Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas Story

 The greatest story is best told directly from the Spirit of God himself. This is as it was recorded by Matthew:


The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. 


The Visit of the Magi

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' " 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 


The Escape to Egypt

13 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." 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 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." 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."


The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 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." 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 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, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

 Thanks be to God!

                  Merry Christmas!

                                   In His Peace - 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Journey to Bethlehem

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 his 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Imagine you are a young teenage girl, heavily pregnant with your first child and the Roman government requires you to travel to register for a census. There is no opting out of the journey, and perceived act of defiance toward the Romans is very dangerous.  Your parents have to register themselves, so your mother can't travel with you. You can't register via e-mail or drop into your local post office, the government requires your presence in person.

You and your husband have to travel eighty miles through harsh terrain, cold weather and unfriendly territory. You ride on a donkey, your husband walks. You are thankful for the beast that carries you, but that doesn't make it any more comfortable of a ride. It takes you nearly a week to travel the distance. You are frightened, exhausted and in labor when you arrive in Bethlehem. 

You long for the comfort of home, a mat to sleep on an your mother to hold your hand. Unfortunately, you are far from your desired comfort, and the town of Bethlehem is crowded to overflowing with others registering for the census. Your labor pains are coming more quickly now and your husband is frantically rushing through the streets of Bethlehem pounding on doors asking anyone and everyone if they can find a place for you. "Please, sir, my wife! She is having a baby! Do you have a bed for her?" Over and over the answer is no. The pain of your labor is beginning to take your breath away, yet you and your husband still roam the darkened streets of a town that is not your own seeking for a place to rest and give birth. 

Finally, when you had given up all hope a man grants you permission to sleep in his sheep fold. It is carved into the hillside behind his home. Your husband hastens the donkey along into the fold and you collapse from his back into the straw below. The birth pains are right on top of each other now. You have witnessed childbirth, but never experienced it. Your husband has no experience with childbirth at all -- not even with animals-- as he is a carpenter by trade. The location is smelly, messy and cold. The pain is terrifying and you really, really want your mother! Yet, by the Grace of God you are able to deliver a healthy baby. Suddenly the pain and fear are gone. You are exhausted but in awe. 

This is the baby God promised. Immanuel, God with us. Your husband was instructed in a dream to name him Jesus. You are holding the son of God himself in your hands. The tiny clothes you stitched for the newborn are all back in Nazareth. Your husband finds cloths from your traveling gear to wrap the newborn in to keep him warm. You kiss his smooth forehead, count his fingers and toes and gaze upon him with wonder.

Gaze upon him with wonder. Okay, now you aren't that teenage girl in Bethlehem anymore... you are you. Keep gazing into the face of that precious baby. Still have your wonder? Are you in still in awe of God? Go about the rest of your day full of wonder. God came here for YOU. In the hustle and bustle of the days ahead don't lose sight of the wonder of God's love. 

In His Peace --

Sunday's Family Circus

Just in case you missed this from Sunday's paper. I thought it was perfect.
Thank you Bill Keane!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hope of Christmas

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (Luke 2: 8-12)

This morning my son asked me why there was a crown of thorns on top of one of our Christmas trees. "Well, son,  you can't have Easter without Christmas. If Jesus Christ was never born we would have missed the glory that is Easter morning. The two are intertwined, much like the twisted crown that rests on our tree."

God came to earth as a helpless child and walked some of the same roads that we do. He experienced pain, hunger, distress, exhaustion, happiness, joy, love and despair just like you and I. Fully God, yet fully man, a concept that is very difficult to wrap our brains around. He humbled himself to live here and relate on a human level with you. He loves you so much that He came to die for you. The greatest gift ever given came on Christmas.

I understand how many people struggle over the holidays with financial trouble, depression or sadness over love ones who have passed away. I don't want to minimize that at all, but we have ultimate victory over death in Christ! The most amazing gift arrived on Christmas! Christmas is a time of joy and hope - joy because we are loved by God, loved so much that he came to earth and died a horrible death for us. We have hope because life on earth, as difficult as it may be, is not all there is. We have the promise of eternal life in heaven with God through the gift of Jesus.

I get very emotional at Christmas and have very few Christmas carols I can sing through without tearing up. The gift is so HUGE. God came here to be with us.
 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)  (Matt 1:22-23)
If you are feeling a little blue this holiday season, a little rushed or scattered take a minute or two and focus on what Christmas means for you. Focus on what it means beyond the tree, the packages and the parties. Focus on the greatest gift ever given: Jesus, God with us.

In His Peace--

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What a Pain!

Two years ago my life changed drastically. Initially in a fairly dramatic way, but over time in a myriad of small ways. It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was with my children at my father-in-laws house decorating for Christmas. We we finished decorating and were just about done cleaning up and I noticed a stray piece of garland on the floor. I bent down to pick the offending fuzzy up off the ground and felt a strange snap in my back, almost like a rubber band snapping.

It didn't really hurt, but was oddly uncomfortable. We were getting our family pictures done that afternoon and we went home and got all prettied up to go. By the time we got in the car to drive across town uncomfortable had reached painful, at the end of our portrait session painful had reached very painful, by the next morning I was in such pain I could hardly move. Every time I see that family picture I think "That was the day everything changed". Strange to have it frozen in time.

Sticking with family tradition, the kids wanted to decorate the tree that weekend. Not wanting to miss out I on all the fun I crawled, quite literally, on my hands and knees up the stairs to try to help out. Not realizing that once I got up there that sitting up to hand out ornaments would be equally agonizing as negotiating the stairs. It was one of the worst weekends of my life. Fortunately, it has never been as bad as that first four days, but I have never gotten back to where I was before.

Over the last two years I have had countless chiropractic appointments, massages (which are not a hardship!), acupuncture, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone shots. None of these methods have gotten me to a pain-free state. It is always there, like an unwelcome guest. Lurking around, lying in wait to pounce on me, to move another notch up the scale from a bearable level to a place that takes much more mental energy to handle. It can be quite wearying. 

Why am I sharing all this? Well, I guess because it is a big part of my day to day life, and I know that there are millions of people who suffer from chronic pain. It can be a very dark and hopeless feeling to be in pain - it isolates you from other people because pain often limits what you can and cannot do. My suffering is minor in comparison to others, my heart breaks for those who can't even find a way to keep their pain levels manageable.

Where is God in all this? He is ever present - he has not forsaken me! He may not choose to have this pain removed from me. That doesn't mean I am going to quit praying for it! My choice is to feel sorry for myself or trust God knows the purpose behind the pain. Remember Paul and his thorn of the flesh?

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)

I suppose I should feel honored I have been given a thorn to bear. Frankly, most days it doesn't feel like an honor, but a burden!  "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life." (Psalm 119:50)
God is still God, on my good days and my bad days. My discomfort does not indicate a lack of love or caring on his part. Sometimes I have no where else to go but to Him. I pray that others who suffer can find strength in our Savior.

 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1Peter 4:12-13)

In His Peace -