(From Theologically Driven. Used by permission.)
We’ve been hearing a lot of warnings these last few years about the coming persecution of Christians. And a look around the globe reveals that public sentiment really is turning perceptibly against Christians—chiefly abroad, but with fresh harbingers here on American soil. Unfortunately, these warnings have fostered a troubling response among some well-meaning believers.
Rather than making “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity,” because “this is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Tim 2:2–3), a rather sizable group of believers have begun, rather unquietly andunpeacefully, to incite persecution by saying and doing ungodly and undignified things. Which is to say they are doing something bad that displeases God.
Especially at this time of the year, Christians all over the world are making public statements about the supreme gift God the Father made to mankind: His own eternal Son, Jesus Christ the Lord.
For hundreds of years before the Lord Jesus arrived on planet Earth, the Father had promised to His people Israel that His Son was coming to provide salvation to those who would believe in Him. For example, Moses wrote:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear… And [God the Father confirmed that] it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. (NKJV, Deut. 18:15-19; cf. Acts 3:22)
In His own words, the Son of God explained through the prophet Isaiah (700 years before He added a true and complete human nature to His eternal divine nature):
Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was [the Creation], I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me. (Isa. 48:16)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor… To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. (Isa. 61:1, 2; cf. Luke 4:18, 19)
In a previous article, I suggested that the ruling descendants of David had migrated from Babylon to Nazareth. It is also possible that some of the descendants of David first moved to Bethlehem—David’s original home town—and then later migrated to Nazareth, perhaps joining other family members who had come from Babylon. Or perhaps they had all come, more recently, from Bethlehem.
When Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:1), it is unlikely that they returned to Bethlehem simply because David had been born there a full thousand years earlier. Luke’s brief summary for the reason of their journey to Bethlehem is just that: a brief summary of what might otherwise be an involved (and tedious) explanation.
Every year it becomes sadly apparent that fewer and fewer Americans understand what Christmas really means.
Christmas is an international celebration of a moment in history on planet Earth when God’s eternal Son, whom we know as the Lord Jesus Christ, became a genuine and permanent member of mankind in order to die for our sins upon a cross.
The key word is love—not our love, but God’s love. In spite of our profound selfishness, pride and indifference to the claims of a holy and loving God, He—not willing that any should perish—provided the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God, to die in our place—as our substitute, our divine and sinless representative—and to rise from the dead.
Christ (the Messiah) was born in Bethlehem of Judea and raised in Nazareth of Galilee 2,000 years ago. He was sent into the world by God the Father because of His love for human beings.
Seven hundred years before Christ (i.e., Messiah) was born, the prophet Isaiah was told that He 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. “Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son [i.e., fully human], and shall call His name Immanuel [i.e., God with us, fully divine]’” (Isa. 7:13-14). In the very next chapter, the prophet is told that the God of Israel is “Immanuel” (Isa. 8:8; cf. 8:10).
But how could a virgin have a child? That was the urgent question that Mary asked Gabriel, the messenger-angel sent from God: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). The answer was astounding, and is recorded by Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14): “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit [i.e., the third person of the triune God] will come upon you, 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…. For with God nothing will be impossible’ ” (Luke 1:35-37).
Celebrating Christmas is a skill. I’m not particularly good at this craft, but I have at least figured out that you must handle the holidays with a measure of prowess. Just letting Christmas happen to you is a recipe for trouble. Like sailing a ship, Christmas is an opportunity requiring keen attention at the helm.
Every year, it seems, I gain a lesson in what not to do and resolve to do things a little better the next time around. I do not pretend to offer anything like a comprehensive word on the subject here, nor to speak with authority. But after many tries at it, a few reflections may at least stimulate thought as we reflect back on this past season and look to the future.
This is harder for some than for others; but it is vital never to permit tradition or fantasy to overwhelm reality. Fulfilling traditions and meeting expectations is not evil; but unrestrained dreams can quickly morph into vampire-like nemeses that suck the joy from our souls. Have a long talk with your head (rather than your heart) at the outset of the holiday season: “Some preparations will fail. Unforeseen complications will arise. Some things will not go well. And all of that is okay.” Do not expect to hit a home run every Christmas; hitting a single now and then is acceptable. Moderate expectations can brighten the season considerably.