Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Rome ruled Israel. Taxes were high and people anxious, wanting the promise of Messiah to be fulfilled as it had been prophesied multiple times in the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other books of the Old Testament.
And Herod, who officially ruled Galilee and Perea as a client state of the Roman Empire…well, he knew he could be thrown out of power at any time if he didn’t align himself with Rome.
Chaos was rampant as Israelites and Romans clashed in the streets. Crime was up. Waves of revolt were often led by two sects: the Zealots who sought Jewish independence, and the Sicarii, a Zealot extremist group whose name means “assassin.” Hostility was high. Roman occupation included oppressive taxes, physical abuse by Roman soldiers, and the repugnant idea that the Roman leader was a god. Repeated efforts at gaining political independence went nowhere. Whether in the city or country, Israelites were oppressed by Rome.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it! (I’m not making a political comment, just saying their culture and ours parallel in a number of ways.)
But the Israelites expected a Messiah Ruler; a leader who would vanquish Rome, set captives free, and give them peace and freedom and victory celebrations!
Instead, Messiah came as a baby, born in a humble stable. Not even a room in the inn. He had to be laid in a manger, probably filled with straw. This isn’t the way one would expect a King to enter the world. Pastor Tim used a statement last week that “The infinitely high became incomprehensibly low so we could be seated with him in the heavens!” God’s Son gave up everything, even the Oneness he shared with the Father, when God turned his back on the sin laid on his Son’s shoulders on the cross. Jesus gave up everything so we could have everything!
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
With Mary, I proclaim
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
Luke 1:46-48 (NIV)
This has been a difficult year around the globe. Uncertainty, hostilities, pandemic, floods, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, and isolation have taken their toll.
And, while Jesus wasn’t born into a palace, surrounded by servants, rich damasks and silks, and the finest of infant foods, he did come as our Lord and King, the only one who could take on himself the penalty for our sins. Eight days after his birth, the elderly Simeon, a righteous man who had been awaiting the arrival of Messiah, held Jesus in his arms and prayed:
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
So as we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s remember the God who holds the world in his hands and sent his one and only Son, the exact likeness of God, to become nothing, so we could have everything!
I wish you and yours a joyous Advent, celebrating not only the babe in the manger, but our Lord and King!
Do you recall your favorite Christmas? It may be a Christmas gift whose memory has always remained with you. Something you hoped for that came true, or anticipation that made the realized hope even more precious.
When I was a child in Winnipeg, Manitoba, my brothers and I were eager to open our gifts. But we had to wait until Christmas morning. So every Christmas we children wakened about 5, got Mom and Dad out of bed, and were given the chance to open ONE gift of our choice. Then we had to go back to bed or play quietly until Mom and Dad were ready to get up for the day.
I was a doll girl. So my favorites were the beautiful dolls my parents got for me. I’d open one, take it back to bed with me, and fall asleep holding that sweet gift until we got up later to open other gifts and enjoy the day together.
My memories also include presents I made when I was working in an inner city ministry in Los Angeles. I didn’t have much discretionary money, so made many of my gifts. One Christmas I worked for weeks on a beautiful stitchery picture for my brother and sister-in-law. I didn’t finish it before coming home to San Jose for the holiday. So Christmas Eve I stayed up ’til 4 or 5 in the morning to finish that piece! Fatigued as I was, I enjoyed giving it and seeing the pleasure it gave Arn and Carol. I also painted and fired a pirate’s head bust for my brother Mel. I was quite proud of the pirate’s facial coloring and the infusion of blush on his cheeks by the fingertip application of red chalk.
Fun memories all. And as an adult, I recall those precious times when our family gathered together to remember Jesus, the hope of all the nations. While alive, Dad always read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before we opened gifts that symbolized the greatest of all gifts–God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice so we could be forgiven of sin, become His children, and enjoy eternal life in His presence. What joy!
She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.
This year will be different. Don and I will be alone with Paigey on Christmas Day because of the pandemic and stay at home orders. But we won’t be alone. We’ll go to a drive-in Christmas Eve service at our church. We’ll remember Jesus, thank Him for His gifts, enjoy giving and receiving presents to and from each other, read, sleep, and enjoy a quiet day together. And we’ll zoom!
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.
Advent – the Coming. As we await the arrival of Christmas this year, we focus on hope.
Hope has been elusive this year. Our culture is very much about “now”. We’re used to fast food, getting things we want right away. At Costco, in bulk! We get irritated if we have to wait.
And now we see waiting everywhere — the line around the corner at Marshall’s; another at Petco; still another queue of customers waiting to enter the bank. We’re being stretched with the current restrictions on our activities and on how many people can be in a store at one time, whether we’re waiting for groceries, Christmas shopping, or something else.
But Jesus gives us hope. Isaiah 11:1 promises that God still has a plan. A plan that was carried out by Jesus Christ when He came to earth to walk with us, to die a horrible death and return to life three days later. God will not forget us. He will have the last word.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
We can trust him. He is righteous, wise, just …
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord … with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth …
And a day is coming when He will make all things right.
He will end injustice (11:4) and will rule in righteousness, faithfulness, and be incorruptible
He will end conflict (11:6-7)
He will end pain (11:9), and
He will end ‘religion’ – there will be no need to teach others because knowledge will fill the earth (11:9b).
There is an element of hope as I realize that every day I’m one day nearer to that day of righteousness and peace.
I don’t claim to know what God is up to in our nation, our world during this anxiety-laden time. I do know He wants us to turn to Him in repentance and faith, trusting that He is good, that He has a plan that ends in ultimate glory for those who trust in Him.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells” lost his beloved wife in 1861. The American Civil War began that same year. The following year his son joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War without his father’s consent. Shortly before Christmas 1863, Longfellow learned of his son’s war injury. The poet’s pen had been dry as he suffered the agony of loss and the depression accompanying the ongoing Civil War. But friends encouraged him to write a poem.
That Christmas morning in 1863, Longfellow heard church bells and wrote this poem.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
I wish you peace and good will during this Advent season. However you celebrate, whether alone or with others, be safe, be wise, and rejoice that the Savior of the world, born in a manager so many years ago, is alive and well and working in and through us.
Joy to the World!
What are your plans for Christmas? How can you make it a special time even if not with those you usually join for time together?
Don and I went out of town for two days this weekend, and I had arranged for a local woman to dog-sit here at the house. However, I had left several phone messages in the past three days and hadn’t received a call back. It was noon on the day before we were to leave.
I needed to find an alternative. I called another woman who did a great job taking care of Paige for a day recently. Thankfully, she was available and delighted to have our little girl overnight. I’m thankful my alternate was available and willing!
But when Jesus came to earth, the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, God provided one way to know Him. He didn’t say, “My Son gave his life for you. Grace is freely available, along with all the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life — but if you want to find me in another way — by being as good as you can, acting loving to those around you, being philanthropic, or following some other religious teacher, that’s ok. Alternatives are good.”
Instead, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). He is the only way to the Father, God, and a relationship with Him is freely available to all who receive it. While I might try my best to live a righteous life, I’ll never meet God’s standard of holiness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to take the punishment I deserve for sin– whether that’s murder or lying or cheating or holding onto selfishness or thinking I’m better than others –on Himself and in its place, give me His righteousness, His substitutionary atonement for my sin.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17, ESV
So this Christmas, think about whether you are trying to know God by an alternate route, or by the means He provided through His Son, Jesus.
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”