Part Two: CHRISTMAS JOURNEYS . . .

The four Christmas journeys of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus the Christ child, together begin a journey that became our journey. It was and remains a journey of acquainting grace with divine purpose. Glory to God!

Journey is an enduring theme throughout Scripture. We see this in the journeys of Abraham, Moses, Ruth and Naomi, the journeys of the people of Israel exiled to Babylon and their eventual return, the ministry years of Jesus, and the missionary journeys of Peter, Paul and Barnabus. The traditional Christmas story of the journey by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in her third trimester is but a part of a longer narrative of four Christmas journeys: (1) Mary with child in her pregnancy first trimester traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth; (2) Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; (3) their flight with the toddler Jesus to Egypt; and (4) the holy family’s return from Egypt to Nazareth.

The complete journey from Nazareth to Egypt and back again likely covered a period of five years. Altogether the four-journeys-in-one were just the beginning of Christ’s journey throughout his life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and return to the Father. Our Acquaintance with his journey is the beginning of our journey. Because of his life’s journey, we are blessed with the privilege to become personally acquainted with Jesus and through his self-giving love. Thereby we come to know the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Knowing God, we come to love him.  The Christmas journeys begin our journey of an acquainting grace.

It is by God’s acquainting grace that we come to know God in the Trinitarian personhood of perfect unity and love. We begin a journey to knowing his presence (God with us), his identity, and character.   With increasing acquaintance with him, we appreciate Christ as Lord and King. We accept the Father’s love for all the world and embrace our life as children of God. We acknowledge the Spirit’s work in us as comforter, counselor, and guide. Through our journey in Christ by the Holy Spirit we continue to increasingly knowing, love God, and live for him. Those first four journeys of Christ continue in and through us with God who is Emmanuel, God journeying with us, and who continues to love us with an everlasting love! Thanks be to God!

Advertisements

Christmas Journeys and Acquainting Grace

Four Christmas Journeys.

A trip to the mall is not the same as a journey across the country. A journey takes more time, costs substantially more, and holds more challenges, risks, and prospects. In the Christmas season, its traditional to retell the Christmas story of the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the birth of the Messiah, baby Jesus. However, there’s more to the story than that one journey. Actually, there are altogether four journeys which speak to our own spiritual journey with challenges, risks, and yet prospects of God’s acquainting grace.

Journey 1 – Mary visits Elizabeth.  Mary was about 14 years old when first “with child.” She set out on a journey from Nazareth to the hills of Judea to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. There’s no mention of Joseph accompanying her. Scripture suggests she made the trip of about 20 or more miles alone. She stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah through the first trimester of her pregnancy for three months before returning home. Since the Christmas story starts with her miracle conception, this was the first Christmas journey. It is significant in connecting the Christmas narrative to Elizabeth’s anticipated birth of John the Baptist. John was to play a major, prophetic role in the eventual start of Christ’s ministry.

Journey 2 – The traditional Christmas story begins with Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. In the third trimester of her pregnancy, the couple journeyed sixty-nine miles to Bethlehem. The likely route was directly south through Samaria. Mary rode on a donkey with Joseph walking the whole way. Only the mega-wealthy would have made the journey by means other than walking or by donkey. Imagine such a journey for Mary’s in her third trimester. The journey could not have been pleasant. It ended with no place to recover but in a stable. Upon arrival, Mary went through the physical rigors of labor and giving birth to baby Jesus and then hosting visitors that smelled like sheep. Nevertheless, the journey ended in an amazing, celestial celebration like no other. Then, it wasn’t for several months, possibly as much as two years, before the next segment of their Christmas journey.

Journey 3 – The flight to Egypt. Contrary to the traditional narrative, the Magi mentioned in Matthew 2:1 did not visit Jesus in the manger on the night of his birth along with the shepherds. They arrived several months and possibly a much as two years later.  By then Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had moved out of the stable. Luke’s narrative (v. 2:11) states that the Magi, on coming to the house, saw the child and Mary and worshiped the child king. The blood thirsty king, Herod, was out to murder the Christ child when the Magi returned to Jerusalem on their way home. Sensing Herod’s malevolent intentions, they returned another way. If so, they were right. An angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night they fled as political refugees to Egypt, a trip of 430 miles.

