Isaiah 41:14-20 – For Such a Worm as I

Do not fear, you worm Jacob,
    you insect Israel!
I will help you, says the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
    sharp, new, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
Then you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know,
    all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. (NRSV)

Each morning I rise and read God’s Holy Word. It is a discipline I have been doing for over forty years. In the past few years, I have begun reading more slowly and with greater contemplation – because the goal is not to check off having read some verses on a Bible reading plan. The aim is to connect meaningfully with God. The desired result is to hear the voice of the Lord, and to let the Scriptures do their incredible work in our hearts.

One of the ways I connect with Scripture, after having read the verses for the day several times, is to write it in my own words…

“My dear servant, there is no need whatsoever to worry yourself,

though others say about you,

            ‘That guy is nothing, only a wormy maggot!’

I am your holy God,

            who saves and protects you.

I’ll let you be like a big ol’ log

            covered with sharp spikes.

You will grind and crush

every mountain and hill in front of you

            until they turn to dust.

A strong wind will scatter the dust of unholy jerks

            in all directions.

Then you will celebrate

and praise me, your Lord,

            the holy God who watches your life.

When your financial budget no longer budges

and your bank accounts lie empty

            and you have no idea where to turn,

I, your Lord, and your God

will come to your rescue.

            I will not forget you.

I will make rivers of abundance flow

            on the desolate mountain peaks of your life.

I will send streams of life

to fill your empty valley of life’s tribulations.

Dry and barren places in your life

will flow with springs

            and become a lake of grace and goodness.

I will fill the parched desert areas of your needy life

            with all kinds of fruitful trees –

apple trees, olive trees, fig trees,

oak and walnut, elm and maple, fir, and pine,

like in the original garden,

all your needs will be met in and through me, your God.

Everyone will see this

            and know that I,

the holy Yahweh God whom you love and serve,

            created every bit of it.”

Whichever way we choose to view ourselves, as worm and insect, or as majestic person in the image of God, the spiritual reality continually before us is that the Lord will provide, bless, and care for us. We are the recipients of God’s gracious salvation. Although many modern hymnals do not include Isaac Watt’s, At the Cross, and if they do, the original words have been changed – it matters little. Because the action of deliverance belongs to God, and neither to you nor me. And even though we seem but lowly worms next to God, the Lord chooses to treat us with deference, accommodation, and care. Any low view of self is quickly eradicated in the face of such divine love.

Stanza 1:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed?

And did my Sov’reign die?

Would He devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I? 

Chorus:

At the cross, at the cross,

Where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away –

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day. 

By Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and published in 1707.

John 1:1-18 – God in the Flesh

Welcome, friends! The astounding love of God is seen most clearly in the face of Jesus Christ. Click the videos below and let us enjoy worshiping our incarnate Lord…

John 1:1-18
O Word of God Incarnate by Jeff Pardo
He Came Down by the Gaither Vocal Band, 1999

May your hearts be filled with grace through the incarnation of Christ.

May your minds be filled with truth through the knowledge of Jesus.

May your soul be filled with love through love incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Hebrews 8:1-13 – Deliverance through a Manger

God Is With Us, by Malaysian artist Hanna Varghese, 2006

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. Therefore, Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact, the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (NIV)

Our wait is nearly over. Christmas Day is almost here. The Messiah is coming. I genuinely believe that Jesus is the mid-point of history; everything for all time hinges upon Christ’s incarnation. The most cataclysmic event in the history of the world is a birth. The hopes of humanity are focused, of all things, in a stinky old feeding trough for animals – a manger.

Yes, Christians put a lot of focus on the cross and resurrection. Yet, the incarnation was the signature event of God’s breaking into this world. The inconceivable was conceived. God became human. Nothing would ever be the same again….

Nativity by African artist Joseph Mulamba-Mandangi, 2001

Jesus is our great high priest, the nexus between heaven and earth. All else are only mere shadows of the real Savior. Christ is the hinge upon which our own personal lives turn. The old system of law fades and gives way to the person for whom it all pointed. For the law, as important as it was, has never been able to save. In Christ there is a new covenant established by grace, taking care of the sin issue once for all.

