A Christmas-y tea-ology to you! God the Son became man for our salvation; now, that’s worth celebrating!
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10, ESV).
God has shown the awesome depths of His love in the gift of His Son. In all our hardships and sufferings, we can hold secure to the truth of God’s abiding love; He gave His Son for us. No greater gift has ever been given. He who gave His Son for us will watch over His children, and bring them safely home.
“Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” (Psalm 40:4)
Having reflected on God’s faithfulness to him, David declares this commendation of those who, like him, wait upon the Lord. He waited on the Lord, and was not disappointed (vv.1-3); his deliverance became a testimony to others, that they likewise “put their trust in the LORD” (v.3). This is the way of wisdom, that pierces the vanity of the world.
Trust in the Lord. When days are dark, keep your courage, hold onto your hope, and trust in the Lord. God looks kindly on the humble, and receives all who cast themselves upon His redeeming love. God is faithful, merciful and compassionate; blessed are those who trust in Him.
“Magnificat” isn’t just a term for every feline’s sense of self. It is also the name traditionally given (based on the beginning of the Latin translation) to Mary’s song, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Here, in wonderful poetic expression, the mother of the Lord declared her marvel at God’s redeeming work.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:47-47, ESV). Thus the adoring heart responds to the infinite mercy, the awesome power, the incomparable divine condescension of the Incarnation. For while God’s kindness to her personally is overwhelming (vv.48-49), the greater part of the song dwells upon the broader scope of God’s saving might.
God reverses the power dynamics of this fallen world. He humbles the arrogant, for the power of tyrants is powerlessness compared to Him (vv.51-52). But He lifts up the lowly and blesses the poor (vv.52-53)—for God is compassionate and kind. His grace is particularly displayed in the context of His covenants (vv.54-55); God is at work redeeming a people for Himself. And the center of God’s mission is found in Christmas and Easter, in the saving life, death, resurrection, and reign of God the Son incarnate.
Advent puts the tyrants of this world on notice. Advent speaks hope to the poor and downtrodden. Advent proclaims that God is accomplishing His world-shaking purpose to put all things right, and establish a kingdom of life and light for all who will have Christ as Savior and Lord.
Let the souls of all the redeemed magnify the Lord, let our spirits rejoice in God our Savior—for the Almighty has done great things for us.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3, ESV).
David details the deliverance for which he waited patiently (v.1), and which God brought in a complete rescue and restoration to security (v.2). This third verse describes the effect of God’s rescue upon David’s heart, and upon those who will behold what God has done; the wonders of God’s love restore joy to the soul, and testify to the greatness of God.
However rocky the road may be, the destination for God’s people is joy. God’s salvation, the wonderful working of His power and love, brings songs of worshipful delight, and declares that He alone is the source of salvation. Wait upon Him, trust Him, and He will lift you up.
Advent is a season of expectation, and therefore also a season of proclamation: light has come, and all may draw near to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. This is a message of joy and hope, the gracious gift of God, “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk. 2:10, ESV). But, of course, even the joyful message of light meets resistance by a world of darkness; “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19). Our challenge is particularly pointed because we live in a culture than has, in many ways, rejected the light. That is why our society is so saturated with absurdity, death, and despair. Rejecting Christ, you will have chaos.
Consider this opinion article on RNS, written by Simran Jeet Singh, lamenting the closure of religion studies programs at various secular universities. On one level, it’s not hard to sympathize with his basic contention: learning about world religions ought to be part of higher education. It is good to understand what other people believe, and why, and how that affects the way they live their lives. But, while that argument is all well and good, Singh’s opinion also showcases the basic and crippling flaw in secular education—i.e., the fact that it is secular.
Singh assumes that higher education should “shape our moral and ethical outlooks”, yet he thinks that shaping ought happen precisely through the lens of pluralism, which is a little like saying that giving people a number of perspectives on whether or not it is good to steal is the best way to teach them not to steal.
His experience with education was one of embracing relativism, framed as humility: “What expanded my mind in college, more than anything else, was coming to terms with the reality that my way wasn’t the only way, or the best way. Learning about others’ faiths and cultures challenges our self-centered chauvinism and helps us meet others where they are.” Well, that is a reasonable statement in a secular world, where there is no real spiritual truth; but it fares rather poorly in a world where there is one true God and one true way of salvation, the worldview of Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:16).
A fundamental relativism lies at the heart of Singh’s concept of religious studies, and I suspect he is right in his evaluation of secular religious studies across the board. “While many worry about being accused of proselytizing, religion scholars aim to understand historical developments in context. We’re scholars with an interest in religion; not in imposing our views on religion.” Here is the secular view of proclaiming religious truth: “proselytizing”, “imposing our views on religion”; these derogatory descriptions seem to be, in Singh’s mind, the same thing as when he says “I’m not in it to seek conversions”.
Such an approach is inconsistent with a world in which there is real spiritual truth. Imagine if the geology department taught a variety of views, incorporated flat earth studies into the curriculum, and operated with a decided attitude against proselytizing their round earth views! They don’t, because they’re interested in teaching the truth. They may respectfully acknowledge that there are people who believe the earth is flat, and even offer some understanding of why they believe that, but, in the end, they want all their students to understand that the world is round. They want to do this because they have a basic commitment against propagating lies, and because the consequences of believing things that are not true can sometimes be rather significant.
Our secular universities, at the point at which they became secular, have operated with a basic framework that denies spiritual truth. The consequences have been severe. Denying the knowledge of God, we have lost knowledge of mankind; refusing to tell the truth about God, they now tell a variety of lies about humanity.
But let us come back to Christmas. The solution is the Light of the world. God sent His Son so that we may know the truth and be saved. In a culture that has rejected the light, we proclaim it anew. A Savior has been born for us, who walked among us and died in our place and rose to bring us life, who Himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).
The promise remains, the offer of hope, the gift of Christmas—that we may turn to Christ, receive the light, and be saved.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1, ESV).
Another psalm of David, in which he reflects on God’s deliverance in his own life, and the hope for all who trust in the Lord. God has rescued him and brought him to a place of rejoicing—a testimony to others of the redeeming power of the Almighty (vv.2-3). The beginning sets a tone for others to imitate; patience is a response of faith to the God who hears and cares for those who cry.
Wait patiently for the Lord. God hears those who call to Him, and looks with pity on the hurting soul. Abide in hope when life is hard, and keep good courage in the face of fear; God’s time is right, and His strength unstoppable.
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9, ESV).
David continues to declare the love and kindness of God in poetic imagery. From his picture of God as a bird sheltering its young under its wings (v.7), he speaks of God as a host providing abundantly, and of God’s blessings as a river of refreshment (v.8). God is the source of life and light (v.9), the everlasting hope of mankind.
Joy and hope come from God, the Lord of light and life. He who created life is able to give life to those dead in sin, and relief to those who are burdened and oppressed; He who spoke light into being is able to give light to the lost, and lead us safely home to Himself. In Christ, God’s children need fear no death or darkness. In all our troubles, He is able to see us through.
I recently wrote a little essay on the meaning of matrimony, and want to follow that up with a few thoughts about its significance in terms of human culture. If, as Scripture teaches and history bears out, marriage is the fundamental human society, the health and solidity of the institution of marriage will have a profound influence on society more broadly. This gives us a lens to understand so many of our culture’s ills, and offers a prescription for addressing them.
The family is the basic social unit. Here the fundamental diversity of humanity as man and woman shows its complementarity in the unity of marriage; this unity is (normatively) fruitful. Thus husband, wife, and children, the basic society, form the cells of a healthy social body on the larger scale. In the mutual love and support of the family an environment is created that is naturally conducive to human flourishing—naturally, because this is the divine design.
In saying this, I do not mean to deny the great value of extended families, close friendships, neighborhood communities, and all the rest. I only point out that the core human society is the nuclear family, and therefore that marriage has a social significance frequently neglected in the contemporary west. This is the fundamental building block of a healthy society, and our long denigration of the institution of marriage has, it stands to reason, a sizeable share in the blame for the extent of our besetting social ills: poverty, drug abuse, abortion, suicide, and so on.
The project of rebuilding western civilization, which we might fruitfully consider, would need the restoration of marriage as a core tenet. Bear in mind that all of this assumes a true understanding of marriage, a Christian understanding of marriage. Marriage with the gospel at the center is the kind of marriage we need.
So, in the first place, churches should invest heavily in nourishing strong Christian families. Every marriage truly consecrated—Christward, God-centered marriage—is a fortress built in the kingdom of God’s invasion of this dark world. Here a tree has been planted to bear fruit in the midst of the desert. Here a sanctuary has been fenced to raise children who will be protected and loved and taught to stand straight in a culture enslaved, who will know the truth, and by God’s grace may believe the truth. Here a banner has been raised to declare the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the wonder of the Spirit’s transforming power.
Secondly, we should oppose any ideology, force, or movement that aims to displace or dismantle the family. This is a typical tendency of contemporary secular social philosophy; the family is to be denounced as an artificial construction, and its functions outsourced to the community or the government. We see this in educational agendas, political policy, and social advocacy, to name a few. But any denigration of the family is fundamentally misanthropic, and must be resisted.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we must see the implications of this for the family of the church. In our fallen world, human society will never be as it ought. God is at work to repair what sin has broken, and this is primarily exercised through the community of the faithful. The church, in fact, supersedes the biological family (without nullifying it); separated from the family of God, the family of man will be inevitably dysfunctional. The church must be family for all the families of the church, and for all those who have no other family.
For in His love, God has made a way for us to come into His family. In the church, we realize now a foretaste of the fellowship of the family of God. For all those who are lonely and lost, for those whose families are broken or abusive, God reaches out with His gospel of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and healing. This is the message that transforms lives, communities, even cultures; this is the message of Christian marriage and the proclamation of the church: God has made a way, in Jesus Christ, for us to be reconciled to Him and adopted into His family.
God has worked to draw us to Himself. That is the testimony of matrimony.