I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.
I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.
So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.
For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.
When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.
Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.
We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.
Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.
So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:
Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.
And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.
We’re a generation living with an identity crisis. We have been told that we can choose to be whoever we are, and with that choice, for most of us comes confusion. Where does that leave us? Identity comes from where we come from, where we’re going, who we belong to. It is a complex thing, and not one that is always consciously understood, and yet it still defines us.
I remember that it was only once I had left home and began to live in a different country to the one that I was born in that I became more interested in family history – my origins. Subconsciously I was trying to establish my identity, and that identity had roots. If we decide that we can arbitrarily change that identity we are in effect cutting off our roots. But roots are the very thing in which we thrive. A tree without roots is mere wood. A person without roots doesn’t know where they are going or where they have come from.
The Bible, cover to cover is given to explain not just our roots, but also our destination. The Bible makes explicit what we can see in part as we look at the universe in which we live. The Bible also makes clear that we are God’s and he is ours. He made us, he has plans for us, he has plans for this entire universe.
And so, our identity is bound up in God. We cannot choose it and more than we can choose our parents. And yet, just as a child can disown his parents and walk away from them, we too can walk away from God. The story of the Bible, and of Jesus in particular is that God is not willing to walk away from us. He sent his Son, Jesus to win us back, to open the door to a restored relationship.
It is neatly summed up in the Apostle Peter’s first letter (2:10):
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.”
Our identity, our belonging, our hope and destiny is all bound up in a loving God who has shown mercy, who has at great cost opened the door to forgiveness and reconciliation for all. Our God has offered to include us in his people – that’s our identity.
In the book of Hebrews we’re told of a new covenant. The single word translated by these two literally means a ‘together covenant’ – the idea being that of bringing all things together: a consummating covenant. This is the ultimate goal that God has for this universe – a people that belong to him, loved, prepared, as a bride for a groom and kept for all eternity!
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the Lord. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 8:10
Several years ago, working as an IT Consultant I was on site with a client when a member of staff asked for assistance with a problem on her computer. The problem had defeated her, and so I was asked to take a look. I’ve long since forgotten the problem and the cure, but I do recall that I took a look at the computer, hit a few keys and walked away, saying “Done!”. I’d only travelled a few steps when the woman called out after me “But you’re a Christian!”. That may seem a disjointed conversation, but let me tell you the flow of thought behind the woman’s response.
By fixing her computer I exhibited extremely logical behaviour
Christians believe in Creation
How could I be both extremely logical and hold to a Creationist worldview?
My response to this woman was to say that the Christian understanding of the origin of the universe is entirely logical and therefore the most natural position for me to take as someone whose thinking is logical.
Fast forward a few years and increasingly we are seeing the use of the term Creationist in a pejorative sense. Since when did Creationist become a term of abuse? I know that in every generation there are a small number of aggressive, vocal, and mindless shouters who decry anything and everything with equal vehemence and prejudice, but today’s world sees fit to universally deny the validity of the Creationist worldview with extreme prejudice and with next to no understanding of either their own position or the reasons to take a Creationist stand.
Those who have been reading carefully will notice that I haven’t yet used the word ‘believe’ – that’s deliberate. The argument below is also intended to be taken outside of the context of belief or trust in the God of the Bible. But, just for the sake of clarity, let me state that I believe the Bible to be God’s revealed word to us, and as such I believe what he says in the book of Genesis about how he brought this universe into existence. I have studied this narrative in detail and am convinced that what God intended to tell us is that he made the universe in 6 literal days. I choose to believe him.
Now, to the logic:-
The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
— Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)
As much as I love IT and computers, I have a healthy interest in Physics. Learning about the Second Law of Thermodynamics has been something that has grown on me over the years as I have begun to understand how overwhelming it is in terms of our understanding of the world in which we live. The quote above from Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington sums it up very well. What he is saying, in layman’s terms is this:
No matter how far back in time, no matter how far into the future, no matter how far out into the universe you go, this law holds true. And this law tells us that everything that is is tending towards chaos.
