From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Three, Day Three
A child was always at the heart of the biblical covenant. Already in the garden of Eden God promised that Eve's offspring would crush the head of the serpent, who beguiled her. Later God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that Sarah would bear him a child who would be the first of countless descendents. Then Isaiah spoke of a child who would be born of a virgin and be given the name "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." The New Testament tells of the fulfillment of that promise, and Jesus presents children as the model for his followers to emulate. The only way to enter the kingdom is with the humility and trust of little children.
Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:4 - 7
Praying the Name
When they [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Matthew 2:13 - 16
Reflect On: Matthew 2:13 - 20.
Praise God: For never abandoning his plan to save us.
Offer Thanks: Because even as a child, Jesus shared our suffering.
Confess: Any tendency to hide your faith for fear of opposition.
Ask God: To increase your understanding of the gospel.
Christmas — it's not about a baby! That was the surprising message of a talk I listened to a few years back. I don't remember everything the speaker said, but I am certain he must have opened one too many Christmas cards depicting the Christ child as a cherubic babe, surrounded by velvety soft animals more suited to the pages of a children's book than a stable. He didn't want the celebration of the great feast of the incarnation to be reduced to something sentimental and saccharine. In fact, the Lord's birthday story is a dramatic and richly layered narrative that bears careful rereading. You could say it contains the DNA of the gospel, linking the child Jesus to Israel's past as well as to its future. It is like a seed that encapsulates the unfolding story of salvation — past, present, and to come.
For instance, Matthew's Gospel begins with a long genealogy linking Jesus to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Then, after recounting Jesus' birth and the visit of the Magi, the story shifts because already opposition to the Christ child is rising. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, warning him that Herod is searching everywhere for Jesus, intending to murder him. So Joseph flees with Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Like Moses, the child Jesus is rescued only in the nick of time. Enraged that the Magi have left without telling him the precise location of the newborn king, Herod orders all the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under to be slaughtered, echoing Pharaoh's decree that every Hebrew male infant be drowned in the Nile River. It's the Exodus story in miniature. From the very beginning, Jesus is linked to the suffering history of his people, to their exile and oppression.
His life recalls the words of Hosea: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 11:1). The nativity links Jesus not only to his people's past but also to their future. To shepherds tending their flocks outside Bethlehem, an angel proclaims: "I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10 - 12). The shepherds were amazed, telling everyone about him. They had seen their long-awaited Savior, the desire of all nations, the one who would one day refer to himself as the Good Shepherd.
So Christmas, the great feast of the incarnation, is about a baby after all. And it's not about a baby. It's about the great story of God's love as it stretched across the centuries toward its climax in the life of the child Jesus. No wonder Simeon held the boy in his arms when his parents brought him to the temple, speaking these words to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" (Luke 2:34 - 35).
Even as a child, Jesus created turbulence in the world. His mere existence demanded a response. Either love him or hate him, accept his message or try to quash it. Why then should we be surprised when we encounter opposition because of our faith? If we bear the image of Christ within us, we will certainly cause offense to some. But many others will welcome the Jesus they see in us. Pray today that Christ will shine more brightly in your heart and in every heart that belongs to him because God wants to reveal his Son to a world that is dying to know him.
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Two of Ann Spangler's most-loved books have been released in paperback: Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus.
These books help us understand the biblical context in which these names and titles were revealed, and help us gain a more intimate knowledge of the Father and of the Son.
Read More Praying the Names of God, with Ann Spangler