Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Message 2012

 Condensed narrative of my Sunday School lesson for Christmas Sunday 2012

Galatians 4:4-5    But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

But when the fullness of the time had come...(or, “when the set time had fully come…)

That phrase literally means “at the appointed time."  God is sovereign even in every detail of history because He is the author of history.  And, because He transcends time, even the future is as though it were past. 

Jesus came at just the exact point in time and place in history that God had determined before He created the world. 

Another phrase in Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed for men to die.  We tend to forget that our days are numbered and our deaths will occur at the exact appointed time in the precise manner that God has determined.  We live like we have control or can prolong our lives through diet, exercise, and medicine.  But God is sovereign and He has set the appointed time of our deaths. 

Jesus’ birth was precisely on time.  The arrival of the Savior in a dirty feeding trough in a strange town was no accident.  He came on schedule in the precise place and time and circumstances as God ordained and foretold in prophetic scripture.

Jesus’ did not need the convenience or help of modern technology to do His Father’s will.  God was fully aware of all the inconveniences and the schemes of Satan to destroy His Son.  In fact, He orchestrated them to bring about His plan His way on His schedule.  The set time was fully come. The apostle, Paul, assures us that the time was precisely right.

God sent forth His Son…

This phrase declares the deity of Christ.  He was not just a good man, a prophet, a religious leader, a teacher, a martyr, or a role model.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt.16:15-16)

When Thomas saw Jesus after His resurrection, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

The mystery of the Christmas story is that the baby conceived in Mary’s womb, and humbly born in a stable in Bethlehem, was God in human flesh.  We are reminded at least once a month, by our pastor in our communion services, that “the Lord took a body so that He could give a body.”

It has been said that when we finally get to heaven and we see God face to face, we will be looking at the face of Jesus Christ.  In the classic modern Christmas carol that point profoundly emphasized in the question,  “Mary did you know that when you’ve kissed your little baby, then you’ve kissed the face of God?” 

Born of a woman…

 While the phrase, “God sent his Son” affirms the divine nature of Jesus Christ, this phrase, “born of a woman” affirms that he was also fully and completely human.

From scripture we understand that He grew, He hungered and thirsted, He tired, He felt real physical pain, He experienced grief and loneliness. He cried.  He is fully God and fully man at the same time.

Jesus is the God-man.    At no time did He give up any part of His divine nature.  All the time He was physically alive on earth in human flesh, He remained in complete control over His creation.  

Theologians call that the hypostatic union which means that He has the nature of deity and the nature of humanity.  But He is not two persons, nor is He divided.

Born under the law…

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that all human beings are in one sense or another “under the law.” That is to say that we are not at liberty to decide what is morally right or wrong.  Jews in Paul’s time had the revealed law of God written in the Torah.   And all other peoples (the Gentiles) had a sense of God’s law written on their hearts.  Even atheists have a self-governing sense of morality; something we often call “conscience”.

In either case – whether under the written Law of God or under conscience – each and every human being has failed to follow that law and therefore we suffer condemnation and fear before God.

The reformers called that Total Depravity.  Its not that every person is totally bad but that every person ever conceived has an inherited sin nature.  And we are all caught in a continuous cycle of knowing what is right and failing to do it.  We are all guilty sinners by birth, by choice, and by practice and there is no excuse.

And that guilt results in a kind of slavery.  In verse 3, preceding this text, Paul calls it bondage (or slavery) under the elements (or the spiritual forces) of the world.“  

And from that slavery we need to be redeemed – a word that means freed from slavery, especially freed by means of someone paying a price.

But the good news is that there is one exception to the total human experience of failure before “the law.” Scripture affirms that in His humanity Jesus Christ was like us in every way, except without sin (Hebrews 4:15).   That is because, although He was born of a woman, He was also the Son of God (the God-Man).

He is, therefore, uniquely fit to be our Redeemer, being both divine and human.

To redeem those who were under the law…

Jesus did not come to earth in human flesh primarily to teach or work miracles.  In His own Words He said that He came “…to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10).
Referring to himself as “the Son of Man,” he says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45-46).

Notice that last phrase.  He came “…to give his life as a ransom for many. “

What can we say really happened on Christmas day?  Well, without trying to sound trite, I think the answer to that question is, “Easter.”  The birth of Jesus is meaningless and irrelevant without His death, burial, and resurrection. 

It’s like the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb,” That’s the Christmas part of the rhyme but the verse continues, “ It’s fleece was white as snow.”  And that is the Easter part of the rhyme; The Lamb of God would be the pure, spotless, and only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of many.

A Savior was born in Bethlehem for the express purpose of redeeming His people by the deliberate and voluntary sacrifice of his life on the cross at Calvary.  His death was in view at His birth.  That is why God ordained that He should be swaddled in burial cloths and that is why one of the gifts of the magi was myrrh; a kind of embalming fluid.  He was born to die.

It was all part of His divine plan that started “when the set time had fully come.”

…that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Herein is the true purpose of the Christmas story.

His life, death, and resurrection were for the purpose of setting captives free and to adopt them as “sons” and “daughters” of God.

Jesus is the only incarnate Son of God.  But through Him, every one of those He redeems becomes a child of God by “adoption”.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:11-12)

"The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us Himself.  When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts Himself at our mercy."                             Frederick Buechner

Filling the World, He Lies In a Manger,
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father He remains,
From His mother He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at His mother's bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

God’s greatest gift was not the birth of a little baby in a manger; it was the sacrificial death of His own Son on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of His people. 

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My 2012 Christmas Greeting To Obama

Date:         12-22-12

To:             President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

During the first American revolution, there was a man, a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, whose responsibility it was to dispatch vital food and supplies to the troops at Valley Forge.  But instead, he sold wagonloads of their provisions on the black market while Washington’s men were freezing, starving, and dying.   His name was Benedict Arnold and later he sold out West Point to the British for money.  

It’s not hard to understand why he was tried and convicted of treason.  The very things that were vital for the protection of this nation’s patriots were denied them and provided to their enemies.

Mr. President, in recent days we have seen Your administration actively involved in illegally placing thousands of guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels and providing military weapons to other nations which are not friendly to us but are, in fact, enemies of our country- actions that, in fact, have caused the deaths of some of our own citizens.

At the same time we have observed how Your administration has deprived one of our ambassadors and three other men, the protection they needed in Benghazi resulting in their torture and death.

Now You are seemingly pressing hard to deprive us of our constitutional rights to obtain and keep the tools we need to protect ourselves and our families.

Please tell me sir, how are You different from Benedict Arnold?  Perhaps Benedict Arnold should be posthumously exonerated.  What do You think?

I hope You and Your family have a merry Christmas in Hawaii and I trust that You all are much safer than we are.


Ralph M. Petersen

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; 
but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fun "Sleigh Ride" Piano Duet

Another fun video added to my collection for the Christmas winter season.

HT to Dan Phillips who reminds us that if it's not about Christ, it's not Christmas music.