December 23 “Gifts”

Gifts

The tradition of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas comes from the gifts at the manger.
In the gifts presented 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 corrupted 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 “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 that allowed 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

December 21 “Star”

Star

Everyone stares at the stars.
It is human nature to lift our heads, tilting them till we almost fall over backwards, to see the endless fields of stars above. If we venture out beyond the city lights, the velvet sky becomes darker and the stars shine brighter. More of them come out to greet us. The Milky Way shimmers overhead as we outline the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper and marvel at Orion’s Belt. On summer nights we lie on our backs to stare at the stars, hoping to catch one of them plunging toward the earth in fire.

Wise men study stars.
It is an obsession. In ancient times they had only the naked eye while modern times added lenses, telescopes, radio waves, and now computers to aid their vision all toward the single purpose of seeing more stars more clearly. Whether astrologers (mystics) or astronomers (scientists) they charted the stars as they appeared to move across the heavens. This helped them see the differences between stars and planets. When it became known that the earth was turning beneath them and not the stars moving above them, this did not diminish their fascination.

Stars seem to have meaning.
Both the mystics and the scientists assigned meanings to the stars and their alignment as if the dim light they threw to earth was intended to deliver messages to mankind. A Hebrew prophet employed this passion as he pointed to the coming of Messiah. Balaam said this:

Numbers 24:17 NKJV
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel…”

It was enough to provide hope to certain Wise Men in pagan lands, far from Israel.

Wise Men from the East
Few details of these visitors are given in the scriptures so tradition has filled in the blanks.

  • Were there three of them? There were three gifts.
  • Were they kings from three countries or three leaders from one country which seems more logical?
  • We even have their names: Caspar, Balthazar, and their leader, Melchior. True or not, this is very helpful to those of us who would tell their story.
  • How could these Gentile leaders be more sensitive to heavenly signs than the leaders of God’s people in Jerusalem? How did they know the Hebrew Scriptures? One likely explanation is that they had copies of the Law and the Prophets left over from the Babylonian captivity of Israel.

However it happened, they saw a star, a new one, not on any of their carefully drawn charts.
Their hunger for the One True God was sharpened by the appearance of this star. As it moved, it drew them to follow. Schedules were changed, priorities were reshuffled, and significant gifts were selected all to allow a quest for the child to be born. This was a star to be followed. Thus a caravan struck out for the western horizon, a newborn King to find and worship.

Scriptures:
Numbers 24:17 NKJV
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
Luke 1:78-79 NKJV
Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Matthew 2:1-11 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.
2 Peter 1:16-21 NKJV
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 22:16-17 NKJV
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, You are the Dayspring from on High. You are the Bright and Morning Star. You are the Star of my quest. To You I bring my finest gifts. To You I bow in adoration. It is Your Story that I tell. Help me never to look to lower lights but to be always guided by You. You have called me out of darkness into Your marvelous light. I will arise and shine for You, my Light, have come. Deep darkness lies upon this earth, but You shine on Your people giving us light. I organize my life and this day around my quest to follow You, Star of wonder! Amen and Amen.

Song:
We Three Kings
Words and Music: John H. Hopkins

1. We three kings of Orient are;  bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,  following yonder star.

Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.

2. Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.

Refrain

3. Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,  worshiping God on high.

Refrain

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Refrain

5 Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 20 “Shepherds”

Shepherds

Someone else owned the sheep; shepherds merely cared for them.
If there was an economic ladder, they occupied the bottom rung. It was a “starter job” providing the young with employment. Former shepherds went on to more important occupations and kept their humble beginnings a well-guarded secret. A few saw being a shepherd as a satisfying life and stayed with it to old age. They loved being out of doors and the time it gave them to think. When asked, they shared their wisdom with the young and each kept a mental list of those who had gone on to bigger things.

There was always King David to think about.
They sang his songs, the songs of their hero, born like them, in Bethlehem. He wrote them in these very fields. He even claimed that the Lord Himself was the Shepherd of us all. They sang to the sheep and to each other, sharing their own kind of riches: peace, quiet, faith, and a certain confidence in the morning to come.

