Tag: <span>advent</span>

Perhaps you’re curious what the fourth advent communion meditation is going to be. If you’ve been following for the previous three, you probably remember that we’ve talked about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in relation to Christmas. The gift of a Savior was the Father’s idea, the incarnation was the Son’s identification with us, and it was accomplished by the Spirit’s work. There are only three Persons in the Trinity, so what’s left?

Communion. Love would also be a good choice, so would life. But communion is what love wants and what life is.

Why is the Incarnation so glorious? It does reveal the Father’s generosity, and communicate the Son’s humility, and remind us of the Spirit’s interests. The Father sends, the Son was born, and the Spirit still says, Come. But why?

Christmas is not primarily a story of angels and stars and shepherds and a manger. The details are true, and the details point to the good news. Peace on earth! Here is good news to those who had offended God. The star led wise men to the King of Israel. Here is good news to those who were far off. There was no room in the inn. Here is good news that the Spirit makes room in our hearts for Him to dwell in us.

God was not merely making a point about His creative ability or His dramatic timing or His embrace of humble beginnings. All of those make a point about what He aimed to achieve through it all: reconciling God and man through the God-Man. We desire to be together with family because we are made in the image of the Triune God.

liturgy

It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but God’s Spirit has a lot to do with Christ’s coming. This is the third part of our advent meditations for communion, having considered the Father’s gifting of His Son, and the Son’s identifying with flesh and blood as His brothers. Consider the Spirit’s work.

The Spirit is responsible for the virgin birth, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). As the angel told Mary,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power fo the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)

The Spirit is responsible for believers recognizing that Jesus is God in flesh. The Spirit enabled God with us, and the Spirit enables us to recognize God with us.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Again, the Spirit enabled the Son’s birth, the Spirit witnesses about the Son, and the Spirit works to open our eyes to know that God has come in the flesh.

And it is not the first Advent only that concerns the Spirit. The Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10, 13-14), and in the final chapter of Revelation, it is not only the Bride who desires the second coming (Revelation 22:17).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

As we come by the Spirit to celebrate Immanuel’s sacrifice of flesh and blood, we look forward with the Spirit to Immanuel’s return.

liturgy

Here is the second week of Advent and we come to consider the Second Person of the Trinity. Last Lord’s Day we considered that Christmas is the Father’s idea and how His gift altered the world.

In an obvious way Christmas is about God’s Son. Christ’s birth is a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. The birth of a Savior is the enfleshing, the incarnation, of God. His mother even laid Him in a nativity scene.

But it is easy to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season and still not get it. It is just as easy to give a Christmas gift instead of giving yourself, in other words, to give something in order to maintain distance. “I gave you something, now get off my case.” This is the opposite of why Jesus came. God in flesh and blood is God identifying with flesh and blood.

In Hebrews God says that His Son is “not ashamed to call [those who are sanctified] brothers,” and puts these words in Jesus’ mouth from Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” That is Jesus, talking about His Father, calling us brothers. And then having Jesus speak with the words from Isaiah 8:18, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The conclusion is that “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:12), and that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

The Father gave His Son as a gift for us, and gave us as a gift to His Son. The fact that the Son of God became a baby is amazing, and the fact that the Son of God became a brother to us maybe even more.

liturgy

The Lord’s response to Paul’s request to have his thorn removed is archetypal.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

That is a fantastic truth. We should share that on the Internet. Someone should print it in a sympathy card, probably using a gentle, italic font, and adorn it with a soft colored flower. It’s perfect, especially for Paul, and other people.

Paul continues:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

How many of us don’t really want to be content, we want to be content in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting hanging on the wall of a set in a Hallmark Channel movie? It looks so calm, cozy, and probably chocolaty. The fire is delightful, and, if the kids are awake, they’re not stirring one another up to irritation.

But of course the first Christmas was God’s own experience of traveling away from home, of family being displaced, being uncomfortable. God was born in obscurity and weakness, to poor and tired parents.

