They Saw, But They Forgot

MARLYS ROOS|GUEST Sometimes, no matter how many times we’ve read a Bible passage, it strikes us and sticks with us as a new revelation. It’s proof that “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12). God’s Word doesn’t change, but on occasion He opens our eyes, our minds, and our hearts in His timing when He has readied us to see a particular truth, to take it in, meditate on it, and perhaps share it. Seeing a passage anew is exciting; it’s like getting a tiny glimpse into heaven where “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2, NLT). In fact, the passage I recently “discovered” is about Israelites who actually did see heaven: Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:9-11, emphasis added). They Saw The first thing which stands out in this passage is the clear declarations: “and they saw the God of Israel” and “they beheld God.” It’s repeated, so there is no doubt those seventy-four men were clearly in the presence of God. Apparently, God had even set a table for them to eat and drink in His presence, reminiscent of Joseph’s feeding his brothers or, perhaps, a glimpse of the table to be set in the Upper Room, or even of the table to be set for believers at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb still to come. However, of particular interest in this passage, are its timing in Israel’s history and those who are named. After the feast, God called Moses up to the mountain to receive instructions for building the Tabernacle and the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, but what did the others do? Moses told them to wait until he returned. Did they? Or did they go down to the people and exclaim, “We saw God!!!” Did they tell of His glory, the glory of the Lord, like a “devouring fire,” which remained on the mountain for the people of Israel to see from a distance? The Scriptures don’t tell us what they did―until Chapter 32...

They Saw, But They Forgot2022-05-04T23:29:38+00:00

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others

LEAH FARISH|GUEST In the darkest season of my life, I was lifted decisively out of the pit by a passage in the book of Hebrews. The three simple commands embedded in it made all the difference. Like many crises, mine was a wreck of multiple trains. My legal work on a case had provoked opposition that descended to the level of criminal threats against me and my client. Physically, I was dangerously fatigued and in pain. Travel upheavals had left me on a different continent from my husband and children. It was almost Christmas, and a snowstorm made even church attendance unlikely. I opened my Bible to Hebrews 10, and this is what I read: Therefore, brothers,] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (vv. 19-25) Three phrases stood out to me, leading me like flashing beacons in an icy night: Draw near With these two short words I was summoned into God’s presence. The fire in those words of Hebrews warmed me. I had been asking for so many things, and now I could see I was being welcomed not just to speak to the Lord, but to climb up in his lap and feel his embrace. My heart was broken and fearful, but I remembered, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), and that if I draw near to him, he will draw near to me (James 4:8)...

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others2022-05-04T23:29:47+00:00

When the Holidays are Hard

ALICE KIM|GUEST It’s been several years now, but there was a time when I stared at the bright red poinsettias that adorned the stage and the luminescent lights that outlined an oak stained cross and asked, “What difference does the gospel make?” I had neither anticipated nor was prepared for the unraveling of trust in my marriage. It felt like someone had, without warning, yanked the rug from under my feet. I fell hard. I was angry, hurt, confused, grieved, and struggled to hope. I was desperate to know that Jesus invaded the not only the cosmos with the hope of the gospel, but also my life and my home. When the Holidays are Hard We often equate this holiday season with time spent with family. But some of us feel pressured to shelve somber feelings related to our families like grief, disappointment, anxiety, and fear for joy, excitement, and gratitude. Just as a department store wastes no time the day after a holiday to move outdated merchandise to the clearance aisle in the back corner, the expectation is that we need to move on and exhibit only emotions that fit the occasion. But strained relationships marked by resentment, hurt, blame, contempt, silence, and unforgiveness are only magnified against the backdrop of picturesque captions of smiling family portraits in coordinated outfits, highlighting proud moments and notable achievements from the past year. If this is our experience, how can we reimagine the hope, joy, and awe of the Christmas story without dismissing the tension of living in the already-not-yet with ruptured and failed relationships? How can we invite the gospel to break through and transform our lives?...

When the Holidays are Hard2022-05-04T23:29:56+00:00

The Backwards Baby Announcement

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR Interruptions are not my finest moments. Whether a flat tire or a sick child, I get frustrated when I can’t walk through the day as it’s set on my calendar. Imagine how Mary felt. According to Luke 1, Mary was minding her own business when Gabriel knocked on the door. There she was, flipping through a stack of wedding magazines when an angel gave her a backwards baby announcement. Instead of a pregnant mother announcing that she’s expecting, Mary was told to expect a baby. The Baby. This was more than a flat tire kind of interruption. Not only did Gabriel’s announcement change the trajectory of her life, this pregnancy threw a serious kink in her plans to settle down with Joseph. Gabriel’s words made any white picket fence dreams go up in smoke. And besides the obvious shock of an angel dropping by, his words did not make sense. Mary knew enough about the birds and the bees to ask how? If she were a virgin, how could she become a mother? Gabriel explained a bit more, but I wonder if that just made Mary more confused (after all, what does “overshadow” even look like?). How did Mary respond to getting her world turned upside down? Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38) First, she believed. Mary did not understand all the nuts and bolts of how she would get pregnant, but she accepted the extraordinary explanation that God would be the Father of this holy child even as she, a sinful woman, carried Him. While the old priest Zacharias (read the previous passage) pushed back on Gabriel during that angelic interruption, Mary, a mere teen, accepted the mystery of immaculate conception...

