Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cradle and the Cross Luke 2:25-35

Hurting is not uncommon at Christmas-time. I know that we like to have a Christmas of lights and songs of rejoicing and praising, but even the communion table reminds us that pain is also involved. It reminds us that Jesus was born to die. It reminds us that the cradle in a stable is joined by the cross on a hill as symbols that summarize who Jesus was and why he came. The cradle and the cross can not be separated.

We realize this when we read all of Luke's account of Jesus' birth and infancy. In the first two chapters of Luke we see the beautiful story of Jesus' birth -- Mary's song, his birth in a manger, angels singing, and shepherds praising. But then Luke tells us a story that foreshadows the pain and suffering of the cross, not to Jesus only, but also to his mother, Mary. Shortly after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to "present him to the Lord," since the law stated that every first born male belonged to the Lord. There they came across an old man named Simeon who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Messiah. When he saw Jesus Simeon took him in his arms, raised his eyes to heaven and declared, "my eyes have seen Your salvation." But when he handed Jesus back to Mary he said, "This baby is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed -- and a sword will pierce even your own soul" (2:34-35).

John Killinger, pastor and professor of preaching, tells of how those words were driven into his soul. He and his family were in Spain, in a museum, standing before one of the great Spanish crucifixion scenes. The painting, like so many Spanish works of art, was dark and brooding, unlike the sunlit plains of Spain. Christ hung on the cross. In the lower foreground a woman knelt. "Who is that?" asked their six year old. "That's Mary, Jesus' mother," we explained. He was quiet for a second or two and then he said, very solemnly, "that must have hurted her." Since then, Killinger says, "I have not been able to read Simeon's words to Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also" without remembering that observation (Fundamentals of Preaching, 121).

Luke has hardly finished telling the story of Jesus' birth in a stable than he elicits the image of a cross and the pain and suffering it brought to Mary. Jesus was born to die. The cradle and the cross cannot be separated.

At the Lord's Table, as we remember how Jesus suffered on our behalf, may we also remember Mary, and many others -- even today -- who know him as friend, as teacher, and as Lord who also suffer and, in some way, enter into the pain of the cross.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A TIME TO FORGET Philippians 3:13-14

At the Lord's Table we often speak of remembering, and of course, we should, if for no other reason than that Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me."

On the other hand, when we come to the table it should also be a time of forgetting. We must not only remember God's saving grace in Christ, seen on the cross, but we must also forget the past mistakes and failures that keep us from accepting His grace and moving on toward the future that god has for us.

Anyone who competes in athletic games knows the importance of forgetting. I make a lot of bad shots as a golfer but I can't dwell on them -- I have to focus on the next shot. When the American gymnast, Paul Hamm, fell after vaulting he had to forget it and concentrate on the next event. Anyone who lives in the past will lose his future.

Paul was looking to the future when he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

At the Lord's Table we see with double vision. We look to the past and remember his sacrifice on our behalf, but we also look to the future and anticipate our destiny with Him. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 11, speaking of our action in the Lord's Supper, "We proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Remembering his death and what it means for us helps to wipe out the memory of our failures. It frees us to look to the future, to "press on toward the goal" that Christ sets before us.