Journey 4 – Return to Nazareth. After a good while in Egypt, Herod died. An angel appeared again in a dream to Joseph again and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and go to the Land of Israel for those trying to take the child’s life are dead.” They then returned to Israel and settled again in the little town of Nazareth where it all started. The journey likely took more than twenty days covering nearly five hundred miles. By this time Mary was nineteen or twenty years old and Jesus was four or five years old. Rome’s oppressive occupation of Israel was in full swing controlling the lives of the people by intimidation and fear. Likely, for the child Jesus, crucifixions along the journey to Nazareth previewed the cross to the young Jesus and what was yet to come later in his continuing life’s journey. To be continued . . .

INVITED TO THE TABLE

grace-before-the-meal
BE PRESENT AT OUR TABLE LORD

This Thursday millions of Americans will sit down with others to enjoy a time of reflection and thanksgiving. Like our Canadian cousins who celebrated Thanksgiving dinner in October, many of us will share a meal around a table with family and friends. Millions of others will sit across from strangers to partake of turkey, potatoes, and other accouterments thanks to the institutional compassion of The Salvation Army and other churches and missions. Sadly, some will eat alone or not at all.   Giving thanks has always been a hallmark of American life at this time of year since before the nation was founded. It remains tethered to the story of Native Americans and undocumented aliens (Pilgrims at Plymouth) sitting down to share a time of feast and fellowship.

trinity-rublev-the-hospitality-of-abraham
The Trinity Table of Divine Fellowship & Holy Love   Icon by Andre Rublev

The beauty of Thanksgiving includes the idea of inviting others to the table. It is a special time of holiday (from the root: holy day). It is a time of hospitality and self-giving love for one another; a time of appreciation for blessings too often unnoticed and unacknowledged throughout the year. It is a time to remember the source from whom all blessing flow, the triune God of perfect unity and holy love who daily invites us to a table of divine fellowship, into the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God in three persons, blessed Trinity, invites us to the table of fellowship and waits our response.  Thanks be to God!

2017 LANDS OF THE BIBLE CRUISE

http://www.eo.travel    800 247-0017

COME JOIN US FOR A TRIP OF A LIFE TIME . . .

2017 Lands of the Bible Cruise with Bill & Marilyn Francis and Guest Speakers Roger Green and Jonathan Raymond

14 days (12 NIGHTS)  –  OCTOBER 30 – NOVEMBER 12, 2017
Greece, Italy, The Holy Land, Crete & Malta
STARTING FROM $3798
LANDS OF THE BIBLE SHIP CRUISE 1
Price includes round trip international airfare & and overseas transfers, shore excursions,
most meals.  All prices reflect a 4% discount. For a brochure: jonraymond1969@gmail.com

TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS

community-picWe are social beings easily affected by the presence of other persons – by people with whom we are not competing and with whom there are no rewards or punishment, and in fact with whom they do nothing except be passively present. One hundred and eighteen years ago, a psychologist, Norman Triplett (1898), noticed that cyclists times were faster when racing together than when racing alone against the clock. He noticed the same result with children winding string faster on a fishing reel along with others than when winding alone. Triplett, a pioneer social psychologist, is credited with the beginning of research into what eventually became social facilitation theory. The theory states that the presence of others liberates latent energy and improves performance. That’s not always the case. Sometime the presence of other diminishes performance. Later studies showed that the presence of others arouses dominant responses enhancing easy behaviors and impairing difficult ones.

What’s important is that we are social beings who are impacted for better or worse in the presence of others. When there are no scales or physical measures for something, we turn to the assessment of others to understand its nature or value. Others provide support in the way of information, judgment, and insight. In the presence of others we look for a consensus of opinion and wisdom that offers clarity on what’s real and true. This is what Paul may be referring to when he uses the phrase in Ephesians 3:18, “ . . . together with all the saints . . ..” He writes,

“I pray that you . . . may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide, long, high, and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. . .”

 apostolic-teachingTo truly know the love of God is not merely an academic, theoretical idea or engaging proposition. It is more. It is to have knowledge that surpasses knowledge, a knowledge of the heart. Such knowledge comes from being in the presence of the saints, others who walk, and talk, and love one another in holiness. This is the “what” of Paul’s prayer. Then he prays the “why” – “that you (too) may be filled (like all the saints) to the measure (Christ) of the fullness of God,” in other words that you may be holy; holy in the presence of all the saints with complete knowledge of the magnitude of God’s love in true holiness and righteousness. All the saints increasingly know the extent of God’s love.   In the fellowship of saints, it is clear, knowable, visible, obvious in who they are and how they live in loving God with a profound love; loving others in ways that are immeasurably more than one might imagine (Eph. 3:20), all to the glory of God.

Power to love, together with all the saints, is the nature of social holiness!

The Swamp or the River

The center of Christian discipline is this:  “The love of Christ constrains me,” or “narrows me.  The difference between a swamp and a river is that a river has banks, and a swamp has none – it spreads over everything. Civilizations organize themselves around rivers.  Some people are like rivers.  They know where they want to go, and they confine themselves to the banks that lead to the goal. But some people are swamps: they spread over everything; their minds are so open they cannot hold a conviction; they are everything and nothing. . . Paul could say, “This one thing I do.”  They can say, “These forty things I dabble in.”  Paul left a mark.  They leave a blur.    –    E. Stanley Jones

river-banksLike the banks of the river, when we commit ourselves to the constraining love of Christ, such discipline occasions habits of the heart.  Such habits constrain us. Jesus’ commitment to the love of the Father resulted in three disciplined habits: 1) He read the Word of God.  Luke’s gospel (4:16) reads that it was his custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath where he would stand up and read the scriptures.  2) He frequently sought solitude to pray. “He went into the mountain to pray as was his custom.”  And 3) He shared what he had and what he gained through the Scriptures and prayer.  In John 17:14, Jesus says in his prayer to the Father, “I have given them your Word,” and in 17:22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”  In the life of Christ, The River of Life is one of disciplined habit. In this way, the love of Christ constrains.  If we love Him, we will exercise the disciplines of prayer, reading the Word of God, and sharing the Truth with others.

Stanley Jones says in his autobiography, A Song of Ascents,  “Long before I had discovered these three things in the Scriptures, I say this instinctively (or was I led by the Spirit or both): the deep ingrained necessity of these three simple habits. So I fixed them deep into habit; they became part of me.”

O, God our Father.  The swamp is not the place for me.  I want to move with you in the River of Life.  Your grace takes the form of constraining love.  You show me the way to my only realistic response to your great love for me.  I confess it takes time and discipline to form core habits.  I ask for more grace to strengthen my resolve to love you more and to reflect that love in the life-changing habits after the likeness of my Lord, Jesus.  Amen!

MAKE US HOLY – 1 Peter 1:3-2:3

holiness-2Recently I’ve been reflecting about the need for clarity on what the bible means by holiness.  In preparation for writing on the topic, I took another look at Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book entitled The Call To Holiness* and rediscovered the lovely hymn Make Us Holy written by his musically poetic wife, Julie Tennent. Every line is worth pondering:

You are holy – make us holy! Let our lives reflect Your name; By Your Spirit’s pow’r within us, be a sanctifying flame.  Not the work of human striving, but a change from deep within:  Redirect our core affections; free us from the bonds of sin.

You are holy – so our holy lives a shining light must be,  Purged from empty selfish living, filled with love that comes from thee.  Purged again of seed eternal, through the living Word of God;  Growing up in our salvation, tasting that the Lord is good.

You are holy, and You call us to be pure in all we do,  As your character is holy, so we would be holy, too.  Purified by true obedience, loving others from the heart;  Serving in the world with power which you Spirit does impart.  You are holy – may your church embody perfect holiness;  

May the love of Christ compel us to bring forth true righteousness. Let the strains of New Creation echo through your church today;  Sounding for the consummation of that glorious holy day.

–  Julie Tennent

The words to this beautiful song may be sung to the tune of Beecher (“Love Divine, All love excelling) or Ode To Joy (“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”).

*Published in The Call to Holiness: Pursuing the Heart of God for the Love of the World, by Timothy Tennent, (Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed Publishing, 2014), pp. 73-74.