Archive for December, 2017

Advent Podcast Day 14: “How Does Christmas Change Our Lives?”

December 18, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:3-6

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 16, 2017, and this is Day 14 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band’s version of the 19th century English Christmas carol “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow.” It appears on their 2012 album The Best of Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band: A Christmas Caper. Our scripture once again comes from Matthew chapter 2:3-6:

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Yesterday I talked about Herod’s response to the birth of God’s Son in Matthew chapter 2—which was hostility, jealousy, fear, insecurity—ending in unspeakable violence. Today I want to look at  response we see from the chief priests and scribes: which is, indifference. After all, notice what Matthew tells us in in verse 3: “When Herod the king heard this”—in other words, when he heard about the birth of a rival “king of the Jews”—“he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And all Jerusalem with him. 

In other words, the magi’s quest for the Messiah wasn’t a secret. Everyone was hearing about it! Everyone was talking about it. Especially the chief priests and the scribes, who were the experts when it came to the Bible. They were the ones who talked to Herod and the magi, and told them that scripture prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

So naturally these men—these Bible scholars, these theologians, these believers in God’s Word—would jump at the chance to go to Bethlehem and see the newborn king. Right?

Wrong… Whereas these magi—these Gentiles, these pagans, these outsiders—traveled 700 miles west from the Persian Gulf to Judea for the sake of Christ, these “insiders”—the ones who already believed in the Bible—weren’t willing to travel seven miles south to Bethlehem to see Christ! Shouldn’t they have been excited and overwhelmed with joy? Surely nothing would have been more important than getting down to Bethlehem to see if what the magi said was really true. How is it possible that they would stay home? How is it possible that nothing in their lives would change in response to the birth of the newborn king?

But when we consider our own lives, do we really have to wonder?

Tim Keller pastors a church in perhaps the most secular, least Christian, most godless place imaginable in our country: in New York City, in Manhattan. And to his credit, he’s had great success reaching young people in their twenties and thirties with an uncompromising gospel message. But he said in a sermon once that people have often come up to him over the years and said, “I would consider following Jesus, but not if it means…” And then they give him a list of the conditions that Jesus will have to meet before they’ll follow him.

And when I read this last year, I thought, “In my twelve years of pastoral ministry—whether it was in Forsyth, Georgia, or in Alpharetta, or in Hampton, or anywhere in between—I have never had a single person person come up to me and say that they would consider following Jesus if. That’s never happened down here in the Bible Belt. Why?

Because down here nearly everyone believes that they’re already following Jesus! And yet, for most people—like the Bible scholars in today’s scripture—the message of Christmas leaves their lives mostly unchanged. Like the Bible scholars in today’s scripture—who believe the Bible—they are indifferent.

What about us? What difference does the birth of God’s Son Jesus make in our life right now? How is our life different today because Christ was born? Is it different? Or have we grown so comfortable with the story, so familiar with the story, that it no longer moves us?

If so, pray right now that the Lord will enable you to hear this story in a profound new way during this season.

Advent Podcast Day 13: “The Little Herod Within”

December 18, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Homily: Matthew 1:1-8, 16

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 15, 2017, and this is Day 13 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to “King Herod’s Song,” from the original 1970 rock opera recording Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Michael D’Abo, a former lead singer of Manfred Mann, sings the part of Herod.

Yes, i know, I know… Different Herod. The Herod that ruled Judea during Christ’s Passion Week—the setting of Jesus Christ Superstar—was the son of Herod the Great, whom we meet during the Christmas story… But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Besides, I don’t have a song about Herod the Great!

Our scripture is Matthew 2:1-8 and verse 16, which I’ll read now:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

And then skipping to verse 16: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 12: “No Condemnation”

December 14, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 1:21

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 14, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 12 of my series of Advent podcasts. This song is Chicago’s version of “Little Drummer Boy,” from their 2014 album What’s It Going to Be, Santa? The LP.

Our scripture today is one verse: Matthew chapter 1, verse 21. This is the angel speaking to Joseph, who tells him, “She”—meaning Mary—“will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I’m a connoisseur of Christmas movies, Christmas TV specials, and Christmas episodes of TV shows, most of which—at some point or another—get around to talking about the “true meaning” of Christmas. Have you noticed? And usually the so-called “true meaning” will have something to do with love of family and friends, faith, generosity, charity, the importance of giving rather than receiving.

