The Cost of Christmas

Every true reading of the Christmas story includes the hardships endured. Jesus was not born with a heavenly force field protecting Him from pain and trouble. As the hymn Once in Royal David’s City puts it, “Tears and smiles like us He knew”.

What would you think of a pregnant couple who had no reservation at the hospital nor midwife available, so they had their baby in the equivalent of an abandoned trailer, and grabbed part of a chicken coop for the basinet? Behold, the holy family. That’s where the Son of God of was laid when there was no room at the inn.

Poor and unimportant at home, Joseph and Mary would soon flee for their lives to Egypt because their Son, though underprivileged, was hunted. Only their dreams would tell them when to come back to Israel, when Herod was done slaughtering the baby boys two years old and younger and the coast was clear. Continue reading

Someone to Thank

This week most people in our country will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that has been with us in some shape or form for almost 400 years.

Some people will note that we don’t have a lot of information about the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, just a brief account from Edward Winslow, the assistant of William Bradford who founded Plymouth Colony: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors…many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest of their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained with a feast.”

They had birds, but we’re not sure about the turkeys. They had a party, but no official holiday. They certainly had no parade. And all of this makes no difference. The point of Thanksgiving should not be lost on us. We’re not primarily celebrating the fact that they had a feast, nor are we celebrating thanksgiving or gratitude itself. We are in fact saying thank you, that is, giving thanks to God for all of His gifts, and the greatest gift, Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving is holiday named after a verb, and that verb has an object.

You can’t say thank you to no one. If there is no one above us, there is no one to thank. If harvest is the random product of time and chance, if our bodies and families and friends and jobs and freedoms and fridges full of food are nothing more than happen-stance pleasant circumstances, then someone might throw a party, but it wouldn’t be called Thanksgiving.

But there is Someone above us, and thanking Him turns out to be another one of His gifts to us. The Bible describes the condition of the human race this way, in Romans 1:20-21: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

We see God revealed in the world He made and sustains. This is His artistry. Rather than refusing to glorify Him and thank Him, we are invited to turn and give thanks, to seek forgiveness for our darkened hearts and the sins we commit, and trust in Jesus who came to put everything right.

Because God is the object of our gratitude, and because we deserve nothing from Him, we can be grateful for everything. This is why you should love Thanksgiving. You get to go be with family who would otherwise drive you crazy, and might still a little anyway, and be thankful for them. You have another reason for gratitude. You see what God has given you in Christ and everything that flows from that, and you get to party because of it and invite people to join in. This holiday was established when enough people knew this. As a culture, we don’t anymore, which is another reason for us to get on it.

Jesus’ Ascension Matters

Today is Ascension Sunday, the day the church remembers that 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus went up to the right hand of the Father.

We know something of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If He didn’t rise, He didn’t conquer death, and we are still in our sins. But what is the point of His ascension? Wouldn’t it better for the church if He were still here working miracles and showing His healed hands and feet? It’s here that we generally stop understanding the story.

Paul says in Phil. 2:5-11: “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, 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.”

Jesus descended to earth, became a baby, grew up, learned wisdom, fulfilled the law, condemned the unrighteous, suffered at the hands of sinful men, went into the grave and rose victorious on the third day. But His coronation was not yet complete because He hadn’t come into the throne room of God. As the humanity Jesus had to be received by Father in heaven, and He did so in order reign from heaven.

Jesus did justice and healed people and battled oppression in Israel when He was on earth, but His project is much bigger. In order to bring salvation to all the world, working through it like leaven through the dough, He had to go to Father, be crowned, and begin reigning.

This is why Paul sees the Ascension driving His mission: “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”. Jesus told the disciples this would be for their good: “7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:7-9).

The Spirit descended from heaven on Pentecost, but Jesus had to ascend there in order to send Him. This was one of His first decisions as the reigning king. Man went to heaven so that heaven could come to man.

Augustine on Ascension Day:

“This festival confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing … his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless.”

Jesus ascended and His entire mission was completed and crowned with Him. This is why you are hearing about and seeing it extend across the world. He calls to confess our sins and continue with Him as it spreads.


Christmas is Potent

This is a season of adoration for Jesus. We remember that though his parents were poor, shepherds heard and wise men traveled from the east. We sing and celebrate and give. We call out for peace on earth. People are nicer to each other during the holidays. It’s the season you can give something to your postman and he won’t wonder if you are a terrorist.

