Category Archives: Christmas

Leaving the Manger: Being Jesus

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.”

2 Corinthians 4:11, “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Christmas is past for another year. Disappointment, regret, sadness, relief, stress, concern… these are just a few of the realities we deal with now that the holidays are gone. More than anything, however, I hope you can step into this new year with purpose.

The God of the universe stepped into our broken world “that all might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” A quick assessment of His life reminds us that Jesus was one of a kind! This humble king profoundly affected lives wherever He went. He treasured people of all sorts and loved them as they were.

Like the outcast adulterous woman he met at a community watering hole one day. Breaking the strict norms of culture, Jesus engaged this woman in a life-changing conversation. The compelling factor in all of this, however, was that He talked with her at all! Yet, in this very act He esteemed her highly and brought a whole new level of value and dignity to her life.

Like the banished lepers of Israel whose lives had deteriorated into a mode of survival, despair, loneliness, and meaninglessness. These disease-stricken castaways were excommunicated from any normal contact with people. The lepers would often form a small community together where they would grieve their condition together and help one another in their new business of begging for food. When entering the public venues of the day, a leper was required to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” This was done so the people could remove themselves to a safe distance from the leper’s course of travel. But Jesus broke the norms with them too! Scripture records in numerous places that “He stretched out His hand and touched” them (Matthew 8:3) and brought healing to their lives. In fact one, Simon the Leper, hosted a meal for Jesus and His disciples. Jesus cared for, dined with, and loved people who no one else desired in the least.

Like the two blind men on the road to Jericho. As they called out from the crowd to gain Jesus’ attention, all those around them sternly told them to shut their mouths! In this culture, blind people were a nuisance. They were sentenced to begging on the public streets for survival. The land was filled with these pesky good-for-nothings. But Jesus saw them as precious children of God. When He heard them calling, He was gripped by their condition. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion”. He walked to them, talked with them, and touched them. He healed these two beggars and they became followers of Jesus.

The list could be very long…. The demon-possessed, the traitor tax-collectors, the oppressed women of the day, and at times, even the haughty Pharisees were all recipients of Jesus’ liberal unreserved goodness lavished upon those who needed it most.

Jesus’ arrival at Christmas was all about purpose. Hundreds of years before the Savior’s arrival, the prophet, Isaiah, expressed what this Promised One would be like. In the verses above we read a synopsis of what characterized this amazing Messiah—His Spirit-driven compassion would primarily extend to the afflicted, brokenhearted, and the captives. Yes—Jesus would focus primarily on those that everyone else generally forgets!

Maybe that’s why He arrived as a nobody. Maybe that’s why He came with no advantage over anyone…born into an impoverished family, exiled as an alien in Egypt, fleeing the rage of a mad dictator, homeless, needy, unassuming.

Guess what? You’re called to be Jesus! That’s why He invited you to come to the manger…

2 Corinthians 4:11 makes it quite clear that Jesus wants to live His life through us. Now get this:

  • The plan is not for us to live our lives and then add a dash of Jesus to it.
  • The plan is not for us to act like Jesus.
  • The plan is not to try really hard to do what Jesus did.

The plan is for Jesus to actually and miraculously live His life through our mortal flesh!

This is only possible when we die. The plan is for us to die to ourselves so that Jesus can live His life through us. That’s also what Romans 12:1-2 emphasize when it states that we are to become “a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service of worship.” Jesus wants to be right here in our world, in our workplace, in our health club, in our home…through you!

You can never achieve Jesus-status. You will never muster up the resolve or discipline to become Jesus on your own merit. This intended reality for you is only possible through a miracle from God. Our Father in Heaven longs for you to live the life of His son, Jesus, through you. He alone can make it happen as you offer yourself to die. In other words, you sacrifice yourself so Jesus can live through your arms, hands, feet, voice, motives, thoughts—every little nuance of who you are.

And you have to die daily. Jesus made that pretty clear in Luke 9:23-24.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

By the way, when someone picked up their cross in Jesus’ day, it meant only one thing–they were going to die.

