We’ve all heard the expression “seeing is believing”. Some people make it their mantra for life. Unless something it plainly visible or provable by some kind of method they won’t accept it as fact. But our Lord is asking us to come into a different level of life. We understand this clearly in this Christmas Season. God is asking us to come into a barn with all of its animal smells, look at a poor new born baby lying in one of the feeding troughs, and worship that baby as our God. We don’t usually paint the manger scene in such rough terms, but that’s what it was. That baby lying in the straw is our God. It doesn’t make sense to science, and it sure doesn’t look like anything we would expect, but that infant is the one true God who came into the midst of our rough world to share with us all of its smells and dung. He came to share our life so that He could bring us into His life. We all go through those unlikely, even very unpleasant, places in life. Whether it looks like it or not God is there. Worship Him.
Christmas decorations are being put away. Lights packed up and stored until next year. We begin thinking of the next season, or perhaps even a summer vacation. But there is one thing that cannot change, cannot be put in a box and stored away – the truth of Immanuel, God with us. Almighty God became a man in Jesus of Nazareth. He came to redeem the people He created from their bondage to sin, death, and the power of the devil. “For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16) That is the truth at the core of life for all day of every day of the year. May you live in this truth, and know the fullness of God’s peace.
Today is more than a day for taking out the trash from all the gift wrapping paper and sorting out the presents to keep and those to be returned. It is more than searching for after Christmas bargains and merchants getting ready for the next holiday sale. Tradition in many areas notes today as the first of the twelve days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men on January sixth. Even apart from tradition Christmas can’t be dismissed easily. God has come among us. In a wonderful and mysterious way He has bound Himself to His creation, and promised to complete the purpose for which we were made. Jesus is not only the reason for this season, He is the reason for life itself. The Baby of Bethlehem came to redeem us from the power of sin and death, giving life to all who come to Him. That is not a decoration to be put away until next year. It is the joy in which we live and the reason for our humble worship every day.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
We have no greater gift. It is ours free and without cost. May the joy and strength
of the risen and living Christ be with you this Christmas Day and always.
We took a ride last evening to our son and daughter-in-law’s home about 50 miles away. In this season many of the homes are lighted in brightly colored decorations, and also a number of those inflatable lawn figures of Santa, Disney characters, and others. We even saw a blow up dog – I think it was supposed to be a dog – that had to be taller than I am. There were a number of manger scenes reminding those passing by of the wonderful birth we are celebrating. It was also interesting to see a number of homes that included a lighted cross with their decorations. I was very glad to see these reminders that the Christmas event can’t be separated from the redeeming act the Child of Bethlehem came to do on our behalf. The manger and the cross are bound together as one act of God’s gracious love for mankind. All of the lights and decorations are festive as they should be for the celebration of this birth. But it is the cross that brought us our greatest gift, life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our daughter teaches first grade at a local elementary school. I asked her how the kids were doing in this week before Christmas. She said they were pretty much off the wall with excitement which make getting their attention a little difficult for lessons. But maybe we should take a lessons from them. Should we not get excited about Jesus? Oh, I know, there is a lot to do to get ready for “the day”. Gifts to buy, cards to send out, dinners to plan, visits to prepare for. All of that is nice and important, and yes, we know that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. But the more we think about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ – the depth of love He has for the world that caused Him to come among us Himself; His plan of redemption to take punishment we deserve and give us the perfect righteous of His Son; the gift of forgiveness, new life, hope, and strength that we share in His presence each day. Are these not gifts far surpassing any package placed under the Christmas tree? The little ones don’t understand this yet. It is ours to show them that the love we share in material gifts can only come from the far greater love we have all been given in the Gift wrapped in clothes and lying in a bed of straw. And that is exciting!
The Advent Season prepares us for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord. It also looks forward to His promised return. There are a number of teachings taken from different passages of Scripture about how Jesus will return and what He will do. Many of us believe that He return is near, but the truth from Scripture is that we can’t know when Jesus will come again. That is something only God, the Father, knows. And we don’t know exactly what it will look like when He does come. We are taught to watch, to be aware of our times, and be prepared. We should want and long for the soon return of our Lord. That longing is not just for Him to take us out of this evil world. Rather, as both Old and New Testaments say, He is our Bridegroom. We, the Church, are His Bride. The longing of a bride is always to be with her groom. The Lord will deal with each one according to His perfect justice, but our desire is to draw as many into His love as possible so that we may all be joined to Him at His return.
I started my day by writing a list of what I would like to get done today. I don’t always do that, but this is a busy time of year and we all have things we would like to accomplish before Christmas. But Christmas will come whether they all get done exactly as we would like or not. The great truth of God’s grace is that God came into human life as it is, and not as we would like it to be. Mary and Joseph weren’t prepared to have a baby in a smelly barn. The shepherds didn’t get a chance to change their clothe before being surrounded by a host of God’s angels. Life is messy. We are sinful. Our great plans don’t always work. But God came anyway. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act, and get all things in order. He came to love us in the midst of the disorder and sin of life, to share it all with us, and to show us the way into the fullness of His life. I hope I get my list completed. I hope you get your’s done, but it doesn’t really matter. Things can wait. His love is always present and guiding us in all our needs.
This is the gift giving season, and many make lists of what they would like to have for Christmas. One can put their list of desired items up on Amazon Lists so others can see it and buy directly from Amazon. Even have it gift wrapped and mailed. Smart business move! But beyond the wish list of items what do you really want for Christmas? The New Testament writer James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”(1:17) Our greatest gift is that of our life in the Child of Bethlehem. That gift allows us to come and stand in righteousness before our Father in Heaven. We have been given the gift of the greatest love. All other gifts flow from this. All of the items on the Amazon List are nice, and some may even be necessary, but the love that has come to us, and then flows through us to other, is a gift of immeasurable value. So what do we really want for Christmas? To come even more deeply into that love, and for that love to heal hurts and bind us to all those we care about.
We are seeing a lot of lights and outdoor Christmas decorations this time year. Many call this season a time of peace and good will, a special and joyful time of year. For other it is a time of sadness in remembrance of some personal loss. Young children are in awe of the colors and festive trees. Older ones perhaps more interested in the anticipated gifts. Whatever else may be a part of this season for you, never lose the wonder of this season’s central truth – the incarnation of Almighty God in the infant born in a Bethlehem stable. Almighty God loved the people of His creation so much that He came into this world with them. He took on the weak human flesh we all occupy. He experienced all of the joys and pains, the hopes and sorrows, the successes and temptations, that face us all. Our God chose to be intimately involved with human life. A wonder above all wonders. So, beyond all the lights, decorations, manger scenes, joys or sadness of this season, know that God has come among us to bring us into the fullness of His life now and eternally.