Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
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Malankara World Journal Monthly
Theme: Advent, Christmas
Volume 9 No. 508 December 2018

III. Christmas Supplement

Christmas in Four Words

Can you really put Christmas in four words? Yes, you can.
Promises made.
Promises kept.

The Ox, the Ass, and Us

When we place the ox and ass beside the crib, we must remember the whole passage in Isaiah, which is not only good news, but also a judgment..

God's Reminder to Us this Christmas Season: Do Not Fear

Four times in the Christmas story, angels appeared at appointed times to give a message to key individuals who were a part of Jesus' life and birth. And every time, those to whom they appeared were greatly "troubled," "afraid," or even "gripped with fear." And every time the angels said these powerful words, "Do not be afraid..."

Christmas Prayers for the Merry … And Not-So-Merry

Lord, we ask You to grant us peace. Peace in our homes, peace in our churches and peace in our hearts, especially when it feels like the world all around us spins out of control. ...

A Knock at Midnight - A Homily for Christmas Mass

In this reflection, perhaps we can consider just a single line in the Gospel, one that both challenges our love and acts as a sign of God's humble and abiding love for us: For there was no room for them in the inn. ...

Christmas, The Fruit of The Word

Preceding Christmas by an infinite distance is the most profound event, the foundational mystery of the Christian faith, the a priori Incarnation of the Son of God. ...

Messiahs False and True

We need something we cannot give ourselves. We need true healing; we need forgiveness; we need a new identity; we need new life. All this brings us to the coming of the Messiah, as described so poetically in the Gospel of Luke...

The Unlikely Women of Christmas

God shows us through these women's lives that there is no place we can go that is so far away from His presence that He cannot forgive us, redeem us, and then use us for His glory. His arm is not too short to save us from the deepest pit imaginable. ...

Rolled Away - Rolling Away Our Burdens

As Christmas approaches, I'm drawn to the story of another mother who watched her child suffer. Mary gave birth to a son in a barn. When the angel first told Mary she was carrying the Messiah, it seemed like a dream. Until one day, there He was, resting in her arms. ...

What Christmas Is About

Christmas is about a gift, but not the gifts under the tree! ...

How to Have a Happy Christmas

If we are to receive God's gift of new life, we must receive it humbly -admitting to God our failure, and being truly grateful for his love. ...

Hymn on the Nativity by St. Ephreim

Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble. ...

The Value of Silence Before the Great Mystery of the Incarnation

As the mysteries of the incarnation unfold for us liturgically, Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, bearing blessings in his hand...

III. Christmas Supplement

Christmas in Four Words

By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Christmas Promises.

Promises made.
Promises kept.

That's not just a slogan.
That's Christmas in four words.

Thousands of years ago God made a promise to send a Savior to the world. Centuries passed, history rolled on, and God repeated his promise many times.

Parents told their children, "One day Messiah will come!"
The children told their children, "One day Messiah will come!"
Those children told their children, "One day Messiah will come!"

The word passed from generation to generation: "Get ready! God is sending a Savior to the world!" Galatians 4:4 tells us that "when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son." The phrase "had fully come" speaks of something that is complete and fully developed, like a pregnant woman feeling labor pains, ready to deliver her baby. It describes the moment in history when all things were in place, when all the pieces were on the board, that one moment when the stage was perfectly set. At that moment, not earlier and not later, God sent forth his Son.

At Bethlehem God kept his promise.
A baby was born who would be the Savior of the world.

Can you really put Christmas in four words? Yes, you can.

Promises made.
Promises kept.

Copyright © 2018 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

The Ox, the Ass, and Us

by Joseph Ratzinger

One who has not grasped the mystery of Christmas has failed to grasp the decisive element in Christianity. One who has not accepted this cannot enter the kingdom of heaven – and this is what [St. Francis of Assisi] wished to recall anew to the Christians of his own day and of every succeeding generation.

Francis directed that an ox and an ass should be present [in the crèche] in the cave of Greccio on Christmas night. He had told the nobleman John: "I wish in full reality to awaken the remembrance of the child as he was born in Bethlehem and of all the hardship he had to endure in his childhood. I wish to see with my bodily eyes what it meant to lie in a manger and sleep on hay, between an ox and an ass."

From then on, the ox and ass have had their place in every crib scene – but where do they actually come from? It is well known that the Christmas narratives of the New Testament do not mention them. When we investigate this question, we discover an important factor in all the customs associated with Christmas and, indeed, in all the Christmas and Easter piety of the Church in both liturgy and popular customs.

The ox and ass are not simply products of the pious imagination: the Church's faith in the unity of the Old and New Testaments has given them their role as an accompaniment of the Christmas event. We read in Isaiah:

"The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand." (Isaiah 1:3)

The Fathers of the Church saw in these words a prophecy that pointed ahead to the new people of God, the Church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles.

Before God, all men, Jews and Gentiles, were like the ox and ass, without reason or knowledge. But the child in the crib has opened their eyes so that they now recognize the voice of their Master, the voice of their Lord. It is striking to note in the mediaeval pictures of Christmas how the artists give the two animals almost human faces and how they stand before the mystery of the child and bow down in awareness and reverence.

But after all, this was only logical, since the two animals were considered the prophetical symbol for the mystery of the Church – our own mystery, since we are but oxen and asses vis-à-vis the Eternal God, oxen and asses whose eyes are opened on Christmas night, so that they can recognize their Lord in the crib. Who recognized him, and who failed to recognize him? But do we really recognize him?

When we place the ox and ass beside the crib, we must remember the whole passage in Isaiah, which is not only good news – in the sense of the promise of a future knowledge – but also a judgment pronounced on contemporary blindness. The ox and ass have knowledge, "but Israel does not know, my people does not understand."

Who is the ox and ass today, and who is "my people" without understanding? How can we recognize the ox and the ass? How can we recognize "my people"? And why does the lack of reason recognize, while reason is blind?

In order to discover the answer, we must return with the Fathers of the Church to the first Christmas. Who recognized him? And who failed to recognize him? And why was this so?

The one who failed to recognize him was Herod, who did not even understand when they told him about the child: instead, he was blinded all the more deeply by his lust for power and the accompanying paranoia. (Mt 2:3) Those who failed to recognize him were "all Jerusalem with him." (ibid.) Those who failed to recognize him were the "people in soft garments" – those with a high social position. (Mt 11:8) Those who failed to recognize him were the learned masters who were experts in the Bible, the specialists in biblical interpretation who admittedly knew the correct passage in Scripture but still failed to understand anything. (Mt 2:6)

Those who recognized him were the "ox and the ass" (in comparison to these men of prestige): the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. But could things have been otherwise? Those with a high social position are not in the stable where the child Jesus lies: that is where the ox and the ass have their home.

