (real and fake). Snoopy and the Red Baron agree to a truce on the front lines.

I love it.

One of my earliest memories centers around Christmas. My dad took my brother and I out to the back steps on a cold, clear night. We could see the marks of our playtime in the thick snow. Petey the black-and-white mutt stood with us, watching. Dad pointed to the brightest star in the sky (probably the North Star, but I’m not sure) and told us how a star just like that guided the Wise Men to a town called Bethlehem, to a baby named Jesus. He told us about the gifts they gave to the baby, because He was the King.

Then, on Christmas Eve, my mom pulled a yellow cake from the oven. She pushed white rainbow-chip frosting back and forth across the top without tearing the cake (something I have yet to master) and then, gently, pierced the layers with candles. Dad lit the match. We sang, “Happy birthday, dear Jesus.”

The simplicity of those moment never fail to stir my heart. Sure, I know all about John 1 and how Jesus is part of the Trinity and has always existed, and so on the deeper level He never had a birthday. I know that the Wise Men probably arrived in Bethlehem (by way of Jerusalem) a couple of years after Jesus was born. I understand terms like hypostatic union and kenosis.

All the systematic theology in the world cannot capture the holy mystery of the Incarnation.

The prophecies and the 400 years of silence. The teenage girl and the announcement. The man who would divorce the girl and is stopped. The census. The trek to Bethlehem. The donkey. No room in the inn. Mary longing for her mother. Joseph freaking out as he’s turned into a midwife. A barn. A hush settling over the animals tucked within as the One who created them all bursts onto the scene with the wailing cries of a newborn. The lowly shepherds. The angelic choir.

The infinite Lord of creation, bound neither by space nor time, chose to lay aside His glory and come to earth in the form of a fragile baby.

I can’t get over that. I can’t explain that. The terms and the thick books don’t do it justice.

God, in flesh and blood.

The stars and the birthday cake somehow make the most sense. Tiny human beings looking to the sky, waiting for the Lord to come. Offering up what little we have, like the little drummer boy. Wanting to show, to say, how much He means to us and failing to fully express the sentiment.

God with us.

God actually with us.

Mind-blowing and heart-rending. He didn’t have to. He’s God. He could have left us to our own devices. We would have deserved that. Instead He gave us what we can never, ever even come close to deserving.

Immanuel.

My journey to faith. (15)