What the angel thought

angelYou ever wonder if the angels might have been just a little confused about the Christmas events? Think about the message they were told to proclaim. Perhaps you remember hearing the message spoken by 8 year olds dressed in white with garland halos from Christmases–past. Here’s the angelic proclamation:

Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12).

If you were an angel wouldn’t such a message seem a bit confusing?

Why was God taking such an interest in those from the human race? From the moment they were placed in the Garden of Eden they were succumbing to temptation and seeking ways to rebel. When God gave them His law, they only devised more creative ways to break it. As an angel it sure would be difficult to understand God’s love for these people.

Even more confusing might be the appearance of their Creator. The message they proclaimed is that Jesus had come as a baby. Can you imagine an individual more dependent than a baby? A teenage mom would be caring for Him. An earthly father would be providing for Him. And then there’s the matter of his birthplace. Had they misunderstood the message? He was in a stable? Lying in a common feed trough? The whole ordeal must have certainly confused more than a few angels.

But then again they had spent their entire existence in the presence of their Creator. Perhaps they had seen his love in action before. Perhaps it didn’t surprise them at all that God would go to such extremes to express His love to a people who were in such need of a Savior.

Seeking Divine Appointments in the Rush of Christmas

Christmas and homelessA friend of mine challenged me with a great question. He asked, “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday why is it we spend all our time hunting for gifts to give to others?” He paused and added thoughtfully, “It would be a little like your friends insisting they help you celebrate your birthday, and then they bring a bunch of gifts to give to each other while never bringing one for you!” He asked the question sincerely. There wasn’t an ounce of Scrooge in his voice. And I confess the question got me thinking. Had Christmas simply become the greatest retail surge our financial markets feel? Could I find a way to give a gift to the Lord?

I pondered the characters that surround our manger scene. The shepherds didn’t have much, but they gave their worship to the Lord. The three wise-men were certainly busy, but they took years out of their schedules to find the newborn King and give their gifts. And of course the words of Jesus Himself haunted me, “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” (Matthew 25:42) Could it be that we missed the meaning of Christmas because we were too busy preparing to celebrate?

When my daughter was six years old we had a doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia around Christmas time. But the doctor’s appointment was only the event God used to schedule a divine appointment He had for us. As we were returning home, Ashlyn spotted a homeless man sitting on a mattress along the curb. “Daddy, can we help him?” she asked. “No, honey, not today, we’re too busy,” my mind racing through all the things I had to jam into the days before Christmas occurred. “But daddy, it’s Christmas time” the little voice whispered from the back seat.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the tears filling the corners of her eyes. I decided it was an appropriate time to rearrange my busy schedule. A stop at a vendor, a cup of hot coffee, a six-year-olds smile, and a pamphlet sharing how someone could be at peace with God brought a smile to the lips of a man who had no home. I rethought the meaning of Christmas.

Could it be that God has divine appointments for each of us this season? Opportunities for us to give our gifts directly to Him?  I hope this season you’ll be looking for them – those divine appointments with your name attached.

It’s Christmas day…the waiting is over.

This morning children of every age will awaken with this thought: The waiting is over. For days now they have been staring at the packages under the tree, and waiting. Perhaps some have even succumbed to their own curiosity, and haven’t waited.

Are you among those who have a Christmas secret in your past?  You looked to the left, then to the right, carefully unwrapped the gift prior to Christmas morning, and then rewrapped it quickly and hoped no one could tell the difference?

I had a gift like that once when I was a child. It was a packaging box in the top corner of the closet that drew my attention. When I pulled it down and took a peek inside I discovered a set of ceramic bookends. One was a baseball glove, and the other a football. I kept returning to that box when no one was watching. One day when I got that box from the closet it slipped from my hand. When I looked in the box what had been two bookends was now three. I put them back in the box and never looked again. When I opened the gift I saw that the baseball glove had been put back together.  Although the observant eye (and my guilty conscience made mine very observant), could still see the fracture and the thin line of glue that now held the left bookend together. Later that day, my mother pointed out the glue and shared a curious story. She recounted that when she had first ordered the bookends they were in one piece, but when she went to wrap them one was broken. I guess I wasn’t the only one with observant eyes that morning.

There are two characters in the post-Christmas  story that had been waiting: Simeon and Anna. When the baby Jesus was brought to the temple for his dedication (40 days after his birth) Simeon appears. He had been “waiting on the consolation of Israel”  (Luke 2:25).  The word consolation means to bring comfort. That’ not only what the nation of Israel needed, but what we all need as well. Jesus is meant to bring comfort to the soul that is anxious, troubled and hurting this Christmas day.

Anna was prophetess. She had been a widow for 84 years.  And that entire time she had been “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). That’s a long time to wait for something. The word redemption means to “buy back and set free.” Jesus bought us back from the addicting slavery of our selfishness and set us free to fulfill our God intended purpose — bring glory to God.

So this Christmas, as you open those gifts, pause to remember the gift that was worth the wait. The One who brings both comfort and redemption.

What angels must have thought…

You ever wonder if the angels might have been just a little confused about the Christmas events? Think about the message they were told to proclaim. Perhaps you remember hearing the message spoken by 8 year olds dressed in white with garland halos from Christmases–past. Here’s the angelic proclamation:

Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12).

If you were an angel wouldn’t such a message seem a bit confusing?

Why was God taking such an interest in those from the human race? From the moment they were placed in the Garden of Eden they were succumbing to temptation and seeking ways to rebel. When God gave them His law, they only devised more creative ways to break it. As an angel it sure would be difficult to understand God’s love for these people.

Even more confusing might be the appearance of their Creator. The message they proclaimed is that Jesus had come as a baby. Can you imagine an individual more dependent than a baby? A teenage mom would be caring for Him. An earthly father would be providing for Him. And then there’s the matter of his birthplace. Had they misunderstood the message? He was in a stable? Lying in a common feed trough? The whole ordeal must have certainly confused more than a few angels.

But then again they had spent their entire existence in the presence of their Creator. Perhaps they had seen his love in action before. Perhaps it didn’t surprise them at all that God would go to such extremes to express His love to a people who were in such need of a Savior.

What the first Christmas might have been like

The mother’s scream ripped through the darkness.  She bit her lip, her body tense, her mind focused. The pain for this first-time mother was beyond anything she had anticipated. She tried to recite the verses she had learned as a child. “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong…There is no Rock like our God.” 1

She felt the uncontrollable tightening across her back, as her body strained to release the physical burden that had grown heavier these past months. Perspiration beaded on her forehead. She fought back the fear of panic that was rising in her chest. With greater intensity she kept repeating…”The Lord has made me strong. The Lord has made me strong. The Lord has made me strong.” The contraction subsided, and she rested.

She had labored through the night, only her husband by her side. No mother would ever know the physical pain she bore to birth this son.  She was a young mother after all—her womb—a virgin’s.

Between contractions her husband tenderly stroked her hand. His deep voice began to hum a familiar melody. It was just like him to hum only the tune so she would have to voice the lyric. Between contractions she quietly sung the words she herself had written months earlier. 

How my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed… 2

She smiled. Joyfully remembering the day she discovered she was pregnant.

The smile quickly melted under the growing strength of another contraction. Her weary muscles bore down, and Mary’s sweet song was driven from her mind with God’s promise to Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.” 3

The final contraction was the worst. The young girl’s body stretched between time and eternity by two invisible powers. The first, denying her son entrance to the world, and the other, insistent that the boy be born precisely on time.

With eyes squeezed tightly shut, she pushed hard, and heard the infant cry of her newborn son.  His tiny human lungs inhaled earth’s air as a human for the first time.  Amidst the chaotic noise of an overcrowded Bethlehem night, she heard her husband’s gentle voice, “We will call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Years later, the apostle John would capture this event with nine simple words. . . and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. . .

1 Samuel 2:1-2. Taken from Hannah’s prayer when she discovers she is pregnant with Samuel the prophet. It seemed reasonable to me that an expectant mother would have known and learned this passage.

2 Luke 2:46-48

3 Genesis 3:16

Curious and Joyful…the story of Mary

Traveling isn’t recommended when you’re nine months pregnant. The airlines won’t take you. Your doctors will discourage it, and who would want to be that far away from medical care when your first contraction could be less than a minute away?

Yet, there Mary was traveling 85 miles side-saddle on the back of a donkey, when her due date could have been yesterday. What were her thoughts on the way to Bethlehem?

To say that she was experiencing some physical discomfort is probably an understatement. Every rut the donkey stumbled into drove the Christ-child ever closer to leaving the womb and entering the world.

She probably felt fear. Why else would the angel have told her, “Do not be afraid.” Perhaps she was fearful of new surroundings, new friends, and <Ouch! > those new contractions!

She certainly   felt joy.  Although there were no ultrasounds she already knew the sex of the baby. The angel had said He would be a boy!

She probably was curious. The angel had said that her Son would be great and would reign over an unending kingdom (Luke 1:33). What exactly did that mean? Joseph’s angelic courier said their Son would  “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). How could that be? Who was this baby growing inside her?

Perhaps you, like Mary, find yourself curious this Christmas.  Just who was Jesus Christ anyway? Why does the whole world stop to celebrate His birth? Can I encourage you to pick up your Bible and discover for yourself?

You’ll find his birth in Luke chapter two, but from there jump forward one book to the Gospel of John. As you read about His life don’t be afraid, for just like Mary your curiosity will be satisfied and your joy will be full.

Looking for opportunities in the rush of the season

A friend of mine challenged me with a great question. He asked, “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday why is it we spend all our time hunting for gifts to give to others?” He paused and added thoughtfully, “It would be a little like your friends insisting they help you celebrate your birthday, and then they bring a bunch of gifts to give to each other while never bringing one for you!” He asked the question sincerely. There wasn’t an ounce of Scrooge in his voice. And I confess the question got me thinking. Had Christmas simply become the greatest retail surge our financial markets feel? Could I find a way to give a gift to the Lord?

I pondered the characters that surround our manger scene. The shepherds didn’t have much, but they gave their worship to the Lord. The three wise-men were certainly busy, but they took years out of their schedules to find the newborn King and give their gifts. And of course the words of Jesus Himself haunted me, “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” (Matthew 25:42) Could it be that we missed the meaning of Christmas because we were too busy preparing to celebrate?

When my daughter was six years old we had a doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia around Christmas time. But the doctor’s appointment was only the event God used to schedule a divine appointment He had for us. As we were returning home, Ashlyn spotted a homeless man sitting on a mattress along the curb. “Daddy, can we help him?” she asked. “No, honey, not today, we’re too busy,” my mind racing through all the things I had to jam into the days before Christmas occurred. “But daddy, it’s Christmas time” the little voice whispered from the back seat.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the tears filling the corners of her eyes. I decided it was an appropriate time to rearrange my busy schedule. A stop at a vendor, a cup of hot coffee, a six-year-olds smile, and a pamphlet sharing how someone could be at peace with God brought a smile to the lips of a man who had no home. I rethought the meaning of Christmas.

Could it be that God has divine appointments for each of us this season? Opportunities for us to give our gifts directly to Him?  I hope this season you’ll be looking for them – those divine appointments with your name attached.

An Emperor, a Puppet King, and Bethlehem

Nearly everyone is familiar with Luke’s account of the Christmas story. It starts with those familiar words: “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…”

It was this census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Right at the point in her pregnancy where nearly every MD would never recommend traveling – Let alone on the back of a donkey!

But the prophet Micah had marked Bethlehem eight centuries earlier as the birth place of the Messiah. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,. . . from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2)

I marveled as I read those words again recently. How do you get a young woman in her final trimester to pack up and move to Bethlehem just long enough to have a baby?

God in his sovereignty accomplished that by bringing to power a Roman emperor, who because of a strained relationship with a King in Palestine, (by the name of King Herod) decreed a census. The only problem? The Romans didn’t require people to return to the towns of their ancestors for a census.

But Herod, who understood the political climate of his land, more than likely put a Jewish spin on it. If you were going to be counted anyway, best to be counted in the birthplace of your ancestors. And so Joseph, a descendent of King David, placed Mary on a donkey and headed to Bethlehem – and in so doing fulfilled an 800 year old prophecy!

Amazing! A pagan emperor ruling from a Roman throne and a self-serving king ruling in Palestine were used by God to accomplish His purposes regarding the birthplace of His Son – Jesus Christ. It gives me hope, that in these uncertain times, God is still the One sovereignly overseeing the affairs of men.

A Special Christmas Program

I love Christmas programs.This is my recounting of one of my favorites.

Wally was nine years old and in second grade, but he should have been in fourth. Wally tried hard, but he had a learning disability.

Christmas season came, and Wally was delighted to discover he was chosen for the part of the innkeeper in the Christmas pageant. The director reasoned Wally only had one line. How hard could that be?

The big night came and all of the children were excited, but one was especially excited. Wally was captivated by the story line. The director was a little concerned Wally might forget his spoken lines. Wally stepped on to the stage, and announced clearly, “Be gone! There is no room in the inn!”

The seven-year old Joseph looked back at Wally, and expressed that Mary was great with child. Awkward silence as Wally struggled with what to say next. He knew his line, but could not bear to send Mary and Joseph away again. With tears in his eyes, he forced out yet another “Be gone.” Joseph began to exit, and this is where this pageant became different from all others. For Wally never left the stage. As if frozen in time, Wally’s mind was racing for a creative alternative. The big smile on his face signaled that this inn-keeper had come up with a room. “Wait, Joseph!” Wally blurted out, “You and Mary can have my room!”

A burst of laughter came from the audience, then silence, and then tears flowed freely as the reality of Wally’s statement settled in. Wally had made room for Jesus.

Two thousand years ago there was no room for the Christ-child in the inn. This Christmas season will there be room for Jesus Christ in your heart? The Scriptures tell us that Jesus enters a person’s life by invitation only. You invite Him by believing that He came to save you from your sins (Romans 10:9-12). This year why not make the decision to trust and follow Jesus Christ? As you make room for Him, you’ll discover, as did Wally, life will never be the same again.

Jesus was right on time

I nearly missed the birth of our 4th child. Before you are too critical, please know that the supervising nurse had advised me to slip out and get some lunch – she thought it would be a long time. It wasn’t.  The fast-food service wasn’t all that fast, but my wife’s labor was, fortunately I got back just in time. Typically parents don’t have a lot to say about the day their child arrives.

I’m sure it was inconvenient for Joseph to head to Bethlehem in the final trimester of Mary’s pregnancy. But God had a specific time for the birth of Jesus. Paul recorded this truth for us in his letter to the Galatians,

3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5).

The word fullness is used elsewhere to describe the 12 baskets that were left over at the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:43). They were full baskets – they weren’t half empty. When describing time it means the “end of an appointed time.” That night in Bethlehem it was long enough and Jesus came. The word communicates that even in the timing God was in complete control.

Why was the sending forth of the Son so important? Because we were in bondage to the world (4:3). The Greek grammar communicates that our bondage was ongoing, thorough and complete. It further reveals that it is something that happened to us. One translator used the word “kidnapped.” We had been kidnapped by the world. So at “just the right time” Jesus came to buy us out of our bondage and to set us free.

So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered (Luke 2:6).

So glad I didn’t miss the birth of my son.

Praying this season you don’t miss the reason for the birth of His (John 3:16-17).