THE TORCH - ISSUE 5 2010

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: (01858) 438260, Fax: (01858) 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
Charity Number 1095904.

Contents

Greetings!

When we hold a newborn baby in our arms we often start wondering what life has for them. Will they be short or tall, active and sporty or studious, maybe a great leader or a doctor? Will they be as loveable as a spotty teenager as they are as a baby? Will they have a family of their own? Will their lives be like ours or very different? Will they have opportunities that we never had? Will they walk on the moon? The world is changing so fast it requires a truckload of imagination to project a lifetime into the future.

When we look at the baby at the focus of the Christmas crib scene, we already know how he turned out. The Gospels tell the story four times over, creating a picture of great depth and significance. We know the joys and sorrows, moments of popularity and occasions of abuse and humiliation, the tragic untimely death and the glorious resurrection.

When Simeon held the baby Jesus he already seemed to know in an extraordinary way what was to come: "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32). The only woman in the ancient world to know the gender of her baby before birth, Mary also knew amazing things about what God was doing as he gave her this child to hold and care for: "His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1:50-53)

Both Simeon's and Mary's prophetic visions extended way beyond the life and death of Jesus. Simeon recognised that his influence would radiate from the Jewish people to all others. Mary saw that through Jesus, God's mercy was extended to all generations. So it is that the birth of Jesus is of crucial importance to me today, a non-Jew removed by many generations from the events of two thousand years ago.

What happened in Bethlehem in year dot was like a stone dropped in a pond. The ripples have extended from Bethlehem right across the world and down through all the centuries. Each Christmas another crest arrives bringing once again the staggering news: "Today ... a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Each year millions more accept the child into their arms and the Saviour into their hearts.

Christmas is certainly something to celebrate. And as you celebrate, our prayer for you is that you may once again be captivated and excited by the coming of the Christ-child, the son of God, our Saviour, that he may be born again in your heart.

From all of us at Torch House in England to all of you wherever you are ... God bless and keep you this Christmastime.

Gordon Temple

Back to Contents

Bothers and Babes

by Norman Hillyer

There was little cheer during the Christmas of 1809. Everybody was worrying about battles. Napoleon was sweeping all before him across Europe. His naval defeat at Trafalgar a few years earlier had been forgotten. Waterloo was still hidden in the future.

Yet while people were bothered about battles, God was more concerned with babies. The nursery roll-call for 1809 is impressive. During that one year, Gladstone was born in Liverpool, Charles Darwin in Shrewbury, Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky, Oliver Wendell Holmes in Cambridge, Mass., Tennyson at Somerby Rectory in Lincolnshire, Edgar Allan Poe in Boston, Mass., and Mendelssohn in Hamburg.

Napoleon's battles have long been relegated to the history books. God's babies of that year are still making their influence felt.

Most important Baby

When the most important Baby of all time was coming on the scene to establish the very first Christmas, people also had their bothers. Orders had come from far-away Rome for a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. The little province of Judea, obscure as it was, could not be left out (Luke 2:1-4).

However much inconvenience it might cause them personally, folk had to go back to their native city to register. It might be miles away, but that was no excuse. Some Jewish peasant-girl was about to have her first baby, but that cut no ice with officialdom. It was just too bad that the events happened to coincide.

Joseph would not have left Mary at home at any price. She would have been at the tender mercy of all the tittle-tattle in the village because of her baby. Nobody would have believed the true explanation, even if it had been offered to them. So the two quietly slipped away from Nazareth and took the road south for Bethlehem.

A weary journey

It was a long weary way to trudge. Seventy miles or so even for a crow. It was a good deal further on the ground. Could not God have arranged things better than this? The question hardly entered their heads. Their secret - and the recollection of an Old Testament prophecy given eight centuries earlier (Micah 5:2) kept them going.

Yet even journey's end brought them no relief. Bethlehem was packed to the very gates with travellers on the same errand as themselves. Rome had upset a great many routines.

Shelter of a sort

Joseph searched, enquired, knocked. Not a place to be had at any price. And Mary's time had come. Something just had to be found.

A stable? Well, at least that offered shelter. Come to think of it, the animals' manger provided a ready-made cot too. In the quiet Mary and Joseph pondered upon Micah's ancient prophecy. It had said that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Christ. The all-powerful emperor in distant Rome was but a puppet in God's hand to carry out the divine plan to the letter.

Back to Contents

Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

5. Isaiah

As we come up to the season of Christmas it is appropriate to move on in the Old Testament to a character who prophesied of the One who was to come as a Child: "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given" wrote Isaiah, who has sometimes been called the "evangelical prophet", as his book is full of wonderful prophecies about Christ, long before he was born.

Isaiah has also been termed a "royal prophet", since by tradition he was of royal blood, or at least of the nobility of Jerusalem, and he prophesied in the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. He possibly lived on into the reign of Manassah, the wicked son of Hezekiah, and tradition says that during that king's reign he died as a martyr by being sawn asunder (compare Hebrews 11:37).

