Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16 ESV)

God chose Bethlehem for Jesus to be born. He did not choose a major city like Jerusalem or Rome. Even today, it is still not a likely city one would associate with a place for the Savior of the world to be born. God did not seek super stardom for his son’s arrival. Nor was there a Facebook entry with thousands of followers and press reporters that converged on the sight.

Humble shepherds saw the angelic messengers and then paid homage to the Child that would become the Savior of mankind. Joseph did not have an internet reservation at a five star hotel. He had to make do with what one would least expect: A manger and animals! Imagine the outcry of child abuser activists today if one would use a manger as a crib.

Even two thousand years ago an earthy royal prince and future king’s birth would have been remarkably different from this. There would be the best materials for baby care: a cot, clothing, fine linen and woolen blankets and nursing care. There would be a royal doctor and midwives of the Court.

Joseph and Mary followed through with the honor God had bestowed on them to be the earthly parents of Jesus Christ. They trusted God to provide when there was not even accommodations and a place to put the baby to rest.

This biography tells us that opulence and materialism, especially shopping sprees at this time of year, draw our attention away from what God wants us to focus on, namely the Savior that was born into this world and stripped bare of what one would regard as basic essentials.

Prayer: Almighty God. We thank you for the greatest and most precious gift ever given to mankind, our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior from our sins. Help us to look beyond all the distractions of the material world and to focus on the real value of worshipping Jesus

giftI hate to sound like I’m putting a damper on the millions of people having a Merry Christmas, but please don’t forget the ones that aren’t. I have a friend who gives up her Christmas Eve to spend time in a nursing home over 100 miles away so the residents there will have someone by their side. I think a lot about this gesture and wish more people would do something like this, because there’s nothing worse than being on the outside world of being alone looking through the window into the house of someone surrounded by friends and family. I humbly ask your forgiveness for sounding like such a gloomy Gus, but I just want us to remember those who wish they had someone to spend Christmas with.

For those people who are feeling alone and depressed at this time of year, here’s something to think about. It is my prayer this Christmas that you can rest in the reality of Christ! I know from personal experience that no matter how challenging the circumstances, how discouraged or how lonely you may feel at Christmas, God truly loves you and is with you wherever you may be. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’.” Matthew 1:23 Will you take time this Christmas to believe that God is good, that He loves you and that He is with you? Will you place your burdens upon Jesus today? Christmas is about God’s unfathomable love for mankind and His everlasting gift of His Son, our Lord and Savior, JESUS! “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 I know that it can be hard getting out of the circle of sadness and back into the light of the Lord, but with the help of the Lord, you CAN do it. Let me know if I can pray for you, and I’ll be there for you.

Let’s remember that giving and receiving presents is an awesome feeling, but remember that Jesus took the route of humility, of being born in a manger with just Mary and Joseph, rather than in the spotlight. He did it for the least of the people. Make this Christmas extra special by starting a tradition that makes someone else feel good. A stranger or a family member, it doesn’t matter. Fel free to enjoy your Christmas with the ones that bring you joy, but don’t forget the ones that may stretch you a bit, that will be your giftto yourself.

 

  • Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

  • Luke 1:35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

  • Matthew 1:18-24 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.  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.  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.  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.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

  • Luke 2:9-14 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 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.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  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.”

  • Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

  • Luke 2:1-20 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.  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 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.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  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.”  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

  • Matthew 2:1-12 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 in the east and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  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.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  ” ‘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.’ ”  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 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.”  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.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  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.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

mangerToday is December 24. This is Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas. But is this really the day before Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Each year the question comes up and each year the answer is the same: We can’t be sure.

The Bible does not clearly answer this question. Evidently the first Christians didn’t make a point of celebrating the birth of Christ. If they knew the precise date of his birth, they didn’t make an issue of it. One writer notes that various leaders in the early church suggested the following dates for Jesus’ birth: January 2, January 6, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17. All we can take from this is that the precise date was hidden and unknown to them even though they were much closer to the historical event than we are.

The traditional date of December 25 goes back to the early centuries of the Christian era. Contrary to what some have asserted, there is no evidence that Christians “borrowed” that date from a pagan festival honoring the sun. William J. Tighe argues that the reverse is more likely to be true:

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

Noted historian Paul Maier reviews the evidence and concludes that Christ was most likely born in November 5 B.C. though he does not rule out a December date for the birth of Jesus. (I discuss this question at more length in When Was Jesus Born?)

