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Jan 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 16 2022

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O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 131

Intro: When we read the Psalms, we are in the realm of sacred poetry

Poetry begins in the heart and it speaks to the heart
– we can analyze a poem – take it into the lab and dissect it
• but if we go too far, we kill the specimen
• in our first encounter with a poem we need to hear it–that’s all
◦ listen to the music of its rhythm
◦ feel the effect of its words and images
– what I feel in this poem is contentment
• here is a poet who accepts himself as he is
my heart is not lifted up
◦ in the Old Testament, a heart lifted up is conceited, full of itself
my eyes are not raised too high
◦ eyes looking downward is a gesture of humility
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me
• he does not grasp at things beyond his reach
◦ this reminds me of a classic Eastwood line,
“A man’s got to know his limitations”

Rather than striving for greater status, more things, or being agitated with his circumstances,
– the poet has calmed his anxious and troubled soul
• wanting to communicate his heart,
• he looked for a metaphor to illustrate his restful state
– a “weaned child” is not a nursing child and is not on his mother’s lap to feed,
• but to receive love, soothing, reassurance
◦ the picture is well-chosen
◦ the mother’s arms and voice are enough
• the psalm ends, “O Israel, hope in the LORD”
◦ my soul cannot find rest if it has no hope
◦ it’s a lovely poem – and a challenge to us in our frenetic times
Charles Spurgeon, “It is one of the shortest psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.”

It turns out, the psalmist was onto something

Only recently have psychologist come to appreciate it
– typically, the mother is the primary source of the infant’s sense of security and safety
• two names stand out in the early stages of research into mother-child bonding
◦ British psychologist, John Bowlby and Canadian psychologist, Mary Ainsworth
• Bowlby introduced the concept of “attachment theory”
◦ research indicated babies come into the world hardwired for connection
◦ how well they bond with others depends on their bond with the mother
Bowlby, “Initially the only means of communication between infant and mother is through emotional expression and its accompanying behavior. Although supplemented later by speech, emotionally mediated communication nonetheless persists as a principal feature of intimate relationships throughout life.”
A “secure attachment” is one “in which the individual is confident that his parent (or parent figure) will be available, responsive, and helpful should he encounter adverse or frightening situations.”
◦ what enables a mother to provide a secure attachment?
Bowlby, “. . . it is necessary also to consider what has led a mother to adopt the style of mothering she does. One major influence on this is the amount of emotional support, or lack of it, she herself is receiving at the time. Another is the form of mothering that she herself received when a child.”
• initially, Bowlby concluded that there were two “attachment styles”:
◦ “secure” and “insecure
– Mary Ainsworth, however, extended his research
• she devised a way to test a child’s attachment to mother
◦ by close observation of a toddler in a variety of different situations
◦ this was dubbed, “The Strange Experiment”
• she discovered two forms of insecure attachment:
◦ “insecure avoidant” and “insecure anxious/resistant”
◦ later research identified a third–“insecure disorganized”

Research was advanced in 1970’s by filming infant and toddler behavior
– then slowly analyzing the films frame by frame and noting vocalizations, body language and facial expression
Colwyn Trevarthen, “through detailed analysis of timing and expression [researchers were] able to show that infants are actually born with playful intentions and sensitivity to the rhythms and expressive modulations of a mother’s talk and her visible expressions and touches.”
• later on, advanced imaging technology allowed them to observe the living brain in action
• in this way they were able to discover what structures in the brain were activated during bonding exercises
Trevarthen, “We now know that there are widespread events in both cortical and subcortical regions of the brain that are specific to emotions and intentions, and that these animate the acquisition of conceptual knowledge or motor skills. . . . [These structures of the brain] involved in both making and recognizing coordinated patterns of facial and vocal expressions, including those that will eventually produce and receive language, are already specialized for these functions in a 2-month-old infant.”

Are you wondering, “Where is Chuck going with this?”

We learn intimacy through our family, beginning at our birth
– what does knowing this do for you and I today?
first: it gives us a way to understand our own intimacy skills
◦ what do we know about being intimate with another?
◦ what was our experience? what were our examples like?
◦ how well developed are our skills?
second: it suggests some basic skills for developing intimacy
◦ and perhaps healing for any damage done to our own bonding experience
– so, lesson one: “charity” really does “begin at home”

Is there a list of instructions we can follow?

We have to be careful when it comes to lists
– for instance, our “list” for an intimate marriage may include:
commitment: but what if a woman endangers herself and children because she refuses to divorce an abusive husband
communication: but here is an educated couple who are very articulate when they pour contempt on each other
compassion: but one person treats their spouse in a condescending way – with pity, as if talking to a child
• communication itself is not what makes for intimacy
◦ what counts is the nature and quality of the couple’s interaction
– another concern:
• using a list to demand specific performance from the other spouse
• the most commonly abusive example is men telling their wives they must “submit”

Everything that can be said regarding intimacy needs to be qualified
– it also has to be adapted to a family’s various personalities

We need to think about an environment that fosters family intimacy

Trust – we can rely on each other
Safety – no one is going to be harmed; physically, verbally, or emotionally
Acceptance – for who I am and what I am not
Mutual understanding – sincere listening to each other
Healthy honesty – we do not have to share everything
Empathic – we feel for and with each other; we feel what the other person feels

We need to think about behavior that fosters family intimacy

Involvement – each person is emotionally present and engaged
Attention – not 100% of time, but definitely when someone needs it
Affirmation – you not only exist, but you know your existence is special
Affection – we need touch; our bodies need it as well as our souls
– you know, Jesus did not have to touch every person he healed
Sensitivity – awareness of others’ attitude or body language
– our sensitivity is diminished by our own stress and anxiety
– we need to be aware of this
Responsive – you get serious feedback from others
Conversations – that get to the core of our emotional needs and wants
Mercy – forgiveness is always available
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:21-22)

We need to think about what blocks intimacy

Negative patterns of interaction – family “habits”
Lies – we can always work with the truth, even if painful
Judgment – if I as a person am condemned, labeled, shamed I will not seek intimacy with those who do these things to me
– or I may feel incapacitated by the judgment of others
Apathy – not trying or not caring
Abusive speech or actions
Neglect – if we don’t bother with each other, don’t listen — a passive form of abuse

Conclusion: Every positive thing mentioned above is true of Jesus

And this really is the point
We love, because we were first loved (1 Jn. 4:19)
Scripture also tells us, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8)
God has built into us a need for love and the capacity to love
The pursuit of intimacy is our path of spiritual development
– spiritual growth and an ever truer, deeper love for others are not different paths, but the are one and the same
If we do not want to seek intimacy for ourselves,
because don’t feel the need for it, or it’s too risky, or it requires too much work,
we must do it for the sake of others
Oivier Clements, “Spiritual progress has no other test in the end, nor any better expression, than our ability to love.”

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God 1 John 4:7

Jan 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 9, 2022

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So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
[Read Genesis 2:18-25]

Intro: Awhile back I read The Healing Power of Emotion

An anthology of essays written by specialists in the fields of neuroscience and applied psychology
– afterward, I read several books by the authors of those essays
• one author was Sue Johnson, who pioneered Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
◦ in Hold Me Tight, she explains research behind EFT and provides lots of examples of how it works in therapy
• it turned out that Johnson has a Christian friend, Ken Sanderfer, who is also a therapist
◦ he suggested that she write a book specifically for Christians
Sue Johnson, “This made perfect sense. As Kenny and I placed the science of EFT alongside the ancient wisdom of the Christian Scriptures, clear and consistent parallels between EFT and biblical teachings about divine love and God’s teachings about human love leapt out at us.”
– I read that book too – Created for Connection
• and that brings me to the point of why I have told you all of this
◦ I am “borrowing” the title of her book for my next few
Ken Sanderfer, “I don’t believe the Bible was ever intended to be a marriage book, but it is a beautiful love story—a story about a God in pursuit of His bride. We are the bride of Christ. God created us to have a relationship with Him and with others. . . . Our relationship with God is essential to how we connect with others, and our view of God is influenced by our lifelong interactions with others.”
• we will consider our close relationships in the light of the Scriptures
◦ we’ll work our way through our various friendships towards intimate closeness with God

Today I’ll share a few random thoughts about intimacy

In story of Adam and Eve we’re given an ideal model of intimacy
– the man holds fast to his wife and they become one flesh
• Hebrew word for hold fast means also cling to, stick to, and joined
◦ a bond is formed that holds them together

In one of my factory jobs, a pro told me that in using glue the strongest bond is when glue is applied to the two surfaces that are to be joined. If the glue penetrates the surface, the two parts adhere so well that it is like they have become one piece instead of two.

• later on, in the law of Moses, provision is made for breaking that intimate marriage bond
◦ Jesus had an explanation for that stipulation
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:3-8)
– every other living organism, God made using soil
• not the woman–she was made of existing human stuff
◦ so the man and woman share a shared existence and a unique closeness
◦ they are capable of an intimacy unknown in any other relationship
• one of Christianity’s earliest and most powerful thinkers was Origen
◦ he saw an analogy in Eve coming from Adam’s wounded side
Origen, “From the wound in Christ’s side has come forth the Church, and he has made her his Bride.”
◦ through the cross, we are remade, and from same stuff as Jesus

Although marital intimacy is unique, we can find closeness in other relationships

But what does that mean?
– are you close to a particular relative? an aunt? a cousin? a sibling?
• do you have a close friend? Or a closest friend?
• how did that closeness develop?
◦ perhaps it has a lot of the many experiences you have shared together
– some therapists talk about “building” an intimate relationship
• but for some of us, it has more to do with removing obstacles, including:
◦ if we never experienced closeness as an infant or child
◦ other past experiences of betrayal and broken trust
◦ if we’ve attempted closeness with someone who was incapable of it
(a narcissist can fake intimacy, but cannot sustain or live it)
◦ if we are insecure in relationships or never feel safe

Intimacy is always a gift – one that some people are unable or unwilling to give
– it is the gift of oneself – a sharing of who I am with another person
• in this sharing, all the parts of oneself come into play
• this doesn’t mean we share everything
◦ but there is not much that we leave hidden or covered
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed
– closeness is the natural trajectory of redeemed human relationships
• that doesn’t mean it is easy
◦ and ir doesn’t mean we find it automatically among “Christians”
◦ we’re all human and we all struggle
• but as a new creation, we live in God’s love
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us . . . . We love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:16-19)
◦ God shares with us his own loving energy
◦ so we are to be merciful because he is merciful, we are to forgive because he forgave us
we are to abide in his love

Closeness with another person requires us to face our brokenness

There are two things I want to say about this
– the first, is that we will inevitably reveal our brokenness
• if you cannot apologize for the wrong you do,
◦ you cannot maintain a close relationship — not even with your child
◦ the same is true if you cannot forgive
• it can be humiliating, in can be painful, it can seem impossible,
◦ but those broken parts will ruin a relationship if not acknowledged
◦ relationships can be repaired, and strongest tool for repairing them is forgiveness
So we must be prepared to both seek and give forgiveness
– the second thing, is that we cannot use our brokenness as an excuse
• it is an explanation for our struggle with particular issues,
◦ but once we’re aware of them,
◦ we have a responsibility to resolve and correct them
• some continue to fail, hurt, use, and abuse those who love them
◦ and then make excuse for their behavior rather than change it
◦ we need to be aware of the actions that integrate and of those that alienate

Some authors talk about the dance of intimacy

Here are two people: person ‘A’ and person ‘B’
– ‘A’ says or does something and it immediately affects ‘B’
• ‘B’ responds, or reacts, or does nothing–neither responds nor reacts
• that affects ‘A’, who then responds to ‘B’, etcetera
– in their interaction, they have an ongoing impact on each other
• awareness of that impact may be as important as the content of their communication

We need to learn the steps of this dance
– they will be slightly different with one person than with another
• we must know each dance partner well enough to perfect those steps
– dance steps that are fairly common include:
• empathy – we’ve talked a lot about this
• vulnerability – we have to be able to take what we hear
• humility – our imperfections
• emotional control – not “tight” control, but the ability to calm ourselves

It turns out that sharing our emotions is a critical factor in developing intimacy
Dan Hughes, “Through the communication of emotions, we create an opening that makes our own inner life clear to the other person. [Emotional] communication–when expressed in a reactive manner–often leads to attacks on both the other and the self. Similarly, [emotional] communication–when continuously avoided–often leads to increased isolation and loneliness rather than emotional intimacy.”
“. . . when we are able to successfully share our emotional experience with a trusted other, we are better able to regulate these emotions because the other is not being experienced as if he or she had been there with us in the event.”
– who we are is revealed when read by others in the story of our lives
• the experience and expression of emotions is central to our story
• they are the inner energy of the plot – of our decisions, actions, or inaction
◦ they reveal important elements of the story
◦ they shape our story, and they have been shaped by our story
– sharing our emotions helps others to read and know our story

Conclusion: I think most will agree,

Christianity in the United States is currently in a crisis state
– it is seriously fractured and needs a time of healing and repair
• Maximus the Theologian: was a seventh century Christian monk
He said, “Only love overcomes the fragmentation of human nature.”

Henri Nouwen, after enjoying a flourishing career in the U.S. returned to a divided church in Holland
Nouwen, “Who is to blame? I often wonder where I would be today if I had been part of the great turmoil of the Dutch Church during the last decades. Blaming is not the issue. What is important is to find the anger-free parts in people’s hearts where God’s love can be heard and received.”
We need to hear this! “Blaming is not the issue”
And, we need to find in our hearts “the anger-free parts”
so that we can experience the loving bond of Christian community
and then share it with the world

Jan 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 2, 2022

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When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:28-35

Intro: Years ago, I saw a news clip featuring Salvador Dali

The flamboyant surrealist artist, with his trademark handlebar mustache,
– he was famous for his painted landscapes with melting watches
• he had alerted the press that he was working on another masterpiece
◦ and he was going to complete it in front of a live audience
• the day came, and a crowd gathered and the cameras were rolling
– Dali arrived with his usual air of self-importance
• he dabbed his brush in a smudge of white paint,
◦ climbed a step-ladder, and with theatrical flourish,
◦ added to the portrait of a woman, a dot on the pupil of eye
• that was it – the painting was finished

Artists, whatever their craft, know the importance of detail
– Luke was that kind of storyteller
• he includes details not found in any other gospel
• for instance, when Jesus was on trial and Peter was in the courtyard denying that he knew him
◦ the third time Peter said, “I don’t have anything to do with him”
◦ Luke says, And the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Lk. 22:61)
– we can feel the intense emotion of that visual connection,
• even if we don’t know how to read it
◦ was it about Peter? Did it intensify the impact of what he felt?
◦ or was it about Jesus, perhaps communicating something to Peter with his eyes
“See, I told you so; I told you that you would deny me”
or more likely,
“Don’t give up, Peter. I understand. I still love you. I haven’t given up on you”
• whatever that glance meant, Peter and Jesus were connected

There are little details that enhance our story

The one I want us to think about is this:
Then they told what had happened on the road and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread

These two anonymous disciples reflect our spiritual community

Our lives are bound together by the same pursuit
– we are not driven to live as comfortably as possible
• we know that we’ve been called to a spiritual journey
• seeing that we’re all going the same direction,
◦ we meet up so we can walk together
– Jesus also walks with us
• although we don’t always recognize his presence
• what we do recognize is that mystery plays major role in journey
◦ Jesus taught the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven in parables (Mt. 13:11)
◦ Paul mentions mystery repeatedly in his letters
the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:26-27) and, For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)

We are surrounded by mysteries – they live behind everything
– they are like those hidden-object puzzles,
• we cannot see them with our normal vision, even if we try
◦ but they do reveal themselves to faith
• every day we pass through mysteries and don’t know it
– mystery is an inner voice, an intuitive voice
• and it speaks very quietly – intuition makes only a whisper
• we need to be quiet to hear it
Olivier Clements, “We not only listen to the words of Jesus but we welcome his silence into our hearts, the mysterious presence of the Father and of the Spirit.”
Ignatius of Antioch, (lived in the second century and was a church leader in the city where believers were first called Christians) “It is better to keep silent and to be, rather than to speak but not be.”
– we are not accustomed to silence
• if not from all the noise of machines and broadcast media,
• then from the noise inside out own heads
◦ anger is very noisy – so is fear – and so is grief
◦ these two disciples were grieving

I will admit, I don’t always enjoy how biblical stories unfold

Precisely at the moment the two disciples recognized Jesus,
he vanished from their sight
– to me, this doesn’t feel right – this is not the place to interrupt story
• of course, a story well-told is always suspenseful
• only, in real life we don’t like suspense
– at any rate, the two disciples are up and on the road again
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem
• I think they left Jerusalem, because they believed the Jesus movement was over
◦ they thought he was Messiah, but that hope died on cross
• now that their hope has been resurrected, they head back to the epicenter

This is so much like our spiritual journey
– it does not move in a straight line to heaven
• sometimes we backtrack
◦ we’re taken back to something we had already learned
• sometimes it seems we are going in circles, until God says,
You have circled this mountain long enough. Turn northward (Deut. 2:3-4)
– their journey is our journey
• Jesus has vanished from our sight
• yet we have to travel on
– how did they do it?
• how did they continue on their journey without seeing him?
• what did they have now that he wasn’t there for them to follow?
◦ what did they have to support them? to sustain them?

Here is what I find in this story

They had an encounter with Jesus that left a permanent impression
– Paul never tired of telling the story of his first encounter
• it is good for us to remember our first experience of Jesus
◦ our first discoveries and our first love
• it reminds us of what set us on this journey

They had a new connection with, and understanding of the Scriptures
. . . beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (v. 27)
Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures? (v. 32)
– later, after they had joined the others, Jesus told them,
. . . everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (vv. 44-45)
• the Scriptures can burn like a fire in our hearts too
Olivier Clements said, regarding “contemplative reading”:
“It happens that while listening to the Word the heart is touched by a particular saying and set on fire. Then one must stop and let the fire spread quietly.”
• we just have to be there long enough or enough times for this to begin to happen
◦ we keep going back to scripture
◦ we strike the flint until sparks fly and create a flame

They had each other and the other disciples
– it is extremely helpful to have one very close Christian friend
– an entire spiritual community is a necessity
• we are here for each other
• we are here for you

They had the breaking of the bread – the Communion meal
– the Last Supper became the first Lord’s Supper
• this is a visible facet of the mystery
• this is where their eyes were opened, where they became aware of Jesus’ presence
– if you look at Christian writing through history,
• every saint, every mystic, every spiritual theologian
• found in Communion a consistent experience of encounter with God in Christ
◦ the visible facet (bread and wine) of the mystery becomes a bridge to the invisible reality

Conclusion: When I read Bible, I sometimes forget how it works

My mind tells me I must hunt down a significant insight latent in the text
– then I have to work at developing it into a profound thought,
• a devotional encouragement, a warm feeling
• but all I do is waste my time
I do not have to come up with anything–profound or otherwise
I do not have to produce grace – I receive it
I cup my hands and stretch them our to my Father
I receive forgiveness, I receive help, I receive love
From God’s hand we receive Jesus
we receive him with the bread and the cup
And through Jesus, we receive everything

Dec 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 26, 2021

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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” . . . After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great goy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then opening their treasures, the offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12

Intro: Reading this old familiar story,

I am surprised by how little information we are actually given
– Matthew provides us bare details without embellishment
• we are not the first to recognize its streamlined quality
• over time, various storytellers added their own finishing touch
◦ it’s like an undecorated Christmas tree that looks too plain
◦ so tradition has added lots of ornaments
– for instance, we’ve been told there were three magi (the Bible does not say how many)
• some storytellers went so far as to give them names
◦ we imagine the magi came with a caravan of camels, voila! we have camels
◦ the magi are pictured in nativity scenes, though they arrived much later
• these decorations do not change the story,
◦ they are a poetic attempt to make it more visual

Three weeks ago, I told you these talks would not be profound
– that they would be more like meditations or reflections
• so today I will share some of my thoughts regarding the magi
• I chose them intentionally, because, as Matthew tells us,
◦ they arrived after Jesus was born in Bethlehem
◦ so this is a post-Christmas talk about the post-Christmas visit of the magi

My first thought: These Christmas guests lived worlds apart from shepherds

The shepherds were home-grown
– shepherding had deep roots in Israel’s history: both Jacob and Moses at one time were shepherds
• of course, the shepherd par excellence was David–also from Bethlehem
• it seems right that the first to hear of Jesus’ birth would be shepherds
the magi were foreigners
• the Greeks used “magi” to refer to Persian priests (in the service of kings)
◦ they access to supernatural knowledge for divination dream interpretation
◦ magi is also used of Babylonian astrologers
• the magi not merely foreigners, but they represented nations that had conquered Israel
◦ nations where the Jewish people had been held in exile

The shepherds belonged to the lowest class in Israel
Bruce Malina, “Although shepherds could be romanticized (as was King David), they were usually ranked with . . . tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night they were unable to protect their women and therefore were considered dishonorable. In addition, they often were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property.”
magi, however, were a privileged class and honored as such
• they arrived in Jerusalem asking for directions,
◦ and were soon granted an audience with the king
• they had the world at their feet, whereas,
◦ shepherds were at the feet of the world

The shepherds received the announcement of Jesus’ birth from angels
– the magi were given a star
– both images are related to the heavens
• but they suggest very different connotations

Matthew and Luke tell two different stories
– each has to do with the message they intend to emphasize
• Matthew features the kingdom of heaven
◦ so he tells an episode that gives Jesus royal status
◦ note that the angel addresses Joseph as “son of [King] David” (Mt. 1:20)
• Luke’s concern is to present Jesus as liberator (Lk. 4:18-21)
◦ the champion of the poor, oppressed, and outcasts
– so Matthew and Luke chose the stories that best fit their purpose
• in comparing the two, I think it’s significant that
◦ the shepherds got to Jesus first – the magi arrived quite awhile later

Another thought: The magi are radically out of place in Jerusalem and Bethlehem

They were not descendants of Abraham and did not belong to the “chosen people”
– they were not Israelites – they had their own nationality
• when they left Bethlehem, they returned to their own country (v. 12)
• yet, seeing the star over Judea, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy
– then, when they saw Jesus, they fell down and worshiped him
• they bow before this two-year-old – WHY?
• he was not their king nor was he a world emperor
◦ what stake do they have in him?
◦ what the heck are they doing here?

Matthew is very careful to point out the fulfillment of scripture in the person of Jesus
– especially in the first few chapters
(e.g., verse 15, This was to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet . . .)
• but he does not provide a biblical equivalent for the magi
– perhaps he just wants to show us how big this event was
• much bigger than tiny Bethlehem
◦ bigger even than King Herod or all of Judah
• maybe he wants us to see that Jesus’ coming into the world deserves this kind of attention
◦ to get a perspective on how big the birth of Jesus was, consider this:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us)
– Mt. 1:23-24

Another thought: What do we see in the faces around Christ child?

We see the disheveled poor and the manicured wealthy
– we see the very devout–like Simeon and Anna–
• and others who have known only foreign gods
– we see people with citizenship status
• and aliens who have crossed borders to see Jesus
– we see a multicultural mix of races and religions

None of these people were drawn to Jesus against their will
– they came to him, because whatever they had, it was not enough
• they came because their faith was cold and Jesus was fire
• they came because they were thirsty and Jesus is the fountain of living water
• they came because their religion was weak and Jesus is God with us
– they came to Jesus and he opened his arms to them

This is what the kingdom of God looks like
– though you have Jesus, you do not have him exclusively

When we come to Jesus, we’re recruited into kingdom of God
– where there is neither left nor right, resident or alien
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for your are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27-28)
– I fear for some Christians who assume their spot in heaven is guaranteed
• I am afraid that either they will not like heaven when they get there,
◦ because they will see all the people they’ve tried to keep out of their church, their country clubs, their nation
◦ or they will find themselves on the outside looking in
• this has happened to others who felt entitled to access to God’s kingdom
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God (Lk. 13:28-29)

Conclusion: Before we put the magi back in their box until Christmas next year

I have one other thought
– our last look at the magi is when we watch them leave Bethlehem, and
they departed to their own country by another way
– I know Matthew meant they took a different route
• but I want to take liberties with that statement, by another way
• for instance, they were led to Bethlehem by a star, but led back home by a dream
– they left by another way, not only because of Herod, but also because of Jesus
• they came one way, but left another way
◦ they came the old way they had always been and left a new way of being in God
• when they got home, their country was the same, but they were not the same
This is how we know we have encountered Jesus,
when we leave another way; when we become a different person

Henri Nouwen, left his prosperous professions to work with adults with developmental disabilities
– he spent a year in preparation for this work, during which time he kept a journal
• then he set the journal aside after his first year working at Daybreak
• at that time he wrote and epilogue to his journal, which was then published
– I want to conclude this talk with quotes from his epilogue

“If, indeed, Jesus is the center of my life, I have to give him much time and attention. I especially want to pray the prayer of adoration in which I focus on his love, his compassion, and his mercy and not on my needs, my problems and my desires. . . . I want my life to be based on the reality of Jesus, and not on the unreality of my own fantasies, self-complaints, daydreams, and sand castles.”

“It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Jesus led me to where I never wanted to go, sustained me when I felt lost in the darkness of the night, and will guide me toward the day no longer followed by night. As I travel with Jesus, he continues to remind me that God’s heart is, indeed infinitely greater than my own.”

Dec 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Imagining Christmas 2

To: Yeshua, my step-son and the Light of my life.
My Dear Yeshua,

I write you this letter, because I am dying and I wanted to leave you a record of things you could not know. Your mother and I have kept these things from you, waiting until we thought you were ready. However, it seems that from a young age you already sensed who you are and the destiny that beckons you. Still, I believe you will appreciate knowing certain events surrounding your birth and early life.

I left off working an hour before sundown, the beginning of another Shabbat. Passing through the marketplace I overheard two women talking. I’m sure they raised their voices to make certain I could catch every word.
“She seemed like such a nice girl,” one of them said, with a voice that clucked like a chicken.
“Yes, and from a decent family,” said the other, whose face was round like an owl’s.
“She was supposed to marry the carpenter. Their parents had arranged everything. But it’s just so sad,” clucked the first woman.
“Yes, sad. Sad that she would ruin everything by getting herself pregnant.”

Yeshua, I hope you never experience such heartache and anger. Of course, I did not believe what they were saying, but I was compelled to run straight to your mother’s house. Your grandparents told me your mom had gone off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was in need of a helper. I thought I would go insane if I did not get answers right then, so even though it was rude, I asked them straight-out, “Is it true? Is Mary pregnant?”

Their sad faces confirmed the worst. “Joseph,” your grandmother cried, “you must listen to us.” But I had already turned my back and was rushing home. I did not care that the sun had set, Shabbat had begun, and running at that hour was unlawful. My world imploded and everything around me was crashing.

I know it’s been hard for you at times; the looks people gave you in the synagogue or the teasing and taunting of other children. But now I will tell you one of the secrets I kept from you from you all these years.

Sleep that night seemed impossible. I cried and cussed and kicked furniture around my room. I laid awake, torturing myself with visions of your mother in the arms of another man. Perhaps exhausted from grief and rage, my body finally relaxed and I slept. But in my sleep I received a visitor. God sent an angel to me. These are his exact words:

“Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because the Child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Yeshua, because he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s right, an angel named you.

The next time I saw your mother, her eyes were filled with fear and pain. But before she could speak, I took her in my arms and said, “It’s alright, Mary. God sent an angel to me who explained everything.” That’s all I could say, because my throat grew tight when I felt your mother’s warm tears on my neck.


The trip to Bethlehem was very hard. We had to travel short distances and then rest. Your mother never complained, but she walked bent forward much of the time, and I hear an occasional groan. It was obvious that you were anxious to be born and you were not going to wait for us to settle somewhere comfy.

I was not happy about returning to Bethlehem. My family escaped that dirty, little village a few generations before I was born. We enjoyed the freer lifestyle up north, far away from the city of Jerusalem with it’s stupid politics and pompous hypocrites.

Yeshua, there was only one building in Bethlehem that you could call an inn, and it was crowded with people who got there before us. I went to taverns and even door to door hoping that someone would make room for us. Mary sat all day in the open square where visitors are usually greeted and offered hospitality. But there were too many guests and Bethlehem had no room for them all.

Oh, Yeshua, when a family is worn out and beaten down, even the smallest kindness seem like a priceless gift. I hope you always remember to be kind and good. I know that you will be true and righteous, but what people need more than anything is compassion.

A farmer had seen us on his way to the marketplace and when heading home he noticed we were still by the well. “What? No one has taken you in?” he asked. “Then come with me. you can at least spend a night in my stable.” His friendly voice lifted our spirits, and we thanked him over and over all the way to the stall in the field behind his house.

We had to duck our heads as we stepped inside. Then your mother grabbed my arm and said, “Joseph!” I could hear they urgency of her voice and she eased herself to the floor. Our host quickly drove the animals from the stable and called for his wife. She came running from the house and let out a yelp when she saw your mother tense and contracted on the ground.

I felt helpless and powerless. I took straw from the food trough and carried it outside for the livestock. Soon two or three other women from nearby homes were busy tending to your mother. Clay lamps were brought into the stall, because it was now dark. I stood in the doorway, ready to run and fetch anything they might need. But the women were calm and had everything under control. A short while later—well, there you were.

I had never been present for childbirth, so I thought something was wrong at first. Your face was red and all scrunched up. Your dark hair was flattened to your wet scalp. But the women were fussing over you—how perfect you were, how you had your mother’s eyes and your father’s strong hands. So I assumed you must be alright.

They bundled you warmly and let you nurse at your mother’s breast. It was not long before the two of you were fast asleep. Your mom, exhausted from traveling and travailing and you worn out from squirming your way into this world. I laid you in the food trough, then laid down beside your mother. I started a prayer for her and you, but drifted off into a deep sleep.

It was still early—long before the sun came up—when I was awakened by a blast of cold air. Your mother woke up and said, “Joseph?” There was someone standing in the doorway. “Who’s there?” I asked, and I tried to sound dangerous.

“Please”—it was a man’s voice—“is there a baby in here?”

Again Mary called my name, and she grabbed my hand in the dark. “Who are you?” I asked again. “What are you doing here?”
“We were sent by angels!”
“What?”
“We’ve seen angels and they sent us here.”

By now our host had come from the house with a torch. “You there,” he said. “What do you want?” The door closed and we could hear voices talking indistinctly outside. I struck a light and put on a lamp. You began crying, so your mother took you in her arms and soothed you with her voice and fingertips.

The door opened again and the guest let four scruffy-looking shepherds into the stable. “What are you doing?” I asked.

His face was serious. “You need to hear this,” he answered.

The shepherds were staring at you with these silly grins on their faces. Their eyes looked like alabaster illuminated by an inner joy.

The oldest shepherd spoke, “We saw angels,” he said. “First one, then a whole army of them. Their voices thundered in the hills and if our sheep had not been in the fold, they would have scattered in all directions. The angels sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

A younger shepherd interrupted, “The first angel said he brought us good news that would make everyone very happy. He told us, ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ That’s when he informed us that we would find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Isn’t that funny?”

Yeshua, your Father sent his angels to announce your birth. Nothing else about your birth was fancy. Everything was dirt-poor. There was nothing royal, dignified, beautiful or even cutesy about your delivery room. But your Father arranged a huge choir, greater than a Roman Legion, to announce to shepherds that you had come to earth.

And that is the secret I can keep no longer. I wish that I could live to see you begin your ministry. But God has different plans. I leave your mother in your care. Of course your step-brothers and sisters will help when they get a little older. By then you will be on your own.

But I tell you these things to confirm what you feel in your heart and what you have heard in your soul when you’ve walked the hills by yourself. I know that already you are close to God, and he meets you in your prayers. I know he has already told you things, though you’ve kept them from us. I trust your wisdom. But you need to know the miracles that surrounded your birth. you are human, like the rest of us. That is why you feel pain, and sadness, and humiliation. But you are also divine, the Son of God. And that is why you are Yeshua.

I would give you my blessing, but will save them for your brothers instead, because one day soon you will receive a blessing from heaven that will be greater than anything a step-father could give you.

Yeshua, I don’t pretend to know everything God has in store for you. I don’t know what joys you will experience or what pain you must suffer. Your face is still smooth and radiant with the light of youth and your eyes are clear and strong. But one day you will know the full burden of your destiny. When that day comes, be strong. Somehow you will save your people. Somehow you will bring hope to all the earth. Every broken heart, every sick body, every wayward person, every lost child will rejoice in your love and power.

The shepherds said such things. The magi said such things. The angels said such things. And I tell you such things. This is truth. The eyes of the world will be upon you—you who are God’s gift to the earth.

Take care, Yeshua. Know that I have loved you, and that in every way you have made me proud. Never forget that you are a miracle.

Your loving step-father,

Joseph

Dec 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 19, 2021

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And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is might has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55

Intro: I won’t say this episode within the Christmas story has been neglected,

But it doesn’t get as much attention as the more familiar scenes
– it unfolds in a warm and intimate atmosphere
• the two women are relatives–both received a miracle
◦ both have been surprised by unexpected pregnancies
• we have no details of their time together, only their greetings,
◦ and each greeting is an eruption of joy and wonder
– Elizabeth’s greeting hints at the mystery Mary carries in her womb
And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (v. 43)
• Mary’s response is nothing less than an inspired song,
◦ like one of the Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures
• you know you’ve caught the mood of this story if when reading it you smile

I am going to zero in on one particular line that Mary sings
. . . he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts

My first impression of this statement is that it is prophetic
– Mary celebrates a future as if it were already present
• it describes one of the social upheavals her Child will cause
My next impression: the world will be better for it
– the day when the plans of narcissistic leaders are foiled
A third impression: Mary is traveling familiar territory
– last week I mentioned the two times we are told,
• she treasured a memory and pondered it in her heart
• Mary’s life will affect the realm of inner thoughts

Now we’ll jump from this lovely encounter to the temple

I mentioned Simeon last week, who took Jesus into his arms,
– and prayed over him
• birth and death are featured in this encounter
• a birth is celebrated, a death is anticipated
◦ the one is connected to the other
◦ a peaceful death is possible because of the divine birth
Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed (Lk. 2:34-35)
• Simeon’s prediction: Jesus will be a sign
◦ a sign doesn’t make things happen; it simply points out what’s there
• by his very presence, Jesus would expose what was in the hearts of many

I have taken that last line for our meditation today
that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed
– there are moments in Luke where we observe this happen–literally
• once when Jesus perceived the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees,
◦ Luke says he “answered” them – they were thinking something, but had not said anything
◦ in other words, Jesus answered their thoughts as if they had spoken them out loud!
Why do you question in your hearts? (Lk. 5:22)
• another time when they were looking for a reason to reject him,
Jesus knew their thoughts (Lk. 6:8)
• and again, when they slandered him and pestered him for a sign from heaven
But he, knowing their thoughts addressed their criticism (Lk. 11:17)
• another time it was the disciples he corrected
◦ they were arguing over which one of them was the greatest
But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child . . . . (Lk. 9:47)
• one time Jesus told the Pharisees explicitly,
You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts (Lk. 16:15)

I have a book written by a Benedictine Nun, Thoughts Matter

Sister Mary Margaret tells a story regarding Abba Anthony
– in order to know God as fully as possible,
• he renounced everything in his worldly life; home, wealth, honors, etc.
◦ but when he was alone in the desert, he realized
◦ he the thoughts of those things he renounced followed him
• this required a second renunciation — a renunciation of his thoughts
Mary Margaret Funk, “He realized that his thoughts mattered and that they had to be taken seriously, because if he did not take them seriously, he could not pray. He began to train himself to notice his thoughts, laying them out, rather than resisting them. . . . [he] learned to redirect his thoughts, either by rethinking them or by placing a prayer alongside the thought.”
◦ later she explains
“To know our thoughts is an essential step in redirecting our heart to God in prayer.”
– Fr. Romuald once explained to me, “I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings.”
• this is an important lesson to learn – we cannot allow our thoughts define who we are
◦ but still, our thoughts matter – true thoughts assist, strengthen, and refresh us
. . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Php. 4:8)
◦ thoughts that are untrue can trip us up, mislead and ruin us
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)
• fearful, anxious, shameful thoughts can twist our minds
◦ convince us that we’re worthless, irredeemable, hopeless

I’m going to share a few of my thoughts about thoughts

I don’t expect you to remember this list, but I hope you feel it
Thoughts are not insignificant – they deserve our concern
◦ our unconscious thoughts run our lives
◦ they will bring us closer to God or carry us away from him
Thoughts are not inert – they are dynamic, a mental energy
We do not always know our own thoughts
◦ we get lost in them rather than look at them
◦ sometimes another person makes us aware of them
◦ we can learn to make ourselves aware of our thoughts
When our thoughts are revealed, we’re responsible to own them
◦ we can discern our thoughts–choose to keep or dismiss them
◦ we can choose to think new thoughts
Busy, shallow thoughts can distract us from our deeper selves
We don’t have to fight horrific battles against thoughts in our mind
Sister Mary Margaret, “Thoughts come and thoughts go. Unaccompanied thoughts pass quickly.”
◦ if we do not engage a thought, it will dissolve on its own
Our thoughts are a key issue in our spiritual development
◦ Jesus reveals our thoughts to renovate our minds
◦ a purification of our thoughts improves our vision of God
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt. 5:8)
God throws us a challenge to think higher thoughts
. . . let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa. 55:7-9)
◦ God tells the wicked person, “Your actions are wrong”
◦ he tells the unrighteous person, “Your thoughts are wrong”
It is possible to transcend thought
◦ to be in pure awareness of the experience of the present moment
◦ to enter the mystery that is the kingdom of God

I’m going to turn now and come at this another way

This last week, reading in Luke I came across the following statement:
. . . where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Lk. 12:34)

I asked myself, “How do I know where my heart is?”
• What thoughts come to me most often?
• What thoughts do I use to console myself? (e.g., “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you” ; Ge. 27:42)
• What thoughts do I use to entertain myself?
• What thoughts give me hope?
• What thoughts trouble me?
• What do I think would make me happy?
• What am I thinking right this moment?
– the answer to each question reveals where my heart is
– my heart thoughts swirl around whatever I treasure

Conclusion: I’ve been trying to imagine, what would it be like

To have Jesus on my mind all day
– would I be more aware of how he blesses me than how others annoy me?
What would it be like to love him so much,
to be so enthralled with him that he was always present to me,
and my thoughts automatically returned to him–always
I imagine, that would be the best Christmas gift I could ever receive

My Christmas wish–my prayer–
is that each of us will enjoy a day like that;
a day when Jesus is everything to us
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36)

Dec 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Imagining Christmas

Midwifery and Cosmology

Your mother’s rapid panting—then a deep breath—more panting—deep breath—panting—breath; so it went on half the night. How many repetitions? I have forgotten. Then, there was You. Your first breath. You gulped life and Your cheeks flushed. Never had I seen anything so beautiful, so perfect. I have never since heard music so lovely as Your first cry.

That night’s business should have been old hat for me. After all, I assisted mothers for fifteen years from Hebron to Bethlehem, and was present for more than two dozens births. You would think a midwife could no longer get caught up in the excitement, be surprised, or bowled over by the stunning splendor of a live birth. But there is always risk and there is always the loving anticipation of the parents. As rough as my heart could get at times, I still marveled at the crowning head and the tiny form of a new life. Though, truth to tell, there was something extra-special about Your birth.

Your father was anxious. If he wasn’t asking me questions, he was telling me what to do. I finally barked at him, “Will you please shut up?” But he would not, he could not. So I sent him to the well for more water even though my jar in the corner was still full. And that is why he was outside when Your mother gave one last grunt and shoved You out of Your warm little nest.

What hour was it when You made Your grand entrance into the world? I cannot remember that either. I only recall the cold. Your father had stuffed fabric from his broad sash and turban into the spaces between the wooden planks of the door. He laid rocks in a small circle and kept a fire in the center of the stall, and then made certain Your mother was comfortably close to the flame.

He must have run from the well when he heard Your cry, because he burst through the door, water sloshing from the jar in his arms. You were lying next to Your mother and if I didn’t know better I would say You were looking in her eyes. I know she was staring into Yours. Your father knelt behind her and both their faces were lined with gentle, joyful smiles. There is no treasure in the world that can purchase the happiness of that moment.

I added wood to the fire. Then, my work being done for the moment, I walked to the doorway. I turned to look once more at Your parents who were cooing in Your ears and gently smoothing Your wispy black hair or touching Your fingers. Their faces were yellow in the flickering light, but even brighter was the inner glow pouring through their eyes. Since it was obvious that I would not be needed for awhile, I opened the door and went out.

The cold air refreshed my weary body. I stretched my tired limbs, tilted my head back, and rubbed my eyes. When I opened them, I was looking at millions of sparkling jewels scattered on a vast, shadowed sky. Had there ever been so many stars? Were new stars born that night? Did old stars hobble out of some dark chamber in space to look at Your ruddy little face?

The chill came through my thick winter cloak, but I was not yet ready to leave the stars. That night each star had a voice. Some were singing, some chanting, a few were preaching, others whispered. A message was pulsating to earth, “Good tidings,” the stars sang. “Great joy,” they chanted. “To you is born a Savior,” the galaxies announced. “Glory to God in the highest,” was whispered through the sky, “Peace on earth.” And those trillions of voices blended in a harmony so delicious that it sucked the air out of my lungs.

Stars had never spoken to me before, and they haven’t spoken to me since—even though I have eagerly listened. But they had a message to deliver to the world when You arrived. And my heart was ready to receive it. I was so lost in their bright voices, that before I had even noticed those noisy, clumsy shepherds crowded around the doorway of Your rustic delivery room. Of course it was my job to keep a secure perimeter, so I was upset with myself that they got past me on my watch.

The stars were still shivering above me when I heard the word, angel! I swung around and saw them, those dirty, awkward shepherds. There’s a reason why us villagers like to keep those perpetual adolescents out on the hillsides and off our streets. But there they were gawking at You and I was too late to stop them. Your father ignored them—he was obsessed with You—, but Your mother listened to them intently, as if treasuring every word.

I know how these things go. Even much later, she would remember every detail of Your birth. She would remember the shepherds well, and most likely each of their names. After many years she would still recall the outrageous story they told. For I was not the only person who heard the stars that night.

Was the world ready for You? The stars were ready. But were kings ready to lay their crowns at Your feet? Were poets ready to dedicate all their works to You? Were soldiers willing to drop their weapons and embrace Your peace? Were celebrities ready to honor You above themselves? Were we ready to stop hating, stop lying, stop cheating, stop pretending, stop grasping for evaporating promises of happiness? Stop the wars and the poverty and begin loving?

Perhaps.

The stars could tell us, but their voices are still. Why did they stop singing, chanting, preaching, and whispering? Because they heard Your voice. They heard Your first cry. They heard Your adolescent wisdom in the temple. They heard Your illuminating discourse on the mountainside. They heard Your invitation to the weary, the poor, the outcast, the prodigal. They heard the silver timbre of Your voice and went silent.

If there is one brightest star in the universe—and certainly there must be one brightest star—then it probably dimmed the night You were born. Nothing was ever brighter than the light You brought into the world. Were we illuminated by Your light, or blinded by it? Why did we feel we had to put it out?

Starry night. Yes, I remember it. I remember the young, dirt-poor woman who had nothing to give You the night of Your birth—nothing but herself. And she gave You that completely. I remember the carpenter with calloused hands and muscular arms, who held You as gingerly as if You were made of crystal. I remember the silly shepherds and the impossible story they told. Most of all—I remember the stars. They sang to me. They sang to the world, but I do not know if anyone else even heard them. I heard. I listened, and I believed them. I believe You.
Dec 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 12, 2021

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1:26-29

Intro: I know — this is a strange place to stop reading

These few verses are a small piece of story surrounding Jesus’ birth,
– many big things take place in this long chapter,
• so it is easy to skim this short scene and get to the action
• but I think it may do us some good to linger here awhile

There is something odd about Mary’s reaction

I’ll show you why – earlier, the same angel appeared to Zechariah
– even before the angel spoke
Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him (v. 12)
• later on, an angel appeared to shepherds, and immediately
they were filled with great fear (2:9)
◦ this is typical of angel sightings in scripture — angels frightened people
• now here in our verses, an angel appears to Mary
◦ she also reacts – but not to the angel!
– it wasn’t his presence, but his opening line that troubled her
Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!
• Luke tells us, she was greatly troubled at the saying
◦ and she began wrestling with what sort of greeting this might be

Centuries prior to this story, someone else had a similar encounter
– Israel had been conquered and oppressed by a powerful nation
• the character in this episode was Gideon – a angel appeared to him and said,
The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor (Jdgs. 6:12)
◦ when you read his story, you discover Gideon was anything but a man of valor
• Gideon’s response reveals the despair of his people
Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? (Jdgs. 6:13)
– Mary did not respond with words as Gideon had
• instead, her response was with concerns and thoughts
• she was troubled, not because she knew what was coming next,
◦ but because she had no idea where this was going
• I think most of us would wonder, Why me?
◦ “Favored one? I’ve never done anything to distinguish myself. How did you get my address?”

As we get to know Mary, we will discover this trait in her

That she was a deep thinker – held things close to her heart
– after the shepherds found their way to her, Joseph, and the baby,
• they went away telling everyone what they had seen
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart (Lk. 2:18-19)
• then when Jesus was twelve and had given her and Joseph a scare,
. . . they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. . . . And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart (Lk. 2:49-51)
– mothers are frequently the family historians
• the ones who put together the photograph albums
◦ who cherish the special memories and tell the stories
• of course, for Mary this became a journey of discovery
◦ and along the way, she paused to contemplate the meaning of things

At the outset, Mary’s experience was not wonderful

It wasn’t like unwrapping a Christmas gift to find exactly what you wanted
– it was disturbing and unsettling
• God’s will for us sometimes affects us this way
◦ whether we are thrown into it or choose to step into it
• our predictable routines are disrupted
◦ the future we had planned for ourselves dissolves
◦ instead of knowing where we’ll be tomorrow, we are uncertain
– do you ever wonder if God has a purpose for your life?
• whether he is in control or things just happen randomly?
• even if you cruise along for awhile and life is going well,
◦ if there’s a sudden and unexpected deviation, a hardship or loss
◦ and it seems to have no rational place in your imagined world,
it can make you wonder if there is a purpose for any of it

At that point, a lot of people give up on God
– they may still go to church, pray before meals, donate to charities
• but they don’t believe their lives serve a spiritual purpose
• and they don’t trust God for every detail of their lives
– if ever we are tempted to think faith and trust are easy,
• all we have to do is follow just one character in the Bible
◦ even those on whom God poured out his love,
◦ their safety and security were not guaranteed (think of Job!)
• God does have a vision for each of us
◦ we do not have to understand all that happens, but we have to trust
◦ he can work with everything that enters our story
God lets nothing go to waste

The angel immediately reassured Mary

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God
– “It’s true, from now on you will not have a normal life,
• but you have been graced by God”
◦ that is the meaning of the word “favor”
◦ verse 28, “graced one” and verse 30, “found grace with God”
• God’s grace will carry you through all that comes at you
– remember the annoyance Paul called his thorn in the flesh?
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
• personally, I don’t want to believe this
• I want to believe that if things get really bad, it’s okay for me give up
◦ but by this point in my life, I know better
◦ I’ve witnessed God’s grace too many times to give up

Do not be afraid, Mary – on the other hand, be terrified
– your destiny has arrived at your front door
• it will seem an impossibility to bear
• but God will support you through all of it
– your destiny is worth giving up the life you dreamed for self
• it will be worth the suffering
• God will be gracious to you all the way through
◦ this is the new condition of your life–grace
◦ God bring his purpose for you to fruition by his grace

I am not trying to throw cold water on our holiday spirit

But the thing is, we do not know Christmas if we leave out the cross
• the cross cuts through everything
• when Jesus was only eight days old,
◦ the happy couple brought him to temple to present him to the Lord
◦ we’ll meet old Simeon next week, but he was there and predicted Jesus’ future
He also told Mary, a sword will pierce through your own soul also (Lk. 2:35)
– what kind of pain pierces all the way down into the soul?
• not physical pain, but emotional pain
• the grief of seeing a loved one suffer – the grief of loss

Viktor Frankl discovered that people can survive pain and suffering,
– if they can find a meaning for it or in it
• those who research pain tell us that, “the symptom serves a function”
Jake Caldwell, “Bodily suffering is the refusal of the body to be ignored and treated like a lifeless machine, and is the refusal of the soul to be ignored and forgotten . . .”
• pain has a story to tell us, and we can learn to listen to it
Caldwell, “If nothing else, illness should change us, make us wiser and deeper. We come back, if we come back, with a deepened experience of life. We will never be the same.”
Thomas Moore, “If we allow sickness to lead us into wonder about the very base of experience, then our spirituality is strengthened. Accepting that we are wounded, we enter life differently.”
– in Genesis we read about Jacob after wrestling with God
• he emerged from that match wounded but changed
◦ God gave him a new name, which is equivalent to a new identity and destiny
◦ God also gave him a permanent disability–his limp

What did we do for our children when they complained about some of their pains?
– we told them, “Those are growing pains”
• we gave their pain a meaning
– the cross is a mystery – it is a surgical instrument
• it cuts in order to heal, it kills in order to give life
• it tells us we are experiencing growing pains

Conclusion: When I was kid I read stories about children in other countries

That in some places, they would leave their boots outside their homes
– then when St. Nicholas came by he would leave them a gift in their boots
• that gift, for instance could be an orange
• when I read that, I thought, “What a rip-off!”

Before the United States commercialized Christmas,
it was not all about materialist gift-giving
Christmas was focused on our longing for Jesus
and our joyous celebration of “God with us”
An orange was a good-enough present,
because what matter most was the Infinite coming to us as an infant
Can we recover that simplicity?
If I tell you, all I want for Christmas this year is an orange,
I’m saying I want to spend Christmas with Jesus
I want to approach the manger, but stay near the cross
The one brings God to us, and the other brings us to God

Dec 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 5, 2021

[Please read] Matthew 1:18-24

Intro: Because of my irrational need to justify myself at all times,

I want you to know I was not goofing off last Sunday
– I was invited to be a guest speaker in a church
• the people there were gracious and my talk went okay
◦ but something surprised me
• the worship team had prepared several Christmas carols
◦ although they were familiar, certain phrases hit me as if for first time
◦ I thought, “What have we been singing all these years? Why is it just now that I’m hearing this? And why am I so moved by it?”
– I will give you one example – “Hark, the Heard Angels Sing”
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth,
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King”

• in the line, “born to raise the sons of earth” “sons” is, of course, generic
◦ this is what we are; physical beings drawn from the earth,
◦ made of same stuff as our planet – earthlings
• we would be earth-bound if God had not revealed more,
◦ if he had not shared with us his own Spirit, and life in the Spirit
◦ if not for Jesus, we’d have come from dust and returned to dust

So maybe I’m suffering from a bout of Christmas nostalgia

Here I am today, and don’t feel like talking about anything profound
– as much as I am enchanted at the concept of the Incarnation,
• I don’t want to talk the theology of Christmas
– so, from now to the end of the year, my talks will be devotional
• I want to reflect on Christmas with you
• so let’s unwrap this “gift” over the next four weeks

The story of Christmas begins in the Hebrew Scriptures

If we think about it, what comes to mind might be Isaiah’s words
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forever more.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
(Isa. 9:6-7)
– or we could remember the prophecy in Micah
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days
(Mic. 5:2)
• but I am thinking of a passage written centuries before that
[please read] Genesis 3:1-19, 22-24
– if the first two chapters of Genesis tell us the universe exists because God “created” it,
• chapter 3 explains how evil entered the world
(the Hebrew word translated evil is rah and rarely refers to evil as a moral category. Rather, evil can be any sort of suffering or unfortunate situation including poor health, personal injury, loss of property or loved ones, and so on)
◦ the story begins when a new character is introduced and strikes up a conversation with Eve
• the snake wants to talk theology
◦ he begins as if he has a real interest in God’s word
◦ but he immediately questions God’s word, and then denies it

The strategy the snake uses is really this old
– there has always been someone willing to be the devil’s advocate
• “You think you know God, but you don’t, really. I’ve studied this, looked at its history, read it in the original languages. You won’t hear the truth from your priests or preachers”
• even if you walk away thinking, “What a creep!”
◦ that person has planted a seed of doubt
– the first man and woman were deceived
• they chose to ignore God’s word – to go against it
• what their enlightenment gave them was the curse – evil
◦ up till now they had only known one half of the truth

But it is within the curse that we find the first promise of Christmas

– the woman would bring a son into the world
• one who would put an end to the snake,
• and undo the evil that had been unleashed on the earth

This is the first promise of a Christmas

The first glimmer of hope that will shine over Bethlehem
– the first note of the song,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased
(Lk. 2:14)
– the two historic events are connected
• the story of Christmas is a response to the story of the curse
• I want to point out some of the parallels I see between the two stories
◦ then maybe you will be inspired to find some parallels of your own

Mary and Joseph were born into broken world of Adam and Eve

Hardship and suffering were not new experiences for Mary and Joseph
– they accepted misery as an unavoidable aspect of the human condition
• they did not expect life to be easy
• other than that, they were human persons, the same as Adam and Eve
◦ they shared similar emotional and relational dynamics
– it was revealed to Mary and Joseph that they would play a role
• as significant and world-changing as Adam and Eve
• they would be used to bring hope to the world
◦ to reverse the damage that came through the actions of first couple

Similarities between the two couples include the following:
– Adam and Eve instantly felt a new emotion–shame
• their nakedness had not been a cause for concern
◦ they had never felt the need to cover themselves
• but now they were afraid to be seen
◦ they attempted to hide themselves from each other and from God
– shame was also a factor in Mary and Joseph’s situation
• it was to spare Mary shame, that Joseph resolved to keep their divorce quiet
• but that shame was transformed into the greatest honor in human history
Mary sang, from now on all generations will call me blessed (Lk. 1:48)

– Adam and Eve were thrown into a world of fear
I heard the sound of your in the garden, and I was afraid
– the first word the angel spoke to Mary, Do not be afraid
• and to Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife

– Adam and Eve were thrown into a world of fear
• before biting into the forbidden fruit, they knew only intimacy
◦ with the world of nature, each other, and with God
• those relationships were fractured
– Mary and Joseph’s first challenge was the healing of a broken relationship

– in the original story, angels blocked the way back to paradise
– in the remake, angels directed Mary and Joseph to the way back

– in the original story, the perpetrators released evil into the world
– in the remake, the couple cooperated with God and brought the Savior into the world


These two stories combine to bring us to Jesus – and to Christmas

This week I came across an idea that had never occurred to me
– it is related to the curse of thorns and thistles
• further on in the Hebrew Scriptures, thorns are associated with punishment
– I read a portion of an ancient sermon
• the preacher was Hyppolytus, at second century theologian
◦ he said, “to banish every curse from the earth, Jesus was first crowned with thorns”
◦ this is the message of redemption
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13)
• there is nothing in your life that Jesus cannot redeem

Conclusion: What now? We carry forward the work of Jesus

We are agents of redemption in the world;
a redemption that includes the world of nature as well as humankind (Ro. 8:19-23)
The burden of redemption is not on us
all that is on us is the message of redemption as we live it
When another life is touched by that message,
a bit of redemption from the cross of Calvary enters the world

Nov 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 21, 2021

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I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me and there are many adversaries 1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Intro: The last chapter of 1 Corinthians is not as interesting as rest of the letter

It is mostly business – like when we were of age and our parents left for a week vacation
– they instructed us, “Don’t forget to feed the dog, water the plants, bring in the mail, and put out the trash”
• so here: Paul’s last-minute instructions include fund-raising for Jerusalem, his own itinerary, Timothy’s visit, Apollos would not be visiting them, and various greetings
• we are looking for a precious gem here or there
◦ same sort of spiritual insights we have found shining through Paul’s ordinary language
– from the start, we’ve listened to Paul as our Spirit-teacher
• like the Corinthians, we become preoccupied with our culture and church issues
◦ in response, Paul has taught them to learn to use their new eyes and ears
◦ to deepen their new awareness of God, who is present at all times and in all situations
• that is why I have called our perusal of 1 Corinthians “A Primer In Things Unseen”
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Paul was in a situation that was “almost” ideal (vv. 8-9)

Any minister or missionary would be excited regarding this prospect,
a wide door for effective work has been opened
• if that were all Paul had to deal with, the situation would have been ideal
• but the truth is, no situation on earth is ideal — at least not for very long
– the kind of work God has us doing in the world will always entail many adversaries
• sometimes strangers, sometimes people on our own team
◦ most often, our adversaries and adversities come from our circumstances

There is a reason Paul had to write a chapter that is all business
– it is because we will always have to deal with the stuff of physical world
• it will always be a source of distraction, hindrance, frustration
• there was a reason why monasteries were built far from cities
– why couldn’t there just be the wide door for effective work?
• why must there be many adversaries?
1. because that is where we find our work; that is, where the need is great
2. because adversity is what makes our lives a story
◦ a series of events is not a story (e.g., “This happened, then this happened, then this . . .)
◦ adversity creates a plot – and suspense, and the need for God to work
• I read this chapter last June – I’ll share a bit of what I wrote back then:
“The lesson here is the same one we learn from Jesus’ Transfiguration. I doubt the disciples ever experienced a fuller revelation of God than on that mountain. But they had to come back down to the mundane world. And there waiting for them was a heated argument and a demon-possessed boy.
“We want the new perspective the disciples had, the greater awareness of God’s immediate presence, the peace we receive from our conscious connection with a larger reality. But all of that is given us to serve one purpose; to be God’s agents of redemption in the world. We need Paul’s “heavenly vision,” for sure! How else will we escape our own worldly entanglements? But we also need to take care of business. These closing words of Paul advise us how we are to go about doing that.”

Here is the kind of insight we had hoped to find in this chapter
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. I Corinthians 16:13-14

“Be watchful” (or stay awake, or wake up)– Jesus taught this to disciples in critical moments
– at end of the era in which they were living — they would need to watch, to stay awake:
when they would be in danger of being led astray, and many would fall away – and betray one another and hate one another – and many false prophets would arise – and the love of many would grow cold (Mt. 24:4, 10-12)
• then again in the Garden of Gethsemane,
◦ when Judas was at the gate with a crowd that was armed with swords and clubs
• then Jesus’ message to church in Sardis, wake up (Rev. 3:2)
◦ Paul also stressed waking up:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand (Ro. 13:11-12)
– Paul explained that reality is more than our 4-D universe
• that the dimension of God’s Spirit cannot be seen or heard
yet that is the dimension that defines our Christian lives
◦ and though hidden from our senses, we can become aware of it experientially
• we have to wake ourselves up!
◦ I need to be reminded of this every day
◦ I constantly fall asleep and lose awareness of God’s presence
– how can we wake ourselves up?
• constantly return to scripture – listen to God in it
• as you listen, do something – pray it, sing it, bow
• walk in nature – remind yourself of the mystery hidden in it
• nurture reverence – say, “I don’t know” and allow yourself to recover awe and wonder
• acknowledge yourself of the ways you numb your mind – your diversions
• do one thing every day, fully present
• whenever something surprises you, use the surprise to wake you up
• ask, “What am I missing?” Then look around
◦ perhaps you’ll begin to see differently

“Stand firm in the faith”
– when we wade in the ocean, even small waves move us
• it takes effort to resist the pressure of water rolling in and receding
◦ avoid getting into anything over your head
• we need to keep our feet planted in the faith
◦ faith is what connects us to the mystery; faith is our spiritual sight

“Act like men”
– I really do not like this phrase – “Real men don’t cry”
• the same word is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD! (Ps. 27:14)
• courage is a determination to do what has to be done,
◦ even in the face of danger, difficulty, or discomfort
– there are different degrees of courage,
• and some people have more than others
• each one of us will have to find our own way to do this
◦ I find that the courage of others inspires me

“Be strong”
– Paul is not saying, Be muscular or, Be aggressive, or abrasive
• in this regard, his prayer for the Ephesians was that God
according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge [and] be filled with all the fullness of God (Ep. 3:14-19)
• this kind of strength is like the deep roots of a tree
◦ it’s the strength of good health that produces stamina
◦ it’s the strength that supports courage

“Let all that you do be done in love”
– we’ve been taught, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, do not say anything at all”
• but what Paul says goes way beyond that
◦ first, it’s not just what we have to say, but all that we do
◦ second, the alternative is not “do nothing at all”
–there is no alternative; we have to do something and do it in love
Jesus: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 7:12)
• we refer to this as “The Golden Rule” –
◦ however, Jesus referred to it as the “narrow gate”
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those that find it are few (Mt. 7:13-14)
– if Christianity fails at love, it is then a total failure

Every once in awhile, in our Lexio Divina meeting, everyone will talk at once
– we’re meeting electronically, so it becomes a mess of noise
• but it is also a joyful sound,
• because it only happens when everyone is expressing their love to one individual

I admit that I’m interpreting this next verse out of context
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord 1 Corinthians 16:19

Is there a “church” in your hoouse?
– a specific place where you meet with God
– a space where you invite others to sit and share conversations regarding your lives with God?
I will leave you to explore the question for yourself

Conclusion: And now the verse that holds the key to open every door
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you 1 Corinthians 16:23

God’s grace makes everything impossible for us possible
– God’s grace fills the gap between where I am and where I could be
– grace is not like God’s Spirit, a source of energy or power
Rather, it is God’s attitude toward us –
his joy in giving us everything we do not deserve
The grace of Jesus is what wakes us up,
enables us to stand firm in the faith,
gives us courage,
makes us strong,
and carries us down the hard way and through the narrow gate of love