Christmas Joy

Merry Christmas! This is why we celebrate.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation; tempera on wood; between 1433 and 1434.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Sadao Watanabe, Nativity; Hand-colored stencil print on crumpled paper.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7)

The Simple Mystery of the Conception: a word from John Chrysostom

I came across this excerpt from a sermon by St. John Chrysostom that illuminated something Kelly and I could not address in our recent message on Mary at Eastbrook Church. Chrysostom was one of the most significant preachers in the history of the church and a powerful voice in the 4th and 5th centuries. This excerpt is taken from Homily 4 on the Gospel of Matthew.

Do not speculate beyond the text. Do not require of it something more than what it simply says. Do not ask, “But precisely how was it that the Spirit accomplished this in a virgin?” For even when nature is at work, it is impossible fully to explain the manner of the formation of the person. How then, when the Spirit is accomplishing miracles, shall we be able to express their precise causes? Lest you should weary the writer or disturb him by continually probing beyond what he says, he has indicated who it was that produced the miracle. He then withdraws from further comment. “I know nothing more,” he in effect says, “but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high! For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands. What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation? For neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say anything more, but only that the generation was from the Spirit. But how from the Spirit? In what manner? Neither Gabriel nor Matthew has explained, nor is it possible.

Do not imagine that you have untangled the mystery merely by hearing that this is the work of the Spirit. For we remain ignorant of many things, even while learning of them. So how could the infinite One reside in a womb? How could he that contains all be carried as yet unborn by a woman? How could the Virgin bear and continue to be a virgin? Explain to me how the Spirit designed the temple of his body.

[John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 4.3 from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.]

Visitation (discussion questions)

beginnings-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Visitation,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the second part of our series, “Beginnings.” The text for this week is Luke 1:26-56.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have experienced a special gift in your life from a person or God? What happened?
  2. This week we continue our “Beginnings” series from the Gospel of Luke by looking at Luke 1:26-56. Ask God to speak to you and then, whether you are with a group or on your own, read that passage aloud.
  3. Background: Mary is a young woman in a relatively small town in the northern region of Galilee. She is in the first stage of two-stage marriage process, involving the public promise of marriage (like engagement) before the final marriage ceremony when the husband would take his wife home, sometimes up to a year later.
  4. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary with a great message about a miraculous child to come. What do you make of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary in verse 28?
  5. How does Gabriel describe this promised child in Luke 1:30-33, 35-37?
  6. For further background on the promise about David’s throne, you may want to look at: 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalm 89; 132:11-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; and 11:1-15.
  7. How would you describe Mary’s response to this dramatic announcement in 1:34 and 38?
  8. These two favored women, Mary and Elizabeth, meet one another at Elizabeth’s home in Judea. Why is this meeting special, according to Luke 1:39-45?
  9. Now, read aloud Mary’s song, known by its Latin name the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-56. What stands out to you from Mary’s song? How might you compose your own song of praise to God?
  10. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.


Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we are arranging a weekday reading plan through this entire series with the Gospel of Luke. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Follow along with the reading plan below, through the Eastbrook app, or on social media.

  • Monday, Oct 24          Luke 1:26-38; 2 Samuel 7:9-16
  • Tuesday, Oct 25           Matthew 1:18-25
  • Wednesday, Oct 26     Luke 1: 39-45
  • Thursday, Oct 27         Luke 1:46-56; Psalm 103:17-18
  • Friday, Oct 28              1 Samuel 2:1-10