Christmas Meditation

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, [14] ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

After the angels announced the birth of Jesus in Luke 2, a heavenly host erupted in praise declaring, “Glory to God in the highest!”  They were glorifying God for His work, in this case redemptive work of sending the promised Messiah in Jesus.  The works of God in nature also redound to the glory of God.

The now late outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens said,

Religion has run out of justifications.  Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers and explanation of anything important (Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, 282).

One man would beg to differ.  The man’s name is Wilson Bentley (1865-1931).*  Bentley was taken by Job 38:22 which speaks about “the treasures of the snow” (KJV).  At 14, Bentley already showed a scientific bent.  Bentley’s mother, a school teacher, gave him a microscope.  He used it to observe anything that fit under the lens.  Later in his life, Bentley said he felt compelled to proclaim the Great Designer’s glory through the microscope.  He recounted,

I became possessed with a great desire to show people something of this wonderful loveliness, an ambition to become in some measure, its preserver.

What was Bentley talking about?  He was talking about the snowflake.  When he first began observing snowflakes, he expected them all to look the same.  He was surprised to learn that they were all different.  Bentley concluded that, to the best of his knowledge, no snowflake

was an exact duplicate of any other snowflake!

adding

with profound humility, we acknowledge that the Great Designer is incomparable an unapproachable in the infinite prodigality [extravagance] and beauty of His works.

Turns out that the combination of water molecules, air currents, temperature, and humidity make it extremely unlikely that one snowflake will resemble another—much like a human fingerprint.  Bentley explained that the matchlessness of each snowflake

can only be referred to the will and pleasure of the Great First Cause, whose works, even the most minute and evanescent, and in regions the most removed from human observation, are altogether admirable.

So taken by their beauty, Bentley began to draw snowflakes when he was 15 but they melted before he could finish.  He learned about a camera that could be used with a microscope.  He bought it when he was 17.  A year after he bought the camera—he did it!  He took a picture of a snowflake; the first one ever taken.  It was tedious work.  Even with a camera, the snowflakes would melt or break like glass depending on the temperature.  Over the years, he managed to take many pictures of snowflakes capturing their unique beauty.

The beautiful seasons give us cause to join the heavens as they declare the glory of God.  Thanks to William Bentley, we now know that the white stuff that falls from the sky is made up of intricate little masterpieces called snowflakes.  These snowflakes are another reason to proclaim the glory of our powerful Creator.  This brings us back to the angelic proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ birth and the heavenly choir.  The Christmas season is a time when we ought to give glory to God not only for His handiwork displayed in the snowflake but supremely for the first advent of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the work of our Divine and gracious Redeemer.  With the heavenly host, we too should exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest!”

*Taken from Jerry Bergman, “Snowflake Bentley: Man of Science, Man of God,” Acts & Facts (December 2011), 12-14.

Christmas Meditation: Complications

This is simply not how it’s supposed to be, the young husband thinks to himself.  We’re newly married, we have a toddler, and now we have to move?  We’re supposed to be settling down, not moving to a neighboring country for who knows how long.  Where will we live?  How will I care for my family?  I don’t need these complications right now.   

“Mary.  Mary.  Wake up.   Grab your things.  Bring Jesus with you.  I’ve saddled our donkey.  We have to go to Egypt.  Our child’s life is in danger.  Herod wants to kill him.”

“Joseph, it is the middle of the night.  Are you sure?” 

“Yes.  An angel from the Lord appeared to me in a dream.  He warned me about this and instructed us to go to Egypt.  We are to stay there until He tells us it is time to leave.” 

Matthew 2:13-15 is the passage that details Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt.  They were quickly beginning to realize that being the parents of the long-awaited Messiah wasn’t such a glamorous calling.  In this case, it kind of complicated things.  In one sense, Mary and Joseph did what any loving parent would have done, angel warning or not.  They protected their Son.  It just so happens that Joseph and Mary were given specific instructions.  The first Christmas was filled with complications.  Undoubtedly, this Christmas season, just as in any season, there will be complications in your life too.

The presence of Jesus in your life may not iron out the wrinkles of life.  Indeed, it may generate some additional wrinkles.  Nevertheless, these complications are what God uses to carry out His good purposes in our lives.  The complications reveal if we are ready to listen and respond to the Lord just as Mary and Joseph had to do.  So amidst the complications of this season and in any season remember that God’s hand, though invisible, is orchestrating the affairs of your life.  May we have Mary’s spirit as we are faced with these complications.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; be it to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Christmas Meditation: The Celestial Spotlight

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.  The Webb Telescope’s main scientific goal is to observe the most distant objects in the universe beyond the reach of either ground based instruments or the Hubble.  The Webb Telescope is sophisticated and powerful telescopic power.  Telescopes allow us to see what the human eye cannot; stars that are unseen to the naked eye.  There are many stars that cannot be seen without the aid of instruments like the Webb telescope.  There are many stars that whose glimmer can be seen.  There was one star that was clearly seen by the magi long ago.   It was the nativity star, or the celestial spotlight.   

What did the celestial spotlight reveal?

