Day 25: Come Let Us Adore Him

Read: Philippians 2:9-11

Think About It: 

Come and behold Him,

Born the King of Angels;

O come, let us adore Him

Adoration is a word that we love to use during the Christmas season thanks mainly to the classic carol O Come, All Ye Faithful as we sing, “O come, let us adore Him.” So many of us during the Christmas season spend more time thinking about Christ and giving Him adoration than any other time of the year. Think about it for a moment. More people, religious or not, go to church during Christmas than any other time of the year. We also tend to find ourselves singing and listening to songs about Jesus more during the Christmas season than any other time of year. As a result, Christmas is a time when we love to praise Him, honor Him, and adore Him much in the way Philippians 2:9-11 describes. 

While it’s great that Christ earns so much of our attention and adoration during Christmas, it’s important to remember that we should pay that same amount of attention to Him 12 months a year instead of just one. Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas spirit and spend more time thinking, singing, praying, and adoring Christ during December, but to have a genuine relationship with Christ, we must adore and spend time with Him throughout the year. This year as you move out of the Christmas season and back into the normalcy of life, strive to find a way to capture that Christmas spirit that will enable you to adore Him and grow with Him every day of your life. 

Application: Remember, we will always worship what we adore. Worship is not just personal introspection, or we would worship our feelings. Worship is not even a warm glow, or we would worship that. We are called worship One outside ourselves. Adoration, to love and respect someone deeply, invites us to concentrate on him; to praise him, to honor him, to listen to his Word, for He is announcing it to us. As we have journeyed through this advent season together, my prayer is that you have come to adore what God has done through Jesus. “Come, Let Us Adore Him”!

Questions to get us ready for the new year: 

What things keep you from adoring and spending time with Christ on a daily basis? 

What steps will you take to ensure that you spend time daily with Christ? 

Further Reading: Luke 2:13-14, Luke 1:46-55, Psalm 119:11, Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 31:23, Deuteronomy 6:5, Psalm 18:1

Day 24: The Gift

Read: Romans 6:23

Think About It: Listen to the words to the early church father, St. Augustine

He so loved us that, for our sake,  

He was made man in time,  

although through him all times were made.  

He was made man, who made man. 

He was created of a mother whom he created. 

He was carried by hands that he formed.  

He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, 

without whom all human eloquence is mute. 

—Augustine, Sermon 188, 2

He came, and He came as a gift. The best any of us could hope for without Christ is a small paycheck from the wages of death that you, and all of us, would have earned. But the gift changes everything. 

Application: A woman was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.

Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.

As the doors closed, she blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!”

A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement.

Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: “Don’t worry. They already crucified him.”

Make plans now to make the celebration of our Lord’s birth a day when you genuinely celebrate THE gift.

Further Reading: Luke 11:11-33, Philippians 2:19-30

Day 23: Every Nativity Scene Needs A Dragon

Read: Colossians 2:13-15 

Think About It: Every nativity scene needs a dragon, just like every adventure story needs a villain. It started the day the dragon was thrown down to earth and set his sights on the children of the one he could not overthrow. Every nativity needs a dragon, and every story needs a villain because everyone is facing one. Yet despite his great power, Satan is not strong enough to lay claim to any of the Lord’s territory, And despite his accusations, Satan cannot condemn the Lord’s redeemed.

The key reason why these things are real is that Satan is thrown out of God’s courtroom. Satan has attempted to block the salvation, the power, and the kingdom of our God, as well as the authority of his Messiah, by accusing us before God the judge (Rev. 12:10). The real battleground has been us. Satan has been our ruthless prosecutor, and he has used God’s good law of righteousness against us. “You cannot let these people into your kingdom,” he has said. “They have broken your laws. They have rebelled against you! Judge, as powerful as you may be, you do not have the power to let sinners go free. And you certainly cannot build a kingdom from such rebels. Not even the authority of the mighty Messiah can do that.” That was Satan’s case, and it was airtight. Without a people, there would be no kingdom. Satan held us all by the power of his accusations. He had us sinners dead to rights—till Christ died for us to pay for our sins and rose from the dead to conquer death. 

We aren’t surprised when we read that Jesus triumphs over Satan, or when Michael was stronger than him. But here is a truly astonishing thing: “They [that is, the believers] triumphed over him” (Rev 12:11). How could Christians triumph over Satan? This hymn celebrates our three defenses. These are your defenses, day in and day out!

Application: Our first defense against Satan’s accusations is the “blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). Read to what Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13-15.

Our second defense against Satan’s deceit is “the word of [our] testimony” (Rev. 12:11). Satan’s most common tool is deceit. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Our defense against every lie and to defeat Satan is to know, trust, say, and do God’s truth.

Our third defense against Satan’s threats is our willingness to die: “they did not love their lives so much / as to shrink from death” (Rev 12:11). Death has always been Satan’s most powerful weapon, for people had no defense whatsoever against it. But Christ has made dying powerful, not weak. In fact, he has made death the secret of eternal life. In Mark 8:34-35, he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Further reading: John 16:33, Revelation 15:2, Revelation 7:14

Day 22: The War in Heaven

Read: Revelation 12:7-12

Think About It: Christmas has always had a dark side. That’s why Jesus’ birth is so beautiful and such a relief: A light has dawned. The morning star has come. Glory to God in the highest. “All is well.” But pan back from that glorious scene, and there is more than meets the eye. 

The Christmas story is as fierce as an invasion. Bethlehem was a beachhead. The great conflict had been brooding and building since the Serpent lured Adam and Eve to sin and death. In that darkest hour, God vowed to the arrogant, lying, deadly Serpent in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity [hatred] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” It is the Bible’s oldest prophecy.

And now at Christmas, the birth of the king starts the war in heaven. Interesting, though, we are given a whole lot of detail except who was involved and how it was resolved. Michael and Satan (aka Lucifer) are two of God’s great archangels. These two mighty archangels, along with their vast angelic armies, battle in the heavenly realms because Satan wants to seize God’s territory for himself. I think they were created as equally mighty archangels, but Michael is stronger because he is righteous and loyal to God, while Lucifer is weakened by pride and rebellion.

What most fascinating to me is who not mentioned. Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon, but what about God? Where was he? Now work with me here for a moment. God is omnipresent, so He is everywhere at every moment. But the story is about the presence of Michael and not the Father. I’m left to assume that this vision is given to us in this manner so that we know where God is… He is still on his throne! The Dragon and his angels are not a good reason for him to leave that glories position. Therefore Michael took care of his light work. 

However, that’s not the entire story, is it? God is not inactive during this contest; in fact, he has left the throne. Although Satan and a third of heaven may not be a good enough reason to get his throne, He did leave it for someone who is… you.

God’s great action during the great war in heaven was to leave his throne to be born in a manger. 

Application: Satan loses this battle. The picture of Satan being hurled to Earth is not new here. Both Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-17 paint vivid pictures of this same scene. There God says, “So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings” (Ezek. 28:17). What a blow to the supremely arrogant Lucifer, who thought he’d raise his throne above the stars of God! 

But what an amazing grace that the one who reigns over all would leave it all for the one who is worth it all, that is, of course, is you.

Further Reading: Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:12-17, Revelation 12:10-11

Day 21: Christmas From Heavens Point of View

Read: Revelation 12:1-17

Think About It: What if we could look at the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Heaven? Would what we see be any different than what we see through our own eyes? Would we still emphasize the same things about Christmas if we could see it through Heaven’s eyes?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess, because the Bible itself presents us with a picture of Christmas through Heaven’s eyes. In chapter 12 of Revelation, we experience a heavenly flashback to the first Christmas. This flashback looks back at the birth of Jesus, which probably occurred about 80 years before John had this vision. It lifts the curtain and shows John—and us—what the first Christmas looked like from Heaven’s perspective.

From Heaven’s perspective, the woman who gives birth is not Mary. This woman signifies the people of God—Israel—from whom the Messiah is born out of their great travail. The imagery of sun, moon, and stars first appeared in one of Joseph’s dreams of his family’s future in Genesis 37. Israel is portrayed as a great queen, the wife of the Lord, about to give birth to their Son. 

The dragon, in Rev 12:3-4, represents Satan. We’re told that explicitly in verse nine: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” His heads, horns, and crowns are all familiar symbols of authority and power. I think the allusion to his tail sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky is a symbolic description of the way Satan led a great host of angels in rebellion against God (see Daniel’s vision in Daniel 8:10). 

In verses five and six, the child is Jesus Christ. The phrase “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” is from Psalm 2:9, which describes how the Lord and his Anointed will rule over the world. The picture of this Son being “snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5) helps us see the drama behind the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. It’s almost as if all of Christ’s life here is seen as a birth, or a double delivery: born from the womb and then born again from the tomb. Then, just as the mighty dragon’s jaws were to snap down, God snatched Christ up and enthroned him in glory, conqueror of man’s great enemies: sin, death, hell, and Satan himself, all in one powerful life. That was the first blow against Satan. Satan waited to swallow alive the hopes of Israel, and he came so close yet failed to accomplish his task! 

Application: From Heaven’s point of view, the birth of Christ was the beginning of the end of the world’s most epic battle. The Christmas story is a kind of prophecy—a promise. We do well to celebrate. Revelation 12:12 says, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them.” So let us begin today to Thank God and Rejoice!

