I Wish You the Happy Christmas & Prosperous New Year

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

John Voice of Preparation

Like a prelude to a symphony, John’s voice rose in the desert, saying, “Messiah is coming. Prepare for Him.” Later, his call to repentance softened and faded into the background as the One who was born in Bethlehem as the Savior of the world began His public ministry. Luke 1:13-17.

As far back as I can remember, I knew I was different. As I grew up the differences between me and people around me became more pronounced.
I asked my father why. He was a very godly priest, and I thought he could help me through those difficult times. In answer, he told me the story of my birth.
My birth was a miracle, he said. He and my mother had prayed for a son for many years, but were childless. Finally they had given up hope, for they were too old to have a baby.
Then one day when my father was serving in the sanctuary of the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him that he wand my mother were to have a son. I would be a very special son, the angel told him. I would be filled with the Holy Spirit from y mother’s womb. That’s why I was different, my father said.
That was about all I could take for one day. So he told me the rest of the story, bit by bit, as I grew older. I was to be the voice of preparation - I had been chosen by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, and I was to serve as His forerunner, in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah.
Malachi, one of our famous prophets, had even spoken of the messenger who would pave the way for the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah had referred to him as a voice crying in the wilderness. “That’s who you are and what you are to do,” my father told me.
It wasn’t until I was grown and had retreated to the wilderness that I had enough solitude and time to think through everything my parents had experienced and everything the angel had told my father. I lived simply, wearing a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather girdle, and eating only locusts and wild honey.
There, in my solitude, I communed with God’s Spirit, until I fully understood His call and commission to me. I knew that Messiah was alive, but I did not know who He was. I understood the corruption in men’s hearts and the terrible judgment awaiting them if they did not repent. And I was certain that the Holy Spirit was driving me to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
So I left my solitary life and began preaching in the area of the Jordan River. Multitudes came to listen - peasants from Jerusalem and as far away as Galilee, soldiers on their way from Damascus to Petra, even priests and scribes from Jerusalem. They came to hear me speak and to watch me baptize in the river. Some were just curious. Some laughed at the way I dressed. Some thought I was Elijah resurrected.
I was not an eloquent or polished speaker. My preaching would probably be described as fiery and bombastic, and I always spoke of the inevitable and impending judgment of God. But with my whole heart I wanted my listeners to escape that judgment, so I tirelessly pointed out the way to safety. “Repent!” I told them. “Forsake your sin. The Messiah is coming. Be ready for Him.”
Isaiah had prophesied that I was to make Messiah’s paths straight. What a picture! In days past, before a king went on a journey, he sometimes sent a courier ahead to tell people to prepare for his coming. They were commanded to straighten out the winding paths and smooth out the rocky ones.
I was like that courier, telling people they should be prepared to receive the Messiah. And I told them they needed to correct the moral obstacles in their lives.
My baptism appealed to many people who weren’t really interested in my message of repentance. They wanted some magical rite performed on them by someone they considered a prophet. But I told them, “You can’t escape punishment this way! You are hypocrites. You come to me like a brood of vipers who scurry out of their hiding places to escape the flames when dry brushwood and stubble catch fire.”
I reminded them of the judgment to come, when the truly repentant would be separated from the unrepentant, just as the good grain is separated from the chaff on the threshing floor. They would suffer punishment, just as certainly as the chaff is burned.
For the most part, people weren’t prepared for my message of repentance. But then, people are rarely prepared to hear what they need to hear.
I had upset both the religious and the political establishments. I once blasted Herod the Tetrarch for divorcing his wife and marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. Later I was captured by him, held in a dungeon and eventually beheaded. Even if I had known that, it would have made no difference. I would not have backed down.
Not too far into my ministry it was rumored that I was the Messiah. I made it quite clear that I was not by showing them two ways in which we were different. “He is greater than I am,” I sad, “so great that I am not worthy enough even to untie His sandals.” I also told them, “I baptize with water, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I was using a physical object - water. His work would be spiritual. He would have the power to purify hearts and give eternal life.
At that time I still did not know who the Messiah was. Then one day a relative of mine, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan and asked me to baptize Him. I knew something of the purity of His life, so at first I refused. I told Him that I need to be baptized by Him. But Jesus said that it was fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.
When He came out of the water, I saw the heavens open, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted on Him. And I heard a voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Then I knew that Jesus was the Messiah! I reflected on the stories from my youth - of the supernatural conception of Jesus, of the promise of prophets and angels, of my miraculous conception six months before Mary conceived Jesus, and of my leap within my mother’s womb in recognition that Mary carried the Anointed One of Israel.
I had not been present at the birth of Jesus; and even if I had, I would have been too young to understand what was happening. But I was a vital part of that marvelous, majestic story.
In Jehovah’s eternal plan, my task was to point men to Jesus. When He began His public ministry, I realized that He must increase, and I must decrease. After all, I was a herald, and of what use is a herald after the king has arrived?
My call to repentance softened, and I faded into the background. Yet I continued to point to Jesus as the expected Messiah.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Herod Voice of Deception

