Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent: Immanuel

"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, 
because he will save his people from their sins.'
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  
'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel'--which means, 'God with us.'"
Matthew 1:20-23

For the last day of advent, I chose my favorite title for Jesus: Immanuel, God with us. The Isaiah passage I have written about on previous days is quite broad in its scope as the context of the passage is Messiah coming in triumph and restoring his people. But this term, Immanuel, is so beautifully intimate. God in a man, coming down to be with us physically. Such a thing is almost too breathtaking to attempt any meaningful statement. This truth gives me hope and joy and excitement and comfort and strength. Jesus walked among us, God here, a human, sharing our strengths and burdens. He made plain the love and justice and grace and mercy of our God. He submitted himself to the worst of deaths to tackle our root problem: sin. He triumphed and brought us hope that we can be more than the sinful leanings of our heart, that we can be redeemed and brought back to God. How can I adequately express what this means to me? How deep my heart beats with these truths?

And then to make his coming more profound--he is Immanuel even now. He said he is with us always. We are not orphans. He speaks to us through the Spirit. He walks with us step by step. We are guided by what he has said and done in his Word. Every day of my life he is available to me. He is here right now, right beside me. What hope and joy in this!

Remember today that your Immanuel is with you. He came and walked physically among us and he walks still in our lives. He is available to all who call on him, who submit to his heart and his will. Praise the Lord, Our Savior, for the child born who is God with Us!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent: Prince of Peace

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, 
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6
The last title applied to the child born for us in Isaiah 9 is usually translated "Prince of Peace." This title is the most interesting to me because it has the most depth. To say "Prince of Peace" is so simple in English; the Hebrew meaning is far richer. The Hebrew term translated as "prince" in English is actually much broader, meaning someone who rules or is in charge of something. It is not limited to royalty. The term for "peace" is one most people know: shalom. Shalom, though it contains the idea of peace, means far more. It includes the ideas of prosperity, harmony, well-being, security, completeness. Thus a better translation might be "ruler in charge of shalom."

How does this deeper meaning affect my view of Christ? When I've heard the phrase "Prince of Peace" before, I've thought more along the lines of Christ being passive--that he is peace because one of his attributes is peace. And that is true to an extent. But the idea of him being in charge of peace makes him an active participant in peace. He is not just peace in himself; he controls peace and makes peace happen. He is the ruler over my prosperity, harmony, well-being, security and completeness. I look to him as the source of shalom. This phrase fixes my eyes on the one who holds shalom in his grasp and is able to work it in my life. It reminds me that I am dependent on my Savior.

This Christmas, remember to look to your "Prince of Peace." Pray to him and thank him and petition him, for he is both the embodiment and the manager of peace in your life. Without the child born to us, peace is but a fleeting vision and temporary illusion. With him, peace has come to reign in our world and our hearts.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent: Everlasting Father

"For to us a child is born, 
to us a son is given, 
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, 
Mighty God, Everlasting Father..."
Isaiah 9:6

The child born for us, the wonderful counselor and mighty God, is also everlasting father. Everlasting is eternal, continuous, for all time and before. He has always existed and will continue to exist. I am also reminded of Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." What assurance there is in the reminder that our savior is forever utterly trustworthy and reliable.

"Everlasting" describes the next term: Father. Such a beautiful word to apply to Jesus. God is described as father all throughout the Old and New Testaments. God as father guides and protects and loves. He is faithful to his children. Thus the phrase "Everlasting Father" holds a double sense of loyalty. The everlasting son is always existent, completely reliable, a faithful father. The Everlasting Father is complete assurance of never being abandoned.

Whatever you are facing, whatever this season holds, you are not set adrift. The child born for you is always present. He will not leave you or forsake you. He cares for you as a loving father, protecting and guiding. Remember no matter what that you will always matter to him and he will always care for you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent: Mighty God

"For to us a child is born, 
to us a son is given, 
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, 
Mighty God..."
Isaiah 9:6
Mighty God. The term used for God here is el. El is a general term for God and is derived from a root that means "strength." The second name in Isaiah 9:6 then is one of power--the mighty strong one, the strong God. Mighty can also refer to a warrior. The son born will be a warrior, God in strength and power. The context of Isaiah 9 reveals the reason for this warrior, that he will "break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor" (Isaiah 9:4). This reminds me of when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, proclaiming of himself, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:18-19).

This miraculous child, the one sent to guide us, is also our warrior and our God. He has come to remove our burdens and defeat the rod of our oppressor. There is already a fulfillment in Isaiah in that God planned to rescue Israel physically, but Jesus himself proclaimed Isaiah fulfilled in some way during his first time on earth. Jesus declared he had been sent to set the oppressed free. What did he free us from when he first came? He did battle with sin and won: "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25).
At this time of year, let us remember that this son born for us came not only to guide us, but to break the slavery of sin in our lives. He is a warrior, come to do battle for his bride and claim her as his own. He has broken the rod of our oppressor and we are free. Such a profound truth, a humble babe in a manger born our warrior, God coming in might, the only one who could defeat the darkness of sin entangling our lives. Praise be to our Mighty God!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent: Wonderful Counselor

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor..."
Isaiah 9:6
Are you overwhelmed this season? Are you caught in the busyness of life, the holidays seemingly rushing by? I don't know about you, but at this time of year I always feel my schedule is packed and I am hard-pressed to catch my breath. Perhaps our expectations cause us to rush this time of year or maybe even good intentions of friends and family as we find ourselves invited to multiple events. How many of us think at the end of the season, "Did I even remember why we do all this?"

This month I am going to be posting five advent meditations, thoughts on the child born to us, who he for us even now. It's a way for me to focus on him in the midst of the crazy, to take a step back and gaze  squarely at the one this time is all about. I pray that as I focus myself, these posts may also help others pause to regain perspective.

Today I look to my wonderful counselor. Wonderful. The Hebrew word means something extraordinary, something miraculous, something hard to comprehend. It describes a work of God that causes us to stand in awe. In Jesus, God inserted himself into our world as a human--a miracle to be sure, something beyond expectations and yes, hard to understand. God in a man? And this is not a story or a myth; this is God truly being born a child, a son with authority. It is hard to wrap our minds around such a profound truth. And then the phrase goes farther...

Maybe we can deal with God become man, born a child. Maybe we have enough faith in miracles of God to go with such a happening. But then...Counselor. One who gives advice and counsel. In wonderful, we see God's hand and action doing something beyond us. Counselor links this wonder to us. This miracle event is meant to touch us intimately. This child born will not remain above us, but will interact with us. He will be our adviser and counselor. He will speak words to guide us and lead us. We will so recognize his authority that he will be the foundation and center of our lives. This child of wonder has profound impact on me personally. Am I listening to him?

In the midst of the season, remember he who is a miracle born to show you the master plan of life. Turn to him, fix your eyes on him, recall especially now that he is your focus and foundation. Enter again into the miracle, setting aside distraction. For you he came, to you he speaks. He is your Wonderful Counselor.