December 31, 2017: “Jordan”

Jordan

He left Nazareth early one morning.
He said his goodbyes to Mary and the rest of the family. He would not return there to live. He would no longer work in the carpenter shop; James would be in charge. It was time for His Father’s business to become His fulltime work. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. John was baptizing near there in the Jordan River.

He understood what John was doing—calling the nation to repentance. This was a moment of crisis. The sins of the people were many and the cup of iniquity was dangerously close to overflowing. Things had to change and that meant hearts had to change. The only way hearts can change is through repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit. John called the action of the Spirit a baptism of fire. He was specific about the actions of true repentance—drastic changes in behavior not just words spoken in the heat of emotion.

Down to the River
Crowds came every day, leaving the comfort of the cities and towns to swelter in the wilderness and hear John’s fiery preaching. They lined up to publically repent and submit to the well-known ritual of immersion in the muddy waters of Jordan. There was nothing glamorous about it, nothing graceful. It was the dirty business of cleaning one’s soul.

Jesus heard John’s voice before he saw him dressed in camel’s hair and lean from a diet of honey and locusts, a perfect vestment for such a drastic, desperate mission. As Jesus quietly took His place in line, a dialogue developed between John and the crowd.

“What must we do then?” Someone shouted. John answered in terms of those with much sharing with those who had less. After baptism tax collectors and soldiers cried out to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” His reply was simply to do what was right and fair.

Jesus was guilty of none of these national sins and he had no personal sins of which to repent. The Spirit within Him led Him to keep His place in line. Eventually John saw Him and involuntarily cried out.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

Jesus was next to be baptized. John protested the whole thing.

“I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

Jesus smiled at Him and John lowered his head in recognition.

“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

John obeyed, plunging Jesus beneath the surface of the river. When the Lord emerged, dripping with Jordan’s waters, a voice thundered:

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The crowd fell into a fearful silence. Jesus recognized the voice of His Heavenly Father, heard so often in the scriptures and in His heart. Out of the shining sun, a beautiful white dove appeared and circled the two men standing in the water until all witnessed its flight. It then came to rest on the shoulder of Jesus.

The booming voice, the circling, settling dove, the silence of the crowd grew deeper still. Suddenly there was a rush of repenting sinners splashing into the river. Jesus smiled at John and nodded for him to continue his work. He quietly exited the river and found a solitary place to pray.

Scriptures:
Matthew 3:1-17
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:1-25
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
John 1:29 NKJV
…John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Prayer:
Lord, baptize me with the fire of Your Spirit today! Prepare my heart for Your residence! Prepare Your church for Your visitation. Fill in our deep valleys of ignorance. Bring down our mountains of pride. Straighten out our crooked, self-centered ways. Smooth out our carelessness in holy things. Build Your holy highway through us! Let Your glory be revealed in this place, in my heart! Nothing less than the world is at stake. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Comfort Ye/Every Valley
From Handel’s Messiah

Comfort ye, Comfort ye, My people
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her
That her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned.
Comfort ye.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!”

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, Shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain
Ev’ry valley, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 30, 2017: “Savior”

Savior

There was a hill near Nazareth high enough to endanger the life of one who fell from its heights.
It commanded a peaceful view of the countryside below where fields of sheep and goats grazed in contentment. Well-traveled roads, footpaths really, could be seen approaching and crossing and diverging in different directions. People and their animals loaded with the burdens of the day occupied the roads. It was wonderful place to sit and think and pray.

Joseph and Mary met here often while they were waiting for Jesus to be born. The boy Jesus soon discovered this hill and, like all boys do, delighted in ascending its heights to sit and think and pray. As a carpenter’s apprentice, when the work was done in the late afternoon or in the early morning before the work day began, Jesus would climb this hill to meet with God.