These are wonderful parts of the season, but they’re not the only ones. We remember that Jesus was born a king, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and his birth brought rivalry and bloodshed. When the wise men kept Herod from finding Jesus, Herod had every male child under two years old in Bethlehem murdered. Rachel wept for her children and refused to be comforted, because they were no more.

Jesus was born a child and yet a king, and as a king he immediately had enemies, the kind that kill for power. Christmas, and celebrating it, is inescapably political. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal—they’re not bullets and ballots—but spiritual and mighty for pulling down strongholds. This includes our prayers, our songs, our joy and celebrations. It includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Jesus came to bear our sins, and to bring justice for the meek. Isaiah 11:4-5: “With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”

Remember that Christmas is potent, and your job is to keep it that way. So be kind, be generous and merciful, and be bold with the gospel. The King of kings, salvation brings. Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Keeping the Fast

Happy, or, maybe sad, Ash Wednesday! Here is a good article over at Mere Orthodoxy on why you should keep eating sausages during Lent. Maybe you should buy an extra sausage since they’re always better with a friend. And here’s another article over there consisting mainly of quotes from wise people who reject common pitfalls that come with observing Lent.

I have no doubt that Lent can be observed wisely and helpfully by the kind of people who recognize the wisdom and cautions in the above articles. Jesus went to Jerusalem to conquer death, so this is cause for celebration and a wonderful reminder to take up our crosses. This is why Lent provokes discussion, because it makes us ask the question: What does it mean to take up our crosses? That is a huge question, but here I only want to briefly address the topic of fasting which is central to the way Lent is typically observed. Continue reading

Holy Week Rhythm

For those looking for a litte rhythm to Holy Week, here is routine we do after dinner. We have lots of small people, so the green eggs are plastic eggs they can open with some theme-related item inside. Voss refers to The Child’s Story Bible


Palm Sunday Scripture: Psalm 24, Zechariah 9:9

Green Egg: Palm Branches

Vos: pg 311 (Jesus entering Jerusalem)

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”


Monday Scripture: Zechariah 11:10-13

Blue Egg: Silver (Judas and the thirty pieces of silver)

Vos: pg 313

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”


Tuesday Scripture: Exodus 12:12-16

Purple Egg: Bread and Wine

Vos: pg 314 Last Supper

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”


Wednesday Scripture: Psalm 41: 7-9

Orange Egg: Roman Soldier

Vos: pg 317 Jesus is arrested

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”


Thursday Scripture: Zechariah 13:7-9

Egg: Rooster

Vos: pg 318 Peter’s Betrayal

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”


Friday Scripture: Isaiah 53: 7-9

Egg: Lamb

Vos: pg 319 Jesus’s Trial

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”


Saturday Scripture:  Psalm 22:1-2

Egg: Cross

Vos: pg 322 Crucifixion

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”


Easter Sunday Scripture: Psalm 16:9-11

Egg: Empty

Vos: pg 325

Toast: “He is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!”

One piece of candy by each spot Mon-Fri, no candy on Sat., tons of candy on Easter Sun.

Still Christmas

By now, many are having PCDS, Post Christmas Depression Syndrome. If the American Psychological Association hasn’t classified this one yet, they probably will soon, in time for a happy new year.

The good news is that no one should be sad to see Christmas go because it hasn’t. You may have stopped, but Christmas continues. The Twelve Days of Christmas or Christmastide or Twelvetide (take your pick) has long been celebrated by most branches of the church, though less by churches in the United States. Christmastide begins Christmas Day and concludes on January 5th, leading up to Epiphany which celebrates Jesus’ manifestation to the wise men (and thus Gentiles) and the world on the 6th.

If we’re celebrating Christ, then clearly the we’re just getting started on December 25th. This is how it was for Mary and Joseph who began chaotic life as a family with Jesus in Bethlehem, but continued it as a blessed and hunted bunch from there. Celebrating Christmastide reminds us what the early life of Jesus was like both for him and those around him. Sometimes we miss these things in the hustle and joy of Advent. After the graveyard-shift shepherds heard the greatest rendition of the Messiah (front pasture, box seats standing room only) ever performed (Matt. 2:14), a couple years later the Magi came from the east to present their gifts. This was about two years after the Jesus’ birth because Herod, wanting to protect his precious throne, had all male infants two years old and under put to death. A friend of mine says that manger scenes should include figures of Herod’s soldiers, and I tend to agree. This sort of thing heightens our understanding and appreciation of the life–after his birth–of Jesus.

