Has this been a tough year for you?

For some of us this has been a difficult year.

For Mary and Joseph the birth of Jesus brought inexplicable trials into their lives. Mary, a virgin, had given birth to a son. There had been no room for them in the Bethlehem inn; then they had to flee Israel to escape Herod’s pogrom of little children. However, they obeyed the inexplicable.

They fled to Egypt where they lived in a strange culture with different food, language, and foreign gods, until one day, again in a dream, an angel told them to return to Israel, to Nazareth. A Roman garrison in this small hill town led many Jews to despise it. In fact, when Nathaniel was asked to follow Jesus, he said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

The answer is a resounding, Yes! Today we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might experience death for everyone. In suffering there is life, eternal life.

So here is a prayer for those of us weary with disappointment in our personal lives.

King of Kings, You control the universe and my life. Yet when bad things happen to me, I sometimes feel You are no longer in control. But You are in control, so give me faith to carry me through deep waters of sorrow, loss, and pain. Jesus suffered that I might live eternally. Strengthen that hope within me.

The gifts of the wise men

The wise men were possibly Zorastrians from what is modern day Iran. They travelled for over a month to meet and pay homage to a new King; this they now did. They fell down and worshipped Him, then they opened their treasure sacks and offered Him gifts only a king could receive: gold (as tribute to a ruler); frankincense (as worship to a god, since Persian rulers were deemed god-like); and myrrh (as one day even god-like humans die).

These three gifts are extraordinary, but the most amazing is the gift of myrrh. In it, we are reminded that Jesus came to earth to die. The death and resurrection of a suffering Messiah is at the centre of our faith. Somehow the wise men recognized that.

Wise men

Wise men still seek Jesus; what will you do or say today to help them?

Simeon speaks words of strife

God sent His Son Jesus to earth as a suffering Messiah. This oxymoron—the suffering Messiah—is what the world finds so difficult to accept.

Simeon still wants to encourage us

Lord Jesus, give me a relationship with You that allows Your Spirit to speak through me to a world that needs to hear about You. I pray especially for the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment so that I am effective and prophetic in Your name. Make me expectant that You will use me today.

Simeon understands why Messiah came

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, to dedicate him to God as a firstborn child, they met Simeon.

Here was a man who has waited a lifetime for this moment. He was filled with prophetic joy. The God he talked to each day had, through the Holy Spirit, brought him into the temple on this special day and given him words of prophetic revelation that Christians still treasure: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your promise. Because my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared for all people to see—a light that will reveal salvation to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel”  Luke 2: 29-32

A Messiah, not only for Israel, but for the whole world had been born.

Affirmation

On the night Jesus was born, Mary lay in postnatal exhaustion, cuddling the baby Jesus. She must have wondered if this babe in her arms was really the long promised Messiah, whether the angel Gabriel had really appeared to her nine months earlier. He had said that God’s favour meant that Mary would become pregnant and give birth to a Son. His name would be Jesus; He would be the Saviour. More than that, He would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God would give Him the throne of his forefather David. He would rule over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom would never end.

Such news had been totally overwhelming for Mary. And yet here she was in a manger behind an inn holding this baby. Suddenly raucous shepherds burst into the quiet of the stable night. These noisy shepherds confirmed that the amazing words she had received from Gabriel nine long months earlier were indeed true. The tiny baby she cradled in her arms was indeed the Son of God.

Mary needed this affirmation. When did you last affirm your church leaders, or your friends and family in their journey with God?

Prayer

My loving heavenly Father, You want to be involved in my life. And You want me to know that You are involved. Teach me how to give You space to work in me. Help me to meditate quietly on what you are saying and doing in my life. And give me the affirmation I need to enjoy my daily walk with You.

 

 

 

Unlikely people to choose as the first evangelists

Shepherds are hardly the quietest people on earth. Up in the hills they had to shout to hear each other over long distances, to draw in wandering sheep, and to scare away wild animals. Not for them, the quiet confines of a library. Now they were in the manger seeing the baby Jesus. Clearly the commotion they raised brought people from the inn to the manger to see what was happening. Luke says, “When they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about him (by the angels). Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was amazed” (Luke 2:17-18).

Of course people were amazed! Two thousand years later we are still reading this story with amazement. These shepherds became the first evangelists of the gospel, of the new kingdom that Jesus would bring into being.

As the commercial Christmas crowds around us, how effective can we be as evangelists for this baby who became the  Good Shepherd (in John’s gospel, chapter 10)?

A message for terrified shepherds

Sorry for a few days of silence; away in Paris. On Day Fourteen we meditate on the shepherds being told by dazzling angels that Messiah has come. Why should they believe this amazing story? Why would angels tell such humble people as them that Messiah had just been born? Yet they believed and they acted.

Are you good at thinking things through as you proceed on your spiritual journey? Is it time for you to act, to go to your Bethlehem and see what God has been talking to you about? When God speaks, He wants us to hear Him, to listen and obey. The shepherds are part of the Christmas story because that is exactly what they did.

 

What is faith?

In Day Six of Today in a Manger, we look at the teenage Mary’s amazing faith. She has just been told by the angel Gabriel that she, a virgin,  is going to become pregnant with the Son of God. Faith is trusting God when nothing else makes sense – a death in the family, a terrible illness, a job loss, an unexpected pregnancy.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, give me faith to trust You when everything else seems to have gone wrong in my life. I do not understand why everything happens, but I know that You do. Take up Your abode in me and free me of uncertainty, anger, sadness, and unbelief. Make me like Mary, ready to serve You. Let it be with me just as You say.