A Heavenly Father
As boy He could sense the presence of God in this place, a presence that was very much like the nearness of Joseph whom He loved dearly. In the presence of God there was something more somehow, as if He were the Heavenly Father. By His teen years, Jesus regularly considered God to be His Father in Heaven. He once spoke of this to Joseph who was not at all offended. He felt that way, too. Joseph and Jesus enjoyed long talks late at night about prophesies concerning Messiah. Jesus considered Joseph an expert in these matters.

Unavoidable Questions
When Joseph was gone, Jesus began to ask questions of Mary, questions about His birth. Mary prayed deeply about this before deciding that the time had come for Jesus to know the truth. On a Sabbath, they climbed the hill even though this was a questionable thing to do on the Sabbath. She told Him the whole story, the story we have told in this document. As she proceeded she watched His face to see how He was reacting. To her relief, He didn’t seem surprised at all. It answered so many questions that had lingered in His mind for as long as He could remember. For Mary, it was a burden lifted from her shoulders.

The Prophecies
After this, Jesus would often steal away to the hill to pray and consider the prophesies of the Redeemer. They were not comforting. Both angels in their declarations to Mary and Joseph had insisted that He be named Jesus, meaning Savior. “For He shall save the people from their sins.” He did not have to search for prophesies describing how this would be done. He knew that He must suffer for the sins of the whole world. He must have no sins of His own—he must go to the slaughter innocent, a helpless, if pure, lamb, the Lamb of God.

He could not foresee the circumstances of how it would come about, but from the beginning, He knew how it must end. He knew of other prophesies of great healing and restoration.

  • There would be forerunner who would prepare the remnant—God always had a remnant—to receive Him.
  • There would be a great joy set before Him enabling Him to endure the shame.

His entire humanity cried out against such suffering. He possessed the same will to survive that we possess. He knew that He would have to serve against this nature to do what must be done. The will of the Father must be done.

Scripture:
Luke 22:41-44 NKJV
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
1 Timothy 2:5-7 NKJV
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle — I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying — a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Philippians 2:5-11
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Savior of the world—of my soul! I can never know the suffering You endured to accomplish this redemption but I can know some of Your joy in its accomplishment. The smile my worship can bring to Your face is part of that joy. The deep satisfaction of working for You to see good things happen here and now is also a part of it. Help me surrender my will to Yours every day—on this day, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
He’s the Savior of My Soul
Traditional Chorus

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.

Your sins He’ll wash away.
Your night He’ll turn to day.
Your life, He’ll make it over anew.

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 29, 2017: “Craftsman”

Craftsman

The Incarnation—God appearing in the flesh—has many facets of meaning.
One of these is the fact that Jesus was a craftsman, a tradesman doing business in the real world of commerce. Just as He learned His faith in the synagogue, He learned His trade as an apprentice to Joseph. He developed the necessary skills to make a living in this world. In every culture of the world where people love and follow Him, this factor draws Him closer to both the worker and the business owner, the men and women who make that culture function. He learned how to design and build things, to choose materials, to fulfill a contract, and to make a sale. He knew the long hours required to do the job right. He understood the cost of doing business and importance of a job well done. He flourished in the competitive world of commerce where the customer was always right even when he wasn’t. Best of all, he learned the joy of craftsmanship, of doing good work, of making something. It was a joy He had known before, this joy of creation. Jesus learned all of these at Joseph’s side.

The Death of Joseph
Sometime between the Lord’s 12-year old visit to the Temple and His baptism in the Jordan at about age thirty, Joseph disappears from the biblical narrative. We can only imagine the grief in the home when the man of faith, the one who dreamed of angels and obeyed their commands, was suddenly absent. What a comfort Jesus must have been to Mary and to her children. As her first born son, Jesus became the head of the family. He was no longer the promising apprentice; He was the proprietor of the carpenter shop. He had to become the mentor to James, his half-brother, as Joseph had been to Him. After long days in the shop there must have been long discussions by lamplight about family and business details that only He and Mary could handle.

