Favorite Christmas memory? Staying up late Christmas Eve nights with my little brother. He would camp out on my bedroom floor and we would talk for hours letting our imaginations fly about Santa, what gifts we might find under the tree and how excited we were to give our gifts to others. We could hardly contain our elation over what was to come; it felt impossible to go to sleep. We looked so forward to the morning that the waiting seemed almost truly painful, yet completely thrilling at the same time. It was wonderful, gut-wrenching anticipation.
I am not going to discuss the merits (or more likely demerits) of Santa here today and I understand that many will feel that children excited about gifts is a display of materialistic greed (bah-humbug!). In my opinion, gifts (tangible and intangible ones) are awesome. I love to give them and, being a person who loves surprises, I enjoy receiving them too. We have an exceedingly giving God. He lavishes grace onto the undeserving and we need to reflect that giving nature as well, especially to those who cannot return the favor (Luke 14:12-14).
I encourage you to build on the anticipation of this season and direct it God-ward. Allow children to be excited about gifts, encourage them to wonder at what they might receive (always teaching thanksgiving); let them experience what anticipation feels like. Help them to be cheerful givers too (2 Cor. 9:7). Discuss the emotions they are feeling and what it has to do with their relationship with Christ. What does it have to do with a relationship with Christ? Let me tell you.
The Bible throbs with anticipation. People of the Old Testament lived in anticipation of a Savior, someone to relieve the impossible burden of the law and to fulfill the prophesies which foretold a Redeemer. John the Baptist came to prepare the way and build anticipation for the coming Christ. Jesus came and fulfilled the anticipation, yet continued to point us toward more. He talked of his Heavenly Kingdom, stating that he is going to prepare a place for us and added, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:3. Wow! Jesus gives himself as a payment for our sins, is resurrected to life and now has a place ready for us in Heaven, where we get to be with him forever to enjoy his glory and perfect presence. Hello? Can you feel the anticipation building?
There’s more. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Unless we get there first, Jesus is coming to get us! And in style (serious style and serious power, read Revelations 19:11-16!).
We who are Christians have SO MUCH to look forward to. It is too much to contain and too joyous to express - plus the Bible tells us it is going to happen soon. This is wonderful, gut-wrenching anticipation! While I am zealous for the righteousness of the Lord, desiring justice to be finally executed upon those who reject him (“Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;” Ps. 10:15) my deepest longing is to enjoy the fullness of my Savior face to face forever and as soon as possible (“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Ps 15:27:4). If you don’t have feelings like this, you need to evaluate your heart; you may not know Jesus like you claim.
Ladies, train yourself in living a life of anticipation, allow this season be a reminder of all you have to look forward to and teach your friends and family the same. Display it for them; be excited to celebrate Christ and the insane gifts that he offers of redemption and forever life with him. Use the anticipation of gift giving and receiving as a springboard for gospel conversations. Focus your energy and fullest joy on times of praise and adoration of the greatest gift Giver of all, our Lord God.
Just like Christmas Eve with my little brother, may your nights be so filled with thoughts of our incredible Savior that it keeps you up late at night filled with anticipation of all that is to come. Come, Lord Jesus!
Christmas is here, and I love it. I love the whole sensory overload of the season. I love the lights and music, eating tree-shaped cookies and even the late night wrapping sessions while watching absurdly corny movies. The best part is celebrating with friends and family. But what is it we are really celebrating again? Oh, that’s right…Jesus. That accounts for the whole “Christ”mas thing.
What the heck does it look like to celebrate Jesus? Let’s be honest, we struggle with this. Is it simply saying grace before meals? “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? Is it singing religious music, putting up a nativity, going to church on Christmas Eve? Even if we do all of these things (which are good) it still feels seriously inadequate. We have a God that “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5. A few verses of “Joy to the World” in church is not going to cut it.
We need to get one thing straight right away, God does not need our attention or our good works. He is not a pansy-god who thrives on human interaction or human charity. He is fully God on his own, lacking nothing. Conversely, we humans desperately need God. We lack everything, including the ability to save ourselves from hell. The son of God, Jesus, paid the death penalty for our sins and reconciled us to God. Therefore if we know Christ and believe in what he did for us, we can celebrate him at Christmas (and always). Exclusive? Absolutely. If you are excluded as an unbeliever, you have no reason to rejoice. Enjoy the corny movies and the cookies, that is as good as your lot gets.
