Monday, December 22, 2014

A Season of Advent: Return to the Manger of the Messiah

When you were a child, did you ever get lost in a large place? My cousin Derek got lost all the time. We would search for literally hours to find him; amusement parks, Wal-Mart, grocery stores. When you’ve been lost, how did you find your way back to safety? Meet at a certain place determined beforehand? Follow the sound of your parent’s voice? Somehow we always find our way back to safety of our parents…well, not always.

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
  I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib;
  but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand. (Isaiah 1:2–3, NRSV) 
Here is a story of a frustrated parent! God gave His children so much, but they never seemed to notice. Even though God gave and gave and gave, His children never seemed to know who He was, and as Isaiah, points out, even animals act better than that!

You might not have spent much time around an ox or a donkey, but have you ever watched your pet closely? A cat or a dog always returns to its food. After a long day of scavenging, it always returns home. It knows where to find comfort.

People are sometimes a little more difficult. Israel had a tendency to stay lost! God “found” them in Egypt and rescued them with the Exodus, but they wandered off again. God “found” them in the wilderness and led them to a new land flowing with milk and honey, but they were lost again in no time. God “found” them again and gave them kings just like they wanted, but they took those kings and ran away from God. God sent prophets to help them find their way back to the path, but they refused to listen.

Have you ever read the Bible and thought to yourself, “How can these people keep making the same mistakes?” Blessing after blessing from God, they never went without food in the wilderness, they never had to ask twice. When they followed God, they won all of the battles. God performed miracles before their eyes every day. How could they look into the face of God and walk away over and over again? Eventually, it became apparent that God was going to have to try something else to get their attention!

Several centuries after the prophet Isaiah spoke his words, God decided to visit His people in person. God thought, “My children cannot hear My voice from heaven…They don’t listen to My prophets…I’ll go to their home and maybe they will hear my voice…and I’ll send messengers ahead to make sure they don’t miss My arrival…”
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1–20, NRSV)
It was customary for poets and orators to declare peace and blessing at the birth of an emperor. But, here, the declaration comes from heaven. Not to the royal guests in the palace halls, but in the open field to a bunch of shepherds, God came to the lowly, not the proud. The message comes to the shepherds, not the royal family. A multitude of angels suddenly appeared. They sang praises to God! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds hear the voice of God and they find God. The lost people finally heard the voice of God and came to His side. Just what God had always wanted, to be close to us…what a moment that must have been for God! Not since the days in the Garden of Eden had He experienced such intimacy with creation! After centuries of running, the Creator finally got creation’s attention. God had to come in human form. God had to send a personal invitation. God had to provide a miracle. God had to do all of this, yet some of the people still refused to hear His voice! Jesus came in the flesh. God came to personally call his children, yet, a few years later; some of his children nailed Him to a tree.

Again, we wonder: “How could they continue to make the same mistakes? How can they be so blind?” How could Israel reject God when He brought them from Egypt? How could God’s children ignore the calls from God through the prophets? How could the Jews look into the eyes of Jesus and not recognize the Creator? All the miracles, healing the sick, causing the blind to see, feeding the 5000; God was doing everything He could to find them…why did they insist on remaining lost?

You know, God is not the only one that has been looking for us. When God called Israel out of Egypt, when God called Israel through the prophets, when God called those shepherds in the fields, Satan also heard His voice.

And Satan would like nothing more than for us to stay lost. So, since the very beginning, he has been leading us away from God’s voice. Every time God came close, Satan found a new way to keep us apart. Sure, God rescued them from Egypt, but I bet I can get them to grumble against each other and God in the desert! Sure, God is speaking directly to them through these prophets, but I bet I can make these folks ignore them. Sure, God came to earth through Jesus, but I bet I can make His own people reject Him.

Even today, Satan would like nothing more than for all of us to remain lost. Sure, we’ve dedicated a holiday in honor of Jesus’ coming, but we’ve silenced the voice of God in so many ways by allowing this season to become consumed with consumerism. Even with all of the mangers on front lawns, we look past them to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So, Instead of remembering Jesus’ birth, we spend money we do not have, create long Christmas lists to give to our loved ones and spend hours in the malls fighting the crowds. God is crying out to us, especially in this season of the year…are we listening?

And Satan has other ways of keeping us lost…

One of Satan’s favorite tactics is this one, He’s been using it for millennia…He whispers into your ear: “You are not good enough. God won’t accept you, and neither will anyone else.” Let’s be real with each other: every person is hiding something. Not one person is 100% transparent. We all have struggles in our life. Your vice might be greed, which shows it ugly head this time of the year. Your vice might be pornography. Your vice might be resentment. Your vice might be utter selfishness. Your vice might be anger and even hatred. One of Satan’s most productive methods, in his quest to keep us lost, is to convince you that you are alone. No one else has that struggle. If they knew you did, they would be shocked and appalled! I want you to look around. There is not one guiltless person. No one is perfect. Everyone struggles with sin and no person’s sin is more capable of keeping him or her away from God than another.

If this season of the year teaches us anything, it is this: God loves you enough to set aside the comfort of heaven. God loves you enough to experience the pain and suffering associated with this life. God did not come to earth to be close to us because we were perfect. God came to earth to be close to us because we weren’t. If you’ve been listening to Satan’s lies, if you’ve been staying lost, my prayer is that you will allow yourself to be found even today.
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
  I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib;
  but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand. (Isaiah 1:2–3, NRSV)
The people did not recognize their Master and in so many ways, we still fail to recognize Him. God called Israel, and they did not listen. God came in human form and Israel rejected Him. God continues to call to us and we have a decision to make. Do we listen to His voice or do we continue to allow Satan to block our ears?

Christmas is a time of remembering and celebration. Let’s use this time to remember the arrival of Christ to this earth. Let’s use this time to celebrate His significance for our lives. Let’s use this time to once again hear the Voice of God.

If you have wandered away...

Why not use this time to join the shepherds at the manger of the Messiah?

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