Category Archives: Christmas

Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The Russian VillageIllustration:  “Russian Village,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1929.

“Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32–5:2).

While traditions can be good, there are some traditions in our cart that can be a distraction to the journey that we are taking.  It is a shame that Christmas has become a time when Santa Claus seems much more prominent than Jesus in our culture.

While I appreciate the mythos of Santa Claus as an imitation of St. Nicholas, (whose feast day is December 6), when we forget that St. Nicholas gave secret gifts to show forth the love of Christ and the grace of God, it can turn Santa Claus into a simple instrument of commercialism or discipline (“he knows when you’ve been bad or good!?”).

Jewish families have traditions at Chanukkah that imitate Santa Claus.  The pressure of our Christian friends, who have Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gifts have grown traditions for some Jewish homes that include gift giving for eight days, a Chanukkah bush (a silver foil tree with blue balls on it), and Hanukkah Harry, the little man who brings the gifts.

Our Christmas traditions are wonderful, even those of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and the giving of gifts, if they testify to the glory of God, the gift of the Messiah and the promise of eternal life.  Chanukkah traditions are just as wonderful, if they point to these same things. Unless we celebrate these things, others will simply imitate the traditions, with no opportunity to imitate God.

Prayer:  Abba, Father, thank You for traditions that help me teach Your truth, and bless us with joy.  May I never get distracted from the promise of salvation that You have given in Messiah, Y’shua.  In His name,  Amen.

Ponder the path:  The Lenten and Easter season have traditions that can also distract.  Look closely at the things you do, and explore how you can share the Gospel through those things and then tell the Story.

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Keep Christ in Christmukkah!

ep-151219982Blessed Advent greetings to all, Merry Christmas! and Happy Chanukkah…

Yes, it is a busy time of year.  But all this busyness, except maybe the shopping, is a great way to spend time considering the best gift of God we could possibly receive.  And maybe even in shopping we can focus on gifts that bless as God has blessed us!  Praise Him for His gift of salvation through our Messiah Jesus, who’s birth, life, death and resurrection give us the promise of everlasting life.

This month is an oddity in the calendar because the two calendars, the Hebrew and the Gregorian have actually synced.  The new moon this month was on the 1st of December, which means that the 1st of Kislev and the 1st of December were the same day.  The 1st of December then, was a minor festival , Rosh Chodesh, (literally the “Head of the Month”), the festival of the New Moon.  This festival was introduced by God in Numbers 10:10, and you can see it’s observance throughout the Scriptures.  Paul mentions this festival in Colossians 2:16.

Rosh Chodesh is not a significant festival of the Jewish calendar, often sufficient to simply mention it the previous Sabbath with the inclusion of some prayers for the occasion.  But the significance of this new moon for us is that the 25th of Kislev and the 25th of December are the same day.  The 25th of Kislev, of course, is Chanukkah, which goes from the eve of the 24th through January 1.  Some in our circles are calling it Chrismukkah and Jew Year’s Eve!  I am not that bold, but I am reflecting on the reality that as our family celebrates the twelve days of Christmas, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, The Feast of St. Stephen (the 26th), St. John the Evangelist (the 27th), and the feast of the Holy Innocents (the 28th), we will be lighting a candle on the Chanukkah menorah for most of those twelve days.  While the feeble lights of the Chanukkiah may not contend well with the brilliance of Christmas, without the events of Chanukkah, none of Christmas would have been possible!

So this year, more than perhaps any other, we are remembering all the miracles of the Christmas season, including the miracle of God’s preservation of His people against enormous odds, so that from their cradle the Messiah would come.  Some 200 years before Jesus stood in Solomon’s colonnade at Chanukkah to affirm that He is indeed the Messiah (John 10:22), a nation sought to destroy Israel.  God would have none of it!  That nation would survive and Mary would become with child.  The rest, as they say, is His story.

Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.  And . . .Happy Chanukkah too.

If you are interested in Advent devotions, just type “Advent devotions” into the search bar above, and you will be taken to a list of Advent devotions beginning with Epiphany (so you have to scroll down).  May I also suggest that we hear all the time about Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies,” but go to http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship/272-luther-1523 for a different perspective on Luther (“That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew”).

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Messiah in a Grave

BurialIllustration:  “The Entombment of Christ” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, c. 1865.  Etching, oil on copper plate.

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42).

After He was crucified, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross. The guards ensured that He was dead, and to the watching disciples it probably looked like a hopeless situation. Despite what they saw, God was still in control. His promises were still being fulfilled. He said that his people would make for Messiah “his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (Isaiah 53:9). So He was: Jesus died a criminal’s death and was placed in the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.

Waiting in this dark hour, we remember Jesus’ promise: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The death of the Promised One looks like a hopeless situation, but God’s promise says otherwise.

The same is true in our lives. Sometimes it looks like evil is winning, like all hope is lost, but we have God’s promise that He is working even when we cannot see it.

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes the wait seems long and I lose the expectation of what You are preparing for me. Help me trust You when I cannot see You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: When you feel like God has abandoned you, remember the desolation of Jesus’ death and put your hope in God’s promise of resurrection.

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Messiah Dies

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion” by Edward Vardanian, 2003.  Oil on canvas.

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50).

Today’s Scripture passage tells about the fulfillment of the painful prophecies of Messiah, given first to Adam and Eve, and spelled out in detail by Isaiah. It was time for Jesus to “bruise [the serpent’s] head” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus was rejected by His people and, without argument or defense, allowed Himself to be made the victim of Satan’s plot to destroy humankind. Scourged and hung on a tree, Jesus suffered the death and the abandonment by God that sin deserves. Maybe Satan celebrated this apparent victory, or maybe Satan remembered God’s promises and knew defeat was inevitable.

As Abraham promised his son, Isaac, when they climbed Mt. Moriah (see Dec. 4), God provided the Lamb for the sacrifice. Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, became sin for us that we might be spared God’s punishment. It was the final great sacrifice, modeled in the thousands of sacrifices the Jewish people made to atone for their sins before God. But Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for everyone, for every sin, forever. This was God’s plan all along, through 4,000 years of faithfulness to His unfaithful people. There was no victory for Satan in His death.

Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for standing between me and Satan, sparing me from the death I deserve. In You I have true life and salvation. Amen.

As We Wait: Without Christ’s death and resurrection, His birth and life are meaningless. His teaching is just wise words with no power. Thank God today for His resurrection power.

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Messiah Not Known

Entry into JerusalemIllustration:  “Entry in Jerusalem.”  12th century mosaic in the Basilica Di San Marco, Venice, Italy.

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?'” (Matthew 21:10).

Jesus had been publicly ministering for three years by the time He made this triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He had called, taught, and empowered His disciples; He had performed miracles; He had preached to the multitudes; He had been recognized by some and scorned as a heretic by others.

Then, as the prophet Zechariah foretold (see Dec. 16), the shepherd King entered Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. Crowds of people welcomed Him enthusiastically, covering the road with palm branches and cloaks, proclaiming Him to be the Son of David (one of the key prophecies about the Messiah they await). But when some asked who He was, the crowd did not call Him Messiah. They said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” True, He is a prophet, but He is so much more! There are many prophets, but only one Messiah.

Today, people of many faiths acknowledge that Jesus was a prophet but do not recognize that He is the Savior. God promised a king, a deliverer, and a Savior. He is Jesus.

Prayer: Jesus, reveal Yourself clearly to those who do not see that You are Messiah. Amen.

As We Wait: Pray for missionaries who share the Gospel with people who know Jesus only as a prophet. Call Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism  at (314) 645-4456, or go online to http://www.lcms.org (Tab “What We Do” to “Missions and Outreach” to get the name of one in particular.

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Shalom

PeaceIllustration:  “Peace” by William Strutt, 1896.  Oil on canvas.

As we wait to celebrate the birth of the promised Messiah, we wait for the coming of Him again who would bring peace.  Today we live between the times.  Jesus’ birth would usher in the Messianic Kingdom when God comes to us and reconciles us to Himself.  That historic incarnation gives us shalom, the peace that passes all understanding.

But he will come again to bring the other peace that we long for, the lion laying down with the lamb.  That peace is as elusive today as it was during the “silent” years between Malachi and Matthew.  One foreign nation after another waged war on little Israel, and they, like us, longed for peace.  His coming in quiet, in a manger in Bethlehem, did not do much for little Israel.  They would still see dark days to come.  But those who would venture to the manger and praise God with the angels would see God’s forgiveness and live in hope.

Today the world is blowing up around us.  News of atrocities across the Middle East, terrorism in our own land, and living in fear seems to be what the world is serving.  But if we venture to the manger and praise God with the angels, we will see God’s forgiveness and live in the hope that he promises.  No amount of bad news can steal our shalom.

Prayer:  Father God, hold us in your arms tonight and lead us to the manger, to see your promises come true, and hold onto the promises yet to come.  Amen.

As We Wait:  It is tempting to live in fear, but fear is not of God.  Focus on his promise, and with our Lord Jesus, say, “get behind me Satan.”  He will not still our peace.

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Why is Hanukkah so popular?

imagesAs we get ready for our Hanukkah party this year (Dec. 11), one of our missionaries ran across an article in a Jewish publication trying to answer the question “Why is Hanukkah such a popular holiday?”

There is no question that Hanukkah is one of the more popular holidays in the Jewish calendar, and as the writer of the article notes, there is very little in the Talmud about Hanukkah, especially about the origin and nature of the holiday.

