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Gospel Reverb – The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa

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Listen in as Al Kurzawa joins host, Anthony Mullins, to unpack this month’s lectionary passages.
Al is a GCI pastor serving in his 17th year in two congregations, Grace Communion Morwell and Grace Communion Seaford, in Victoria, Australia. For 10 years, he was the National Youth Coordinator and the Camp Director for SEP Australia. He is currently finishing up his post-grad work for his master’s degree in Theological Studies with Grace Communion Seminary.


December 4 – Advent 2
Romans 15:4-13 “The Welcome Mat”
4:56

December 11 – Advent 3
Luke 1:46-55 “A Mama’s Praise”
17:22

December 18 – Advent 4
Matthew 1:18-25 “God With Us”
26:44

December 25 – Nativity of the Lord
Luke 2: 1-14, 15-20 “Joy For All People”
44:14


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Program Transcript


Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it’s my delight to welcome this month’s guest, Pastor Al Kurzawa. Al is a Pastor in Grace Communion International who is in his 17th year serving two churches in Seaford and Morwell, Australia in the state of Victoria. Also, for 10 years he was a national Youth Coordinator and Camp Director for SEP Australia. Al is currently wrapping up his post-grad work on a master’s degree in Theological Studies at Grace Communion Seminary. He’s married to the delight of his life, Elizabeth, and they have four children (two girls and two boys) ranging in ages 12-19.

Al thank you for being with me today. Welcome to the podcast, and for those in our listening audience who may not be familiar with you, we’d love to know a little bit about your story.

And I especially want to know the part of the story where you ended up in Australia, because I’ve known you since the 1990s. We went to undergrad together in Texas, and “down under” is a long way from Texas. So how in the world did you end up there?

Al: First, just thank you for having me on the show, Anthony. I am so hyped and I’m not sure if it’s because I get to do what I love, which is talking about Bible passages, or whether I’m hyped on coffee, drinking it after 5:00 PM tonight.

But either way, sometimes when people ask me about my story, I tend to think of Paul when he says, I was a Hebrew born of the tribe of Benjamin and pharisee of the Pharisees, because my parents met at a church singles function. They didn’t actually like each other, but that’s where they met, and they ended up writing each other, getting married.

And so, I have grown up in the church, and it’s all I know, and I love it. I love having grown up in the church. I ended up going to a Bible college. And then at the Bible college, I got to go to a wonderful camp for youth. And right after I graduated, I ended up working at that summer camp my fourth or sixth year up there.

And I ended up falling in love with a beautiful redheaded Aussie. And she still had one more year of Bible college to go. And when she finished up, we got married, we lived in North Carolina for about four years. Growing up, I lived all over in the U.S., Florida, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Utah.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I’m like, all over and. The thing is, I never picked up an accent moving all around. So now that we ended up moving back to Australia so she could be close to her family where we wanted to raise our kids so they’re close to her parents because they love being grandparents. They were made for that!

And I’ve now been here in Australia for 20 years. I’ve got my Australian citizenship. And after 20 years, as far as I know, I still don’t have an Aussie accent.

Anthony: You don’t, I’m a little disappointed, Al. Part of blending in with your community is sounding like them too. But you sound like you’re from the Midwest, brother.

Al: Yeah, as I tell everyone, I’m such a great pastor because everyone can understand me. I don’t have an accent, which the Aussies all seem to laugh at that.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s great to have you on here. We’ve known each other for a long time, and it’s really fun to have two buddies come around scripture and talk about our Lord Jesus Christ together.

Let’s get on with it. It’s that time. And here are the four Bible passages that we’re going to discuss.

Romans 15:4-13                                                                          The Welcome Mat

Luke 1:46-55                                                                                A Mama’s Praise

Matthew 1:18-25                                                                        God With Us

Luke 2:1-14, 15-20                                                                      Joy For All People

Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Romans chapter 15, four through 13. I’m reading from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 2 on December the 4th.

Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name. 10 And again, it says, Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and all the people should sing his praises. 12 And again, Isaiah says, There will be a root of Jesse, who will also rise to rule the Gentiles. The Gentiles will place their hope in him. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Al, what does this passage unveil about the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Al: Oh man. So many good things.

First off, what jumps out at me is just that line in verse 5, May the God of endurance and encouragement. Jesus doesn’t ask us to endure out of our own strength and endurance. God is the God of endurance and encouragement.

I did a sermon in 2 Thessalonians this past week, and there’s this line there that says, God is the God of eternal encouragement. I just love that line. Eternal encouragement. Jesus isn’t asking us to endure from our own strength or our own endurance. And that’s where there’s that sense of peace, because it’s God who is the God of encouragement and endurance.

It’s his endurance that we see displayed in Jesus through his whole physical life, his ministry, and his endurance all the way through the cross and the grave and the resurrection. It’s his endurance that we now get to participate in.

And you look at this passage where he talks about the Gentiles, and you see that God is always bigger than we make him out to be. He’s more inclusive, sorry, more inclusive, more encompassing. His plans are larger and bigger than what we think.

