“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Isaiah 52:7
There is an old African-American spiritual song that is often sung around Christmas with the lyrics, “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.” Growing up, whenever I would hear well-known carol, I would picture a missionary mountain climber who hiked high elevations to announce to cave dwellers that Jesus Christ was born. I pictured the host of angels that appeared to the shepherds proclaiming Christ’s birth. I pictured the shepherds who witnessed Jesus birth, going into their first-century villages and homes, telling people about the Savior who had been born. The pictures that I associated with this song were long ago and far away. They had nothing to do with me, here and now.
The words of this song are reminiscent of the words of the prophet Isaiah, who describes how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news of God’s salvation. There are four things that Isaiah describes will accompany the good news that this messenger brings. Let’s look at these four things...
The first is peace. We live in a world of unrest and uncertainty, a world where peace is an ideal talked about but never experienced. But the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ is that peace is no longer an ideal to be talked about but a reality and a person to be experienced. Jesus came at Christmas to make peace between God and us, so that while we celebrate Christmas in a world of unrest, we celebrate with the peace of God that we experience in our hearts, our minds, and our relationships. Jesus brings peace.
The second is happiness. Our culture defines happiness by our circumstances. Happiness is when we have everything we want. Christmas for so many people is about unhappiness—wanting the things we do not have. But the good news of the birth of Jesus is that happiness is not found in things but in the person of Christ. In him is our delight, our happiness, so that while our world may be turned upside down and we lose everything we have, we find our happiness in Christ, for he is all we need.
The third is salvation. What are we saved from? Ourselves. Our selfishness. We are saved from the death penalty of our sinfulness. Jesus came at Christmas to bring salvation, and he made it possible by coming to the manger so that he could go to cross in our place. So for us who are being saved, Christmas is a picture of salvation being made possible.
The fourth is the reign of God. Jesus came proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. Christ is reigning now at the right hand of God the father, and the Advent season reminds us that Christ is coming again one day to establish his reign on earth. We celebrate at Christmas the good news of Christ’s coming reign, but we also celebrate by allowing him to reign today in our hearts and in our lives.
This is the beautiful message of the gospel that Isaiah describes being proclaimed upon the mountains. It is not a message of long ago and far away... it is a message for here and now for you and for me, and it is a message that needs to be told. So this Christmas, as we sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, I pray that we might be the ones Isaiah was talking about, the beautiful messengers who tell the world of the peace, happiness, salvation, and reign of our God...
Because Jesus Christ is born!
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
I have often marveled that shepherds were the first to receive an announcement that Jesus Christ had been born. Shepherds didn’t have the most glamorous job. They were blue collar workers that made their living by protecting, guarding, and guiding one of the dumbest animals on earth—Sheep. While even the best sheep can be stupid enough to walk off a cliff, a good shepherd must be sharp enough, strong enough, and serious enough to sacrifice whatever it takes to keep his sheep alive. God invited shepherds on the night shift to be the first to witness the birth of Jesus. God chose shepherds because he wasn’t looking for fame... Jesus came to associate with common, ordinary people. Jesus wasn’t born in a castle for a king; he was born in a stable, where shepherd would be welcome to witness the newborn king.
But I think the other reason that God chose shepherds was that Jesus himself would be a shepherd. I’m not referring to Jesus’ occupation or his relationship to sheep; I’m referring to the reason he came—his role as shepherd to his people. Jesus proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). The reason that Jesus came was to give life—abundant life, and the way that he gives us this life is by being our shepherd who laid down his life for us. We are like stubborn sheep who want to go our own way—even when it means wandering into the hands of a thief who comes “only to steal and kill and destroy.” But Jesus comes to us as our good shepherd, rescuing us from our own stubborn, destructive ways, that we may have life and have it abundantly.
So as we celebrate together the advent of our good shepherd, I pray that you will find life—abundant life in the babe who was born in the manger. As you picture the nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and the angels and the shepherds, I pray that you will see yourself there with them, not as someone important, but merely as a simple, helpless sheep... and may you marvel with me that God came to us to lay down his life for ours.
He’s our shepherd.
And that’s a reason to celebrate!
Advent Day 9: The Reason He Came
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Luke 4:18-19
Christmas comes around year after year. We deck the halls. We trim the trees. We wrap our gifts. We set up the nativity. We go to church. We sing some carols. We talk about Jesus. We open our gifts. We clean up the decorations. We do it all again next year. But do we stop to ask why? Why Christmas?
