Malankara World Journal Christmas Special
Volume 2 No. 115 December 23, 2012
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Table of Contents
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Humor: A Christmas Cookie Recipe in the Style of the Revised Translation
by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World
If you had been following Malankara World, by now you have a clear understanding of our church's advent celebration that began on the Sunday following the Hoodosh e'tho Sunday (This year, Hoodosh e'tho was on November 11.) Every Sunday following this Sunday to Christmas, the Church celebrated one important event leading to the incarnation of our Lord.
On the first Sunday, we celebrated the annunciation to Zachariah about the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, who was sent to clear the way for Jesus. Then we had the annunciation to St. Mary. We are awed by the simplicity and obedience of this teenage girl who accepted her mission without question knowing very well that this will change her life forever.
Learning of her cousin Elizabeth being pregnant, the word that was already indwelling in Mary, prompted her to travel the difficult road to visit Elizabeth in the hill country. Now we have another treat. The greeting of Elizabeth and the holy spirit inspired salutation, that together with angelic salutation during the annunciation has become the words that comprise our prayer, "Hail Mary, full of grace."
The visit to Elizabeth also provided us with the Magnificat - perhaps the most beautiful poetry in the bible. Malankara World has provided you with resources to understand the significance of Magnificat. But, like an ocean, it is still bubbling with hidden mysteries from God, the main message being how things will change in the God's kingdom. To understand them, we need to spend time praying and meditating on it. As we settle down to the long winter, I suggest that you take a sentence from this poetry each day and meditate on it with the help of MW. You will get fresh perspective on this prayer.
Then we came to the birth of John the Baptist. Now, the stage is set. Here we are treated with the wonderful discourse from Zachariah who was unable to speak till his child was named John. Here we are introduced to another gem of the Luke's narrative, Benedictus. Like Magnificat, it is another masterpiece. It deserves more recognition than it is given by our church. I hope that our articles on this will help you recognize the beauty, wisdom and prophecy contained in this prayer. Last one of the poetries in Luke will not come till later when Jesus was taken to the temple and Simeon, who was promised that he will see the messiah before his death, sees Jesus. Again it is a prophetic message. We are often reminded about the conclusion of it directed at St. Mary that a sphere will pierce her heart. What an introduction! Our church celebrates this event as Mayaltho. It falls on Saturday, February 2 this season.
On the Sunday following the birth of John the Baptist, we celebrate the Revelation to Joseph. St. Joseph, in my opinion, is the forgotten saint in our church. We relegate him to the backdrop in nativity scenes. The scriptures does not record any word uttered by him. But he played an important role in the redemption plan of God. He is a role model for fathers. He was a silent man; and a just man. I hope that Malankara World helped you to understand the importance of this saint. Many of you have written saying how you enjoyed reading about St. Joseph.
The Sunday before Christmas is often known as the Genealogy Sunday because that is when we read about the human genealogy of Jesus. Genealogy is very important to Jews. Also, it was important to show that the prophesies and covenants regarding the birth of Jesus was fulfilled when he was born. Both Matthew and Luke traces Jesus back to David. This fulfilled one of the major prophesies that said messiah will come from the throne of David, or the Jessie's shoot. If you study the genealogy of Jesus carefully, you will also be amazed at some of the shady characters who were in Jesus' human bloodline. It shows that Jesus' mission was to restore the fallen mankind and God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. No sin is too big for God to wipe clean with our repentance. David's sins are well known; but God promised him that messiah will come from his bloodline and it was fulfilled. Isn't our God amazing!
This aspect of God's strategic plan and execution is often overlooked by us; but it shows the importance and careful planning by God to restore the fallen mankind. God started the plan for redemption at the time of the Garden of Eden. (Some theologians say that the plan was in process at the beginning of eternity.) If Jesus came from a family of just saints, what will that convey to us? It will tell us that we have no chance of redemption unless we are born in a sinless family. Our church teaches that the only person who was born without sin was Jesus Christ.
Let us illustrate this point. A few decades ago, there was a big craze for a doll named Cabbage Patch Kids. Till the introduction of the cabbage patch kids, the staple was the doll known as Barbie doll. Barbie is beautiful; very perfect; stylishly dressed and everything a child can look for. (Mattel, the toy company that produced the toy made lot of money with this doll and they continue to do so.) Then came the cabbage patch kids. These were just plain ordinary dolls, with blemishes - far cry from Barbie. The difference was that each doll was different and comes with its own birth certificate and 'adoption' papers so it can be adopted by the child as her own. It was an instant hit with the kids. The psychology behind its popularity was simple. For a kid, Barbie is something that is unreachable. Real kids are not so pretty and perfect. The cabbage patch kids made them feel at home reminding them that they can be ordinary but still priceless.
Isn't that what God tells us too? We, with our shortcomings, are still important to God. God, like the father of the prodigal son, is waiting for our return from our rebellious nature back to God with our repentance, cleansed by the blood of Jesus shed at Calvary. Jesus had dual nature; one perfect divinity and one perfect humanity. In his human nature, he didn't receive any special treatment. He suffered like the rest of us. He endured pain; he endured being forsaken by his friends when he needed them the most. But he kept his eyes focused on his father and the mission he came here for. Jesus is telling us that we can do it too. He said that we are going to have challenges in our lives; but when that happens we need to remember that Jesus has gone through the same experiences and he has overcame the world and so we can.
This, I believe, is the key to the beauty of God's plan of redemption. He is teaching us by example. He has come down not as a special person with privileges but as just an ordinary person. He lived among ordinary people. His disciples were ordinary people who had no special education or nobility. Jesus showed, by example, that an ordinary person can still do extraordinary things if our eyes are focused on god and we are willing to be obedient, trust god and say like St. Mary said, "I am your servant/slave. Let that happen to me as you said/wish." Full faith and trust. No worries about repercussions or future persecution. God has a plan for each of us. We do our best when we allow God to use us. That is when we shine our best. Not what we do; but what God does through us.
So, we finally come to the Yeldo, Christmas. All the shops are playing the Christmas Music. The Santas are everywhere. Kids are waiting for the Rudolph the Reindeer and Santa Claus to come with bag full of gifts. The day after Christmas, people are standing in line to return or exchange the gifts. Time to move on to the New Year! Time for the New Year Resolutions that we know won't last past the middle of January. Time to pay off the credit cards and other debts accumulated during the holiday season. Combined with the short days of winter in the Northern hemisphere, time for the depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder.) Another year and another Christmas!
In the church, the Christmas Season does not end on Christmas Day. It is just the beginning. In the west, it continues till Danaha (Baptism of Jesus Christ) on January 6 and the official beginning of our Lord's public ministry.
Christmas may be the day, God in human form presented himself to us as a helpless infant in a cave in Bethlehem. But it sure was not the day when the word came to dwell among us, as we mistakenly think or sing in Christmas Carols. The word started dwelling among us on March 25, the annunciation day when Mary said, "yes" to angel Gabriel. The word was in her womb from March 25 to December 25. It was being shaped as a human like a pearl forms in the body of the mother of pearl. The baby in Elizabeth's womb, John, recognized the presence of the Lord in Mary's womb as soon as Mary came to visit. Luke recorded that meeting as follows:
The 'word' or logos already residing in Mary has prompted Mary to make the trip to visit Elizabeth. When God comes to us, he will transform us for better. Mary was already transformed and she knew it.
So, the real Christmas began on March 25, the day we believe the annunciation took place!
If we look at the date a little more closely, we will see another amazing thing. Usually, March 25 is near the passion week when we recall the passion of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice and the culmination of God's plan for the redemption of mankind. This makes lot of sense. Jesus came to this world only with one purpose: to die on the cross, and win over the death by his resurrection; defeat Satan and save mankind. So, we cannot look at his birth in isolation. We have to look at it in conjunction with his passion. So, looking it that way, having the birth and passion around the same time makes lot of sense. The incarnation was officially revealed to us on December 25; but the execution of it started on March 25 around the time we remember his death and resurrection. Amazing, isn't it! God takes his time to do things right. After the birth of Jesus, it took another 30 years or so before Jesus was ready for his public ministry.
So, this Christmas, let us try to understand the real significance of the day. God is telling us that, in spite of all our limitations, we can fly like an eagle, if we humble ourselves, surrender ourselves to His will, and willing to let God use us for the purpose he has in plan for us. That is why He has created us in his image. That is the reason, he sent his only son to the world and sacrificed him on the cross at Calvary on Good Friday, so that he can act as a ransom for our sins. By his resurrection on the Easter Sunday, Jesus has defeated death and Satan. He will come again in glory. The second time, he will not be appearing in a cave or manger. He will come in full glory; we will not miss His arrival like many did on the first Christmas Day in Bethlehem.
From the Malankara World Family to yours, we wish you and your family a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Christmas Day in Church
Yeldo / Incarnation of our Lord (Christmas)
By the fire-pit
Before Holy Qurbana
This Week's Features
"Christmas means 'giving,' and the gift without the giver is bare. Give of yourselves; give of your substance; give of your heart and mind. Christmas means 'compassion and love' and, most of all 'forgiveness.' How poor indeed would be our lives without the influence of His teachings and His matchless example.
He whose birth we commemorate this season is more than the symbol of a holiday. He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace."
Gordon B. Hinckley
The Real Spirit of Christmas
"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
Virtues are formed by prayer.
Prayer preserves temperance.
BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
No: 604/2011 - Dec. 11, 2011
We offer apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers to our beloved Metropolitans and to our beloved spiritual children. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and St. Peter the head of the Apostles, and the rest of the martyrs and saints. Amen.
After checking on your well-being, we say:
In his epistle to his disciple Timothy, St. Paul wrote: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh." (1Timothy 3:16)
Dearly beloved: While we ponder this great mystery, the mystery of the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in flesh, we stand astounded by the attitude of the Virgin Mary, how she stood the awesome miracle of the holy incarnation and what happened to her, inside her, with her, and in front of her !? While she is the simple young girl who wasn't Fourteen years old yet?! She is a mother nursing her divine Son, wrapping Him and laying Him in a manger, in a barn in Bethlehem because they had no room! We are also surprised by the words of the angel Gabriel to her when he announced the holy conception: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus . . . He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest." (Luke 1:30) O angel Gabriel, where is the greatness of Jesus? Where is His kingdom? And where is His throne?
Yes indeed, His kingdom is not of this world. Even if all the priests of the earth and all its rulers ignored His existence, yet heaven glorified Him and the angel announced His birth to the shepherds. No wonder that we see the Virgin Mary and her betrothed not finding a place so they found an oxen and donkey's barn in order for Christ to be born there and His mother wraps Him and lays Him in a manger ... Due to His birth there, that manger was transformed to a sacred place and became the eyeball of all Christians where kings of the earth come and take off their crowns and bow their heads and moreover worship the One Who was born there. Yes indeed, that manger was the befitting place for Jesus the Savior Who descended from heaven to teach us humility which will become the cure from the sickness of pride. He became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross to abolish the sin of disobedience of God's command in paradise., "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
The manger is the fitting place for the One Who came to serve and not to be served and offer Himself a ransom for many. He started His Godly mission by setting Himself in a down-to-earth manger so that the other side of His life will be the cross of shame carrying it on His shoulder in front of a loathing crowd shouting: Crucify Him, crucify Him. Then He was hanged on it and being laid in a new tomb which He didn't possess ... Did He possess anything of this world? He Who when the scribe asked Him saying: Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go, and Jesus answered: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Mathew 8:20)
Yes indeed, believers will remain surprised and baffled while reading the story of the Redeemer's birth due to its simple words and style whereby children can understand it in details and at the same time great philosophers can understand its meanings and realize the divine mysteries. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed to His heavenly Father regarding His mission in flesh: "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes." (Mathew 11:25)
God concealed His mysteries from those who consider themselves wise in order to put to shame the wisdom of this world. He didn't have a place in their midst nor was He born from the daughter of the wealthy parents or philosophers or scientists, but He was born from a poor and orphan girl the Virgin Mary. Yet she was the descendant of kings, priests, and prophets. He wasn't laid in a golden or ivory bed, neither His body was wrapped in soft silk. Rather He was wrapped in cotton and laid in a manger, in a barn in Bethlehem the small village so that whoever seeks Him will find Him.
This is His practical heavenly message, that we learn meekness and humility from Him so that we lift the heavy weight of arrogance, conceit, and pride from within ourselves. Hence we will obtain peace with God, with ourselves, and with everybody.
Yes indeed the Christmas message is a message of love and humility. We see Him today in the millions of homeless children, along with their parents, starving while we are enjoying many luxuries. Every needy or poor or orphan or pitiable widow is Jesus' little brother representing the poor Child Jesus.
Why don't we then abide by the commandments of Jesus Who will judge the humans on the last day according to their merciful deeds plus their faith in Him.
Don't we long to stand on His right side with those who will here His sweet voice saying: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me ... Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." (Mathew 25: 34-40)
During these days my brethren, and while we are celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus in flesh, did we prepare a place for His birth in our hearts? Did we tell our children the story of His miraculous birth, and about His mother the poor orphan and virtuous saint the Virgin Mary? Do we feel while we are celebrating our religious rituals during this happy occasion that Christ in with us and among us sharing in the joy of this feast? Or we are strangers to Him and He is far away from us? He was named Emmanuel that means: God is with us (Mathew 1:21). Did we accept Him as our Savior and believe in the mystery of His incarnation and redemption? Or we are performing our feast's rituals as a routine duty that has an appearance of deity but has lost its power because our spirituality has become mere a social custom unrelated to the spirit?
Let us prepare a place for Christ in our homes and in our hearts and souls so that we live, not us, but He lives in us (Galatians 2:20)
My beloved: We cannot shy away from the bloody and painful events that are happening in our countries: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, in addition to what humanity is facing all over the world: injustice, bias, persecution, famine, depression, sadness, and sickness. It is all due to spiritual wars launched by the enemy of goodness and humanity, albeit the enemy of God against God and believers. But the Lord Jesus taught us through His incarnation that He came for the whole human race and specially to the weary and heavy laden, as if even when He is a young Babe laying in a manger, is stretching His arms and inviting the people as He invited them later: "Come to Me, all you weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mathew 11:28-30)
Even if we do not know what the days and the upcoming nights are hiding surprises, good or bad (God forbid), but we know one thing: That God Almighty controls the world's events. That is why we are confident because we took "Emmanuel" Who is our God, a companion for us in our course of life. He is the way that we walk through, and He is the life that we live, and He is the truth that we hold dear. For He said about Himself: "I am the way, the truth, and the Life." (John 14:6)
Let us with firm faith repeat with St. Paul the apostle: "If God is with us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter'. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord." (Romans 8:31-38)
May the Lord accept your fasting and prayers. May the feast of His birth in flesh be a mean for blessings to you all and benevolence to our beloved countries.
This is what we relay to you. May His grace be with you. w'aboon dbashmayo . . .
Note From the Editor:
This year's message from the Holy Father wasn't received at press time. So, we are giving the message issued in 2011. When the message for 2012 become available, we will publish it in the Malankara World Christmas Supplement where you can also read current and archived messages, in addition to spiritual articles.
by Carol Glatz and Francis X. Rocca
The Nativity story, like the whole story of Christ, is not merely an event in the past, but has unfolding significance for people today, with implications for such issues as the limits of political power and the purpose of human freedom, Pope Benedict writes in his third and final volume on the life and teachings of Jesus.
"Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives" includes wide-ranging reflections on such matters as the significance of the Virgin Birth and the distinctive views of nature in ancient pagan and Judeo-Christian cultures.
In the book, Pope Benedict examines Jesus' birth and childhood as recounted in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke. His interpretation of the biblical texts refers frequently to the work of other scholars and draws on a variety of academic fields, including linguistics, political science, art history and the history of science.
In his new book, the pope argues that Matthew and Luke, in their Gospel accounts, set out to "write history, real history that had actually happened, admittedly interpreted and understood in the context of the word of God."
The pope calls the virgin birth and the resurrection "cornerstones" of Christian faith, since they show God acting directly and decisively in the material world.
"These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit," which expects and allows God to act only in ideas, thoughts and the spiritual world, not the material, he writes. Yet it is not illogical or irrational to suppose that God possesses creative powers and power over matter, otherwise "then he is simply not God."
The pope enriches the Gospel accounts with personal reflections as well as questions and challenges for his readers.
For example, considering the angel's appearance to the shepherds, who then "went with haste" to meet the child Savior, the pope asked "How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned?"
Pope Benedict examines the political context of the time of Jesus' birth, which featured both the so-called "Pax Romana" -- the widespread peace brought by the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus -- and King Herod's thirst for power, which led to the slaughter of the innocents.
"Pax Christi is not necessarily opposed to Pax Augusti," he writes. "Yet the peace of Christ surpasses the peace of Augustus as heaven surpasses earth."
The political realm has "its own sphere of competence and responsibility;" it oversteps those bounds when it "claims divine status and divine attributes" and makes promises it cannot deliver.
The other extreme comes with forms of religious persecution when rulers "tolerate no other kingdom but their own," he writes.
Any sign God announces "is given not for a specific political situation, but concerns the whole history of humanity," he writes.
The pope writes that the Three Wise Men symbolize the purification of science, philosophy and rationality.
"They represent the inner dynamic of religion toward self-transcendence, which involves the search for truth, the search for the true God," the pope writes.
The pope also argues that the star of Bethlehem was a true celestial event.
It "seems to be an established fact," he writes, that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn happened in 7-6 B.C., which "as we have seen is now thought likely to have been when Jesus was born."
A key topic in the book is the role of human freedom in God's divine plan for humanity.
"The only way (God) can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free 'yes' to his will, "the pope writes. It is precisely "the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience," such as Mary and Joseph showed when listening to God, "in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made."
Jesus, too, in his human freedom, understood he was bound to obedience to his heavenly father, even at the cost of his earthly life.
The missing 12-year-old, rediscovered by an anxious Mary and Joseph in the Temple, was not there "as a rebel against his parents, but precisely as an obedient (son), acting out the same obedience that leads to the cross and the resurrection," the pope writes.
Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection is a story filled with contradiction, paradox and mystery, the pope writes, and "remains a sign of contradiction today."
"What proves Jesus to be the true sign of God is he takes upon himself the contradiction of God," Pope Benedict writes, "he draws it to himself all the way to the contradiction of the cross."
By David O Dykes, Green Acres Baptist Church Tyler, Texas
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
The 6-year-old kids in their Sunday School class were re-enacting the story of the birth of Jesus. The teacher wanted them to stage it themselves based on their own made-up script, so it was certainly interesting. They had three Marys, two Josephs, six shepherds, two wise guys and one boy who played the cow. Another boy decided he would be the doctor who would deliver the baby. The teacher consented, so the little doctor went back behind the manger, picked up the doll and carefully wrapped it in a blanket. Then with a big smile on his face, he turned to the Marys and the Josephs and said, "Congratulations, it's a God!"
That little boy had a better grasp of the incarnation than many people much older. The birth of Jesus was an amazing experience of God taking on human form.
You've heard Christmas sermons all your life, and there is so much we could find
in this text; but today we will look at only two topics:
I. The Miracles Mary Pondered
It is obvious Luke conducted a personal interview with Mary many years later. How else would he have been able to write what he did in verse 19? It says, "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Mary experienced so many miracles that night that she had to store them in her heart as precious treasures.
The word pondered is a Greek word that Aristotle used frequently; it is a word which meant "to throw together; to constantly rethink and evaluate even the tiniest details" of an experience. What were these things she pondered? When we look at what took place that night, there were actually three miraculous journeys. Each of these three journeys came to a conclusion that night, and they all arrived at the same place in Bethlehem. First, there was:
1. The Difficult Arrival in Bethlehem
The first journey that came to a conclusion that night was the difficult journey Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was a difficult trek of more than 80 miles. The chapter begins with Luke having set this event in a literal historical and political context. Luke was careful to ensure the readers comprehended the birth of Jesus as being firmly rooted in history. It was not a once-upon-a-time story. There was a real Jesus just as there was a Caesar Augustus and a governor named Quirinius.
Can you imagine the fear and anxiety Joseph and Mary experienced when they heard that because of this census they had no choice but to travel to Bethlehem? They knew Mary was going to give birth any day, and it would be a long and difficult trip; but they had no choice. After all, Emperor Augustus was in control.
Really? Actually, the heart of this king was in the hand of the Lord, and God was behind this decree. This massive registration plan was simply God's way to get Mary in the correct place for Jesus to be born. Scripture prophesied 700 years earlier the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Micah 5:2 says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." That last phrase literally reads, "whose beginning is from the days of eternity." Caesar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, was the first Caesar to be called Augustus. His real name was Octavanius. The Roman Senate voted to give him that title, Augustus, which means "holy or revered." It was a title reserved for gods. They wanted to make the Roman emperor like God.
So here was this Augustus making his political decree, thinking he was a god; but he was simply a pawn in the hand of the true God. Man proposes, but God disposes. Augustus was a man who wanted to become a god, and what we see in this text is God who is becoming a man—what a contrast!
So Joseph and Mary finally arrived in Bethlehem, only to find every hotel had a "No Vacancy" sign out front. Actually, Bethlehem was such a tiny town that when it says there was no room in the inn, it means there was only one and it was full. So Jesus was born…where exactly? The Bible doesn't say. We only know He was laid in a manger, which is a feed box for cows and sheep. That's why we assume He was born in a barn.
Most miniature Nativity scenes employ a wooden shack as the barn, but we are fairly certain it wasn't a wooden barn. In biblical times, especially in the region around Bethlehem, farmers and shepherds didn't have enough wood to build wooden buildings. Instead they used the natural shallow caves that dotted the sides of the limestone hills.
If you ever get the chance to visit Bethlehem with me, we will go down into the Church of the Nativity, and there is a shallow cave, or grotto, that is the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. Of course, this huge church has been built over it, so I try to take travelers to a shepherd's cave outside the city that looks the same today as it might have looked 2,000 years ago.
So Mary and Joseph probably found refuge in one of these limestone caves. One of the things Mary pondered in her heart that night was the trip to Bethlehem and the tough experience of having her firstborn child born in less-than-ideal circumstances. However, there was a second journey that concluded at the same place that evening. I call it:
by John Piper
The people who will experience the fullest meaning of Christmas on Tuesday are the people who know and feel that there is something in them that needs to be destroyed. It is true, as John said (John 3:17), that "God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." But he saves by destroying. Like a doctor who amputates a foot full of gangrene or cuts out a cancerous lung.
Jesus Came to Destroy Something
Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17). The only people who understand Christmas and embrace Christmas for what it is are people who feel sick, and who desperately want their sickness destroyed. Unless you welcome Jesus as a destroyer in your life, you can't have him as a Savior.
The point of this morning's message is taken from 1 John 3:8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." Christmas is the celebration of the appearing on earth of God's eternal Son. And the reason he appeared is to destroy the works of the devil. So the reason there is a Christmas is because God aims to destroy something. Or if you like the imagery of contemporary space odysseys, picture Christmas as God's infiltration of rebel planet earth on a search and destroy mission. Or if you come from the Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey era, picture Christmas as the arrival of a single brilliant doctor in an isolated Appalachian village ravaged by a deadly virus. Or, if you antedate all that, picture Christmas as the arrival of John Joseph Pershing as full commander of the U.S. 1st Army on the Western Front of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. The spaceship has landed, the doctor has arrived, the general has taken command - mission: search and destroy the works of the devil.
Three Questions About the Christmas Mission
There are three questions I want to try to answer in relation to this Christmas mission.
What did the Son of God come to destroy?
by Pastor Linton Smith
A comment heard the other day: "My parents were perfectly happy. They believed in God and worshipped Him the way their ancestors had for centuries – without any reference to Jesus. I don't see why we need to bring in Jesus?"
With that comment in mind I decided to preach a brief series of Christmas messages that will help us to see why Jesus is important.
We begin today by pondering the fact that God promised to send Jesus long before He came.
Where are these promises found? In the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.
When were they written down? At least by 250 BC when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek.. at least 250 years before Jesus came.. and quite likely.. hundreds of years before that.
Who made these promises? God made them to various people and through various people. And He kept them!
Christmas reminds us that God is a promise-keeping God.
Josh McDowell [Evidence that Demands a Verdict] lists 61 promises fulfilled in Jesus!
Let us look at some of them this morning.. We will look at three groups of promises.. and then a promise yet to be fulfilled. First of all we note..
o JESUS CAME AS PROMISED.
About 2,000 years before Jesus came, God promised Abraham that He would bless all peoples on planet earth through his offspring.
Just after Jesus had been crucified.. had risen.. ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.. Peter spoke to a crowd in Jerusalem .. and made it clear that this promise had been fulfilled in Jesus. He said..
Acts 3:25.. You are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.'
Then he went straight on to say.. When God raised up His servant [Jesus] He sent him first to you to bless you. Peter was saying.. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham 2,000 years earlier!
About 1,000 years before Jesus came.. God promised King David that He would raise up his offspring to succeed him and then said.. I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever [2 Sam 7:13]..
About 13 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.. Paul was speaking to people in Turkey .. He spoke about King David.. and said..
Acts 13:23.. From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.
He was saying, Jesus is the promised One.. the long expected King.. Messiah.
When Jesus was born.. wise men came from the east to worship Him.. came to Jerusalem .. and asked where is the one who has been born king of the Jews. King Herod was troubled.. asked the experts.. where the Messiah would be born..
Matthew 2:5,6.. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:" ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
They quoted a promise that was made through the prophet Micah 700 years before Jesus came!
There are many other promises.. but these three are like the trunk of a tree running through the Old Testament.. all the other promises are like branches on the trunk. A descendant of Abraham.. will be the means of blessing all nations.. A descendant of David.. will reign for ever.. he will be born in Bethlehem ..
Promises.. that came true.. in Jesus. Jesus came as promised.. and..
o JESUS SUFFERED AS PROMISED.
When Peter spoke to a crowd in Jerusalem .. just 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus.. He spoke about Jesus.. and said..
Acts 2:23.. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge.
He then went on to say.. and you.. with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
He spoke to another crowd in Jerusalem soon after.. spoke of the way Jesus had been crucified.. and said..
Acts 3:18.. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
Jesus suffered just as the prophets said He would.
Paul drives home this point also. When he spoke to a crowd in Turkey about 13 years later.. he said..
Acts 13:27-29.. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
Many at that time were blind to these prophecies.. promises.. This was the last thing they expected.. but the promises were there.. in the Hebrew Bible.. probably the clearest example is Isaiah 53 especially verses 3,5..
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.. But He was pierced for our transgressions.. the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him..
Jesus me.. the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. As one of the modern songs put it.. He took the fall.. for you and me!
He came as promised.. He suffered as promised.. and..
o JESUS ROSE AGAIN AS PROMISED.
When they crucified Jesus they thought they had heard the last of Him. But they were wrong. God raised Him from the dead! In Jerusalem that day.. just 50 days after His death and resurrection.. Peter told the crowd.. You put Him to death by nailing him to the cross.. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
He then went on to say..
Acts 2:25-31.. David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.
How much clearer could he be! David.. spoke of the resurrection of the Christ! Of Jesus.. the Messiah.
Paul said much the same to the people in Turkey .. 13 years later..
Acts 13:32,33.. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.
That had been God's plan all along.. He sent Jesus as promised.. Jesus suffered as promised.. and He raised Him from the dead as promised. The resurrection was not an afterthought.. God did not see Him killed.. and say.. Oops.. I had better raise Him.. He had planned it all along!
That can be of great comfort to us.. great encouragement.. when something goes wrong.. the wheels fall of as we say.. to be able to say.. God never says, oops. He is working to plan!
God is a promise-keeping God. He works to plan!
Jesus came as promised.. suffered as promised.. rose as promised.. and
o JESUS WILL COME A SECOND TIME AS PROMISED.
Jesus rose again.. and 40 days later.. ascended to heaven.. and when Peter spoke to a crowd in Jerusalem not long after.. he urged them to repent and turn to God.. so that their sins might be wiped out, that times of refreshing might come from the Lord, and then went on to say..
Acts 3:20,21.. That he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Peter was saying.. right now Jesus is in heaven.. and He will remain there.. until the time is right.. and then He will come a second time.. as promised!
About 30 years later.. Peter wrote a letter.. This is what he wrote..
2 Peter 3:3,4.. In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this ‘coming' he promised?
We may be inclined to say the same today.. 2,000 years have passed.. will He ever come? Yes He will.. He came as promised.. suffered as promised.. rose again as promised.. and will come a second time as promised!
And when He comes it will be as King.. in great power and glory!
Jesus came as promised.. suffered as promised.. rose again as promised.. will come a second time as promised.. He is important!
We live in a very dangerous world. Only the other day.. we were warned it is only a matter of time before terrorists use biological weapons..
Do not look around in fear.. look up.. look for the coming of Jesus.. and do as He said.. Occupy till I come.. live in a way that pleases Me.. do what I want you to do.. and keep at it!
Then.. whether I come.. or you die and come home to Me.. you will be ready!
by Nancy W. Gavin
It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas--oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it--overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.
For each Christmas, I followed the tradition--one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.
Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.
From The Editor:
This true story was originally published in the December 14, 1982 issue of Woman's Day magazine. It was the first place winner out of thousands of entries in the magazine's "My Most Moving Holiday Tradition" contest in which readers were asked to share their favorite holiday tradition and the story behind it. The story inspired a family from Atlanta, Georgia to start The White Envelope Project and Giving 101, a non profit organization dedicated to educating youth about the importance of giving.
by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
American Christmas-time is a bazaar annual mix of secular capitalistic enthusiasm with business social parties and colored with religious trappings. There is also an underlying excitement of American children, young and adult, anticipating the possibility of special toys, favorite movies/music, as well as the obligatory clothes from grandmother. There are festive foods and sweets that may have had their start in other countries but are uniquely American - from candy canes to fruit cakes to egg nog.
As one of the most religious nations among what are called industrialized nations (although this antiquated term will need to be revised soon) - 86% believe in God here compared to 70% in Europe and England. The problem is that with a base-line freedom of religion and religious expression, the theological differences hardly make Christians of different traditions friends. So, the secular occasion dominates. This lowest common denominator that has reduced the common American greeting "Merry Christmas" when I was child to "Happy Holidays." The same secularization that has made Christmas trees into holiday trees and the lights and decorations into "Holiday" rather than the overtly religious "Christmas." Even Santa Claus, Good Old Saint Nick, can hardly even see the shadow of the beloved Syrian Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra. I doubt that few, if any, of the costumed jolly men that sit in shopping malls listening to childhood wishes this time of year even know why "Saint Nick" is celebrated so widely among the various Christian churches - how he was a saint before the major divisions a shared saint of all the historic apostolic church. Beyond the Apostles, the numbers of these shared guides to Christian living are few enough - at least captures the creative eye of a secular society once a year.
Nevertheless, I can't help seeing the love of God working through all this. Despite the obvious blame games of churches to use this season to scare children and ignorant believers, American Christmas-time can be quite wondrous. With every parental fight over the last popular toy there is at least one huge outpouring of generosity - usually amazing in its breadth and depth. The fight against the secular distortions so common place is actually a bit of a red herring. Some of these distortions are so obviously drawn from mythological stories. Yes, Virginia even Rudolph is not entirely the marketing genius of Macy's. Notice I didn't say pagan. Because this too is distracting from the real issues.
The problems of secular capitalism with religious are not only during this time of year. Theses distractions are year round. People do not all of the sudden abandon their beliefs at this time of year. They live them out! As they live them out throughout the year. Many of the naysayers of American Christmas, right here in America, who throw away the lights and the trees and even the gift giving - would be happy if the secular capitalism offer exclusive sales on their merchandise to propagate their versions of what every household should have and believe. Religious and bible stores also count on holiday sales to stay in business.
So, instead of a singular message during this time of year, Americans (and now many places in the world) get to have a variety of expressions and diverse beliefs all appearing in the midst of this festive time. How can any Christian complain when lights are shining at the darkest time of the year in America - resembling shepherd's fires and pieces of heaven (like angels) held close? How can we complain when a common saint of Holy Orthodoxy is represented is ANY fashion during ANY time of the year - and marketed as a generous "giver" not a criminal? How can we complain when even a portion of the world around us decorates their yards and homes with scenes of the nativity of Christ - no matter how gaudy or idol-resembling they are - as they remain reminders of what we know and celebrate?
So all around us, through good wishes of annual cards, the thrill of light
decorations, Santa Claus (St. Nicholaus) for a whole month, and all of the
American versions of Christmas expressions, we can be reminded that "God is with
us" for He is called Emmanuel. Christ God became man for our salvation, for hope
in God's love for us - that He has not abandoned us - that He was, is and will
be with until the end of the world. We know that out of a lowly, humble birth
God brought forth His only begotten Son into the world for the sake of the
world. The Creator dwells among the created as one of His creatures, yet
remaining fully God, showing us the way to God's loving embrace even in His
birth in the flesh. In other words, He walked among us and still is with us - so
isn't it appropriate that even non-believers would celebrate His birth. Even if
they euphemistically say "Happy Holidays," I still hear their wish for a "Merry
Christmas." And, in
This year in our mission, we will be celebrating Christmas through the New Year until all of our Orthodox Tewahedo brethren celebrate with us. We look at the wisdom of the Armenian tradition of keeping the Epiphany and Christmas attached as they were in the early church. We will be having the sunrise fire in the Nazranie tradition on December 25 and the Blessing of Water on January 8.
Fr. Nareg of St. John's Armenian Church in Milwaukee included us in their seasonal mailing and invitation to their festal services. In the letter, he talks about "Yughakin" - which I always thought was a Russian practice. I am sure it can be applied in every church and parish; every mission and ministry of Holy Orthodoxy.
"It is customary in the Armenian Church to provide Yughakin around the feasts of Christmas and Easter. This practice dates back as far as the time of Moses in the Old Testament.
"Yughakin in Armenian means "price of oil" - Yugh meaning oil and kin meaning price. Donations were earmarked towards the purchase of oil, which in turn would keep the lanterns burning. Today we do no have oil-burning lamps, however, we have utilities and other essential operating expenses, which your donations help defray the cost of the church.
"As we share with you the good news of the birth of Christ the Lord, we urge you to travel from the "fields and reach Bethlehem" to witness, celebrate, and actually enjoy the birth of the King. And, as we celebrate the Holy Season, let us remember those who are desperate and dependent on our care. Let us make the Christmas celebration meaningful with our gifts to the Lord's Work."
So, let us be inspired to give, not just to our home churches - but to
All of us in this mission continue to be honored by the benefits of your prayers that have brought many blessings during a difficult year. Please continue your support in prayer for us and for the furtherance of Christ's blessing in His mission in Madison, Wisconsin (and around the world). If you are inclined, a financial contribution will also assist us in this work.
On behalf of Holy Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox Mission and my family, I wish you a Merry Christmas season. May God's love fill you in your gift-giving and in your gift-receiving. May you and all your loved ones know His peace this season and may His peace be known throughout the world.
Source: "Living in the Eighth Day" by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
by Margaret Manning
Impossible to miss in any mall, grocery store, elevator, or voice mail system, Christmas music is as ubiquitous as snow in Alaska. I have yet to walk into a store this Christmas season that wasn't playing "It's the most wonderful time of the year." I'm sure you are familiar with the song and can hear the tune in your head: With kids jingle belling/ and everyone telling you/ "Be of good cheer,"/ It's the most wonderful time of the year. With this music all around me, I can't help but begin to hum along, and feel uplifted as if it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
And yet, for many individuals, Christmas is anything but wonderful. In fact, the joviality, décor, and the music simply strike dissonant chords because of the memories, emotions, and experiences associated with this season. Families in Aurora, Colorado, Portland, Oregon and now Newtown, Connecticut in the United States feel the emptiness of loss, the hemorrhage of violence, and the undertow of grief as a result of horrific gun violence. Sadly, these kinds of tragedies - and especially these two so close to Christmas day - will mark every Christmas for those bereaved for the rest of their lives.
There are others who also grieve the loss of a loved one - not necessarily from gun violence - but from the violence of a body turned against itself through cancer or some other debilitating or destructive disease. For all of these who are grieving, Christmas reminds them of yet another empty chair. Others experience joblessness or underemployment, numbing loneliness, disappointed expectations, ruptured relationships, and rejection that twist and distort the joy of the season into a garish spectacle. Instead of uplifting them in celebration, the most wonderful time of the year seems a cruel mockery.
For all of these, and many others, the Christmas season seems more like the opening verse of Christina Rossetti's haunting Christmas hymn, "In the Bleak Midwinter." In the bleak midwinter, frost wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. All the excitement, anticipation, and beauty of the season can easily be frozen by pain, disappointment and grief; instead of singing songs of joy, a bitter moan emanates like the cold, frost-bitten wind.
Yet Christians still insist through the celebration of the Advent Season that it was into this world - the world of the bleakest midwinter - God arrived. Not sheltered from grief or pain, God descended into a world where poverty, violence, and grief were a daily part of God's human existence in the person of Jesus. Joseph and Mary, barely teenagers, were poor, and Mary gave birth to the Messiah in a strange place far from her own home. Herod the Great used his power to slaughter all the male children who were in Bethlehem under the age of two. Shepherds slept on grassy hills, their nomadic homes. Even in Jesus' public ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, would be beheaded. Jesus would experience rejection and eventually die a criminal's death, with only a few, grieving women remaining at his side.
Into this world - our world of bleak midwinter - God arrives. God arrives in the midst of pain and suffering, doubt and disappointment, longing and loneliness and makes a home with us, to be alongside of us. The Gospel of John tells us that God did not stay removed from us or from our sufferings, but that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). For those who find the Christmas season far from the "most wonderful time of the year," Immanuel, God with us, comes to be with us in our bleak midwinter, and comes to offer consolation and care in the tears of those who weep with us when we weep.
Those who rejoice and who celebrate this season as the most wonderful time of the year can demonstrate that celebration in ways that take it far beyond lights, trees and presents. The beauty, joy, and celebration of the season can be brought to those in bleak midwinter, as those who come alongside sharing in their suffering - doing our part, giving our all, sharing our hearts.
About The Author:
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
Source: A Slice of Infinity
Copyright © 2012 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.
by Rick Renner
Do you plan on taking the time this Christmas to tell your children or friends about the purpose of Christmas? If so, what will you tell them?
Although we usually meditate on the birth of Jesus at this time of the year, His purpose in coming to earth was not to give us the sweet picture of a baby in a Bethlehem manger. That little baby was born to die for you and for me and thus pay for the forgiveness of our sins. He was born to die on the Cross that we might be reconciled to God.
For this reason, I always told our sons when they were young, "Don't just think of a baby in a manger at Christmastime. Christmas is about much more than that. It is about God coming to earth in human flesh so He could die on the Cross to pay for your salvation and destroy all the works of the devil in your lives! That is what Christmas is all about!"
People rarely think of the Cross at Christmastime because it is the time set aside to celebrate Jesus' birth. But in Philippians 2, Paul connects the two thoughts. As Paul writes about God becoming a man, he goes on to express the ultimate reason God chose to take this amazing action. Paul says in verse 8, "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Because today is Christmas Eve, I want to use this Sparkling Gem to discuss the real reason for Christmas, which is contained in the truths found in this verse.
Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus was "…found in fashion as a man…." That word "fashion" is the Greek word schema. This is extremely important, for this was precisely the same word that was used in ancient times to depict a king who exchanged his kingly garments for a brief period of time for the clothing of a beggar.
How wonderful that the Holy Spirit would inspire the apostle Paul to use this exact word! When Jesus came to earth, it really was a moment when God Almighty shed His glorious appearance and exchanged it for the clothing of human flesh. Although man is wonderfully made, his earthly frame is temporal dust and cannot be compared to the eternal and glorious appearance of God. However, for the sake of our redemption, God laid aside all of His radiant glory, took upon Himself human flesh, and was manifested in the very likeness of a human being.
This is the true story of a King who traded His kingly garments and took upon Himself the clothing of a servant. But the story doesn't stop there. Jesus - our King who exchanged His royal robes for the clothing of flesh - loved us so much that He "…humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"!
The word "humbled" is the Greek word tapeinao, and it means to be humble, to be lowly, and to be willing to stoop to any measure that is needed. This describes the attitude God had when He took upon Himself human flesh. Think of how much humility would be required for God to shed His glory and lower Himself to become like a member of His creation. Consider the greatness of God's love that drove Him to divest Himself of all His splendor and become like a man. This is amazing to me, particularly when I think of how often the flesh recoils at the thought of being humble or preferring someone else above itself. Yet Jesus humbled Himself "…and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
The word "obedient" tells me that this was not a pleasurable experience that Jesus looked forward to in anticipation. To humble Himself to this extent required Jesus' deliberate obedience.
As preexistent God, Jesus came to earth for this purpose. But as man dressed in flesh, He despised the thought of the Cross (Hebrews 12:2) and could only endure its shame because He knew of the results that would follow. For Jesus to be obedient as a man, He had to choose to obey the eternal plan of God.
The word "obedient" that is used to describe Jesus is the Greek word hupakouo, from the word hupo, which means under, and the word akouo, which means I hear. When these two words are compounded together, they picture someone who is hupo - under someone else's authority, and akouo - listening to what that superior is speaking to him. After listening and taking these instructions to heart, this person then carries out the orders of his superior.
Thus, the word hupakouo tells us that obedient people are 1) under authority, 2) listening to what their superior is saying, and 3) carrying out the orders that have been given to them. This is what the word "obedient" means in this verse, and this is what obedience means for you and me.
You see, even Jesus had to come to this place of obedience. Although He knew that He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, that didn't mean His flesh was excited about dying as the Lamb of God on the Cross. According to this verse in Philippians 2:8, Jesus had to humble Himself and become "obedient" in order to follow God's plan. He wasn't looking forward to the experience of death on a Cross; He made a choice to humble Himself and to go to any measure in order to accomplish the Father's plan.
Part of the Father's plan was for Jesus to humble Himself "…unto death, even the death of the cross." The word "unto" is from the Greek word mechri, which is a Greek word that really means to such an extent. The Greek word mechri is sufficient in itself to dramatize the point, but the verse goes on to say that Jesus humbled Himself unto death, "…even the death of the cross." The word "even" is the Greek word de, which emphatically means EVEN! The Greek carries this idea: "Can you imagine it! Jesus humbled Himself to such a lowly position and became so obedient that He even stooped low enough to die the miserable death of a Cross!"
I heartily recommend that you take the time today to read the April 24 Sparkling Gem order to refresh your memory on the full process of crucifixion. It was genuinely the worst death a person could ever endure. For Jesus to humble Himself to the point of death, EVEN the death of the Cross, demonstrates how much He was willing to humble Himself to redeem you and me.
Just think of it - Almighty God, clothed in radiant glory from eternity past, came to this earth formed as a human being in the womb of a human mother for one purpose: so that He could one day die a miserable death on a Cross to purchase our salvation! All of this required humility on a level far beyond anything we could ever comprehend or anything that has ever been requested of any of us. Yet this was the reason Jesus came; therefore, He chose to be obedient to the very end, humbling Himself to the point of dying a humiliating death on a Cross and thereby purchasing our eternal salvation.
So as you celebrate Christmas, be sure to remember the real purpose of Christmas. It isn't just a time to reflect on the baby boy who was born in Bethlehem so long ago. That baby was God manifest in the flesh. He was born to die for you and for me. Jesus was so willing to do whatever was required in order to redeem us from Satan and sin that He humbled Himself even unto death on a Cross! That is what Christmas is all about!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I thank You for coming to earth so You could redeem me. When I think of the extent to which You were willing to go in order to save me, it makes me want to shout, to celebrate, and to cry with thankfulness. You love me so much, and I am so grateful for that love. Without You, I would still be lost and in sin. But because of everything You have done for me, today I am free; my life is blessed; Jesus is my Lord; Heaven is my home; and Satan has no right to control me. I will be eternally thankful to You for everything You did to save me!
I pray this in Jesus' name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that Jesus Christ loves me! He demonstrated His love to me by leaving behind Heaven's glory and taking upon Himself human flesh. And He did it for one purpose: so that one day He could go to the Cross and die for me and thus reconcile me unto God. There is no need for me to ever feel unloved or unwanted, because Jesus went the ultimate distance to prove that He loves me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus' name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
When you compare Jesus' ultimate act of obedience to God with your own willingness to obey God in every area of your life, are you satisfied with your level of obedience to Him? Or do you find yourself falling far short of what He requires?
What can you do on this Christmas Eve to more fully "let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5)? Are there specific ways you can show humility toward others or prefer someone else above yourself?
Now that you've read today's Sparkling Gem, what will change in the way you talk to your children or your friends about the real purpose of Christmas?
Source: Christmas Devotional from crosswalk.com You can find more from Rick Renner on LightSource.com, including broadcasts of "Good News with Rick Renner" and "Refuel with Rick"!
When declining health forced Isaac Watts to cut back on his preaching, he turned to another task, Christianizing the Psalms. At the age of forty-five, he sat under a favorite tree on the Abney estate-property of the close friends with whom he lived-and penned the now famous words of "Joy to the World." His 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, included the words under his original title for the poetry: "The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom."
As part of his effort to bring New Testament meanings to the Old Testament psalms, Watts based "Joy to the World" on the last half of Psalm 98: "Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth, . . . Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth." (vs. 4, 8).
Psalm 98 celebrated God's protection and restoration of his chosen people. Watts' carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man. Both the psalm and the hymn also look ahead, to Christ coming again to reign: "He will judge the world with righteousness" (v. 9)
"Joy to the World" includes references to other Bible verses as well, including Gen. 3:17, Rom. 5:20, and Luke 2:10. Yet despite its lack of reference to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, or the manger, it became one of the most loved Christmas carols. In a season for celebrating our Savior's birth, Watts' hymn beautifully expresses our joy at the coming of our Savior.
It's that time of year again-the time of busy shopping days, holiday baking, and twinkling lights. The time when schedules overflow with parties and events. The time to send out cards to family and friends. It's supposed to be the season of "holiday cheer." But in the weeks before we celebrate our Savior's birth, so often we feel anxiety and stress instead.
Years ago, Isaac Watts wrote "Joy to the World," the well-loved hymn often sung during this busy Christmas season. Ironically, Watts never intended his hymn for Christmas use. Instead, he simply intended to paraphrase the words of Psalm 98: "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth . . . for he comes. . ." (vs. 4, 9).
Amidst his poetry about Christ's second coming, however, Watts also provides fitting words for our Christmas frenzy: "Joy to the world! the Lord is come . . . Let every heart prepare him room." Prepare him room-significant words for any time of year. Yet perhaps we need to hear them the most at Christmastime, when so many things can distract us from our faith. .
This year, as the hectic Christmas season approaches, take the time to prepare your heart. Remember Christ's first coming, as a humble King and Savior. Reflect on the certainty of his return, as Judge over all. And as you think on these precious truths, you'll probably experience the best holiday feeling of all-the joy of knowing "the Lord is come" into your heart.
Copyright © 2011 Center for Church Music
by James Emery White
Most people have seen one or more versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Hands down, it is among my favorite Christmas tales: the story of Ebenezer Scrooge having his conscience reawakened through the apparition of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.
I like the characters.
I like the Victorian-era Christmas charm, complete with frosted windows, mistletoe and plum pudding.
I love the streets of Old London.
But when I first read the novel itself, after viewing various editions of the movie, I was shocked. Scrooge was not the buffoonish, almost cartoon-like character some of the movies made him out to be.
He was genuinely evil. Cruel. Malicious. He was a dark and sinister man. The story actually reads more like a Stephen King novel.
When you study the era itself that Dickens wrote about - and he published A Christmas Carol in 1843 as a social statement against harsh child labor practices - you realize that it was dark and evil as well.
Historian Lisa Toland once wrote a fascinating essay on the reality behind the story.
Almost 75% of London's population was considered working class, many of them children laboring in the factories. In fact, every member of a family had to work in order to survive. Dickens himself worked as a young boy to support his family while his parents were in debtor's prison.
The time was known as the Hungry Forties, because there was a depression along with a time of poor harvests. The London skyline was little more than smokestacks putting out clouds of sooty grit that covered rooftops and the cheeks of the young chimney sweeps.
It was the coal-dependent nature of these factories that created the famed London Fog. It wasn't fog at all, but a combination of smoke and soot and grit. The streets were covered in rainwater, the contents of chamber pots, and animal waste. Rats were abundant.
Small, often emaciated children sold flowers and matches while the wealthy class's horse-drawn carriages swept past. London's poor were forced into shrinking housing districts. Multiple families lived in single rooms in rundown buildings.
That was Dickens' London.
And people had turned a blind eye, because supposedly there were "services." When the two men ask Scrooge for money, and he says, "Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still open?...The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?" There is much there that we fail to understand.
What makes Scrooge's comments so biting is that the Poor Law, with its accompanying workhouses, were despised by the poor. The driving principle was to make the conditions in those places worse than how they would have lived and worked had they had a job. And in trying to determine who did deserve to go there, the group that fell through the cracks was children. The father or mother would be sent to the workhouse, leaving the children alone to beg in the streets.
If you died while laboring in a workhouse, your body was automatically turned over for dissection. You wouldn't even receive a burial. The conditions were so bad, and people there were treated so poorly, that many of London's poor chose to beg on the streets or enter into prostitution in order to avoid them.
From that darkness, Dickens gives us a tale of redemption.
The story of someone being saved.
There is another story we tend to romanticize.
We've all seen the Christmas cards that go out; pictures of Mary in flowing robes, gentle animals gazing lovingly down on the baby, who is always blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and while supposedly newborn, has the look and weight of a six-month old.
That's not the way it was.
They were desperate to find a place for her to give birth, and couldn't find one. They ended up in an outdoor livestock area. Unclean, unkept, unwelcome. Tradition, dating back to Justin Martyr in the second century, says it was probably some kind of cave. Smelly, damp, cold.
They had to use a feeding trough as a bassinette. The word "manger" is very warm and fuzzy, but don't romanticize it - a manger was a feeding trough for the animals.
This was a desperately stark and sad scene.
The Bible tells us that Mary wrapped the baby in cloths. That was common for the day. Long strips of cloth that were used to wrap the baby tight and keep their legs and arms straight and secure. The process was called swaddling.
It tells us something of the lonely nature of Mary's motherhood that Luke records that she was the one who wrapped Jesus up after His birth - there was no midwife or relative helping, which would have been the norm.
And she was young. Very young.
Engagement usually took place immediately after entering puberty, so Mary may have just entered her teens - 13, 14, or at the most 15.
And from that darkness, we also are given a picture of redemption.
Another story about being saved.
Another story that can be romanticized, but was very, very real.
Real in a way that drives us further on our knees to marvel at God come to earth to save…us.
Lisa Toland, "The Darker Side of A Christmas Carol," Christianity Today, December 2009, pp. 44-48.
About The Author: James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press).
Source: Church and Culture blog
by Dr. David Murray
Despite the column inches given to daily horoscopes, there's only one example of stars ever being used to direct human lives and predict the future and it's in the Bible.
Yes, in Matthew 2, God sent a star to guide wise men and point them to the future plan of God for the salvation of sinners. As we gaze at this star with these wise men we learn six lessons.
1. Jesus fulfills prophecy
How did the wise men (also known as the magi) know that a star would announce the arrival of the Messiah King? Most likely it was through Daniel who, 600 years before, had been appointed head of the magi (Dan. 5:11), and who probably shared Balaam's ancient prophecy of with them (Num. 24:17). Maybe there was also a heightened expectation among the Persian magi, as Daniel had also given indications of the timing of the Messiah's coming, which coincided with the beginning of the New Testament era (Daniel 9).
However they came to the knowledge, they believed Balaam's prophecy and stepped out in faith when they spotted a unique star one night as they scanned the darkness. As Matthew repeatedly emphasizes, this was only one of multiple prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in those revolutionary days.
2. Jesus saves sinners
The magi were not only Gentiles; they were Gentiles of the worst kind. They might be better described as sorcerers or wizards, or even occultists. Yes, Jesus' star shone into that dark background and into their superstitious lives to bring them to knowledge of the Savior.
Just as at the end of his Gospel, Matthew emphasizes the universal reach of the Gospel to all creatures, so here right at the beginning he demonstrates the geographical and moral reach of the Gospel in drawing these Gentile magi to Christ.
They exercised some kind of faith in Persia when the saw the star. They further exercised their faith in Jerusalem when they asked for directions. And by the time they reached Bethlehem their faith had focused and fixed on Christ.
Jesus saves sinners from north, south, east, and west.
3. Jesus gladdens the heart
No doubt the first time they saw the star in the east, their hearts must have leapt with excited joy. However, the star seems to have disappeared at some point, leaving them to follow the general direction in faith.
When the star reappeared on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, we read, "They rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
Not just "they rejoiced."
Not just "they rejoiced with joy."
Not just "they rejoiced with great joy."
But, "they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. A quadruple joy. A joy that grew with every step until the star settled over where the child was. Can you imagine the jubilation and exultation as they reached their destination and their eyes settled on the star-lit child?
The more our eyes rest upon Christ by faith, the more joy will fill our hearts too. Not the temporary, frivolous, hilarity of the world, but the deep, satisfying, increasing joy of the Gospel.
4. Jesus humbles the wise
The magi were part of the Persian elite. They were not only renowned for their magical wisdom, but also for their political power. They were the kingmakers of their day, used to high and low bowing to them and seeking their favor.
But here, we read that when they saw the child they cast themselves to the ground and "worshipped," a word that in the Bible is reserved for honor that is given to God only. They were saying, "You are high, and we are low." They were announcing, "You are our King, and we are your servants."
To any onlooker it must have looked ridiculously foolish. These learned, wealthy, powerful men worshipping a poor baby. Remember that they had not heard Him teach, they had not seen him give sight to the blind, and they had not watched him walk on water. But by faith they see God in baby clothes and worship.
Little wonder that J.C. Ryle said, "We read of no greater faith than this in the whole Bible!"
5. Jesus opens wallets
Once they had worshipped, they turned to their retinue and opened their treasure chests to shower royal gifts upon this little baby: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were not bribes to buy his favor; they were gifts of gratitude to thank Him for His favor.
At a time of year when many parents are buying presents to win and maintain their children's love, we need to reconsider what we are giving to Christ out of appreciation for His love. Has Jesus opened your wallet?
6. Jesus arouses hatred
A dark shadow is then cast over this bright scene of joy, faith, worship and love. Hell erupts into this almost heavenly scene with Herod's murderous plan to slaughter all the infant children in the area to maintain his fading power during his last year on earth.
Stirred up by the evil One, his cruel animosity sets out to destroy the Savior's infant life, and any others that get in His way. The reality of a sin-sick world shows us our great need of a sin-destroying Savior, a reality that has hit us hard again in recent days. As Ross Douthat wrote in Loss of the Innocents:
In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today - besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow - is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.
That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn't just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.
The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable - the shadow of violence, agony and death.
In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.
About The Author:
David Murray is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
Source: Christianity.com Daily Update
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by Elisabeth Corcoran
Every Christmas seems to get busier and busier. And yet, you are the same woman with the same responsibilities and the same amount of money and energy that you have the rest of the year. So here are some simple ideas to think about adding to your holiday season to make it more meaningful for you and for your family.
(Keep in mind, this is not a guilt trip; just ask God what he would like you to do this year, and add only those things.)
Do something with your kids:
Bake cookies with them, no matter what they end up looking like. Build snowman or have a snowball fight or make snow angels. Involve them in basic ways – pass out invites each year, help sign and stamp the Christmas cards.
Do something with your friends:
Easy Christmas tea or brunch. Cookie swap.
Do something for yourself:
Have some tea or hot chocolate and a magazine for ten minutes. Do your nails. Add yourself to your Christmas list.
Do something for someone else:
Visit a nursing home with your children. If hosting a party, ask everyone to bring a gift for a child and then drop them off at a local shelter. Donate to charity on someone’s behalf (my favorite organization is Samaritan's Purse).
Do something with God:
Read Luke 1-2. Take a blank sheet of paper and a few minutes and list off as many good things as you can think of, then write God a thank you note. Spend time thinking about your past year:
Do something less!:
A great mantra that I came across in a magazine a couple years ago: if you don’t love to do it and you don’t have to do it, don’t do it. It’s okay to just say no.
Think about what you actually enjoy doing each year. Make a list. Hate baking cookies? Stop doing it. Love writing your Christmas letter – make it a priority.
Do not set extra meetings or appointments during December. The dentist and oil change can wait until next month.
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 and women on whom his favor rests." -Luke 2:13-14
About the Author:
Elisabeth K. Corcoran is mom to Sara (16) and Jack (14-1/2). She loves spending time with her kids, her friends, reading and writing. She is the author of At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday; One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice; He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment; In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart; and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul. Elisabeth is a Member of Redbud Writer's Guild.
If you are in a difficult marriage or find yourself going through a difficult divorce, Elizabeth has created two private groups on Facebook that she would like to invite you to. Simply email her at elisabethkcorcoran @ gmail.com, let her know if you're interested in the married group or separated/divorced group, then send her a friend request on Facebook.
Source: Live It devotional
by Marialisa Calta
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Position the oven racks in the top third and center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter and shortening with an electric mixer set on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg, followed by the egg yolk and vanilla. Add peanut butter and mix well. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until combined. Mix in chocolate chips.
Roll dough into 30 walnut-sized balls. Arrange about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using a dinner fork, press an X into the top of each cookie, flattening it to about half its original thickness. Refrigerate the remaining dough balls on a plate while you bake the first batch.
Bake, rotating the positions of the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough balls, using cooled baking sheets.
Notes: Consider using virgin (not hydrogenated) coconut oil, for taste and for its purported healthful properties. Likewise, a peanut butter without any additives but salt (e.g., Smucker's Natural) is a good bet.
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen cookies
Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). © 2009, Marialisa Calta
More Christmas Recipes:
By: Msgr. Charles Pope
Please accept a light-hearted post on Christmas Day wherein we ponder a Christmas Cookie Recipe in the fine and polished style of the Revised Translation of the Mass.
Please also understand, as most of you know, I am a big fan of the new translation we are using. I like it! But this little recipe that came my way was too much fun not to share.
I do not know the source of this recipe (it’s kicking around the Internet) and some of you will have seen it? But here it is; I have reworked it just a bit myself. Please remember this is light-hearted. Smile and enjoy, it’s delicious and sometimes subtle.
Christmas Cookie Recipe
Serves: You and many.
Having procured one chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar, cream these ingredients, that by their commingling, you may begin to make the dough.
In a similar way, the butter is having been made commingled, with the sugar, beat in one egg.
Gather these dry ingredients to yourself, which you have received, so that, having combined them, you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make: 2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour. 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Make the precious dough with your venerable hands.
Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough, so that it, having been chilled for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and the the cutting of the cookies.
When, in the fullness of time, you are a ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Rolling out the dough and taking up the cookie cutter or stencil of your own choosing, fashion the cookies into forms that are pleasing.
Sprinkle colorful adornments of the cookies like the dew-fall.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have jut begun to attain to the brownness that is graciously granted them by the oven’s heat.
May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table whereon they may be served with milk, hot chocolate, or with your spirits.
A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all. And may our revised and improved translation be accepted with good humor and gratitude, inspiring our everyday thoughts and discourse.
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