Merry Communion!

We are taking these four Sundays before Christmas as an opportunity for advent Lord’s Suppers. That is, we are considering how the incarnation affects our communion. Last Lord’s Day at the Table we rejoiced that God came. We can also celebrate that God, in Christ, manifested Himself.

According to John, “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). If that’s accurate, then fellowship with Him is out of the question. But, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus Christ exhibited the eternal God.

Paul, referring to the living God, said, “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), even if not in that order. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.”

God, in Christ, showed that God is full of grace and truth, that God is love, that God descends to take on flesh and serve and take pain for others. God puts the broken back together, He heals, He reconciles, He sets prisoners free.

Jesus reveals God. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Through Him we not only know more about what God is like, we are brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). If we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and have fellowship with Him. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” With all that Christ has shown us, we can greet each other at this meal, Merry Communion!

No Pilgrimages to Holy Places

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the usual time to begin the advent countdown. It also happened to be the first day of December, so we sang a number of carols to start our recognition of the season. For our Lord’s Table meditation we considered Christ’s coming and its relation to communion, which is also the plan for the following three Lord’s Days.

How does the incarnation encourage us? First, the incarnation means that, in Christ, God came. God took on flesh and it was His idea. He initiated and He travelled. He did not wait for us to draw near to Him but He clothed Himself with frail humanity.

Our salvation is not the result of any long pilgrimage on our part to some holy place, it is the result of the Son’s sojourning among unholy people. We do not globe-trot or cross galaxies to get to God. He covered the distance. We could not reach Him, but we can also not get too far away from Him that He cannot reach us.

Eternal life draped Himself with a body so that mortal flesh could put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Heaven came down and glory fills our futures. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We give thanks for salvation and fellowship we enjoy with God because He came.

Into This World

Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world and Pilate didn’t get it. He asked Jesus if this meant that He was 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.” (John 18:37, ESV)

Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” proved that he wasn’t listening. But for those who do have ears to hear, let us consider why Jesus said He was born. He left His Father in heaven and took on flesh in Bethlehem in order “to bear witness to the truth.” What truth? If Pilate had asked “What truth?” instead of “What is truth?” he would have been in a much better position.

The answer is, Jesus was born to bear witness to all truth. That’s a lot, but at least we can say that it includes the truth of His identity. Jesus is the Savior King. We know it from the earliest chapters in the Christmas story. Gabriel told Mary,

you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33, ESV)

Gabriel told Joseph that Mary would “bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The angel announced to the shepherds, “Unto us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). When the wise men arrived sometime later, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)

Jesus was born to bear witness to the truth, the truth of who He is and the truth of what we need. When we come to the Lord’s table in faith, we also bear witness to the truth that we were born in sin needing a Savior, born as enemies rebelling against the King, and that we trust His death to bring us life.

The Hardest Part

The hardest part about Christmas is not shaking off the lingering effects of tryptophan at 2 AM while shopping on Black Friday. The hardest part is not squeezing SUVs into compact parking spaces at the mall or outjoying cranky checkout clerks. The hardest part is not choosing the perfect (and budget fitting) gift for the picky person in your life. The hardest part is not securing the tree straight in the stand. The hardest part is not troubleshooting strands of dead lights or even dealing with deadbeats around the dinner table. The hardest part is not paying off all the credit card bills by May. The hardest part about Christmas is caring.

No sentiment from a Hallmark holiday movie or lick from a thick peppermint stick can guarantee to get your heart in the mood. No matter how much the thirsty needles on your tree smell like they might burst into flame, no decorated indoor fir can catch your heart on fire. Celebrating the first coming of Christ and letting that party push us to wait even more eagerly for His next coming is hard heart work.

The liturgy of the season is an advantage to us if we repent and believe. As is true of our worship every Lord’s day, confessing and communing, offering and singing, praying and receiving the Word challenge us to be renewed in love for Christ. So setting up trees and giving gifts, baking ham and greeting family, all provide cover for cold hearts or provide discipline to melt them.

Is your preparation for the 25th increasing your anticipation of the great day? Are you pursuing holiness more these days, not only so that you’ll be ready for righteous rejoicing on Christmas, but also so that you’ll be ready for Christ’s return? If not, now is a great time to confess the sin that strangles sanctification and hope so that we can enjoy more of both on Tuesday.

