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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Proclaiming Jesus Christ

We're moving on to the third major priority / task of the church -- not that we've thoroughly covered "stewardship of creation" or "stewardship of community" by any means. Lots more to say on each of those.

Oswald Chambers' devotion, My Utmost For His Highest, has become a regular part of my morning routine for a very long time now. This morning the meditation included this interesting statement:

"If you try to hold back the Holy Spirit within you, with the desire of producing more inner spiritual experiences, you will find that He will break the hold and take you again to the historic Christ."

One of the many dangers of our individualistic context is that all spiritual life becomes self-referential, and a little bit narcissistic. So we measure all of our spiritual life in terms of what it does for me, here and now. We value experience rather than truth. It is an indication of Chambers' keen biblical insight that he understands the historic figure of Jesus Christ as the counterpoint to subjective spiritual experience. Sadly, however, most of us these days discount the value of history and believe we're somehow exempt from its lessons.

Christ-followers above all can never give in to that temptation. Christianity is, from start to finish, historically rooted and grounded. If we try to divorce some set of spiritual lessons from the historic person of Jesus, we are lost.

So it's appropriate that in the last hours of Advent, coming up on the celebration of Christmas, we recognize the birth of the historic figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The most famous biblical passage about Christmas firmly roots Jesus' birth in clear historical context: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled ..." (Luke 2). All the New Testament writings are clearly rooted in specific historical contexts, but Luke is especially careful to make sure we know exactly when and where these things are happening.

It's not enough to love Jesus, to worship him -- we need to know him in order to do those things. And knowing Jesus means knowing him first as a person in history: his birth, life, death, and resurrection as they occur in first-century Palestine. Our meditations and teachings about Jesus are invalid and dangerous if they don't line up with what we know of Jesus historically through the New Testament documents.

Once we know those documents, we find that Jesus becomes greater and more meaningful, not less.

So this Christmas, take a few minutes to ponder the fact that Jesus is born not in some universal sense, but in this specific village in Judea, in a specific time in history, to a specific set of parents and in a specific cultural and historical setting. Just as you live in a particular context, so Jesus came to a particular context. Know him in history, and then begin to experience what he can do to transform your context, your circumstances, your life.

Merry Christmas!

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