We tend to think of Christ’s birth and next thing you know it we are at the Sermon on the Mount. Christmastide gives us the opportunity to remember and celebrate the early human life of Jesus, events that make our own troubles and tragedies seem much more a part of the gospel story. The salvation of the world Himself came in the midst of the sin and death that still linger here as our own salvation goes forward in A.D. 20-almost-13. Matthew’s Gospel includes the story of  Herod, the slaughter of the innocents, and the flight to Egypt, and Luke’s tells us that once they settled back in Nazareth, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). Jesus was probably 3-4 years old, and he was growing in the knowledge of God. How does an omniscient God grow in the knowledge of God? By becoming a man and setting aside his divine privileges. Jesus was a little boy hungry to learn. By the time he was twelve, he was listening and asking questions in the temple as everyone marveled at his answers and understanding (Luke 2:42-47). Then the Gospels fast-forward another 18 years and John the Baptist walks out of the wilderness. Compared to his ministry, death and resurrection, the Gospels say very little about Jesus’ early life, but what they do say is wonderful and important, and the Twelve Days of Christmas are an opportunity to enjoy it.

Just what you wanted for Christmas: stuff to prepare for nearly two more weeks, right? Actually, my feeling is that enough preparation has been done already and certainly there is enough food in the house. For those with small people, pick a day to play with certain toys–Jesus played with toys, so let’s do it like him, shall we? For us this year, there is a little gift box and every day there is something for the kids: a small game, something to eat, a brief but rowdy scavenger or hot/cold hunt, a book, etc. It’s basically like Advent with little celebrations tucked in to each day, bringing everything to life and focused significance. We read Christmas and Bible stories like the ones above and continue celebrating the incarnation in an easy way. Some will say the celebration is too much, and they are like “those who saw the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and said, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her children”” (Matt. 11:19).

Merry 7th Day of Christmas!

On The Star

“At this point we should know that the heretical followers of Priscillian consider that every individual person is born under the influence of the stars. They claim in support of their error that a new star shone forth when the Lord appeared in a human body, a star which they believe influenced his destiny. But we must consider the words of the Gospel. It is said of the star, “Until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9). It was not the child who was drawn to the star, but the star to the child; if you allow me to say so, the star did not influence the destiny of the child, but the child influenced the destiny of the star by his appearance.”  –Gregory the Great

Stricken, Smitten & Afflicted

The Jewish calendar was full of feast days. Every Sabbath was a holy convocation when God’s people were given a day off to rest, worship and celebrate together (Lev. 23:3). They also enjoyed the three “pilgrim festivals” of Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles where at least the household representative would appear in Jerusalem but sometimes the whole family would make the trek. This is Old Covenant family vacation, road trips to remember.

Only once a year was Israel commanded to fast and afflict their souls on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27). Many other occasional fasts took place for repentance, blessing, preparation, consecration etc, but only one calender fast existed. Many Christians turn this season of Lent into 40 days (minus Lord’s Days which are always feasts) of fasting and affliction, but this is a lop-sided expression of faith. The Church has come into her majority, and although we fast because the bridegroom has gone away, it makes no sense to fast more cyclically now than at any other time in history. The disciples fast frequently in the book of Acts always in preparation for mission or for other particular circumstances. Continue reading

Preparing for Good Friday & Easter

As Good Friday and Easter are only a few days away, a number of people have asked and more are looking for what to read in preparation. Here are a few places to hit in the coming days:

  • Genesis 3, the Fall
  • Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement
  • Exodus 7-11, the plagues on Egypt culminating with Passover in chapter 12
  • Is 53, the Suffering Servant
  • Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 17-19, the plot to kill Jesus, his prayer in Gethsemane, Passover with the disciples, betrayal and arrest, trial and crucifixion
  • Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Jesus glorious resurrection
  • Hebrews 8-10, the High Priesthood of Christ, redemption through is blood, a final sacrifice and full assurance

There are 25 chapters listed above, and five days until Easter (including today and Easter). So if you read five chapters a day at two minutes a chapter (one chapter is about one page, depending on your Bible), you’ll cover a good bit of Old Testament background, the crucifixion and resurrection in all four Gospels, plus some New Testament commentary.