In 1 Samuel 16 we find Jesse and his sons in Bethlehem. They didn’t have any idea what was going on and it would be years before they recognized the significance of what took place that day. God sent Samuel to choose the next king for Israel and directed him to Jesse’s sons but none of the boys present had God’s approval. Samuel asked and found out there was one more son. Jesse and the older sons referred to him as the “runt, the little one who is mostly unnoticed.”
When Samuel laid eyes on David he immediately knew: That’s the one!
I wonder how many times David recalled the moment when he was chosen. How many times did he look back and find strength and courage? Was it the memory of that moment that gave him the character to respond in repentance? To face enemies? To deal with defeat and betrayal?
Being chosen, especially when we feel overlooked and unnoticed, makes us feel good. But more than that, being chosen boosts confidence and develops character. Those experiences become the foundation for even greater things in the future. God has chosen you, too.
As followers of Jesus we are “anointed” with the Holy Spirit – God is with us.
To borrow Eugene Peterson’s words, “Out of your insignificant, sheep-keeping obscurity, you are chosen.”*
Don’t ever forget.
*Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, p17
Read: Luke 2:39-40
God’s great work is hidden within the normal routine of life. If this was true of Jesus it is certainly true of us. There are ancient fairy-tale-like stories of what Jesus was like as a boy. In make-believe fashion they describe a precocious character who resorted to magic whenever it struck his fancy. Those who wrote and believed such stories are like Christians today who fantasize, sensationalize and spiritualize every aspect of life. They live in a spiritual disney-land of their own making. God lives and works in the real world. We should not forget that Jesus grew up in Nazareth.
Christian service makes sense. Real faith in God does not need promotional gimmicks or publicity. Authentic Christianity understands humble service, inner strength, quiet resolve, disciplined growth and the sacrifice of praise. Joy characterizes the life of the Christian who does not live from hype to hype but from grace to grace. It is in the routine of life with all of its tensions and tedium that we witness to the glorious grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us patience and endurance to serve You faithfully in our Nazareth. Help us to grow and become strong in You and in Your love. We want to be filled with Your wisdom. May Your grace be upon us. Amen.
Read: Matthew 2:13-18
The Bible reports an atrocity. The Bethlehem massacre of innocent children burdens the Christmas story with pain. The good news of great joy becomes a loud wail from young mothers in Bethlehem. Historians estimate the number of actual victims to be around twenty-five. Bethlehem was a small town of perhaps two thousand inhabitants. There may have been fifty children under two years old only half of whom were boys. But who can estimate the pain and sorrow of one mother whose son was ripped from her arms and murdered?
Joseph and Mary were forewarned. They fled for Egypt. Other families were unaware of the pending doom. Suddenly a pounding on the door in the predawn hours and screams in the village meant terror and horror. This Bible reading does not encourage a devotional feeling and does not answer all of our questions. If we are at all sensitive we are left in pain. We cry out “Why! Why did you have to let this happen God!” And the only answer we are given is Jesus. He is already heading toward the cross. Evil must be overcome.
Prayer: Save us, Lord, from thinking that the Christian faith is anything but a life and death struggle. The power of evil threatens to overwhelm us. We know that ultimate victory is secure. You have conquered sin and death through the sacrifice of the cross and the power of the resurrection. But we struggle amidst atrocities of all kinds waiting for Your redemption. Amen.
Read: Matthew 2:1-12
Who would have thought that on the night that shepherds were startled by an angelic host, a group of sages, probably from Babylonia, were excitedly sighting a star. With their Ph.D’s in astrology and a keen sense of Jewish culture (Numbers 24:17) they examined the skies nightly in search of heaven and earth’s mysteries. Indeed, God’s grace connects with people in unusual ways.
This entourage of Eastern sages made their way to Jerusalem in the hope that they could link their astrological find with an historical person. They came prepared to pay homage to the new king of Israel. The masses of people in Jerusalem were apathetic, or as in the case of Herod, hostile to such a search for meaning.
From beginning to end the whole account of the magi and their homage to Jesus is extraordinary. Their insight and openness puts to shame those who should have known. They are a sign to us, as they were to Matthew, that Jesus is more than a Jewish King. He is the Savior of the world.
Prayer: O Father, You are sovereign over all the world. In You there is no East or West; no third world or first world; no closed country or open country. Your grace knows no limitations. We worship You, Lord of the Universe, Hope of the world. How Your creation cries out for release! Amen.
Read: Luke 2:36-38
God’s timing through-out the biblical account of Christ’s birth is exceptional. From Zechariah to Anna the human drama is conducted by the Holy Spirit. Worship and wonder, understanding and assurance, comfort and confirmation pulsate through the human soul in rhythm with the will of God. Simeon’s downbeat is answered in Anna’s joyful note of praise and gratitude. It’s as if Annas whole life, her eighty-four years of life, has been waiting for this moment. The reward for years of spiritual discipline, worshiping night and day, fasting and praying, has been fulfilled.
Life cannot be measured primarily by getting things done. The value of Anna’s life is not calculated by totaling up the number of her grandchildren or the value of her estate. Efficiency was not a priority for Anna. She was not worn down by years of rushing here and there, putting in appearances, meeting everyone’s demands. At eighty-four she could still praise God and witness “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Prayer: Father, make us sensitive to the rhythm and pattern of holy living. Give us the discipline to center on Christ and the wisdom to measure our value by our devotion to You. Thank you for the example of Anna and the testimony of enduring praise. Amen.
Read: Luke 2:21-35
The words of Simeon to Mary and Joseph reveal an important truth about the Christian life. Simeon suffers no illusion about the pain involved in following Christ. His words are far from polite or perfunctory. The silent night of peace and tranquility will be followed by the dark night of the soul. The path of this child leads to the cross. If you center your life in Jesus it will not be easy; “A sword will pierce your own soul.”
Simeon prepares us for the inevitable conflict between Christ and the world. Christ will be spoken against. Pharisees will curse him. Herod and Pilate will condemn him. People will turn away in mocking unbelief. Judas will betray him and a common criminal will scorn him. What was said to Mary and Joseph is true for us as well. Jesus continues to be a rock of offense even to those who call themselves Christians. There is no gospel of health and wealth in Jesus. Simeon would have no patience with the “take life easy, eat, drink and be merry” kind of Christian.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Simeon’s up-front spiritual direction. Prepare us for the heartache involved in following You when those we love continue to reject You. May our devotion to You be honest and open enough that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. Amen.
Read: Luke 2:21-35
The worship and work of Christmas continues beyond a special day of gifts and food. The first Christmas was free of sentiment and nostalgia but filled with revelation and promise. There were no accumulated habits and traditions that distanced Mary and Joseph from the real world. They suffered no emotional hang-over after Christmas day. There were no huge credit card bills or overdrawn bank accounts. Christmas was the commencement of a life filled with challenge, heart-break and commitment.
Each day is now measured in reference to the reality of Christ. On the eighth day they fulfilled the angel’s command and named their newborn son, Jesus. Some forty days later they entered the temple with their sacrifice to consecrate Jesus. They followed the
rhythm and pattern laid down by the Law and God used their obedience as an occasion for revelation. Simeon was late for Christmas until he saw Jesus and took him up in his arms. He saw in him what only the Holy Spirit could have revealed. “Blessed are you, Simeon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.” In this little child Simeon saw by faith the fulfillment of God’s promise. “For my eyes have seen your salvation.”
Prayer: Father, teach us to number our days the way Simeon did that we may gain a heart of wisdom. May our plans and hopes revolve around You, O Lord. May we see Your light of revelation and behold Your glory. Help us not to fall back into an existence that lives without promise or hope. Amen.
Read: Luke 2:8-20
The truth of Christmas is inexhaustible. We discover it not in the exchange of presents or elaborate meals but in quiet reflection on God’s great gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We have to step back from the struggle and strain of daily living and pause to reflect on what God is doing. God sends “shepherds” proclaiming and confirming His truth. It’s up to us to ponder the truth.
The real meaning of life is not self-evident. If we add up all the data we do not arrive at the truth. God’s commentary on life takes us beyond appearances and beneath the surface of things and reveals the meaning of life. The truth of Christ must be taken into our heart and allowed to permeate our life. If we do not internalize the truth we live shallow lives. We stay on the surface, fearful that any contemplation may make us too serious or too concerned about what concerns God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are like Mary – we can’t fully comprehend all that Your Son means to us. Your truth is greater than our capacity to take it in. We have nothing but our deepest devotion to give You in exchange for the gift of Salvation. Help us to honor You more and yet more. Amen.
Luke 2:15 – “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.”
The witness of the angels was not an end in itself. The song of the heavenly host was not the grand finale to a moving performance. It never occurred to the shepherds to soak up the spectacle and then go out for pizza or go back to sleep. Revelation called for response. Worship provoked involvement. They could not simply turn off what they had seen or switch back into their normal routine.
They had to go and see what had happened. The blessing of preparation and proclamation led to the presence of Christ. And what they found did not disappoint them! It thrilled them. It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between the angelic shout of “Glory to God in the highest” and the earthly sights and sounds of an infant, crying and cooing in a manger. But they believed. It was “just as they had been told.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to discover the presence of Christ in the world in which You have called us to live. Enable us to glorify and praise You for all the things we have heard and seen. May we respond to you in ways that confirm Your witness and rejoice in Your work. Amen.
Read: Luke 2:8-20
Our dashing around at Christmas time is in sharp contrast to the stillness of that first Christmas eve and the speechlessness of the shepherds. Immersed in noise and traffic we hustle another Christmas season. We seem oblivious to the fact that God used the quietest sanctuary he could find to host the heavenly choir. What possesses us to do what we do in the days leading up to Christmas? Whatever it is may be more demonic and perverse than we realize.
Prayer: Quiet us down, Lord, center us in Christ. Open us up to the wonder of Your Salvation. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all evil. We pray for Your favor and seek Your glory. Amen.