Mary grew to depend on Jesus as she had Joseph. His amazing mind was of great assistance in solving problems, both in the family business and in the family itself. As much as He loved them, Jesus recognized the challenge his brothers and sisters, and Mary for that matter, faced in having Him in their lives. He was wonderful but He was different. Mary knew, if the others didn’t, that He had other work to do. His calling was to be about “His Father’s business,” that of being Savior, Redeemer, King. What did that mean? When would it begin?

A Different Craft
As Jesus dealt with the people in His life, family, friends, customers, citizens of Nazareth, and even the ever-present Roman soldiers, He was learning a different craft. He was learning to be the Carpenter of Souls. He studied people, sensing who was worthy of selection and who was not, like selecting wood for a project. He listened to people, understanding that the contents of their hearts poured forth in their speech. He studied the normal conflicts between friends and the battles between enemies. He made note of the weaknesses that brought people to ruin and the strengths that carried them through crises.

When the time came, He would leave the shop to James and the home to Mary and begin attending to His Father’s business. He would be the Carpenter of Souls, the Redeemer, the Savior. He continues that ministry today, His skillful craftsman’s hands now scarred by nails, as He makes all things new for those of us who love and follow Him.

Scriptures:
Colossians 3:17; 23-25 NKJV
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
2 Timothy 2:20-26 NKJV
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NKJV
But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like You, I have a set of useful skills, a life business to which I must attend daily. I have many crafts to master. Direct my mind, guide my hands, and focus my heart so that I might do Your work well in this earth. Let my work be a work of integrity, done well for the right reasons. May the work of my hands be praise to You. Thank You, Lord for Your gentle, skillful hands molding and shaping my life in Your very likeness. You are indeed the Carpenter of Souls. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. Cesar Malan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 28, 2017: “Answers”

Answers

As a child Jesus possessed no divine powers. He performed no miracles or signs or wonders.
Yet, the mind of Christ was like no other, even in the formative stages. All children ask questions but we can only imagine the kinds of questions the boy Jesus asked. He was an excellent playmate as other children loved to participate in the childhood adventures He could dream up. He was easily and deeply touched by the pain of the other children and would rush to comfort them. Even adults would receive his solace. A community within the community grew around Him as the parents of His friends welcomed Him into their homes. He was a good influence on their children. The rumors of His illegitimate birth were almost forgotten in the presence of His excellent nature. Mary and Joseph had other children, each one special in his or her own way.

Each year this community within the community would make the journey south to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. The ceremonies had special significance for Joseph and Mary since they, too, had been called out of Egypt.

The pilgrimage was a joyful one, a moving celebration of the first order. They sang the songs of ascent, from the Psalms:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing.”

In the journey the children from these close-knit families often mixed with the families of their friends. The safe assumption was that they were all present and accounted for.

The ceremonies at the Temple were impressive and instructive.
Perhaps no one noticed that the lad Jesus lingered in the outer court of the temple. He had caught the attention of a small cadre of priests. His questions were not those of an ordinary boy. The number of priests grew as each priest was challenged by Jesus’ mind.

The boy was sincere. He really wanted to know and to understand the mysteries that plagued them all. This went on for three days. The priests took care of Him, sure that soon His parents would come looking for Him. This had become a conversation none of them would ever forget. Some of these very priests, in a matter of two decades, would have to decide about this young man as he stood before them on trial for His life, a threat to all their power.

Finally, Joseph and Mary found Jesus safe in the Temple entertaining the leaders of the land. In her maternal frustration, Mary rebuked her son. Didn’t she realize what He realized? He had a work to do His Father in heaven. Quickly with deep embarrassment, Joseph and Mary collected Jesus and shepherded Him back home, back to the normal routine. But it would not be so. A corner had been turned for all of them. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:41-52 NKJV
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Songs of Ascent
Psalm 121: 1-3
I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Psalm 122:1-2
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Psalm 125:1
Those who trust in the Lord Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to march in the procession to Your House! I want to ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. I remove any idols from my life and fill my mouth with truth! You are worthy of all my praise. Let me think deeply about You, not just now on Your holy throne, but then—in Your earthly life—Your childhood, Your teen years, Your young adulthood. Thank You for entering this life to show us how it should be lived. Help me to grow as You did “in favor with God and men.” Amen.

