“The holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. I sometimes feel that I bear the burden of the planning, organizing, shopping, baking, and decorating, as well as getting out our annual Christmas letter and trying to make sure our family gatherings are “special.” I honestly love so many things about this season, but it’s easy for me to lose sight of the meaning and the relationships when I’m just trying to get stuff done.
When my children were little, I wanted to make sure they knew the true message of the Christmas season. We used an Advent devotional, putting felt symbols about the birth of Jesus on a felt Christmas tree (this was before the time of the Jesse tree). We displayed nativity collections, made a birthday cake for Jesus, and taught our children about why He came, to save us by giving His life for us.
We gave to faithful ministries, put together Operation Christmas Child boxes, went caroling to neighbors and shut-ins. You name it, we did it. And I haven’t even told you about sugar cookies, fudge, making gifts, and other traditions.
I loved building memories through doing all those things, but sometimes this mama was exhausted by Christmas Day.
When the angel came to the shepherds, hard laborers with little to give them hope, he exclaimed, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
For all the people. Not just special people, rich people, or mamas who have their lives together. This is the best news that was ever given…for all of us! And the celebrations of this season are to help us remember the good news of great joy, that a Savior has been born…and the great joy of a Savior is for us all.
Don’t be discouraged Mama, Daughter, Friend. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.”
In our own strength, we can’t change our souls, our cluttered minds, and even sometimes our busy lives, but we can lift our eyes to Jesus, and He can change them all. Look to Him and allow Him to remind us of the good news of His great joy that will be for all the people.
We are prone to wander, and we lose sight of the good news and great gift that you’ve given us. May we turn our eyes to you and be reminded of how much you love us. May we experience your joy as we release our burdens in the power of your Holy Spirit who abides in us. With hearts of gratitude, amen.”
From our household to yours, may the Lord bless you with His peace, and give you a very Happy New Year!
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I daresay every one of you can sing along with me on any of those tunes, and many more besides. They have become synonymous with the American Christmas experience. They help, some say, “get you in the Christmas spirit.” Along with eggnog and stockings and George Bailey and Charlie Brown.
I love those American Christmas traditions. And they can have a place in our celebrations, I think. But like the cattle in the Bethlehem stable, they simply become window dressing or background scenes to the real story. Because Christmas is not Christmas without Christ. This is the season in which the whole world, even many who do not believe, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. You can try to bury the truth in a mountain of gift wrap and candy canes, but facts are stubborn things.
Imagine at your next birthday party, all of your friends gather to celebrate. But instead of bringing you gifts and singing Happy Birthday to you, instead of eating cake and ice cream, the celebration is wildly different. One stands and sings a happy little song about the stork that “brings presents to all.” Another gives a thirty-minute lecture about cabbage, complete with pictures and props. Then everybody eats and drinks until they cannot move. There is not a single word about you and your birth. Not a single story about how your life has impacted another. No gifts, no cards, nothing about you at all. It was your birthday, but you were not even mentioned the whole evening. Could that really be called your “birthday party?”
If I told you I had shared meals with Buddy Greene, and we exchange Christmas cards, that would not mean anything to most of you. But if I started singing, “Mary, Did You Know?” you would probably be able to sing along with me. Mark Lowry wrote the words and gave them to Buddy, who is a Christian singer and songwriter living in Nashville, and Buddy wrote the music the next day. The song has been recorded by dozens of artists. I believe this song captures, much better than “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” what we celebrate as followers of the Lord Jesus.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know—
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb—.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great–I— AM—.
Ahhh. Now that is a song that celebrates the real deal. So, without apologies at all to those who wish we Christians would just stuff ourselves with turkey and keep Christ out of it…I wish you all a very merry, Christ-centered, Christmas.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49
This passage is part of Mary’s “Magnificat,” her song of praise in response to the gift of her son, the Messiah.
It is similar to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 – “My heart exults in the Lord…I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”
Hannah offers praise to God for the gift of her son, whom she gave back to the Lord to serve Him, a foreshadowing, perhaps, of Mary’s experience.
Mary and Hannah were young women. There is no indication that they were special in any visible way, but they both knew their “humble estate” before the Lord.
They rejoiced in God their Savior, because He had done great things for them. They rejoiced, not because of their circumstances: Hannah had been barren and not able to have children, and Mary was unmarried, but with child, and was about to be severely persecuted. They rejoiced over the blessing of life and that God had found favor with them.
After 400 years of silence from God, He sent an angel to bring good news to a young girl. God remembered His covenant.