There were predators out there in the dark beyond the safety of the fire. The sheep bunched together to defend against them. Any hint on the wind of the lion or the wolf would radiate through the flock altering the shepherds to the danger. The system worked. From generation to generation wealth was measured by the size and health of the flocks a rich man owned. He owned them but shepherds cared for them.

This night was to be so different.
The songs were the same. The noise of the flock was as it had always been. No predators stalked the sheep out there in the dark. There was nothing unusual to report. Their thoughts drifted to dreams of what life might hold for the young and memories of what life held for the old. The present moment held little interest.

Suddenly light flooded the camp, pouring from the skies above them. Shepherd and sheep alike considered running but there was no place to run. From the brightest point a figure began to form—a man, tall and powerful—within the light but also made of light or something like it. A face formed as the man began to speak. Music, distant but distinct, accompanied the voice. They could not understand the angel’s language at first but as they listened the words became clear as did the message.

“Do not be afraid… good tidings of great joy …. For there is born … in the city of David a Savior… You will find a Babe … lying in a manger.”

Before the shepherds could process the words of the one angel, the sky was filled with them. They sang in a plethora of languages but among them was a clear declaration:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

The light, the singing, the glory all began to swirl in extreme celebration. As powerful as it was there was peace in the middle of it and smiles replaced the fearful looks on the shepherds’ faces. When it seemed it would go on forever, it all began to fade and was soon gone leaving the peaceful night untouched. In the silence that followed, shepherds, from the youngest to the oldest, decided that the thing to do was to obey the angel. They left the sheep and struck out for Bethlehem.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 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.

Prayer:
Father, we cannot fully understand why You chose to announce the birth of Your Son to shepherds but we draw from it certain truths. Lord Jesus, You came for all of us, from the least to the greatest, from the very rich to the very poor. We rejoice in this condescension. You love us all! You came to redeem us all! Because of this, each of us has a future. Each of us is a part of Your plan; we each have a purpose. Help me live up to that purpose today! In Jesus’ Name! Amen.

Song:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
Words: Nahum Tate; Music: G.F. Handel

1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.

2. “Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.

3. “To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:

4. “The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid.”

5. Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:

6. “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 19 “Angels”

Angels

Angels were not born; they came to be when God spoke them into existence.
The birth of Jesus in the Bethlehem barn was not the first for the angels standing guard to witness. They all had been assigned to attend the birth of the children of God’s chosen people. Gabriel was there when Eve gave birth to Cain and to Able. He had guarded the infant Moses from birth to the tiny ark on the Nile to the palaces of Pharaoh. It’s what angels do. God’s love for people would not allow Him to leave a woman uncared for at such a painful and crucial time.

On the occasion of this birth, more than one angel attended.

The attention of the hosts of the Heaven was focused on the humble shack out back of the inn in Bethlehem. If those evil angels who prowled the earth had wanted to see these events, they could never have broken through the angelic cordon surrounding Mary and Joseph. No devilish spies had been able to penetrate the perimeter established around the mother of the Lord of Hosts. If angels breathe air the way we do, they were holding their breath with each moan and wince that escaped Mary’s lips. Their angelic muscles contracted with hers. This was perhaps the most human moment any of them would ever know. Why? For this was heaven invading earth, divinity embracing humanity, the Word of God entering the world as flesh, eternity merging with time, and both Spirit and Truth struggling to appear in one person.

The Mission
Mary’s labor was not long but she was not spared the pain all women know just because her Child was from the Holy Spirit. Such indulgences would never be hers. She would know the fullness of a mother’s pain from this moment until she visited a tomb some 30 years later. Her mission, like that of her Son, was to take the pain and turn it into blessing.

Joseph’s assistance was loving but there is so little a man can do for a woman in labor.
He can hold her hand and return the fierce grip of her contractions with his own counter force. In a masculine effort to encourage her, he can smile when she cannot. The effectiveness of this is probably just an illusion that comforts only him. He can pray. Joseph prayed. He somehow felt the presence of the angel who had visited each of them months before. Yes, there was a divine comfort in this awful place, unseen, but keenly felt. It was what the angels could do for Mary.

