Christmas

My Favorite Christmas Carol

Years ago when our kids were very young, we lived in South Florida. Even though I hadn’t grown up with an annual white Christmas (snow in our part of Tennessee was a pretty rare event) I found it very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 75 degrees outside. You can only turn the air conditioning down so far, and there’s just something wrong with Christmas lights strung on palm trees.

In fairness, the people who lived there tried to get into the spirit of the season. One year a car dealership announced that they were bringing a truckload of snow to dump in their lot so that kids could come and play. There were a lot of kids there, including ours, to play in the “snow.” But what they ended up with looked more like something that came out of a snow cone machine than out of clouds in the sky.

Christmas has always been important to me. When we were very young, our parents had us memorize the Christmas story from Luke 2. We would quote it from memory on Christmas morning before opening the presents. When the only thing standing between you and presents is twenty verses from Luke, you can talk pretty fast.

Many of the traditions we set then when I was child carried forward into our family. Some of them, including Luke 2, we still do today. Although as long as my parents don’t read this, I’ll admit that these days somebody usually has a Bible handy in case we get stuck. I never can remember whether “and the shepherds returned” comes before or after “and Mary kept all these things.”

The world has commercialized Christmas to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. As poet and humorist Ogden Nash noted, “Christmas was once a season of love and good will. Now it’s the holiday that it’s so many shopping days until.” But it isn’t less important because the truth of the season is buried under mounds of presents and later mounds of credit card bills. Read more about My Favorite Christmas Carol

Books of Note - The First Thanksgiving and A Better December

The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Every year around Thanksgiving, I enjoy reflecting on the Pilgrims, their Mayflower voyage and that firstThanksgiving back in 1621. Being a descendant of no less a figure than John Alden (the one who stole Miles Standish’s girl, Priscilla Mullins) only encourages my Thanksgiving reverie. This year, I enjoyed finishing a first-rate historical survey of that special Pilgrim holiday. The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History by Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP, 2013), is a book I thoroughly enjoyed but one that challenged me to reexamine the historical record and the reasons why I love to reflect on my Puritanical roots.

McKenzie takes the occasion of writing a book on the first thanksgiving, to remind his Christian audience about the role history should play in our faith. He covers the nuts and bolts of historical research while he’s at it. Now, he does tip some sacred cows. He points out how we have scant records of the actual first thanksgiving, and demurs that it wasn’t the first thanksgiving in any true sense—at least four other public occasions of thanksgiving in America (the French Huguenots on Florida’s shores in 1565 being the earliest) have greater claim to that honor. Intriguingly “Plymouth Rock” was born from second-hand recollections of an original Pilgrim some 100 years or more after their landing. And more importantly, American history didn’t instill the Pilgrims’ autumnal feast with national importance for several hundred years. It was left for Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the first American President to directly connect the national observance of Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims of Plymouth and their historic feast. Read more about Books of Note - The First Thanksgiving and A Better December

Sermons by the Greatest "Christmas Prophet"

Barbieri (17th century). The prophet Isaiah reading from a scroll.

The prophet Isaiah was surely the greatest “Christmas Prophet” of the Old Testament. Let us briefly consider two of his most famous Christmas sermons.

Isaiah Chapter 7

One of the great marvels surrounding Jesus’ birth was the fact of His virgin conception.

But how could a virgin be with child and bear a son? Luke explains: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35, NKJV). Was this impossible? No, “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

Not only was it not impossible, it was predicted 700 years before by Isaiah. He received the message that Christ, the Messiah, would be one Person with two natures—divine and human.

At a time of great crisis for Israel, the house of David was given a great promise: Read more about Sermons by the Greatest "Christmas Prophet"

Book Review - Why Christ Came

Image of Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation
by Joel R. Beeke, William Boekestein
Reformation Heritage Books 2013
Paperback 160

Why? Every young child’s favorite word is “why?” Why do we have to go to bed now? Why can’t we have licorice for dinner? Why do we have to always brush our teeth?

With the hustle and bustle of another Christmas season upon us. It is the grown up children among us who are asking “Why?” Why make such a fuss with wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, when the kids are just going to break the toy in a couple days and complain about it. Why go through with painful family trips to the in-laws, awkward holiday parties at work and endure the rush at the mall?

Christmas ultimately is much more than gifts and toys, we know. It is about a baby in a manger, and a donkey standing in the stable (or is the donkey really part of the picture?). The routine nature of Christmas choirs and holiday schedules threaten to have us asking “Why?” even as we think about the Christ child. We get it, Christ came. Can’t we make more of a fuss over the cross and the empty tomb?

