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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A "Timeless" Christmas Lesson

I was reading old journals a few weeks ago and found two whole weeks of old Christmas-time lessons. Four years old and largely forgotten, I dusted one off to share at a Christmas Party. Maybe some of you will find encouragement here.....

Just as a note, ALL the quotes are taken from the Study Notes in my ESV Study Bible. When I first studied this, my Bible was new and I was mildly obsessed with the notes - I'm still quite attached. If you don't have an ESV Study Bible, add it to your Christmas's not too late....there's still one week before Christmas!

Read Isaiah 9:1-7
What I learned as I studied is that God's people are approaching a very VERY dark time. When we read this chapter it's usually in the context of Christmas pageants or family readings and we miss the context. The people are living through or seeing on the horizon a terrifying inescapable darkness. So when Isaiah starts jacking with the time frame, we don't notice because it's ALL history to us, but they would've heard. Think about your most difficult dark place right now. Now imagine sharing that with someone who then says, "Well, way back when you went through that..." Absurd? I guess it depends on what else they say. That's what Isaiah does here: 
“In the former time” – “Isaiah’s vision projects his thoughts out of the tragic present as if it were already past.” (ESV Study Bible) “In the latter time He has made glorious” – “a past-tense verb, because the prophetic eye sees the future…”(ESV Study Bible)

Our present reality is already the past in God's view. And the future we fear is "latter time" to Him. He's bigger and stronger than the clock ticking in our ears. Can you trust God who sees beyond your tragic present?

Here is my journal entry from December 14, 2009. 
“How often do I believe God’s promise when my present is dark? He calls the present a “former time.” All the more reason to rest and TRUST even today!

Moving on in Isaiah 9. "On them the light has shined…” I learned that this is “not subjective wishful thinking but an objective, surprising joy breaking upon sinners through the grace of Christ.” (ESV Study Bible) 
When was the last time that something struck you as both objective and surprising? The best thing about an objective surprise is that you can see and measure and believe it! Here are some more treasures about Light.

Isaiah 42:6
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”

Isaiah 49:6
He says: 
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

After reading all of that, here's my journal entry for December 15, 2009:
“What joy – that you would shine your light across this world to bring the nations to salvation. I love that this is not wishful thinking but an objective, surprising joy breaking out over us! This is Christmas, that the God who graces us with light out of darkness gives us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus – in Him, Sweet Baby Boy.”

And then we see that there is Overflowing Joy in Three “Fors"
FOR - He breaks human oppression (4).
FOR - He ends war (5) - See Psalm 46:9 and Isaiah 2:4.
FOR - He gives Jesus (6-7).

Remember that amazing way God speaks outside of time? How He calls things that aren't yet as if they already are? In those days through Isaiah He spoke about Jesus Messiah with an already true certainty that ushers in complete and total assurance. As you read the list below, can you stamp these things over your dark places? Can you let the Truth of these names and the character they can barely contain drip down into your "Not Yets"? 

He IS Wonderful Counselor
  • Isaiah 11:2

He IS Everlasting Father (also ideal King who takes care of His people)
  • Isaiah 63:16
  • Isaiah 64:8
  • Psalm 103:13

He IS Prince of Peace
  • Ephesians 2:14
  • Psalm 72:7

And peace means = health, security, tranquility, a satisfied condition, an unconcerned state of peacefulness, completeness, harmony, fulfillment.

Here's my final journal entry for Isaiah 9; December 16, 2009:
“You are a miracle - able to advise and direct. You are mighty God Himself. You are forever and forever faithful and protective. You are our Redeemer and my Father. You are royal yet full of peace; peace that brings health, security, wholeness, and satisfaction. You are all of these things, and you shine them into the darkness of my life and bring me joy - full and amazing." 

For additional study on your own this season:
  • Isaiah 8:11-22, study the context and reason behind the “gloom” of 9:1.
  • Look up and study all the cross-references for the names of Jesus listed above.
  • Study John 1, and learn about Immanuel – God WITH US.

All notes for this handout came from the Study Notes in the ESV Study Bible.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bethlehem Tour

Christmas is different for me this year.
I was able to visit Bethlehem in February, and Christmas is forever changed.

