In our Advent series on Joy, this past week’s message made the observation that sometimes (often?) other people with power or influence in our lives make decisions that make our lives difficult. And that makes Joy difficult to experience. Pastor Tony also made the observation, though, that this is not new, and definitely not new to Christmas. He highlighted two instances in the life of Mary and Joseph where public policy & family dynamics made life very difficult. And yet, God through his mercy, grace, infinite wisdom and power, used them to lay the foundation for Joy to arrive. This week’s daily readings are going to lead us in examining both those dynamics in our life – public & family – and how we can invite Jesus to bring joy, actually.
Day 1: Read Matthew 22:15-22
This account occurs nearly 30 years after the birth of Christ, and yet we find the same troubling dynamics are affecting the lives of God’s people. Just like Caesar Augustus had made Jesus’ parents travel for days to pay exorbitant taxes to the Roman empire, so Tiberius years later was still taxing the Jewish people at nearly 90% – and they hated it. The religious leaders use the issue of paying these oppressive taxes as a chance to trap Jesus – would he show himself to be a man of the people, telling Rome where to go and advocating opposition towards the government? Or would he lose popularity with the people by paying into (and caving to) the unjust demands of the Empire? There are many ways to unpack what Jesus’ response to this trap-question, but one of the most profound thing he does in his answer is to point his listeners to a power higher than the Empire – God, himself.
I think that often my angst, frustration, criticism and dissension towards governmental authority is an indication that I have lost sight of the true Ruler, the only King, the one all authority must be accountable to – Jesus.
Looking “up” to His throne, past the thrones and rulers who I feel have too much power (or don’t know how to use it), makes is possible for my heart to have peace; to be reminded of a bigger picture that exists, even if I don’t see it.
So let’s do that for a moment now. This famous Christmas Carol declares that Joy comes to our world because “Earth is receiving her King” and that “He rules the world with truth and grace”.
As you listen (or sing), offer up your cares, concerns, frustrations or fears about the world’s powers and authorities, asking the true King to both bring joy to your heart, and truth, grace and peace to our world. Ask for Him to rule the emotions, concerns and fears of your heart.
Day 2: Read Luke 2:1-7
IN this message on Sunday, Tony pointed out that the most likely reason Jesus, the son of God, was born in a cave, surrounded by animals and wrapped in rags, was because the family of Mary and/or Joseph would not show them hospitality. Instead of caring for them in a vulnerable time, they increased their sense of shame, alienation and practically made life even more difficult for them. And the message two weeks ago made the point that this stigma never really left Mary and Joseph, hanging over them for decades and threatening to discredit the ministry of Jesus in his adult life.
There is no perfect family. Even the family of the son of God. In big or small ways, we’ve all experienced the let-down, the loss of joy, that comes when the people we need to come through the most – the people who should come through the most – the people who could come through the most – don’t.
Maybe it’s not intentional, but either way, the hurt we experience in family is like no other.
Perhaps this Christmas season will be a time where some of that can be mended. Perhaps it will just be forgotten or glossed over by the tinsel and spiked egg nog (could egg nog taste any worse? sure, add rum). Perhaps it will get worse.
Whatever the outcome, or where you happen to be with respect to the familial dynamics in your life, there is joy to be found. But it’s not because “Al is calm, all is bright”.
Spend a few moments thanking God that He isn’t just creator and Lord, but also your Good Father. List some of the things He’s given you since the last Christmas (this last year).
Thank Jesus that He is your elder brother, the one who sets the tone for how all the children in God’s family are treated and cared for. Ask Him to help you understand how much God loves you (since God loves his son Jesus so much, and everything that Jesus gets, we get too!).
Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you with the love of God so that you will have so much to give away to the various members of your family this season.
Day 3: Luke 1:50-53
Power to the people!
The gospel of Luke, one of Jesus’ biographies, while it contains many of the same stories that are in Matthew and Mark’s accounts (they probably all drew from the same source), has it’s own particular lens on the Jesus’ story. This lens is hinted at in Mary’s song, a portion of which you just read: the great reversal.
Mary could not have fully understood just how this would play out in Jesus’ ministry (and our world, as a result) but by sheer virtue of her being chosen to be the mother of the Lord, she understood that this was good news for a particular group of people: the powerless, the humble, the hungry.
Her song is about the great reversal of fortunes for those that were in a bad state because of their lot in life, or the decisions of others, or the cruelty of this world.
The powerless would be strengthened. The humble would be lifted high. The hungry would be filled.
Even though it seemed that the powerful and the rich and the important were in control and working things to their advantage, God was going to subvert it. Not overnight. Not immediately. But slowly, subversively, decidedly. Just like it took 30 years for Jesus to grow and actually start doing this work, so the work of God seems slow to us. When is this great reversal going to be completed? Not fully, not yet. But we have Joy knowing it will be.
Take a moment and think about a situation where you feel on the wrong end (the bottom end) of something – powerless, weak, low or empty (or perhaps you have someone close to you who is experiencing something like this). Express your (or their) feelings about this to God, knowing that he understands (he too was powerless, weak, low and hungry).
Ask Him to give patience and faith to you (or the ones you are praying for) while you wait for this reversal of fortunes to be complete.
Pray that this Christmas season – the worship services, readings and gatherings – will give renewed hope to those who are waiting for things to change.
Day 4: John 7:1-5
It’s a beloved game in the Krishnan household. Only boys allowed. Because Jenn is too rough. We get hurt when she plays. Seriously. Have you seen those elbows?
The game is played with three individuals, all fighting for the football. Whoever has it is trying to stop the other two from making them fumble. But inevitably the ball gets loose and it is a mad scramble (read battle royale) for this ball. Constant fumbling, constant scrambling, recovering and fighting. Usually everyone’s happy and no one gets hurt.
brotherly love, on display.
But we can all recover from the normal scrapes and bruises of sibling rivalry, right?
Jesus dealt with this on a whole other level. You may not have realized it but just because Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was the son of God, doesn’t mean the rest of his siblings knew it – or believed it. In fact we know they didn’t (until after the resurrection, actually). This passage flat out tells us.
It’s one thing to face opposition from outsiders (this passage says Jesus was avoiding death threats and planned lynching from the religious leaders). But to have the people who are supposed to believe you, defend you and be loyal to you, betray you as well. Join the mockers? That’s really harsh.
I’m sure it hurt Jesus, but it didn’t stop Him from following His heavenly father, trust Him and obeying Him.
What discouragements have you faced in your attempts to follow Jesus?
Have you experienced mocking, disloyalty, rejection or just disinterest (from friends, family or colleagues)?
What steps of faith or freedom in your faith have you backed away from because of fear of what others (especially family members) might think?
Take a moment and ask Jesus what He has to say to you about these things. Is there something he wants you to do? Or to say?
Make a commitment to follow through on anything you feel Him calling you to do today.
Ask for his courage, faith and trust in God the Father to be yours as well.
Day 5: Read Matthew 2:1-16
This part of the Christmas story – if we’re really honest – is really hard to read…hard to accept…hard to fathom. Herod, in history, is known as one of the most ruthless leaders. He actually killed members of his own family (one of his wives, his sons) because he feared they were plotting to take his power. And here, he responds in fear and anger, ordering the massacre of so many baby boys, because he is afraid that one of them would take his throne.
Let’s step back for a moment here my friends. I know our government here in Canada is not perfect. No one is. And there are many things about our political system that are broken and even, at times, unjust. But this here – what Herod did – is a kind of injustice that most of us have never witnessed first hand (and Lord-willing, never will).
But it is not something that just happened in ancient times. There are still today, in many parts of the world, government and military leaders and regimes who thinking nothing of shedding blood to keep their own power, who are actively (overtly and subtly) oppressing innocent people. Being fugitives because an oppressive and blood-thirsty government, like Mary & Joseph and Jesus were, is still a reality for young families and vulnerable people. Jesus identifies. But He also claimed, years later, that He had been sent to free the captives, the oppressed and the ones locked in darkness.
While a story like this doesn’t give us the Christmas feels, it IS part of the Christmas story. It reminds us that Jesus was sent into a world that was, and still is, under the oppressive power of sin, that so often manifests itself through leaders and systems. It reminds us that Jesus himself was a victim of that injustice, but came to minister to and liberate victims.
Take a few moments to pray for people around the world who live under the rule of oppressive, or at the very least, self-serving regimes. Perhaps your country of origin is one where this was the norm. Perhaps your neighbours or friends are people who have fled situations like this. Pray on their behalf.
Pray for Jesus to be seen and known by more people, because it is this kind of sin that he came to save us from – selfish ambition, abuse of power, revenge, fear, greed and control. Ask him to forgive any of this that lives in you.
Pray for the leaders of our country to be more and more influenced by the ways and the person of Jesus.