Meditating on the incarnation

Against this backdrop, authors Joel Beeke and William Boekestein present 31 meditations on the incarnation in a little book titled Why Christ Came. Unlike many Christmas devotionals, this book does not recount the Scriptural account of Christ’s birth. It doesn’t play gotcha about the donkey and other extra-Scriptural additions to the Christmas story. Instead this book focuses on the big question: Why.  Why is it so special Christ came? Read more about Book Review - Why Christ Came

Still Waiting

Christendom just wrapped up its official season of waiting. “Advent” (from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival”) is a nearly month long liturgical celebration marking the long-awaited arrival of Messiah some 2,000 years ago.

But coupled to this retrospective, celebratory focus, there is also to be a prospective, anticipatory disposition. To be sure, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was born in a Bethlehem stable two millennia past. But this same Jesus will come again and Christians are called to await his second advent with expectant hope (Titus 2:13).

It is worth noting that the disposition of awaiting Messiah’s coming binds God’s people together across the millennia. From the first cryptic prophesy (Genesis 3:15), thousands of years of increasingly unambiguous prophesies encouraged a spirit of keen anticipation of Messiah’s first advent. Read more about Still Waiting

What Guided the Magi?

Previously (Part 1) we looked at a few myths surrounding the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem. We questioned the ideas about the sources of their knowledge of the star and the “King of the Jews” as lying in astronomical phenomena or in astrological “signs.” What is an alternative explanation for their knowledge?

It is possible that the oracles of Balaam served as the source for their expectation of a Jewish king. Of the four oracles delivered by that fascinating man from beyond the Euphrates River (Num. 22:5), the last is most expressive: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). It is possible that the Magi from Persia had preserved the words of their “ancestor” Balaam and remembered his ancient prophecy when a “Star” did appear out of Jacob. Mention of the scepter also echoes an earlier Messianic reference in Gen 49:10.

An even stronger source for the Magi’s scriptural knowledge comes from the Book of Daniel. In the LXX Greek translation (Dan. 2:2,10), one of the words translated “wise men” is the same as the Greek word used in Matthew 2 (μάγοι/magoi). These Magi in ancient Babylon served as a religious caste in the state religion. One of their functions was to interpret dreams—a role in which they failed miserably in Daniel 2:1-13. Note Daniel 2:13—“So the decree went out, and the wise men (Magi) were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.” Therefore, Daniel and his three friends were associated with the Magi due to their God-given ability (Dan. 1:20-21). When Daniel accurately interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:17-45), he was rewarded with an even higher position among them: “Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men (including the Magi) of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). Read more about What Guided the Magi?

A Christmas Question

Sermon 291 by C. H. Spurgeon, delivered on Sunday, December 25th, 1859 at Exeter Hall, Strand.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6.

Upon other occasions I have explained the main part of this verse—”the government shall be upon his shoulders, his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God.” If God shall spare me, on some future occasion I hope to take the other titles, “The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” But now this morning the portion which will engage our attention is this, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The sentence is a double one, but it has in it no tautology. The careful reader will soon discover a distinction; and it is not a distinction without a difference. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God’s Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father. The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remaineth among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then were he not divine. Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.” He was not born in this world as God’s Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Read more about A Christmas Question

The Messenger

NickImage

He sped through the void, an ancient Authority trailed by an army of grave Dignities, together a legion of radiance and power. He thought nothing of the emptiness of space. Indeed, he did not perceive the emptiness, for wherever he flew he was bathed in the brightness of the One-Who-Is. He had been sent from the High Throne to bear a message from the One to the little creatures of that distant world.

Distant? In one way, certainly. One of the smaller globes whirling about a rather insignificant star perched on the edge of a nondescript galaxy, this world was a mere speck in the cosmic expanse. On the other hand, it was not distant at all, for here the One-Who-Is had shaped beings like Himself and had breathed His own breath into them. While the One saw everything always, He had focused His purpose upon this tiny planet. Here He had planned a drama that was unfolding like a long story in chapters of creation, fall, calling, redemption, tribulation, and consummation. A new chapter of that epic was about to open.

The Authority reflected that he had often journeyed this way in the past. He had once been sent to a man on the banks of the Ulai to deliver an explanation that outlined the future of this little world. Later on, he had been sent to that same tired man, this time to tell of a coming Anointed One. The man had written down these descriptions, and the information had become an important center of attention for those who anticipated the Anointed One. Read more about The Messenger

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