2 Christmas meditations

by Tim Isbell

These Christmas meditations are the second part of the seven-part collection for every season of the Christian calendar. Unless you read it earlier, please read the introductory material at Responsive Prayer Meditations

The Christmas season begins Christmas Day and extends through the next two Sundays.


The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates to us the seriousness of God’s commitment to his redemptive purposes. – Filimao Chambo, a general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene


Perfect leadership is coming

Christmas (Day) - Isaiah 9.6-7

Just before falling asleep last night, I read these verses as final preparation to teach a class this morning at our local church. I focused on the four descriptive labels Isaiah used to describe you (Jesus), who would come to live among us 700 years later and 2000 years ago.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

On my way to church, I stopped at a coffee shop and jotted down these overnight insights:

Wonderful Counselor. When I need a counselor, I want someone who is discerning and has deep experience in a life well-lived. I need them to share some wisdom with me that is beyond my experience. You are a wonderful counselor beyond all others.

Mighty God. Power is impressive, but I’m far more impressed when I see a person show restraint in the use of their power. You did that when you came to live among us and then, again, on your journey to the cross. That was beyond stoic restraint - you willingly suffered and died to offer us a path to redemption. You are impressive beyond all others.

Everlasting Father. I'll take this to mean that everywhere, and always, you treat everyone in the creation as your child, whether they follow you or not. Such fatherhood is beyond measure.

Prince of Peace. To all who follow you now, you promise your presence and a place in your final Kingdom, where there will be freedom and justice and deep meaning for everyone forever. Again, you are above all others.

You have no rival on these characteristics, and none will arise until you return to usher in your final Kingdom. Until then, I’m content living among your faithful remnant as a citizen of your ultimate Kingdom while residing at a postal address in this world.


Beauty & romance at Christmas

Christmas - Pilgrim Year Series (PYS) Christmas - lyrics to songs 

On Sunday, I listened to Steve Bell's five songs for the Christmas season. I placed several of them in my Romance/Elegance/Beauty playlist, and one in Suffering. Just as you spoke through Steve's Advent songs, you continue speaking in this short two weeks of Christmas.

Glory describes the shepherds discovering your glory.

Descent reminds me of the book Descending into Greatness. The song reminds me of how you differ from other gods, those that humans conceive. Those gods aspire to rise, but you came down. They demand fear, but you give love, The are cold like stone, but your blood flows warm with compassion. They call for sacrifice, but you sacrificed yourself. They are aloof from birth, pain, and death, but you were born, experienced pain, and died. In the final stanza, Steve summarizes the whole song saying that you are “... weak to be with us when we fall, but strong to save.” Oh, how I wish I could communicate the depths of this to my kids and grandkids, to those I coach, to neighbors, friends, to all my Oikos (as Keller puts it).

Refugee fits today’s world so well. The images touch me deeply: The terror of your family’s flight to Egypt. Joseph and Mary awakening you early to get on the road. Your family’s panic from the powerful and evil men seeking to kill you. I recognize your touchstone with today’s refugees. And to this day you remain in the business of leading refugees to a home with you.

Gifting and the Giver reminds me of so many times I’ve looked at the ocean, mountains, or another aspect of nature that reveals your ability to create. As this song says, “... My senses overwhelmed, transcending." And, "I… admire this living scripture and adore the painter of this picture. I adore the gifting and the Giver."

Fashion for Me is about a desert of peace where no one suffers or covets. It's a place where I and those I love enter into life forever with you, a city of love where the lamb and lion lie together in peace.

The Romance

Christmas - PYS Christmas, ch 1

(This mediation turned into The Romance post on my website, 1/2/2019. Please check it out.)

Restraint in the use of power

Christmas - Luke 2.41-52

Two things strike me about this story of when your (Jesus) parents inadvertently left the 12-year-old you at the Temple. The first: It thrills my heart whenever I see or hear of the kids in our family hungering for your presence enough to hang out around the church and with some mature Christians. I’ve seen this hunger for you in several young children who I was around long enough to watch them carry their faith into adult life. One of them was deeply drawn to you, your scripture, and your cosmos. He now teaches theoretical physics at Cambridge University. Thanks for giving me an extended peak in his formative life.

The second thing: I notice your restraint in the use of power. In this passage, it shows in your obedience to your mother, even though you knew you were God incarnate! What a descent, from occupying your throne in heaven to living in a simple Palestinian family. Throughout your life on earth, you showed extraordinary restraint in the use of power, especially at the cross! Please help me show restraint in the use of the power you’ve given me.

