Christmas

Monday, December 24

Read: Matthew 22:34-40

Consider: I clearly remember the first time I heard—I mean really heard—the great Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night.” I was a child. A friend of mine sang it in church and it captured me. Since that time, it has been my favorite Christmas carol. And it has become increasingly meaningful to me every year.

Like so many of the old hymns that we hear this time of year, it is laden with deep theology and spirituality. Phrases like “the soul felt its worth” and “all oppression will cease” are not rooted in sentimentality. These are not escapist notions, but the substance of the new kingdom that came to us in Bethlehem—that kingdom that is here now and is also yet to come.

The phrase that rings through my spirit this year is found in the third verse of that song — “His law is love and His gospel is peace.”

When Jesus was asked what the greatest, most important law was, he replied that it was love—love of God and love of all of those who were created in the image of God. But he went further. Love is not merely the most important law, it was the summation of the law—the entirety of God’s purpose for us. As Jesus said, all of scripture “hangs on” God’s command to love. And the Apostle Paul reiterated Jesus’ words by saying that all the commandments “are summed up in this one command” (Romans 13:9).

We do not wake up in the morning with the intent to keep the Levitical Law, the Old Testament Ceremonial Laws or even the Ten Commandments. We enter each day of life with the prayer, “Lord, teach me to love.”

The “gospel of peace” is a phrase we take from Ephesians 6:15, but its truth runs through both testaments. The gospel—which means “good news”—is that we can have peace with God and that God is bringing peace to his whole creation through his sacrificial love.

Love and peace. No, we’re not talking about sappy sentimentality. Our call to love and our call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) is hard, sometimes grueling work. It’s what he came to do, and it’s the work that, if we will let him, he continues to do through us.

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.

Pray: On this Christmas Eve, ask the Lord to banish from you all prejudices and biases that could hinder you from seeing him in every person you meet. Humbly ask for the power to love with passion and to love with abandon.

 

Advent—the time of longing, waiting and preparing is over. We now begin the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who was the Christ—the Messiah. “Christmastide” is the name given to these twelve days of Christmas that take us to Epiphany and take us to a new place.

Tuesday, December 25 — Merry Christmas!

Read: 1 John 1:1-4

Consider: I love that our celebration of Christmas engages all our senses. This season and this day bring sights, sounds, smells and tastes that work together to tell us that this is no ordinary time. I hope you can take some time on this remarkable day to connect with those senses. Breathe deeply. Keep your eyes open. Notice what you hear, smell, touch and taste. In other words, make sure that you embrace the present moment.

A young man named John was given the privilege and honor of walking with, and learning from, a Galilean carpenter named Jesus. Over time, John discovered that this man was the One who had been foretold. John taught us that the Christ—the One who was with God from before time and was, in fact, God himself — “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1-3, 14).

Many years after that journey with Jesus and eleven other men, John wrote some letters. And at the outset of his first letter, we see that he never got over the impact of those moments. He had been with God. But this was not some abstract, esoteric experience. John knew it because God engaged his senses.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched…we proclaim to you…” (1 John 1:1-3)

I hear John saying, “After all these years, I still can’t believe it. But it’s true!” Through laughter and tears of joy, John shares with us “what we have seen and heard…” (1 John 1:3).

While our physical senses open the door to the immediate reality of this day, let’s not allow the meaning of today to be distant. I can fold my hands or stroke my beard and feel my own flesh. That flesh is indwelled by the Christ (John 14:20). What John saw and heard and touched is still real. We simply need to open our eyes and ears and, with John, stand amazed at what God has done.

Pray: Thank God for the physical reality of that first Christmas and the physical reality of today. God is still with us. This may be the best day of your year or it may be the most difficult. It may be filled with laughter or it may be filled with tears (or both). But whatever this day brings, experience these moments by inviting Christ into these moments. His presence is the gift that we celebrate today.

 

Wednesday, December 26

Read: Luke 2:21-33

Consider: For most people in our culture, Christmas is over. This is the week they take down the decorations and make plans for how they will celebrate New Year’s Eve. The annual flip of the calendar gives us a couple more days of holiday and signals that it is almost time to get back to normal—whatever normal may be.

But let’s hit the pause button and remember that we’re still in the thick of the Christmas season. The four weeks prior to Christmas Day—Advent—are days of preparation and expectation. The twelve days of Christmas—Christmastide—is the time of celebration. Since the fourth century, Christians have celebrated Christmas from December 25 to January 6 (Epiphany). So today we celebrate the Second Day of Christmas.

It is good for us to continue the celebration and consider the circumstances following Jesus’ birth. In many ways they are just as fascinating as those that preceded it. After God put on our humanity, Mary and Joseph would enter a time of discovery as they, and the world, would see how it is that God would live as a man. And the very first thing that Jesus’ family did was to take him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to God. Imagine that—God being presented to God!

There is great symbolism here. God not only put on our humanity with a humble birth, but also continually humbled himself to live as a man. He who “was with God” and “was God” (John 1:1) would call himself “the son of man” or “the son of humanity.”

The circumcision of an eight-day-old Jewish boy was an act of dedication and submission. It was a statement that this life was being given to God. Through public acts such as his circumcision, his presentation at the temple, and his baptism, Jesus submitted himself. In private anguish, hours before his death, he submitted himself. And on the cross, he submitted himself—laying down his life.

Mary and Joseph “marveled at what was said about him” that day at the temple (Luke 2:33). Let’s marvel, too. As our lives get back to normal, let’s celebrate a new normal. Let’s get the concept of Christ’s submission so deeply into our thinking that it is natural for us to live in the same manner—fully submitted to the Father.

Pray: Pray these words from a hymn of submission…

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing, always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

 

Thursday, December 27

Read: Luke 2:28-35

Consider: Somehow God gave Simeon the insight to know that this child was the Messiah. This was the One that God’s prophets had foretold and for whom God’s people had waited. Mary and Joseph marveled at Simeon’s words. But his words were a mixed bag—a promise of blessing and the reality of pain. Of course, Mary and Joseph had already seen both on this journey. But this was only the beginning.

Mary had submitted herself to the will of God. When Gabriel told her that she would carry the Anointed One, she replied, “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). At that time there was no way she could have known what that submission to God’s will would mean for her. As she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, she could not comprehend what Simeon meant when he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (2:35). But I suspect that Mary never regretted her decision. I’m certain that she was always grateful that she said “yes” to God.

We’re not called to the same life as Mary, but we’re called in the same way. Our submission to God does not come with many guarantees. We’re not promised an easy life. We’re not promised success by the standards of our culture. We’re not promised that we will always understand what God is doing to us, in us or through us.

No, there are not many guarantees, but there are enough. We stand on God’s words to us — “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). We stand on Jesus’ promise that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And we stand on faith—faith in God’s goodness, love and faithfulness.

So, like Mary, we step out into the unknown because we know who goes with us.

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you give up your need for control and to relax in the knowledge that God is with you. Depending on what is happening in your life at this time, this may be extremely difficult. But peace comes from Immanuel—God with us.

 

Friday, December 28

Read: Matthew 2:13-18

Consider: As the Magi searched for the child, they inadvertently tipped off Herod that a new king was to be born. Like all who are corrupted by power, Herod’s greatest aspiration was to retain his power. And so, included in the amazingly beautiful narratives of Jesus’ birth is something so ugly and evil that we can hardly stand to read it or think about it. It’s come to be known as “The Slaughter of the Innocents”—the murder of the baby boys of Bethlehem. The church remembers The Day of the Holy Innocents each year on December 28.*

Because of this, Jesus, Mary and Joseph took on a new status—they became political refugees. They ran from Herod and lived as foreigners in Egypt. I’m sure they took little to nothing with them in terms of material possessions. But they did take some amazing memories with them to Egypt. Mary and Joseph must have laid awake at night talking about Gabriel, the shepherds, the Magi and Simeon. They must have marveled about how Caesar Augustus did God’s bidding by ordering a census, even though Augustus had nothing but evil in his plans.

I wonder how often they talked about Isaiah’s prophecy. I think of how their hearts must have been stirred as they remembered his words…

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

I’m guessing that’s the word that sustained them—Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The knowledge of God’s presence kept them through the darkest, most frightening days of that young family’s life together.

You may have endured unspeakable pain, like those young mothers in Bethlehem. Or you may feel like you’re in Egypt right now—that you’re a refugee of sorts. You may feel emotionally or spiritually homeless. It happens. Life takes these unexpected, frightening turns. So, it is vital to remember that God is with you.

You may want to take some time today to invite God into your situation. Invite him into your pain, your sorrow, your confusion, your fear. And ask him to open your eyes to see him there.

Pray: “Lord, many times I’m so busy asking you to change my circumstances that I fail to see you in my present circumstances. Open my spiritual eyes and ears. Help me to see that I am in Christ and Christ is in me (John 14:20). With that, I will know the truth of Immanuel.”

*As we remember the Holy Innocents, this would be a good day to pray for those who are powerless in the face of oppression—refugees, those who have been trafficked into sexual or other kinds of slavery, children who are abused or neglected by the rulers and governments of this world. We are particularly burdened for the innocents in Yeman, who are starving and victimized by the effects of war and the indifference of those who should protect them.

 

Saturday, December 29

Read: Luke 2:36-40   

Consider: Let’s return to the passage we looked at Wednesday and Thursday—the story of Simeon and a woman we know very little about. Her name is Anna, and her life seems strange to us. Yet she is included in Luke’s account of Christ’s incarnation. She may seem like a bit player to us, but Luke felt like we needed to know about her and her response to the Messiah.

When we combine the reactions of Simeon and Anna, we see a perspective of the King and his kingdom that we can carry with us.

The essence of Advent is exemplified by Simeon — “He was waiting…” (2:25) and longing for the Promised One.

The joy of Jesus’ birth was celebrated as “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…” (2:28).

The hope for God’s restoration of all things was promised as Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).

To live in this new kingdom, we celebrate the past with joy, look to future with hope and serve Messiah today with all that we have and all that we are.

But let’s remind ourselves of the hard truth Simeon gave to Mary…

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (2:34-35)

The kingdom doesn’t come without a struggle. To follow Christ is to carry a cross with him (Matthew 16:24). But we carry it with joy because of Immanuel—because God is with us.

Pray: Thank God for the privilege you have of being a “bit player” in what God is doing in his world. While the world may not recognize your contribution, it is real. As you daily follow Christ in humility and obedience, you serve both the present kingdom and the kingdom that is to come.