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because our garments are much too soft and we are much too clever? Do we get entangled to such an extent in learned exegesis of the Scriptures, in demonstrations of the inauthenticity or the historical accuracy of individual passages, that we become blind to the child himself and perceive nothing of him?

Are we so much "in Jerusalem," in the palace, at home in ourselves and in our arrogance and our paranoia, that we cannot hear at night the voice of the angels and then set out to adore the child?

In this night, then, the faces of the ox and the ass look at us with a question: My people does not understand, but do you perceive the voice of your Lord? When we place the familiar figures in the crib scene, we ought to ask God to give our hearts the simplicity that discovers the Lord in the child – just as Francis once did in Greccio. For then we, too, might experience what [Thomas of Celano] relates about those who took part in Midnight Mass in Greccio – and his words echo closely Saint Luke's words about the shepherds on the first Christmas night – each one went home full of joy.

Excerpted from Joseph Ratzinger, The Blessing of Christmas, trans. Brian Harrison published by Ignatius Press.

About Joseph Ratzinger
Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005. He resigned on February 28, 2013, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years. Pope Emeritus Benedict lives in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican.

© 2018 The Catholic Thing

God's Reminder to Us this Christmas Season:
Do Not Fear

By Debbie McDaniel

"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy the will be for all the people."
Luke 2:10

Four times in the Christmas story, angels appeared at appointed times to give a message to key individuals who were a part of Jesus' life and birth. And every time, those to whom they appeared were greatly "troubled," "afraid," or even "gripped with fear." And every time the angels said these powerful words, "Do not be afraid..."

To the shepherds: "But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy the will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

To Mary: "But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus." Luke 1:30-31

To Joseph: " angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him he name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-21

To Zechariah: "But the angel said to him, Do not be afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard, Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John." Luke 1:13

Just like these in the Christmas story so many years ago, we're often people who can easily become fearful, troubled, even gripped with fear. It's a natural human emotion, but God never intends for us to stay stuck there. And His powerful words and message to us is still the same, for He never changes. He says, “Do not fear,” over and over in His Word, reminding us that He is with us. And He made sure it was part of the message given to each of those to whom an angel appeared to announce His Son's birth.

"Do not be afraid."

For perfect love casts out all fear.

  • Jesus came bringing peace that the world could never give.
  • Jesus came bringing light that the darkness could never overcome.
  • Jesus came bringing freedom from the barrier of sin and brought victory over death, once and for all.

The opposite of fear is not really simply "courage," but it is peace, faith, love, the assurance that we are held by a God who is Mighty and Sovereign and Strong.

Many of you have faced deep loss this year, the hurt of losing a loved one too soon, illness, cancer, financial troubles, or job loss. Others are struggling through the pain of broken relationships. Many are fighting depression and despair, facing addictions and giants that seem too big.

Whatever you might be battling this season, I pray that you will find deep peace in Him. The One who loves you so much and says, "Do not fear..."

He is greater. Always. He came to overcome it all. And He is with us.

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Give God your worries and fears today, again, and afresh. Choose to leave it all in the hands that have the power to bring us deep peace and assurance, that the world can never give or take away. Be assured His Presence is with you and His love never fails.

Further Reading:
Luke 1:11-33
Luke 2:8-14
Matthew 1:20-21

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

Christmas Prayers for the Merry … And Not-So-Merry


"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son." John 1:14 (NLT)

O Father God,

We thank You and praise You today for the miracle of Your Son's birth. Thank You for bringing great JOY to the whole world! We’re humbled You chose to become human and make Your home among us, so "full of unfailing love and faithfulness" (John 1:14b).

We’re amazed how this now gives those of us who believe in Jesus as the Lord and Leader of our lives the absolute certainty we'll spend eternity with You … that one day, we’ll see Your absolute glory.

We thank You, Father, for the many reasons we’ve been given a merry Christmas. And we rejoice for each blessing: New life. New love. A home. A job. New opportunities. Second chances. And more.

Lord, we know You are the King of kings, the invincible ruler of the entire universe. You bring the sun and the moon, and You set the stars in motion. You tell the ocean where to stop and the snow when to start. And we thank You for the mighty gift of Your creation.

We’re so grateful, Father, for spiritual leaders and faith-filled friends who keep encouraging us when we’re weary and simply want to give up.

And although we have many blessings to rejoice about today, Lord, we also know this day can be not-so-merry — for a whole host of reasons. We pray for those experiencing loss this Christmas, whether it’s relational, financial, spiritual or physical.

We pray for those coping with loving a prodigal, and we lift up all our friends and family members whose hearts are far from You. We pray for Your provision and protection for everyone dealing with a job loss, or an addiction or chronic sickness … and ask that You bring healing to unending pain and grant divine wisdom for our earthly frustrations. Thank You, Lord, for being the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace, even in the midst of our not-so-merry circumstances.

Finally, Lord, we ask You to grant us peace. Peace in our homes, peace in our churches and peace in our hearts, especially when it feels like the world all around us spins out of control.

Help us stay focused on You, this Christmastime and always. Thank You for loving the whole world enough to send the greatest gift, Your Son, so we might truly have a very merry Christmas, even in a not-so-merry kind of world.

In Jesus' Name, Amen.


Psalm 72:12-14, "He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him." (NLT)

Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (NIV)

© 2017 by Stephanie Raquel. All rights reserved.
Source: Encouragement for Today

A Knock at Midnight - A Homily for Christmas Mass

by Msgr. Charles Pope

In this reflection, perhaps we can consider just a single line in the Gospel, one that both challenges our love and acts as a sign of God's humble and abiding love for us:

For there was no room for them in the inn.

I. The Scene

There is a knock at midnight. Joseph, speaking on behalf of both Mary and Jesus (who is in her womb still), seeks entrance to the homes and lodgings of those in Bethlehem. Although the Jewish people in those days placed a high obligation upon the duty of hospitality to the stranger and passerby, the answer repeatedly given is, "No room here." Mary's obviously advanced pregnancy and the imminence of delivery seem to make little difference.

It is indeed a cold night, not so much in terms of the air temperature, but in terms of the hearts of the people. Surely someone could make room for a pregnant woman! But no; no room at the inn.

Yes, it is a cold night. The only warmth to be found is amongst the animals. An old Latin antiphon for Christmas says, O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum iacentem in praesepio (O great mystery and stunning sacrament, that animals would see the newborn Lord lying in a feedbox). Here in the manger, warmth will be found, among the animals. It is sometimes said that man can be brutish, but the reality is that we can sink even beneath the beasts, doing things to ourselves and to one another that even animals do not.

Scripture says,

The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know me, my people do not understand … They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
(Is 1:3-4).

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
(Jn 1:10-11).

There was a knock at midnight. The animals received Him and gave warmth, yet we, His own people, knowing Him not received Him not. But in this midnight darkness and cold, the light and warmth of God's love will shine forth. The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
(Is 9:1).

