Friday, December 25, 2015

Answers to the Christmas Story Trivia Challenge

If you haven't had a chance to try the trivia questions, see the previous post here.

1. What is the English translation of Jesus' Hebrew name?
Jesus' Hebrew name is Yeshua, a common alternative form of Yehoshuah which means "Yahweh is Salvation." English translates this name as Joshua. Jesus comes from the Greek translation. Since the New Testament was written in Greek and was translated into English, we use the Greek as the basis for Jesus' name.

2.  When does Joseph first speak in the narrative of Jesus' birth?
He never speaks.

3. What animal did Mary ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
The Bible does not tell us how Mary got to Bethlehem.

4. What did the angels sing to the Shepherds about Jesus?
They didn't sing. The Bible says they spoke.

5. What did the Shepherds do after they had seen Jesus?
Spread the word concerning him or praised God.

6. Which angel was there when Jesus was born?
None is mentioned.

7. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
No number is ever given. Three gifts are mentioned, but not the number of wise men. There could have been more than three or less than three.

8. What animals did the wise men ride?
No animals are mentioned.

9. Where did the star the wise men had been following stop?
Over the house or place where Jesus was. At this point, we assume that Mary and Joseph had taken up residence in Bethlehem, probably because they had a new baby and family in Bethlehem and elected not to make the trip back to Nazareth. Thus it makes sense why Herod wanted to kill all babies 2 years and younger as he had inquired when the wise men first saw the star.

10. How did the wise men know not to go back to Herod?
They were warned in a dream. The Bible does not say who warned them, whether God directly, an angel or just a simple dream.

Bonus Question: Where did the innkeeper say Mary and Joseph could stay?
Very tricky question. First, the Bible never mentions an innkeeper. Second, the term "inn" is most likely mistranslated in English. Mary and Joseph were probably traveling with other family members and stayed with family in Bethlehem. The term "inn" does not need to refer to a hotel like we think of. Luke used the term for a guest room. The image of Mary and Joseph alone as Mary gives birth is highly unlikely. Family and/or midwives were most certainly present. Why Jesus in a manger then? Check out this link for far more detail.

How did you do? Comment below!

Also, check out this fun video that points out the myths surrounding the story of Jesus' birth as well as the true meaning of his birth.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Story Trivia Challenge

How well do you know the story of Christ's birth? Test yourself with these questions! Answers revealed tomorrow.

1. You cannot look in a Bible
2. You cannot look on the internet.
3. You cannot look anywhere else. All answers must come from your brain only.
4. Be honest. If you look anywhere but in your brain, you can't count that as getting the answer correct.
5. You can pray :-)

Trivia Questions (All questions concern the Biblical account of Jesus' birth.)

1. What is the English translation of Jesus' Hebrew name?
2. When does Joseph first speak in the narrative of Jesus' birth?
3. What animal did Mary ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
4. What did the angels sing to the Shepherds about Jesus?
5. What did the Shepherds do after they had seen Jesus?
6. Which angel was there when Jesus was born?
7. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
8. What animals did the wise men ride?
9. Where did the star the wise men had been following stop?
10. How did the wise men know not to go back to Herod?

Bonus: Where did the innkeeper say Mary and Joseph could stay?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Love: Here With Us

"It's still a mystery to me
That the hands of God could be so small.
How tiny fingers reaching in the night
Were the very hands that measured the sky."

The story of Jesus sounds so impossible to uninitiated ears. God in a man? God as a baby? Impossible! But if an all powerful God exists, could he not accomplish such a feat? Once you accept the possibility of God, the possibility of a babe in a manger is a small step.

"It's still a mystery to me
How His infant eyes have seen the dawn of time.
How His ears have heard an angel's symphony,
But still Mary had to rock her Savior to sleep."

Man longs for rescue. Literature, media, our hearts testify to such a longing, the good defeating evil, the hero saving the world. Could it be this desire is created within us from the time we are born? What greater rescue could there be than God, creator of time, commander of angels. Peer at the sleeping baby--he is the answer to our longing for salvation.

"Hallelujah, hallelujah
Heaven's love reaching down to save the world.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, son of God, servant King
Here with us, You're here with us."
Praise the Lord! The world is not lost. Evil does not have to win. A real hero steps into the scene. God is more than powerful--he is love. He reaches down to man, gifting his son, a king and a servant, to walk with us and draw us up from the dust and mire of the world.

"Jesus, the Christ, born in Bethlehem.
A baby born to save, to save the souls of man."

Story heroes snatch us from the jaws of physical death; Jesus snatches us from ourselves. From the sin that entangles, the self suffering of our natures, a sick soul in need of release. In so doing, physical death is also defeated, its sting obliterated. Eternal life, yes, with an eternally perfectly restful soul. What better news can there be than this Christmas truth?

(Quotes come from the song "Here With Us" by Joy Williams. You can listen to it here.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

American Christians and Habakkuk

God's plan moving throughout time is the foundation of the Biblical worldview of history. This does not negate man's choices, but means that God will work sometimes with and sometimes in spite of man's actions: "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Recently, I have been confronted by this truth once again and its impact on the Christianity of my nation.

Violence, aggression and crime seem to be the circumstances of the day. But then, when have they not? Not an age in human history has passed where they were not active in some fashion. Yet now we seem to face a different time, a time where a certain group of people wish the end of America and Christians. How are we to respond to this?

