Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
The wait is almost over for the day in which salvation was born. The advent season is one of anticipation and reflection on the fulfillment of God’s promise. That promise was to be fulfilled in a child. How often do we really take time to think about that? God’s plan to save humanity began with a child. Of course if we were to be honest the plan began much earlier than that, the story of redemption began with the story of the fall, but through a child God began the work of salvation.
People have often debated what aspect of Jesus’ life is the most important. Some very worthy scholars will say that the cross of Calvary is the main point. Others have focused on Jesus’ ministry, but I think it begins with a child. To be honest it began approximately nine months before the birth as a baby grew within the womb of its mother. It is this time that I feel is the most important aspect of the story of Jesus, and for one reason without the pregnancy there would not be any ministry to learn from, and there would not be Calvary, and there would not be the hope of Easter. It is the conception of hope that begins it all. And for hope to emerge and be born into the world it was necessary to have a man and a woman to be willing to step up and bear that burden.
It is easy to focus on Jesus and Mary during this time of year, I mean Mary had to do all work, but for this all to work Mary needed assistance. The times were different in the first century than today, a child without a father then was a child cursed. For God’s plan to work not only did he have to chose a worthy and willing mother but that mother would have to be supported by a worthy and willing man. We tend to forget the importance of Joseph in our celebrations, rarely are carols sung about Jesus being held in the arms of Joseph. But this man had a very important role to play.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” Matthew begins his gospel first with a genealogy, which most of us just gloss over and leave for those nights we need help getting to sleep, but the story begins with these words. The genealogy is important because it shows us that this was not just something random coming out of nowhere, but that history was building to this point, the point where a child would come. There is a heritage that goes back to the beginnings of the promise, one that connects this very moment with everything that had proceeded and linking it to everything that will transpire after. And the story begins with a child, Mary, and Joseph.
I want us to just think about the introduction to the story, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” These words are pregnant with hope; I can almost here the dramatic score playing in the background. “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was found to be with child, she was found. Matthew begins this story with the scandal, and the dramatic score comes to a crashing halt. She was found with child. There is trouble here. How do we find a girl with child? Her mother probably noticed that Mary was not acting right, her appetite changed and she probably had morning sickness, and then people began to talk. We know that people began to talk because she was found to be with child. This is a scandalous story.
Now enters Joseph, the betrothed, the fiancé. Mary is found with child before they lived together, so the scandal gets even worse. People begin to question not only Mary, but her parents, and Joseph as well. In the first century culture courtship was very different than today. It was not uncommon for a bride and groom to meet for the first time on their wedding night, even today in more traditional expressions of Jewish faith the marriages are arranged and there could be little of no contact between the potential bride and groom. So Mary is found with child, which means that something has been going on out of the public view. Joachim and Anne’s, Mary’s parents, righteousness came into question because their child is with child. People begin to wonder did they allow their daughter to go out unsupervised with a man? And Joseph’s righteousness is questioned because his bride to be is pregnant.
Joseph did not have a clue to how this happened, Joachim and Anne are also clueless. The scandal builds and brews. This pregnancy will cause great trouble in the family. Mary is now labeled as an impure woman, and everyone associated with her are also facing the same future. If Joseph marries her he admits to society that the child is his son, if he does not then Mary faces a life of unwed poverty or death. If Joachim desires both Mary and Joseph could be stoned for adultery so from the very beginning we have scandal. Joseph is faced with a great challenge, Mary’s very future is held in his hands, his future is held in his hands, and the future of all mankind.
Joseph is a righteous man, Matthew assures us. Joseph was respectable in the community. He was established enough in his trade and had enough wealth that he was able to marry in their culture. In ancient times all women married up. They did not marry men their own age but married men older than them. Men had to prove to their future father in laws that they were worthy of supporting their daughter at an equal level. So Joseph was engaged, and established, he was a member of the synagogue and gaining a standing in the community. He followed the law and did all the things a good man would do in their culture. So when Mary was found with child Joseph actually had a major issue. This could change everything. He could lose his name, his standing, and his livelihood.