II. The Stooping

Surely God stoops low to come from lightsome heaven to our war-torn, dark, cold world. As He stoops, He stoops to the lowest place, being born not in a palace or even in a comfortable home. He stoops to a manger. God will defeat Satan's pride with humility. All who will find Him this fateful night must also stoop.

This stooping of God is illustrated even in the very topography of the area. The towns of the Holy Land were built on the tops of the tall hills (something we almost never do here in America). Where land is relatively scarce, this is done so as to leave the fertile valleys for agriculture. Bethlehem was perched on higher land and the shepherd's fields lay below. The streets of Bethlehem were steep and built on tiers or levels. Thus, the back lot of many homes and buildings dropped steeply down and beneath the buildings. Beneath the buildings the people hollowed out caves where animals and tools and tools were kept.

It was in such a place, down under, where Joseph and Mary sought hasty shelter, for it was a cold and dark midnight and Mary's time had come. God stooped with them to be born, among the animals and agricultural implements, in the damp cave under some house or inn.

Those who want to find our God must stoop low. Even to this day, when one visits Bethlehem and wants to see the place of Jesus' birth, one must first enter the church through what is called the "Door of Humility." For security reasons, this door was built to be only about four feet high. One must stoop greatly to enter through it. Yes, we must stoop to find our God. The site of the birth is at the other end of the basilica, under the altar area. Here again, more stooping is required; down steep stairs, through another low and narrow door, and into the cave. To touch the spot, one must kneel and reach forward into a narrower part of the cave. Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, says the inscription. The only way to get there is to stoop.

Yes, our God stoops; He stoops to the lowest place. To find Him and be with Him we, too, must be willing to stoop. God hates pride. He just can't stand it because He sees what it does to us. He comes to break its back, not with clubs and swords or by overpowering, but with humility. Darkness cannot defeat darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot defeat hate; only love can do that. Pride cannot defeat pride; only humility can do that. So God stoops.

Tonight, God calls us with this same humility. He could have ridden down from Heaven on a lightning bolt and stunned us into fearful submission. Instead He goes to the lowest place. He comes quietly, non-violently, without threat, as an infant. Even in this lowly way, though, He is still calling.

So there is a knock at midnight. Scripture says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). An old song says, "Somebody's knocking at your door! Oh Sinner, why don't you answer?"

III. The Saddest Thing

When human history is complete and the last books are written, one of the saddest lines in all of that history will be this one: For there was no room for them in the inn. No room, no room. How strange and sad for this world that God simply doesn't fit. He doesn't fit our agendas, our schedules, our priorities. No room; He just doesn't fit.

Scripture says,

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
(Jn 1:11).

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.
(Jn 1:12).

What could be sadder than to miss this gift to become the very children of God? Yes, the saddest line that will ever be written of this world is that there was no room for Him in the inn.

What of us? Is there room for Jesus in the "inn" of our hearts? If there is, Jesus comes bearing many gifts. There is a knock at the door this very midnight. It sounds like Jesus! Oh Sinner, why don't you answer? Somebody's knocking at your door.

Make room for Jesus. Every year He comes knocking. He stoops low and invites us to find Him in the lowly places of this world, in the lowly places of our own life. What are the things in your life that may be crowding out Jesus? What obstacles and preoccupations leave little or no room for Him? What keeps you from recognizing Jesus and opening the door wide when He comes?

If you've already opened the door to him for many years, praise God and ask the Lord to help you open wider. Even though many of us have invited Jesus in, we've given him poor accommodations, perhaps relegating him to the couch or the floor.

Make room for Jesus. Make more and more room for Him in the inn of your soul. I promise you that what Scripture says is true: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God (Jn 1:12).

If you will receive the gift of Him tonight and make greater room for Him in your heart, I promise you total victory and transformation in Christ Jesus. There will come to you the increasing gift of transformation into the very likeness of God. Tonight is a night of gifts and Jesus stoops low to give us a priceless gift: the power to become children of God. Is there room in the "inn" of your heart?

It's midnight and there is a knock at the door.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

Christmas, The Fruit of The Word

By Geoffrey P. Hunt

Christmastide is the season that provokes the most spiritual reflection, accompanied by abundant joy. Amongst feasts in the liturgical calendar, over the centuries Christmas has either enjoyed a most favored festive status or been nearly ignored.

Two of the four Gospel authors, Mark and John, omit any mention of the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s account is the abridged version. It is Luke’s full-figured account of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the lowly manger scene, the Angels, shepherds, the guiding star, the gifts of the Magi, all of which we never tire, reading a million times over.

After all, Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus is a simple fait accompli. Preceding Christmas by an infinite distance is the most profound event, the foundational mystery of the Christian faith, the a priori Incarnation of the Son of God.

In the Church calendar at ground level, the Incarnation is manifest in the Annunciation to Mary -- the perfection of the Word according to the opening of John’s Gospel -- celebrated in late March, proximo to the vernal equinox. Luke devotes the most poetic ink to the Annunciation, with his Magnificat (Luke1:46-55 KJV), the Song of Mary, settings of which are sung, or said every day within the Liturgy of the Hours, be it Roman Catholic and Lutheran vespers, Anglican evensong, or Eastern Rite morning service.

The Incarnation is necessary, according to Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, as the most elegant and graceful solution in bestowing the option for redemption and salvation upon humankind. A millennium earlier Tertullian declared that God becoming Man was shameful, absurd, and impossible; thus certain.

I suppose students of philosophical theology might consider Christmas a posteriori, while the Incarnation a priori. Yet Christmas is also necessary to transport the theological abstraction of the Incarnation, albeit true and real enough, into the realm of human experience as God amongst us. None of this is remarkable for mature Christians, accustomed to spiritual self-examination, and sober appraisal, during Advent. Yet there are fewer and fewer Christians, mature or otherwise, willing to submit to such celebral toil.

It is said Luke was a physician, so fitting as a healer with words. It is Luke’s narrative of the Nativity, taking on the coloratura of folklore rather than strictly a sacred chronicle, a tale of a humble hardscrabble family inspiring awe and wonder. Christmas reveals the life of the Son of Man, compressed into the ensuing four months of the Church calendar, leading to the death of God on the Cross, and His resurrection.

Again Tertullian’s words offer an unlikely opening to faith: “The Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible” (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 5.4).

Tertullian identifies the three core beliefs in the Christian mind: Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. Nothing else matters, all three must be taken together.

Arguably it is the Incarnation that matters most, where “the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”. (John 1:14). On one level it is God’s do-over, since His first human creation Adam, “Lay Ybounden”. On another plane, the Life of Jesus, set out in all four of the Gospels, is a more intellectually approachable record that God is, has been, and always will be with us.

