I Believe in Christmas

childlike-wonder1But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Micah 7:7
 
Little children become lookouts on Christmas Eve. Their ears strain for the slightest whisper of sleigh bells and they stand attentive at the window, watching and waiting for Santa Claus. They have written their letters and made their pleas for toys and dolls and bikes. Now they watch with confident hope and expectation that Santa will come. Sure they heard the big kids laughing and saying that there is no Santa, but for them, the magic is real and they still believe. But we are grown-ups and we know that Santa is just a myth. We know who actually bought the dolls and the Legos and who will have to put the bike together Christmas Eve.
We live in a world that tries to tell us that God is not real, that he is a myth, a fool’s wishful thinking, an imaginary friend. They have lost their ability to believe in the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth and you and me. They tell us we are praying to the winds, there is no one there to hear us. But as for me . . . I will continue to believe. I will watch in hope for God to fulfill His promises. I will trust in Jesus as my Savior and Lord.  I will wait for Him because I know with all my heart that He is real and He is coming. I will proclaim His great name in every place and in every way.  I will stand under the banner of Christ, even if no one else stands with me.  And I will continue to bow my head in prayer because my God hears me. I know He is true.
Friend, won’t you come and stand watch with me at the window—I believe I hear the sounds of angels in the distance.

What Can You Give Jesus for Christmas?

Wise Men by George Spencer Watson (c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Wise Men by George Spencer Watson (c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King?  When the royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world.  Lavish, expensive gifts like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very best in baby transportation.  Only the best will do for these little one of such high standing.  When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense and myrrh.  Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts:  “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death” (myrrh was used as an embalming spice) (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, 22). 

I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood on it.  As his embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat with whispers of “What are you doing?”  he replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!”  Image the sermon that might have followed that!  But our little friend is right on target.  Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” (Romans 12:1).  In the first two verses of Romans 12, Paul tells us that our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think.  The gift of our hearts is the thread that holds the whole book together.  In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord.  Remember Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  We love God by giving Him ourselves, inside and out.

Let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

Why Bethlehem?

christmas_bethlehem“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is moving away.  She is greeting this transition with both anxiety and excitement.  “It’s all going to be so strange in a new town, but who knows what God has in store there?”  I remembered my own move just a year earlier and that same mix of anticipation and trepidation.  Like my friend, I believed God was behind our relocation, that His will for me is here in this place.  I believe God sets things in motion and orchestrates events so that His will is fulfilled.  The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives.  But sometimes the path He chooses is hard and difficult to understand in the moment.

Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that affected his family, the forthcoming nation of Israel and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel, but by way of the sheep fields and running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the accounts of Paul; God had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  He declared, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, through a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28) .

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How did that happen when His mother was in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone when to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3).

Beloved, a life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work fulfilling His purpose for you. 

Seeking Christmas

midnightshinechristmasstar“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

We so often hear the complaint that Christianity is just “blind faith,” and many simply refuse to believe without “proof.”  But that is not what the Bible indicates.  God invites us to step into faith with our eyes wide open.  He said “If . . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him, if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).   God does not require mindless devotion to an unseen, unproven entity.  He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way to this blessed Child.  A chorus of heavenly hosts who appeared to the shepherds in the fields – and they told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15).  Let’s follow the evidence that God has given to us. Let’s seek Him whom the angel said we would find.

Matthew records another visible and powerful proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi from the East declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), and he continues: “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9).  God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky.  They were overjoyed – they sought the King, and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has clearly provided for man to find his Creator.  That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary and to the Cross.  God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus.  He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way.  To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.  He welcomes those who seek Him with a heart to believe.

Christmas Promise

baby-jesus-nativity-cindy-singleton“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised . . . 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 2:29-32, sel.)

The words we most commonly associate with Christmas are “peace,” “love,” and “joy,” and rightly so.  These are fruits of Christ’s birth as well as the evidence of His presence in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23).  The angel proclaimed “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). Jesus is the flesh-and-bone expression of God’s love (John 3:16).  And the angel’s announcement to the shepherds was “news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).  But there is another word that I think fits the Christmas season best: “promise.”

In our western, largely Protestant culture, we see Jesus’ birth differently than the Bible reveals it, partly because we focus only on the text in Luke as the foundation of the Christmas story.  But to truly understand Christmas, we need to go back – way back – all the way to Genesis, to a garden and a tree and the first humans.  You know the account – God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden and blessed them with perfection.  Until a serpent and a piece of fruit caused the first sin, an act that forever changed human history.  With their act of rebellion, all of God’s creation was cursed with death. The man and woman were banished from the Garden and from God’s intimate presence.  But not without God’s promise of redemption.  He said to the serpent who tempted them into sin, “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  In this statement God made a promise to save His creation from the wages of sin.  He fulfilled that promise with the birth of Jesus.  Salvation came in the form of an infant.

My dear friend, God is the perfect Promise-keeper.  Paul said that “All God’s promises are ‘Yes’ in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:20).  His promises of peace and comfort, hope and joy, and power and presence are all met in Jesus Christ – because He is the fulfillment of the very first promise at the very first Christmas.

A Humble Christmas

9934-1800“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . . “I bring you good news of great joy . . .” (Luke 1:8,9,10).

We love to make a big deal out of big news.  The latest trends in parenting are making a special announcement that a baby is on the way and to have a “gender reveal” party to announce whether the baby is a boy or girl.  Celebrity pregnancies and births become media frenzies, and when a royal baby is born the entire country celebrates.  Yet when the King of the Universe came to earth as a human baby, the big announcement was surprisingly held out of the limelight.  Oh, there was an important announcer but it wasn’t the High Priest.  It was one of God’s own angels.  And there was a glorious choir, but the chief musicians of the temple weren’t there.   It was “a great host” of heavenly angels who sang the first Christmas carol.  It wasn’t told to the royal court nor the religious elite.   A group of humble shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy.” 

That is one aspect of the Christmas story that I truly love.  God-in-flesh came in the most humble fashion, in the most humble place, to the most humble parents, and the big reveal was made to the most humble folks in Judea.  I love that because it means that Jesus came for people like you and me – everyday commoners with no important position or high standing or impressive title.  He will receive the poorest soul, and the wealthiest; we are all welcome to worship at the manger.  Men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, saints and sinners. 

Come to the stable – you won’t be turned away; there is room in that tiny space for the whole world.

Christmas Presence

presence“I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Leviticus 26:11-12

God is all about relationship.  He created man for a unique and special relationship.  From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in intimacy. Genesis 3:8 tells us that God enjoyed daily fellowship with Adam and Eve.  The second greatest tragedy of their sin was broken fellowship with God.  Their sin meant that God could no longer be with them in that intimate way.

Though man continued to live in sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that communion, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all was not lost forever.  Decades before, God had promised to make a way that His people could still dwell with Him despite their fallen state.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of Christmas was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the gap between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – forever.

Holy Father, the lights and carols and tinsel of Christmas are beautiful, but the true wonder of Christmas is Your presence among us, as a baby, as a man, as our Savior.  My hope is in your promise to be “God with me.”  Amen

The Hope of the World

hope“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.”  Isaiah 9:6

For hundreds of years the Jewish people had waited and watched for the birth of this special child.  They held tightly to God’s promise, and their hope was founded on His faithfulness to keep His promises.  But they hoped for a Messiah who would free them from the rule of their enemies.  When Hope was born they failed to recognize Him because He lay in a manger, surrounded by hay and the lowing of cattle.  This Child, the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise, was the Hope, not just of the Jewish people, but of the whole world.

Mankind today looks in hope for an end to poverty, violence, disease and hatred.  But the true enemy of all humanity is evil – evil wrought by Satan, the enemy of God and His creation.  The Jewish people expected a military savior, and our world today looks for a political savior, but God sent to us exactly what we needed – a holy and perfect Savior who would save us from our sins, from death and from the wrath of God.

The Lord promised us Hope and Peace and Joy and Love – and He fulfilled every promise in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The hope of all mankind came, not as a military conqueror, nor as a great political leader, but as a tiny and helpless baby – Jesus, the Child of Hope and Promise.

As we enter the month of December and ready our homes for Christmas, let’s prepare our hearts as well.  I hope you will join me every day up to Christmas for a devotional thought that will help us focus heart and mind on the birth of Christ.

Life from Death

garden-angel“By faith Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).

What has died in your life?  Your marriage?  Your future goals?  Your plans?  Your hopes? Your dreams?  Your faith?  You sit there staring at this thing that you built your life around as its heart slowly stops beating.  What do you do now?  Where do you go from here?  Why should you even bother to do or to go anymore?  I’m not talking about simple everyday disappointments; I’m talking about those soul-crushing desperations that drain your hope and leave you empty.  I’m talking from experience.  I’ve been in those places, I’ve felt the heart-rending pain.  I’ve buried hopes and dreams – and yes I’ve even buried my faith.

But the God who created me is also the God who brings life from death.  Abraham understood that – God had made promises to him that centered on his son Isaac, then God asked him to put his son on and altar of sacrifice.  Abraham didn’t understand God’s plan, but he knew God would never make a promise He didn’t intend to fulfill.  He knew that whatever God had in mind by making this request of him, He would still be faithful to the promise of descendants – coming from the very son over whom he now held a knife.

I’m sure you know the story, and if not check out Genesis 22.  God stayed Abraham’s hand and brought Isaac from the brink of death.  God fulfilled His good promise.  The thought that runs through my mind over this account is not that Isaac had to die, but that Abraham’s dependence on Isaac had to die.  Abraham had to put all his hopes in God, not in Isaac.  Now, the question for you and me is, what are we depending on?  A hefty bank account?  A great job?  A college degree? (That one is for me.)   Who are we depending on? A spouse?  Children? Parents?  A significant other?  God had to put some things to death that I was building my life around.  He had to break my dependence on things and people so that all I had left to depend on was Him.  It wasn’t just to bring me pain; it was to bring life out of death.  It was to let the perishable die so that the imperishable could live.  Beloved, in God’s hands is life – everlasting and abundant.  You can trust Him to resurrect what you have buried.  You can trust Him with your heart.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Worried woman and shopping bags

“Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Isaiah 55:2

“If I only had a boyfriend, I would be so happy.”  “If I were married, I would finally be content.”  “Oh, if I could have a baby, my life would be perfect.”  “Lord, I don’t need a mansion, but if I could just have a home of my own, I’d be satisfied.”  Ever said one of these, or something similar? I’ve said all of them – and guess what – they didn’t deliver what I thought they would.  The boyfriend was a jerk, the marriage turned sour, the baby cried. All. The. Time.  And the house ended up in foreclosure.

Our key verse is part of God’s call to the nation of Judah to leave behind all the things that had failed them and come to the only sure thing that could satisfy – Himself.  They had wearied themselves trying to gain wealth and power, position and pleasure – but still their lives were empty.  The harder they tried to create a satisfying and fulfilled life, they further they got from it.

Does that ring any bells for you?  It sure does for me.  I’ve known moments of what I thought were satisfaction or joy or peace, but they were only temporary and soon I was looking to the next thing/person for what was missing in my life.  But the truth is that I was not looking for what I needed, but for what I wanted.  And my wants changed with the next commercial, the newest pair of shoes or the next hunger pang.

Beloved, what are you relying on for satisfaction?    Or maybe the better question is what is it you want?  Wealth?  Status?  Food?  Ministry?  Perfection?  People? Acceptance?  None of these will fill that void inside you.  It is only when you and I look to God to fill our wants that we gain a satisfaction that is eternal and unshakable. There is no need to look for the next thing, because there is nothing more satisfying than Him.