This is my Christmas gift to my friends prepared and given in lecture form at the Morrison United Methodist Church in Leesburg, Florida. Advent 2006.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the GRAND MIRACLE. So this reflection on the subject of one of C.S. Lewis’ essays published in God In The Dock is a reflection on what we celebrate at Christmas.
“I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power.”
C. S. Lewis
“The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. “(Novum Organum, Francis Bacon)
The Biblical Record
Ordinarily we think that the Christmas story is only in Matthew and Luke, but I contend that there is also The Christmas Story in The Gospel of John. Each time John mentions “The Word,” the Greek in which he wrote says “Logos.” In ancient Greek philosophy Logos is used to refer to the mind or thoughts of God. One of the Greeks named Heraclitus was fascinated by the way everything is always changing. He is the one who made the famous remark, “You can’t step in the same river twice. The water flows on and the river you stepped in a minute before is gone.” Planets move, all living things die, mountains erode into plains and volcanoes spout up new mountains.
Yet with all this change the universe does not fall apart and the changes follow a plan. Where then does order come from? Why doesn’t it all fall apart? Because of the Logos, the order and plan in the mind or thought of God.
At the same time there was growing up in Judaism the concept of “Wisdom,” again a product of the mind and thought of God. Why does the material universe have such beauty, regularity, and generosity? Because the wisdom of God is revealed in every aspect of the creation.
Again why is there a moral order so reliable that no society can survive without a fixed point of what is most important, respect for parents, respect for life, property, marriage, truth and freedom from materialistic rapacity, in other words; The Ten Commandments. Because the mind of God, also called “Wisdom,” is the organizing principle of the moral as well as the physical universe.
During the last century before the birth of Jesus there was a Jewish scholar named Philo who lived in Alexandria Egypt. He was part of a vital intellectual community of rabbis. It was this community that produced the Septuagent (LXX) translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek. The scattering of Jews all over the Mediterranean world had caused many of them, brought up in the Greek language and culture, to be unable to read Hebrew, so a translation to meet their need was made in Alexandria.
The presence in Alexandria of these rabbis and of the great library of Greek knowledge, one of the wonders of the ancient world, created the environment for a powerful intellectual ferment. One of the rabbis was Philo Judaeus a scholar who sought a synthesis between Hebrew “Wisdom” and Greek “Logos.” Philo saw that when God said, “Let there be light,” and went on to speak the creation into being, the concept of “Word/Logos” was there in the Hebrew Scriptures. He came to the conclusion that Logos and Wisdom are the same.
Thus when John came to write his book about Jesus there was a concept ready to use that had been hammered out by the best minds of the Greeks and the Jews. So John wrote to the Greco-Roman world, “The Word (Logos/Wisdom) became flesh and lived among us.” That in short is the Christmas story in the Gospel of John.
In the synoptic Gospels—Leading them to it, letting them choose.
Any number of times Jesus said and did things that implied his true identity, but stopped short of an “in your face” declaration like those we have recorded in the Gospel of John. Why the difference? In the Gospel of John we have what Jesus said to those who already believed, and so were ready for the whole truth. And we have what he said to some who had rejected him and weren’t going to listen to the truth however he presented it.
I think Jesus wanted us to come to the truth willingly on our own. Can it be that even the Almighty God wants to be loved for Himself: to be discovered?
The story of the man who was let down through the roof in Mark 2:1-12 shows what I mean. Jesus forgives the man’s sins and is challenged by those standing by who said, “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus then heals the man of his physical illness and says, “So you can see that I have the authority to forgive sins.” All that is lacking is for them, and us, to “connect the dots.”
The vulnerable, risk taker
I believe God is the greatest of all risk takers. He created us with free will, so we can love him or hate him. He comes to us with words that call us to live dedicated lives. He offers to pardon freely all our failures and allows us choose to change and live or refuse and die. With 84,000 angels at his command (Twelve Legions approximately 7000 in each = 84,000. Mt. 26:53), he allows people like us to crucify him. But he won’t compel belief by calling in the legions to defend him and crush them.
He judged our self-will, condemned our self-righteousness, and asserted his Divine authority. The prophets of Israel said, “Thus says the Lord,” but he said, “I say.” So they and we must either acknowledge him as our Lord, or reject and crucify him. That is God’s great gamble, taking a chance on them and on us.