Having said that, you may ask, “Does it really matter?” In one sense, of course, the answer is no. No doctrine of the Christian faith rests upon knowing the exact day and year of Christ’s birth. And no stress is put upon the date of his birth in the New Testament. No one is ever told to celebrate Christmas. The emphasis always rests on the fact of his birth, not the date. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Christianity is a faith based on certain historical facts. Let us on this Christmas Eve rejoice in this great truth: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. On that day so long ago, a very real day in a very real year, even if we can’t pinpoint it exactly, the eternal Son of God entered humanity, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. God himself joined the human race!

It happened, it really happened. On December 25 we celebrate the very real birth of a very real Savior whose name is Jesus Christ. Let the party begin! Break out the cider, open the presents, sing the carols, hug a friend. We ought to be happiest people in the world. We were born for Christmas because on Christmas Christ was born for us.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

mangerScripture doesn’t specifically command believers to celebrate Christmas–there are no prescribed “Holy Days” the church must observe. In fact, Christmas was not observed as a holiday until well after the biblical era. It wasn’t until the mid-fifth century that Christmas received any official recognition.

We believe celebrating Christmas is not a question of right or wrong since Romans 14:5-6 provides us with the liberty to decide whether or not to observe special days:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks (Rom. 14: 5-6).

According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day–including Christmas–as a day for the Lord. We believe Christmas affords believers with a great opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ.

First, the Christmas season reminds us of the great truths of the Incarnation. Remembering important truths about Christ and the gospel is a prevalent New Testament theme (1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:5). Truth needs repetition because we so easily forget it. So we should celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ and to marvel over the mystery of the Incarnation.

Christmas can also be a time for reverent worship. The shepherds glorified and praised God for the birth of Jesus the Messiah. They rejoiced when the angels proclaimed that in Bethlehem was born a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The babe laid in the manger that day is our Savior, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Matthew 1:21; Revelation 17:14).

Finally, people tend to be more open to the gospel during the Christmas holidays. We should take advantage of that openness to witness to them of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Christmas is chiefly about the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The holiday provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share this truth.

Although our society has muddied the message of Christmas through consumerism, myths and empty traditions, we should not let these distract us from appreciating the real meaning of Christmas. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to remember Him, worship Him and faithfully witness of Him.

It may be difficult to believe, but rather than drawing us closer to God, sometimes Christmas actually draws us away!

For many, this Christmas season will be filled with rushing, hurrying, and milling around department stores, feet aching, head throbbing, nerves frazzled. No wonder the little girl who was praying “forgive us our trespasses” got confused and said, “forgive us our Christmases.” Sometimes we need to be forgiven for our Christmases. We simply leave no room for Jesus.

That First Christmas
There was no room for Him in the inn that first Christmas. In fact, the only place Jerusalem had for Him was a cross. Even in His death there was no room for Him, for He was buried in a borrowed tomb.

One reason there was no room for the Lord Jesus was ignorance. The innkeeper didn’t know the baby about to be born was the Son of God. Mary and Joseph certainly knew. The shepherds, the wise men, Anna and Simeon in the temple, and Elizabeth knew; but the innkeeper did not.

Another reason there was no room for Jesus was indifference. Can you imagine the innkeeper as he shuttles a young woman about to give birth off into a cow stall? He simply had no concern.

Or perhaps the innkeeper was too involved. He was so busy, he just didn’t have time. His rooms were filling with guests and his purse was filling with gold. Like many of us, he was too busy with others things. He had no room for the Lord Jesus.

But it was no accident that all of this happened. It was prophesied in the Bible: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

 

What About This Christmas?
Today there is still little room for the Lord Jesus Christ. Some insist that the days surrounding the Lord’s birthday not be called “Christmas Holidays,” but “Winter Break.” Irreverent and irrelevant Christmas cards fly off the shelves. The heroes of Christmas are Tiny Tim, Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa. Could it be that we too are ignorant, indifferent, or overly involved?

Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but for you, it may be the saddest. Perhaps Christmas is not all you feel it ought to be. Somehow you’re trying to be happy and find satisfaction in gifts and parties. Maybe you’re lonely this Christmas — everyone else is going to parties, but you’re not invited. Everyone seems to have a house full of loved ones, but you’re alone.

I have a word for you: Jesus is here, and His name is “Emmanuel” — God with us. God loves you. He knows all about you, and He still loves you. He understands you. He knows your every weakness. He wants to have a relationship with you so much that He suffered, bled, and died for you. The deepest need of your life is met in the One we call Jesus.

If you want to find Jesus Christ today, you’ll never find Him as an “insider.” You’ll always find Jesus on the outside. Don’t go to the inn; go to the stable. Don’t go inside the city; go outside the city where they crucified Him. You won’t find Him in bars, parties, or ball games. That’s not what Christmas is all about. It’s not important that you’re surrounded with friends, family, fun and food. Rather, it’s important that you’re with Jesus.

 
 One Day, There Will Be…
While the world has no room for Jesus now, it won’t always be that way. When He was here the first time, He stood before Pilate. When He comes again, Pilate will stand before Him. When He came the first time, He came as a baby. When He comes again, He will come as King. When He came the first time, He was rejected; but our Lord says, “As I live saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11) There’s no room for Him now, but one of these days, they’ll say, “Make room for the King!”

If I had a thousand lives, I’d give every one to God. Will you give Him your life today? “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Is there room for the Lord Jesus in your heart this Christmas?

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:13-15 ESV)

When we read this story, it’s easy to forget that these shepherds had nothing to offer Jesus. The shepherds were not religiously polished scribes, they were not socially connected men of influence, they were not wealthy merchants, and unlike the wise men they did not come with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These guys lived under the stars with only the clothes on their backs, a staff to guide the sheep, and a rod for protection. What God wanted most is the one thing they had to offer—themselves.

Is it possible that in the solitude and simplicity of their lives, the shepherds were in the perfect place to encounter and enjoy God? Maybe when we realize we have nothing to offer God, that’s when we’re in a unique position to encounter and enjoy Him.

Most of us already know the following truth: this kind of God-given joy does not come from having everything we want. Some of the most miserable people appear to have anything and everything they want. Check out Donald Trump– he’s that guy. He gets anything and everything he wants, BUT we’d never mistake what he has for joy. When our lives are filled up with things of infinitely less value we lose out on enjoying God.

What is your ultimate source of joy?

It goes without saying that Christmas is one of the top two celebrations for Christians each year. However, it’s also common knowledge that Christmas has unfortunately become a time for nasty exchanges between those who don’t believe in God and those who do.

For Christians, there’s little doubt we could be doing better in engaging people during the holidays and putting forward a more collective loving spirit. There’s really no need to have a conniption when stores choose to say “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas”. Further, wrapping our arms around and helping those who have fallen on hard times at Christmas, regardless of whether they’re Christians or not, says a lot more than a stack of apologetics books ever could.

But what about those who reject the idea that God exists? For my unbelieving friends, I’d like to offer some respectful do’s and don’ts for the Christmas season that will hopefully provide more peace between the two sides of belief and unbelief.

Let’s get the negative’s out of the way first.

Don’t Ride the Hatetheist Train

Most atheists I know and have spoken to have absolutely no desire to thrust themselves into the midst of other people’s celebration of Christmas. For them, the in-your-face ugliness exhibited by groups such as David Silverman’s American Atheists during the Christmas and Easter seasons is (rightly) seen as embarrassing.

To those who think differently, let me just say that erecting snarky and demeaning billboards, threatening lawsuits at schools that wish to sing ‘Silent Night’, and working overtime to shut down drives that provide Christmas gift boxes to poverty-stricken children aren’t going to win converts to naturalism. Moreover, no one believes that the motivation behind such things is your love for the First Amendment.

So, while atheism deserves a voice in the public square, hatetheism is something we can all do without. Don’t get on that train.

Don’t Say Jesus is a Myth

While the controversial figure Bruno Bauer put forward a series of widely-disputed works nearly 200 years ago arguing that Jesus was a fabrication, today the myth that Jesus is only a myth has received the equivalent of the death penalty in historical and scholarly circles. Although various internet atheist haunts and projects like the Zeitgeist movie try in vain to resurrect the claim, as Princeton professor Bruce Metzger wrote decades ago, “Today no competent scholar denies the historicity of Jesus.”[1]

A recent example of this surfaced during the series of three debates held in Australia between atheist Lawrence Krauss and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Krauss began arguing in the first debate (Brisbane) that Jesus never lived and was only a manufactured copy of pagan god myths such as Osiris, while Craig presented the historically validated information concerning Jesus’ life. By the time the third debate in Melbourne rolled around, Krauss conceded that Jesus was a historical figure.[2]

Even where Jesus’ miracles are concerned, it should be understood that while the source/cause of the events can be questioned, the fact that something out of the ordinary took place is not historically in doubt. For example, historian James Dunn says, “What is interesting in this testimony [extra-biblical writings that reference Jesus’ miracles], hardly partisan on behalf of Christian claims, is that the accounts of Jesus’ healing and exorcistic success are nowhere disputed, only the reasons for that success.”[3]

So if you’re an atheist, please don’t say that Jesus never existed unless you want to present yourself as uninformed on the matter.[4]

Don’t Lecture Christians on the Origin of Christmas

To try and dissolve the spirit behind today’s Christmas celebrations, some atheists attempt to lecture Christians on the origins of the holiday. They talk about the fact that, before Christmas sprung into being as we know it, the early Roman culture already celebrated various holidays on and around December 25 (Saturnalia and Juvenalia), a period sometimes referred to as the winter solstice. They go on to explain that Christianity originally celebrated only the resurrection of Christ, but when Rome instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church converted the pagan celebrations into a Christian holiday in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth.

Which means Christmas as a holiday has only been around for a little over 1,700 years…

If you’re an atheist, please don’t commit the genetic logical fallacy, which is where a current end result is suggested as being based solely on something’s origin rather than its current meaning or context, with the motivation typically being to transfer the negative esteem from the earlier context. Instead, just understand that Christmas, as celebrated today by Christians, is what it is.

Or, put another way, when Charlie Brown screams out in the famous Peanuts cartoon, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” the answer that Linus supplies is spot on.

Now on to some suggested “Do’s” for atheists at Christmas.

Do Use Christmas as a Vehicle to Do Good to Others

You don’t have to believe in Christ to use the Christmas season as a reminder that there are people hurting in the world that need help. If you’re an atheist reading this, you might say, “What? I thought you Christians say I have to believe in God in order to have any kind ethics or morals and do good to others.”

If you’ve been told this by any Christian in the past, let me apologize to you. The moral argument for God should never be understood to mean that non-Christians can’t exhibit good moral behavior. Rather, it means that, without God, there is no way to ground objective moral values and duties. Everything becomes emotive, cultural, and subjective without God.

So by all means, use the Christmas season as a time to find others who need help in some way and jump in and make a difference in their lives. But in the process, honestly ask yourself why you’re doing it (i.e. what’s wrong with not helping people?) and see where that exercise takes you.

Do Engage Christians on Why You’re an Atheist

While throwing up insulting billboards about Christianity isn’t a great way to exhibit the ‘tolerance’ we hear so much about in our politically-correct culture, having respectful dialogs with Christians on why you’re an atheist and asking them why they truly believe in Jesus is a great activity in which to engage.

When I’ve had someone intelligently and calmly exchange their atheistic views with me in our marketplace of ideas, I always walk away the better for it because I’ve learned how and why someone holds the beliefs that they do. Wouldn’t you say that having a better understanding of people is a good thing?

Do Examine Your Atheistic Worldview

Participating in the prior point will likely result in this final “do”, which is to use Christmas as a time to honestly examine your atheistic worldview. All of us – and I mean all of us – need to periodically reflect on why we believe what we do and ensure that our belief rests on a bedrock of truth vs. unsupported statements and propositions.

In my library, I have books and binders full of the writings of top atheists. Why? I use them to (1) better understand why atheists reject God and, (2) challenge the bad arguments for believing in God that I sometimes assimilate and hold.

If you’re an atheist, let me ask you, do you do the same? When was the last time you read a work by a Christian apologist such as William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, or Norman Geisler that worked through the philosophical and evidential arguments for Christianity? Have you ever contemplated things like, because our world exists, something must have always existed, and when you point to the universe as that eternal ‘something’ you exhibit a lot of ‘faith’ in the process?

Also ask yourself: is the reason you’re an atheist really based on supposed evidence, reason, and such, or is it more emotive in nature and grounded upon personal things that have happened to you in the past? For example, a recent CNN article about Ted Turner described how he once dreamed of being a missionary, but watching his young sister Mary Jean suffer and die from a disease dramatically altered his early belief in God.

So there you have it – my do’s and don’ts for atheists this Christmas. If you’re an atheist, kindly consider these suggestions and see what following the recommendations brings you. Hopefully, they will provide a richer experience during this time than you’ve had in the past.

Finally, I must add that I also hope and pray that you more carefully consider the One whose birthday we Christians celebrate and think about why He came in the first place, which was to bring us all (including you!) a life that is abundant in forgiveness, grace, freedom, and love.

Article by by Robin Schumacher