Sunday, December 26, 2010


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
(Luke 2:8-18, NIV)


Somewhere, buried among often forgotten verses of Christmas hymns and carols, are some true treasures that we need to hear more often. One of those came out a week ago during our morning worship hour. I've been in an "Advent" frame of mind for some time based on what we've been reading at home, recent messages, and a host of other reasons. Then, we sang a verse of "Angels from the Realms of Glory" that I had never heard before.

In fact, it wasn't even the entire verse; it was just one phrase. I had to do a search on the Internet when I got home just to confirm what I had seen and sung. The phrase? Quite a simple, but powerful one ... "Justice now repeals its sentence." One word came to my mind as I thought about this verse ... clemency. It's a legal term denoting a reduced or cancelled punishment for a crime committed. And that's just what happened. The angels certainly knew it that night when they announced it to shepherds.

I find it an amazing thought. Something we rightly deserved, based on the Law, has been withheld. And not only that, it has been completely removed - repealed - never to be held over our heads again. That's precisely what the angel told them, "A Savior has been born to you." This was the message of hope they had longed for because without a savior, there is no hope. Without a savior, there is no clemency.

And so, these lowly shepherds considered what they had heard and went into the town to a stable. There, they laid eyes on their Messiah and witnessed for themselves the result of promises made long ago. In the form of a humble peasant child, God had come to Earth. In the unlikely place of a stable, somewhere that nobody would question the presence of such un-noteworthy a crowd, "Justice repeals its sentence". A baby, just hours old, lying in a feed trough and wrapped in cloths, with only the dim glow of perhaps an oil lamp is the fulfillment of the ages. He is the Christ!

I noted a few posts ago that the Great Story turns on the entrance of Christ into humanity. And, while we certainly know that the journey beginning in the manger must pass through the cross and exit at the empty tomb, we shouldn't rush away from this humble stable so quickly. Here, with no further angelic announcement, no bright lights, and no signs or wonders, we meet our Savior for the first time face to face. The warmth of a newborn conveys the love of the Father in a new and special way. We would do well to pause in reverence and gaze into His face once again.

My own Crooked Path finds life and purpose in those humble beginnings. I don't want to rush away, even to the completion of the salvation work some three decades later. I want to pause, especially at this time of year, to consider the humility and wonder that came together that night so very long ago. And I rejoice in the clemency granted by my Father. The sentence is repealed, never again to be mentioned. Now that's what I call a Savior.


  1. Have you stopped to consider the shepherds and what they saw? Can you imagine your reaction were you in their place?
  2. Have you taken the time to pause and reflect upon the newborn Savior, or are you in a hurry to move forward to the end (or something else)?
  3. When you consider God coming in this most humble way, what do you feel? Can you rejoice with the angels at the thought of a Savior who has come to grant clemency?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love Letters

I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

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

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11; Galatians 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, NKJV)


I date back to the day when you actually wrote letters to the one you love. No e-mail or texting; no cell phones or instant messaging to communicate. Quick notes passed in class, calls from the dorm phone (or a pay phone), and letters written on stationery. Oh, those were the days! Don't get me wrong, I'm quite fond of the speed of communication in this "modern" world. My cell phone and e-mail keep me in touch with my family and friends and the world of social networking has renewed contact and added new people to my life. But it seems to pale in comparison to the passion and thought a letter takes. And oh the stories they tell ...

God is telling us a story. In fact, He has written part of it on our very hearts. Talk about a personal letter! We don't understand the whole thing - we won't for quite some time - but the very substance of His writing is woven into our DNA. And as this great story unfolds, God continues to write (or more accurately reveal) more of the script to us.

In the fullness of time - at just the right moment - God writes Jesus into humanity, complete with all the frailty we experience and yet so very different. He wrote His very love in the most personal of ways. Paul uses the word "commends" in Romans. I've always associated that with making a special delivery. It's His most important communication to date and He doesn't want us to miss it. In the very center of Advent, we find that Baby nestled into humanity in the most peculiar way. Each year, we have the chance to be reminded about it once again as we re-read God's Eternal Love Letter to us.

And having accepted this wonderful gift, and with a growing understanding of the letter of eternity God has written on our heart, we become an extension of His love to a dark and confused world. We are God's love notes - written with the pen of the Holy Spirit - for all to read so they might be pointed back to the One for whom we celebrate and on whom we depend. We become part of His greater story for all to read. As Paul put it, we become the very letter of Christ.

I write this post as we approach the lighting of the fourth candle in our Advent wreath. We're currently reading a story during this season of a girl's journey to find that Special Baby. We've lit the candles of Hope, Love, and Peace and now eagerly await that final outer candle of Joy. But the story isn't complete without the center candle for Christ Himself. The one Perfect Letter from God to us expressing just how much He loves us. The story of eternity, taking its most important turn.

The Crooked Path promises nothing but the Hope of the One who waits at the end. And He has been there from the very beginning - throughout all eternity. My part in the story is so very small by comparison, yet it is so important to Him that He writes His Love Letter to me in the most personal way. He is my Father, my Brother, my source of Love. His letter to me asks that I join Him and let Him write more on my heart.


  1. If somebody read your heart, what would they read? Would they see God's love, His eternal story unfolding?
  2. Are you comfortable reading God's personal love letter to you? Can you grasp the idea that He did that - that it is that personal?
  3. Are you willing to embrace Jesus in a fresh way - perhaps especially because it is Advent? Will you take that risk so that God can write more of His story on your heart?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Unrecognized King

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel."

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." (Isaiah 53:1-5; Luke 2:25-32; John 1:45-46, NASB)


In the great hall of the king, in a seat beside the elevated and empty throne, the man in important robes looks up at the outsider with a scowl. He scoffs at the notion this might be the important event he has supposed to have been looking for. Instead, he coldly remarks that the man is the "last of a line long bereft of honor." Aragorn is, in the addled mind of Denethor, just a no-account, itinerant mercenary. And surely, not a king. But what the near-insane steward in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fails to understand is that his belief does not govern what is true. A king stands before him, acknowledged or not.

As the Advent season progresses toward the lighting of the Christ candle, my thoughts turn toward the words of Isaiah once again, specifically his writing about the coming of Messiah. In a nation that has not heard from God for over 400 years yet has so much writing that leads up to the moment, how can it be that so few will realize the One who is before them. Simeon, in that simple passage of Luke saw Him and knew. And, perhaps, he knew because he never stopped seeking and, while he was most likely looking for a handsome young man, was open to the idea that God would come in the form of a common baby. Whatever prompted his spirit, the old man took the baby and danced, knowing he had seen God's faithfulness. Perhaps he even recalled the words of Isaiah which said the Messiah would be rather ordinary.

And ordinary He did appear. This King of kings spent his formative years as a carpenter's apprentice in a rather remote and rural town. Nathaniel's thoughts on hearing from his brother emphasize that - nothing of any account comes out of Nazareth. Yet this One who Simeon saw and declared his own life complete was most certainly the promised King, even if they didn't recognize Him. That baby in the manger was and is Immanuel - God with us!

Yet how many of us today recognize Him when He comes to us? Just what are we expecting to see anyway? If He came once as an average baby and grew up to take on a brief ministry as an itinerate rabbi, why are we looking for crowns and jewels and swords? It's our complacency that keeps us from seeing Him as He is, just like it kept so many from seeing Him as He was 2,000 years ago. The lesson here, in my way of thinking, is to take the approach that Simeon took: Don't limit God, and never stop looking.

As my Crooked Path winds through the season of Advent again this year, I'm encouraged to know that God in Christ came to us in the most common form. Remembering that, perhaps I can recognize the King when I see Him working around me. After all, He is the Servant King, so why wouldn't He be serving?


  1. Are you willing to set aside your complacency and open your eyes and heart to who God is and what He is doing right around you?
  2. Are you willing to remove the limits you have placed on God so you can see His work in new and exciting ways?
  3. Will you make the effort to keep looking for the King so that you are sure to recognize Him when you see Him at work around you? Are you ready to sing and dance with Simeon at the coming of Immanuel?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Story Turns - the Birth of Hope

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor's rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven's Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7, NLT)


All the great stories build up to a turning point, a hinge upon which the story turns one way or another. The movies we love do this through establishing a climax (or maybe two) that builds the suspense for the viewer. The setup for these turns comes in many forms and in many ways, depending on the story being told. Each installment of The Lord of the Rings (one of my favorites) comes with crucial decisions and actions that lead to either great victory or more ill-fated themes. The tension that builds is what we love, largely because we have an inborn sense of story that exceeds the boundaries of what we know as time. And God is the author of that story.

Among the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah stands out for his vision of what is to come in the story of Israel. This passage in particular, immortalized by Handel in The Messiah rings especially true. And, as I heard it again this past week, I was reminded why the first candle of Advent is traditionally lit for "Hope". It is the "hope of the prophets" as called out here that so appropriately kicks off the season leading up to Christmas. For this passage and so many others point to the turn in God's story when Hope is born as a human and changes everything. It was Isaiah's forward gaze which gives way to our own.

Wrapped inside the hope is the promise of a kingdom, and a kingdom of peace at that. In the face of the political turmoil Isaiah and the Israelites faced, this was a significant promise. The line of kings had all but failed and to hear that the throne would one day be restored must have been a great encouragement. A Son, one Who had always existed, was to be given to them. He would enter their story as the catalyst for the turning point - the Promised Hope Himself! And yet, when He came, they were all wrapped up in other things and didn't really notice. Hope was right under their nose and they couldn't see it.

But if we step back and look at the Great Story of God, we see that just when it appeared He had abandoned us, He enters our world and sets the stage for what will become the Final Act. He takes on the very worst of our suffering so that He can conquer it and leave it behind once and for all. Our Hope of permanent and final redemption is fulfilled as a tiny baby appears, born to a peasant tradesman and his yet-to-be-wed bride. As the songwriter said, "What a strange way to save the world."

But through this all, Isaiah clearly brings us the message that God is "up to something" ... and that Something is the Hope of All Ages. As I walk my own Crooked Path and pass through the annual cycle of Advent, I need to remember why we light the candles and tell the stories. They are part of our backward glance that leads to our longing gaze toward the future. As I pass through the Manger again this year, may I do it with sincere reflection on the turning point in God's story that so impacts me ... the Hope that is Christ.


  1. Have you taken a fresh look at the words of hope the prophets have spoken? Would you be willing to do that?
  2. And if you're willing to do that, how about taking a look at the manger as the turning point in God's Great Story? Can you see the significance of what God is "up to"?
  3. So, where is your heart this Advent season? Is it still stuck in a dark and disconnected world, or can you see the ray of Hope that shines as the story turns?