Further reading: Genesis 37:1-11, Daniel 8:9-10, Psalm 2:9

Day 20: The Light in the Darkness

Read: John 1:4-14

Think About It: Ever notice how darkness impacts your emotions? In the dark, a place as familiar as our own home loses its sense of security. Sounds are magnified. Shapes and shadows replace the sharp contours of the objects around us. And our imaginations run wild. Darkness breeds fear. As Yann Martel puts it in his book Life of Pi, fear is “a wordless darkness.” 

God’s very first words in the book of Genesis are, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3).

They are spoken over a lifeless void smothered in darkness. There can be no life without light. So God speaks light into existence, and the possibility of life emerges from that dark, lifeless chaos. Throughout the Old Testament, darkness is used metaphorically for evil and death. Light, on the other hand, represents goodness and life.

Application: The birth of Jesus Christ is God saying once again, “Let there be light.” Jesus enters into lifeless spiritual darkness and brings life and light. The Apostle John put it this way: “In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Darkness flees before light and cannot extinguish it. In the birth of Jesus, death, and evil flee from His life-giving presence, and they cannot stop His life-giving mission.

Light makes it possible to see what’s real while darkness distorts and deceives. Light makes it possible to know the truth and to embrace it while darkness masks the truth and keeps us from finding our way. When Jesus came into the world, He made God known to us so that we can embrace Him and find our way into His family (John 1:9–12). That’s why the One who said, “I am the light of the world” is “the way and the truth and the life” through whom we may come to the Father.

Each morning as the dawn breaks and the sun’s light pushes back the darkness of night, we are given a vivid reminder of the coming of the Son of God into a spiritually dark and lifeless void. This Christmas morning, and perhaps every morning, let’s begin the day with the simple refrain, “Let there be light.” And let’s remember the One who is the “light of the world.”

Further Reading: Genesis 1:1-4, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 4:16

Day: 19 Herod, Who Was Called "Great"

Read: Matthew 2:13-21

Think About It: If we look at facts and figures, “Herod the Great” had a pretty good administration. He had been the king of Judea for 40 years before Christ was born. He had kept the order, and he had developed an extensive building program throughout the country—including some incredible improvements to the temple that put him in good standing with the religious leaders. Of course, to pay for all this building, Herod taxed the people severely. But in the times when they almost starved to death, he gave them some food. Herod had a knack for stealing from the people and then making them grateful for any morsel he would return. (Does this sound familiar to anyone else?)

Rome was also grateful to Herod because he kept the peace and paid tribute to Rome. That was pretty much Herod’s job: to help Judea live with the fact that she was under the control of an occupying army. It wasn’t the way they wanted it to be, but Herod was there to help them cope.

Things were secure under Herod. That’s one of the reasons he was called “Herod the Great.” The problem was that Herod didn’t feel all that secure personally. He was so paranoid about losing power that he murdered everyone who even had the opportunity to betray him, including his mother, Merame, his wife, Alexandria, and three of his four sons. Now you know why Herod murdered all the small children of Bethlehem when the wise men showed up in town, asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”

Everybody loved what Herod the Great could do, but everyone hated what he cost. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that when Herod knew he was dying, he arrested the elite citizens of Jerusalem and ordered that they be executed at the moment of his death—just so someone in Jerusalem would be weeping when he died. The people both loved and hated Herod the Great.

Application: We love what Herod does; we hate what he costs.

In every life, there is a Herod that has gained some power over you. You are seduced into calling it “great” because it does things for you. It helps you feel secure. It enables you to cope. It’s been around for a long time. Herod is the name of whatever it is that offers you something you crave at a cost you cannot afford. You love what it does; you hate what it costs. But as taxing as it is, you just keep paying.

For some of us, Herod is our workaholic addiction to success. For others, Herod is the name of an old hurt to which you have become addicted. Herod can be the alcohol that abuses you. It can be the pornography that abuses you. It can be the job that abuses you day after day. But you can’t let it go. Herod can also be the voice that tells you to not worry so much about the poor. The voice that tells you not love your spouse. And so on, I think you get the picture.

Jesus did not come to give you a holiday from Herod. Jesus came to establish a whole new kingdom. That means he came to liberate you from Herod. No one is clearer about that than Herod himself. He knows that to have Christ born in your life means freedom from him—Herod. So Herod will do all he can in the days ahead to extinguish this hope from your heart. He knows that Jesus will free you to enjoy the blessings you have in your life but are too addicted to appreciate. He knows that Jesus will release you to forgive, so you’re no longer driven by hurt. He knows that Jesus will free you to allow your own heart to be filled with pathos—even to break over the pathos of the world and the many things that break God’s heart. The liberating Savior will free you to live as you were created to live—fully alive.

