Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christmas

The return of the light

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The Israelites had light when the Egyptians were in darkness. The light went with them to show the way when the waters stood aside to let them cross the Red Sea. The light stayed with them for forty years through the wilderness, then led them through the Jordan into the promised land, while the waters once again stood aside to let then pass.

The light stood over their place of worship for generations until the Israelites forgot what a wondrous thing it was. Then Nebuchadnezzar came with his army, destroyed the temple, and the light disappeared.

In Babylon, once more in captivity, they remembered the promise given to Isaiah that the light would one day return:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

They returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple, the light did not return. They waited another 400 years.

The Magi in Babylon and Persia counted the weeks foretold by Daniel. They remembered the words spoken long before by an errant prophet and they too watched for the light:

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. (Numbers 24:17-19)

Finally the fulness of the times was complete. The glory of God appeared once more, not to the important people in Jerusalem but to shepherds on a hill outside of Bethlehem. That night, all the promises made to all the prophets began to be fulfilled:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:10-14)

It must have been that same night that the light appeared to the Magi, far away in the East. When they arrived in Jerusalem months later, no one knew of the baby they were looking for, but someone suggested they go to Bethlehem. As they left Jerusalem, the light appeared once more and led them directly to the house where they found the child.

Many years later that baby, now grown into manhood, told his closest friends:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

Jesus no longer walks this earth. On the day of Pentecost he gave the light to His followers. He wants us to share the light, not to huddle around it in some remote corner.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

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As we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we hold out the light of God’s truth and God’s love so others may see.

 

A Mother’s Teaching from 1897

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Ma was telling us that there are always men rising up and declaring that Jesus could not be the Son of God, but was just a wonderful teacher. But she says not to let that bother us, for none of those men who undertake to explain all the works of God, have been able to explain very much after all. All the wisdom of all the men of all the ages has never been able to explain what life is, or the Power that with no effort at all can make the same kind of green grass turn into wool on a sheep, or hair on a cow, or feathers on a goose.

She says that Christ coming the way He did is really no greater miracle than the miracle of any life that comes to the earth, and is just as easily explained.

Only being we see so many forms of life around us, we have to believe in that whether we want to or not. A man who plants grain in the ground has to believe that some Power is going to make it grow. Otherwise he would do no planting, and so would starve. Everybody sees what happens there and so believes, but nobody yet has been able to explain how it happens. So they just go ahead and plant their grain and stop bothering their heads about what can’t be explained.

But in believing in Christ, God has kept for us the gift of faith, and has made it so-that people of earth can accept Him by faith, or reject Him by unbelief. He has not made it so we must accept His greatest gift if we do not want to do so. In the miracle of Love we are not forced to believe, as we are in the other miracles that God has wrought, and that no man-wisdom has ever yet been able to explain.

Ma says this one most rare and precious gift, is far too dear to the Heart of God to be forced on any man’s unbelief.

It must first become to us our hearts’ desire, and only then may we stretch our hands and take it.

-Christina Young, When I Was Thirteen

Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home.

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

The earth is wild as an old wive’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;

But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G. K. Chesterton

Where was the manger?

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Image by Hucklebarry from Pixabay

There are many supposed and real hints in the Bible of just how things will play out when our Lord returns. For centuries eminent scholars have scrutinized these hints and endeavoured to put together a coherent time line of that event. They have written many stories based on those searches; they all sound wonderful, but they don’t agree.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry. God has it all in hand; someday we’ll see and it will surprise us. There were just as many conflicting prophecies about the coming of the Messiah: he would be of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem; Rachel would weep for her children, because they were not; he would come from Egypt; he would be a Nazarite, etc. It seemed impossible that it could all be true. Then, events occurred in a very short time period that checked every one of those boxes.

Here is the account from the first seven verses of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Let’s ignore the legends, myths, folklore and tomfoolery that have become attached to this account and try to understand what happened.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)   And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Bible Background Commentary states; “pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time.” In retrospect this looks like poor planning on Joseph’s part, because he was now in the wrong place for the baby to be born. But perhaps he would never have met Mary if he had remained in Bethlehem. No matter, a decree from the Roman Emperor got them back where they needed to be, and just in time, too.

Now, if Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to be taxed, that must mean that he owned something there that was taxable, perhaps just a small plot of land. How did he get his very pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of 150km? Folklore says she rode a donkey. That is possible, but the Bible says nothing on the subject so its best not to be too categoric.

