Christmas

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

To me, this verse encapsulates both the wonder and the irony of Christmas. It is a beautiful mystery that God should choose to present His glory in a tangible form to mankind through the rather commonplace miracle (if there are such things) of the birth of a Baby.

In that manger so many years ago lay the Divine irony: that the glorious Creator of all things would stoop to take part in His creation, but not as one would expect a God to arrive; clothed in splendor and honor and wielding great power. Instead, He chose to come as a Man and with all man’s limitations, including beginning life as a an utterly dependent, helpless infant. The Almighty in diapers. Just imagine!

Furthering the paradox, the King of kings was not even born into human royalty. Instead, He came humbly, born into a family most likely socially tainted by the scandal of His mother’s implausible claim concerning her pregnancy, born not into silken sheets and sturdy housing, but in a pen for animals.

His earthly parents were even too poor even to afford a lamb to sacrifice for Mary’s purification  as the Law demanded (Leviticus 12:6-8, Luke 2:22-24).  Nor did He choose a life of popularity, wealth, and ease, but one of poverty, hard work, and difficulty.

This is perhaps the most perplexing facet of the Christmas story; that the Most High God decided not only to become a man,  but also to participate fully in the human experience, including both physical and emotional pain. And though He came to His own creatures, they knew Him not and many even scorned and mocked this, the most gracious act of love in history.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isaiah 53:3)

It is for this reason that He is a God like no other, for He understands humanity not just theoretically or as its Creator, but by becoming one of us; by living as a man.

But He is also a Man like no other, for Jesus understood what it meant to be human and to feel the weight of grief.  Yet He also understood something we cannot: He understood, too, what it meant to be Divine.

Do you see the absurdity of this gift? Crazily and against all logic, the Creator subjected Himself to human limitations in order to provide for rebellious humanity the briefest glimpse of Divine life here in the dust of the earth. By living as a man as man should have been — without sin –and then willingly giving Himself up for our ransom, He extends an invitation to all mankind to a future hope beyond grief.

Even crazier, this invitation remains open to those who despise Him still, for it is not His will that any of His beloved should die apart from Him.

Besides understanding a depth and breadth of grief that we never could, He also understood the full power of temptation in a way that none of us can for the simple fact that none of us have withstood temptation to the utmost and prevailed.

Without exception, we have all fallen; we have all given in to the allure of some personal weakness and sinned. However, our Lord never did. Alone among man, He has endured the full force of temptation and remained standing at the end. He, alone, knows the precise limits of temptation and the entire weight of resistance.

He became Man as man was meant to be — pure, sinless, in perfect fellowship with the Father. Perhaps, even, He became more human than any of us simply because the image of God given to humanity was marred and distorted at the Fall, but it was restored in the Person of Christ.

“He is the radiance of the Glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” (Hebrews 1:3a).

Oh, my thoughts are tangled and almost too complex for words. Still, I do hope you will hear my heart and the great awe I have for my Lord. May He be as real and as amazing to You!

There is more, so much more, but for now let it suffice to say that for me, Christmas is always a time of joyful solemnity, because when I look at the Babe in the manger, I always see the shadow of the cross falling over His infinitely precious features.

But I also to see beyond that ancient instrument of torture and death to the victory — the Light of the world walking out of the darkness of the grave, bringing hope to all who love Him and who struggle yet under the living death of this world.

May the hope of Christ restore your heart this Christmas. Merry Christmas, my friends!

Guest Post by Leonard Gluck

I’m a little excited because I have something different for you today: A guest post and a video by Mr. Leonard Gluck, a retired teacher and member of our church small group.

Last week, Mr. Gluck demonstrated for us how he combines the Japanese art of origami with some truths from Scripture to make a Christmas ornament with a message behind it. It’s a handy little tool for sharing the Gospel, and he has given me permission to publish his work here!

Beneath the video is the full text of the lesson he often shares as he folds the ornament. Typically, if he is teaching a class, he will send each kid home with a packet containing the two pre-folded halves of the snowflake, the dark dot for the center, and red yarn for a hanger along with instructions for assembling them.

And so, without further ado:

Have You Entered Into the Treasures of the Snow?

By Leonard Gluck

How many of you have a favorite Christmas ornament? Think of how it looks and what it represents. I have several ornaments that mean a lot to me. Some of them are special because of who gave them to me. Others are favorites becuase of what they represent or how unique they are in design. Some are neat because of the materials used in the construction of the ornament.

Today, I am going to make an origami Christmas ornament. It is actually modeled after an ornament the Lord Jesus designed when He created the world and everything in it. This model is one I designed after the better design of Jesus. It not only is fun because it is made out of ordinary white paper, but also because of what it represents.  It’s pattern is neat, also.