Our rejoicing doesn’t rest on our circumstances. Let us not put our hope and expectation in the glitter, gifts, and experiences of Christmas.
In this Advent season, as we anticipate the celebration of the coming of the Messiah and His “good news of great joy,” let us remember our humble estate and the great things that God has done for us. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”
Lord, thank you for giving us the gift of your salvation and coming to us in our humble estate. May our souls magnify you and our spirits rejoice in you during this time of anticipation and celebration. You who are mighty have done great things, and holy is your name! Amen
It was the night of nights. There was an appearance like none the world had ever seen. There was an announcement like none the world had ever heard. There was adulation like none the world had ever experienced. And the world was forever changed.
The shepherds were watching their flocks that night. That’s all. Just a normal night for a shepherd. Maybe they were glad to have sheep to watch. Maybe they were wishing they had something else to do for a living that wasn’t so cold and didn’t smell like sheep. It was quiet. And dark. Then everything changed in an instant as the sky lit up when an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel was not there. Then he was. It wasn’t like the shepherds looked way off in the distance and saw a dim light moving in their direction. Like one turned to the other and said, “Hey, Levi. What’s that coming yonder?” Levi answered, “Don’t know, Jake. But it’s headin’ this way, and I ain’t never seen nothing like it.” No. They didn’t see the angel approaching. There was no warning whatsoever. The angel was on them in an instant. And, “The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” The shepherds were not slightly amused. Or curious. Or mildly irritated. They were terrified. The pictures that men have painted of this scene over the years are almost comical. They often portray the shepherds as rough-hewn burly men, and the angels as delicate women with curls and rosy cheeks and wings. The paintings often make you wonder, who was afraid of whom? The paintings make you think the shepherds should be saying to the angel, “Don’t be afraid little lady. Us big ol’ shepherds won’t hurt you. Come on down here and don’t be shy. You can talk to strangers. It’s Ok.” No! The angel was awesome and the shepherds were terrified, but the amazing thing is that God would choose these blue collar guys to be the first witnesses of the most glorious sight the world had ever known. This was the night of nights and the appearance of an angel changed everything. Because he came with news.
The angel said, “Do not fear, for I bring you good news of great joy!” Do you see that? It is the good news that is not only the answer to all of our fears but is the source of all our joy. All our fears, gone. All our joy, now here. Who? Where? The angel answers their questions before the shepherds can ask. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The one who is born in Bethlehem that night was Savior and Christ. You could say that is what Jesus came to do on earth: to save us from our sins as the Christ, the Anointed One, the perfect sacrifice. But he came from heaven as Lord. The angel might as well have said, “That’s who he is. He is Lord! He made you. He made everything you see and everything you cannot see. He is both the agent for creation and the all-sufficient agent for your redemption. The only hope for mankind is found in this baby born in a manger.”
And with that, the one angel was joined by a battalion of angels, and they all began to praise God. It was adulation like none the world had ever experienced, as these angels joined the chorus, exalting God for this night of nights, when the plan of salvation was revealed to a few lowly shepherds on a Judean hillside.
Here we are today. Still celebrating that first Christmas, when Jesus came as Savior, Christ, and Lord, and we were given all we would ever need.
I had to smile as I was driving to work one day and heard the news report on the radio. “Mom’s milk is best!” the announcer declared. The report outlined the benefits of breastfeeding as though the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant had just been discovered. Breastfeeding reduces babies’ risk of health problems in dozens of areas, including type one and two diabetes, obesity, ear infections, and even childhood leukemia. It reduces health problems for mothers as well, reducing their likelihood of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and post-partum depression. It saves a typical family somewhere between $1100 and $3900 in the first year, depending on the brand of formula they would have used. Janice Riordan, Associate Professor of Nursing at Wichita State University said, “(Breastfeeding leads to) $1.3 billion potential savings in health care costs using only 4 medical diagnoses. Breastfeeding also improves intellectual development of children according to new medical research studies. The benefits of more intelligent children on society is enormous even though it cannot be directly measured in terms of dollars. Finally, it was calculated that if WIC mothers breastfeed, yearly cost savings for basic food packages would be $2,665,715.”