No doubt they came to the home of relatives in Bethlehem who welcomed them into their home. To refuse hospitality to someone would have been a disgrace in their culture.

But what about that famous “no room in the inn?” The word translated “inn ”is kataluma, which means guest chamber and is so translated in the two other places we find it in the New Testament (Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11). Homes in a rural community like Bethlehem were mostly single room affairs, with the family animals occupying the ground level and the family living on the upper level. Sometimes there was a guest room built on the roof. The animals would have been few, and the space kept scrupulously clean, because it was part of the home.

The “no room” part probably means that because of the number of people in the home there was no private place for a mother to bring a baby into the world. What woman would want to have that happen in the middle of a crowded room? So their host made a spot for them in the space below, clean, discreet and away from curious eyes. Surely they called the midwife, and she probably assigned Joseph some tasks to ease his nervousness and keep him at least partly out of the way.

So the baby was born in Bethlehem, according to prophecy. Some time later a group of Magi appeared in Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. King Herod took drastic action to eliminate this rival, having all boys under the age of two murdered. And Rachel (all the mothers of Bethlehem) wept. An angel warned Joseph to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt. This was a trip of around 590km and may well have involved a donkey, though once again the Bible is silent. When Herod died, an angel informed Joseph it was safe to return (the Messiah called out of Egypt) and the family settled once again in Nazareth. Nazarite and Nazarene don’t sound as different in Greek as they do in our language and the Bible says this fulfilled the prophecy that Messiah would be called a Nazarite.

It’s a simple story. The wonder is how God used Emperors and Kings to work out His plan. They had no idea the events caused by their decrees fulfilled every detail of prophecies made hundreds of years earlier.

Why Mary?

The story is hardly credible to our modern minds. A fifteen-year-old girl informs her parents—I am assuming her parents were still living, though there is no mention of them—that an angel has visited her and now she is pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

We don’t expect the birth of Messiah, and few people know the Scriptures as Jewish people did then. Still, I suspect her family raised their eyebrows when Mary told them of the angel visit and her miraculous conception.

So she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt accompanied by a family member for security; it was a long walk from Nazareth to Hebron. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi; the relationship must have been through their mothers.

hen she arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she found things just as Gabriel had told her.
Elizabeth greeted her by saying (and the Bible says she greeted her in a loud voice) “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” An astounding greeting from an elderly lady to her very young cousin.

Elizabeth’s welcome surely eased any doubts Mary may have had about the reality of the divine event happening to her. Her response, “My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . ,” reveals a deep grasp of the Scriptures and shows that she knew how this event fit into the past, present and future of Israel and the world.

Again, from the perspective of our day we can hardly grasp that a fifteen-year-old girl could have such a depth of understanding. But Mary did, and she probably was not all that unique in her day.

But God not chose her on account of her knowledge. Why was Gabriel sent to Mary, out of the many young ladies of the Davidic line who must have been living? Mary’s simple response to the message of Gabriel reveals the answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

The words of Elizabeth underline the power of the simple faith and trust of Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Luke tells us more about Mary than any other New Testament writer. He must have known her and listened to her tell her story, from start to finish. She trusted, always watching to see what God would do next. She experienced a sorrow greater than any mother has ever known, yet still she trusted. She was there with the little group of believers at the beginning of the book of Acts. No doubt she experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and witnessed the glorious beginning of the church.

There is nothing that Mary can do for us today. But we can acknowledge her blessedness and follow her example of faith, trust and obedience.

Hail the King of glory

 

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger:
Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favour.

Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!

-Joseph Cook, 1859-1933

Ten beautiful things about winter in Saskatchewan

1. Sparkling landscapes. The timing is unpredictable, but every once in a while every tree, bush and weed is turned into a dazzling crystalline structure by hoar frost.

2. The purity of the snow. All that is ugly is buried under a white blanket.

3. The absence of flies, ants and beetles. They will return in spring, but our winters have so far kept fire ants, killer bees and Burmese pythons from venturing into the province.

4. The absence of road construction crews. No more detours and delays.

5. Birds at our feeders. Many have left for the season but chickadees, woodpeckers and other birds are still here and appreciate the food we offer.

6. Children skating on outdoor rinks. I remember when I had that kind of enthusiasm and like to see the young ones for whom it is much more than just a memory.