Let me expand on that a little. It is seen in the world around us, and demonstrated empirically, that everything is falling apart. Buy a new car, it begins to deteriorate from the day you buy it. I’ve never yet had a car that grows a fresh set of tyres, never mind one that acquires a Bluetooth connection for my new smartphone. Buy a new home, and watch the woodwork rot, the tiles fall off and the mortar between the bricks begins to disintegrate. Every new born child will one day wear out and die. Common sense tells us what science confirms. This observation is just the icing on the cake of a universe that is winding down. The phrase ‘entropy always increases’ describes a universe that will one day, without some sort of injection of energy and order, fail completely.
So, observation, science and our own common sense tell us that nothing improves on its own. If you want a better car, then you trade in your old rusting hulk for a new one: designed, manufactured – order and energy are put in to produce something new. When your house begins to fall apart you engage workmen (or do it yourself) to repair and restore – order and energy put in. Alas, poor humanity succumbs to the fact that you don’t get out of this world alive.
If all the above holds true then there are a couple of logical outcomes:
It is contrary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics to see any increase in order in the universe. As evolution is an increase in order then it cannot occur.
The order and energy that produced the closed system that is the universe must have a source outside the universe
That’s the logic, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure anyone with a smidgen of plain old common sense can extrapolate from there.
No matter the pejorative stance of many who have thought less about Creation and Evolution than I have, or the statements of those scientists and individuals committed to a different worldview who fail to admit their a priori exclusions it is entirely logical to hold to a view that the universe was created. I know that this is not a full explanation, but it is logical and consistent.
So, for me, to be accused of being a Creationist is a compliment, not an insult. As a Christian, hold your head up high, not only is what you believe entirely rational, it is also what God has told us he did and is doing. Let’s continue to believe with confidence, knowing that, as we would expect, the universe we see is entirely in keeping with the facts that God has revealed.
I’ve been thinking for a long time about how it can be difficult to see the Bible as a whole, the entire story as a story. When I represent the Gideons at local schools I often present the Bible as a single book – a true story of God and us – yet if we haven’t read it from cover to cover it can be hard to see this, or grasp how one part fits into the whole. I had thought that it might help to give a summary of the story that the Bible contains, it’s true, it’s epic and it goes from history to eternity, and it’s ours to hear. All of that is much harder to describe than the end result is, so I’ve decided to put my ‘beginning’ up here for your consideration. I trust you will like it, I will understand if you don’t. I would very much value your comments for good or for bad.
It’s our story, it’s our history, us and the Creator. It’s where it all began, how it all began, why it all began, and where it’s all going to. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, as with all stories, let’s start at the beginning.
It all starts with the Creator, God, and his creation – that includes us.
Before the universe began, before men and women walked on the face of the earth, before plants grew and animals roamed there was still God. He started it, all of it, and he will one day finish it.
God, the Creator spoke it into existence. God brought existence into existence, and then, as with any creation, the Creator fashioned and moulded and made. At first there was no order and no content: unformed and unfilled
First came the substance, the raw material of the universe, the rules and laws that govern how it all works. The universe was formed. God spoke light into existence, a good light, a light to bring division of day and night. With the division came the days.
The heavens were formed: waters above, waters below. The earth itself began to take shape as God spoke the waters into place and revealed the habitation of mankind. Another good day.
Once formed, God filled the earth: plants sprung up at the Creator’s command, trees and their fruit grew strong. All good.
The Creator filled the expanse, the heavens. Structure, beauty, majesty for man and God to see. The lights were for signs and seasons – to mark the movement of the universe and time itself. Day four.
God once more spoke life into existence. The waters were to teem with life, the birds were to fill the skies. These were to increase, to reproduce, to fill God’s earth. The penultimate day.
Finally, the last scene of this first act: God speaks animals and mankind into existence. First the animals: domestic and wild, small and large, all by kind, made to grow and multiply and diversify within their kind across the face of the planet.
