Drop Your Blanket

 

linus-van-peltI love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Fifty years ago, this tale of one follicly-challenged boy’s quest for the true meaning of Christmas debuted on national television. My favorite part is when his pal Linus explains to him what Christmas is all about. What I love about the scene is that Linus drops his faithful security blanket as he quotes the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and explains the true meaning of Christmas. It is a subtle reminder of the hope the season offers.

The passage Linus quotes comes from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. It says:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

Christmas is indeed good news. Many scholars would suggest that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. Before we react too harshly to their assessment, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter when Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born.

It does seem strangely appropriate, however, that the early church chose the darkest time of the year to celebrate the coming of the light of Jesus. In the midst of the cold, dark winter we remember that there’s hope. God has invaded our world. A child is born and this is good news. It’s a message of hope for all people. God has fulfilled His promise and the Messiah has come. The darkness won’t last forever. The cold winds will one day cease. The brokenness and heartache of this life will come to an end. The bleak harsh reality of sin and death has been overcome. This news brings us great joy. How can we not help but join in with the angels and sing “glory to God in the highest?”

Don’t let the darkness of life’s winter overwhelm you. Take heart. There’s good news. A savior is born and His name is Jesus. Light has come into the world. Deliverance is nigh. So, let go of your fears and doubts. Stop being anxious. Instead, drop your blanket and rejoice!

 

Advertisements

Why Christmas?

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:1-7 (ESV)

Most of us are familiar with the who and the what of Christmas.  At the very least, we have heard of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  We know of the shepherds and the wise men.  We’ve heard of Bethlehem, the manger and the star in the sky.  While we know most of the who and the what, we sometimes forget about the why.

In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes to a group of Christians who are forgetting how they became the children of God.  As he does so, he reminds us that apart from Christ, we are slaves. Just to what are we enslaved?  Elsewhere, Paul suggests that as an unbeliever, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17).  Here, he is saying that not only are we slaves to sin, but we are also enslaved to our own efforts at being good enough to overcome our sin.  We work hard at being good and religious, but that is not enough to free us from our sin and its consequences.  We need help.  Something or more specifically someone has to set us free.

Subsequently, God sent His son.  At just the right time in human history, God fulfilled His promise to set us free.  Jesus became man and was born to a virgin.  As He grew, He lived a perfect, sinless life and died in order to set us free.  When we yield our lives to Jesus, He sets us free from the law of sin and death.  He frees us from the power and the penalty of sin.  He frees us from our human efforts at being good enough to earn our way to Him.

Ever try to be different only to come up short?  Have you felt the frustration of not being able to make any real changes in your life?  We need help.  We need Jesus to set us free.  Only He can deal with what really holds us back. This Christmas, experience the freedom that Christ offers.  Quit being enslaved to your sin and your efforts to overcome it.  Instead, give your life to the One who came to set you free.  And, in Him, experience the real hope of Christmas.

That’s What Christmas Is All About

In the days before videos, DVD’s, Blu-Rays, and even cable television, there was something special about Christmas specials.  It was a big deal when Rudolph, Frosty, or the Grinch showed up on one of the three channels that came into your home.  Santa Claus would come to town on your television one night a year.  If you were out, you missed it.  If you had homework and couldn’t get to the TV, too bad.  No repeats.  No replays.  No marathons.  You planned your schedule around those precious half-hour animated shows.  It’s part of what made them special.  To me, the most special of the specials was (and still is) A Charlie Brown Christmas.  As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate it more and more.  There’s a simplicity…even a serenity to the story.  It’s all summed up in a ninety second speech given by Linus about two-thirds of the way through the program.  I couldn’t elaborate on it any better if I tried.

The Fullness of Time

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV)

I imagine that you have friends and family who can never get anywhere on time.  You know who I am talking about.  You love them to death, but you always tell them something starts a half an hour sooner that it really does just so they will be on time.  We all know people like that.  Maybe you are like that.  Regardless, one thing we know for certain is that God is always on time.

Paul reminds us that Jesus was born at just the right moment in human history.  He was not early.  He was not late.  Luke tells us that Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus was ruling and a man named Quirinius was the governor of Syria. (Luke 2:1-2)  Most scholars today place this date around 4 B.C. (note that I am old school and refuse to eliminate Jesus from the calendar by still using B.C. – “before Christ,” and not B.C.E. – “before the common era”).

Why would Jesus be born about 4 B.C. and not sooner?  Why not later?  When we look at the history of the world, we see that there are three significant reasons that Jesus was born at just the right moment in time.  The first is the predominance of a common language.   In Genesis 11, we read of the Tower of Babel.  As man attempted to ascend into Heaven on his own, God struck mankind with confusion by removing a common language.  He created a plurality of languages and dialects.  People could not communicate with one another in an easy manner.  Fast-forward thousands of years.  About three-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Alexander the Great leads the expansion of the Greek Empire.  As Alexander conquers the known world, he spreads Hellenism.  Hellenism is a love of all things Greek.  Alexander carries with him Greek culture, Greek philosophy, and the Greek language.  By the time Jesus was born, people all over the known world spoke and understood Koine Greek.  It was a very basic Greek language.  As a matter of fact, it was the language of the New Testament.  What’s the point?  For the first time in hundreds and hundreds of years, people from all over the Mediterranean basin could communicate with each other simply.  The gospel could be put into a language most people to comprehend.

In addition to the common language, there is a second reason that God’s timing for the birth of Jesus was just right.  Rome had tied together most of the known world.  On the heels of Alexander’s empire came the Romans.  The Romans conquered everything that once had belonged to Greece and then some.  The Roman Empire stretched from Britain to North Africa, from Spain to the Middle-East.  The Romans tied their empire together with a series of paved roads.  They created a network where people could travel great distances much easier than ever before.  Furthermore, Octavian (Caesar Augustus) began a period known as the Pax Romana – “the Peace of Rome.”  For over two centuries, the Roman Empire would enjoy a time of peace and prosperity.  The net result was that Christian missionaries would traverse the Empire spreading the gospel all across the Mediterranean.  Paul and Barnabas would travel on these Roman roads from town to town starting churches and telling people about Jesus.  Christianity would flourish in this environment.  Again, the moment was just right to spread the message of Jesus.

Finally, a third reason is that the Jewish people were looking for the Messiah.  For hundreds of years, the Jews had read the Prophets’ words of a coming messiah.  The people yearned for him to come.  They anticipated it whole-heartedly.  Subsequently, it was very common for Jewish parents to name their newborn sons “Yeshua.”  The name means “The Lord saves.”   Yeshua is Hebrew for Joshua.  In the Greek it is Iēsous.  From the Latin we get the name Jesus.  In other words, Jesus was a very common name.  Parents would name their boys Jesus wondering if he might be the one that would throw off the Romans and deliver the people of Israel.  Mary and Joseph named their child Jesus because of the direct commandment of God (Matthew 1:21).  He would deliver His people.  He would deliver them from their sins.  In this time of increased anticipation, Jesus was born.

God sent Jesus at just the right time in history.  The Greeks and the Romans and the Jews all contributed to the “fullness of time.”  God was not late.  He was not early.  As always, He was right on time.  Speaking of time, there is no better time to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus than right now.  Let Jesus deliver you this Christmas season.  Isn’t it time?

Further Reading:  2 Peter 3

 

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-11 (ESV)

Google is great, but it’s kind of taken the adventure out of finding something.  Back in the day, we used to have to drive all over town to find what we were looking for.  We would spend the whole day going from place to place in quest for that one perfect item to put under the tree.  It took quite a bit of effort.  Now, it’s all with a few strokes on a keyboard.  Don’t get me wrong, I love technology as much as the next guy.  But sometimes, I miss the adventure of the hunt.

The Bible tells us of a great quest long ago.  Magi from the east had come to Jerusalem looking for one born king of the Jews.  These men had studied the night skies for some time and had followed the star looking for this newborn king.  After getting some clarity, they found the object of their quest.  When they encountered Jesus, they fell on their knees and gave gifts of great meaning and value.

Often in our lives, we spend a great deal of energy looking for something.  Sometimes we bounce from relationship to relationship looking for that special someone to make us whole.  Sometimes we move from job to job looking for one that gives us a real sense of purpose and satisfaction.  Sometimes we bounce from escape to escape looking for something that can heal our hurts.  None of these things really bring lasting satisfaction.  Only Jesus can really meet our deepest needs.  Only He can really make us whole.  Only He can truly satisfy and heal the wounds that mark our lives.  Let’s bend our knees and bow our hearts to Him in true worship and surrender.  Let’s lay our lives down at His feet and give all of ourselves to Him.  It really is the wise thing to do.

Further Reading:  Isaiah 55

Glory

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  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.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:13-20 (ESV)

You ever notice that everyone wants the credit when something goes well and no one wants the blame when something doesn’t?  This is true in every arena of life.  Politicians take credit for anything good and blame the other guy when something doesn’t work.  In the office, there’s always one guy who thinks he is the fount of all wisdom and every positive thing is a result of his ideas and effort.  Any student who has ever worked on a group project knows this harsh truth.  The guy that does the least often claims the most.

When it comes to the good news of Christmas, the Bible makes it very clear that all the credit goes to God.  The ultimate Christmas gift was His idea.  We didn’t earn it.  We didn’t contribute to it.  We don’t deserve it.  Yet, God gave it.  Thus, all the glory is His.

What this simply means is that God did not come for us because of our goodness.  He did not come because of our merit.  Rather, He came because of our need.  He came because of His grace and love.  He came for the sake of His glory and the sake of His name (Psalm 25:11).

It is in His goodness that we must rest.  Any effort to trust our own goodness will ultimately end in heartache and disappointment. Our goodness simply isn’t good enough (Isaiah 64:6).  Jesus’ goodness, however, is more than enough.  He is completely sufficient to cleanse us and make us new.  By Him, we can have a deep and meaningful relationship with God (John 10:10).  In Him, we can have the power to live a godly life (Colossians 2:6-7).  Through Him, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).

So, this Christmas, stop thinking about all the things you think you deserve.  Rather, stop and think about the one thing you don’t.  Then, stop and think about what God did to make it available to you.  He gave His perfect son Jesus.  Through Him we have forgiveness and peace with God.  Through Him we have hope and joy.   Stop then and think…and give God the glory.  After all, He deserves it.

Further Reading:  Revelation 4-5

Fear Not

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (ESV)

It seems like a common story.  We come home after a busy day at work and turn on the television.  And, there it is.  The events of the day are played out on our screens in living color and in stereo sound.  What we see startles us.  Everything is wrong and nothing is right.  It’s all falling to pieces.  The news grabs our attention, but fear grabs our hearts.  Every day it’s the same.  Whether it’s the television, the internet, newspapers, magazines, emails or office gossip.  The medium is different, but the story is the same.  So is the reaction.  A sense of being overwhelmed and afraid.

On the first Christmas night, a group of shepherds were simply doing their jobs when an angelic messenger came to them.  The angel startled them, but quickly spoke to calm their anxieties.  “Fear not.”  Two simple words introduced the greatest message ever delivered.  Two simple words filled with hope and comfort.  Fear not.

The angel went on to announce good news of great joy.  The Messiah had come.  Salvation was at hand.  Jesus was born.  And, with this blessed event, everything has changed.  Darkness gives way to light.  Doubt gives way to promise.  Fear gives way to hope.

Often, we don’t need the news to know that things are tough.  The circumstances of our own lives are enough to fill us with fear and anxiety.  Peace in the Middle East?  We can’t even have peace in our own living room.  Crumbling economy?  We can’t even pay our own bills.  What does the future hold?  More importantly, who holds the future?

Let me calm your hearts with these two simple words.  Fear not.  Jesus has come.  He has bridged the gap between us and God, and He has promised us His eternal presence.  In Him, we have hope.  In Him, we have confidence.  In Him, we have the promise of Christmas.  Fear not.  Embrace this good news and be filled with great joy.  Our problems may still be there at the end of the day, but in Christ we have the strength to move through them towards our ultimate destination.  So, hang on.  Cling to Jesus.  Fear not.

Further Reading:  Psalm 56; Hebrews 13

No Room

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

Several years ago, my wife and I attended our college homecoming.   After spending some time catching up with friends, we began our trek home.  Our plan was to go about half way and spend the night.  We hadn’t made reservations anywhere because we figured it would be easy to find a room somewhere.  We were wrong.  We never stopped to consider the possibility that something else might be going on in the world.  The night wore on and we exited off the interstate to find a room for the night.  No vacancies.  No big deal.  We’d hit the next exit and find one there.  Nope.  No rooms there either.  No sweat.  We’d travel a little farther north and catch a room there.  No dice.  Zilch.  Nada.  It’s like all of North America had descended upon the I-71 corridor of the state of Kentucky.  At every exit, we began to notice the same five or six cars were getting off in the interstate.  They were doing the same thing we were.  None of us could find rooms.  Five hours later, we managed to find a room for the night.  Those were some of the longest five hours of my life.

Two thousand years before our odyssey, a couple by the name of Mary and Joseph had traveled to their hometown to register in the census.  They looked everywhere for a room for the night.  Like us, they discovered that the demand overwhelmed the supply in the little hamlet of Bethlehem.  There were no rooms to be found.  All they could muster was a corner of the stable behind the inn.  So, Joseph and his very, very pregnant wife Mary settled down for the night in a cave that probably gave shelter to the animals.

And then, the time came.  The calm of the night was shattered by the cries of a newborn baby.  Mary’s child was born.  His name was Jesus.  She wrapped him in cloths and laid Him in a feeding trough.  Probably not the image she had for her baby’s first night.  This is especially shocking considering just who this baby was.  He was the long-awaited Messiah.  This wasn’t just some ordinary birth.  The savior of the world had come.  And, He spent His first night on this earth in a stall.  All because there was no room for Him anywhere.

Sometimes in the busyness of our lives, we fail to make room for Jesus.  He is squeezed out by all the demands and priorities that we put ahead of Him.  We mean well.  We wish things were different.  We promise that someday, they will be.  Yet somehow, they never are.  There’s just no room for Jesus in our busy, busy lives.

Let’s not be guilty of shoving Jesus out of our lives.  Let’s not shove Him out back with the animals.  Let’s make room for Him.  Let’s make some adjustments in our priorities and scheduling.  Let’s rearrange some things in order to accommodate the King.

Further Reading:  Romans 8

God With Us

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23 (ESV)

There’s nothing like a great movie line.  You know, those iconic phrases that defy time and endure from one generation to the next.  Marlon Brando’s “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” from The Godfather.  Judy Garland’s “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” from the Wizard of Oz.  Bogart’s “Here’s looking at you kid,” and Eastwood’s “Go ahead and make my day” (from Casablanca and Dirty Harry respectively).  Some of those lines become so associated with the actor that the two become inseparable.  Take for instance, Greta Garbo.  The mere mention of her name brings to mind the phrase, “I want to be alone.”

The truth is, however, that none of us really want to be alone.  Deep down, most of us really desire not to be alone.  We want someone to be with us.  It’s amazing then that on a planet of eight billion people and more ways to communicate than ever before that we are more alone than ever before.  Texts, emails, internet chats, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and Skype don’t seem to fill the deepest longing of our hearts for someone to be physically present.  We want someone with us.

That’s part of the beauty of Christmas.  When Joseph learned that his fiancé was pregnant, he thought he might just quietly end the relationship and walk away.  But an angel came to him with a message that the child Mary carried was no ordinary child.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was the fulfillment to a promise made long ago (Isaiah 7:14).  This child was to be called Immanuel.  Immanuel means “God with us.”

The Bible is full of passages where we see God’s desire to be with His people.  He walked with Adam and Eve.  He had a tabernacle built so He could dwell in the midst of His people.  And, in fulfillment of that promise made long ago, He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  Where our natural inclination is to run from God because of the sin in our lives, He comes to us.  We defy Him and hide from Him, yet He comes for us.  Why?

The angel told Joseph that this Jesus would come to save His people from their sins.  God came to us and He came for us.  He came to pay the price so we could be with Him forever.  Our sin drives us from God.  Our tendency is to run and hide from Him.  And there, in our fears and isolation, the reality sinks in.  We are alone….alone and longing for someone to reach out and be with us.  We want someone to come near and fill the void in our lives.

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be apart from God.  We don’t have to be alone.  We don’t have to run and hide.  He has come to fill the void in our lives.   He has met our greatest need and He is with us.  We are alone no more.  He is Immanuel. 

Further Reading:  John 1

Prince of Peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

I majored in history in college.  One of the things that simply amazes me is the sheer number of conflicts that mark human history.  The history of every nation is scarred by war.  In our brief history as a nation, we have fought in at least ten major wars and been engaged in several other violent conflicts.  One doesn’t have to be a student of history to realize that peace is elusive.  We can simply look into our offices, our schools, our neighborhoods, and even our homes.  We are indeed a people marked by conflict.

Roughly seven hundred and fifty years before the first Christmas, Isaiah wrote of a coming king who would usher in peace.  He would be able to do what no one else has ever been able to do.  He would be able to broker a peace between God and man and thus be able to broker a lasting peace between all peoples.

We see this announcement reinforced on the first Christmas night.  The angelic messenger announced to the shepherds that the birth of the Messiah would bring peace on whom His favor rests.  In other words, Jesus’ life and death would bridge the gap between us and God.  He does for us what none of us can do on our own.  He rights our relationship with God.  And, once our vertical relationship with God is straightened out, then God can work to straighten out our relationships with each other.  The only way for us to have real peace is to look to God.  Anything else will ultimately fizzle out and come up short.

When we connect with Jesus and embrace the peace He offers, we have peace with the One that matters.  Then, with that peace firmly in place, He works in our lives to grow us in order to have peace with others.  He begins to chip away at our selfishness and our impatience.  He helps us to speak in a way that is graceful yet pointed when it needs to be.  And while we will never enjoy ultimate peace here and now, He promises us a time when He will reign and there will be nothing but peace.  Peace in our homes.  Peace in our neighborhoods.  Peace everywhere.  That’s definitely something worth studying.

Further Reading:  Romans 5; John 14