Joseph in his righteousness decided to divorce Mary. He chose to cut off the engagement. This was the righteous thing to do. The child was not his. If he divorced her then for him nothing would change except that he would need to find a different bride. Joseph was also a kind man loving and respecting his future bride. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace. This is where the importance of Joseph really comes out. But to really tell the story we must go back in time.
Joseph is a very important name in the history of Israel. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, the son all the other sons were envious of. He was the youngest at the time, but was the one that had the father’s favor, meaning he was going to have the inheritance. All the other, older sons would have to find their place under him. But Joseph was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. Joseph through many twists in life became the one through whom the salvation of Israel came. During a famine it was Joseph who rose from a slave to being the second most important man in Egypt, and in that position Joseph controlled who lived, through the distribution of food. Joseph is a strong and noble name. It is not surprising that this name, the name that links back to the salvation of Israel, is linked to the salvation of humanity.
So Jesus’ future, the future of Israel, hangs in the balance of Joseph. He is a righteous man, following the laws of God passed down from Moses, but he is also a man filled with grace and compassion. Joseph could have brought Mary before the council during the divorce where the community could demand her life. But he did not want to disgrace Mary or her family. Righteousness could demand one thing according to the law, mercy another.
Joseph chose a different path, even though he was initially choosing divorce, he was choosing mercy for the future of Mary. Although he was choosing to step out of her life for the sake of his religion and standing he wanted to make the exit out of love and not hate. Joseph is a merciful and gracious man. It is no wonder that God chose this couple to be the central group of his salvation plan. But divorce was not part of that plan so God had to step in. Joseph was making his choice based on his human wisdom, but God had other plans. We could learn a thing or two from Joseph.
Our wisdom is not enough; if we were to only rely on our wisdom we could make devastating choices for the future. Joseph knew the law and was an intelligent man, he was a master craftsman established in the community, so he knew what was required of him. But in all of his wisdom, he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. Luckily for him, he did not make his decisions quickly. His wisdom pointed him in one direction divorce. His heart and his emotions pointed him in a different direction. He loved Mary and did not want to disgrace her, and so those two things coupled together lead to a quite divorce. Mary would still be unable to marry in the future, but at least she would live. God wanted Joseph to take part in the salvation of Israel so as Joseph slept on his decision before he had a chance to implement his plan; God visited Joseph in a dream.
In that dream God allowed Joseph to see a glimpse of His plan. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid of marriage, because Mary was still pure. That she would give birth to a son and that Joseph was to name him. The name he was to give him was Jesus; which means God is Salvation, or God saves. Joseph in that dream got a glimpse of hope. Hope was growing in the womb of that innocent child that he was about to divorce. Hope was growing and that hope was not only salvation but also God with us.
How would you respond to that dream? In all of Joseph’s wisdom it made absolutely no sense. To take Mary as his wife he was facing a stigma in society, but that did not matter because hope was growing in that womb.
In my opinion Christmas or the birth of Jesus is the greatest event of Jesus’ life because it is where the story of God with us begins. It is prefaced with a long history, and is marked with scandal but the story begins with a child, a mother, and a father. It begins with hope in the most challenging circumstances, and that hope grew to be the salvation of humanity.
I now want to speak about hope. Jesus came through Mary and Joseph. The plan that God had for this family did not make worldly or even religious sense. But hope grew. Jesus was born into a very messy situation, the scandal around his birth was great, whose son is he was a question that plagued Jesus throughout his ministry but he pushed on through it to the joy that was set before him. Joseph and Mary both willingly took on their role in that bright future. That future is still here. The Spirit of God still dwells among mankind if we are willing to seek and find it. That realization is what made George Fox’s heart leap when he began his journey with God. God is with us teaching and guiding today just as He did when Jesus, God incarnate, walked among the disciples. The question is are we going to divorce what God is doing among us or are we going to move forward. Will we let our righteousness lead or will we let God’s grace triumph. Will we rely on our wisdom or God’s?