God’s love is different

Christmas - PYS Christmas, ch 2

All my life, I missed how outlandish and revolutionary was the Apostle John's phrase, “For God so loved the world...” Steve Bell points out that other first-century gods did not love the world - they used the world. They were selfish, prideful, lustful, greedy, and deceitful. People worshipped them to appease them and in hopes of personal gain, revenge, conquest, or safety.

You (God) are such a contrast to other gods! I praise you for your holiness.

I’m convinced that if you left the world with only these other gods, or gods that we dream up on our own, the world quickly collapse to nothingness. The creation only survives because you breathe life into it daily. Such faithfulness demonstrates that you love us, despite our sinful rebuffs and the consequential brokenness. So, I praise you for your power and love you for the loyalty with which you deploy it.

I think we humans tend to become like what we worship. From observing the behavior of America’s leaders and citizens, it seems that too many Americans must worship other gods, and not enough worship you.

Jesus and refugees

Christmas - PYS Christmas, ch 5

Today I am responding to Steve Bell’s thoughts on ”the care of our common home,” its connection to refugees, and the sin of those of us who contribute to this mess.

He writes, “It is unsettling to think of a future generation of innocents dispossessed and dying as a result of our current claim to comforts and privileges over and against their right to life.

This is a most insidious villainy, for who could be more defenseless than the not-yet-conceived? The menace of Herod, it appears, lies not only back in time or over the sea, but around and within us all.”

Steve’s song accompanying the chapter is “Refugee” begins:
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cozy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For, even as we sing our final carol
That hounded child is up and on the road,
Fleeing from the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind, and shouldering their load.
And shouldering their load.

This song almost brings tears every time I listen. I suspect it brings tears to your (God) eyes, too. Four years ago, I didn’t realize the extent my “good life” causes pain halfway around the world. In 2018 you gave me the idea of writing Beyond Conversion 3. Gathering resources for it is an aha experience. I’m starting to comprehend how my consumption and privilege contribute to refugee crises in our world. For a long time, I saw these problems as mostly political. Now I increasingly see them as the result of our developed world’s systemic sin against “our common home.” Maybe we in the developed world are the unknowing terrorists! Regardless, only the developed world has enough resources to make a dent in the environment’s problems.

In 2020, please help me to get that BC3 article written and help it to at least wake a few people to our responsibilities. Show us developed world Christians how to tackle this massive problem.
In hindsight, you introduced me to this understanding back in 1965 through Rutenber’s sermon Reconciling Agents of a Reconciling God. While the sermon had a significant impact on me at the time, I missed its full implications. I’ve done little to address it. Please give me enough energy and years to do something. But what?

The arc of God’s story

Christmas - Revelation 21.1-7

I'm so thankful that in the last book of the Bible the Apostle John wrote,

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

John's ending is not a surprise. It’s a heart-warming reminder of a thread running through your entire story: you, the holiest of holies, want to live with us, despite our repeated betrayals.
The arc began in the first book in the Bible when you walked with Adam and Eve until they ventured off on their own. You refreshed it when you partnered with Noah in a new beginning.

Later, you asked Abram and Sarai to leave their home and follow you to a strange new land where their descendants would play a key role in your adventure. For generations, you walked with their descendants, through their good times and their times of betrayal. Later you recruited Moses to partner with you to lead your people out of Egyptian slavery. Then you walked alongside Joshua, Samuel, David, and on through the Old Testament. These stories remind me that your heart wants to do life with your people and creation. As I understand it, your primary objective was and still is, to develop a society of humans in mutually-loving relationships with each other and with yourself, serving as our loving king/father.

As if the message wasn't clear enough in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, you came in the form of Jesus to physically live with us! Then there’s Pentecost, where you promised that your Spirit would intimately fill the heart of every person who would forsake self-reign and follow you (Jesus) as Lord. The rest of the New Testament tells the story of how this would play out in the world for centuries. So here, at the end of the New Testament, I read it again. What beautiful packaging of a fascinating story.

Thank you for revealing the arc of your story and convincing me that it is going someplace important. Thank you for recruiting me to join in your adventure. Thank you for remaining faithful when my ancestors betrayed you. Thank you for not giving up on me when I stumble and stray from your Way.

And thank you that I am not alone on this journey with you. I'm so grateful for the others with whom I journey.


Blessings in the Christmas Season, 

Tim



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