Part of this Christian journey as disciples is that we’re always learning that God is so much bigger, so much broader. His plans are so much more all-encompassing than we can think of. We’re always having to readjust just how big this God is that loves us.

Anthony: Yeah, I’ve heard it said, Al, that if you ever cross a line where you think you’ve gone too far in saying, God is just too good to be true. You can’t actually get there. You think you may have. But like you were saying, life is this ongoing repentance where our minds are being blown and changed by the reality of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

And it’s so much better than our fallen imagination can get to. And thanks be to God that it is his endurance and his encouragement. So, what are the implications both corporately and personally to welcome each other in the same way Christ has welcomed us? What say you?

Al: Just one more thing on that past question and then I’ll answer that one.

One of the other things that jumped out in this passage to me was that hope comes first. That it’s not our plans in preparing; we do all that, we make our plans, or we prepare everything, and then we hope for the best.

We have a hope and a God who is faithful. So, we hope in him. And then we make our plans and preparing, and it comes out of that hope of what we’re doing.

And the difference there is between us making our plans and that’s the center. And then God takes up any slack versus God is the center, the God of encouragement, the God of hope is at the center. And then because of who he is, then it’s born out of us knowing how to and being in relation to him, that we then do things and make our plans and all that out of that hope.

That was just one other thought from that passage I wanted to bring out. And then you asked about the implications both corporately and personally. Reading this passage, I thought back to Paul who’s writing this, and a guy named Ananias and a guy named Barnabas.

Because Paul, he was Saul, it was his name. And he has this unbelievable encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. And then he goes on and he’s blind. And this brother, Ananias, comes and he comes to Paul and lays his hands on him, and he welcomes Paul. It’s this beautiful story.

I just love the story of how Ananias, after talking with God, “God, are you sure this is who you want me to go? This guy’s coming to arrest us.” And God goes, No, I’ve got plans for him. And Ananias goes and lays hands on him.

And then you have Barnabas who welcomes Paul and actually takes him to meet the apostles because people were a bit scared of him. And you see in Paul’s life how he was welcomed even with his background and his story.

And yet he was welcomed. And so, we then translate that into how Christ was, he was welcoming of everyone. And we see even of Saul, he welcomed Saul into the fold as he’s converted. And so, we now have this wonderful model of, personally, we look beyond labels. Our world right now just loves doing labels, and it’s going beyond labels of rich, or poor, evangelical, charismatic, orthodox, capitalist, socialist, libertarian.

We go beyond that, and we look at the person, all of the person. We welcome them into God’s embrace. We’re just reflecting the embrace that God already has for them. So, we do that personally and the people we meet, but then we also do it corporately as the church, we have open doors. We welcome people and we let them know they belong, that soon as they show up, they belong, that God loves them.

Anthony: Yeah. We trust that one died and therefore all died. And so, we can no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Correct? That we can only see as Christ sees. And I can’t help but think of that passage in Luke 19 where God in Jesus Christ welcomes Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector despised among his own people. And Jesus welcomed him into his own home. I’m going to come stay with you, Zacchaeus.

And that’s the initiative of our Lord revealed in Jesus Christ.

Verse 13, Al, I think is a wonderful benediction. And what would you say to someone, especially during the season of Advent, somebody who’s not experiencing as much joy and peace as they would desire? What’s Paul declared here for all of us?

Al: The first thing I would do is I would just sit with the person. I would find out where they are. I would just listen before I said anything because the last thing I want to do is offer shallow cliches to someone who’s hurting or feeling loss, or possibly going through something that I’ve just got no experience in, or no understanding, or I don’t have a common ground with what they’re going through.

I don’t want to offer, simple cliches. I want to just sit with them. And then in sitting with them and listening to them, hearing their story and just being with them in whatever they’re feeling. Then possibly in that sitting with them, then this benediction is lived out and they start to feel this sense of peace because they know they’ve been heard. Someone has actually taken the time to listen to them.

Then after doing that and making sure they’re listened to, then if they still feel like they’re looking for a word from me, that I feel like they want me to say something into their situation, I would just share with them that we can hold peace and anxiety, hope and despair together at the same time. We’re these walking paradoxes at time, and that we can be experiencing multiple feelings at once.

I might be feeling a sense of love from my wife today, and at the same time feeling anxiety from my daughter who’s having a hard time at school. I can feel the peace of God’s presence in my life and at the same time be hurting for a friend who’s going through a rough time. The peace and joy of God aren’t limited just to what we’re feeling at the time, in the moment.

The peace and joy of God are our fruit that is born out of our hope – as we talked about in this passage – born out of our hope in a God who does not disappoint, a God who is faithful, a hope in a God who’s the God of eternal encouragement and endurance. He will see us through whatever we’re going through, however long it takes.

He will be with us. He’s Emmanuel, and he will go through what we’re going through with us. So, our hope in God gives us a perspective of the bigger picture of the God who came to us and takes us with them in the ascension. And it is in that bigger picture beyond what we’re experiencing right now, or we’re feeling right now, that bears that fruit of peace and joy in our lives.

