December 24: The Gift – What Child is This?

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 24

What Child is This? (Luke 2:20)

At the age of 29 William Dix was living in Glasgow, Scotland working as an insurance salesman.  He contracted a serious illness that left him in bed, and also (eventually) depressed.  For the promising young hymn writer, it looked like his illness would limit his ministry.  But, the Lord is not restricted by our limitations.  In our weakness, the strength of the Lord is often most clearly seen. 

It was from this bed of despair that William Dix wrote the hymn “What Child is This?”  The song is a simple Q&A style, where the verses ask questions that the chorus answers.  

  • Question:  “What child is this that lay to rest in Mary’s lap sleeping?”  
  • Answer:  “This, this is Christ the King!”  

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus asks His disciples who they thought He was.  Dix’s song points Jesus’ words forward to us.  During the Christmas season we see depictions of Baby Jesus everywhere.  As we see these depictions of Jesus, may we ask ourselves the question of the song, “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”  Some may say that Jesus is a prophet or a religious leader.  But who do you say that Jesus is?  Is He just those things, or something more?

May we come to know (as Peter did in Matthew 16) that Jesus is the Christ (Savior), the Son of the Living God.  And because He is a living God, He offers us a living hope, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”

From a place of personal frailty, Dix reminded us of the power of God in Christ.  The Child that lay sleeping on Mary’s lap offers hope and life to all who come to know His true identity and trust in Him.  Who do you say this child is?

Suggested song for today: “What Child is This?”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 23: The Gift – Reciprocity?

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 23

Reciprocity? (Matthew 2:1-12)

One day, Kimberly and I went Christmas shopping.  Faced with a long list of “to dos” that needed to get done, I took a day of vacation and we headed out in the All Wheel Drive sleigh trying to fill it with presents to deliver on Christmas morning.

As we worked our way around the malls looking to make purchases, we were guided by a list of names of people we were buying for.  On this list were friends and family, and because they are so dear to us,  the opportunity to bless them with a gift is always a real privilege.  The problem, however, was what kind of a gift do you bless them with?  Moments like this are a great object lesson for understanding the need for a budget.  If I were to let my love for the people on my list dictate what I bought them, I would never be able to pay off the balance of the bills!  I simply have more love in my heart for the people on that Christmas list than I have money in my bank account  — or even than I WILL have in my bank account if I did not spend a cent between now and when Jesus returns.  Therefore, I could not determine what to give them based on how much I love them, because I do not have a matching resource to offer to the scope of my love.

A second way I could determine what to give them would be to play the principle of reciprocity.  By this, I mean that I would try to give a gift back to someone of equal value to what they have given me.  This principle, however, is also flawed.  I can never pay back my parents (for instance) for all they have done for me.  No sweater (I don’t care which logo is on it) can ever equal sitting through little league games in 40 degree weather or caring for me when I was sick or providing love, food, and shelter for me throughout my growing up days.  I simply will never be able to pay back what has been given to me — I have just received so much.

I was thinking about all as we shopped, and it reminded me of a deep spiritual truth that impacts my understanding of God’s love for me and my response to that love towards Him.

First of all, though our budget always constrains our ability to give, it never constrains God.  God is the only One anywhere who has no budget.  Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have their limits, but God does not.  He has everything at His disposal, so He never tires at ways to demonstrate His love for us.  The obvious “big gift” that God gives us each day (including Christmas) is the gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  As Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  The God who has everything gave His very life so that we might live and know that He loves us.  Even beyond that big gift, however, God continues to give to us without a budget.  The beauty of nature, the spiritual encouragement of the Body of Christ, tasty food to nourish our bodies, etc. are all evidences of God’s gifts to us.  He never tires or grows weary in giving to His children.  He has all the resources to match the scope of His love for us.

As I was shopping, however, a second thing stood out to me.  I cannot practice the principle of reciprocity with God.  There is no “sacrifice” that I can make in this life that is of equal value to the gifts God has given to me.  No “I’ll go serve you in Africa” claim could ever be the same as all that God has given to me.  We cannot pay back to God what He has given us — for we simply have been given too much.

Given these truths, what are we to do?  Well, when it comes to understanding how much God loves us, we should stand in awe of the gifts He continues to send our way.  What great demonstrations of His budgetless love!  Stop right now and thank Him for His indescribable gifts.  Second, stop trying to pay God back for His gifts to us, for you can never give enough.  This does not mean that we do not serve Him or worship Him or love Him or give back to Him.  We absolutely do that.  Just as I still bought presents for family and friends that day as reminders of my love for them, we still give to the Lord out of our love for Him . . . we just don’t do it to settle a score.  This frees us up and purifies our motives in responding to His gifts!

As you remember the gifts you purchased this December, may they remind you of the gifts we have received from Him that we can never repay.  Like the Magi, let us give back to Him as we are able, as an act of love to the King of Kings.

Suggested song for today:  “O Holy Night”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 22: The Gift – Showered with Gifts?

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 22

Showered with gifts? (Matthew 2:1-12)

Guys don’t really like showers.  By that, I don’t mean that guys don’t like to be clean (though some may anecdotally argue my point here).  I mean that guys don’t like parties called showers . . . you know:  baby showers, wedding showers, etc.  Most speculate that guys don’t like showers.  The theory goes that guys don’t like to theme decorate or shop, two things that the average “shower” drenches all comers with.  I don’t buy this line of reasoning though.  I think that guys like stuff, so the desire for stuff probably trumps guys reticence to shower.  I think the metaphor of the shower-less guy stinks.  Someone came up with this notion several years ago, and have figured out how to deduct man-card points for anyone who ever thinks of attending a party where gifts are exchanged.

I have been the recipient of a few showers in my life.  When my wife and I got married, several family friends threw showers for us.  When our son was born, I attended a baby shower in his honor.  They were all great parties, and ended up blessing our family in huge ways.  We eat dinner each night on plates we got at wedding showers years ago.  Being showered with gifts by friends is a real blessing.

Now, knowing my experience with showers, it comes quite shocking that the birth of the Savior of the world brought only one baby shower . . . a personal delivery of three gifts by the Magi from the East.  These three gifts are the most famous gifts to Jesus at His birth not because they are the most valuable, but because they are the ONLY ONES MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE.  Have you ever thought of that?  We are so familiar with the story of Jesus birth that we sometimes fail to realize that though this event would become famous AFTER the resurrection of Christ, it was mostly obscure during the season in which Christ was born.  He was born in a stable, not in a palace.  He was born in front of His parents, not on Satellite television.  His birth was honored by throngs of angels . . . but not people.  The first Christmas was incredibly important, but mostly obscure.  If anyone deserved to be showered with gifts at their birth, it was Jesus Christ, yet only three gifts arrived.

Knowing this, it helps us to understand more the prophecy concerning Jesus from Isaiah 53:2-3 which says, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief and as One from whom men hide their faces.  He was despised and we esteemed Him not.”  Of course this passage is ultimately referring to the crucifixion of Christ, but it is also helpful for us to understand just how much praise Jesus did NOT get during His earthly life.  He lived 30 years in virtual obscurity . . . even locally.  The humility and patience of Jesus are powerful when viewed through this lens.

Jesus could have shown His glory fully at every point in His life, but He chose to live the simple life of a carpenter instead.  He could have been incarnate only as an adult (i.e. arrive in Bethlehem as an adult instead of an infant), but He instead chose to fully identify with the human experience.  He could have demanded being showered with praise and presents during His life, but He chose not to, inviting people to chose for themselves if they would trust in Him.

Think about that the next time you feel slighted, marginalized, irrelevant, or unimportant.  Whether you are a man or a woman, you don’t have to be showered with praise, presents, or power in order to be loved by Him.  Also, knowing what you know about Jesus now, will you shower Him with praise today for who He is and all that He means to you?

Suggested song for today:  “We Three Kings”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 21: The Gift – Far and Near

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 21

Far and Near (Matthew 2:1-12)

Each nativity set in our house is arranged similarly.  All the pieces are crowded together around the baby Jesus . . . as they should be.  After all, Jesus was at the center of it all that first Christmas night.  However, what is sometimes lost in nativity sets is how those pieces ARRIVED at the manger scene.  Unlike the pieces that adorn our mantles, the participants at the first Advent did not all come out of the same box.

Most nativity scenes include 3 “wise men” or “magi.”  Sometimes they are riding on camels and most every time they are carrying three neatly wrapped gifts.  They are often painted the same color as the other pieces in the set.  In our nativity scenes, they look like they totally belong.  However, those familiar with first century Jewish culture would have been quite surprised at their inclusion in the story.