One night the fate of the world was held in the hands of one man named Joseph. His future wife was found with child, and he was confused and hurt. He did not understand why or what was happening, but he was slow and thoughtful about his reaction. One night. Joseph had to choose, life or death, mercy or justice. We can debate it theologically but experientially he had to make the greatest decision of history. Will Jesus be born? Will God live with us? We live with those decisions as well. Will we allow God to live with us? Will we allow God to live through us? They sound like easy questions to answer but they aren’t. Each and every action and word we say has these questions hanging behind them, “will God live with us and through us?” Each person we meet and conversation we have has those very questions hanging between, “will we let Jesus live through us and with us?” It does not matter if we have correct theology or the right answer in the arguments because if we do not answer these questions in word and deed every moment of every day with every person we met we run the risk of divorcing ourselves and others from the great love of God. But hope grows. It was knitted together as a baby in a womb, it emerged as a boy on that first Christmas morning, it grew to be a man that showed us the holy rhythm of life with God, a life of worship, prayer and service. And that hope took on all of our failures and lifted them up to God’s glory. This Christmas let us choose life, let us choose grace, let us not be afraid to walk forward in God’s plan.
Scripture: Luke 1:68-79
Imagine an oppressed people. Imagine an empire that is bent on progress at all costs, one keeping those that have position in that position, and people spending all they have just to appear to have status in the empire. Imagine religious groups bent on keeping some sort of handle of influence over the people that they serve; yet losing a grip with each passing moment. This is the setting of the greatest science fiction stories. The story of Dune, Star Wars, and many others all has a similar theme. The theme where the balance of power is tipping, hope is cast on a redemptive person, betrayal, romance, and sacrifice.
There is a reason these themes make great stories; it is because these are the stories that drive our lives. They are not just stories in books, on stage, and on the silver screens; they are the stories in that we all find ourselves in. These stories allow us to escape for a moment from the struggles of our own lives and imagine just for a moment that we are in someone else’s shoes. It is this stepping outside of ourselves that allows us to rethink our lives and our approach to life.
We think of stories as being something that is untrue. Early in our educations we are taught the difference between fiction and non-fiction. In our minds fiction is not real they are fantasy and non-fiction is factual reality. For the most part this is true, but have you read a good story? The good story is one that mixes the fiction and non-fiction. A good story is one that is a parable, one that teaches as well as entertains. Star Wars speaks of a balance between the forces of light and dark. Dune speaks of greed and the control of scarce resources. Star Trek speaks of the explorative curiosity of humankind (well humanoid kind). All speak of philosophy, theology, science, sociology, desperation, and Hope.
Myth and legend are stories, stories based on fact but also embellished with entertaining aspects to keep the attention of the audience. My favorite authors or Novelists actually spend most of their time researching the ideas in their stories, so that they can present the facts within their stories and educate their readers. Michael Crichton, the author of the novels Jurassic Park, Sphere, and State of Fear would study areas of quantum physics, environmental science, and genetics to such a degree that in his stories he would actually site the sources he used. One of my newest favorite writers Kathy Reich, whose character inspired the TV series Bones, is an actual forensic anthropologist in real life, and at the end of each of her books she will enlighten people in the science of her trade. These myths, or stories shaped cultures. They inspire higher learning, as well as new ideas of social interaction. The Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Hindu all had stories that encouraged their people. Universities grew out of the influence of the great writers of antiquity. The basis of our western civilization has developed in part out of the stories and myths of Plato. We look at these stories and mark them as fantasy but even these fantastic stories give hope and encouragement to all.
A story can be used to assist in the teaching of the masses, although it is sometimes hard to glean the facts from the creativity. We can learn powerful truths from the writings of William Shakespeare or CS Lewis. Those that scoff at the power of a story, fail to recognize the ability the storyteller has in shaping the world. Where would we be today without Narnia, and Middle Earth?