As good as these virtues are, they aren’t specific enough: The true meaning of Christmas begins with this fact: we are all helpless sinners. We have broken God’s law a million different ways throughout our lives—and probably three dozen ways before breakfast this morning.

By nature, we are rebels against God and his kingdom.

Think about this: Just a few weeks ago, Bowe Bergdahl, was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged by the army. Bergdahl was that soldier about ten years who went AWOL from his base in Afghanistan, was captured, and spent five years as a POW in Taliban custody. After he went missing, hundreds or thousands of fellow soldiers risked their lives trying to rescue Bergdahl—and many Americans considered him a deserter and a traitor. At least one presidential candidate advocated bringing back the firing squad for deserters like him. And many agreed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 11: “Faith into Action”

December 13, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 1:20-25

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 13, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 11 of my series of Advent podcasts. This is Herb Alpert’s version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” from his 2017 Christmas album The Christmas Wish. 

Our scripture today comes from Matthew 1:20-25, which I’ll read now:

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Yesterday, I talked about Joseph’s decision to break off his engagement with Mary. But before he could go through with his plans, an angel appeared in his dreams and confirmed everything Mary had told him.

Here’s something I want us to notice about the story of Joseph in today’s scripture: Surely his circumstances didn’t have to be so difficult!

Suppose, for example, the angel had come to Mary and Joseph the day before the wedding and told both of them, “Look, Mary is going to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, so Joseph you won’t technically be the father, although you’ll raise him as your own child. But no one else will know—since your wedding is tomorrow. So your reputation, your good names, will be preserved, and no one will look down on you or your son.”

Wouldn’t that have been much easier?

For whatever reason, though, God wanted Joseph to wrestle with his anger toward Mary, his hurt feelings, his wounded pride, his jealousy—“Why did Mary lie to me? Why did she cheat on me?” God wanted him to do endure this amount of suffering—at least for the time that elapsed between his conversation with Mary and the angel’s visitation. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 10: “You’re Asking Me to Believe Too Many Things”

December 12, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 1:18-19

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 12, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 10 of my series of Advent podcasts. I want to read just two verses today: Matthew 1:18 and 19.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

You’re listening to a modern Christmas song—the only song I know of that’s told from Joseph’s perspective—it’s called “Joseph, Who Understood.” It’s written and performed by a mostly Canadian band featuring incredibly talented singers and songwriters such as A.C. Newman, Neko Case—she’s the American in the group—and Kathryn Calder. Among the band’s many virtues is their wonderful harmony singing!

Anyway, I love this song in part because it’s very honest about how Mary’s fiancé Joseph must have felt after Mary broke the news to him that she was pregnant, and Joseph wasn’t the father—but let me explain! The angel Gabriel came to me, and he told me… Can you imagine how difficult that conversation must have been?

Well, of course you can! 

Never before in human history had a woman gotten pregnant without the involvement of a human father. Joseph knew that! As much as he may have wanted to believe the woman he loved—as much as he may have wanted to believe that his dreams weren’t crashing down before his eyes—let’s face facts—there was a more likely explanation for Mary’s pregnancy… Like, you know… she cheated on him with another man!

Joseph’s refusal, at first, to believe Mary puts the lie to this modern prejudice which says that ancient people were very naive, gullible, superstitious—only too willing to believe in fantastical stories about virgin births. For example, sometimes you’ll hear skeptics and atheists—often with smart-sounding Oxford English accents—deny the virgin birth by telling you that ancient people didn’t understand how people got pregnant.

This is nonsense, of course. If you doubt it, check out Genesis 38—especially the part about Onan, and his unwillingness to have a child with his former sister-in-law, Tamar. That story ought to make clear that while ancient people didn’t have access to all the biological information with which modern science furnishes us, they knew the facts of life as well as any of us! Joseph knew that women didn’t get pregnant without human fathers! Which is why he wanted to break off the engagement! Read the rest of this entry »

For those of you who prefer to read rather than listen…

December 11, 2017

I’ve now added the manuscripts for the first week of Advent podcasts, Day 1 through Day 7. If you want to interact with these devotionals through the old-fashioned medium of words on page screen, feel free to do so by scrolling down!

