“Joy to the World! The Lord Has Come!” So go the words to one of the most beloved of our Christmas carols. While many things go into making this a season of celebration, it all centers around one of the greatest joys that can be experienced: the birth of a baby.
The Christmas season centers around that great experience afforded to human beings: to have a child placed in your arms and into your life… a child that, when you look into his or her face, you see your own looking back! But more than that, we look into the innocent and lovely face of a child… born to us or adopted by us… and we see our Creator looking back at us. Something of His glory… of His person… rests in and on a baby.
This particular season is an especially joyful one for us. Pam and I became grandparents to McCail Violet. Born barely six months ago, the presence of this child has changed not only the world of her parents, Dave and Logan, but ours as well. And the word that best describes her presence with us?
When angels announced to terrified shepherds on a Galilean hillside outside of Bethlehem that, “We bring tidings of great joy…,” I could not imagine joy being wrapped in a more perfect package than a baby! “Unto us a child is born, a son is given” the prophet Isaiah proclaimed.
Joy wrapped in a soft, kissable, cooing, tiny package. The perfect gift! It is amazing sometimes when we look at our granddaughter laughing or pensive, or her beautiful blue eyes just wide open and taking it all in that we can see her mother and father looking back at us. We marvel at our Creator’s handiwork and the miracle that is life.
That very first Christmas, when angels shined in the night sky and shepherds knelt at a stable, God showed up in a baby. The tiny life wrapped in Mary’s youthful embrace looked like the mother who had borne Him in her womb for nine months, without a doubt. And yet when she looked into her baby’s face, it was God she saw looking back at her!
That night, that Holy Night, the Creator smiled at us from a cattle stall. He came as a human child and yet He was fully Divine… “the fullness of Deity dwelt in Him,” the Bible tells us. Salvation had come to the world… God is with us… Immanuel. And now, with the angels and the redeemed through the ages, we too can sing,
JOY TO THE WORLD! THE LORD HAS COME!
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” So goes the words to one of our most beloved Christmas carols. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a song that seems to come alive, especially on Christmas Eve. We can almost feel the stillness of the night air when the angels burst through with the good news proclaimed to frightened shepherds.
We can hear the rustling of animals that had been cleared away in a stable where Mary was giving birth. Or maybe, if we listen carefully enough, we can hear the cries of a newborn baby in the manger.
When God sent His greatest gift to earth, it was with no earthly fanfare and involved no royal receptions as accompanies rulers and national leaders today. No trumpets blew. No children danced. No gifts were brought. No speeches were made.
Hear it again… the silence. I have had to learn all over again, as a grandfather, to “hush.” No loud entries into the house. When McCail is with us, I slip in like a thief! If she’s sleeping we don’t want to wake her. I’ll often come in and find her rocked to sleep and laying silently on her Mamaw.
The gift of God came… in silence. In holy wonder. In angelic awe. But “how silently, how silently the wondrous gift was given.” Gone are the days of silent gifts. Most of our children don’t get excited over toys that help them be quiet. Every parent wants them. Every child wants… NOISE. Something that talks, squeaks, squeals or makes explosive sounds… or more, something that they can talk into! But silence… gone are the days!
But God chose for the arrival of His Son to be greeted in the stillness of a Galilean night… in a manger separated from the clamor of a crowd. In stillness. In silence.
“Shhhhh… the baby’s asleep!”
FOR MEDITATION: But when the fullness of time had arrived, God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5
Our world is anything but a world at peace. As I write this, the news headlines are still announcing the assassination of the ambassador to Russia in Ankara, Turkey, and the debris is still being cleared from the assault on a Berlin Christmas market, killing twelve. Refugees are fleeing the “conflict” (it’s a war!) in Syria being waged on the civilian populations there.
This kind of news runs the risk of numbing us to the pain and conflict of the world we are living in. We hear daily. We are a world in conflict, in turmoil. And peace seems nowhere in sight. One of the incredible titles assigned to Jesus in Isaiah’s prophecy was that He would come and be called “Prince of Peace.”
In a world torn by strife and conflict, warfare and turmoil, that title has a soothing and healing quality. When the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on the Galilean hillside that first Christmas the words, “peace on earth,” you know they heard those words with joy! Peace!
And yet, the life of Jesus seemed anything but peaceful. Everywhere He went it seemed conflict and enemies followed Him. But what we know is this: it was at the cross where peace was accomplished. Only when the enemies of humanity were defeated – sin, death and evil – could peace become a reality.
And Jesus came to bring us peace… real peace. Lasting peace. Peace between God and man. “God and sinners reconcile,” we sing. And He came to bring peace… to your life.
Where do you most need peace today? In your home? Your marriage? With your children? On your job? In your inner world? This “Prince of Peace” has come to rule over the chaos and to bring you the gift that everyone wants: a lasting peace; order in our chaos; eternal peace.
Only in Jesus is that peace a possibility and in Him… it’s a promise!
FOR MEDITATION: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace toward men….” Luke 2:14
FOR REFLECTION: God wants us, first of all, to be at peace with Him. That is possible only in relationship with His Son, who is the “Prince of Peace.” Have you asked Him to forgive your sin, the things you do to bring chaos into your own life and into the lives of others? He will do that today if you’ll simply ask!
What an amazing string of names in Isaiah 9:6. From “Wonderful counselor” and “Mighty God,” we move to the third name connected to the coming Messiah and that is “Everlasting Father.” These were radical names attached to the One we would simply call “Jesus.” But each of these names describes some aspect of the nature and character of the child of Bethlehem.
Everlasting Father tells us some things about Jesus. He was not coming simply to be an ordinary ruler who would exercise power and authority over His subjects. He was going to be more than that… a protector, a provider… a “father.”
I am convinced the longer I am in ministry that most of the problems in our culture could be solved if we could deal with the issue of fatherhood in our men. Men in our culture tend to be individuals who either were never “fathered” in a healthy way (if at all, other than biologically), or men who were never discipled in their faith.
We can fix the part about not being discipled. It’s harder to address the issue of not being fathered. The fallen world around us has tried for decades to make the role of fathers in a family either unnecessary or as done poorly by some bumbling fool (think Homer Simpson). Sadly there are many who cannot say they knew their father at all, or if they did some wish they hadn’t. To fail in this role is a tragic failure indeed.
Jesus came to meet that need… in fact, to fill that void that some feel. If you had a wonderful, faithful father that you could love, respect and look up to, be grateful. There are many who do not. But if you are among those who did not, Jesus came to be an “Everlasting Father;” One who cares, provides, protects and doesn’t leave.
And just imagine for a moment being the child of a president or a king… a person in high office… who you could call “Father.” That is what we have in our Savior…
… an everlasting Father.
FOR MEDITATION: Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. John 14:9
FOR REFLECTION: In some parts of the world, Santa Claus is called “Father Christmas.” This legend, derived from the story of St. Nicholas, expresses belief in someone who is bigger than life and full of benevolence and magical charm. But there is an everlasting Father who does exist. And it is that Father that Jesus came to reveal to us at Christmas!
The argument from some critics of Christianity seems to settle on this question: did Jesus understand Himself to be God or did the church invent this idea later? Beginning in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 9, said that the coming Messiah would have four titles; “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These titles would be descriptive of this anointed One whom God had promised would come.
For over a millennia before the baby Jesus arrived in Bethlehem, the expectation of the prophets was clearly that this Messiah would, in fact, be God in flesh. Deity. “Mighty God” is a pretty unambiguous title referring to that deity.
In the New Testament, there was already one who was called “the son of God” when Jesus arrived. The Caesar wore that as one of their exalted titles. Caesar Augustus who reigned during Jesus’ days on earth wore that title proudly. For Jesus to self-proclaim Himself “the son of God” would have been, not a theological problem, but a political one. He would have been setting Himself up as a contender for Rome’s throne. That is not why He came.
And so, we don’t hear Jesus saying “I am God’s son” very much. Maybe that insight helps us know why He didn’t. But there are clearly places in the New Testament where He does lay claim to that title.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in AD 61, he included an early confession of faith… in the form of a song… where the deity of Jesus is clearly spoken of. If we were going to create a conspiracy where we sought to claim deity for a human being, it would be wise of us to wait until the people who knew him or who knew of him personally had died and gone off the scene.
But in less than 30 years from the death of Jesus when many of the witnesses to His life and ministry were still around, Jesus was being celebrated as God come in the flesh! Philippians 2:6-8 celebrates His being “equal with God” and that being something He willingly laid aside as He became flesh. In other words, many who had met Him were still around to ask!
So yes, the prophets were right. Jesus is in fact fully God, fully Deity, but at the same time fully human. “The God man,” St. Augustine called Him. Same nature as God. Same power as God.
And the same love as God… for you and for me.
FOR MEDITATION: And the Word was with God… and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. John 1:1
FOR REFLECTION: Jesus is much more than just a good man… even a good man with the power to work miracles. He was, in every sense of the word… GOD. And as such, deserves all of our adoration.
Recently I read a post by Pastor Rick Warren reminding us to remember the lonely at Christmas. While celebrating Christmas is a joyful and family-filled time for many, it is an acute time of loneliness for some and rather than relieve it, festivities and activity can actually accentuate the pain.
The Warrens are still walking through the valley of their adult son’s suicide and of course the nostalgia and memories that Christmas is known for can bring back painful memories of a loved one no longer with us. He had four practical suggestions for those who experience loneliness or grief this time of year.
- Make good use of your time. While medicating our pain with busyness is not necessarily healthy, idle time gives too many opportunities for our mind and memories to go to hard places. Don’t withdraw. Get involved where you can.
- Minimize the pain. Don’t rehearse the hurt. Don’t deteriorate into resentment toward others or bitterness for those who may have hurt you. Keep your mind focused on positive things as much as possible.
- Get the focus off yourself. Find others who need comfort or company or an understanding friend. Lots of people are hurting this time of year. Empathize with their suffering, and God will bless you as you do.
- Remember that, for the Christian, no person is ever truly alone. The very meaning of the name of Jesus given in the prophecy of Isaiah was “Immanuel” which means, “God is with us.”
No more lonely scene can be found in the Bible than the picture of Joseph and Mary walking into Bethlehem that first Christmas night. In the midst of the business, the hustle of visitors to the overcrowded hamlet, the storekeepers and innkeepers dealing in loud voices with the crowd moving in to their little town for a few nights, the Christ child was born.
But the birth of Jesus was not welcomed by a loving family surrounding the young couple. They were visited by strange, Bedouin sheep keepers and somewhere, the rumor of angels. Loneliness met them that night. If you’re alone, Jesus understands you.
And He will never leave you. He promised.
FOR MEDITATION: And the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bring forth a child, and will call his name “Immanuel,” God with us. Isaiah 7:14
FOR REFLECTION: Who in your life and network or relationships may be most lonely this Christmas season? Make a plan to reach out to them… you never know when your phone call, text or visit may be just what they need most for Christmas!
Andrew Martinez is a name you may recognize if you follow professional golf. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past September… not as a pro-golfer… but as a caddy. He has carried the bags for a number of the world’s best golfers, including Tom Lehman and now Zac Blair, and always occupying a spot just outside the limelight.
Martinez knows a great deal about golf and is himself very athletic and even does seminars on golf. But when he comes out of the dressing room, dressed in shorts or overalls he occupies the role of a servant to the golfer. Nothing of Andrew Martinez goes away when he puts on his caddy uniform. He is still the same person he was. But for a time, he is a servant carrying clubs for another.
In the same way, when Jesus came and emptied Himself, the most important part of incarnation was not what He took off but what He put on… his humility was shown as he “took on Himself… humanity.” And He carried our sins to the cross for us!
In John 13, Jesus took off his robe, and wrapped a towel around his waist and went to each of His disciples to wash their feet. It was not in that moment what He took off but what He put on that defined Him. How about you? Are you “putting on” the mind of Christ? Are you following in His humility and servant spirit? Does that define you…
… or are you defined by the world’s definition of climbing to the top?
FOR MEDITATION: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…. Philippians 2:5
FOR REFLECTION: How will you “put on” Christ’s mindset, His servanthood, and serve others this Christmas season?
Jesus is a wonderful counselor. So begins one of four names assigned to Him by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9. He is a friend who listens to us sympathetically, but who doesn’t simply listen as is the path so many contemporary counselors follow today. We need more than a compassionate ear, though we do need someone to listen to our sorrow and confusion.
Jesus is a wonderful counselor, a “wonder of a counselor” the literal text reads, because He spoke wisdom to our confusion, brought clarity to our confusion and peace in our chaos. He is a wonderful counselor because His words bring life, not death. Forgiveness, not judgment.
Jesus is a wonderful counselor because “He knows what is in man.” He brought spiritual insight to every circumstance, and could brush past prejudice, His own feelings and cultural boundaries to speak life.
Jesus is a wonderful counselor because He took on our humanity and frailty in the incarnation. He understands us. He “gets” us at the deepest level. He walked in our flesh, and wore our sorrow. Tim Keller says of this “wonderful counselor:”
God truly understands you from the inside of your experience. There’s no other religion that says God has suffered, that God had to be courageous, that He knows what it’s like to be abandoned by friends, to be crushed by injustice, to be tortured and die. Christmas shows that God knows what you’re going through. When you take to Him, He understands.
Jesus is a wonderful counselor. You need no other to stand with you, to listen to you, to guide you because none can do it like Jesus can. And if you know Him, you know why this name fits Him so well!
FOR MEDITATION: His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…. Isaiah 9:6
FOR REFLECTION: Take your deepest, most confusing, most frustrating, most painful issues to this One who alone can bring you peace, clarity, wisdom and healing. He is a Wonderful Counselor… and you need no appointment to reach Him!
Jesus came in humility. Philippians 2:5-8 establishes that without any question. He came, not just to die a humble death for us, but His birth took place in the most humble of all places: a manger. His birth was as humility-filled as was His death.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Hardly the center of the world. Hardly the center of anything. Existing as it did in the shadow of the “holy” city, Jerusalem; travelers would hardly give a thought to going to Bethlehem for… well, anything.
The census under Caesar Augustus changed things on that first Christmas night. It forced people to return to the city of their birth, and obviously a number of those were born in Bethlehem… the city where King David had been born hundreds of years prior.
And because of that overpopulation, no room was left for anyone to be housed in a hamlet that seldom had a visitor. (Think hosting the Super Bowl in Waldo, Florida). Mary and Joseph, though in extreme circumstances due to the nearness of Mary’s delivery date, could find no place to stay.
So Jesus was born in a manger. The manger in Biblical times was, as Miles McPherson called it, the “nasty” room in the house. It was a part of a Middle Eastern home where animals would live and sleep at night. It was smelly. It was awful. It was the dirtiest part of the house.
The place where no one saw… and no one went. Except Jesus.
But that’s the room that Jesus came to deal with. We all have our “stinky” rooms… those places where most never see and where we invite no one in. Our “manger” contains the collections of actions and the results of bad decisions and the stuff we hope no one ever finds out about us.
Let’s not romanticize the manger. We were never intended to. Even at His birth, Jesus came to live in… and to transform… the worst of our circumstances; the most shameful of our actions… and the darkest of our secrets.
Invite Him back in sometime. Open the door to that place where sin sometimes hides and doesn’t want to be discovered. He already knows the way.
And this year at Christmas, let Him clean up YOUR manger!
FOR MEDITATION: And she brought forth her firstborn child, and laid Him in a manger…. Luke 2:7
FOR REFLECTION: Is it time for you to open the door for the Savior to come in… to every room of your life?
In the marvelous prophecy contained in Isaiah 9, we see some incredible things about the coming Messiah. First we see an incredible process. “Unto us a child is born.” That reflects for us the humanity of Jesus. The birth of Christ did not deviate from any other process of human births that had been experienced.
I am personally not of the persuasion that Mary floated three feet off the ground as she walked while bearing the Christ child within her. I think her feet hurt. Her back ached. Maybe she got morning sickness. The hormones within her human, adolescent body were working overtime. She had a baby… a boy.
But alongside that human experience was a supernatural one. We live in a naturalistic world, meaning, the only things that are considered true or important are those we can experience with our five senses or reproduce in scientific method. To the naturalistic mind, the universe is a closed system and only what is inside that “box” matters.
At Christmas, we celebrate a wonderful reality that God broke in! That is a reality that surpasses all that we know around us and overcomes our fear and doubt and skepticism: “a son was given!” God came down at Christmas. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) God burst in at Christmas.
And today, if you’ll invite Him and open your heart to Him, He’ll invade your world as well!
FOR MEDITATION: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
FOR REFLECTION: What areas of your life are still “locked up” to the One Who came at Christmas? Isn’t it time to open those doors….to Him?