The Backwards Baby Announcement2022-05-04T23:30:05+00:00

The Christmas Door We All Need to Walk Through

MARISSA BONDURANT|GUEST “I’m so sorry, but your daughter has cancer.” She was only four years old. The tumor was found on a Wednesday afternoon, and by Friday morning she was being wheeled back for surgery. It was so sudden, traumatic, and terrifying. We kissed our daughter, pleaded with the nurses to not leave her side, and then watched as her bed was pushed through the swinging doors of the pediatric surgery hall. As the doors swung closed behind her, my knees buckled, and I crumpled against my husband. I hated those doors. They represented my lack of control, my fear for her wellbeing, and my inability to fix the problem of her cancer. How could God separate me from my baby? Why would He put her, and us, through this? A few months later, Christmas rolled around. The lights, the wreaths, the trees—all seemed so frivolous compared to what we were walking through. Out of necessity, we toned down our Christmas activities that year...

The Christmas Door We All Need to Walk Through2022-05-04T23:30:15+00:00

The Wonder and Joy of Advent

BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR The anticipation of Christmas begins building earlier and earlier these days, doesn’t it? The past couple of years have been especially hard on us all, with the common hardships and losses of the pandemic combined with stridently divisive voices shouting at us from every source of media. Our fears and isolation magnified until we are numb. It’s no mystery why we start looking forward to the Christmas season even before the first leaf falls in autumn. Amid all the tumult and strife of our weary world, we long for peace. Bombarded by cynicism and sarcasm we seek for simple, childlike wonder. Drowning in heartache and pain, we hope, however faintly, for joy. Peace is the great need of mankind, but it won’t be found in the traditions and celebrations of a mid-winter holiday. Wonder doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper and bows, and joy can’t be manufactured and ordered with one-day shipping. The Peace We Need Most The peace we need is a person—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need Jesus because the root of all our tumult and strife isn’t the wars that rage between peoples and nations, between political parties and factions, or even the strife between family members which drives loved ones apart. The source of our unrest is that we were born at war with God—enemies with our Creator. Because of the sin resident within our hearts, we cannot make peace on our own. We need the peacemaker. We need Jesus. During this Advent season, we anticipate the celebration of his birth, which was foretold by the prophets of old: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days… And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 4–5a) True wonder wells up in us as we learn who this child is, born to Mary, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in the manger: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6–7) Very God of Very God Isaiah drew a strong prophetic sketch of the child who is Mighty God, the Everlasting One who will establish David’s throne and rule his kingdom of peace forevermore. The apostle Paul filled in the sketch with blazing colors: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20) This is the child who is born to us, the Son given to us. He is, as the creed so boldly declares: “very God of very God.” Our Creator humbled himself to be born of a virgin in order to reconcile to himself all things. The Son of God, born to bring peace by his death on the cross...

The Wonder and Joy of Advent2022-05-04T23:30:24+00:00

Immanuel: Not Just for Your Christmas Card

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST It’s that time of year when many parents of young children ask their friends this important question: “Do any of you have a shepherd’s robe or sheep costume we could borrow for a couple of weeks?” We enjoy watching our little ones dress up as Mary or Joseph, an angel or camel, and listening to the history of how Jesus came into the world. We do it to help our kids learn the story and to remind ourselves of the same. We wrap them in burlap and flowing robes to help them act out the scenes of Jesus’s birth, inviting them to enter the culture and customs of Jesus’ world. In their telling of the story, they often read a portion of Matthew 1, including these verses:  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24)  Every year we are transported back into the world of 1st century Palestine as we again hear the beginnings of the Christmas story. But is that really the beginning?  Before the Christmas Story As with much of the Bible, the scripts our children read to us are part of a story within a story— one that originated not just with the birth in a manger, but hundreds of years before. There are hints of the Christmas story throughout the Old Testament narrative, beginning even in Genesis. One of the greatest parts of the origin story for our Christmas plays starts with the prophecy Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7 in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” What might our children encounter if they entered Isaiah’s world?  More than 700 years before Mary placed Jesus in the manger, God’s people were threatened by Assyria...

Immanuel: Not Just for Your Christmas Card2022-05-04T23:30:34+00:00
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