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“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy…. And they fell down and worshiped him.” Matthew 2:10-11
Worship was such an important part of that first Christmas. The wise-men worshiped Jesus in the house where they found him. The prophetess Anna and Simeon worshiped in the temple. The shepherds’ hearts were filled with praise as they hurried to find the child and then shared the good news with others. The place of worship was different for all of them but their hearts were overflowing with praise and adoration.
Do we take the time to worship the Lord during this Christmas season? It doesn’t really matter whether we worship in our home, in our church, at a Christmas concert or banquet or maybe it’s, ‘on the run,’ as we dash through the mail and hear the music, “Silent Night”. The only thing that matters is that our hearts are lifted in praise and worship to the Lord. Is there a song of praise on our lips at Christmas? How easy it is to see the work, feel the burdens and be aware of the frustrations instead of seeing the glory, the gift and the Savior.
“O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art.”
In the chilled and crisp early morning, I drove into the woods and then walked the last few hundred yards. It was about an hour before dawn and between the lack of moonlight and the canopy of the forest, it was so dark that I could not see anything. I used a small penlight to find the way to my intended location. I hoisted my hunting gear on my shoulders and began the climb up to the top of the hunting stand.
As I got to the top of the ladder, I looked up and froze and awe and amazement, for what I saw could only be the handy work of God. Given the chillness of the night, the lack of moisture in the air, the darkness of the night and the absence of pollution and city lights, the heavens opened up like I had never seen before.
I looked at the stars, recognized constellations and could only praise the awesomeness of God. As I saw what His hands had made. I thought how the universe displays His power. I could only think of how great He is, as I realized that what I was seeing was only a thumbnail of the universe that can be seen with the naked eye.
With space placed telescopes we constantly see articles about new discoveries in space. Recently astronomers announced the discovery of a fifth planet forty five times bigger than planet earth orbiting a star about the size of our sun, some forty one light years away from earth.
Scientists tell us that the observable universe has been determined to have a width of billions light years and continues to expand at an accelerating rate. When God said “let there be light” He really meant it.
As I sat in the stand, I looked and listened as dawn broke and the forest came to life. As I watched squirrels hop from limb to limb in the majestic trees and heard the birds chirp for the joy of the morning, I could only think that all was created by the hand of God.
My soul began to sing, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Thought: Have you taken the time lately to be still in the wonderful of our Almighty God?
We’ve approached a time of bustle. Shopping, baking, holiday greetings, home for Christmas. Why? Why are we celebrating Christmas?
How would the average person answer that question? Tradition? Family? Love for hearth and home?
Let’s go back to the first Christmas. A baby in a stall. And the most incredible statement ever spoken: “Jesus was born.” The “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” who is “before all things, and by him all things consist” (see Colossians 1:15-19). HE was born. GOD was “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
He was made flesh. All the blood of bulls and goats could not fully atone for man’s sin. The blood of Christ was the only blood sufficient. So a body was prepared for Him (Hebrews 10:5). Suddenly, God could bleed. And 33 years later, He bled on the cross, and God’s perfect justice was satisfied.
He dwelt among us. But why was He born? Why didn’t He arrive as a full-grown man the hour of the crucifixion, pay for sins, and then leave? So He could also dwell “among us.” He associated Himself with us and was tempted “in all points. . .like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). He went through the things we go through. He was touched by every grief, every disappointment, every painful trial, and every overwhelming temptation. And yet, He never sinned.
He bled as a perfect sacrifice. He lived a perfect life.
Horatius Bonar once said:
Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die;
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.
You and I can say that, too, because “Jesus was born.”
“I believe! Help me with my doubts.”
Mark 9:24 (The Message)
A good mystery writer leaves the reader panting for more. Works of Dostoevsky, Christie, Sayers, Eco and others fly off library and bookstores shelves faster than they can be replaced. These writers have learned how to introduce and develop characters, plots, circumstances that draw us into worlds far different from our own. We enjoy imagining how we would act or react in similar situations.
The story of Christmas is one of three mysteries of the Christian faith that troubles many. The person and work of the Holy Spirit confounds our understanding. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is another. And it all seems to begin with the “beyond reason” circumstances that started nine months before the events of a starry night in Bethlehem.
Author Madeleine L’Engle writes that “Had Mary been filled with reason there’d have been no room for the child.”* God—being a God who created us as body, soul, mind and spirit—takes the risky step of asking us to trust Him in the midst of mystery. We cannot call upon facts of history to explain the conception of Jesus. Imagination often expressed in poetry may take us to the edge of understanding but leaves us still wondering.
The mystery of Christmas requires something we rational humans find most difficult: faith. Not some brain-numbing step into an abyss, but rather that which is described in the New Testament: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). This faith is based not on manufactured fact, but rather on active belief in the God who created, loves, sustains and desires intimate relationship with His children.
This God knows that as confusing as mysteries can be, there is a part deep within us that only be touched by the mystery of God Himself. And so, without knowing each detail of all God’s stories, I read on…panting for more.
Thank you, Father, for being greater than my mind yet for the way you stir my imagination as I choose to trust you.
“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Psalm 139:8 (NIV)
It is the normality not the uniqueness of God’s miracles that causes them to be so staggering. Rather than shocking the globe with an occasional demonstration of deity, God has opted to display his power daily. Proverbially. Pounding waves. Prism-cast colors. Birth, death, life. We are surrounded by miracles. God is throwing testimonies at us like fireworks, each one exploding, “God is! God is!”
The psalmist marveled at such holy handiwork. “Where can I go from your Spirit?” he questioned with delight. “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” Psalms 139:7-8 (NIV).
We wonder, with so many miraculous testimonies around us, how we could escape God. But somehow we do. We live in an art gallery of divine creativity and yet are content to gaze only at the carpet.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, thought here are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18
Mary experienced joy despite her world turned bring flipped upside down. In Luke’s gospel, we learn that Mary lived at home, single, and engaged, when angel Gabriel appeared to announce that God had plans for her. She would conceive and bear a boy and name Him Jesus. Such good news, but also terrifying for Mary!Could Mary have known the challenges her glorious role would require?
Virgin and pregnant! How could this be? Worried if Joseph would believe her “Gabriel story.” The pain of childbirth, in a barn, on a trip. Raising Jesus knowing he was special. Losing Jesus at the Passover Feast; finding Him in the temple doing is Father’s business. The uncertainty of watching Jesus’ public ministry, a prophet not welcomed in His hometown.Standing at the cross at His crucifixion; Jesus entrusting her to John.Gathering with the apostles after the resurrection in the upper room.
What was God up to?
Mary’s initial response to Gabriel’s announcement was disbelief, and then a quiet resolve: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Later, she visited Elizabeth and learned afresh of Jesus’ unique status in the universe. She responded, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke1:46-47).
How might we find joy amidst this busy season or when pressures abound? Might we learn from Mary who submitted herself to God, aware that He had her best interests at heart?
Dearest Lord, no matter what pressures I face, be it the busyness of the season or just life in general, help me greet it with joy knowing that you have a plan and a purpose for it and will see me through whatever is to come. Amen.
You have prepared your gift list. You have begun preparing your house for the holidays. Take time to prepare your heart to make room for the One whose birthday we celebrate. My purpose in writing this devotional is to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
Read Luke 2:1-20. Open your eyes anew to really see the Christmas story. Through these questions, meditate on its present-day personal applications. What does it say about God’s ways and your response? Ask God what he wants to reveal to you. You may want to do this meditation over a period of several days.
Luke 2:1-5 Examine the setting: Jesus came to a city. How would Jesus like to come to your city?
Luke 2:6 Compare this verse with Galatians 4:4-5, the Christmas story according to Paul. What does this say about God’s timing? Ask, What do I need to surrender to Your timing, Lord?
Luke 2:7 Reflect on the words “no room.” Where are your “no vacancy” signs?
Luke 2:8-9 Note that ordinary people were doing everyday things, and they saw the glory of God. Where do you need to see the glory of the Lord shine in your regular routine?
Luke 2:10 Fear not and joy no matter what! Ask yourself, How is this real for me?
Luke 2:11 Meditate on the third verse of “Silent Night.” How personal is the phrase “born for you?” Have you seen Him as Savior-babe as well as Christ the Lord?
Luke 2:7,12 Compare this description of Jesus with the one in Hebrews 1:2-3. What does this say about humility?
Luke 2:13 How can you praise God as a lifestyle?
Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest and on earth- Have you ever seen the world vision in the Christmas story? What will it take for the glory of God to be seen in all the earth? What will it take for everything in your life to say “Glory in the highest?”
Luke 2:15,16a Instant obedience. The shepherds saw Jesus because they obeyed immediately. What has God shown you lately that calls for instant obedience?
Luke 2:16 Surrendered expectations. The King of the universe came into this world in a smelly stable! What expectations of how God is working do you need to surrender?
Luke 2:19 Do you have a “Mary heart“? Do you ponder God’s ways in your heart?
Let God prepare your heart with fresh joy, anticipation, renewed peace, vision… with whatever you need most.
As you sing “Joy to the World” this season, really hear the words. Don’t let the familiarity of this great carol lull you into neutral. Receive your King who has the right to rule in the hardest circumstances of your life. Submit, bow your knee to Him, and say,
“Yes, King of my life, I prepare You room and receive You. Reign in the midst of the world’s temporary insanity of the season and beyond. Rule in my heart and my family with truth, grace, righteousness, wondrous love, and glory.“
“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Christmas events can sometimes give rise to relational conflict that mars the peace of the season. Conflict often reflects unmet needs.
No one likes to be thought of as needy. It’s easier to think of others as needy; but can you identify where you might be needy? Recall the last conflict you encountered. Could there be a need that remains unmet in your heart? Sometimes the unmet need is easy to remedy, such as the need for sleep.
Often it is deeper. The need to feel loved, valued and heard, or the need to be accepted or respected, can cause resistance from a wounded heart. Control and manipulation can stem from an angry heart, or a need to forgive others or one’s self.
When you see potential conflict ahead, stop and look honestly at yourself. G-R-O-W in love through conflict.
Give God the opportunity to reveal any unmet need that may be at the root of this conflict. Be open to seeing your need and to praying for the needs of another. It will help dissolve tension.
Recognize that God is the only one who can meet all your needs.
Open your heart to God for His help. Let Him be the source for any unmet need in your life. Consider asking someone to pray for you in this.
Walk beside another in their unmet needs asking God to be their source in meeting the needs of their soul.
Invite Jesus into your tensions this Christmas and let His loving peace overrule.
Father God, please bring your peace into my Christmas celebrations. Where relationships are frayed help me see my part stemming from any unmet needs I have. May I look to you to be the source for all my needs. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
“And so I am giving a new commandment to you now – love each other just as much as I love you. Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are My disciples” John 13:34, 35
When Jesus spoke these words, the entire known world was filled with hate, war and fear. The Jews and the Gentiles hated each other. The Greeks and the Romans hated each other.
But with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the day of Pentecost came a breath of heavenly love. Those who received Jesus, the incarnation of love, into their lives and who chose to obey His command began to love one another. The pagan world looked on in amazement and said of the believers, “How they love one another!”
Within a few years following this command to love one another, the gospel had spread like a prairie fire throughout the known world. The miracle of God’s love, His supernatural agape, had captivated multitudes throughout the decadent, wicked Roman Empire.
Tragically, today one seldom hears “How they love one another!” about Christians. Instead there is far too much suspicion,jealousy, criticism and conflict between Christians, churches and denominations. The unbelieving world often laughs at our publicized conflicts.
But those individuals who do demonstrate this supernatural love are usually warmly received by nonbelievers as well as believers. The churches that obey our Lord’s command to “love one another” usually are filled to overflowing and are making a great impact for good and for the glory of God. They represent a highly desirable alternative to secular society.
How does one love supernaturally?By faith. God’s Word commands us to love (John 13:34,35). God’s Word promises that He will enable us to do what He commands us to do (John 5:14,15).