Finally, it happened.
A long sigh, a final push, and Jesus was born. A moment of deep silence, as the boy filled his lungs with the atmosphere of earth, was followed by his first cry. His tiny tears brought broad smiles to Mary and Joseph but their joy was overmatched by the hosts of heaven. Angels danced suspended in the air. They sang “Alleluia!” with all their strength and their strength is substantial. It was as if the floor of heaven had dropped spilling angels to the earth in raucous praise. It was like a friendly thunderstorm of worship lighting the earth in flashes of glory unseen by any on earth except a few humble shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:26-38 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the protection of angels. At both the crucial and routine moments of life they guard us from harm. Working in league with the Holy Spirit who abides within the believer, Your strength and Your truth come to me just when I need them. I stand amazed at Your amazing salvation plan! You came from heaven to earth to rescue and redeem us! No wonder angels sang! Help me join their joy today, walking in the newness of life You won for me. No longer bound by sin, I am free to live rejoicing. Hallelujah! Amen.

Song:
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Words: James Montgomery; Music: Henry T. Smart

1 Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Refrain:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king.

2 Shepherds, in the field abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing; yonder shines the infant light:

Refrain

3 Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of nations; ye have seen his natal star:

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 17 “Bethlehem”

Bethlehem

As old as religion itself is the concept of “sacred space.”
The Old Covenant was permeated with the idea of places where God would meet with people who reached out to Him. The patriarchs built their altars of sacrifice and God met with them there. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was a movable space, no less sacred for its portability. God’s presence was manifested there. When the singers and players made “one sound” to praise and honor the Lord, King Solomon’s splendid Temple was saturated by a cloud of God’s glory. The glory was so thick the priests could not stand up to perform their duties. This was the pinnacle of sacred space and would remain so until certain events would unfold in the vicinity of place called Bethlehem.

The City of David
Bethlehem was called the City of David. He was born there and anointed to be king there. The fields near Bethlehem were his fields before they were occupied by shepherds when Jesus was born. In them he killed the lion and the bear in preparation for his battle with Goliath. He never lost his love for Bethlehem. When King Saul pursued him and David was hiding in a cave, he remembered the sweet waters from a well in Bethlehem. His men risked their lives to bring him some. Later Ruth and Boaz would meet in the fields near Bethlehem to continue the Line of David which would eventually include both Mary and Joseph. When Rome called for a census Mary and Joseph had to make the journey to Bethlehem.

Big things happen in small places.
After the days of Ruth and Boaz, Bethlehem fell into a well-deserved obscurity. The Prophet Micah, however, exalts the little town to the pinnacle of prophetic importance.

Micah 5:2-5
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

This little town, these peaceful pastures and fruitful fields, will be the birthplace of Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords. This town whose name means “house of bread” will produce the One who is called the Bread of Life, David’s Royal Son.

Sacred Space indeed.

Places of Worship Today
Just as Jehovah met with Abraham and the other patriarchs at their altars of sacrifice, the Lord meets with people today when they gather in the name of Jesus. Our praise makes that place a sacred space. Just as the glory of the Lord rested on the Tabernacles of David and Moses and filled the Temple of Solomon, we can know the Shekinah of God when we call upon His name in truth. In small numbers or large, the Lord inhabits and is enthroned upon the praises of His people.

Let us make our journey to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to at last be filled with the Bread of Heaven. Let us make our way to Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Savior so that He can be born in us. The star is leading. The angels are singing. The journey is underway.

Scriptures:
Micah 5:2 NKJV
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”
Matthew 2:5-8 NKJV
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.”
1 Samuel 16:1-5 NKJV
Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord .’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
2 Samuel 23:13-17 NKJV
Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord , that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it.These things were done by the three mighty men.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NKJV
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Psalm 22:3 KJV/NKJV
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Matthew 18:20 NKJV
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, just as you blessed little Bethlehem with Your entrance into this world, You have blessed my heart with Your entrance there. Now, miracle of miracles, my heart is sacred space. Manifest Your glory there. Let me join the songs of angels today in worship as they sing before Your throne. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” I gather with the saints in Your holy name to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the Living Waters. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.

Song:
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Words: Phillips Brooks; Music: Lewis H. Redner

1. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep  the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth  the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

3. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 15 “Prophetess”

Prophetess

The Bible refers to Anna as a Prophetess.
In the days of the Christmas story, the Temple had a women’s court. Women could not be priests or Levites of course, but they could pray. When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.  Heaven also speaks. This elderly saint had no family from her long-departed husband so her full attention went to prayer and fasting. The life she chose in her advanced age was one of service to God; the scripture makes this plain. God is faithful to reward those who serve Him from a pure heart.

