Christmas Eve: A Really Long Story

A really L-O-N-G Story leads to the Eve Of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. When did you last read the book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mt. 1: 1 – 17)? I always feel tempted to skip over those verses too. Listening yesterday to Pray-As-You-Go I was given some language for my feelings: I am never sure what to make of the list. I even can feel a bit alienated by it. The names of old guys don’t sound like the names in my family or among my friends. What do the fourteen generations from Abraham to David and the fourteen more from the deportation of Israel to Babylon up to the birth of Jesus have to do with us who live many generations later?

But Matthew is not senseless. As an author of a tract written to convince people to trust and follow Jesus, he began the way he did for a reason. As Pray-As-You-Go suggests:

Perhaps Matthew was giving us a sense of heritage, of history unfolding through the generations, of the coming true of Israel’s hope that a Savior would come from the house of David, of the promise being fulfilled?

For the people of that time, family background was very important, it meant, “this is where you come from”, “this is who you are.” That wouldn’t necessarily be the case in every part of the world today, but where do you get your sense of identity from, your sense of who you are?

Amongst the forty-two male names – this long line of fathers – four women and three mothers are mentioned: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth and Mary. [As you think of Matthew’s genealogy], what do you think it is telling you about who Jesus is, and even who you are?

This Christmas Eve, at the hinge point between Advent and Christmastide, maybe you could sit for a moment with the story told by Matthew’s genealogy and let it refine your sense of person, of history, and of a future that never ends as one of the people of God.

– Todd Hunter

Advent Readings: Sunday December 22

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

Although we are so familiar with the story of a virgin giving birth, re-enter the story as if you were hearing it for the first time. Ponder how God fulfills his promises in unexpected ways. What Mary and Joseph were hearing, receiving from divine messengers was humanly inconceivable! Mary and Joseph become examples for us of audacious faith in God, his word and their own experience of his word despite their limited understanding.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways does the gospel narrative of Mary and Joseph’s reception of God’s word birth renewed faith in God in your own life?
  2. How might the reminder of Jesus’ coming to save us from our sins be received as a gift to you this holiday season?
  3. What places in your heart or life do you feel the need for freedom from habits of sin? Consider spending time in a practice of confession before God as you receive God’s gift of forgiveness.
  4. Are there places in your life where you feel lonely, abandoned or disappointed? Hear again the name of Jesus: Immanuel, God with us. Take his promise and presence to heart.

– Elizabeth Khorey and Michelle Sudduth

An Advent Story

When I was in 4th Grade, my Sunday school teacher said, “If you pray, then God will answer your prayers.” And so, that week, I prayed. I prayed every day that the very next Sunday, my Grandpa would come to church.

My family had attended that church for years, since the time when the neighborhood pastor came knocking at my Grandma’s front door, and she thought to herself that it might just be a good idea to send her girls to Sunday School. Church policy didn’t allow parents to drop their kids off and pick them up later, so my grandma stayed. Forty years later she still calls that church her home.

But my Grandpa – he wasn’t about to step foot in any church. He was a gruff and stubborn kind of guy. But if my teacher was right, then when I prayed, God would answer, and I would sit next to him in church on Sunday.

Sunday came, and as I walked through the doors I remember eagerly looking around to see if he was there. He wasn’t – yet. I sat down. The service began. And eagerly I waited. I turned around to sneak peaks at the back doors once, twice, three times… and when the sermon started I finally resigned myself to this truth: my Grandpa wasn’t coming. I had prayed, but God hadn’t answered.

My Grandma, however, didn’t give up her praying. While she didn’t talk about it much with us, it became clear to me that she talked with God all the time – and saw reason to hope. When my Grandpa made a new friend who just “happened” to be a Christian; when his brother Bill occasionally talked about Jesus; even that time when the Jeopardy! category was “Old Testament Stories” and we grandkids knew all the answers – these things gave her hope as she waited, watched in expectant longing, and prayed for my grandpa’s salvation.

This story of waiting, praying, hoping, longing is an Advent story. My 4th grade self didn’t have the capacity or understanding to wait on God in longing and expectation. My grandma, however, did. Eugene Peterson writes that God trains us in this kind of waiting, longing, watching, and praying because this is what enlarges our capacity to trust. “We are enlarged in the waiting” he writes, “We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy” (Romans 8:22, The Message).

My grandma’s heart was enlarged in the waiting. For over 30 years she longed, prayed, waited… and just before he died, when his brother Bill came to visit him in the hospital, my Grandpa accepted Jesus. He never made it through the doors of my church, but the Lord welcomed him home anyway.

In Advent we practice waiting. In the waiting we groan over the sufferings of this present world, and we long for complete healing and restoration for ourselves and our loved ones (Romans 8:18-24). And alongside the waiting and the longing, we engage in expectant celebration. Jesus was born. Salvation is here. As we wait for Jesus to come again, we are “enlarged in the waiting”, growing in our capacity for greater trust as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Romans 8:18-24

– Lisa Igram

The Fish Wars

I know it is tough to be a Christian today. These days, in polite society, one gets the impression that no decent person with even a shred of intelligence could believe the non-scientific, backward, even hateful things that Christians purportedly believe.

Game over? Are Christians just waiting for the clock to run out, wondering if, like youth sports, there is a mercy rule in religion? I see many Christians, in a hurry to get to their cars and leave, hustling out of the stadium of religion, heads hanging in grief, guilt or shame.

I get it. I understand both sides. People genuinely misunderstand Jesus. They think they have heard the Gospel. They say they know Christians. But they reject both the caricature of Jesus they have heard and the un-Christian Christians they have met. Christians feel judged too—rightfully protesting: “We don’t hate gay people! We are not all in bed with politicians! We don’t think that everyone who disagrees with our denomination is going to hell!”

This is all real. But the instinct to fight back in a kind of PR war will not work. Remember The Fish Wars—the Truth fish eating the Darwin fish? That went well…for sellers of trinkets. But I’d bet my last dollar that millions of pieces of plastic of the back of cars did not change many minds. No one ever converted to Christ because they lost a bumper sticker war.

But, standing tall in the middle of human history, behind all the ups and downs of two thousand years cultural religious tension is the person of Jesus Christ. He is the most amazing being to ever walk, talk or do deeds of love, power and justice. He can handle some bad PR.

Jesus stands through his moments on the cross. At the cross Jesus stepped upon the stage of world history, where he has remained up to the present. As he said at a crucial turning point in his career (John 12): I, when I am lifted up from the earth [in crucifixion], will draw all people to myself. We need to see clearly the profound wisdom of his chosen path toward his goal.

Jesus very purposively rejected opportunities to be a political or military leader or a king. With his incredible power and attractiveness, had he wished to do so, there were many ways he could have avoided the cross. But, as he clearly told his followers at the time (John 10): I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.

In his death on the cross Jesus revealed both the depth of human sin and brutality and the unlimited reach of God’s love and power. Jesus lifted up on the cross is the turning point in history that consistently makes itself seen and felt in every generation—even generations in which church, Christians and religion are not popular. How? Two things:

First, as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, we preach Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God. And second, we live as if we believe this wisdom is true. We don’t, in frustration, merely point to doctrine. Rather, being partakers of the life of the risen Christ, we announce, embody and demonstrate a cross and resurrection-enabled life. We do so not just for our own piety, but also for the sake of others, that others would experience our followership of Jesus as for their good.

– Todd Hunter