Watch as I fold this project. I’m going to read several Scripture passages, which talk about this ornament as I work. Listen carefully so that you can share the message of God’s Word with others this Christmas time.

Way back in the Old Testament, a man named Job was talking with God, when God asked him a question. It is a very interesting question. Before I read you the question God asked him, we need to know a little bit about the circumstances Job was in when God talked with him. Job, as you probably know, had more problems than anyone else in the Bible. He lost all his wealth, his children, and his health all in the matter of a few days. He actually was under the direct attack of Satan when this happened. On top of these problems, Job’s friends tried to tell him that all his problems were because he was not right with God. What a terrible place to be in!

Well, after all this hard stuff happened, God came to Job and wanted him to know He was still in charge, that He loved Job, and knew his problems and could fix them. He then asked Job this question: “Job… Have you ever entered into the treasures (storehouses) of the snow..?” (Job 38:22). That seems like a funny question to ask him at that time, doesn’t it? But God knew what He was talking about. The storehouse of the snow is composed of what? Yes, snowflakes. I’m making a snowflake ornament.

What are some of the things we can learn about God from the snowflakes He created? First, we notice that almost every single snowflake is different yet it follows a similar pattern. God takes great care in the forming of every snowflake. Each one shows His power and majesty. It also shows us that God cares about little details and little things as well as the big things.

 We can also look at what the Bible says about snow. Did you know It uses snow as a picture of God’s cleansing from sin? Listen to this neat verse from Isaiah 1:18: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'”

Wow, just think of the color red! It stands out like a sore thumb and screams, “Look at me!” Our sins do the same thing. They show us and everybody else that we are not good enough to meet God’s standard of perfection, holiness, and purity. We can’t make it on our own. We need our sin to be removed in order for us to be able to come into the presence of a holy God. Jesus’ blood, RED, was shed to cover our sins, to pay the price, to remove our sins. We are pure (WHITE) because of His sacrifice.

If you look carefully at a snowflake, under a microscope, you would find a piece of dirt or dust in the center of every snowflake. It is called a “condensation nuclei.” While the dust or smoke particle is floating around in the air, the water vapor up there collects on it and than the cold air freezes around the dust particle and completely hides it. The result is a beautiful snowflake design. The snowflake falls and the dirt particle is removed from the air. The snow falls on the ground and covers everything to make it look so beautiful and pure.

Remember King David in the Old Testament? He also wrote about snow. He said this to God in one of his prayers, “…Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…” (Psalm 51:7b).

He wasn’t asking God to throw him into the bathtub. He was confessing his sin and he know that only God could cleanse his heart. We also can have our hearts clean when we do the same thing. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

If you are feeling dirty because of the wrong things you have done, ask God to forgive you. Tell Him what you did wrong and agree with Him that it is wrong. Turn from it and He will forgive you and cleanse you. Wow, that’s neat. It’s just like waking up in the morning and finding the ground covered with pure, white snow. We are all clean and fresh.

Snow is neat in many other ways. As you know, it’s fun to play in, ski on, ride sleds over, and it provides us with a way to store the water until we need it in the spring and summer. We should thank God every time we see the snow for His grace and mercy and the blessings we have because of His creation.

The next time you see a snow scene, and I’m sure you will see many over the Christmas holidays, think about your life and how God has cleaned you up and made you pure so that you can fellowship with Him and go to Heaven in the future. If you take the time to think about it and study about the snow, I bet you can find out many other amazing things about these little jewels of ice.

 

What Christmas Means to Me

I have a very close friend who is adamant that all the ways we celebrate Christmas have nothing to do with Christ Himself. To be honest, she’s right. Snow and evergreen trees, lights and packages, red and white, tinsel and eggnog truly have nothing to do with the humble birth of Yeshua, nor do we have any idea what day of the year He was actually born on.

For some time, I let this thought color my Christmas festivities and cast shadows of doubt on my celebratory mood. I felt a deep guilt that I did not spend His birthday celebration giving to Him exclusively. However, the more I have ruminated, the more I have grown to realize that as a Christian, His birth is indeed a cause for celebration. And it doesn’t matter when I celebrate; one somewhat arbitrary winter holiday date does not make a difference either way. The thing is, the longer I have walked with the Lord, the more difficult I find it to separate anything I do from thoughts of Him. I am obsessed, you might say, and while I can never repay His gift with my efforts,  I can give Him my whole mind, heart, and soul and let Him direct my steps both on Christmas and on every other day of the year.

I have been thinking lately about the many times in the Old Testament where God directed the Jewish nation to set up memorial stones, tangible objects both to help them remember and to spur discussion with their children about some act of deliverance or rescue God had performed for the nation. How, you ask, does this relate to Christmas? Well, while the outward, worldly part of the celebration of Christmas may have nothing to do with Jesus at all, just as a stone is merely a stone, nonetheless for me, the whole Christmas season is a sort of memorial stone: a time of year that I set aside to intentionally study the Word specifically for the purpose of meditating on what it means to have Immanuel: God with us.

You see, for me, Christmas is really about Christ. I find it a useful exercise to use December as a time to ponder the unfathomable humility of the Almighty Creator of the universe, the uncontainable God of all, clothing himself in the very stuff of His creation and humbling Himself as a human baby who had to learn to walk, to talk, to focus His eyes — all for the love of sinners like me. I am invariably abased by such reflections and find myself falling more deeply in love with this Savoir who laid aside His infinite nature for a few decades to clothe Himself in the finite fabric of His own creation, to walk in the dust, and to eventually be tortured, maimed, and nailed to a tree — a tree that He created by nails cast from metal He designed — and to hang dying there, spat upon and rejected by the very sin-twisted bits of creation He fashioned after His own image, those whom He loved enough to offer Himself as ransom and rescue.

Evergreen trees may have nothing to do with Jesus, but seeing the tree every day in December makes me think of the other tree with hacked-off branches that He was hung upon like some gruesome ornament, a callous and hateful display of Rome’s might to the subjugated Jewish people and an undeniable expression of His own words: “Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Twinkling lights may have little to do with the Son of man, but when I see them, I am reminded that the Light of the world came willingly into the darkness, a direct invasion of enemy occupied territory as a sort of special forces seek and rescue mission.

The gifts and wrapping may bear no resemblance to Christ, but with each gift I give, I am reminded of the one Gift I can never repay nor the Giver that I cannot out-give.

With each present I wrap, I recall that He was first wrapped in swaddling cloths and later wrapped in a shroud — the very shroud of shame and disgrace that I deserve to wear. And as I watch the children tear off the wrapping paper on Christmas morning, I cannot help but remember that He threw off the wrapping of that shroud on that glorious day when He rose again.
It is my prayer for you, dearest, that you will find more of the Lord in your Christmas and in every day of the year to come. May His love pierce you and animate you, separating completely the old self and crucifying it so that the new self in Christ can live freely, fully led by the Spirit of Life. May His life surge within your heart, may your mind be fully wrapped up in thoughts of Him, and may His love lead you to deeper commitment and love for God, to greater acts of selflessness and sacrifice toward others, and to longer and more intimate conversations with Him. May your whole being thirst for the Living Water and hunger for the Bread of Life, and may you long for more and more of Him and His Word.

Merry Christmas!

Advent

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-13, 16

What is your favorite Christmas carol? I admit I have many favorites, but high on that list is “Joy to the World.” I love that the simple lyrics of this hymn capture perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. For though we often think of  Advent as a time of looking back to the birth of our Savior,  it is also, as the song expresses, a time of looking ahead to the future redemption of a world now held captive by the curse of sin.

As I sing this hymn — or more often out of respect for those around me, as I listen — I feel a sense of connection to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. I imagine the wonder and joy felt by the shepherds as they witnessed the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth so many years ago. I also feel a surge of anticipation,  envisioning the future jubilation for those who are still awake to behold the victorious return of the King.

In the first stanza of the carol I seem to hear an echo of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that they would find a Savior born in the city of David who was “Christ Kurious” as it was put in Greek; a babe who was both the long-awaited Messiah and the supreme authority. In short, the shepherds were told they would find a newborn in Bethlehem who was the future Deliverer King.  What elation must those men have felt as they went to see for themselves this newborn King?

In the hymn, too, there is also a glimpse of that future time when the Lord will come again in victory as King of kings and Lord of lords — that moment when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His sovereignty.

Here is where I find the only blot of disquiet in my inner revelry, this reminder that someday all will acknowledge Him.  On one hand, I yearn to witness that awesome moment when the Lord claims His own and takes the nations in hand, bringing an end to all that is horrid and hopeless. On the other hand, my heart aches for those to whom this event will be a wretched one and full of terror.  C. S. Lewis frames my dilemma well in his book, Mere Christianity:

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

So my dears, I pray that you have already chosen to cast your lot in with the Messiah. I pray that you, too, will  be filled with the joy of the first Advent and will be able to heartily embrace the unspeakable joy of the Advent to come.

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**For further study, look up the lyrics to Joy to the World  here, and look for hints of both Advents within it. As a springboard you can check out Romans 8:19-23, Psalm 96:8-13, Psalm 98:6-9, Luke 19:40, Revelation 7:15-17, and Revelation 21:1-5.   What other verses does the hymn bring to mind? **