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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

For most of us, the words Christmas scriptures bring to mind the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  We may even remember the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

Rarely will we think of the psalms as part of the Christmas story, yet at least a dozen passages from the Book of Songs include references related to Christ’s birth. A few qualify as outright prophecies; other statements are less direct, but hindsight allows us to make delightful connections.

So for each passage quoted below, see if an aspect of the Christmas story doesn’t come to mind!  (To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve included just six examples. Answers appear below.)

1. “The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David, My servant, I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:3-4 HCSB).

2. “[The Lord] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:8).

3. “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

4. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory” (Psalm 97:6).

5. “Send me a sign of your favor.  Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me” (Psalm 86:17 NLT).

6. “Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

7. “Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts (Psalm 68:29). 

(The second Jewish temple; a model in the Israel Museum)

Answers:

1. Jesus’ lineage and reign described in Matthew and Luke fulfill this prophecy perfectly (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32-33).

2. Psalm 130:8 sounds very similar to Matthew 1:21, doesn’t it?

3. The Light of the world began to shine that night in Bethlehem, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed great joy for all people (Luke 2:9-10).

(by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1740-1812)

4. The psalmist may have thought he was writing about the stars, sun, and moon—all declaring the power and glory of God.  Little did he know his words foreshadowed events on the night Jesus was born, when the heavenly host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:9) and the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord shining around them (v. 9, 13-14).

5. This verse also brings to mind the lowly shepherds (whom others often despised) as well as the angel’s words, “This shall be a sign unto you . . .” The birth of the Messiah brought great help and comfort to all his people, but perhaps especially the marginalized. For everyone, the long wait for his appearing was over.

6. The shepherds followed this directive as they left Jesus’ birthplace and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  They glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard, just as they had been told (v. 20).

7. That’s exactly where the Magi went first—Jerusalem—seeking the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2.)  And of course they came bearing gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).

Isn’t it amazing–from the Book of Songs written eons ago, come the distant strains of the exquisite, eternal Christmas Song that we celebrate to this day:

All your works declare Your glory;

all creation joins to sing.

Praise resounds as earth rejoices

in the birth of Christ the King (2)!*

*the last four lines of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” stanza 2)

Art & photo credits: Steve Ruegg; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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The first Christmas carol ever composed rarely appears in a collection of Advent songs.  But you will find it in the Bible, Luke chapter one.  It’s Mary’s song, shared with her cousin Elizabeth soon after she arrived at the older woman’s home.

Using much scripture, Mary artfully wove this prayer-song to praise God for his work in her life and in the world-at-large, especially now that the Messiah would soon be born.

Mary’s prayer is often referred to as the Magnificat, because in a number of translations it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if Mary is holding up a magnifying glass to God’s attributes while she draws attention to each one.

I too have seen God’s attributes at work, and have experienced countless blessings.  While contemplating Mary’s song recently, I wondered: could I compose a Magnificat? What follows is the result.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O Lord . . . (Luke 1:46 HCSB)

. . . on display in the wonders of creation, events that defy explanation, and in the transformed lives of people—including my own. 

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”[1] as needs are met, disasters avoided, and the way forward provided. You alone are omnipotent, with all resources at your disposal.

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior (v. 47 NIV).

I praise you for saving me from the consequences of my sin through the sacrifice of your Son.  Upon my last breath, you will take me to heaven to live with you forever. In that moment I’ll be healed of all ailments and released from all adversity.

Until that day, you gladly save me from worry, fear, discouragement and stress when I trust you and follow your ways. Thank you, dear Father!

You have looked [with loving care] on the humble state of your maidservant (v. 48 AMP).

By the world’s standards I’m a nobody–no wealth, no fame, no power. Little do some know my true status, the daughter of the King of the universe, and the numerous delights I enjoy as a result:

  • glorious moments in your presence
  • generous gifts not even asked for
  • friendships with your other children (augmented by your involvement and influence)
  • your frequent intervention in difficult circumstances, as only a powerful King could arrange

From one generation to another you have demonstrated your mercy (v. 50 GNT).

I think of my grandparents, each of whom you sustained and helped through difficulty.  I think of my parents who also experienced your faithfulness as they were faithful to you.

And now we can testify of your gracious kindness. You have dealt compassionately, especially in times of distress.

Your mighty power has been on display (v. 51 GWT) . . .

 . . . through healings that doctors can’t explain, needs met in miraculous ways, monetary gifts arriving just in time, and moments of desperation turned around in an instant.

“You satisfy the hungry with good things” (v. 53, HCSB). 

The list is lavishly long: your undeserved love, comforting presence, inexplicable peace, fullness of joy, heartening encouragement, fulfilling purpose, undying hope, sure promises, abundant provision, generous blessings, wise counsel, abiding strength—to mention a few! “In your giving we have a sea without a shore.”[2]

My God, the King, I exalt you for your glorious attributes,

and will praise your name forever and ever.

 Your ways are absolutely holy—no one is like you. 

You are the God who performs miracles!

Your power is on display in glorious ways all over the earth,

yet you have chosen to do great things for me and those I love.

My heart is filled with joy!

(Psalm 145:1; 77:13-14; 126:3)


[1] Psalm 77:14

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 255.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (twstringer); http://www.pxhere.com (dorothe); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixaby.com (Simon); http://www.wikimedia.com (VinceTraveller); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (nastya_gepp); http://www.pix4free.

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To say I love decorating our Christmas tree would only be partly true.  If an assistant could arrange the prickly branches of our artificial tree and then drape and tuck the lights so they’re evenly dispersed, I’d be thrilled.

For me, the fun doesn’t begin until I unpack our collection of beloved hodge-podge ornaments—from family, friends, members of the churches my husband pastored, and students of the elementary classes I taught. It’s a delightful challenge to find the perfect spot for each one.

Some I hang where a tree light can serve as a tiny spotlight.

Other ornaments are perched over a light . . .

 . . . and still others are lit from within.

The aim is to create a tree that glows with reflected light.

One year, on a mid-December afternoon, Steve came home to find the tree collapsed on the floor.  Strings of lights snaked outward in uneven loops, and decorations lay scattered hither and yon. (Thankfully only a few ornaments shattered; the most prized survived.)

Our tree was much bigger with many more decorations,
so you can imagine the mess!

A moment later I arrived home.  Steve met me at the door, a pained expression on his face. “I have some bad news,” he began.

Immediately our two college-age children Eric and Heather came to mind—due to arrive home for winter break at any moment. Had there been an accident? Or maybe it was our youngest, Jeremy, who still lived at home.  Had something happened to him?

However, Steve’s expression didn’t indicate that level of emergency.  In the split second before he continued my mind riffled through other scenarios. Maybe one of our incoming Christmas cards included sad news, or perhaps something untoward had happened to a church member.

When Steve did reveal the problem, I actually felt relief and gratitude. A toppled Christmas tree was nothing compared to those other conjectures.

While taking my turn to evaluate the damage, Steve said, “I’m so sorry; I know how much you love the tree.  Listen–I’ll go to CVS and pick up that prescription you called in this morning; you wait here for the kids. We can figure this out later.” And off he went.

Unbeknownst to me, as he was pulling out of the driveway, Eric and Heather pulled in. They rolled down their windows to greet one another, then Steve told them, “Be extra nice to your mother—the Christmas tree fell down. I’m on my way to CVS to pick up a prescription for her.  I’ll be back in a few minutes!”

Steve continued backing out toward the street; Eric and Heather looked at one another in astonishment.

“Whoa!” Heather exclaimed.  “I can understand Mom’s upset, but she needs a prescription?”

They pictured me in full grieving mode.

Moments later the three of us laughed uproariously over the misunderstanding, then again when Steve returned, and once more when Jeremy arrived. 

Little did we know that all these years later we’d still be laughing about that toppled tree and Mom needing a prescription. In fact, just two weeks ago on Thanksgiving the story was repeated and everyone chuckled–again.

No doubt you have your own stories of imperfect Christmases. Interesting isn’t it–those are the ones that especially warm our hearts and make us smile.

The first Christmas story includes its share of imperfect moments too—although certainly not the humorous variety:

  • A grueling trip to Bethlehem at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy
  • No place to stay when Mary and Joseph arrived
  • The birth of the Messiah-King in a stable-cave
  • His first bed–a feeding trough
  • His first visitors–scruffy shepherds

Little could Mary and Joseph have known that the story of Jesus’ birth –full of imperfections as it was–would warm our hearts and make us smile all these years later. Why?  Because the Lord of heaven became one of us—born into the imperfect circumstances of this world. He understands completely every imperfection we face.

He also knows our internal flaws–our weaknesses, failures, and sinfulness—yet loves us anyway, and offers His perfect gift of salvation and eternity in heaven with Him.

One day—perhaps soon–all imperfections will be erased when Jesus returns to earth. 

May these truths of the ancient Christmas story warm your heart and make you smile—all season long and beyond.

_______________

(Other related scripture:  John 1:14; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 9:15; James 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 21:1-4)

P.S. We never did determine exactly what caused the tree to fall!

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.jeffholcomb.com; http://www.pixhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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If asked to name a theme from the Christmas story, most people would probably mention one of these:

  • Love—expressed by God when he sent his Son to be born a man, then die in our place (John 3:16)
  • Joy—that the Savior of the world has come (Luke 2:10-11)
  • Peace—because Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Hope—in the knowledge that our future is secure in heaven, when we believe in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

But another word is mentioned more often in the account than any of the four mentioned above.  Perhaps you’ve already discovered this theme: 

FEAR.

You’ll remember:

  • Mary was greatly troubled when Gabriel appeared. He had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Joseph received an angelic visitor in a vision. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” he was instructed (Matthew 1:20).
  • The shepherds were terrified when an angel materialized before them.  They too heard: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:9-10).
Annunciation to the Shepherds
by Edouard Joseph Dantan (1848-1897)

I jump and shriek if my husband walks into the room and I haven’t heard him coming. What must it feel like to witness the sudden appearance of an angel?    

And just so we understand:  Angels are formidable beings—quite different from the delicate, winged creatures or sweet little cherubs often found in paintings or nativity scenes. (See Daniel 10:5-6 for one description of a fearsome angel.)  

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

One of our pastors said Sunday, “In my imagination, I see Gabriel about the size of Dwayne Johnson!”

No wonder these Christmas-story participants were afraid, to be confronted with such a large, commanding presence.

But surely the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid”–spoken three times in the narrative–is not just happenstance.  Perhaps God would have us learn how to respond to fear from the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

First, Mary would teach us to counter fear with faith.

It’s doubtful the fear brought on by the angel’s appearance just evaporated at his command. Yes, his message contained good news, including great honor for Mary, but it also came with risks: “scandal, misunderstanding, lunacy charges, and possibly stoning.”[1]

Yet this young girl responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Mary demonstrates:  Faith and fear can coexist as we exercise the former to control the latter.

Second, Joseph would teach us:  “Do it afraid.”[2]

Courage is not the absence of fear; courage acts rightly in spite of fear.

Joseph is a prime example. He’d face scandal himself as news of Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy spread through Nazareth. Would his neighbors whisper in the shadows as he passed?  Might people refuse to employ him as their carpenter? Would his reputation as an honorable man (Matthew 1:19 GWT) be sullied forever? Surely such questions plagued Joseph.

Yet he chose to do the right thing.

Third, the shepherds would teach us to fight fear with truth.

Even while cowering in fear, the shepherds listened to the angel.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people,” the angel announced.  The shepherds’ hearts that had pounded with fear the moment before must have continued racing, in anticipation of what this glad celestial news might be:

I imagine the angel’s voice boomed with emphasis upon each phrase.  And now all-out excitement coursed through the shepherds’ veins.  Fear had been eradicated by the truth of what God’s messenger had told them.

In our time we’ve no need to wait for an angelic visitation to bring us good news. Our Bibles provide all the truth, wisdom, and encouragement necessary to meet all circumstances—even those that cause fear.

Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have a choice: give in to fear and become disheartened, paralyzed, and useless, OR we can exercise our faith to become encouraged, empowered, and useable.


[1] Patsy Clairmont, Joy Breaks, p. 109.

[2] Suzanne Eller, A Moment to Breathe, p. 43.

Art & photo credits: http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; www. rawpixel.com; http://www.pixhere.com.

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Does that title sound familiar? It’s an old Christmas carol—my maternal grandmother’s favorite. Sadly it never occurred to me to ask her why.

Perhaps it was the lilting tune that dances up and down the treble clef, with leaps from low notes to high. (You can listen to the carol here: There’s a Song in the Air.)

Perhaps Grandma especially enjoyed the expressive lyrics since she was a poet herself. I found this Christmas poem in her journal.  (Keep scrolling for a typed version–easier to read.):

 

 

FOR CHRISTMAS 1955

Star of the East that shone for men

To guide to Jesus’ side,

Shines in the Christian heart today

Where the Lord Jesus abides.

For he’s the Bright and Morning Star,

Turning darkness into light.

He died on Calvary to save,

To remove sin’s dark blight.

Baby Jesus was born a King,

A Savior to die yet to reign.

He left His home in heaven above

And chose instead earth’s pain.

–C. E. M.  (Clara Edna Mensinger)

 

Perhaps “There’s a Song in the Air” appealed to Grandma because her creative soul responded to such artful lines as these:

 

 

  • And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
  • And that song from afar has swept over the world
  • In the light of that star lie the ages impearled
  • Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring

 

“The Angel Appears to the Shepherds”

by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812)

 

I wonder if Grandma ever became curious about the origins of the carol? Did she know that the composer of the tune, Karl Harrington, discovered the lyrics while reading the works of one of his favorite authors Josiah Holland?

Holland was a novelist, poet, and editor of the popular Scribner’s Monthly. In the 1870s he reprinted his Complete Poetical Writings. This was the book in which Harrington found the poem “There’s a Song in the Air.”

At the time, the summer of 1904, Harrington was struggling through an overwhelming assignment: to compile a new hymnbook for the Methodist Church. Even for someone with his background as a highly trained musician, choral director, and composer–the task proved difficult.

 

Karl Harrington (1861-1953)

 

While taking a rest one hot afternoon, he picked up Harrington’s book, came across the poem, and immediately felt inspired to set the lovely verse to music.

He went to his organ and as he read the words aloud, let his fingers drift along the keys. A melody soon began to form. Harrington included the carol in the new hymnal.*

Perhaps like Harrington, my grandmother appreciated the fresh wonder stirred up by such inspiring lines as:

 

 

  • The manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
  • There’s a tumult of joy over the wonderful birth
  • We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song, that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng

 

Grandma didn’t know Jesus until her mid-thirties, and up to that time had endured several painful traumas. (You can read a bit of her story in the post, The God of Rachel, Henry, and Clara Part 2.) But her newfound relationship with God brought peace and strength.

 

(Grandma Clara, years later, 1968.

P.S.  Those glasses were the height of fashion back then!)

 

Perhaps a carol about joy, light, and song reminded her of the transformation Christ had brought to her life.

Grandma would want these lyrics to speak to our hearts too, refreshing our wonder in a Savior once cradled in a manger, destined to be King, who comes to us with “the lovely evangel” (verse 4, line 3)–the good news of God’s gracious plan to rescue us.

Hallelujah and a blessed Christmas to all!

 

*Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 164-166.

 

What is your favorite carol and why? Please share in the comment section below!

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.pixy.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.hymnary.org; http://www.pixy.org; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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(One of Wilson Alwyn Bentley‘s photos)

 

Remember your first glimpse of a snowflake under a magnifying glass and your reaction to its tiny intricacies? I’ll bet your eyes grew wide and you leaned in for a close-up view. You probably uttered Wow! or Look at that!

And perhaps while gazing at such infinitesimal beauty you learned:

 

Only when we examine something closely

can we begin to appreciate its value.

 

Scripture urges us to magnify God.

 

 

To magnify God is to look closely at him and take careful notice of his actions and attributes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did exactly that. We read an example in the account of her visit to Cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56).

Elizabeth was much older than Mary, well beyond child-bearing age. But like Sarah of the Old Testament, God had intervened for her. Elizabeth would soon be the mother of John the Baptist.

 

 

When Mary first arrived and offered her greeting, Baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41). (Can you imagine how that would feel, to have a baby jump inside you?)

Elizabeth responded with a blessing for Mary and the holy baby her young cousin carried. Then Mary became overcome with joy and incredulity herself, and burst into praise. Her song is called the Magnificat, Latin for magnifies.

For ten verses (Luke 1:46-55), Mary magnifies the Lord, examining the reason for her joy (vs. 46-49) and looking closely at God’s attributes and actions (50-55). Never mind her relative poverty, the misunderstanding and derision of others, or the uncertainty of the future. Mary focused on God who was working a miracle within her.

 

 

If your Bible includes cross-references you’ll notice Mary quoted bits and pieces of seven psalms. In addition, she included fragments from Isaiah, Habakkuk, Exodus, Genesis, 2 Samuel, and Jeremiah.

It would appear Mary wove such far-spread scriptures into this beautiful prayer–on the spot! She must have been an intelligent young woman.

Perhaps she grew up in a godly home where the Law and Prophets were highly esteemed. Her parents may have taught her or, if she had brothers, Mary listened as they recited their lessons, and she too learned the ancient scriptures.

Now as Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, the young woman rejoices in God her Savior. She highlights his mercy, might, faithfulness, holiness, and saving power.

 

 

And yet in spite of his awesome greatness the Mighty One has been mindful of her—a humble, peasant girl. He has done great things on her behalf. Notice she prays in past tense, as if the events Gabriel announced had already taken place (v. 49).

Then Mary itemizes specific ways God benefits his people:

  • He extends mercy to those who reverence him
  • He performs mighty deeds
  • He has scattered the proud
  • He has brought down rulers, but lifted up the humble
  • He has filled the hungry, but sent the rich away empty
  • He has been merciful to Israel

We too are God’s people, if we believe in his Son, Jesus. And he benefits his people in these same ways today just as he has through all the eons of time.

No doubt God has been at work in your life too. He’s been mindful of you and blessed you (v. 48); he’s done great things for you (v. 49) and extended his mercy to you (v. 50).

 

 

View the activity of God in your life through the magnifying glass of meditation. Take note of his actions and attributes on display in the events of your life. And then please share with us an example in the comment section below.

Let us magnify the Lord together for his awesome deeds!

 

(Revised and reblogged from 12-20-2012.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.metmuseum.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (2).

 

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‘Recognize that line of lyrics? It comes from verse three of “O Holy Night.”

“His holy Name” is expressed 256 different ways in the Bible, from Branch of the Lord (Isaiah 4:2) to bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Why so many?

“I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express,” evangelist Billy Sunday once offered.

Just within the birth accounts of Bible books Matthew and Luke, we’ll find seven names for Christ. And these alone provide plenty of reason to praise him. Granted, these names are well-known, but let’s not allow familiarity to numb us to their splendor. As we unpack several of them below, may you find renewed wonder in his Personhood.

 

 

Jesus, Savior   (Luke 1:31, 2:11)

Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would have called him Yeshua. Ya as an abbreviation for Yahweh, one of the names for God (Exodus 3:14), and yasha, which means rescue, deliver, or save in Hebrew.

A savior rescues or delivers from danger or harm. He preserves or guards from destruction or loss, keeps one from being lost to an opponent, maintains and preserves.

But why would God send his Son as Savior for paltry creatures like us, who require saving from the harm sin causes in our lives?

It’s so simple, some people miss it: God made us, he loves us, and wants to be in relationship with us—forever. So he sent his Son Jesus “to fit us for heaven to live with him there.” (1). All we need to do is say yes to him.

 

 

 

Son of the Most High, Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35)

Such names emphasize his majesty and supremacy over all (Ephesians 1:19-21).

Mary and other devout Jews of her time would have known this name for God because it’s found throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis (14:18) to Daniel (7:18).

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child would be Son of the Most High God, he was declaring Jesus would embody the magnificent essence of God (2).

 

 

Messiah (Luke 2:11)

Messiah means “anointed one” or “chosen one.” Christos (Christ) is the Greek equivalent.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ time knew the ancient prophecies concerning their Messiah. They expected Jesus to deliver them from the Roman occupation, to set up his own kingdom in which they would be rulers, not understanding that the Kingdom of God is spiritual, not political.

Even today people look to Jesus for rescue from problems and pain. They want him to make everything right, not understanding that perfect bliss in this world is an impossibility because of humankind’s sin.

However!  “Our troubles have always brought us blessings and they always will.  They are the black chariots of bright grace” (Charles Spurgeon).

 

 

Immanuel   (Matthew 1:23)

Matthew made clear:  this Hebrew name means “God with us”—not in a general sense, like an out-of-state business owner who asserts unity with his distant employees, but in a one-on-one personal sense. He sits beside us in our homes, accompanies us to work, watches over us as we sleep, and deeply cares about all our concerns (3).

In fact, he not only cares about every disappointment, every pain, and every calamity, he suffers with us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

And as we avail ourselves of his comforting presence we find the stability we need (Psalm 46:1-2).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, O Son of God, for crafting us with the capacity to know you as our Savior, Messiah, and Immanuel, to sense your presence, receive your comfort, and experience your peace. Through this Christmas season and always may we praise you for your magnificence, reflected in every aspect of your holy Name!

You deserve nothing less.

(Colossians 1:16; John 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17; John 14:27)

 

Notes:

  1. John 3:16 and the last line of “Away in a Manger,” as originally written
  2. https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B151218/son-of-the-most-high
  3. Matthew 28:20; Psalm 121:2-5; 1 Peter 5:7

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixaby.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pikist.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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No doubt about it: Christmas is going to look different this year. Some folks (like me) will opt to scale back the decorating. Church and school programs won’t be presented, parades won’t be processing down Main Street, and fewer families will be cozied up at Grandma’s house for gift giving and feasting.

As if mocking the disappointment already rooting in our spirits, Andy Williams comes on the radio singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—about friends coming to call, parties for hosting, and caroling out in the snow.

But wait. Perhaps this year could become a different kind of wonderful. Perhaps with less holiday preparation to complete and fewer activities to attend, we’ll have more time to revel in the preparation of our hearts.

How might we do that? According to pastor/author Handel H. Brown:

An attitude of expectancy includes an outlook of hope—hope in God’s provision for the here and now, and hope for what is to come. Even as we celebrate Christ’s first appearance on earth, we look forward to his second coming when he will “take us to heaven, to live with him there” (1).

Too often I’ve counted down the days until the Christmas tree is glowing, or the family is gathered, or the gift-exchange can finally take place. Those are all superb delights, but they quickly fade into wisps of memory.

We Christians can revel with expectant hope in a countdown of more substantive delight and importance. Peter called it a living hope, based as it is on our living Savior (1 Peter 1:3).

This hope is not just a feeling that fades like the euphoria of Christmas—once family members have departed and decorations are boxed and shelved. No, this hope is absolute certainty, placed in our faithful, eternal God . Everything he has promised he will deliver.

So how do we muster expectant hope? By immersing ourselves in God’s Word.

Hope is living constantly, patiently,

expectantly, resiliently, joyously

in the word of God.

–William Stringfellow

Here’s one scripture that fills me with expectant hope. See if these words don’t lift your spirit as well:

“Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death.

“This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away.

“They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time”–1 Peter 1:3-5 GNT (2).

Praise God for his mercy!

Praise him for the new and abundant life he provides!

Praise him for all the blessings of past, present, and future!

Praise him for the perfected life yet to come–with him in heaven!

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas by immersing ourselves in such scriptures, expectant hope is bound to well up and produce wonderful results.

In addition:

“Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.”

–Unknown

So let’s put the WONDERFUL into Christmas 2020 with renewed, expectant hope in our glorious Father.

Let’s create the atmosphere for miracles!

What scripture fills your spirit with expectant hope?  Please share in the comment section below!

Notes:

  1. The last line from “Away in the Manger,” based on John 14:2-3.
  2. Other scripture passages to explore that foster expectant hope:  a) Isaiah 9:6-7 (See also a previous post, “His Name Shall Be Called.”) b) Isaiah 40:28-31, c) Ephesians 1:3-13, d) 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.

Photo credits:  http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.pixy.org.

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(“Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus”

by Rembrandt, 1627)

An old man and woman stood in astonished stillness, watching the young couple they had just met thread through the Jerusalem temple crowd. The departing girl named Mary folded her shoulders inward to shield their baby. Her husband Joseph led them gently around one knot of people and then another until the couple was out of sight.

Finally old Simeon broke the silence with an awe-filled whisper. “From the moment I awoke this morning, I knew this would be no ordinary day.”

Anna leaned on her walking stick and looked at him expectantly, waiting for Simeon to explain.

“The sunrise was such a glorious sight after the cold drizzle of yesterday, the thought occurred to take advantage of the agreeable weather and walk to the temple.

“But no sooner did the idea take shape than I felt compelled to come, and I began to hope this would be the day God fulfilled his promise to me—to see the Messiah before I died. Now I know it was the Spirit of God nudging me.”

Anna nodded with understanding though she did not know him. Until now Simeon had just been a familiar face among the worshipers she saw regularly, living on the temple grounds as she did.

“How did you know the baby was…the Messiah?” Anna asked. She could barely speak the title, still filled with wonder for what had just transpired.

“I spotted Mary and Joseph purchasing doves for the purification rites. In the next moment my heart started to pound, I felt a warmth course through my body and a voiceless impression in my spirit said: ‘this is the One you’ve been waiting for.’” Simeon’s lower lip trembled and tears filled his eyes.

Anna drew an index finger across the corners of her own eyes. Now it was her turn to whisper in awe: “It was the same for me. I saw you speaking over the Child with such intensity, and noted the reverent expression on Mary’s face. My heart started to pound too and I sensed in my spirit the Baby was our Messiah.”

Anna paused; a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I am surprised Mary allowed you to hold Jesus.”

Simeon chuckled. “I never expected such a privilege. When I first approached them, I simply exclaimed over their precious Baby as we oldsters are prone to do. And then I hinted at the truth God had revealed to me. “Your Child will fulfill a singular, God-ordained purpose,” I told them.

“Mary looked at me with wide eyes and breathed, ‘yes!’ Joseph wanted to know if an angel had told me about Jesus.  That’s what happened to each of them. They said angels also visited a group of shepherds, to tell them about the birth of the Savior, and we talked about the wonder of it all.

(“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”

by Thomas Cole, 1833-1834)

“Our brief conversation evidently developed trust.” Simeon’s throat tightened with emotion; more tears rolled down his weathered cheeks. “Mary asked if I’d like to hold him.”

Anna barely heard his next words, spoken slowly with holy awe. “I held the Christ Child in my arms.”

Anna allowed the reverence of the moment to linger before speaking. “May I ask what you said to them?”

Simeon paused before continuing, but his passion and urgency increased as he spoke. “The moment I looked upon the Infant’s face, a number of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah came flooding into my mind. I found myself prophesying—with great conviction—as God himself gave me the words.”

“The Messiah’s name is no coincidence, Anna. This Jesus will be the source of salvation for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. He is the glory of Israel. Think of it: our little nation has born the Savior of the world; he will live among us. And many will rise out of their sins and sorrows to experience life and peace—because of their faith in him” (1).

Then Simeon’s face clouded. “But Isaiah also said not all will welcome the Messiah. Some will reject him, even hate him, and fall by the wayside” (2).

His eyes turned toward the horizon. “I also caught a glimpse of great pain and sadness in his future which will impact Mary too. God gave me a warning for her, but I trust God’s promise also: The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on Mary in her affliction” (3).

Simeon focused again on his companion. “Your prayer of thanksgiving, Anna, was part of that comfort, I am sure. You provided Mary and Joseph a glimpse of the joy and blessedness others will experience because of Jesus—something they can hold on to when difficulty arises.”

“Praise God,” she exclaimed. “He reigns on high but has looked with favor upon such a lowly one as I (4). I feel as though my feet are no longer touching the ground!

“This news of the Messiah’s birth is much too glorious to keep to ourselves. Others have also waited expectantly for our Savior. I can’t wait to share what we’ve just experienced!”

“Yes, I too am anxious to tell my neighbors,” Simeon responded. “It’s time, I suppose, to leave this sacred spot, and proclaim our God’s salvation (5)!  Good-bye, Anna.”

Simeon raised his hand toward her, as he turned toward home.  “The Lord’s blessing be with you.”

“And also with you,” Anna called.

(Based on Luke 1:25-38)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Father, for prompting Luke to include this story of Simeon and Anna, two senior citizens! May their knowledge of your Word, their devotion to you, and their sensitivity to your voice be a constant inspiration to us, as well as a reminder we are never too old to used by you.

 

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 40:5; 52:10; 49:6
  2. Isaiah 53:3
  3. Isaiah 49:13
  4. Psalm 138:6
  5. Isaiah 52:7

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.canva.com (2).

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Why is it that most of us find Christmas to be the pinnacle of each year?

Is it:

  • the twinkling lights and candle glow?
  • the treats like eggnog that we only allow ourselves during the holidays?
  • the gift-giving, with all the build-up of anticipation beforehand?

Or might it be because: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together?”

Those words were penned by Alexander Smith, a Scottish poet of the 1800s. With just nine words he deftly solved the riddle. It is the Christmas season, more so than any other time, when past, present, and future come together in one glorious, unified experience.

Consider how the past becomes entwined with the present as families celebrate traditions or display treasured Christmas heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next.

 

 

Releasing each one from its cocoon of packing tissue is like greeting an old friend. And attached to those decorations are memories–memories of the loved ones who gave them to us and memories of Christmases past.

 

(Aunt Louise made these for us,

the first year Steve and I were married.)

 

One ornament in our family’s vintage collection causes a great wave of nostalgia for me. It’s shaped a bit like an old lamp, and shimmers softly with the patina of age, pale green and silver.

My father bought the ornament when he was just nine or ten years old in the mid-1930s. Grandma gave him the honor of bicycling to the dime store to choose a new decoration for the family tree.

Later he realized she and his older siblings were probably anxious to get him out of the house, so they could deck the halls without an excited boy underfoot.

That lamp-ornament hung on our family Christmas tree all the years I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. And sometime in the 1980s, Mom and Dad passed it on to me.

 

 

Wrapped up in that one decoration are all the Christmases of my distant, childhood past, characterized by tinsel-covered trees, dolls in crisp dresses, programs at church and school, and dining tables overflowing with delectable feasts.

As I hang the little lamp, my imagination returns to those Christmases, celebrated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whose love and laughter now live only in my heart.

Undoubtedly, memories are an important part of the euphoria Christmas creates. But there is plenty about the present that brings joy to the season as well:

  • Carols ring, and sweet aromas waft from kitchens
  • Cards arrive from distant loved ones, renewing bonds of love and friendship
  • Gifts are purchased and wrapped, with the hope of bringing delight to the recipients
  • Meals become occasions to be savored, as family and friends gather to simply enjoy one another’s company

 

 

And what about the future? As Christmas approaches, the thrill of splendorous moments to come certainly has us looking forward. Who has not felt the excitement of checking off days on the calendar until that special party? Until loved ones arrive? Until Christmas Day itself?

And no sooner does one holiday season draw to a close, than we start thinking, “Next year, I’m going to make some of those cookies Sylvia brought to the party.” Or, “Next Christmas we’ll have another grandchild to enjoy!”

 

(Our youngest granddaughter,

in 2016)

 

And so, it is just as Alexander Smith said. Christmas holds all time together–in memories of the past, joys of the present, and anticipation of the future.

However, Mr. Smith’s words include a deeper truth for us as Christians. In one shining moment, past, present, and future came together at the birth of our Savior.

First, a number of prophecies from hundreds of years in the past, were perfectly fulfilled.

 

(Gerard van Honthorst’s Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622)

 

Second, we have only to consider his name, Emmanuel, to realize how Jesus’ birth touches the present. No doubt you remember Emmanuel means “God with us.” Present tense is suggested, reminding us that now, Jesus is with those who desire his presence.

Finally, our future is secure because of Christmas. Those familiar words of John 3:16 make clear:  God loves us and sent his Son, Jesus. When we believe in him, he gives us the precious gift of eternal life. Such simple truth, yet wondrously profound.

 

 

In reality then, it’s not just the celebration of Christmas that joins past, present, and future. It’s the One we celebrate on Christmas that holds all time together.

 

“To the only God our Savior

be glory, majesty, power and authority,

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

before all ages, now and forevermore!

Amen.”

Jude 25

(Emphasis added.)

 

________________________

 

What experience(s) of the Christmas season bring together all time for you?  Tell us about it in the Comment section below!

 

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.needpix.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org.

 

(revised and reblogged from December 9, 2012)

 

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