What Christmas is All About - thanks to Linus

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 17

Luke 2:16 "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger."

We hurry off to those crazy 4am store openings to get huge bargains on gifts… we hurry off to work, school, the gym, soccer practice, lessons, recitals, grocery stores, doctor appointments… the endless activities that jam-pack your calendar each day. However, one definition of hurry is “a state of urgency or eagerness”, and that puts a more positive spin on a word that is usually given a negative connotation. 

Do we come to our time alone with Jesus in a state of eagerness? Or is it just one more appointment in this hamster wheel season we call Christmas? Another activity we race through so we can check it off our list and get on to the next pressing matter?

When the shepherds acted upon their eagerness, they found Jesus. We have the same opportunity – Jesus is waiting for us each day to find Him, to come to Him with the enthusiasm and zeal of a child racing to the tree on Christmas morning to unwrap her gifts! He has the gifts of love, joy, peace, rest, abundant living -- all wrapped up in Himself, just waiting for you to receive them.

Advent Devotions - Day 16

Luke 2:14 "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."

Have you ever had the experience of someone telling you about something, and you dropped everything to go see what they were talking about? Didn’t realize you had so much in common with those shepherds, did you? Imagine, here they were, coming straight off the experience of seeing and hearing a multitude (a LOT) of angels singing in the sky. Instead of talking each other OUT of the truth of what they had just heard and seen, they put “feet to their faith” and decided to check out what these here angels had said to them. Notice, they immediately understood that this was from the Lord, something He had told them about. They took immediate action.

Have you been praying about something lately? Are you watching and listening for the Lord to give you an answer? Now I grant you, He may not send a heavenly multitude of angels to sing outside your bedroom window tonight (then again, you never know…), but are you paying attention and looking/listening for His answers? And when He does answer you, do you procrastinate or analyze-to-death what you think you might have heard Him whisper into your soul? Or like the shepherds, do you jump up spiritually to see the thing which the Lord has told you about?

Maybe it’s time to get up and take action on what He has told you… today.

Advent Devotions - Day 15

Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 

When we give glory to God, we honor Him, and He is pleased. Glory is translated from the Greek word doxa, the root of the word doxology -- an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service. Doxa speaks of splendor, brightness, majesty, a thing belonging to Christ; the absolutely perfect inward or personal excellency of Christ. Another reference says “the glorious condition of blessedness into which is appointed and promised that true Christians shall enter after their Savior’s return from heaven.”

God’s glory came to earth once in the form of a tiny baby. And the glory of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, Messiah, will come again soon when He returns in victory. We can experience that peace today, if we ask confess our sins and ask Christ to become our Savior and live in our hearts, until that day when we shall be blessed to be forever with Him in His glory someday. Receive His gift of eternal life, and peace on earth, in your heart – won’t you invite Him in today?

Advent Devotions - Day 14

Luke 2:13 "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,"

What do you think of when you hear “heavenly host”… Martha Stewart, perhaps? All poised and utterly perfect in every way? Ehhhh... mmmm... maybe not so much?

Well the heavenly host here means a multitude coming from heaven – an army/band of soldiers. The greek word stratia comes from a derivative of stratos (an army from the base of, as encamped). Psalm 34:7 tells us that “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them.”

The shepherds weren’t the only ones who had a host of heavenly angels with them. We do, too! God has sent His angels to encamp around us and rescue us. Encamp can also mean to abide, to pitch a tent – angels are abiding with us, staying awhile to watch over us. Now while we are meant never to worship the angels --  but the Lord Himself, creator of angels --  we certainly can thank Him for sending these winged warriors to protect us from the enemy and his army. As you go about your day, stop and thank God for all the things from which He has protected you with his angelic army.

Advent Devotions - Day 13

Luke 2:12 "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

A sign – the Greek word used is “semeion” and it also means mark – that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known. The signs of Christmas are all around –houses and lawns decorated with brightly colored lights, a pine tree filled with ornaments, special events at schools and houses of worship, parties, and of course, the endless commercials vying for your attention and dollars! Subtle holiday hints? Not so much!

