December 26 “Anna”

Anna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 25 “Simeon”

Simeon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he added this, just to Mary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 24 “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. Slowly, they 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 “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 18 “Inn”

Inn

All they needed was accommodations—a room for the night.
With seven words, Dr. Luke introduces a most fruitful image into the Christmas story: “…there was no room for them in the inn.” This bit of history has birthed so much fiction:

  • If there was an inn there had to be an innkeeper and he had to have a wife.
  • The manger meant there was a barn or someplace unfit for the birthplace of a king.
  • If there was no room for them then the people at the inn were so caught up in their own lives they missed the most important thing.

It is the firm conviction of this writer that these sketchy histories exist precisely for the purpose of firing our imaginations. As we fill in the missing details, the story becomes more real to us.

So there was an inn in Bethlehem.
The end of the torturous journey for a young woman “great with child” was a first century version of a No Vacancy sign. There was a stable out back where beasts of burden rested tired limbs and aching backs. It would have to do for an exhausted Joseph and a sore, weary Mary. No one knew better than she that her time was near.

Joseph, the planner, the builder, the careful, caring husband did his best to make his wife comfortable. It was a losing cause. Her discomfort was beyond the reach of his skills and the possibilities of the primitive conditions. She did not blame him, of course. None of it was his fault. It was part of the blessing for which they had been chosen. Joseph had prepared for this moment by listening to the advice of his mother and Mary’s. Knowing this, he and Mary waited. He fed and watered the donkey.

They were ready.
The extra blankets they had brought along were put to good use, propping Mary up and shielding off the chill of night. None of the guests at the inn knew about them or cared. The innkeeper did not visit to check on them. He was too busy with his paying guests to worry about this unfortunate couple. The animals were quiet and the wind stopped at the frail door to the stable. They were so alone.

But they were not alone.
Unseen by them, angels stood at every corner of the stable. Each heavenly guard stood at an unusual alert. This was no routine assignment. Angels knew of the miracle that escaped the notice of the people at the inn. The One Who Sits on the Throne had somehow abandoned glory for this humble inn and its barn. He was soon to be born. The mystery of human life that fascinated angels was about to unfold before them—birth!—new life! An infant, helpless but full of potential, would enter the world. The clock of mortality would start ticking for the little one, measuring a life fading even as it begins.

As the pains become sharper and more frequent, Mary held Joseph’s hand. Together they grew strength with each whisper of the name, “Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Bethlehem was prophesied; the back room of an inn was a surprise. The joy of Your birth is clothed in irony and pain. Christmas today retains this uneasy duet of hope and sadness. We rejoice in the songs of the season and think deeply of those we have lost who in Christmases past rejoiced with us. It is a time of having and losing, of smiles and tears, of singing hope and uneasy doubt. Lord, help me adjust to the situation the way it is and find the comfort You provide. Assure me that angels are ever on guard and that Your name is the most powerful prayer I can pray. Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Child Is This?
Words: W. Chatterton Dix; Music: Greensleeves

1 What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2 Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Refrain

3 So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain
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