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

December 8 “Gabriel”

Gabriel

Gabriel means “Champion of God.” He stands in the presence of God.
Thus, he identified himself to Zacharias. Gabriel expected that his station in heaven would make what he said on earth believable. It should have! Zacharias paid the price in silence.

in the Bible, angels are unnamed most of the time. They appear when needed, perform the task given to them, and disappear without further announcement. Gabriel is mentioned by name in three instances.

  1. He assists the prophet Daniel in understanding the will of God in his important prophecy.
  2. He announces the birth of John the Baptist to the priest Zacharias.
  3. He visits Mary with news that she is the chosen virgin who will conceive and bear a son.

An angel, probably Gabriel, comes to Joseph in a dream to comfort him and instruct him to marry Mary.

Angels are Witnesses.
They are witnesses to the great events in history from creation to the Annunciation, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Empty Tomb, to the ascension. The hosts of heaven witnessed the creation as “the morning stars sang together.”  Angels have always been there. Gabriel was there:

  • From the sad exile of Adam and Eve from Eden,
  • to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
  • to the moment when Moses commanded the sea with a shepherds staff, angels witnessed all the dealings of God with mankind, and
  • to the towering, flaming majesty of Sinai.
  • They observed the faithless trek through the wilderness and
  • One of them, perhaps Gabriel, the Captain of the Lord’s Hosts, came to Joshua before the conquering of Canaan.

Angels are Participants.
Throughout Old Testament history, angels are important to the unfolding story. They are the messengers of God visiting human beings with the knowledge of the mind of God. In the Gospels, they are vital to the ministry of Jesus.

  • Angels ministered to Jesus at points of need.
  • The armies of heaven exercised amazing restraint as they watched the Lord’s Passion.
  • Angels rolled away the stone at the tomb and spoke with the faithful women who came there in grief and left in joy.
  • At the ascension, an angel promised that this same Jesus would come again in the clouds of glory.
  • In the Book of Acts, angels rescued saints and delivered messages from God.

The book of Psalms teaches that angels are camped around each believer, guarding and guiding us through this earthly life.

Angels are Worshipers.
For all their angelic missions to earth, their primary purpose is praise. The Throne Room of God is described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation chapters 4-5. Angels worship God, day and night, without rest or pause for this is “the glory due His name” they are instructed to give in Psalm 29. The writer to the Hebrews says that this Zion is a place of “innumerable angels in joyful assembly.” When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, Gabriel was standing nearby. In John’s Revelation drama of the “One Who Sits upon the Throne,” Gabriel is in the supporting cast. Surely for Gabriel and all the angels, worship turned to wonder as Jesus laid aside His divinity to become a child in a cattle stall. No wonder angels sang to shepherds. No wonder the heavens danced with song and the earth glowed with glory! “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Psalm 34:7 NKJV
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.
Job 38:4-7 NKJV
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Daniel 8:15-16 NKJV
Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.”
Luke 1:19 NKJV
And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
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. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Matthew 1:19-21 NKJV
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.”

Prayer:
Calls to Worship from the Psalms
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.
Psalm 95:1-7 NKJV
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.
Psalm 99:5 NKJV
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool — He is holy.

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

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 7 “Mary”

Mary

Of course she was pretty, the flower of the village of Nazareth.
Mothers of sons had long had their eyes on her for a daughter in law. Young men of the village were in awe of her so they left her alone. Other girls wanted to be her friend. She was bright and thoughtful with a ready laugh. That tireless young carpenter, Joseph, always made time for her. They seemed to go together as if made for each other and no one was surprised when they announced their engagement. There was a sense of pride in Nazareth that their little town could produce such a fine couple. Their joy in each other radiated through the village. No one could see the clouds gathering and the storm that was just ahead.

A Disturbance of the Peace
Alone in her room late at night Mary was still awake, too happy to sleep! Her candle-lit room was suddenly invaded by a light the likes of which she had never seen. She shrank back but the light filled the room and there was no place to hide. In the center of the light a figure slowly emerged, a man, taller than any she had ever seen, and as imposing as the light was blinding. If there had been someplace to run, Mary would not have, for she was as fascinated as she was afraid. Music was sounding, distant but distinct, strange harmonies and melodies. From the center of the music came a voice, deep and thrilling, almost singing with the music.

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

The light, the music, the voice, the tall figure, it was more than Mary could process. “The Lord is with you…” was the part that lodged in her brain and it sent a shock of fear through her.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

“Favor with God.” What could that mean? The answer was not long in coming.

“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.”

Mary thought of Joseph. She protested her innocence.

“How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

The words of the angel were specific and enigmatic at the same time.

“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.”

Overshadowed!

He went on to tell her of her elderly cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy and ended his message this way:

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary could only whisper but all of heaven heard her:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

He faded from view, the light and the lingering music dying away until the room was left untouched as if nothing at all had happened. But something indeed had happened. Mary suddenly inhaled a deep breath and held it. Her brown eyes were wide with wonder.

Overshadowed, she thought as she whispered, “For with God nothing is impossible.”

