Luke records a touching story of a blind beggar. Beggars were no more respected than they are today. We even have a derogatory nickname for them: bums. But beggars have one goal in this life–survival. Beggars are under-privileged because of life circumstances. Some have medical or mental conditions that render them unable to get or maintain jobs. Without income, nobody can eat or have a safe place to live.
When Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind beggar found out that Jesus was passing by. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'” (Luke 18:38 ESV). And the people who were in front rebuked him and told him to be quiet. “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” (vs. 39). Jesus commanded that the man be brough to him and he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The man goes on to ask for his sight to be restored. This was a huge ask, and clearly the man believed Jesus could do it. He could have asked for immediate needs like food, water, and shelter. But instead he asked for his sight to be restored so he could work and be productive. Jesus, of course, restores the man’s sight. He went on to follow Jesus and glorify God. We should have the same attitude of Jesus, offering mercy to the people who are most in need.
We have an idiom in the West, to “fall out of love.” Merriam-Webster simply defines the idiom this way: “to no longer feel romantic love for someone.” Even the definition seems cold and detached. What if there is actually no such thing as falling out of love? What if, instead, we lose focus and perspective on what love really is? Is it possible that love needs to be readjusted, and readjusted often?
I think that’s what was going on in 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul reminded the Corinthian church about what true love requires. The Corinthians didn’t fall out of love with each other. Instead, they lost focus on what true love really looks like. Paul says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:3-7 ESV).
Paul very patiently readjusted their vision of love. Love was reignited in the Corinthian church. People began to treat each other with kindness and respect again. We need reminders often that love is a beautiful thing and it requires us to treat one another with all patience and kindness. When we do that, God’s love shines in us.
Our theme this year comes from Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Our plans are important. And they change. But God always establishes our steps. There is no denying that life is hard work. Paul even says that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). God left Adam and Even in the garden to work it. Work is admirable. It’s honorable. God gave us hands to work with.
Kingdom work and “secular work” are so intertwined in the scriptures that it’s difficult to know which is which. Perhaps the radical distinction we make between the two is really superficial. Maybe that’s why we’ve gotten away from bi-vocational ministry and have instead become dependent on paying lead ministers to do “the work of the church.” It might be better, instead, to talk in terms of work ethic.
If we took that approach, we’d soon realize that all work is kingdom work. It’s all tied to the blessing and receiving that God has planned out for us. Proverbs 10:4-5 ESV says, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” Again, the scriptures repeatedly talk about having a good work ethic. This is not just so the grain can be hauled in and the farmer’s family can eat. It’s to teach us to be responsible with our time and abilities, to not squander them and be lazy. When we have a good work ethic as a church, our plans come together and God establishes our steps!
New year means a new theme! It can be a challenge to think through a theme when there are so many unknowns. The past two years have proved to be very challenging, for sure. The year ended with several of us getting the flu and canceling our trip to visit in-laws. It was kind of the icing on the cake to describe what many of us have been going through with the ongoing struggles of inflation, a global pandemic, loss of work, schools shutting down, church services going virtual, and on and on.
Speaking of plans, our theme comes from Proverbs 16:9 ESV: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We can plan all we want but it’s the Lord that establishes our steps. Plans change. Always. It’s still good to plan, but plans will inevitably change. There are a zillion factors in life. Things are always shifting and changing.
As we look to the new year and what’s in store for the church, we will make plans. Solid plans. And those plans will change along the way. But God will establish our steps. He is faithful. He knows the future of the church. God will bless the church in immeasurable ways. It’s exciting to wait and see how God will bless and establish our plans.
The Shepherd scene in Luke is quite astonishing. A handful of shepherds were watching the flocks by night. Shepherds were not high on the totem pole of important people. Shepherds were not typically people came to with their spiritual problems and were not sought after for their religious expertise. Yet it was shepherds who God’s angel appeared to in the still of the night. This would have otherwise been an ordinary, boring night. But something was different.
Luke says “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9 ESV). When the glory of God shone, it was oftentimes recorded as blinding light. The angel told them not to fear, “for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (vs. 10-11). Imagine. A group of ordinary shepherds minding their own business. Then an angel appears, the glory of God shines brightly, they are told that the Savior of mankind was just born, and a multitude of the heavenly host appears, praising God.
The Shepherds immediately left for Bethlehem to see the spectacle. They began explaining to everyone what the angels had told them. Ordinary people with an extraordinary message. God chose to show up to a small group of shepherds and used them to announce to another small group that the Savior was born!
When Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She then exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42 ESV). Elizabeth claimed that her baby leaped for joy at the sound of Mary and she said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (vs. 45).
Mary then broke out into a song of praise, beginning by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (vs. 46, 47). This song is known by it’s Latin name, “The Magnificat” which means my soul magnifies the Lord. The word for magnify means to make great or large.
When we look closely at the birth narrative, it’s incredible that Mary had such faith in God. She believed what the angel told her about conceiving a child and becoming the mother of the Lord. Not only did Mary believe, but her soul actually magnified the Lord! She was determined to worship God in all that she did. Her song points not to her, but to God. It’s a song of praise for God’s goodness and holiness.
We Christians rightfully emphasize Jesus’ origins in the miraculous virgin birth. But there is more to the story of where Jesus came from beyond Mary. In fact, Matthew and Luke give detailed genealogies, detailing Jesus’ lineage. Matthew’s account has always fascinated me. He divides it up in three sets of 14 generations and decides to trace it to Joseph instead of Mary. What’s even more interesting is that Matthew includes four women besides Mary.
He mentions Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah). The really interesting thing is that the women were foreigners, had children out of major scandals, and were faithful to God. Matthew seems to include them to show that the fulfilment of the scriptures includes people who received grace for their faithfulness. Matthew also doesn’t sanitize the lineage of Jesus. He includes people, men and women, who were far from perfect.
Matthew groups the generations this way: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). In grouping the genealogies in groups of fourteen (7 indicates perfection/completion of something), he is showing that Jesus is the completion and perfection of God’s covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises that a messiah would come through David.
As we reflect on the birth of Christ, we can take a deeper look at how God includes unlikely people into His perfect plan of salvation.