The Christ Child – Burst of Light Out of the Darkest Midnight

Conquering the deepest darkness
The Scripture says, “Get up, O sleeper, arise from out of the dead, and the Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). The context is the wonderful transformation that takes place at baptism, when someone spiritually dead suddenly receives spiritual life, the sinner becomes the saint, and an awesome, profoundly powerful light penetrates and conquers the deepest darkness. But what now happens in scriptural baptism has happened before.

Mountaintops often come with cliffs
Sometimes, the greatest woes fall upon people immediately after the happiest time of their lives. Job thought the blessings of his life would go on and on. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned a thousand sheep for each son, and a thousand camels for each daughter, not counting the oxen and the donkeys. He was the greatest man in the East, but in a day he had lost it all.

Just two weeks ago, the nephew of one of the Christians in our congregation was preparing for his wedding, set for December 15. Tony was 19 and his fiancée Kelcy was 21. Then, suddenly and without any warning, Kelcy died. That may be the risk of a mountaintop experience: many mountaintops come with cliffs. They buried Kelcy in her wedding dress.

At the peak of prosperity

During the reign of Jeroboam II, from 793 to 753 B.C.E., the northern nation of Israel was at the peak of its prosperity. This happened despite Jeroboam’s wickedness. The biblical text offers this explanation: “The LORD had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the LORD had not said He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash” (2 Kings 14:26-27). Jeroboam even conquered Damascus and “restored the boundaries of Israel from the entrance to Hamath” (way north of Damascus) “to the Sea of the Arabah” (known to us as the Dead Sea), “in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher” (2 Kings 14:28, 25).

This is the same Jonah who preached in Nineveh. You may not be familiar with his hometown, a tiny village in Galilee, as a matter of fact very near to what would later be Nazareth. The land was so prosperous that a few years later, King Menahem was able to buy off Tiglath-Pileser and stop his invasion by paying the Assyrian king a thousand talents of silver-that’s 37 tons-an astounding sum that he was able to raise by extracting 50 shekels from every wealthy man in his realm. 50 shekels is 1-1/4 pounds, which means that the northern nation of Israel at that time had 59,200 wealthy men! Of course, this was a foolish thing to do, for it only convinced Tiglath-Pileser that he could extract more money from the prosperous kingdom.

Doomed self-indulgence
You can read descriptions of Israel’s self-indulgent prosperity under Jeroboam in the prophet Amos: “You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6:4-6).

Earlier the prophet describes the Israelite women as “cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria.” (Bashan was the lushest pastureland in the nation, which grew the fattest livestock.) He addresses them as “you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks!’” (Amos 4:1). The prophet predicts their doom: “The Sovereign LORD has sworn by His holiness: ‘The time will surely come when you will be taken away with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through the breaks in the wall” (Amos 4:2-3).

Great instability
Over the next 50 years, the nation that had basked in the sunlight of prosperity plunged into darkness. Politically, it was a time of great instability: of the six rulers that succeeded Jeroboam II, four of them were assassinated.

Spiritual bankruptcy
While all of this was going on in Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah had issues of its own. It too was experiencing physical prosperity but also spiritual bankruptcy. Idolatry, witchcraft, sexual immorality, and even child sacrifice were commonplace. Priests and prophets had their hands in the till and habitually got drunk on the job. God’s true prophets were ignored, or ridiculed, or persecuted, imprisoned, and slain. The kings were often wicked, and even the righteous ones like Azariah were flawed.

Approaching war machine
All the while, approaching from the Northeast, was the largest, most formidable and cruel army the world had ever known: the Assyrians, seeking to expand their empire in all directions. Over generations, the Assyrians had perfected their weapons, war machines, battle horses, fighting men, and tactics to the point that all fell before them. Isaiah speaks of the king of Assyria as the man “who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities” (Isaiah 14:16-17).

Two coups and perhaps a third
The Arameans or Syrians, whose capital Damascus was closest to the threat, grew desperate. In a coup their king was murdered by Rezin, who began to organize the resistance to the Assyrian danger. When Rezin could not get Israel to join him, he orchestrated the assassination of Israel’s king Pekahiah, replacing him with Pekah, a man under his complete control. Then the two of them, Rezin and Pekah, approached the king of Judah, Ahaz, proposing an alliance. Behind their proposal was the threat that if he refused, they would stage a third coup, assassinate him and replace him with their own man on the throne in Jerusalem.

First prophecy: A sign for a frightened king
Ahaz was frightened out of his wits. He was strongly tempted to join the Syro-Ephaemic coalition. But the prophet Isaiah warned him it would mean his doom, offering a sign from God that he should hold out. When Ahaz refused to suggest a sign, the prophet gave him one anyway.

Isaiah said (Isaiah 7:14-17):

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah-he will bring the king of Assyria.

In a time desperately wicked, with the darkening clouds looming on the northeastern horizon, the prophet speaks of a virgin, symbol of purity. Her child would not eat the normal food, for it would all be gone. All the vineyards and farmlands would be covered with briars and thorns. Only a few livestock would survive to graze on what they can find and only honey from the wild would be available for food. Yet his name would be Immanuel: “God is with us.”

How do we interpret the virgin prophecy?
Assuming that Isaiah’s prophecy had some literal fulfillment, I can conceive of five different options: two in which only one baby was born, and three involving two babies.

  • Only one baby was conceived

    1. A miraculous conception in Isaiah’s time, none in first century. This fits the context of Isaiah but contradicts the New Testament testimony that the prophecy was fulfilled in the conception of Mary, and it ignores the uniqueness of Jesus.
    2. No conception in Isaiah’s time, but a miraculous conception in the first century. This confirms the New Testament testimony and the uniqueness of Jesus, but it contradicts the context of Isaiah.
  • Two babies were conceived

    1. A natural conception in Isaiah’s day and another natural conception in the first century. This fits the context in Isaiah well enough, but it contradicts the New Testament testimony and ignores the uniqueness of Jesus.
    2. A miraculous conception in Isaiah’s day and another miraculous conception in the first century. This fits the context in Isaiah and agrees with the testimony of the birth of Jesus, but it ignores the uniqueness of Jesus.
    3. A natural conception in Isaiah’s day and a miraculous conception in the first century. This is the only alternative that both takes seriously the context of Isaiah, confirms the New Testament testimony of the conception of Jesus, and affirms the uniqueness of Jesus. It also explains the ambiguity of the Hebrew text, which uses the term almah of the woman conceiving the child. Almah can mean ‘virgin,’ but it can also refer to a maiden with no specification regarding her virginity. The usual word for virgin in Hebrew is bethulah. The New Testament, however, was written in Greek, which uses the unambiguous term parthenos to refer to the virgin was became Jesus’ mother by miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Second prophecy: A ruler’s birthplace
At about the same time, an older prophet, Micah, also delivered his oracle (Micah 5:1-5):

Marshall your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

Bribes seldom work
Ahaz wouldn’t listen to these reassurances. Rather than relying on the LORD’s deliverance, he sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” The record says that “Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift of the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death” (2 Kings 16:7-9). This Tiglath-Pileser probably would have done anyway, without the bribe from Ahaz. Plus, as in the case of Menahem, the bribe of Ahaz would only have convinced the Assyrians that Jerusalem was a prize worth having.

Galilee emptied
It must be that during that same campaign, the Assyrians overran “Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria” (2 Kings 16:29). The devastation of Galilee was so complete that archaeologists have found no evidence that it was even occupied for at least two hundred years. In site after site they have discovered an obvious gap in the sherds and occupation levels they have found throughout Galilee-almost none from the seventh and sixth centuries. The land lay desolate and virtually empty until well into the Persian period, confirming Micah’s prophecy. Right in the place where, a few years earlier, Jonah’s prophecy of prosperity had been fulfilled, what few people remained truly “sat in darkness.”

Third prophecy: The four names of the coming ruler
Yet Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 9:1-7):There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, but the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…. 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 Counselor, 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 from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

In a time when the rulers were senseless, Isaiah looked forward to a King whose wisdom was so great that he would be known as “Wonderful Counselor.” In a day when the leaders were weak and fearful, the prophet predicted one to be called “Mighty God.” In a period when ruler succeeded ruler in swift succession, the seer foretold of a Sovereign who would be the “Father of the Ages.” And during fifty years of constant war, terrible atrocities, and unspeakable cruelty, Isaiah foresaw the coming Messiah, who would be “Prince of Peace.” In such unfathomably deep darkness, no more brilliant light could shine forth.

In the darkest midnight
Seven hundred years later, the land writhed under an even stronger oppressor. Israel had lost her independence because one of the quarreling rivals to her throne had called in the Roman general Pompey. He came all right, but took the land for Rome and never gave it back. Another great darkness settled over the land, until the star of Bethlehem arose in the east. “Glory to God in the highest,” sang the angelic host. “And on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” Once more, in the darkest midnight, a great light shone forth.
And to all of us, who stumble through our own times of darkness, the word of the Lord announces, “Immanuel! God is with us!”

