15 December 2010

In that sign

by Frank Turk

OK -- before I get to Christmas, and what you should be thinking about about it based on what the Angels said, I'm going to shamelessly plug my newest blogging adventure. After 18 months of suffering over what to do with the domain I acquired, and really killing a lot of time trying to create the right visual tone (which is still under advisement), I'm proud to introduce you to the NEW Calvinist Gadfly. The original Gadfly went to the big apologetics bug trap in the sky after entering seminary, and he encouraged me to pick up the domain name when his registration expired. Now it's a blog which will not be strictly apologetics but broadly about applying the full-throated confession of "Calvinism" to, well, everything -- include most notably, those who claim to be "Calvinists".

I'm going to enjoy it, and I hope you do, too.

That said, last time I pointed out that the Angels, in speaking to the farm boys in the field on the night Christ was born, pointed them to a sign that it was true that unto them was born a Savior who was Christ, the Lord. And the sign was not a double-rainbow in 3D made of fire and lollipops; it wasn't that their seed money was returned 1000-fold; it wasn't that somehow someone was speaking in the tongues of angels (since plainly: angels were speaking in the tongues of men).

The sign was that there was a baby laid in a manger, wrapped in "swaddling clothes".

I want to linger there a second, because the Greek word there rendered by Luke is "σπαργανόω", which comes from the word "σπαράσσω". It's rightly translated "swaddling clothes", but it means to wrap up in rags -- to wrap up in torn fabric as in to "swaddle" a baby.

You never looked that word up in a dictionary, I am sure, so here's what the dictionary says about it:

swad·dle   [swod-l]
verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object)
1.to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.

2.to wrap (anything) round with bandages.

3.a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging.

So the sign the Angels point to is this baby placed in a feeding trough wrapped up in rags -- rags which might be for babies, or for the wounded. Maybe for the dead.

So that's the sign at Christmas -- the sign at the birth of Christ: there's a baby born not in a temple or a castle or some lofty estate, but born so low as to be born with the poorest of the poor, in a stable among animals. And his garments are not fine cloth or soft linens: they're rags that are only good enough for a baby's back-end business or to wrap the sick and dying in.

So what to think of this? Here are three things to think about as you get on with your Christmas:

1. In that sign, it is clear that God is with us.

Look: that's the ultimate promise YHVH makes to Israel -- when the savior is born, he will be "Emmanuel - God with us." And the Angels point out that the sign to the Shepherds is that this child is born of no account at all -- above no one in the world. This wouldn't be so true if Jesus had been born in Solomon's courts -- because as the Prince of the nation, he would be above so many and unreachable by them.

But here is the child in the manger -- who the writer of Hebrews says is our high priest who is like us in every way, and still did not sin. He's not just "for us" in some divine way: he is like us and is with us is a way which someone who is pandered to could never be.

2. In that sign, it is clear that God loves us.

I was talking to my son about this because I was thinking he didn't get it, and I asked him: "Dude, when Papa and Grandma come over to stay, what do you do?"

"I let them sleep in my room," he said.

"And why is that?" I asked.

"Well, they need someplace to stay, and that's the best place for them to stay," he sort of shrugged.

"So it's just because it seems to make sense?" I asked.

"Well, no," he squirmed, "I give it up because I love them and I'm glad to be with them."

"Aha," I ahead. "So you give up your place in our home so that they can be with us. That's awesome. Now think about this: Jesus didn't just give up his bedroom to be with us. Jesus gave up heaven to be with us -- and he was willing to give up everything he deserved in Heaven to come and be born in a stable so that he could be with us."

You know: Jesus gave up Heaven for a stable so that, as he said to Peter and the boys, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. For us.

That's actually how we know what love is: the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

3. In that sign, God clears up everything He has been saying for the past 2 or 3 millennia.

As I said last week, and the writer of Hebrews has said to you a jillion times, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son -- the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

You know: God said a lot of things in the Old Testament. I know you know that because you probably haven't read them all because it's so much. It's more than War and Peace. It's more than The Stand. And you'd think after saying all that God would be like, "Geez -- what more can I say than to you I have said?" But no: God instead makes everything He said come true in the birth of a child in a barn because there was no room at the Inn.

All the ideas of blessing: rolled up in swaddling clothes.

All the ideas about being chosen by God: laying in a manger.

All those judgments and warnings: now in the hands of a mother who admitted she didn't understand these things, but submitted to them and considered them in her heart.

All the promises: in poverty, to the least of these, with the least of these.

All the power: not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but rather, made nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.

Here in the manger is the very clarification of all God meant -- because he is here in this world as it is created.