Often the most beautiful houses are adorned only with small white candles in each window, a green wreath decorated with a solitary red bow, or a simple manger scene on the mantle. These quieter remembrances of Christmas are classic, proclaiming the season in a rich and striking manner.

What mark are you making today for Christmas? Is your life a sign which points to the Savior? Don’t get so tangled up in the tinsel that your sign to the world is just that of another harried and hassled, gift-toting Christmas casualty. Purpose yourself this day to allow the Christ-child to mark your walk/talk as “that by which you are distinguished from others”. Be known as a Christ-follower this Christmas – make your mark for Him.

Advent Devotions - Day 12

Luke 2:10 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. 

Even though the better part of my daily mail is bills, flyers, catalogs and rubbish, I have to admit that there is always a bit of anticipation when I read through my mail. As the Christmas cards begin to arrive, I often smile just reading the return address, reminded of a distant friend, and then I tear open the card with childlike enthusiasm to see what they have written. Our hearts always seek out good news that will bring us great joy, don’t they?

Tis’ the season – how are you sharing the good news of our Savior’s birth? Are you praying each day for the Lord to bring someone into your life with whom you can talk about Him, and share the joy of salvation? Do your Christmas cards offer the true Christmas story tucked somewhere within the holiday pictures and Christmas letter? Have you taken the opportunity to invite someone who doesn’t yet have a personal relationship with Christ to come with you to church, or to your home? We may not have the commanding presence of an angel, but certainly we can quietly, in our own way, bring the message of the love and gift of Christ to others this Christmas. Ask the Lord to give you “God eyes” to see opportunities to tell them "... a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."

(Picture is "Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds" by Govert Teunisz Flinck, 1639)

Advent Devotions - Day 11

Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

God’s glory shown around them – the Greek means to encircle, encompass with light – the light of the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah glory, the brilliant white light of God’s glory, which represented the holiness and presence of God. Just as Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, all snug and safe and warm, God wraps us in His light, His love. And yet often we are still afraid.

What do you fear today? Fears can manifest themselves in any/every thing from worry about Christmas not being perfect, anxiety over getting just the right gift, or deep fear of a major loss of relationships, health, beauty, youth, job, home, position. What is causing you fear, worry and anxiety? The past? The present? The future? He holds them all in His nail-pierced hands.

Take it to Jesus – tell Him, tell Him everything, every little detail. Pour yourself out like an offering before Him, unburden yourself. Ask Him for direction on how to deal with whatever is bothering you. He is more than willing to provide you with answers, and if the answer is wait awhile, He will provide you with His incredible peace… simply meet with Him. Allow Him to wrap you up in His love. He will surround you with His light, a lightness that will lift your heart and soul. He calls us to Himself in Matthew 11:28-30, promising we will find rest for our souls. And who can’t use that kind of love, peace and rest, especially in this hectic season? Breath, pray, rest in Jesus, be swaddled in Him this day.

Advent Devotions - Day 9

Luke 2:7 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. 

The most important moment in all of mankind – the birth of our Savior Christ Jesus… done quietly, without fanfare, in a borrowed, leftover space because there was no room anywhere else. I’m sure this was the last place Mary envisioned as she anticipated the birth of her baby boy during the grueling trip to Bethlehem. Surely she must have been confused, wondering how this could be happening in such a peculiar setting. A smelly, dirty barn, noisy animals, and... yes... stall after stall filled with hay and... manure. Not exactly a heavenly nursery! Yet she trusted in God, believing everything was working out according to His plan even if she didn’t understand.

Are there circumstances happening in your life right now that you don’t understand? Difficulties, pain, worries? Does life stink? Are you dealing with noisy "animals" of your own and mountains of manure? So complicated, busy and overloaded that you haven’t got any room left for God’s peace? It happens so easily, especially at this time of year. As you read this, take a moment to just take a deep breath in and out. Then take everything that is pushing in on you, and mentally scoop them up and wrap them in a bundle, and visualize yourself giving them to Jesus. Talk to Him about them – don’t allow them to crowd Him out. Give Him time today – trust Him even if you don’t understand everything that is happening in your life. Like Mary, don’t let the circumstances shake your faith. The reality that God is God, and He has planned everything out down to the very last detail – with love, for His glory.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 8

Luke 2:6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born...

The Greek word for born in this passage means “to bring forth, bear, produce (fruit from the seed).” Yesterday’s devotion talked about the fruit of the Spirit born through you by the power of the Holy Spirit in you when you have accepted Christ as your Savior. When you think about birth, it takes months and months for the baby to develop in the womb. In that time, a mother sees changes in her own body – mentally, physically, emotionally -- a daily metamorphosis. It’s a time of preparation, and a time of waiting for that child to be born. 

It’s no different spiritually. It takes time, preparation, and waiting as you learn daily lessons which help you to grow and give birth to the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These traits won’t be perfected in you overnight, they will take a lifetime. So today, don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t perfect – you are a beautiful and wonderful work in progress. God adores you and watches with overflowing love in His heart as you seek to live for Him. He applauds your daily obedience, and is your biggest cheerleader. If you have sinned, confess it immediately (1 John 1:9), and get on with it!

Take a moment right now to look at the fruit of the Spirit listed, and think of a way that you could show one or two in your life this in the next few days. Kindness – let someone in front of you in line, or on the road. Love – hug someone unexpectedly. Joy – smile at someone. Faithfulness – call a friend. Gentleness – bite your tongue when you’re ready to say something uncalled for or sarcastic.

You can do this – take baby steps. These suggestions aren’t huge acts, they’re the little moments that build a lifetime of beauty and character in your life. It’s time…

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 7

Luke 2:5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

So there was Mary, committed to her beloved Joseph, waiting on the birth of her first child, and facing a long and arduous journey to an unknown land. I am sure there were days she was tired, soul-weary, close to tears, and unsure of exactly what the future would hold. Mary… you found your hope and strength each day in the Lord and His promises. 

We also need to look to the Lord when we are facing our demanding and difficult days. In the midst of everything, quietly pause and remember that you carry the Holy Spirit inside you – given to you by the Lord until Christ returns. The fruit of that Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How precious are these gifts? Practice giving them away in the days to come.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 6

Luke 2:4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because hebelonged to the house and line of David.

Tis’ the season to travel. Some by plane, some by train, and some pack up the kids and dog and go over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. We go to the Christmas pageants at the school, to the choir recitals at church; we run to the stores, and rush to the office parties, the neighborhood get-togethers, the cookies exchanges and umpteen Christmas calender-crushers until we drop from exhaustion and holiday burnout.

In Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message version) Jesus says: “Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you'll learn to live freely."

Stop a minute today to breathe. Grab a cup of coffee or tea or hot chocolate, and carve out even five little minutes to come to Jesus to recover your life! Take a moment to receive His gift today of the “unforced rhythms of grace”. Rest in the grace of our Savior.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 5

Luke 2:3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

When we register something, we record it. A cash register receipt gives us a record of our purchase. We register our cars with DMV to verify they belong to us. We register for classes at college, so when we appear we are given access and validated as an authentic student. When something “registers” with us, it suddenly makes sense to us and we understand. It comes from the Latin regerere, to record : and gerere, to carry.

Today, why not pick up an inexpensive notebook or journal, and begin to record moments of this Christmas season? Maybe it will be a thought or feeling, or perhaps you will jot down something one of your children or friends said to you that brought a smile to your face. Possibly it will be a prayer, or a Bible verse, or a song lyric. 

