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.
Read: Luke 2:8-20
We get the feeling that heaven had waited a long time for this moment. In the fullness of time and in just the right place Christ finally arrived. He came in answer to mankind’s great need of redemption. He came in fulfillment of prophecy. He came “to shine on those living in darkness.” But the angel only said; “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” He offered no Old Testament quote. Nor did the Angel give a lengthy explanation. Instead, the Angel used simple things like strips of cloth and a manger as confirmation. So much could have been said, but the angel was content to use only the immediate circumstances as a sign.
At Christmas we might wish that people were well versed in Old Testament prophesy and well aware of their desperate spiritual need. But most are not. They are unacquainted with what we believe would help them to appreciate the Christmas message. The example of the announcing angel teaches us not to frustrate ourselves. The simple and immediate circumstances of Christ’s presence in our lives is the most effective sign of His reality. Hospitality, compassion, service, and simple words of faith and trust become the strips of cloth and manager in the Christian’s testimony. These are the signs pointing to the reality of Christ the Lord.
Prayer: We give you thanks, O God, for all the prophecy and revelation preparing us for the Messiah. We find ourselves anticipating along with the prophets the coming of the Savior. We rejoice in the fulfillment announced by the angel. But help us to see as well the importance of our own lives as an immediate witness to Your coming. Amen.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Read: Luke 2:8-20
The shepherds in the fields illustrate an important truth about evangelism and missions. There are times when it is most appropriate for God’s glorious good news to take people by surprise. The shepherds have no forewarning. No effort is made to lay the ground work for understanding. God did not send them prophets to explain angels or priests to define salvation or missiologists to articulate who should receive this good news. Suddenly, as if from no where, the sky is filled with God’s glory. God’s announcement resounds in the night air. Good news needs an audience and the shepherds were available.
The shepherds were not polled for their opinion or researched by an advance team. Yet they were recipients to one of the greatest evangelistic messages ever presented. Who better than shepherds, camped out under the stars, to receive the good news. Perhaps, most of the message went over their heads, but that was to be expected as was their hurried trip to Bethlehem.
Prayer: Move us, Lord, to express Your good news freely and joyfully. Free us from being so calculated and contrived in our witness. Your praise deserves an audience among our friends and neighbors. To God be the glory great things He has done. Amen.
“…Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…So Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem.”
Read: Luke 2:1-7
God enters this world in disguise. Instead of a militant messiah with a vanguard of warlords the God of the cross is born to a peasant family in an obscure Palestinian village. He comes quietly, uninvited and unexpected. Theologians speak of the hidden God, His power and majesty concealed so the power of love and grace may be revealed. God goes before us in ways completely unexpected.
From his palace in Rome, Caesar issues an order effecting everyone in the Roman Empire. A word from Caesar and everyone must jump, but even the political power of the Roman empire is orchestrated to serve the purposes of God and fulfill prophecy. Caesar’s political sovereignty is an illusion but the poverty of Jesus is real. We get a sense of the fullness of time from Mary and Zechariah’s songs but when we actually look at what happened the circumstances look ill-conceived and difficult. I wonder if Mary and Joseph ever asked themselves, “If God is in this why don’t things go better?”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to see Your purposes in our difficulties. If our privations and problems reveal Your glory so be it. Help us not to complain and grow discouraged. Teach us to see Your grace going before us. May this Christmas be filled with joy not in spite of our poor circumstances but even because of them. May Your Glory be revealed. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:67-79
Zechariah and Mary praised the Lord in similar ways. The same truths emerge in their songs of praise: God’s people need redemption and deliverance; God scatters the proud, turns away the rich, and rescues us “from the hand of all who hate us;” God enables us to serve Him without fear and God gives His people a future secured by His grace and mercy. Zechariah and Mary have the wisdom to see that all of this is God’s doing and not man’s achievement. They provide instructive commentary on our tendency to generate enthusiasm and manufacture “results.”
For Zechariah and Mary the “doing” is done by God. God’s grace goes before our work; defining, shaping and sanctifying our service. Our first task is always worship and praise; recognizing the great work of salvation God is doing. He goes before us, involving us in His work.
Prayer: Father, we are filled with praise for all You have done. Give us eyes to see Your grace and behold Your salvation. Forgive us for our self-effort and wrong-headed activism. Give us a heart that truly sings Your praises. Guide our feet into the path of peace. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:46-55
Our prayers of praise may describe better than anything else who we really are. When Mary wrote what is now known as the “Magnificat” she was young but far from immature. Her wisdom is evident in her response to God. Mary’s life is centered in God. She is focused on the Lord of History and the God of the Ages. The poetry of her soul reveals a passion for God reserved in today’s church for people much older than a young teen.
Mary understands her personal deliverance in the larger context of God’s salvation history. In our imagination we might like to picture Mary as a young, innocent, sensitive girl, who felt more than she thought. Her song of praise proves otherwise. She is a serious Christian. Today we use her wisdom to instruct our worship.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Mary’s song of praise. May her praise become our praise and may our children sing her song of deliverance. Indeed, Your mercy extends to those who fear You from generation to generation. You have been mindful of our humble state and lifted us up. Amen.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
Read: Luke 1:29-56
We all have to serve somebody – the question is who? For Mary there was little question. She got to the bottom line without the inner conflict and questioning that bothers so many Christians today. Perhaps our confusion stems from not knowing who we really are. Is our self-identity defined by Christ or by something else? Some people’s self-worth is tied to their salary or their success at work or their stylish clothes or the sub-division they live in. Mary had none of the usual props that many seem to need for a good performance. Mary was her own person. She knew who she was because of her singular commitment to God. Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Mary’s relationship with God meant she knew herself. Because we are made in the image of God and have an inner desire to know God and be loved by God we do not really know who we are apart from God. Mary cut through the confusion of overwhelming change with a simply stated, deeply felt conviction; “I am the Lord’s servant.” In Mary there was no conflict of interest. Can the same thing be said of us?
Prayer: Father, help me to connect with Your will the way Mary did. Like Mary I am surprised at times by what You want me to do. It’s not entirely clear as to what You want from me, but help me to be open and willing to do everything You have in mind. I am Your servant. Not my will but Your will be done. Amen.
“..You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
“…And they will call him Immanuel — which means ‘God with us.’”
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
The fact that we need God with us because of our sin is a sobering fact. We would like to be so attractive and righteous in ourselves that God simply wants to be with us because we are so good. But Christ did not come into his creation as a human being to congratulate us but to redeem us. Since mankind sold out to sin we needed to be bought back. The price was unbelievably high. Like a fire in an art gallery which destroys priceless, original masterpieces, sin destroyed the holiness and righteousness of God’s creation.
God did not wave a wand and start over. Even fallen, sinful men and women are made in His image and worth redeeming. God determined to restore the masterpiece to the specifications of His holiness and righteousness through the painstaking work of Jesus Christ. Becoming a new creation in Christ is possible because God did not give up on us but came to us to save us.
Prayer: We confess Lord, that we are not in a mood to think about sin at Christmas, especially our own sin. Your coming to earth and being with us seems so positive and inspiring and sin is so negative and discouraging. Help us Lord to face the sobering truth of why You came and then let us rejoice in Your forgiveness and acceptance. Give us courage to share the truth about Christmas with our friends. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:39-45
Elizabeth played a special role in Mary’s life just like her son, John, did in Jesus’ life. Mary did not have to bear the blessing alone. She runs to Elizabeth for encouragement and support and she receives a tremendous affirmation. The Holy Spirit creates and confirms the work of God. The Spirit “overshadowed” Mary and “filled” Elizabeth.
Although we only have a brief description of their conversation, we can readily see that to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with unreserved, unashamed praise. “In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Added to her praise is humility. “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Added to her humility is joy. “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” And added to her praise, humility and joy, is faith. “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Elizabeth gave to Mary the best possible gift she could have. The work of the Spirit includes the work of encouragement. Who can measure the value of that gift shared among God’s people this Christmas?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the “Elizabeths” in our lives, who encourage the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Fill us with praise, humility, joy and faith. Help us to recognize, appreciate and confirm Your work in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.