Last week's writing should have said that the most obvious holiday by far is New Year's Day. Almost anyone who reads could recognize something special with the pattern 1/1/2017. Even the most ardent atheist must acknowledge that something special is going on when he or she switches calendars and comes into a new year.
The text which is given with this special day is thankfully one that is strongly connected to Jesus and not to us. The eighth day after Jesus’ birth is the day of his circumcision, and it is described in Luke 2:21.
Certainly Jesus’ mother and father (meaning Joseph) could have said something like, “This child is special. Let’s not circumcise him.” Certainly his heavenly Father could have stopped the whole thing right before Jesus’ blood was shed.
We could easily fast forward a few years and say very much the same thing. He didn’t need John’s baptism for repentant sinners. He didn’t need the cross for criminals. He didn’t need anything that connected him in any way to anything sinful. WE needed those things, desperately.
Thankfully that is exactly what comes to us in texts like this. He did it FOR US and IN OUR PLACE.
This date is easily recognizable, perhaps the most recognizable--except for the next twenty-four hour time period, Christmas Day.
Many people have been waiting for something that is finally here. There has been a lot of effort planned, and the time has finally come.
It is not surprising that the time period after Christmas and for the next month or so is the most depressing period of the year. There is the weather, the debt incurred because of the extra expenses, and there is also the feeling that Christmas was not what it should have been.
Expectations are powerful things. The person that expects to lose and loses is not greatly distressed. The person that expects to win and loses is in a totally different situation.
The Christmas Day text is from John 1, with the words about the 'Word', the 'Word' that was God, and the 'Word' that became a man and dwelt--literally 'tented' among us.
What would you expect on a camping-like trip with God? I'll let you think about that for a while. I'm sure you could come up with a few things.
It's no wonder that this gospel account goes in a different direction than the rest; it started in a very different place!
What's your starting point? It, most likely, is yourself. That's not too bad.
Actually that IS bad--in the sense of sinful, or, more bluntly, full of sin. That's the source of the depression, the expectations, and everything that goes wrong.
The answer is realizing the problem, confessing it, and moving onward to the full and free forgiveness. That's a wonderful end to any story--even yours.
Words aren’t always what they seem to be.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” It sounds very nice. And that is the way the Matthew text (1:18) starts after the “boring” genealogy—I only use that adjective because most people quickly pass it by, although it has some very interesting characteristics. (But those must be saved for another day.)
First of all, the order of the words in the original language is different. In the order within the original, the text goes something like this: “Now the thing of Jesus Christ, the birth, took place in this way.” That certainly does not flow as smoothly.
But the important thing is not the birth (or even how smoothly the message flows). The important thing is certainly Jesus Christ. One could even say that his birth is secondary to the person that he is—Jesus, the Christ, or the Anointed One.
That importance of Jesus continues within the entire account. He is called “Immanuel,” God with us, within this chapter. And, in the final chapter, some of his final words are “I will be with you always.”
What is interesting as well is that the account of Jesus’ birth, as it is given in Matthew, does not focus on Jesus’ birth. For Matthew, even more important than the birth was the name.
Because of this, I am in favor of the following translation: “Now the genesis of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” It actually happens to be a more literal rendering of the word. There also happens to be a good alliteration with name of Jesus here.
The word “genesis” takes us ahead to the eighth day of Jesus, the day of his naming and his circumcision—his first shedding of blood for us. And the word takes us back to the very beginning, the genesis of everything, but particularly the genesis of our salvation.
The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not particularly good examples for us to follow, but they are examples of God working with his people. Those can also be extremely comforting.
His genesis is much more important than ours. His genesis means our salvation. God’s Jesus is our Jesus.
Sometimes a text can have a lot more in it when you look at the text around it. The text I've been looking at recently is the focus on John the Baptist that comes after he's in prison (Matthew 11).
The discussion usually focuses on why John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus. Did he send them for his benefit, because he was doubting, or was it for the benefit of his disciples, in the hope that they would eventually follow Jesus instead? This is another of those situations where it could easily be both.
It may help to notice that the text (11:2) says, "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ...." Notice that it doesn't say, "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of JESUS...." The Christ is someone who's anointed, and the last time that Christ was anointed, John the Baptist was doubting Jesus' decision-making then as well. John thought that he should be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus wanted it the other way around.
That may be a bit comforting for us, that John the Baptist could also make mistakes.
And it may be a bit intellectual to propose what others have previously pointed out, that Jesus, in the previous section of narrative, is healing people in three sets of three, and in between each set is some of Jesus' teaching. That's quite an interesting structure, almost too much to be a coincidence. I think it's a nice reminder of the Trinity.
Matthew 11 could be John's suggestion of a good tenth miracle for Jesus to do. That's a nice, even number. It makes sense that John would think that he could be more helpful out of prison. Not this time though.
Jesus wanted a sinner's baptism. Jesus wanted John to be left in prison. I think I see a pattern working here.
And at the end of the book, the reader hears two stories that are continuing to the present: 1) someone stole the body, and 2) Jesus actually appeared to his followers; he was very caring to them, and said he would be with them until the end. I prefer the second one.
The biblical text certainly has a different perspective. In the gospel reading for this Sunday, the text starts out by saying, "In those days...(Matthew 3:1)." Unfortunately the previous verse referenced Jesus when he was still very young, and the next time we hear about Jesus, he's ready to be baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Many people would be much happier with a reference to something like, "Many days later" or "In those years...." There is an almost constant temptation to look at the text in an historical way.
The problem with that perspective is that we don't see ourselves as having any problem. We may not get all that the text is saying to us, but the problem is not as serious as sin and deserving something like 'temporal and eternal punishment'. The problem can be fixed if we try harder. The problem can be fixed if we just were a bit smarter.
Sometimes we need to admit that we need some serious help. The temptations of Jesus, as they are given in Matthew and Luke, have two different orders. It would be foolish to say that we know without all doubt in what order they occurred. It is just not that important.
More importantly, Jesus went through these temptations for us. At the other end of his life, in a very different environment, Jesus went through all his difficulties in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he also went through all of that for us.
Both of these events, as they are described in the gospel accounts, have a high frequency of what is called the historical present, where the writer switches into the present tense when he is describing these few things that happened in the past. I don't think that is an accident. The difficulties of Jesus should be intimately connected with the difficulties of today's Christians. The body of Christ is a significant figure with tremendous ramifications.
This is not a history lesson. This is a story about the God-man who is for you. This is the God-man who is also with you. These days will never be the same.