Song:
Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
Traditional German Carol

1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it, The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.

3. This Flower, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 27, 2017: “Also”

Also

When a king speaks, he does not necessarily mean what he says.
So it was with King Herod. He told the wise men in a secret meeting that he wanted to worship the Messiah also.

It was a lie.

On the night Jesus was born, the kings told Joseph and Mary of their meeting with King Herod. They did not believe his announced intention to worship the child and they planned to return to their home by a different route. Joseph was alarmed by their caution.

After the dedication of the child, Joseph and Mary were excited about returning home. Beneath that excitement, Joseph harbored misgivings about the journey. In a dream an angel visited him to warn him not to return home but to flee the wrath of King Herod and go to Egypt. Awaking from the dream and telling Mary of the angel’s warning, the decision was made—Egypt it would be.

Called out of Egypt
How strange that the nation that welcomed and then enslaved their ancestors would now unknowingly harbor the Messiah of Israel! Yet, there was a strange verse of prophecy to this effect—“Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

Stranger still was the fact they could afford to make the journey. The gifts of the kings provided more than enough. They did not waste the gold on rich clothes and the finery of wealth; no one would suspect them to have riches tucked away.

The Rage of Herod
In a matter of days, Herod realized he had been deceived by the visiting kings. He had a rival!—some wiggling little boy threatened his golden, rotten kingdom. Rage and fear stole his sanity. He ordered the massacre of all the little boys born in that region over the last two years. This fulfilled another prophecy, one that told of uncontrolled weeping in the land. History calls this the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Months later, news arrived that King Herod was dead and his reign of terror was ended, the angel appeared to Joseph again in a dream commanding them to return home. Eventually they returned to Nazareth. For the next twelve years the Holy Family disappears into the haze of history.

Jesus the Child
We can be sure that these years were spent as an ordinary childhood for Jesus. By today’s standards than ordinary childhood was anything but ordinary. From a child, Jesus would be steeped in the words of God. As soon as He could talk He would learn to pray Shema every morning:

“Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

As soon as He could read, He began memorizing the Psalms as daily prayers. In these psalms He learned how to pray, to reach out to God with heart, soul, mind and strength. He would attend the school in Nazareth to learn from the Rabbi of the history of His people and the character of His God. His young life would be informed by truth and enriched with spirit and with these two things, He would learn to worship God. Twelve years of such a life prepared Him for the next scene in the biblical record.

Scriptures:
Matthew 2:1-23 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, while many chose to ignore Your coming into this world and did not worship You, King Herod announced a desire to join the kings in worship. This was a lie. Instead of worshiping You, he sought to destroy You. This violence against You still exists in our world today. There are people who hate You. You threaten their little kingdoms so they lie about You and strike out against Your people. Restrain them, O Lord. Empower Your people to worship in Spirit and Truth and to tell Your story in worship, in work, and in personal witness! We will tell Your story! Amen.

Song:
Go Tell It on the Mountain
American Negro Spiritual

Refrain:
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;
go, tell it on the mountain  \that Jesus Christ is born.
1. While shepherds kept their watching o’er silent flocks by night,
behold, throughout the heavens  there shone a holy light.

Refrain

2. The shepherds feared and trembled  when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior‘s birth.

Refrain

3. Down in a lowly stable the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 26, 2017: “Anna”

Anna

Anna always deferred to Simeon.
They shared so many things in this Temple life they had adopted:

  • The rhythms of prayer through each day and night,
  • The psalms and prophecies that were living water and holy bread for their souls,
  • The constant parade of people passing through the Temple,
  • The spectacle of ceremonies and feasts and a preening politicized priesthood, and
  • The remnant of faithful ones, like themselves, seeking God and longing for Messiah.