As we are heading into the busiest time of the Christmas season, I thought you might like to slow down and see what it was like there.

This is where it happened...

I don't completely understand all of the politics, but Bethlehem was the only place we visited that was Palestinian controlled. We had to switch tour guides and our bus went through a checkpoint {which was no big deal for me as I'm sure I was on my phone - the bus was the only place with wi-fi you see}. We ate lunch and shopped for the famous olive wood nativities.....

Then we got to see the sites.

Shepherd's Field is located on the hillside where the shepherds might've been when they heard the angelic announcement. Our tour group stood together while one of the men in our group quoted Luke 2. We sang Christmas Carols and looked out over the side of the hills. It's not hard to imagine the sky lighting up.

This is the entrance to Shepherd's Field.

I stood next to this church in a little plaza and looked up. Even if this isn't the exact spot, I could imagine the star being visible. I could imagine the sky, this sky; being bright and full of angels.

This is the view down from where we stood together as a group. Can't you imagine sheep and shepherds out here?

Earlier in the week we stopped at a beautiful site called Megiddo. There are lots (LOTS) of amazing things about this place {Deborah, Gideon, Revelation}. 

It has layers and layers of history in the stone and dirt. One of the most interesting places was the ruins of a second palace built by Solomon. As our tour guide was telling us about this section he explained that we were standing in the stables. Then he pointed to this stone structure (pic below) and asked what we thought it might be. 

It's a manger, found in Solomon's stables. According to him, the mangers in the caves in Bethlehem would've been very similar. 

Be-still my Christmas heart.
{I almost made this picture our Christmas card this year}...

Next is the Church of the Nativity. Honestly, it was one of my least favorite visits. It was our longest wait (although not as long as usual), and the least real feeling place. I had wanted to walk into a nativity scene, and this is not that way. All the natural parts have been covered up with this ancient church built in the early 4th century. It still likely is close and similar to the cave where Jesus was born. Some ancient church fathers say this is the actual site of Jesus' birth.

We walked down the steps and sat at a little memorial that commemorates the birthplace of Jesus. Our tour guide took our picture and then we were hustled out.

I did find this jewel before we were hurried out. I asked if there was anything original to the time of Jesus' birth and was directed to this cave ceiling. I took this picture looking up from a little alcove in the cave.

  • These rocks might've been overlooking my precious terrified Mary as she labored. 
  • They might've offered protection while Joseph struggled to help her. 
  • They might've surrounded her while she dressed her baby and laid him in the manger.
  • They might've connected with the hands of the shepherds as they rushed in and then slowed down at the sight of a sacred baby.
So I had to touch them too...I probably worried the sweet nun sitting beneath, but I had to touch these stones. If only these rocks could cry out.

This is the outside of the Church of Nativity (behind me as I took the picture), notice the mosque on the right side.

The Bethlehem Countdown to Christmas Clock....this cracked me up {I don't know why}.

"1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!" 
Luke 2:1-20, The Message

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Post List

Merry Christmas!

I do have a couple of recipes in mind to share this month, and I am working on a trip post with pictures of all our Christmas stops in Israel {including what the manger would've most likely looked like}.

But today I'm posting a list of all my Christmas posts since I started this blog three years ago. I teach often about the discipline of remembering. It's no accident that we are instructed over and over to "remember" in Scripture. Nothing clears my mind of confusion like rehearsing the Truth of His goodness. If nothing else is gained from my writing this blog, I am thankful for the way it chronicles my own journey. I only write about what I've learned....and so reading old posts reminds me of my most Faithful Teacher.

  • One of my first ever posts, Christmas Favorites shares the stories behind my favorite Christmas decorations.
  • Mary was the last of the five women I studied last year, Mary's Treasures came from those precious lessons.
  • An Advent Lesson was a surprise Christmas marriage lesson.
  • I love word studies, two of my favorites are in this short post; Joy and Peace.
  • A conversation with my daughter about my favorite Christmas carol sparked Christmas Dawn

And then there are the recipes.....

May this December find you rehearsing old lessons and learning new ones! More soon.....