Encouragement From The Word

Busy isn’t always better

Does December feel a bit different this year?

I could have asked that question last year and gotten a resounding YES! out of most any reader.  But what about this year?

Despite rising case numbers and the advent of the Omicron variant, this month leading up to Christmas seems a bit more normal than last year, for many people.  After all, stores are open, people are shopping, traffic jams in mall parking lots are there – but does it feel the same as in the past?

For those of us in church life – staff or volunteer – last December showed us how different it could be.  Commonly, our churches have been bustling with activity, from pageants to suppers to services.  Combine that with family obligations, and a lot of Jesus’ followers were pretty worn out by the time it came to celebrate his birth.

Last year was different.  Where I live, anyway, we were in lockdown at Christmas.  Activities were curtailed.  Family gatherings were discouraged.  Services were online-only and, in many cases, pre-recorded.

This year, unless things change drastically in the next two weeks, we’ll be able to have limited activities, gatherings, and services, all face-to-face.  But my sense is that the pace is slower.  The tension is lower.  The frenetic level of activity around this holy season has been reduced.

To me, it feels more…human.

How appropriate.

After all, this scurrying about that we do in December is all in celebration of God who became human.  That’s what incarnation means.

When John, the Gospel writer, gave his version of a birth narrative, he proclaimed that “the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1.14, NLT).

In this version of the New Normal (and, we sense, there will be at least one more version yet to come), we have a bit more time, amid our celebrating, to behold the unfailing love and faithfulness, the glory of God, who became human and made his home among us.

I hope, in these weeks that remain before Christmas, that you will embrace that opportunity to behold those things…because busy isn’t always better.

Encouragement From The Word

God in the flesh

Christmas wasn’t always a given. The world marks it as a game-saving, end-of-year commercial venture. The church marks it as the celebration of God, having come in the flesh. But even in the first century, not everybody was willing to believe that God could possibly have come in the flesh.

I’ve been preaching through John’s first letter for the past nine weeks. It was intentional that I would conclude it at the end of the season of Advent, because the letter is all about emphasizing that God did take on human flesh; as the prophet foretold, Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us.

John had to emphasize the incarnation because there were people in the first century church he led who were trying to convince the believers that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh; they believed that God was 100% spiritual and 100% not physical. But John had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, lived with Jesus – he knew God had come in human form.

The church needs to celebrate this truth publicly and loudly! And the great irony of Christmas is that people who might not otherwise engage with anything theological, or have a conversation about Jesus, will gleefully sing excellent theology at this time of year. Consider the words of this ancient carol, which streamed over my computer while I was writing this:

Hark! the herald angels sing,

”Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim:

“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King.”


Christ, by highest heav’n adored;

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,

”Glory to the newborn King.”


Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings,

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

”Glory to the newborn King.”


These words of Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield (that’s another story!), proclaim the truth of Christmas, and the heart of the message of 1 John: God has come in the flesh. God! No less than the Creator of the world has broken into history to be one with us, born of a Virgin, laying aside his glory…for what reason? “Born that man no more may die,” said Wesley. Jesus came to break the cycle of sin and faithlessness, opening the door of heaven to all who will believe.

Jesus is God in the flesh – and even in the malls this is proclaimed for a twelfth of a year! Let’s rejoice – and pray that these words so much of humanity joins in singing will reach the hearts of all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, NLT).

Biblical Messages

LOVE ONE ANOTHER: How to tell the difference

Few topics are harder to preach about than the reality of evil in the world – not because it’s hard to find examples of it, but because evil does not want to be exposed for what it is.  Therefore, preparing to preach, and actually preaching, on evil spirits is very difficult, because those evil spirits work to try to keep you from exposing them for what they are.  Such was my challenge this week.

John, in writing his first letter, is dealing with false teachers who are denying Jesus’ incarnation.  John, then, out of love and care for his flock, writes to remind the church that believing Jesus is God-in-the-flesh is the litmus test for teaching.  He writes this in 1 John 4.1-6.

Listen to the message here: