Finding God: Jesus

Jesus-Christmas[This is the final devotional I wrote for Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Find the daily journey through Advent here.]

“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 2:6-7)

The distance between expectations and reality is often one of the greatest strains on us as people. When our expected hopes never arrive we can easily descend into frustration or disillusionment. “What happens to a dream deferred?”, Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem,” about unrealized equality. The final lines summarize one aspect of that angst-filled reality: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” Endless anticipation that is never realized tumbles from the high peaks of hope into the chasms of hopelessness.

Yet when our anticipated hopes do arrive it is like the flash of glorious sunlight across the mountain peaks. It is like drinking a glass of clear, cool water on a hot, humid day. In the depths of our being we rise up into that realized hope and say: “Yes! Finally! This is what I have been waiting for!”

The birth of Jesus is not only the culmination of our Advent journey, but also the realization of all our greatest longings as human beings. In the words of the old hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus arrives, bringing the peace of God Isaiah prophesied, the hope of God that Elizabeth tasted, the joy of God John the Baptist preached about, and the love of God that Mary felt deep within her.

Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), is now nestled in the warm flesh and solid bone of humanity at His birth in Bethlehem. God has done it! Our dreams are no longer deferred but met in Him here and now. God has drawn near and the wonder of this moment invites us into awe-filled wonder and worship again. So, let us do that today. Let us join our voices with the women and men of God throughout all the ages to speak praise from the depths of our soul to Jesus, our infant king:

O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

Reflect:

  • How has your life with God been different from what you thought it to be?
  • What has been the greatest part of knowing you are loved by God, loved by Him so much that He sent His very own son to die in your place?

A Prayer for Christmas Day (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.

Finding Joy: John the Baptist

advent 3 - joy.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the third week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“You are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” (Luke 1:13-14)

“And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” (Luke 2:18)

In the lead up to Jesus’ birth, John the Baptist is one of the most vital characters, promised as a forerunner to the Messiah and a source of many people’s rejoicing. As a preacher before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John preaches to the crowds outside of Jerusalem in rural spaces near the Jordan River. His outfit is eye-catching and his diet is more than a little interesting, but not in the socially acceptable ways: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). His first recorded words at the start of a sermon were “You brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). If John is trying to live out the part of an outsider prophet, he is doing a good job. But how does that fit with the promise of rejoicing attached to him in the angel Gabriel’s prophetic message to his father, Zechariah?

Sometimes, real joy requires a wake-up call. A study of people who had breakthroughs to greater meaning and joy in their lives, sometimes called “awakening experiences,” showed that these breakthroughs were often triggered by some form of psychological turmoil, such as stress, loss, or bereavement. While the breakthrough was an overwhelmingly positive experience, the pathway to get there was intensely difficult. As C. S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Difficulty, even suffering, can serve as a wake-up call to joy.

And so, John the Baptist stands by the Jordan River’s edge, issuing a wake-up call to humanity. He refuses to mince words about what is distracting them from God’s best, whether it be specific sins or the pleasures of life. Even today, John’s words call us out of zombie-like distraction and back to attentive anticipation as we prepare for the joyful wonder of Christmas. All around us the frenzy of activity and acquisition ratchets up higher and higher in this holiday season. But do we hear the grating words of that camel-skin-wearing, locust-eating prophet cutting through the false promises of the sales pitch?

He tells us that there is another way to joy, a way that is found in Jesus the Messiah, who has come and will come again. John the Baptist reminds us that Jesus prayed we “may have the full measure of joy” (John 17:13), and that it is found in Him who is the bringer of “great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10).

Reflect:

  • Have you experienced a “wake-up call” that has led to greater joy in your life? If so, how did God turn it around into something to rejoice over?
  • How specifically has the arrival of Jesus in your life brought you joy? List as many ways as you can.

A Prayer for the third Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of timeless grace,
you fill us with joyful expectation.
Make us ready for the message that prepares the way,
that with uprightness of heart and holy joy
we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

Signs of the King: Christmas Eve 2016

christmas-eve-graphicsAs I mentioned yesterday, I’m catching up on some posts on my blog and wanted to share my Christmas Eve message, “Signs of the King,” with you all. Although the message is not available yet in audio or video format, I am including the entire text of the message below. I rarely write out my messages, but for shorter ones that require such precision, brevity, and clarity I often do so. Enjoy!


