I’ve got a friend who, when he sees people with a sour face, likes to say, “Smile! God’s in a good mood.” It usually takes them a second to hear what he said, then they laugh or smile. Many of us think of God as this angry, Old Testament figure who is sitting up in Heaven speaking in old English and is looking for someone to smite. As a result, we try to live a smite free life that makes us miserable.
If God is always angry, why did He give us the gift of His Son? I can tell you that when I’m upset or angry with someone, giving them a life changing gift is not an idea floating around in my head. In the Old Testament, we had a pact with God where we would do our part to keep the relationship open through sacrifice, but we constantly fell short. That did make God angry and upset. How do you feel when someone breaks a promise to you? No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t do it.
Out of love, God decided to establish a New Covenant between us. One where when we fall short on our end, Jesus makes up the difference. His birth was also the birth of grace. It announced that God would make a way to reestablish the relationship between He and us. His desire has always been that we would know Him, and go to live with Him for eternity. To take the burden off of us trying to keep our part, He sent Jesus.
John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (NLT). Smile! That’s good news. This Christmas, celebrate the birth of grace into our world. Live your life in response to God’s love for you rather than out of the fear of being smitten.
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This time of year, it becomes obvious that many of us don’t remember much more than the first verse of most Christmas Carols. As we lead up to Christmas this week, I want to explore some powerful verses in some of my favorite carols.
A few years ago, we were preparing for Christmas. I was putting gifts in boxes, then sliding them to my wife who was wrapping them. After she would wrap, she would ask who the gift was for. On one such gift, she looked at me with pen in hand expectantly. I looked at the box, smiled, and said, “That one is for you!” She had been so busy wrapping that she couldn’t remember what was on the box.
That’s kind of how God snuck the gift of our savior into the world. It wasn’t a big showy presentation. It was delivered in a barn through a humble girl who was barely known. The world would expect the King of Kings to get around the clock coverage, tweets wondering what His name would be, and hashtags so everyone could follow. But that’s not how God did it. He did it oppositely from the way we would have done it.
The lyrics of “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” described it like this:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in
God silently sent us His gift of redemption. The path to Heaven was illuminated by a star instead of spotlights. It was announced to shepherds instead of to people of social stature. Those who were looking and listening for Him found a baby lying in a manger in the small town of Bethlehem, which wasn’t even the capital. God entered this world silently so that those who are seeking Him will find Him. Those who find Him and receive Him will have His peace live in their heart and their sins forgiven. Oh what a gift that was given in the little town of Bethlehem.
I don’t think the innkeeper ever gets enough credit at Christmas. Sure, we mention him in passing when reading Luke 2 for our plays, but no one ever really thinks about him. To me, he played a critical role in the birth of our Savior. He provided the setting for every nativity you’ve ever seen. Yet have you ever looked at a nativity and thought of him? I know the scene isn’t about him, but it wouldn’t look like that if it weren’t for him.
We know that Ceasar Augustus had called for a census. It’s not like the censuses we take today where government workers come to your house and ask you questions. Each family had to travel to the hometown of their ancestors. For Joseph, that was Bethlehem. It was an 80 mile trip that he and Mary had to walk or ride by donkey. Mary was obviously in her third trimester and I’m sure had to stop pretty often.
By the time the two of them arrived, the town was full. I’m sure they went to his family to try to stay with them. After having no luck with any of his family, they started going to the inns in the city, but quickly found out it was no better. Joseph must have been getting desperate. Mary could have been having contractions and he needed some place for his son to be born. As the sun set, he knew they were out of options. Maybe this particular innkeeper had compassion on them and offered shelter in the stable.
We really don’t know the details, but what we do know is that they ended up in his stable. This particular innkeeper thought differently than the others. With no room in the inn, he offered them the only other place he had. He wasn’t going to turn a weary pregnant woman away. I’m sure he had no idea that she was carrying his Messiah. I’m sure he didn’t know that his stable would become a sanctuary. We simply know that he offered what he had and it was more than enough to be the setting for the birth of the King of Kings.
It makes me wonder how many times I’ve not had time or room for people in my life. How many times have I been like the other innkeepers in Bethlehem? What if some of them were sent to me by God? I believe that God gives us daily opportunities to open up and let others into the inn of our lives, but too often we are busy and are full so we turn them away. I believe if we found even just a small space for them, we could change their world. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget or neglect or refuse to extend hospitality to strangers [in the brotherhood – being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for through it some have entertained angels without even knowing it (AMP).” The innkeeper entertained the Son of God unaware evacuee he was open to helping others.
When looking into the birth of Jesus, you have to look into Mary. She is the first one to get the news that she would give birth to our Savior. We don’t know how old she was or what she was doing when the Angel Gabriel arrived to give her the news. We do know it frightened her though. Gabriel reassured her and said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!” That words “found favor” can be translated to “brought joy, pleasure or delight to.” The Angel was telling her that she lived a life that brought joy to God and he was there to bring good news.
I wonder what went through Mary’s mind as he began to tell her that she was going to be pregnant with the Messiah. Did she start to wonder what kind of mom she would be? When he said her child would reign over Israel forever, did she grasp what he was saying? He gave her a lot to think about as he laid out God’s plan for her child. I don’t know what all she thought about, but I do know she was concerned about being pregnant. She asked, “How can this happen? I am a virgin.” She wasn’t questioning him. She, like you and I, wanted to know the specifics of God’s plan.
I love Gabriel’s response in Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment (AMP).” When God promises something to us, He will fulfill it. It doesn’t matter how impossible it may sound to us, God has the ability to make it happen. He is not bound by our limitations. He isn’t limited by our income. He is not intimidated by our fears. He is able to do exceedingly above and beyond all we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). The angel’s message to Mary (and us): If God said it, He will do it.
I think Mary’s response to that should be our response to God. It showed who she really was and why God chose her for such a task as to bring His Son into the world. Luke 1:38 says, “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.'” It didn’t matter how impossible it sounded or how big a task it was, she was ready to do what God asked her to do. She pushed past her fear of the unknown. She looked beyond the possible shame of being pregnant out of wedlock. She agreed to do whatever it was that God asked her to do.
You and I need to learn to trust God’s plan above all else. It may seem impossible, out of reach or even outlandish, but if God said He would do it, our response she be like her’s. We should be willing to endure shame, push past our fears and trust that God knows what He’s doing. If we want our lives to bring joy, pleasure and delight to the King of Kings, then we should be a servant who’s willing to serve in whatever capacity He has for us. God’s looking for us to simply trust Him and say, “May everything you say about me come true.”
Ever since Cain and Abel, shepherds have had a special place in God’s heart. I don’t know if it’s because they protect and watch the defenseless or if it’s because they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for something that is not their own. Throughout the Bible, God has shown his love for shepherds. He gave one dreams that were fulfilled when he became second in command of Egypt. He used one to lead his people out of captivity. He even turned one into the most famous King of Israel. So it’s no surprise that shepherds were among the first to know about the birth of Jesus.
It was an ordinary night for them during that time of year. The Bible says they were keeping watch of their flocks by night. The only time shepherds stay with sheep at night are during the lambing season (when the flock gives birth). There are only two times a year that sheep can give birth (Spring or Fall). During these few weeks, the shepherds stay with the flock 24/7 so they can help with the birthing process. They make sure there are no complications and they protect the newborn.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God first gave the news of Jesus’ birth to shepherds. They are the ones who could protect the baby should any problems arise. They were not weak individuals like we see displayed in our nativity scenes. They were strong, rugged people who could defend the sheep against any foe. David said he fought a lion and a bear in order to protect his sheep. If either of those showed up to eat a lamb that didn’t belong to us, most of us would run and let them have the sheep. But not shepherds. They would fight to the end.
Shepherds were also closely knit. They knew where different grazing pastures were. They communicated with each other so that the land could sustain their flocks. What better way to spread the news of the birth of our Savior than through the communication network of shepherds. The news could be spread far and wide quickly. Luke 2:17 says, “After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” God chose them because they wouldn’t be silent.
Today, you and I are like those shepherds. God has entrusted us with the good news of what Jesus has done. He asked us before He left to go into all the world proclaiming the Gospel. For some of us, that’s a small world of just a few friends. For others, it’s a much larger network of people. There are some who are called to carry the message to places it has not been heard. Wherever you go, however big your network is, our responsibility is to let everyone know what happened when we met our Savior.