And man – ultimately – God’s crowning creative act in his creation. “I’ll make him like me”, God said. How like him we will learn from our story. How not like him we learn from creation.
God blessed his creation, spoke good of it and to it. God commanded his creation to be fruitful, to increase, to spread out and fulfill their destiny. To mankind alone he commanded dominion and rule. The authority to manage, to maintain, to order this world was given to those whom God made like him.
So, it was done, all of it finished and God rested. The Creator set aside one final day of the first week for contemplation of the previous six, the act of formation and filling and the Creator who not only created, but maintains to this day. The day was a day of rest from labour. This is the first chapter in our family history.
All this the man somehow knew, intuitively, as if it had been planted as seeds in his mind; all this he knew as he blinked his eyes wide open on a brand new world. The land was still raw to him as he began to take it in. Even the name ‘The Man’ was somehow appropriate. How did he understand the name? He had words, understanding, thinking and already a history.
The Man: A’dam in his words, the word for earth, the ground from which he came. Adam could see the creation around him, the plants and creatures the water and the earth and yet there was more. God made a home for Adam, a garden that would meet his every need, apart from the need for his Creator. The garden was pleasant, a true home. It had life and food and beauty. And in the middle of the garden: two trees. One gave life, one gave knowledge.
Water flowed up and out from the garden. The garden was the centre, the lands were blessed from Eden. And God placed Adam in the garden to begin the work of managing the land. The trees were made available for food; all except one were to be eaten of freely. A solitary tree, the tree of knowledge was marked out – “Do not eat of this” God commanded “or you will surely die”.
The creation, the land was good, and yet Adam stood apart from the rest of that creation. Made with the likeness of God, but solitary, alone. Adam was one man among many creatures. God showed his creatures to Adam. One kind after another was brought to Adam to view and to name – Adam at work in God’s creation. But not one was like him. Not another creature was made in God’s image as Adam was. Not another creature was fit to work with or to live with the man.
And, so soon after he first opened his eyes, Adam slept, and God worked. One last act of creation, and yet even in his sleep Adam was included in this last creation. From Adam’s own flesh God brought the woman, truly of his flesh and of God. “Bone of my bones,” Adam said, “flesh of my flesh!” She’s a woman! This is the reason men and women of each generation leave one family to begin a new one: man and wife. In all this Adam and Eve his wife were naive and innocent – naked in the garden and unashamed.
Our story doesn’t tell us how the serpent arrived in the garden, we glimpse fragments of this story now and throughout our history, but we don’t know it all. What we do know is that the serpent possessed guile – directly opposing the naivety and innocence that characterised the first husband and wife.
The serpent started with a question, innocently framed, but not innocently asked. “Did God really say?” Question the Creator, take responsibility for yourself, take control of your life – allow first of all that you have the right to decide for yourself – original sin – pride. And to help the decision making process the serpent adds: “You will not surely die!” The irony of taking control of your own destiny, yet paying heed to a serpent…
So Eve looked, and she considered, and she weighed up – she took control and took responsibility. She reached out her hand to take that which she was expressly forbidden to take – she sinned, and Adam with her.
Something did die in them both that very instant, their innocence – and mortality took hold of their physical bodies. So new, and now already dying. But something else died along with their innocence: a rent was torn between them and their Maker. Not only did they hide their bodies from one another, but they tried to hide from God.
They were expecting God, they were used to his coming among them, walking and talking, it’s called fellowship. But now they were afraid of him who made them and walked with them. Fear came with their grasped knowledge. So, when God came walking they hid. But God called, God reached out and the truth was told. The serpent questioned and brought deceit, God questioned and brought truth. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. All of them had disobeyed God. And so the world was cursed. The serpent was consigned to the dust, the woman and her offspring became the serpent’s enemies. The woman would suffer in her family life; the man would suffer in his role of husband and worker. Both had overstepped their role in God’s given realm, both would pass on that failure to every generation to come. Both would one day return to the ground from which they came.