One of the most popular aspects of the holiday of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah.  As I’ve said before, that custom stems from a “miracle” that occurred after the Maccabees secured the Temple from the Syrians, and cleansed and rededicated it.  The story goes that as the priests went to light the lampstand in the Temple, there was not enough undefiled oil to keep it lit.  They used what oil could be used, enough to last for a day, but the miracle that occurred is that that little bit of oil lasted eight days, long enough to press and purify more oil.  Many traditions of Hanukkah flowed form this oil miracle.  The problem, of course, is that the history does not record such a miracle, and the miracle of the oil wasn’t even mentioned in the Talmud until around the 4th century.  While some argue for an oral tradition that predates the Talmud, I have often maintained that the miracle of the oil was a distraction for the Jewish people, to take the focus off of the true miracle of Hanukkah, the preservation of the people from whom Messiah Jesus would be born.

I often wonder at what lengths some Jewish people will go to avoid talking about Jesus.  The writer quotes a reference from Rashi from the 11th century and says, “This story shows that the popularity of Hanukkah was so great that it was kept even after the Temple was destroyed. Consequently, it implies that Hanukkah was established earlier, even while the Temple stood. This makes sense because if it was enacted after the Temple was destroyed, it should have been counted among the other mitzvot established by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai as Zecher L’mikdash, as a reminder of the Temple.”

It implies that Hanukkah was established “even while the Temple stood?”  We don’t truly need Rabbi Yochanan or Rashi to tell us that…Rabbi Y’shua tells us very clearly.  “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem (John 10:22).”  Y’shua was there, and he used that opportunity to boldly tell the Jewish people that he is the Messiah, born of the Jews.  We can light the menorah to do something other than celebrate his birth, or we can light the menorah to celebrate the miracle of his birth.  Surely the popularity of Hanukkah is not just a distraction so that we don’t have to talk about Jesus?

Merry Christmas to you, and Happy Hanukkah.  It is a wonderful season of true miracles in Messiah!

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Happy Thanksgivikah?

4755418b42ef1a70feb913ee914103b9I’ve been talking a lot lately about the end of the Church year, and of course as that season of the Church year comes to an end, what an exciting season we are entering into. Yes, while we have the last Sunday of the Church year coming up, the season ends with Thanksgiving.  While not technically a day in the Church year calendar, here in America Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to end the Church year with a blessed worship service where we can look back on the Church year and thank God for all His blessings, and the blessing of the calendar that moves us to look forward again to the incarnation of our Lord Y’shua!

The season of Advent is a bookend. . . we can say Amen, Come Lord Jesus! as we wait expectantly for the advent of His second coming, while at the same time look forward again to he reality of the incarnation that gives us the promise of salvation.  Both of these realities should move us to an urgency to share our faith with all people, recognizing that God continues to give us time to invite others into eternity with us.

Sometimes though, we get sidetracked with trying to protect the identity of Christmas in a growing secular world.  And our invitation to others gets drowned out by the silliness of worrying about whether Starbucks puts snowflakes on their coffee cups or not!  Some speculate that the furor over that is a plant by non-believers to distract from Jesus, and some speculate that it is “loyal Christian Starbucks customers” who are incensed about the new cups.  Either way, its ridiculous to let anything distract us from the message of the Advent Season.  Jesus has come already to bring peace between us, individually, and God.  That peace gives us the confidence to wait expectantly for Him to come again to bring peace to the world, with its recreation of Eden again.

During the Advent season, Jewish people celebrate Chanukah.  These historic events surrounding the establishment of this memorial tradition harken back to the time before the incarnation where God’s people waited in darkness as the world threw false messiah after false messiah at them.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes (God manifest), king of the Seleucid Empire tried to claim messiahship over Israel, and Judas Maccabee was hailed as the messiah as he overthrew the Seleucids.  The holiday is notorious for the “miracle of the oil,”  a later Rabbinic tradition that grew into eight days of Chanukah.  But the true miracle of Chanukah is the preservation of the Jewish people from whom would come the true Messiah of Israel, Jesus.  Please share this truth this season, as we shine the light of Messiah on an increasingly darkening world.  We continue to live in hope, and may no world event dim your hope this season as we together thank God for all His blessings.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Simeon Sees Salvation

Song of SimeonIllustration:  “Simeon’s Song of Praise” by Aert de Gelder, c. 1700.  Oil on canvas.

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed'” (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon knows about waiting. God promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. He is a devout man, living in Jerusalem, and God has filled him with the Holy Spirit so he will recognize the Savior. Here he is, worshiping in the temple when in walk these new parents with a little baby boy, prepared to be circumcised according to the custom of the Law. What joy must have flooded him that day as he took the baby Jesus into his arms! He held the baby and sang a song of praise to God, saying, “For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:30-31).

Simeon also gave an interesting prophecy: The name of Jesus will reveal the thoughts of the heart. Indeed it does! Some people praise His name, others are not moved by Jesus, and some well up with anger at the mention of Jesus’ name.

Prayer: Father, reveal my heart to those who live in darkness and ignorance of Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: Try it today. Ask someone you don’t know, “What do you think of Jesus?” Perhaps their response will give you an opportunity to share your hope in Jesus.

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