Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making Room for Christ(mas)

Part 5

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2: 6-7

When a baby is born, all the family and relatives go to the hospital room and see the new-born child. The baby is cared for by nurses and doctors, ensuring that the infant would be well taken care of, constantly monitored, and sufficiently safe. Even months or weeks before giving birth, the parents would do all that they can to see to it that the delivery of the baby would be well under way, taking care of every detail from hospital arrangements, doctor availability, and medical facilities.

Everything is prepared for in advance and the newly born baby is made room for in the family and in the home.

Contrast this beautiful picture to the actual birth of Jesus Christ, as seen in the scriptural records, and you will see a stark message laden in the story of the Nativity, on the night that the Savior was born.

It just so happened that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem for the consensus ordered by Caesar Augustus—then the ruling roman emperor over all the land, including Israel. They had to travel a distance of about 70-120 miles from where Joseph was situated at Nazareth in the region of Galilee (north) to go down to Bethlehem in the region of Judea (south).

Since Jewish folk were in animosity with the Samaritans (or half-blooded/intermingled Jews), most Jewish travelers would avoid the region in between Galilee and Judea, which is Samaria. This made the journey even longer since they had to cross the Jordan River to the east, travel southward, and then cross the river westward again just to get into the region of Judea.

The rough equivalent is of traveling from Manila to Baguio—not in a cozy car or lazy-boy bus, but on a wagon hauled by a donkey or on camelback. This journey, if you can imagine it, took a grueling 4 days to as much as 7 days (if they traveled only by day and had stopovers), almost a full week of traversing on foot and on beast through the rough desert region and dangerous thief-laden trails (not to mention that by this time, Mary was full-on pregnant mode—moody and hormonal—due to give birth any day). Talk about a lot of stress for Mary who had higher chances of a miscarriage due to traveling long distance (and even worse for Joseph).

As if that was not enough, when the time finally came for Mary to give birth, there was no place or accommodations for them anywhere in town. The scriptures record there was no place to stay in the inn, no hospitable guest-takers who would be willing to open their home for a couple on the verge of giving birth, and no Jewish AirBnb with high ratings to take them in as well. What a troubling time it was!

Desperate and having no place to stay, Mary and Joseph took to a place for animals, a barn or stable. Take note however that in those days, there weren’t any cute animals placed in neat little barns like you see in farms nowadays. The place were animals were probably placed in was a cave nearby the mountainous region. It would have probably been a cave carved into the mountain as was the custom in those days.

See the picture already?

The long-awaited Messiah of Israel and Savior of the World was born in a dark and dirty cave, among beasts and animals, covered in bloody sheets and placed in a undignified manger—where cattle would feed on. There were no hospital staff, nurses and doctors, to oversee a safe delivery, no relatives to welcome the newly born baby, and no 5-star hospital accommodations for the laboring mother and father.

Instead of a family to welcome him, he was visited by lowly and despised shepherds, the poorest of the society. Instead of a great warm welcome, the Son of Man was born in the cold of the freezing temperatures of the Judean mountainside. This Messiah, was born in obscurity and in a deafening silence. This Savior, was born penniless to a poor family, struggling to make ends meet. The King of the universe was born in the lowliest and humblest way possible.

The Magi (wise men from the east), who visited shortly after the birthday of Jesus, offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were strangers, more aptly, Gentile or Non-Jewish folk who rendered worship unto Jesus. At the very least, these astrologists saw the heavens declaring something through the Star that they followed to seek out this newly born baby. Their gifts to Jesus foreshadow the story of his life:

Gold - a symbol of royalty and divinity, speaking of Jesus’ character as God in the flesh. The Ark of the Covenant was laden with Gold (Exodus 25:10-17) to point to its great value. This gift of gold was enough to take care of the first few months of Jesus’ life and was a necessary support for Mary and Joseph to flee into Egypt as news broke out of King Herod’s intent on killing all the male children in Bethlehem to rid the prophesied King of the Jews.

Frankincense – a symbol of righteousness and holiness, a highly fragrant incense used in worship, alluding to a pleasing aroma unto the Lord (as was done in the temple worship, Exodus 30:34), where Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself to become the fragrant burnt offering, pleasing to God in every way through His perfect life.

Myrrh – a symbol of affliction and suffering, it was used in embalming corpses for burial. This was a foreshadowing of how the Savior was to die on the Cross as the perfect substitute, the Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world.

This baby was born in the same way that he was to be buried: wrapped in bloody cloths and placed in a dark rock-cut cave (tomb). This baby was born into a world of trouble and there was no room for him, not even the people’s hearts. When all of the people should have known who had been born on that day, no one believed in the ancient prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. When all of Israel should have been rejoicing at the coming of the Savior, no one remembered the long-held promise of Yahweh to send a redeemer.

There was simply no room for Jesus.

In your own life, are you making room for Christ to dwell? In this season of merriment and busyness, do you carve out time just to be in fellowship and communion with God through prayer, meditation, silence, reflection, worship, and devotion?
Consider this a time of where you can leave everything else just for a moment like the shepherds and the wise men, and offer worship to the King.
Through the story of the Nativity, we see God’s attributes in action: how he took care of Joseph and Mary in the journey, how even in having no place to stay at the inn, they were able to have shelter, and even when there were no others, God sent shepherds, wise men, and a choir of multitudes of Angels at this glorious event. Even in the silence of that night, all of heaven was rejoicing for this baby that was born, will bring redemption and salvation with him. He is the promise of God, fulfilled. What promises of God have you abandoned in believing? Be assured that what God has promised, He will surely bring to pass.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Struggle of Christmas is Real.

Part 4

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

 Luke 2:10-14

How could it be good news of great joy? The context of Jesus’ conception was wrought with intents of divorce and unfavorable circumstances. Joseph had decided to divorce Mary quietly, not wanting to put her to shame, since she had conceived of the child. For him, it must have been a harrowing experience to have someone betrothed to you only to find her all of a sudden pregnant with someone else’s kid.

Mary probably told “her story” of how she has conceived the baby through the power of the Holy Spirit but Joseph would’ve probably shrugged it off as an elaborate hoax—a deceptive and blasphemous cover up for her apparent adultery and infidelity.

Finally when Joseph was about to go with the deed, the Lord suddenly stopped him dead in his tracks and allowed an angelic encounter to finally prove that what had happened was not the result of Mary’s unfaithfulness but was in fact the result of God’s faithfulness.

Matthew 1:20-25 recounts,
“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…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.”

The epiphany of the Son to come was clear to Joseph. Even amidst a confusing and seemingly miserable time of separation, inner turmoil, and betrayal, there had come good news of great joy: this child was to “save his people from their sins”, and for Joseph, that was infinitely more than what he could ever expect of the situation he found himself in.

As if the situation hadn’t gotten bad enough for Joseph’s small family-to-be, it did get worse on a geo-political, socio-cultural, and heavenly-cosmic level. Well that escalated quickly.

When the Magi (or wise men from the east, probably Persia) also saw the epiphany of the Messiah, they inquired of the king, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). These men were gentiles (non-Jewish folk) who came all the way from their land just to worship and adore the Christ.

Even the skies pointed to the coming of this Messiah through the bright morning Star that led the wise men to Jesus. It was undeniable that this heavenly celestial phenomenon had given all the more proof of the cosmic situation that Jesus was born into.

Matthew 2:8-12 states,
“And he (king Herod) sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him...

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”

Again, how could it be good news of great joy? The context of Jesus’ actual birth was one of murderous proportions! Under the kingship of Herod, upon hearing that the King of the Jews was to be born, ordered a mass execution of babies and the youth. On that day, the land saw a great infanticide and child massacre: all the male children who were two years old or younger were slain in Bethlehem and in the surrounding region (Matthew 2:16-18) because king Herod wanted to “search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13).

The king was mad in his hunger to secure his position that when he heard that this Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, he went blood-thirsty and ruthless, seeking to thwart and kill whoever would possibly take his place as king.

The true and divine King was to be born and the kings of the earth could not do anything to stop it.

Not even the king Herod and his ploy were able to stop the unfolding of God’s plan in the birth of the Savior. Not even Joseph’s plan to divorce and leave Mary could stop the coming of the Messiah. Not even the heavens in proclaiming the birth of the Son of Man could stop from beaming and lighting the way through the phenomenal Star. Not even the all the thousands upon millions of angelic hosts and heavenly angels could refrain from their great rejoicing at this event; they continually sang and praised the Lord:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

The characters in this story have a great deal to share with us on how to respond to the coming of Christ Jesus, the Messiah. Let’s probe our own situations and see how we could evaluate and respond in the following manners:

1.     Like Joseph, caught in the middle of a divorce and separation, when his hopes for a family are shattered, respond in a manner of faith: trusting in God that despite the confusing and dire situation, the Lord has a purpose that He wants to accomplish through Joseph’s life. Like Joseph’s response to the epiphany-encounter, how can you trust the Lord in faith for whatever is to come out of your current struggle to believe, struggle to endure, and struggle to understand?

2.     Like the Magi (Wise Men), unsure of what their journey would be, explored the unknown and braved beyond their comfort zone to seek and pursue the coming of the Savior. They left all they had from the East and brought with them everything they had to offer: gifts of great value unto the Son of Man. Like them, would you leave everything behind only to bring all to Jesus? How would pursuing Jesus look like in your life today?