And to cover their new found shame? An innocent life was taken on their behalf. Clothes of skin were provided as a substitute for the lost innocence of Adam and Eve.
The final falling in this first Fall was to be cast out of the garden that was their home. The relationship was gone, the source of life was to be withheld too – access to the tree of life was cut off with the closing of the garden.
The First Family
Adam and Eve did obey God in beginning to multiply and populate the earth. From Adam and Eve came the first family on earth. How large this family was we do not know, but two brothers stand tall in the story. Cain and Abel lived outside the garden, working as God had intended, cursed as Adam and Eve had made them. But God was not altogether apart from his creatures and offerings were brought – a more formal relationship than what had been, but a way to respond to the Creator for the gift of his earth. Cain worked the land, Abel tended the flocks. A family who still somehow belonged to God and looked to him.
If pride motivated Adam and Eve, then it seems that anger moved Cain. Did he struggle with the curse on the land? He was certainly jealous of his brother. Remarkably, God still speaks, questions, brings truth: “Why let anger rule? If you do well, you will be accepted, but beware, sin can and will consume those who give themselves over to it!”
Was it a deliberate choice to kill? Was it murder or manslaughter? Cain arranged the meeting: “Come out and meet me, brother.” The act was premeditated. Whatever words were said, actions ended the business. Cain rose up and killed his brother. Anger consumed, sin controlled.
Yet again the Creator has to intervene. God pursues Cain. Again it starts with a question “Where’s Cain, your brother, your nearest?” Cain is beyond caring, reckless in responding to the one he knows is the Lord of all. “How should I know? I’m not the shepherd’s shepherd!” But God knows and God cares. “What have you done?” The horror of one creature, made in his image taking by force the life of another. The grace of God shows in the fact that angry, rebellious Cain is allowed to live, to talk back. But life will never be the same for the murderer. The very ground that soaked up his brother’s blood will become as hard as stone. Cain will wander, far from men and women, and far from God.
And yet even as a rebel and a murderer Cain begins to multiply and to build. And as Cain did, so did Adam and Eve. Living outside the garden they bore more children and began to spread across the land. They began to call on the name of the Lord – to worship as a people the God they only knew at a distance. This is Adam’s story.
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs you obviously don’t realise the seriousness of the situation! So goes the tongue in cheek rewriting of Kipling’s poem. Of course, Kipling is pointing us towards the mark of a true man – the ability to hold your head up high in the face of all that the world and mankind throw at you. But Kipling missed the spiritual dimension. It’s all very well being a man in this big bad world if this big bad world is all there is, but it’s not. We’re inundated with ‘how to live your dream’ and ‘how to stand firm’ memes. We’re encouraged to find in ourselves and in our humanity all that there is to be a fine upstanding human in our own world. There are two problems with this: 1. It doesn’t hold true for most people and 2. It ignores the spiritual realm: God, providence and the spiritual forces at work in the world and the heavenly places.
So where does this leave us? How do we live in a troubled world in circumstances that are less than perfect? Keep calm and trust in God! This is the message of the whole Bible, but particularly in Psalm 46.
Our assertion must be with the Psalmist, not that we have within what we need to succeed, but that God is our refuge and strength. God is our help, now, in our trouble. It takes a big man to admit he needs help. It’s somehow easier to put on that Kiplingesque inner manliness and play the strong quiet tower of strength. But that’s not what God requires of us!
God is our strength, not us, therefore we will not fear – not because we have our own grounds for keeping our heads, but because we know someone who is stronger than our situation. Though the mountains be thrown into the sea God is in control!
So, as Christians we don’t look inward to our core strength – it’s not sufficient. We look to God. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. We look to the God indwelt city of God’s people. We look to his divine presence, help, & hope. “Come behold the works of the LORD…” the Psalmist says – this is where we look to and find strength.
Though the world truly and literally be falling apart around us we have a hope:
Be still and know that I am God,
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.