Holidays, My Thoughts, Plight of the Poor, song lyrics

A Christmas Story in Their Affliction

(Picture not my own…)

 

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(~”O Come Emmanuel”)

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One thought plagues my mind this Christmas, and I am constrained to share it with you all. This message really starts with one small baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger….

 

As we marvel at the “Christmas Story” of Jesus’ birth, I cannot help but thumb through His life. It helps me put things into perspective. As we follow Jesus through the Scriptures, we find him mentioned as a baby at his birth and dedication (and pre-birth prophecies) and then as a toddler when the “wise men” show up, bearing gifts. This is all-too-familiar to us and many grow weary of hearing it. But time goes on. Jesus really was a human. He didn’t stay in the manger. He grew up. Think about it…

 

He played with toys, no doubt, and perhaps some neighborhood sports. He had friends and siblings and family. He undoubtedly worked as Joseph’s apprentice in carpentry. He was the first-born son, so he would have been expected to take up the family business. He kept the Sabbath and followed the law and celebrated whatever Jewish holidays were on the calendar. He shared gifts and meals and stories with real people. Can you imagine kid Jesus laughing with you about how much fun you had out on the lake? Or talking excitedly with you about an upcoming holiday? Or how about him tripping over something in the floor and spilling his food everywhere? He was really there. Undoubtedly, people around him thought him a strange child. He never sinned; so no fighting or lying or stealing or dishonoring his parents–the usual childhood diseases. He wasn’t even greedy or obnoxious or prideful or mean or ill-tempered. I mean, when you really try to imagine a child like that, they begin to seem fantastical, don’t they? I imagine the women getting together for general gossip and talking about how abnormal Jesus was. Imagine the things they must have said to Mary! Anything from,

 

“Your son is soooo well-behaved! I wish my kids were more like that….”

 

to

 

“I’m telling you, Mary. There’s just something not right about that boy. Something unnatural….He’s got to be ill in the head! Look at him stalking off alone all the time! I really worry about him, Mary….And the way he talks….”

 

And, for a moment, place yourself in his siblings’ shoes! It can be summed up in one statement:

 

“Oh, really, James?! Why can’t you be more like Jesus???”

 

I mean, when you think about it, Jesus must have had a pretty rough childhood. The next time Jesus is mentioned (chronologically) is when he was 12 years old. He and his family made the trek to Jerusalem for the Passover. By a bizarre set of misunderstandings (I have actually witnessed something similar before), Jesus was accidentally left in Jerusalem. After a frantic and painstaking search FOR THREE DAYS, his parents find him in the temple having a deep theological discussion with the rabbis there. The rabbis were astounded with his depth of thought and understanding, especially for someone so young. We all know the story, right?–

 

(Luke 2:46-51; KJV)

“And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.”

 

One thing that sticks out to me is that Mary asks Jesus, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching frantically!” She calls Joseph “your father”. Understand, even though Joseph was Jesus’ father by law, he was not Jesus’ biological father. I sometimes wonder what Jesus called him, especially when I see Jesus’ response here. Mary makes a statement about Joseph as Jesus’ father, and Jesus points her to who his Father really is. Interesting….The next time we read about Jesus (other than Luke’s words that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”) is at his baptism.

 

But here’s my point in sharing this today: Notice something here. As you read through Jesus’ baptism and ministry and death and resurrection–Do you notice that someone seems to be missing? Joseph. After Jesus’ episode in Jerusalem when he was 12, we never read about Joseph again. Matter of fact, when Jesus is on the cross, he gives the care of Mary over to John (John 19:26-27), which he would not have done unless Jesus was the primary caretaker of her. We can only assume that Joseph passed away sometime between Jesus’ 12th year and his baptism.

 

Now, most of us don’t ever imagine Jesus crying. Yet we see clearly two times when he did, and strongly: 1.) When Lazurus died and 2.) in the garden of Gethsemane. So, we know he was certainly capable of feeling deep sorrow. Think about it though–He was human! He lost his dad, even if it wasn’t his biological father! Imagine it–his whole family grieving. His mother suddenly a widow. Jesus finds himself fatherless, in the physical sense. And then it hit me harder: Jesus was the firstborn son. It would have fallen on his shoulders to provide for the family and be the caretaker of his mother and father to his siblings. He could have been as young as 12 or 13….

 

This makes me remember what Isaiah said in the prophecy:

 

(Isaiah 53:3a&4a; KJV)

“He is…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief….

Surely he hath borne our griefs,

and carried our sorrows….”

 

This is the beauty of the whole story encompassing Christmas to Easter. God the Son forsook His royal throne in heaven to descend to earth. He was born from a woman just like you or me. I mean, for several years, he was just an abnormally good and wise young boy. He cried. He laughed. He played. He cuddled. He giggled. He pooped. He had sleepless nights and illnesses and simple childhood woes. He had siblings who squabbled and talked with him and imagined futures of carpentry and marriage and wealth–perhaps a way out of a poor man’s life….He was just a kid. He was just Joseph’s son. But he wasn’t. As he pointed out to his mother, he was someone more than they could imagine or grasp. Their beloved Messiah was among them that entire time. Can you imagine them praying in the synagogue for the messiah to come and save them, weeping for the prophesied One to come, all the while he was sitting their as a growing young fatherless poor man in their congregation. He was bowing his head and seeking the Father’s will and learning who he was and why. And all those people who expected him to take up his “father’s” role as a carpenter were astounded when he told them he was called to be a rabbi. He was a human yet God. He was humbled into human form though he held all glory in his being. And for all of who he was, and all of what he deserved, he chose to come into a poor family. He chose to be a fatherless child. He chose to be a widow’s son. He chose to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, and know intimately what it means to be human. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all….

 

Therefore, this is for you, the fatherless and widows who suffer with your own afflictions: My dears, he was also afflicted. He knew personally the griefs of widowhood through his mother. He experienced the grueling trials of being fatherless. He knew what it meant to lose someone. He knew what it meant to feel loneliness. He knew what it was for no one to believe in him or think much of him. He knew what it meant to be overlooked and forgotten. He too had to remember that he was not truly fatherless, that he had a father in heaven, just like you and I. He knew. He felt. He was there. It is because of this that he is able to bear your sorrows and carry you through your trials. It is because he went before you that he is able to be with you and understand you. It is because he humbled himself and gave himself over to his meager life that he now is there, knowing where you are and holding the answers, pointing you to your real Father in heaven….

 

(Acts 17:27; KJV)

“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”

 

Take comfort: he knows your pain and he is there. When you feel overlooked or forgotten, he is there. When you feel helpless and alone, he is there. When you are poor and and hungry, he is there. When you are hopeless and desperate, he is there. He is not far from any one of us, but his heart is nearest to and hurting for “the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Trust me, he cares. You can never imagine just how much….

 

Merry Christmas to you all and remember what we celebrate: We celebrate God become man to forgive and walk with each of us every day–all who will come to him. Celebrate the gift of Jesus, and remember his sacrifices as you begin a new year bearing his name….

 

 

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(Isaiah 53; KJV)

“Who hath believed our report?

and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,

and as a root out of a dry ground:

he hath no form nor comeliness;

and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:

and we hid as it were our faces from him;

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 

Surely he hath borne our griefs,

and carried our sorrows:

yet we did esteem him stricken,

smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

he was bruised for our iniquities:

the chastisement of our peace was upon him;

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned every one to his own way;

and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth:

he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,

so he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment:

and who shall declare his generation?

for he was cut off out of the land of the living:

for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked,

and with the rich in his death;

because he had done no violence,

neither was any deceit in his mouth.

 

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied:

by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;

for he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he hath poured out his soul unto death:

and he was numbered with the transgressors;

and he bare the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.”

 

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Holidays, song lyrics

Beauty in the Ashes: Remembering to Love the Forgotten

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas

When all through the house

Every creature was stirring,

Perhaps even a mouse!

 

Indeed, my parents were wrapping gifts and finding a place to put them (since we didn’t put a tree up this year) while my brothers chatted away excitedly in their room (sharing a wall with mine. Fun.). Even I was up, but I couldn’t breathe (Sinuses. Only in Mississippi are there tornado watches/warnings in 70°F weather at Christmas time). Christmas lost some of its magic for me some time ago, when I truly experienced the materialism of our culture. We opted for a small Christmas this year. So, I wasn’t quite so excited about gifts. I wanted it to be about more than that. I wanted to focus on higher things. Focus….

 

So, I decided to read some Scripture (sleeping wasn’t really an option, even if it was 9:30pm and I hadn’t slept well the night before). What to read? Well, what better place than in Luke for this season? So, I decided to start at the very beginning. Chapter 1.

 

 

I didn’t get far.

 

 

Something immediately got my attention. Verses 5-6 of Chapter 1——

 

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

 

I did a double-take. Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought Mary was quite somebody, the way she took the whole thing. But this! This was way more mind-blowing! Did I just read that Zacharias and Elisabeth walked in the law blamelessly??? I understand that they were sinners like the rest of us, but apparently they were doing pretty well at this time in their lives! I mean, to be called “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”! That’s serious stuff! I started thinking about that….

 

What would I give for the same to be said of me? Righteous before God…Walking in all His commands blamelessly….What would I give for such a powerful testimony?

 

This thought seemed to coincide with another thought that has been haunting me lately. Afterall, what are His commands that we should walk in? Well, I can tell you one major one:

 

(James 1:27; KJV)

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

 

This one “command” is very powerful to me. This ordinance, established primarily in the Old Testament, has impacted my life in a more violent way than perhaps any other ordinance I’ve found. And I still struggle with it….

 

 

What, God? Haven’t you seen the widows around here? They are crazy! Out of it! They don’t really need me. Besides, that’s someone else’s job. Oh. And the fatherless? They may be more messed up! How do you expect me to minister to that little boy whose Daddy is in prison and whose Momma can’t have him by law? He is absolutely messed up! I mean, do you see the way he acts?! And oh my goodness—the way he talks! No way. Not my mission field. Orphans? Er…I don’t know any…..So, that’s out of the question….What? What do you mean, “What’s your mission field then”? I have a mission field…..er….Well, you know….there are people….around….that come in contact with me occassionally….Well, what did You expect? I’m not perfect, afterall!

 

 

For years, even though I never dared to say such things to the Most Holy and High God of the Universe, I nevertheless thought them (indirectly) in my mind. I dodged around doing my part. And I am ashamed to say that it took a series of near-death experiences for me to wake up. I still try to blind myself often, but it’s over. God has completely wrecked my life. I can never go back again. It’s too painful to stay where I am. I must move forward.

 

So, why not strive to be blameless in at least this command? What I have found while reaching out of my comfort zone, was that it’s not so bad when God is already there waiting to bless everyone involved. Sure—I’m not completely comfortable. I’d just as soon be at home playing Legend of Zelda Windwaker on the Wii than be in a Nursing Home with an old woman I barely know. Yet, when I did reach out or saw others reach out, I found something of far greater worth that I hadn’t seen before: beauty in the ashes, treasure in the brokeness. The smile of an old woman who is usually all alone at Christmas. when someone suddenly reaches out and helps the her find joy this season. The sparkle in the eye of the orphan who receives a gift for the first time. The neediness and hurt of the fatherless child finding healing in time spent with a new mentor. What these things are doing are of far greater value and beauty than imaginable. And all because someone followed God’s commands, perhaps not perfectly, but at least blamelessly.

 

So, this Christmas season, let us truly analyze whose life we can impact. Let us visit the widow and fatherless in their distress and try to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Let us reach out and love somebody.

 

To go with this, I thought we should listen to our brother TobyMac, who is bringing us partially into the shoes of an orphan with a need:

 

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“This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless)”

By: Nirva Ready and TobyMac

 

 

Now Jonnie never got his wish December 25th

That’s what he said when we left the orphanage

Nine years old, but Jonnie was an old soul

Gonna spend his first Christmas in a real home

Then he showed me a picture he made the night before

A drawing of a man standin’ outside the door

He said, “I see him in my dreams

He comforts me when I can’t sleep”

 

Father of the fatherless

Be with your sons and daughters this Christmas

This Christmas

 

“Believe in angels?”

He asked starin’ at the sky

I said I do and saw a sparkle in his eye

Big brother for the weekend, respondin’ to the season

I took the chance that givin’s better than receivin’

Two nights, a new family, some holiday cheer

We laughed and sang

Came on a midnight clear

We gave, received, and as we headed to a close

We looked to the heavens, and it started snowing blessings

 

Father of the fatherless

Be with your sons and daughters this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ‘til you choose to give

Love and joy and peace to one of His)

Father let us not forget

The children who are all alone this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ‘til you choose to give

Love and joy and peace to one of His)

 

[James 1:27]

Religion that God our Father

Accepts as pure and faultless is this:

That we look after orphans and widows in their distress

Merry Christmas everyone

 

Joy to the world

The Lord is come

Let Heaven and nature sing

Let Heaven and nature sing

Let Heaven and nature sing

 

Big brother turned dad in a couple weeks

Some gifts give more than you could ever dream

Started out as a plan just to do my part,

But that little man went and stole my heart

 

Father of the fatherless

Be with your sons and daughters this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ‘til you choose to give

Love and joy and peace to one of His)

Father let us not forget

The children who are all alone this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ‘til you choose to give

Love and joy and peace to one of His)

 

Let Heaven and nature sing

Let Heaven and nature sing

[x2]

 

From me and mine, to you and yours…

Merry Christmas

This year, reach out and love somebody, y’all

 

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