Scriptures:
Isaiah 7:14-15 NKJV
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Luke 1:26-38
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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways are higher than our ways. They are past finding out. Your plans for us are always only partially given; there are details that You alone can see. While these unseen things surprise us when they occur, You are never surprised. Help me learn from Mary. She kept herself from evil so that when Your plan for her was revealed she was able to receive it. She was guided by Your encounter with her; You changed her life. I have encountered You in prayer, in corporate worship, in Your Word, and in the holy fellowship of friends who follow You. Guide me, Lord. Help me be overshadowed by Your Spirit so that I might bear You to my world in my life. With You this is not impossible. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart
Traditional Chorus

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my Heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 2 “Caesar”

Caesar

Jesus was born into an Israel smothered in the might and mire of Rome.
She was no longer a free nation as in the days of David and Solomon; she was a vassal state of an evil empire. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the pax romana, the “Roman Peace.”

“Keep your local religion,” said the emperor, “but have no real king but Caesar. Keep your religion indoors and there will be no trouble. Take it to the streets with treasonous little messiah-bands and there will be trouble like you have never seen. The Canaanite tribes, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, all those who conquered you before, will pale to distant memory under the iron boot of Rome.”

The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple. This political gift to the people, shining golden in the sun, guarded a secret, secluded, empty, Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost centuries before. Now the Roman palace, Fortress Antonia, was attached to the Temple. King Herod was a puppet king of Rome’s choosing. His real job was to keep the cantankerous priests, “prophets,” and zealots from upsetting the delicate balance of tyranny and temple worship.

A Delicate Balance Indeed
Beneath both the tyranny and the temple worship was the threat and the hope of Messiah, a king of the Jews to challenge Caesar in faraway Rome.

  • Messiah was a minor threat to Rome not to be tolerated.
  • The promise of Messiah was a major hope for the remnant in Israel, those who sincerely prayed the psalms, gathered for the feasts and festivals, and called every day on Jehovah, the God Who keeps covenant. “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Among these faithful were an aging priest with a promise from God, Simeon, who duties in the Temple were performed to perfection, the precision of a well-rehearsed faith, and an elderly woman named Anna whose tender heart leapt like that of a bride at the thought of Messiah. Their daily faithfulness in prayer was a towering threat to Rome of which Caesar knew nothing.

Soldiers in the streets, a Roman Governor in charge, a puppet, wicked King on a pretender’s throne, a hollow religion in a golden Temple, this was the world into which Jesus would come. He would sound no trumpets at His approach—angels would sing to shepherds. He would convene no council—wise-men from the East would follow a star. He would ignore the rich and powerful and choose a carpenter and his espoused wife as His caretakers.

If Caesar had known it, he would have been sleepless in his royal chamber and uneasy on his throne for the King of kings was on His way!

Scriptures:
Luke 2:1-3 NKJV
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Matthew 2:1-2 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.”
Matthew 12:3-8 NKJV
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your story is so amazing! You came into a world as politically confusing as our world is today—yet You came and brought truth to those who heard You. You came into a world as violent as this one, yet You gave peace to those who welcomed You. You came to our darkness bringing light and to our pain bringing joy. Help me today to continue Your mission: truth, peace, light, and joy to this deceived, troubled, dark and despairing world. Come into my heart as You came into the Roman world. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
How Should a King Come?
Words: Carol Owens; Music: Jimmy Owens

1. How should a King come?
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.

2. How should a King come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

3. How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

Chorus:
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 1 “Incarnation”

Incarnation

Mystery of mysteries! Wonder of wonders! God in human form; how can it be?
Greater than any natural wonder found anywhere on this earth or in the cosmos is the wonder of the Christchild!—The Creator God, Himself confined to swaddling clothes and lying in a manger! Theologians call this mystery, the Incarnation.

The Apostles marveled at this truth:

  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John
  • “…He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Paul

The Incarnation—“The Word Made Flesh”
What does it mean? The implications are staggering:

  • The eternal One entered into time.
  • The One who existed everywhere all at once, now existed only there and only then.
  • The One whose life was impervious to all destructive forces took on a human body that was subject to hunger, weariness, temptation, age, and death.
  • The One who knew everything limited Himself to only what a human can know. We who know so little cannot begin to imagine what it was like for the Son to lay aside omniscience to know only what an infant knows, to understand only what a child understands, to realize only what a teenager realizes, to operate only on the knowledge of a typical young man of the village.

The Apostle Paul calls this humility but there is no word strong enough to express such condescension. He is our example of humility, a goal so high we can never reach it on our own.

The Indwelling Spirit
With the Incarnation, Jesus knew only what people of His day knew except—and it is a colossal exception—that He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knew all, just as He knows all today. Jesus walked through this life as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit—the perfect example of the life He would provide New Covenant believers to come.

The Incarnation Continues
As we begin our journey through the Christmas story we must remember that, unlike Calvary, the Incarnation is not a “once and for all” truth. It is meant to be repeated in each of us every day. In our humble, holy lives, we too must empty our hearts of pride, rid our methods of power that corrupts, and look for ways to serve not rule.