I was smiling as I heard this because it is the same old story. What the Bible has said all along is finally being “proven” by the world. Moses was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter in the bulrushes, and his sister, who was watching the whole thing unfold, offered to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. The Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Oh, that’s OK. I will just feed him a bottle of cow’s milk every two or three hours and he will be fine. Gee, I hope he’s not lactose intolerant. Soy formula has not been invented yet.” No, the Pharaoh’s daughter gladly accepted, and Moses was taken to his mother who was ready to nurse her son and love him until she had to hand him over to another. By the way, read Exodus 2 to get the whole story about why Moses had to be put in a basket and dropped in the river to save his life. It’s a page-turner.
So, breastfeeding is a good idea, the world says. The Bible said it first. It was God’s design; still is. In 1992, Time magazine featured a front cover that pictured a little boy and girl. The boy is flexing his bicep, looking proudly at it, while the little girl crosses her arms and looks on with what some might describe as smugness, even a smirk. But the headline and sub-title was what caught my attention. Right under the boy’s flexing arm, it reads, “Why Are Men and Women Different?” Then under that: “It isn’t just upbringing. New studies show they are born that way.” You think?
As a happily married man, count me in the number who celebrates the fact that my wife was made different. In fact, you can go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible and see that God designed men and women to be different so that they could become one and make a third. And a fourth. And so on. I speak as Captain Obvious when I say, “It just doesn’t work any other way.” God’s design is perfect. The Bible said it first.
Why doesn’t the world catch on to the fact that the Bible has the answers? Here’s a clue: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
The Bible said it first. Try it for yourself, if you dare.
There is little that compares with the joy of anticipation. It is almost as much fun as when that thing you are hoping for finally arrives. Remember when you were little and Christmas was three weeks away, like it is now? All of us probably have a story to tell about things we did as children to try and make the days go by faster. Especially on Christmas Eve. My two brothers and I would sleep in the same bed that night when we were little, which was a miracle pretty close to the parting of the Red Sea. On any other night of the year, the three of us in the same bed would have ended with a trip to the emergency room. I shudder thinking about the BB gun fights we used to have. I shake my head at the memories of sticking straight pins through spit wads and shooting them at each other with rubber bands. We were three rambunctious boys who lived to torment each other 364 days a year, but on Christmas Eve we were transformed into cherubs whose excitement for Christmas day healed all wounds and buried all hatchets.
We would lie there “bug-eyed” as Mom used to say, and talk about what we hoped to get for Christmas. Sometimes we were tipped off when we heard the present arrive, like the year Dad gave us a mini-bike and we heard him roll it through the front door and into the living room on Christmas Eve night. We were hyped-up on pure adrenalin, imagining the fun of riding our new mini-bike in the back yard on Christmas Day. It took every ounce of our collective willpower to keep from sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to see this new treasure. It is a good thing we did not go down to look. Looking leads to sitting leads to cranking leads to riding. Through the living room. Thankfully, we waited until the sun was thinking about rising. And though that was hard, the waiting increased the anticipation of the joy that would be ours when we finally saw the gift.
That is in part what we celebrate during this time of the year: the joy that is ours in Christ, the greatest gift the world has ever received. We celebrate his first coming to us, and we look forward to his return.
The joy of anticipation only works if you have two ingredients present: One, you are looking forward to something that you really want with all your heart and…Two, there is every assurance that what you are looking for will come.
Read the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. They were promises given by God to His people that produce the joy of anticipation. The very first prophecy was spoken by God in the Garden of Eden when he said the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, speaking of the Savior who would destroy the devil and his works. Isaiah told us Jesus would be born of a virgin. Micah told us Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Hosea told us he would live for a time in Egypt. Many authors told us he would be rejected by His own people. Zechariah told us he would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Every promise made by God about the first advent came true. That means every promise about the second advent will come true as well.
Think of it this way. Which one of these is most accurate to real life as we know it? “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That’s Macbeth. Or, “And they lived happily ever after.” That’s Cinderella, among other fairy tales. It is Cinderella that most clearly describes life for a Christian! I believe the reason fairy tales often end with, “And they lived happily ever after” is because there is a longing for that in all of our hearts. It is baked into our DNA, put there by God. Solomon got a glimpse of this and wrote about it as an old man: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning and the end.” Some of the mystery that was unknown to Solomon in the Old Testament has been revealed to us in the New, including the truth that we will live happily ever after with God. Not here, not in this life, but in the one to come. There is a prince, the Prince of Peace, and there is a beautiful bride, the church, and we know just enough about the last Day, when Jesus will return for his bride, to know that there will be perfect transformation and eternal celebration for those who belong to him.
Three weeks and change to go and it will be Christmas day. I am excited already, as many of you are. But our rejoicing is already complete in the One of whom the angels said, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”