Advent Day 9 – Christmas Joy

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

There is no better combination than children and Christmas.  Their sweet smiles, joyous laughter and excitement are contagious.  A child’s heart is wide open, and his wonder and delight will warm even the coldest Scrooge’s heart.  Children have an enormous capacity for joy, a trait that we tend to lose as we “mature” into adults.  When my son was small, and he would get excited, he would do what I called his “seal clap of joy,” clapping his little hands together in fast repetitions.  It always made me laugh, not just his clapping, but the excitement and delight that bubbled out of him.

Unlike our “dignified” western persona, in the middle-eastern world, emotions were deeply felt and fully expressed.  Grief was given full breadth as grown men and women wailed loudly, beat their breasts and mourned publicly.  Likewise joy was celebrated with loud songs and shouts of delight – even dancing in the streets as neighbors joined in the merriment.  The Bible gives many accounts of great emotional impact – Job in his mourning, David celebrating the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  In fact, there is still great emotional expression in those cultures today.

So when the angels announced the “good news of great joy” we can envision the shepherds dancing by the fire, singing and laughing with delight, then rushing off to see this Baby “wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  This was cause for celebration – the Lord had fulfilled His promise to Israel!

You and I have reason to rejoice and celebrate too, because more than just His promise to one nation, the Lord had fulfilled His promise to all mankind.  Way back in the book of Genesis, after the first humans had fallen to Satan’s ploy, God promised to send a Rescuer who would crush the head of our enemy (Genesis 3:15) and redeem men from captivity to sin and death.  This child in the manger was the fulfillment of that promise.  He is the reason we sing “Joy to the World.”  He is the reason we celebrate – not because of trees and lights and presents – but because of the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Let this Christmas bring a childlike joy to your heart – a joy that shows on your face and spreads out all around.  Dance, sing, jump, rejoice – let it fill you to the brim and overflow onto everyone around you. There will always be people who don’t appreciate your enthusiasm – there will always be Scrooges and Grinches who will “bah humbug” over your delight.  Be joyful anyway – maybe it will bring a smile to their face as well.

Share some Christmas joy this season, it’s a gift you can give to others that always gives back to you.

Read 2 Samuel 6:12-15

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Advent Day 8 – Tiny Fingers and Tiny Toes

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6).

We have a new baby in our family – my son’s fiancé gave birth to a sweet baby boy a few weeks ago and he won my heart right away.  We are snuggle buddies and I plan to spoil him thoroughly (Sorry Mom and Dad).  While he is snoozing on my chest, I love to study his little fingers and toes and pray that those hands will be lifted in praise to God and those feet will walk in the way of Jesus.  I am committed to remind him every day that God loves him and created him for a very special purpose.

I imagine Mary also marveled at the tiny fingers and tiny toes of her baby as she kissed that downy head.  I am sure she gazed at His face as He slept and her heart was awash with Mother-love.  But when she pondered where those feet would go and what those hands would do, surely the words of the angel echoed in her heart: “You will give birth to a son . . . 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” (Luke 1:31-33).  Her son was destined for greatness – but she could never imagine the path He would take to get there.  Rejection, persecution, suffering and death would mark Jesus’ earthly life.  He would wear a crown of thorns rather than a crown of gold and His hands and feet would be nailed to a cross rather than kissed in adoration.

But there, in the smelly stable – little more than a cold, dark cave – she kissed that sweet face and caressed those tiny fingers, knowing in her heart that her life would never be the same.  He would one day “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but this little one needed her now.  The helpless future King was depending on His mother to feed and nurture Him until He fulfilled God’s purpose.

Babies bring out the tenderness in a mother’s heart and no doubt Mary felt the sweetness of her newborn son even as she wondered about the angelic announcement.  His life held the greatest purpose imaginable.  He was destined to be a King, but not tonight – tonight He was her baby boy with tiny fingers and tiny toes.

Read Luke 2:1-7

Advent Day 7 – JOY to the World!

“And the angel said unto the, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

This time of year, we greet one another with a joyful “Merry Christmas!”  We sing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  We delight to see joy on our children’s faces as they take in the sights and sounds all around them.  There are joyous shouts as gifts are unwrapped around the tree.  Christmas is truly a time for joy.

But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and festive activities at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy.  This baby was the fulfillment of a promise from God that the Jews had clung to for centuries.  The LORD had said He would send them a King – the Messiah – who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews lived for hundreds of years under the oppression of enemy nations; the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans.  Their beloved Jerusalem had been taken hostage by this sometimes cruel and evil nations, Rome being the worst.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the Roman rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon.

But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness.  Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps you and me in bondage today.   The Messiah of God came, not to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  Jesus came as an infant, not to give us a reason for a party, but to bring freedom from the curse of sin.  And that is the true JOY of Christmas.  The baby Jesus in the manger is the Savior Jesus on the Cross, and the Risen Jesus who has “proclaimed freedom for the prisoners, release for the oppressed” and the JOY of “the Lord’s favor.”

Don’t let your Christmas JOY stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!

Read: Psalm 72

Advent Day 6 – The Perfect Christmas Gift

“The wise men opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

I believe the best gifts come from those who know us well.  My favorite Christmas present came from my sweet husband early in our marriage.  I was an avid cross-stitcher (back when my eyesight was better) and my beloved went to the local craft store and bought every color of embroidery floss that DMC® made, along with storage boxes to keep them in.  I LOVED it!  I appreciated the gift itself, but what I loved  most was the fact that he paid attention to what I enjoyed doing and took the time to learn about my hobby and what it involved. The gift was great, but the love that went into the gift was even greater.

Without a doubt, our Heavenly Father is the greatest Gift-giver of all.  He who created you knows you intimately.  He knows your dreams and your joys and sorrows. He knows what delights you and what frightens you. He knows your favorite color and your least-favorite relative.  He knows what makes your eyes light up and what keeps you awake at night.  He knows your every thought, your hopes and wishes and your deepest, truest love.  And because He knows you so well, He knew the perfect gift for you—Jesus.

James 1:17 reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  Could there be a more perfect gift than His precious Son?  Is any gift as good as the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17)?  This gift is given with overflowing grace (Romans 5:15).  It is a gift that never wears out, never fades, and never goes out of style – it is the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).  It is not something you have to earn – in fact you can’t earn it – you can only receive it by faith (Ephesians 2:8).    It is a gift of immense love given by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

Have you received God’s priceless, perfect gift?

Read Matthew 2:1-12

 

Advent Day 5 – God With Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew1:23).

God is all about relationship.  He created man for relationship.  Mind you, God didn’t need humans – there was perfect, unbroken fellowship between the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But it is clear throughout the Scriptures that God created mankind to share in a unique and special communion.   From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in a very intimate way. Genesis 3:8 draws a picture of God enjoying daily fellowship with Adam and Eve. But their sin broke that fellowship they could no longer be with God in that special way.

Though man continued to pursue sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that fellowship, 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 in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  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 is not forever lost.  Ezekiel 11 brings the hope of God’s promise of a new covenant and restored fellowship.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of the world 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 distance between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – that we might be with Him – forever.

Read: 1 Kings 8:6-13

Advent Day 4 – Right Time, Right Place

“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” Micah 5:2

I am “directionally challenged,” in other words, I get lost easily. My husband and I once took a trip to Atlanta to see Stone Mountain.  He drove and I navigated the map, only I was holding it upside down, and while we did get there, I took us all the way around the opposite side of the city.  I did a little better with Mapquest, but still had to pay very close attention for every turn.  I cannot express how grateful I am for a GPS in my car!

Did you know that you are equipped with a GPS – that is a “God Positioning Spirit.”  It is specially designed to get you exactly where God wants you to be at the precise moment He wants you to be there.  The Bible is full of accounts of the Lord ordering people’s lives to put them in places and times according to His perfect plan.  Think of Joseph, Daniel, and Esther just to name a few.

Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy in our key verse, a young woman was startled to learn that she was with child – and not just any child, but the Son of God, the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  Was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  God had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).

Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – and this through the whim of a Roman ruler who probably had no knowledge of the God of Israel.

Beloved, God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line, He sets many turns in our path.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, is still guiding you.  He knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill the purpose for your life.  Wherever you are today is not the end of the journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.

Read: Micah 5:1-5a

Advent Day 3 – The Righteous Man

“Joseph took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24)

There are so many ways to look at the Christmas story, like turning a diamond to see its beauty from every angle.  Some focus on the Baby, the virgin mother, the shepherds, wise men, the star, and the angels.  Even the animals in the stable become a point of focus.  But I’ve always been intrigued by Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ if you will of Jesus.  Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4).  But I learned something recently about him that often escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story, and it spoke powerfully to me about how God see us.

“This his how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – she had given her virginity away to another man. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21).  Keep in mind that Joseph didn’t yet understand that Mary’s baby was conceived, not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit.  Still Joseph chose to handle the situation in a quiet manner to spare her from disgrace and punishment.  And in acting mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8).  His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13).  I think, sometimes the church has it backwards.  Like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy.  After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love displayed in His mercy through Jesus Christ to sinners like you and me.  Interestingly, the Hebrew words for “love” and “mercy” are often used interchangeably.

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love?  I know this theme is playing itself out in my own family right now.  I can tell you that mercy is a lot easier on everyone than the alternative.  Let’s commit to be righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

Read Matthew 1:18-25

Advent Day 2 – How to Save the World

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money and more money to appoint a committee to study the matter.  If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and drug lords and shoot them all to the moon in a rocket.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would awake from the sleep of death to stir the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave.

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians and you and I could never do.  Jesus brought the promise of salvation to the whole world – and that includes you.

Read John 2:1-7

Advent Day 1 – The Word and the Light

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).

To the ancient Hebrew people, silence from the Lord was like living in a world without sunshine.  God spoke with power and purpose and if He were not actively speaking they groped in spiritual darkness.  In Samuel’s early days the Lord had withdrawn His word and with it, His light.  The prophet became the mouthpiece of God to the nation.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Lord had been silent for some 400 hundred years.  It had been such a long drought that the people had grown accustomed to the silence.  Oh they did all the right rituals and followed the letter of the Law, but they were just going through the motions.  They failed to see how hollow their devotion was because they were living in darkness.  They needed to hear from God and they needed His light to help them see the truth.

John opens his gospel declaring Jesus as the Word that brought Light (John 1:1,4-5).  He came as the Logos of God – the living, breathing Word of truth who not only spoke God’s words but lived them before men.  He came not only to bring light but to be Light – the Light of the world.  Through that light He “has made God known” (John 1:18) – “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and the “exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). And through that Light He is the One who “rescued us from the dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13).

The world we live in is a very dark place filled with sin and hate and rebellion.  Jesus is the Word and the Light of God for the world.  He is mankind’s only hope.  Maybe today your own little world is cloaked in darkness – grief, trials, uncertainty, health concerns, financial hardships, depression and despair.  Dear one, Jesus is the Word and the Light of God for you today.  He is your hope, your peace, your joy, your comfort.

As we start this Advent season, may you hear the Him speaking God’s love into your heart and see Him shining God’s grace into your life.

Read: John 1:1-18

I Wrote This for You

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

The truth is, what you see in me – or read in my words – is not all there is.  I may look wise and together on paper, but it’s not the full picture.  I wrestle daily with the dark devil of depression; it has been my constant companion since I was very young.  It has taken me to some deep, gloomy places.  It has cost me a great deal in my relationships, health, time, money, and hopes and dreams.   I’ve tried many things to keep it at bay; medication, Scripture and prayer have all been effective and helpful tools. But they haven’t made it completely go away.  Especially in the past few months.   This is what I wrote in my prayer journal not too long ago:

Lord, the truth is, depression lingers just below the surface.  I walk through my days like walking across thin ice on a river of discouragement, knowing that one misplaced footfall and I will plunge into the dark waters again.  Then sometimes I think, it would be so easy to give in to it; just take a deep breath and let myself slip under those familiar waves of despair.  In some weird way it is a comfortable foe – we’ve been together for a long, long time.  I fight it most days, but make no mistake – it’s always there, looming, dark and taunting, waiting for me to take that one wrong step and tumble in.

So, am I a fraud when I write words of encouragement and hope? Not at all.  Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  He knows that the frustrations and uncertainty I am facing right now threaten to do me in.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  The blanket of hope.  The quilt of encouragement.   And the beauty is – there’s always room to welcome more.

Beloved, come join me in the sweet, blessed comfort of our Heavenly Father.  Hear His words of hope, of peace, of encouragement and of joy.  Let Him wash over you with the warmth of His love.  We’re in this together – you and I – and the God of Heaven and Earth.  We’re gonna make it—He told me so—and then He told me to tell you.

Holy Father,  You are so faithful to speak words of light and life over me.  As long as I have a voice, whether speaking to one person, a crowd, or the whole world of cyberspace, I will speak of Your goodness and faithfulness and love.  Let me always be a conduit of Your comfort. Amen.