By the first century, the Magi were considered to be more “wise guys” than truly wise.  The Magi were an ancient order of star-gazers from Babylon who made a living interpreting dreams and foretelling the future.  While there were certainly some honest men among them, their reputation had deteriorated toward “snake oil salesmen” – people who would tell you what you wanted to hear just as long as they could make a buck.  Most people did not view them as honorable, and certainly, no one viewed them as godly.  Metaphorically, these Gentile heathens were about as far away from the birth of the Jewish Savior as you could possibly be.  The Christmas song, “We Three Kings” talks about them traveling far to see Jesus, but their distance was even further spiritually than physically.  For the wise men to look the part in our nativity sets, we should paint them contrasting colors and place them at the beginning of December in the garage while the rest of the pieces nestle together in the living room.

Yet in God’s mercy, those who were far off are brought near by the birth of Jesus.  Further, they were brought near INTENTIONALLY.  The Magi made it to the manger at the end of a very long and well thought out plan:

  • 1400 years before the birth of Jesus, Balaam issued a prophecy about a star rising for the Messiah.  This led Jews to a belief that a real star would one day be a sign that Messiah had arrived.
  • 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in the little town of Bethlehem.
  • 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians.  The Babylonian foreign policy of the time was to take the best and brightest people of the lands they conquered back to Babylon to work for the improvement of their culture.
  • One of the Jews exported to Babylon in this captivity was Daniel.  After demonstrating his ability to interpret dreams, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to become the overseer of (you guessed it) the Magi – see Daniel 2:48.  Daniel would have been in a position to influence this group with his understanding of Jewish prophecy, which would have included the idea that one day the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and a star would mark his arrival.  This story was passed on from generation to generation of Magi until the birth of Jesus.
  • At the time of Jesus’ birth, God sends a special star in the sky to guide the Magi from Babylon/Persia to Israel to see the newborn king (see Matthew 2:1-12).

For 1,400 years, God had prepared a plan to invite those who were far off to come near and into a relationship with Himself.  The night Jesus was born, the star rising in the sky made sense to the Magi because of years of divine planning.  The pieces that began in the garage were brought into the living room by God’s grace.

Contrast the response of the Gentile Magi with the response of the Jewish religious elite.  In Matthew 2:1-12, we see the chief priests and scribes correctly answer the question, “where will the Messiah be born?” BUT, they do not do anything with that knowledge.  Though the Savior of the world was right down the road from them, they were too busy or preoccupied to go check Him out!  The absurdity of the Jewish leaders’ actions might be best reconstructed in script form:

  • HEROD:  Hey Jewish religious leaders . . . there are some Magi out here who have traveled hundreds of miles over hard terrain following a special brand new star that they believe is leading them to see where the Savior of the world was born.  Do you know where the Savior of the world is supposed to be born?
  • RELIGIOUS LEADERS:  Yeah, the Savior will be born in Bethlehem.  The town directly underneath that brand new and bright shining star.
  • HEROD:  Oh really?  Should we go check it out?
  • RELIGIOUS LEADERS:  Nope. Can you pass the pretzels?  We are busy watching some paint dry.

The religious leaders of Israel WERE in the same box as Jesus.  They were painted with the same colors.  They did look like they belonged in the same room . . . however, the story of Matthew 2 shows us that sometimes those who look near are really VERY FAR away spiritually.

The contrast between the Magi and the Scribes and Priests is shocking.  Those who were far are brought near while those who looked near are revealed to be very far away.  The implications of this are extremely important to us at Christmas time.

Are you someone who is currently very far away from the Savior?  Someone who is painted a totally different color than most church people?  Maybe your life is marked by addiction, abuse, or sensuality.  Maybe you are known by your peers for your marginalized business ethics or immoral lifestyle.  Maybe you even follow another religion and do not own a Bible.  Because of the sin in your life, you appear to be in another zip code compared to Jesus, much less in the same room.  This Christmas, are you someone who is far from Him?

Or, are you someone who has grown up inside the church.  You were dedicated at First Baptist Church, confirmed in the Catholic Church, and attend a non-denominational church . . . you just want to make sure your bases are covered!  Do you have multiple bibles in your house, never miss a History channel documentary about the historical Jesus, and have a set of Jimmy Stewart “It’s a Wonderful Life” morals.  Do you realize that it is possible to have all these things . . . to look like you belong . . . yet to never really have begun a real relationship with God?