There is no foolishness that the Wonderful Counselor cannot set aside.
There is no weakness that the God called “Mighty” cannot overcome.
There is no ongoing trial that the Father of the Ages does not outlast.
And there is no turmoil in this war-weary world that He who is called the ‘Prince of Peace’ cannot bring to an end.

No more should we sit in gloomy darkness. Look up! Your salvation draws near!

“Get up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Pet Vaccinations – Pros and Cons

Recently, I had a client whose dog had a bad reaction to a vaccination. Although vaccinations are now a regular part of vet care for our pets, it’s a topic that has its share of controversy. In this article, I want to talk about the protective value of vaccines, as well as some of the negative effects attributed to them, and what to watch out for if you do decide to vaccinate your pet.

Many of us think of vaccines as a safe and necessary part of pet ownership. In the city of Fremont where I live, pet ownership requires proof of vaccination as part of its licensing system. But, like any medical treatment today, vaccinating pets has its advocates and opponents.

Opposition to vaccines in general has existed since its discovery and use, and in the last few years, more and more vets and pet owners have raised concerns about pet vaccinations and how necessary they are. Some even question their safety, claiming they might actually cause illnesses.
In general, the pros and cons are:


  • Vaccines protect pets against diseases


  • Some vaccinations may have side effects
  • Vaccinations are believed to actually cause illness
  • Vaccinations may cause injection site sarcoma
  • Your pet may get vaccines they don’t need

It’s nothing new or unusual to us to think of vaccines as part of pet ownership. When you adopt a pet, the routine information given to you is that you should take your new pet to a vet for a full checkup and for their shots. Most of us do that without a second thought.

It’s most likely that your vet will examine your pet and give it vaccination shots for diseases such as rabies and distemper. Puppies and kittens are given shots when they are several weeks old and then get “booster” or additional follow up shots later on. Even after our pets reach adulthood, we take them to the vet to get shots annually or every three years.

Vaccines are actually very small doses of the diseases in question, which is supposed to force the recipient’s natural immune system to kick in and fight off the viruses, thus making them stronger and better able to fight off diseases if they are exposed to them in the future. It may even make them immune to the disease altogether.
Although there seem to be more negatives to giving your pet its vaccinations compared to positives, the positive is that vaccines prevent diseases. This is one major point which can outweigh many negatives against it. I am not making a choice for you. That is up to you and your veterinarian. If you would like to read about the core pet vaccinations, you can do so at

Vaccination Controversy

Although vaccines are the conventional and accepted way to prevent diseases in us as well as our pets since its discovery, there is an increasing number of vocal critics of vaccinations.

Some vets and pet owners have claimed that vaccines are the source of immediate negative side effects as well as long-term health issues. Various illnesses are connected to vaccinations, such as asthma, allergies, anemia, digestive problems, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, organ failure, seizures, neurological disorders, and tumors.

There is evidence of sarcoma (cancerous tumors) at the site of injections. All these frequent shots may also be compromising our pets’ health by overloading their immune systems.

Not only do people object to these regular vaccinations as a source of a variety of problems, but some also claim that some vaccinations are unnecessary because of the rarity of some of the disease in question. There are vets who now offer tests to determine the level of antibodies (proteins in the immune system that identify and fight off viruses and bacteria) in animals so that they can decide on the needed vaccinations for individual pets.

Consider Each Pet Individually

I believe the best thing do to is to educate yourself as much as possible about all the vaccines out there, those being given to your pets, and to talk to your veterinarian about the best course of action for your pet.

Vaccinations have proven to be effective over many years of use and I think it’s important to prevent diseases, but keep in mind that each pet is unique and it’s best to determine with your vet the best course of action. A barn cat’s vaccination needs will differ greatly from the pampered lone kitty living in a condo.

The working sheep herding dog will probably need additional vaccines compared to the lap dog that goes outside only for walks and potty breaks. But also keep in mind that vaccinations are not 100 percent effective all the time.

You don’t want to vaccinate when it’s not necessary and you should keep close tabs on what your pet is receiving and how often to ensure maximum benefit and safety. When combination shots are given, ask what is contained in the shots and get an explanation of each component.

When vaccination shots are given, talk to your vet about where the shots are administered and why. After vaccinations, observe your pet to catch any signs of negative side effects or an allergic reaction. If your pet starts to vomit, has diarrhea, swelling, or otherwise acts ill, lethargic, or in pain shortly after receiving a vaccine, take your pet in to see the vet. It’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the health of your pet.

Casino No Deposit Bonuses

This is one advantage that online casinos have over real life establishments, they offer bonuses and promotions which you just cannot get in the non virtual world. This is because websites have more competition so really have to offer something special to their customers to set themselves apart from the crowd. They have also budgeted these costs into their business plan. The advantages for you of no deposit bonuses are enormous. You get to play the casino games for free! You can of course do this on free play mode but then imagine if you actually won and you couldn’t claim the money, especially if you won a big jackpot. This is why no deposit bonuses are great as you can play without parting with any of your own money then if you get lucky you can claim your winnings. You may not want to make a deposit straight away for a number of reasons, you might not know if you like the software or the games of a particular site until you have registered and had a go. At many casino sites you have to download the software to get the full game play experience. It is not until you have downloaded the software and played for a while that you really know if its the right place for you. If you are going to download it you may as well make a real account instead of a free play one as it takes the same amount of time and there is always the possibility of winning!Now we have established the advantages of no deposit bonuses its time we explored what they are in more depth. Well the definition is clearly in the title, its a type of bonus that you do not have to make a deposit in order to claim. However, its a bit more complex than this are there are two common types of these bonuses. If you browse casinos or casino comparison sites they tend to fall into two categories, very large amounts of money (thousands of dollars) and small amounts of money such as five or ten dollars. You might wonder why the amounts differ so drastically. With the large amounts of money you normally have a set time period to play with this cash (for example an hour) and with the small amounts you can play at your leisure. The large amounts of money usually have more terms and conditions attached, this is common sense, a casino is not going to give you thousands and just allow you to withdraw it straight away (they would be out of business in a week!) This ties in with the disadvantages of no deposit bonuses. They do say that if something sounds too good to be true then it usually is and this is the often the case with these types of bonuses. The casinos state that you must play a certain amount or in some cases make a deposit before you are able to withdraw your winnings. This is why it is always so important to read the terms and conditions of wherever you play.

Who Invented the Game of Poker?

If you mention the history of poker to poker players, you’re bound to open up a debate with many differing opinions. Even the name poker, origins are shrouded in mystery. It’s most likely descended from the French word poque which itself is comes from the German word pochen (to knock), but it’s not very clear if the games bearing those names are the origins of poker. Poker has a resemblance to the Persian game of as nas and could well have been taught to the French settlers in New Orleans by Persian sailors.It is widely believed that pokers beginnings can be found in the Renaissance game of primero and the French game of brelan. Brag, an English game, original known as bragg clearly has its roots in brelan and included bluffing, though bluffing was used in other games around this time. It’s highly likely then that poker early development into the game we now play was influenced by all of these games.In 1829 Joseph Crowell, an English actor, wrote of the game being played in New Orleans. The game was played with a 20 card deck, had 4 players who bet on which player’s hand was the most valuable. The book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling published in 1843 describes how the game spread from New Orleans to the rest of North America via the Mississippi riverboats where gambling was widespread. With this it spread up the Mississippi and West particularly during the gold rush. It’s then thought to have become part of the frontier pioneering culture.Initially poker was played with just one round of betting. Five cards were dealt face down to each player and there was no drawing of cards. The rules where later tailored by professional gamblers to raise the profitably of the game. Sometime after 1850 it became common practice to have wild cards and bluffing in games and around the same time drawing cards was introduced.With the introduction of the draw another round of betting was included. This was especially useful for the professional gambler due to it giving them another chance of cheating their opponents. It also moved from a pure gambling game to one that now included skill. Not long after this the full 52 card English deck was used and the flush was first introduced. At the time of the American Civil War, many additions were introduced including draw poker, stud poker (5 card variant) and the straight. Poker developed further in the U.S.which included wild card circ 1875, lowball and split pot poker circ 1900 and community card poker games circ 1925. Poker, in all its forms, was spreading to other countries, in particularly, Asia. This is generally credited to the presence of the U.S.military.Such is the influence poker has had on American and English culture that the jargon in poker has become common place. Phrase such as ace in the hold, ace up one’s sleeve, beats me, blue chip, call one’s bluff, cash in, high roller, pass the buck, poker face, stack up, up the ante, when the chips are down, wild card and many others are in use in everyday conversation even by those unaware of their origins are at the poker table.The modern era of poker started with the inaugural World Series of Poker in 1970. it was played in Binions Horseshoe casino Las Vegas and has grown into the massive event of today. Around about the same time the first serious strategy poker books start to appear on the bookshelves. Poker has constantly evolved over the years first with online poker which made it possible to play poker 24/7. T.V. got in on the act with the introduction of the hole camera. Then, followed the poker boom of 2004 which started with the Chris Moneymaker effect.

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