Thus Anna was just a few steps away when Simeon addressed Joseph and Mary. His prophecy rang true in her heart. Stepping forward, she lifted her voice to address whoever might care to hear. Anna spoke to the nation, to the generations gathered in the Temple.”…she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

The nation had sinned against God time and again, generation after generation. Rome was their judgment and without repentance all of the beauty of Temple and the traditions born at the mountains of Sanai and Zion would be pounded into dust. But God had sent a Redeemer—this little child!—a King mightier than Herod, a Kingdom more powerful than Rome. Her words are not recorded but we can imagine they flowed from the prophecies she knew by heart! She lifted her thin voice against the noise of the crowd.

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.” Arise! Shine! For Your Light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you! Behold! Deep darkness covers the land but the Lord shall arise upon you!”

Heads began to turn to listen and watch this lady with the piercing voice.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver. I will make your officers peace, and your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.”

Her energy began to fade as she paused to breathe. Simeon took a step toward her as with new strength she continued.

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness the moon; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory… and the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous… Lift up your eyes all around, and see!”

Her energy was gone as her voice faded. She concluded her witness with words of thanksgiving to God. She, too had lived to see Messiah. The crowd lost interest and busied themselves with their own affairs. Joseph and Mary invited Anna and Simeon to join them for the dedication ceremony. They shared a joy the priest himself did not understand. But they understood, three generations of those who seek the Lord.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:36-38 NKJV
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Isaiah 59:20; 60:1-5; 16-22 NKJV
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. … Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. “Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. …You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver, Instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. I will also make your officers peace, And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise. “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, And a small one a strong nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time.”
Isaiah 62:1 NKJV
For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Redeemer! From Zion You came to earth to bear our sins far away never to be remembered against us again. You have restored to us the things stolen by the enemy of our souls. You shine light on us in these dark times. You make our walls salvation and our gates praise. Your promises to restore Israel will happen someday. Today You will redeem all who call upon in truth, repent of their unrighteousness and seek Your face. You will in no wise cast out those who call upon You for redemption. Let the spirit of Anna fall on me! Help me cry out to those around me that the Redeemer has come! For Your Kingdom, Lord! Amen.

Song:
There Is a Redeemer
Words and Music: Melody Green

1. There is a redeemer Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah Holy One

2. Jesus my redeemer Name above all names
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Oh, for sinners slain

Refrain:
Thank you, oh my father For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit ‘Til the work on Earth is done

3. When I stand in Glory I will see His face
And there I’ll serve my King forever In that Holy Place

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 25, 2017: “Simeon”

Simeon

At his advanced age, Simeon saw every day as a gift from God.
He needed little sleep so he was well-rested even though he had prayed most of the night. In the darkness of his cell, he sometimes lost track of time, mixing early morning with early evening yet he paid special attention to the mornings.

Through those long nights Simeon rehearsed a promise from God. The Lord had told him that he would not taste of death until he had seen Messiah in the flesh. He was convinced that some morning a young couple would appear at the Temple to dedicate their son and not just any son—the Promised One!—and he would be there to see Him! Dedications were a common occurrence but Simeon never wondered how he would recognize the One he sought. With such a promise, he left the details to God.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
On the eighth day after that unforgettable night in the stable at Bethlehem Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple for consecration to God. With the gold presented to them by the kings, they had paid their taxes and moved to rooms in Jerusalem. A benefit of the taxation was their proximity to the Temple for the dedication of Jesus.

As they entered the outer court, they had to stand in line with other parents of other boys waiting for the attention of the priests. Mary’s heart was racing just as it had the night the angel came to visit. She felt they were on the verge of something wonderful. Joseph felt it, too.

While they waited, Simeon, elderly and a stranger to them, obviously a priest but not one on duty, approached them. They could see the excitement in his pale eyes. His approach had the feel of an angel drawing near. An older lady was a few steps behind him, fully capturing the scene.

Simeon whispered to Joseph. He and Mary exchanged glances and, by instinct, allowed it. They watched the old man stare into the eyes of the child as tears began to flow down his ancient cheeks. He lifted his eyes to heaven and thanked God for this day. His worn voice vibrated with conviction:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation…”

Reluctantly, Simeon handed the child back to Mary. He looked into her eyes for the longest time as if judging whether to say what was in his heart. Mary returned his look and nodded the slightest bit, letting him know that she wanted to hear whatever it was he had to say. He prophesied more about Jesus;:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign which will be spoken against

And he added this, just to Mary:

“…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”

She returned his gaze as if she needed to hear more.

“…that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, thought Mary, we must know the hearts of people. Some will be trustworthy but others… Her thoughts broke off. There was no way to see what was ahead.

His mission completed, Simeon sighed and turned to look at his friend, Anna. As if on cue, she joined their little group.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-35 NKJV
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I, like Simeon, have promises from You. Some of them I enjoy every day; others seem long in coming. Grow my faith through the hearing of Your Word. Encourage my heart through my relationships with my brothers and sisters in You. I will rehearse Your promises in worship. I will keep constant my remembrance of Your blessings in thanksgiving. Tune my heart to each day’s music and train me eyes to see each day’s potential. In these ways, I will walk in Your steps and be ready when my promise comes to me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light
Words: Johann von Rist (trans. John Troutbeck) Music: Johann Schop

1. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light,and usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with affright,but hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be;
the pow’r of Satan breaking, our peace eternal making.

2. Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth–the God of might, our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell, our God with us, Immanuel;
the night of darkness ending, our fallen race befriending.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 24, 2017: “Reign”

Reign

The Birth of Christ was both an ending and a beginning.
It was the ending of the Old Covenant for Jesus would be the final Lamb. It was the beginning of the New Covenant for Jesus would be the Mediator of it—Redeemer, Life-giver, Lord of Life, Master of death, hell, and the grave, Healer, Baptizer, and King of kings forever. The prophet was specific in his measurement of the scope of Messiah’s Kingdom—

  • The government shall will be upon His shoulder.
  • Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
  • Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom…forever!

What Mary Pondered
Dr. Luke tells us that the testimony of the shepherds when they returned from their mission through Bethlehem to tell everyone about Jesus caused her to think deeply about events unfolding before her. This tells us much about her. She was no shallow person caught up in events beyond her control. She was invested in the plan of God. Surely this was the effect of two things which she was the first to experience:

  • Jesus was living in her and,
  • she had been “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit.

In these ways, Mary was the first of those to be called Christians, those who live life with the giver of life inside and who are informed and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit within. Simeon would recognize this in the days to come when he prophesied over Jesus: Mary’s heart would cause her to feel things more deeply than others.

It is little wonder that this lady has fired the imaginations of believers throughout history. While there is no occasion to elevate her to the level of divinity, there is much we can ponder in our hearts as we think of her.

Soon all the worshipers were gone.
All was quiet and the Child was asleep. Mary and Joseph took turns sleeping and keeping watch through the night. They had so much to think about. As the morning broke, Mary slept and Joseph studied the sleeping faces he loved so much. How could one man’s heart hold so much love? When she awoke to feed Jesus, Joseph considerately turned his back. They slowly began to talk about all that had happened. They laughed at the clumsy shepherds so full of joy and glowing with angel-shine. They were in awe of the wise men and their amazing gifts, giving thanks to God for his provision. Having rehearsed all these marvels, they began to think about what might lie ahead for Jesus, sleeping now between them.

Just how will he be a king?
The only mental pictures they had of rulers were the King in Jerusalem and the Emperor in Rome. How would Jesus fit into those frames? Surely He would not rule the way they do.  Would they someday trade this stable or the house in Nazareth for a palace? Ponder though they might, they could not imagine themselves in the trappings of earthly power.

They knew the truth of the Scriptures, the prophecies of old had become their life circumstances. Somehow, little Jesus, their son, would be King of kings. He would reign. How could such a wonder be true? It must be both an ending and a beginning.

