As we approach Christmas, it is the season that church has, historically, called Advent. I thought I would re-share some old thoughts about Christmas in this time. Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal (which the Apostle Paul would not have used, since he didn’t speak English), but it was the hymnal I had when I wrote this. Apart from Scripture quotes, the copyright on this completely mine.
“All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.” Psalm 45:8 (NASB95)
For now, lay aside the thought of myrrh as a burial spice. Instead, let us consider myrrh and its place among the fragrances of intimacy, of relationship, of celebration. Myrrh carries a picture in the Old Testament that is quite different than what we see in the few references to it in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, myrrh is a part of the marriage celebration. The Scripture above, from Psalm 45, is a good reference point for that use. The whole of Psalm 45 is a celebration of marriage. There is some discussion about the date and target of the Psalm. The initial frame of reference is the wedding of one of the kings of Judah in the dynasty of David. Looking back over the Cross to the Psalm, most Christians see this Psalm as celebrating both the king’s wedding and the glory of Jesus.
How does that work? One thing you should notice when you read through the whole Bible is the frequent use of marriage imagery to discuss the relationship between God and His people. Many of us see the picture in Ephesians 5, but the Old Testament prophets also use the picture.
The idea that we should gather here is one of intimacy and commitment. Those are the two keys to marriage. Now, do not take intimacy and pare it down to one thing. Intimacy is about knowing and being known. Life intimacy knows not just the surface of a person. Not only knowing how they act in restaurants but how they act at the breakfast table. Not seeing only shiny shoes but the dirty sneakers and flip-flops. The great thing about drawing near to God is seeing that He is always consistent. It is slightly terrifying to realize that He knows us and our inconsistent nature.
Intimacy is beyond the shallow words we often use. When next you encounter a group of people, ask them all how they are. See how many give you a “fine.” Then watch the rest of the day—I would give you good odds that at least one is not “fine.” I see it frequently from people who are guarded in real life but less so on social media. A person who is “fine” in the morning is “continuing to battle the depression that darkens every day” on Facebook in the afternoon.
Myrrh should remind us that God is not distant enough to miss this. He is right there, with us in all things. He is intimate with our days and our actions, our hopes, and our setbacks. There is a relationship offered, a grace extended beginning at the manger and it goes on forever. It is to be known and loved.
Intimacy is not the only key, though. Commitment is the other. The two things go hand-in-hand, after all. How can you have intimacy if you are not committed to the one you are intimate with? Commitment says: your real self is safe with me. I will not run away no matter what I find out. I will hold true to my word in all things.
That kind of commitment is hard to do. Many of us struggle to be that committed to another. There is a point at which we back away. Yet God is not that way. The Manger as much as the Cross shows us His commitment: He came too far to turn back. He will not leave you now.
Scripture passage for the day: Deuteronomy 31:6 (NLT)
So be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid and do not panic before them.
For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you.
He will neither fail you nor abandon you.
Hymn for the day: How Great Our Joy (or While by the Sheep We Watched) #202
Prayer: Lord God, I admit that I fear being known. I see my own heart clearly and know how I would react to someone like me if I knew them fully. I would struggle to hold my commitment even to myself. One of my greatest needs is to take You at Your word and believe that You will not abandon me. I know that I am not perfect and that You are. I know that You are working to make me more like Jesus and commit to letting You work. It is in His name I pray, Amen.