Monday, December 19, 2016

Gifts of Christmas JOY

How do traditions get started?

Cut end off the ham to cook.

Typically we enjoyed an event or an experience and want to duplicate it. We were inspired or had an awe-moment and found something significant about it. We wanted to commemorate it and recapture the moment. Thus creating a tradition.

Sometimes, when it comes to things we  believe, often much is tied to traditions—Why? Because when the Bible is silent people tend to make up stuff. Then that made up stuff becomes traditions that take on a life of their own.

Even many of the things we believe about the Christmas story are based on tradition.
Why do we have Christmas trees in our houses?
            Why do we hang lights?                      
            Why do we exchange gifts?
            Why do we drink wassail?

The nativity scene is a blending of history and tradition. We have the characters in the story but all of them being there at the same time isn’t quite Biblical since the Magi came about two years later.

Also the design of the stable.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but no one, at the time of His birth, made note of the place or the day. Why would they? It was just another little Jewish boy being born. But tradition needed something to commemorate. A place was designated 150 years later and a date was chosen some 200 years after that.

But there is a much more realistic and Biblical story that gives better understanding.

What if…
·         Bethlehem was overcrowded since all the world was going to their hometowns to be taxed?
·         On the way into town someone told Joseph there were no rooms available?
·         Mary said: Joseph the baby is coming?
·         And along the road was a building called the tower of the flock where shepherds stood watch from the upper level and the lower level was a birthing stable for sacrificial lambs?
·         Within that lower level, specially designated shepherds gave specific care to the new lambs to keep them unblemished by wrapping them in swaddling cloths and laying them in a manger?
·         It was the job of those shepherds to certify lambs acceptable for Temple sacrifice?
·         Mary and Joseph went into that lower birthing area and had baby Jesus in a stall then wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger?
·         When the angels told the shepherds what to look for they knew exactly where to go to find Him?
·         Jesus, as the lamb of God, was to be born in a stable where other sacrificial lambs were born and certified by the same shepherds who certified they were acceptable for Temple sacrifice?

Migdal Eder— the “tower of the flock”—was first mentioned in Genesis 35. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (vv. 19–21).

About a thousand years after Rachel’s death the prophet Micah told us where the Messiah would be born. (Mic. 5:2), But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity."

But Micah also told us where God would establish the return of His kingdom. And as for you, tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it will come—even the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the child of Jerusalem. (Mic. 4:8).

The tower of the flock was an agricultural fort where the shepherds would watch over their flock from the second story and where the newborn lambs were birthed in the lower portion.

In a collection of Jewish teachings known as the Mishnah, the flocks kept at Migdal Eder were destined for temple sacrifice. Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Jerusalem. The shepherds keeping watch over these sheep knew the purpose for the lambs under their care. And their job was to keep the animals unblemished and uninjured, to make sure they were a perfect sacrifice for God.

Now set our story in right here: Luke 2:1-20

These weren’t ordinary, everyday, run of the mill shepherds. They were designated shepherds, made special by their selection by the High Priest to certify lambs acceptable for sacrifice.

The same wrappings that protected the lambs from injury were now used to wrap the Lamb of God. The same shepherds that designated a lamb certified for sacrifice declared Jesus was the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

It is another glimpse God gave of why Jesus came. He came to die. And by God’s timing, He would die during Passover as the perfect sacrifice for all mankind.

What if Mary called Jesus her little lamb from God?

John the Baptizer said: Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. (Jn 1:29)

Peter said our salvation was brought about by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (1 Pet 1:19)

Paul said, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. (1 Cor 5:7)

Where does joy come in?

And Jahaziel said, "Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face this enemy, for the LORD is with you…Every man of Judah and Jerusalem returned with Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them to rejoice over their enemies. (2 Chron 20:15, 17, 27)

Where does joy come from? From realizing God has shown up.
·         Joy to announce
·         Joy to hear
·         Joy to see
·         Joy to know
·         Joy to believe

And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (1 Pet 1:8)

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (Jn 15:11)

Yet some still sit around like this:

1.       Joy is an abiding confidence that God has shown up.
2.      When we acknowledge He is here, we rediscover the joy.
3.      If you lack joy, you lack that sense of His presence.

4.      Believe and you will know He is there.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gifts of Christmas - HOPE

Matt 1:18-25

Immanuel – God with us

Jesus – Iesous
Joshua – Yeshua – God is salvation

Who He will be: God with us
How He will be known: The One who brings us God’s salvation.

But the people were not wanting to know what to call Him but how His coming would affect their lives.

Luk 2:25  And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Someone needing consolation has lost hope. That’s what Simeon was looking for—the One who was the hope for his nation. Israel had lost hope of experiencing God again. They had been left hanging for 400 years without a prophet to tell them what was going on.

The last prophet to speak was Malachi. Mal 4:5-6 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

Last thing mentioned was the first thing God did.

What did they ask John the Baptizer? "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." (Jn 1:21)

And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said, [It is written] "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, (Matt 17:10-12)

And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. (Mat 11:14)

So, while the nation was waiting, things grew very dark. Then suddenly the light broke through. Elijah appeared to prepare the way.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. (Isa 9:2) Asked John: are you the light? No, just part of the kindling.

Not the star that led the Magi. This light did more than point to a location. It was illumination. The enlightenment that cuts through the darkness of hopelessness and shows the way.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness [will cover] the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. (Isa 60:1-2)

Emmanuel. God, Himself, will come to you. How will you know it’s Him? The glory. Look at Jesus, watch what He does and you will see God.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14)

That’s what Simeon saw: Luk 2:26  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

Christ—the promised One – the anointed one
      One who bore the anointing of God
      One who wore the signature of God on His life
      One who demonstrated God by His actions and words
      One who is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.

Many had been anointed, but only One would be the Anointed One.

Luk 2:27-32 


This was the lingering promise. There would be glory for the Jews and the hope for the Gentiles.

Both promises connected by the same Person. For as many as are the promises of God, [whether to the Jew or the Gentile] in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. (2Co 1:20)

There is your hope. Not in what someone said was possible, but in a person who makes the promises real.

The darkness is over. We now live in the Light. We live within our hope realized.

In Hosea 2:15 God says "I will make the valley of Achor a door of hope." The Hebrew word "achor" means "trouble". God was promising, "I will make the valley of trouble into a door of hope.”

There is no such thing as hopelessness for the children of God. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There is always a doorway to hope.

In the entrance of the Rockefeller Building in NYC is a gigantic statue of Atlas. With all his muscles straining he is holding the world on his shoulders. As powerful as he is, still he can barely stand up under the burden. Ever feel that way? Ever feel like you are trying to live your life carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.

The things that you carry are burdensome, A load for the weary beast. (Isa 46:1)

We aren’t designed to carry God’s burden. We cannot carry the weight of our world.

He’s got the whole world in His hands. What does hope offer us – relief.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His arms. (Isa 40:11) 

We are the sheep of His pasture. We are the lambs in His arms.

If so: Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him... (Psa 42:11)

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11) 

By two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Heb 6:16-18)

How do we take hold of the hope?
We get our eyes fixed: on Jesus: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus… (Heb 12:1)

It was a fog-shrouded morning, July 4, 1952, when a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off Catalina Island. She intended to swim from the island to the California coast—22 miles away. Long-distance swimming was not new to her; she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions—21 miles each way. On this day, the water was numbingly cold. The fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times sharks had to be driven away with rifle fire. She swam more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on since they were so close to land, but when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. So she quit. . . only one-mile from her goal. Later she said, "I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it." It wasn’t the cold or fear or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick to give up. She lost sight of her hope. 

What helps me keep my eyes on Jesus? His Word.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance [not giving up] and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4)


1.       A promise is only as good as the trustworthiness of the person making it.
2.      God doesn’t lie.
3.      Therefore, if He promised you a way out or a way through your darkness, you can be assured the light will come.
4.      Don’t give up.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)