For the rest of us, we need to celebrate Jesus. Let’s get to the “how”. I’ll make it easy to understand: open the Bible and read it, then do what it says. There you go, “How to Love God 101”. God has kindly written down for us: who he is, what he has done, how much he loves us, what will happen if we reject him, future events and, in light of all of this, how we should live right now. How is reading the Bible better than singing or prayer? God reveals himself through his word, if you don’t know his word, you do not know him. If you don’t know him, you cannot pray or sing to him with a heart that honors him. He is far away from you (Proverbs 15:29), no amount of “O, Come Let Us Adore Him” will get you closer to him. Listen to Christ when he says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28.
When we pick up the Bible to read God’s word, this is an act of desire on our part. We are desiring to know him more, to understand and see him. In essence, we are reaching out our arms to our Father asking him for wisdom, mercy, and love. Saying, “Please, God, give me more of you!” God doesn’t need us, but he loves us and knows the best thing for us is to become more like Jesus. When we model Christ, we honor God and exult him as holy. When we hold out our arms to God, he reaches out to us as well. No, strike that, his arms were open before ours, he is already stretching grace-filled arms out to us. We need to respond by grabbing his hands and joyfully being gathered to his heart as we enjoy his presence and listen attentively as he speaks to us.
That is celebrating Jesus, reading his Words and doing what it says. We often do just the opposite in December, we set our Bibles aside and rush around greedily shopping, planning and cooking. We may sing louder, give more and be at more parties, but then the emptiness comes. We feel drained, broken and tired. It is no wonder people try to “fix” themselves as soon as the New Year arrives. They have been grasping and consuming lifeless dust. Keep this simple verse running through your mind this season and forever, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8a. It has served me well over the years as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness. It is truly life’s mission.
So begin now, read God’s word like never before. Get up earlier, stay up later, attend Bible studies and services. Be taught and study on your own. Be filled with what is truly good. Start the New Year overflowing with hope and joy; not because you will change but because you have already beenchanged by the power of God’s written voice. This alone will cause you to pray in sincerity, sing heartfelt praises, to give generously and to joyously fellowship like never before. This will cause you to do Christmas differently. You will truly be celebrating Jesus.
In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree…” those words from Luke chapter 2 (NIV) are some of my favorite in the whole Bible. When I hear them, my mind and heart flood with good memories and excitement. My Dad read them every Christmas Eve before the four of us kids went up to bed for the night.
I am amazed (really saddened) at how many families go through Christmas without ever reading the Christmas story directly out of the Bible. They may talk of Jesus and his birth, attend services, set out a nativity, but to open up a Bible and actually read the documented historical account of the events seems to be too much.
Ladies, put an end to that. If opening up your Bible is low on your list of things to do today, move it up to the top. You are missing out on so much if you don’t. And by so much…I mean everything!
So below are some scripture references I encourage you (better yet, your husband) to read OUT LOUD today or on Christmas day to the family. You can do it like we did just before bedtime or maybe at Christmas dinner or first thing Christmas morning (how about all three). Make it a standard for every Christmas from here on out and your children too will come to treasure the Words of God.
The birth of Jesus and the visit by the shepherds – Luke 2:1-21 (this is what my father read every Christmas Eve as I was a child and continues to do so). Also in Matthew 1:18-25.
The visit of the Wise Men (Magi) - Matthew 2:1-12.
The birth of Jesus foretold – Luke 1:5-26-38 (not to mention the entire Old Testament).
Speaking of that…great Old Testament scripture references about the birth of Jesus – Isaiah 7:14, 9:1-7, Micah 5:2.
The birth of John the Baptist who prepared the way – Luke 1:5-80
Don’t stop there! I believe it is also extremely important to read why this Jesus baby is so important and worthy of celebration:
The story of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection – Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, and John 17-20.
I really will be praying that you who read this, will open up your Bible and read it today. No other words spoken or written have the power of God behind them as does Scripture. My words cannot change your heart, but God’s can (Hebrews 4:12). Here is one final portion that I love from the Word and I feel is a beautiful summary of Jesus:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:5-11
Allow no substitute! Open up God’s Word and discover his perfect peace available to you today. Only with Jesus can you have a joy-filled and truly merry Christmas.
