Advent 2022 — December 20

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I parcel out all my possessions, and if I hand over my body in order that I will be burned, but do not have love, it benefits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, it does not boast, it does not become conceited, it does not behave dishonorably, it is not selfish, it does not become angry, it does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not rejoice at unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

“Of Men and Angels”[1]
by Sinclair Ferguson

Angels are in fashion—at least at Christmas time! Look at any collection of hymns or songs, and you may well find more references to angels in the section marked “Advent” than in all the other sections added together.

The New Testament word for “angel” means a messenger. Every time angels appear in the Christmas story, they are carrying messages from heaven to earth.

In the run-up to Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and—in dreams—to Joseph, his adoptive father (like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph was a dreamer). A vast crowd of them appeared to a few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Interestingly, it’s clear that all these angels spoke the local language—which happens to have been Aramaic, a form of Hebrew. Angels can speak in human tongues.

So, what does Paul mean when he begins the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) with a reference to angel tongues as well as human tongues?

This isn’t the first time Paul has talked about tongues in this letter to the Corinthians. In the previous chapter, he writes about their ability to speak in “various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10). In the next chapter he devotes 28 verses to discussing these tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1–28). Clearly this was a big deal in Corinth. Whether these “tongues” refer to foreign languages or ecstatic speech, the Corinthians—or at least some of them—may have believed they could speak “Angel”. Presumably speaking “Angel” carried more kudos than any other language. Imagine being able to speak the language of heaven! Were some of them even claiming that they had spoken with angels?

When one of our grandsons was about eight or nine, he told me how excited he was to be going to France for his summer holiday “because I’ll be able to practise my French on the French!” I said nothing. Despite five (miserable!) years studying French in school, I was silently thinking, “The French are the last people on whom I would want to practise my French”—and in my experience they have always agreed with me. But being able to practise your French on the French is nothing compared to being able to practise “Angel” on angels! Imagine it today: a publisher would offer a ghostwriter if need be to get your story. You’d be on the bestseller list and interviewed on TV (“Tonight we meet the author of I Spoke with Angels—this year’s number one bestseller”).

But notice what Paul says: if you can speak “Angel” but you lack love, you are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. You may think you’re special, but in God’s eyes—and ears!—you act and sound like a brass instrument making a loud, unpleasant noise. Actually, he doesn’t say, You sound like. He says, You are. You are not what you think you are.

Metalworking was a significant industry in first-century Corinth. So, the Corinthians knew all about what Paul meant. Imagine a little Corinthian factory where the craftsmen made gongs and cymbals! All that clanging and banging—the Berlin Philharmonic it wasn’t! You would want to cover your ears with your noise-reducing headphones. That’s what speaking in tongues sounds like in God’s ears if the speaker lacks love.

Some scholars think Paul may have been thinking about the metallic amplification systems that were crafted in Corinth for use in the theatre: You think you are something? You are just a self-amplifier!

You probably don’t claim to have the ability to speak “Angel”. But what Paul seems to be doing here is applying a general principle to a specific problem he saw in Corinth. That problem keeps on recurring. You encounter it whenever you meet someone who wants to tell you all about his or her gift (or “gifting”, as people like to say today). Ministers and pastors are sometimes asked, “If I become a member of your church, will I get to use my gift?” “Will my gifts be recognised by the church?” Or even, “Why aren’t my gifts being recognised by this church?”

Paul valued the gifts of the Spirit, but he wasn’t much interested in that approach. His first question at a church-membership interview would not be about your gifts. He’d want to know about your love—about how you want to serve others for Jesus’ sake. He’d “sound you out”—perhaps in more than one sense! He knew that any true fellowship of God’s people will make room for our gifts when people see we want to serve others because we have come to love them.

Isn’t it odd that this chapter about love, which so many people “love”, begins by telling us what love isn’t? And about who doesn’t have it? Not really. One of the best ways of explaining something is by saying what it isn’t. Paul often does that. It helps eliminate a great deal of wrong thinking and misunderstanding. Here he says that love isn’t the same thing as having great gifts. You might be a very gifted teacher. You may be applauded as a musician. You might be admired for your spiritual prayers. But none of that matters if you do not love.