The phrase “mature Christians” is a rank-order label, used in bible study circles to identify the most literate, and learned daily readers who navigate the New and the Old Testaments with ease. Yet ‘mature Christian” is a misnomer. No one “matures” beyond the astonishing truth of the Incarnation. We are all children, seeing the night sky dome for the first time, believing in the moment, yet utterly unable to comprehend any of it.

Barton Swaim, writing a book review in the Wall Street Journal on Jay Parini’s Jesus: The Face of God takes a well-placed swipe at “mature” intellectuals, somehow embarrassed by the demands of faith, unwilling to enter Tertullian’s glorious paradoxical labyrinth. Says Swaim:

“It's the same with all attempts to make religion palatable to the learned. Rather than accepting its authority or ditching it altogether, the urge is to weaken its demands and make its doctrines vague or optional. The result is usually an agreeable but boring philosophy that anyone can adopt and no one would die for.”

Swaim then references Parini’s perspective:

"The Way of Jesus..." Mr. Parini writes, "involves self-denial, a sense of losing oneself in order to find oneself, moving through the inevitable pain of life with good cheer, accepting gracefully the burdens that fall on our shoulders and the tasks that lie before us. This is true discipleship."

Swaim concludes:

“If that's all Jesus came here to tell us, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about.”

Christmas is the best place to embrace the fuss, enter that space, the light of the world, where demands on the human intellect are incontrovertible, yet never resolved. And yes, Christmas is the fruit of the Beginning, but also the beginning of a journey into the holy world of the wholly other.

Source: AmericanThinker

Messiahs False and True

by David Kupelian

Those shepherds and wise men we read of in the Bible's Christmas story had the advantage on us.

Between the angels and the star, they were given a beeline to the true Messiah. It was hard to miss.

It can be a little more complicated for the rest of us, separated by two thousand years.

But the bigger barrier can be what's inside us ... the thing that makes us prefer false messiahs or blind to the true One.

Christmas is a good time to fix that ...


  • The awaited redeemer of the Jews, to be sent by God to free them.
  • Jesus Christ, when regarded in this role.
  • An exceptional or hoped for liberator of a country or people"

Decades ago as a young person, I liked to visit the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where one exhibit featured a nine-minute film that played continuously in a loop. I would stand there, in awe, watching it over and over again.

It was called "Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe – and the Effect of Adding Another Zero."

Narrated by MIT physics professor Philip Morrison, the short movie takes viewers on a virtual high-speed voyage into outer space, zooming away from earth another order of magnitude (10 times farther) every 10 seconds, thus traversing through our solar system and vastly beyond, eventually past the Milky Way galaxy unto the outer reaches of the known universe – ending up 100 million light years from home. Upon returning to earth, the cosmic roller-coaster pauses temporarily at its initial starting point at the planet's surface, but now continues on "in the other direction" – that is, inward. Microscopically traveling by a new order of magnitude (10 times smaller) every 10 seconds, the same rate as the previous journey, this time the "fantastic voyage" ventures inside a man's hand. We survey skin cells and other structures, then chromosomes and DNA, and, as the magnification increases exponentially, molecules and atoms, until finally we arrive at our destination: a single proton within the nucleus of a carbon atom.

Not only does "Powers of Ten" (as well as a later remake called "Cosmic Voyage" narrated by Morgan Freeman) provide a glimpse of the astonishing complexity and magnificence of creation and the relative size of all things known, it also, intriguingly, shows man to be more-or-less right smack in the middle of two universes, one infinitely larger than us and the other infinitesimally smaller.

Think of it: Zoom out to, say, one light-year of distance from earth (10-to-the-16th-power meters) and our sun is seen as a tiny speck in space. But zoom inward, toward the center of a carbon atom, and you've traveled the same number of orders of magnitude, sixteen (10-to-the-minus-16th-power meters, or 0.000001 angstroms), and the atomic nucleus is likewise seen as a tiny speck in space.

With this mind-blowing relativity in mind, man is obviously not "small," as we're often told, except when compared to the distances, speeds and heavenly bodies inhabiting outer space. But relative to the equally mind-bogglingly small universes of inner space – well, let's just say, you and I are to the tiny particles in the nucleus of an atom as the Milky Way galaxy is to us.

Thus perched between these "parallel universes," we human beings exist on this remarkably beautiful blue-green-and-brown spinning sphere called Earth. And as such, we are faced with a great enigma – a Creator who can conceive universes large and small, both equally incomprehensible in their largeness and smallness (not to mention their infinite complexity and wonder), and yet Who places, right in the middle of it all, human beings, full of all our vexing and even malignant flaws.

For what purpose?

That's a mystery. It is THE mystery.

In our life on this Earth, our first and most tangible reality is the wondrous natural world surrounding us and providing all our material needs. We are likewise blessed with marvelous faculties – two little spherical cameras called eyes with which to see, ears to hear, plus all our other senses and abilities, all topped off with an astonishing super-computer – our brain. All this, that we may perceive, navigate and live our lives successfully within this natural world, like the rest of the animal kingdom.

Alas, we're not just animals, ordained to live in an eco-system, locate food, procreate and try to steer clear of predators. For co-existing with this natural world is a mysterious moral dimension in which we humans are also immersed. Animals don't share this moral realm, nor do plants, rocks, mountains or oceans, nor for that matter do atoms, molecules, planets, stars or black holes, all of which "act" in accord with their given nature, all without honor or dishonor, reward or punishment. Kittens aren't good, and man-eating sharks aren't bad. Only man dwells in this peculiar moral realm wherein good and evil not only manifest, but seem to be focused directly on recruiting us! As such, we inevitably assume the role of conduits of good, or of evil – or more often, of both good and evil, since both realms relentlessly strive to claim our minds, hearts, loyalties, and ultimately our souls.

It is this moral dimension that is the matrix from which most of our problems emerge, overshadowing and often overwhelming everything else in our lives.

For despite all that is truly amazing about human beings – the civilizations we've built, literature and art we've created, diseases we've conquered, our dizzying scientific and technological achievements and, most important, our genuine capacity for nobility, generosity and self-sacrifice – we are seriously troubled, problem-ridden creatures. The human race is a giant mess, and from everything we know, always has been. Along with our conscience (a little speck of God's mind that he graciously enfolds within each one of us) and the many virtues with which we are blessed, we're also mightily beset by pride, doubt, anger, selfishness, greed, lust – in fact, by ignoble impulses and destructive proclivities of every imaginable sort, almost as though we had a genetic predisposition toward them.

As a result, our world includes entire nations that resemble insane asylums where the most deluded and dangerous people are those in positions of authority. Moreover, each culture, religion and political ideology has a set of core beliefs about which adherents are absolutely certain, yet which are utterly at odds with the core beliefs of all other cultures, religions and political systems. Even worse, in the case of major utopian systems like communism, Nazism and Islamism, millions are brainwashed into not only embracing impossibly irrational, degrading and destructive beliefs, but into believing they are required to force everyone else on Earth to adopt their beliefs – or else be subjugated or slaughtered.

False messiahs

Clearly there is something in our makeup, some mysterious inheritance from ancient times, that beckons us to so easily cross the line of conscience, morality and reason – to violate God's laws, to become spiritual outlaws. In Christian shorthand, we're all "born in sin."

It's one of the great mysteries of life that some people – usually after great suffering and soul-searching – eventually manage somehow to mature into responsible, conscientious, moral adults, while others unfortunately become ever more entangled in dark thoughts and feelings, leading to self-destructive or predatory behaviors.

But here's the rub. Even in those who eventually leave behind their former sinful behavior, the nature that allowed it seems to linger somewhere deep within us like a latent virus. Moreover, even if we were somehow graced to become totally free of our sinful nature, we still cannot undo the sins we committed in the past. In a cosmic legal sense, we're still guilty. We're like offenders who have broken the law and hurt, violated and damaged other people, and though we may now sincerely regret what we did, we're still guilty of having done it! How can our guilt then be taken away? Can the past be magically wiped out? This is where the idea of the Messiah as savior comes in.

Unfortunately, because repentance and facing our own dark, angry, sinful nature can be painful and requires humility, many people are more inclined to skip the introspection and just appoint an earthly savior to rescue them from their misery. The most notorious example of a false messiah in modern times was Adolf Hitler, although both Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong were responsible for far more deaths. All demanded obedience and worship in return for a glorious kingdom on Earth, but of course it didn't work out. It never does – but we keep trying

Thus, in America, many people saw Barack Obama as a political messiah and invested all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, with 69 million voters casting their ballots for him in 2008.

"We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn't say this at Christmastime – but the next messiah," veteran broadcast journalist Barbara Walters told Piers Morgan on CNN. Newsweek editor Evan Thomas told MSNBC, "I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above – above the world, he's sort of God." And upon Obama's 2012 resurrection – I mean, reelection – Newsweek celebrated the occasion with the front-cover headline, "THE SECOND COMING."

A messiah, at least in the Christian sense, is not only supposed to lead people out of bondage and oppression, but to take away their guilt and past sins. Obama was, in effect, anointed by the majority of American voters to absolve their guilt over our great national sin of slavery (and later, racial segregation). But instead of cleansing us of our national guilt, Obama and his administration, especially his attorney general, Eric Holder, cynically magnified and enlarged our guilt, using it as a weapon to confuse, confound and divide us, to neutralize patriots and critics, all for the unholy purpose of amassing ever more power.

Most Americans – some sooner, some later – ultimately realized that not only was Obama not a messiah, he was arguably the worst, most dishonest, incompetent, anti-American president in U.S. history. His radical-left administration caused tremendous harm not just to the nation's constitutional system of government, its economy, security and culture – but to its national soul. That's because, to "fundamentally transform" a uniquely great nation like America into just one more pathetic redistributionist welfare state presided over by an all-powerful nanny government, the American people must be seduced into becoming less independent and less moral than they once were, they mustn't trust in God quite as much as they once did, they must become less rugged and resilient, less logical and competent, less principled and courageous than they once were.

This, alas, is the true legacy of the Obama presidency – the degradation and demoralization of America.

The desire for a messiah – a God-anointed person who will lead us to lasting peace and happiness – is embedded deep in the human soul. The messiah is central not just to Christianity and to Judaism, but also to Islam, which has its own exotic version of a last-days deliverer.

In fact, polls reveal that a large percentage of Muslims currently living in the Middle East believe they will see, in their lifetime, the coming of their messiah – whom they call the Mahdi. But believe it or not, Islam anticipates that the Mahdi will return with a sidekick – Jesus, whom Muslims call "Isa." The Muslim Jesus is expected to tell the entire world that he is not the son of God, was not crucified and was not resurrected from the dead. Rather, according to Muslim teachings, Jesus' message upon his return will be that he does indeed exist, but that he is – surprise! – a Muslim, and that all the world must convert to Islam.

Since human beings, as is demonstrated again and again, are prone to disastrously appointing false "messiahs" to absolve their sins and lead them to peace and freedom, one question, which has endured for millennia, looms large: Is the messiah a political (group) savior, or a spiritual (individual) one?

Twenty centuries ago at the time Jesus walked the Earth, the Jewish people, citing the biblical prophets, were awaiting a great leader descended from King David who would rescue and lead them into a time of lasting peace on earth. However, Jesus, when urged to lead a rebellion against the Roman oppressors and occupiers, said he had come to lead a different sort of revolution – an inner one, within each person. Why?

True Messiah

If we're completely honest, at some point during our lives we realize we are broken in such a deep way that we cannot fix it. Our problem with sin, with deep roots going back to our childhood and beyond, seems to cling to us all of our lives. Even in the best of us, the traumatic memories are so deeply embedded, the strength of sin so powerful, our emotional responses to stresses so deep-seated, that even with our best efforts we remain a shadow of the person we'd like to be. We never seem to be totally healed – not with medications and therapy, not with diet and exercise, not with church attendance and rituals, not with sermons and Bible study, not with righteous behavior and good deeds.

We need something we cannot give ourselves. We need true healing; we need forgiveness; we need a new identity; we need new life.

All this brings us to the coming of the Messiah, as described so poetically in the Gospel of Luke:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 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 Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

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 2:4-14)

This, of course, is just the beginning of the story. From Jesus' ministry and life-changing teachings, to the miracles he performed, to his perfect example of how to live life, to his ultimate crucifixion and resurrection, His life and death – and life again – are truly "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

The simplicity and sincerity of Christ's essential message is conveyed by one of my very favorite scriptures, courtesy of John the apostle:

Here is the message we heard from him [Jesus] and pass on to you: that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to be sharing in his life while we walk in the dark, our words and our lives are a lie; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son. (1 John 1:5-7)

John mentions no dogma, no required observances, rituals, special diet and so on. Just an appreciation of God's forgiveness through His Son, and this glistening instruction: If we "walk in the light, as he himself is in the light" – that is, if we calmly and humbly welcome God's light of understanding to shine in our minds and souls, by which light we will see our sinful nature – He will grace us with repentance. And "then," assures John, "we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son."

Again, living "in the light" – not losing ourselves in worry over the past, nor anxiety and fear over the future, but, in faith, staying anchored in the present moment, in the presence of God – involves facing our own vexing imperfections and faults, without condemning ourselves, or covering up the sin, or struggling with it to fix it, but just patiently waiting on God for help. When we do that, we are, in that very moment, being transformed, redeemed, graced to "share together a common life" with God.

These are, of course, simply my reflections on an enormously profound subject. But I believe such deep matters are meant to be pondered by each of us in our hearts, without worry, without pressure, without fear of hellfire hanging over us. If we don't understand something, it's OK. If we experience doubt as to what we believe, it's OK – just honestly admit it. That's all. God sees all, and will help.

Earlier we considered the question of why God would position these frail, fragile, flawed creatures called human beings betwixt alternate universes – magnificent cosmic clockwork large and small – and immerse them likewise in two opposing spiritual dimensions of good and evil, virtue and wickedness, sanity and madness.

Why are we here? What is God intent on creating in this special realm – the realm of man – that He couldn't create any other way, or anywhere else in the universe, even 100 million light years out?

Perhaps the most quoted scripture in Christendom, John 3:16, points to the answer: "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."

In response to this ultimate expression of God's love for us, our appreciation and worship of God in return may be the one thing the rest of the universe cannot deliver. Only through the troubled lives we lead and the lessons of humility and faith we ultimately learn can real love of God come into being.

Why did God put such imperfect beings in the space between all that perfect cosmic clockwork large and small? Maybe in the Creator's mind all that stuff just serves as the ornate setting, and we – we're the crown jewel of His creation. Not that we're anything praiseworthy, mind you. It's just that God wanted children – and all the stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees and birds just wouldn't do.

But in leaving a race of prodigal sons and daughters here, untethered in a moral wilderness with the freedom to follow their own folly for a season and thereby learn precious lessons, God knew many would eventually come to their senses and come back home to him. May it be so with you.

© Copyright 1997-2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Unlikely Women of Christmas

by Sharon Jaynes

Today's Truth

They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11 NIV - brackets added).

Friend to Friend

When the writers of the Old Testament penned the words to the long lists of lineages, the so-and-so begat so-and-so passages, they almost always listed men. Very rarely did a woman's name make the list.

But when we turn the page from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we see God honoring women in a brand-new way. We get a hint that the tide is turning for women when we read the lineage of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter one. Shockingly, in addition to Mary, four women were listed in the genealogy of Christ!

And whom should God choose to be set apart, chosen, and honored in the genealogy of His Son? Not Mrs. Noah, who must have been an awesomely patient woman with all those animals to take care of. Not Mrs. Moses, who must have been incredibly flexible with all that moving around in the wilderness. Not Mrs. Abraham who must have become the poster woman for senior citizens everywhere when she had a child at ninety-years-old.

No. Those are not the women that God chose to be listed in the lineage of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He chose Rahab, who had been a prostitute in Jericho. He chose Tamar, who had an incestuous relationship with her father-in-law. He chose Bathsheba, who had an affair with King David. And He chose Ruth, a nice girl from the cursed Moabite nation.

And that IS the story of Christmas. God shows us through these women's lives that there is no place we can go that is so far away from His presence that He cannot forgive us, redeem us, and then use us for His glory. His arm is not too short to save us from the deepest pit imaginable.

I often hear women say they believe God can forgive them, but that they struggle with the idea He could ever use them. But the Bible shows us that He can and He will—if we let Him. Your past stumbling stones can become your God-ordained stepping-stones. Your mistakes and failures can become the very springboard from which your ministry is launched. I'm not talking about launching an international ministry, though it could be. I'm talking about your ministry to your neighbor, your co-worker, and your family.

Revelation 12:11 says this: "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." Each of the women in Matthew chapter one had a powerful story of how God plucked her from desperation, placed her on a firm foundation, and transformed her life into a portrait of admiration and inspiration.

Does that give you hope? It does me.

And that, dear sister, is what the Christmas story is all about.

Let's Pray

Heavenly Redeemer, I am so thankful that You choose the weak things of the world to shame the wise. I am one of those "weak things," and I am constantly amazed that You chose me and use me for Your glory. Thank You for writing my name into the Christmas story.

In Jesus' Name,

Now It's Your Turn

During the next few days, go back and read the stories of the women listed in Jesus' genealogy and see what you can learn about their lives.

Rahab: Joshua 2
Tamar: Genesis 38:1-30
Bathsheba: 2 Samuel 11
Ruth: The book of Ruth

After reading about them, answer these questions:

What did God take them from?
What did God take them to?
What does this tell you about the people that God chooses and uses?


Rolled Away - Rolling Away Our Burdens

by Suzie Eller

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus."
Luke 24:2-3 (NIV)

It's been eight months since my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and sometimes she jokes this has been harder on me than her. I don't believe that for a moment, but I know what she's saying. Though I consider myself a strong woman of faith, if I had an Achilles' heel, it would be watching my children hurt — for any reason.

While my daughter went through her major operation, I sat in the waiting room wishing I could take her place. While she waited for lab test results, I held my breath until the news finally came.

As Christmas approaches, I'm drawn to the story of another mother who watched her child suffer. Mary gave birth to a son in a barn. When the angel first told Mary she was carrying the Messiah, it seemed like a dream. Until one day, there He was, resting in her arms.

Like most mothers, she had no idea what was ahead for her child. Her baby turned into a boy and then eventually became a man. Sometimes she marveled at Him (Luke 2:33). Some days she got frustrated with Him (Luke 2:48).

Sounds like motherhood, alright!

When He was 33 years old, Mary's son hung on a rugged cross to bear the weight of humanity's sin. As He suffered, His mother never left His side. When He died, His body was placed in a tomb, and a large stone rolled over the opening.

Three days later, Mary and a few friends approached the tomb, carrying incense and heartache. It was customary to anoint the body. As they walked, they discussed how they'd roll away the heavy stone over the entrance (Mark 16:3).

Luke 24 describes the scene that greeted them:

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus."
(Luke 24:2-3).

The tomb was empty. An angel informed them they wouldn't find the living among the dead. Jesus wasn't there. He had risen!

That day, an enormous physical stone was rolled away from the mouth of a tomb, but so was the burden on a mother's tender heart. Her son suffered, but His life left an eternal impact on the world. Throughout Jesus' life, and even in His death, Mary stood close to Her son, but God drew even closer.

Over the past eight months, I've walked this new path with my daughter. I stay as close to her as I can, but I also kneel and ask God to roll away all the burdens I can't remove on my own.

  • To replace fear with trust.
  • To exchange uncertainty with truth that God's hand is over my child, even in suffering.
  • Remembering He has a plan for her, and I may not fully understand what that looks like, but He does.

As this Christmas approaches, we'll lift our hands to praise God for a baby born in a barn. We'll thank Him for the massive stone that was rolled away, revealing our Savior lives.

Lastly, let's thank Jesus for rolling away our burdens, as He carries the weight we cannot carry on our own.

Dear Jesus,

As Christmas approaches, I will unwrap many gifts, but the greatest gift is that You were sent for us. You walk with us daily. Thank You for rolling away the burdens that are too big for us to carry by ourselves.

In Jesus' Name,


The stone that covered the mouth of the tomb is believed to be over 2,000 pounds! Two men could move the rock over the opening, but it took additional manpower to move it once it was firmly in place.

It's OK to admit when a burden is too heavy to move on your own. In fact, it's a show of strength to reach for help. Ask God to help you roll away that burden, trusting He is near.

© 2017 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.
Source: Encouragement for Today

What Christmas Is About

by Greg Laurie

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 (NKJV)

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.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Harvest Ministries. All rights reserved.

How to Have a Happy Christmas

by Tim Thornborough


Headline news: Christmas is all about receiving a wonderful gift from God.

You may have received some terrible presents in your time. Come to that, you may have given some. But I hope you won't be spending Christmas with the man who announced in his Christmas cards:

This holiday season, in lieu of gifts, I've decided to give everyone my opinion.

Did you ever wonder why we give gifts at Christmas? We give gifts because God gave us the most precious gift possible: the gift of his Son. Each and every gift under the tree is a reminder of the greater gift that God has given to you and me.

And each expression of delight, surprise and happiness you hear on Christmas Day is just a glimpse of the joy and fulfillment that is promised to us if we experience that renewed relationship with God that Jesus came to bring.

But how do we receive the gift that God is giving us in Jesus?

Earlier we looked at the most famous verse in the Bible, which starts:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...

The verse concludes like this:

... that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It's a gift that we don't deserve. I hate it when people ignore me, or refuse to receive help from me, or are ungrateful when I do things for them. And yet we are all guilty of doing all those things to God. Not just occasionally, but repeatedly throughout our lives.

God has every reason to walk away, and leave us to ourselves. Christmas without him. Life without him. For ever without him—an eternity without rest or loving relationships. But he doesn't. He freely offers us life... rescue... forgiveness... eternity.

He went to the most extraordinary lengths to reach out to us when we were far away. He paid the greatest price imaginable to bridge the gap between us—when we were his enemies. It is a gift we do not deserve, and yet he freely offers his Son to us, because he loves us.

So if we are to receive God's gift of new life, we must receive it humbly—admitting to God our failure, and being truly grateful for his love.

It's a gift we can't earn. This may sound like a stupid thing to say, but gifts, by their very nature, are free! It would be crazy to imagine a child tearing the paper off a box under the Christmas tree to reveal a bike or an Xbox or a puppy, and then turning to their parents and asking, “How much do I owe you?” And yet this is just how many people think our relationship with God works.

We think that God will only accept us if we pay him—with our good works, or our church attendance or our morals or our money. But this is simply not true. God will accept us, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus earned it—by his perfect life, and his death for us. God will freely forgive us because of him.

If we are to receive God's gift of new life, we must receive it gratefully—admitting that we cannot earn our way into friendship with God, and that Jesus has done everything necessary for our forgiveness.

It's a gift we receive by trusting Jesus.

We receive God's wonderful gift by believing in Jesus.

... that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Not just by believing he exists and that he is real—which he is. Not just by believing that he is the Son of God sent into the world to rescue us—which he is. Not just by believing that he rose from the dead three days after he died, and is alive today—which he is. But by putting our trust in his death on the cross to make us right with God.

God is offering you the gift of new life in his Son. You can have a better Christmas if you relax and relate. But you will only have a truly joyful Christmas if you receive that precious gift from Jesus. He offers to be your Lord and rescuer as you enjoy real rest in they ups and downs of life, as you relate to him each day of your life.

Many people have found it helpful to talk to God about these things. They can trace the start of their new relationship with God from a time they said a prayer similar to the one on the next page.

You may not understand everything. You may even have doubts about whether God is really there. But if you respond to God's offer of forgiveness through Christ, he promises to hear your prayer and answer it.

Why not say the words of this prayer out loud, or in the quietness of your heart, to the Lord who knows you and loves you and is listening now?

Dear God

Thank you for Christmas time and for all the good things you have given to me.
Thank you for my friends and family and those who care for me.
Thank you for your great love in sending your Son, Jesus, to be born into the world.
I'm sorry that I have turned away from you and pushed you from your rightful place in my life.
Thank you that Jesus came and died so that I can be forgiven. Thank you that he rose again so that I can receive new life.
Help me to trust in Jesus and his death on the cross as the only way by which I can be right with you.
Please forgive me, and help me to grow and learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus.



If you have prayed this prayer and meant it, you can be sure that God has answered it.

Be sure to continue with these four things:

1. Relax: Becoming a Christian is about receiving God's gift to you. Growing as a Christian goes along in the same way. Enjoy being able to talk to God as your Father. Relax in his presence as someone who has been forgiven and accepted through Jesus.

2. Relate: Talk to another Christian about the fact that you want to grow in your understanding of Jesus. They will help you. The church where you got this booklet would be a good place to start to make friends with others who have found forgiveness and a new relationship with God.

3. Reflect: Continue to find out more about what it means to be a genuine Christian. Read one of the biographies of Jesus in the Bible. Luke's Gospel is a good place to start. It may raise more questions for you at first, but ask God to help you understand more about what it means to follow Jesus, and he will answer your prayer.

4. Go on receiving: God has so much more to give you as you follow Jesus day by day. He will help you understand more. He will help you change. He will help you to grow in your relationship with him as you pray, listen to his word, and meet with other Christians. Continue to open up your life to the heavenly Father, who loves you, and gave his Son for you.

About The Author:

Tim Thornborough is the Creative Director at The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes, and has contributed to many books published by The Good Book Company and others. He is married to Kathy and has three teenage daughters and a boy.

Excerpted from How to Have a Happy Christmas by Tim Thornborough.
©2016 by Tim Thornborough. Used by permission of The Good Book Company,

Source: Live It Devotional

Hymn on the Nativity

by St. Ephraim

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again today! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Your coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spoke by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household's bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man! The Nature that could not be touched, by His hands was bound and tied, by His feet was pierced and lifted up. Himself of His own will He embodied for them that took Him.

Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it: blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it. Blessed be He Whom the grave bound, that had [thereby] a limit set it. Blessed be He Whose own will brought Him to the Womb and Birth, to arms and to increase [in stature]. Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.

Blessed He Who sealed our soul, and adorned it and espoused it to Himself. Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature. Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things. Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.

Glory to the Son of the Good One, Whom the sons of the evil one rejected! Glory to the Son of the Just One, Whom the sons of wickedness crucified! Glory to Him Who loosed us, and was bound for us all! Glory to Him Who gave the pledge, and redeemed it too! Glory to the Beautiful, Who conformed us to His image! Glory to that Fair One, Who looked not to our foulnesses!

Glory to Him Who sowed His Light in the darkness, and was reproached in His hidden state, and covered His secret things. He also stripped and took off from us the clothing of our filthiness. Zechariah 3:3 Glory be to Him on high, Who mixed His saltMark 9:49 in our minds, His leaven in our souls. His Body became Bread, to quicken our deadness.

Praise to the Rich, Who paid for us all, that which He borrowed not; and wrote [His bill], and also became our debtor! By His yoke He broke from us the chains of him that led us captive. Glory to the Judge Who was judged, and made His Twelve to sit in judgment on the tribes, and by ignorant men condemned the scribes of that nation!

Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble. He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom. Glory to Him, Who lowered Himself, and asked; Luke 2:46 that He might hear and learn that which He knew; that He might by His questions reveal the treasure of His helpful graces!

Let us adore Him Who enlightened with His doctrine our mind, and in our hearing sought a pathway for His words. Praise we Him Who grafted into our tree His fruit. Thanks to Him Who sent His Heir, that by Him He might draw us to Himself, yea make us heirs with Him! Thanks to that Good One, the cause of all goods!

Blessed He Who did not chide, because that He was good! Blessed He Who did not spurn, because that He was just also! Blessed He Who was silent, and rebuked; that He might quicken us with both! Severe His silence and reproachful. Mild His severity even When He was accusing; for He rebuked the traitor, and kissed the thief.

Glory to the hidden Husbandman of our intellects! His seed fell on to our ground, and made our mind rich. His increase came an hundredfold into the treasury of our souls! Let us adore Him Who sat down and took rest; and walked in the way, so that the Way was in the way, and the Door also for them that go in, by which they go in to the kingdom.

Blessed the Shepherd Who became a Lamb for our reconcilement! Blessed the Branch Who became the Cup of our Redemption! Blessed also be the Cluster, Fount of medicine of life! Blessed also be the Tiller, Who became Wheat, that He might be sown; and a Sheaf, that He might be cut! [Blessed be] the Architect Who became a Tower for our place of safety! Blessed He Who so tempered the feelings of our mind, Proverbs 18:10 that we with our harp should sing that which the winged creatures' mouth knows not with its strains to sing! Glory to Him, Who beheld how we had pleased to be like to brutes in our rage and our greediness; and came down and was one of us, that we might become heavenly!

Glory be to Him, Who never felt the need of our praising Him; yet felt the need as being kind to us, and thirsted Matthew 25:40 as loving us, and asks us to give to Him, and longs to give to us. His fruit was mingled with us men, that in Him we might come near to Him, Who condescended to us. By the Fruit of His stem He grafted us into His Tree.

Let us praise Him, Who prevailed and quickened us by His stripes! Praise we Him, Who took away the curse by His thorns! Praise we Him Who put death to death by His dying! Praise we Him, Who held His peace and justified us! Praise we Him, Who rebuked death that had overcome us! Blessed He, Whose helpful graces cleansed out the left side!

Praise we Him Who watched and put to sleep him that led us captive. Praise we Him Who went to sleep, and chased our deep sleep away. Glory be to God Who cured weak manhood! Glory be to Him Who was baptized, and drowned our iniquityin the deep, and choked him Luke 8:33 that choked us! Let us glorify with all our mouths the Lord of all creatures!

Blessed be the Physician Who came down and amputated without pain, and healed wounds with a medicine that was not harsh. His Son became a Medicine, that showed sinners mercy. Blessed be He Who dwelt in the womb, and wrought therein a perfect Temple, that He might dwell in it, a Throne that He might be in it, a Garment that He might be arrayed in it, and a Weapon that He might conquer in it.

Blessed be He Whom our mouth cannot adequately praise, because His Gift is too great for skill of orators [to tell]; neither can the faculties adequately praise His goodness. For praise Him as we may, it is too little.

And since it is useless to be silent and to constrain ourselves, may our feebleness excuse such praise as we can sing.

How gracious He, Who demands not more than our strength can give! How would Your servant be condemned in capital and interest, did he not give such as he could, and did he refuse that which He owed! Ocean of glory Who needest not to have Your glory sung, take in Your goodness this drop of praise; since by Your Gift You have supplied my tongue a sense for glorifying You.

From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Translated by J.B. Morris
Copyright © 2009 by Kevin Knight

The Value of Silence Before the Great Mystery of the Incarnation

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Something at Christmas urges me (a man of many words) to write of holy silence. Perhaps it is due to one of the great Christmas antiphons, which speaks of the birth of Christ as a magnum mysterium (a great mystery). During Mass recently, the words of Zechariah came to my mind:

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord … Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
(Zechariah 2:11, 13).

There is a common idiom: "Words fail me." It is in this context that we can best understand God's call to fall silent before the mystery of the Lord's incarnation. Notice in the passage above that the call to silence follows the call to "sing and rejoice."

Is there a difference between singing and rejoice and just plain speaking? Of course there is! By adding the inscrutable sighs we call "song" (a deeply mysterious emanation from our souls) to the words, singing is declaring that "words fail."

To be sure words, are a "necessary evil" for us, but in using words we indicate more what a thing is not than what it is. For example, if I say to you, "I am a man," I have really told you more what I am not than what I am. I have told you I am not a woman, nor a chair, nor a lion, nor a rock. But I have not told what it means to be a man. I have not told you myriad other things about myself that I could: I am a priest; my father was a lawyer and Navy veteran; my mother was a teacher; I am descended from Irish, German, and English immigrants. I have not told you about my gifts, or my talents, or my struggles, or numerous other aspects that make me who I am. And even if I spent several paragraphs relating my curriculum vitae to you, there would still be vastly more left unsaid than was said. Words fail.

Further, words are not the reality they (often poorly) attempt to convey. They are symbols of what they indicate. If you see a sign, "Washington" you don't stop there and take a picture of the sign. The sign itself is not Washington; it merely points to the reality that is Washington. You pass the sign and enter into a reality far bigger than the metal sign and begin to experience it. Words fail.

Many words are also more unlike the reality they describe than like it. My philosophy teacher once asked us how we would describe the color green to a man born blind. We struggled with the task but were able to come up with some analogies: green is like the taste of cool mint; green is like the feel of dew-covered grass. To some extent green is like these things, but the color green is more unlike these things than like them. Green, as a reality, is so much richer than the taste of cool mint or the feel of dew-covered grass. Words fail.

And if this be so in the case of mere earthly things, how much more so in the case of heavenly and Godly matters! The Lord therefore commands a holy silence of us as a kind of reminder that words fail. Silence is proper reverence for the mystery of the incarnation and of God. Words are necessary; without them orthodoxy could not be set forth and truth could not be conveyed. But, especially regarding God and the truths of faith, there comes this salutary reminder from St. Thomas Aquinas: "Now, because we cannot know what it God is, but rather what he is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how he is not" (Prima pars, q. 3, prologue).

Therefore, fellow Christians, as the mysteries of the incarnation unfold for us liturgically, Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, bearing blessings in his hand (from the hymn, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence").

Source: Archdiocese of Washington


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