Christmas Eve 2016 – “Signs of the King”
Matt Erickson

This past year one of my sons received his driver’s license. It took me back to those days many of us may remember – and some of us anticipate – when we are learning the rules of the road. Some things change, but a lot of things don’t change: it’s still scary to learn to drive (even if you’re excited about it) – it’s still stressful to take your driver’s test – and you still have to know what the signs mean.

When I first received my driver’s license, I was driving with my friend, Nathan, who told me that every STOP sign with a white border was optional. So…at the next STOP sign with a white border, I decided to just cruise right through it…and he freaked out. It was a dumb thing to do because, in case you didn’t know it, every STOP sign has a white border around it…and none of them are optional…they all mean the same thing: STOP.

Signs tell us something, and we need to pay attention. But there are different kinds of signs.Read More »

Growing (discussion questions)

beginnings-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Growing,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the final part of our series, “Beginnings.” The text for this week is Luke 2:22-52.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Answer one of the following questions:
    • What is one of your favorite memories from growing up? Why?
    • When have you experienced the greatest growth in your life with God? What happened?
  2. This week we conclude our “Beginnings” series from the Gospel of Luke by looking at Luke 2:22-52. Luke moves from Jesus’ birth to his early life with one episode from his first months and one from his boyhood. Take a moment to pray that God would speak to you before reading the first episode from Luke 2:22-40.
  3. Joseph and Mary are fulfilling the requirements of the Jewish law for purification after birth (Leviticus 12:2-4) and dedication of firstborn children (Numbers 18:15-16) at the Temple in Jerusalem. What do you notice about Simeon, a man they encounter there (vss 25-26)?
  4. What is most striking to you about Simeon’s words of praise to God (vss 29-32) and his words to Joseph and Mary (vss 33-35)? What does this tell us about Jesus?
  5. What would you say Anna the prophetess confirms about Jesus’ identity in her response to Jesus’ visit (vss 36-38)?
  6. Now read Luke 2:41-52. Background: Joseph and Mary appear as very devout in their annual visit to Jerusalem for Passover. They likely travel the 80 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem in a group with family and friends.
  7. When Joseph and Mary discover Jesus is not with their group, they rush back to Jerusalem to find Him in the Temple talking with teachers. His response in verse 49 is Jesus’ first words in the Gospel. What do we learn about Him from these words?
  8. Jesus’ growth physically is mirrored by His growth relationally and spiritually (see 2:40, 52). What might we learn about our own development as disciples from Jesus’ life here?
  9. 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.

  • Nov 21             Luke 2:22-40
  • Nov 22             Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 49:5-6
  • Nov 23             Matthew 2:19-23
  • Nov 24             Luke 2:41-52
  • Nov 25             Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52

Growing

beginnings-series-gfx_facebook

We concluded our “Beginnings” series this weekend at Eastbrook Church with a message entitled “Growing” from Luke 2:22-52. Jesus sanctifies the entire human development continuum in His flesh and also reveals His mission for the first time. The light of salvation is growing, yet it is also surrounded by the growing clouds of division. Simeon and Anna affirm that Messianic expectations are fulfilled in Jesus, drawing attention to Mary’s future suffering and the suffering that corresponds to true discipleship.

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Also, join in with the weekday reading plan for this series here.

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.’” (Luke 1:13)

 

Jesus Growing (Luke 2:16, 40, 43, 52)

 

 

Growing Light (Luke 2:25-32, 36-40)

 

 

Growing Clouds (Luke 2:33-35)

 

 

Growing Revelation (Luke 2:41-49)

 

 

Growing Confusion (Luke 2:33, 50)

 

Beginnings (Gospel of Luke, part 1)

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we launch the first part of our six-part journey with the Gospel of Luke entitled “Beginnings.” This six-week series sets the stage for the life and ministry of Jesus that will take us all the way into the summer of 2017. Every story has a beginning, and this is no less true of Jesus the Messiah. What happened at the beginning tells us a lot about where the story is going and what God is doing in Jesus.

October 15/16 – “Promise” – Luke 1:1-25

 

October 22/23 – Visitation” – Luke 1:26-56

 

October 29/30 – special guest Victor Hashweh

November 5/6 – “Prophet” – Luke 1:57-80

November 12/13 – “Savior” – Luke 2:1-21 

November 19/20 – “Growing” – Luke 2:22-52

You can follow along with the series via our web-site, our Vimeo page, our Facebook page, or by downloading the Eastbrook Church app.