Tag Archives: christmas

Night Light for Couples – Christmas Memories

 

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3

Some of my (jcd’s) favorite memories are from the Christmas season. I remember the year my father returned from the bank with twenty crisp, new one‐dollar bills. Those were the days when a dollar would buy a meal. He attached a Merry Christmas note to each bill and handed one to the newsboy, the shoeshine man, the postman, and seventeen others. He was simply thanking them for being his friends.

Another memory was made years later when Shirley, the kids, and I flew to Kansas City to spend the holidays with my parents. When I stepped off the plane and into the terminal, I caught sight of my father. He had a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face; Mom also was aglow with excitement. Their family had come home. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

Every season offers opportunities for unforgettable moments to share with your spouse and family. Seize them—and savor them.

Just between us…

  • What is your favorite holiday? Why?
  • What is your fondest memory of a holiday season we’ve spent together?
  • What can we do to keep alive the memory of all our special moments?
  • How can we make our faith a more central part of our family celebrations?

Lord, thank You for giving us “the heritage of those who fear Your name.” Thank You for the many special times You have given us and for the wonderful memories that go with them. May we recognize and cherish these gifts and pass them on to our children. Amen.

From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Christmas Revealed

The Christmas season as most of us know it has drawn to a close. All the preparations and fanfare of Christmas fade into the calendar of another year. But the church calendar, a reminder of a different rhythm within the world around us, offers the countercultural suggestion that we take the Christmas story with us into the New Year. Six days into our new calendars, after trees have come down and lights are put away and the ambiance of Christmas has dimmed, Epiphany is celebrated. Hardly dim in significance, the feast of Epiphany commemorates the events that first revealed Christ’s identity to the world: the magi’s adoration of the Christ child, the manifestation of Christ at his baptism, the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, among others.

 

The arrival of the magi to the birthplace of Jesus was the first of many windows into the identity of the child born to Mary and Joseph. “After [the magi] had heard [Herod] the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:9-12). As it had been foretold, nations came to his light and kings to the brightness of his dawn; they brought gold and frankincense and worshiped him.(1) A new mystery was revealed in Jesus, and the story continued to unfold before the world.
The Christian story on the feast of Epiphany is that we are a people with whom God is profoundly communicating. Like those who first journeyed to set their eyes on the child, we are invited to see it for ourselves. We are invited to participate in a story that takes us beyond ourselves, even as it requires us to die to ourselves. But in so doing, Christ himself transforms our lives and our deaths, breathing something new where death stings and tears flow.

 

Jesus appeared on the scene of a people who had lived with God’s silence for four hundred years. There had not been a word from God since the prophet Malachi. The heavens were silent; but God was getting ready to proclaim the best of all news. Into this wordless void, God not only spoke, but revealed the Word as flesh standing beside us, crying with us, leading us home. Epiphany, like the Incarnation itself, reminds us that into ordinary days epiphany comes, so that even death itself cannot stop a life shared with a God willing to become one of us. There was a first Epiphany and there will be more to come. The good news of the Christian telling of Christmas is that Christmas indeedcontinues.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

  

(1) cf. Isaiah 60:3, 6.

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Time Being

 

In the days following of Christmas, it is almost natural to find our mood something like that of the brilliant lights we have just unplugged. Guests go home. Decorations come down. Celebrations cease. Life resumes with a little less fanfare perhaps. Poet W.H. Auden describes the letdown of Christmas almost too well—reminding me even of things I hadn’t considered:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes…

There are enough left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week—

Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,

Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully—

To love all of our relatives, and in general

Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again

As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed

To do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away…

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,

And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware

Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension…(1)

For Auden, in the days after Christmas, we step down from the heights of the holiday and along with our colored lights return to dimmer realities: daily life and its monotony, despairing headlines, another year of wearisome failures, blind spots, and missteps. Writing in 1942, Auden’s sense of the dismal reality of life after Christmas was likely heightened by the uncertainties of war and the certainty of violence. For many, Christmas indeed serves as a moment of respite in the midst of harsher realities that promise to recommence. For others, the season itself is disheartening and the aftermath is more of the same. Regardless, the picture W.H. Auden paints is one in which many can enter.

Yet Auden’s attempt to describe life after Christmas is far more than an offer of depressing poetry. Auden reminds us that we must come down from the heights of Christmas in order to embrace again the world in all of its brokenness and finitude, in order to truly receive the Child whose arrival was not marked by lights and decoration but the slaughter of the innocents at Herod’s orders and a few witnesses in an unknown stable. Auden reminds us that the time after Christmas is the time when Christ can step into the thick of our lives as he intended. Writes Auden:

To those who have seen

The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,

The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.

The countercultural Christmas story that sits at the heart of all our holiday efforts begs us to see it as far more than a peak event in December. Christmas is an annual reminder that God is on the move and was on the move long before we knew it. In fact, it was precisely into our dismal, empty, post-festive reality that the Child came near in the first place.

In the bleak moments of late winter, Christmas is not anti-climactic; it confronts us all the more. It is our startling reminder that God has not forgotten, though in the thick of our empty routines, despairing headlines, and blinding self-interest we have forgotten the Child. Yet here, in the quiet and empty days after celebrations have ceased, the sights and sounds of the Child among us can better be noticed and more authentically received. If Advent brings the world’s attention to the sounds of one who stands at the door and knocks, and Christmas marks the culmination of that knocking in the cry of a newborn king, the days thereafter usher us further into the presence of a God who not only knocks and draws near, but has forever changed the time being itself.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) W.H. Auden, Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Random House, 1991), 399.

 

 

Presidential Prayer Team; C.P. – MERRY CHRISTMAS Your Gift to Jesus

 

Prior to Christmas, parents often receive lists of what their kids want to see under the tree. And most of the time, out of love, parents try to grant their wishes. Since Christmas is actually a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, you may wonder what He wants as a gift.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I Thessalonians 5:18

I Thessalonians 5:12-22 lists gifts that would please Christ. 1. Respect those who labor among you, esteeming them highly in love. 2. Get along with each other. 3. Encourage the fainthearted. 4. Patiently help the weak. 5. See that no one seeks revenge. 6. Seek to do good to everyone. 7. Rejoice always. 8. Pray without ceasing. 9. Do not quench the Spirit. 10. Hold fast to what is good. 11. Abstain from every form of evil. Finally, there’s the exhortation of today’s verse.

In the next few days, beside each item on “God’s wish list,” write a practical thing you can do in 2015. (You’ll find another “wish list” in the recommended reading.) Begin on this Christmas Day by praying for the nation to yield to His will and purpose.

Recommended Reading: I Thessalonians 4:1-12

Greg Laurie – Christmas in Heaven

 

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. —Luke 2:10

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Christmas is a day of joy. But for me and my family, it is also tinged with sadness, because it is a day when Christopher’s absence is intensely felt.

I have to tell you, Topher loved Christmas! It was always a big deal to him as a little boy, and when he became a father, he wanted it to be a big deal for his daughters. He always was so thoughtful in his choice of gifts and often made them by hand, which was always a special treat for me. He also had fantastic “wrapping skills,” which I am completely devoid of.

On that first Christmas night, while the shepherds kept watch over their flocks, the angel brought this good news: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

This is how heaven celebrated the first Christmas. On this holy night, in effect, heaven momentarily came to earth. Heaven and earth are always co-existing, but sometimes they can seem worlds apart and other times separated by only a thin veil. When tragedy hits, when illness prevails, heaven can sometimes seem distant.

But when we join the angels in worship, and see God in His greatness, heaven can seem so very, very close. For us as believers, we are just a heartbeat away from heaven right now. As David put it, “There is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3).

Christmas in heaven is better than Christmas on earth. It is pure bliss. Not twinkling lights, but the radiant light of heaven itself. Not metal angels on trees, but real, holy angels of God all around.

You see, in heaven there is peace. On earth there is war. In heaven there is perfect harmony. On earth there is often friction among family and friends. In heaven, feasting and perfection. On earth there is fattening food and expanding waistlines.

We don’t need to sorrow for our loved ones who are celebrating Christmas in heaven, but we do sorrow for ourselves over their absence.

Today, however, remember to let the ones on earth you love know it. Tell them verbally. Because you never know if you or I or someone we hold dear might be in heaven next Christmas.

So have a blessed and merry Christmas day.

Our Daily Bread — Lasting Peace

 

Ephesians 2:13-19

He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation. —Ephesians 2:14

On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, the guns fell silent along a 30-mile stretch of the Western Front. Soldiers peered cautiously over the tops of trenches while a few emerged to repair their positions and bury the dead. As darkness fell, some German troops set out lanterns and sang Christmas carols. Men on the British side applauded and shouted greetings.

The next day, German, French, and British troops met in no man’s land to shake hands, share food, and exchange gifts. It was a brief respite from war that soon ended when the artillery and machine guns roared to life again. But no one who experienced “The Christmas Truce,” as it became known, would ever forget how it felt and how it fueled their longing for lasting peace.

In Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah we read, “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). By His death on the cross, Jesus removed the “no man’s land” between us and God. “For He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

In Jesus we can find lasting peace with God and harmony with each other. This is the life-changing message of Christmas! —David McCasland

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!” —Wesley

Only in Christ can true peace be realized.

Bible in a year: Habakkuk 1-3; Revelation 15

Insight

Unity is a common theme in the New Testament writings of Paul. Jesus has brought us peace with God and therefore we should also be at peace with each other. In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about peace between Jew and Gentile. Despite the centuries-old separation of the two groups, God in Christ Jesus has “broken down the middle wall of separation” (v.14). In the temple there was a wall beyond which Gentiles could not pass; it formed the boundary of “the court of the Gentiles.” However, Jesus has removed the barriers between God and us and between us and others. Now we all are “members of the household of God” (v.19).

Charles Spurgeon – A Merry Christmas

 

“And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.” Job 1:4-5

Suggested Further Reading: Nehemiah 8:9-12

The text gives a licence. Now, ye souls who would deny to your fellow-men all sorts of mirth, come and listen to the merry bell of this text, while it gives a licence to the righteous especially—a licence that they meet together in their houses, and eat and drink, and praise their God. In Cromwell’s days, the Puritans thought it an ungodly thing for men to keep Christmas. They, therefore, tried to put it down, and the common crier went through the street, announcing that Christmas was henceforth no more to be kept, it being a popish, if not a heathenish ceremony. Now, you do not suppose that after the crier had made the proclamation, any living Englishman took any notice of it; at least, I can scarcely imagine that any did, except to laugh at it; for it is idle thus to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Although we do not keep the fast as papists, not even as a commemorative festival, yet there is something in old associations that makes us enjoy the day in which a man may shake off the cares of business, and relax with his little ones. God forbid I should be such a Puritan as to proclaim the annihilation of any day of rest which falls to the lot of the labouring man. I wish there were half a dozen holidays in the year. I wish there were more opportunities for the poor to rest; though I would not have as many saint’s days as there are in Romish countries; yet, if we had but one or two more days in which the poor man’s household, and the rich man’s family might meet together, it might perhaps be better for us. However, I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down.

For meditation: Perhaps you are completely opposed to the keeping of Christmas! That is your right! But you can still benefit from the holiday and show the joy of the Lord to those who are going to be with you.

Sermon no. 352

24 December (Preached 23 December 1860)

Our Daily Bread — What Really Matters

 

2 Corinthians 9:10-15

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! —2 Corinthians 9:15

When our children were living at home, one of our most meaningful Christmas morning traditions was very simple. We would gather our family around the Christmas tree where, in sight of the gifts we were receiving from one another, we would read the Christmas story together. It was a gentle reminder that the reason we give gifts is not because the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child. Rather, our gifts of love for one another were a reflection of God’s infinitely greater Gift of love to us.

As we rehearsed the familiar story of angels, shepherds, and the manger scene, it was our hope that the magnitude of what God had done that first Christmas would overshadow our best attempts at displaying our love for each other.

Nothing could ever match the gift God has given us in His Son, a reality which echoes in Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Clearly, God’s willingness to send His Son to be our rescue is a gift that words cannot fully comprehend. This is the gift that we celebrate at Christmas—for Christ Himself is truly what matters most. —Bill Crowder

’Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much

God gave to us that day;

From the manger bed what a path has led,

What a perfect, holy way! —Neidlinger

Jesus Himself is the greatest Christmas gift ever given.

Bible in a year: Nahum 1-3; Revelation 14

Insight

Today’s passage celebrates all that God has given us. He supplies the sower with seed and bread for food (v.10), and He blesses us so we can be generous to others (v.11). Our proper response is thanksgiving to God (v.15) and gratitude that we are able to share with others because of His gifts to us (v.13).

Greg Laurie – What Christmas Is About

 

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. —Isaiah 9:7

As we look at our world today, we realize that part of the promise of Isaiah 9:6-7 has not yet been fulfilled. The Son has been given. The Child has been born. But He has not yet taken the government upon His shoulders. We do not yet have peace with judgment and justice. But the good news is that there will come a day when Christ will return. He will establish His kingdom on this earth. And it will be the righteous rule of God Himself.

Before Jesus could take the government upon His shoulder, He had to take the cross upon His shoulder. Before He could wear the crown of glory as King of Kings, He had to wear the shameful crown of thorns and give His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The first time, a star marked His arrival. But the next time He comes, the heavens will roll back like a scroll, all of the stars will fall from the sky, and He Himself will light it.

Christ came to this earth. God came near to you so you can come near to Him—to give your life purpose and meaning, to forgive you of your sins, and to give you the hope of heaven beyond the grave. Christmas is not about tinsel or shopping or presents. Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. Rather, Christmas is about the gift that was given on the tree when Christ died there for our sins and gave us the gift of eternal life.

 

Max Lucado – More Than a Christmas Story

 

The virgin birth is more, much more, than a Christmas story. It’s a story of how close Christ will come to you! The first stop on His itinerary was a womb. Where will God go to touch the world? Look deep inside Mary for an answer. Better still—look deep within yourself.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory!” the scripture says (Col. 1:27). Christ grew in Mary until He had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem. And every day you live will be a Christmas. Deliver Christ into the world…your world.

From In the Manger

Charles Stanley – Christmas – A Personal Promise

What do you consider most significant about Christmas? Many people would say visiting with relatives, attending parties, or giving and receiving gifts. For believers, however, Christmas is far more than a December holiday with time off from work. It is a personal promise from God to mankind.

The significance of this special day is embodied in two scriptural names. In the first chapter of Matthew, an angel of the Lord told Joseph that Mary, his fiancée, would bear a son conceived of the Holy Spirit. He instructed Joseph to name the child “Jesus” (v. 21). He also announced that the birth would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “‘They shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means ‘God with us’” (v. 23, referring toIsaiah 7:14).

Let’s examine the two names in this passage—Jesus and Immanuel. The name “Jesus” is a transliteration of the Old Testament Hebrew wordJoshua, meaning “the Lord is salvation.” When the angel said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21), he was pointing to the significance of that original Christmas: God provided a solution for your sin and mine, as well as for the sin of the entire world—past, present, and future.

Seven hundred years before Christ’s birth, Isaiah’s prophecy was a word of hope and encouragement to Judah as it faced a great crisis. The prophet’s message was an indication of what God was about to do then as well as what would ultimately be fulfilled in the Messiah’s advent.Immanuel, a name full of promise, was God’s way of assuring the Old Testament saints that He was with them. Taken together, these two names encompass what we need for our entire life: Jesus, the pardoner of our sins, and Immanuel, the divine presence within us to help and guide every moment of every day. The names and the promises in them are the foundation for every facet of Christian life.

So how did God engineer that first Christmas to fulfill the promises of Jesus and Immanuel? His method was the incarnation. On the night Christ was born, the eternal God—motivated by love—entered the human family. He was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit and physically born of a virgin. Jesus never ceased to be God, and He remained perfectly sinless in His being.

If the incarnation hadn’t taken place exactly as it did, then we would still be living in our sin. According to Scripture, the punishment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). The Bible also says that God rejects any imperfect sacrifice (Deut. 17:1). Jesus, because of His absolute sinlessness, is the only one who could save us by offering Himself as a payment for our sin debt.

Apart from the birth of God in human flesh, every one of us would have to stand before God with all of our sin resting upon us, and our sins would separate us from Him (Isa. 59:2). So the incarnation is the promise of Jesus—“the Lord is salvation”—for every person in the world.

But that was not the full extent of God’s awesome plan. He also promised us His presence, which was fulfilled in the birth of Immanuel. Jesus was “God with us,” the incarnate Deity, who physically lived and walked among men to show us what the heavenly Father is like.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus encouraged His disciples with the promise of God’s indwelling presence. Christ said that when He went away, He would ask the Father to send the Spirit of truth, who “abides with you and will be in you” to teach, remind, comfort, and guide every step of the way (John 14:17, 26).

Far better than God simply being “with me” is God within me, for me, and through me! And that is His promise to every generation of believers—the incomparable, supernatural, immeasurable God will take up residence inside us and be everything we need. Once He lives within you, there will never be a time you have to walk without Him (Heb. 13:5).

In light of the wonderful promise of God’s redemption and presence, believers should be confident and courageous. We don’t have a single need He can’t satisfy. How can we worry when the sovereign, almighty God is with us?

So this year, as you gather on Christmas morning, I encourage you and your family to kneel and give thanks to almighty God. The incarnation is the very essence of Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with the gifts or festivities, as long as they don’t crowd out what belongs in first place: Christmas is about God breaking into humanity, shattering time, and becoming life and hope and help to all mankind.

 

Related Resources

Related Audio

Jesus—His First Appearance

Why did Jesus—God Incarnate—come to earth? (Listen to Jesus—His First Appearance now.)

 

 

Charles Spurgeon – The first Christmas carol

 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14

Suggested Further Reading: Romans 14:5-9

I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. There are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and specially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same. Once more the angels said, “Peace to men”: let us labour if we can to make peace next Christmas day.

For meditation: The unconverted cannot understand why Christians do not join them in their wild Christmas celebrations (1 Peter 4:3-4); those who celebrate the event without being able to give a sensible reason for doing so, are providing us with wonderful opportunities to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Sermon no. 168

20 December (1857)

Greg Laurie – God’s Gift to Us (Part 1)

 

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. —John 3:17

When you’re a child, Christmas is all about receiving gifts. In December, your head is swimming with nothing but images of your favorite toys.

But the true message of Christmas is not the presents we give to one another. The true meaning is the gift that God gave to us, His Son Jesus Christ.

During the next two days, I want to point out to you three things about the gift God gave to us in that tiny manger in Bethlehem.

The first thing we want to realize about God’s gift to us is that it came in simple wrapping. Some people will go to great lengths to wrap presents beautifully. But God’s gift came to us not in beautiful, ornate wrapping, but in a dirty manger found in a cold cave in a little-known town called Bethlehem.

That’s the beauty of the Christmas event. Jesus took His place in a manger so that we might have a home in heaven. The Savior was not wrapped in satin sheets, but in common rags. There in a manger rested the greatest gift in the plainest of wrapping.

The second thing I want to point out about God’s gift to us is that we don’t deserve it. Consider this: God gave us the ultimate gift of His Son Jesus Christ while we were still sinning against Him (see Romans 5:8).

We did nothing whatsoever to merit or deserve His gift. That is the amazing truth of Christmas. Despite who we are, God sent His Son so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

With Christmas just days away, begin to prepare your heart for the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Meditate on the fact that Jesus was born to die so that we might live.

Greg Laurie – Don’t Miss Christmas

 

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! —Luke 2:14

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.”—Joy to the World

This Christmas, don’t miss the point of celebrating Christmas. Don’t be like the innkeeper who missed Jesus because he was too busy (see Luke 2). Make time for the Lord. Don’t be like King Herod who was too afraid to let Christ rule his life (see Matthew 2). Turn your heart over to Christ. Finally, don’t run your life like the Roman Empire, who missed Christmas because other gods took the place of Christ in their lives. Allow nothing else to take the place of worshipping Jesus Christ.

On Christmas morning we will unwrap our Christmas presents, but eventually the novelty of it all will wear off. The present that was once so precious to you will end up stuffed in the closet or handed off to someone else. A newer version of your latest gadget will arrive that has more megapixels, or is smaller, or faster, or has better battery life. In time, your Christmas gifts will mostly be forgotten. But God has given us the ultimate gift—the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.

Don’t miss Christmas this year. As Watts and Handel once wrote, “Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.”

Our Daily Bread — The Heart Of Christmas

 

1 Timothy 1:12-17

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. —1 Timothy 1:14

Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol was released on December 19, 1843, and has never been out of print. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, sour, stingy man who says, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding!” Yet, one Christmas Eve, Scrooge is radically changed into a generous and happy man. With great humor and insight, Dickens’ book captures the universal longing for inner peace.

As a young man, the apostle Paul opposed Jesus and His followers with a vengeful spirit. He “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). But one day he encountered the risen Christ, and his life became a different story (9:1-16).

In a letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, Paul described that life-changing event by saying, even though he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man . . . the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13-14).

Jesus was born into our world and gave His life so that we can be forgiven and transformed through faith in Him. This is the heart of Christmas! —David McCasland

Then let us all with one accord

Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,

That hath made heaven and earth of naught,

And with His blood mankind hath bought. —English carol

A change in behavior begins with Jesus changing our heart.

Bible in a year: Jonah 1-4; Revelation 10

Insight

Though Paul’s words to Timothy in today’s reading are not one of the traditional biblical texts we read at Christmas, they definitely have application for this season. In verse 15 we read: “Christ Jesus came into the world.” This is a reference not only to Christ’s coming but also to His purpose for coming. Why was He born in human flesh? Paul answers that question by adding, “to save sinners.” Jesus’ coming was a mission of rescue for a race that desperately needed a Savior.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The House of Christmas

 

Some years ago, we were spending Christmas in the home of my wife’s parents. It was not a happy day in the household. Much had gone wrong during the preceding weeks, and a weight of sadness hung over the home. Yet, in the midst of all that, my mother-in-law kept her routine habit of asking people who would likely have no place to go at Christmas to share Christmas dinner with us.

That year she invited a man who was, by everyone’s estimate, somewhat of an odd person, quite eccentric in his demeanor. Not much was known about him at the church except that he came regularly, sat alone, and left without much conversation. He obviously lived alone and was quite a sorry-looking, solitary figure. He was our Christmas guest.

Because of other happenings in the house (not the least of which was that one daughter was taken to the hospital for the birth of her first child), everything was in confusion. All of our emotions were on edge. It fell upon me, in turn, to entertain this gentleman. I must confess that I did not appreciate it. Owing to a heavy life of travel year-round, I have jealously guarded my Christmases as time to be with my family. This was not going to be such a privilege, and I was not happy. As I sat in the living room, entertaining him while others were busy, I thought to myself, “This is going to go down as one of the most miserable Christmases of my life.”

But somehow we got through the evening. He evidently loved the meal, the fire crackling in the background, the snow outside, the Christmas carols playing, and a rather weighty theological discussion in which he and I were engaged—at his instigation, I might add. He was a very well-read man and, as I found out, loved to grapple with heavy theological themes. I do too, but frankly, not during an evening that has been set aside to enjoy life’s quiet moments.

At the end of the night when he bade us all good-bye, he reached out and took the hand of each of us, one by one, and said, “Thank you for the best Christmas of my life. I will never forget it.” He walked out into the dark, snowy night, back into his solitary existence.

My heart sank in self-indictment at those tender words of his. I had to draw on every nerve in my being to keep from breaking down with tears. Just a few short years later, relatively young, and therefore to our surprise, he passed away. I have relived that Christmas many times in my memory. That year God taught me a lesson. A home can reflect and distribute the love of Christ.

The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the “little town of Bethlehem,” and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and making a home among us. G.K. Chesterton captures the wonder of such a thought:

A child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where he was homeless

Are you and I at home:

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost—how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.(1)

Jesus’s earthly address changes our own. Christ comes this Advent, and shows us what it means to live.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5.

Greg Laurie – What I Want for Christmas

 

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” —Colossians 2 :16–17

I have always believed in the promise of Christmas. There has always been something special to me about this time of the year, going back to my earliest days of childhood.

What is it that we love about Christmas, once we get past the initial trappings?

I think it is the sense of wonder, beauty, and anticipation. It is the music, the look of surprise on a child’s face, and the amazing food. It’s the companionship of family and good friends. It is also the absence of strife and meanness (that is, with the exception of the crowds on “Black Friday”).

But how often does Christmas really deliver on its promises? A little bit here and there, but by and large, it ends up being the endless drone of mind-numbing ads on TV. It is the friction and pressure that comes when we are obligated to purchase gifts for people we barely know. It is the expectation put on us by others and sometimes even ourselves.

Then there is that big post-Christmas letdown—the letdown of expectations that can never really be met. We were not able to give what we really wanted to give, or what they really wanted to receive. Or you yourself did not get what you had hoped for. Then there are those bills that come due . . .

So what is Christmas at its worst? It is a crass, commercial, empty, exhausting, and very expensive ritual that drags on endlessly for months at a time.

What is Christmas at its best? It is a glimpse of things to come—the beauty, the worshipful music, the adoring angels, the love, the warmth, the promise, the hope. . .all things promised to us in a life to yet come.

You see, Christmas is a promise. It is a promise that has not yet been fully kept.

Christmas cannot be all that we want it to be. It’s only a holiday. Christmas cannot bring harmony to your home. Christmas cannot bring peace on earth. Christmas cannot bring happiness.

But Christ Himself can do all of this and more. That is really what we are longing for deep inside.

Not Christmas, but Christ.

Not merriment, but the Messiah.

Not goodwill, but God.

Not presents, but His presence.

Anything or anyone short of this will disappoint. But God never will.

That’s what I want for Christmas—Jesus Christ.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry –   Earthbound

 

Garrison Keillor’s description of Aunt Marie is one I cannot seem to shake this season. Repeatedly, she has come to mind in discordant moments of Christmas preparation, somewhere between errands at the mall and lyrics that put a stop to them: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,/ Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” No description of the Incarnation more readily makes the common stressors of Christmas seem less important. And yet, Aunt Marie, with her “fat little legs” and “her heavy, fur-collared coat,” has made a serious attempt to wrestle me back down to a sad, human, earthly reality. Keillor writes:

“She knew that death was only a door to the kingdom where Jesus would welcome her, there would be no crying there, no suffering, but meanwhile she was fat, her heart hurt, and she lived alone with her ill-tempered little dogs, tottering around her dark little house full of Chinese figurines and old Sunday Tribunes. She complained about nobody loving her or wanting her or inviting her to their house for dinner anymore. She sat eating pork roast, mashed potato, creamed asparagus, one Sunday at our house when she said it. We were talking about a trip to the North Shore and suddenly she broke into tears and cried, ‘You don’t care about me. You say you do but you don’t. If I died tomorrow, I don’t know as you’d even go to my funeral.’ I was six. I said, cheerfully, ‘I’d come to your funeral,’ looking at my fat aunt, her blue dress, her string of pearls, her red rouge, the powder on her nose, her mouth full of pork roast, her eyes full of tears.”(1)

Christmas says in color and sentiment what many of us already know: that the world is waiting, groaning for more, longing for redemption, for peace on earth and goodwill to humanity, for release from darkness and sin and loneliness and disillusionment, for God to come near to the world as we know it. Like Aunt Marie, this waiting is sometimes fraught with discomfort; we wait, and we sense a lonely, earthly reality. But Advent forces the experience of waiting into a different light. Our waiting need not be dehumanizing, dispiriting, as waiting often feels.

The New Testament describes it quite differently—not as a difficult means to a better end, but as part of the promise itself. Eugene Peterson writes, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”(2) Waiting itself is, of course, a reminder that we are earthbound.

But so is Christ.

The Christian’s celebration of Christmas is the assurance that we wait with good reason. “The word became flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God did not merely come near, he became flesh that could touch weaknesses, experience loneliness, and encounter the lowest moments of being human. He came to be with us, to move through us, to work within us. He came as small and vulnerable as humans come, getting close enough to bear the scars of our outrage and near enough to prove he would stay regardless. He came far nearer than Aunt Marie—or most of us—are yet able to recognize. “That is what incarnation means,” writes Frederick Buechner. “It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are. All religions and philosophies that deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earthbound, are themselves denied.”(3)

God became one of us, not to erase every shadow or to undo the difficulties of our humanity, but to be with us in the midst of it, to transform our spectrum of darkness by bearing a truer depth of light, to enlarge us with the joy of expectancy until the fullness of time when every hope has come to pass.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home (New York: Viking, 1987), xxi-xxii.

(2) Eugene Peterson, The Message, Romans 8:24-25.

(3) Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 169.

Our Daily Bread — A Ukrainian Christmas

 

Luke 2:6-14

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! —Luke 2:14

The people of Ukraine include many wonderful elements in their observance of Christmas. Sometimes wisps of hay are placed on the dinner table as a reminder of the Bethlehem manger. Another portion of their celebration echoes the events of the night when the Savior entered the world. A Christmas prayer is offered and then the father in the household offers the greeting, “Christ is born!” The family then responds, “Let us glorify Him!”

These words draw my mind to the appearance of the angels in the sky over Bethlehem on the night Christ was born. The angel of the Lord declared, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The heavenly host responded, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (v.14).

Those twin messages give such depth of meaning to this wonderful time of year. The Savior has come bringing forgiveness and hope—and He is deserving of all the worship we can give Him.

May all who know the wonder of His gift of eternal life join with the voices of that angelic host declaring, “Glory to God in the highest!” —Bill Crowder

With th’angelic hosts proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!” —Wesley

The spectacular glory of God’s love for us was revealed in the coming of Jesus.

Bible in a year: Amos 4-6; Revelation 7

Insight

Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ includes the shepherds, who lived apart from society in their lowly occupation, and the angels, who announced to those shepherds the arrival of the Messiah (vv.9-14). From the humble to the heavenly, the contrast of shepherds and angels pictures the journey of the Son who came from the highest place to be the Lamb of God.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Christmas Triumph

 

Triumph, this time of year, seems to come in many shades of success in the Western world. Try as we may to keep a perspective of cheer or charity or readiness for the coming of Christ, many of us feel most ready for Christmas when we have met every shipping deadline, reciprocated every Christmas card, or averted every scheduling conflict. Victories that we might otherwise find slight seem to become great feats during the holidays—finding a parking spot, getting the last box of Christmas lights in stock, beating the mailman to the mailbox. Other battles continue to brew over the accepting or rejecting of manger scenes, messiahs, and “Merry Christmases” in the face of less specific holiday tales and greetings. Though we seem to oscillate between who or what we are fighting against—the clock, the perfect hostess, the family stressors, the agendas of others—we seem to work toward Christmas one insignificant feat at a time.

But as I sang the lyrics to a song during the lighting of the second Advent candle, I was silenced by the image of a victory we need do nothing but join.

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

The triumph the church worldwide invites the world to join as we celebrate Christmas is far bigger than our best Christmases and more real than our worst. There are generations of believers offering the same cries of victory shouted on the very first Christmas night: Christ was born! God came near. God is with us! The birth of Jesus was orchestrated at the hands of God long before the inn would be full or the shepherds would be in their fields by night, long before my traditions would seem etched in stone, or my culture would remove the Nativity from the public arena.

While there may be some ‘victories’ to rightfully seek this season, many others can likely be forsaken, lost with Herod’s fight for control somewhere along the obscure path to a stable outside of Bethlehem. The triumph of a God who so cares for creation that he joins us within it is a victory already won. God is with us. The triumph the church asks the world to join as we celebrate Christ’s birth is a triumph known from the beginning, foreseen by the prophets, heralded by John the Baptist, and cherished by witnesses whose voices still cry out the incredible news of a Christmas story that will not change no matter what we think we are fighting for:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.