First, the celestial spotlight revealed that this was a divinely orchestrated event.  Was this star an extraordinary astronomical event such as a radiant planetary conjunction, or a brilliant supernova, or maybe a dazzling comet?  God said it was a star, and so a star it is.  It was hung in the heavens by the Creator for this very special occasion.  The Creator stretched out the heavens like a curtain (Isaiah 40:22; Job 9:8).  He commands the stars to hold back their light and in other cases He makes them shine (Job 9:7, CEV).  

Second, the celestial spotlight revealed the Christmas season is about Christ.  The magi said, “For we saw his star” (Matthew 2:2).  It is right to observe the centrality of Christ in the passage.  It is true that the text mentions Jesus and His mother, but Matthew goes on to make explicit that the Magi worshipped Him.  The gifts they offer him are very valuable (cf. Carson, “Matthew,” 89).  The star served as the celestial spotlight on the newborn King.

Third, the celestial spotlight revealed the place of all earthly kings, including Herod the Great.  He who was appointed “king of the Jews” under the authority of Rome would be overthrown by a heavenly coup.  The rightful “king of the Jews” was born, under the authority of Heaven.  There is a fear and uneasiness generated in the hearts of those who refuse to give over the governance of their life to Christ.

Fourth, the celestial spotlight cast by the star revealed that God is pleased to use us.  The celestial light is still shining through us.  It is a sign that God is up to something bigger than us, His stars!  “God and sinners reconciled” and “to fit us for heaven to live with Him there.”  Let us be happy to be an instrument of pointing people to the newborn King.  Like the star in Bethlehem, let us be a light that dominates the darkness.   “Let your light shine before others” this Christmas season.   The stare shone for one reason; so should we shine to spotlight Christ.  They star was a means, the Person was the end. 

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
(John H. Hopkins, Jr., “We Three Kings,” 1857)

Christmas Meditation: The Longest Silence

The late H.A. Ironside, senior pastor of the historic Moody Church in Chicago from 1930-1948, wrote a book titled The 400 Silent Years.  This brief work is a historical, biographical, and devotional look at the period between the prophecy of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew.  In between Malachi and Matthew, the grass of Greek culture grew lush.  The Romans flexed their imperial muscles.  The faith of Israel was diminished and then renewed when the Temple was rebuilt.  However, the fire of Israel’s distinct and prominent national identity that once roared was reduced to a few scattered glowing embers.  The influence of Greek culture, the rise of the Roman Empire, and the persuasion of Israel’s religion all simultaneously intersected during this inter-testamental period.  Most striking to any believing Jew, however, was the conspicuous and deafening silence.  This was an epoch when there was no prophetic word from the Lord.  The prophets, whose voices persistently uttered “Thus says the LORD,” were now hushed.  Because God was silent, it was the longest silence.  Why was God silent?  To this question we do not have an answer.  But a question we might consider with greater profit is what do we glean from the period of the longest silence?  This is a pertinent question for us today.  Hebrews 1:1-2 asserts that God once spoke through the prophets but in these last days speaks to us through His son.  So neither do we hear a new word from the Lord.  There are three pillars which held up the faithful during this period of the longest silence that instruct and help us this Christmas season. 

First, the pillar of providence.  Though God’s voice was silent, His invisible hand was active.  Revelation was put on hold but providence was not.  The Lord was raising up Jewish leadership in the Maccabeans, elevating and tearing down Roman emperors, and advancing the Greek language, which would be the language of the New Testament.  Not to mention the miracle of what is celebrated today as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, when God kept the fire of the eternal flame burning for eight days when there was only enough olive oil for one day in 164 BC.  This Christmas season consider the providence of God in your life.  As God was at work then, He is at work today.

Second, the pillar of God’s purposes.  God’s word withstands the test of history and time. All of what the prophets spoke happened.  In some cases, it unfolded before their very eyes.  And just as God fulfilled His word in the past, He will accomplish what He has purposed for the future at the time appointed by Him.  Like rocks that remain unmoved when stormy winds fiercely blow and the tempestuous waves violently crash upon them, so the purposes of God remain unshaken against the fiercest wind gusts of history and the most violent waves of time.  This Christmas season consider the unhindered purposes of God in your life. As God was faithful and true then, He is faithful and true today.

Third, the pillar of God’s trustworthiness.  God’s people are exhorted to walk by faith not by sight.  As the prophet Habakkuk said, “the just shall live by faith” (2:4).  The nation of Israel did not have “Thus says the LORD” between Malachi and Matthew the verbal pillar of cloud by day and the vocal pillar of fire by night to navigate very difficult times in their history; and neither do we.  We don’t need more revelation.  We need a fuller and sincere trust in what all-wise God has already revealed.  This Christmas season consider the trustworthiness of God.  God is trustworthy.  He desires and is worthy of our absolute dependence on Him, not independence from Him.  

But alas, the longest silence is broken.  The fullness of time has come; God speaks once again. 

“Gabriel” (cf. Luke 1:26).

“Speak Lord, your servant hears.” 

“Go to a virgin named Mary in Nazareth.  She is betrothed to Joseph.  Tell her she has found favor in My sight.  She will give birth to My Son, who is the Christ.  He will save My people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).