He was clearly very closely associated with at least two of those kings - Uzziah and Hezekiah. When Uzziah died it was a devastating blow to Isaiah, but in his great sadness he heard the call of the Lord to serve as a prophet:

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs ... And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory ... 'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty' . . . Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'"

Yet his call was not an easy one. The people to whom he prophesied were hard-hearted and unresponsive to God's voice. His message was a hard one, for the sins of the people had reached the point where God would soon send terrible judgment on them, and therefore his was not a welcome message.

Isaiah had a personal ministry to King Hezekiah, and we can read something of this in chapter 39, where Hezekiah contracted a fatal illness. Isaiah prayed for him and also took practical measures to bring about his healing. The result was a complete healing and 15 more years added to the king's life. Yet in those 15 years he committed a great folly in revealing to visitors from Babylon (an insignificant country in those days) his great treasures and wealth. Isaiah predicted that in a future time this would result in Babylon attacking Jerusalem and destroying it, carrying off all its wealth. This was just one of many predictions of judgment running through the book.

But there is also a wonderful message of hope running through Isaiah's book. This is especially seen in the early chapters and then later in the second part of the book. Isaiah's book can be divided into two parts: Chapters 1-39 consists mainly of prophecies concerning Isaiah's own day, and chapters 40-66 look to the future - to the Babylonian captivity, and far beyond that, to the time of Christ.

As the "royal prophet", he had a confrontation with King Ahaz, and later counselled King Hezekiah, but most importantly, he spoke of a coming King - Messiah - One who would reign on David's throne:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness ..." (Isaiah 9:6, 7)

This child is Immanuel ("God with us"), whose appearance was also prophesied in Chapter 7, in the time of King Ahaz, a wicked king who was threatened by an alliance of the Northern kingdom of Israel, and Syria. Ahaz assembled a great army, but Isaiah indicated that it would achieve nothing - only the Child to come, Immanuel - would bring in righteousness and justice. In the event, both Israel and Syria were overcome by Assyria.

Isaiah himself had two sons, both with meaningful names: Shear Jashub, meant "A remnant will return", and reminds us of the thread of hope running through Isaiah's prophecy of judgment. By trust in God, there would be deliverance. That is a truth that is just as relevant today as in Isaiah's day. When we put our trust in Immanuel, we will experience deliverance from the power and penalty of sin, and know the peace and power of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Isaiah's second son had a long and difficult name: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning "Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil". It was a prophetic name signifying how the armies of Assyria would quickly come in to Syria and Israel and despoil them, so they were no longer a threat to Judah. This is a reminder that Isaiah, like the other prophets, was prophesying concerning his own time and locality as well as events far in the future.

For us, there remain the wonderful promises of chapters 7 and 9, and of chapter 53, that the Child who was to come would also be the Redeemer, who would "take up our infirmities; carry our sorrows, and bear our iniquities" (53:4-6), being punished in our place, and thereby bringing us peace and forgiveness. His reward will be "to see his offspring and prolong his days ... to justify many ..." (53:10, 11). As it says in Hebrews 12:2, "He endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy that was set before him".

Back to Contents

Christmas Quiz

Here's a quiz with a difference. There are no wrong answers! Invite some friends in for coffee and mince pies and play the quiz. Or play it with your Torch Fellowship Group. Take five minutes to think about it on your own and then share your answers. You'll have a fun time!

1. If you were a Christmas decoration, what would you be? Choose one and say why. Or let the rest of the group guess why!

2. What's your earliest memory of Christmas?

3. Which was your most memorable Christmas?

4. What's your favourite Christmas carol or song?

5. Which of the characters in Bethlehem listed below do you most identify with - and why?

6. If you could send a Christmas card to the world this year, what would you write inside it?

Back to Contents

Mary

(taken from rossolson.org)

[This is based on Luke 1:26-38.]

My name is Mary. When I was pledged to be married to Joseph, an angel came to me and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."

I was greatly troubled at these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to me, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," I asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," I answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left me.

At that time I got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where I entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard my greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

And then I said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."

I am only a humble handmaid and cannot understand the great things of which the angel spoke. I knew that I was unworthy of such an honour and unequal to the great responsibility. I also knew that there would be hardship, gossip and even, perhaps, persecution. For in the small town Nazareth, everyone's business was discussed in the greatest of detail, and many would not believe that an angel had spoken to me. Yet, how could I choose any other path but to obey the Lord God of Israel, because He had chosen me to bear and rear the one called the Son of the Most High.

Back to Contents

Here's a thought

The Christmas Heart

by George Matthew Adams

(taken from godweb.org)

Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years... Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.

Back to Contents

His Birth and our New Birth

by Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest)

(taken from www.utmost.org)

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23)

His Birth in History. "... that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of - He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate - God coming into human flesh from outside it. His life is the highest and the holiest entering through the most humble of doors. Our Lord's birth was an advent - the appearance of God in human form.

His Birth in Me. "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you …" (Galatians 4:19). Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a "Bethlehem" for the Son of God? I cannot enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth. "You must be born again" (John 3:7). This is not a command, but a fact based on the authority of God. The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that "Christ is formed" in me. And once "Christ is formed" in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.

God Evident in the Flesh. This is what is made so profoundly possible for you and for me through the redemption of man by Jesus Christ.

Back to Contents

Words for the Heart

(taken from Dayspring.com)

Faith

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 13:13)

Love

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)

Joy

Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Back to Contents