Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” – Matthew 2:13-15NIV

There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I have heard it used most often to supposedly explain why marriages go sour. I don’t know if that adage is necessarily true in most circumstances, but I have found familiarity tends to breed indifference. The more we are exposed to ideas or experiences, the less they seem to impact us. It’s why ski jumpers progressively have to hit higher jumps. It’s why travelers always want to see new places. It’s part of why kindergarten is fantastic and junior year is terrible. It’s part of why people cheat in relationships or people get new jobs. Once the newness wears off, the ordinary no longer holds our attention.

It’s true with travesty, too. In our post 9/11, post Columbine, post Black Lives Matter, post #MeToo world, we hardly go a day without news of a new war, a new terrorist attack, a new shooting, a new politician spouting hatred, a new beloved icon turned out to be a monster. It’s so expected it rarely excites us. Rarely holds our attention. The movements which spawned in response to these atrocities and abuses slowly lose momentum as we become used to them being part of the news and our lives.

So it is with the story of Jesus’ birth. Every year, we read about Mary’s and Joseph’s dreams, Elizabeth’s testimony, the journey to Bethlehem, the angels singing, the shepherds rushing, the Magi journeying, the star shining, Herod’s slaughter, and the escape to Egypt. Memorialized in ornaments and cute manger scenes and Christmas lights…there’s a blurry, soft edge to the account. Something familiar and comfortable. We focus on the fluffy lambs, the excitement, the cooing baby, the adoring family, the hope of nations… and forget the nightmare. Forget the courage and desperation and fear.

Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when Jesus was born. Shockingly early for our world, but the age of many new brides in first century Israel. Joseph…no more than a teen himself. He was probably between seventeen and nineteen, as Jewish men often married shortly after completing their apprenticeship in their family trade. No more than children themselves, they’d also probably rarely been far from home and family. First century people did not travel the world as we do today.

Yet now, a new husband, a new father, a new wife, a new mother…the angel appears to them to proclaim, “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13b NIV). They are being hunted by the ruler of their land. Personally. For death. So, in a world where being an unprotected stranger often left you killed or enslaved, these teenagers had to flee to the very country from which God had liberated the Jews hundreds of years before. A land with no family or connections with whom to claim refuge. It was roughly a 200 mile journey just to the border of Egypt, into a life they had never planned for.

It was a call to extraordinary courage from a young, inexperienced, unprepared couple from rural Israel.

As we begin a new year, hoping it will be better than the last, getting wrapped up in the new demands and expectations of our lives… Don’t forget the courage of two ordinary believers caught up in the work of the extraordinary. Don’t set aside the account of Jesus’ birth with your ornaments and trees and lights until next December. Don’t forget what God achieves through the most unexpected means.

Remember…remember the courage of Christmas. Remember what God’s strength made Joseph and Mary capable of. Holding the Savior in their arms, they journeyed in fear and doubt, yet with the God of the universe right there in their midst.

And as with them, so with you. The God of the Universe is with you as you face the unknown, perhaps with your own fears and doubts. He does not abandon you to the evil intentions of others or the uncertainty of the path. He gives you strength to face the day. To face your times: through the Bible, through worship, through fellow believers, through the miraculous in every day that we so easily overlook.

Have courage, my friends. The Author of Life is with you.

  1. How does your life feel overwhelming right now?
  2. If you’ve never considered the courage of Mary and Joseph before, how does it impact you to think on it, now?
  3. How is it different to try to be courageous versus trusting God to provide you with the strength you need for your challenges?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Courage happens through small instances of acting in trust in God’s promises. Pray for an opportunity to practice courage this week. When it comes, take steps into it.
Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” – Isaiah 64:6-9ESV

I was raised in the foothills of northern Colorado. Contrary to how much of it is now, when I was a child is was a quiet place. You didn’t often hear cars going by, and you could be woken up in the night by packs of coyotes running down the street. Even mountain lions would come down to terrorize peoples’ dogs and horses.