To answer that question, I have been drawn back to one of my favorite minor prophets: Habakkuk. His book is written as a question and answer session with God. He wrote at a time when the Babylonians were the rising foreign power. The good king of his own nation, Josiah, had died and a sinful, wicked king had taken his place. The nation was beset by greed, fighting, injustice and moral decline. The citizens of Judah spent their time on themselves and their pleasures and mocked the God who supposedly had the power to judge them.

I cannot help but see a comparison between Habakkuk's time and my own. We live in a time of many rising powers that are as powerful or more than America. We face the corruption of our government system so tied to lobbyists and powerful donors. Our nation is focused on hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure regardless of moral implications. And like Habakkuk, I hear many American Christians warning, "God will judge this."

Will he? He, indeed, may. I hear some long for such. "When will you take care of this God?" Habakkuk asks the same: "How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, 'Violence!' yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?" (Habakkuk 3:1-3). Fed up with watching the injustice of his nation, Habakkuk longs for God's intervention. But God does not answer in a way that Habakkuk likes. God basically says, "I am going to take care of it. Babylon is going to rise up against Judah and invade." "Wait a second!" Habakkuk responds, "How can you use those horrible, immoral Babylonians against us?" What Habakkuk longed for suddenly doesn't seem so great.

American Christians are praying for revival, but we want it without suffering or trial or discomfort. We picture some spontaneous Holy Spirit descent that forces people to revive whether they like it or not. Our term revival comes from a time in history where this seemed to be the case. But we neglect the fact that revival, the awakening of the desire for the divine, often comes when people face pain, and I would suggest, even more so this way.

So what if God plans for America to face suffering and pain? Will you, American Christian, be okay with that? In her book, Smoke on the Mountain, Joy Davidman, wife of C.S. Lewis, speaks to this: "What, then, must we pray for? Nothing that we have not been told over and over again; nothing but 'Thy will be done,' even if his will is that we lose all that the last two hundred years have given us."

I find American Christians often act like God is obligated to keep them safe, to preserve their cushy way of life, their privileges, their benefits. When someone is elected they do not like, they do not understand how God would let this person reign. And even when wanting God's justice and praying for God's bringing down of evil, they want to be spared. "Discipline my country, God, but leave me intact."

Habakkuk knew he wouldn't be left intact. Yet even so, he trusted God in his plan. His trust resolved his fear:
"I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom 
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places." (3:16-19).

Could God use foreign nations and those of different religions to judge America and bring it back to him? Yes. And if he does, what, American Christian, will be your response? Will you trust God's plan or wring your hands in fear? Are you willing to accept that which you have prayed for even if it comes in a different package than you desired? If you are, then be at peace. Let your trust in God no matter what banish the fear. Be a light on a hill to those who fear in uncertain times and in so doing, draw others to him.

Joy: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

"Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee."

Oh, the joy! Beset by sin, entrapped by fear, what release is there for us? A baby, a boy-child, unassuming in a manger, he is the source of freedom. Fear and sin find their defeat in this little one who offers a hand prepared for a nail. Will you take his hand and find rest for your weary soul?

"Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart."

Israel has led the way, its relationship with the mighty God a lesson for all: sin is impossible to defeat, a constant torture to failed humanity. Year after year, blood after blood, what release from such a system, from such a need? The hope of earth in the babe of the manger, sent for Israel, and more, for all nations. This is the source of joy, this the desire, this what we have longed for.

"Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring."

He delivers us from sin and our own fear, this child, this king. He enters in when invited to reign eternally on the throne of our hearts. A kingdom he has brought in my soul, a physical kingdom he has foretold to come. Take joy, O wounded heart! Take joy, of soul of trial! This king brings victory, now and forevermore.

"By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne."

Jesus rules. His righteousness conquers a heart dead in sin and brings life once more. I was once condemned, now I am lifted up to my God, before his throne, free, loved, holy. How can we not but take joy in such a truth? We praise the baby at Christmas because his advent is the declaration of sin's downfall. Take joy this day! Your Savior reigns!

(Quotes from the song "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" by Charles Wesley. You can listen to it here.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Peace: I Heard the Bells

 "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

The world is in a rush these days, only rare moments spent in stillness, rest, relaxation, releasing the pent up pressure of daily life. Must go here, must do this. Must live up to expectation and obligation. Peace seems an illusion, something out of sight and too difficult to grasp.

"I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

God speaks into the hurry of the world, "Rest. Sit. Listen. Be with me." His cry echoes down through the ages, speaking from his Word and in hearts. "Come. My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Have we a moment to grasp this offered peace?

"And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,'
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'"

"What peace?" the world replies and we hasten to the argument. Where is peace in worldwide conflict, daily violence, hateful diatribes close to home? Where is peace in our personal lives, in the hustle bustle of the day to day? Peace is a mirage, a temporary, ethereal concept, too fleeting for much substance.

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'"

Ah, but hope can spring from a despairing heart! God has not abandoned those He loves. He lives and he acts in the lives of men. The good exists because he is goodness. He is just. Wrong will face its penalty and righteousness its victory. God's peace to man will not fail.

"Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"

Rest. Sit. Listen. Silence the cacophony of worldly chatter. Hear the peace extended to us from a gracious God. Be with him. Recall his words and truth. He will prevail. We can let go into his arms, trusting him to bring to pass our good. Peace is our reality, a moment here, but an eternity in the soul comforting realm of God's heaven.

("I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a song drawn from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a man who suffered much and faced the doubt of peace on earth, yet held onto the truth and hope of God's peace. To hear the classic version of this song by Burl Ives, click here. To see Longfellow's story, click here.)