Advent Days 21-25: God Sent His Son

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Galatians 4v4-7:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.’ 

John 18v33-37:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Luke 2v15-21:

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.’

Hebrews 1v1-4:

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.’

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Advent Day 21: Herod the Murderer (Matthew 2v13-18)

 

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13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet,“Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

This episode in the Christmas story from Matthew isn’t included in many carols or Christmas cards, but it’s a crucial part of the story. Matthew shows us that Jesus was born into a world where people like Herod can commit unthinkable evil. A world where the powerful usually win. It’s the same world that Pharaoh, hundreds of years earlier, had ordered every Hebrew baby boy to be killed. Jesus was born into the real world. Power-crazed despots like Herod still inflict great suffering on their people across the world. Those of us living in a country like the UK can find it hard to relate to this part of the Christmas story. But we all know that we live in a world where human beings do terrible things to each other. That’s the world Jesus was born into and the world Jesus came to rescue. 

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Day 19: To Us A Child Is Born (Isaiah 9v1-7)

 

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[a] But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.[b]

2 [c] The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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Advent Day 17: A Light For the Gentiles (Luke 2v22-35)

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22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons”. 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant[a] depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

The next character in the Christmas story is Simeon, an elderly, devout Jew. Simeon has lived in hope of seeing the Messiah, the promised ruler of Israel who would deliver God’s people from their enemies. God, by the Holy Spirit, had promised Simeon that he would not die without seeing this Messiah. As Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, Simeon knows that he is witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise to Him, and to the world. Jesus comes as the Messiah; Israel’s hope and the hope of the Gentiles (non-Jews). Once again, Luke displays the universal scope of the wonderful Christmas story through the lives of very ordinary characters. 

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Advent Day 16: Shepherds And Angels (Luke 2v8-14)

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8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 Andthis will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]

The first group of people God sent to hear about the birth of Jesus were not kings, scholars or priests. They were lowly shepherds. Shepherds lived on the edge of society. They were considered “unclean” by their religious countrymen. Yet it is to such people that God chose to announce the greatest news the world has ever (and will ever) hear. A Saviour has been born and that Saviour is also the world’s rightful King. Not a king who will be separate from the lowly and poor, but a King who is born as one of them. Christmas is good news for everyone

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‘Shepherd’ by AfghanistanMatters

 

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Advent Day 15: Jesus the Servant (Philippians 2v1-11)

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So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The wonder of the Christmas story is not found in the Gospels and Old Testament prophets alone. Paul, in writing to Christians in Philippi, declares that Jesus’ birth was the greatest demonstration of humility the world has ever seen. Greater than Queen Elizabeth II choosing to live in a 1 bedroom bungalow. Greater than President Obama leaving the Oval Office to become a road sweeper. Christmas is about the Son of God leaving the throne room of Heaven to take on humanity. Jesus was born as one of us. But there’s more than that. As Paul declares here, Jesus took on the form of a servant (literally ‘slave’). God came to serve.  That’s why Paul expects Christians everywhere to serve God, one another and the community around them. That’s Christmas. 

Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men.

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Advent Day 14: No Room At The Inn? (Luke 2v1-7)

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 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quiriniuswas governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 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.

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‘Nativity’ by kawwsu29

The popular telling of the Christmas story has Joseph knocking on the door of every B&B in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay in time for the imminent arrival of Mary’s baby. What school Nativity play in complete without the obligatory innkeeper offering the desperate couple a stable to stay in? But the popular depictions of the story probably miss the mark.

Joseph was returning to his place of birth as a result of the Emperor’s census. It’s unthinkable that he wouldn’t have relatives still in the town who would take him and his betrothed in. Even without relatives in town, for any middle eastern town (in the 1st Century or today) to fail to accommodate travellers (especially one who is pregnant) would bring shame on the community.

Kenneth Bailey, an expert on the Middle East, argues that a more likely scenario is this…Joseph and Mary are given accommodation in the home of one of Joseph’s relatives. 1st Century peasant homes in Israel were comprised of 2 living areas, one for people and one for animals (bringing the family’s animals in at night provided warmth and safety). In all likelihood, Mary had to give birth in the section of the home usually occupied by animals because the family living space was full (given that the census had brought other relatives home). The Greek word used in Luke’s Gospel for “inn” is not the usual word for a guest house, but the main area of the home, which would have usually been used to accommodate guests.

While this interpretation of Luke’s Nativity story provides less material for the school play director to work with, the significance of the story is in no way lessened. Jesus, the promised King of Israel (and the nations) was not born into a palace, or in the private wing of a modern hospital, but into a normal peasant home in an insignificant town. His birth wouldn’t have made the 24-hour news channels. No royal announcement would have appeared in the grounds of Herod’s palace. Instead, Jesus’ birth was like that of any ordinary Jew born into a family with modest means. Whether He was born in a stable or a home is not worth arguing over, the point is that one used to the surroundings of Heaven  was born on earth. As the famous carol puts it…

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

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Advent Day 13th: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Micah 5v1-5)

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[a] Now muster your troops, O daughter[b] of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 [c] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labour has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace.
When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;

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Advent Day 12th: Joseph the Just (Matt 1v18-25)

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18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

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Advent Day 11: Light Of The World (John 8v12)

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12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light is a major theme in John’s Gospel about Jesus. He’s tells us that ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1v5). He records Jesus’ words about Himself: “light has come into the world” (John 3v19) and again in the verse above.

Jesus is the light of the world. He shines into the darkness of the world; including the dark recesses of our hearts. Darkness in the Bible often symbolises evil, death and separation from God. Trying to walk alone through a forest at night without a torch is a completely different kettle of fish from walking through that same forest in bright sunlight with someone guiding you. Jesus is the light by which we can see clearly to find our way through life. 

Famous Christmas carols rightly celebrate Jesus giving light to the world; “Light and life to all He brings”. But as is the case throughout John’s account of Jesus, there is a challenge. Jesus gives light to whoever follows Him. The choice to follow Jesus is a choice to receive that light and life. But Jesus doesn’t simply give light; He is the light. 

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