Christmas is over. It’s time to Leave the Manger–to step back into our world for all of the right reasons. This Child-King we have worshiped is calling us to give something back. Our very lives! And when we do, we will find life in a way we never imagined. We too will start doing things that we never thought possible. It won’t be us…it will be the Christ incarnated through our flesh!

That’s an adventure I hope none of us will miss.

ACTION: Take a moment to talk with God about dying to self and letting Jesus live His life through you.

Leaving the Manger: Listening Closely

Matthew 2:11-12 11 And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.

I deeply admire the magi. Some day, when I walk through those pearly gates, I’m looking up those men who trekked their way across hill and vale to worship Jesus. I plan on asking them a few questions that will hopefully assuage my curiosity:

  • How did that star tell you that a savior was born?
  • How difficult was it for you to decide to go?
  • What did you feel the instant you saw Jesus?
  • How is it that you were still listening after you had accomplished your objective?

That last question is the one I would like us to consider for a moment. The above scripture provides some intriguing information: “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.”

On their passage through Jerusalem, the magi seemed nearly naive as they questioned King Herod about the Savior’s birth-place. In their pursuit of finding the messiah, they overlooked the political dynamics of another king dropping into the region. Without question, Herod, King of Judah, had no intention of allowing a proclaimed King of the Jews to remain unchallenged. No chances taken…no regrets possible. That was Herod’s philosophy. This prophesied child was simply a threat to undo.

After finding and worshiping Jesus, the magi receive a warning from God by means of a dream. “Go home another way,” they were instructed. They heard, they listened, they obeyed.

How natural it would have been for them to let their guard down. They had searched for months (maybe years) to get to this spot and do what they did. Mission accomplished, right? They had achieved their objective. The job was done. It was now time to go back home and fit back into normal again.

Not a chance! This passage helps us see that when the magi found and worshiped Jesus, they found their mission! Whether they realized it before or not, they now stood at the starting line of a new race. They had witnessed something that would feed their souls forever. They had been privy to something so big they could never live life the same again. The magi had come so far and given so much, but when they looked God in the face—when they saw what He had done and grasped what He came to do, their own sacrifice and effort seemed silly. Their mission had just begun!

After meeting Jesus, the magi were infused with a completely new resolve. Vigilant to do their part, careful to not miss a step, their spiritual ears were keen on hearing the often subtle whispers of God. But God didn’t speak in a whisper. He spoke through a dream! How easy to dismiss it. No—God didn’t speak through dreams then any more than He does now. The fact is, when God spoke, they took heed and followed the command.

They were spiritually engaged.

They were eager to hear God’s direction.

By the way, here’s a little something to ponder. Each of us owns a natural pathway by which we best experience God. Some may find Him primarily through serving others, while another person finds Him by being an activist…fighting for justice on behalf of others. One individual experiences God through celebrative worship, but another primarily through intellectual discovery…another through relationships. The magi may have had the natural pathway of finding God in nature (through the heavens and astronomical movements of space). After-all, this is what first grabbed their attention so decisively that they put life-as-normal on hold to follow their hearts. Yet, in this passage, they also hear God through a contemplative means—they meet God in a dream! I’m guessing this may not have been their natural means of connecting with God, but their awakened spiritual passion, hunger for truth, readiness to serve, and intense vigilance in seeking God enabled them to hear.

Maybe God is whispering your name, but you’re not listening. Maybe He is speaking in a way you’re not expecting. As a result, it will be easy for you to dismiss the voice of God and miss this essential divine leading of the Almighty.

So—here we are at the threshold of a new year. Twelve months stand before us…365 days of opportunity, 4380 hours to get it right. Every day God speaks. Are you listening? Are you spiritually engaged? Are you eager to hear God’s voice and heed His direction for your life? Are you intent on following His directives? Are you really listening?

It’s time to re-enter your world and it’s mostly filled with normal. Who wants that? Sometimes there are even Herods out there. But that’s OK…if we’re really listening. God has a plan that He wants you to follow. But there’s only one way to get in on it. Listen well…

ACTION: Identify a couple things you hear God telling you right now.

Now, as a first-step of obedience, decide how you will follow God in each of the areas He is speaking to you about right now.

Leaving the Manger: Power to Change

Luke 2:16-20 16 And the shepherds came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

The shepherds were the first guests to see the Incarnation. God’s angelic declaration—His spontaneous invitation provided them a front seat in this marvelous adventure of Immanuel invading our world. These simple men were masters at caring for sheep, but most likely lacked in their interactions with people. Their occupation sentenced them to long hours and endless days of isolation on the hills of Palestine. Their commitment to feeding, watering and protecting the sheep left little time for them to connect with people. Chances are, this was just fine with them. These shepherds tended to be introverted rather than extroverted anyway. They would prefer a peach in the pasture over pralines in a palace any day! Isolation was just fine with them.

Everything changed for these shepherds. God intervened! As scripture states, “They came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph and the baby as he lay in the manger.” They saw Jesus. They worshiped Jesus. They would never be the same.

These quiet types could no-longer keep quiet! As scripture states, “And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child,” (verse 17). Those whose lives were lived for the safety of the sheep now lived to proclaim the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The shepherds had met the Great Shepherd. They would never be the same.

This is what happens when we meet God. Things will change if we have really come to the manger and encountered Deity. We leave different when we have gazed into the face of God.

Not so sure about that? Let’s take stock for a moment.

  • Remember Moses? When he stood in the presence of God, he was so radically changed that people couldn’t even look him in the face! His transformation was so profound that it required him to wear a veil in the presence of the people to minimize the glory of God reflected in his countenance.
  • Isaiah was transported into the very throne-room of Majesty. This glorious vision blew his mind, but also revealed his sin. With intense awareness of his “unclean lips”, he stood before the purity of God’s holiness. When the Almighty took notice of Isaiah by having an angel purify his lips with a burning coal, he was radically transformed. Subsequently, when God asked for someone to go as His representative, Isaiah surprised even himself at his ready declaration, “Here am I! Send me!” He volunteered to do something that moments before he could not have imagined. God had worked His miracle on an ordinary man now turned prophet.

In actuality, the transformation within the shepherds is just another in a long list of God seekers. The creator of the universe loves to make Himself reachable to every one of us. When we seek Him and when we find Him, we become profoundly affected, truly impacted, and radically changed. Maybe, just maybe we will have something so big within us that we cannot keep it in. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, a fresh view of Truth may grip us so strongly that we cannot hide it for ourselves.

There’s one other statement to notice about the shepherds. They “went back glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, just as had been told them,” (verse 20). Contained in this verse are several important insights:

  • They went back! Yes—they returned to their sheep. My guess, though, is that they never performed their same job quite the same. The shepherds had met the Great Shepherd. Those who had raised sacrificial lambs for the temple had met the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. These simple men embraced their old task with new meaning. Yes—they went back, but they returned to their same task with a completely different orientation. They had met God!
  • They returned “glorifying and praising God.” What a difference an encounter with God can make! This was supposed to be a night like any other. The Shepherds had no plans but to guard their sheep in the dark of night and begin another normal day as dawn arrived. But by the time morning arrived, we witness some holy rollers. We see a handful of shepherds who are pumped-up and righteous. These sheep herders were filled and overflowing with a startling awareness of God’s amazing grace. The Great Lover of their souls came all the way from Heaven to meet them here! They couldn’t help but glorify and praise God for who they had found Him to be!
  • They were gripped by the truth of God’s declaration. As scripture clearly states, they were worshiping God “for all they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” You see, they were amazed that God had proved Himself! He not only spoke it, but He did it! By the way, this is one thing you can always count on from God. He will back up His word every time. When this fact grips us completely, like it did the shepherds that first Christmas, we will stand in awe and bow in worship.

So here’s the question: Have you met Jesus this Christmas? Have you been changed? I know—it’s not all about mountain-top experiences. We should never depend on big moments or miraculous interventions. But also remember that God never intended our relationship with Him to predictable, mundane, or stale. Walking with God is intended to be invigorating, life-giving, and life-changing. Don’t try to justify some mediocre life-style by reasoning away your non-experiences with God. Trust me…God wants you to meet Him and then walk away with chills in your spine and goose-bumps on your back. Even more so, He wants you to walk back into your world so filled with the truth about God that you cannot keep silent.

ACTION: Have you met God recently in such a way that you have been changed? If so, write down your thoughts of gratitude for what He has done for you.

If not, tell God how much you want that encounter…and what you want Him to do in your life. Then commit to praying for this every day until you see it happen.

Leaving the Manger: Go Back!

Luke 2:20 And the shepherds went back…

Matthew 2:12 The magi…departed for their own country by another way.

How nice to stand in the presence of God, yet we come in order to go. It’s life-changing to come to the manger, but the world awaits our return.

The shepherds were the first outsiders to witness the holy birth. How kind of God to invite these common hard-working folks to stand in the Savior’s birthplace and take in the shocking scene. There they stood in the presence of God. Their wildest imaginations could have never conceived such a moment. But here they were, chosen by God to come and stand in the presence of the Creator in a cradle.

And then…it was time to go back. Yes—the sheep were still in the pasture. The reality of life goes on. Animals needed to be protected, lambs cared for, the flock must be fed. Responsibility calls. So—as scripture clarifies, “the shepherds went back.”

It may seem like a silly question, but why couldn’t they stay? If God invited them…and God could watch the sheep—or find someone else to herd them…or keep the wolves away…or bring the sheep to them…or if God could do something completely new and different that God had never done with sheep before, why couldn’t the shepherds just stay in the presence of Jesus?

Because we come in order to go.

How about the magi? They traveled thousands of miles and gave months of their lives to arrive in this place to worship Jesus. They gave so much…why couldn’t they just stay here in the presence of God-With-Us? That’s the least God could do, right? Just imagine how exhilarating it must have been for these travelers to see the star over Bethlehem. They scurried into the village to find this Promised One–the object of the heavenly sign. In fact, the Bible tells us that even before these magi saw Jesus, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10) when the star stationed itself over the place where Jesus rested. Imagine the spiritual high of breathing in this Divine Presence! Try to comprehend the awe and wonder of these men who found what they had looked for and sacrificed for and longed for all these months! Consider the pure pleasure of worshiping the God-child as they embraced the truth that this was God in the flesh just as Yahweh had promised in the scrolls of scripture! What was so important that these visitors needed to return to place of their origin? Why couldn’t the magi stay in the presence of Jesus?

Because we come in order to go.

Sort of like the shepherds and the magi, we too are invited to meet with God. No—it’s not quite as unique, mind-boggling and gripping as that first Christmas, but it is just as real. The invitation is open to every one of us every day at every moment. God wants us to have these God-encounters that change us forever. This is not a nice-sounding theoretical dream based on wishful thinking. God longs to intersect his righteousness with our reality. He awaits our arrival of readiness in order to receive His fullness of blessing. He wants to pour His presence into our souls and then…send us out.

Because we come in order to go.

Sundays are generally the time when Christians gather together. But Saturdays or any other day of the week is perfectly acceptable too. The important thing is that we come. And that we come to give our worship. That we come with a realness to our arrival rather than a routine to wrap-up. The New Testament declares the value of our togetherness:

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

The admonition? Get together on a regular basis as fellow believers. And we could say, “To meet God!” After all, if we don’t meet God when we offer our worship together, we have missed the Object of it all.

Why get together? To encourage one another to go out and do “love and good deeds.” We are to be the presence of Jesus in our world. Incarnate Christ. Bring the presence of God.

Because we come in order to go.

Don’t fall back into some carnal rut of “worshiping” just for yourself. Don’t return to the cursed place of self-infatuation…simply getting what you want for your own benefit. Don’t “do church” because you’re looking for whatever it is you want out of it. This is completely sinful. We are never invited to come only to get. We’re invited to come and get so we can go and give.

And let’s be clear–corporate worship is not the only place–nor even the primary place–that God wants to meet us. He longs to engage us anywhere–even under the stars or on a grassy hillside littered with sheep.

Here’s the truth of the matter: If we don’t meet God, we don’t have much to give. If we meet God, we cannot keep it for ourselves.

Are you ready to turn around and go back into your place of influence? Are you ready to infect others with the reality of God? Do you really understand that you come in order to go?

ACTION: Write down your thoughts about being a vehicle of God’s presence in our world every day in this coming year.

Now–ask God for His Holy Spirit power to help you be just that.

Come to the Manger: A Heart of Worship

Matthew 2:1-2

2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”

Come to the manger. Make sure that in this Christmas season you meet Jesus. I am ashamed to say that many Christmases have passed me by in the past in which I have totally missed the Christ. The stresses of the season, the financial strain of gift-giving, the hectic pace of party after party, and the commercialism of the holidays had squeezed Jesus into unnoticed corners in my life. For a number of years, I dreaded Christmas. I was caught up in all the things we have made it and totally missed what God had made it. Yes—I even preached the sermons, offered nice pious-sounding sound-bites, attended worship services and Christmas programs, read Luke 2 and prayed my prayers. Yet there was something amiss in my soul. Calluses maybe? Inoculation? A rut I couldn’t get out of? I’m not even sure, but there was an orientation in my life that left Jesus out of the equation. What a pity!

Consider the magi. Pretty incredible! They were thousands of miles from Bethlehem. Most likely, they had never read an Old Testament scroll. Their devotion to the Creator God was real, but very different from anything the Middle East had ever seen. Yet, here they are on that first Christmas making the long trek to Bethlehem! They traveled so far, sacrificed so much, embraced risk, overlooked personal reputation, all to search for the King of the Jews. He was not even of their race or culture! His coming was made apparent by a star in the night sky!

These magi were astronomers. I find it fascinating that God spoke to them “in their language”. He knew their hearts and communicated in a way they could understand. Bottom line—these God seekers were sensitive, receptive, and bold. When they saw the message from God, they packed up and headed out.

Notice what they traveled that long distance for? To worship the Savior! I’m guessing that when they finally arrived at the place where Jesus was, they bowed in holy awe of the Gift and worshiped like never before. They had invested so much to come to where Jesus was.

There is a great principle here. Real worship often exacts a high price. We sometimes think that worship is a casual experience…something where we’re supposed to get something from God. Wrong! Worship is all about giving something to God. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were not even the greatest gifts they gave to Jesus. The fact that they had given so much of themselves is what mattered most. Oh! How they honored Jesus by coming so far with the pure motives of worship in their hearts!

In contrast, we sometimes pull ourselves out of bed on Sunday morning thinking it would be nice to stay home and attend Cover Covenant with Pastor Pillow. Or we dutifully attend our church service thinking “they better not have this song or that…or I sure hope the pastor has a message worth listening to today.” When worship becomes casual, self-centered, and non-sacrificial we have moved into the wilderness of despair. We will never enter the presence of God with a mind and heart-set like that. The magi present a tremendous model. Do whatever it takes to find Jesus. Go to whatever lengths it takes to offer something to God. Give something up to offer authentic praise to the Giver of all good gifts. Real worship often exacts a high price.

Don’t even think of coming to the manger if your intention is not worship. You cannot come to Jesus to get something, but rather, to offer something there. And yes, it is in giving that we receive. You will always get more than you give if you come to truly give rather than receive.

Want to come to the manger? Would you like to look into the face of God? Do you desire a holy moment of awe and wonder this season? Would you like to be changed forever? Come to the manger…

ACTION: Look over your written prayers and action points over this past week. Pick out one or two that you know will make all the difference for you. Write them down here…and then offer a written commitment to God about what you will do with these in order to come to the manger this Christmas.

Come to the Manger: Passion and Attentiveness

Luke 2:22-25, 36-38

22 …They brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

I feel so privileged to be a pastor. I have seen the hand of God in such powerful ways through the years. Like the small infant so weak from a heart defect that doctors could do nothing. A prayer for healing and anointing with oil unleashed the unlimited power of God in this baby’s life. She’s now a married mom living for Jesus. Or the carousing, womanizing drinker who prayed to accept Jesus as his savior and Lord…and is experiencing a radical transformation in his life to this day. Or the demonized woman whose satanic power was frightening…who experienced the greater freeing power of Jesus Christ. I could go on and on. It has been such an honor to serve the Lord and His people. I have been in the privileged place to see these things happen.

Anna, the prophetess, was in the place to see God too. She was 84 years old, which was ancient in those days when the average life-span was maybe half that age. She lived her life in the temple serving God and serving people. She was a godly woman, living out her faith in the way she could—through prayers and fastings. The nature of what she did with her life indicates a tremendous passion. You do not fast with a casual orientation. You do not serve “night and day” with a mediocre commitment. For close to sixty years she consistently served in the temple. With out a doubt, she saw many God-things in that period of time. But the greatest of all was what happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

Can you imagine the overwhelming sense of gratitude this woman experienced in that moment? Verse 38 states that “at that very moment she began giving thanks.” Just think about it—this woman served God faithfully for all these years…the God she could not see, touch, hear, or smell. She walked by faith and not by sight. But now, held in arms before her, was God as an infant! The creator of the universe lay helpless and vulnerable in her presence. The same God who met Moses on the mountain, who made the walls of Jericho fall, who demanded holiness of the priest to enter the holy of holies where He resided is now cooing and drooling before her. Talk about surreal! This godly woman did not reason it away, however. She knew God good enough to understand that He can do what He wants…and often does His thing in ways we least expect. Here, in rare form, is the visitation of God. Anna met Jesus.

I love what verse 38 states: “and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” This old godly woman was re-energized! She had seen God! After looking into the face of the God-child, she could not keep silent. As godly and passionate as she was before, it was even more so now! She talked about the visitation of God to everyone who would listen…especially to those who were looking for the Redeemer.

When we meet Jesus, we are re-energized. Our passion gets ratcheted up, our purpose is clear, our mission consuming.

Would you like to meet Jesus this Christmas? I mean really meet Him? Beyond all the familiar stories, traditions, church services, Christmas chatter, and personal routines, Jesus longs to meet you in a new, powerful, and personal way. Anna reminds us that it pays to be passionate and attentive to God’s work and presence. She didn’t miss Jesus…and neither will you if you truly long to find Him.

ACTION: What specific actions will you take this Christmas season to be in the proper position to meet Jesus? This may be a spiritual position, a particular place and time, or an attitudinal position. Make your list and commit it to the Lord.

Come to the Manger: Tuned in to God

Luke 2:25-35 25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God…

When I read this account of Simeon, I am humbled. The picture here is that of a very old man. In fact, it appears that God has extended his life longer than most of his peers since he had such a desire to see the long-awaited Messiah. This man is in tune with God!

  • He is righteous. He was in a right standing with God. There was nothing between them.
  • He is devout. The Greek word here is “eulabees” meaning intentional in keeping every sacred requirement. In other words, Simeon was religious for all the right reasons!
  • He is alert. The picture here is of someone looking intently but with patience for a person they love to arrive. Have you ever stood at the airport with excitement in your chest, adrenaline surging through your body, and eyes vigilant looking for someone you can hardly wait to see? This is the picture of Simeon waiting for the arrival of the promised Christ.
  • He is Holy Spirit controlled. He was a living representation of God in his world. When people met Simeon they knew there was something different and supernatural about Him. God was living in and through Him in extraordinary ways.

When I reflect on the nature of Simeon, I am reminded of how radical our faith should be. Here was a man whose entire life was bent on seeing Jesus! It’s what He lived for every day! As a result, God blessed Him greatly for it…and fulfilled His desire.

Are you bent on seeing Jesus? I must admit, with regret, that I am often taken up by the temporal things of our world so that I overlook the essential things of God. How easy to drift through life like a ship without a rudder not knowing where we are headed. How normal to be focused on the things we can see, hear, touch, and smell while we overlook the mystical and divine. What a tragedy to be so earth-bound that we overlook heaven’s gifts.

Simeon was in tune with God. He was careful to hear the Heavenly Father’s gentle promptings. Even though there were many in that temple the day Jesus arrived for His ceremonial circumcision, Simeon and Anna were the only ones on record who recognized Jesus as the Christ. Simeon was in tune with God.

So—Christmas is coming. We can get so caught up in the temporal things of Christmas that we actually overlook Jesus. I’m ashamed of how many Christmases I have sighed with relief when it was over. I failed to meet Jesus in those seasons because my focus was wrong, I failed to seek Jesus. I was not in tune with God at all. The stresses of the season squeezed out any interaction with the Christ-child.

Do you want to come to the manger this Christmas? Would you like to gaze into the face of the Christ-child? Do you long for that experience of wonder more than any other like Simeon? Then choose to take that journey. Whatever it takes, choose to take that journey…

ACTION: Write out a brief but honest prayer to God about how much you want to meet Jesus this Christmas.

Come to the Manger: Issues of Character

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, 25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Though this section of scripture is brief, it speaks volumes about Joseph. This common man could have very easily missed Jesus at Christmas…the Holy One’s birth did not depend upon him at all. Certain things are revealed about Joseph, however, that make it clear why he ends up coming to the manger on that very first Christmas.

  • He was man of great character (verse 19). Neither anger nor selfish revenge moved Joseph at all. Though his shock concerning Mary’s condition must have been great, his disappointment acute, and his disillusionment significant, he treats Mary with dignity.
  • He was ready to receive a word from the Lord (verse 20). We may think now that God speaking through dreams was common, but not really. Here are the facts: Joseph was ready to hear a radical word from God…and then take action to embrace it.
  • He practiced complete obedience (verse24). Joseph didn’t hesitate one moment. The morning after his divine dream, Joseph took the necessary steps to take Mary to be his wife. Yes…this crazy message that could easily be dismissed was embraced by a true faith-filled follower.
  • He was a man of integrity (verse 25). He kept her a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus in order that the scriptures would be fulfilled, “A virgin will give birth…” In the most private arena of life, Joseph honored God.

As I consider Joseph, I am gripped by His character. This, of course, is not something that is developed in a day, month, or year. It is a life-time quest of seeking God in all things at all times. Joseph was ready to listen, learn, adapt, obey, and sacrifice in order to come to the manger that first Christmas.

Are only those like Joseph invited to come? No—not at all! The wonderful message of Christmas is that this child born in a barn beckons everyone to come. But here’s the truth of the matter: Most people miss Jesus because they are not prepared to come. They fail to hear God’s invitation, are unwilling to change, are stuck in their own plans for their lives, or are unwilling to do whatever it takes to come. If we miss the directives of God, we may miss Jesus. If we are unteachable, thinking we know pretty much everything we need to know, we have precluded our opportunity to come. If we are unwilling to sacrifice or make radical changes to come to Jesus, we will never get there. If we want to live life our way rather than God’s way, we will never travel that journey to the manger.

What an amazing example Joseph is for all of us. Because he was a man of character, he found himself hovering over the innocent and glorious face of Immanuel. If Joseph would visit us today, He would tell us that every sacrifice was worth the experience of gazing into the face of God.

ACTION: What character flaw may keep you from making your journey to the manger this Christmas? Be honest…  Right now, write down a commitment you want to make to God about this weakness in your character.

Come to the Manger: Bold Faith

Luke 1:26-28, 35-38

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. 36 “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Why did God choose Mary? The answer is found in the verses above…

First, Mary was favored (verse 28). The Greek word for “favored one” is the word charis. At its root, it means grace…the idea of an undeserved favor or kindness extended to someone without them earning it. This was happening because God chose to be good to Mary, not because she reached some level of spirituality never attained before. God was simply showing favor to Mary.

I’m guessing it didn’t feel much like a favor at first. Imagine the quandary she was in—pregnant outside of marriage in a culture where this is punishable by stoning. Think of how perceptions of Mary changed when it was no-longer possible to hide the bulging tummy. What cruel assaults on her character were thrust unjustly at this one chosen by God? Still, the angel calls her the “favored one” because there is no greater honor than to be chosen by God to serve…no greater service than to bear the very child of God in the womb. Though life would be hard and the days ahead tentative, what incredible meaning Mary’s life would hold because God chose her for this once-ever task.

Second, Mary was a bondslave by her own confession (verse 38). This word in the original text is the word doule meaning a female slave. The King James Version translates this word “handmaid”. Mary was ready to do whatever Almighty God asked her to do. She did not see her life as her own. Because she realized that God owned her, she lived that way every day. She was willing to do what very few women were available to do. This Mary was ready to take abuse, be misunderstood, suffer hardship, accept a completely different course in life, to bear deity in the womb, and parent Immanuel (God among us)! And this decision was made in a brief encounter with an angel sent from Heaven! How could she do this? She was able because this was her modus operandi all the time. She always lived as a slave, recognizing that her life could be lived for a higher purpose and a greater call than she could ever imagine on her own.

Take note of something else. Mary had no idea how all of this would happen or turn out. She didn’t know if Joseph would reject her, if the community would stone her, what deity in the womb would feel like, or how she would raise and provide for this child. She only knew that God wanted her to do this…and He would guide her one step at a time.

We often want to know every detail, the cost required, the changes that will follow, and the end result of following before we ever take a first step. But almost always, God invites us to a journey without showing us many of the details. He just says, “Come”. He calls us to a journey of trusting Him every step of the way. Around each corner, beyond every hill, through every valley He calls us to take the next step—to follow through on the next leg of this faith experience.

As we celebrate God becoming man, Jehovah again invites us to come. Come to the manger and see Jesus. He came all the way from glory to enter a simple unassuming place so that all can come. But don’t kid yourself…it is a journey of faith. Once you gaze into the manger and see the face of Jesus, you will never be the same—not if you really see Him. We don’t know how we will be changed nor what will be required as a result of this encounter. Still, God calls us to come.

ACTION: What is the number one thing that is holding you back from following after God without reservation? Write it down.

Now—tell God about this…

Come to the Manger: Actions of Obedience

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Luke 1:5-7

Zacharias and Elizabeth became the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. “Prepare the way for the Lord!” he declared in later years. But it was only by God’s grace that John was ever born. It is an amazing thing that Zacharias and Elizabeth ever became a part of the Christmas story. Scripture tells us that these two simple but godly people positioned themselves to be a part of God’s most amazing plan for all of human history. “They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord,” the Word reveals. God is giving us important insight into why they were involved in the incarnation of the Son of God.

Would you like to position yourself for God’s involvement in your life this Christmas? You can. Zacharias and Elizabeth were “righteous” by “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” The key presented here is obedience. Even though, for this ancient couple, obedience meant adhering to so many details of the Old Testament law, verse six emphasizes that they were “righteous in the sight of God.” Theirs was not only an outward obedience (which is what the Pharisees had), but a purity and holiness of the inner person. Their outward behavior was a direct result of their inner selves. And God saw it. And God responded with abundant grace.

Our natural tendency is to want what God offers at a clearance price. We’re often unwilling to do what it takes to position ourselves for God’s involvement in our lives. We can drift through life hoping that every so often we hit the jackpot of God’s blessing upon us. Yes—God’s grace is undeserved. No—we cannot earn it or buy it. But God’s involvement in our lives almost always is found in the position of obedience and sincere authenticity before God. He sees the heart. He longs to extend His blessing and favor upon you. It’s just that so many of us are busy walking our path that we fail get in on God’s plans.

Zacharias and Elizabeth were not perfect…and God doesn’t require that of you either. But what does grab His attention is a heart for Him coupled with actions of obedience. These things will never be yours by accident. Have you chosen to let Him give you a new heart…over and over and over again? Is there an arena in your life where God is not welcome…a secret place that is all yours because you have never allowed God to step in to clean it out? Is there something risky, radical, or difficult that God is urging you to do, but you have reasoned it away? These are your issues of obedience.

This Christmas, God invites you to come to the manger. He wants you to experience His here-and-now presence in a life-transforming way. Are you in position to receive what He has for you? Are you in a position to come to the manger?

ACTION: Be bold as you consider what one or two actions you must take, with God’s help, to be obedient to God’s voice. Write them down if you can… 

Now pray to offer these to God. Also, ask Him to show you the way to the manger this Christmas.