But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
(Micah 5:2 NLT)
Last year, I was blessed to finally visit Israel, the land where Jesus was born, ministered and died. I toured many significant historical places…except one. I had made plans to visit the little town of Bethlehem the day prior to our departure, but our tour bus cancelled on us last minute. That same day we found out that God had kept us from going to protect us from political unrest.
This once insignificant town has now become a tourist attraction because the birth of the most important person in history took place there. A few years ago while listening to the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” I realized something important. When Jesus is born anew in our hearts today, He can give meaning to our insignificant lives, just as He did to that little town of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. So let Him in and celebrate.
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.”
(Matthew 2:1-2 NIV)
It’s that time of year when Christmas comes alive again. Beautiful Christmas decorations, heartwarming Christmas songs and captivating Christmas movies usher in that wonderful time of year. But sadly with every passing year, these things tend to become more of a tradition (and a distraction) than a celebration of the One important person this season is all about: Jesus. When the Magi from the east saw His star rise, they set out to find Him so they could worship Him. Historians and theologians tell us that it took the wise men up to two years to find Jesus after He was born and when they did, they presented Him with gifts and worshipped Him. The wise men allowed the celestial sign to lead them to the King rather than to distract them from Him. And after a long pursuit, they eventually found Him.
Today the quest continues. In the midst of the busyness and noise of the season, wise men and women try to find “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” Thankfully, He can still be found. If we follow the star of Bethlehem, it can help lead us back to the King of the Jews, so that we too may worship Him.
If you really think about it, the concept of death runs like a common thread throughout the birth narrative. A paradox, isn’t it? Mary could have been stoned for getting pregnant while unwed. Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus because he feared a competitor to the throne. And although he failed to kill the baby, he had other children killed instead. Simeon was ready to die once he had seen the Christ child. And we often forget that Jesus was born to die for us.
The birth of the Saviour in our lives will demand the death of something too – reputation, position, self, the world and most importantly, sin. When we die to sin, we begin to live for God. So the Christmas story isn’t just about a Saviour who was born to die for the world He created, but also a call to all the saved to take up their cross and follow Him.
When my brother was born (after six girls!), it truly was good news for our family and friends. After all, in the culture I come from, having a son is a big deal (I still think girls are just as awesome!). My brother has been loved and favoured since the day of his birth. He is special in many ways, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
So I can imagine the joy of all the earth when God’s only Son, Jesus, was born. His birth had been foretold and anticipated for many centuries. We can hear the excitement in Isaiah’s voice as he announces the arrival of God’s Son, the Redeemer, in today’s passage. Jesus has been loved and favoured since that first Christmas by all who have been waiting for His arrival. He holds a special place in the hearts of all those who seek Him. And while I don’t favour a particular gender, the Christmas story is the only exception where I’m glad it’s a boy.
“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
We all long for peace – peace with God, others and ourselves. Lest we think we’re the only ones, let’s recap to 2,000 years ago when the Jews living under Roman rule prayed for the promised Deliverer Who would be called the Prince of Peace. When Jesus was born, the angels announced the arrival of this Prince:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord…Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-11, 13-14)
The Baby whose birth we’re celebrating is no other than the Prince of Peace. In a world where we’re still searching for what will bring us peace, we need to look no further: “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v.12). Our peace is found in Jesus. When we seek Him, we’ll find the greatest gift we could ever ask for – His Peace. Praying that this CHRISTmas, you will unwrap His gift of Peace to help you rise above the unrest.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – Jesus (John 14:27)
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
(John 10:10 MSG)
In Hallmark’s A Dream of Christmas (yes, I’m already watching Christmas movies and no, it’s never too early to start), Penny, a restless married woman, wishes that she was never married. Her wish is granted by an angel, but Penny wakes up only to discover that she’s not as happy as she thought she would be. She is eventually reunited to her husband after learning to appreciate the life that she had with him. In an interview, Nikki DeLoach, who plays Penny, had the following to say about the movie, “It reminds us that the life that we actually have is worth loving and worth living.”
A Dream of Christmas reminds me of the countless Pennys that I know; people who wish their lives could have been different. The single who wish they were married, the married who wish they were single, the childless who wish they had children and vice versa. I’m thankful that I’ve learned to enjoy my life with all of its ups and downs because I agree with Nikki, ‘the life that we actually have is worth loving and worth living.’ After all, isn’t this why Jesus came, so we can have “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10)? Don’t spend another day wishing that your life was different. Learn to appreciate and embrace the life that you have now before it’s gone.
“You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”-Unknown
Is it possible that a tiny baby can touch and change lives? Babies have an amazing way of bringing people together. When Lucas and Santino were born, we started to hear from relatives who had not spoken to us in years. They said they wanted to come and visit. There was more warmth in their voice. It was as if we had never grown apart. Our families were reunited again, thanks to the twins’ birth.
And this is what comes to mind when I think about that first Christmas. How the birth of God’s Son, Jesus, brought an alienated humanity back to God. We have a reason to talk to God again and not feel estranged. He is just delighted to hear from us. We can approach Him freely because of Jesus. He is the miracle baby that made us part of the family of God. As we journey together to Christmas, let’s be thankful for the miracle that changed everything.
Some time later King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite over all the other nobles, making him the most powerful official in the empire.
(Esther 3:1 NLT)
Even though the previous chapter ends with Mordecai saving the king’s life and his deed being noted in the king’s records, the next chapter begins with the king rewarding Haman, the antagonist in the story, although the cause for the promotion isn’t clear. I’m sure that we can all relate to Mordecai. It seems like when we do the right thing, we’re not acknowledged for it, while someone else gets the credit for no apparent reason. However, there comes a time when we’re eventually recognized and rewarded for what we’ve done. This was the case with Mordecai. In the end, the king reviewed his records and honoured Mordecai for saving his life. God always keeps track of His records and rewards those who do right.
In due time, our righteousness is recognized and rewarded.
“If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
(Esther 4:14 NLT)
It has often been noted that the book of Esther omits any direct references to God, while still hinting at His involvement in the narrative. The exclusion of any direct references to God in the narrative is much like what has happened today. While not many believers can openly speak of their faith in God, their actions and words still allude to Him, which eventually become apparent to those watching. That’s because somehow God always leaves a trace of Himself so that we’re capable of finding Him. Therefore, society’s attempts to leave Him out are futile. So take courage knowing that God can still use your life to point others to Him, even though you may not necessarily be able to mention His name.
God is always at work, even when we can’t see Him.
Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
(Numbers 11:28-29 NIV)
When Moses, who had assumed full leadership of the Israelites for years, began to complain that the burden was becoming too heavy for him to bear, the Lord “took some of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on [the seventy elders]” (Numbers 11:25). That way, the seventy men shared Moses’ responsibility. Jealous for his master’s leadership, however, Joshua told Moses to stop them. I love Moses’ response. He said to his assistant, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Moses wasn’t afraid to share the responsibilities of the ministry with others. Don’t attempt to handle everything on your own. Share the task with others. One person can’t tackle everything.
Don’t assume responsibility for everything. Share it.