“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.”
Luke 2:16-19 (NLT)
Luke chapter two captures the story of the angels appearing to shepherds near Bethlehem, announcing the birth of Jesus our Rescuer. This announcement was “good news of great joy.” The Shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem and see what the angel told them about. I love their response. They told everyone! Those who they told were all amazed, astonished, and wondered at what they were hearing. Verse 20 tells us that as the shepherds returned to the fields they glorified and praised God. I can picture them talking excitedly with each other saying, “can you believe what happened tonight?!” They might have been jumping up and down, smiles on their faces. God has kept his promise! Their response was exuberant celebration.
We celebrate this way when announcing good news. We cheer when couples get engaged, babies are born, someone is healed miraculously, or even when our favorite teams win championships. We love good news.
I also notice Mary’s joyful response, even though it is quieter. She “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” Pondering. Wondering. Contemplating. This baby in front of her is The Rescuer, and heaven celebrates this (according to what the Shepherds are telling her).
I pray that we will all celebrate this good news of great joy this week, whether with excitement or with pondering hearts.
Read: Read the quote below by Blaise Pascal and then read the passage in Luke. Read the Luke passage a second time, paying attention to why Jesus left heaven to come to earth.
“Jesus Christ came to blind those who saw clearly, and to give sight to the blind; to heal the sick, and leave the healthy to die; to call to repentance and to justify sinners, and to leave the righteous in their sins; to fill the needy, and leave the rich empty.”
- Pascal, Thoughts (New York, 1910), #771
Luke 4:14-21 (The Message)
To Set the Burdened Free
14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure.
16-21 He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
Think & Pray: What you just read in Luke 4 occurred right after the temptation of Satan in verses 1-13. I bring that up to remind you that when Jesus came to earth, it wasn’t all presents brought by wise men, people waving palm branches, and gathering by the thousands for free bread. Jesus’ life on earth was tough. From beginning to end, his life was not one of earthly luxury. Why would he leave paradise and enter into our mess? Why did he pursue us, die for us, take steps toward us even as we were his enemies?!?! God clearly loves us.
Pray and thank God for giving you spiritual sight, for healing you, for setting you free.
Live: Today as you go about your day, ask yourself why you are doing what you’re doing. Are you cooperating with God’s purpose on the earth to continue to help people to see, to heal the sick, to set people free? Are you motivated by love? Ridiculous love?
God With Us
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.” John 1:1-2
This passage has always seemed complex to me. What is the author John referring to when he uses the word, “Word?” John is speaking of Jesus. You could change this to say, “Jesus always existed. Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. Jesus existed since the beginning of time with God.”
John 1:1 made sense after I heard this story: Dorothy Sayers was a famous murder mystery writer from England that lived in the early 1900’s and was the first woman to graduate from Oxford University. She wrote a series of novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. He was a single man, awkward, but always solved the crimes. Half way through the writing of her series, she introduced a new character: Harriot Vane. Harriot was a murder mystery writer, and also happened to be the first woman to graduate from Oxford University. Eventually, Harriot and Peter fall in love and married. Why is this significant? Because many believe that Dorothy Sayers looked into the world she had created, fell in love with the character, and wrote herself into the story to save him.
That’s exactly what God did for us! God looked into the world He created and loved us so much that He wrote Himself into human history as the main character. (John 3:16) This is the reality of the incarnation. God with us: Immanuel. God came into the world as a man, Jesus Christ.
If you ever feel like your life is too complex for God to understand, remember that He created the world from nothing. God created you. He is alive and His love for you is bigger than any problem that you face.
“In the distant future, when you are suffering all these things, you will finally return to the Lord your God and listen to what he tells you. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the solemn covenant he made with your ancestors.”