Us, though, we’ve got big plans to be joyfully adoring Him, until you can’t find the wrapping paper where it was supposed to be, and the house is more messy than Walmart shelves two hours after Black Friday sales started. You wanted to host the extended family, but, not like this.

Christmas, and contentment, is harder than it looks. But God’s grace is sufficient, and He wants His power to be seen as the power of Christ rests upon us when we have problems.

liturgy

During this advent season we focus our thoughts on the first coming of the Messiah, about the Father sending His Son from heaven to earth. The Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke, is a story of the Son’s contentment with His Father’s decision.

In those days many gods of men were getting a lot of man’s attention. But Jesus didn’t come out of petty or bitter jealousy. In fact, that sort of jealousy doesn’t come from above.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)

James wrote to believers. Christians aren’t the only ones who have these problems, but they are at least the ones who should know better. Instead, too often what we think is that we deserve better, or we wished we had better.

It’s not only kids who are discontent in December; “But I want THAAAAAT!” Big people have their “virtuous gimmes” when they see someone else blessed, and assume that those blessings are absolute, no heaviness attached. It must be better to have more money, a bigger house, an easier or more secure job. It must be nice to have more energy, to need less sleep, to be more strong. “I want THAAAAAT!”

This is not Christmas wisdom. This is not Christian wisdom. This is earthly, unspiritual, demonic, and divisive, even if it’s only in your heart.

If anyone “deserved” a different Christmas it was Jesus. Yet Jesus was content with His Father’s plan and timing to get Him glory. Are you?

liturgy

I thought it would be good to check in on #NoDiscontentDecember. Well, what I mean is I thought it would be good to give you a report about how our #NoDiscontentDecember is going, since the Higgs are the ones who committed to it; we didn’t make you do it. It’s just supposed to be sparking ideas for you and/or your family.

The first thing, now eight days through December, that I can report is that contentment is both harder and easier when you focus on it. It’s harder because I didn’t lead our family in this particular hashtag month because we were awesome at it already. We need to work on this, and you can usually see even more cracks when you’re trying to fill the holes.

It is also easier in another way, though, because it’s the plan. It’s like wearing a brace; it keeps pushing or holding things in place that are trying to get out of place. The more I meditate on contentment, the more I’m thinking about being content. The more days you run on the treadmill, the less surprising it is the next day; it’s discipline, and it becomes what you do.

Contentment also connects with a point I made last Sunday night about our lives as an apologetic, especially with our giving of thanks for the abundance of blessings we have. I’ve mentioned Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) a few times this past year, and his book is all about Philippians 4:11 where Paul said that he learned contentment when he was brought low and when he was abounding. Burroughs entire book is about being content when being brought low, except for the final paragraph.

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: “I have learned to abound.” That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. I such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson. (228)

That’s the last thing he addressed, which he didn’t feel was quite as applicable to his audience. It’s absolutely applicable to us. We need to learn contentment in our many blessings, and seek the blessing of contentment.

liturgy

If you could have only one thing for Christmas, and you knew you would get what you asked for, what would it be? If you could commit yourself to do one thing for Christmas, what would it be? I’m sure there are some great answers, but I’m going to share one as an example.

We decided as a family that there was too much to do in December to have bad attitudes about it. I mean, really, starting with myself and Mo, we don’t have enough time to complain about all the extra events and responsibilities, and then confess the complaining and then try to get back into the right spirit of things. With #NoQuarterNovember still ringing in our ears, we committed to #NoDiscontentmentDecember. This starts with me, in my heart, it’s something that Mo is likewise excited about (I didn’t make her agree to it), and something that we’re going to require of our kids.

If I could look back at advent season 2018, and I will look back at it one way or another, how great would it be to get the gift of contentment in our house? This is something that we can ask God for, it is something that we can commit to. Paul learned to be content in any and every circumstance (Philippians 4:12), why can’t we do it for a Christmas season?

For fun, even though it’s quite a serious ask, we’ve agreed that if one person is not quite fulfilling the hashtag, one of the others get to choose a line from the Grinch song (“you’re as cuddly as a cactus,” “you’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel,” and so on) and happily ask the temporarily incarnate grinch if that’s really how they want to ride the sleigh. This applies from kid to parent, too.

Maybe your next four weeks are more free and you have time to be envious, or bitter, or anxious, or grumpy. You still shouldn’t be.

liturgy

For the past three weeks I’ve been reminding us that God came in the flesh. We need reminding about certain things, and the Christmas season is a strategic time to keep the incarnation warming on the mental front burner. The apostle John stated that to deny Christ came in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle Peter referred to Christ’s suffering in the flesh as key to our thinking (1 Peter 4:1-2). And the apostle Paul considered the truth of Christ’s incarnation to be the church’s responsibility to protect.

He wrote to Timothy about “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church supports and defends the truth. Then he continued with an amazing hymn of truth.

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Most of these belong with godliness. It suits God to be vindicated and appreciated and believed then received into heaven’s glory. All of those fit. It does not fit, not naturally, that godliness would first be “manifested in the flesh.”

The Old Testament prophesied it. The virgin would bear a son and his name would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). God would be with us (Matthew 1:23). But it was still a mystery. It still didn’t all make sense. Yet now we know. God, and true godlinesses, was revealed in Jesus.

We are to love and proclaim and believe and support that truth. It is not secondary or optional. Our salvation depends on it. And we also should desire that godliness be manifest—made known, gone public—in our own flesh. The work of the Spirit is a sanctifying work until we are taken up into glory with Jesus.

liturgy

We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit God’s Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary. We believe that He is now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. There is no one like Him.

We confess that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3). Not only so, we remember that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). And what did He do in the flesh? Among all the normal human things such as eating and drinking and sleeping and walking and working, He suffered.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Peter’s previous paragraph talked about Christ the righteous suffering for the unrighteous. He was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) for us. It is amazing that God became man. It is more amazing that God came to suffer.

It is an annual temptation to forget the suffering part, His and ours in imitation of Him. Christmastime is not a time to get out of suffering, it’s a time to remember the God who wrote Himself into the suffering story with us and for us. Christmastime may include sweet things to eat and a sense of security, but those are only possible because others sacrificed, and in some cases died, to give us what we have.

We receive cards that use soft colors to portray calm, warm evenings by a fire with lots of presents under a decorated tree. Such sentimental sketches don’t keep anyone from sin, they often stimulate false expectations and holiday idols. The same is true with so many “seasonal” songs; they are superficial and saccharine and don’t make us more sturdy. But Christ came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we also would live for the will of God, and that includes our sanctified suffering, even on and around Christmas.

liturgy

Christmas is seven days closer than it was last Lord’s Day. I don’t really care if your shopping is done, or close, or not. I do care if your soul, and body, are in harmony.

We believe that God, in Christ, came in the flesh. This has been debated since Jesus’ birth, and it was an issue the apostles addressed unequivocally even in the first century.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and is now in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3)

It was so important that John repeated it in his second letter.

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 7)

To deny the truth that Jesus Christ has come “in the flesh” makes one an antichrist. As we are the church assembled for worship in the name of Jesus, I do not suspect there are many among us who deny the teaching. But I do suspect that we may deny the doctrine in our behavior. Let us call it AntiChristmas.

You believe that God took on a body, rubbed elbows with smelly men, ate untasty or cold meals, dealt with unappreciative people. It’s all true plus some. So what do you do when people are late, or make you late, or keep you from doing what you want, or get in your way? Do you want Christmas without getting tired? Then perhaps you want to celebrate the idea of incarnation and not the incarnation itself. This is the spirit of AntiChristmas, and it should be forsaken.

liturgy