Daily Bible Readings:
Monday, December 16. Read Isaiah 9:1-7. 1) George Frederick Handel included texts from Isaiah in his famous Messiah. 2) Why is Isaiah 9 such an important text in thinking about Messiah and what he would do? 3) What similarities do you see between the time of Isaiah and our times?
Tuesday, December 17. Read Isaiah 11:1-16. 1) What does Isaiah say about David’s line or family? 2) What about the “Branch”? 3) Even though Isaiah’s prophecy was written with a contemporary (to his times) application, what about this prophecy sounds like it was written for us too?
Wednesday, December 18. Read Matthew 1:18-25. 1) What does Matthew tell us about the news of Mary’s pregnancy? 2) What does Joseph think about it? 3) How would it affect you to receive such news?
Thursday, December 19. Read Matthew 2:1-12. 1) During what ruler’s reign was Jesus born? 2) How did Herod view the birth? 3) Why did Herod respond the way he did? 4) How do you think any world leader today would view it, including Trump, if s/he knew the ramifications of the birth?
Friday, December 20. Read John 1:1-5. 1) John makes no reference to the Nativity of Jesus. How is this account of Jesus different than Matthew and Luke’s? 2) How would you characterize this description of Jesus’ pre-existence and what bearing do you think it had on the Nativity?
Saturday, December 21. Read Micah 5:1-5. 1) This prophecy was actually written for Israel’s time, probably in the 700’s BC. Why does this text in Micah seem like it is written to us? 2) What does it promise?
Prayer for the Week:
Dear Father, On this 22nd of December we wait for you. Our desire for you is excited by the occasion we now celebrate – the moment when you first came and dwelt among us. Swaddled in humanity. Taking on our weakness. Enduring our sin and rebellion. Showing us, indelibly, what embodied love is and does. All around us the world attempts to distract us from this single most powerful idea is that God dwelling in an infant is more satisfying than anything that this world offers. Please keep our minds focused on this thought and not on tinsel. In Jesus’ name I pray this. Amen.
Hymn of the Week:
“A Christmas Carol”
Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
Devotional Article of the Week:
He Came to a World We Know
Jesus entered a world we recognize as our own. He did it to redeem us from the messes we have brought on ourselves.
by Phil Ware
Have you noticed that the Christmas season can sometimes be more like “let’s get ready to rumble” than “O holy night”?
The midnight releases of video components, electronic devices, toys, movies, books, and specialty gifts incite rowdy stampedes of greedy shoppers. Grown adults trample each other and get into fistfights over places in line or about disagreements about who got to a toy first. Many Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events have been shoved earlier in the schedule so that they begin before Thanksgiving.
On top of the holiday gift-buying frenzy, many of us also enter into a twilight zone of family baggage that gets unwrapped with the Christmas presents. Innocent statements are misinterpreted with the result of hurt feelings. Stiletto-sharp innuendos carve up folks who are supposed to love one another. Fusses break out because someone corrects or disciplines someone else’s child. Nerves fray. Tempers flare. Joy gets lost in the tumult.
Even the pilgrimages back to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ are complicated by the ongoing war between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the very place where Jesus was born. These tensions threaten world peace in the land where the Prince of Peace lived, died, and rose again.
While much in the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth is both precious and touching, the birth stories are not all sweetness and light. One of the most horrific stories in the New Testament is known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Jesus’ apostle Levi, the tax collector, recorded it this way:
Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah:
A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah — weeping and mourning unrestrained. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for they are dead. (Matthew 2:16-18 NLT)
What are we to make of this disconcerting story of genocide tied to the birth of the Christ child?
We live in a free-for-all world where sin and rebellion have marred every level of relationships and society. Jesus’ coming is tied to the real world in which we live. God didn’t prepare a pristine time where his Son could be protected and coddled. Jesus came to a world we recognize as our own to redeem us from the messes we have brought on ourselves.
Jesus was born into a vicious world of hate, war, struggle, and jealously. These fruits of hell would be ever-present for each step he took on our little blue planet that he created. God used an angelic vision to warn Joseph to escape with Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt to prevent his slaughter. From the first moments of Jesus’ arrival, even while shepherds heard the angelic choir singing “gloria in excelsis deo,”
Satan played a darker and more malevolent tune. The rumblings of Herod’s jealous and paranoid bile echoed across the world of Jesus. The Son of God needed divine intervention to rescue him from death.
When things seem bleak or difficult or fractured in our world, we must remember the joy and the horror in the world Jesus entered. The joyous yet harsh world our Savior entered reminds us why Jesus came. We thrill to hear the sweet sounds of angels, notice the excited presence of shepherds, and wonder about the mysterious journey of the magi. At the same time, Herod’s blatant abuse of power propelled by his paranoid genocidal rage sickens us.
Both extremes that greeted the Son of God at his birth — joy, and revulsion — remind us that Jesus came to save our broken world. He didn’t accomplish salvation from afar, antiseptically locked away from it all. No, God came close to us in Jesus who came in person to be born in a manger, to be welcomed by shepherds, and wise men from the east before having to escape to Egypt.
Jesus’ family would later return home to Nazareth, where he would grow into a man. After making disciples for three years as Jesus taught and healed, was rejected, crucified, and buried. After conquering death and leaving behind an empty tomb, he showed himself alive before ascending back to the Father to pour out the Holy Spirit on those who followed him.
The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ — the birth of the Son of God and our Savior — occurred in a world like the one that we know. Jesus came to a world like we know so that we can be assured that he cares, redeems, and empowers us. In Jesus, God’s grace overcame hate as he pioneered a path for us to follow him and find salvation.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up (Hebrews 12:1-3).