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The 2017 Advent season has begun!

Advent is a time of anticipation. A time of looking forward to something unbelievably good. Looking forward to Jesus’ birth. God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God condescending to be with us. Emmanuel.

Honestly, all that doesn’t mean so much to people anymore. Advent in our day and age usually means anticipating buying gifts, going to parties and family get togethers. Things that a lot of people Don’t look forward to. For too many people, the Christ birth event is a minor part of the holiday season, if it exists at all.

Jesus in the manger has lost it’s luster for a lot of Christians for another reason. It happens every year. It’s not new. We Want New. New electronics, kitchen gadgets, clothes and toys. Christmas isn’t new. It’s the same old thing, year after year. I’m 54 years old. I was raised in a Christian family. I have 54 years of Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2 under my belt. What could possibly be new in 2017 Advent? What is there to anticipate?

With this in mind, I began to think about how Jews might have been thinking around the time of Jesus’ birth. The Chosen People of God. They hadn’t had a prophet speak the Word of the LORD to them since Malachi, 400 years earlier. They had been under the thumb of foreign rulers for about 600 years. So, People Of God, how’s that working out for you?

Some of them probably decided that it wasn’t working and gave up on God, but many were holding on to the promises proclaimed by the prophets that someday a Messiah would come and bring peace and freedom. Proclamations like:

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

 Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

 Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Some of us look forward to celebrating the birth of the Messiah every year. The Jews had been anticipating that day for over half a millenia!

When I think of looking forward to something good, I  think about our family vacation that we took in July. We drove from Oaxaca, Mexico to Brush, Colorado. In May we began planning for the trip, and the anticipation began. Anticipation of crossing the border into the U.S.A. Anticipation of seeing my parents and sister and oldest daughter. People I haven’t seen for over two years. Anticipation of Mom’s great cooking, as well as Taco Bell and Mountain Dew –  food and drink that are not available here in Oaxaca. Normally we would fly to Colorado, but this time we were going to drive, so we were looking forward to close family time (four days in the car) that would include museum visits, tourist attractions and motel swimming pools (Sally and Kelly, my youngest daughter’s favorite). Anticipation of camping in the mountains and seeing a Rocky’s baseball game.

The fulfillment of all of those things was great. A wonderful time was had by all. Heart’s longings were met and we were filled with joy. And that was after waiting a mere three months.

After waiting hundreds of years, the Messiah came to the Chosen People of God, and brought true spiritual freedom to all who would accept him and his message.  Some were disappointed that he didn’t overthrow Roman rule and bring national freedom.  But many more people through the ages have received something greater to celebrate, freedom from sin and adoption as Children of God.  The hungry eat the living Bread and the thirsty drink the living Water.

One of the Advent readings for the first Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 64:1-9.   Verse four says, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

This Advent season I hope we can all find time to “wait for him”. Wait for Him to reveal himself in new and wonderous ways that can fill our journey on earth with happiness.

In waiting for Him, in meditating on Him, we find hope and joy. Strength and peace. Below is a web address for a video meditation on Advent that may encourage you on your journey.

https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/series/liturgical-meditations/

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jesus manger1.jpg

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

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I was thirsty, and you gave me living water.

John 4:10,14

I was hungry, and you gave me the bread of life.

John 6:27,35

I was naked, and you gave me a garment of praise.

Isaiah 61:3

I was a stranger, and you adopted me.

Romans 8:14-16

I was sick and you healed me of all my diseases.

Psalm 103:3

I was in prison and you set me free.

Luke 4:18

birth of JesusSunday, December 1st, started the Advent season on the church calendar. Foundation For His Ministry’s Home for Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico is joining the world wide celebration this year.  Advent is the time of the year when many Christians look to the future.  We look forward to the second coming of Christ, the second advent, with hope.  Hope for the day when God’s perfect justice reigns supreme.  A time when God’s will is done and his kingdom is come on earth as it is in heaven.  We also look forward to celebrating the first advent, the incarnation, God with us.  It is appropriate to ask the question during this season, “Why was Jesus born on this planet?”  There are many good answers to this question.  One answer is that he was born to bleed.

Blood is God’s way.  Blood plays an important role in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  Here are just two verses that communicate to us the importance blood plays in God’s Word:

Lev. 17:11    For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

  Heb. 9:22   Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The first notion we get of blood being spilt is in Genesis, chapter three.  Adam and Eve have sinned, rebelled against God and His one rule.  Now they find themselves naked and ashamed.  Their great cover-up is fig leaves.  God says “No good” and kills an animal, takes its blood stained hide, fashions garments from it for the sinners to wear.  Here we have a peak into the future when God will use blood to not only cover our sins, but to wash them away.

Ables blood sacrifice
Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Able.  They made offerings to God.  Cain was a farmer and offered produce from his field.  Able was a shepherd and offered a blood sacrifice  of one of his animals.  God was pleased with Able’s offering but not Cain’s.

Noahs sacrifice
God brought Noah and his family safely through the flood.  Noah killed some of the animals on the ark and offered them as a sacrifice to God.  God promised to never destroy the earth with flood waters again.

Circumcision
God called Abraham to be the father of a great nation, a chosen people.  To mark the men as a people chosen by God, they were to be circumcised.  Blood flowed from the males.  They were holy and set apart for God’s purposes.  Later on the Apostle Paul explains to the new chosen people of God, the Church, that bloody circumcision of the body is no longer necessary, but circumcision of the heart is.

Severed animals
God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it is sealed by blood. Abraham brings before God a  heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.  Abraham cuts the animals in half, their blood dripping into the earth, and God walks between the animals, as if to say, “May this be done to me if I don’t keep my end of the deal.”  Of course God is faithful and forever does his part.

Binding of Isaac
God told Abraham to take his son, his only son,whom he loved, and to kill him as a sacrifice to God.  Abraham took Isaac to a mountain, bound him, and as he was about to plunge a knife into his heart, the angel of the Lord intervened.  In stead of spilling his beloved sons blood, a ram that was caught in some bushes, became a substitute blood offering.  Centuries later, another beloved son was sacrificed and bled on the same mountain as a substitute for all mankind.

Passover and blood on the door posts                                                                                                         God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, have been enslaved by the Egyptians for many years.  God sends Moses and nine plaques to try and set His People free.  It hasn’t worked, but a tenth plaque is on the way.  God commands Moses and the Hebrew people to kill a spotless lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  When the destroying angel comes to kill the firstborn male of every house, it will passover all the houses with the blood.  The Egyptians sons die that night and Pharoah lets God’s People go.  One day all humanity will stand before God in judgment, and all those not marked by the blood of Christ will be destroyed.

Mt Sinai and the law of sacrifice                                                                                                                      On Mt Sinai, God stipulates, codifies and puts into law the practice of sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of sins.   Every spotless animal that has its throat cut and its blood spilt for the forgiveness of sin points humanity to the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus blood being shed for the forgiveness of sin.

The last supper                                                                                                                                                     Mat. 26:27    And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Blood of Jesus                                                                                                                                                    And then Jesus bled.  He sweat drops of blood as he prayed “Not my will but thine be done.”  He bled when the blood of Christsoldiers hit him.  Blood flowed down his face when a cruel crown of thorns was jammed on his head.  Blood ran down his back as he was mercilessly  whipped.  Blood dripped from his hands and feet while he hung on the cross.  Blood poured out of his body when the sword pierced his side.  And God said, “There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.”

Paul and the blood                                                                                                     Romans 3:25  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.                                                                                                          Romans 5:8-10  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled  to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Hebrews and the blood                                                                                                                                           Hebrews 9:12-14   Jesus did not enter (the more perfect tabernacle) by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so  that we may serve the living God!

Revelation and the blood                                                                                                                                        Rev. 5:9,10   And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,           and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

As we celebrate the first advent of Jesus, with colorfully wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree covered with blinking lights and pretty bows, and as we gaze on the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds and sheep, it might be good to take a moment and meditate on the fact that the innocent baby laying in the manger, was born to bleed.  And because of His Blood, we are forgiven of our sins, and freed from  Sin.      

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I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, and for Confucianism.  I owe much to these faiths.  The fact that I was born with a spirit of reverence, that I have an insatiable craving for values which transcend this earthly life, and that I strive to walk the way of the golden mean, I owe entirely to the influence of those ethnic faiths.  Yet these three faiths utterly failed to minister to my heart’s deepest need.  I was a pilgrim journeying upon a long, long road that had no turning.  I was weary.  I was footsore.  I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick.  Tears were my meat day and night.  Buddhism teaches great compassion, but since the beginning of time, who has declared, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sins”?      Toyohiko Kagawa, quoted by John Stott in The Incomparable Christ