But if 1 Corinthians 13 contains a description of love, it must ultimately be a description of Jesus. And Jesus did speak with the tongues of angels as well as of men.

Jesus not only spoke “Angel”; he spoke with angels (Mark 1:13, Luke 22:43). He is their King. They are his servants and ambassadors. Throughout his earthly life they were—appropriately enough—waiting “in the wings” to do his will. Even on the cross he could have summoned legions of them and they would have come immediately to rescue him (Matthew 26:53). But he knew he couldn’t rescue us if they came to rescue him. It was him or us who would be saved, and he chose us. Although he could speak with the tongues of angels, he remained silent—because he loved us so much. Instead he spoke to his Father and asked him to save those who were watching him (“Father, forgive them,” he prayed). That was more important to him than speaking to the angels and asking them to save him.

In fact, Jesus not only spoke angel-language. He spoke the language of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). He was face to face with God, in intimate conversation with his Father. But “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He came face to face with us, taking our nature so that he might speak to us. As the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of faith, affirms, “For us and for our salvation he came down”.

Whatever gifts you may have, love always means that you come down. It means that you use those gifts for the good of others, not to make yourself feel good. It means that you are willing to do things that are uncomfortable or inconvenient for you, or that go unnoticed.

For “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. If so, I am not like Jesus. And ultimately, love is being like Jesus. It silences all noisy gongs, clanging cymbals and self-amplification systems. Real love always comes down. We know that because Love came down at Christmas.

[1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Love Came down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (The Good Book Company, 2018), 13–17.

Advent 2022 — December 19

Therefore, because we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces patient endurance, and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

“December 19”[1]
by Paul David Tripp

Because sin has tragically infected all of us, the presence, work, and grace
of that baby in the manger is what we all need.

You and I are very skilled and committed self-swindlers. Now I know that this is not how you would expect a Christmas devotional to begin. You would expect talk of angels, shepherds, a star in the sky, wise men, and a baby in the manger. But all of these story elements, which are so familiar to us, would not have been necessary without the single, dark reality we all work so hard to deny. From the moment of the very first sin in the garden of Eden, human beings have worked to deny what is true about them, that is, that we all desperately need what only God’s grace can give us. We all swindle ourselves into believing that we are wiser, stronger, and more righteous than we actually are. We all walk around with an inner law firm that mounts a defense whenever we are accused of a wrong. And when we do this, we are denying our need for what the baby in the manger came to do for us.

If you’re a parent, you see this truth played out among your children. Your son Danny has just hit his sister Suzy, so you go into the room and ask him why he would do such a thing. Danny doesn’t say to you, “Mom, I do violent things because I have sin in my heart. You should expect even worse from me.” In fact Danny doesn’t talk about himself at all. When you ask Danny why he hit Suzy, he immediately begins to lay the blame for his violence against Suzy on Suzy! Danny has swindled himself into believing that the wrong he has done is not his fault and tells him nothing about who he is and what he needs. It really is possible to live in a state of Advent schizophrenia, where you celebrate the birth of the Messiah while actively denying your need for his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

So what we all need to confess is that denying our need for grace is more natural for us than confessing our need for grace. You know how it is: when someone confronts you, don’t you find yourself immediately, silently in your mind, defending yourself? Have you ever had someone confront you, and your first thought was, “This is good, I need this, I wish they would do it more”? But there is something else we need to confess; if it is more natural for us to deny our need for grace than to confess it, then we need to humbly admit that it takes grace to confess our need for grace. If confession is owning personal responsibility for our words and our actions without excuse or shifting the blame, then it does take rescuing grace for us to come to the place where we admit our need for rescuing grace. Jesus came to provide that rescue.

Let me suggest four ways that we all tend to swindle ourselves into believing that we don’t need the rescue that Jesus was born to provide.

1. We all tend to minimize our sin. We all have ways of naming our sin as something less than sin. We say we’re not really mean—it’s just our personality. We blame our poor attitudes on the weather, sickness, or busyness. We deny that our lies are lies. We tell ourselves that our lust isn’t really lust, but enjoyment of the beauty of God’s creation. With endlessly creative skill, we all tend to work to minimize the sin that we commit every day.

2. We all tend to doubt the wisdom of God’s law. This is exactly what the Serpent worked to get Adam and Eve to do. We mount logical arguments for why it’s okay for us to step over God’s moral boundaries. Perhaps we say we’re only going to do it this one time. Or maybe we tell ourselves that what we’re doing really isn’t what God meant by stealing. Perhaps we’ll argue that it doesn’t seem fair in a particular situation that we have to _________. The more we become comfortable with questioning the wisdom of God’s law, the more likely it will be that we will feel okay with breaking those laws.

3. We all tend to be more concerned about the wrongs of others than our own sins. I know that on any given day I can be more engaged in, concerned with, and focused on the wrongs of the people I live and work with than I am my own. You will always deny your need for God’s grace when you are more irritated than convicted. It’s possible to be irritated with things in other people that you regularly excuse in yourself. It’s possible to confront people with things that you minimize in your assessment of yourself.

4. We all tend to deny what’s in our hearts. In some way, we all fail to accept the fact that sin is not just a behavior problem, but more fundamentally a matter of the heart. Sin is not just a matter of occasional wrong actions; it’s a condition of our natures. It’s not just that we sin; it’s that we are sinners. When we tell ourselves that we can handle it, that we’ll do better tomorrow, or that we don’t need help, we’re denying that sin is a matter of the heart, and because it is, we cannot escape it on our own. So this Christmas, how about beginning your celebration with confession? I am convinced that when it comes to the redeeming work of Jesus, exuberant rejoicing begins with brokenhearted weeping. Only when sin breaks our hearts will the coming of the Messiah excite our hearts. And there’s grace for this!

[1] Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

Advent 2022 — December 18

Think this in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave,
by becoming in the likeness of people.
And being found in appearance like a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death,
that is, death on a cross.
Therefore also God exalted him
and graciously granted him the name above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

“December 18”[1]
by Paul David Tripp

The Son left his place in heaven so that God’s sons and daughters would be guaranteed their inheritance in heaven. Amazing grace!

The Christmas story is a destination story. It’s about an amazing journey that changed everything. It’s a story about a place left and a place guaranteed. Only God could write this amazing story of the two destinations of grace. Consider how Paul summarized the Christmas story [in today’s passage].

The incredible destination story would not have happened, with all the resulting grace that flows to us every day, if it weren’t for the sacrificial love of the Father and the humble willingness of Jesus. The loving generosity of the Father made him willing to send his Son from the glories of his perfectly holy place to the broken, dysfunctional environs of earth. And the Son didn’t resist the call; he didn’t fight for what was rightly his. He didn’t negotiate the terms, and he didn’t counter with a list of demands. I love how Paul captures it here: Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” You and I should be thinking right now, “Praise God, praise God, praise God that he didn’t!” If Jesus had wrapped his fists around his rightful position of absolute equality with God, you and I, as sinners, would be without hope in life and in death. If Jesus hadn’t been willing to make earth his destination, we would have no hope whatsoever of the new heavens and the new earth being our final destination. This is what we should be celebrating not just during the Christmas season but every single day of our lives. This willingness of the One who was God Almighty to leave the splendor of glory, to take on the normal limits and frailty of the human body, and to endure the daily realities of what it means to live in a terribly broken world is the definition of love.

It’s important to ask what fueled the Messiah’s earth-destination willingness. It’s humbling to write this, but it’s true: Jesus did what he did not because of something special he saw in us, but because of something holy and pure that was inside him. The Christmas narrative simply removes from every one of us any reason for boasting. There was not and is not one person who has any ability to earn or deserve the greatest gift that was ever given. In most gift-giving, there is something in the receiver of the gift that propels the giver. Maybe the person is your employee, and Christmas gives you an opportunity to say thanks. Perhaps the person has been a good friend for a long time, and Christmas is the time you recognize the investment he made in you over the years. Maybe it’s just that the person is your relative, and the back and forth of gift-giving is a product of familial love.

But there simply was nothing in us to propel such a radical choice, such a radical gift that the Creator gave to the creatures who had turned their backs on him. Philippians 2 points us to the one and only thing that would ever make God willing to come to earth to rescue people who were more committed to worshiping themselves than worshiping him. In three words Paul tells us what motivated Jesus’s journey from glory to earth: “he humbled himself.”

You and I don’t really expect powerful leaders to be humble. We expect a bit of arrogant swagger. We expect some boasting of accomplishments and an enjoyment of the results of acquiring power. But the Lord of glory didn’t choose to bask in his glory; instead he emptied himself, took the form of not just a man, but of a lowly servant man. What humility! The Creator took on the body of a created man. The giver of the law submitted himself to the law. What humility! The King of kings placed himself under the rule of human kings. The One who owns everything was willing to live with virtually nothing. The One who is worthy of human worship willingly exposed himself to human rejection. What amazing humility!

Jesus’s humility is our hope. His willingness to leave glory unleashed glory on us and guaranteed that we would live with him in glory forever. He made this broken world his destination so that our final destination would be a place where every form of brokenness has ended, and where we would live with him in a complete peace and harmony that will never end. But the humility of Jesus didn’t end with his birth; it shaped the way he lived. He lived a humble, homeless life of daily service. The One whom creation was made to serve came not to be served, but to serve. It would have taken great humility for Jesus to leave his rightful place as God and live a lavishly rich life on earth, because no human wealth or power could compare with his rightful place. But he willingly emptied himself of all those rights and privileges, because he didn’t come for himself—he came for us. But his humility didn’t even end with his humble servant’s life: Jesus’s humility carried him to the cross. Without words or actions in his own defense, he humbly became the final sacrificial lamb, dying so that we would live. So this Christmas remember that what you celebrate is a destination story. Jesus left what was his right, to guarantee for us a place that is not our right but is a gift from his humble hands.

[1] Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

Songs for Sunday, December 18, 2022

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Philippians 2:5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  • Song | O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Song | O Holy Night
  • Scripture | Galatians 4:4-5

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

  • Song | Away in a Manger (CCC version) —
  • Song | King of Kings
  • Invitation | Light of the World (Sing Hallelujah)
  • Offertory | Mary Did You Know? —

Check out our Advent readings:

Advent 2022 — December 17

25 “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity from the noise of the sea and its surging, 26 people fainting from fear and expectation of what is coming on the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!”

“Look Up, Your Redemption is Drawing Near”[1]
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let’s not deceive ourselves. “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), whether we know it or not, and the only question is: Are we going to let it come to us too, or are we going to resist it? Are we going to join in this movement that comes down from heaven to earth, or are we going to close ourselves off? Christmas is coming—whether it is with us or without us depends on each and every one of us.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.

You know what a mine disaster is. In recent weeks we have had to read about one in the newspapers.

The moment even the most courageous miner has dreaded his whole life long is here. It is no use running into the walls; the silence all around him remains.… The way out for him is blocked. He knows the people up there are working feverishly to reach the miners who are buried alive. Perhaps someone will be rescued, but here in the last shaft? An agonizing period of waiting and dying is all that remains.

But suddenly a noise that sounds like tapping and breaking in the rock can be heard. Unexpectedly, voices cry out, “Where are you, help is on the way!” Then the disheartened miner picks himself up, his heart leaps, he shouts, “Here I am, come on through and help me! I’ll hold out until you come! Just come soon!” A final, desperate hammer blow to his ear, now the rescue is near, just one more step and he is free.

We have spoken of Advent itself. That is how it is with the coming of Christ: “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Application & Challenge

So often, this time of year is called the season of giving. Consider ways that you can give in the upcoming week. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you are able, buy a present and give to a local ministry that seeks to share the love of Christ to families having a tough time.
  • Maybe you cannot financially support a ministry or buy a present at this time:
    • Do you have items that can go to support local ministries – extra clothes, coats, food, or used housing items or toys, etc.?
    • Are there opportunities to give of your time to minister to others – nursing home, food pantry, soup kitchen, etc.?

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, ed. Jana Riess, trans. O. C. Dean Jr., First edition. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 40–41.

Advent 2022 — December 16

Who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?
For he went up like a shoot before him,
and like a root from dry ground.
He had no form and no majesty that we should see him,
and no appearance that we should take pleasure in him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering, and acquainted with sickness,
and like one from whom others hide their faces, he was despised,
and we did not hold him in high regard.

However, he was the one who lifted up our sicknesses,
and he carried our pain,
yet we ourselves assumed him stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
the chastisement for our peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we were healed.

Isaiah 53:1-5

“December 16”[1]
by Paul David Tripp

The suffering of Jesus didn’t begin on the cross; it began in his straw bed
and continued through to the cross, all for our redemption.

In truth, that beautifully decorated tree, those gorgeously wrapped presents, and all that tasty holiday food, which make us happy during the Christmas season, are poor representations of the world into which Jesus was born and what his everyday life would be like. Jesus didn’t show up for a celebration. He wasn’t here for a vacation. His world wasn’t well decorated, and he surely wasn’t well fed. He came to a world that had been dramatically broken by sin, and his calling was to expose himself to the full range of its brokenness. This is where the details of Christ’s birth are important. It means something profoundly important that the cradle of his birth was a feeding trough in a borrowed barn. You are meant to pay attention to the fact that he wasn’t in a palace, attended to by servants. It’s important to notice that the first smells that entered his infant nostrils weren’t oils and perfumes, but animal smells.

These seemingly unimportant details set up a sharp contrast between our celebrations at Christmas and the true conditions of the Messiah’s entry into our world. Most of us would be in a complete panic if we had to birth a baby in such conditions. But none of this was an accident. These conditions were God’s plan. They announce to us that the Messiah came not to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28). Since he came to rescue sufferers, it was essential that he suffer too. And his suffering wasn’t reserved for the cross; it started the moment he was born. Everything he suffered was on our behalf. He would suffer but not lose his way. He would suffer and not quit and walk away. He would suffer and not grow bitter and angry. He would suffer and not respond with vengeance. He would suffer without thinking, desiring, saying, or doing even one wrong thing. He exposed himself to our world, to live as we could not live, so that as the righteous One, he could pay the penalty for our sin and give us not only peace with God, but a ticket to a future where suffering would be no more.

Don’t let shiny ornaments and bright lights keep you from seeing the dark, sad drama of the life of that baby in that borrowed barn. Jesus experienced not one moment of ease in his life. Read the passage from Isaiah 53 again and let it sink in. Jesus wasn’t good-looking in the way that would make him naturally attractive and popular. People regularly despised and rejected him. He was alienated from the very people he came to love and to rescue. His life was marked by sorrows and griefs of every kind. He willingly walked to his torture. He hung on that cross, body bruised, beaten, pierced, and broken. He did not look for escape. He did not selfishly use his power. He did not mock his mockers. He didn’t do any of these things because he understood that suffering was what he came to do, and he was willing.

Jesus suffered because he did not demand what was his right; he endured what was wrong so that we may be right with God. The manger of his birth is a clue to what he came to do and what every day of his life would be like. The way God chose to rescue sufferers was by becoming a sufferer himself. Every moment of his suffering was done with us in view. Every dark moment of physical, relational, societal, and judicial suffering had a high and holy purpose to it: our salvation. You see, Jesus came to suffer because he came to be our Savior.

There’s nothing wrong with the shiny ornaments and bright lights. Your celebration of what Jesus willingly did for you should be a festival of overflowing joy. So celebrate the blessings you’ve received, the best of those being the gift of Jesus, by passing that blessing on to others with gifts of love. Eat wonderful food, but let it remind you of the lavish spiritual food that God feeds you with every day because of the willing sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Here is what this means for you: commit yourself this Christmas to be a sad celebrant. Let your joy at what your Savior has gifted you with be mixed with grief at what it cost him. Remember this Christmas that you are celebrating the birth of the “Man of Sorrows.” Remember as you celebrate that the One whom you celebrate enjoyed none of the things that likely make up your celebration (a house, beautiful things, fine food, etc.). This Christmas may your holiday joy be shaped and colored by remembering that you have eternal reason for joy because of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of your humble, willing, suffering Savior.

[1] Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

Advent 2022 — December 15

For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised up on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, the majority of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15;3-6

21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

But what does it say? “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim), that if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who is rich to all who call upon him. 13 For “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:8-13

“Good News of Great Joy, or A Weary World Rejoices

We have spent a good bit of time this week in Luke 2:10 and the verses around it. The declaration of the angels to those poor and frightened shepherds should just about be memorized at this point: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people”. Good news. Great joy. For all people.

The word translated “good news” is often translated gospel, and the message that the angels proclaimed on that hillside 2,000 years ago is a beautiful and succinct picture of the gospel. They preached that the Savior “who is Christ the Lord” was born for them – for those dirty, stinky shepherds – and that He could be found that very day in Bethlehem. It was news that would and could change the trajectory of their lives. They just needed to believe in Him and receive the salvation He had to offer – they would receive grace by faith through Him.

Now, I know that on the day they heard that gospel message Jesus was still laying in the feeding trough, still an infant, and was decades away from His death, burial, and resurrection. But the babe in the manger was still “the Word [become] flesh” (John 1:14). He was still the Lamb slain “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

We sometimes want to overcomplicate things. We know the whole story and want to add and fill in the gaps in the angels’ proclamation that day, but the “good news of great joy” is still just as simple. In fact, Paul gives very succinct proclamations of the gospel, too. The first can be found in 1 Corinthians 15 where he tells the church at Corinth that he is passing on to them the most important message he had to offer – the very same message that he received himself: Jesus died for our sins according to the way that the Bible said He would, He was buried, and He rose from the dead on the third day exactly as the Bible and Jesus’ own preaching said He would. That’s good news!

Paul’s second succinct gospel summary comes in his next letter to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:21. In one little complex sentence, he shares that God put the sins of those who would be saved on Jesus. Jesus had never sinned and did not deserve any condemnation, but He willingly bore our sin on our behalf. Those who trust in Him no longer are under the condemnation and shame due to their sin; Jesus bore that (Colossians 2:13-14). In a great exchange, Jesus traded His righteousness for our sin. He bore the wrath of God and exchanged it for God’s favor. Basically, He traded His extravagantly full bank account for our bankrupt one so that when God looks upon those who Jesus has saved, He does not see their sinfulness but Jesus’ righteousness! That’s good news!

The gospel is good news, but there is also bad news. Those who do not confess Jesus as Lord and believe He died for their sins and rose again do not receive part in that great exchange. They remain in their sin. Their condemnation remains their own. It does not have to be that way. All who call out to Jesus in faith will be saved. Anyone who believes in Him will not be but to shame (Romans 5:5), but not believing leaves the shame where it belongs – on the sinner (John 3:18).

Look at how the Christmas hymn “O Holy Night” puts it:

            Long lay the world in sin and error pining
            Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
            A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
            For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
            Fall on your knees!

Those who are without Jesus are still in their sin and “pining” after the wrong things, sinful things. But everyone – all people – have the opportunity to fall on their knees, believe in Him – confess Him as Lord, and repent of their sin. And those who do will not only have heard the good news of great joy but also to have believed it and received the salvation Jesus offers.

I love the phrase “good news of great joy” because 1) it is straight from the Bible, and 2) it captures what Jesus offers. But I also love the way the writer of “O Holy Night” captured what it is to be a sinner and receive Christ: “a weary world rejoices”. If you have been reading with us over these past two weeks, you have read snippets of the “good news of great joy”, but have you received it? Have you believed on Jesus, or are you still on the fence? If you haven’t, I urge you: fall on your knees, believe what the Bible says about Him, confess Him as Lord, and rejoice in the salvation He brings!

Advent 2022 — December 14

30 Now Jesus also performed many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not recorded in this book, 31 but these things are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

“That You May Believe”[1]
by John Piper

I feel so strongly that among those of us who have grown up in church and who can recite the great doctrines of our faith in our sleep and who yawn through the Apostles Creed—that among us something must be done to help us once more feel the awe, the fear, the astonishment, the wonder of the Son of God, begotten by the Father from all eternity, reflecting all the glory of God, being the very image of his person, through whom all things were created, upholding the universe by the word of his power.

You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird and so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.

How dead we are! How callous and unfeeling to his glory and his story! How often have I had to repent and say, “God, I am sorry that the stories men have made up stir my emotions, my awe and wonder and admiration and joy, more than your own true story.”

The space thrillers of our day, like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, can do this great good for us: they can humble us and bring us to repentance, by showing us that we really are capable of some of the wonder and awe and amazement that we so seldom feel when we contemplate the eternal God and the cosmic Christ and a real living contact between them and us in Jesus of Nazareth.

When Jesus said, “For this I have come into the world,” he said something as crazy and weird and strange and eerie as any statement in science fiction that you have ever read (John 18:37).

O, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you. I pray for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.

One of these days lightning is going to fill the sky from the rising of the sun to its setting, and there is going to appear in the clouds one like a son of man with his mighty angels in flaming fire. And we will see him clearly. And whether from terror or sheer excitement, we will tremble and we will wonder how, how we ever lived so long with such a domesticated, harmless Christ. These things are written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came into the world. Really believe.

Application & Challenge

Conversation can be a very powerful tool. If you are reading or listening to these readings and devotions with others, stop and have a conversation. What are some movies – maybe even a Christmas movie – that act as reminders of redemption or love or grace or mercy? Talk about how these stories reflect the Story.

[1] John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2013).

Advent 2022 — December 13

10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: 11 that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12

“The Birth of Jesus Considered in It’s Spiritual Meaning”[1]
by Martin Luther

Faith is first, and it is right that we recognize it as the most important in every word of God. It is of no value only to believe that this history is true as it is written; for all sinners, even those condemned believe that. The Scripture, God’s Word, does not teach concerning faith, that it is a natural work, without grace. The right and gracious faith which God demands is, that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you, and that this birth took place for your welfare. The Gospel teaches that Christ was born, and that he did and suffered everything in our behalf, as is here declared by the angel: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” In these words you clearly see that he is born for us.

He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all the people. This faith no condemned or wicked man has, nor can he have it; for the right ground of salvation which unites Christ and the believeing heart is that they have all things in common. But what have they?

Christ has a pure, innocent, and holy birth. Man has an unclean, sinful, condemned birth; as David says, Ps. 51:5, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Nothing can help this unholy birth except the pure birth of Christ. But Christ’s birth can not be distributed in a material sense neither would that avail any thing; it is therefore imparted spiritually, through the Word, as the angel says, it is given to all who firmly believe so that no harm will come to them because of their impure birth. This it the way and manner in which we are to be cleansed from the miserable birth we have from Adam. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born again, as he says John 3:3, that it takes place through faith; as also St. James says in 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.”

We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary as was Christ. Whoever does not believe this, or doubts, is no Christian.

O, this is the great joy of which the angel speaks. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, he can boast of the treasure that Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his brother, and God his father. For these things actually occured and are true, but we must believe. This is the principal thing and the principal treasure in every Gospel, before any doctrine of good works can be taken out of it. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his, before we can do good works.

But this can not occur except through the faith that teaches us rightly to understand the Gospel and properly to lay hold of it. This is the only way in which Christ can be rightly known so that the conscience is satisfied and made to rejoice. Out of this grow love and praise to God who in Christ has bestowed upon us such unspeakable gifts. This gives courage to do or leave undone, and living or dying, to suffer every thing that is well pleasing to God. This is what is meant by Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” to us, to us, to us is born, and to us is given this child.

Therefore see to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transcient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.

[1] Martin Luther, “Christmas Day (Luke 2:1–14),” in Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons, ed. John Nicholas Lenker, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905), 143–145.

Advent 2022 — December 12

And there were shepherds in the same region, living out of doors and keeping watch, guarding over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: 11 that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
among people with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:8-14

“The Angels’ Song: How Did God Come? (Part 2)”[1]
by Alistair Begg

The God of Surprises

But [God becoming flesh and dwelling among us] is not the only surprise. The place where God’s Son was born is also a surprise, and the people to whom God sent the angels is a third surprise. And they show us something of what God is like.

First, look where the God-child is. “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” It was not unusual to have a baby in swaddling cloths. It was unusual to lay a baby in a food trough.

In human terms, the reason why Mary had her child in a shack (or very possibly a cave) used for sheltering animals was straightforward. In distant Rome the emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered that a census be taken, obliging Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and there was no room for them to stay anywhere else. Augustus meant “worthy of adoration.” According to an inscription on a stone carved in around 9 BC and found in a marketplace in what is now Turkey, Augustus’ birth “gave the whole world a new aspect.” He was regarded as a “Savior.” He encouraged the worship of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, as a god, and allowed himself to be styled as “the son of God.” So great was his power and his impact that the inscription continued that “from his birth a new reckoning of time must begin.”

And so the shepherds must surely have been struck by how vastly different this child in a manger was from the power and majesty of the Roman Emperor, from this Caesar Augustus figure—from the person who established the glory of his name and the might of his empire at the head of his armies, and who could move his subject peoples around at the stroke of a pen. And yet here in this food trough lay the one who really is worthy of adoration, whose birth changes everything, who came as Savior and who really is the Son of God—and whose birth-date is the way we still reckon our time 2,000 years later.

He was not born to a queen, in a palace. He was born to a girl, in a cave, and his cradle was a food trough. The Son of God came to be just like us, among us, rather than to lord it over us. If you have known poverty, so has he. If you have known what it feels like to be an outsider, so has he. His was not a gilded, protected existence. He knows what life is like. As Jesus himself put it when he had grown up, he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10 v 45).

The second surprise is where the announcement was made. God did not make his announcement to Augustus. It came to a group of poor shepherds. We might expect that God would be most interested in those who had status, those who were powerful, those who were mighty. In actual fact, throughout Luke’s Gospel, we discover that again and again he goes for the least and last and the left out. He works in a way that we might not anticipate him working. And we have to allow him to surprise us: to be different than a god we would make up, and to work differently than how we would if we were God. This is the real God, and you and I are not him. People find it perfectly easy to tolerate Jesus just to the point where he contravenes their expectations—and then they tend to have a very different response.

Peace Offer

So that’s the message of the angel—but no sooner have the shepherds picked themselves up off the ground than the reinforcements appear. The Redeemer has come and the angels of heaven are there to announce it for him.

And the choir declares what this baby will achieve: “On earth peace.” Augustus had established what was known as the “Pax Romana”—an empire at peace and guaranteeing safety (unless you happened to be a slave or a rebel). But the peace of Rome was about to be dwarfed by the peace of God. Epictetus, a first-century philosopher, observed rightly that:

While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy; he cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns for more than even outward peace.

Caesar Augustus could not transform any of his subjects’ hearts or change any of their eternal futures.

But, the angels say, this baby could. Here is an announcement of a peace that goes deep within, and lasts beyond the grave—the peace “for which man yearns.” The peace of God that invades a life is based on the discovery of peace with God.

Today, our newspapers are filled with all kinds of attempts at peace. Peace between husbands and wives, between family members, between nations, and so on. But Epictetus is still right—peace of heart proves elusive. No matter how well we do at trying to establish peace with each other, until we discover what it is to have peace with God, we’re not going to discover the peace of God.

And, since we are separated from God—since we have declared independence and rebelled against our rightful Ruler—this is a peace that can only be brought about by the intervention of God himself. We may try to find peace without God in our own way—peace through owning stuff; peace at the bottom of a bottle. We may try to find peace with God in our own strength—peace through obeying religious rules or through being “good people.” But the truth is that only God can give us peace with himself. The angels tell us where his offer of peace was made. This is a peace that isn’t found in something. It’s a peace that is found in someone. And it is a peace that pursues us, seeks us, comes knocking on the door of our lives.

But it’s a peace that so many miss out on because they fail to make room for the one who brings it. Remember why Jesus was lying in a manger in the first place? Why was the God of heaven in a feeding trough? Because there was no room anywhere else. No one had made room for him. He made the entire universe. He came into his universe. And there wasn’t a place for him. Let’s be honest; in the lives of many of us, it’s no different. We have no room for him either—not if it makes life in any way uncomfortable for us, not if his presence brings any inconvenience to us, not when his actions and words surprise us. But our response does not change the truth. God has visited this world. He has come as one of us, to bring peace to us by redeeming us from our sins. Will you say to him, “No room?”

[1] Alistair Begg, Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2016), 45–49.