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Christmas According to Mary

Then Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be unto me according to your word.”

— Luke 1:38

There are many things about Mary that I think we could well emulate. The first is her humility. She was a lowly “maidservant of the Lord,” as she described herself. The Scripture says, “In the sixth month [of the pregnancy of Elisabeth, her relative] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph … the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:26-28).

When Mary heard this, what did she say? Did she say, “Well at last I’m getting the recognition I deserve”? No; not at all. Rather, the Scripture says “She was troubled by his words, and considered in her mind what manner of salutation this might be” (v. 29) [you who are highly favored … Bless are you among women” (v. 28)]. She described herself as simply the maidservant of the Lord; she was of lowly estate, and could not possibly imagine what the angel intended by that saying.

God chose Mary as a humble servant through whom the world would be blessed, by her Son. We should imitate Mary, in the same way we should imitate Peter, Paul, or John.

Question to ponder:
If you were in Mary’s shoes, how do you think you would have reacted to the angel’s news of the virgin birth?

God With Man

I dwell in the high and holy place and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit …

— Isaiah 57:15

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us ” (John 1:14). The Greek word used here means He “tabernacled” among us, even as the tabernacle was among the Jews. God dwelt in the visible presence of the Shekinah Glory between the cherubim over the Mercy Seat. In Jesus Christ, God has come and we beheld His glory—the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.

John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). And that Word, which was God, became flesh. “All things were created through Him, and without Him nothing was created that was created” (John 1:3). He was the Great Creator.

Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, stepped out one morning onto the balcony of eternity and dipped His fingers in a chalice of light and sprinkled the vast blackness of space with scintillating, coruscating stars. He swirled with His finger and set into motion the spinning, swirling nebulae that now glow so gloriously in the night sky.

J. B. Phillips once described earth in a special way—not as “the green planet” or “the blue planet,” but as “the visited planet”—that planet which had received special visitation from the Almighty. He, the Almighty, is pleased to dwell with the lowly.

Question to ponder:
Can you wrap your mind around this concept: God wants to be with you?

One Little Poem

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

— Luke 2:11

Though his sermons were masterpieces, today they gather dust, moldering on the shelves of antiquarians like myself. Yet he still lives and has a revival every year about Christmastime. He is not known for the erudition of his sermons, for the eloquence of his speaking, but rather for the simplicity of one little poem he wrote.

I am talking about the Reverend Phillips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” On Christmas Eve, in the year 1865, he arrived at the little town of Bethlehem and was struck by the sublimity, the beauty, the simplicity, the quietness, the darkness of that little town in whose streets there shone the Light of the World. Of that town and of that time, he wrote, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”—that night, when the Light of the World came into the darkness of Bethlehem.

As long as the Church shall last, Phillips Brooks and his little poem will be remembered. And as “God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven,” so this Christmas hymn captures the stillness, the wonder, and the awe of Christmas. It happens every year it is sung: “where meek hearts will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Question to ponder:
Will you take the time to quietly read through the lyrics of this and other great Christmas carols?

The Greatest Sermon in History

Now seeing the crowds, He went up on a mountain. And when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He began speaking and taught them …

— Matthew 5:1-2

The Sermon on the Mount is incontestably the greatest sermon ever preached. We can, of course, find the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7.

Listen to what psychiatrist J. T. Fisher and co-author L. S. Hawley, say about the Sermon on the Mount in their book, A Few Buttons Missing:

If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene—if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage—if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison. For nearly two thousand years, the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here  … rests the blueprints for successful human life with optimum mental health and contentment.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us great wisdom concerning how to live a life that is pleasing to our heavenly father. It gives us the Lord ‘s Prayer. Above all, like the law of God, it shows us our need for the Savior’s redemption.

Question to ponder:
Can you think of some of your favorite teachings in the Sermon on the Mount?

A Love for the Lost

For I did not keep from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

— Acts 20:27

I remember talking to ministers, older and supposedly much wiser than I. I particularly recall one who was the editor of one of the country’s leading Christian magazines. I said to him, “How can we possibly do anything else? There are men and women dying and going off into everlasting condemnation and perdition without Christ. We must get the message to them.”

He looked at me as if I had come from Mars and said, “You will come to understand.”

What I came to understand was that he had lost his first love. Ah, dear friend, how is it with your heart? Is that first love still there? Do you remember that time when you were at church every time the doors opened? Was there a time when you spent more time in His Word? I can remember when it was nothing to me to memorize a chapter of Scripture every day. “A verse a week? Isn’t he asking too much of us?”

May God open our eyes to see the precarious state of the lost. May He grant us a greater love and concern for them.

Question to ponder:
If not, could you ask God to give you one?

Faith and Fear

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

— Isaiah 41:10

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare puts these famous words into the mouth of Caesar as he is talking to his wife, Calpurnia: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

It would seem that our land is filled with many who are not valiant, many who are tasting the fear of death, which for most in our secular society is the fear of the ultimate loss of all things. When faith in God and in Christ disappears, that faith is replaced not with a vacuum, but with fear. People’s hearts, generally, are filled either with faith or with fear.

The deepest fears of men are these: is my life to end in a pile of ashes and a skull? Am I to occupy naught but six feet of space beneath the ground? Is there no meaning to my existence? Is there no one who really loves me or cares for me? What about my loved ones whom I have lost? Will I meet them again?

These are the deepest fears and cares of human beings throughout the years and they are met in Christ for those who believe.

Question to ponder:
How does Christ Jesus conquer our fears?

The Music of Christmas

Glory to God in the highest …

— Luke 2:14

In praise and honor of His Son, God has reserved some of the most beautiful music on earth for the celebration of Christmas. Music, this heavenly language, has been lent to us express what words can not. It has enriched our hearts when no words would do.

I recall many years ago, I went to a Christmas musical program that was being held at the high school I attended. Songs of Christmas were being sung and I recall that I was the only one seated in the balcony. Although I did not know Christ personally, there was something about the music that seemed to reach out and wrap its fingers around my heart and pull. There was a strange sort of mysterious wonder about it. I remember sitting there with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know why. There is something about Christmas.

Why not take time this Christmas season to go to a concert—Handel’s Messiah if possible—and let the music minister to your soul?

Question to ponder:
What piece of Christmas music is especially meaningful to you?

The Magic of Christmas

Sing, O heavens! And be joyful, O earth! And break forth into singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted.

— Isaiah 49:13

Tragically, so many today miss the real meaning of Christmas. A little boy attended Sunday School infrequently and on Christmas, when the teacher showed him a picture of the manger scene, the little boy said, “What’s a camel doing there? Don’t they know that camels don’t have anything to do with Christmas? Santa Claus uses reindeers.” Sadly, many Americans, like that boy, don’t even know whose birthday Christmas celebrates.

Behind all of the frenetic rushing about and the man-made glitter of this season, I believe there is something strangely poignant, tender and touching about Christmastime. Perhaps it is felt in the music, in carols such as “Silent Night Holy Night,” “Joy to the World,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and “O Holy Night.” There is something about the season that seems to just reach out and tug at the human heart.

What is it that we sense? Some deep and ancient joy calls to us from heaven above, our ultimate true home. In Christmas, God is reaching out with His mercy for us afflicted humans. He is showing us a little glimpse of heaven. Earth and heaven are a little closer at Christmas than any other time of the year.

Question to ponder:
Why do we long to be home for Christmas? What is this intense longing that we feel?

The Incarnation

“A virgin shall be with child, and will bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is interpreted, “God with us.”

— Matthew 1:23

At Christmastime we celebrate the fact that the infinite, incomprehensible, ineffable God descended to dwell among us in human flesh—a fact so astonishing that there is no need for chipmunks or reindeer, with or without red noses.

Christmas is an incredible event. The almighty Creator of the universe with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, this glorious One has visited this planet. This small planet has been visited by the almighty God. Even more astonishing than that is the fact that this God has come for the purpose of dying for creatures such as ourselves.

The miracle of Christmas is the incarnation. According to C. S. Lewis, this supernatural act of God becoming a human being is the Grand Miracle. Upon this miracle all the others stand or fall. When someone denies the virgin birth and incarnation, they deny the foundation of Christianity and the joy of the season.

Christmas is still the time for miracles.

Question to ponder:
Think of how the natural and the supernatural meet in Christmas. How has it touched your life?

The Need to Belong

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the many parts of that one body are one body, so also is Christ.

— 1 Corinthians 12:12

At a national convention, sociologists came to a conclusion that I think you will find fascinating. They said most of the problems, the troubles, the anxieties and the turmoil that plague our society today are due to … to what? Now, this is not an assembly of Christians; these are secular sociologists meeting in national convention, and they said most of the turmoil, troubles, anxieties and problems that plague our society are due to… have a sneaking suspicion that few would guess what they said. But here it is. These problems are due to … a lack of communion.

They didn’t say “communication,” because surely we have an abundance of that.

Communication is the transfer of ideas and facts, but communion is something much deeper. It is a mutual sharing of values, emotions, and the deepest purposes of our lives. And this is what we have too little of in our society.

The lack of communion found in the home, in the school, in society, in the Church, is what is causing many people to have such aberrant and deviant behavior resulting in so many of today’s problems.

We have a need to belong. The Body of Christ, the Church, helps meet this deep-seated need.

Question to ponder:
Where do you belong?