Minor Chord Carols

We sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” last Sunday morning as we prepared for communion. It is one of those fabulous minor chord carols that goes great on a cold winter night wrapped in a blanket or getting warm around a fire. It feels so good to feel so bad believing that something so good is about to break forth. This is the same sort of suspense and tension that connects with the Lord’s Table.

Israel rejoiced in lonely exile. Spirits are cheered not by avoiding death’s dark shadows but by the advent, by the coming of the Light who put those shadows to flight. He who is Wisdom comes to order the global disorder. The Desire of the nations bids envy, strife, and quarrels cease. He is the eternal I Am in a body. He shines truth in liars’ hearts. He gives everlasting life to men made mortal.

So do we mourn or rejoice? Do we sorrow or celebrate? Do we commemorate what He has done, promises already fulfilled, or do we rehearse what He will do, promises remaining to be fulfilled? Are more things not right than right, or more right than not, or will be right but aren’t now? Yes.

The I Am, the everlasting One, tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). He who is defined as the living God gave His life so that we could have life, His life, eternal life. So whatever your suspsense this Christmas season, or during communion on Sunday, if you have Christ, then rejoice, rejoice.

Like We Do

A common Christian abuse of Christmas poses in a spiritual position. The abuse occurs when Christians reluctantly, or refuse to, love others who don’t rise to the level of understanding that we think they should have about Christmas. In other words, since they don’t get Christmas like we do, they’re not worthy to share our Christmas joy. If only they would grow up, then we wouldn’t have to teach them a lesson by being so fussy.

This behavior reverses the gospel, it abuses Christmas.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to get it before He came. He didn’t take on flesh because that’s where the glory was. Flesh is precisely not where the glory was. He came to redeem and restore fallen men. That’s the point of Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is the anti-holiday, at least as the Hallmark channel portrays it. The incarnation in Bethlehem was the anti- “everything is just right” moment that brings people together. We stress to arrange all the details to be perfect. Jesus came because nothing was perfect, and He came in an inconvenient and unacknowledged way. Interestingly enough, 2000 years or so later, we’re still talking about the love He displayed.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9–11)

It is easier to despise Christmas than to love Christians. We want to be with people when they get it. Jesus went to people because they didn’t.

Our Familiar Celebrations

We often say that familiarity breeds contempt. Our contempt starts with that statement itself; it’s contemptible to hear about how easily we’re made contemptuous. But our condition is one in which we get dirty and forget about it, we develop callouses and live with them, we fall down and it’s easier to stay there. We need to be washed, we need to have the hard parts cut off or filed down, and we need to get back on our feet.

We’re familiar with Christmas. Jesus is the reason for this season, we know, so how does He fit in our familiar celebrations? It’s hopefully more, though not less, than reading the story of His birth on Christmas morning. For sake of scrubbing our holiday grime, let’s start with our Christmas trees.

Consider our pine tree configurations. We stand our trees in a location for maximum visibility. We place our presents under the tree for others. We hang lights and garland and other ornaments on the branches. We typically perch a star at the top most point. Which part is for Jesus? Which part is meant to honor Him?

Isn’t He pictured and honored every where? He is the visible center. He is the Father’s gift to sinful men. He is the light of the world, the creator who decorated the universe. Not only did a star mark His birthplace for travelers, He Himself is the guiding star. We can’t limit where we honor Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, worthy to be honored from top to bottom. He ought to be so in our Christmas celebrations.

We cannot be overly familiar with Christ, only wrongly familiar in a way that doesn’t honor Him everywhere at all times. If we don’t honor Him with every part of our Christmas trees, are we honoring Him everywhere else?

Ox and Ass at Christ’s Manger

Ox and Ass at Christ’s Manger

The reason the ox and the ass are prominent in manger scenes is because of early Christian interpretation of Isaiah 1, and a theology of the way God in Christ overcame human rebellion through the incarnation.

We tend to hear a much squishier idea of God’s goodwill toward men at this time of year, one that ignores sin, rebellion, wrath, and a host of biblical truths that form the dark background against which Christmas joy makes sense: “In wrath remember mercy,” as Habbakuk says.

The ox and the ass stand guard at the manger as mute witnesses to the depth of human disobedience that the coming of Christ triumphs over.