Scriptures:
Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Psalm 96:10-13
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth.
1 Timothy 6:13-16 NKJV
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
Revelation 19:11-16 NKJV
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Revelation 19:6-7 NKJV
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!
Luke 2:19-20 NKJV
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords, there is none beside You. Your throne is the throne of all creation and You rest easy on it. Multitudes of angels in joyful assembly attend to Your throne with constant worship. “Thousands at Your bidding speed while they also serve who stand and wait.” Wonder of wonders, I am included in the human throng of redeemed worshipers who stand before Your throne! How can it be? And yet it is true. Rule in my heart. Reign in my life! May I always walk in Your grace as I dwell within the realm of the splendor of Your holiness. Hallelujah! The Lord Reigns! Amen.

Songs:
Joy to the World
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: G.F. Handel

1. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.

4. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.

Jesus Shall Reign
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Anonymous

1. Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2. To him shall endless prayer be made, and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise with every morning sacrifice.

3. People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.

4. Blessings abound where’er he reigns: the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest, and all who suffer want are blest.

5. Let every creature rise and bring the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again, and earth repeat the loud amen.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 23, 2017: “Gifts”

Gifts

The tradition of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas comes from the gifts at the manger.
In the gifts present in the stable that holy night we see the whole Gospel Story:

  • Gold represented the birth of the King of kings.
  • Frankincense spoke of the way of worship Jesus would open for each of us.
  • Myrrh signified that Jesus was the Anointed One, the Christ, the Savior of the World.

In the light of all this, the gift of the heart is the only reasonable gift we can give this Christmas.

The Gift of the Heart
The heart is the most important gift I can bring to the Lord. If my heart is proud, it is not ready yet to be given. I need to expose it to the Word and presence of the Lord for softening. If my heart is full of unholy things, I need to fill it with truth as a proper gift to the King. Jesus would later say that a spoiled heart could only present corrupt worship.

Gold
Gold has value as a medium of exchange—commerce moves when gold changes hands. The gold of the wise men was needed by the King and His family in the days ahead. They had taxes to pay and a trip to Egypt to finance. Gold was a beautiful and practical gift for the Child.

Gold is also a symbol of royalty. Kings deal in gold.

  • They bank it as the measure of their wealth.
  • They build their palaces with it, decorating their surroundings with significant reminders of their worth.
  • They adorn their bodies with gold.

When the wise men gave gold to the Holy Family, their gift spoke eloquently of true royalty. All the kings of the earth should bow before this King!

Frankincense
Less familiar to us than gold is the gift of frankincense. The resin was added to sacrifices when they were burned before the Lord. Therefore, frankincense was seen as an aid to worship and prayer. It produced the atmosphere associated with the Tabernacle and the Temple. It is understood to be a component in the bowls containing the prayers of the saints in the book of Revelation.

Myrrh
In ancient times this spice was a major component in the anointing oil. With this gift the wise men declared that Jesus was the anointed One, the Christ of God. It was also used in the preparation of bodies for burial. This gift was a recognition that the Child was the Sin-bearer, The Lamb of God, born to die and to live again.

Such Meaningful Gifts
From these facts we see how important our prayers of worship and petition are as gifts to the Lord. They are sweet to the senses of the Lord Himself. The greatest gift of God was one offered by shepherd and king alike—the gift of the heart.

Scriptures:
Matthew 2:11 NKJV
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
1 Chronicles 16:28-30 NKJV
Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved.
Isaiah 60:1-3; 6 NKJV
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. … They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.
Leviticus 2:1-3 NKJV
‘When anyone offers a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
Revelation 8:1-4 NKJV
When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me be more impressed with the simple gift of the heart than I am with great riches or ancient symbols no matter how full of meaning. When I give you my heart, it becomes a gift of gold. When I offer to You my sacrifice of praise, as frankincense did the offerings of old, a pure heart makes my gift a sweet-smelling savor to You. I want the prayers of my heart to be scented with myrrh, a deep appreciation for the cost of my ready access to Your presence. You opened heaven to me by the tearing of Your body, the riven veil. Lord, may You never have occasion to say to me, “With your lips you draw near but your heart is far from me.” Lord, Jesus, here is my heart; make it whole! For Your Glory, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Can I Give Him?
Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti; Music: Don Cason

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 22, 2017: “Manger”

Manger

Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus were not alone for very long.
The first Christian worship service was about to happen in that stable with a manger as the central focus. The object of worship was not the manger but its contents—“the little Lord Jesus.” Perhaps this is the first lesson we should learn—it isn’t the building or the stage or the setting or the leaders or anything or anyone else who is at the center of our worship. It must be the Lord Jesus.

Shepherds
The shepherds were the first to arrive, the faces aglow with star dust and their hearts brimming with the praises heaven taught them. They had no gifts to bring beyond their joyful hearts but these were more than adequate. When they sought entrance to the stable there must have been something about them to allow Joseph to grant them such a privilege. Otherwise no good husband would countenance such an intrusion at such a moment. Perhaps it was their testimony of angels for both Joseph and Mary could identify the symptoms of an angelic visitation. At any rate Joseph granted them passage.

They each one bowed to Mary and stretched their shepherd necks to see the child she was holding. The dim light in the stable seemed aided somehow by gentle illumination from undetermined sources as if there were star dust here as well. When they saw the little One, taking turns reluctantly, each shepherd began to weep. Past sins were remembered, repented of, and forgotten in the presence of this little One. Peace flooded each soul as tears rolled through deep smiles. Mary and Joseph somehow understood of all this, for they felt it, too.

Kings
Noises from outside broke the spell of this revere. Joseph investigated to find a large caravan crowding into the space around the stable. A bright star seemed to be leading them, filling the entrance to the stable with light reminiscent of angels. Three leaders of this entourage met Joseph and explained their quest. They seemed to Joseph to be in a hurry. When Joseph invited them to come in, they each retrieved gifts from their servants and cautiously entered the stable.

Quickly, wiping away their tears, the shepherds made room for the kings, feeling woefully unworthy. Each king, in a predetermined, well-rehearsed order, presented his gift with a little speech carefully written and recited. When the ceremony was completed, silence fell on this impromptu but long-planned congregation.

The Baby Jesus
In the silence, the Baby Jesus began to cry. His soft cries stuck the kings and shepherds like hammer blows to the heart. Here was the Good Shepherd. Here was the King of kings. Stiffened backs began to relax as others bent low by social circumstance began to firm. Shepherd’s staff or kingly crown became superfluous. Cautiously, kings and shepherds looked at each other as a carpenter and his wife looked on in wonder. One king, perhaps their leader, extended his hand to one of the shepherds. The shepherd responded in kind. The others followed their lead and social barriers crumbled. Economic definitions of worth were discarded in the presence of the wealth of heaven weeping in a manger.

Today, as in that first Christian worship service, True Worship humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly and equalizes everyone in the presence of Jesus.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:15-20 NKJV
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Matthew 2:9-12 NKJV
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, forgive us for  posturing when we should be praying. Help us to hear Your voice calling us to repentance and humility. Banish pride from our minds and haughtiness from our hearts. As we worship You in spirit and truth, do Your personal work in each heart. Bring down those of us who are mighty in our own eyes. Lift up those who have been cast down by life and circumstance. Heal those who see themselves as worthless. Teach us the lessons of the manger. For Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen

Song:
The First Noel
Words: Anonymous; Music: Traditional English Carol

1. The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.

2. They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east, beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.

Refrain

3. And by the light of that same star
three Wise Men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went.

Refrain

4. This star drew nigh to the northwest,
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest;
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay.

Refrain

5. Then entered in those Wise Men three,
full reverently upon the knee,
and offered there, in his presence,
their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved