Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

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Good Friday, the Road to Galgotha, and the Broken Law

Following His trials, which lasted the night, the Sinless One was scourged. They took a cat of nine tails, a brutal whip with nine ends, each laced with shards of bone or pottery, designed to tear the flesh, and break the spirit of those on the merciless receiving end. He was given 39 lashes, a process which frequently ended in death for the whipped.

While he was beaten, the Roman soldiers bet for his clothes, and when they were done brutalizing him, the gave him new raiment: they clothed him in a purple robe, symbolizing royalty, and a crown to mark his Kingship. But in the mocking fashion of the blasphemer, they had fashioned the crown of biting thorns. As the pressed the ring onto his forehead, it undoubtedly took flesh with it.

The Romans made their bleeding and broken Lord carry his cross through the streets to the hill of crucifixion. The streets were lined with a deriding mob, who shouted, and mocked and spit on their Redeemer. The very man who, just hours before, had taken their every sins upon himself. Mixed in the crowd were the meek and broken of spirit who wept as they watched their Master carry the burden that He had chosen but certainly did not deserve.

Jesus stumbled and fell under the weight of cross, unable to carry the weight any more.

The Romans forced another to pick up the cross and they continued on. I wonder what the man thought. Was he one of the bitter and angry crowd? Or was he one that the Healer had made whole? Did he resent the burden? Or did he weep knowing that he was helping the Man to his death?

The writers of the Gospels had few words to describe what happened next, because of the monstrous and barbaric act that followed, few words can describe the horror: “and they crucified him.”
They buried nails in his hands, wrists, and feet, and raised the cross on the hill of skulls, called Golgotha. Here men were left to die. It could take days as the men would die slowly, not of their wounds, but of starvation and thirst. The merciless Romans would give water to the dying to prolong their death. Of the few things the Innocent One said while on the cross, the first was a plead for drink, which was granted in the form of vinegar.

In his pain and agony, He prayed to the Father, asking for forgiveness for the Romans, who “…know not what they do”, as they crucified the Son of the Living God.

He asked John to care for His aging Mother.

He spoke to one of those dying with him.

And again alone, He cried “why has thou forsaken me?”
As 3:00 in the afternoon approached, the sky darkened and the ground shook. The veil separating the courtyard of the temple from the Holy of Holies was torn in two, as the Father rejected the the Covenant People in their wickedness, and the the Son of Man died as he uttered the words “it is finished.” The very earth recognized the death of its creator, and tore itself asunder, burying cities in the sea, and sinking valleys with the mountains. The whole of the New World was reformed, killing many. And darkness covered all the land for days.

The Romans were astounded by the speed of his death, and to confirm the death, stabbed him through the ribs right into his heart. It gushed water and blood; it was broken.

The Lord of all creation had died. The consequence of sin, the just reward of sin, is death; but the Sinless One had died unjustly: thus, the law was broken.

History has come to know this day as Good Friday. His death was unremarkable: the Romans had crucified countless before, and would crucify countless after. That He died was remarkable, because He, unlike any before him, or any after, was free from the need for death. Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, but He died anyway. The Atoning sacrifice that had begun in a garden was nearly complete.
The spirits of His disciples were as broken as His body. I imagine their voices to be hollow as they asked the Romans to bring him down so that they could bury him. With the Sabbath approaching, the apostles, Mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene, had to act quickly to prepare the spiritless and lifeless body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin itself, offered his tomb for the burial of the Christ.
The day ended with the burial of the King of Kings. Fearing His body would be stolen, the Romans ordered his tomb to be sealed, and guards to watch it.

The hopes of countless Jews died with the Carpenter from Nazareth.

One other died this day. The traitorous coward Judas Iscariot, knowing his own sin, used the 30 pieces of silver to buy a plot of ground, where he hung himself from a tree.

This was the darkest day in human history. A day where the Covenant People killed their own God.

The faith of many died with Him.

And if the story ended here, hope should have died too.

But it doesn’t end here. Tomorrow is the Sabbath for the Jews, and tomorrow we will learn what the Savior of Mankind did millenia ago on that Sabbath.

As we remember the cross, as we remember the Holy Death, let us know why He died: he died as a sacrificial Lamb, making atonement with the Father on our behalf. He is the Lamb of God. He is Savior of mankind. He is the Redeemer.

As we prepare for Easter, who’s very name forgets the Master of All, let us never forget. Let us ponder His sacrifices in the Garden and on Golgotha. Let us remember as we have broken the law, the law was broken by Him.

Remember. Remember.