  • May the artist incarnate eternal truths into works of his/her imagination.
  • May the craftsman invest the presence of the Divine into functional works of his/her skillful hands.
  • May the ultimate reward of both artist and craftsman be the smile of the Lord Jesus felt deep in the heart.

How is this done? Through our humility and the Spirit’s ministry! “Let this same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in You!” Paul demands. We have the Spirit abiding within to help us and we have the “Word made flesh” to guide us.

These December devotions are exercises in incarnation.  I will attempt to lift the characters from the printed page and breath ordinary life into them.  Join me every morning in December!

Scriptures:
Philippians 2:5-11 Amplified Bible
Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross! Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John’s Testimony of Christ
John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:10-14
From 7 Days of Prayer and the Book of Common Prayer
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your condescension! You left heaven to come rescue the likes of me. Forgive me for ever counting Your love and grace as worthless. Holy Spirit, focus my heart on the manger! Help me sing with the angels, praise with the shepherds, worship with the kings and wonder with all creation at the mystery in the manger! Be born in my heart, O Holy One, as You were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. Help me incarnate Your eternal truth into my time-locked life. Walk in my footsteps. Speak through my voice. Humble me, humble me, humble me, so that Your life and love may be all that is seen and heard in me. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Down from His Glory
Words: William E. Booth-Clibborn; Music: Eduardo Di Capua

1. Down from His glory, Ever living story,
My God and Savior came, And Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, To His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony.

Refrain:
O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.

2. What condescension, Bringing us redemption;
That in the dead of night, Not one faint hope in sight,
God, gracious, tender, Laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Refrain

3. Without reluctance, Flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, Revealed the hidden plan,
O glorious mystery Sacrifice of Calv’ry,
And now I know Thou art the great I Am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 1 2018: “Jerusalem”

Jerusalem

As a child growing up in an observant Jewish home, Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times.
This time, however, would be different. This was not a pilgrimage to the Temple for worship. This was the march to the cross. The men would see more than the usual spectacle of sacrificial lambs and goats and pigeons. They would witness the slaughter of the Lamb of God. The words of Isaiah would no longer be an obscure prophecy of indeterminate meaning. They would witness the exact fulfilment of the prophet’s words concerning Messiah.

  • His face, so kind and handsome that it flashed friendly flames when He spoke of the Kingdom, would be so marred by the hands of men that there would be nothing attractive left in it.
  • His lean, strong body, shaped by hard work and long hours in the carpenter’s shop would be bruised and pierced, hammered and battered beyond recognition.
  • Even His closest followers would turn away from His ruined visage and broken body; those who professed to love Him would reject Him.
  • His Father’s will was in this terrible process for He had to bear the sins of us all and the healing of a hurting world would be won in the stripes He would bear.

He knew. The Twelve did not.
The men knew the passage but they could not know that the Prophet was talking about Him. If the brightest among them came close to making the connection between their belief that Jesus was Messiah and Isaiah’s disturbing predictions, he would surely dismiss such a thought in a moment. It was much more pleasant to remember the power of God flowing through Jesus and through them! Why couldn’t this go on forever?

Jesus could not leave them to their uniformed reveries. He had to warn them of what awaited them in this pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem was the domain of the chief priests and scribes—self-exalted enemies of Messiah, protectors of the self-empowering status quo.
  • They will arrest Him and deliver Him to the Romans who will execute Him.
  • On the third day the religious and political leaders would have a whole new problem on their bloody hands.

Worship in Time and Place
The Old Covenant called for worship in time and place.

  • Time: the hours of every day; the weekly Sabbath; the seasonal festivals; and the generational year of Jubilee.
  • Place: The home, the local synagogue, and the Temple in Jerusalem as the object of holy pilgrimage.

Messiah would bring a whole new order of worship with a New Covenant to enforce it: Worship in Spirit and Truth.

  • Spirit: worship led by and empowered by the Spirit of God resident in the redeemed human spirit.
  • Truth: the eternal truth of God flowing in time through the sincere worship of redeemed human beings.

Jesus would open the new way through the ordeal of Calvary–worship at the intersection of Time and Eternity. Beyond our imagination is the truth that a hope of joy would somehow sustain Jesus through these inevitable events—the Hope of communing with His People as they worship. This will be worship in spirit and truth, adaptable to any time and space. And so it has proven to be through 20 centuries.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 32-34 NKJV
Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
Isaiah 53:1-7 NKJV
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Hebrews 10:19-23;12:1-2 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.
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.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart overflows with thanksgiving to You for Your unspeakable gift—Your innocent life for our guilty lives. Help me know that when I pray alone at my altar and when I worship with Your saints in the House of God, I am providing You the joy that was set before You in those terrible days—the joy of communing with us in the Secret Place and the Holy Place. Thank You for opening up this new and living way. It cost You so much; may I never neglect so precious and powerful a gift. Thank You, Jesus! Amen and Amen.

Song:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason

1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them through his blood.

3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 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

December 17, 2017: “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 manifest 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 both 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 filled the Temple of Solomon and rested on the Tabernacles of David and Moses, 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