What Brought You Here?

The Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14, New Revised Standard Version)

Christmas Day, December 25, 2022

The Galactic Swirl. First observed in 1845 by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse.

Maye and I grew up in a small border county seat town in South Texas but have lived in seven different cities over the past 30 years because of ministry-related appointments and assignments. As we meet and talk with people in the cities and neighborhoods we move into to live, the question, “What brought you here?” inevitably comes up.

This Christmas, I find myself meditating on what brought Jesus to live here; on earth, that is.

Jesus, says Scripture was with God, and was God in the beginning, before time and all of creation began (Jn. 1:1). He took on human form, became flesh and was born in Bethlehem but grew up in the small forgotten and obscure village of Nazareth for the first thirty years of his life. The Message Bible translation says, “Jesus moved into the neighborhood.” 

If Bethlehem was a “little town,” as the traditional Christmas hymn suggests, Nazareth was even smaller. Nazareth is not even mentioned in the Bible outside of New Testament references. The gospel writers had to explain that Nazareth was a small town in the region of Galilee because few people knew the rural, slow-paced village existed.

Nathanael, a disciple of Jesus, first asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when told by Philip that the long-awaited Messiah was Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. Jesus’ foes belittled him by calling him “Jesus of Nazareth.” To deter insurrections and further humiliate the Jews, Pilate had an inscription written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek and put on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19).

So, the question I’ve been meditating on this Christmas is, what brought Jesus to live on earth – to move into the neighborhood? After all, in this vast and ever-expanding universe, our earth is minuscule, situated within the Milky Way Galaxy, one of an estimated 350-billion large galaxies that houses about 30-billion-trillion stars; that is 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars!

The answer to what brought Jesus here and led him to move into our earthly neighborhood and live among us is a mystery; the mystery of God’s care and love for us. The Psalmist contemplates the mystery of God’s care and love for us when he asks, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that your mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Ps.8:3-4). Jesus further adds to our appreciation and understanding of the depth and extent of God’s care and love for creation and humanity when he declares that God who cares and knows when one sparrow falls to the ground also knows the number of hairs on our head, cares for us, and loves us (Mt. 10:29-31).  

What brought Jesus to move into and live in our earthly neighborhood was God’s love and care for us. Jesus came to show us a better way of being human in the world. He came save a world laying in and suffering from broken-heartedness caused by sin and error. Jesus came to redeem us from lostness, aimlessness, suffering, sin, confusion, hurt, and our bent toward conflict and war. He did and continues to show us how to love one another through his law of love and gospel of peace.

Whenever Maye and I move into a new community and neighborhood and people we meet ask us, “What brought you here?,” we eventually get around to saying, “Christ did!” We’re here on his behalf to live among you and share the good news with you – if you do not yet already know – that God care for and loves you, you are not alone: the Lord is with you; have hope.

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

Trusting God in the Dark

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2022

“When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, he took Mary as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)

Trust is essential in our relationship with God. Trust promotes our positive action and collaboration with God’s will based on God’s faithfulness to ultimately do what God promises. On this fourth Advent Sunday, we meditate upon what it means to give God the gift of our trust, especially in times when we are in the dark – without full understanding – about what God is up to in our lives.

Two of the four gospels in the New Testament provide accounts of the birth of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces Joseph as the recipient of the annunciation of the Christ Child and the knowledge of the child’s mission – “He shall save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).” In the gospel of Luke, on the other hand, the archangel announces the conception and the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Both accounts are similar but not the same.

Joseph, in Matthew’s account, had much to judge and decide after learning that Mary, his fiancee, was with a child not his own. Whatever he judges and decides to do will expose him to social shame and dishonour. If he denounces and repudiates Mary, Mary could be stoned to death for adultery according to a strict application of the law and Joseph would always be known as the man who was cheated on by his fiancee. If he abandons Mary and leaves her to be a single mother, he will be socially accused of being an absent and irresponsible father. Either way, Joseph faces a future of shame and dishonour. In his sense of justice and deep love for Mary, he decides to walk away from the relationship – “to dismiss Mary quietly” – and take the social hit to his reputation to protect Mary from harm and public disgrace.

In that moment of anguish. discernment and decision, God intervenes. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and addresses him as, “Joseph, son of David,” genealogically linking Joseph to both Jesus and to King David. The angel then instructs Joseph to “not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This angelic message only made sense to Joseph because he knew Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah!

The angel’s shedding of light (understanding) through the dream that God was at work in the situation overcame Joseph’s fears and gave Joseph the confidence to trust God, when his present situation was dark (absent of understanding). Joseph does as the angel commanded. He trusts God and takes Mary as his wife. He names the baby Jesus (as instructed by the angel) which means in Greek, God who is with us saves, and he becomes Jesus’ adoptive father. Joseph goes on to protect Mary and Jesus from harm by escaping and immigrating to and from Egypt when Jesus’ life was in danger (Matt. 2:13-23) and he provides for his family as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55).

Joseph moves through a season of discernment and judgment in efforts to seek clarity about what his next godly, righteous, and just steps were to be given his situation. God helped Joseph understand what was happening and the role Joseph was to undertake in the situation which gave Joseph the assurance to proceed with confidence even when he did not fully grasp or understand everything. Joseph trusts God in the dark.

This Christmas, we can offer God the gift of our trust, even when we do not fully understand what God is up to in our lives. We can trust God in the dark.