3.     Like king Herod, caught in the hunger for worldly position and fleshly blood-thirst, thwart the coming of this Messiah upon his life. Would you keep your heart calloused and unrepentant for your sins because you know that when the true King comes, He will lovingly require all of your boasting to be humbled, your possessions to be shared, your power to be used for good, and your desires to be transformed into His desires?

Pray to the Lord that wherever you find yourself in—that you would come and draw near to Jesus for He has come for you and to you. This is the Good News of great joy that will be for ALL the people!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do you believe in (Christmas) Miracles?

Part 3

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”Luke 1: 30-33

Just imagine for a second if you were in Mary’s shoes: one seemingly ordinary day, a fiercely glorious heavenly angelic being appears to you declaring that you’d be the mother of God-incarnate, knowing full-well that you are a virgin, that you are about to be betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter, and that you don’t have all the means of taking caring of a child just yet—let alone the Son of God. How would you feel?

To add a little nuance to this situation, let us consider this: Mary was just another middle-eastern Jewish teenage girl who had been given unto Joseph for marriage (as was the custom of the day) and she probably was depending on him to be her support. Mary did not come from an elite class of Jewish high society nor was she anyone especially “holy”, “good”, “beautiful”, or “sinless” as what popular culture or unbiblical religion has made her out to be.

To be made pregnant whilst still a virgin and to conceive a child without being married yet to Joseph would probably mean that she would be deemed as an adulterer which would give Joseph legitimate grounds on divorcing her (Matthew 1:19).

It would be the modern equivalent of a teenage pregnancy nowadays in which there is much shame placed on the girl who got pregnant whilst the guy doesn’t take responsibility for the act. The girl’s life would be considered “over” since she now has to take care of her baby and with that, the loss of opportunity for a career and a good future ahead.

This is what Mary had on her plate (or rather, in her womb). Of all the people in ancient Israel, why her?

We certainly feel the same way in times of despair when we do not know what has come upon us. Situations confuse us and problems confound us. Our challenges become all the more complex when we are hit with the reality of an impossible situation and we get stuck. We lose our ability in grasping a possible solution and get wound up in a hopeless attitude.

Mary, with everything going against her, responds differently.

She asks the Angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The Angel then replied to her in verse 35:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

She knew that what God had allowed to come upon her life was no mere incident. It was purposefully planned and carried out by God for a far greater cause than she could imagine. All that Mary saw in front of her were the problems surrounding her soon-to-be pregnancy and yet, God has already seen all.

God already knew that He would send forth His Son as the redeemer and savior of the world. He already foreordained that the Messiah would come through the lineage of David, as far as Mary and Joseph were concerned (Her genealogy in Luke 3:23-38, His genealogy in Matthew 1), they were uniquely situated having Davidic descent.

Knowing all things, God already foreordained that at the perfect time, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9). He already anticipated when the Word, who is God and was with God, would come into the world to save it (John 1:1).

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Perhaps, in the midst of all the pain and trouble that Mary had to endure in her unforeseen pregnancy, she realized that it was all under God’s control. What’s more is that she was actually conceiving GOD IN THE FLESH! She fathomed the bursting mysteries of having the fullness of God moving about in her womb. She marveled at the thought of this life in her body, which was to be the Life of mankind for those who would believe in the Son.

Mary, out of her obedience, trusted God by faith. She was chosen by God and shown favor (the same word used for grace) not because of anything particularly good, divine, or saintly that she had done, but because she entrusted herself unto the plan and purposes of God Almighty.

Her sacrifice led to the long-awaited Word, Christ Jesus, to dwell (or more closely, “to tabernacle” or to reside) among His people, as God was present in the tabernacle in the wilderness among the Israelites. Indeed the miracle of the Incarnation happened unto Mary and she knew that there was now a steadfast hope for humanity that was conceived in her—Jesus.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:37-38

In the same way that Mary had a troubling situation in her life where there is much temptation to despair, would you respond in the same way of faith and trust? Look at Mary’s responsive song of praise in Luke 1:46-55 and reflect on the words of adoration she used unto God.

Consider how God made the impossible to be possible just to bring about the salvation of mankind through Christ. Do you think that God would do miracles in your own life in the hopes of bringing forth His purposes even when your circumstances display a bleak and seemingly impossible problem to solve?

Problems, challenges, struggles, and setbacks are but an opportunity to know that God is always intimately working on the details of our lives even when we don’t see His hand or feel His presence. We can rediscover that life is still under His control and that He wants you to trust in Him fully.
“Dear Lord, I know that even when things seem to fall apart, You are still in control. You work all things for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). So, with everything happening in my life right now, I entrust everything and anything to you.
Do with it as You will, do with me as You will.
My life is not mine to wield but Yours to take. You are the God of Miracles, oh Lord, and you certainly still do the unimaginable. I trust that you would fulfill all that you have for my life and I eagerly await Your hand. Nothing is indeed impossible with you God. Amen.”