Advent Podcast Day 9: “The Lord Is with You”

December 11, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:28

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 11, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 9 of my series of Advent podcasts. And that of course is Bob Dylan singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” That’s from his 2009 album Christmas in the Heart.

For today’s scripture, I want to focus on one verse, Luke 1:28, when the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

In this series, I’ve already talked about Zechariah, earlier in Luke’s gospel, who drew lots with his fellow priests and was chosen to go into the Holy Place of the sanctuary and light incense on the altar. Laypeople were absolutely forbidden to go into the Holy Place, and it was a privilege even for a priest like Zechariah to perform this duty.

Next to the the Holy Place was a room called the Most Holy Place—or the Holy of Holies. In that room, God’s holy presence, his glory, dwelt in a special way—and only one person in the world could ever go into that room: the high priest, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. So… when Zechariah went into the Holy Place to perform his priestly duty that night, he could only look longingly at this 60-feet high, 30-feet wide curtain, four inches thick, which separated the the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place… He could look at this curtain, however many yards away from the altar where he lit the incense, and think, “This is as close to God as I can ever be. I am not holy enough to be any closer; sinner that I am, I would die instantly if I walked into that room.” Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 8: “Treasuring God’s Word”

December 10, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:26-34

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 10, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 8 of my series of Advent podcasts. You just heard the pioneering Christian heavy metal band Stryper, and their original song, “Reason for the Season,” a single they released in 1984.

Today’s scripture is Luke 1:26-34, which I will read now.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

In yesterday’s episode, when Gabriel told Zechariah that he and his wife were going to have a child, even though they were too old and they were unable to have children when they were younger, Zechariah asked: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel punished Zechariah for his doubt.

In today’s scripture, which takes place six months later, we read Mary’s response to Gabriel in verse 34, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” and we wonder if there isn’t a double-standard: Doesn’t Mary doubt? Isn’t her question similar to Zechariah’s? Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 7: “The Lord Disciplines the One He Loves”

December 9, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:18-23

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 9, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 7 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Jethro Tull again, this song, “A Christmas Song,” comes from a 1968 single. It’s included on their 1972 compilation album, Living in the Past. Today’s scripture is Luke 1:18-23, which I will read now.

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

Many of you will remember that this time last year, Billy Bush, a rising star at NBC News, was fired by his network. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can google his name. If you know me, you know I have no interest in the political questions pertaining to that scandal.

What I am interested in is a personal essay that Bush wrote this week for the New York Times—a year after his dismissal, a year of #metoo, and a year in which many Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and television news personalities—like NBC’s Matt Lauer—have been and are being held accountable for their past sexual sins.

In his essay, Bush did not deflect blame at all; he accepted full responsibility for his role in last year’s scandal; and he seemed genuinely sorry. Let me read the last two paragraphs from his essay:

On a personal note, this last year has been an odyssey, the likes of which I hope to never face again: anger, anxiety, betrayal, humiliation, many selfish but, I hope, understandable emotions. But these have given way to light, both spiritual and intellectual. It’s been fortifying.

I know that I don’t need the accouterments of fame to know God and be happy. After everything over the last year, I think I’m a better man and father to my three teenage daughters — far from perfect, but better.[1]

As a fellow sinner saved by God’s grace alone, I can only say a hearty “Amen.” What I hear in Bush’s words, first, is an acknowledgment of the destructive, insidious power of sin—but in the same breath the grace of repentance and the mercy of God’s discipline.

That’s right… I said “mercy.” God’s discipline of Billy Bush was merciful. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 6: “Our Pain and God’s Power”

December 8, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:5-7, 13

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 8, 2017, and you’re listening to Day 6 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Jethro Tull’s version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” That’s Ian Anderson on flute. It’s from their 1978 live album, Live–Bursting Out. In a moment, you’ll hear Tull’s studio version from their 2003 album, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Today’s scripture is Luke 1:5-7 and verse 13, which I will read now.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Next we’re told that while Zechariah is serving as priest in the Holy Place, he encounters the angel Gabriel, who tells him, ““Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”

Luke shares some important information about Elizabeth and Zechariah in verse 6: “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”

Luke’s point in emphasizing their righteousness is to emphasize that they didn’t do anything to deserve what he describes in verse 7: “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Read the rest of this entry »