Saturday, January 3, 2009

01/03 - Some Unexpected People Find the New Baby

Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus attracted some of the least expected people and was overlooked by people who should have paid him the most attention, a pattern that continues to this day. The Magi were among the first of the unexpected people attracted to him.

The Magi, probably by some kind of astrology used in their religion, figured out that a new king of the Jews had been born. Their knowledge about the new king was incomplete; for example, they did not know the place of his birth. Even realizing their knowledge was limited, they were willing to begin their journey to find the new king.

The journey of the Magi was long and arduous. Some guess they came from Persia, over a 1,000 miles away, or even farther east. They would have traveled many months only to spend a short time, perhaps a few hours or days, paying honor to a baby who would not even understand who they were.

Although they apparently knew little about the divine nature and historic role of the child, they decided he was worthy of their worship. They found the baby Jesus, worshiped him and offered him exquisite gifts. The Magi showed faith by acting on the little knowledge they had.

In contrast, people in Jerusalem, including the king and the religious leaders, were not aware of the birth of the special child. They knew some facts about the coming Messiah but completely missed the event. They had to learn about it from strangers who probably were closer to pagan than monotheistic believers like they were. And as far as we know, after the Magi tell them, no one in Jerusalem makes the six-mile trip to Bethlehem to see the child.

There is much we can learn about faith in Jesus from this story. Like the people of Jerusalem, we know some facts about him, but like the Magi, our knowledge is at best partial and perhaps faulty in some ways. Regardless of our knowledge, the important question is Will we just learn some facts about Jesus, like the people of Jerusalem, or will we, like the Magi, experience him? Will we travel the distance to find him, give him our greatest gifts, and worship him?

Later, in his public ministry, Jesus told parables about people making heroic efforts and spending everything to gain great treasure. Perhaps while telling these parables, he remembered Mary’s and Joseph’s accounts of the Magi who came over a great distance to find him, bringing costly gifts.

Friday, January 2, 2009

01/02 - God Picks a Stepfather for His Son

Matthew 1:18-25

God had a delicate situation. His son was to have every human experience, including growing from infancy to adulthood. God would be constrained in how He intervened in the rearing of Jesus, a responsibility that would fall mainly on the boy’s mother and stepfather. Jesus would even learn the concept father first through his daily experiences with the one God picked for that stepfather role.

This passage gives us a glimpse of the character of Joseph. Imagine the scene where Mary tells him she was not just pregnant but pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was shocked and felt betrayed. The story about the Holy Spirit sounded like a weak attempt to divert attention away from her moral failure. Perhaps it made him question her mental stability. Despite the grief, anger, and dismay he felt, Joseph decided to break their betrothal quietly to reduce her embarrassment and punishment.

However, Joseph was not to have it so easy. God called him to continue the betrothal and to marry her. People then, as now, knew babies came in nine months, and they would interpret Mary’s expanding belly as evidence of his moral failure too. We can imagine how this pregnancy tarnished this good man’s reputation.

Based on how he is described in this passage, we can guess at how Joseph lived a life of kindness, strength, and godliness before his stepson. Jesus would eventually know the truth about his father. However, it was first from Joseph he learned about being a good man as he followed in Joseph’s steps in childhood, and as he worked in adolescent years with his stepfather in the family carpentry business.

Throughout his life, Jesus would think fondly about the strength and character he learned from Joseph. He would draw on this strength and character as he, like Joseph, sought to obey God in every situation regardless of its difficulty.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

01/01 - God, the Social Engineer

Matthew 1:1-17

My family had a reunion picnic last summer, and afterward I sat enthralled as aunts, uncles, and cousins told stories about my ancestors. Imagine attending a family reunion picnic with young Jesus and listening as the young boy heard the stories about his ancestors, many of them listed in this genealogy.

The genealogy is actually for Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus (Matthew called him “the husband of Mary”). Mary’s ancestry connects to the genealogy, and because she and Joseph were likely of the same Jewish tribe, her connection to it was probably just a few generations back.

Matthew started by calling Jesus “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” emphasizing his Jewish heritage. The genealogy contains a Who’s Who of Jewish notables: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Of the ancestors we know about, some were good, such as Ruth, some were shady, such as Jacob, but most were very complex with strikingly great flaws and strengths. For example, God said of David, “[He] is a man after my own heart,” (Acts 13:22), but David was also a murderer.

In listing the ancestors of Jesus, including the large number lost to obscurity, Matthew showed Jesus was part of a family with rich traditions and culture accumulated over many generations. Those traditions and that culture would form Jesus, just as you and I are formed by our family traditions and culture.

It was not an accident Jesus came into this particular family at this exact time. God had been preparing for his coming even before choosing Abraham to start a great nation, the starting point of Matthew’s genealogy. Generation by generation, God had been doing social engineering on the grandest scale.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Introduction to A YEAR WITH JESUS

Words are odd things. We encounter them as black scribbles on a page, left by someone else for us to understand, or as vibrations traveling in the air, vibrations that our ears sense and send to our brain for comprehension.

God had a message for us that could not be put into scribbles on a page or vibrations in the air. It had to be embodied into a different kind of word—the life of his Son. John’s gospel says that the ever-existing Word, who participated in the creation of all things, became flesh and lived among us
[1]. This message of God is embodied not only in the spoken words of Jesus but also in his every act and thought. His mind and heart reveal God’s mind and heart.

How then do we learn the message of the Living Word? The main way is to study and meditate on every aspect of his life.

The reading schedule this blog accompanies is offered as a tool for getting the Incarnate Word into our hearts and minds through daily study about and meditation on Jesus. It assigns a short scripture passage to each day, covering all four Gospel books in a one year period.

The daily reading experience may be enriched by keeping a journal of ideas that come to mind while meditating on each passage. Also, the experience may be enhanced by asking thought questions about each passage, such as:
  • What does this passage reveal about Jesus’ heart and character?
  • What does it reveal about his personality and the working of his mind?
  • What does it teach about his nature, his humanity and his divinity?
  • What does it say about his part in history and his eternal role?

Some of the readings seem to be more about other people than about Jesus. However, Jesus is the central idea even in these passages, which allow us to experience him through the people he interacted with and to compare him to his contemporaries.

This reading schedule is offered with the conviction that spending a year with the Living Word can change our lives. As we read and meditate each day, we will grow closer to him, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit. And, we will even begin to act and think like Jesus. After all, we are told to have his mind or attitude.[2] In fact, our destiny is to become like him![3]

[1] John 1:1-5, 14
[2] Philippians 2:5
[3] Luke 6:40, Romans 8:29, II Corinthians 3:18