What I remember most about that part of my life was the wind. The wind can be powerful, even dangerous, in the foothills. Storms build up on the peaks, sending wind tearing down from thousands of feet, down the face of the mountains to create microbursts of wind up to 100mph. To give you an idea, it took my dad three tries to put up a flag pole strong enough to not bend in half due to the winds. We raised chickens when I was growing up, and it wasn’t uncommon to look outside and see the wind blow a chicken (upside-down) across the back yard to the fence line. We’ve had sustained winds in Colorado blowing fast enough to match even a Category 5 hurricane. We don’t joke about wind around here.

So when I read in Isaiah 64:6ESV, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away”… it gives me pause. As Christians, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants us to do. We’re very preoccupied with “living right” and “avoiding sin”. And admittedly, when our motivation is love, these are important things to pursue. Love for God and others should drive us to battle sin and live as God has called us to live. How can we, who have been so freed by God, bow to the power of sin without a fight?

But therein also lies the temptation to another sin: arrogance.

As our external messes come under management, it’s easy to acquire a sense of satisfaction in our own righteousness. I’m not even saying the kind of self-righteousness which elevates itself above others, but just the sort of self-satisfaction that says, “I’m doing all right.” In other words, we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on all the ways we have succeeded in managing our sinfulness. The danger is then, when we step before the altar to confess our sins before receiving the Lord’s body and blood at Communion…we can’t think specifically of anything to mention. And if our sin is small…so is our Savior. When we are unable to recognize how desperately we need Christ, He is inevitably diminished in our eyes… a situation ripe for Satan’s meddling.

Yet the power of our sin is compared to the wind. Wind that throws over trains, rips off roofs, and throws hikers to their deaths. Wind is what leads to the destructive power of hurricanes. Wind, over time, even wears down the very peaks of mountains. And, “like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6bNIV). Before the power of sin, we are helpless to stand. It tears at us, takes our feet out from under us…and drags us where we do not want to go. To death.

And we have no power to stop it.

But there is One who can. Who did. Who does.

Outside little Bethlehem, two thousand years ago…a teenage girl and her new husband huddled together in a cave, surrounded by animals sheltering from the cool of an early spring night…to usher the Savior into the world. Angels announced His coming. Starlight shone in brilliance to draw His witnesses. And overshadowing it all was the cross at Calvary, the place where our sins would finally be stopped by the work of Jesus Christ.

He is the bulwark against the wind. He is the only one through Whom we defeat the power of sin in our lives. It is not our doing.

It is Christ alone.

  • When was the last time you confessed your sins and truly felt you had something worth confessing?
  • Do you find it easy to feel your are “doing well” when it comes to sin management?
  • Where in your life do you think you have been dishonest with God in your struggle with sin?
  • Challenge for the Week: Pay attention for moments when you find yourself resisting sin successfully. Instead of focusing on yourself, intentionally stop and focus on praising and thanking God for the power of Christ and His forgiveness.
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 – Remember

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 – Remember

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-20ESV

In 2018, Americans are predicted to spend an over of $887 per person (not per household) on Christmas gifts, and actual spending is usually higher than the predictions (Haury, 2018). In Arvada, CO, where our church is located, the median income for 2016 was just over $70,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Just a year earlier, the average household income for the entire world was $17,760 (Muggeridge, 2015). In fact, in 2013, at least 80 percent of the world was living on less than $10 a day, which translates to less than $3,650 a year (Shah, 2013).

The moral of the story? No…it’s not shame on Americans for having money when other people in the world are poor. Rather… if you are an American, no matter your circumstances, you have been given so much. You are incredibly blessed. We live in a nation of unprecedented wealth, where even those at the poverty line are among the top 14 percent richest people in the world (Blair, 2011).

And in America…there are plenty of places to spend that money. We can buy a designer dog or cat that costs almost as much as the entire yearly income of the poorest in the world. The average new car price in America in 2018 was $36,270 (Nicolai & Buehler, 2018). Even a latte is over $4 a cup, which again, is at least half the daily income of the poorest in the world.

And with wealth…it’s easy to forget to whom we owe all things. God knew that about the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land after over four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt and forty years of wandering the desert. They were going to go from from former slaves and homeless wanderers, to living in a paradise in their own kingdom. As their fields grew and their animals multiplied, God knew the temptation would be to sit back and say, “Look what I have accomplished.” Against that temptation, God said, Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”

As you enter the Christmas season, hunting down those perfect gifts, buying new decorations for the house and the ingredients for special meals…don’t forget from Whom those dollars come. Don’t forget Who has made it possible for you to own that home, have that family, see those sights. Don’t forget the One for whom the lights sparkle. Don’t forget the Gift the gifts point to. When Silent Night comes on the radio, or you single along to Noel, don’t forget He for Whom the songs were written came into the world to a poor man and woman in a cave on a cold spring night. He came to bless the world with Himself. With Hope. With Purpose. With Love. With Truth…

So as you rush around this Christmas season, remember our Lord. In your blessings remember the blessing He first gave. And then be that blessing with the blessings He has provided.

  • On a piece of paper, list out all the blessings God has provided for you. Get really detailed.
  • Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for this list of gifts. Think of it like the big hug you give someone you love when they’ve given you exactly what you wanted for Christmas.
  • What are some of the reasons why you forget all the good God has done for you?
  • Challenge for the Week: At the end of each day, make a list of all the blessings in the day God provided. Then once a week, find a way to be a blessing to someone else.

References

Haury, A. C. (2018, November 8). Average cost of an American        Christmas. Investopedia. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1112/average-cost-of-an-american-christmas.aspx

Muggeridge, P. (2015, June 23). What is the average wage around the world? World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/what-is-the-average-wage-around-the-world/

Nicolai, A. & Buehler, B. (2018). Press releases: Average new-car prices rise nearly 4 percent for January 2018 on shifting sales mix, according to Kelley Blue Book. Kelley Blue Book. Retrieved from https://mediaroom.kbb.com/2018-02-01-Average-New-Car-Prices-Rise-Nearly-4-Percent-For-January-2018-On-Shifting-Sales-Mix-According-To-Kelley-Blue-Book

Shah, A. (2013, January 7). Poverty facts and stats. Global Issues. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Data USA: Arvada, CO. Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/geo/arvada-co/#category_wages

Luke 2:8-12 – He’s Not Santa

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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.’” – Luke 2:8-12ESV

When you think of symbols of Christmas, if you live in America there are a few things that probably universally come to mind: Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, and of course, Santa Claus. He has become so synonymous with the Christmas season, he has even found popularity in countries with little historical connection to Christmas, such as India and Japan.

In America, this red clad, jolly man slips into homes on Christmas Eve, via the chimney, to deliver brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts to good girls and boys. But for the disobedient children, Christmas morning provides something different from the joy and hope of the season. For them, rather than presents under the tree and overflowing stockings, Santa leaves only a lump of coal – a reminder of the ways they have failed to meet his expectations over the last year.

Isn’t it horribly ironic the figure also known as “Father Christmas”, a figure so tied into the season we celebrate Christ’s birth, should have as part of his very nature the very opposite intentions of God come as the baby in the manger?

In Luke 2:8-12, the angels appear to shepherds outside Bethlehem to announce the birth of the long-awaited, Jewish messiah: Jesus. In the dark, star-lit fields, the night was split by the shining “glory of the Lord” as an angel appeared, joyously announcing God’s message “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 8:10b-11ESV).

Now the angel could have stopped there. Lights out. Show’s over. Back-to-Heaven-we-go. He had announced the fulfillment of God’s millennia-old promise fulfilled. He had done his job. God surely didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to these men. God had done that over-and-over to the Jews throughout their history. Not to mention, God has every reason to demand the trust of humanity. He created us and everything we’ll ever perceive. Everything belongs to Him. His will and power are the last word on reality.

Yet God knows His creation. He knows what we are…our limitations…our fear and weakness and doubt. And unlike Santa, He doesn’t demand our obedience in order to experience His goodness. So… the angel had more words from God for the shepherds that night: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 8:12ESV).

The God of the Universe bridges the gap between our doubts and His faithfulness. He draws near to us, saying, “Come! Look at this! Hold me! Know me! Look into my face! I am here!” God offered the stunned shepherds not just words, but proof His promise had finally been fulfilled. This long-awaited Messiah could be known and seen in a newborn, wrapped and lying in the most unlikely place: a manger.

And He still invites us to see and touch and know Him today, in every day. Not just in the sharing of the Last Supper of Jesus at Sunday worship. Not just in the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But in our love for one another. In the wonder of natural creation and the brilliant creativity of the human mind. In the thousands of tiny whiffs of miracle spilt from God’s hand in every day, overflowing around us. May we have the eyes to see His fingerprints in every day, the ears to hear His delighted laughter. This Christmas, may we feel Him draw near to us, not because of our own hard work, but because of His declaration of endless love over us in the person of His son: Jesus the Savior.

  1. The Christmas season is full of “busy.” How has some of the “busy” commandeered your heart’s attention away from Jesus?
  2. It’s easy to view God as the critic-in-the-sky. If you’re being honest, what is one area in your life you are constantly (and maybe secretly) trying to prove you’re “good enough” for His love?
  3. Thinking back over the last month, think of one “whiff of miracle” God has provided. Thank Him out loud for it!
  4. Challenge for the week: once each day, pause and write down one way God might have “drawn near” to you during the last 24hrs. At the end of the week, look back with joy on all the little “I love you” moments from God!

Matthew 1:18-23 – God With Us

“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).”
– Matthew 1:18-23ESV

When I met my husband, he had already been an avid roller skater for eighteen years. And unlike my dedication to walking for some twenty-odd years, which had shown little improvement in avoiding embarrassing moments of clumsiness, he had put his years of skating to good use. He didn’t just skate… he could breakdance on wheels. I’m talking stalls, spins, backflips, jumps, and more. (If you’re really interested, you can find plenty of examples on YouTube.) By comparison, my roller blading had peaked in 8th grade at little more than desperately careening around the roller rink as fast as I could. I hadn’t skated since.

To watch my husband skate was amazing. Until that point, I hadn’t realized what was possible. Quickly, skating became a regular part of our relationship. Unfortunately, it was a rocky restart for me, and on roller skates this time. I wanted to do what my husband did, to learn to love what he loved and do what he did. Where he glided, I staggered. Where he stopped on a dime, I careened on. Where he easily dodged other skaters, I fell.

But every circuit of the rink, he was with me. He could have been dancing in the middle of the floor, drawing admiration, photos, and requests for coaching (which happened regularly.) Instead, he set aside himself to teach me, to help me up, to model the skills to me I needed to grow as a skater. Eight years later, there are still no backflips or rolling splits, but falls are rare, and I can skate on my toes and spin. I have a long way to go, but people now occasionally ask me for advice on how they can grow as skaters. That is all because Joseph set aside his chance for glory. He chose, instead, to be with me. And when Jesus entered into this world through Mary’s womb…He did and does much the same on a much greater scale.

In Matthew 1:18-23, Matthew highlights a prophecy about Jesus from Isaiah: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Of all the titles Jesus could claim and would claim, the one He chose to prophesy His coming hundreds of years before it would happen is “God with us.” He is the All-Mighty Creator, King of the Universe, Commander of Angels, Vanquisher of Evil, Lord of the Earth, Knower of All, worthy of all “glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). Yet the name from prophecy, the name by which generations of people would look forward to his coming…was “God with us.”

Jesus wanted us to know He is the God who is with us. The God who will sacrifice all He is entitled to so He can have a relationship with us…with you. He speaks love into your life by revealing His character in the Bible, by speaking through the words and actions of the people around you. He summons you back to Him and pursues you into your darkness, seeking you out to heal you…even in the darkest corners of your life. No matter how hard and fast and far you fall…the cold, scratchy, filthy cradle in a cave in poverty-stricken Ancient Israel is a testament to your “God with us”.

Fearlessly, He demonstrated how far He is willing to fall to lift you up. The God who spun out the cradles of the stars chose to be born, helpless and weeping, into a brutal world on the first Christmas. He walked in the shadow of the cross His whole life on earth…to be where you are for all your days…on both sides of eternity.

  1. If you could choose any name to be known by, what name would you chose for yourself?
  2. Jesus chose “God with us” to be the name we first knew Him by. What does that tell you about what kind of relationship He has with you?
  3. Many people view God as far-off and detached from what happens in our world. Knowing our God is “God with us”, how does that reframe how you view Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: If God is with you always, that means there is evidence of Him at work in your life all the time. Spend some time each day intentionally looking for the little ways He is at work in your heart and in your environment. Keep notes of what they are so you can reflect on how God might be trying to speak into your life.