Archive for December, 2019

God With Us

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:21–23, KJV).

The prophet foretold of a child who would be born. The Holy Ghost would overshadow the virgin, Mary, and she would be found with child. The Lord of Glory, would wrap Himself in flesh to come and dwell among His creation. His purpose? To save us from our sins and to be Emmanuel, God with us. He would be our Emmanuel at His birth, the 33 and a half years He walked upon this earth, and as the Spirit that now lives within us.

The reason for this Christmas holiday, is to recognize and celebrate Emmanuel, our Father who is forever with us. So, today, as gifts are unwrapped, and bows tossed aside, remember the greatest gift given this Christmas is Jesus: God with us. As you pose for family photos, including everyone inside the frame, make room for Jesus and remember He is with you.

As the meal is shared and prayers spoken, speak them in the name of the One who is with you. As the Scriptures are shared, take a moment to worship, reflect, and feel the presence that surrounds you.

However you gather to celebrate Christmas today—with friends, family, strangers, or sojourners—remember God is with you. We serve an ever-living, ever-loving, ever-present God. He’s here with us today, tomorrow, and always. Enjoy your Christmas celebrating Jesus and knowing He is Emmanuel.

The Joy Afterward

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

When I was very young, I remember being bundled up in a coat and snow pants to the point where being able to bend my knees and elbows was a luxury. My dad would buckle me into the car, and we’d head off to the downtown area to a little store called The Music Shoppe. Crushing the snow beneath our feet, we’d make our way into the store almost blindly through the heavy snowflakes.

Upon our arrival, warm greetings were exchanged, and we’d head to a back room where my dad would assemble his flugelhorn, and I’d be handed my own instrument: the jingle bells. Joined with other musicians who were willing to brave the cold and frosty precipitation, we’d head back out to the streets of downtown, playing Christmas carols as we went.

With the sharp cold nipping at our faces and fingers, we’d stop—almost out of necessity—inside the local shops to provide a private concert to the merchants. With the large quantities of people, and nostalgic melodies streaming from the instruments, the excitement of the season warmed the hearts of the hearers and provided joy to their spirits.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8–11, KJV).

All people have a unique perception of joy. It comes in all different shapes and sizes, manifests into our lives when we least expect it, and can unintentionally trigger fear. I can tell you in the case of our instrumental caroling, when you have 15 or more people, equipped with rather large instruments, cram into a tiny storefront, people get nervous (or fearful) really quickly. But, it’s what comes afterward that dispels the fear.

The moment the musicians played the first few notes, the harmonious melodies relaxed everyone in the room. Pale faces became flushed with joy and smiles emerged across the room. And, who couldn’t help embracing the splendor of the moment with me swinging jingle bells around, playing haphazardly off beat? After the song ended, the audience erupted with applause and begged for more of the festive melodies bestowed upon them that chilly morning.

The birth of our Savior was a magnificent event for all mankind, past, present, and future. When the angels appeared unto the shepherds to herald in the news of their King, they were met with fearful recipients. In fact, Scripture uses terminology describing the shepherds’ state as experiencing terror and panic in the greatest sense. But, what came after their initial appearing disquieted all of their fear.

The angels brought tidings of great joy—the news that Jesus Christ was born. He, who would save all people from their sins, was now among them. The message of joy wasn’t an ordinary message. It was one of love: that we have a God in heaven who loved us enough to wrap Himself in flesh, to dwell among us, and to be a perfect sacrifice. And, it’s His perfect love that casts out all fear (I John 4:18).

It was what came afterward that mattered, and should matter to all of us this Christmas season. To some, the Christmas season can be dark and bleak, but it’s the joy that comes afterward that matters. Christmas isn’t just about a tree, decorations, and presents. It’s the joy that comes afterward. It’s not about the stress of scheduling family get-togethers. It’s the joy that comes afterward. Joy will always come afterward because our Savior is here and our Redeemer still lives today. So, know that because of Christmas, we will always have joy afterward, no matter what.

Get to the Glorias

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

December each year meant one thing to the kids of our church: the looming Christmas pageant. In the season where good-naturedness should abound toward all humans, rivalry set in between my Sunday schoolmates and me. Everyone wanted a part in the Christmas pageant depicting the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And, not just any part; only the good ones (i.e., prominent figures who had lines).

I always had my eye on the angel role. I didn’t care if I was a back-up angel or the main cheese, but I wanted to wear the white robe, wings, and wire wrapped in silver garland for the halo. (Honestly, I’d wear that all the time, even outside of pageant practice if I could.) I figured my schoolmate was an automatic shoe-in for the part because his name was Gabriel (of all names), but I was happy to be his sidekick, if selected.

One year, my dreams came true, and I was cast as an angel of three in our church production. The angels would recite lines in unison. You can imagine my impatience as I waited around during practice to get to my lines. Because come on, they were the most important ones in the whole Christmas story. Mary, Joseph, and this Jesus character (played by someone’s baby doll) surely weren’t the main focus of the shindig. I needed to get to my “glorias in excelsis deo” for crying out loud.

As a youngster, I didn’t entirely understand the importance of the birth of Christ, nor sharing the stage with other people. But, even with my skewed perspective of the angel role, I had narrowed in on something that most people miss when it comes to celebrating Christmas:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:13–14, KJV).

We’ve really outdone ourselves in society with our imposed standards in how we think we should celebrate the Christmas season. Menus need to be intricately planned, table settings layers deep, themed Christmas trees, and homes fumigated with the scent of cinnamon, pine, and winter (whatever that is…) And, it’s not just our homes. Sometimes it creeps into other areas of our life, even the church.

How often do we take a step back and realize that Christmas, like every other time of the year, should be about praise to our Lord and Savior? The angels weren’t the focus of the main event, but they keyed in on a very important activity: praise.

In the midst of a coming Savior, a couple expanding their family and embarking on a new journey into parenthood, and wise men traveling great distances with luxurious gifts, Scripture takes a moment to call attention to what most of us would consider “side” characters and secondary roles. Here is where my childhood notions ventured toward something that was right.

We see a messenger angel, who is joined by a multitude of other angels, to lift up praises to God in the midst of all the activity. Scripture paused for a moment to center, not on the angels themselves, but on what they were doing—praising the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

This Christmas, we can’t forget to take time to praise our God for who He is, what He’s done, and what He will do. We don’t even need to don a white robe and glittered wings to do so. Praise should be as natural to us amid the tree trimming, gift exchanges, and times we enter into the church house as every other time of the year. Don’t miss it. Channel my childhood impatience and get to your “glorias,” and celebrate this Christmas season.

A Christmas Keepsake

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

Since I was born, my mother gets me an ornament every year for Christmas. Some ornaments are hand-made, some store-bought, some from her travels, and some we’ve found together. Wherever they’re from, each ornament is unique and hand-picked in love.

When it comes time to decorate for Christmas, trimming the tree is my favorite part. Unwrapping each one-of-a-kind ornament is like discovering each one anew every time. I remember the excitement when I first open them on Christmas morning: the story behind every purchase, and enthralled that I have yet one more to add to my cherished collection.

Somehow, these ornaments become more special every year. When I look at them, glistening on my tree, I’m reminded how each one was chosen just for me. I’m reminded just how much my mother loves me. And, I’m reminded how much my Savior does too:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16, KJV).

In many ways, each of us are like a treasured collection of ornaments in the eyes of our Savior: unique, loved, and chosen. When God formed us in the womb, He created each of us as a distinct being—there’s no one “like” us in this world. We’re one-of-a-kind, unique, and a child God very much wants in His family (or collection of ornaments).

Even before we were created, God loved us from the foundation of the world. He loved us before we even knew we were loved, or needed to be loved. As such, when He gazes upon His creation, He does so knowing He formed us in love and loves us unconditionally in our existence. And, it was because of that love, God wrapped Himself in flesh to come and dwell among us, soon to be a perfect sacrifice.

In love, Jesus carried our every burden and every sin to the cross. He hung and died on a rugged tree so His love could shine forth and be shed abroad in our hearts. He suffered so we could be covered and freed from the penalty of sin. He died so we could also love like He loves. When we view His tree, we are also reminded of the love of a Savior, and effectively, how much He actually loves us.

And like an ornament in my collection, God chose us to be called, set a part, elect, and purposed to do a work in and for His Kingdom. We didn’t randomly show up in church one day. We don’t stumble into blessings. We don’t embark on a ministry by happenstance. Just as each ornament was hand-picked, we are also selected, with great care, to be who we are in His Kingdom.

As you prepare to celebrate another Christmas season, and have fun trimming your own tree, may your Christmas ornaments don a new reminder. As you hang them on your tree, remember Jesus held our lives upon Him as He hung on His tree because He loved each and every one of us. So, let your ornaments serve as a Christmas keepsake of Christ’s love for you, and cherish them as long as you’re in this life.