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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Do You See What I See Pt 1: Matthew 1.18-21

{This was the first of a four-part series I began on 1 December 2013. The audio file can be found here}

Do You See what I See? Pt 1
Let me play the devil’s advocate for a moment, or to put it better, let me ask questions that I think some folks must be asking every time they “hear” what is commonly called the “the Christmas story”: And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Mt. 1.21 Why? Why is his name to be Yah Saves or Yah Delivers? Why do people need some god to “save” them? Okay, so the Angel says it’s because He will save His people from their sins. Nice, right? But, why is it that he comes to save only His People and not everybody in the whole world? And why must he be “saving” them from their sins?

Okay, let’s take a step back for a moment. There are stories we 21st Century Global Citizens like to tell ourselves, and they’re usually summed up in shorthand statements like this one: to err is human. There’s a lot of stuff packed behind that little maxim. Like, error is the standard of our humanity, or to say it another way, we’ve been erring – drawing crooked lines – from the beginning; or error is in our genetic make-up, for crying out loud. And so, thinking that’s the case, we can overlook our own messiness quite easily. (1) Oops, messed up another marriage. Crud, hope I can get it right the next time - if I even waste the energy on a next time. (2) I can’t help the way I am. It’s my up-bringing, my genetics, or whatever.

We can get by most of the time saying these kinds of things to ourselves. But then we step back further and start scanning the broader horizon of our human condition and we quickly notice that something is really awry with our picture. Something inside of us tells us – call it intuition if you want – that this isn’t the way it was all supposed to be. We know it’s all wrong when Heads of State are torturing their citizens, vandalizing their lives with scaring brutalities; parents maiming and murdering their little ones; airport Security people caught stealing; shoppers going bonkers and striking out violently over “Black Friday” sales – to err is human – sounds like someone talking into a black hole. And to think, this is the best our evolutionary processes can muster up, eh? What a wretched scandal and shame! And the more we try to fix it, the more the garbage and sewage seems to seep through the seams, and make the place more toxic and messier and bloodier and uglier! Dear God! What in the world have we done? What in the world can we do?
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Let me tell the story a different way. Let me rehearse to you the version we Christians tell.  Some of it I won’t be able to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt, but there seems to be proof and evidence enough that it seems plausible. 

In the beginning God! Not capricious, nasty, molesting, dysfunctional gods – but God, out of the deep reservoir of his own loving being, made everything you can perceive (and things you can’t perceive) from  nothing, in a short time. And into this beautiful cosmos which he shaped with his love and delight, he placed his crowing piece of craftsmanship – a man and a woman – the first of our kind. He was tickled pink with them. He made them “One” and together they represent his image, they reflect his inner communion and loving togetherness. And he poured out a super-duper abundant amount of everything they needed to enjoy this cosmos with God. Food – fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables, etc.; beauty bursting on the whole visual sphere; life, love, shamelessness, and unhampered communion with one another and God – no dysfunctional games, no scheming, no lying, no scamming! Humanity and creation living in harmony, singing the same melodious sonnet. That’s Genesis 1 and 2. And if things hadn’t turned in a different direction, that’s the kind of circumstance we would be enjoying now.

But then into this gorgeous picture of rich peace, comes a dark, slithering moment in which the whole scenario changes. The man and woman decide they’re no longer satisfied with God, their communion, and the beauty. They give ear to another voice – a dark, calculating, conniving, bitter, and damnable voice – and they reach for forbidden fruit. In the midst of the burgeoning plenty, they stretch out their hands to take the only thing forbidden – and the melody suddenly comes crashing down into one vast, deafening cacophony. The harmony breaks into the shamefulness of selfish ambitions and empty conceits (Phil. 2.3). Man runs from God in shame, terror, and dread, and we’ve been running since – It’s called sin. We continue to reach for the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil so that we can become our own gods, declaring our own autonomy – all at the expense of one another – all at the expense of peace and exponential delight – all at the expense of life itself. Maybe I can shorten the story we Christians tell down to this: To reflect God is human; To seek to be god is cosmic terrorism!

So, what can be done? Our stories – our national, tribal, regional, collegial and personal narratives – are all about finding redemption, release from this blasted shame and overriding sense of alienation and doom. But medications, psychotherapies, cocaine, extreme sports, gladiatorial games, etc. are our failed attempts. The landscape is cluttered with the reeking debris of our endeavors. And if you have the courage to scan the landscape, you will see that it is a bloody scene of horrific carnage. Dear God! What in the world have we done? What in the world can we do? Who will deliver us from this fashionable self-destruct?

And it’s here that the very God we have revolted against invades our false-securities, and takes on our own humanity. Think of it, God-in-his-own-skin! Better still, God-in-our-own-flesh!  And why does he do this? To save his people from their sins. And this moment-in-time-and-place-in-space has a personal face: Jesus from the backwoods town of Nazareth. And he comes through the normal, ordinary struggle of the blood and water of the birth canal.

So maybe you will ask – “How in the world can this backwoodsy guy be Yahweh saving his people?” Good question. Here’s where the Christian story gets even more exciting.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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 1.31-33

And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mt. 4.13-17

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4.18-19

The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins." Acts 10.36-43

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2.11-14

And so the story we tell – and I am telling you – really takes off at this point in earnest. Jesus is Almighty God saving his people from their sins; coming to restore us to his true image – making us truly human again; diving down deep into the sludge and filth, grabbing us, and lifting us up out of the mud of our common humanity and shaping us into those who can once again delight in him – our summum bonum – to glorify and enjoy him.

What difference does this all make, then?

To reflect God is human; To seek to be god is cosmic terrorism! By God coming into our world in Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem, the door is now thrown open for us to lay down our arms, and be made new – to be those who reflect God as we were meant to do!

Personal scale – Restored to communion, to delighted fellowship with God thru Jesus by the Holy Spirit indwelling us. That means we can finally begin to become complete, truly fulfilled: “you are complete in Him.” Col. 2.10. 

Family level – Now you can be a family, reflecting and displaying what it means to be in the image of God together; children honoring parents – as Jesus always honored the Father, parents tenderly caring for children – as the Father always delighted in his Son; husbands loving your wives just like Christ loves His church – and wives respecting your husbands.


Larger dimension – whether politics, academia, business, etc: To reflect God is human; To seek to be god is cosmic terrorism! Jesus is God saving his people from their sins; and all the catastrophe, rubble and debris of our fallen humanity which liters the geometrical landscape – Is redeemable. It can be healed, liberated, and set free – but only as we go forward in Christ to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. And only as we offer back to God our scarred, marred and mangled humanness.

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