Through the Christ child, all other means of deliverance have become obsolete. No matter how much he washed his hands, Pilate could not wash away his guilt. Despite all our efforts to hide or undo our shame, it will not go away. It is through Jesus that all guilt and shame have been banished. Human iniquity is taken away. All that we have done and left undone is forgiven – our sin is purged forever.

A new age has dawned. A new era has been inaugurated. The miracle of the Nativity explodes with continuing effect throughout history. Its continuing effects can still be felt, two-thousand years later. Nothing will ever undo the power of love and grace which was unleashed in the little town of Bethlehem.

Here is a clear and confident declaration to any and all in despondency or despair, no matter the reasons why: We may feel crushed, dejected, confused, or broken because of this past year’s events; but our salvation depends not on our mood or the constant changing of circumstances. Christ has offered himself once for all. The work is finished. Our faithful high priest is even now interceding for you and me in heaven.

Our faith is grounded not in our pedigree, our position, or our ability to produce but forever in what Christ has done in becoming human on our behalf. See the manger where he lies. Know that salvation is before us. Believe the promise of God.

May this eternal truth be always on our hearts:
That the God who breathed this world into being
Placed stars into the heavens
And designed a butterfly’s wing
Is the God who entrusted his life
to the care of ordinary people
became vulnerable that we might know
how strong is the power of Love
A mystery so deep it is impossible to grasp
A mystery so beautiful it is impossible to ignore.

All I Want for Christmas Is Hope

The Presentation by John August Swanson

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was incredibly old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:21-40, NIV)

George Mueller (1805-1898) was a man full of hope in God.  For sixty-six years he preached in a small chapel in Bristol, England, yet what he is best known for is his orphanage. 

After being in ministry for a few years, Mueller became deeply concerned for the street children of the city and decided to start an orphanage.  The problem was he had no money.  So, with nothing but his hope in Christ he prayed God would provide. For the next sixty-four years, that was how George Mueller operated.

In that course of time, he built an orphanage, where he cared for and educated over eighteen-thousand children; educated over one-hundred-thousand more children in other schools at the Orphanage’s expense; distributed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and tens of millions of religious tracts; supported one-hundred-fifty missionaries; travelled over two-hundred-thousand miles as a missionary himself; and proclaimed the Gospel to over three million people around the world.

In all that time, Mueller never asked for one penny from anyone, his children never missed a meal, and he never had a debt.

We are not all called to be like George Mueller, or even like Simeon and Anna in our Gospel story.  However, all of us are called to grab hold of God’s promises with such faith and hope that, even though we may not yet see it realized, we live as though it has already happened.  This is what it means to participate with God. 

When George Mueller had a need, he pleaded to God and banked on the promise of God. Mueller prayed for more than money; he prayed for individuals, as well. Sometimes he prayed for someone for as long as fifty years. He never stopped praying for anyone or anything until he got his request. That is how convinced George Mueller was that God would answer his prayers.

All the promises of Holy Scripture revolve around Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the fulfillment of hope for persons of every nation and ethnicity. Christ is our Redeemer, and his salvation is limitless and includes all kinds of people.  Simeon and Anna, despite their age, despite the fact they lived their entire lives without seeing the Deliverer, never lost hope in the promise of God and never gave up praying and looking for the Savior.

Hope in the Bible is not wishful thinking but confident expectation which is grounded in the promises of God. Since all those promises have not yet been fully realized, we must have a quiet confidence and a patient spirit to anticipate the light at the end of the tunnel. Listen to what the Roman church needed to hear about this: 

We groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that is not hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:23-25, CEB)

Simeon and Anna gave testimony about the hope of all the earth.  We have a moving scene of the old man, Simeon, being led by the Spirit of God to enter the temple and take hold of the baby Jesus and cradle him in his arms.  Simeon’s hope is being realized as he declared that this little baby will be the means of salvation for all people.

This salvation comes at a great cost – and all of history hinges on this little child in Simeon’s arms.  Will people move toward or away from God?  Anna came along and, as the George Mueller of the ancient world, devoted herself constantly to prayer and anticipated the coming of the Messiah.  Anna confirmed the testimony of Simeon that this baby is the hope of Israel, the Redeemer of both Jew and Gentile.

Presentation in the Temple by British artist Sylvia Lauder

Today you decided to be here and join me; yet it was more than your own consideration.  The Holy Spirit of God, like Simeon of old, led you and I to this place of virtual meeting, perhaps because we long to see our hope realized – to find in the Christ child all we have longed for and have been waiting to see happen in our lives. 

God wants us to see Jesus. So, close your eyes, because the hope of all life cannot be seen with human eyes…

See him as a little baby…

See him as he grows with wisdom and favor with both God and others…

See him as he teaches, ministers, and heals the outcast and loves the common person…

See him as he is arrested, beaten, and taken outside of the city…

See them take the hammer and nail his hands and feet to a cross…

See him as you kneel before a terrible cross and watch him die, not for himself, not because he deserved it, but because of the world’s great sin and because humanity has lost their way…

See him as he is placed in the grave…

See him rise from death…

See him ascend to heaven…

See the Lord Jesus Christ in all his glory…

See that he has done all of this for you!  Do not lose hope!  Do not give up!  Search the Scriptures for the promises of God. Grab hold of them and rely on them as if your life depended on it – and it does!

Why did Simeon and Anna not lose hope?  How could they remain so devout?  Why, over the years and the decades when all seemed dark and despondent, did they not give up searching for the Christ of God? 

Because we become just like who we worship. 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, and energy on money, we will live and die with whatever the markets are doing… 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, energy on our job and our work, we will live and die with our ability to produce and get things done… 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, and energy on watching out for ourselves because we believe no one cares, then we will live and die lonely and dejected… 

But if we spend our time, use our thoughts, and expend our energy in the hope of all the earth, Jesus, the Savior of the world, then we will experience the deepest needs of our lives being met – we will become like Jesus, showing love, giving grace, and enjoying unhindered relationship with God.

No tragedy can dim the hope that comes from knowing God will walk with you through the valley. Hope is neither cheap, nor easy. Genuine hope typically arises from the ash heap of unfulfilled dreams, messed-up plans, and broken hearts. We often need to experience hopelessness before we can realize hope itself. It is the absence of hope that holds the invitation to forsake old ways and strike out on a new path to find our heart’s truest desire. Author Joan Chittester has wisely said:

“The challenge of hopelessness is the challenge to re-enter humanity, to take our part in it knowing that the lack of hope has much within it to shape our life. Losing hope leads us to understand that misfortune is not failure. It is at most simply a digression through life intended to make us reassess our course, our goals, and our aspirations.”

Indeed, hopelessness need not lead to despair. The profound lack of hope is ironically what reawakens and rekindles hope within us. It is the process of reassessment that is the opportunity to hope again with a sharper and a greater assurance of hope – to create space in becoming fully alive to the hope that has always been there – maybe just underneath all of life’s accumulated stuff.

For me, hope rekindles when I withdraw to a quiet place, either sitting down in my favorite chair or walking along a secluded wooded path. I allow and encourage the sixth sense of faith and imagination to inform my other five senses. This helps my heart to enlarge, the empty places of my soul to be filled with the hope of Christ. It is in this inner place, where our hearts join the heart of God, that we find an alternative way to the true hope for which we have been striving for so long to realize.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

We have a sure and certain hope which presently now shapes our lives as we wait patiently. Just as we await a coming vaccine and deliverance from COVID-19 which presently now forms our living with masking, social distancing, and sheltering in place – so we look forward to the coming of our glorious Savior and the realization of our salvation in its fullness. Meanwhile, much like Simeon and Anna, we presently now devote our lives to prayer and wait….