The Gift that keeps on Giving: Who Says Christmas Only Comes Once a Year?

It’s that time of year that we leave Christmas behind, isn’t it? Gifts have been unwrapped (and exchanged), gift cards have been redeemed, and we are putting away Christmas lights and decorations until next year… Here’s the thing: don’t stop celebrating the season when the season is over!

Why Christmas?

When you think about it, for many of us Christmas was all about giving and opening gifts! It is a tradition that goes back to the gifts of the Magi, which were presented to Jesus as a young child sometime after he was born. Some folks relate it to Saturnalia, a pagan Roman festival which pre-dated the birth of Christ, and which was supplanted by the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Since people gave each other small gifts during that winter festival, the custom was appropriated by early Church Fathers. (Although some Christians today refuse to celebrate because of those early roots, but I say, why let the devil have all festivals? It’s ok to celebrate the birth of Christ and give gifts!) Which gift was your favorite this year?

gift

The Gifts of the Magi, and Some Others Worth Mentioning

We give each Holiday season to commemorate the actions of the Magi in Matthew 2:11: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Gifts are a wonderful part of our Christmas celebration. But as you start enjoying the presents you received on Christmas, remember that there are gifts, and there are GIFTS:

There is the gift of life. There is the gift of love. And then there’s this: “For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, KJV).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV).

“But the free GIFT is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the GIFT by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15, NIV)

“For God so loved the world that he GAVE his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)

It’s About Living

No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances today, never forget that Christmas is not about toys or things. It’s about a new history being made. It’s about new life. And it’s about a new KIND of life. To me, eternal life is an attitude that not only transcends time and space but it begins here and now! I like to think it is what Gus McCrae meant in “Lonesome Dove”. He said, “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you LIVE.”

gift

This new year, don’t limit Christmas gifts to a single day. Celebrate it all year long! Embrace life wherever you are. Live with an awareness of the gifts that matter. Don’t get so caught up in your new iPhone that you miss the greatest gift of all! Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Rhyme

Sing Hosanna, peace on earth! Celebrate the Savior’s birth!
As Angels sing, Rejoice with them! This baby, born in Bethlehem,
Made every earthly power shift, and offered us His matchless gift.
Give “Peace on earth” and spread “Good Cheer”! But tell me, if this isn’t clear:
Since Jesus showed that “God came near”, why celebrate just once a year?
Don’t take your faith from Christmas nights and pack it away with the Christmas lights!
In winter, summer, spring, and fall, open the greatest gift of all—
At home, abroad, at work or play—Celebrate Christmas every day!
Whenever you recall this rhyme: it’s Him, it’s you, it’s Christmas time!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Real People. Real Christmas. Real Intrigue and Danger.

There are some interesting details about the real events behind Christmas. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-3, NIV)

So, Why Were People Disturbed?

The Magi, who studied the heavens and knew something about the arrival of a new king of the Jews, came “from the east” to find out about this new-born king… Naturally they went first to the current king in Jerusalem, Herod the Great. He was a king who had an impressive resume as an architect and builder. But he was a cruel man who was known for levying high taxes and pushing to complete his projects. He built a fabulous temple (in addition fortresses, the Port of Caesarea, and many other impressive architectural achievements). When the Magi arrived, Herod was in perhaps the last year of his reign, dying from gonorrhea and possibly cancer.

Herod is known for his impressive accomplishments as a builder, and his engineering and architectural accomplishments can still be seen today at Caesarea, Masada, and Jerusalem. They are why he still known as “Herod the Great”.

real fortress

He had a long, tumultuous reign filled with treachery and murder. Herod not only executed his wife, Miriamne, but her mother Alexandra as well. He had two of his brother-in-laws killed, and also executed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus. He was so jealous of his throne that at one point it prompted Augustus to say, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son” (a reference to the fact that the pig had a better chance for survival than a son, since Herod’s household didn’t eat pork).

Unintended Consequences

Matthew’s description of Herod’s reaction to the Magi is intriguing. While there is much to explore about the Magi, it is also interesting to take a closer look at Herod’s role in the nativity. After all, he was at least partly responsible for sending them to Jesus. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Herod is a somewhat forgotten part of this nativity, but he certainly played a significant role in the birth and early life of Jesus. Matthew says in verse 3 that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It might make sense that Herod was troubled—he guarded his throne zealously, and certainly did not enjoy having other aspiring kings around. But why was all Jerusalem troubled with him?

More Than Meets the Eye

Dr. Duane Edward Spencer taught that Herod was a cruel ruler who was not exactly beloved in Jerusalem. The fact that the city was disturbed along with him at the approach of these men suggested a somewhat larger and more capable party than three men on camels. More likely it was a troop of famed Persian cavalry. It makes sense, since a few men carrying valuable gifts would have been easy prey for robbers. Besides, three guys on camels probably wouldn’t make a city tremble.

This is a real story about real people. It makes sense that men of this stature would not travel without protection. It is also reasonable that Herod and people in Jerusalem would all have their own interpretation of events. Herod tried to twist the Magi to his own ends, asking them to go find this newborn king so he could “worship him”. Like many real politicians before and since, Herod was lying about his true intent. He was a paranoid ruler who was constantly involved in intrigue and questionable choices. (And, starting with his devious and murderous intentions, a Herod played a role in Jesus’ birth and in his death.)

More Than One Herod

Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, carried on the family tradition of making poor choices by marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. She was the one whose daughter danced provocatively for him and then demanded the head of John the Baptist. Definitely soap opera material… Herod Antipas is the same guy who wanted Jesus to perform for him, and who sent him back to Pilate after a very cursory “trial”. But, back at the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find Jesus and report back to him. When they didn’t bring him a report, he reacted by doing something that followed his reputation down the corridors of time.

real danger

He killed all the male children in Bethlehem two years of age and under. While he missed Jesus, his cruelty touched many other lives. His action has always been known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” While scholars have not found a direct reference to this act outside of the Bible, it is certainly in keeping with Herod’s character. He was a man so jealous of his throne that he killed his own mother-in-law, two sons, and his wife Miriamne, just to mention a few.

Killing little boys affected so few people in such an obscure village that historians did not find it newsworthy at the time. Or, they may have revised Herod’s biography to make him look a little better. Executing a few little boys would not have bothered Herod in the least, and he didn’t live long thereafter…) Real people. Real events. Know your history: Jesus was really actually part of it.

Real History. Real Talk.

The Holidays are twinkling lights
And carolers on snowy nights,
Our Christmas movies on TV and presents underneath the tree.
We think of things we love so much–
The Christmas tree, the gifts and such,
And little children’s shining eyes with every Santa Claus surprise!
But don’t forget, when your stockings and hearts are filled,
The boys in Bethlehem, and the evil king who had them killed.
Traditions are nice, and so are the things we feel–
But don’t forget. Yeah, Christmas just got real.

To buy my book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Decisions, decisions: This Christmas Business was Tougher than you Think

Before and after Jesus was born, Joseph had some tough decisions to make. In our previous post we discussed the decision to flee from Bethlehem to go all the way to Egypt. Imagine Joseph and Mary in Egypt, away from friends and family, forced to become refugees in a strange land. Then this: “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

“So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23 NIV)

More Than Meets the Eye

Joseph’s relationship with God was not limited to the pre-Advent announcement about his first son. Obviously, he had to deal with issues that were beyond the scope of most typical First-century Jewish husbands and fathers, and he had to make some tough decisions. He had to deal with 1) a bride who was pregnant before the wedding; 2) the messengers of God coming to him with directions; 3) a pretty dicey political situation, what with the local king trying to kill his son and all; and yeah, 4) he had to make some pretty difficult travel arrangements under adverse circumstances.

decisions

On top of all of that, he and Mary also had to decide where to live and how to raise the Son of God who had been placed under their care. There was no Century 21 office to advise them, and I’m sure buying a home was not easy in their circumstances. They still had to evaluate neighborhoods and make assessments about what was happening and where to settle geographically so that the Christ child would be safe.

Details Matter

I think it’s interesting that, even under the protection of the Most High, Joseph and Mary still had to make decisions about where to go; they still had to take action to be obedient. They had been warned of Herod’s treachery and had to get up at night and escape to Egypt, to live among strangers in a strange land. It doesn’t say they were told HOW to do those things. They were certainly vulnerable and in danger, but they trusted God and responded to His word. I’m sure that those weeks were lonely and fearful, and that there were moments of doubt and uncertainty for the young couple as they began their life together.

Perhaps there is something in their story for us. A walk with God is not a magical Union that takes place in spiritual realms; it is a journey through hard times in an uncertain world where bad things can happen. I think it’s instructive that Mary and Joseph 1) listened to God’s word to them; 2) made decisions based on what He said; and 3) demonstrated obedience to God by acting upon his instruction. You think maybe we could learn from that? If it worked for Joseph and Mary, maybe it would work for us.

The Honeymoon (Joseph’s View)

I hope these dreams are whose they say they are;
We’ve left our family, and we’ve traveled far
To live down here in Egypt. It’s been rough,
(As if this birth had not been hard enough!)
So now we have to take a different tack;
The angel says that we should travel back!
Judea isn’t safe; so, where to go?
I guess when we get closer, we will know…
But Mary is amazing. We will make it,
And if God has some more advice, we’ll take it.
We are strangers living in this land–
Something that I never would have planned–
But we have both obeyed the Lord’s command:
So in Him we will trust, and take our stand.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Christmas Untold: The REST of the Story of Fear, Flight and Faith

After you have celebrated the Nativity scene, the angels’ announcement, and the birth of Jesus, it is time to consider what Christmas was all about for Mary and Joseph.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:12-15, NIV).

A Very Creepy Christmas

The Christmas story doesn’t end with the Nativity. It begins there. For Joseph and Mary, it meant a hasty departure under cover of darkness to a strange land. It meant hard travel in open country with a young mother and an infant whom Herod was seeking to kill…

Come to think of it, it had to be a scary trip, maybe the scariest road trip experience of all time. Yes, there was an aging and jealous king trying to eliminate a potential threat to his throne, but it wasn’t just Herod who wanted the baby dead. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…”

Christmas

It was not only Herod, but every dark power in this world had to be uneasy, sensing this sudden goodness which was now present on planet earth. Surely every evil force could feel a shudder of its own death knell, and stirred blindly and restlessly, reacting with vague disquiet against God’s work in the world. Against a creepier background than any horror film could conjure up, Joseph took his little family in the dead of night and set out for Egypt.

Spiritual War

Behind the holy family, Bethlehem was about to experience the slaughter of the innocents; before them lay a long and uncertain journey to Egypt. Satan has never been omniscient, or surely he would have known who this baby was in advance, and ended the Christmas story at the manger… But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of evil.

Undoubtedly, throughout the millennia Satan had anticipating the arrival of a coming king, and was ready to do battle with God’s royal emissary and savior; perhaps, like the Pharisees, he was looking for a majestic, powerful king who would come heralded in glory, ready to fight the Romans. After all, that was how power asserted itself in his domain, so the logical thing would be to sow corruption and evil wherever men wielded it.

Start At The Top

Satan certainly worked hard in the courts of both Judean kings and Roman emperors (and most royal houses throughout history), using ego and treachery to corrupt and contaminate almost everyone who attained a position of strength. Winston Churchill, who was a pretty astute chronicler of history, said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The devil has been pretty effective at corrupting leaders (he’s still doing it today, even in our hallowed Republic), but Satan did not foresee God’s unusual plan. God chose weakness to confound strength. He heralded not a military kingdom but a spiritual one. Against all logic, He sent humility to oppose power. God chose a frail baby in all humility to end an evil empire based on selfishness and pride; and He sent Jesus to begin a new kingdom based on peace and love. And guess where it starts, the week after Christmas? Look no further than your own heart…

Just like the Holy family, you too are on a journey facing uncertainty and choices. There is a selfish, grasping evil that wants you to fail; yet there is a humble, loving Savior who wants you to succeed. As you consider Christmas and all that really happened around the birth of Christ, remember why he came and the person to whom it matters the most: YOU.

Christmas Mayhem

Forced to flee in the dead of night,
Joseph had disturbing dreams
Which warned him that they must take flight
From Herod’s mad and murderous schemes.
Commanded by his jealous word,
Assassins through their village crept,
And performed their duties undeterred
As mothers wailed and fathers wept.
But Herod’s minions missed the mark,
As Joseph took his wife and infant son
Traveling hard to safety in the dark:
Their long and dangerous journey had begun.
And every evil power on this earth
Was restless as it sensed this new-born king,
Uneasy since the announcement and the birth,
Uncertain of the changes it would bring.
The powers of darkness felt the child’s great good,
Felt the Spirit around him as it flowed,
And stirred to end this danger, if they could,
From the family alone, out on the open road…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Coincidence Disguised as History. History Connected by Coincidence

Most casual observers might assess a seemingly random series of events and say, “Wow, That’s a Really Amazing Coincidence!” In fact, anyone looking at the birth of Jesus would have to admit there were some surprising coincidences that took place. I would submit that there is something more to it than that…

You Can Look It Up…

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:1-4 NIV)

Joseph was from Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Under normal circumstances, Jesus should have been born there at home in Nazareth, a relatively sleepy little village in Galilee. But a taxation decree from Caesar Augustus forced Joseph to take Mary from Galilee to Bethlehem, and it was there Jesus was born. Coincidence? This fulfilled a prediction written over 700 years before by the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, 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.” (Micah 5:2 NIV).

Facts…

Look at a couple of things about these verses: First, the birth of Jesus was a REAL event that took place in a REAL location in the midst of REAL historical events. There was a census (you can look it up), and by coincidence Quirinius was actually a mid-level governor in Judea. (Scholars place his time of service and the Roman census both at around 6 AD, which helps to date the birth of Christ around that time.)

Second, because Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered, Jesus was born away from his childhood home. Since Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the Pharisees did not associate him later on with Bethlehem, and it was one of the things that bothered them about Jesus and kept them from seeing him as the Messiah. He wasn’t from the religious and cultural center of Jerusalem, and it diminished his importance in their eyes. In John 7:41-42 they argued about it: “But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

A Case of Mistaken Nativity

coincidence

The Pharisees (like Herod’s elders who consulted the Magi in Matthew 2) knew that the Messiah would come from the city of David, and their tribal knowledge presumed that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. What they didn’t realize was that, perhaps by coincidence, out of all the places in all of Judea, Joseph had to leave Galilee and travel with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and the timing had to be such that she delivered not at home in Nazareth but while staying briefly in the city of David.

Pretty remarkable–a coincidence, you might say– that a Roman decree moved Hebrew people around so that Joseph and Mary ended up in Bethlehem, the exact birthplace of the Messiah, which fulfilled Micah’s prediction from over 700 years before…

Besides that particular prophecy about his birth, the Hebrew Scriptures also predicted that Christ would: (1) be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14); (2) be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); (3) ride the foal of a donkey into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9); (4) be descended from David (Isaiah 9:7 and Jeremiah 23:5); (5) be “lifted up” and “marred beyond recognition” (Isaiah 52:13-14); (6) be crucified, as depicted in Psalm 22. Those are but a few of the Hebrew scriptures written hundreds of years before Jesus, predicting some of the things that would happen to or around him…

Remarkable? Yes. Coincidence? No.

Coincidence

You don’t think He created earth; you can’t believe the Virgin birth.
His parables and works were fine, but you don’t see him as divine.
Perhaps if you could look and see the Hebrew Scriptures’ prophecy,
You’d come to find it all makes sense: if it’s just ONE coincidence,
Then you could push him out of mind, or call me intellectually blind;
But search the Scriptures, and you’ll find
A dozen prophecies aligned with things that Christ would do.
So was he God? Or was it just a coincidence or two?
A dozen? No, I think I undershot,
since actually there really are a LOT–
Just take that Bible down from off the shelf,
And do some research. Look it up yourself!
Those prophecies from hundreds of years before;
I’ve quoted a few, but there are many more.
To many folks it doesn’t make much sense;
But I don’t think it was coincidence!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Nativity Scenes are Lovely; Could it Be that They Are All WRONG??

Here’s a Christmas news flash: Most Nativity Scenes are WRONG! It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you check the Scriptural accounts of the details around Jesus’ birth you’ll find that the traditional Nativity sets depict a scene that never occurred…

Just the Facts, Ma’am…

Luke describes this pastoral scene, out in the fields: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NIV) Matthew, though, refers to the wise men here: “And when they [the wise men] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 2:11, NIV)

I’ve always loved the nativity scenes, with the animals, shepherds and wise men gathered around the manger honoring the baby Jesus, while an angel hovers over the stable as Joseph and Mary look on… The problem is, that scene never happened. The traditional nativity scenes are based on a couple of different events that took place at least several months and possibly up to two years apart, each with a different location and set of players. I guess you could say that Nativity scenes are Cliff Notes’ representations that portray both events together… Therefore, the only group who made it to the manger area out behind the inn when Jesus was born were the shepherds.

nativity

Connecting the Dots

Interestingly, the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the “Tower of the Flock,” or Migdal Edar, which is very near Bethlehem. That pasture had a birthing place for lambs called the manger, and if that was where Mary delivered her baby, it creates some very interesting connections. Migdal Edar was where lambs were prepared for sacrifice at the Temple. Therefore the sheep born there were set apart and sanctified according to Jewish law. It stands to reason that these Shepherds would have known a LOT about unblemished lambs and sacrifice, since they were usually guarding lambs who were on their way to be sacrificed at the Temple. (Pretty thoughtful of God to connect those dots for us, isn’t it?)

Second, Luke says the angel appeared to the shepherds out in the fields. Once they got over their fright somewhere out in the Judean countryside, the shepherds did indeed stop by the manger in Bethlehem; but it was shortly AFTER being visited by an angel. (That angel, by the way, was joined by a host of other Angels who sang in celebration.) So, contrary to most Nativity scenes, it wasn’t a single angel, it was many; and the angel(s) didn’t go into town with the Shepherds to the manger.

The Original Manger Scene

It says in Luke 2:15 that the Angels “went back into heaven.” The shepherds went into town on their own, where they found “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” Obviously, they were pretty fired up when they realized that something pretty big was going on, and that they were part of it! Luke 2:20 says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

The shepherds, it seems, have a lot in common with us. They are ordinary folks. And, as ordinary folks, they heard some really good news. They had a choice: ignore the news, stay out in the fields, and just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened; or they could believe the message, go and find out more about this baby, and meet him face to face. You have the same information the shepherds did, and the exact same choice. Something pretty big is going on. Be part of it.

Nativity Relativity

Nativity scenes are quite profound,
With shepherds and Magi gathered ’round,
Adoring Jesus, meek and mild…
The angel greets this new-born child
With Mary and Joseph and all the rest.
But it doesn’t pass the Bible test!

Just look at the Nativity:
It isn’t accurate history,
And if you give it scrutiny
You’ll find it’s more of a summary.

And that’s ok, just get it right:
Some history was made that night
And all of those events occurred,
Just not the way you’ve always heard.
The shepherds on the hillside heard
The Angel speak his glorious word,
Then ran to town without delay
To where the baby Jesus lay.
That’s when the angels came to sing
Of Glory to the Newborn King!
The Magi visited later on,
So most Nativity scenes are wrong…
Before your nose gets out of joint,
I’m not being critical; here’s my point:
I’m not saying it’s kinda lame
That the Nativity scene is not the same;
The important thing is, Jesus came!
Although it may lack accuracy,
The scene at the Nativity has elements of history
Presented as a summary.
Nativity scenes may not be totally factual,
But Jesus came. That truth is totally actual.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

If Bethlehem Was on the Bayou…

Imagine, if you will, that Bethlehem had been located on the bayou in Southern Louisiana. Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus the way it might have been

De Bayou was cold, and de weather was hard,
And de Hound dogs an’ animals lay in the yard;
De crickets was chirpin’, an’ de bullfrogs dey sing,
Never suspecting the birth of a king.
From a beat-up pirogue stepped old Joseph an’ Mary,
And she was so pregnant dat, Man, it was scary!
At ol’ Thibodeaux’s Inn Dey knock on de do’,
But he said, “Dey’s no room, not even on de flo’.”
They turned, disappointed, But Thibodeaux said:
Jes’ wait you a moment—you can sleep in de shed!”
So Mary an’ Joseph went roun’ to the back,
Where they made up a bed in ol’ Thibodeaux’s shack.

Now, out on the bayou, some fishermen sat,
When dey saw such a bright light, dey wondered where dey at!
For, high up above them at the top of the trees,
Dey saw such a sight, dat dey fall on dere knees!
Ol’ Gaston, he say, “Whew—boy! I must be dyin’!
For over the Bayou, dose Angels be flyin’!”
“Fear not!” Said de Angels, “For we just came to say
Dat Jesus the king will be born here today!
Go to Thibodeaux’s Inn, aroun’ to de back,
And you’ll find the baby, asleep in de shack.”
So those fishermen pulled in their nets an’ their bugs,
And put up their line, an’ put down their jugs,
An’ paddled on over towards Thibodeaux’s place,
Where they could encounter de King face to face.

Now, meanwhile, dis same night, on de far side of town,
The three Chutney sisters had just settled down.
Now, the oldest was Grace, and the youngest was Sue,
An’ Evangeline, she was de middle one, too!
They all settled down for a midwinter’s sleep,
An’ were driftin’ off down where de slumber is deep,
When an angel appeared, and said, “Get outta bed,
And shake all dose cobwebs right outta your head!
Go out to de yard, an’ look high an’ look far,
And search de night sky for a bright shining star.
Jus’ you follow dat star all de way across town,
An’ you’ll find a place where a baby lays down,
In the shack in the back of ol’ Thibodeaux’s Inn…
An’ dis baby will save us from all of our sin!
So get up! Get a move on! An’ Give God the glory;
Go honor dat baby! An’ tell men the story
Of the fact God is with us!” Then dose angels left, blazin’
An’ then said her sisters an’ Grace: “That’s amazing!”

So the Chutney girls went out and followed the star,
till it led them downtown past Jerome’s grill & bar,
Till they came on to Thibodeaux’s , where dey saw the sight
Of the newborn king, who was just born dat night…
The fishermen came and had gathered around,
Just watchin’ the baby; no one made a sound,
Not even the houn’ dorgs who sat still & quiet:
Dis must be de king! Why, how could they deny it?

So up walked the Chutneys; in a straight line they filed
To the star that now rested right over the child;
Then Grace spoke up quietly: “I t’ink dat maybe
We ought to deliver our gifts to de baby.
We’re po’, but we brought out a couple of things,
That might help us worship the new king of kings.”

So Sue stepped on up, with a smile soft an’ sweet,
And she lay her best coat at the new baby’s feet.
She said, “Mary, I know that like me, you are broke,
So I hope you can use this as some kinda cloak,
That will give you some cover and keep you from harm,
And help you to keep our new king safe and warm.”

Evangeline came to de crib in de room,
And she said, “I have only my bestest perfume,
But I offer its fragrance, and hope it is able
To cover the smell of this musty old stable.”
And, finally, Grace said: “I feel sorry and sad
That we only can give him what little we had,
For I know that a king should have wealth—so I’m told,
And that Jesus deserves to be showered with gold.
So I give you this gift, and it makes me quite happy,
To give you dis watch that belonged to my pappy.”

As she lay the gold watch at the feet of the child,
Miss Chutney believed for a moment he smiled;
And the angels appeared, an’ were singing again:
“Let’s have peace on the earth, an’ Good will toward men!”
Gaston and his friends, they hitched up their pants,
and they grabbed all the Chutneys and’ started to dance!
And they ran through the town, and they sounded dey horn,
And dey tol’ ev’ry body dat Jesus was born!

From den on, all the Chutneys and fishermen said
They could never forget what was put in dere head,
Dat a king would be born, an’ his work would begin,
That would save ever body from all of dere sin.
After the Chutneys and Gaston had came,
De t’ings on the Bayou could not be the same.
An’ dat was the very first Christmas dat day,
Which caused all the folks on the Bayou to say,
From then on, “Laissez les Bon temps rouler!”

Well, friend… What about you when you hear of dis story,
Do you know of dis child? Do you know of his glory?
Do you hear what the angels proclaim as they sing?
Do you bring all you have to the feet of the king?
May you follow de star; may its light draw you near,
And may Christmas live in you t’roughout the whole year:
May you gaze on the child: as you look on his face,
May you say with Gaston: “That’s amazing, Grace.”

Copyright ©1997 by Bo Jackson
All rights reserved

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Glorious: The Word of God was Made in the Likeness of Men

Here at Christmastime we celebrate the arrival a baby in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Angels from heaven announced that his name was Immanuel, or “God With Us”. The Glorious Word, the Bible says, was made in the Likeness of Men… what does that mean? An eyewitness said, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV)

A Most Astounding Transaction

It was through His Word that God created all things (God said, “Let there be light.”). The Word, preexistent from the beginning, the creative force behind the universe, was made flesh. As Paul put it, Jesus “made himself of no reputation, took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…” (Phil 2:7). And oh yeah, he was born like all men, tiny and fragile and vulnerable. He was helpless and hungry and had to be protected like any other baby. He cried, snuggled and nursed. The boy Jesus grew in wisdom and stature over time, in the manner of men. In so doing, he created a new and unthinkable paradigm for the Creator: He became part of his own creation.

In what way do you suppose God is most glorious? You might expect God to be cosmic and majestic and distant, but instead he used his humanity as a vessel to dwell among us, to share our sorrows, our hopes, our emotions, our experience. Jesus had a personality. He hung out with friends. He went to parties and out to dinner! (I think the television series “The Chosen” does a great job of portraying him in real life.) Jesus smiled, laughed and told stories around the campfire out by the lake. He wept. He taught and healed among us, and rebuked those who made a mockery of his Father’s intentions.

Define “Glorious”

Living in the midst of carnal, selfish men, he offered something we rarely see: he showed us that God is indeed glorious. He reflected wisdom and grace, and confounded people who expected him to be normal. It was not majestic physical glory or awesome splendor, it was God’s amazing glory transmitted in a smile or a Word. Jesus demonstrated heavenly glory in an everyday world. Have you had any glimpses of God’s glory lately?

We probably have some preconceived notions about glory that keep us from noticing it sometimes, or that cause us to miss it altogether. In Luke 2:9 the shepherds responded to heavenly glory much as any of us would. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Glory can be pretty overwhelming. We probably most often think of it on an overwhelming cosmic scale. I know we see it in sunsets and mountaintop vistas, and when we gaze into the night skies, but it’s not often we see it literally in someone else. Take a minute to stop thinking of it in grandiose, majestic terms, and think of seeing it reflected in a person.

man glorious

Look Around…

When you think of God’s glorious grace, who do you think of? I know I think of my wife, Nancy, and the love and grace she has extended to me over the years; It is reflected in my children and grandchildren, who are to me living expressions of God’s love and hope for the future…I have seen it at church, moving chairs or rocking a baby in the nursery. I have seen it at Young Life camps, touching lives and offering glimpses of what’s to come. And I still see it in the Word of God, preserved for me in John’s marvelous narrative, reflected in Moses’ law, expounded upon in Paul’s amazing letters, and passionately expressed in David’s Psalms.

Have you looked into the Word of God lately and beheld his glory? Have you seen God’s glory reflected in a friend or family member? And by the way, did you notice something glorious this Christmas season among the Santa’s and the snowmen and all of the Christmas displays? You may have walked or driven right by it today! (HINT: it was tiny, and it was probably lying in a manger somewhere as Mary and Joseph hovered over it protectively…)

Glory

It’s more than what you’ve read, or heard.
Encounter this: the glorious Word,
The Bible, just not in a book,
But in a PERSON! Take a look
At all it says and you will see
Not Words, but personality.
It’s how he smiled, and where he walked,
What Jesus did, and how he talked;
It’s healing hands and promises kept,
It’s how he prayed, and when he wept…
The Word saw Adam’s fatal flaw,
The Word was Moses and the Law.
David praised the Word with song!
Paul presents Him, clear and strong,
The glorious word who came to earth
Disguised in a humble baby’s birth…
SO pay attention to this rhyme,
And look for Him this Christmastime.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Unbelievable: The Woman Who Believed In a Preposterous Message

Luke’s narrative about Mary’s conversation with Gabriel described her reaction to some unbelievable news. If you think about it, there is much to learn from Mary’s response to God’s messenger. (And BTW, the Greek word for angel is anggelos, or messenger—simply put, a courier who brings a message, or a word from someone else).

Put Yourself in Mary’s Shoes…

In Mary’s case, she was clearly being given direction from God, and like any of us she could have said, “No”. I guess it’s conceivable that she could have fought against it or rebelled against such a life-changing commission; but she didn’t. In fact, that option is always available to us, isn’t it? Perhaps YOU have heard a message from God yourself lately, or even read one on your own somewhere…Maybe even HERE, reading this: How did you react to it? Was it too unbelievable to believe? I know a lot of people find the virgin birth to be unbelievable. Mary wasn’t one of them.

unbelievable

A Quick Word

After she heard what Gabriel had to say, she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” His word was this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33, NIV)

Basically, Gabriel brought a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God, and Mary (and Joseph as well) had absolute faith in the message. In response, she affirmed it verbally, and then she lived it obediently. It may have seemed unbelievable on the surface, but Mary believed it and accepted it.

An Amazing String of Promises

Surprisingly, the first-born son was not going to be Bar-Joseph according to custom, but was to be given a name indicative of who he was (a big concession by Joseph, which lends credence to the unusual nature of the Angel’s announcement). Jesus is a shortened form of Joshua, derived from Jehoshuah, which in the Hebrew means “Jehovah is salvation.” Gabriel points to Isaiah 9:6-7, which says “unto us a son is born”, and refers to God’s promise of an eternal throne to David’s line in 2 Samuel 7:12-14.

As Mary listened to his message, she undoubtedly found comfort in the fact that this birth had been foretold…There are in fact over 400 references in the Old Testament that are prophesies connected to Jesus’ birth, life and death. (You can Google that!) They are like hundreds of threads woven in to the Old Testament out of all space and time to create a tapestry of hope, pointing towards Jesus of Nazareth. The authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah) wrote independently and without any way of knowing the timing, the person, or the outcome of their books– but their words connected the dots between God’s covenant people and the promised Redeemer.

So You Don’t Believe It?

Let’s say you’re skeptical about that, or just don’t think all four hundred plus prophecies really apply… Maybe that seems unbelievable to you. Even if some of them are a bit of a stretch, or if some of them are hard to connect—let’s say we throw out half of them—wouldn’t you think that someone whose birth and life were foretold by a couple of hundred predictions from centuries before would justify some serious thought?

Those writers certainly didn’t know who Jesus was going to be, or when he would be born, but there were too many uncannily accurate prophecies about Jesus’ arrival to easily dismiss. From the Tribe of Judah. (Micah 5:2) From Jesse’s family (Isaiah 11:1) and David’s line (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Announced by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). Preceded by a star (Numbers 24:17). Born of a Virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Called Immanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14). Weeping in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). Flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1). He would be worshipped and presented gifts by kings (Psalm 72:10).

Worth Looking Into

Consider this: there is NO other historical figure’s arrival (including Mohammed and Buddha) was foretold in such volume and detail, so far in advance. No. One. Since the angel was pretty specific in mentioning these OT quotes in his message to Mary, they at least bear some consideration relative to who Jesus was.

Ok, so why am I talking about the messenger, and the message to Mary? Because when Gabriel made his announcement to her, it was also a message to everyone who would come after. It was a message to me. And it was a message to you as well. It seems we all have the same choice before us that Mary had: we can believe the word of the messenger, and then live differently because of it; or we can dismiss it, and go on as if nothing had happened. I think something happened. If Gabriel’s word was fulfilled, as Mary hoped and affirmed, then it’s worth looking into.

The Angel and the Virgin

What Gabriel said to Mary must have scared her through and through;
As unbelievable as it seemed, the picture that he drew
Affected Mary’s very life! But she did what she needed to.
Well, what if Gabriel’s message, then, was also meant for YOU?
What about the prophecy and things that men foreknew?
Would it change anything if you believed that it was true?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Mary Had to Make a Choice; But Really, Doesn’t Everybody?

Mary was called by God to perform a unique mission. On the surface she did the logical thing and seemed to make the obvious choice; So, a great question is, why Doesn’t Everybody Do it?

It Seems Obvious NOW

The last woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy is the most obvious one: “and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:16, NIV). Mary lived a remarkable life, and was certainly a remarkable young woman. A ton of legend and adulation has grown up around her. With all of the Da Vinci code supposition and mystery, Mary stands as possibly the most revered woman in history. Based on a literal Gospel vantage point, there is not all that much material in the Bible about her. We can read the Gospels to get to know her, but she seems to be a fairly normal, if somewhat more devout girl of her times.

Mary and the Angel

Living in the Real World

She was chosen for a mission that rearranged her life in the most uncomfortable ways possible—pregnant and possibly disgraced on the cusp of her nuptials, targeted by gossips and disapproving eyes, forced to go live with her cousin in the hill country…
Not everything was easy and glorious for Mary. Even years later, the Pharisees, arguing with Jesus about his paternity, sneered, “WE are not illegitimate children!” (John 8:41). Apparently, Mary’s predicament of being pregnant outside of marriage was public knowledge, and the story followed Jesus into adulthood.

It may be hard to see from this side of history, on this side of the veneration and adulation of Mary, but at one time she was a simple village girl from Nazareth who was visited by a messenger who had a word from God. She responded fearfully and a bit skeptically (you can read about it in Luke 1), but after weighing her options and resolving her questions, said to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

Closer to Home Than You Think

It strikes me that this answer probably contains pretty good clues about attitude for all of us when life throws us a curve ball. First, remember who God is and who we are. Mary calls herself “the Lord’s servant”, meaning that when she calls God, “Lord”, she means it. He is above her, and she is willing and ready to put him first, even in some crazy circumstances. If you think about it, this is a good attitude for us to have when life gives us unexpected difficulties.

Obviously, it helped Mary to have an angel deliver God’s Word, but we aren’t off the hook on that one, since we have the Word at our disposal 24/7. We can whine, “God didn’t give me a message!”—but maybe it’s been available to us all along and we just haven’t read it. Has God sent you a messenger lately? Are you listening?

The Answer All of us Could Give

Second, she is obedient to God. No protest, no argument. She asked a puzzled question about logistics, but that’s it. Mark Lowry sang and shared in our worship service, and humorously suggested that Mary might have asked Gabriel, “Do you think you might stop by my parents’ room on the way out and maybe let them know?”

But she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (I love the King James, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word.”) I’d suggest that if all of us took TODAY, and prayed this little prayer–“May your Word to me be fulfilled”– (and meant it), we’d have a different outlook, and a different kind of day. And if we did it EVERY day, we’d have a different kind of life. Mary certainly lived differently: not by magic, or even by angelic proclamation, but by her obedience and faith. This Christmas day, you are faced with the same opportunity Mary had. Those are the tools. Here is your day.

The Choice

Christmas is a happy time, so full of joy and giving!
It is a time of hope, reminding us that life’s worth living!
We all enjoy the lovely sights of mistletoe and Christmas lights,
And gathering with family to eat our Christmas-time delights.
We watch our favorite Christmas movie features on TV,
And marvel at the stack of presents underneath the tree!
But tell, me as you think of Christmas (maybe with some snow!),
And shop for presents dodging Christmas traffic as you go,
Would there be a Santa, would there be some mistletoe?
What would our world be like today if Mary had just said, “No”?

If Mary said no, this world would be a totally different place,
Without our Christmas giving, and with far less hope and grace.
If she said no, our world would hold more shame and more disgrace.
Well, what if YOU said “No” to God? What difference would there be?
What grace and hope would future generations fail to see?
Which priceless gifts would languish under history’s Christmas tree?
Mary changed the world by saying “Yes” to God’s request;
But what if God called all of us, and ALL of us said yes?
You know how God used Mary’s “yes”; I guess you know the rest…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Merit Doesn’t Save You and Mistakes Don’t Condemn You: Christmas News Worth Reading

This genealogy we’ve been following proves that the salvation brought by Jesus as the Messiah is not a Merit System…

Checkered Past

The fourth woman named in Matthew’s genealogy isn’t really ever named outright, but we know who she is. He says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” (Matt 1:6) Out of all the royal wives in Israel’s history, Bathsheba was always connected to Israel’s greatest king, and to the king’s greatest sin—and yet it was she who was chosen to carry the line of the Messiah. Based on her reputation, she doesn’t seem to merit inclusion into Christ’s genealogy. (After all, she motivated David to commit adultery and murder, didn’t she?)

Perhaps her name was so tarnished that Matthew couldn’t bring himself to say it. Perhaps, unlike a Ruth or a Rahab, she was unworthy somehow. (This is another one of those accurate details that a more polished narrative would have glossed over somehow. Unlike in today’s politics, the Bible keeps telling the truth when a lie would work so much better…) David had other sons by other wives, and yet Bathsheba’s son Solomon bore the royal lineage. Why did God choose her and him?

merit

More Than a Mere Victim

Two things: first, Bathsheba was more than just a pretty face. She was apparently a pretty shrewd player in palace politics. When Adonijah (not her son) proclaimed himself to be king, she risked her own life to present her case to the aged and infirm King David: “Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. “What is it you want?” the king asked. She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it.” (1 Kings 1:16-18 NIV)

Bathsheba brought in the powerful prophet Nathan as an ally, and David confirmed his oath to make Solomon King. Without her brazen resolve, who knows if Solomon would have gained the throne? Or lived another day? In the midst of dangerous and volatile circumstances, she asked the king to keep his promises. Perhaps that is something all of us should do… Next time you are in difficult circumstance, prostrate yourself before the King and ask for His promises! If you ask the right kind of king, I bet you get the right kind of response…

Is Salvation Based on Merit?

Second, I am kinda glad that someone who was connected to such terrible and far-reaching mistakes (David and Bathsheba aren’t the only ones in the genealogy who qualify, by the way) still made this list. It’s not a merit system. The Messiah does not judge you by your mistakes or even your merit. Smack in the middle of a legalistic and self-righteous world of religious intolerance, God brought a Messiah who saved people from sin, rather than merely condemning them for it.

If you have been less than perfect, if you have committed egregious errors, and even if your mistakes have had gut-wrenching and far-reaching consequences, take heart. Jesus understands that stuff because it’s all over the place in his family tree. And he said this: “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NIV) Good Christmas news for Bathsheba and David. Good news for Solomon. And very good news for us.

The Good News: God Can Use Sinners

A man of passion, power and might,
The jaded king would find the sight
Of a naked beauty he did not know
An utterly enticing show…
So David called Bathsheba in;
Temptation led to secret sin:
Clandestine meetings, broken trust
And finally, to murderous lust!
And yet these sins, and this disgrace
Did not prevent unfailing Grace,
Or let this evil undermine
The course of the Messiah’s line…
If you look through it, you can see
In Matthew’s genealogy
Imperfect folks like you and me.
From sinners, God made history!
From folks who knew of sin and shame,
The heavenly Messiah came!
Perfection, this Bathsheba missed:
But by God’s Grace, she made this list.
Though Matthew doesn’t say her name,
The world through her would never be the same.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Kinsman Redeemer was a Man Who Changed Ruth’s Life. He changed Yours, too, by the Way

Following the story of Ruth’s amazing loyalty to Naomi, there is a question I know you are asking yourself: how did a kinsman redeemer change history? (And if you are not asking that, then I’ll just ask it for both of us.)

A Sad Turn of Events

Ruth’s declaration of love and loyalty didn’t keep Naomi from feeling despair at first. She was still a widow, and she was still grieving over the loss of her sons. Everything in her life had changed, and even Ruth’s sweetness could not compensate for the fact she had lost everything. She told her friends that they should change her name to Mara (bitter), “because the almighty has made my life very bitter…” They returned to Bethlehem in time for the harvest, and Ruth went to work as a peasant in the fields of a man named Boaz.

kinsman

The Nearest Kinsman May not Always be the Best Option

When Ruth told Naomi that she had met Boaz, and that he had spoken kindly to her, Naomi said, “The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NIV) OT law stipulated that the nearest kinsman would offer to marry a brother’s widow and carry on his name, to offer redemption to relatives sold into slavery, and to avenge the killing of a relative.

You think there is drama in YOUR family? Imagine what types of unusual human interaction might have taken place under some of those circumstances! A brother-in-law might think his brother’s widow is too ugly to marry. Or, like Onan with Tamar, he might use her without fulfilling his obligation. Or an opportunistic redeemer might take advantage of those too helpless to avoid him (think: Evil Stepmother in Cinderella).

But a GOOD Kinsman…

But a good kinsman-redeemer offered hope, offered help to the helpless, and a chance to live a life changed by redemption. A kinsman-redeemer bought you back out of slavery or hopelessness and adopted you into his family. (Hmmm, just like the Messiah was going to do…) Ruth and Naomi were so destitute that Naomi encouraged Ruth to make herself vulnerable to Boaz, who could have taken advantage of her with relative impunity.

In this case, Boaz is a kind, godly man who respects Ruth and protects her reputation even when she follows Naomi’s advice. In an interesting cultural move, Ruth makes herself vulnerable by crawling into bed with the sleeping Boaz and warming his feet (which could have been interpreted as an act of service OR the actions of a loose woman). She took a risk that Boaz would not misuse or take advantage of her.

Blessings Follow Redemption

Not only does he treat her with respect but he goes on to observe all the requirements of the law with scrupulous honesty and transparency to the elders in the village, and he makes Ruth his wife in front of God and everybody. The Elders were prophetic when they said, “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth 4:12)

Sure enough, Ruth and Boaz’ son Obed was King David’s grandfather. Still very close to her mother-in-law, Ruth allowed Naomi to act as his nurse, giving her a family again. So what did the women of the village say about to Naomi about Ruth? The highest praise: “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you… is better to you than seven sons.” These two widows went from bitter circumstances to the comforting house of their kinsman-redeemer. Boaz’s kindness redeemed both Ruth and Naomi, and changed their lives forever. Through the line of David and down through Jesus, He also changed ours, too, by the way…

Ruthless is No Way to Live

A widow who was destitute was working in the field
Picking up the scraps after the workers took the yield.
The owner saw her beauty and integrity revealed,
And watched her do her job with admiration unconcealed.
He had to find out who she was as soon as he had seen her;
Some owners might abuse her, or they might just treat her meaner,
But he found out that he was nearest kinsman and redeemer;
He decided then that he would pay for and redeem her.

He spoke with all the village elders, and he made it known
That he would take this widow and reclaim her as his own.
He also said Naomi wouldn’t have to be alone,
Since he was taking both of them to live within his home.
Ruth and Boaz raised a son, and Obed was his name.
Obed had a boy named Jesse; then some Grandsons came.
David killed Goliath, and he rose to wealth and fame,
And through his life, the entire world has never been the same!
You may not be famous, but I know this is the truth:
The Lord may change the world through YOU, just like He did with Ruth.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread