Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Fresh Start

Need a fresh start?
Every New Year's Eve, thousands of people flock into Times Square and elbow-to-elbow, wait for the dropping of the ball. When the ball drops, confetti rains from the sky, noisemakers raise a din, and couples kiss enthusiastically.

Why does everyone love the New Year so much? Why all the hoopla?

I think it has something to do with starting fresh. Whether we want to do something better, or break a bad habit, the beginning of the year is a dividing line; we put away yesterday and look toward a new, and better tomorrow.

There is something within the heart of man that wants a fresh start. I think it has something to do with how hopelessly flawed all of us are. As Jeremiah put it, "the heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
a puzzle that no one can figure out." (Jeremiah 17:9, The Message)

Even one of the greatest giants of the new testament struggled with human weakness. "I do not understand what I do," the Apostle Paul said. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15 NLT)

We tell ourselves, maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe I'll be a better person. Maybe my will power will be stronger. Maybe I'll lose the weight I've been struggling with. Maybe my health will improve. Maybe I'll make more money.

Mankind desperately wants a fresh start, but what many don't seem to understand or accept is the fact that followers of Christ have a fresh start every single morning. He forgives 70 times 7, and removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. How far is that you ask? I'm not a big traveler, but from what I understand, it's pretty far. In fact, I don't think the east and west ever meet. Wherever you are on this globe, east is one way and west is the other. There is no line separating the two. Neither is there a line we can cross over to find the sins that God has forgiven. They are simply gone. Removed. No more.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Quiet Christmas

Into a Spiritual Winter

Like Narnia, the nation of Israel was
experiencing a spiritual winter.

The first prophecy that Jesus would come to save mankind was given way back in Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God did not wait long to tell them that a rescue would be coming. Right after He dealt with Adam and Eve about their sin, He told the serpent:

"And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman, who would "strike the head" of the serpent.

Although there had been many prophecies about the coming Messiah, it had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken in Israel. God had been silent.  It was a spiritual winter. Almost like the Narnia of C.S. Lewis, where it was always winter but never Christmas.

Into this silence, a messenger arrived with a startling announcement for a young, Jewish girl.


Mary was probably between 12 and 14 years old.
Mary was young, probably between 12 and 14 years old. The day Gabriel came, she was probably working, quietly going about her daily duties. It was a regular day—a day of weaving, cleaning, and helping to take care of her younger brothers and sisters.

Mary’s future was a lot like that of most other young Jewish girls. She looked forward to getting married to her fiancĂ©, Joseph, and starting her life as a wife and mother.

Life was very ordinary. Nothing ever seemed to happen in Nazareth. But one day, something startling did happen. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

The future that Mary had imagined for herself was instantly shattered. She was a virgin, and had been keeping herself pure for marriage to Joseph. What would he say if she were to become pregnant? Besides that, how was it even possible?

The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) The angel left and the room was once again quiet. In the silence, Mary breathed a prayer to God.

What would her parents think? What would Joseph think?


It was quiet that night in Bethlehem. Crisp. Cold. Clear. Joseph leaned against the stable wall and looked out. The stars looked especially bright in the black ink of the night sky.

There, on the edge of town, the wind blew down from the hills, whooshing through the trees and whistling around the edge of the stable. Joseph remembered the words the Angel of the Lord had spoken to him in a dream:

“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph wondered, could it be his own Mary was fulfilling the words of the prophecy: “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means ‘God with us?’”

Jesus was born in a stable while the animals looked on.

A Lowly Manger

The stable was mostly quiet. The cows, donkeys, and sheep gave off a friendly warmth that almost made the stable feel cozy.

Mary and Joseph could hear the shuffling of hooves as the animals moved in their stalls, and the fluttering wings of the doves overhead.

One small child, who would forever change the world.
Somehow, the animals had been more welcoming than the people of Bethlehem! Truly, Bethlehem was sleeping that night, physically sleeping and spiritually sleeping, completely unaware that the King of the Universe had just made His appearance.

The town was quiet now—everyone gone to bed—and the only other sounds were the low sound of the wind coming down from the hills and the occasional small cries of the newborn baby.

Who would have thought that this one, small child would forever change the world? He came so quietly, in the darkness of night, to such a common, ordinary family, and in such an unexpected way.

The people of Bethlehem had no idea who had been born in their town that night. They slept right through one of the greatest events of history.

A Bunch of Lowly Shepherds

A fire crackled in the darkness of the Judean hillside. A ragtag bunch of humble shepherds pulled their blankets tighter against the wind.
The angels announced the good news first to lowly shepherds.

The sheep were noisy as usual, the ewes and lambs baaing and bleating to each other. Suddenly, another sound exploded in the sky—it sounded like a rushing wind—and with it a bright light. An angel appeared in the sky, saying:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

The shepherds wanted to see with their own eyes the baby that the angel had spoken of. Could this really be the promised one? The one lamb who would take away the sin of the world?

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." (Luke 2:16-18)

All For Love

He humbled himself as a little baby, coming into this fallen world to redeem us.

God incarnate, Emmanuel, entered a sinful world through a lowly stable. He left the glory and majesty of heaven and humbled himself, becoming a little baby, and ultimately giving his life for us on a cruel cross.

He was the one spoken of by the apostle John—“in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh.” (John 1:1,14)

Why did he do it? Why did he cross the great divide between heaven and earth? Between God and man? He did it because He is love. Love crossed over with a purpose—the redemption of man, a gift from God to reconcile all mankind.

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