Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Advent - Balancing Joy and Grief

Volume 4 No. 253 December 19, 2014

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Baskiyamo Chinnu Geevarghese, Louisville, KY - Photo by Dr. Jacob Mathew
Late Baskiyamo Chinnu Geevarghese, Louisville, KY -  See the Story below.

Photo by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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I. This Sunday in Church

1. Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 21)

Bible Readings For The Sunday before Christmas (Genealogy Sunday)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_sunday-before-christmas.htm 

2. Sermons for This Sunday (December 21)

Sermons For The Sunday before Christmas (Genealogy Sunday)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_sunday-before-Christmas.htm

3. Malankara World Journal Special on Genealogy of Jesus

For more in-depth look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ read the Malankara World Journal Issue 114 - a special on the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_114.htm

More articles can be found in Malankara World Journal Issue 183

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_183.htm

4. Featured: The Genealogy Of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17)

1. All this and much more, Jesus did by becoming what the first seventeen verses of Matthew's gospel proclaims: "...the Son of David, the Son of Abraham"
2. This genealogy of Jesus Christ...
a. Establishes the right of Jesus to be the Messiah
b. Reminds us of God's mercy ...

II. This Week's Features

5. Inspiration for Today: Billy Graham on Heaven

No, I don't know the future, but I do know this: the best is yet to be! Heaven awaits us, and that will be far, far more glorious than anything we can ever imagine. ...

6. Mary: Portrait of a Woman Used by God

One of my favorite biblical role models is Mary of Nazareth. In her life I have found a wealth of wisdom for my own walk with God. Her story illustrates many of the characteristics of the kind of woman God uses to fulfill His redemptive purposes in our world. ...

7. Here's Why You Really Need Christmas

Focusing primarily on the stuff that comes along with Christmas - lights, songs, shopping, etc. - completely misses the point. Those things can be great when viewed in their proper, secondary place, but when they become our focus, they inappropriately determine our view of the Christmas season, whether that be positive or negative. ...

8. How Not to Be a Cranky Christian at Christmas

There are a lot of reasons to be cranky on Christmas. It can be one of the busiest times of the year, with the pressure to get the perfect gift for your loved ones, the endless travel to church and school events, and the seeming de-Christianization of Christmas by the prevailing culture.

And yet none of these things should be allowed to steal our joy, especially for those of us who follow Jesus. In fact, Christmas should be the most joyous time of the year for the Christian, because it is our story the world is trying to tell. ...

9. Jesus Came To Take Our Pain

He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrow. That must include the division in your family, the loss of your job, the death of your husband, and the pain of your past.

In Christ we do not have some far-off God, but in him we find a God who drew near to us, who came to us, who entered our world and became one of us, that he might carry our sorrows for us. ...

10. Balancing Joy and Grief During Christmas Time

The time of Advent seems to have two distinct characteristics in people's lives, two threads that are often interwoven together – one is that of joyful hope as the season of Christmas approaches this month and the other is the presence of grief and stress. We have an awareness of having too much to do, for example, or of relatives that have died and Christmas makes us remember them. ...

11. Baskiyamo Chinnu GeeVarghese Has Gone To Her Heavenly Abode

Mrs. Chinnu Geevarghese, wife of Very Rev. (Dr) Geevarghese Kunnath MD Cor Episcopa, a member of the Malankara World Board, has completed her earthly mission and has gone to her eternal home on Tuesday, Dec 16 2014. Kochamma (ammayi) was bedridden for the past several months. She is survived by Achen, her son Philip and grandchildren Kaleb and Teajan. She was a graduate of Vellore Medical College. ...

12. A Vision of Heaven - No Death, No Tears

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and couldn't quite find the words? Have you ever tried to describe something complex to a child? For God to describe heaven to us in a way we could understand would be like trying to describe the beauty of Hawaii to a three-month-old child. We're not able to comprehend, in our finite human understanding, all the infinite glories of heaven. ...

13. Why We Pray For Departed Faithful

Why do we pray for the departed? That's a question that many in the Protestant Christian world ask. Yet, this ancient Christian tradition that is preserved by our faith remains a center mark of our spiritual lives. ...

14. All I Have to Offer - Forgiveness

Immaculée Ilibagiza was in her early twenties when tribal tensions exploded in her home country of Rwanda. Nearly a million Rwandans were killed during one hundred days of horror. Ilibagiza survived by hiding in a tiny bathroom with eight other women. When the killing finally ceased, she had lost nearly all her family. ...

15. Family Special: What We See in Each Other

During courtship, we can be charmed by someone's good looks, attentiveness or flattery. All of that can be fleeting. Over the course of a marriage, the real person breaks through. Perhaps as your marriage ages, your spouse's outward appearance starts to change. Your spouse grays, loses hair or gains a little weight. Perhaps the two of you fall into a rut, and the special treatment that marked your dating period begins to wane. That's when we need to remember what the Lord said to Samuel about focusing on what's in the heart rather than what's physically noticeable.

The success of a marriage comes, not in finding who we think initially is the "perfect" person for us, but in our willingness to adjust to the real person we married. ...

16. About Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 21)
Sermons for This Sunday (December 21)

Malankara World Journal Special on Genealogy of Jesus

For more in-depth look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ read the Malankara World Journal Issue 114 - a special on the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_114.htm

More articles can be found in Malankara World Journal Issue 183

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_183.htm

Featured: The Genealogy Of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17)

by Mark A. Copeland

Gospel: St. Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Matthew 1:1-17 (NIV)

INTRODUCTION

1. We begin this study by reading the first seventeen verses of Matthew (Mt 1:1-17)

2. In 2Ti 3:16-17, we are told that ALL scripture is profitable

a. This includes such sections as the one we have just read

b. Though some may consider it a dry, laborious genealogical table of names...

1) It is profitable for doctrine
2) It is profitable for instruction in righteousness

3. My objective will be to share some spiritual thoughts that can be gleaned from this scripture

[Since Matthew is the only one of the four gospel writers to begin his gospel with a genealogical record of Jesus, let me first suggest a reason why...]

I. WHY MATTHEW BEGINS WITH THIS GENEALOGY

A. IT IS CONSISTENT WITH THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF HIS GOSPEL...

1. It has been observed that:

a. Matthew wrote for the Jews
b. Mark wrote for the Romans
c. Luke wrote for the Greeks
d. John wrote for the church

2. Matthew's gospel was designed to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah

a. Fulfillment of Jewish prophecy is a recurring theme - e.g.,
Mt 1:22-23; 2:4-6,14-15,17-18,23

b. Genealogy was certainly important to the nation of Israel
- Gen 5, 10, 1Ch 1-9

B. TO SHOW THAT JESUS FULFILLS TWO MESSIANIC PREREQUISITES...

1. The Messiah had to be a descendant of Abraham - cf. Gen 22:18

2. The Messiah had to be a descendant of David - cf. Isa 11:1-2, 10
-- Mt 1:1 proclaims this to be true of Jesus, and Mt 1:2-17 demonstrates it

[Whatever else Jesus may have done, if He was not a descendant of Abraham and David, He could not be the Messiah. So a gospel directed especially to the Jews would naturally settle this issue before proceeding. Now let's note some...]

II. SIGNIFICANT FEATURES OF THIS GENEALOGY

A. THE WAY IT IS DIVIDED...

1. Into three sections of fourteen names each - Mt 1:17

a. Abraham to David

b. David to the Babylonian captivity

c. Babylonian captivity to Jesus
-- This may have been to facilitate committing to memory

2. Which may explain why some names were omitted

a. Between Joram and Uzziah there were three kings (Ahaziah, Joash, & Amaziah) - cf. Mt 1:8

b. But such omission was not unusual in Jewish genealogies; minor figures were often deleted
-- The main purpose was to establish essential connections, not minor details

B. JESUS' "LEGAL" RIGHT TO DAVID'S THRONE IS ESTABLISHED...

1. Not His "fleshly" right, for Matthew describes Jesus as the adopted son of Joseph

2. Luke records the "fleshly" ancestry of Jesus in Lk 3:23-38

a. A record of His ancestry from His mother's side
b. Where He is shown to have descended from David through Nathan, not Solomon
-- A careful study of Lk 3 confirms this

3. This helps to answer a puzzling dilemma found in the OT

a. God promised that the Messiah would come from the loins of David

b. But a descendant through Solomon, Jeconiah (Mt 1:11), was so wicked that God promised none of his descendants would rule on the throne of David - Jer 22:24-30

c. How then would God fulfill His promise to David?

1) By a descendant from a son other than Solomon

2) Which Jesus was, having descended in the flesh from Nathan

4. So Jesus is both "legal" and "fleshly" heir to the throne of David...

a. "Legal" heir by virtue of His adoption by Joseph, descendant of Solomon

b. "Fleshly" heir by virtue of His birth by Mary, descendant of Nathan

C. THE INSERTION OF FOUR MOTHER'S NAMES...

1. They are unique, not only to be included in such a list, but in that:

a. Three were tainted in regards to moral purity

1) Tamar played a harlot
2) Rahab was a harlot
3) Bathsheba was an adulteress

b. Ruth, though morally sweet and noble, mingled the royal blood line with Gentile blood!

2. Why mention these four women? Perhaps to suggest...

a. The relation of Christ to the stained and sinful?

b. Jesus would be a King to show mercy and pity to harlots, and open His kingdom to include Gentiles?

[Whether this was Matthew's intention here, he does illustrate later that Christ extended mercy to the morally repugnant and would enlarge His kingdom to include all nations. Finally, let's consider...]

III. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THIS GENEALOGY

A. GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS WORD...

1. He made promises...

a. To Abraham
b. To David
c. Through Isaiah
...and the coming of Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham, fulfilled that promise!

2. We can therefore have confidence that God will keep His word!

a. E.g., the promise of His Son's final coming - cf. Ac 1:9

b. There is no need to lose heart!

1) The duration between this promise and its fulfillment has barely reached the time between the promise made to Abraham and its fulfillment!

2) I.e., 2000 years passed, but God still kept His promise to Abraham

3) Likewise He will keep His promise to us!

B. GODLINESS IS NOT INHERITED...

1. Many godly fathers have had ungodly sons!

a. Solomon had Rehoboam
b. Hezekiah had Manasseh
c. Josiah had Jeconiah

2. As it has been said, "God has no grandchildren"

a. Being a child of God does not insure that your children will be God's children!

b. As parents, let us...

1) Be diligent to raise our children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord"

2) Not lose heart when our children stray (even Manasseh eventually repented)

C. THE GREATNESS OF OUR LORD'S MERCY AND COMPASSION...

1. Jesus humbled Himself when He came to this earth in the likeness of men - cf. Php 2:5-8

2. He did this for our sakes!

a. To taste death for everyone - He 2:9
b. To help bring us to glory - He 2:10
c. To deliver us from the fear and power of death - He 2:14-15
d. To become our merciful and faithful High Priest - He 2:16-18

CONCLUSION

1. All this and much more, Jesus did by becoming what the first seventeen verses of Matthew's gospel proclaims: "...the Son of David, the Son of Abraham"

2. This genealogy of Jesus Christ...

a. Establishes the right of Jesus to be the Messiah

b. Reminds us of God's mercy

1) In the lives of Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba
2) In our own lives by fulfilling His promise to send Son to die for our sins

Have you received the mercy God offers through "Jesus Christ...the Son of David, the Son of Abraham"?

Source: Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

This Week's Features

Inspiration for Today: Billy Graham on Heaven
No, I don't know the future, but I do know this: the best is yet to be! Heaven awaits us, and that will be far, far more glorious than anything we can ever imagine.

I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven's freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can't begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness.

And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace -- just as I am.

Mary: Portrait of a Woman Used by God

by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

One of my favorite biblical role models is Mary of Nazareth. In her life I have found a wealth of wisdom for my own walk with God. Her story illustrates many of the characteristics of the kind of woman God uses to fulfill His redemptive purposes in our world.

An ordinary woman

There was nothing particularly unusual about Mary. She was not from a wealthy or illustrious family. When the angel appeared to this young teenage girl, she was engaged to be married and was undoubtedly doing what engaged girls do - dreaming of being married to Joseph, of the home they would live in, of the family they would have. I don't believe she was expecting her life to be used in any extraordinary way.

The significance of Mary's life was not based on any of the things our world values so highly - background, physical beauty, intelligence, education, natural gifts, and abilities. It was Mary's relationship to Jesus that gave her life significance. "The Lord is with you," the angel told her (Luke 1:28, NIV). That is what made all the difference in this young woman's life. And it is what makes all the difference in our lives.

An undeserving woman

God did not choose this young woman because she was worthy of the honor of being the mother of the Savior. The angel said to Mary, "Greetings, you who are highly favored!" (v. 28, emphasis added). That phrase could be translated, "You who are graciously accepted." If any of us is to be accepted by God, it will be because of grace - not because of anything we have done.

It's all because of grace. Over and over again in Scripture, we see that God chooses people who are undeserving. God didn't look down from heaven and say, "I see a woman who has something to offer Me; I think I'll use her." Mary did not deserve to be used by God; to the contrary, she marveled at God's grace in choosing her.

The moment we cease to see ourselves as undeserving instruments, chances are we will cease to be useful in the hand of God.

A Spirit-filled woman

We, too, must be filled with the Spirit if we are to fulfill the purpose for which God has chosen us. When the angel said to Mary, "You're going to have a child," Mary responded, "How can this be? I've never been intimate with a man!" God had chosen her for a task that was humanly impossible.

The task for which God has chosen you and me is no less impossible. We can share the Gospel of Christ with our lost friends, but we cannot give them repentance and faith. You can provide a climate that is conducive to the spiritual growth of your children, but you can't make them have a heart for God. We are totally dependent on Him to produce any fruit of eternal value.

In response to Mary's expression of weakness and inadequacy, the angel promised her God's strength and adequacy: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (v. 35).

Don't ever forget that you cannot do what God has called you to do. You cannot parent that child, love that husband, care for that elderly parent, submit to that boss, teach that Sunday school class, or lead that small-group Bible study.

God specializes in the impossible so that when the victory is won and the task is complete, we cannot take any credit. Others know we didn't do it, and we know we didn't do it. We must always remember that we can only live the Christian life and serve God through the power of His Holy Spirit. As soon as we think we can handle it on our own, we become useless to Him. We have to be willing to get out of the way, let God take over, and let Him overshadow us.

An available woman

Equipped with the promises of God, Mary's response was simply, "I am the Lord's servant.... May it be to me as you have said" (v. 38). In other words, "Lord, I'm available. You are my master; I am Your servant. I'm willing to be used however You choose. My body is Yours; my womb is Yours; my life is Yours."

In that act of surrender, Mary offered herself to God as a living sacrifice. She was willing to be used by God for His purposes - willing to endure the loss of reputation that was certain to follow when people realized she was with child, willing to endure the ridicule and even the possible stoning permitted by the Mosaic law, willing to go through nine months of increasing discomfort and sleeplessness, willing to endure the labor pains of giving birth to the Child. Mary was willing to give up her own plans and agenda so that she might link arms with God in fulfilling His agenda.

A praising woman

When God puts challenging circumstances in our lives, we either worship or we whine. I'm ashamed to say I've done more than my share of whining - even about ministry. "Oh, Lord, I'm tired of traveling. Do I have to go there? This is so hard! Why do I have to deal with that person?" I am reminded of the children of Israel in the wilderness who murmured incessantly. "If only God had just let us die in the wilderness," they whined. One day God finally said, in essence, "You want to die in the wilderness? Okay, you'll die in the wilderness!" (see Num. 14:2, 28-30). Be careful what you say when you murmur - God may take you up on it.

But when Mary's world was turned topsy-turvy, when she was faced with a drastic change in plans, she responded in worship and praise. "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (vv. 46-47). So begins her Magnificat - one of the greatest hymns of praise ever lifted up to heaven. She worshiped God for His wonderful acts, for His mercy, and for choosing her to be a part of His great redemptive plan.

A woman of the Word

Her prayer in Luke 1:46-55 includes at least a dozen quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. In those days women did not have a formal education; Mary was probably illiterate. But she had listened to the reading of the Word and had hidden it in her heart. Her life and her prayers were filled with Scripture.

One of our greatest needs as women is to become women of the Word so that our prayers, our responses, and our words are saturated with God's way of thinking. The world does not need to hear our opinions. When friends approach us for advice about dealing with their children, their boss, their finances, their fears, their depression, or other issues, they don't need to hear what we think. We should be able to take them to the Word and say, "I don't have the answers you need, but I know Someone who does. Here's what God's Word has to say about this situation."

A wounded woman

Eight days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took the infant to the temple (Luke 2:21-35). Simeon, who had been waiting for the appearance of the Messiah, took the Christ-Child in his arms and blessed Him. Simeon spoke of how the Child would be a sign that would be spoken against - foreshadowing the cross and the suffering He would undergo. Then Simeon looked at Mary and spoke words that she would not fully understand until she stood beneath the cross of her Son 33 years later. On that day she surely remembered Simeon's words, "A sword will pierce your own soul too" (v. 35).

There at Calvary I believe that sword pierced Mary's soul in more than one sense. First, as a mother she was losing her Son. She was giving up His life. Even as He laid down His life, she gave up her Son for the salvation and the redemption of the world.

Mothers, have you laid down your children for the sake of Christ and His kingdom? How sad it is on occasion to see Christian parents stand in the way of their children laying down their lives for the sake of Christ. And what a joy to see parents who gladly release their children to the will of God.

Another wound pierced Mary's heart - this one even more deeply than the first. You see, she understood that her Son was dying not only for the sins of the world, but for her sins. Even before He was born, she had recognized Him as "God my Savior" (Luke 1:47, emphasis added). As good as she was, Mary was not good enough to get to heaven on her own. As is true with each of us, she had to place her faith in the crucified Son of God, who died in her place. As she stood beneath that cross, perhaps she recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah: "He was pierced for [my] transgressions, he was crushed for [my] iniquities... and by his wounds [I am] healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6).

Mary was a wounded woman-wounded not only by her suffering, but by her sin. As she gazed upon her crucified Son, she realized that He was taking her wounds upon Himself. And as she believed, she was healed - cleansed of her sin. Three days later when she learned that He had conquered death and was alive, knowing she had been made whole by His death, she joined the other disciples in taking the Good News of His atonement to a wounded, sinful world, that they, too, might know His healing salvation.

For more than 2,000 years her life has provided a portrait of godliness for women who, like Mary, long to be used of God.

Source: Today's Topical Bible Study

© Revive Our Hearts. Used with permission.
Excerpted from 'Portrait of a Woman Used by God' by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Here's Why You Really Need Christmas

by Eric McKiddie

Time off work, a year-end bonus, receiving gifts on your wish list... none of those things are bad in themselves. But you can get all of those things without Christmas. So, they can't be the ultimate reason you need Christmas, right?

Maybe you're on the opposite side of the spectrum: you don't think you need Christmas at all. The decorating, awkward family gatherings, shopping, and traveling add so much stress. Or maybe Christmas makes you feel incredibly lonely. You'd love to sleep straight through Christmas and wake up just in time to ring in the New Year.

What both these mindsets have in common is that they each focus on things that are ancillary to the true significance of why Christmas happened and why we celebrate it.

Why do we really need Christmas? What does Christmas do for us, and how should Christmas affect us?

The answer, you may be surprised to know, does not lie first in the Christmas stories of the gospels. The reason we need Christmas goes back to when it was originally announced, in Genesis chapter 3.

Our Need for Christmas in Genesis 3

The third chapter of Genesis is the sad account of how the human race fell into sin. Adam and Eve, having been tempted by the serpent, desired to "be like God" (3:5), and therefore they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is interesting that, after the sevenfold refrain of "God saw that it was good" in Genesis chapter 1, that here "the woman saw that the tree was good" (3:6). She has taken the prerogative of the Creator and determined what the creation is good for. She, and Adam with her, has attempted to dethrone God and make herself like God.

The results are tragic. Adam and Eve, expecting illumination, immediately experience humiliation, seeing their nakedness. They fear God's presence, and throw each other under the bus to avoid his wrath. The serpent, Eve, and Adam are cursed. Death enters the world. They are forbidden from reentering God's paradise.

Despite the darkness that shrouded that day, one beam of hope shone through – and this is where we come back to the topic of Christmas.

God promised that a special child would be born, who would defeat the serpent: "I will put enmity between you [i.e., the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). God promises that someone among Eve's offspring will win the ultimate victory over the serpent.

The promise of this offspring is fulfilled in Jesus.

Are you a sinner? Then you need Christmas.

This quick exploration into Genesis 3 reveals the real reason we need Christmas. This holiday of holidays doesn't exist because we need vacations, presents, and extra church services. Christmas exists because we have sinned.

If Genesis chapter 3 didn't happen we wouldn't need Christmas. If we had a pure, true relationship with God, we wouldn't need Christmas. If mankind had trusted God to determine what is good and evil, we wouldn't need Christmas.

But because Genesis 3 did happen, and because rebellion against God happens in our hearts every day, we need Christmas desperately. Matthew, in his account of Christ's birth, wrote, "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). We needed God to intervene in our lives, and that is exactly what God the Father did by sending God the Son to be born of a virgin by the power of God the Holy Spirit. This is what Christmas is all about.

Why This Changes the Way We Celebrate Christmas

Coming back to the purpose of Christmas makes celebrating the holiday a reminder of why Jesus came, not only that he came. This should change the way we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate being rescued from certain condemnation. We are amazed that God would extend his grace to rebels like us. We are again by mystified at Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

Focusing primarily on the stuff that comes along with Christmas - lights, songs, shopping, etc. - completely misses the point. Those things can be great when viewed in their proper, secondary place, but when they become our focus, they inappropriately determine our view of the Christmas season, whether that be positive or negative.

Let's be intentional in remembering why it is we need Christmas in the first place. Then we'll be truly merry over the fact that Jesus came to save us from our sins.

About The Author:

Eric McKiddie is with the Chapel Hill Bible Church.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

How Not to Be a Cranky Christian at Christmas

by Daniel Darling

There are a lot of reasons to be cranky on Christmas. It can be one of the busiest times of the year, with the pressure to get the perfect gift for your loved ones, the endless travel to church and school events, and the seeming de-Christianization of Christmas by the prevailing culture.

And yet none of these things should be allowed to steal our joy, especially for those of us who follow Jesus. In fact, Christmas should be the most joyous time of the year for the Christian, because it is our story the world is trying to tell.

Rather than get frustrated with another "happy holidays" greeting from the checkout lady, why not allow your Christmas joy to be so contagious that they ask you why you are smiling? Rather than complain about another holiday recital at your kids' school, why not use the opportunity for outreach and friendship-building among people who desperately need to hear about the baby in the manger? Rather than airing your holiday grievances on social media, why not spend time in solitude and prayer in gratitude for God's sending of Jesus?

Christians should be the most joyful on Christmas because we own the Christmas story. It is our story. It is us whom Jesus came to earth to redeem from the curse. It is our hearts He has chosen to regenerate. It is our world He is making new.

What's more, Jesus came into a world not unlike ours, a world torn by war, disease, and religious strife. The Christmas story is both violent and peaceful. It's the story of the violent and unjust death of the incarnate Son and the peace Jesus makes possible between God and man. Jesus life, death, and resurrection overthrow the evil powers and signal the dawning of a new kingdom and a new covenant between God and man.

This is why the richest, most theologically beautiful songs are the ones we sing at Christmas time. Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Stop and think of the story these songs are telling. I find it fascinating to hear artists from a variety of religious perspectives sing them. I often wonder if they really know what they are singing. I feel the same way when I hear them played in department stores. I wonder to myself, do the shoppers in here really understand what is being sung?

But then I realize that the world of Jesus' time didn't much understand what Jesus was saying either. The religious sages, the rulers of the day—they ignored the miraculous birth in a Bethlehem cattle trough. Only outsiders—kings from the East—and lowly shepherds—understood. So it is today. Ironically, the world benefits from the world-shaking movement that originated from that manger but hardly recognizes the Christ of Christmas.

This is why God has called every generation of His people to tell the story anew. We are the ones God is calling to share the gospel story to a world thirsting for a Savior. So let's do it with joy, not with anger. Let's engage people as people and not enemies. And let's wear the smile of Christmas on our faces.

About The Author:

Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). He is a regular contributor to Leadership Journal and the author of several books, including his latest, Activist Faith. He regularly blogs at danieldarling.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDarling.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Jesus Came To Take Our Pain

By Dr. Ray Pritchard

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4).

When Isaiah speaks of what Christ has done for us, he does not start with our sin and our guilt. That comes later. He begins instead with our infirmities. The text says Christ has "borne" our griefs. It's a Hebrew word that means to lift up and carry away a heavy load. It was used in Leviticus 16 for the scapegoat who carried away the sins of the nation. That's the idea here. Jesus came to lift the heavy burden of sadness brought about by our sin and the pain of living in a sinful world. Perhaps you know the famous gospel song that starts this way:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear.

We have many griefs because we live in a fallen world.
We have many sorrows because we ourselves are fallen people.
We need someone who can bear our grief when the burden is too heavy for us.

Colin Smith explains it this way:

He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrow. That must include the division in your family, the loss of your job, the death of your husband, and the pain of your past.

In Christ we do not have some far-off God, but in him we find a God who drew near to us, who came to us, who entered our world and became one of us, that he might carry our sorrows for us.

Your pain will not have the last word.
Your sorrows will not last forever.
Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Os Guinness tells the following story in 'No God but God':

In one of their periodic efforts to eradicate religious belief in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party sent KGB agents to the nation's churches on a Sunday morning. One agent was struck by the deep devotion of an elderly woman who was kissing the feet of a life-size carving of Christ on the cross.

"Babushka [Grandmother]," he said. "Are you also prepared to kiss the feet of the beloved general secretary of our great Communist Party?"

"Why, of course," came the immediate reply. "But only if you crucify him first."

No other God has wounds.
Where else can you find a Savior like this?

My Lord, you know how hard it is on earth because you were here once before. I am glad your shoulders are strong enough to bear all my burdens today. Amen.

Source: Keep Believing Ministries

Balancing Joy and Grief During Christmas Time

by Father Gary

The time of Advent seems to have two distinct characteristics in people's lives, two threads that are often interwoven together – one is that of joyful hope as the season of Christmas approaches this month and the other is the presence of grief and stress. We have an awareness of having too much to do, for example, or of relatives that have died and Christmas makes us remember them.

The Lord wishes to use both of these realities as movements of grace to increase our holiness of life. It is in the midst of our life's work that God wishes to sanctify us. All of us are called each day to pray to God in whatever manner that we and God decide. I personally have an hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. I could not function as a priest without my hour that is given wholly over to God. But God speaks to us particularly as we go about our daily business by the circumstances of life. So the stresses and grief and, yes, hope and joy that we experience in Advent are God's way of revealing our heart to us.

What are my priorities in life? When I have too much to do, God can get crowded out; and yet, when we make room for him, things invariably go better for us. At the same time, we can find ourselves consumed by grief and a desire to run away from this season. But, this too, is a time of grace for us. God often does his best work when we are overwhelmed by something and have problems only he can solve!

Notice how Christ was born in simplicity and poverty, obscurity. Who would think that such a small seed could grow to be the most important event in human history? Sometimes we feel that we can't find an answer to our problems – they are too much for us. There's too much to do in the season – or I can't get away from my problems – or I want the joy to last forever. And it is a time of hope. All God asks of me is that I make an offering of the daily circumstances of my life.

Can I offer God a few pennies for Advent? What are the small sacrifices I can make for Jesus as I go about my business this week? If I give him a few cents, that is – even a few small things or sacrifices from among the events of my daily routine – like Jesus lying in the manger looks like a small thing – Jesus will multiply my investment in him beyond anything I could ever imagine. Whether it is Advent or any other season of the year, there are always a few pennies I can give God each day. But such investments add up, especially with the compound interest that God provides in our spiritual bank account. Yes, Advent is a season of joy and hope, grief and stress – but God uses all of these emotions, all of these moments. We can make our time fruitful by the small sacrifices we offer to God as we go about our daily business in this season of hope.

Baskiyamo Chinnu GeeVarghese Has Gone To Her Heavenly Abode
Mrs. Chinnu Geevarghese, wife of Very Rev. (Dr) Geevarghese Kunnath MD Cor Episcopa, a member of the Malankara World Board, has completed her earthly mission and has gone to her eternal home on Tuesday, Dec 16 2014. Kochamma (ammayi) was bedridden for the past several months. She is survived by Achen, her son Philip and grandchildren Kaleb and Teajan. She was a graduate of Vellore Medical College.

Early Days - Geevarghese achen and Chinnu Kochamma
Early photograph of Achen and Kochamma

GeeVarghese achen and family hails from Chelad, near Kothamangalam and are members of St. Stephens Bes Ania Jacobite Syriac Valiapally (Thekkalikatt Church), Chelad, Kerala, India. They are long time residents of United States and live in Louisville, KY.

Recent photo-Geevarghese achen and Chinnu Kochamma
Recent Photo of Achen and Kochamma

The funeral services in Malayalam (Parts I and II) will be held at St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, 3701 Saint Michael Church Drive (corner of Hikes Lane and Furman Blvd), Louisville, KY 40220 on Friday, December 19, 2014 at 6 PM. The final funeral services will be held at the same church on Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 10 AM followed by burial service.

Chinnu Kochamma featured in Louisville Newspaper
Newspaper Story about Kochamma's Cooking

Achen and Kochamma had made a significant impact on everyone they came in contact with. She was a great hostess. She took her cooking very seriously. She frequently had special fish and other delicacies flown from far away places (like West and East Coast) to prepare great meals for her guests. Her culinary skills were praised by many and was written up several times by the local newspapers. She was also an avid painter. Achen and Kochamma had been very generous in contributing to schools, orphanages and other philanthropic ventures. Like a loyal wife, she was behind achen in everything he wanted to do. They were in the process of building a super specialty Cancer Research Hospital in Chelad, a project that was delayed by Kochamma's illness.

Watercolor by Chinnu Kochamma
Watercolor Painting by Kochamma

MGCR Hospital Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony
Kochamma at the Cancer Hospital Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony

When we think of ammayi, first thing we recall is her attention to detail in whatever she does or hear. She wasn't afraid to let you know what she think of something you ask her opinion for. She adored her grandchildren. As her end neared she started clinging to achen, afraid of losing him. She had a great voice and, unfortunately, the fist thing she lost was the power to speak. It was very difficult to see her struggling with communication in the last days.

Please pray for the departed soul and for the surviving members of the family to strengthen them to overcome this loss of the dear one. St. Stephen Church, Louisville, Kentucky and St. Basil's Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio and Malankara World joins Achen and Kochamma's well-wishers from all over the world in mourning the death of our dear ammayi. May her soul rest in peace.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

A Vision of Heaven - No Death, No Tears

by Greg Laurie

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
- Revelation 21:4

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and couldn't quite find the words? Have you ever tried to describe something complex to a child? For God to describe heaven to us in a way we could understand would be like trying to describe the beauty of Hawaii to a three-month-old child. We're not able to comprehend, in our finite human understanding, all the infinite glories of heaven.

In fact, the apostle Paul, who had the unique experience of dying and actually going to heaven, said that he heard things so astounding that they couldn't be told (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Paul was essentially saying that he couldn't put his experience into words.

Heaven is beyond our comprehension. While there aren't many verses in the Bible that tell us about it, Scripture does tell us a few things. It says that in heaven there will be no night. There will be no fear. There will be no suffering or death. All of the pain and disabilities that we face in this life will be gone in heaven.

But the glory of heaven is even more than having new bodies - and even more than the absence of darkness and sorrow and pain and death. The fact that Jesus Christ will be there is better than all the beauty and all the answers to all our questions.

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar. (Isaiah 33:17, NIV)

Source: This devotional is an excerpt from Every Day with Jesus by Greg Laurie, 2013

Copyright ©2014 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

Why We Pray For Departed Faithful

Changed not Ended -- Eternal Rest Grant to Them, O Lord

"Everything the Father gives me will come to me."

Can you imagine an existence, as real as this life, yet outside of space and time? Sounds like science fiction? Yet, we as Christians acknowledge our fundamental belief in this reality, a "place" a spiritual yet very real existence outside of what we have always known and measured since the time of our birth. We pray for all of our dearly departed brothers and sisters who continue life in that existence which is our ultimate destiny as well. Yet, all the more real as we prepare to enter the glorious presence of God, the holy ones, and our faithful departed who have arrived.

It's good for us to remember that we "pray to" our holy ones, those whose lives have been formally acknowledged by the Church as marked by heroic Christian virtue. They cheer us on, they run the race of life with us for they too once joined us in that race here and through God's abundant grace have won the prize of eternity. They are our heroes and models of Christian discipleship from every race, language, and culture. The saints are here for us as intercessors and models of Christian living.

We "pray for" our departed brothers and sisters, our family members who once joined us at meals, at home, in the garden, at sports events, at musical concerts, in school, on vacations. Who shared with us this personal life through laughter and sadness; in food and fun; in marriage and parenting; in ministry and service. Those we called Mom and Dad, brother and sister, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt, Uncle, Wife, friend, neighbor, Reverend. In other words, all those who have died before us and shared in some part of our personal lives.

Why do we pray for the departed? That's a question that many in the Protestant Christian world ask. Yet, this ancient Christian tradition that is preserved by our faith remains a center mark of our spiritual lives.

In speaking of funerals, our Protestant brethren and secular society, in general, often speak of a celebration of life. So, the tendency is to look back at a life well lived and consider all the various accomplishments and lessons and memories of the loved one who has died. Sometimes that celebration takes on an extravagant personality. Remember Michael Jackson's celebration of life? Hollywood and recording artists were out in their glory. Yet, there is a deeper meaning.

The Orthodox and Catholic perspective in our funeral liturgies is to look forward to that life yet to come and that "place" outside of space and time in eternity before God Himself where our loved ones, we pray for, will find themselves at. We certainly look back at their lives and recall all the wonderful memories. But the emphasis is now upon Christian hope.

One of the prayers for the departed states:

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord,
and, as our faith in your Son,
raised from the dead, is deepened,
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants
also find new strength.

It is that great promise of Jesus as that "faith in your Son, raised from the dead is deepened . . ." we have solid hope that "our departed servants," which one day will include us, may also experience this new life in Christ. Death is not the end; for life is changed but not ended. In fact, another prayer for the deceased speaks of "those who have fallen asleep" because death is a passage, not a brick wall we run into.

Yet another central reason we pray for the dead: Purgatory. Perhaps we have gone through a kind of evolution of understanding exactly what purgatory means. The church does not see purgatory as a kind of mini- hell but rather a logical outcome of our lives here on earth. "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." (CC 1030-31).

[Editor's Note: In Syriac Orthodox Tradition, we do not have a place called Purgatory as Catholic Church calls it - a place of purification. Syriac Orthodox faith teaches that the souls of our departed faithful wait for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The opening prayer of the Syriac Orthodox Church Burial Service talks about a heavenly mansion of rest for the departed until the day of resurrection:

O Lord, make this soul, that has been set free from this temporal life and has departed from this sorrowful and painful world, be worthy to be guided by Your holy angels to the heavenly mansions that abound in delight and rest until the day of resurrection, on which he will meet You with confidence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

The Promeon of the Orthodox Burial Service talks about the restoration of the bodies after death:

Glory be to Him, Who is the hope of the living and the raiser of the dead, in Whose hands are the souls of the just and righteous, Who restores the bodies of His creation and brings them up from the dark chambers of Sheol and sends them to the paradise which overflows with felicity and delight. To Him be glory, honor and adoration at this time of His servants burial service and at all festivals, times, hours, seasons and through all the days of our life forever and ever.

No specific name is given to the place or location where they wait. So, it appears that the principle is the same. Our church includes the departed faithful, live faithful and future faithful. We believe that the souls of the departed also participate in our services; they are in the middle of the church. My thanks to Rev. Fr. Dr. Binoy Alexander for clarifying the Catholic Concept of the purgatory vs. our concept of the departed waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.]

We believe our prayers have a benefit for the dead for we trust in God's extended mercy beyond this life which is expressed in that place of purification – that purgatory. We are cleansed, prepared, made perfect in order to enter eternal bliss and the presence of almighty God. It was once explained as a place we go to wash our baptismal garments. We must get ready to enter the presence of the King and prepare ourselves to meet his majesty. Perhaps the suffering of purgatory is to know ones final destination but to not yet be there. The hope is to know that our final home will indeed be Heaven.

Does everyone who dies go to purgatory? That we simply don't know.

So, let us pray for all of our departed brothers and sisters in the Lord. The Church in heaven (triumphant) is cheering us on. The church suffering (those in purgatory) long for our intercession and prayer. The church here on earth (militant) still engaged in the spiritual and mortal struggle of daily Christian living is filled with hope.

God's mercy invites us all to share in his banquet which begins in every celebration of the Eucharist.

All I Have to Offer - Forgiveness

by Dr. Gary Chapman

Mercy triumphs over judgment!
- James 2:13

Immaculée Ilibagiza was in her early twenties when tribal tensions exploded in her home country of Rwanda. Nearly a million Rwandans were killed during one hundred days of horror. Ilibagiza survived by hiding in a tiny bathroom with eight other women. When the killing finally ceased, she had lost nearly all her family.

Ilibagiza later had the opportunity to meet Felicien, the leader of the gang that killed her mother and brother. Felicien looked at Ilibagiza and met her eyes with shame. Then the young woman said what she had come to say: "I forgive you."

As Ilibagiza writes, "My heart eased immediately, and I saw the tension release in Felicien's shoulders." The guards led him back to his cell. The man who had arrested Felicien asked Ilibagiza how she could respond that way. Ilibagiza answered, "Forgiveness is all I have to offer."

Ilibagiza's words reflect the Christlike choice to forgive. It was a choice because she had to let her desire for love win out over her desire for justice. Felicien never verbalized a response to Ilibagiza's offer of forgiveness, but Ilibagiza's spirit was free of anger. She left her concern for justice in the hands of God and government. She refused to seek revenge.

Today, Immaculée Ilibagiza travels around the world with her message of forgiveness. She has cared for Rwandan children orphaned in the genocide and worked with the United Nations to bring healing to her country. Only Christ's love can take energy that might be spent in anger and turn it into energy spent in love.

Prayer

Lord, I want to enjoy the freedom of forgiving others.

About The Author:

Dr. Gary Chapman is the best-selling author of 'The Five Love Languages' and 'Love as a Way of Life'.

Source: Living Love Devotional

Family Special: What We See in Each Other

by Jennifer Schuchmann

Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1–13

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse to find a new king. When he got there, Samuel saw Eliab, one of Jesse's sons. "Surely, he is the one God has chosen to be the next king," Samuel thought. Evidently, like the previous king, Saul, Eliab was tall and striking. But Eliab was not the one God had in mind.

God warned Samuel not to assess people by their physical appearance. God reminded the old prophet that he doesn't look at the outside; he looks at the inside. So each of Jesse's sons passed before Samuel, but God did not indicate that any of them was the man God had sent him to find. Finally, David, the youngest son, came in from the fields. Then the Lord spoke to Samuel, telling him this was the right one.

When we look at someone's outward appearance, we often fail to see what God sees. This message was clearly illustrated to writer John Fisher when he was speaking at a seminar. "A couple came in late, and I could see that they were in love," Fisher said. "I couldn't help but notice the woman was very attractive, while the guy was a real nerd.

"What could she see in him?" Fisher wondered. From the outside, this couple didn't look like a match. "Then I realized she was blind," Fisher said.

"What did she see in him? She saw everything that was important in a person. She saw love. While another woman might not have gotten past this man's unimpressive exterior, she was blind to that. She only saw his heart. Blessed are the blind, for they can see people as they really are."

Like Samuel, we often make judgments based on what people look like. But God doesn't use looks as his criteria. He evaluates people by what's in their hearts. He sees their character, their faithfulness and their commitment to him.

During courtship, we can be charmed by someone's good looks, attentiveness or flattery. All of that can be fleeting. Over the course of a marriage, the real person breaks through. Perhaps as your marriage ages, your spouse's outward appearance starts to change. Your spouse grays, loses hair or gains a little weight. Perhaps the two of you fall into a rut, and the special treatment that marked your dating period begins to wane. That's when we need to remember what the Lord said to Samuel about focusing on what's in the heart rather than what's physically noticeable.

The success of a marriage comes, not in finding who we think initially is the "perfect" person for us, but in our willingness to adjust to the real person we married.

Let's Talk

What characteristics initially attracted us to each other? What qualities do we treasure most today?

The blind woman never saw her partner's appearance. Like God, she only saw his heart. Would we rather have people look at our appearance or at our heart? Why?

What steps are we taking to improve our faith, our character and our commitment to God?

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples

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