You might have more than that which you considered -- and good on you. This only scratches the surface. You could probably consider the sign of the baby in the manger every day this year and come up with something new to rejoice over, but we only have 10 days until Christmas. All I'm saying is that the Angels didn't think that their appearance was as spectacular as that sign. Maybe we should consider it more deeply this season.


Thomas Louw said...

I was asked to leave the room last night. Don’t worry, nothing wrong between me and the misses. Between my snoring and the baby she was not getting any sleep. So she removed one of us from the equation. I didn’t like to sleep on the foam mattress; I felt every rib of the single beds base. I moved with a half a heart.
Christ gave up heaven, even more; He took…, God the Fathers wrath when He became the Man-God.
I think He moved from Heaven to earth, with a better heart.

Trevor said...

It always hits me when I re-read and hear that Christ came for us.

What love is this?

Side note: I'm glad to drop a comment here once again. It has been too long. :-)

Rob Peck said...

Thanks for this. So many ''Christmas'' messages are soft and fluffy. We need to remember that this is GOD! Not just a cute little baby in a cute little manger, with cute little animals and cute little angels. This is GOD and we are not worthy.

Frank Turk said...

Even if this post gets 10,000 comments today, Rob's comment will be my favorite. I hate it when we peak early, but there it is.

Robert said...

I'd couple Rob's and Thomas' comments to say how does the fact that GOD came down to become like us who are unworthy change our attitudes and actions. He came in a lowly manner, suffered the punishment that we all deserve, and went as a lamb before the shearers without arguing, grumbling, or complaining.

He did all of this for us because He loves us. I'll never know why He does love me so much because I am rude, inconsiderate, ungrateful, demanding, neglectful, and unloving (among many other things) towards Him. So why is it that when my biological family, my church family, my coworkers, my friends, or even people I don't know act in these same ways towards me that I don't show the love to them that God shows to me (at least not as easily)?

GOD, creator of all of the universe, Who is so high above me that I can't really grasp how low I am in comparison, showed me love in the most humble fashion that has ever been demonstrated. And yet, I the lowly sinner, find it in my heart to be so prideful and arrogant as to take offense and hold things against others. I should just be grateful to exist and have friends and family. Thank you, God, for loving me in spite of myself.

Bro. Brad Gilbert said...

Could a connection be made to the swaddling cloths, the grave cloths, and the fact that the Bible tells us our righteousness in nothing more than filthy rags. As in, God Incarnate came and took on the sins of man and left them in the grave.

Stefan said...

It hit me this Sunday, during a sermon on the Anunciation...

Jesus Christ is (as we all know) a direct descendant of King David, to fulfil God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the promised Messiah of the Davidic line.

And yet...God didn't choose the Christ to be born to some respected descendants of David living in Jerusalem (perhaps the descendants of Zerubbabel, the governor in Haggai's time, for example).

No, God evidently chose the lowest, poorest, most despised, most backcountry of David's descendants—ones who would be scoffed at for claiming royal blood. A teenage mom who had a child out of wedlock, and her hastily-married husband.

It would be like someone living in a shack in the Louisiana bayous, laying claim to the throne of France based on his Bourbon lineage.

Stefan said...

In fact, can you imagine what Bethlehem must have been like at the time of the Census? There must have been hundreds of David's descendants there at the time.

The reason there was "no room at the inn" was because the best rooms in the best lodging places would have been occupied by the great and the good (so to speak) of society. Scribes and lawyers from Jerusalem, wealthy merchants from Jericho, and assorted other members of the upper class. Folks who mixed and mingled with Herod.

And here's this labourer from a town of no account way up north that no one's probably even heard of, someone's 20th cousin whom no one even knows, his young wife in tow, without even enough money to offer the proper sacrifice when they get up to the Temple.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have been thinking of those connections myself all week, Brother Gilbert. It has been a thrilling meditation, so thank you Frank Turk, for inspiring those thoughts, and if God blesses, a poem as well.

The shepards tending flocks of sheep intended for temple sacrifice come to worship the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

He was born in a cave,like that rich man's tomb they laid his dead body in.

His mother wrapped his warm body in those strips of cloth, that they would wrap a dead body in.
She laid him in that feeding trough carved out of cold stone that was like a tiny sarcophagus.

This will be a sign for you, a Savior is born. Even in His birth, those signs pointed to His death.

The Blainemonster said...

Right on Rob (above) - I love your no-nonsense-ness.

Frank, I'm saving this post to read (for the most part) to my kids this Christmas Eve. No really, I mean it.

ZSB said...

Best blog post I've read in six months. Thanks, Frank.

Halcyon said...


Every time I see your Gadfly superhero character, I keep hearing the Superman theme being sung in a high-pitched, whining buzz.

Bzz, bzz bzz, bzz bzz,
Bzz, bzz, bzz.
Bzz, bzz bzz, bzz bzz,

Bzz, bzz bzz, bzz bzz,
Bzz, bzz, bzz.
Bzz bzz bzz, bzz bzz,
BZZ! B-bzz, bzz!

You should make a video.

Rob Bailey said...

I grew up with cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs. To be blunt, that was a crappy place to be born. The thing that always gets me is that the angels went to SHEPHERDS, and was born in a BARN. Rom 2:11. Comforting and humbling. Think of the guys that are mowing your lawn, or fixing your roof, or trimming your trees. I just can't even think of the implications w/o crying. I really can't figure out God.

Frank Turk said...

The Calvinist Gadfly's theme song is actually set to the tune of "Jake Long: American Dragon".

My kids sing it while we play "City of Heroes".

donsands said...

"...he was willing to give up everything he deserved in Heaven to come and be born in a stable so that he could be with us."

"The King of kings, salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him."

Our hearts can love Him, because He first loved us, and is with us.

Thanks for the good thoughts brother.

Rachael Starke said...
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Rachael Starke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachael Starke said...

So I somehow found myself signed up to be in charge of the game the little tykes are going to play at their Christmas party this Friday, and I've been wracking my brain for something that kinda sorta had something to do with Jesus.

So, in thinking on the connection between signs and the Savior - it struck me (through this post) that the angels were also saying that the sign - that what was coming was a Savior - was a baby. We use that term "Savior" all the time, us being good Calvinists and all, but the group that hasn't lost a sense of what that means are young kids. They love them their Supermans and Buzz Lightyears and firefighters. Those are all very real saviors to them. And they all want to be them when they grow up ( or marry one).

But - a BABY?

What kind of a Savior is that?

So, I've spent the evening finding pictures of Buzzes and Supermans and even (awesomeness) a baby in stripy swaddling cloths, and we're going to go on a scavenger hunt to find all the pictures of people who can save us (I'm going to hide them in plain sight all over their classroom). Then we'll sit down and talk about all the different ones, and the last one will be the Baby Jesus. On the front I have the perfect picture of a little baby in swaddling cloths. And on the back I've found perfect picture of an empty cross and an empty tomb and even the graveclothes, so we can make sure to take about Jesus' whole story, to explain how a baby could be the best Savior of all.

I'm going to send each child home with their own set of pictures and instructions so they can play the game at home with their parents (many of whom aren't saved, it being a Christian school and all).

So thanks on a whole host of levels. My two older girls are in on the action as well, cutting up all the little pictures. They think the bug graphic is weird, but you're kinda smart.

Frank Turk said...

Some kids love their Calvinist Gadflies.

Just sayin'.

DaStover07 said...

Right. We get it. Jesus came. Don't let that truth escape us. But, for a moment, can we be honest that HE DIDN'T COME DECEMBER 25TH!

You guys talk about Truth! Where's the truth on this issue?

And why, all of a sudden, would the once abominable scent of idolatrous worship become a lovely cinnamon-pinecone fragrance to the God who says He hates idolatry and doesn't change???

I'm sure you know the actual origins of Christ-mass (for those of you who don't go to www.mom4truth.com or google it).

Just wondering why you have exchanged the truth of God for a lie?

I'm sorry- not trying to be rude. I just can't understand this compromise!

Anonymous said...

This is another “A Shared Thought.”
Oh, those serendipitous moments!! You know the time when you are on a path that leads one way, but there is a development that leads another way. On the different path you discover by chance a happy or beneficial thing which brings unexpected joy or happiness.
Well, I had a serendipitous moment while on a quest to find one thing, but discovered a great blessing. The blessing was a song that was written in a foreign country during desperate times for Christians.
I was not acquainted with the hymn previously, but was struck by the message of the lyrics. Perhaps you have been known of this hymn, and have rejoiced at the message; if so, just bear with me.

This is a carol by Frank Houghton (1894-1972), it has an amazing history:
Serving as Editorial Secretary for the China Inland Mission, Frank Houghton made a trip to China in 1934 to see first-hand the progress of the work. This hymn was written at a particularly difficult time in the history of the missions to China. Missionaries had been captured by the communist Red Army and released in poor health after over a year of suffering. Others had been captured never to be heard from again. In 1934 the young missionaries John and Betty Stam were captured in Anhwei and beheaded.
The news of these sorrows had reached the mission’s headquarters in Shanghai. Though this was a very dangerous time for both the Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries, Frank Houghton decided he needed to begin a tour through the country to visit various missionary outposts. While traveling over the mountains of Szechwan, the powerful and comforting words of 2 Corinthians 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,” were transformed into this beautiful Christmas hymn.

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor
1. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.
2. Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.
3. Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Frank Turk said...

I forgot to mention that DaStover is a kook.