Herod’s was the voice of deception. He had no intention of worshipping a “pretender” to his throne. He wanted only to kill Him. In the great carol of Christmas, he was the singer in the minor key, clashing with the pure melody sung by the other singers. He will always be remembered as the voice no one wanted to hear. Matthew 2:1-12.

Had you entered my presence, you would have bowed. I was known as Herod the Great, king of the Jews. I was the most powerful man in my part of the world, and I knew everything that went on in my region. I was in complete control.
People said bad things about me. It’s true that I was ruthless. I drank heavily and was prone to outbursts of violence. But I was a cunning negotiator and a superb diplomat. I subdued the opposition and maintained order among the Jewish people for nearly 33 years. The emperor and all the powerful people in Rome were pleased with my reign.
Everything I did was absolutely necessary. I was the best thing that had ever happened to those Jews. They criticized me because I killed all my brothers and half-brothers, who could have challenged my reign, but I would do it again in a minute. I would have done anything to maintain my position as king of the Jews. I even murdered my wife. Mariamne. It was a shame too - she was my favorite. I had ten marriages and fathered 15 children. None of them pleased me.
When Mariamne’s two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, realized I had killed their mother, I had to murder them as well. I can still hear those ungrateful Jews quip, “It’s better to be Herod’s hog than to be his son.”
Why did people keep dwelling on these negative things? Didn’t they know how much I did for them and that wretched land? I built cities and fortresses. I protected them from invaders. I introduced them to Greek literature, art and athletic contests. And for years I was involved in rebuilding the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. I left behind me roads and building and culture that they never could have dreamed of without me.
I did all that for those people and they didn’t appreciate me one bit. All they remembered was the bloodshed. They talked about my deception and ruthlessness. They said I was cruel, cold-blooded and brutal.
I really didn’t want to deceive those travelers from the East, but it angered me when they asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?” What did they mean by that? I was the king of the Jews!

Jerusalem was a metropolitan city. We had visitors all the time , from the east, the west, from Africa, from all over. But some men had come from the east, I had heard, looking for a child they said was born King of the Jews. According to reports, they were saying something about coming to Judea to find Him, because they had seen His star rise in the east. I didn’t remember seeing any star. But if they wanted to know, they should have come straight to me.
When that news reached me, I was frightened. So was everyone else in Jerusalem. They didn’t want any more trouble stirred up, nor any more blood spilled. They knew I was determined to keep my throne. As long as I lived, only I would be king of the Jews. It had taken years of struggle to get where I was, and I wasn’t going to give all this up to some baby.
I also didn’t want such rumors to stir up the fanatics, who hated me. They would attempt an insurrection for sure, because they always wanted to rid their land of the Romans. I had to get to the bottom of this immediately.
My first thought was to get more information from the Jews, so I called in their chief priests and scribes and asked them if there was any truth to a prophecy that a Messiah would be born.
They said there was and that their prophet Micah had identified the village of Bethlehem in Judah as His birthplace. That was hitting too close to home. I knew I had to act quickly. I dismissed the Jews and had my aides set up a clandestine meeting with the Babylonians. Everyone called them wise men - I was going to see how wise they were.
I would ask them when they had seen His star rise. That would tell me how long ago this baby had been born. (I wouldn’t tell them what my real intention was.) Then I would order them to go to Bethlehem and find the young child and return to tell me, so I could worship Him.
I had no intention of worshiping this pretender to my throne. I wanted only to kill Him. If members of my own family had become expendable because they stood in my way, did the Jews think for one minute I wouldn’t take the life of a little Jewish baby?
As the appointed hour they arrived at my palace. I found them to be more cooperative than I had expected, and they willingly pinpointed the time when they had first seen the star. I commanded them to go to Bethlehem, find the child and return here. My plan worked perfectly. When they returned, I would simply send a contingent of soldiers to kill the baby. That would be the end of that.
Well, I waited for these wise me to return to my palace. It must have been for about a week. I was nervous the whole time. Had they found the baby? Was He really the expected Messiah the Jews looked for? Could He really be a threat to my reign? The wise men held the answers to all these questions. Where were they? Why weren’t they back? I waited.
Eventually I realized that they weren’t coming. I had deceived them. Now they had deceived me and had apparently returned to Babylon without my knowledge. I had to take matters into my own hands.
I sent soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to put to death every male child two years and younger. I knew they were innocent children, but what did I care? I did what I had to do. I was merely protecting my throne.
I learned later that in Jerusalem the whispers called this the slaughter of the innocents. They called this the most diabolical move of my regency. When people thought of me, they remembered only my deception and the killing of these innocent children - not the building I had erected, not the harbors I had dug, not the cultural and educational benefits I had brought to that land.
They didn’t understand. I couldn’t let a baby be a threat to me. It was hard enough keeping the Jews in line. If they had thought they had a champion, if they had thought their long-awaited Messiah had come, there would have been even more bloodshed.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Wise men Voices of Adoration

The Wise Men traveled hundreds of miles and diligently searched for the child-king. And when they found Him, they offered their gifts and adoration. They recognized that He was not only the Jewish Messiah, the anointed One of Israel, but also the Savior of the world. Through the ages, their story and example have challenged millions to adore Him as Christ the Lord. Matthew 2:1-12

I still remember seeing the dirt floor of that primitive house. Early in my academic training, I never would have guessed that I’d be in such a situation. My friends and I had traveled hundreds of miles - not to see a potentate or an intellectual, but a baby! And at the end of our journey, my face was almost on the ground. I saw nothing but dirt.
Who were we? Some people called us wise men. Actually, we were Babylonians, part of a case of men who were appointed to the court in Babylon. As the most learned men of our country, we had dedicated our lives to the study of the sciences, especially astronomy. Our knowledge was kind of an alchemy of science and superstition. Some called us astrologers because we studied the constellations and their effects on society. Some also had dabbled a bit in the black arts - divination, magic, sorcery, that sort of thing.
But we were not unique in the history of Israel. Jewish people had encountered our kind before. Joseph met wise men in Egypt, as did the great leader Moses. One of the great heroines, Esther, had contact with them in the Persian Empire. Even the great Jewish prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, spoke of wise men. But we were different from all of those other wise men. We were searching for the Jewish Messiah.
The story of how we got to that house in Bethlehem and on our faces before the young child was filled with adventure, danger and intrigue. We were not kings, as some may have thought; we came to Judea in search of a King. We had come for one reason, and on reason only - to worship Him and to raise our voices in adoration.
How did we learn about Him? We knew that the Jewish nation expected a Messiah, who would bring peace and freedom, joy and comfort, and salvation to all mankind. Perhaps our people learned this from Jewish wise men, such as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, when they were in captivity in our nation. This information had been passed down from one generation of wise men to another.
Though we were of Babylonian blood, we were eager to meet someone like that promised Messiah. And we fell on our faces before Him when we saw Him. In the presence of such deity and glory, any intelligent person would do the same.
How did we know that we should search for Him? As we were watching the heavens, we saw a special star rising in the east. It had to be an indication for the God of heaven that He was about to fulfill His promise. So we set out on our journey westward. The star did not go with us, nor did it lead us. In fact, it disappeared, and we didn’t see it again until later, when we left Jerusalem.
Once in Jerusalem, we began to inquire where the One who was born King of the Jews might be. We were surprised when on one seemed to know. We had come hundreds of miles to see the child-king, but they didn’t even know there was a child-king. Perhaps we had come for no reason at all.
Our first big break came when the ruler, a man named Herod, called us to his palace. We thought it strange that he summoned us at night. It appeared that he didn’t want anyone to know we were even there. Herod seemed very interested in this child. He told us to look in Bethlehem and commanded us to go there, find the child and return to him so that he, too, could worship Him.
While Herod appeared very sincere in his desire to worship the anointed One, we found out later that he was a deceiver. He wanted to kill the child.
Unaware of Herod’s intent, we set out from Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. It was only when we saw the star again that we knew for sure we had a reliable guide to the King.
The star hung low in the heavens, and it led us right to the Bethlehem house where Mary, Joseph and the young boy were living. We knocked at the door, and Mary answered. Again we posed the question we had asked so frequently in Jerusalem, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” The stunned look on Mary’s face clearly told us she was uneasy about our being there. Likely she had assumed that the excitement about her baby’s birth had now waned and she and her family could expect to live normal lives. But there we were, strangers from the East dressed in elegant Babylonian gowns.
Then her husband appeared at the door. He quizzed us about who we were and what our intentions were. Satisfied with our answers, the couple graciously invited us into their cramped quarters - probably part of a relative’s house, because Mary and Joseph told us they were not permanent residents of Bethlehem.
When we saw the child, we fell to the floor on our faces. The star had led us to the house, but more importantly, to the One whom we would later understand was not just the Jewish Messiah, but the incarnate God, the Savior of the world.
Then we lifted our heads and raised our voices in adoration to the King. We also presented our treasure chests of gifts to Him.
I brought gold because it was the most precious commodity in our world. It represented royalty and should be associated with kings, queens and princes. I presented gold to the child, as my King.
My friend presented frankincense. It was grown in southern Arabia and East Africa, and it was precious to everyone. To us it represented service to Jehovah and was given as an act of worship and adoration to this child by servants of Jehovah.
Another friend brought myrrh, sometimes used as an anointing oil. To us it spoke of the pleasant perfumes with which bodies were embalmed. Although we did not know everything about the child-king at the time, we learned the rest of the story in eternity. What a fitting gift! For while this child had just begun His life, a sacrificial death was to be His destiny.
We presented ourselves in adoration to Jesus as we gave these gifts. We understood Him to be much more than a baby born in humble circumstances in Bethlehem. We learned that He was God in the flesh - God with us.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Anna Voice of Thanksgiving

Anna’s people were oppressed and burdened, but she was not discouraged. Any day now God would send the Redeemer He had promised, and she would see Him. One day, as she was praying in the temple, she looked across the courtyard and saw Him – just a baby. And suddenly she knew He was the Promised One. With her spirit soaring, she lifted up her voice in praise and thanksgiving. Luke 2:36-38.

The Lord took my husband from me when we had been married for only seven years. But in exchange, He gave me Himself. I was 84 when this story began, and during all the years of my widowhood, God had been much more to me than a husband.
In my sorrow I fled to Him, and He comforted me. In response, I decided to give my whole attention to Him and His work, not to myself. So I dedicated myself to Him – in prayer, in praise and in fasting.
The temple was my constant and most loved resort. I was there daily and never missed a service. I kept all the customary fasts and additional fasts as God led me. I spent hours in prayer each day. God gave me strength beyond my years, and I used that strength in thankful praise to Him.
I was not lonely. People who frequented the temple were familiar with my face and my dedication to my Lord. Among them God had given me friends who had the same kind of joy and expectation I had; they were almost like family. Each of us was scaling a pinnacle of hope and expectation.
We were living in dreadful times. We saw the moral and religious decay in Jerusalem and in our country. Even in the temple we were surrounded by corruption. People had lost hope, and a sense of darkness and gloom overshadowed their lives.
We earnestly longed for deliverance. Surely, we thought, the redemption God had promised was near! Surely the Messiah would come soon! That expectation put a spring in my step and a radiance in my life.
We had to be very circumspect when we greeted each other or met together, however. This was, after all, a land ruled by Herod. If he had known we were talking about a coming Messiah, about a liberation from his rule, he would have silenced us quickly.
Then one day, while I was in the temple, the most wonderful event of my life took place.
I was standing in the courtyard praying. People were coming and going as they always did. I happened to look up, and across the courtyard I could see a man and his young wife enter the temple carrying a little baby.
No sooner had they entered the courtyard than an old man approached them. I could see them talking, but at first I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I noticed the pretty wife look at her husband and then look back at the old man and offer her baby to him. He took the child in his arms and then held him above his head.
He raised his voice, and from across the courtyard I could hear him praising God. I couldn’t catch everything he said, but he did mention something about peace and about seeing God’s salvation.
I walked through the portico and up the stairs to the level of the courtyard where the couple stood. I approached quietly and cautiously. By then the old man had finished his prayer and had handed the baby back to the mother. He was talking to her, more quietly, so I couldn’t hear what he said. But I could see a look of concern come over her face.
There was something different about this child – I just knew it. God had given me supernatural insight at other times, and I sensed that this was happening again. That awareness, plus the unusual behavior and words of this man, came together in my mind in a burst of understanding. This baby was God’s salvation. He was the Messiah!
When I arrived where the couple stood, the old man had just finished his conversation with the mother. Without pause, I raised my hands in prayer, giving thanks to God for bringing this baby into the world.
What a celebration it became! Then I introduced myself. “My name is Anna, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.” When I told them I was a prophetess, the couple looked surprised, though they understood what that meant. On certain occasions God had divinely inspired me, by the power of His Spirit, to speak His word to others, to make His will known.
It had been many years since the voice of prophecy had been heard in our lad. God had been silent. In fact, we had heard no great prophets since the days of Malachi, hundreds of years before. This young couple was probably astounded to learn that prophecy was again being heard in our land.
I am sure they understood the import of my voice of thanksgiving and praise that day. When I had seen that child, God had opened my eyes. This was the Messiah! I didn’t understand everything about Him, but I knew He was the key to our redemption. My words were a doxology to the Father, who had sent Him, the One who fulfills His promises.
After the couple left, I stood in silence. I had looked for and longed for the coming of this promised Redeemer for so long. And now He was here. I was an old woman, but the sight of that baby had given me renewed strength and courage to go on. I would tell about Him for the rest of my days.
I was eager to tell my friends, the ones who earnestly hoped for His coming. I spoke first to a godly woman who often prayed in the temple. “Praise God!” I said. “The Messiah is here. I have seen Him with my own eyes.” She looked at me in wonderment. Then I told her the whole story, and relief and joy came over her. When she left, she seemed to be walking on air. Others reacted the same way. Soon a wide circle of people knew that the Messiah had come.
I don’t remember everything I said as one of the twelve voices of Christmas, but I do remember repeating many poems of praise from the great singers of Israel.
“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (Ps. 95:2).
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless his name”
(Ps. 69:30).
“I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:17).
God gave me the great honor and privilege of being the first one to proclaim the Redeemer. My faith was at last changed to sight, and my hope was turned to certainty. The waning years of my life were devoted to praise and thanksgiving.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Simeon Voice of Peace

Simeon, who longed for peace, found it in the form of a baby – God’s promised Prince of Peace. Having seen this child, the salvation of God, he rejoiced that he could now die in peace. In an outburst of praise, he prophesied that this salvation would extend to all peoples of the world. Luke 2:25-35.

I was so tired that I wanted to die. My country was in chaos, and my people were steeped in sin and rebellion against the Lord. I longed for righteousness and – most of all – peace.
We were a conquered country, subject to the Romans. Sixty years before, when General Pompeii marched in and subdued our land, we knew that we had fallen to a sophisticated military power. The Romans became entrenched in our country. They set up camps, built fortresses and dug artificial harbors. No one liked them. We didn’t want them here, but it was evident that they intended to stay.
Surprisingly, in many ways they treated us with respect. They allowed us to continue to practice our religion and to build synagogues. We were exempt from service in the Roman army, and they did not force us to violate our Sabbath. On the other hand, they confiscated our homes, violated our women and demoralized our nation. There was no peace in our land, and there wouldn’t be as long as the Romans were there.
But I hadn’t lost hope. In the midst of all the darkness, degradation and despair, there was a small group of us, men and women, earnestly anticipating a day when Israel would be free from the Romans. God had promised to bring blessing, comfort, joy and peace to us in the Person of the Messiah. Our oppression intensified our longing for the One who would deliver us. We called this “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
I was just an ordinary man, not a priest, not even a Levite. I had no place of importance, either to the temple or to my nation. But I was honest in my dealings with others and conscientious in carrying out the duties God had assigned me.
My sorrow for my nation was so deep and so painful that I made a special request to God. “Please, don’t let my eyes close in death until I have seen the promised Messiah. Please let me see the salvation of Israel.” The Holy Spirit then gave me a significant promise: You will not die until you see Him.
One day I felt drawn to go to the temple. I hadn’t planned to be there that day, but I soon found myself walking through its courts.
While I was there, one particular young couple with a baby caught my attention. I started walking toward them. Obviously they were there for the mother’s purification and the child’s presentation. It was common to see parents bring their babies there for that purpose.
Suddenly I knew – somehow I just knew – this baby was the Messiah. Only the Spirit of God could have revealed this to me.
I looked the young mother in the eye and asked, “Dear sister, would you let me hold your child?” After a quick glance toward the man and an affirming nod from him, she looked at me and gently handed me her baby. I took Him in my arms and held Him close to my chest. My eyes filled with tears.
I then held Him with both hands, high in the air, and began to praise God. “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation.”
Until that day I had felt like a servant who had been told by his master to go to a high place and watch for the appearance of a special star. I had watched through long, wearisome hours during the dark night, and now, finally, I had seen the star.
I knew that this baby was the salvation of God. And in the midst of my praise, God showed me something new. His light, His salvation, would shine beyond the Jewish nation in its present oppression. His light would shine so brightly that all nations would see it.
When I finished praying, my beard was wet with my tears. I handed the infant back to His mother. Both parents looked amazed. Perhaps they were surprised and delighted that God had revealed this secret to me. Perhaps it was because my words of praise had given them a clearer understanding of the divine majesty of their baby.
They introduced themselves as Joseph and Mary, and their baby was named Jesus. They told me about the message of the angel to Mary concerning the conception of the child. They told me of the assurance an angel had given Joseph. They told me about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and about the shepherds who came to worship Him. They told about the angel’s message to the shepherds – the announcement that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem.
We had been speaking of glorious thing. But God then gave me a message for the couple, which gave another side of the picture. The salvation this child would bring would be purchased at a high cost. He would bring out all the evil concealed in the hearts of wicked men. And Mary would have her heart pierced again and again by the sorrows she would witness and experience. This child, Jesus, was to be a stumbling block to some, but a stepping stone to others.
I had looked for peace – in life and as I looked toward death. I did not live in a peaceful land, nor in a peaceful time in history. Still, I could be one of the twelve voices of Christmas – the voice of peace – for on that wonderful day in the temple, I held the only One who could bring real peace to the world. At last, after seeing Him, I was ready to die in peace.