7. Coming in to warm up. Somehow, coming in to cool off on a hot summer day just doesn’t have the same charm.

8. Christmas carollers. Hearing car doors slam and the sound of happy voices, then a couple of the old carols sung heartily just outside our door is a heartwarming part of growing old.

9. The shining faces of children singing and saying their parts at a Christmas concert. We love to hear the program presented by the children of our Christian school and so do many of our neighbours.

10. Spring. How can one truly appreciate spring if he hasn’t survived a real winter?

Boxing Day musings

Feasting on Christmas Day has a long and noble tradition and one is at risk of being branded a heretic if he suggests it might not be necessary.

Noble in that first sentence is meant to be taken literally – for many centuries it was only the nobility and the rich who could afford to feast on Christmas Day, or any other day.

Many years ago it became the custom in England for rich families to give their servants a day off on the day after Christmas. They had served their masters on Christmas day, now it was their turn to go home to their families and celebrate. They didn’t go empty handed. They were given boxes with gifts, a little money and some of the food that was left from the Christmas day feast.  Thus was born the tradition of Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a statutory holiday in Canada, but alas, it is no longer a day of giving. Rather it is a day when merchants put all their left over Christmas stock on sale at deep discounts. This means that everyone gets the day off except store employees. This is their busiest day of the year.

Sunday morning our minister in his message pointed out many of the things that most people believe about the birth of Jesus that are not found in the Bible. It’s about time. These things are being pointed out in newspaper and magazine articles and we’re getting to a situation where non-Christians know more about the facts of Jesus’ birth than Christians do.

My parents told me that my gifts on Christmas morning came from Santa Claus. It was almost 70 years ago, but I still remember how I felt when they told me that Santa Claus did not exist. My first thought was “What other lies have they been telling me?”

What do we have left when we strip away all the fanciful stories that have been added to the account of Jesus’ birth (why not just call them lies)? We have the account of the miraculous birth of the only begotten Son of God, coming into a fallen world to make a way for our redemption. And that is everything.

The Logos

Greek philosophers believed the world had always existed and realized that there must be some active principle that made the world function in an orderly fashion. Heraclitus, Zeno and Plato described this principle that ordered and maintained the universe and permeated all reality as the Logos. Logos means word, reason, plan and all that might be included in their meaning.

Then Jesus was born and walked this earth with a few followers. One of those who walked with Jesus, described him this way:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (The gospel of John chapter 1, verses 1 to 5 and verse 14).

Do you see what John is doing? He is telling us that the Logos is much more than philosophers have been able to grasp by their reasoning. He is a person, He is God, yet in some way separate from God the Father. He has created all things, He is the source of life and of light. John is saying I have met Him and I want to introduce Him to you so that you may also know Him and walk with Him.

John also tells us that the darkness did not comprehend the Logos when He came into the world. The English language has a million words, yet lacks a word to describe the kind of darkness that John is speaking of. This darkness is not the mere absence of light but the home of Satan and all that is opposed to the light. In French it is called ténèbres; many other languages have a similar word, but not English. Most of the time when the New Testament uses the word darkness it means that kind of darkness:

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (ténèbres), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness (ténèbres) to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres) rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The English Bible (AV) says that the darkness (ténèbres) did not comprehend the light. Comprehend comes from the French word comprendre which sometimes means understand, but the root meaning is to take in. The French Bible simply says the ténèbres did not receive the light.

Let us rejoice that the Logos, the light, has come into the world. May we truly know Him and walk with Him. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Merry Christmas!

Let’s eradicate Black Friday in Canada

In the USA, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, the day that Christmas merchandise goes on sale for the first time. It’s a big thing, usually the highest dollar volume of sales for the year.

In Canada it obviously just  a crass copy-cat attempt to pry a little more money out of shoppers’ bank and credit card accounts. It has no relation whatsoever to anything in our calendar or culture. We celebrated Thanksgiving 46 days ago and Christmas merchandise has been on sale for several weeks already. Black Friday is a bizarre US import that should have been stopped at the border, much the way the province of Alberta goes all out to prevent Norway rats from crossing their border.

Here in Canada the coming weekend is Grey Cup weekend, the Canadian professional football championship. The actual game is on Sunday. I won’t be watching it, I have other things to do on a Sunday and I don’t own a TV anyway. Still, it would seem far less intrusive to me if retailers tried to profit from the excitement surrounding the Grey Cup by holding Grey Cup week sales.

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