The Presence of the Lord
Years after Anna had gone on to her reward in Heaven, Jesus would come to these same outer courts and find commerce and politics but not consecration and prayer. He would call it a Den of Thieves. Even though this was surely the case in Anna’s day, she ignored the money-changing and power-grabbing and focused her heart on God. She disciplined her frail body with fasting and empowered her heroic spirit with prayer. Since God is faithful, we can be sure that He granted her the sweetness of His presence. In the midst of chicanery Anna found Shekinah.

The Word of the Lord
Anna arose to pray, as did her counterpart Simeon, seven times each day. Like him, she had memorized the psalms and much of the prophets. She used the holy words to call upon God for a Redeemer. Her treble voice graced the long hours of the night like a song on the wind in a meadow. Indeed, it was as if she felt a wind even within the sheltered walls of the Temple. She felt the winds of the Spirit of God stirring in her heart. Messiah was near—very soon to “suddenly arrive” at the Temple as Malachi predicted. The ancient words of God sounded in her hearing as if freshly spoken.

A New Covenant
Anna and Simeon knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and they were longing for Messiah. Perhaps they sensed that Messiah would bring a New Covenant. Jesus, the Christ, would indeed bring a New Covenant, one made in His own blood. He would be the final Lamb. A new type of worship would be instituted in His victory over death. Instead of worship in time and place, New Covenant worship would consist of spirit and truth. These two saints can be seen as the incarnations of Truth and Spirit:

  • Simeon, the priestly prophet preaching through his prayer-dreams for the truth of God to bring repentance and restoration, and
  • Anna, the praying prophetess, calling on God in effectual, fervent prayer—prayer in the Spirit—that, even then, availed much.

Unseen by the public and ignored by the leaders, this little woman prayed in the Temple for their Redeemer to come.

When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.

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.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Isaiah 44:6-8 NKJV
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'”
Isaiah 59:19-21 NKJV
So shall they fear The name of the Lord from the west, And His glory from the rising of the sun; When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord , “from this time and forevermore.”
Isaiah 60:16-18 NKJV
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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me Anna’s secret! I want to renew my commitment to prayer and to the things of the Spirit of God. I will tune out the noise of this secular age and the clamor of commerce all around me. Help me feel the winds of the Spirit in my heart as she did there in the Temple. Your Spirit is at work. When people of faith pray, You still listen! You still speak when You find us listening in prayer. Help me to dwell in Your presence and to occupy myself with Your mission. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Words: Philip P. Bliss; Music James McGranahan

1 I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me;
on the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

2 I will tell the wondrous story, how my lost estate to save,
in his boundless love and mercy, he the ransom freely gave.
I will praise my dear Redeemer, his triumphant power I’ll tell:
how the victory he gives me over sin and death and hell.

3 I will sing of my Redeemer and his heavenly love for me;
he from death to life has brought me, Son of God, with him to be.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 14 “Priest”

Priest

There is always a faithful remnant, even within the priesthood.
To the old man named Simeon, the priesthood was more than a family business; it was a calling from God. There were specific duties to be performed in a rotation. Each assignment was a joy to fulfill. More than these things, there was a general duty, a daily duty of scripture, prayer, and adoration. With a whole tribe of priests and Levites very few of them actually lived on the Temple grounds. When assigned the specific duties, they occupied temporary residences. Others lived at the Temple as caretakers and representatives of God to the people. A few, Simeon among them, lived close by, perhaps even in a small chamber in outer courts the Temple itself.

The Word of God was Simeon’s occupation.
He had long ago memorized huge portions of the prophets and all of the psalms. It is the duty of old men to know the Scriptures and bring them to bear on the issues of the day. His old heart was troubled and comforted by the Words he quoted in prayer. The spiritual state of the nation and of the Temple troubled him. The promises of Messiah comforted him. Sleep was of little interest to him. He followed the most demanding hours of prayer—seven times a day—rising at appointed times in the night to call upon God for deliverance. He quoted the words of the prophets as if there were a crowd listening to him and he was the prophet himself.