I know that the obvious answer is that we celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a baby. But the reason that we celebrate Christmas is not merely the occasion of Jesus’ coming but the reason that he came. In Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus at the weekly gathering in the synagogue, where he stands to do the Scripture reading, and he finds the passage from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me...” After reading these words, he sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). It is here, as Jesus declares himself to be the anointed one whom Isaiah had spoken of, that we find the reason of Jesus’ coming. He declares to us the purpose that he came.
Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives. Jesus came to recover the sight of the blind. He came to proclaim freedom to those who are oppressed.. Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus came to associate with the outcasts, the oppressed, the poor, and the brokenhearted. God came to bring good news to those who know that they need it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!”
So as we celebrate this Advent the reality that Christ has come, we celebrate the reason that he came. At Christmas, we celebrate the good news that God has come to meet us in our poverty, our bondage, our suffering, and our oppression, and Christ has come to proclaim that God’s favor—his unmerited grace—is here!
That’s the reason he came.
And that’s the reason we celebrate!
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2
I have always wondered what it would have been like to be living at the time when Jesus came to earth. The treasured nativity scene sparks our imaginations, and I believe that a reason nativity sets are put on display at Christmas time is because we wonder what it was like to be a shepherd invited to Christ’s birth, to be Joseph holding Mary’s hand, to be Mary holding the newborn Jesus, to merely be one of the animals who witnessed the whole event... I wonder what it would have been like to see Jesus and to know that this baby is the Son of God.
Living over two thousand years after Christ was born and lived on the earth, we are given glimpses of him throughout the Scriptures as we read the gospel accounts and as we encounter the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). However, it is by faith that we receive Jesus as the Son of God, for we do not see him now. Peter describes in his first letter, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
We were not there when Christ was born. We were not there to see him grow in wisdom and in stature. We were not there to hear him proclaim the kingdom of God. We were not there to see him killed in our place. We were not there to see him risen from the dead. But he has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures; he has spoken to us through his Word. And John gives us this promise, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Now we know Christ, but when he returns we will see him—in all of his resurrected glory and wonder and majesty... and in that day we will be changed—we will be made like him.
So this Christmas, as we celebrate Christ’s advent, treasure the wonder and imagination of the season. Marvel at what it must have been like to be there at Christ’s birth. Imagine what it would be like to see him face to face. And may the wonder and excitement of Christmas cause you to eagerly anticipate the day when Christ will return to gather his children and look forward to when our faith shall be sight... We will see him as he is!
And when we look into his face, we will be changed.
And that’s a reason to celebrate!
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
We are at the point in the season where everyone is preparing for Christmas. Trees are being put up in homes and being decorated. Gifts are being purchased and wrapped. Travel plans are being finalized. Meals are being planned. Christmas is coming. We are preparing our homes for family and friends. We are preparing for celebration. But how do we prepare for Christ who has come?
Hundreds of years before Christ’s coming, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a voice in the wilderness declaring, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” He goes on to describe what the Lord’s coming will look like. Using the imagery of mountains and valleys, Isaiah prophecies of a day when all the earth will be on level ground—valleys raised up and mountains made low. The picture is of a path being paved in preparation of the Lord’s coming, a path that puts him on display for all the world to see. And Isaiah looks forward to the day when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
We celebrate at Advent that the glory of the Lord has been revealed at the birth of Jesus Christ, as God became man for all flesh to see. John describes Christ’s coming, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” (John 1:14). Isaiah teaches us that the revelation of God’s glory, the coming of Christ to earth demands preparation—that all flesh are put on an even plain—for it is at the foot of the manger that we all stand on level ground, all sinners in need of the Savior who has come.
So as you continue to prepare for Christmas, how will you prepare your heart for Christ’s coming? Are there mountains of sin? Are there valleys of despair? Is there uneven ground of fear and uncertainty? I urge you to bring these to our Savior! With repentance, receive his forgiveness. With joy, allow him to raise you from the valley of despair. With hope, trust him with uncertainties of the future.
And with humility, heed the voice crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
For he has come, and he is coming again.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham... so all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Matthew 1:1-17
Genealogies were always a part of the Bible I would skip over in my reading. These family trees of sorts are scattered throughout the Scriptures and provide a history and context for the progression of God’s plan. These genealogies are the dry facts... so and so begot so and so who was the father of so and so... and so on and on it goes. These passages of Scripture are not usually the most inspiring devotional texts, but the record of Jesus Christ’s genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel carries incredible significance as we celebrate the Advent season.