Sweet baby Jesus. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. Yes, I’m sure Jesus was a sweet and cute little baby. Aren’t all babies? Well, I’m not really the best person to ask, mine were horrible (no not ugly, they cried a lot), but that’s a story for another time. I have often wondered what kind of baby Jesus was. Did he cry much? Did he sleep all night? Did he spit out his first taste of matzoh (yes, that was a google search)? Did Mary feel the pressure of raising the Savior of the world? These may seem silly, but we mommas do wonder them at times.
However Jesus acted as a baby, we need to remember one very important fact - that sweet little baby Jesus grew up. Too often people are so very comfortable with Christmas because they can handle Jesus in the baby stage. Who doesn’t love a baby? Throw in an awesome (miraculous) birth story to go along with it and wow! Now you are talking about something to celebrate! Baby Jesus? You bet I love him, he is SO precious.
Adult Jesus, Teacher Jesus, Crucified Jesus, Risen Jesus, Savior Jesus, King Jesus, Sovereign Jesus? Now things get a little less cute and cuddly for most.
This may be why Easter is less celebrated than Christmas. Baby Jesus does not appear to demand the authority and call for dedication as fully as adult Jesus does. A baby stays in a nice, small package that we can easily ignore and pack away with our decorations at the end of the season. For most people Jesus will be the eternal “baby in a manger”.
Ladies, never fall prey to that kind of thinking. The very same book that wrote about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, has much more to say about what he did while on this earth as an adult. You can’t take one without the other.
The grown-up Jesus of the Bible demanded attention and gave tough teachings. He declared himself God, “I and the Father are one” John 10:30. He demanded repentance, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15. He demanded sacrifice and full devotion, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” John 16:24.
Jesus offered salvation yet also judgment, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the only Son of God.” John 3:18. Jesus was clear why he was on earth, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:34.
Some of these words are why many seem to prefer a baby who is unable to speak; unable to confront them with their sin and wickedness. They would rather stay ignorant of their desperate need for him; ignoring the hope that that baby brings. Instead talking of Santa and the gifts he miraculously lavishes on those who “believe” this time of year.
Force your eyes to look beyond the birth of Christ and at the purpose of his life. The birth of Jesus was amazing but not because he was born in such highly unusual circumstances. It was amazing because he was God in baby flesh. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” Colossians 2:9. Our all-powerful Savior exchanged his glory for a time to live with foul humanity, being born in a stinky, crowded hole in a wall. Not quite the welcome we would desire for a King, but what beauty it holds for those he came for.
For those of us who know Jesus, we rejoice at Christmas. We revel in celebrating the birth of Jesus because he grew up and fulfilled his mission from his Father to redeem us from our sins. Dying in our place under the wrath of God, rising again, ascending to Heaven where he is seated at the right hand of his Father right now. This is glorious news!
We hear his voice through the Bible and delight in the words he gives. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. The newborn baby points us toward the new life available only through him.
That sweet baby Jesus means everything to us because in him dwelled the fullness of our Messiah. That baby was a promise fulfilled and a promise to come. When you see a manger scene with baby Jesus remember - that baby grew up. He is the one whose lips uttered, “It is finished” (John 19:30) as his work was completed.
Sweet baby Jesus not only grew up, he always was and always will be. Praise God that he came as a baby, praise God that he is a baby no longer!
This year I drug it ALL out, all the Christmas decorations we own. Last year was left to a bare minimum as we were busy cleaning up after the fire at our business. This year, if it’s red, green, gold or jingles it is on display.
This includes my small nativity collection. At one time I collected nativities a little more seriously. I will still pick one up if it is unique or as a souvenir from travels. I have nativities from Haiti, Indonesia, Honduras, and Guatemala. A glass one from my grandfather, an ugly, cheap set from Wal-Mart (the first one I bought when I was on my own), and a special one hand painted by my mother in law among others.
If you were to visit our home this Christmas season, you would notice something different about many of these sets. Nearly all of them are in circles. Baby Jesus is in the middle with his parents, the shepherds, wise men, angel and often even the donkey and sheep all around him. Usually you can’t even see Jesus at all for the crowd that is gathered around him.
My son, Peyton, first began this practice years ago when he was around five. I let him set out my old nativity and he bunched it all up in a circle. The control freak in me spread them out neatly like we all envision the scene should look in our minds. I came back a little later and found the circle in place again. This happened a few times and finally I asked Peyton why he kept doing this. He quite logically stated that Jesus is most important and everyone would have wanted to be near him.