A new hope, the theme that inspired a generation in the movie Star Wars, is a myth that is much like those of the ancients. The quest of the Jedi is not that different than the desires of many cultures that are ruled by totalitarian regimes. That same theme are present in our world today even though we are informed that the story took place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. This new hope is the theme of the New Testament.
The writings of scripture are mainly story. Do not get me wrong I am not saying that scripture does not convene truth, but much of scripture is written in literary forms. There are poems, parables, narratives, fantastical apocalyptic stories, and legal descriptions. These literary forms shaped a nation, and changed the world. During the period of time between what we say is the closing of the Old Testament and the New, the leaders of the people of Israel studied the scriptures. They knew many of them by heart, but even in the vast amounts of study there were aspects of these scriptures that they could not fully grasp. The prophets caused the greatest struggle. They had a history and a future that seemed to strangely apply to their present situation. To look at prophecy is often like looking at one of those 3-d posters what looks like a bunch of spots until you squint and unfocus your eyes, then once you get a glimpse of what lies behind it suddenly becomes clear.
Zechariah is one of those men that saw the picture behind the surface. The prophets of old would often speak in cryptic forms giving some sort of surface message that would catch the original attention of the people. These surface messages included things like agricultural failure, weather patterns, and military battles. When these surface messages are the reason many included the teachings of the prophets in scripture, but there were cryptic messages lingering behind the surface that many knew were there but they could not quite make out. These are the reason many refused to accept them as authoritative. The Pharisees readily accepted the teachings of the prophets, while the Sadducees only accepted the books of the law. It is not any wonder why there were different preferences in the two major groups because one focused mainly on temple worship ordained in the books of Moses, where the other group focused on cultural influence that enjoyed and used the expanded cannon.
Zechariah was from the priestly order of Abijah. At first glance we may think of this as being something like a denomination or religious group, but the priestly orders were basically groups that would rotate and cycle through the year. There were twenty-four courses that would 2 times during a rotation as well as during the mandatory feasts so they would serve in the temple for a total of 5 times a year. The order of Abijah was the eighth in that rotation. These priests would serve for only 8 days. So we have a priest, serving in the temple. We do not know much about Zechariah, except he served in the temple and had a remarkable experience there.
If the temple was dominated by the Sadducee order of Jewish tradition, then it actually makes this story pretty remarkable. If the Sadducees were mainly focused on the books of Moses, and gave little to no credence to the prophets then Zechariah would most likely be Sadducee. This would give us some insight into his doubt when an angel visited him while he served in the temple. We know he doubted and because of that he could not speak from the day of the visit until the day that his son was born.
What we read today is the blessing He recited over his infant son. All at once all of the law and all of the prophets came into focus. He saw laying before him the beginning of a new hope. He tenderly looked down at his son, the son he and his wife Elizabeth waited so long for, and he spoke with great emotion.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from the high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 NRSV)
A new hope is upon them. I remember very vividly the first time I held my son, the emotion that I felt that day; I sense in the words that Zechariah spoke. I can imagine that he said these words with tears of joy in his eyes. That day I held my son, it felt as if the meaning of life suddenly began to become clearer. Not that it became crystal clear but I was beginning to see some shapes just under the surface. Zechariah was in a place just like that; he had devoted his life to serving in the temple. If you wanted to know the deeper meanings behind all the temple process Zechariah could tell you. Yet in this blessing you can sense that suddenly in the matter of moments every one of those ceremonies suddenly began to deepen. The prophets became more authentic.
A new hope is upon us. The priests and the rabbis of the first century were all very aware of the social tension around them. It was very clear that something big was on the verge of happening but they really could not place what that was. For some they delve deeper into the prophets to see if maybe God spoke when their ears were closed, some focused on religious service, others just thought if they adapted then maybe they to ward off the trouble at least for a time. The dawn from high will break upon us. Dawn is the start of something new. The beginning of creation was marked with light; we mark the start of the day by the coming of first light.
Dawn marks the beginning, and the new hope is rising. Today many are looking at life very critically. Our culture is full of skeptics. For a skeptic the only source of authority is experience, first hand observation. But along with that is the thought that even though something is observed they do not believe that what they see as truth can be relegated to others. This leaves us as people of truth into a new day; we seem to be sitting in the darkness in the shadow of death. What we hold as most important is challenged in ways that we just do not feel equip to handle. Before all we had to do was know the research, answer the questions better than others, but no one really cares to enter a debate anymore. Skilled debaters can still encourage people but their words do not hold the same authority as they did a generation ago. What holds authority in a culture not willing to engage in discussion? Story.
Your story is the most powerful force in today’s world. Your experience through life’s trials can encourage others to investigate for themselves. The story needs a central theme, a hope in hopelessness, and a mission to fulfill. Zechariah ended his blessing over his child by saying that God will guide our feet in the way of peace. We can have a story but in that story needs some action. Our life and lifestyle must reflect the story that we speak for our current culture to accept it as having any authority. We as a people, and as a meeting to advance into this new dawn should be guided in the path of peace. Our money and our witness must point to the direction. Our actions and our words must speak the same mission. Our religion must be authentic in theory and in practice. It does not matter if our theology is sound and well supported by scripture if we fail to promote a life with God by helping those in need in some way.
Yesterday I sat in the back of this Meeting looking over a crowd gathered to celebrate the joining of two lives in marriage. The family was emotional, but what I saw that spoke even louder than the vows uttered was the love and emotion expressed by the kids that sang. Kids whose lives were touched because one man and one woman chose allow their feet to be guided in the pathways of peace. They sang loudly the very pews shook with raw joy because they were excited to praise the God. They experienced God because people were willing to get involved in their lives. Many would have over looked them or called them a drain on the culture, they were orphans or children affected by a life threatening disease unable to fully support themselves. Yet they were here celebrating
We are involved in that in a small way, but not everyone can see that. We cannot take our sister, or our coworker to Uganda to show them what our offerings are doing for these precious children. But we can knit hats for babies and talk to the parents as we volunteer, telling them our stories and where we find hope. We can speak through our art and express where we find hope. We can cook a meal and serve those without a home. We can encourage the poor by helping them find work. We can help the undocumented workers gain full residency status by volunteering to help fill out paper work. We can be guided in the pathways of peace, or release others to serve in those areas.
The dawn from the high will break upon us; will we hide in the shadows of the past or stand out in the emerging light?
As we enter into this time of holy expectancy let us consider this blessing over this child that was destined to announce the coming of the King. Let us join with Zechariah in the celebration of hope, and open our eyes to things we did not think possible. And let us share the stories of our life in word and in deed with hope in the God that provides for each new day.
Scripture: Luke 21:25-36
December is here! We are now entering into that time of year where there are nonstop Christmas specials on our TV screens, and the ever-present stories of the church clashing with the culture. Not only do we have culture clashes outside of the church but within as well. Of all the holy days in the church, Christmas is the most controversial. It is surprising I know, because who would really be opposed to spreading joy and cheer?
In the earliest days of the church the calendar and the progression of holy days was similar to the Jewish calendar. They would then add alternative meanings to the days that allowed for the testimony of Christ to be heard. But Christmas was different. The feast of Hanukkah is around the same time, this year it starts December 8th. This is a feast that began after the exile period of time when and after the return and rebuilding of the temple. We learn about the return to Jerusalem when we read the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, but the feast of Hanukkah is not mentioned, it makes us wonder where this feast came from? Did Jesus celebrate that feast? Yes. In the gospels we read about Jesus and his followers celebrating the Feast of Dedication, this is Hanukkah. They did not celebrate this feast in the Old Testament yet they do in the Gospels, something happened.
History is full of stories. One such story occurs in the books of the Maccabees that tie the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets with the contemporary history of Jesus. The prophets spoke of beasts and the coming of the king, they speak of the abomination that causes desecration. After the return of the children of Israel to their homeland, there was a clash between empires. The Greek and Persian empires met together on the battlefield and Israel was caught between the super powers. Alexander the Great pushed the forces of Persia back to their farthest eastern regions and in the processes gained the territory we know as Israel. Alexander died in this campaign and his empire was split between his generals. Antiochus III became the ruler of Syria, and after a battle with ruler of Egypt; he also became the ruler of Israel. Antiochus III, allowed the Jewish people to live according to their traditions, but his son Antiochus IV wanted all his subjects to be Greek, he outlawed the Jewish faith and took over the rebuilt temple dedicated by Ezra, and erected a idol of Zeus inside and offered sacrifices to it. The temple was no longer holy. It was used in the worship of false gods. This caused the Jewish people to become enraged, and a priest named Mattathias along with his five sons lead a revolt to restore their faith and traditions to the land. This is recorded in the first book of Maccabees. Eventually under the leadership of Mattathias’ son Judah, the temple and nation was restored. From this the Hasmonean Dynasty was established, the kingdom of Judah was reestablished, but this was a short-lived dynasty because yet another empire was marching east. And it was the Hasmoneans that opened the door for Rome.
Notice the names in this story, Mattathias or Matthew, Judah or Judas; these are the names of hero’s of the restored kingdom, and names of the disciples. This could be just a weird coincidence or it could be part of a deeper story. Matthew was the tax collector, and Judas was considered to be one of the most ideological people in Israel. Matthew or Levi was named after the priestly order and the priest that started the revolt to save Israel, yet he lived his life as a traitor to the nation as civil servant of Rome. Judas Iscariot is now being tied to revolutionaries in Jerusalem called the Sacarii or dagger men, these were revolutionaries actively trying to liberate their people from the foreign overlords. The cycle of history seems to be replaying, but it is turned upside down. The priest is not leading the revolt but a traitor, and the liberator is the betrayer. It speaks of the cycles of life, the revolutionaries become the status quo, the reformers become the establishment, and the protestors become the tyrants.
Back to Hanukkah, this feast celebrates the restoration of faith. It speaks of the rededication of God’s people to Him, and restoration of the temple of the one true God to holy worship. The rededication is not as easy as one might think, there must be pure elements to use in the ceremonies. Special implements, oils, animals, and garments all had to be found or made. They built altars, made garments, found the animals, but there was one problem they could only find enough sacred oil for the lamp that needed burn continuously, for one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that this oil was sufficient to last through the entire feast of 8 days, allowing enough time to do the rededication and bless more oil. Now after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the celebration of Hanukkah has moved from the dedication of the temple to celebrating the oil that fueled the light.
Easter is a known day in Jesus’ life; we know that Jesus died around the feast of Passover. Passover is a feast day that is easy to track, like most ancient religions it is based on the lunar cycle. We can pin point to the day that Jesus was crucified and when he rose from the grave. But Christmas is more difficult to pin point. Because of the shepherds in the fields at night, many believe that Jesus was born in the spring. Other scholars believe that these shepherds were special shepherds that cared for the temple flocks and were in the process of transporting some to the temple for sacrifices, so it could be that they were out in the elements in the winter. Ultimately no one knows for sure when Jesus was born. If Christmas and Easter were both in the spring what would we do the rest of the year?
The church used the lunar calendar and the seasons of the year to testify the Gospel of Christ. We are now in the Advent season of the year. This means we anticipate the coming of the King, along with that is the anticipation of the return of the king. The Gospel of John introduces Jesus as being the Word of God and the Light. Both of these terms highlight the unique and divine aspects of Jesus, speaking of truth and knowledge coming directly from God. The Jewish people celebrated a festival of Lights during the darkest time of the year, Jesus the light of the world came to redeem and restore relationships with God. Our season of Advent is placed around Festival of Hanukkah to celebrate the coming of Light.
So what does all of this have to do with this passage of scripture, what does it have to do with Christmas? Advent is more than just celebrating the time Jesus spent in the womb of His mother; it is also celebrating the recognition of who he is. A few pages before this passage, is a story of Jesus cleansing the temple driving out the people that were conducting business within its walls. It is a story whose theme is not all that different than a statue of Zeus being erected, because the worship in the temple had turned from honoring God but worshiping money and commerce. The temple is unclean. It also is a prophetic word pointing to the future of Jerusalem when Rome would come in to destroy the temple and change the face of faith forever.
This passage speaks of the Advent of recognizing the king. Jesus speaks in apocalyptic terms just as the prophets honored by the religious leaders. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars, roaring seas and waves, fainting and shaking and the Son of Man coming in a cloud. These were the same terms used to describe what was going to happen just prior to the exile to Babylon, as well as the abomination that causes desolation by Antiochus IV. When the prophets spoke these words people persecuted them, most were drove out of their homes and killed. When Jesus spoke these words not much changed, people plotted for his death as well.
Jesus spoke about the overturning of the status quo, he sparked a religious revolution the threatened the established leaders. These leaders were not totally wrong; they were the children of restored temple, followers of the previous revolution. Many were very religious and righteous men, though the Pharisees are spoken ill of in the Gospels they were very active in converting people to faith in the One True God, King Herod’s family is the product of these missionary efforts. They promoted a lifestyle totally dedicated to God. The problem with them was that they were restrictive in their mercy; they preached before they served, they were focused on the growth of the religious machine as being the sign of success. They established schools and synagogues and in many ways they reflected everything we think is right about religion. Yet Jesus was at odds with them. They represented the very human side of religion, they aspect of what I can do to be holy. This is not what Jesus was about. It might surprise you that Jesus was not opposed to their forms nor their traditions of worship, what he opposed was the spirit of their worship.
Shortly after scaring everyone with impending doom, Jesus went on to speak about Life with God. “Be on guard”, he says, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” The word here that jumps out is dissipation, it means to squander or in some cases the loss of energy to heat. Jesus is saying don’t squander your life or waste energy on the things of the world. He says this in highlight to his temple stampede, highlighting that the religious leaders of the day were squandering the kingdom, losing spiritual energy because they were too focused on the establishment of the religious structure instead of what really mattered, the relationships with God and Mankind. Jesus is saying that very soon everything is about to change dramatically. Within that generation the faith of all followers of God were changed, the temple fell and Jerusalem the city of God was left desolate. These words would be remembered and people would have to look at what was said and determine for themselves, “is Jesus King?”
Life always changes. With each passing day new challenges and opportunities present themselves to us. Some of those challenges shake the very core of our being, as we wonder if our culture and society is on the brink of collapse. With each passing year we listen to the ACLJ representing cities and individuals in legal lawsuits limiting the expression of faith, and we are afraid. But why do we fear? Is it because we are focused on the religious machine and worldly statistics for success? I read this passage and where some see a coming apocalypse I see a Festival of Lights, a rededication of hope and faith. It will be a trial and Jesus says that we need to pray for strength to escape these things. Strength to escape… we read this and dream of getting out or away from the trouble, but what it is really saying is to pray for strength to endure and survival so we can stand tall on the other side.
We anticipate the coming of the King, the Advent of The King. This is far greater than celebrating the birth of the religious leader and founder of the church, but the total foundational shaking of our lives. We anticipate the destruction of the kingdoms of mankind and the establishment of God with us. As we enter a time of open worship and holy expectancy let us consider what Jesus’ kingship means in our lives, in the life of our church, and in our communities. And let us allow His Spirit to come into our lives on a cloud and turn over tables and stones of our hearts and let the new life begin to emerge in us.