The beauty of the Christmas story is that there is hope . . . for people who are both FAR AND NEAR.  If you feel very far away from the Savior today, know that God has been working since the foundation of the world to get the message of salvation to you.  The combination of the life of Christ, the preservation of God’s Word, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and your network of friends, family, and opportunities have served as a “star” to invite you to the manger this Christmas.  The same set of signs have also been shared with those who are “near” the church.  The big question is: will you (like the Magi) follow the signs God has given and worship the Savior this year, or will you simply enjoy some pretzels and ignore the real reason for this season (like the Jewish religious leaders)?

To those who are far or near, Jesus is the “good news of great joy for all the people.”  He is our Savior, so come let us adore Him.

Song suggested for today: “O Come All Ye Faithful”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

The Gift (part 4) Sermon Audio, Video, and Questions

On Sunday, December 20, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12.  This message was part 4 of “The Gift” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to this message for personal reflection or group discussion.  You will also find sermon audio and video to listen to/watch, download or share.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 2:1-12
  3. What are some of the things you have heard before about the Magi?  How does this compare with the actual biblical record of Matthew 2:1-12?
  4. Who are some of the people on the face of the earth today that popular opinion might categorize as those very “Distant” from knowledge and worship of Jesus Christ?
  5. What/who are the “stars” that the Lord used to guide you to Jesus?
  6. How might God use you to guide the distant to Jesus this year?
  7. Three basic responses toward Jesus stand out from Matthew 2:1-12:  The Scribes ignored Him, Herod rejected Him, and the Magi worship Him.  Which of these three responses best reflects your life response to Jesus right now?
  8. What stands out to you most from this passage?  Any particular takeaway?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen to sermon audio offline, click the link:

The Gift #4 12.20.20

 

To listen online, use media player below:

 

To watch the stream of the service, use YouTube online:

 

This sermon is part of the 2020 Christmas series at Wildwood.  We have also prepared a Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

Wildwood has put together a list of Christmas songs in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 20: The Gift – Mary Treasures it All

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 20

Mary Treasures It All (Luke 2:19)

One of the things that God has reminded me of this past year is the natural means by which He does supernatural things.  This principle has many applications:

  • I am praying right now for physical healing (a supernatural gift from God) for a number of people who are struggling, and God may provide that healing through “natural” means (like medicine or surgery).
  • I am working right now on my sermon for Sunday.  I need supernatural illumination of His Word to make sense of it, but God often provides this insight after the natural process of study and preparation.
  • I want those around me to know how much I love and care for them with supernatural depth, but the way God works that out often is through the natural process of affirming words and good deeds over time.

See what I mean?  Certainly God DOES supernatural things, but often the way He does them is through natural means.

This principle can even be used to understand the writing of much of our Bible.  The Bible, no doubt, is a supernatural work (inerrant and authoritative).  However, the means by which God brought us the Scripture involved natural processes.  The supernatural and natural processes of the transmission of Scripture are demonstrated through a couple of New Testament verses:

  • Peter (who himself wrote two of the letters included in our New Testament) says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  In this verse, Peter highlights the supernatural origin of God’s Word.
  • In Luke 1:1-4, Luke talks of the natural process he used to compose his supernatural letter, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

So, God supernaturally moved the writers of Scripture along to write His Word to His people, but the process by which the Scripture was written sometimes looked very natural — like when Luke researched and compiled the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ disciples in writing his Gospel.

But who did Luke talk to?  And when did he talk to them?  At this point, we are dealing with some conjecture, but conjecture educated by historical facts.  Luke’s Gospel dates to the late 50’s AD, about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  Many scholars believe Luke (a traveling companion to Paul) probably got a lot of his “eyewitness accounts” during Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea from 57-59.  During these years, Luke (a Gentile who joined Paul’s ministry as he headed to the European continent) found himself in Israel (possibly for the first time) and interacting with many of the original Apostles . . . and Mary – the mother of Jesus.