Boom. Schooled by a little boy.
How could I argue with such perfect reasoning? We have had circular nativities in our home ever since.
In a child’s mind this is so very obvious. Why would it be any other way? Jesus is who we celebrate at Christmas and everyone should be giving him their utmost attention. What the heck is a birthday party for if it isn’t to honor the one with the birthday?
Another great example of why Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.” Luke 10:14. So often children get it when adults do not; more sadly, often it is us adults who add in all the excess and confusion to this time of year. Mucking up the purity of the season with excess worldly traditions and materialism.
How about you? Are you striving to see Christ more clearly this time of year, or are you too busy striving for the best prices and best looking home? Are you determined to get closer to God Almighty or are you more excited to get closer to family and friends. Are you looking forward to feasting on the Word of God or feeding your flesh with all the treats?
These are tough questions but we have to be real with ourselves. There is no sense wasting time playing outside with the sheep when Jesus is right inside the stable. Get in there!
Christ is supreme above all. “For by him all things were created…all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16. We are included as something made “for him”, therefore our existence needs to revolve around Jesus. Does that describe your life?
As in Peyton’s nativity where everyone is crowding around Jesus; we need to do the same. Don’t settle for getting “close enough”, don’t settle for just a glimpse from a distance. You can bet those shepherds were vying for position as they tried to get close to Jesus that night in Bethlehem. They had just been visited by a host of angels proclaiming this wonderful news. However it wasn’t until after seeing this baby King for themselves that they began “glorifying and praising God.” Luke 2:20.
“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8. Draw closer to your Savior this season, pushing all obstacles and excuses (no matter how legit you think they are) out of your way until you see him clearly. Only then can you bow your knees and truly adore him.
Ladies, you are in a mighty position as keeper of the home to ensure it honors God. Maybe it’s time to circle your nativity; more importantly, circle yourself and your home around Jesus Christ this Christmas.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14
Why did God choose to first announce the birth of his son Jesus to lowly shepherds? Why not carpenters, craftsmen or dignitaries? Shepherds were not well thought of at that time and usually came from the lower class of society. They slept on the ground and smelled like sheep. They had to live well outside of town and tend to sheep even in the middle of the night like in the passage above.
So why shepherds? Well it is truly simple. God will reveal himself to those he chooses to reveal himself. That night he chose the shepherds; he knew their hearts were open to him. He knew they would be obedient to his directions and would proclaim the good news of the Savior to all around.
God is not concerned with your social status or occupation; he is interested in your heart. God chose these shepherds and blessed them with a special message. The same message still applies today and is now being proclaimed to you. The good news is that Jesus came to earth to redeem his people. Jesus Christ is the true Good Shepherd (John 10) and he wants to tend to your soul. Is your heart ready to receive this message? If so it is truly good news of great joy!
The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. We decorate our homes, gather with friends and find ourselves singing Christmas carols anywhere and everywhere. There is more food, more fellowship and more joy. But what truly makes this time of year so great? Jesus of course. Most of us know that the true reason we celebrate Christmas today is because a special baby boy was born over 2,000 years ago to a young and weary couple in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.
This significant and long prophesied birth was accompanied with remarkable events. Shepherds were visited by a choir of angels (the most ever mentioned in the Bible) telling of the birth of the Savior and exactly where to find him. Wise men traveled from the Far East to come worship this Christ child and bring him gifts. I love this story with all of my heart and read it with my children every year, you can find it in Matthew chapters 1 and 2 and Luke chapter 2 (my favorite). However, it still does not provide an adequate reason for why this birth and Christmas is so very great.
Children are born every day and some into very unusual circumstances. This Nativity story doesn’t even set Christianity apart from other religions of the world. Muhammad and Buddha were also born into this world at certain points in history. There has to be more to our God to make him worthy of our dedication and celebration.
Praise God there is! What makes the beginning of Jesus’s life so wonderful is what happened at the end of his life. The Bible tells us that we can never go to Heaven to be with God if we are not sinless and perfect just like him. Sadly, all of us are wretched sinners (see Romans 3:23). In the Old Testament, according to the law given by God through Moses, the Israelites had to provide sacrifices to atone for their sins. This was an arduous and truly impossible task. Jesus came and changed everything.
Jesus was the Son of God; he lived a sinless, perfect life and performed many signs and miracles and taught those who followed him. The spiritually blind, religious rulers of the time hated Jesus and wanted him dead. They tried many times but were not able to arrest him until his true hour came, Jesus then gave himself over to them. He was questioned and found innocent by Pontius Pilot, yet to appease the rowdy Jewish people Pilot handed Jesus over to be beaten, tormented and finally crucified on the cross. Why did this have to happen? Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22. Jesus gave himself up to be the ultimate and final perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
Yet again the story does not end there, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, just as he told his disciples he would. He was resurrected and is alive in Heaven with his Father God today; the tomb is empty. This is something no one else can claim. Muhammad and Buddha have graves their followers can visit, and they certainly didn’t sacrifice themselves for the people they claimed to love (one died of old age and another was supposedly poisoned).
Jesus Christ loved us so much that he came and redeemed us through his work on the cross. He did this so that we can also be resurrected from the dead and go to live with him someday. This is what makes Christmas so great and why we can celebrate this time of year with joy and passion. Jesus was a baby born to die for us.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9. This is straight from the Word of God. If you believe in him and have received his gift of redemption, you have all you need to celebrate this Christmas.
As a mother, there are times in our lives when our love for our children is overwhelming. Times when something takes place that we want to remember forever. We want to capture it and tuck it away in our hearts to bring back out to cherish over and over again. We want to wonder about its meaning and its significance. This is what I believe Mary was doing in Luke 2:19.
She had just given birth to a baby boy in a lowly stable. The shepherds had just visited and told her about the angelic choir they had just witnessed and how they had been told that a Messiah had been born and exactly where to find him. The shepherds were exuberant and made it known throughout the area.
Mary is there in the middle of it all, exhausted from her labor, so young and overwhelmed with the task she has been given. She feels the wonder of the moment; she loves her little boy with all her heart already. Yes, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, but I don’t think he stayed there long. As any mother would have done, Mary probably picked him up and held that precious child in her arms as soon as she was able. She would be kissing his forehead and checking his fingers and toes, in awe of how perfectly made he was. The knowledge that this child was special and the Son of the Most High God would have been too much to grasp, yet that is what she was told by the angel so many months ago. And in her heart she knew it to be true, though she didn’t yet understand all that it meant.
In the midst of this humble yet majestic scene so long ago, what did Mary do? In Luke 2:19 it tells us, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
She tucked these moments and events away in her heart to treasure and to dwell on. It was all too much to explain, too much to understand or comprehend. She believed every word and trusted in God with a true servant’s heart, but she couldn’t grasp the intense significance or know the impact of what had just occurred. She did what a mother does and tried to imprint that moment in time on her heart and into her mind. She wanted to be able to recall all these events later and think on them, ponder them. She wanted to hear again what the shepherds told her and begin to understand how everything that happened to her and Joseph on this journey was for great purpose. She could put the pieces together bit by bit as time went on and she raised her son and watched him grow.
I can’t help but wonder if while Mary was standing at the foot of the cross nearly 33 years later, if she was still placing events in her heart. She was overwhelmed again, this time with pain at watching Jesus be tortured and killed. Yet, I believe she still trusted in God to fulfill his promises, she had seen too much to believe otherwise.
Mary was a sinful, fallible human. People like to lift her high, pray to her, and even worship her. Mary would be disgusted; she would be appalled that we would even consider such despicable acts. However, we can learn a great lesson from Mary.
Throughout Mary’s earthly life she was watching and learning and treasuring all she could about Jesus. Putting pieces together little by little as she grew to understand more and more of who he was. This is what we need to be doing. We need to treasure up in our heart all that God has done in our lives and ponder his Words to us. We need to recall what he has to say to us in his gift of the Scriptures and think on these things continually. As we mature we should be seeing more and more of who Christ is and why things are the way they are. The closer we walk with him, the more he reveals to us.
This Christmas, treasure Jesus in your heart above all. Think on him and what he has done and what his life on earth was about. Ponder why he was born as a human, why he lived as he did and what caused him to die on a cross for you. Do not allow holiday busyness to push him aside so that you can indulge in material overabundance. Keep Christ at the center of all you do. If your heart and mind are set on Jesus this Christmas the rewards are eternal. Treasure and ponder your Savior.