The genealogy begins with Abraham, a man with whom God made a covenant that “in his offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). From Abraham’s descendents was birthed the nation of Israel, a nation which was later ruled by King David. God made a covenant with David, saying, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13). Throughout the generations that followed David, the nation of Israel oscillated between faithfulness and faithlessness, and eventually God would discipline his people by sending them into exile in Babylon. But God was not finished with his people, and fourteen generations later we read, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:16).
Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham that brings blessing to all the nations of the earth. Jesus is the promised descendent of David whose house, kingdom, and throne are established forever. This genealogy in Matthew’s gospel reminds us that Christ’s coming at Christmas was not a random event in the history of mankind. Rather, all of history anticipates his coming, and we can see the fingerprints of God moving along the descendents of Abraham and David to bring us to Christ.
So may this seemingly insignificant list of names remind us this Advent season that Christ’s coming was not an afterthought. Christmas was planned long before the foundations of the world. This Christmas, I pray that you will marvel at the incredible outworking of God’s plan throughout the generations, and may it remind us that God’s plan is not over. Christ is coming again.
And that’s a reason to celebrate.
Advent day 5: The promise of peace
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Just as the Christmas season is characterized by expressions like “Joy to the World”, “Peace on Earth”, and “Resting, Merry Gentlemen”, for many of us, it is also filled with a flood of unpleasant emotions... Stress, Grief, Anxiety, and Fear. The dynamics of family, the burdens of finances, the absence of loved ones, and the uncertainty of the future can make the holidays something we dread rather than look forward to. We often avoid playing the Scrooge by suppressing these emotions, trying to hide our worries beneath the busyness and buying. We celebrate Advent with smiles on our faces, all the while, ignoring the turmoil in our hearts.
Advent is not about forgetting about our fears and focusing on Christ’s coming. No, Advent is about Christ entering our world of unpleasant emotions and taking our anxieties, burdens, and fears upon himself. The Apostle Paul encourages us not to be anxious about anything but to instead bring everything to God in prayer. I used to find this verse of Scripture to come across as trite and super-simplistic Christianese, as if prayer was a magical utterance that would take away all my worries. But Paul is not teaching us that prayer is the answer to anything that makes us anxious... He is teaching us that the peace of God in Christ Jesus reaches into every part of our lives—including our anxiety. Prayer is a means by which we allow God’s peace to rule in our hearts.
Jesus Christ came at Christmas to a world in turmoil, and he came proclaiming peace to people who had real fears, burdens, and pains. So today, he welcomes us into his presence to be honest and let our requests be known to him in prayer... And God promises us his peace, a peace that guards our hearts and minds even when life doesn’t make sense. During Advent, we look forward to the day when Christ will establish his perfect rule on the earth, but until that day, may we allow him to establish his perfect peace in us.
So, don’t leave your troubles behind as we journey to the manger... Bring them to our Savior.
That’s why he came... and that’s a reason to celebrate.
Advent day 4: Waiting for God
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
We live in a culture that refuses to wait. From fast food restaurants to 4G cell phones, there is a widespread assumption that waiting is weakness. We like instant gratification and demand immediate results. We fill silence with small talk. We avoid shopping lines and hate being put on hold. Waiting seems to leave us wanting, and wanting doesn’t seem to be worth the wait.
Advent is a season of waiting. We know that Christmas is coming with all of its celebration and excitement... but as for now, we wait. Throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel waiting and longing for the redemption that God promised to bring. It is in this spirit of longing that we find the psalmist crying out to the Lord from the depths of his soul. He counsels his soul to wait upon the Lord, to set his hope on the promises of God’s Word... specifically the hope that “with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption” (v. 7). So as a man on the night watch waits with anticipation for the dawning of the morning sun, we too wait with anticipation for the dawning of the the Lord’s redemption which comes to us at the birth of Christ.
We live our lives on the other side of Christ’s coming, but the waiting has not ceased, for we still long for Christ to redeem our broken relationships, to restore our suffering bodies, to renew our joy, to reinstate the peace which only the Spirit of God can bring. Our hope is in the Lord. And so perhaps this Christmas, we need to rediscover the spiritual discipline of waiting for God, the practice of being still before the Lord in prayer and letting our soul long with anticipation for the morning rays of Christ’s redemption to reach the depths of our brokenness.
Waiting upon the Lord can feel like a fruitless exercise. Waiting in prayer often seems like a waste of precious time... and it would be a waste if our Lord Jesus had not come. But Christ has come with steadfast love and plentiful redemption. So I pray that you will anticipate with me the dawn of Christmas morning by waiting upon the Lord today.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits....
And this waiting is worth it.
Advent day 3: "What's his name?"
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14-15
I find introductions to be a remarkably awkward necessity. When we meet someone new, it seems that there is an expected exchange of information. It is as if in the few brief moments of introduction we have an opportunity to define ourselves, to give ourselves a name. Perhaps we share our job title, perhaps we describe our hobbies, perhaps we make associations with family or friends... but whatever means by which we give ourselves a name, it is in an introduction that we discover who we believe we are.
God had called Moses to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s oppression. As Moses ran through the scenario in his head, he anticipated an objection... Who is this God who is sending him... “What is his name?” At face value, the Lord’s answer to Moses seems as if it is an elusive dodge to a difficult question, but on the contrary, we find that the name God gives is deeply theological and immensely important as we discover who God is. “I AM WHO I AM” is an identity that needs no definition, for God’s existence and his identity are not dependent upon any thing or any person. He is the self-existing, eternal God, who has no beginning and has no end. God needs no introduction. God is who He is, and the simplicity of his name only points us to the complexity of his being.
During the Advent season, we celebrate many names which are attributed to Jesus... Christ, Messiah, Son of Man, Light of the World, Living Water, Bread of Life... each of these names are colored with the characteristics of his identity and his purpose. However, when the day is done, when Christmas has come, when we come to adore the babe in the manger, we must realize that the one we celebrate is the one who proclaimed, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). With this introduction, Jesus not only described himself as timeless but he declared himself to be “I AM” – the self-existing, eternal God. This is beauty of advent. This is mystery of the incarnation. This is meaning of our Christmas celebration... that the Christ who has come is the “I AM”. Fully man. Fully God. The one who needs no definition has defined himself in person—Jesus Christ.
So what will define you this Christmas season? Is it busyness of our lives? The gifts we give? The trinkets we treasure?
...Or the “I AM” who has come?
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying,
I love surprises. I love the mystery of a wrapped gift. There is an element of wonder and imagination that accompanies the tradition of wrapping Christmas presents. But I also love the anticipation and expectation of a gift that I already know is coming. I love the feeling of expectation when I know something I ordered is coming in the mail. I love the feeling of anticipation that comes when a promise is waiting to be fulfilled.
I imagine that after Adam and Eve were banned from the Garden of Eden, that they felt a sense of longing and anticipation as they expected the fulfillment of God’s promise—the expectation of a son who would undo the destruction of their sinful choices. We can see the expectation in the naming of their first son, Cain. In the original language, Hebrew, the word for “Cain” sounded very similar to the word for “Gotten”. So we find Eve making a play on words as she makes the statement, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” With this simple statement was more than a birth announcement, it is a theological statement of longing—a pronouncement of hope—the belief that God had not abandoned mankind to the consequences of sin... It was an expectation that help from God would one day come.
We go on to find that Cain was not the hope of mankind. He too felt the painful consequences of sin as he killed his brother out of jealousy. Eve looked forward to the promised son, but little did she know that it would be thousands of years before that son would come to earth. Eve believed God's promise, expected its coming, but she did not know the timing of it's fulfillment.
It was over two thousand years ago that Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby to be the long-expected descendent of the woman who is the hope of mankind. Jesus came to announce the kingdom of God and to conquer sin and death by raising from the grave, and he promised that he will come again to set all things right, to deliver a final blow to Satan and restore the perfection and peace that was lost in Eden.
We too believe God's promise, expect its coming, but we do not know the timing of its fulfillment. We live in a period of "already but not yet", where Christ has already come to set us free from sin's penalty but has not yet abolished the presence and influence of sin.
During Advent, we celebrate Christ's coming to earth as a babe, and we long with expectation for the day when he will return as a conquering king. So this Christmas season, as you wrap your gifts and plan surprises, may it remind you that the long anticipated gift of God has come and promised that he will come again. This is a gift that must not be wrapped and hidden under a tree... It is a gift to be enjoyed, to be treasured, to be shared with all people.
We have not just "gotten a man with the help of the Lord"... We have gotten a man who is the Lord.
And that's a reason to celebrate!
The Frey Life
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"May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word." Psalm 119:74