Further Reading: 2 Timothy 1:9, Psalm 91:14-15, Isaiah 61:1

Day 18: The Hunger of the Heart

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

Think About It: Here’s where the story of the Magi intersects with our story, rebuking us. The people who are least in possession of the truth are most hungry for it in the story. They are merely working on a hunch. They read the stars and got a sense that God was up to something. And they learned of this Hebrew prophecy. They thought maybe they were related, so they decided to go hundreds of miles at great expense to try to find out if it was true. The people least in possession of the truth were most passionately in pursuit of it.

God’s people failed to act on the truth they possessed.

Then there were two groups of people—or one group and a person—who have total possession of the truth and do something very different with it in the story. The first is the group into which Herod falls. He gathers all the religious leaders and asks them the question the Magi are asking. But don’t have the answer to: “Where is this king of yours? Do you know where he is?” They know right away. They don’t even have to say, “Give us a few weeks, and we’ll work on it.” They know chapter and verse: “Oh yes, it’s Bethlehem. The prophet said so long ago. We’ve studied this, we’ve preached it, we’ve done Bible studies on it, we’ve written articles on it. I’m writing a book about it right now.” The Magi are steeped in paganism but have a hunch. The religious leaders are steeped in the truth. What do they do with the truth? Absolutely nothing! The Magi have just made a several months-long, hundreds of miles, arduous, dangerous journey across the desert on a hunch. The religious leaders have five miles to travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and can’t be bothered.

Application: God doesn’t so much reward the knowledge in your head as the hunger in your heart. It is a dangerous thing to possess the truth and do nothing with it. It is better to have a hunch and go on a journey. I bet the wise men weren’t young, and I bet their quest had taken them in a thousand wrong directions before it took them in the right direction. But God rewards the hunger in your heart more than the knowledge in your head. It’s good to have the truth. You want to have the truth. But if you’re not going to do anything with it, if you can’t be bothered to make the five-mile journey to see the fulfillment of the thing you’ve waited for all your life, it is better not to have that knowledge at all.

In other words, what is your heart hungry for this Christmas season? If it more of Him, I believe that, like the Magi, you will be on your way to a great reward!

Further Reading: Genesis 15:1, Hebrews 11:6

Day 17: The Meaning of the Magi

Read: Matthew 2:1-2

Think About It: The Magi of Matthew 2 remains a bit of a mystery. Some things that we know about these Magi, which isn’t much, is that in ancient Greek texts the term magos (μάγος, sg.) denoted someone with the reputation of having supernatural knowledge or abilities (e.g., Simon the magician and Bar-Jesus; Acts 8:9–11; 13:6). Whether such power was real or not is beside the point, as the reputation of having it was enough to confirm the title. More specifically, according to Herodotus (Hist. 1.101, 107, 120; 3.65, 73, 79; 7.19, 37, 113), magoi were members of a Persian (originally Median) priestly class that specialized in astrology, magic, divination, and the interpretation of dreams. Most scholars have accepted this connection and understood the magi of Matthew 2 to have come from either Persia or Babylon. Where they would have been immersed in an already ancient cuneiform tradition that sought to understand how astrological phenomena might influence or presage events on earth. There they would have had contact with Jewish communities at least as old as the Babylonian exile (sixth century BC).

In other words, the Magi were thoroughly, completely, top to bottom, pouring-of-out-their-pores pagan. I mean, these guys were pagan to the bone. That’s the culture from which they came. These guys were as pagan as a pagan can get. But they had this inkling, this hunch that there was some truth out there worth the longest, most dangerous, most arduous journey—something worthy of their best gifts. They had something in their hearts that said, There’s something out there. Let’s go looking.

Application: God’s greatest passion is to reveal his glory to the nations so that, in turn, the nations will bring glory to him. That is the overarching agenda of God. He’s so intent on that, that if someone doesn’t go and be the light unto the world, he will go directly to the least—to the shepherds in a field. If he doesn’t have a church that will be the light to the world and go to the least of these, the shepherds out in the night, then he’ll go to them directly. He’s so intent on revealing his glory that if we don’t go to the kings of the earth—as I say, these Magi may have been from royal descent—even though they might be steeped in their paganism, he will subvert the little knowledge they have to get them to come to him.

Further Reading: Numbers 24:17, Revelation 22:16

Day 16: A Model of Reflection

Read: Luke 2:19

Think About It: A lot had happened in the previous nine months. It all began back in Nazareth with an intrusive announcement from an angel. It culminated in Bethlehem with shepherds running into the night to tell others about the birth of her baby. The previous day had been a whirlwind, and now that the dust was finally settling, Mary was left to her thoughts. At that moment, she did what anyone should do in a situation such as this: she paused, and she pondered.

Mary probably had a stronger sense than anyone about what was taking place, and if anyone was entitled to worry about what would come next, she was that person. She sifted through all manner of thoughts in her heart: the questions that confronted her, the blessings to rejoice over, the concerns that lurked at the edge of her conscious, and the musings regarding what was next. Yet rather than plan or fix or worry or doubt, she paused, and she pondered.

Application: Advent is a time of joy and celebration, but it can also be a time of doubt and uncertainty. During a season marked by the distractions of coming and going, gathering and celebrating, and shopping and wrapping, what role should pausing and pondering have in your life? Like Mary, we have varied thoughts that need to be sifted, considered, and given space in our mind and heart. While the temptation to scurry from one activity to the next is ever before us, perhaps what we need most is the inactivity of pausing and pondering.

Ships don’t accidentally drift into the safety of a port; they tend to drift out to sea. In the same way, it is unlikely you will unexpectedly find yourself pausing and pondering. Reflection takes a good deal of intentionality in this age of noise, busyness, and social media. Don’t wait until after Christmas to reflect. Take some time today to pause and ponder the circumstances of your life and how the coming of a baby 2,000 years ago can help give those thoughts perspective and place within God’s redemptive story.

Further Reading: Hebrews 2:1, Luke 2:51, Proverbs 27:19, 1 John 1:9

Day 15: Long Past Prime

Read: Luke 2:25-39

Think About It: I wonder if Simeon or Anna ever looked back at the years of their lives not mentioned in the text. I wonder if, as they grew older, the joyful fiddle tune with which they’d once greeted the life before them had turned a wee bit melancholy. By the time we meet them in Luke’s second chapter, Simeon was a graying saint. When he was a younger man, the text says, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” We can only imagine how his heart’s violin played at that news. “I’ll have a front-row seat at the Messiah’s coming. I’ll be part of the revolution, get a job in the new administration.” But then years, and then decades, flowed past. And nothing happened.

There may have been a time when Anna, too, dreamed of a glorious life, but her husband died just “seven years after her marriage,” and things had not turned out as she planned. “Anna was very old” now, the text says, 84 to be exact. You get the picture of a widow and a single man now spending most of their time hanging around the church. Anna, the Bible says, “never left the temple.” Standard wisdom would say their best days were behind them; their obvious opportunity for influence was just fodder for memory school.

So let me ask the question: “Is there anything so beautiful as watching someone use their gifts in the prime of life?” The answer is yes. It’s watching someone in their second prime. Do we understand that the way the world defines the “prime of life” is very different from the way God defines it? Amen?

Application: The world sees it as that season when we are most physically active and mentally acute. God sees it as that season when we are most spiritually healthy and intellectually humbled. The world considers us in our prime when we have the greatest fame with others. The Bible sees it as when we most please God. The world defines our prime as when we are in the best position to build our own empire. Scripture defines it as when we are most focused on advancing the kingdom of God.

Just what Simeon and Anna’s first prime looked like (the worldly version of health, wealth, and influence), we don’t know for sure. What we can see, however, is that these two had come into the second kind of prime. For one thing, they had become genuinely faithful people. The Bible says that Simeon was “righteous and devout.” That doesn’t mean that he was a perfect man. It just means that he’d learned over the long haul of life to devote himself to staying close to God. The text goes into more detail about Anna’s way of maintaining that intimacy. She had a rhythm of “worship, fasting, and prayer” that built up her spirit, even when her body was breaking down.

This Christmas can be a time when we grow into our spiritual prime! 

Further Reading: 1 Timothy 5:5, Matthew 6:16-18, Isaiah 30:18

Day 14: Waiting To See

Read: Luke 2:21-35

Think About It: So when Mary and Joseph are in the temple courts with their baby Jesus, they have done these things. They get approached by a man named Simeon. Luke says, “Simeon … was righteous and devout.” He was committed to God. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” 

So what was Simeon doing with his life in the meantime? He was waiting. “He was waiting for the [hope] of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He didn’t lead a movement. He didn’t form a community, build a resume, or accomplish a bunch of great things. He watched. He prayed. He was doing something awesome that even he may not have understood. He was keeping hope alive. 

It’s as if Simeon was saying, “I believe God is doing something wonderful in this world, and I want to see it. I believe there is something tremendous going on, and God is the one behind it, and I want to watch it, and I would love somehow to participate in it, to be a part of it.” That is waiting because it is God’s kingdom, not ours. We are not in control, so we are all in the waiting business. We are to remain faithful and patient even when we do not have what we want yet.

Application: So the big question is not have I gotten everything I’m waiting for? I never will, not in this life, not in this world. Instead, the big question is: What kind of person am I becoming while I wait? Will I wait with patience and faithfulness? Will I wait on the Lord? I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but we’re all waiting for something. 

Maybe you’re waiting for somebody to love, for a romantic relationship, or perhaps you’re waiting for clarity about your life’s direction. Maybe you’re waiting for a job to be able to support your family. Maybe you’re waiting for a wandering child to come back home. Maybe you’re waiting for your deep anxiety to go away. Maybe you’re waiting for the economy to come back, your financial life to bounce back, or for love to heal a marriage that’s broken and killing you. How long will you have to wait? I don’t know. I know what matters is who I become while I’m waiting, that I wait with poise and patience and don’t become bitter or selfish and that I wait on the Lord.

Further Reading: Isaiah 40:13, Romans 12:12, Psalm 27:14, 2 Peter 3:9

Day 13: Angels We Have Heard On High

Read: Luke 2:8-20

Think About It: We’ve been looking at Christmas songs preserved for us in Scripture. Some, like Zechariah’s song last week, are entirely foreign to most of us. Today we will look at one that’s a little more familiar: the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth.

This passage involves shepherds—men who herded livestock for a living, who were at the very bottom of the social structure. You’ve heard people say, “She cusses like a sailor.” In those days, there was a saying, “He lies like a shepherd.” Fairly or unfairly, the character of a shepherd was not highly regarded. Shepherds tended to be socially inept, hygienically-challenged, and culturally reviled. The work was dirty and dangerous; shepherds were exposed to all the elements in all seasons. Men who shepherded usually had no other work options.

It’s worth noting that these angels did not bring the beautiful message of Christ’s birth to those who had influence. They did not appear to the wealthy or political or religious leaders. Instead, they came to the least significant, least respected, least likely people in the community. So when God’s messenger said he came to bring good news to all people, he demonstrated it by starting at the bottom.

Application: Why is this important? Because of what the Angels were singing about. “…Peace to those on whom his favor rests.” By having the angel choir serenade the lowly shepherds, He was guaranteeing the truth of the Gospel. The angels’ song gives us the hope of peace from our past. If there is anything in your past that still causes you shame, embarrassment, or guilt, this song promises you can be at peace. If there is anything in your past that brings you sadness, grief, or loneliness, this song promises you can be at peace. If there is anything in your past that brings you regret over things done or said that hurt people you love, this song promises you can be at peace.

The Bible says, “… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The slate is wiped clean with God. All things are new with him. You know how brown and dirty things can get around here in a dry winter. Then we get significant snowfall, and everything is fresh and pure and clean. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow ….” 

And to bring those prophecies to bear, Jesus would come as the sacrificial lamb and who better to inspect the lamb of God than the shepherds in the fields.

Further Reading: Psalm 103, Isaiah 1:18

Day 12: From Silence to Song

Read: Luke 1:57-80

Think About It: Today we return to Zechariah, to marvel at his song of praise. Remember that in the verse leading up to this moment, Zechariah had missed the point of Gabriel’s visit. Gabriel delivers the big news that Zechariah’s wife will bear a son—a son who is destined for great things. This is where Zechariah fumbles. Zechariah doubts the angel. He wants to believe it, but he can’t. So he asks for a sign—as if seeing the angel Gabriel wasn’t “sign” enough.

What the angel does next is brilliant. He grants Zechariah’s request by giving him a sign that doubles as an act of loving discipline. He takes away Zechariah’s ability to speak for the duration of the pregnancy. Zechariah becomes mute.

But now Zechariah would get another chance to express faith. When the baby was born to Elizabeth, everyone assumed and even insisted that they call him Zechariah after his father. This is where Zechariah recovers from his own fumble. On a tablet, he wrote, “He shall be called John.” At just that moment, Zechariah’s mouth was unleashed and out poured nine months of deep, Spirit-filled soul-searching in the form of a song.

In this beautiful song, we find one big idea expressed in three parts. Here they are: “Jesus rescues us… into a partnership… that unleashes his light and peace into the world.”

Application: God will redeem the silence in your life. Whether you’ve been crying out for the salvation of someone you love, or the restoration of health for yourself or someone else, or for an end to the financial hardship you’ve been under, or for the stress and mental strain of life to ease up—God is still working, even when you cannot see evidence of it.

This is the essence of faith, according to Hebrews 11:1—being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This Christmas, in spite of the silence, sing a song of faith—a song like Zechariah’s. 

Further Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 13-16

Day 11: Give Him The Name Jesus

Read: Matthew 1:21

Think About It: God is the Almighty One. But he is also Immanuel. If you want a balanced picture of God, you’ve got to juxtapose those two names. He is God Most High and God Most Nigh. He exists outside of time and space. He is also Immanuel—God with us. Both realities are captured perfectly in the name of Jesus, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name of Joshua, which means “Yahweh is our help or salvation.” 

God entered space-time 2,000 years ago in a tiny village outside Jerusalem called Bethlehem. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights as sons.” Jesus was subject to the same spiritual laws that govern all of us. He was also subject to the same physical laws that govern the universe.

Application: It’s easier for us to accept that Jesus was fully God than that he was fully human. But we underestimate the humanness as well as the divinity of Jesus. I have these weird thoughts sometimes. Here’s one of them: For the better part of 30 years, Jesus worked as a carpenter. I wonder if Jesus ever missed the nail and hit his thumb. I wonder if he ever got a splinter. I think he did. I think Jesus got bumps and bruises and toothaches and stomachaches and headaches. He got tired and hungry. He got sad and mad. Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted just like we are, but he never gave into temptation. He suffered like we do—more than we do. William Shakespeare said, “He jests at scars who never felt a wound.” We don’t serve a scar-less God. We serve a God with scarred hands and feet and side and back. According to Isaiah 52:14, Jesus was scarred beyond recognition. He stooped down to bring us up and to communicate that we’re all in this together.

Further Reading: Galatians 4:4, Hebrews 4:15, Isaiah 52:14

Day 10: Beyond Belief Is Fear

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

Think About It: But then it happened. Mary turned up pregnant. All of a sudden, Joseph’s garden of love dissolved into a world of hurt and a living hell. Mary tried to explain what had happened, and Joseph yearned to believe her, but there was no way that even a heart full of love could dispel all those nagging suspicions in his mind. What Mary was saying was just beyond belief.

Wanting to believe Mary, Joseph found himself unable, unwilling to marry her. Wishing to spare her as much pain as possible, he decides to divorce her on the down-low. I think you would agree with me that Joseph’s reaction was typical. According to his range of experiences, there was only one way a woman gets pregnant, and he knew he could not be the father, so of course, he was angry and hurt and betrayed. Yet as you look at verse 20, you see that the angel said to Joseph something that suggests the most profound feeling inside Joseph was not those things, but fear. He was afraid to believe Mary.

Application: Here we come to an ageless human trait: we human beings are afraid of the unknown. Whenever we come up against the unknown, something previously unseen and unheard of, we automatically believe it’s probably bad or dangerous or horrible or false. It’s that tendency that keeps us from exploring new possibilities and growing in our relationship with God.

For example, in ancient days, there were map makers, cartographers, who naturally used the instruments and knowledge available to make their maps of the world. Some of them did a pretty good job, but all of them had one trait in common. Whenever they came to the limits of their knowledge of the world, in the margin of the map, they would write these words: “Beyond this there be dragons.” They could have written there, “Beyond this is the unknown,” since they knew nothing about those regions. They could even have written, “Beyond this lies something desirable and beautiful.” But no, they assumed that beyond what they knew was a place of danger, not just possible death by natural causes, but a horrible death of being eaten by dragons.

Many people come to the claims of the Bible and the miracle of the Virgin Birth with the same kind of attitude. They populate the unknown with dragons rather than saying it’s a mystery beyond our knowing. They say, “It’s just suspicion; it’s hogwash; it’s foolishness; it’s a fairy tale made up by people who had such a primitive knowledge of the world that they had no idea of natural law.” When someone says that, I always say, “You tell that to Joseph. He knew only too well about the natural means of conception, and that is why he resolved to divorce Mary quietly.” My word to you is if Joseph could believe in the Virgin Birth, why can’t you? And if honestly believe in this miracle, is there anything too hard for God? Do not be afraid!

Further Reading: Deuteronomy 24:1

Day 9: How Can This Be?

Read: Luke 1:34-38

Think About It: Too often, we get hung up on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. How could such a thing happen? We don’t see that kind of thing in ordinary human experience, but that misses the real point. The miracle of the Virgin Birth rests on a more significant and more profound mystery than that. God enters our plane of existence, and he begins as an infant.

If we’re to carry the logic of that to its limit, we must also affirm that God himself stooped to enter at the most basic and primitive human level — an embryo implanted in Mary’s uterus.

The miracle of the Virgin Birth rests upon the mystery of the Incarnation. Next to the mystery of the Incarnation, the question of how a virgin could conceive fades into insignificance. That’s small stuff. The grand miracle is the mystery that God took on human flesh. When God took on human flesh, he did something equivalent to what he did when his Spirit hovered over the watery chaos at the beginning of time and spoke the universe into existence. It was not much different from what he did when his Spirit impregnated a young girl. A new creation was begun.

Application: Jesus Christ was to be the first of a new humanity. That would reverse the process that death began when mankind sinned. I submit to you that next to what God was doing in becoming a human being, the question of how a virgin could give birth is hardly worth asking. The real question is: “How did God do this great miracle and walk among us?”

Further Reading: John 1:14, 1 Peter 1:23, 1 Timothy 3:16

Day 8: A Woman Highly Favored

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Think About It: It may very well be the story in the Bible. The account was read to you this morning of the angel Gabriel’s appearance before a young, Jewish peasant girl no more than 16 years of age. He announced to this girl that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.

She blushed and wondered aloud how such a thing could be possible since she was still a virgin and engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. The angel told her that she would be made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . . . For nothing is impossible with God.”

Application: But Why, Mary? I think the first reason God choose her was because of her receptivity. Maybe that seems too obvious. Like so many obvious things, it can be so elementary that it’s easy to overlook. Mary was receptive. What I find so fascinating about her is that she was not surprised that God was speaking to her or that an angel appeared. It was what he was saying that had her so disturbed.

Secondly, if we’re to become receptive people, we need to become willing to be interrupted. God does not operate on our schedule. If your whole life is planned out like mine is most of the time, you’re going to find yourself waiting a long time before you hear God speak to you. God will not be restricted to Sunday morning. If he cannot meet you on his terms and in his own time, then he will not meet you at all. This gets very practical. Jesus said we meet God when we meet our neighbor’s needs. Jesus said, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is the same as feeding and clothing him. If you have no time to receive your neighbor, you don’t have time to receive God. If little children and the lonely housewife next door cannot interrupt you, the chances are God will not interrupt you either.

Third, receptive people have an attitude of expectancy. You can expect God to make himself known. You cannot control how or when he will do it, but you can trust his promise and wait expectantly for him. One of our Lord’s favorite expressions was, “If you have ears, then hear.” Listen; keep your eyes open; expect. When you come to worship, expect God to meet you here.

Further Reading: Genesis 18:14, Matthew 19:26

Day 7: Be Prepared

Read: Luke 1:5-25

Think About It: Think with me about these two. First, there is Zechariah. Here is a righteous man. He’s old. He’s a priest. He knows God. He knows what it means to serve God. If there ever was a real saint, it’s this guy. But, he still had some growing to do. I mean, God sends the angel Gabriel to him. God makes a marvelous promise. But what does he do? He doubts God. He underestimates God. The angel says it flat out: “You did not believe my words.”

We don’t always think of that as sin, but it is. Underestimating God is just as serious as rebelling against God. Look at the gospels—the thing that frustrated Jesus the most was a lack of faith. And faith isn’t just something we exercise to get into God’s family.

Zechariah is an example of a person who has known the Lord for a long time. He goes to church. He gives his tithes. He leads a small group. He goes on mission trips. He prays before meals. He reads the Bible every day. He does all the right things in all the right places in all the right ways. But when God comes along and challenges him to a new level of faith, he’s not ready.

I like to use my cruise control. I prefer to use my cruise control. But my cruise control doesn’t work in traffic. Zechariah was on spiritual cruise control going about his religious duties—he could do it all with his eyes closed—but God chose to throw him into traffic, and he was not ready; he didn’t want to turn off his cruise control.

On the other hand, think about Elizabeth. Throughout Luke’s gospel, we’ll see how he highlights the faithfulness of women. Elizabeth’s response to this gift is in contrast to that of her husband. He’s forced into silence; she chooses solitude. He can’t speak, but she can. When she speaks, she talks about God’s grace and mercy to her—of how he had taken away her shame and disgrace among men. She had felt disgraced; she had felt shame. But she hadn’t lapsed into bitterness. She had continued to serve God. She seems much more prepared than Zechariah was to believe and receive God’s gift.

This couple reminds me that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known God, or how well you’ve obeyed God, or how faithfully you’ve served God; there is always room for growth. And God is committed to stretching and growing the faith of people like Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Application: Zechariah wasn’t prepared for Christmas because he didn’t believe that God could step into his life and answer long-forgotten prayers in out-of-the-box ways. I think most of us are secretly disappointed with God, but afraid to admit it. So, like old Zechariah, we do what we’re supposed to do, never really believing that God is at work in our lives to bless us in ways that will blow our minds.

How about you? Do you believe God can step into your life and bring joy and blessing where there has been disgrace and disappointment? That’s what the coming of Christ means for each one of us. What Elizabeth says in verse 25 is true of each of us because God sent his Son—he’s looked with favor on us, to take away our disgrace among men. Do you believe that?

Further Reading: Psalm 141:2 (Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4), Exodus 30:1-10