Light in the Darkness




And so once again we have just celebrated the birth of Jesus, Son of God, who came into the darkness of this world to bring light and hope, salvation and new life, to all who would welcome Him into the darkness of their hearts and believe in Him.


It was a time for those living in Israel where Roman soldiers walked the streets. The glory of the Davidic reign was a memory and instead the citizens of Israel lived as exiles in their own land. Herod had built their temple and the nation of Israel was fracturing between the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. This fracturing had intensified the weight of the Roman boot on the people as well.


Into this overwhelming darkness Jesus came. He came not only to dispel the darkness as the Son of God, but also to experience the darkness as a man, to identify with mankind, to endure the darkness, and then to conquer it.


Today we live in a world that can seem to be equally dark depending on your perspective and perhaps your location. The light and hope He brought are still there for each of us today and that light and the hope it brings is essential as we wait for His return.


Light possesses powers essential to true life in both physical and spiritual realities. In the physical realm, light is the triggering force that kick-starts food chains, both on the land and in the sea. It acts as a catalyst during photosynthesis in plants, and it provides sustenance for the survival of plankton in the oceans. Without light, our food sources would die and so would we. Without light, cold would overtake the earth and we could not survive.


Light is also the most important tool of guidance so that we can see and go about our daily activities. Man’s invention of fire was his attempt to substitute the light of day to fight off the darkness of night, to protect him and show him where he could find safety and stay warm.


In our spiritual life, light is no less essential. Light is symbolically the antithesis to evil associated with darkness and the dark realm of Satan and those “angels” that chose to rebel against God and seek to dissuade us from finding and living in the light, from having the light dwell within us.


As we enter a new year much uncertainty is evident throughout the world and headlines confirm it in minute-by-minute detail. The smaller world of our daily lives can be assaulted with uncertainty as well, whether it is related to health, a job, a relationship, or our family. It takes very little for that uncertainty to cast a shadow of darkness over our hearts and create fear.


But the good news is still the same truth we have just celebrated! God’s intervention is undeniable in the Christmas scene. He fulfilled to the last detail the prophecies from hundreds and hundreds of years before His arrival. His promises are true!


They are still true today!


Many missed His arrival because they were not looking for Him or not looking for the way God chose to reveal Himself. That serves as a reminder to me today. As I await the Second Advent and return, am I anticipating Him? Am I looking for Him with confidence? Am I remembering His light still dispels and conquers the darkness without and within?


What I know is that if I do, when I do, I experience joy! I also know that His light shines more brightly in me and offers hope of His promises to others.


As a child I was taught the simple chorus “This Little Light of Mine”. Many of you were as well. One of the lines contains the assertion, “I’m going to let it shine” (speaking of that light).


Of all things I commit to this New Year, that one assertion is central. I can only make that decision for me, but what if the rest of the body of Christ did so as well? Would not the world be drawn to that light and hope? Would we not help others find their way through the darkness to Him?


As we anticipate the Second Advent, let it be so, Lord!





Can We Keep Christmas?




The house is once again quiet as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree, twinkling mantle lights, and crackling fireplace logs. No wrapped gifts are any longer stacked beneath the tree and the stockings are tucked away for the year.


Has Christmas ended?


 I spend weeks before Christmas preparing for the day’s celebration. Shopping, baking, card writing, wrapping gifts, visiting friends and family, and attending Christmas concerts fills my calendar to the brim. Despite all the hustle and bustle, the wearying pace of all the weeks before Christmas, something else seems to happen as well.


I see little kindnesses exchanged between strangers in malls and grocery store lines, in greeting Salvation Army bell ringers, and mailmen in Santa hats. I see more patience here and there as people stand in Starbucks lines exchanging pleasantries. The kindnesses usually cost no money, but represent attitudes of heart and mind that I wish I saw throughout the year.


It’s true there is traffic, which can cause me to flee the mall parking lots and avoid certain streets. It’s also true that selfishness and lack of gratitude does not totally disappear. Even so, I observe a shift as the days before Christmas draw near.


I see more of us focusing on others than ourselves.


I see people looking for gifts or special ways to express care and love to others. I see some making sacrifices to make trips and travel to those living hundreds of miles away. I see people remembering those in nursing homes and hospitals they may not think of on more ordinary days.


What makes the difference we feel in the midst of the hubbub of the season?


 Is it possible as many turn their focus to the birth of Jesus that His Spirit adjusts each of our hearts in some way?


I would like to think so.


Then perhaps the secret to keeping Christmas beyond December 25 is to allow Him access to our hearts each day to adjust our focus, our purpose, our attitude, and our stewardship on the other days of the year.


Perhaps we don’t need stacks of gifts and a glittering tree. Perhaps we don’t need tables laden with goodies, cards to write, or things to bake. Perhaps we don’t even need candles in windows or manger scenes on lawns to remind ourselves of Him whom we celebrate or those dear to us.


To keep Christmas every day means we keep our focus on the One whose birth we celebrate and live each day accordingly. When we do, we become more like Him. Our hearts soften, our focus clears, our choices reflect Him and His love a bit more and hope continues to flicker even during hard times and difficult seasons.


It is good to celebrate Christmas and savor each part that is dear to our hearts, but this year as so many challenges and uncertainties stack up in headlines and in our own homes, let’s keep the One whom we celebrate in clearer focus remembering once more in whom our hope lies.


Let us take comfort from the truth of the Babe who is now King and celebrate Him every day. That is how we keep Christmas!



Christmas Morn




And so it has come…


Whether you have a large Christmas tree, a small one, or none at all, Christmas has still come.


Whether you have heaps of gifts, just a few gifts, or none at all to unwrap, Christmas has still come.


Whether you are filled with joy, or alone and grieving, Christmas has still come.


The best gift needed no tree, but died on one so you can receive the gift of eternal life with Him.


He simply loved you that much! It had nothing to do with who you were or where you were from, whether you were rich or poor, educated or illiterate.


On this day we celebrate the birth of Jesus!


He brings you the gift of new life in Him, with Him. He wants to dwell in your heart and walk with you through life’s ups and downs. All He asks is that you open your heart and receive Him.


When you are given a gift, your part is to open and receive it.


I have so much enjoyed sharing His story, the Christmas story, with you these last few weeks. I pray the Lord allowed you to sense Him in a special way through the retelling of the story.


Merry Christmas!  Shalom!

Wise Men Follow the Lord




When I consider what we hear about the wise men, the magi, following the star, it seems puzzling to me that if the star were so evident why did Herod ask when the star appears. Was it not seen by the naked eye to other people?


Is it possible the Lord allowed a star to be seen by only the wise men possibly via an astronomical tool known to them and not others?


 Or was “the star” a sign in the heavens of the miraculous sort for their eyes alone by God’s design?


What Matthew tells us is that they left Herod and the star they had seen went before them and they followed it. This is certainly significant curiosity or interest in this sign from heaven to wise men who do not appear to have been Jews. Even so, they may have known the sign was of importance or some aspect of ancient prophecy spoke of such a sign.


The sign appears to have led them to Bethlehem and now is leading them again. Their commitment to follow where it leads is evident.


How committed am I to follow where He leads? How committed are you?


 If these wise men were astronomers, they would be aware of the constellations, the galaxies, to the extent their instruments allowed them to see.


What made this sign significant enough for them to follow it from the east?


What a testimony of who this was! Jesus was born not only in this small town of Bethlehem in seeming oblivion, greeted by lowly shepherds, but his birth brought men from other parts of the world to honor Him and acknowledge the significance of His birth who were not Israelites.


If the sign in the heavens had been visible to just anyone, certainly they would not have come alone, but as with the shepherds, God had designed and set in place those who would first see Him and then tell the news both near and far. God knew Herod was cunning, a tyrant, and the babe born in the manger needed protection from his potential schemes and designs.


But follow the star wherever it would lead them, they did. And Matthew tells us the sign led them to where it “rested” over the place where the child was. This passage does not say He was a baby, but a child. It leaves me wondering as I move on in the passage what the timeline was between the manger scene and this one because I read the wise men went into the house where they saw the child and Mary.


Carefully reading this tells me there is no reference to three wise men or even camels. Scenes depicted on cards, in plays, and in paintings of three wise men riding on three camels that arrive at the stable sometime after the shepherds have gone doesn’t exist in the text. Perhaps these were efforts of men to tie the story together between Luke and Matthew’s accounts.


The sign from God clearly spoke to the magi for when they went into the house where the child was, scripture tells us they fell down and worshipped Him. They also brought Him gifts worthy of a king, standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world.


Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh.


What do many suggest about the gifts presented?


Gold was a precious metal in those days even as it is now and symbolically it represented kingship. Frankincense was a perfume or incense, which served as a symbol of his priestly role. Myrrh was anointing oil and symbolically prefigured his death and embalming.


Some others wonder if the gifts were also a bit more practical since researchers have learned that frankincense has an active ingredient that inhibits inflammation and was used as an herbal remedy in communities of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where the trees grow that produce this aromatic resin.


The detail and symbolism God set in motion evidenced from the angel’s visit of Mary onward in conjunction with Old Testament history causes me to choose and believe the symbolical representations of the gifts.


After the gifts were presented and worship had ensued, the wise men went on their way. But it was not back to Herod to tell him they had found the child. A dream warned them of Herod and they returned to their own country.


Joseph also had a dream and was warned to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt and remain there until they were told to return home, By this time I would guess Herod had figured out the wise men were long gone so in his rage, he sent his henchmen to kill all male children two years old and under.


So I come to the end of the beginning of the Christmas message given first to Mary and Joseph, then lowly shepherds, and then wise men.


But the very best news of all is those who were entrusted with the message of the gospel did prevail and brought it to me and also to you so we might also with them glorify the King of kings and Lord of lords born more than two thousand years later.



Wise Men Follow A Star



To continue the story of Christmas, the scene must shift to the book of Matthew. His telling started with the long genealogy to share the lineage of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and give us the clear line from Abraham and Isaac. This retelling of the lineage confirms the prophecy regarding Jesus and the connection to David, but in the retelling I get caught up in the others in the lineage as well.


My memory pauses with the story of Jacob and Joseph and the turmoil in that family as well as how the Lord used Joseph to save the people of Israel. Two of my favorite stops as I read through the names are when I come to Rahab and Ruth. Here I see two women who were not themselves of the royal bloodline of the Jews. Rahab, a harlot, cooperates with God’s plan when the spies look for shelter and is given a place of honor in this royal line leading to Jesus.


Ruth, a Moabite, also is honored and “adopted” into the heritage when her hesed love causes her to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel after her husband has died. The beautiful story of Boaz and Ruth unfolds and I see God’s providence and provision for Ruth. I also see His reward to her for her faithfulness.


These stories remind me of my own grafting into His story as generation after generation of God’s own continues.


 Matthew shifts the scene after this review of the genealogy by simply stating, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king”. He brings me into the throne room of Herod in Jerusalem by letting me see Herod has visitors from the east. Wise men.


These wise men or magi have arrived seeking Herod’s help to show them where “the king of the Jews” has been born as a result of seeing “his star when it rose”. They tell Herod they have come here to worship this new king. Initially, it seems the wise men do not know that this will definitely not please Herod.


Herod assembles all of his priests and scribes together to ask them what they know about this. They share with him the prophecy that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem and that He would shepherd the people of Israel, which confirms what the wise men already know.


This is clearly not good news to Herod who recognizes this will pose a threat to his leadership and that of all Rome perhaps. He hopes to thwart that possibility with a plan he cunningly shares with the wise men.


He calls them secretly together and asks them when the star appears and then sends them off to nearby Bethlehem asking them to find this child and then let him know so he can also come and worship this new King. He hopes this scheme will work and they will find this child, soon to be king, and bring back the information he seeks so he can kill Him and neutralize the threat rather than to worship Him as he has said.


I wonder if the wise men trust and believe Herod. At this point in the story there is no evidence to say they did not.


Who were these unnamed wise men?


Magi was a name originally used for priests and wise men among the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. I would be looking at the modern day areas of Iraq, Iran, portions of Turkey, and Armenia.


Later, the name was presented to the Greeks as a foreign system of divination and the religion of a foe the Greeks had conquered.


By the time we get to the place in our story in the New Testament the magi or wise men were likely seen as astronomers and astrologers. This would fit for me if the line were traced back to the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians.


It was not the first time that God used these cultures and peoples in connection with His chosen people. Nebuchadnezzar quickly comes to mind.


What a paradox! God brings lowly shepherds and magi of another culture and faith to testify to and acknowledge the Son of God, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been born to bring good tidings of great joy!


 Truly, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!