As we’re patiently or maybe not so patiently awaiting Christmas, there seems to always be a heightened awareness and acceptance of all things Christian. However, maybe Deuteronomy isn’t where your head goes during this season. Deuteronomy gets a bad rap sometimes because it’s largely about rules and involves a lot of interesting cultural things that our western ideology doesn’t always easily click with. I want to just place a very simple, and very challenging reminder out for us today; your God is a merciful God. Think about the magnitude of that statement. Don’t allow your mind and/or heart to rush past that today because you’ve heard it so much. Really think about what that means; we deserve a lot of ruthless consequences because of our actions and disobedient patterns; but your God is a merciful God. He loves you so much more than you think he does; his grace is so much bigger than you think. He’s not disappointed in you or done with you. Your sins aren’t surprising him. He’s not regretting Jesus’ sacrificial death for you; he’s a perfectly merciful God. With that incredibly hopeful truth, I challenge you today, just like verse 30, return to the Lord. He’s waiting for your return; he wants to welcome you back in. He wants to fiercely love you and show you his mercy. Christmas is a time of fulfilled promise; and God is the ultimate promise-keeper. Your God is a merciful God. So, come back home.
“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:16–17
John the Baptist prepared the Israelites for the coming of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. He let them know that the long awaited arrival of the Savior was near and they needed to get ready. It was time to turn back to God, clean up their lives and get their spiritual “house” in order.
We spend a lot of time preparing and getting our physical house ready for Christmas. We bake, shop, wrap, decorate, and entertain, but we often fail to adequately prepare spiritually. How is your spiritual “house” right now? Do you need to do some cleaning? Are you consistently spending time in the Word and talking with God, or have you been too busy?
Take some time to evaluate and address any unchecked sin in your life or realign your focus and keep it from wandering off of the Savior. These distractions will keep you from being full of joy and focusing on the undeserving gift of salvation we have because of this baby in the manger.
Just like John the Baptist, we have the opportunity to point the world to our Savior. Don’t allow anything to get in the way of being a light to others and sharing the hope we have because Jesus Christ came to earth!
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” – Ruth 4.14-15
The holidays can be painful. As a teenager, my parents wouldn’t let us drive on Thanksgiving/Christmas Eve/Christmas because of statistics they heard (or made up) about drunk drivers on the holidays. The warmth of family gatherings are not a reality for everyone. The sting of unredeemed hardships is written in the hearts of many people.
Naomi’s story is a painful story. It opens with a famine during the evil time of the judges. Naomi’s family was forced out of their home in Bethlehem. In Moab, Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving her widowed and childless. Bitterness takes root in her heart and she returns to Bethlehem empty (Ruth 1.20). She feels abandoned by God and utterly alone.
Except for Ruth, her faithful daughter-in-law who chooses to follow Naomi’s God.
Through an amazing set of circumstances, Ruth ends up married and bearing a son (Ruth 4.17). Spend some time meditating on these words that are spoken after the birth – blessed, redeemer, restorer of life, nourisher. It doesn’t take long before my mind runs to another baby born in Bethlehem – Jesus – the son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Ruth/Boaz, daughter-in-law of Naomi. Generations later, the supreme Redeemer, Restorer of Life, and Nourisher was born to be the ultimate Blessing to all those who might be overcome by bitterness.
“A loving promise”
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.” Micah 5:2
I love that the Old Testament announces the Christmas story long before it happens. This verse says that this ruler’s (Jesus) “coming forth is from old, from ancient days.” In fact, the bible tells us that before the world was created, God’s plan was to send Jesus to earth to rescue us (Eph1:4-10). That is an ancient plan, indeed! And to think that God decided to create us knowing that we would mess up and knowing we would need to be rescued is amazing to me. Only Love would do that. And He did.
He also left clues for us across history and through his prophets, like Micah, to make sure we wouldn’t miss our rescuer’s arrival. Bethlehem was a humble place, “too little to be among the clans of Judah,” that without announcing it ahead of time, we would certainly miss it. But he wants us to see Him because he wants to rescue us. He loves us that much. So, where do you see him today? Are you looking for him? Keep your eyes open – you might be surprised at the humble places you find him.