I noticed a bumper sticker on a car the other day, one that you undoubtedly have also seen. It said “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I thought that was a good idea. It seems obvious doesn’t it? Just look at the word Christmas. Take Christ out and what do you have? Not much. The most obvious thing in the world is that despite all of the “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays,” without a Messiah born in a manger the holidays are the equivalent of cracking open a shell only to discover there is no nut inside. It’s like opening a present that is under the tree and finding it totally empty. There is no reason for the peace and joy of the season without Christ. “Happy holidays” really means “let’s pretend we’re happy because at least we get a few days off work.”
Oddly that obvious truth seems to escape a lot of people’s notice. I doubt if most people are so dense they can’t see that. That means that they keep Christ out of Christmas because they don’t want him there. It is not an accidental oversight. So perhaps the message should be “Put Christ in Christmas” since for many he has never been there in the first place. Or maybe the message of that bumper sticker was never really appropriate for the world around. Maybe it is best suited as a reminder to followers of Jesus, for we are the ones who know Christ is the point of the season.
Do followers of Jesus need to be reminded to keep Christ in Christmas? We do indeed. While we can huff and puff over Starbucks taking Christmas symbols off their cups (even though they never were symbols of the real meaning of Christmas to begin with) and we can bemoan the concerted effort by our world to make sure the name Jesus is never mentioned this time of year, in our own way we can leave Christ out of Christmas too. It is all too easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of the season, to be preoccupied with our plans and activities, and in the process not actually have Jesus be the center of it all. To keep Christ in Christmas what we most need to do is to live in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We need to live for his will and his glory. We must walk in his presence, experience his peace and his joy and bring his grace to every person and every situation we encounter. Keeping Christ in Christmas ought to mean most of all that other people experience Christ’s goodness, love, peace, grace and joy flowing through us.
It’s time to celebrate Christmas, time to celebrate the birth of Christ. And why did Jesus come? To quote the famous John 3:16, the reason is this:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
It says here pretty clearly that Jesus came because God so loved the world. I think 1 John 4:10 sums it up pretty well:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
When is the last time you sacrificed something for someone else? If you are a parent, chances are that you’ve sacrificed something recently for your child. Perhaps you’ve sacrificed for a family member of a close friend. Maybe you’ve sacrificed for someone you don’t care much for because someone you love cares for them. But, have you ever sacrificed something cherished for someone who has caused you grief? Someone who has hurt you, or even hates you? Instead of lashing out, this is God’s response:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8
OK, so we disrespected God. We turned our backs on him. And, in turn, this is what Jesus does:
But [Jesus] 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 and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:7-8
That’s one heck of a sacrifice…especially to those who have forsaken him. Now taking that further - because His love has no bounds – we widen our estimation of it. 1 John 3:1a says:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! …
Not only does He get tortured and killed for us - the ones who caused him grief - but through that He adopts us!!! Starting to get the picture of how much He loves us? Well, there’s more. What would it take for you to stop loving someone?
What shall separate us from the love of Christ? - Romans 8:35
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither
height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 8:37-39
Pretty incredible picture, right? Well, the truth is that we can’t see the whole picture yet. Ephesians 3:18-19a says:
How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…
Hold up - surpasses knowledge?!?! Meaning we can’t even fathom how much He loves us?!? Yup. THAT is love.
Our thanks-giving continues while we are waiting to celebrate Christmas,
and like the expectant atmosphere in the Bethlehem stable,
now, perhaps more than before in our lifetime,
we are expectant of Christ’s coming .. again soon!
Give thanks to God always .. because God chose you from the beginning to be saved,
through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
To this he called you .. so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So then .. stand firm .. (2 Thess. 2:13-15 RSV)
God chooses us and gives us faith. God calls us to bear Christ to the world, even when it is difficult ... when we think it is impossible ... when we are criticized for our faith ... when He asks us to receive or do something that does not make sense to us. He provides His strength to accomplish our obedience.
God’s training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with what will
follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself.
God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying
enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is
precious. - Oswald Chambers
God let His Son live as a baby in the care of earthly parents, knowing that they were not sufficient, but that He was sufficient to complete their purpose for His glory. Now we pray, believing that our children and grandchildren will have His sufficiency for these times. Mary & Joseph needed to trust God when His ways were not theirs, when His thoughts were not theirs. They would have wanted to protect their child from criticism and harm, and yet God’s plan included both. He was watching over His Son, their child, as Jesus lived in obedience to His heavenly Father. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)
God has given us His purpose in this time of history (Acts 17:26-27). His Word directs and strengthens us each day. As we keep our minds fixed on Jesus, looking up for His Second Coming, we praise Him for His mercy and grace that surround us. We are thankful that He chooses to work through us to bring His Light and Salvation to others.
We must forever give thanks to God for you, .. loved by the Lord, because God chose from the very first to give you salvation, cleansing you
by the work of the Holy Spirit and by your trusting in the Truth. (2 Thess 2:13 TLB)
In this blessed and busy Christmas season, I thank you that you have my life all figured out already. Please help me hear your direction on how to prioritize all of my daily duties. Keep me from getting overwhelmed. Help me to remember that I don't need to worry about anything ...you are in the driver's seat...always!!
"You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed.
Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed." - Joshua 23:1
Christmas is a time of great expectations, which most of us understand well from our childhood when we knew we would get some presents, but what would they be? So many famous stories are built on this theme. The prophet Simeon had a great expectation, for God had told him he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the One to rescue Israel.
Our son has an original instrumental “Simeon’s Carol” in a recent Christmas album, and our daughter has a painting by DiCianni of Simeon blessing Jesus in his arms, hanging on her wall. I, too, have thought about Simeon. Was he young, or old when he received this revelation? How long had he waited? What was his Messiah “theology” beforehand? When young, this would have been an exhilarating thought whenever it hit him, this could be the day. The usual assumption is that he had waited long. When old, I wonder if he was ever tempted to view this waiting as anything but a blessing.
On the day of baby Jesus’ dedication Luke tells us that “the Spirit led him to the Temple”. I see Simeon as now old, and with some infirmities that made it difficult for him to get to the Temple routinely, as had been his habit when younger. But on this day he knew he must go. Simeon’s song of praise and his prophecy to Mary reveal that then he had been shown a great vision of his true Messiah, not only as a baby but as “a Light to reveal God to the nations”. His expectations were met beyond his comprehension by seeing Jesus.
I know this too is true for me, as for any believer in Jesus. Seeing Jesus in, throughout, behind, above, … use any preposition relative to any aspect of life, allows Him to meet our expectations in ways we may never have envisioned.
Heb 1:6 ... when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
A Hebrew Christmas reads like an oxymoron. Yet truths unfolded in Hebrews chapters one and two will expand our worship and strengthen our walk this season as we celebrate this one-of-a-kind birth.
Chapter one confronts us with the only baby ever born with a past. And what a past - an eternal past! Verses 3-8 say of the firstbegotten: "by whom also he made the worlds," "being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power", "unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." And the Divine title "firstbegotten" signifies God the Son is the Maker, Sustainer, Controller, Eternal Sovereign, Reality-Behind-The-Shadow, Reason, Purpose, End-All - in other words - the Source and Sum of everything that has, does, and will ever exist.
And this one-of-a-kind birth has a purpose with a past - elsewhere called a purpose made before the foundation of the world. Chapter two unfolds he was born: "that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man," "that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage," "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."
And so first, these truths can strengthen my walk. I am tempted daily to feel like a hamster running on my squeaking wheel in my mini-jail cell. And actually, this is what the curse has made life. My alarm goes off at 5:00am on Monday morning, and I feel this sinking gloom - "Ugh, another work week: wake, work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat... and then the awakening realization of looming problems and difficulties of every type, and my inabilities, weaknesses, fears, and tendency to screw-up. But wait! The firstbegotten was born into this cursed world, defeated the curse and Satan, made me a new creation in Him and I am now a "more than overcomer!" He has freed me! And He's walked in my shoes and will comfort, counsel and lead me on every step of my journey to glory with Him!
And last, and most important, these truths can expand my worship. I can read and re-read, think about, dwell on, wonder at, incorporate into prayer and praise these verses. I won't fall into the trap of turning this into a metaphysical puzzle of "How can God become a baby?" These truths are revealed not to perplex or discourage us, but to cause us by faith to fall on our faces as worshippers, overcome by what in these verses He is revealed to be and do - taking us to Himself through our new birth by Him.
May you this Christmas season join the angels of God in worship, as your heart overflows with joy because God has brought His Firstbegotten into the world!
Passage: Luke 2:15-20
I Love my children as much as any good parent does. But certain aspects of each of my girls that were like myself made it easy for me to relate to each of them, even as babies, and I was drawn to them in those areas. I was thinking about Mary for this devotional...and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share a few thoughts.
As Mary gazed upon the face of her baby, how different from her she must have realized he was! As he grew up, she may have felt increasingly how little she had in common with him; maybe she’d have found it difficult to relate to him. Yet I believe she was every bit as drawn to this son of hers as any mother could be!
I would imagine that despite her probable lack of understanding as to just who this baby was, and what would unfold, I think she would have had an overwhelming awe and a pinch of fear of this baby. I imagine He would have been at least the best baby ever! Coupling that with what she was told of her God-human baby, I imagine she must have quaked at times at whom she was holding in her arms.
And how strange that must've been for a mother - who supplies, protects, nourishes, nurtures, teaches and saves her child from all sorts of troubles - to gaze upon the face of her baby that she brought into the world, knowing that He was the Savior she needed! In the book of John, Mary calls Jesus her Lord. (John 20:13)
And she must have had some dread of what she had been told regarding the sad times this child would bring. In Luke 2, the Prophet Simeon had told Mary in the temple that this baby would pierce her soul! But given what we know of her character, her humility, she would not have had the attitude that "it's all about me," and would not have been worrying at all about what she would go through. I doubt it even crossed her mind.
I'm also thinking Mary’s continual thought was, "But why me?!“ Mary herself extols humility as a virtue God values highly in that poetic declaration she made to her cousin, Elizabeth, regarding their miraculous pregnancies (later to be called, “The Magnificat”):
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Luke 1:52)
She no doubt would have continually pondered, “What ever did I do to be chosen for this honor?" And I believe that's the only good response she could have had.
Luke 2:19 “ …But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Over 2,000 years ago the Creator of the universe sent His Son to this earth as a baby boy; because of this gift that He so freely gave not only do I have life everlasting but also I am given His power to help me be more and more conformed to the likeness of that Son. This is the process of Christian maturity that God desires for me.
In our ladies' Bible study recently our workbook presented the question, "How has God helped me towards maturity through difficult places?" I reflected on that process and came up with the following realizations about my life which I was encouraged to share as a devotional.
I realized that, although my life has not been the bowl of cherries I envisioned in my youth, through all that I have lost and suffered God has helped me to see His constant presence in my life and His constant guidance for me. He has always been there with me and for me - my rock, my fortress and my hiding place.
He has taught me to trust Him implicitly because all else in this world will fail me and let me down. When I have put my trust in other things it has never turned out well.
He has taught me that His love is the most valuable faithful constant love in all the universe; I can count on it and rely on it through the most painful of trials.
He has taught me that I answer only to an audience of One; He is the only One whose opinion really matters.
He has taught me to be sure to "above all else guard [my] heart for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov. 4:23); when my heart has not been appropriately guarded that wellspring (that bountiful source of life) has been diminished to a trickle.
And finally, He has taught me at all times to lay my life in His hands and trust Him with the outcome; His plan is, and has always been, to give me a hope and a future (Jer. 20:11).
As I have learned and tried to apply these lessons in my life I know that, even through suffering, He is conforming me to the likeness of His precious Son sent so many years ago, and He is maturing me as a Christian believer. Thank you, Lord, for your inexpressible gift!
Laurel and Lorin Youde
Have you ever thought about future offspring? Your great, great, great, great grandchildren? Try to imagine, a child born from your lineage in 2615. Would you be able to know if it was a boy or girl? At least you would have a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly. How about where he/she would be born? Did your family stay in California for all those years, or maybe they migrated to Texas? What would be their mode of transportation? Maybe the United States won’t even exist in 2615. Would you be able to know what their occupation would be, what kind of life they would live or how they would die? Fun to imagine but impossible to predict.
However, with Jesus Christ all the pertinent specifics of his life were revealed in scripture hundreds of years before his birth. Two that we are most familiar with are:
Isaiah 7:14 - Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him
Micah 5:2 - But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one
who is to be ruler in Israel whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Hundreds of years before his birth the scriptures tell us where He would be born, who His mother would be, His name, what His life would be like, and how He would die.
Jesus did the impossible. He had a miraculous birth, lived a sinless life, and loved us so much to pay the ultimate price for our sins by his death. Even more impossible, he rose from the dead and someday will return.
It’s Christmas - Celebrate the Impossible!
Merry Christmas from the Youde Family,
Laurel, Lorin & Ralph the Wonder Dog
In the blazing heat of a Tel Aviv June day he walked, knees rubbery, soaked in sweat, engulfed by foreboding and inner angst, into the fortress-like U.S. Embassy. At the appointed time he was ushered into the office of the U.S. Consul General, told to raise his right hand and repeat these words:
I…renounce my United States nationality together with all rights and privileges and…allegiance thereunto….
His name is Michael Oren, born in upstate New York, raised in West Orange, New Jersey, American to the core. However as he grew up a passion for the nation of Israel pulsed in him so that, as a young man he moved to Israel, lived and worked there, married, began a family and assumed dual citizenship. In June of 2009 the new Israeli Prime Minister asked if he would serve as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. But U.S. federal law requires all who assume such a position serving a foreign power to relinquish U.S. citizenship. Gulp. Out of duty and care he made that sacrifice (From Ally, by Michael Oren, Random House, 2015).
Christmas celebrates a far greater “setting aside.” Jesus “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 and being made in human likeness….” (Philippians 2:6,7). Immanuel. God…with US! Thank God today for the utter incongruity: God became a baby (!) so you would know He cares.
Luke 2:10-11 - "But an angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of Great Joy that will be for all people. Today in the town
of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the LORD.'"
Let us rejoice as we remember that God has given us the greatest gift ever given, his son Jesus Christ. The great joy in our Christmas celebration is found in pondering on this Jesus and the purpose for which he came. In John 17:26, Jesus sums up his mission on earth in his prayer for all believers: "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them." Jesus made God known to us through his life, teachings, miracles, death on the cross and resurrection. Only through Jesus can we come to know God and his great love for us. When we come to him, give up our rebellious life and claim his abundant, eternal life, God fills us with his love and joy.
Yes, we have received news of great joy. We have received the savior of the world. "Let us acknowledge the LORD, let us press on to acknowledge him."(Hosea 6:3) Let us rejoice with Great Joy because the love with which the Father loves Jesus can be found in us. Let us celebrate!
Thirty-five years ago when our daughters were young, I bought a hand knit nativity scene for the Christmas season, including Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the 3 wise men. One was carrying a round shaped knit package stitched to his hands. It was a nativity scene that 2 little girls could handle without any chance of breaking. Every year when the Christmas decorations came out, my daughters would set up that crèche and retell the Christmas Story.
Fast forward to 5 years ago when our oldest grandson was 3 years old. The Christmas boxes came out, and the next generation began telling the story of Christmas using the hand knit characters. Only this time something different happened. After unpacking all the characters, Isaac immediately took one of the wise men and tore off the round shaped “gift” and started playing with it like a little tiny ball. After all why would the wise man hold onto the gift? Gifts are to be given away and enjoyed, right?
The truth of Christmas was made so clear to me when Isaac ripped the “frankincense” from the wise man.
I was reminded that we have been given the greatest gift in God’s Son who gives us salvation and life eternal. I hold on to that great promise. Often times I’m reluctant to share the Gospel or go out of my way to share the Good News of Christmas with others. God sent his Son to this world to offer salvation to all mankind. The wise men worshiped the Savior of the World as they gave Him gifts. They gave their best.
Am I giving my best? Lord, as we enter this Christmas season, what gifts can I lay at your feet? Do I hold too tightly to my comfortable life? Show me how I can serve you and give of myself in a way that demonstrates your great love to others.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their
treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrhh.” - Matthew 2:11
"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who
were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."
Before a few years ago, I don’t think that I ever thought much about Joseph’s role in Jesus’ life. Now when I think of it, I would imagine that there must have been some difficulties for Joseph in knowing that Jesus was not his biological son, and yet Joseph took Jesus as His own son, an adoption of sorts. This adopted son, who was placed into Joseph’s family, secured our right to be adopted into God’s family. Our redemption did not necessitate our adoption, but our adoption certainly necessitated our redemption. At the perfect time in human history, Jesus became a human baby to save us out of a life of ruin and into a loving family. What great love! What a great Son!
During the Christmas season things that matter come into focus, things like miracles, light, and giving…especially the miracle of Christ’s birth through a virgin, which began the culmination of God’s miraculous plan for mankind’s redemption. How wonderful is that story of the tiny baby’s birth! We celebrate this birth and rejoice always, but especially at Christmas! (Read Luke 2:1-20)
Lights brighten our Christmas season; they are found everywhere on houses, businesses, trees and lawns. As we celebrate with lights, we can choose to remember the true source of all goodness and light, our Savior, the Light of the World. (Read John 8:12) Because of this, we walk in the Light and we are cleansed of our sin. (See 1 John1:7)
The Holy Spirit and Christ working through us at Christmas also touches our giving heart, and nudges us to reach out to that lonely neighbor, to that family in need, or to the homeless mother and child. (See Acts 20:35 and Matthew 25:35-45) The focus on giving at Christmas can be joyful and humbling experiences; God calls us to experience this throughout the year.
I am thankful to know the true meaning of Christmas and to see God’s hand in all the lights, miracles, gifts, and acts of kindness.
How do you like it when you are watching the end of a T.V. series and the show ends but it leaves you hanging with nothing resolved? What? No! We want to know what’s going to happen and we don’t want to wait another year to find out. It’s hard not knowing.
I think of Mary this time of year, holding her newborn baby. What is she thinking? What is going on? What is this boy going to become? Did she know that one day He would walk on water, heal people’s diseases, calm a storm, bring salvation to us all? How could she? She had a vague idea that God was doing “something” divine. Luke 2:19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
I think of us facing the realities of life. The stresses, the disappointments, people we love getting sick, fears of what the future holds. Can we understand the significance of what God is up to? Did Abraham understand when God told him to sacrifice his son? Did the disciples when they saw their Lord hanging lifeless on a cross? They did not understand, but God was doing something glorious.
We wonder what divine design the Master Weaver is creating in our lives. We can’t see the entire picture or understand the whole story-and it’s hard. But at the end of days, when we stand together we will see, we will truly know and we will be amazed.
So my new motto is embrace the chaos! Trust the pen of the One who came as a baby to be with us, to rescue us and to bring us life and hope. He is writing something beautiful with our lives! We can’t see the rest of the story yet, but we have an inkling…the end is going to be glorious!
As a child growing up in Minnesota, every year I looked forward to our church’s Christmas program put on by the children. For someone like me, who likes to be up front performing, it was always exciting to be assigned a solo part. It was as good as performing on Broadway in New York City. All my extended family would be there and my grandparents and my parents would be watching enthusiastically.
One year, I was asked to recite a sweet little poem and I still remember it today.
What can I give Him as poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb.
If I were a Wiseman I would do my part,
But what can I give Him?
I’ll give Him my heart.
Those words, as simple as they are, represent the truth of the Gospel and the message of Christmas. Jesus was born in a manger and became a man to bear the sins of all mankind. He was obedient to death on the cross. He came to earth to live and to die so that we can live eternally. At that first Christmas the Shepherds and the Wise men worshipped Jesus by giving Him praise and gifts.
As an adult how do I respond to that important question, “What can I give Him?” The answer remains the same. He wants my heart, all of it.
Lord, as the wise men and shepherds worshiped you with their whole heart, I pray that I would be reminded that I should do no less.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. - John 3:16,17