Knowing this background helps us understand a bit more why Luke’s Gospel includes so much detail from events ONLY MARY (or the Holy Spirit) would have been able to share.  Event’s like:

  • The Angel’s visit to Mary to inform her of her virgin pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Mary’s trip to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth while pregnant (Luke 1:39-45)
  • Mary’s response to this news in song (Luke 1:46-55)
  • The events around the manger (Luke 2:8-20)
  • The story behind the naming of Jesus (Luke 1:31, 2:21)

In all these accounts, Mary opened up the vault of her soul, and probably shared with Luke what she had treasured about the birth of her firstborn son, who was the Firstborn of all creation! (Luke 2:19) In turn, Luke wrote these treasures down and through that natural process, the supernatural revelation of God was preserved for you and me.

Suggested song for today:  “Mary’s Prayer”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 19: The Gift – Marketing the Manger

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 19

Marketing the Manger (Luke 2:17-20)

From a secular, United States culture perspective, Christmas is a marketers dreamland.  Beginning sometime in mid-October or early November, marketers begin their work to convince us what we “need” this holiday season.  Our desire to be festive, drives us to ask the question, “What trinket, toy, bling, or do-dad really says ‘I love you’ most effectively?”  Marketers representing virtually every product begin a targeted blitz to get the word out for their product.  After two months of being worn down by the marketing machine, we all realize NEEDS, we never knew we had, so we go out to purchase the product.

Most people have negative views of marketing because they have had a bad experience with it.  Virtually all of us have bought (at some point) what marketers have been selling.  Many times, we thought we were buying happiness, but instead we were just buying a bill of goods.  In the end, it is amazing how few of the “needs” marketers sell that we actually have.

The very first Christmas gift ever given was given by our Heavenly Father to mankind.  The gift was the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem.  When God gave this gift to men and women, He also launched a “marketing campaign” to announce His arrival.  Angels appeared in the sky to speak to “certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay,” advertising the birth of Jesus and telling them why it was Good News for them.  God also placed a marquee in the sky, illuminating the way to the Savior for those in the East.  This star would be a cosmic press release announcing His coming to a set of gift-bearing star gazers.  On the night of Christ’s birth, God launched a media blitz to remind the people of their need and illustrate how Jesus was the One who could bring them joy.

Now, because of our past experience with marketers, the language I used above might have made you furrow your brow.  It seems rather crude and insincere to think of God’s announcements in this way.  In some respects, I agree with you, and it certainly is not my intention to dumb down Advent as a result.  However, I think it is important for us to think through the illustration provided above, because marketing a product that is actually necessary is not self-serving, but loving.

Since the needs Christ addresses are not imagined but actual, and since Jesus provision delivers all it promises and does not disappoint . . . the marketing of the coming of Christ is a blessed thing!  Can you imagine if someone came up with the cure for cancer but never told anyone about it?  That would be crazy.  You would want them to market that cure because its provision is so important and its need is so real.  In the same way, the arrival of the Savior of the world is not a truth to keep quiet, but something that should be shouted from the mountaintops.  God did that through the media blitz on the night Christ was born.

The marketing did not stop with the star and the angels, though … but (in His grace) God involved the shepherds in the proclamation.  After seeing Jesus, the shepherds left and told of what they had seen and experienced to all they encountered.  

Think about that this year as you consider what God wants you to do with the good news that the baby in Bethlehem is the One who saves you from your sins.  God does not want you to conceal that information . . . like the shepherds before you, God wants you to be a part of His marketing campaign, spreading the good news to all who you interact with.  He began this campaign on the first Christmas, and is continuing it through us today.  Today, let us “Go and Tell it on the Mountain!  Jesus Christ is born!”

Suggested song for today:  “Go Tell it On the Mountain”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 18: The Gift – What do We Have in Common with the Shepherds?

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 18

What do we have in common with the shepherds? (Luke 2:15-16)

Imagine that you were the shepherds that first Christmas night.  You were gathered out on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem watching your livestock.  You were bundled up to keep warm.  Having never been a rancher or taken care of any animal larger than a Beagle, I have a hard time imagining what they were doing.  My best guess is that they were sitting by the fire . . . maybe singing a song.

As the they sat there, these shepherds saw an impressive sight.  It is hard for me to imagine what shepherds were doing on that Christmas night, but it was even harder for the shepherds to imagine the sight they were getting ready to behold.  Out of no where angels appeared in the sky singing a new song.  They were singing “Gloria in Excelies Deo!”  For me today, it is easy to imagine the shepherds seeing the angels . . . this is a story I have heard since I was born . . . but for the shepherds, this was a very “out of the ordinary” situation.  It was not normal for them to see angels on the hillside.  This was a unique event!  The angels told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see a baby which was the Savior of the world.

The shepherds quickly took off for Bethlehem.  Can you imagine the conversation they may have had with each other all the way to the stable?  “I wonder what He looks like?  What could this all mean?  I wonder if everyone got this same announcement . . . if so, I wonder how long we will have to wait in line?!?”  The questions would have no doubt fired back and forth throughout their walk/run to the manger.

Upon arriving on the scene, however, I am sure the shepherds were probably scratching their heads a bit.  There was no line outside the stable filled with government and religious dignitaries and local celebrities.  Upon entering the stable, the place smelled more like a barn full of animals than the temple incense.  As they approached the baby in the manger, no halo circled His head, and the child was probably crying for His mother to give Him more milk.  While the text does not say it, I am guessing that the shepherds were probably wondering (either aloud or to each other) if they had heard the angels correctly.  Given the disparity between what they saw and what they had heard, these old school cowboys were placed in a spot that is very familiar to us . . . they were being asked to take God at His Word.

I walk through this story today because many times as I read the Christmas story I think, if only all people could see what the shepherds saw then all people would believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  To my old way of thinking, the shepherds, based on what they had seen, would not have needed a lot of faith to believe in Jesus as their Savior.  The reality, though, is that I still think it took LOTS OF FAITH for the shepherds to believe.  In fact, they did not have some of the benefits that we have.

When the shepherds saw Jesus in Bethlehem, they had never heard Jesus preach; they had never seen Him work miracles; they had never imagined the cross;  they had never conceived the empty tomb.  While they had an angel declaration, there were many facts of the story that they did not have.  Based on what they knew, they were asked to take God at His Word (through the angels) and trust Him with the rest.  As people today, we have record of His preaching, miracles, death and resurrection.  We have the testimony of  2,000 years of Church History, and the corroborating evidence of ancient historians.  Given that, however, we have never seen Jesus face to face, and angels have not visited us on hillsides.  Based on what we know, however, we are asked to take God at His Word (through the Bible) and trust Him with the rest.  When we do this, great blessings come our way.

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the first generation of Christians who were growing up in our present reality . . . people who had the testimony of eye-witnesses and the Scripture, but had not physically seen Jesus.  To this group (to us) Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Peter celebrates the faith of those who have not seen Jesus, but still love and believe in Him.  This verse of Scripture is talking to you and me!

1 Peter 1:8-9 further indicates that when we believe in Jesus based on what we know (but have not seen), we reap the same benefits that His first followers experienced, “an inexpressible joy” (“Good news of Great Joy”) and “the salvation of our souls” (“a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord”).

At first glance, it appears that we have very little in common with the shepherds that first Christmas night, but in the end, we have something big in common . . . we are both being asked to embrace by faith that the child born in Bethlehem is our Savior, Christ the Lord.  Upon hearing this announcement this Christmas will you run to the manger as the shepherds did?  Will you believe in Him based on what you know and trust Him for the things that are harder for you to understand?  If you will, then joy and salvation await.  Those are two Christmas gifts that are on everyone’s list.

Song suggested for today:  “Come Behold the Wondrous King”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

The Gift (part 4) Sermon Preview

I still remember when my Dad turned 40.  I was a second grader at the time.  Honestly I don’t have a ton of memories from my early elementary years, but I remember that day.  My mom had planned a special celebration for my Dad’s birthday  A surprise party was planned and guests were invited.  In addition to a number of “in town” friends, my mom intentionally sent invites to my dad’s brothers and sisters.  Even though they lived a great distance away, they were personally invited to the party and made plans to attend.  On the afternoon of his birthday I was playing outside at my uncle’s house when I saw the rest of the family arrive from out of state.  I came running into the room where my dad was sitting and exclaimed, “You are never going to guess who just pulled up!!!”  Much to everyone’s surprise, my Dad calmly said, “I bet it is the rest of the family!”  Somehow he had caught wind of the plan and was actually expecting their “surprise” arrival.

I was thinking about that experience today as I read Matthew 2:1-12.  These verses talk about a birthday party for Jesus Christ when He was quite young.  We saw last Sunday from Luke 2 that invitations went out to some local folks (shepherds) who were invited to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  But in Matthew 2, we find out that God the Father also invited some out-of-towners to come to celebrate the newborn King.  Magi from the East had been summoned and invited to attend the party.  At first glance, this seems like quite the surprise.

However, upon further review, we should not be taken aback.  While the method of invite (the Christmas star) is a bit unusual for us, it was not unusual for God.  After all, He had used this method of guidance to lead the people of Israel years ago (remember the cloud by day and fire by night?)  But even more, we might be surprised that Iranian Astrologers were invited to the party … but again, we should not be confused.  When these distant, Gentile, foreigners showed up, you can almost imagine Joseph running in to the house and exclaiming to his Son, “You are never going to guess who just arrived!!!!”  Jesus (a toddler at this point) calmly responds saying, “Yeah!  The rest of the family has shown up!”  

Jesus was ALWAYS to be the gift for all people … including those who lived at a “distance.”  God had told Abraham in Genesis 12 that through his descendant, ALL the people of the earth would be blessed.  Isaiah talks about foreign Kings bowing before the Jewish Messiah, and people from ALL the earth gathered to worship Him (Isaiah 60:1-3).  The Psalmist even knew this was coming when he wrote, “Let THE NATIONS be glad and sing for joy (Psalm 67)”  The Great Commission was not a new idea for God, but an added emphasis to an old idea … the culmination of His ultimate plan.

The reason why Christians are so evangelistic and mission minded is because the mission of God is not local but global in scope.  It should not surprise us.  It has been that way from the beginning … and the Iranian Astrologers (the Magi) being invited to the party let us know early on the intentions of His advent.

This Sunday, December 20, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, we will be continuing our Christmas Sermon Series “The Gift” by looking at Matthew 2:1-12 and being reminded that Jesus is THE GIFT for the Distant.  Hope you make plans to join us in our 9:00, 10:15, or 11:30 services (or online at wildwoodchurch.org/live beginning at 10:15), and bring friends!  This is a “surprise” we don’t want to miss.

P.S.  Our worship band has prepared their annual rendition of “Carol of the Bells” and will be including it in this Sunday’s service!  Don’t miss it!

December 17: The Gift – The Angels’ Song

This devotional is part of the 2020 Christmas Devotional Book, “The Gift.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 17

The Angels’ Song (Luke 2:13-14)

Hope is a necessary thing.  It is not a luxury.  It is not an option.  We may need water and food and air to survive, but we need hope to thrive.  So how do we have hope?  Where is our hope found?  In this dark world, is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is that flicker an oncoming train?

In Psalm 42:5a, the Psalmist asks a very important question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  In other words, life is hard!  My spirit feels crushed!  I am prone to discouragement!  Under the tree of my life today I can see more hardships than blessings.  What am I to do?  Is your soul cast down today?  Are you in turmoil?

The Psalmist continues with the solution to our down cast soul, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”  The solution for our spirit today is hope for tomorrow.

Hope for tomorrow means that we do not believe that today (or yesterday) was the best things will ever be.  We are tempted to think that our past was the “good old days.”  As we age, we are also tempted to think that the end of our lives will only be about loss:  loss of health, deaths of friends and families, activities we can no longer enjoy.  With this perspective, our past or our present are the pinnacles of existence, and everything else is simply downhill.  If our perspective is only earth bound, then there may be some truth to this existential depression.  However, if we know the God of the universe, we have access to an unending hope . . . because our hope is anchored to something OUTSIDE this life.

God is eternal.  When we “hope in God” we connect our perspective to Him.  In eternity, we are saved.  In eternity, our broken and breaking bodies are upgraded to an imperishable sort.  In eternity, God richly provides for all our needs.  In eternity, we do not sin or struggle.  With this eternal perspective, we can have hope now! 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God demonstrated His intimate connection between the world in which we live and His eternal order.  Jesus came here to give us a tangible and living hope, to provide a way for us to enter eternity.  When we place our faith in Christ, we can have a hope today based on what He has promised us tomorrow.  And Christmas is a reminder of that.

The Psalmist ends 42:5 by reminding us to demonstrate our hope in God by praising Him.  This same hope of peace and good will from God to mankind, is sung about by the Angels on the night that Jesus was born.  As you read Luke 2:13-14 today may your heart sing harmony with the Angels (and the Psalmists) praising God for all He has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ. 

Suggested song for today:  “Angels We Have Heard on High”

 

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links: