Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas Peace … for whom?

I discovered something new about the Christmas story that I never noticed before. While reading John Piper’s Advent Devotional, Good New of Great Joy, he highlighted Luke 2:12-14:

 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Now I’ve always noticed verse 10:

The angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

To all people. The good news that will bring great joy was for all people.

But verse 14 brings a limit; peace on earth isn’t for all people. It’s for those with whom God is pleased. Which is people of faith (Hebrews 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him).

I believe that peace on earth for believers also means peace in our hearts. If God is really real, which He is, then there is no reason for a Christian not to have full peace and assurance in their hearts. Even with, especially with, how the world is today.

I know a lot of people, including Christians, watch/read the news and panic. And I must admit, lately, my heart has faltered into fear over ISIS and stuff. However, God is in control, with a good plan, and the more time we spend in His Word and with Him, the more we gain that reassurance (as opposed to spending time watching the news and being reassured our world is in trouble). As a Christian, we never need to fear or worry when it comes to the bad news in the world, or the bad news that comes to us personally.

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We aren’t helpless either when it comes to the bad news. We can pray. Pray for Paris,  pray for wisdom for leaders, pray for God to thwart the enemy and his plans, etc… Prayer isn’t just a feel-good thought, it has power! James 5:16b: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. God lets us change the spiritual climate around events through prayer. Granted, sometimes I have a hard time believing this all the time. It takes work to pray: focus, time to set aside, remembering that prayer is powerful when nothing seems to be happening.

But it’s when we remember God, what He’s done in the past, and who He is, that we can have peace, no matter what is going on in the world around us.

Advertisements

Lying in a Manger – 4 Challenging Words

nativityAfter my last post, I decided to order the book “In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas” by Dan Schaeffer, as one of the devotionals I read last week quoted his book. Wow, what a good read! I’ve really been enjoying it. The past two mornings as I read, I thought “this is good stuff! Who could I tell about it?” Then this morning I remembered I started a blog! ha! So, here are some of my thoughts from what I’ve been reading.

The announcement of the birth of Christ started off exhilarating for Mary. An angelic visit, a miracle of getting pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and her time spent with her cousin Elizabeth, who also gave a prophetic word. If I were Mary, I would assume the whole journey would be just as amazing and exhilarating, and well, trouble free. But then she comes home from her visit with Elizabeth, and Joseph sees that she’s pregnant and doesn’t believe her story. This is tragic enough for him to consider ending his relationship with her. An unwed, pregnant teen in our day is a dilemma, back then it would have been even worse. I wonder if while Joseph was considering his options if Mary was asking God “what now? how are You going to provide?” I imagine this was a huge low point for Mary. Thankfully, Joseph also received an angelic vision and the journey was good again as the babe grew within her.

But then another low point, Caesar Augustus declared a census to be taken, and a VERY pregnant Mary had to make the journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. I imagine it was a very wearying travel. They arrived to a crowded Bethlehem and as Joseph knocked on the doors from inn to inn, with no room for them anywhere, I wonder how frantic each of them felt. Joseph frustrated that he is unable to provide a place to stay for his wife; Mary possibly wondering, “God, where are you? Will you take care of us? Will you provide for your Son?” Did Mary wonder if perhaps God had forgotten them? I know I wonder that when situations seems to go horribly wrong.

The journey hits a low point.

And then maybe lower as the only place one innkeeper can give them to stay is a stable. In many of today’s Nativity scenes, the picture is of a crude stable, but quaint and clean. However, I seriously doubt the busy innkeeper had time to muck the stalls for his unexpected guests. Can you imagine how smelly and gross that stable was? Eww. And cold? Not your typical warm, clean birthing room. I wonder if doubt of God’s care for them filled their minds even more as the weary travelers moved into their shelter. Not that Mary would have much time to ponder as the labor pains began. I also wonder how heartbreaking her labor was, possibly awkward… alone with Joseph to deliver the baby (a man whom she hadn’t *known* yet), no mother to hold her hand through the delivery. All in a cold, smelly cave filled with animals and their excrement as a delivery room. A manger for a crib. Really God?

Really!

While this wouldn’t have been Mary & Joseph’s first choice, or even 2nd or 3rd; it was God’s plan, and He had a very wise purpose in it.

After the baby was born, some shepherds showed up, telling their fantastic story of an angelic vision, a host of angels! And their sign: you will find him lying in a manger. With all the people (and babies) filling Bethlehem that night, this unique sign separated the Messiah from all the other babies, no other baby would be in a manger. I wonder if hearing the Shepherds’ stories encouraged their hearts once more. God knew, God saw, He hadn’t forgotten them at all! He was working behind the scenes, and used their unique (and difficult) circumstance as a sign!

“Common folks can’t visit the palaces of newborn kings uninvited (and we seldom are). But kings and princes can visit mangers, and so can bakers and weavers, wise men and shopkeepers, priests and children, cattle and sheep. This reality is so simple that it is easy to miss” (Dan Schaeffer).

Jesus lying in a manger reveals in a dramatic way that He had come to be available, accessible by everyone! When Prince William and Kate had their baby, we could only hear about it and maybe see some pictures months later. But Jesus was available to everyone the day of his birth. God humbled himself in so many ways. Even if He was born in the very best earth had to offer, it would still be humbling for Him. But He went all the way so that we would realize there was nothing God wouldn’t do to bring us into relationship with Him.

Mary and Joseph’s journey was filled with some incredible highs and intense lows. Often, when I receive a call or mission from God, and it starts off awesome, I assume He’s going to work everything out so splendidly, and well, easy for me. But His Ways are not my ways, and when things seem like a mess and God has forgotten me, He just may be working behind the scenes where I can’t see Him. He is ALWAYS working, and His messy plan (in our estimation) may be a sign this world needs, or He may be making Jesus accessible to others through our difficulties.

The author of the book suggested that as we travel this Christmas (whether on errands or to visit friends or family), notice the hospitals you pass and take a few moments to remember how and where your God was born. “When I go into a hospital maternity ward or a comfortable home nursery, I think about how bright, clean, healthy, and warm these places are… and I marvel anew that my God lay in a manger!”

May you be encouraged through the birth of Christ this Christmas.

Pain – Part of the Christmas Spirit?

ChristmasI love Christmastime, probably more than anyone I personally know. I thoroughly enjoy decorating (transforming my home for Christmas in nearly every room), listening to Christmas music 24/7 (Pandora’s instrumental holiday radio is one of my fav’s right now), giving presents (receiving presents), and all the festivities. Everything to make one get into the Christmas Spirit.

Each year I like to focus on a different aspect of the Christmas story, to learn something a bit deeper. Some years I have something in mind; some years God will surprise me with a theme. The latter is one of those years. Starting with the sermon at church on Sunday and then the next few devotionals I read, I saw a theme that I’ve never really noticed before. Pain is part of the Christmas story. Significantly. And it’s rather surprising because Christmas is so festive and we focus on the Joy & Peace, but the other is there too.

As I look at the first few characters from the Christmas story, I see their joy as well as their pain:

Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Christmas story in Luke opens with this prestigious and godly couple who had no children and were old. Then we read of the fantastic moment when an angel appeared to Zechariah telling him “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Yay! Answered prayer! But how long had they been praying? When was the last time Zechariah had prayed, asking for a child? Did he eventually give up? They longed for child; their best years went by without an answer to this prayer. When they were young and newly married, they probably had dreams of the family they would raise. They stayed faithful to God, but no child came. I think about the times I have longed and waited for something, and the ache is unbearable sometimes. The years waiting for a husband, or praying for a family member to come to faith in Jesus, etc… Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced a heartache and longing that spanned their lifetime, clueless about what God was doing and was about to do.

Mary. The next scene in Luke 1 is the incredible story of the angel visiting Mary, telling this young virgin “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and her humble reply, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” As I sit and think about Mary and the months that followed, her heartache must have been great. Who would believe her story? How frustrating it is when no one believes you, and yet she holds the greatest truth within her belly! Who could understand her? No one could relate to her even if they did believe her. The social pressure must have been intense. Girls can be brutally mean in our culture, and I bet it was no different back then. “Pious Mary, pregnant before she was married.” How did people look at her, speak to her, treat her? How much did it hurt her heart? Mary would be questioned, ridiculed, and rejected because she was misunderstood by so many who refused to believe her story. She faced the difficulties of her integrity and morality being held in question.

Skip forward in the Story, to Matthew 2 and the escape the Egypt. King Herod heard about the baby and wanted him dead, so the angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee. Now they are fugitives in a foreign land (I can barely understand that heartache). And then, what was Mary’s heartache when she heard what happened? Genocide. Soldiers came and murdered all the male babies two years old and under in the entire vicinity. . . because of her child.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

And Joseph. The girl he loved is now pregnant, and it’s not his child. Betrayal. What was going through his mind and heart? God let him wrestle through the emotions and options, then Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. (This reflects what a humble and good man Joseph was; he could have chosen any number of options of public disgrace, revenge, even stoning Mary. But he chose not to, and it shows me why God chose him to father His Son). It wasn’t until after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.’”

Thankfully the stories don’t end at the pain. Our stories of pain never end there either. God is always at work behind the scenes, even in our pain. And that’s where the hope, joy and peace of Christmas shine the brightest!

Zechariah and Elizabeth painfully longed for a son, but eventually God blessed them with one! And not just any son, they got to be a direct part of God’s redemptive plan and raise a son who Jesus called the greatest man ever born (Luke 7:28). The forerunner to the Messiah! God chose them, but they had to wait for His perfect timing to unfold.

Mary received the greatest honor God could pay, He chose her to mother His Son! Mary knew how blessed she was and praised Him (Luke 1:46-56). God was visiting our planet, Immanuel was coming! I’m encouraged by the confirmations and encouragement she received: Elizabeth’s greeting to her, God confirming to Joseph in a dream that she was telling the truth, the shepherds and the wise men coming because God told them as well! She treasured all these things in her heart. I would too!

Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, God wasn’t done with them, and He’s not done with us! As long as God has us alive, He has a plan for us. Will you respond as they did, as Mary did? Trusting in your loving Father, who is always faithful? And even in the waiting, can you find the joy of waking up each morning knowing God has a plan and is working on your behalf?

“Christmas reminds us that we can put our hope in a sure thing – the love of God—demonstrated so beautifully on that wonderful day when He came forth into our world as a babe. Because of our despair, hopelessness and helplessness He left His throne in heaven. This is the ‘good news that will bring great joy to all people’ (Luke 2:10). This is the Christmas we can all celebrate, with or without family, friends, or familiarity. This spirit of Christmas goes beyond trees, decorations, songs, and gifts to speak to our true condition. And to this we can honestly say, ‘Merry Christmas.’” (Dan Schaeffer – The Real Spirit of Christmas)