Of Gifts


Pastor Rich spoke this week about the gifts of the Christmas narrative. He acknowledged that the greatest gift of the nativity was Christ, the Emmanuel “God with us.” We were a people lost in our trespasses, “But God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” The angel dictated that this child would be named Jesus “God Saves.” Wow, that is a gift! We who had no means of redeeming ourselves were in this birth saved. In the words of the carol: “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled.”

But in the nativity story itself, we have the additional mention of gifts at the hands of Gentile visitors, the Magi. These men who had seen a star in the East travel to find the fulfillment of prophecy. Their journey at first takes them to Jerusalem, but it is not the palace they sought, but a far more humble abode in Bethlehem. When they arrive they bring gifts, but these are not token presents, but powerfully symbolic gestures.

The gift of gold was an offering worthy of a king. Jesus “King of kings, and Lord of lords” was rightly bestowed with this emblem. Frankincense a fragrant substance used in incense, perfumes, and precious oils was the next treasure. The scent of frankincense was a symbol of prayer, as its fragrance was seen to be graced upwards to heaven, as our prayers should. It was a gift for a priest. Jesus is our High Priest, a priest of the order of  Melchizedek, a go-between bridging man and God. The final offering was myrrh, a resin used in burial rights. It marked Jesus’ mission on Earth.  He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Sacrifice was to be His destiny, but in so doing He would redeem humanity.

While such symbolisms may be overlooked in today’s “gift” obsessed culture, they are powerful fulfillments of prophecy, and signs to us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

The gifts were also practical in their nature, however.  A carpenter, his wife, and an infant child were about to flee from the wrath of King Herod. Their escape route would take them into Egypt. Think about a family from Nazareth, temporarily in Judea for a census.  Would they have abundant funds? God’s provision for the fulfilling of His plan is clear. Gold a ready currency virtually anywhere (even today) would assure passage. Egypt with its multiple deities, and elaborate funerary rites would have a steady need of frankincense and myrrh. The Holy Family was well set up for their exile, and given means for their return, that the Messiah’s mission might be fulfilled.


Joseph’s Dilemma


The Angel Gabriel had brought Mary the announcement of her role in God’s plan.  She has accepted the call, but faced now telling her betrothed the news of her pregnancy. He was now placed in a dilemma. His virgin fiancee was with child.  He hadn’t touched her.  She must have cheated.  The law is clear, she should be stoned. But she claims there is an angel involved.  An angel!?! Right! But, maybe.  He loves her.  He doesn’t want her to die.  Maybe a quiet divorce. That might do.

Pastor Vince brought a really thoughtful message on this dilemma which is found in Matthew 1.  Here is a man determined to put his fiancee away quietly.  He literally sleeps on it.  God used the opportunity of his slumber to remove all doubts. “20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph has his own divine intervention.  The angel of the Lord not only upholds Mary’s account, but reveals the meaning of the pregnancy to Joseph. Pastor Vince noted that Mary and Joseph are prototypes in their transformation by the gospel.  Mary of the openness to God’s call, and her surrender to it. Joseph of one who was willing to look beyond skepticism and the “impossibility” of it all, and to accept faith beyond reason.

Joseph’s response to the dream is instant and decisive. He, “raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” He also, follows the instructions of the angel, and names his stepson – Jesus!  

There had been a 400 year “silence of heaven” in which there seems to be no prophet in Israel.  We often cite John as the breaker of the silence. But here we have Joseph receiving revelation from God. This revelation provided a testimony of Messiah’s mission, and names to be fulfilled.  Joseph acted on the call as much as Mary did, and they are wonderful models of how we should respond as well.

Thank you Vince, for drawing my focus onto this, it is a great challenge to be ready to answer the call.




“Who is this Man?”

Bude - Widemouth Bay 2


The 400 year long, “Silence of Heaven,” had been broken with the coming of John the Baptiser.  Prophecy (and thus prophets) had returned to Israel.  The Age of Messiah was at hand.  But was Messiah just to be a prophet beyond prophets, or someone even greater?

The Anointed One of God, was to be more!  But how much more? The evidence presented to His disciples on the Sea of Galilee, gives us insight.

Psalm 107: 28 and 29 speaks of the mighty works of God, “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.”  God: the creator, sustainer, and master of the universe alone stills the waters.

No wonder then, in Mark 4:35-41, that his followers marvel when He, almost word for word fulfills the wording of the Psalm, “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

This is a great example of the lack of understanding of even His closest companions.  It is amazing that at least four of them were experienced mariners (fishermen), and they go to this carpenter from Nazareth for assistance.  This point has been hotly debated.  Were they seeking the miraculous?  The closing of the passage suggests not.  If the boat were indeed in peril, they wanted “practical” help.  “Hey Jesus, help us bale.”

Whatever their intention, they are not prepared for the response.  Essentially, “Why are you worried?” “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (vs 40).”

Their reaction? “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (vs 41)!”

Jesus had just did what only God could do.  He had just put into practice Psalm 107. He did not only this but, as John puts it, Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25).”  He not only quieted the sea, He made it (Genesis 1:9-10, John 1:10).

“Who is this man?” Jesus was no mere prophet.  He was Messiah. He was God!  He is the Word become incarnate.  He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”  That is who this man is.