The Promise of Christmas

Family and good friends.  Jingle bells. Chestnuts roasting. White Christmas.  Santa Claus and reindeers.  Presents under the tree.  All these and more give us the feeling of Christmas.  What if we don’t have these feelings?  Then what?  What if we don’t even have family and friends to share with?

manger sceneThere is a void in each person that only God can fill.  As a society, we love things money can buy to fill this void.  Christmastime is a good excuse to buy for ourselves and for others.  I admit there are some material things that I like too, e.g., nice watches, boy-toys, guy gadgets, etc. We love to have things, nice-to-have-cool things.  Truth is… there is a sense of emptiness in all of this consumerism. When our “gas tank” is running low, it’s easy to fill our lives with substitutes.   We know that substitutes can also be harmful to ourselves and even to others. If you’ve ever been there, you’d know what I’m talking about.

Christmastime can be an excuse to fill our lives with some of these things to forget our troubles, or forget our loneliness. Sometimes, we try to satisfy our need for happiness using money, material things, sex, drugs and the latest highs. But no matter how much we may try to obtain happiness or distance ourselves from our sadness, the void can never be filled without God’s presence. There is a need in us that can only be filled with God’s love, peace and joy. It’s our real hope for the future.

What God offers to gift us with God’s presence and His love, joy and peace. Christmastime is meaningful when we celebrate our Lord Jesus because we know how much Christ means to us when we have personally experience God’s peace. What Jesus has given us is lasting because God is eternal.

When trials come, the joy of Christ does not fade, even in the midst of our unhappiness, or even our poverty.  When you’ve experience suffering but have Christ walking with you, you will know that this inner peace is real. When the pressures of this life and the weight of this world get heavy, and the inner joy from Jesus remains when nothing else remains, you will know that love of God is authentic.

In this season, may we be a blessing to others through giving, but more important is that we be receptive to God’s spiritual blessings.  St. Paul the Apostle said in Romans 15:13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In good times or in difficult circumstances, the hope, peace, joy, and love that God gives will remain.  That’s a promise from God–the best Christmas present we can receive. Merry Christmas!


Fragrance: a good gift not only for Christmas

Wisemen from the East gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

At Christmas, we think of gift-giving. As a baby, Jesus received fragrant gifts of frankincense and myrrh. These were aromatic resins used for personal, religious and medicinal purposes and for burial.

Near the end of Jesus’ life, he would receive one final and generous gift from a faithful woman.  She would be remembered as giving a generous legacy-gift. It would become a sweet-smelling fragrance that would accompany him to his burial.  In Mark 16, this woman came to Jesus with a jar of perfume to anoint Jesus from head to toe.  Some well-meaning folks around Jesus were concerned that this expensive perfume could have been sold and the money be given to the poor. Jesus’ response them was:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:6-9, NIV)

a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

What a gutsy thing to say to those who are concerned about the poor!  A couple things here that Jesus knew early on: 1/ The good news would be preached around the world; and 2/  That her generosity would be recorded and be re-told as a legacy.

One, Jesus had already known that the religious leaders were after him and wanted to kill him. He had already made this known to them by clearly drawing an analogy about his perceived death warrant in his telling of the parable of the tenants (i.e., the murder of the vineyard owner’s son).  Jesus would have assumed his pending death would be like a seed being planted, and later, sprout into good news being spread around the world.

Two, Jesus would have expected his death be recorded on paper and/or spread via word-of-mouth. How else would this woman’s generous gift be re-told to future generations?  As the Son of God and the Human One, Jesus is omniscient (all-knowing) as God is all-knowing. He would have known his future would result in a grander legacy than merely a post-generational myth. His own futuristic vision lays a groundwork for a new faith that would reach far beyond a reformed-type ofJudaism.

Faith in Jesus would bring about a radical and worldwide transformation.  Today, Christianity has a worldwide following that is fairly evenly spread throughout all continents. It is not an ethno-centric religion like Buddhism in East Asia, Hinduism in India, or Islam in the Middle East.   Billions of dedicated adherents of every race, ethnicity, culture, and hemisphere, are following Jesus.  Many thousands more each day are coming to trust in the Lord.

Upon the Advent or Coming of Jesus Christ, we will be celebrating a grand birthday around the entire globe including Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe (now being the minority).  We have hope in the Expected and Anointed One.

Time of joy, good tidings, and doing good

We subconsciously pickup from Santa songs that we get gifts according to how naughty or nice we’ve been.  If there were such a list, our gifts would be something we earn for doing good things (not totally free without strings attached).

Don’t we give with the intention that it’s a free gift without strings attached when we make donations to charities (e.g., Salvation Army bell-ringers, pack Christmas shoeboxes, etc.)?

In a letter to Titus, Paul speaks of doing what is good (Titus 3:4-5; 8),

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”” (NIV)

Regarding salvation, thank God there isn’t a naughty and nice list.  If God were to really keep a running list of all the naughty things and nice things that I have ever done throughout my life, I might be ashamed of the imbalanced tally of certain unnamed things. Following such a list can steal the joy that Christ gives because we have to work too hard to earn God’s approval.

Christmastime is all about the joy that Christ came to give us free, un-earned acceptance from God.  For Christians, our joy comes from knowing that God’s righteousness and mercy has made us righteous in God’s sight.  So spread the joy!  Donate to your favorite charities.  Serve in church.  Give of your service all year-long to your non-profit organizations. Freely give.




Our season for God’s hope, peace, joy, and love

Christians are preparing this season of Advent season leading up to Christmas, as a religious time to celebrate Christ’s entry into the world.  For many in North America, it’s about going to Christmas parties, buying presents, and racking up financial debt to pay for presents for siblings, parents, children, nephews and aunts. For some, it might be a hard and lonely time.  For others, maybe it’s a mix of everything. I hope this season, people can slow down to reflect on the reason for Christmas.  We are a fast-moving society that’s in a hurry to get from place to place–from work to home to parties.

A prophet spoke of a people who didn’t take time to observe a Sabbath rest as God had commanded.  They hardened their hearts toward God. They didn’t slow down to celebrate God’s salvation and worship the Lord as God had designed for them to worship. In a way, our society today has also hardened our hearts toward the things of God.

In Hebrews 3:7, 12 and 15, it writes:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts“… “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness“… “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

As Christians, it is very important that we slow down and rest.  In our rest, God can come into our busy lives.  Manufactured hope, peace, joy and love do not last; it’s artificial.  But God sent Jesus into this world to bring us something genuine.  He came to:

  • bring us an eternal hope that leads to salvation so that we may be with God forever,
  • give us inner peace between a sinful humanity and a holy God,
  • give us real joy  that comes from God’s unconditional forgiveness,
  • share God’s love with us.

These things are eternal and lasts forever.  May God’s grace find its way into your lives this Christmas /Advent season.

A bright light shining in the darkness

In one of the readings in church this Christmas Eve will be Isaiah 9:2,6-7.  The Hebrew prophet says: “The people walking in darkness see a bright light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness” (NET).  Many of us are walking in darkness and are blind to our own sin of pride (one of seven capital sins).  I think this is why many people today do not feel any need for a savior.

This definition of pride clearly reveals what the sin of pride is:

PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866). It is essentially an act or disposition of the will desiring to be considered better than a person really is. Pride may be expressed in different ways: by taking personal credit for gifts or possessions, as if they had not been received from God; by glorying in achievements, as if they were not primarily the result of divine goodness and grace; by minimizing one’s defects or claiming qualities that are not actually possessed; by holding oneself superior to others or disdaining them because they lack what the proud person has; by magnifying the defects of others or dwelling on them. When pride is carried to the extent that a person is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God and refuses to submit his or her will to God or lawful authority, it is a grave sin. [source]

This word brings a light that shines so brightly upon my darkness that I recognize a sin that was hidden from me.  I clearly have a need for a savior. Immanuel, “God who is with us”, has come.  The birth of Jesus the Messiah is good news indeed!

Have a blessed Christmas!

Crossway has a way to help you share the good news of Christmas

Is your church beginning to plan a Christmas musical/production? How about delivering gift bags while Christmas carolling? Crossway has creative and cost-effective way to help churches, para-ministries, and individuals engage in missional activity in a pro-active way.  When your friends or neighbors open up these bags, I feel the two most important items they will find are an invitation, and a small outreach edition of the New Testament. The tract and the temporary access to an online bible for 30 days are what I’d consider throw-aways.

What type of events might the invitation be used for? Perhaps the annual Christmas production or musical, the Christmas Eve service, a home-group meeting, or even for coffee in your own home?  I can also see how churches engaging in missional outreach might want to deliver these little gift bags by hand within their surrounding community, or if they’re not home, visitors may even hang them onto the doors at friends’ homes during a home visitation or during Christmas carolling.  But it’s the personal invitation that will bring them out to a Christmas event at church.  That is where the real personal outreach ministry happens.

These kits by Crossway contain:

  • 50 Christmasy door-hanger bags
  • 50 New Testaments (ESV) Christmas outreach editions
  • 50 customizable invitations to attend a Christmas service at your church/ministry
  • 50 copies of The Good News of Christmas tract by Max Lucado
  • 50 cards giving 30-day access to the ESV Online Study Bible
  • 1 instruction card
  • 1 reproducible church bulletin insert

In Canada, these kits sell Cdn$59.99 (or Cdn$1.20 per home).  In the US, it’s US$50.00 per kit (US$1.00 per home).

Charlie Brown: Linus really does know what Christmas is all about

What get’s your Christmas spirit into gear?
Charlie Brown’s Christmas does it for me…so does Scrooge.

How many people did the shepherds tell about the angelic appearance?

God sends an angel to speak to the shepherds:

They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (NLT)

This story is extraordinary. What makes this story extraordinary were not just the magnificent appearance of the angel and the hosts of heaven singing the “Gloria.” It was that they believed the angel’s story and told it to other people. They could not hide it to themselves. After the angel had left them, they quickly move to look for look for Jesus in a manger. After finding him, they revealed to others what the angel had told them.

Here’s what we do not know exactly. Should we assume that with evangelistic zeal, they went on to tell everyone words from the angel? Or, were the people they told only Mary and Joseph or can we assume that they told more people? It depends on the translation.

Various translations assume that the shepherds told everyone, including the TNIV, NLT, and Message. These translations suggest an evangelical zeal of telling everyone.

But the GNT suggest that they only told Mary and Joseph, which does not indicate an evangelistic outlook.

The NRSV and ESV do not say how many people they told. So which is it?

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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (TNIV)

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (NLT)

Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Message)

When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. (GNT)

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (NRSV)

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (ESV)

Advent season, Advent liturgy, and the Advent wreath

The music for this litugy is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” from A Quiet Knowing Christmas by Jeff Johnson –

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. Advent season is celebrated in many churches with an Advent wreath. This first of four Sunday marks the beginning of the season of Advent. It begins with the first, ends with the fourth Sunday, and the grand finale is Christmas Day. The primary color of Advent is blue or purple, which symbolizes the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. Many churches will have an Advent wreath made of evergreen boughs that will hold five candles. The first candle is traditionally the candle of Hope or Expectation (or Prophecy). It symbolizes the expectation of the soon and coming messiah. The third Sunday is marked by a pink or rose candle, which symbolizes Joy of the soon advent of Christ. Four candles are lit, one for each Sunday. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the center candle called the Christ Candle is lit.