Paul’s letters —“by the resurrection”
One of those who rejected Jesus and would probably have participated in the calls for him to be crucified was the Rabbi, Saul of Tarsus. No one was more adamant in his refusal to admit the claims of Jesus disciples about who he is and what had happened on the third day after the crucifixion. Saul was no credulous pushover for a resurrection story made up by grief stricken followers who may have stolen the body and fabricated the whole thing. (See Matthew 27:62-64 and 28:11-15). Yet Saul declares that he has seen and talked with Jesus who is alive after all and is everything he claimed to be, and his disciples say he is. Saul even changed his name to Paul, the new man he was after meeting the resurrected Jesus. (Acts 22:1-16, Romans 1:4, Philippians 2:5-11.)
“We were eye witnesses”
Two of Jesus original twelve disciples have left us a written record of their experience with him they are Peter and John.
2 Peter 1:16-18
(16)For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (17)For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: (18)and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount.
Papias writing in the late first century said that Mark wrote down what Peter preached. Cf. The
Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebias of Caesarea
1 John 1:1-4
(1)That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (2)and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; (3)that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: (4)and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.
This is the testimony of two men who were taught from childhood, “You must not give false witness.”
The Historic Councils of the church studied the scriptures and formulated the creeds to embody their understanding of them. While I do not give the Apostles’ Creed here, it is older and even closer to the events recorded in the New Testament than the formally adopted ones. I prefer to use it in worship at least 75% of the Sundays of the year, so the children memorize it without even realizing that is what they are doing.
The Nicene Creed
This is the part of the creed that records the church’s belief in and about Jesus. Cf. United
Methodist Hymnal No. 880
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
The Witness of Historic Christianity—John Wesley, Character of a Methodist. "We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” … We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; … We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God… But as to all opinions, which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."
“Christianity is not Christianity without a manger cradle, a rugged cross, and an
empty tomb.”My teacher, Dr. Wm. R. Cannon, PhD. Dean of the Candler School of Theology and Bishop of the United Methodist Church.
The Challenge by The “Enlightened “ Objectors.
When Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other leaders of the Protestant reformation “broke the rules” and questioned the authority of the church in matters of faith, they started an avalanche. If the church could be wrong about some very important matters, what of the other authorities? Kings, professors, even Aristotle might be wrong. So they said let us ask if things really are the way we have been told. This movement of questioning and reexamination led to The Enlightenment.
Many wonderful benefits for all of us flowed and continue to flow from The Enlightment.
Superstition: The Christian faith had become encrusted with much that was superstition. The cathedrals of Europe, built for the worship of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were thought to be more holy if the relics (body parts) of a saint or saints were housed in them. In order to supply this need bones were found and enshrined. But when the questioning began some one counted the bones and because jawbones are especially durable and therefore frequently enshrined, the discovery was made that some saint had a dozen or more jawbones each in a different cathedral. How many jawbones can one saint have? Or another popular relic is a splinter of the True Cross, again, how many can there be.
Authoritarian information: Because Aristotle had written, in a careless moment that spiders have six legs, just like all the other insects, no one had bothered to look and count, at least no one in the academic world. Now people began to experiment and observe and the discoveries sometimes shocked and often delighted those who were Enlightened.
Experiment and Observation, which rock will fall faster?A classic example is the occasion when the common sense belief that big rocks fall faster than small rocks was overturned. Galileo went up on the Tower of Pisa with the two rocks, dropped them simultaneously and they hit the ground, simultaneously. The rocks obeyed a mathematical law since formulated, that falling objects if unaffected by outside forces other than gravity will fall while accelerating at a rate of 32 feet per second per second.
The ordering of Society, The Social Contract vs. The Divine Right of Kings.The divine right of Kings had been the ruling principle of governments with roots gong back to Egypt, Babylon and Rome, where Pharaohs, Kings and Emperors were actually worshipped. This often led to tyranny. Now with the right to question authority clearly established a new concept emerged, The Social Contract. Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. So if Kings, Aristotle, and the laws of physics can be questioned, and magic, superstition, and tyranny overturned a new breath of freedom and hope has come to refresh the heart and mind of humanity. WONDERFUL!
But Then The Danger of Hubris Enters. Because of the wonderful advances obtained by experiment and observation there grew up a line of thought in some writers and thinkers that “we can explain everything with out the need to bring in god.” That way of thinking still has a powerful presence today. Smithsonian, National Geographic, and Scientific American magazines have an editorial policy that says in effect, there can be no acknowledgement of an intelligence that shaped the universe. There is only the process of the natural world. Anything that hints of a transcendent reality we would call “God” is mere superstition; or as C. S. Lewis describes this way of thinking, “Naturalism, the whole show.”
How the Baby got thrown out with the bathwater.
Having rejected the idea that God actively intervenes in the natural world interfering with the “Laws” of nature, the “Enlightened” reading the Bible sees Jesus as good man, moralist, and misunderstood martyr. After all how could they see such a good man as an enemy of the state and the temple? They misunderstood him and they killed him.
Well and Good. The naturalist can respect and even idealize such a person.
But, shock and dismay, The Jesus described in the New Testament performs miracles and claims to be God, his followers claim he rose from the dead and is still alive! This sounds like superstition to her or him. Out of respect for Jesus’ teaching and perhaps fear of the reaction from Jesus’ followers, they look for a way to have a good moral man, but without the miracles and the claim of divinity: In other words without the Grand Miracle, or any miracle.
The Naturalist says, “Maybe the disciples made up the story of the resurrection and post resurrection appearances to comfort themselves and their friends,” after all the scientific method of experiment and observation can’t be applied here. You can’t repeat the experiment of killing someone and then bringing him back. Therefore it can’t have happened. The laws of nature can’t be broken; experiment proves it.
But there is still the unequivocal witness of the New Testament to be gotten around. How can the Naturalist do this? Well, they say, “Let’s blame it on the second or third generation of his followers, who were not eyewitnesses and have distorted the facts because of misguided devotion and superstition,” story tellers getting carried away. The Gospels must have been written a generation or two or three after the events, which would account for the things the naturalist, sees as superstition.
Thus there came to be attempts to write biographies of Jesus that leave out all that embarrassing miracle stuff. That is how we get: The Jefferson Bible, Renan’s Jesus, Schweitzer’s Quest, Asimov’s Bible, The Jesus Project, and The Da Vinci Code.
But there is an Elephant in the Room!
What happened in A.D. 66-70 and “the dog that didn’t bark in the night.”
The claim that the New Testament writings were recorded after the eyewitnesses were no longer available, so the process of exaggeration and mystification could go forward, is placed in question for me by the realization that the most shattering fact of the history of the first century AD is never mentioned in those writings. Jews were so shattered by this event that many of them refused to have children, others took their own lives in despair at Massada. The Romans on the other hand were so elated by it that they built a triumphal arch to celebrate it which still stands today, almost 2000 years later. The event I refer to is the destruction of Jerusalem and its great temple by Roman general and later emperor, Titus.
The gospels say that Jesus predicted this destruction; therefore the Naturalists say, “It must have happened already because no one can predict events before they happen.” However, the gospels were written so we might have ample reason to believe in Jesus and accept his claims; so if he predicted it and the prediction came true it is evidence of his prophetic power that would be recorded by the witnesses, just as they did his resurrection. That they did not shows that they were writing before 70 AD. In other words this is an argument from silence that is overwhelmingly convincing. This is “the dog that didn’t bark in the night.”
Trinitarian Belief Began long before Nicea. Take that Mr. Brown.
In Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code he asserts that the identification of Jesus as Divine, and the consequent formulation of the teaching about the Trinity came about in the 4th century under orders from the Emperor Constantine. While the adoption of the Nicene Creed came at the Council of Nicea (325 AD) under the nominal presidency of the Emperor, it was in fact the acknowledgement of the witness of the Gospels, which had already been around for at least 250 years.
The Council interrogated Arius using Scripture, only to find that he had a new way of interpreting every verse they brought before him. Finally, they used the argument that Arius' view had to be wrong because it was new. Athanasius says, "But concerning matters of faith, they [the bishops assembled at Nicea] did not write: 'It has been decided,' but 'Thus the Catholic Church believes.' And thereupon confessed how they believed. This they did to show that their judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact of Apostolic times..." (Volume 1, Faith of the Early Fathers, p338). In this regard also, Athanasius askes rhetorically, "... how many fathers [in other words, the writings of the early Christians] can you cite for your phrases?" (Ibid, p325)
It must be concluded, then, that the controversy was between a great majority who held the belief that the doctrine expressed by the Nicene Creed was ancient and Apostolic, and a minority who believed that Arius' new interpretation of the faith was correct .
The scriptures to which the Council was looking back include,
Matthew 27:43 and 28:19; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-14; Romans 1:1-4; 1 John 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:16-18.
I have referred above to the eyewitnesses, John, and Peter but Matthew is one too. However these “enlightened ones” who want us to believe that the miraculous is a late addition to the record of Jesus’ life have a claim that it was common and accepted in the ancient world to write books and claim that the author was someone whose name gave their writing authority. These writings are called “Pseudipegrapha”. The claim is that every one did it, so it was acceptable in those times, and therefore the attaching of the name of an apostle, an eyewitness, to one of the gospels was unchallenged at the time. Only in the past 200 years have there been people who believe themselves wise enough to expose this practice and explain why the gospels record Jesus’ miracles, and indeed the fact that he is a miracle.
Or is it that when you want to explain away the miracles any accusation against the makers of the record is useful for your purpose?
The Magdalen paparii--just what can be expected.
In 1996, A book was published entitled, Eyewitness to Jesus. The authors are Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D’Ancona. Thiede is a specialist in ancient manuscripts and the calligraphy of their writing. He is the kind of expert who can tell by the formation of the letters, style of writing, when, within a few years, a manuscript was written. He had studied some papyrus fragments preserved at Magdalen College, Oxford, and concluded that they come from the middle of the first century, around 50 to 60 AD. Though very small they are apparently from the 26th chapter of Matthew. The established New Testament scholarly community, that is the people with professorships, dismissed the book and its evidence that the Gospel of Matthew was written at a time when there were eyewitnesses still living. To acknowledge Thiede’s findings would mean that much of the Biblical scholarship and writing of the past 200 years would have to be re thought, so it was rejected and is almost forgotten today just over a decade later. But what I am saying about the destruction of Jerusalem, as the watershed of New Testament writing, means that Thiede’s findings are “just what can be expected.”
A Letter to Smithsonian Magazine June 2006
The Article on Mary Magdalene was excellent. She has been and still is the First Witness to The resurrection of Jesus and so a person of great importance. The scant information about her has unfortunately facilitated the tendency to make her a sort of inkblot into which people read their own fantasies driven by their needs and agenda.
But my concern with the article is the way it begins with the assumption that the writings of the New Testament are late with regard to the eyewitnesses of the events recorded there.
I believe there is a terminus a quo, that establishes the writings with a date no later than 70 CE (AD). That is the year of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. Jesus predicted that event. The Jewish prophets including Moses made the test of a prophet's authority whether his predictions came true. In no place does the New Testament record the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple as having been fulfilled. As this authenticates Jesus divine authority, it is incredible that it was ignored, unless it had not yet happened when the writings were written.
Q.E.D. The New Testament Writings are earlier than 70 CE (AD).
I was sent a reply saying that Smithsonian had consulted New Testament authorities and they approved the article, including the assertion of the late writing of the Gospels. My reply to their editor was, “I know you consulted ‘The Authorities’ but did you consult the New Testament?”
But the Grand Miracle doesn’t end with the coming of Jesus the son of God into the world.
Jesus came not only to complete the revealing of who God is, but to introduce the very life of God into us, to baptize us in and with The Holy Spirit.
In John 16:4-15 he tells his disciples, and us, about the work of the Holy Spirit he came to give us.
The Work of the Spirit(4)“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. (5)5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ (6)But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. (7)Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (8)And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: (9)about sin, because they do not believe in me; (10)about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; (11)about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
(12)“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (13)When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (14)He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (15)All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
He prayed for this to happen in his prayer that is recorded in John 17:20-23.
All four gospels begin with John the Baptist announcing that Jesus came to baptize us in and with the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John1:33.
The Grand Miracle is God in Jesus.
The purpose of The Grand Miracle is God in us.
God wants his church to be filled with The Holy Spirit and empowered to be like Jesus. This is a shocking declaration when we remember the infinite distance between us as sinners and our Holy God. Yet Jesus came in the flesh to bridge that separation and to make our new relationship with God permanent. This is also shocking when we experience the ambivalence caused by the difference between what the church is meant to be and what we know of it. People who complain about the institutional church, its faults and the failings of its leaders have a clear case.
And yet as real as the ambiguous church as, and as valid as our ambivalence about it is: Still, “I believe in the holy catholic church.”
The “dead” church of 18th century England still is the church that nurtured the Wesleys, The dead church of 16th century Europe nurtured Luther and Calvin. The church of the 20th century with all its faults nurtured Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, and Billy Graham. And it is where I came to know Jesus Christ.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
Saul of Tarsus—Paul of everywhere: All things to all people vs. the Nehemiah ideal.
As a good Jew Saul of Tarsus would have had nothing to do with Gentiles, that is, everyone who is not a Jew. But when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, God sent Ananias to lay hands on him “so his eyes would be open and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He became Paul the spirit filled apostle with a heart open to embrace all humanity in the fellowship of those who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Now in Christ, even Gentiles become brothers and sisters.
(8)“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. (9)For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, (10)asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. (11)For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—(12)or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (13)I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. (14)I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish (15)—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (16)For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17)For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
The idea of most people throughout history is that their tribe, or nation, or family is superior to all the others and we don’t need or want any fellowship with them. This was the attitude of the Old Testament prophets and of all racists everywhere, whether the divide is between Jew and Gentile, or black and white, or Arab and Israeli, or Northern and Southern Irish, or Yanks and Rebels, etc. ad infinitum. It is demonstrated by the actions of Nehemiah which he reports as a claim to having done a good thing.
Nehemiah 13: 23-31
(23)In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; (24)and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. (25)And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. (26)Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. (27)Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”
(28)And one of the sons of Jehoiada, son of the high priest Eliashib, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; I chased him away from me. (29)Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priests and the Levites.
(30)Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; (31)and I provided for the wood offering, at appointed times, and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
Remember Tevya’s daughter and her Russian husband in the play and movie Fiddle on the Roof.
They fall in love, get married and from then on she is treated as dead by her father, who demands that all the family also treat her that way.
Finally it’s Not About Theology
Dr. Albert Schweitzer a great musician, brilliant theologian, chooses to give his life away in serving as a missionary doctor in Africa. I don’t agree with some of his writing and would argue that at least one of his books would best have never been written. But it’s not finally about theology, it’s about being led by the Holy Spirit to relieve human suffering as Jesus demands in Matthew chapter 25.
How old is too old?
In one of the churches where I was the pastor there was a lady who became concerned about older people who live alone and have no one to make sure they are ok. What if some one like that gets sick, or falls and can’t call for help; how long might it be before their need is discovered and help comes? She decided that a daily telephone call at an agreed time by a responsible friend would bring reassurance to the lonely one. Details were worked out, a covenant was developed including what to do if there was no answer when the call was made. The Telephone Reassurance Ministry brought real help and a meaningful visitation to the folks who served. The lady who had this vision was in her 80’s and we often laughed over the fact that many of those served were years younger than she. When the Holy Spirit comes the old and the young see visions and dream dreams.
Outdo one another in showing love.
The consecrated car keys. There was a lady in another of my churches who often outran me to the side of people in need. After feeling I was in a competion with her, eventually I realized that she was a blessing to the people and to my ministry; I learned that some years before she had made a commitment which led to her into this ministry. Her pastor at that time challenged the members of his congregation to choose something of theirs that was important to them and put it on the altar in a service of consecration. After prayerfully thinking about it she put her car keys there. From then on she went where need was, transported people, and served the Lord with gladness and her automobile.
Cups of cold water
One of the things Jesus said that gives me the most encouragement is, “if you give someone just a cup of cold water in my name you are OK with me.” (paraphrased). I, and many of us who take Jesus seriously, want to do some great thing for him, but we don’t think we can. Of course we won’t know until we get to heaven how important what we did was. But in the meantime we do what we can and serve the person in front of us, knowing that doing it for some “little one” in Jesus’ name makes it important. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that makes us care about pleasing Jesus in what ever we do and who we are.
The Servants of God and the Friends of Jesus (John 15:15)
I know many people who honor and serve the Lord because God is God and deserves to be served. They experience the satisfaction of doing what they know they ought to do. Sometimes they get to thinking they have done all that is required of them and that they are very good people who are better than others who aren’t as dutiful. These servants of God do much that is good, but they have little joy in doing it and are often “weary in well doing.”
There are other people I know, conscious of their faults, failures, sins, and wasted gifts, who have received the good news that God in Jesus has forgiven all their wrongs, paid their debt to the justice of God, surrounded them with unconditional love, and given them the assurance that they are the adopted children of God and therefore joint heirs with Jesus Christ. These people also serve carefully trying to please God in everything. They know that they can never repay the debt of love they owe, but are constantly reminded by the Holy Spirit that God is please with them. They know that they are babes in Christ still learning to walk who often misstep and have to be picked up, but over whom our heavenly Father smiles with delight at their efforts to please Him. These are the ones to whom Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants but friends.”
The Amish Witnesses
Several years ago we were horrified at the news that a deranged man had entered an Amish school room and gunned down young girls between 6 and 13 years old. Three girls died that day and two more in the hospital the next day. The man killed himself rather than face what he did. He and his family were not Amish but lived in the neighborhood. Within days of this terrible event Amish people reached out to his widow and the rest of his family with words of forgiveness and caring. They attended his funeral and astonished the non Christian world, by carrying out Jesus’ teaching about how to deal with those who hurt you. Nothing less that the power of the Holy Spirit in them can explain their response to this horror.
Is this miracle of the Holy Spirit, God in us, real? Is it possible now? Jesus said, the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Jesus taught us how to pray, so pray the way he taught and ask for this miracle in your life.
In the spirit of what is best in the Enlightment, try this experiment of faith. See Luke 11:1-13 for directions and encouragement.
And a Merry “Grand Miracle” to us all.
Silver Springs Florida, Hollin, Christmastide 2011