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The First Noel

What was it really like that first Christmas? A small middle-eastern town was packed with people on account of a mandatory census. Shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep throughout a cool night. People were unaware of the eternal implications of a new birth, a divine King.

Noel?

Noel is the French word for Christmas, from the Latin word “natalis” meaning birthday.

noel

Photo credit: Gilles Couteau (cc)

Announcing the Savior’s birth

“The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay:
In fields where they lay a keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel Noel Noel Noel
Born is the King of Israel.”

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,  and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)

A sign of the divine

“They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far:
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel Noel Noel Noel
Born is the King of Israel.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from the country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.”

“The wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:9-11)

The King has come

The newborn King came to be enthroned in the hearts of mankind. Many things in this world compete for your affections — busy schedules, the pursuit of comfort, an endless hope for gain, assurance and guarantee from harm. Many things can keep your focus off of Jesus.

Will you crown Jesus your King?”

The challenge

Enthrone Christ in your heart. Do not allow temporal and perishable things overtake a relationship with God.

What competes with the newborn King in your life? Share your comments below.

A King in Disguise

Why did Jesus come in such a humble manner? Why was it necessary for the divine to come to earth?

king

Photo credit: Lawrence OP (cc)

An advent parable, A King in Disguise, written by Soren Kierkegaard (modified) gives us some insight:

“Once upon a time, there was a prince who was single and very eager to marry a lovely maiden for his future queen. Near his palace was a large city, and often he rode his carriage down to the city to take care of various chores for his father. One day, to reach a particular merchant, he had to go through a rather poor section. He happened to glance out of the window and right into the eyes of a beautiful maiden.

“He had occasion on the next few days to return to the section of the city–drawn as he was by the eyes of the maiden. And more than that, he had the good fortune once or twice actually to meet this young girl. Soon he began to feel that he was in love with her. But now he had a problem. How should he proceed to procure her hand?

“Of course, he could order her to the palace and there propose marriage. But even a prince would like to feel that the girl he marries wants to marry him. Or perhaps, somewhat more graciously, he could arrive at her door in his most resplendent uniform and, with a bow, ask her hand. But even a prince wants to marry for love.

“Again, he could masquerade as a peasant and try to gain her interest. After he proposed, he could pull off his ‘mask.’ Still, the masquerade would be ‘phony.’ He really could not manage it.

“Finally a real solution presented itself to his mind. He would give up his kingly role and move into her neighborhood. There he would take up work as, say, a carpenter. During his work in the day and during his time off in the evening, he would get acquainted with the people, begin to share their interests and concerns, begin to talk their language. And in due time, should fortune be with him, he would make her acquaintance in a natural way. And should she come to love him, as he had already come to love her, then he would ask for her hand.

“Over time, she did fall in love with the carpenter. She adored him. She believed in all of her heart that he was poor, simple, and common, and she loved him like that. And so, one day he proposed marriage, and she accepted. He still didn’t tell her he was a prince, a soon-to-be king. He simply told her to put on a beautiful dress, and on a particular day, he would come and pick her up, and then he would take her to the wedding. He would take care of all the details and surprise her.

“So she was there with her family and her friends, and an army of chariots and soldiers and banners and musicians – thousands upon thousands, showed up. They picked up this girl from the poor section of town, and they carried right through the palace gates – trumpets blaring, right down the aisle.

“Seated on the throne, she saw the prince, her soon-to-be husband. She got off of her chariot. She walked up to the prince and he told her, ‘I wanted you to love me not because I was going to be king, but I wanted you to love me simply for the sake of loving me. Then I could show you that I was the soon-coming king, and I would know that your love for me would always be true.’”

God did the same thing for us. He came in an unexpected way, a humble, simple, regular, normal way – as a regular guy, from a regular town, with a regular mom and a regular dad, living a regular life but being God. The world did not recognize him and rejected him. “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” (John 1:10-11)

They said, “We are waiting for a king.” Jesus says,

I am a king, and if you love me, I’ll take you to the palace, but love Me first.”

He loves you and He wants your love, but freely and voluntarily. He could have ordered you to love Him but is that love? He could have appeared to you in kingly glory. Who would not be awed by such splendor? He wanted to win your love without dazzling and overwhelming you with the magnificence of His divinity. Paul writes “…though he was by nature God, [He] did not consider being equal with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave, and being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of man he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

The world says, “We will not marry a common, poor, simple Jesus. We are waiting for someone better.”

Then he rose from the dead. What a King! God meets you on your level that you might respond freely to His love.

Christmas is a great time to respond to His love. Will you give a wholehearted response to His love this Christmas season? Will you commit yourself to the King? Share your comments below.

Emanuel, God with Us

As we get into the holiday season, we naturally reflect on the birth of Christ. The next two weeks will focus on Emanuel, God with us.

emanuel

Photo credit: Mike_tn (cc)

From my own “Harmony of the Gospels,” here is a narrative of the coming of Christ from John, Luke, and Matthew.

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:1-5

The Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

Joseph traveled to Bethlehem from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Within a couple of years, some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod interviewed the wise men and they went on their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why did Jesus come in such a humble manner? Why was it necessary for the divine to come to earth?

Next week I will unfold some answers to these compelling questions…

Light born in Darkness

The Son of God has come!

Many Christmas carols refer to the night Jesus was born: “Silent Night…Hark the herald angels sing…O Holy Night…Angels we have heard on high.” They point to the birth of Light in the midst of darkness. He is the message and meaning of Christmas.

light

Photo credit: MomentsForZen (Creative Commons)

Hark the herald angels sing

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

God and sinners reconciled

Adam and Eve had perfect union with God in the Garden of Eden until they chose to disobey Him (Genesis 3). The rest of Scripture unfolds the story of everyone’s search for God.

The Son of God enters the story and changes the course of time. He makes a way for a renewed relationship between God and His creation.

Joyful nations

Jesus came for everyone, for all nations. God desires to have relationships with Kenyans, Chinese, Austrians, Americans, Brazilians, Israelis, and Iranians.

God places within people a desire to know truth and reality, a restless search not satisfied by wealth, position or any other means. Peace and joy is directly connected to knowing Jesus, Truth and Reality personified.

A newborn King

When Jesus hung on a cross, bearing the sinfulness of man and dying for humanity, a sign hung over him reading,

This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

He was mocked by Jews and persecuted by Gentiles. The sign is true. He is the King sitting at the right hand of the Father, desiring to exercise kingship over your life.

An eternal gift

God gave the earth to man at creation, a beautiful gift. A. W. Tozer points out in The Pursuit of God, “Sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul.”

Gifts are given at Christmas as a reminder that God gave His Son. Sadly, some gifts exchanged during this Season sometimes damage the soul. Only the gift of Salvation brings Eternal joy.

The challenge

Crown Jesus the King of your heart. Do not allow unwholesome worldly practices to become associated with your life. The only meaningful gift you can receive is the gift of salvation through Jesus.

What kind of light has Jesus brought to your life? Share your comments below.

Silent Night

silent night

Shepherds field in Bethlehem

My family and I wake-up daily to the sound of minarets announcing the call to prayer. Several days ago a different sound echoed throughout the neighborhood, the sound of “Silent Night” by the Catholic girls school.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ, the Saviour is born

Christ, the Saviour is born

Shepherds quake

That night there were shepherds in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified.” (Luke 2: 8-9)

The radiance of God’s glory can be frightening but also bring greater hunger for God.

A chorus of angels

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven.’” (Luke 2: 13-14)

Heaven rejoiced at the birth of Jesus and proclaimed glorious praise.

The Savior is born

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” (Luke 2:15)

Personal fear turned to godly desire and the shepherds pursued God, being manifested in the birth of Jesus. Terror often leads to wonder.

Glorifying God

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2:20)

Encountering Jesus caused the shepherds to glorify God and created an urgency to tell their experience to others.

The challenge

Let the wonder of God fill your heart this Christmas. Encounter Christ the Savior in a way that causes you to tell others about Him.

In what practical ways are you planning to reveal Jesus this Christmas season? Share your comments below.

The Meaning of Christmas

The city where Jesus was born

This is our first Christmas in Jerusalem, fifteen miles from the birthplace of Jesus. Many people visit Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, mostly to visit the Church of the Nativity and look at the “star-shaped” cave under the church altar where Jesus was possibly born.

Bethlehem

Photo credit: stevenconger@sbcglobal.net (Creative Commons)

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

The bread of life

Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread.” Jesus is “the Bread of life” and whoever receives Him will not be spiritually hungry (John 6:35). When abiding in Him you experience the greatest satisfaction in life.

The sacrificial lamb

Bethlehem in Arabic means “house of meat.” Jesus is, “the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (1 Pet 1:19). Isaiah states the Messiah “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7).

Cast out our sin

The Child born in the place of bread and meat is the sacrificial Lamb that provides spiritual sustenance. His birth in Bethlehem points to Calvary, making a way for you to have forgiveness and fulfillment.

Living Water

Jesus was born in a manger. Manger’s are thought to have been places to hold water for animals. They often grazed fields for food. Jesus, the living water (John 4:14) was laid in a place that likely kept water.

Light of the world

The birth of Jesus was announced by starlight (Matt 2:2). Wise men from the East came to worship him by following this light.

God with us

Jesus, the Bread of life, sacrificial Lamb, living water, and light of the world is Emmanuel, God with us.

The challenge

This Christmas season reflect on the Christ born in Bethlehem as the Bread of life, Lamb of God, Living Water, and Light of the World. Come worship Him and experience the Lord Emmanuel.

How has God made Himself known in your life? Share your comments below.

A Joyful World

Christ is coming again

My family and I love the various holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whether celebrated in Chicago, Missouri, Sudan, or Jerusalem, we love decorating, reflecting on the goodness of God and giving gifts, as modeled by the Father’s gift of the Son and the Magi bringing presents to Jesus.

joy

Photo credit: mmwm (Creative Commons)

Christmas music

We also love listening to Christmas music, especially songs bringing glory to God. The next few articles will give attention to some of the best known Christmas carols.

A Joyful World

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

Prepare Him room

God sending His Son is joyful, defeating the works of the devil and providing the way of salvation. Will the world receive the King this holiday season? Will every heart prepare Him room?

Psalm 98

Issac Watts wrote the song, based on Psalm 98. Verses 4-6 read:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”

His second coming

This song is sung to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem yet Watts wrote “Joy to the World” to celebrate His second coming, when He gives lasting peace.

A coming judgement

Psalm 98: 7-9 reads:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”

Will you be ready?

Jesus came two centuries ago to the shouts of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” He will come again for the church (His bride), and will rightfully and fairly judge the world.

The challenge

Prepare room for Jesus this Christmas. Allow the Greatest King to joyfully enthrone your heart. Experience the divine peace lacking in the world, coming from the Ruler of peace.

How do you express joy during the holiday season? Share your comments below.