The Temple guards on duty through each night were accustomed to the sounds of preaching coming from Simeon’s little room. They somehow knew that the old man’s prayers and confessions were important even if there were no crowds to hear him, only a few sleepy soldiers. Deep in their hearts they knew that Simeon had the attention of heaven itself.

Simeon Prayed the words of the Prophets.
The Prophet Joel was a favorite source:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming…
Rend your hearts and not your garments…

The Prophet Hosea supplied another prayer:

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord….

The old man could sense in his spirit a stirring in the heart of God. Something was about to happen. Long uttered prayers were about to be answered! Jehovah would hear their prayers and respond…

A Promise Given
Simeon stopped his preaching in midsentence. The listening guards were startled at the sudden silence. Had the old man’s heart finally given out?

In the silence of his obscure chamber Simeon, priest of the Most High God, was given a promise. He would not taste of death until he had seen with his own eyes the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

The rest of that night was spent in silence. A Temple guard looked in on Simeon to see if the end had come for him and found him fully awake. The guard honored the silence just as he had the noisy praying. Somehow he knew that the Hope of Israel was at stake.

“It is time to seek the Lord!”

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-27 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.
Joel 2: 1; 12-19; 28-32 NKJV
Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him — A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. …”And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
Hosea 10:12 NKJV
Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me feel the significance of these times. It is time to break up the fallow ground of my heart, of the church! It is time for all of us to seek the Lord. It is time to sow in righteousness and reap in mercy. Send the rain, O Lord! Let each worship service be both a celebration of joy in that You have come to earth and You are here with us and a solemn assembly wherein the needs of the hour and the demands of the day are pressed upon us by Your Spirit. Pour out Your Spirit as You have promised. The task before us is beyond our human abilities to perform. Let us as Your Holy-Royal Priesthood pray and preach through this long night until the Dayspring from on High dawns in this world. As we rend our hearts and not our garments—do a deep work in us today! Amen and amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 13 “Temple”

The Christmas Story is a story about worship.
Throughout history, God has met people at altars of prayer.

  • The Patriarchs of old made altars of stone to meet with Jehovah.
  • At the Exodus, God gave Israel plans for a portable sanctuary. They built it with these plans using the riches of Egypt and the skills of their own hands. God dwelt among them.
  • King David wanted to build a temple as the meeting place but that would be the job of his son, King Solomon. When the temple was finished, the presence of God filled the place.
  • Generations later because of false hearts and false worship, that temple was destroyed.
  • In less than a century, faithful rebuilders returned from captivity and made another temple as the house of Jehovah.
  • At the time of the Christmas story, King Herod was building a larger, more beautiful temple, not as a place of prayer so much as a political ploy to keep the Jews under Roman control. This would be the temple of Jesus’ day.

Generations of Priests and Levites
With their lineage dating all the way back to the smoking, shaking mountain called Sanai, the men of the tribe of Levi were chosen to be the leaders of worship in the House of God. This heritage affected different men in different ways.

  • Some saw it as a vocation—to care for the House of God and minister to the people.
  • Others saw it as a career—to advance through the system, to climb a ladder to power, prestige, and influence.

The temple in the time of Jesus was occupied by both kinds of men. Some were looking for Messiah but most were looking out for themselves.

The Time Was Coming…
Quietly, in a forgotten corner of Israel, the Messenger of a New Covenant was forming deep in a sanctuary called “Mary.” Jesus would liberate worship from the confines of “time and place” worship and usher in a New Covenant of “Spirit and Truth” worship. The meeting place of God and man would be mobile again, like that blessed tent in the wilderness. Jesus Himself would be the New Temple, His body would be the veil torn to open up a new and living way to the heart of God. Jesus, the Temple, would indeed be taken down but He would rise again in three days.

He would build something called, “the Church,” that would be His resurrected Body in the world, the Habitation of God by His Spirit. It would be impervious to the devices of hell. The tent called the church would displace the palaces of Rome and someday be pitched on every continent of the globe. Jesus, anointed to be all we could ever need, would walk the aisles of each little church with healing in every step. God meets with people at the Body of Christ. All this was about to begin as the Word became a human embryo.

The Christmas Story is a story about worship.