Make a record of your life for the next 20 days, because these days belong to you – they are each a gift from God. Validate them – they are precious. Carry the memories into the future with a few simple words on a piece of paper. Who knows - years from now you may read this record of your Christmas 2013 journey, and the story will register deep within you, bringing back a wonderful blessing that might have been long forgotten, a newly discovered Christmas gift unwrapped all over again.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 4

Luke 2:2 This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Do you remember your first Christmas growing up? Your first Christmas coming home from college? After moving away and coming back? Your first married Christmas? First Christmas with children? Maybe this is your first Christmas after a divorce, or after losing a loved one, and you aren’t sure how you will get through it. You may be looking at the Christmas lights on your tree through a blur of tears. There are so many Christmas “firsts”… both happy and sad.

Think about Mary, Jesus’ mother. This was quite a first for her, and I’ll bet she wasn’t expecting the first moments of motherhood to be in a foreign land, giving birth in a stable and putting her newborn into a feeding troth!  Society and the media hype Christmas as a perfect time of joy, love, peace, and good will (not to mention those two-hour Christmas movies where everything comes out wonderful, true love is found, everyone comes home, and life is beautiful). Get real.

If you are sad, give yourself permission to be sad – share this with the Lord. Have a quiet time of conversation with Him today, sitting in front of the tree. Take your Bible and read Luke 2:1-20, and learn about Christ’s first time as a baby in a manger. This Christmas, get real before God. Pour out everything to Him, and let it be your gift of praise, whether it is joy, or a broken heart.

And if you’ve never given your heart and life to Jesus, why not do it this very day? Find out what it’s like to have a “first Christmas” as a true believer and follower of Christ – now that’s something to really celebrate!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 3

Luke 2:1: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decreethat a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Caesar wanted a headcount of everyone in the entire Roman world. He wanted a “count”. The noun can mean a sum, a tally, a reckoning. But used as a verb, count can mean to matter, to be important, significant, to make a difference. Here we are, counting the days to Christmas, crossing the days off on our calendars as they fly by. You’re probably counting up Christmas presents on your list, and counting the cost as you spend money on those gifts, the decorations, the extra food for the holiday meal, the number of people you’ll have over for the fun and frolic of the season. What can be done to make this Christmas “count” for Christ? How can we centralize the story of our Savior’s birth into our holiday madness and rush? Take a moment today to count your blessings, and to realize how much you count to Christ!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 2

Luke 2:1: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

A decree can be a declaration, judgment, announcement, a ruling. What is your life announcing today? What do your words, your actions, declare about you? What judgments might a casual observer draw from the facts of your life today? You are being watched every day by more people than you can begin to imagine. Now this is not written to make you feel paranoid or horribly guilty, but to free you. As noted in the December 1st devotion, Christ frees us from our past, including our sins and blunders. You have a choice to make today – your can choose your words and actions (and reactions). Christ is here to make your life (right this moment) as new and clean as a freshly cut Christmas tree. He declares His love for you in each moment – you are most precious to Him. Let your life announce Him in your heart by word and deed, beginning now. Take this day and gift it back to Jesus, and affirm your relationship with Him by spending time wrapped in His love (through prayer and reading His word, the Bible).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent Devotions - Day 1

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622  
Luke 2:1: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 

In those days… What do you remember when you think of Christmas past? What memories come to mind, emotions to heart? In those days, are they the “good old days”, days in which you visit and perhaps still live? We can get trapped by the past. Often we romanticize memories, make them softer, kinder, larger, sweeter than they were in reality. Do our hearts ache for a simpler, easier holiday?  Perhaps you are the opposite – memories of holidays gone by hold only pain and bitterness and disappointment for you. You carry the chains of your past as much as Marley’s ghost from A Christmas Carol. They haunt you and keep you from Christmas present.

As we begin our countdown to Christmas, live in the present. Realize you can choose from this day forward how you will live, and why you will live. Look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Look to the baby in the manger, the God-man on the cross, and blessed/gloriously, the risen Christ, Lord of all. Choose Him today. Take His gift of sacrificial love by accepting Him as your Savior. Unwrap the gift of Jesus and eternal and abundant life today. Bring Him the good memories, the bad memories, let Him redeem your past, your present, your future.

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