The tree is decorated, lights are strung throughout the streets, and holiday cheer is in the air.
Yet you feel alone, and your heart feels darker than ever. The Christmas music is unbearable and there’s an overwhelming emptiness that takes over every thought.
If you’re grieving the loss of someone important to you this Christmas season, you may resonate with this lack of holiday cheer.
Know that you’re not alone. And no, you’re not the grinch.
Each Advent, I mark the anniversary of a true friend’s death. It was December 21, 2016. I can easily come to tears when thinking about him if I allow myself. His funeral was held a few days after Christmas. What a Christmas it was!
Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections—both in life and in death? But, oh, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter.
I believe my friend has reached his final home with the Lord. Jesus came at Christmas so that we might have eternal life.
Do you feel restless for home? Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.
Christmas. What is it but this: I came that you and I may have life — that we might have life, now and forever.
Make your now richer and deeper this Christmas by drinking at the fountain of forever. It is so near.
The cross was not the end – it was only the beginning!
The crown represents the Lord’s rule and reign as King throughout all eternity, and it represents the glory he received by completing the mission for which God sent Him. I think the crown represents who Jesus is! He is holy, perfect and just, and from Him flows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus was the central theme of that first Christmas. The star, the song, the gifts, the joy, the hope, the excitement- all were because of Him. This is God’s gift of Christmas and every day:
the cradle, His Son;
the cross, His life;
the crown, His coming Kingdom.
But…a gift, to be complete, must be received!
Will you receive it?
From the cradle to the cross, Jesus lived the life we cannot live.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “You are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” Matthew 1:21.
Jesus, the Greek equivalent of Joshua, means “the Lord saves” or simply “Savior.” Jesus became our Savior when He willingly and purposefully went to the cross. Christ did not risk death. He chose death. He embraced it. That is precisely why he came: “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In the cross of Jesus, we see the symbol of our faith, the sorrow of our sins and the sacrifice of our Savior.
Imagine the all-powerful Creator in a cradle as a helpless infant, a real baby with a belly button! Mary’s boy child is the human son of Mary and the divine Son of God! This picture is profoundly mystifying.
There’s something beautiful and delightful about the birth of the Christ child. Each Christmas season, there is an opportunity—for a short time, at least—to concentrate not on the suffering and sin we see in our world but on the beauty and wonder of the Savior’s life.
Many see the cradle or the manger as a symbol of Christmas. The cradle was the beginning, but it was not the whole story. The Bible tells us that Mary and Joseph made the first bed of Jesus in a manger, but even that manger scene as they swaddled the baby Jesus tells the story of sacrifice. While the birth of a child would normally be cause for great rejoicing, the joy this birth would bring is to be short-lived. For you see, this child was born to die.
What do you consider to be a good representation of Christmas? The potbellied Santa Claus? The nativity scene complete with baby, hay-filled manger, and donkeys? The iconic Christmas tree? For Luke, Christmas was best represented by a cradle, a cross, and a crown. (Luke 1:26-35) These are three great symbols of Christmas: the cradle of the baby Jesus, the cross of Jesus, and the crown Jesus wears as he sits at the right hand of God. All three are inextricably linked together, and yet most of the time, we don’t think about it this way.
We cannot really consider the Son of God in a cradle apart from His cross and His seat upon the throne of heaven. For if we forget these, we will lose our sense of who Jesus really is and what He has accomplished.
I’m sure you’ve sometimes grumbled about the way the news is covered. I know I have. Sound bites of information seem to satisfy a good many people. Rather than really thinking through the issues of the day, people want someone else to do their thinking for them. They want information packaged in capsule form to make the few catchy slogans go down easily. This is all some people want to bother with. Tragically, such a passive approach leads to a very superficial understanding of the world in which we live.
Similarly, there’s no shortage of half-hearted greetings and superficial slogans about Christmas. I don’t know how many people have wished me “happy holidays” or have hoped I have a “blessed and merry Christmas.” All this is good and appropriate. But we are in real danger of reducing Christmas to superficial sound bites—and, unfortunately, many of the sad people around us are satisfied with a slogan or two. Yet the substance of Christmas can be summed up in one incredibly brief statement:
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14. If this were our greeting instead of “happy holidays,” perhaps the season celebrations would have more depth to them.
I’m absolutely convinced that our understanding of Christianity stands or falls on what we believe about the statement, “The Word became flesh.” I would ask you a very serious question this Christmas season: Do you really believe the Word—God—became flesh?
Today many people who don’t believe that the Word became flesh still celebrate Christmas. All of us want the festivities and the good feelings of the season. There’s no question that the light that comes from God through Christ shines on all people. But that does not mean that all people automatically live in the good of it. The sun shines on everybody, but you can choose to live in a cave if you wish.
It’s impossible for us to comprehend God. Just as you can’t pour an ocean into a thimble, you can’t fit the mind of God into the human brain. So God decided that He would translate Himself into a language humans could understand. And that’s why Jesus was born. He came to interpret God to us in our own language. The invisible God doesn’t make sense to us without Jesus, the visible expression of God. The Word became a baby in order to interpret God to us.
The Word also became flesh in order to identify with us. How does God identify with a mere mortal?
Jesus was ostracized by many people from the beginning because His very birth was questionable in the community.
Jesus’ parents had no place to stay, and thus he was born in a stable. Jesus was homeless right from the very beginning of his life.
Soon after Jesus’ birth, the paranoid and murderous king Herod forced Mary and Joseph to flee for their lives to Egypt. Jesus and his family were refugees for two years.
Jesus could easily have chosen to be born in very different circumstances, but He came to identify with ordinary people. Ordinary people live in stressful circumstances. Ordinary people are surrounded by misunderstandings about who they are and what they are about. In Jesus, God identified with humanity at every point of our pain.
“A child in a manger is not intimidating. A child is meek and gentle. But the child can lead us to the man who is Jesus. This is the reason for the season.”
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
No doubt more than one baby was lying wrapped in strips of cloth on the night of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. For the poor of that day, who had nothing else to wrap a baby in, that was nothing unusual. But to put a baby in a manger was most unusual. And so, the sign was given to the shepherds. “You can go and hunt around Bethlehem, but you’re only going to find one baby—a poor little baby—wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. That is the One.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
God has communicated Christmas to us, so we might verify it as true in our lives. He wants us to go, like the shepherds, and see if the Savior has really come. Has God actually visited you, where you live, in the middle of your ordinary life? Do you have the energy, curiosity, or the will to come to the manger yourself and see what you find?
At Christmas time, God cups His hands over His mouth, as it were, and shouts at the top of His voice so that with all the continuous noise going on around them, human beings might hear what He has to say: “Listen! I’ve got great news that will bring you glorious joy!”
Christmas is many things to many people: a celebration, a cosmic visit, and a time for family traditions. I’d like for us to see it in one more way: Christmas is a communication. It is God saying something to human beings, something that we would have no clue about except that God decided to say it:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
God is desperately concerned that we understand the truth about ourselves and about His interest in us. Centuries ago, in an ordinary world, amid all kinds of bad news and at a time when most people had little reason to expect anything good, a baby was born. Through the great void of silence and despair, God shouted a message to us loud and clear.
It was a communication of joyful assurance: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy….” Why should the angels sing above this small planet, so insignificant in a huge universe? What could have happened to make the heavens over small Bethlehem split open to reveal a different dimension? There was joy in heaven, a host of beings knowing something we humans didn’t yet know—a wonderful thing had taken place in our midst.
It was a communication of grand dimensions: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” This good news and joy incorporates all people everywhere. That straw-filled cubbyhole in Bethlehem has become the doorway to the rest of the world, not only at that time but for all time.
Mary learned to dig past surface appearances and to root her mind in deeper spiritual realities. She received from the Lord great and wonderful promises. She mulled over them, treasured them, and prayed about them.
Through eyes of faith, Mary’s praise gave her insight into God’s redemptive work in the wider world of proud rulers and humble servants, rich and poor. When we trust God, Who holds all futures in His hands, He sometimes gives us a glimpse into His divine purposes on earth—a vision that would otherwise remain hidden from our eyes. This girl in her early teens already had a broader mind and clearer perspective than most people gain in an entire lifetime. God entrusted the Christ child to the care of this humble peasant girl who submitted her life to Him.
Mary’s humble submission to God marks out for us a challenging pattern to follow. She gave up all claims to her own body, her own reputation, and her own future. With such faith, God will do great things, for nothing is impossible with Him. May this Christmas be a time for us to offer ourselves to God more fully as his servants. May our lives be shaped by his will for us.
Prayer: Lord, I want to be like Mary. I want to be used for your purposes in this world. And when you make your will clear to me, I want to offer myself to you as your servant. Grant me discernment, Lord, so I can know your will for me. Then, please help me to offer all that I am to you. Amen.
God couldn’t have a Christmas without a Mary. The child Christ needed a body to live in!
Mary would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but the child conceived in her would be none other than the Son of God, who would be born in order that He might establish an eternal kingdom. Now that’s quite a mind-blowing bit of information for a humble fourteen-year-old girl living in a little country town like Nazareth!
It’s understandable that Mary should ask, “How can this possibly happen, since I’m a virgin?” She is told that this would be a work of the Holy Spirit. And she says, in effect, “All right, I’m the Lord’s servant. I’m open to what God wants to do with me. May all that You have said be fulfilled in my life.”
Christmas is a time for giving. The prophets gave their promises. Elizabeth gave her praise. Mary gave her body. Joseph gave his reputation. The innkeeper gave his stable, the shepherds, their time. And God gave His Son. Tell me, do you see your present there?
What are you giving for Christmas?
When God the Father scattered the Milky Way and hung Saturn’s rings in place, He thought about Christmas. As God the Son, working in unity with the Father, fashioned the lumbering oxen and the gentle cow with His creative power, He thought of the day when the Father would speak and He’d become flesh. On that day He would gaze with “baby eyes” upon the very creatures He had made.
Isaiah told us that God’s gift would come via special delivery, a son born of a virgin. This son would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Many years later, as an elderly Elizabeth was thinking about the promised gift, God was busy wrapping His Christmas present from heaven in human flesh. And Christmas came early for Elizabeth. When Elizabeth welcomed her cousin Mary, the outcast, ostracized, pregnant girl, God pulled back the wrapping to let her have a peek at His present. Elizabeth’s own baby leaped in her womb for joy, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, saying:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-45)
I don’t understand why people get so bothered by the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth. The fact that God brought His Son into the world in this way once again demonstrates His unlimited power and wisdom.
If you think the virgin birth itself was a miracle, how about the eternal Son of God, coming to earth as a human being? Perhaps the great miracle is not so much a baby born of a virgin but the awesome identity of the baby.
The Son of God vacated His heavenly throne for a lowly stable. This miraculous birth was nothing less than a divine invasion, where the almighty Word of God became a fragile human baby, unable to speak.
But we have allowed the divine invasion of that initial Christmas to degenerate into something sentimental. We have lots of clean straw and coloured lights and beautiful oxen and well-behaved donkeys. A lovely girl with a halo around her head sits among shepherds kneeling and regal, wise men adoring. There they gather, beautifully and sentimentally, around the manger where the most magnificent child you ever saw slumbers silently.
Yet the Son of God was born to demonstrate His power and dominion. Placed on earth as a human being to secure His creation’s redemption.
If God had not taken the initiative to redeem fallen humanity by sending His Son into the world, there would have been no incarnation, no Christ, no Gospel, no reconciliation with Him. If God had not acted, there would be no resurrection, no working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and no revelation of God instructing us how to love. I’m so grateful that God took the initiative.
Christ came into the world with all the resources of heaven behind Him. All the forces of heaven stood on tiptoe, weapons in hand, anxiously awaiting His slightest command.
We need to remind ourselves that Christmas comes from divine initiative, the unshakable plans of a loving God with unlimited resources and unbounded enthusiasm. Do you find yourself caught up in His enthusiasm? Excited by His unshakable plans? Swept along by the mind-boggling concept of unlimited resources being released into your world?
Why has Christ come? What has He come to do on His visit?
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Luke 1:68-71
The Greek word for visit means something like a doctor who is coming to see a sick patient. Somebody decides that this person is so sick the doctor must move in to take care of the person. The doctor says, “I need to visit this person, observe her, reflect on this illness, and find a cure.” Jesus came to our world to stay overnight, to settle in, to look at this sin-sick person called the human race. He came for a long-term visit in order to assess the damage, diagnose the problem, and establish a cure.
Jesus came to earth to stay a long overnight—33 years of visiting. He didn’t just drop in; He came with the purpose of staying in the guest room of our lives. Though we often put Him in the “stable,” so to speak, He didn’t come for that reason. He came to stay. He came to settle in.
This tiny human child was the hope not only for the Jews, but for all other people. And the Gentiles certainly needed some light to banish their hopeless despair.
Gentile sages regarded life as punishment and birth as humanity’s greatest misfortune. The world was evil. Life on earth brought sorrow. This earthly body was a prison of the spirit. Even if there was no hope of a hereafter, the grave would be a welcome place of rest.
How tragic it is that people often live in despair, believing what they have is all there is to being alive. And yet, what tremendous consolation to realise that there is much more to life than our present trouble.
See, some people spend their lives waiting, but they don’t know what they’re waiting for. They only know that there must be more to life. Others have had a picture of hope for centuries, and they are waiting, too. The great news is that the object of our anticipation has come to us. Christmas commemorates the end of a long, long wait.
Half the fun of Christmas is waiting for its arrival. Children, and many adults, can hardly stand the tantalizing anticipation of fun and gifts. But even apart from Christmas, many people spend their lives waiting. They wait for the perfect love, the perfect job, the perfect home, or the perfect situation. And sadly, these people are waiting for things that will never appear… because they don’t exist.
Others, however, are waiting for something sure and substantial. Their hopes have a foundation. And the assurance of their hope gives them strength to carry on, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.
So, that you might be prepared, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible to the children.
Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!
So that you might be prepared, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior, and join in this prayer:
Dear Lord, for some of us the Christmas story is so familiar that it’s become ho-hum. Please deliver us from this kind of response to your wonderful Good News. Let us see your glory in fresh ways. Open our hearts to the hallelujah chorus of the angelic hosts. Help us to seek You as diligently as the wise men. Draw men, women, boys and girls to Yourself this Christmas. May we all experience Christmas anew in our hearts. In Christ’s name, Amen.
If you don’t need a Savior, you don’t need Christmas. Christmas will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.
Around this time of year, we often see people putting up their advent wreath, advent calendar and even advent candles.
But apart from looking nice and pretty, what exactly are these traditions about? And why do we celebrate advent?
The meaning of the word Advent is ‘arrival’. We celebrate advent in the period leading up to Christmas as a chance to reflect on the arrival of Jesus, and extend the celebration of His coming beyond the short 24 hours of December 25.
“It is too significant to appreciate in just one day. Indeed, it’s something we will celebrate for all eternity.”
So while we will no doubt be caught up in all the hurried activity of the Christmas season, let us also take time this Advent to prepare our hearts to welcome once again the God who laid aside His glory and assumed our humanity because of His great love for us. Few truths in this world can be more wonderful, more startling, and more exciting than this.
There are certain signals we all recognize that warn us Christmas is on its way. Holiday advertising is everywhere we look and in everything we hear. Christmas jingles won’t let us forget what’s just around the corner. We’re told of every financing plan imaginable to ensure that we can afford all the gifts we “need” to buy for all the people on our growing list. Websites assume their “Christmas look,” and retailers put on their most elaborate displays.
It’s easy to see Christmas as bright lights and glittering gifts. But seasonal joys don’t sustain the soul like Scripture’s message. In the lead-up to Christmas, we encourage you to consider the true joy of Christmas. With heartwarming stories, inspirational verses, and biblical teaching, we want to cut through distractions to the real miracle of Christmas.
The season of Advent is the time we prepare, not for extra expenditures of cash, but to remember the Christ child who came to live among us. We attempt, once again, to consider that God actually assumed our humanity and was born and entered our world to secure our redemption.
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