Christmas is . . .

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Despite what my family and friends claim, I love Christmas.  I just don’t like what Christmas has become, especially in the West. Christmas hymns give way to the sweet sound of the ka-ching of the cash register as the stores stock up long before Thanksgiving. There’s no space left for the manger and the baby under our festively decorated trees. “Merry Christmas” is for sale on blankets, dishes, doormats, toilet seat covers, and ugly sweaters. Every celebrity offers their version of “songs of the season” delivered in over-produced T.V specials. And do not get me started on cheesy “Christmas” movies – I would rather walk through shards of broken glass in my bare feet than watch one. In fact, the entertainment industry has done a good job of redefining Christmas for us. Ask most people what Christmas means and the answers are usually:

“Christmas is about caring.”

“Christmas is about sharing.”

“Christmas is about family.”

Christmas, according to the secular world, is about very different things than the church sees.

Or is it? Maybe that’s good common ground for telling the true Christmas story.

Christmas is about a God who cared enough about His lost creation to offer a rescue plan that would cost His One and Only Son His very life (John 3:16).

Christmas is about Jesus Christ who was obedient to the Father’s will to share His glory with once-sinful men (John 17:22).

Christmas is about the Father in heaven lavishing His love on us and adopting us into His family “that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

For all the ways that we identify Christmas, it always comes back to God’s great gift of salvation offered through a Baby in a manger with a cross on his back.

We Want to See Jesus

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The teacher asked the boy. “What are you drawing?” “I’m drawing a picture of Jesus,” he answered. “But nobody knows what Jesus looked like,” she said. “They will when I’m done!” he replied.

That’s been one of the naysayer’s most fervent arguments against the existence of God: no one has ever seen Him. How can we believe in someone we’ve never seen. Or have we? The Old Testament prophet declared, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:5). God revealed His glory in His Son, the man Jesus. Paul said, “He [Jesus] is the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). John wrote, “The Word [who was God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn: 1,1, 14).  Jesus is God and He revealed God to mankind.  But “nobody knows what Jesus looked like., so we still don’t know what God looks like. Ah, but we’re looking for the wrong thing. Jesus – and thus God – looks like glory. The Greek word for glory is doxa, meaning the awesome, brilliant light that radiates from God’s presence.

If you had been at the manger in Bethlehem two thousand years ago you would have seen it shining brightly. But you haven’t missed out on it entirely, it’s still visible today. No, it’s not in the candles in the church or the lights on your Christmas tree. It’s in the faces of every person who has bowed their heart and received Jesus as their Savior. Jesus – who is “the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12) transfers His light – His glory –  to those who believe that He is the Son of God – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being,” (Heb. 1:3). That is why Jesus said to His followers, “You [now] are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Something happens when we let go of our guilt and shame and sin and receive the forgiveness and love of God through Jesus – the Baby in the manger. The glory of God lights up our hearts and our faces. Beloved, can the world see Jesus through you?

Big News!

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An 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 to make a special announcement – complete with a professional photoshoot – that a baby is on the way and then have a “gender reveal” party to announce whether said 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 angels. And it wasn’t told to the royal court nor the religious elite. Humble shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy.” There was a glorious choir – “a great host” of heavenly angels who sang the first Christmas carol. But the chief musicians of the temple weren’t there. No reporters or television crews covered this birth. The only witnesses were cows and sheep and perhaps a goat or two.

That is one aspect of the Christmas story that I truly love. God-in-flesh came in the most humble fashion, to the most humble parents, in the most humble place, 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 folks with no important position or high standing or impressive title. He will receive the wealthy and the poor, the learned and the simple, the known and the unknown. Men and women, boys and girls, saints and sinners. All are welcome to worship at the manger.

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

Is This Any Way to Save the World?

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“For to us a child is born . . .”

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 rioters and child abusers and abortionists and drug lords and put them all on a one-way trip to the moon.  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 wake from the sleep of death to awaken 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 peace with God to the whole world – and that includes you.

Christmas Hope in a Manger

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Kids on Christmas morning hope for the newest toys and electronics under the tree. The soldier’s mother hopes for her son’s safe return for the holidays. Teachers hope to survive until Christmas break and students hope there will be no pop-tests before they reach the last day of class. Travelers hope for good weather and light traffic while law enforcement hopes for safe drivers and no accidents. The merchants hope for record sales and shoppers hope for great bargains. Christmas is synonymous with hope – but not for these reasons.
For the Jewish people, hope was in short supply. Their nation had long been under the control of others; at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans ruled over Jerusalem. The Jews had hoped for God’s Messiah to rescue them from oppression. They hoped for a leader who would overthrow the Romans and reestablish David’s throne and Israel’s independence. God would indeed send the Messiah to rescue His people from bondage and establish His Kingdom, but He would overthrow a greater enemy than the Romans. He would save more than just Israel and would rule over an everlasting Kingdom from David’s throne. He would not come in power with a sword in his hand and a crown on his head. He would come as a helpless baby with straw in His tiny fist and a crown of thorns in his future. He would not raise a scepter over Jerusalem but would be raised up on a cross outside the city gates. He would not overthrow Rome – He would overthrow death. Their hopes would be fulfilled – but not as they envisioned. It would exceed all they could ever ask or imagine.
Your hopes might be for something flashy and fun, or simple and quiet this Christmas. You may have hopes that can’t be put in a box with a bow. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and Joy.” In God’s good and loving hands, hope is a sure thing – a promise given and fulfilled in the same instant. It may not look what you thought it would be Beloved, but you have His Word that it will be full of life and Joy.

Is This Really Christmas? – First Day of Advent 2019

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Thanksgiving night, after feasting with family, we fell into our chairs in front of the television in a tryptophan-stupor. My husband found “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” on T.V. The show featured multiple popular entertainers singing traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. There were huge studio audiences in both U.S. locations, with singers, dancers, and of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse – and I couldn’t help but think how different this “Christmas” celebration was from that holy night.

The Disney parks were packed with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, squeezing in as close to the stage as they could get. The little town of Bethlehem was packed too, so much so that a young couple, she very heavy with child, could only find lodging in a stable – little more than a cave (Luke 2:16). The parks were awash with dancing lights and fireworks. The man and woman greeted their first-born child in the dark cavern they shared with the animals. The singers for the program were introduced to the adoring crowds with much fanfare by the emcees. The birth of Jesus was announced by a host of angels to lowly shepherds watching over their sheep in the Judean hillside (v. 8). The singers sang such Christmas classics as “Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Deck the Halls.” The angel chorus sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men” (v. 14). The fans screamed and applauded as their favorite stars in glittery costumes sang and danced. The shepherds were awe-struck by the child who was wrapped in rags to protect His tender skin from the prickly straw in which He lay (v. 12). They were amazed and glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard (v. 20). How strange that a modern festive celebration originally meant to mark the birth of the Christ child never mentioned His name at all.

This is Christmas in the 21st Century – at least in the world of media and entertainment. But the real Christmas isn’t in fireworks and Santa and screaming fans. It is the quiet presence of the Baby and His parents huddled together in the straw. It is joy and peace and hope and love wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Christmas is Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. This Advent season I hope you will join me for daily reflections on the season and the Child who changed the world. Let’s find the real heart of Christmas.

The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Only One King

The story of Christmas represented by the birth of Jesus and his death on the cross.

“Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . .” (Philippians 2:6-8)

 Solomon was considered one of the greatest kings of Israel. The son of King David, he inherited the kingdom and spread out his rule for many, many miles and amassed an unfathomable amount of wealth. He sat upon an enormous throne of gold and ivory. Silver was inconsequential in Jerusalem during Solomon’s reign because the king and the city were so incredibly wealthy.  Solomon was born in a king’s palace and his destiny was the throne. Though he was considered wise and good to his subjects, his own wants and needs always took precedent.  He never knew poverty or want and could fulfill his every desire and whim.  He was born and bred to be a king.

Paul paints a contrasting picture when he says that Jesus, the eternal King humbled Himself – “made Himself nothing” – the word used here denotes something hollow, empty and of no value – to identify with humankind.  He never lost sight of who He was, but He did not claim privileges and prosperity as would befit His royal identity.  It was an act of His gracious will to do so because it was the only way to save you and me.

Tell me – how many earthly kings do you know of who humbled themselves to be one with their subjects?  How many earthly kings, fully aware of their power and authority, choose to live and walk and sleep among the poorest of their people?  How many earthly kings would set aside their crown and take up the mantle of suffering in order to save – not only their own subjects – but those who have set themselves against him? 

Only One.  Only Jesus.  Only one King would make himself an empty vessel of no earthly value to rescue and redeem a lost and dying world who has rejected Him outright at every turn.  Only one King would humble Himself to the point of servanthood.  Only one King would set aside His royal identity to become a helpless infant born to impoverished parents and live a life of struggle and ridicule and persecution.   Only Jesus would do all that – and He did it all for you and for me. 

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.

Advent 2015 – Day 11 – Child of Peace

advent2a“To us a Child is born,” Isaiah 9:6

To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence.  Their eyes lie closed to the world; mouth soft in repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being.  They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel.  If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through.  This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family.  Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world.  One mother knew that her baby indeed would.  One mother held the true Child of Promise, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful.  But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35).  Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43).  And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)?  It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world it was just another night.  To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby.  But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.