And that’s probably what I would then talk to a larger audience, like a congregation, and bringing out in this passage – that we all might be sitting in different spots during this month, and with everything going on, hectic and busy and joy. And we’ve got all these mixed feelings, but in all of this, God is with us.

And we focus on the big picture of the God who we have hope in, who doesn’t disappoint. He makes his promises, and he fulfills them. He promised a Messiah, and the Messiah came so we can rely on this God who keeps his promises again and again. Our hope focuses on who God is, the God that is a God of encouragement, the God of hope.

And then out of that, the peace and in this benediction that Paul gives us, this peace that he talks about. And the joy then is born out of that hope that we have in him.

Anthony: I appreciated what you said about just sitting with someone, listening to them, making sure they feel seen and heard. To me, that’s the marrying of gospel proclamation along with gospel demonstration. It’s just being with somebody and in that way, reflecting the truth that God is a God of hope and of all joy and peace, even in the midst of great sorrow. The paradox that you mentioned, that’s a beautiful way of expressing it. It goes back to that old saying that’s become somewhat cliche, but it’s still truthful, that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And that’s what I hear you stating there. That’s beautiful.

Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 1:46 – 55. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 3, which is December the 11th. Al, would you read it for us, please?

Al: Sure.

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Anthony: Mary’s Magnificat is a beloved passage of scripture, and I could tell you like it too, just the way you read it. What stands out to you in this contemplation of her song?

Al: First, I usually tend to stick to the NIV translation. I like reading some of the others. But when you mentioned that we were going to read from the Common English Bible, and I read this passage, I’m so glad you picked that translation.

Because what jumped out at me was right there at the beginning, “with all my heart I glorify the Lord in the depths of who I am.” Mary is feeling this sense of awe and worship to the depths of her bones. It’s just bubbling up out of her. And I get this sense that she couldn’t stop herself from singing God’s praises at this moment, even if she wanted to.

And I was trying to think how can we relate to this?

And I thought back to the concept of proposing. When I propose to my wife, there’s that moment because you’re a little, what if she says no? But you propose, and she says yes, and you’re happy and all that. But I thought back, and it was after that, nights afterwards, days afterwards, that I was sitting there when this joy was just like, she said yes. It was like it was just hitting me. She said, Yes! My whole life is now going to be different for the better.

And to me that, that was the closest I could come to what Mary is feeling here, is that it’s just this joy that she’s feeling and it’s bubbling up and it’s not just this instant thing, it’s something that’s just percolating, and it just keeps bubbling up.

The more and more she thinks about everyone will consider me highly favored. That this is something that is going to change – not just me – this is going to change everything. This is going to change my generation, but this is going to change everything for all of humanity. And she’s just, wow.

And she just can’t help but sing and praise. This song probably captures how she was feeling for days and weeks, just contemplating as this little baby grows inside of her and she feels this kick. It’s probably something that she just repeated to herself again and again. God is faithful and, ah, yeah, I’ll stop there.

Anthony: She said, yes. That sounds like a jewelry commercial.

But Mary obviously said amen to God’s amen to her. And she recognized that she was highly favored with God and that favor is unique and particular to her. But let me ask you this, can the particularity of her favored-ness show us something which is universally true about all of us?

And if so, how and if not, why not?

Al: Yeah. Good question. You know what God does for her; she says he looked with favor on the low status of his servant. And that’s what he’s done for all of us. Because in one state, in one sense, all of us have that low status. All of us are sinners. All of us live under that, that Adam and Eve’s line, and he’s done this act for all of us, this act of mercy. That of Jesus the Son coming and being incarnate in Jesus.

He’s done for everyone. So, it’s this personal story between God and Mary. And yet in Mary, it’s also our story in that God is a personal God. He shows each of us great favor, just simply because we’re now adopted in the Son through the Spirit. We are now in Christ. And the Father now looks at you and at me, and at all of us as beloved sons and beloved daughters.

So, this feeling of awe and victory and worship that Mary feels. And her song of praise, she does on our behalf, because it’s our story too. God has looked on us the least, the last, the little, the lost (as Robert Capon likes to say.) Those that seem to be dead to society, and he has given us favor.

Mary recognizes that she’s entered the unfolding story of God’s fidelity to Abraham and his seed way back in this story in Genesis 12, where he promises that all nations will be blessed through you. And she’s now a part of this story that continues to unfold generation after generation. And so just as she’s a part of it, we now get to be a part of it too.

Anthony: With that in mind, o favored one, Al Kurwaza, what else would you like for us to see and hear from this passage?

Al: Two things. And the first, I’ll just point to somewhere else, and that is the place of Israel in God’s heart. He did not abandon them at the cross any more than he ever abandoned Gentiles.

They’ve always been a part of his plan. And I can’t it articulate as well, but T.F. Torrance in his book, The Mediation of Christ, just does such a great job of recognizing that. I’ll just point to that way because that was something that jumped out in this passage. That Mary is part of that Jewish story, and that Jesus comes within Israel’s story for Israel.

When Paul goes out, he would go to the synagogues first. He wanted to share the story with the Jews, and then he would then share it with the Gentiles because the story is for both.

And then the other thing in this passage that I really like is how God sees us. It’s the Zacchaeus that you mentioned just previously, right? That he’s in this tree. He’s a short little guy. He is in a tree trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus sees him.

Jesus sees Hannah, who is sitting there, and she wants to have a child so badly, and she’s praying, and she goes to the temple year after year. And God sees her.

And then there’s this beautiful story with Hagar when Hagar takes Ishmael and leaves because Sarah is just torturing her practically and giving her such a hard time. And God says, Hagar, where are you going? And talks to her and says that your son, Ishmael, and says what the name of Ishmael will be. And it’s “God hears.” So, God hears us. And then Hagar names this place, and she names it because you are the God who sees me.

So, it’s these little people, the Hagars and the Hannahs and the Zacchaeus and you and me, and that God sees us. He cares for us. And in Mary’s song, I think that’s where it comes out. She’s a nobody. She’s a nobody. And yet God sees her and includes her in his wonderful plan that he has for all of us.

Anthony: Your reflections made me think of Luke 13, a recent lectionary passage where Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. And he sees a woman who had been bent over for 18 years and calls her forward to participate in her healing that day based on his loving initiative.

And this is who God is. And I think this is why Mary sings with all of her hearts. And where we can sing too, because as it says in verse 50, he shows mercy to everyone. That’s all of us. We are the lowly who have been lifted high in the ascension.

Hallelujah, praise God.

Al: Oh hallelujah. And I love that what you just said. He takes the initiative. That’s what’s so wonderful about this God. He takes the initiative and then, ah wow. Yep.

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage for the month. It’s Matthew 1: 18 – 25. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 4, which is on December the 18th.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

The author Robert Capon once described talking about God as throwing analogies against the mystery. I love that. Articulating the implications of the incarnation of the son of God is nearly an impossible task, Al. And yet we try. We try to put words to it. So, tell us about the birth of Jesus.

Al: If I’m going to trip up, this is it, because it’s almost beyond our language. And it’s why we have to then refer and use things like metaphors and poetry to try and capture something that’s so beyond straightforward words.

And I’m going to refer to another author, C.S. Lewis. As I came across his readings, he uses an analogy that really helped for me, and that was a cube and a square. And he was talking about that as a square, a square only lives in two dimensions. And it can only understand two dimensions. It can understand one dimension and two. But a cube is in three dimensions, and the square is just not going to be able to understand the cube. But the cube can understand the square because part of the cube is that square part, that two dimensions.

And where CS Lewis was going with that analogy is that God, not that God is a cube, but that God is God. And we can’t use creation and things of creation to describe the Trinity. We can’t go there because God is not a part of his creation. He is the creator.

But what’s amazing and this is what blows me away, is that God, even though he’s beyond us in creation, and we’re only created beings, God wants us to know him. He wants to reveal himself to us. Like this cube wants the square to actually know the cube in one sense. God isn’t limited, whereas the cube is limited; he can’t make the square understand three dimensions. God’s not limited, and he actually does something that blows us away. He makes himself known by coming down and becoming one of us.

He reveals himself to us by becoming one of us – human, fully human, born of a woman, just like you and me. And then in this person of Jesus Christ in his birth, we then find out that God is a relational God. We have a Father who says, This is my Son who my love. And we have this Spirit flowing through the Son.

And the Son says, I only do what the Father tells me to do. And I see my Father at work, and I participate. And so, we find out that this is a relational God. And so, this God who’s the creator and we’re only the creation, has somehow figured out a way to actually reveal himself to us. Not everything, because we can’t fully comprehend God, but enough to know that this is a relational God who’s willing to humble himself and become one of us.

In one sense, it’s the ultimate in place-sharing. We didn’t come up with this phrase, place-sharing. God actually shows us what place-sharing is. He comes and sets up his tent with us. John 1:14. He makes his dwelling with us. It’s like he’s setting up his tent.

You know when you go on a drive, and you stop at a rest area? You stop, you stretch your legs and then you go. But when you go camping, you bring a tent, you bring sleeping gear, you bring food, and you set up the tent, and you’re planning to stay there for a while to actually be part of this campsite and be part of it. And so, when it says, God sets up his tent with us, he comes and actually dwells with us.

He place-shares with us by actually experiencing humanity as we experience humanity. He experiences hunger, he experiences cold, he experiences being rejected and betrayal. Disciples leave him. He experiences bloodying up his knee. He experiences joy, and he shows us what true life is because he has the experience of the Father and the Spirit and being in communion with them and showing us that’s what his intentions are for us.

Anthony: Karl Barth, and I’m paraphrasing, talked about how we cannot comprehend God, as you mentioned, at best, we can apprehend, get glimpses. But thanks be to God that he wants to reveal himself and self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

And this is why the incarnation is so mindboggling that he would stoop to our level, just to be with his kids. Like you, as a parent, getting down on the floor with your child to play with them to meet them where they are. That the actual true Sabbath would walk into a synagogue on the sabbath day, just to be with his people, it is astonishing. May we never lose the awe and wonder of the incarnation of our Lord.

Let’s think about Joseph and his actions toward Mary for a moment. What, if anything, can his actions teach us?

Al: First, what jumps out at me is Joseph’s respect for Mary, right from the start. If you know a bit about the culture at that time, the patriarchal system, the way husbands could treat their wives, the way men Jewish men could treat women in this story.

Joseph could have behaved and acted in a whole lot of ways when he finds out that Mary was pregnant. And those ways could have ruined Mary’s life, or at least caused her a tremendous amount of pain. But right from the beginning, he wanted to honor her and respected her. Even the thought of divorcing her quietly so that it didn’t cause her any more grief than she was already going to feel being pregnant out of wedlock.

So, we see right from the beginning, this is a man who wanted to respect a female. And that right there, I think, in that culture, tells us a bit about Joseph. And then we see his faith and obedience to God, because when God tells him, No, you’re going to marry Mary, he obeys God’s instructions after the dream.

So, we see his respect for Mary, and we see him honoring God by not consummating the marriage until after Jesus was born. So, he follows God’s instructions, marries Mary, but then he also doesn’t consummate because he knows that this is sacred. This is something special going on.

And he allows Mary to go through the full pregnancy and Jesus is born, as the passage tells us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s, I’m just thinking about what you stated in terms of just the way he honored her, respected her, and he had at his disposal, societal options that would have really belittled and humiliated her.

And in that way, he embodied our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus could shame us. He literally has every right to belittle our waywardness, but he doesn’t. He even in the midst of great mocking and pain on the cross, he says, Father, forgive them, as he reveals the heart of the Father.

I thank God for Joseph in the way that he’s reflecting reality, that we experience with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Al, the witness of both Testaments in Scripture seem to point, and they don’t just seem to, they do point to a God who really likes his kids, who wants to be with his people. And so, we have a God named, Emmanuel, God with us, which explicates that reality.

So, the with-ness of God, what does it teach us? What is our response to it? What do you want to share with us?

Al: Oh boy. This is a good one. That’s a good question. Boy, we could go quite a while on this, so I’ll try to refrain from going too long. But Jesus himself defines, as I mentioned earlier, place-sharing with us.

God comes and place-shares with us. And I heard this once, I think it was Randy Bloom one time mentioned that the incarnation is God’s radical affirmation of our humanity. He takes on our humanity. And then I first heard this line from Elmer Colyer (but he might have been quoting Torrance), that God does not want to be God without us.

So, he chooses to be God with us, and both Testaments say, I will be their God and they will be my people. That’s the beautiful concluding image in Revelation. I will be their God and they will be my people. And it’s not us going off somewhere; it’s that God comes to us.

Even in Revelation, even in the final coming, God comes to us and there’s a new heaven and a new earth where it’s together, where we are in the full presence of God.

So, this God, this creator of the universe, the God, the one who’s created everything, who is complete in and by himself of the three persons of the Trinity and lacks nothing, chooses to be God with us.

Wow. His creation. We’re just his creation. We’re lowly humans who continue to rebel against him time and time again. And yet, every time we rebel against him and turn our backs, God continues to say no to our no and chooses to be God with us. And it wasn’t just this one time where Jesus comes and is on earth for 30 years with us.

He then sends the Holy Spirit, which is God’s presence. The Spirit of the Son is now flowing through us and the body of the Church. And then it doesn’t stop then either; in Jesus’ final coming, God is with us. And so, we get to be with him in his full glory for all eternity.

So this is definitely a God who shows us time and time again – from the beginning of the story when he’s walking in the garden looking for Adam and Eve to the very end when he comes down and says, I will be their God and they will be people – this is a God who wants to be with us. And that is what can really humble us again and again.

And it’s also something that we can truly clinging to when we mess up, when we goof up, when we just make our sin again. And we’re like, Why am I still doing this? Why am I frustrating with this?

This is what we can clinging to, is that this is a God who wants to be God with us. He chooses to dwell with us. Even if we don’t deserve it, this is what he wants to do. And he just continues to invite us. I like to use the word, drawing. He’s continually drawing us to him like a magnet. He just draws us to him because he loves us so much.

He wants to be with us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s such a good word, such an encouraging word during Advent because part of Advent is this longing, this anticipation, this waiting for the arrival of God to be with us. And he is.

It’s like you said, and I think this is an important word to bring up, that even as we talk about the eschatological truth of Jesus’s second coming, we cannot rightfully talk about it as if God in Jesus Christ is not here by his Spirit.

And sometimes you get this disconnect like, Oh, we’re just waiting for the fullness of the kingdom, as if God is not with us now, but he is, even if we don’t sense it.

And really isn’t that a big part of the Christian walk? That the God that we have with us in the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our heart to see the reality of God’s presence with us in the here and now. It’s this growing in our awareness of God’s power and presence by the Holy Spirit. So, this is such a fantastic word at a time of Advent in a time of chaos and disconnection to know that God is with us and he’s going to see his good promises through. Amen and amen.

Al: Amen. And if I could just add Anthony, you know that disconnect you’re talking about, when we think about, Oh Jesus isn’t here with us; he went and ascended to heaven. The great news is that we ascended with him. He took us with him. Paul says that we only see things darkly right now because we’re with Jesus.

So, whether it is in heaven where Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne, or whether it’s down here on Earth, Jesus is with us because his Spirit, as you were just saying, flows through us. So, Jesus is with us. And if we think, oh Jesus is up there somewhere in heaven, well, we’re with him there because he rose with us.

That this union with Christ was so important to Paul that he says it like 172 times one way or another, that we are in Christ, in Jesus Christ. One way or another. He says it over and over again because we are, our life is in Christ. So, we are so united with him.

So, when he died, we died with him. When he rose, we rose with him When he ascends to heaven. He takes us with them and dwells at the right hand. So, we are always with Christ. That is the only way to have life, is our union with Christ. That is our life. There is no life outside of that. So, he comes in the incarnation to show us that he is with us.

And then the whole story, the New Testament, is that he is always with us. Whether he dies and goes into the grave, whether the grave is empty, whether he’s resurrected, whether he ascends. We are always with Jesus because we are now united with him.

Anthony: That’s so powerful and hard to, again, comprehend that there is this double movement of grace that we are in Christ and so therefore we do what Christ does.

We move closer to the Father. That’s what love does. It always moves closer to the other. That’s what obedience looks like too, as Jesus is obedient to the Father, but also, he is with us by the Spirit. So, as I’m frying my eggs in the morning, he’s there. Yes, I find myself in sin. He is there when I’m loving my family, or not.

He is there and always through love, not just leaving us where we are, helping us to mature into himself, who is the head of the church. Hallelujah, praise God. It’s like you said at the top when I asked the question, we really could spend an entire podcast, a series of podcasts trying to describe this with-ness that we have with God in God.

Hallelujah.

Al: I love that phrase, you just used double movement. That’s beautiful and that we can just chew on that. Just take that with you, that double movement and it’s God moving towards us, but then God drawing us towards him, and then it’s in Jesus’s obedience that we’re able to draw towards him.

And so, God again, initiates both, but it’s this double movement that we get to participate in. So that’s a great phrase that you used.

Anthony: Brother man, it’s Christmas day. Let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 2:1-14, 15-20 Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Christmas Day, December the 25th.

Al, Please read it for us.

Al: Okay.

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Anthony: Not a bad job pronouncing Quirinius. See. I can’t say it. You did. Excellent.

Al: I practiced a lot today.

Anthony: I bet you did, brother. Well done. We don’t name our kids that anymore. We should rectify that.

Al, it’s Christmas day. By the way, what’d you get me for Christmas?

Al: Ooh. It’s in the mail.

Anthony: Like Ed McMahon and my big prize. It’s in the mail. Okay.

Are there any Christmas traditions your family has been doing through the years that you’d be willing to share with our listening audience and what does the Christmas season mean to you?

Al: Alright. I have to give a little bit of background first, because my wife and I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.

It wasn’t part of either of our family’s tradition. And so, when we were married and started having kids, we did discuss what are we going to do as a family? And it’s been an interesting journey trying to figure out what traditions we wanted to establish for our family, because we didn’t come from any tradition.

So, in one sense, it was great because we started with a blank slate. But another sense, it’s hard starting traditions when you don’t even know what to do, what’s going to have meaning or not. And a few things never really stuck. But the two things that have seem to stick for our family is, first off, my wife bought an Advent calendar with cards.

And each day of Advent is a name or title for Jesus, and a passage that goes along with it. So, at dinnertime, during Advent, when we’re done eating, or near the end, one of the kids gets the card and they get to read the name, and then they get to read the passage and whatever discussions might come from that.

So that’s been enjoyable. And then because the cards, we then hang up around the living room my wife puts a beautiful string around the walls. And then we can see those words, those titles for Jesus, throughout the whole month.

And then when it gets to Christmas Eve time one of the channels here does carols by candlelight. And in Melbourne they put on this huge concert singing hymns and carols. And a lot of people in Melbourne will go to that and sit in the park. And you have to remember that here in December, it’s summertime, so it’s usually pretty good, warm weather so people can bring their picnic blankets and sit out.

And in our family, my wife’s a great cook and she makes homemade fudge, and she’ll make some chocolate fondue and we have strawberries, and we have fudge and some other neat little snacks, and we’ll just put on the carols by candlelight. And they sing songs like Holy Night, O Jerusalem. They do the Hallelujah Chorus from the Handel’s Messiah. And so, you get some of the top artists from Australia singing that night. And we get to sit back, enjoy some lovely food and enjoy some wonderful carols.

However, last week I did see a post that in Iceland, on Christmas Eve, they exchange books and then spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate. So that might be something we need to incorporate into our night. I wouldn’t mind doing that, doing a bit of reading that night.

Anthony: Speaking of chocolate, you mentioned chocolate fondue. What time should we show up at your house? We’re invited, right?

Al: About 7:30pm it should be all ready. We’re done with dinner and my wife’s set it all out, so you’re all welcome. 7:30 my house.

Anthony: Y’all come. I love it.

The passage mentions that Jesus, the firstborn child, was wrapped snugly. And sometimes I wonder, as we think about a nativity scene, it can be a bit sanitized and glamorized. Does it do a disservice to the depths our Lord humbly submitted himself to the human condition?

I’m curious for your thoughts.

Al: I would agree that it does. Again, my very smart wife says that when she became a mom, this whole passage changed for her because as a mom, this passage took on new meanings for her with the depths of Jesus’ humility.

He was born a baby, which means that he had to have his diaper or nappy, as we say in Australia, changed for him. He was completely at the mercy of Mary and Joseph to be fed, clothed, provided for. He went through that entire stage of baby and childhood and having to learn to walk and read and write and feed oneself.

So yeah, it can be a disservice when we forget about that. Jesus, really, when we talk about humble, he humbled himself to all of the human experience, including being a baby that has to be completely looked after.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s staggering. Continue.

Al: And one of the other thoughts with the whole sanitizing the service. I think part of it can also be in relation to those of us in the western world because if you think back to Mary’s Magnificat that we talked about, she talks about it with Jesus coming, it’s a reversal.

It’s God turning an upside-down world right side up. However, those of us in first world countries sometimes forget that we are the ones who can be proud. We are the ones that can be powerful. We are the ones that have full bellies.

So, I’m talking here to myself, that this inflection that I need to think about is maybe this good news of the poor being fed and the rich going away empty-handed, isn’t the sanitized good news that we in prosperous countries make it out to be? In the humility of Jesus’ birth, the manger of animals, the nobody’s involved in Jesus’ birth, it’s also a time for us for reflection, a time to stop and ask, is our part in this birth narrative maybe different than we assume?

Think about who is at the birth and who is it? First, notice who is not there? No Caesar, no King Herod, no chief priest from the temple. No army general. No politicians, none of the rich and famous. None of those that we usually would, in our current culture, that we think are important, having status worldly leaders.

But notice who is there, Joseph and Mary, two nobodies from Nazareth. No one had ever heard of them up to this point. And until Jesus had his ministry and the disciples and apostles start sharing the good news, after Jesus has risen and then some of them start writing down this Gospels good news, we would’ve never have known of Joseph and Mary.

Just two people having a baby. That happens all the time. And then you have these unnamed shepherds. They were the nomads at the time, right? They’d be our modern-day immigrants who are willing to work for less than minimum wage. They’re just wandering from job to job, living out in the fields with the sheep, no hot running water.

And then eight days later, Jesus is presented at the temple and there’s a guy named, Simian, and there’s an old lady named, Anna. These are the people that get to witness the birth of humanity’s salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s witnessed by a bunch of nobodies.

And the who’s who of Judea and the Roman Empire, they’re nowhere to be found. They’re off running the world, or at least think they are. And yet the King is born, and they’re too busy doing their other things.

So, it’s this chance, as you talk about, we can have this little manger scene and the snow falling and the shepherds around and the wise men in these little manger scenes, narratives like we put up.

But yeah, we can start to sanitize it and think of the joy of a baby born. But it’s also a comeuppance. It’s one of these things where we need to stop, reflect and go, are we actually there with Joseph and Mary and baby?

Or are we actually with the Caesars and the Herods in the palaces and off doing our own thing and a bit too busy during this season to actually stop and go, oh, wait a minute, the King has been born and he’s humbled himself. And that’s what he wants us to follow in his footsteps in all that too. Be that humble one. And if we’re the rich and we got the full bellies, then we need to be maybe pausing going, who do I need to feed?

Who is out there that I can help? Who is out there that I can give comfort to, warmth to? Who’s out there that might be sleeping in a manger that I can open my home to? And I’m talking metaphorically here but some might be literally, might be figuratively, of how can we look out for the Joseph and Marys out there and invite them and let them belong and look after them?

Anthony: That’s quite insightful, what you said, who’s there and who’s not. And that brought me to this moment of thinking about the incarnation, the birth of the Godchild. That with it is certainly the grace that God showed up on the scene, pitched the tent, as you said earlier.

But also comes with it a judgment that we needed a savior born to us. We needed a King. And so that’s what I hear you reflecting on. That as we look at the story — often when we come to a narrative scripture, if we think of ourselves in the story, have you noticed, Al, we generally make ourselves the good guys?

We’re with the good guys, we’re the ones doing it right. But what I hear you saying is really an important thing, that we also need to stop and reflect. Where am I and truly in this story? Would I be there? Would I come to see the wondrous, joyous news that’s good for all people?

Or would I be too busy doing my own thing, building my own kingdom when the King of the true kingdom has shown up on the scene? Thank you for that word.

It’s important for us to reflect on even at a time like Christmas and that’s what grace teaches us to do, right? We sometimes think of grace as even warm and fuzzy, like we think of the Christ child being born in a manger, but grace tells us to say no to ungodliness, right? That’s what Titus teaches us. So, it’s a truth-telling grace that we get to reflect upon.

I’m struck that in verse 9, the people were terrified when God showed up on the scene, when the Lord’s angel or his representative, I should say, showed up on the scene. And we see that often in scripture that people are terrified when something of the glory of heaven shows up.

Tell us about that. What’s going on?

Al: In contemplating on this and doing a little reading, I came across a quote by A.W. Tozer, who observed about 50 years ago, he said, “The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but his goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him. To fear and not be afraid, that is the paradox of faith.”

And I thought, yeah, he just captured that really well. And the image that came to my mind is the one of a moth being drawn to one of those bug zaps, right? The light is brilliant from a moth perspective. It’s this brilliant light, and it draws them off to it, but it’s also being drawn to its death.

In Luke’s Gospel story of the calling of the disciples, after the miracle catch of fish, Peter’s first exclamation is, go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man. And yet it says, the disciples got out of the boat and followed Jesus. So, he says to go away from me, I’m sinful. But then he follows Jesus.

So, we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and we see simultaneously God’s goodness, God’s holy love, God’s all-consuming love, and our sinfulness embedded in our very core and our complete destruction if in our current bodies, we were to encounter the full glory of God. God’s all-consuming love means that He wants all of us. Not one part is left to our own. C.S. Lewis calls this the intolerable compliment, that God is not willing to let any part of us, no dark corner, no little bit not be redeemed and reconciled to him.

Sometimes we want to compromise with God and say, Okay, I’ll give you this part of my life, but let me keep control of this part of my life. We either think we know better how to run that part of our life, or we like that part of our life the way it is. And we’re afraid God’s just going to mess it up if he gets his hands on it. He’ll want to purify us and there goes our fun.

But the only way to truly live into the abundant life that God has for us is to submit our entire lives to every part. And God won’t be satisfied unless he has every part. When we get a glimpse of that all-consuming love, we recognize that it truly is all-consuming. Like a refiner’s fire. All our impurities are going to be melted away until we are the masterpiece that, that great artist God has designed each and every one of us to be.

One of my favorite passages is Ephesian 2, and in the New Living translation it calls us God’s masterpiece. He is the master artist and each of one of us is a masterpiece, and he won’t finish with us until we are fully done. We are the masterpiece he designed us to be.

And what’s encouraging in this passage is even though the shepherds were frightened, they’re invited to witness the birth of Jesus. So even in our fear, God tells us, do not be afraid because what he has planned for us is an invitation. He’s inviting us to join in with the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been participating in for all time and always will.

So, it’s an invitation. It’s terrifying because he’s going to refine us so that we can participate in it. But once that masterpiece is done, when each and every one of us is done, we will get to fully participate in that love for all time.

I love what Tozer said. It’s just the paradox of this greatness of God. But there’s also his encouragement. Do not be afraid. I heard one time that’s the most often quoted, that’s the most often cited command in the Bible. Do not be afraid because he doesn’t want us to fear. He wants us to live, submit, and live into this perfect love that he has designed for us.

Anthony: That’s a good way to end. And I’m looking at verse 14. Glory to God in heaven and on the earth. Peace among those whom he favors.

He favors you, friends. Merry Christmas to you all. Al, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast today. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you so much for the keen insights by the Spirit that you provided for us here today.

And I also want to thank our fine producer, Reuel Enerio, and our transcriber, Elizabeth Mullins. They do a fantastic job, which makes this podcast possible.

Brother, I love you. You are a beloved child of the living God, and as is our tradition on the Gospel Reverb podcast, we’d love to end with prayer, and I know you’d like to share benediction as well.

Al: Yes. And let me just say again, thank you for having me on this podcast. I love listening to Gospel Reverb and now to actually be a part of it in this way, I just really appreciate it. And if I may also say back to you, Anthony, you are a beloved son of the Father and how wonderful that is. And a Merry Christmas to you and to all our listeners as well.

And yeah, if you would join me in prayer.

Loving God, we give you thanks. We thank you so much for who you are. We thank you that you continue to reveal to us who you are. And in that process, we learn who we are. We’re your beloved in Christ. We are your beloved sons and daughters. And we just thank you for these scriptures, these holy scriptures which you’ve given us, so that we can reflect and draw deeper into that relationship with you.

I just pray for those that will be reflecting on these passages and sharing them and teaching from them over the month of Advent. I just pray that your Holy Spirit guides them and gives them your words so that in each of their messages and in their teachings, they bring glory to you.

And we just pray this in Jesus’ name.

And now may the God of hope, the Lord of love, and the Spirit of comfort, fill all of you with joy, peace, hope, and love, so that it fills and overflows from you into others this advent season. Amen.


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