Scriptures:
Exodus 40:34-38 NKJV
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
2 Chronicles 5:11-14 NKJV
And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions), and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets —indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord , saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
Ezra 6:15-18 NKJV
Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.
Malachi 3:1-3 NKJV
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness.
Hebrews 10:19-25 NKJV
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Prayer:
Psalm 43:3-5 ESV
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Amen.

Song:
Oh, the Glory of Your Presence
Words and Music: Steve Fry

Jesus, all glorious, create in us a temple,
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power, So rise within our worship.
Rise upon our praise and let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory, Draw us by Your grace.

Oh the Glory Of your presence!
We, your temple, give you reverence.
So arise from your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in your embrace,
As your presence now fills this place.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 9 “Joseph”

Joseph

Of course he was handsome, the pride of the village of Nazareth.
With never a hint of scandal, never a worry about his future, never a complaint about his craftsmanship, many a mother of daughters in Nazareth had chosen Joseph to be a son-in-law. He arrived at his shop early each day and opened for business. The skill of his hands and his easy manner with clients made his carpenter’s shop a busy place.

On this day the door was closed and he didn’t answer those who called to him from the street. His skillful hands were clasp in a combination of prayer and despair. His friendly manor was now sullen and menacing.

Sometimes circumstances demand that a man do terrible things.
He had not slept since Mary had given him the news of her pregnancy. How can such a thing be? He knew, or he thought he knew, that Mary loved him yet here was evidence that some other man had…had what? Seduced her? Raped her? There was no good answer only the fact that she was with child.

He turned wearily to a small cot and collapsed. His brain was racing at speeds his heart could not match. Her story? More pain. How could he believe it? How could he not believe it? An angel? The stories of angelic visitations were for the Word of God, not for the village of Nazareth! Was she covering for someone? The thought of another man brought Joseph to his feet, pounding a fist into his hand as if it were the face of his rival. He paced the dimensions of the shop. Each finished and unfinished project mocked him, robbed by this intruder of any promise of a future with Mary. Exhausted by this fruitless combat he fell again on the cot, closing his bloodshot eyes as if he could shut out the truth. He knew what he had to do.  As sleep, long abandoned, reclaimed him, there was a single thought. He would  not subject Mary to public shame…

Soon merciful, heavy breathing commanded his frame. His mind finally relaxed as fear retreated to safe distance. He was ready for a visit from Gabriel.

A Dream, an Angel
The scriptures do not name Gabriel but an angel was suddenly commanding the shop. Light emanated from him as did peace, a welcome sensation to Joseph. The angel spoke in a voice deep and reassuring.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

As soon as he had spoken, the angel was gone but the peace he brought remained. Joseph slept the rest of the day. As he slept, a new name often escaped his lips: “Jesus.”

Villagers were amazed that the industrious Joseph slept all day in his shop. It was only the beginning of their amazement.

Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
Matthew 2:13-15 NKJV
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.
Matthew 2:19-23 NKJV
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, let me learn from Joseph! He was a good man who was faced with an impossible situation. Through the trial he kept his faith in You! He believed the story he was told by Mary and by the angel. Help me to face facts but keep my faith in You and in those I love. It would be wonderful to be visited by an angel in a dream, but I have Your Word in my heart and in my hands. I have Your Spirit in residence in my life. There is no dilemma I will ever face that has no answer from You. There is no trial I will ever endure that is beyond Your strength. Help me, awake or asleep, to keep Your holy Name on my lips. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
That Beautiful Name

Words: Jean Perry; Music: Mary Johnston Camp

1. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That angels bro’t down to earth;
They whispered it low One night long ago,
To a maiden of lowly birth.

Refrain:
That beautiful name, That beautiful name,
From sin has power to free us!
That beautiful name, That wonderful name,
That matchless name is Jesus!

2. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That unto a Babe was given;
The stars glittered bright Thro’out that glad night,
And angels praised God in heav’n.

Refrain

3. The One of that name, My Savior became,
My Savior of Calvary;
My sins nailed Him there, My burdens He bare.
He suffered all this for me.

Refrain

4. I love that blest name, That wonderful name,
Made higher than all in heaven;’Twas whispered, I know,
In my heart long ago,
To Jesus my life I’ve given.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved