December 14 – Manger Throne

I love how our house looks at Christmas time.  Lots of meaningful decorations fill each room.  In our house, we have the great blessing of three nativity scenes.  These nativity scenes are all different, yet the same.  Each set has different characteristics.

One set is a “Willow Tree” nativity.  The characters have no faces, but their long carved bodies evoke emotion like an impressionist painting.  I love the simplicity of this set.

A second set is a “Precious Moments” nativity.  This set was a gift to my wife from her parents as she was growing up  . . . a different piece every year.  Because of that history, this set is a yearly reminder of the “good deposit” Kimberly’s family gave her by telling her the truth about Jesus.

The third set is a “Little People” nativity set that we acquired when our son was only a couple of years old.  It allowed our two year old to play with the pieces in an interactive way, and learn the Christmas story (or at least his version of the Christmas story).  A short time after he got this nativity set, he started to tell me the Christmas story using the angel and Mary.  The angel came to Mary’s house and told her (in his words), “Good news about Jesus.  He came to take away our badness.”  I was so proud.  Then the angel tackled Mary.  We asked him what Mary said to the angel, and he said, “Thank you for coming to my house and tackling me.”  I think that last twist must have come from a Dan Brown novel.

For all the differences between these three nativities, there is one striking similarity.  They all have Jesus as a baby, asleep in a horse trough full of hay.  As I look at that each year, I am awestruck again by the fact that the God of the universe would humble Himself to THAT point.  The independent God coming as a dependent baby.  The One who sits at the right hand of the Father, lying in a cow’s cafeteria.  This just seems so drastic . . . and so odd.  However, there is a plan in it all.  Jesus comes as a baby to fully identify with our experience (Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus came in a mortal Body so that He might be able to die to bring immortality to His people (Romans 5:8).  The baby in the manger looks out of place until we place it in context.

In the Old Testament, the presence of God hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  First this was in the Tabernacle, then it was in the Temple.  The Holy of Holies was a place of great grandeur and formality.  Because of this, it is surprising to find the Savior in the manger in the Christmas story.  I think it is possible that Jesus was born in the stall to announce to the world in a very definitive way that the presence of God would not reside behind a curtain any longer.  The Spirit of God was moving away from a super-protected room inside the Temple that only a few people would ever see, to a public location where lowly Shepherds and foreigners could visit.  This move of the presence of God from private to the public, helps set the stage for the Spirit of God taking up residence in the hearts and lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ today.  The same God who lay in the manger, now resides within us!

This awesome truth is spoken of in today’s song for reflection, Julie Miller’s “Manger Throne” (recorded by Third Day with Derri Daughtery and Julie Miller on 2002′s “City on a Hill:  It’s Christmastime” album).  May you be reminded of God’s residence in your life each time you see the baby in the manger in a nativity scene this Christmas.  ”Our heart is a home for God’s Own Son!”

“What kind of King would leave His throne in heaven

to make this earth His home?

While men seek fame and great renowned, in loneliness our King comes down.

Jesus, Jesus precious One

How we thank You that You’ve come

Jesus, Jesus precious One

A manger throne for God’s own Son

You left the sound of angels praise to come for men with unkind ways

And by this baby’s helplessness, the power of nations is laid to rest.

Jesus, Jesus precious One

How we thank You that You’ve come

Jesus, Jesus precious One

A manger throne for God’s own Son

What kind of King would come so small from glory to a humble stall

That dirty manger is my heart too.  I’ll make it a royal throne for You.

Jesus, Jesus precious One

How we thank You that You’ve come

Jesus, Jesus precious One

A manger throne for God’s own Son

My heart is a throne for God’s own Son.”

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

December 13 – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“O Come, O come Emmanuel” is a Latin hymn from the 12th century that was translated into English in the 1800′s.  The Hymn focuses on the nation of Israel’s hope and expectation that their Messiah would soon come.  The term “Emmanuel” means “God with us” and highlights the fact that “As for us, the nearness of God is our good (Psalm 73:28).”  This Hymn is inspired by the Messianic portions of the book of Isaiah, whose prophecies remind us that God had planned and promised to send the Messiah centuries before Jesus birth.  Hundreds of years before the stable in Bethlehem held a manger throne, Isaiah prophesied God’s promise, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)”

As you read the text of this hymn today, meditate on the different names of Jesus mentioned in the song.  He is called Emmanuel (God with us), Son of God (fully God), Dayspring (the Son who shines brightly in the world dawning a new day), Wisdom from on High (He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life), and Desire of Nations (one day, people from every nation, tribe, and tongue will bow before Him).  At Christmas we are celebrating THIS GREAT GOD!!  Praise Him!

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!

O come, Thou Dayspring come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things, far and nigh.

To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go.

Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind.

Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease, fill all the world with heaven’s peace.

Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

December 12 – O Come All Ye Faithful

In the 1700′s, England had a set of 13 colonies in a “New Land” but they did not have room for the Catholic Church in their country.  This led to many English people who were practicing Catholics, fleeing the country to pursue their religious liberty elsewhere.  As time wore on, however, many within England became sympathetic to the cause of the Catholic Church, and word was beginning to spread throughout Europe calling all English Catholics home.  Part of the marketing campaign to attract English Catholics to return to their home country included the writing of several masses that encouraged their return.  Included in one of these masses was a hymn (written in Latin) by John Francis Wade, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  In the margins of the mass script, beside the song lyrics, in Wade’s own handwriting, was a plea for the faithful Catholics of English descent to return to their mother land.  Therefore, the song was originally written to inspire English Catholics gathering together around Christ in England by drawing from imagery of the gathering of the faithful around the manger in Bethlehem.

After many Catholics returned to England (and brought this mass with them), the popularity of this hymn began to grow outside the circles of the Catholic Church.  In 1841 the Duke of Leeds had the song translated into English and included in a choral arrangement he was preparing for the Church of England. That translation is the song we still sing today.

Though we are not English Catholics of the 18th century, this song still holds great truth for us.  In fact, understanding the historical context of the song should encourage believers today.  Increasingly, I have heard people crying out in distress over the wandering of our country away from Biblical values.  As we sing this song this season may we all be reminded that the faithful can come to Christ any place, any time, regardless of the political setting.  O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

“O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem

Come and behold Him, born the King of angels!

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

God of God, Light of Light;

Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb;

Very God, begotten, not created

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Sing choirs of angels, sing in exaltation

O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above

Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,

Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;

We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,

Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;

We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,

We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;

Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee; born this happy morning

Jesus to Thee be all glory given

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O Come Let us Adore Him!  O Come Let us Adore Him! 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!”

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

December 11 – O Holy Night

In 1847, a French Catholic Priest commissioned a Christmas poem from local winemaker Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure.  This local poet penned the words to “O Holy Night” while traveling to Paris.  After writing the poem, Cappeau believed these verses would do well set to music.  Not being a musician, Cappeau approached noted composer Adolphe-Charles Adam to add music to his message.  After Adam added song to Cappeau’s words, the finished product was first sung by the choir at the Christmas Eve Mass in 1847.  The song quickly became popular and was sung all over France.  After time, however, Cappeau left the Catholic Church to become a socialist.  Adam (the song’s composer) was actually Jewish and did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God.  Once the church saw the exodus of Cappeau and learned of Adam’s religious beliefs, they banned the song from being sung in churches.  In fact, the church’s official stance on the song was that it embodied a “total absence of the spirit of true religion.”

Because this song was blackballed in its home country, it may have never reappeared had it not been for American John Sullivan Dwight who heard the song and fell in love with it.  On top of the fact that Dwight loved the total message of the song, he had a special affinity for the third verse that says of Jesus, “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”  Dwight was an abolitionist and found in Cappeau’s words a hymn that resonated deep within his soul.  Dwight translated the song into English and on the verge of the United States Civil War, introduced the song to American Churches.  The song gained quick acceptance in the North due to its anti-slavery message.  Once inside the American Church, the song exploded around the world and is one of the most famous Christmas songs today.  Eventually, the French Catholic Church reintroduced the song because of the deep love people had for it.

As I reflect on this story today, I am reminded of a couple of interesting passages of Scripture.  In Philippians 1:15-18 the Apostle Paul says, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.”  Also, Mark 9:38-40 says, “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’  ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said.  ’No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us.‘”  These two passages of Scripture remind me that God does not use perfect people to accomplish His plans.  In fact, He does not always even use believing people to accomplish His plans.  God can call forth praise for Himself from any vessel He chooses to use.  In the case of “O Holy Night,” God used a Socialist French poet and a Jewish composer to inspire praise and worship among His people.  Now THAT is sovereignty.

Sometimes we begin to think that God only chooses those with the most pristine resumes to accomplish His plans, but the fact is that God will do His work through whoever He chooses to use.  This is good news for those of us with less than perfect resumes (read: all of us).  If God can call forth praise from those who reject Him, how much more can He use those of us who (though imperfect) are looking to Him for direction and leaning on His grace for daily strength!  If you are a believer in Christ rejoice this Christmas as you hear “O Holy Night” sung.  On top of the great truth this song puts forth, the story behind it reminds us of God’s gracious intentions of using fallen people to accomplish His grandest plans.

One last note about this great Christmas song . . . in 1906,  Chemist Reginald Fessenden (working with Thomas Edison) turned on a microphone on Christmas Eve and spoke into it, reading the Christmas story from Luke 2.  After reading the story, Fessenden picked up his violin and played the hymn “O Holy Night” into that mic.  What makes this significant was that Fessenden’s performance was the first ever broadcast of music over the new technology of radio.  Telegraph operators on ships and in newspaper offices around the country, instead of hearing their usual codes of clicks and pops, heard clearly the words of the Bible and the beautiful tune of Cappeau and Adam.  If you ever get asked the trivia question, “What was the first song played on radio,” you now know the answer!  From its very beginning, radio (like the printing press before it) was being used to spread the knowledge of Christ to all the people!

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here came the wise men from  Orient land.

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever,

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

Mary’s Christmas (part 2) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, December 10, 2017 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a message based on Luke 1:39-45.  This message was part 2 of the “Mary’s Christmas” series.  Below you will find the audio related to this message to listen to or share.

 

To listen offline, click the file below to download:

Mary’s Christmas – 2

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To access a free 25 day devotional guide for Christmas, click here.

Mary’s Christmas (part 2) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, December 10, 2017 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Luke 1:39-45.  This message was part 2 of the “Mary’s Christmas” series.  Below you will find a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Luke 1:39-45
  3. Imagine you were Mary.  You have just learned that you are pregnant with Jesus.  How would a visit to your cousin Elizabeth be an encouragement to you?
  4. What are some times in your life where you have been encouraged by the presence of another person during a time of challenge or joy?
  5. Can you think of a situation right now in the life of someone you know where you feel prompted by God to simply be a “presence” in that person’s life?  What can you do this week to encourage that person?
  6. Near the end of the message today, a simple 4 step process was laid out for following Mary’s example of faith.  Pick one area of your life that is a particular challenge to you right now and run it through the 4 point grid discussed in the message:
  • What do I feel/think about _______?
  • What does God say about ______?
  • I choose to believe what God says about  _________.
  • Live consistent with that belief & be blessed.

7. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

To access the free 25 day Christmas devotional, click here.

December 10 – Hark the Herald Angels Sing

When the story of 18th century western church history is told, there are three names that simply must be included:  John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield.  Growing up within the Church of England, these three men each came to a genuine faith in Christ later in life.  After their conversions, these men followed Christ in a radical way, spreading the knowledge of Christ to the common people.  These three men were some of the early fathers of American Evangelicalism because they had an interest in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people wherever they were.  Instead of staying inside large stone cathedrals, these men took to the open air, holding outdoor revival meetings and church services where thousands were in attendance.  In a day before microphones and high tech audio/visual equipment, Whitfield alone preached to as many as 30,000 people in one audience!

Given their common threads, it is not a surprise that these men were friends and had a great deal of respect for each other’s ministry, even though they had some theological differences.  Charles Wesley wrote over 7,500 hymns in his lifetime.  Some of these hymns were incorporated into Whitfield’s open air revival meetings.  One of Wesley’s hymns that Whitfield used was a hymn Wesley titled, “Hark, How the Welkin Rings!”  (The word “welkin” means “vault of heavens”.)  This song had the same tune as another famous Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”  Whitfield loved the song, but did not care for the opening line.  He changed the opening line to further connect this song with the birth of Christ.  His new first line was the now famous, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!”  Whitfield made this change, but never asked his friend Wesley for permission to do so.  This outraged Wesley.  Even after Whitfield’s version grew in popularity and became very well know, Wesley refused to acknowledge or sing the Whitfield abridged version of his song.  Can you imagine that?  The author of one of the most famous Christmas songs ever written never sang it!  About 100 years later the tune was changed to the current form by Felix Mendelsson.

What are your Christmas traditions?  What do you do every year at Christmas time that you would be very upset if it changed?  For some it is the day and time that presents are opened.  For others it is the songs that you “should sing” in church or on Christmas Eve.  For others it is a particular service (and time) that must be attended or a particular passage of Scripture that must be the text for that service.  Whatever it is, there are somethings that just “have to happen” in order for it to be Christmas for you.  What happens if your form changes?  What happens if you open presents on Christmas day instead of Christmas Eve?  What happens if you sing “Manger Throne” instead of “Silent Night”?  What happens if the “wrong passage” is preached at the Christmas service?  If these changes happen, will you refuse to sing?

May we learn something from Wesley’s folly.  May we learn that most of the traditions we embrace today have evolved over time.  Santa Claus has not always been at the mall, Candles weren’t always a part of Christmas Eve services, and at one time, it was the “Welkin,” not the “Herald Angels” that were ringing/singing.  At one time, maybe the greatest Christmas hymn in existence today sounded like an Easter song to our modern ear.  The key is not the form, but the spirit behind it.  Whitfield and Mendelssohn improved Wesley’s hymn.  Is it possible that God might be using some of the changes in your Christmas worship celebrations to increase your soul’s rejoicing this season?  Don’t refuse to sing.  Join the angel chorus and worship Christ the new born King!

I have attached below the original lyrics of Wesley’s hymn, “Hark How the Welkin Rings!”

“Hark, how all the welkin rings,

“Glory to the King of kings;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

Universal nature say,

“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest Heaven ador’d,

Christ, the everlasting Lord:

Late in time behold him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb!

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,

Hail the incarnate deity!

Pleased as man with men to appear,

Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth;

Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,

Fix in us thy humble home;

Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,

Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,

Ruined nature now restore;

Now in mystic union join

Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;

Stamp Thy image in its place.

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the life, the inner Man:

O! to all thyself impart,

Form’d in each believing heart.”

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

December 9 – The Sound of Silence

January 1, 1611. This date is roughly 400 years ago. At that time, the original pilgrims were still a decade away from coming to the “new land” and settling Plymouth Bay Colony. 100% of the United States history beyond that of the Native Americans was yet to be written. On January 1, 1611, the King James Bible had not even gone to print yet! Think of all the history and all the changes the past 400 years have brought!

400 years is a very long time. Placing an actual date to 400 years and counting back adds needed perspective to this denomination of time. From a Biblical perspective, grasping how long 400 years is really helps us better understand the Christmas story. What do I mean by this?

The last Old Testament book written was the book of Malachi. It was written after the nation of Israel returned from exile in foreign lands in the early 400’s BC. After God spoke to His people through Malachi, He went silent for the next 400 years. After speaking regularly through prophets in every generation from Abraham to Malachi, 400 years of silence transpire in what is known as the “inter-testamental” period of time (the time from the end of the Old Testament books to the beginning of the New Testament). When you hear that there were 400 years of silence you sometimes fail to grasp just how long a period of time that was. Looking back 400 years from today helps us realize how many generations of people lived their lives wondering if God had abandoned them. Did His silence mean that He was no longer going to bring His Messiah to them to deliver them from their sins? Did His silence mean that something had changed regarding God’s promises?

Now, many reading this may want to argue that it has been 2000 years since ANY Scripture has been written. The recent silence from God may seem far more dramatic than the inter-testamental period. This simple observation, however, is unfounded. The Old Testament POINTED to the coming of Christ, and God had reaffirmed His promises to each generation through new generations of prophets up to the time of Malachi. The silence actually indicated a change that could have been interpreted as a NEGATIVE change. Since Jesus actually came in the New Testament time as a full revelation of God’s plan, there now is no longer a need for Scripture to continue to be written. God has been consistent in ceasing His prophetic communication in the writing of Scripture since the end of the first century. The lack of new Scripture today is a POSITIVE, reminding us that Christ is the final and full revelation of all we really need to know.

Now, understanding this, we should be shockingly surprised (as Mary was) when the Angel shows up in Mary’s room and tells her that she will miraculously conceive a Son who will be the Savior of the world. We should be startled by the whisper of the Angel to Zechariah in the Temple that he will have a son who will prepare the way for the Lord. We should be startled at these words because they broke a period of prolonged silence. 400 years of silence, broken with a renewed promise of a Savior. What is particularly great about when God broke the silence is that He broke it saying that the Savior was going to come in 9 months!!! Generations had strained to see the day when Messiah would come, now it was only three trimesters from delivery.

Many times when we read the Christmas story, we read it thinking of Mary or Joseph . . . Zechariah or Elizabeth. Today as you think about this story, think about it from a 400 year perspective. God broke the silence with fantastic good news.

Do you feel like you are living in an era of “silence” from the Lord today? Do you wonder if He has forgotten you because you have not “heard” from Him in a while? This Christmas listen closely. God broke the silence at the birth of Christ and He wants to whisper to us through this story today, reminding us of His great love for us.

 

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

December 8 – A Team Game

Football is the ultimate team game.  It takes 11 men on each down to make a play work.  This sounds like coach-speak, but it is actually gospel truth.  For instance, if the quarterback drops back to throw a deep pass to the wide receiver, everyone must do their part for the play to work.  If any member of the offensive line does not make their block, the quarterback does not have time to throw the pass.  If the running back does not pick up the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback will be sacked.  If the other wide receivers (the ones not being thrown the ball) do not run their routes, the intended receiver will be double-covered.  If the quarterback does not throw the ball on target the receiver does not have a chance to catch it.  If the receiver does not catch the ball, the play is a failure.  Everyone must do his job for a single play to work.  This makes football the ultimate team game.

Even when a play is not “about them” everyone must do their part in order for the play to work.  This is different than other sports.  On a baseball team, the right fielder does nothing on a routine ground ball to the short stop.  On a basketball team (while a very good team game), a great player can score lots of points playing a “one-on-one” kind of game.  Only in football must everyone participate in order for the play to work.

I was thinking about this today as I was reflecting on the Christmas story . . . particularly the part of Jesus being born in Bethlehem.  The fact that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem was promised by God through the prophet Micah in Micah 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah.  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.”  In light of our analogy here, Micah 5:2 is like a play that God was calling in the “huddle” with Israel 700 years before the birth of Christ.  As Israel broke the huddle though, and prepared for the play, it would take millions of people in motion to pull off this “play” for the team.

Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem.  They lived in Nazareth.  Nazareth was a small town about 70 miles from Bethlehem.  In a world without planes, trains, or automobiles, it was certainly not likely that Mary would give birth in Bethlehem.  So, in order for God’s play to unfold, everyone had to do his or her part to get Mary to Bethlehem.  Luke 2:1 tells us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census to be taken.  In order for all the people who lived in the Roman Empire to be counted, Caesar wanted everyone to travel to their ancestral home.  While Caesar did not do this intending to see the Messiah born in the proper town, God used Caesar’s decree to properly execute His play.  Imagine the scene . . . in order to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (their ancestral home) at the time of Jesus birth, the decree for the census had to be issued at just the right time and would mandate that 4.2 million people would travel to their home towns to be counted.  (4.2 million is the count Caesar took from this census).

Think about that for a moment.  4.2 million people probably wondered why they were traveling . . . why they needed to be counted.  Even though the “ball” was not coming to them, they were playing an important part in the unfolding of God’s play.

As I ponder the significance of the 4.2 million people moving around the Mediterranean in response to Caesar’s decree, I am reminded that at times the events of my life will unfold in ways that have me playing a significant part in God’s plan, but will not feature me “getting the ball.”  We sometimes ask questions like “Why do I have this job?”  “What was that all about?”  “What was the point of that relationship/conversation/etc.?”  Usually when we ask these questions we ask them because we assume that we will be featured in the “play.”  In reality, we are always playing a part in God’s purposes, though sometimes we are not the ones getting the “ball.”  From Bethlehem we see that the unfolding of God’s will is ultimately a team experience.

 

This devotional is part of a 25 day devotional guide.  Download all 25 days of the devotional in pdf or ebook format (for free) by clicking here.

Mary’s Christmas (Part 2) Sermon Preview

Do you want a “blessed” life?  Of course you do!  Who doesn’t, right?  Only a hardcore atheist that does not believe in a “Bless-or” is repelled by the concept of being blessed by their Creator.  However, what does the blessing of God look like, and how do we get on the blessed list . . . these are questions we often debate or question.

Before addressing those questions, I want to direct our attention to a very popular Christmas story – Santa Claus.  In this story, Mr. Claus spends his year in the North Pole making blessings with his elves to deliver them on Christmas Eve night to those who have maintained their status on the “nice” list.  “Nice” boys and girls get the prepared blessings, while “naughty” boys and girls get a lump of coal . . . a gift that appears even worse in today’s carbon footprint aware world.

So, in Santa’s Christmas story, his blessings are prizes for good behavior, and are withheld for those who do bad things (verified by Elves-on-shelves everywhere).

Is Santa’s story the same as the Savior’s Christmas account?  Are the blessings of God delivered only to those who are “nice?”  What if we have been a bit “naughty”? What if God has access to the shelves of my heart, not just my house?  How would we ever expect blessing by God if He knows all my thoughts?

Well, thankfully, in the true Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, we see how God blesses His people AND who He blesses.  (I’ll give you a hint . . . it is not based on how nice we are – you can see for yourself in Luke 1:45.)  This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church, we will be looking at our second installment of our “Mary’s Christmas” sermon series as we treasure more truth about Jesus’ birth from Mary’s perspective.  Make plans to join us in our 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00 worship service as we will be looking at Luke 1:39-45 together.  See you Sunday!

P.S.  In our 9:45 and 11:00 services on Sunday, the children will be singing in the worship services a collection of Christmas songs.  This is a Wildwood tradition that I always love!

To access a 25 day Free Advent Devotional Guide, click here.