Tag: Christmas

The Focus of the Christmas Season

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

In America, this time of year is called the “holiday season”. Beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year’s Day, it is a time of hurried activity, family gatherings, lots of food, and decorations galore. Wedged in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is Christmas.

Thanksgiving is defined in its name. At the very least, during the huge Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole or black-eyed peas and an array of desserts, each family usually pauses to give thanks for the blessings of the past year.

New Year’s Eve is a grand celebration of the ending of one year and the beginning of another. There is something about turning over a page in our own personal history and putting up a new calendar on the wall that causes us to reflect on the past year and make plans for improvement in the next.

The significance of Christmas somehow gets lost in the busyness of the season itself. Late November to early January used to be known as the Christmas season. It has been redefined as the “holiday season” and Christmas itself, in many cases, has been swallowed up by the activities preceding and following Christmas day. That day of all days – when God sent His Son to wear our flesh and bear our sins – is lost in a world of secularism. So much so, in fact, that one institution tried to outlaw Christmas trees in its building because it puts too much emphasis on Christianity during Christmas time. ??? After protests, their solution was to allow the Christmas tree if there were also symbols for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Satan tried to make Christ disappear when He was a small child and he is trying to make the celebration of His birth disappear. Although he will not win this war, he is winning small skirmishes. The changing of the Christmas season to the holiday season is symbolic of what is happening to American society. At the inception of this country, there was a strong focus on God and Christian principles. Today, that focus has become a political issue – some even denying that America was founded on Christian beliefs. As history books are being rewritten, the very character of this great nation is withering into a place where Christian principles are being challenged daily.

Rather than being swallowed up between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Christmas should be central in this season. Surprisingly many Americans do not feel this way. Although 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, a LifeWay Research survey in 2010 revealed that, “Though a majority encourage belief in Christ at Christmastime, 67 percent of Americans say that, ‘Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.’

As Dr. David Jeremiah states, “The music, meals, and merriment are fine as long as we stay clearly focused on the object and purpose of Christmas: Jesus Christ…. It’s all a matter of focus – and focus is a deliberate act. Don’t let the world dictate your focus this Christmas.”

We do not need to wait until Christmas to focus on Christ. Every day should be focused on Him and is the reason for the ONEFOCUSMINISTRIES website. These questions are on the home page:

ONE FOCUS – what does that mean to you? What do you think about most of the time? What is your purpose in life? What catches your attention? Do your thoughts and goals revolve around one central theme?

Under YOUR ONE FOCUS tab,

Why is making God your one focus in life so important?

What or who you focus on determines your attitude here on earth and where you will spend eternity. When you focus on anything or anyone other than God, you can miss His great love and His will for your life.

Knowing God – really knowing Him, not just knowing about Him – and focusing on Him gives your life meaning and purpose.

You are God’s creation and He loves you – so much that even before Adam and Eve chose to sin in the Garden of Eden, He provided a way back to Him through His only Son, Jesus Christ. If you recognize the reality of sin in your life, repent of that sin, and invite Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, you become a child of God and will live with Him forever.

Resources on this website are:

  • Word Focus – Bible studies with downloadable PDF files.
  • Reflective Focus – monthly devotionals with downloadable PDF files.
  • One Focus Blog – current posts on keeping one focus on God.

Focus is important. If you focus on God, you will see His loving hand every day.

For those who give thanks to God at the Thanksgiving table and pledge to serve Him better in the New Year, how we celebrate Christmas should be the ultimate expression of our thanks to God for His incredible gift. For Christmas marks the birth of our Savior who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and was resurrected. Victorious over death, He gave us life.

At Christmas, we get gifts we do not pay for. We only have to receive them. We often do so with great gratitude. Christ’s salvation is offered to us as a gift. That gift is like no other. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 NASB). That gift deserves our eternal gratitude. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…(James 1:17). Are you thankful for Christ, God’s only begotten Son and the focus of Christmas?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV)

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)

© Stephanie B. Blake

December 2015

Download The Focus of the Christmas Season

Seeing the Heart of Christmas

baby-jesus-christmas-nativity-wallpapers-1024x768God had demonstrated His love and His presence to His people for centuries, but many of them did not see it. So…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The highly favored woman and the just man saw Him first. God prepared Mary to give Him birth. He prepared Joseph to see Him come into the world. They knew why He had come. Angels told them why.

The simple men saw Him. The shepherds came to see the Child. Angels told them where to go and why He had come.800px-Krippenmuseum_Oberstadion_Krippe_aus_Aachen_c1850_06

The wise men saw Him. The star led them to Him. They had been told to visit the King of the Jews and they came to worship Him. The gifts they gave may have enabled Mary and Joseph to take care of the Christ Child as they were gifts of great worth. They were also symbolic. Gold was given to royalty. Frankincense was an incense offered in worship. Myrrh was an anointing or embalming oil. The wise men saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.

Simeon and Anna had been waiting for Him, assured that God would allow them to see Him with their own eyes. And He did. When they saw Him, they prophesied about Him.

When you see the Child in the manger, you are looking at the heart of God.

What a privilege it must have been for these few to have seen the Child and known who He was from the very beginning!

I was not there at His birth and neither were you. Even so, we can see the heart of Christmas – God’s love.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9). For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:1,2,18).

Gift Giving

This close to Christmas nearly everyone is thinking about what gifts they are going to be purchasing, wrapping, mailing or placing under the Christmas tree for loved ones. It is the season of concentrated gift giving.

Much thought is often put into the gifts you purchase. In fact, while I was typing this sentence, the doorbell rang. It was the delivery of a Christmas gift I had ordered online for my husband. I hope he likes it.

???????????????????????????????We love to give gifts on Christmas, but we also will be receiving gifts. As DSC04112recipients. we have a choice to make. We may use it or place it in the back of a closet. We are not obligated to use it, but whoever has given us the gift hopes that we will use it and like it. If you love the person who gave it to you, you know they spent some time thinking about what gift would suit you. Using the gift makes a statement to the giver – that you value and appreciate the gift you have been given.

As Christians, the most important gift we have been given is the gift of salvation. It was given to us by the Christ who chose to be born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and rose from His grave. For those of us who have accepted that gift, He is preparing a place for us to be with Him for all eternity.

God’s Holy Spirit also gives you gifts for service. They are tailor made for you. He is pleased and glorified when you give Him thanks for those gifts and use them for His service. You can ignore your spiritual gift and neglect the good work God has begun in you, but it can insult God, grieve Him and become sin to you.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8).

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

The Child Who Chose to Be Born

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

Occasionally an angry child will tell his parents, “I did not ask to be born!”  And in every instance but one, that statement is true. Only one child in all of history chose to be born.  His name is Jesus.

How could it be possible for a child to choose to be born?  Only God, who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) could do such a thing.  Only the Creator could choose to manifest Himself in the same form He created. For he knows how we are formed (Psalm 103:14a NIV).

The Son of God stated many times that His Father sent Him; however, He chose to be sent. God has revealed Himself to us as a triune God, a Godhead of three totally unified in one Divine Person. He is a relationship within Himself. God refers to Himself both in the singular and the plural.

  • Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4).
  • Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26, 27).
  • And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). See also Matthew 28:19-20.

Jesus did not become the Son of God at His incarnation. In His divinity as the Logos, the Son of God, He chose to be born as the Son of Man.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit decided that in Him [would dwell] all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). As the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), Jesus would reveal the everlasting love of God in an undeniable tangible form – as the Son of Man. God the Father sent the Son, God the Son chose to come, God the Holy Spirit made it happen. That is why Isaiah could describe the entire Godhead as he prophesied the coming of the Christ Child, For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). “In the Hebrew text there is no comma between “wonderful and “counselor.” This means that there are really four, not five, titles given to the child who is to be born.” [1] The name (singular) of the child represents the entire Godhead.

Until the coming of Jesus, God spoke through various ways . . . to the fathers by the prophets, but now in last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:1-3).

No one has seen God at any time (John 1:18a, 1 John 4:12a). John finishes the first statement with the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18b) and the second is in the context of God loving us and us loving one another because He abides in us. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us (1 John 4:12b). We see God through Jesus, who demonstrated His love and asked us to do the same (John 15:12-13).

Logos, Son of God, sent into the world

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-3, 14).

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:1-4).

. . . when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. . . Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5, 7).

The Humble Jesus Received God’s glory

Rich with prophesies about the coming of the Lord Jesus, Isaiah is often quoted by the writers of the New Testament. These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him (John 12:41).  Through Isaiah, God said, I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another (42:8).  (See Isaiah 44:6-7 and Revelation 1:4-8 for one example of Isaiah’s prophesy about Jesus).

Jesus has always been and will always be God. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As man, He did not seek glory apart from the Godhead. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges (John 8:50). Satan tried to get Him to do that very thing in His temptation experience.

He did not seek his own glory distinct from his Father’s, nor had any separate interest of his own. For men to search their own glory is not glory indeed (Prov. 25:27), but rather their shame to be so much out in their aim. This comes in here as a reason why Christ made so light of their reproaches: “You do dishonour me, but cannot disturb me, shall not disquiet me, for I seek not my own glory.’’ Note, Those who are dead to men’s praise can safely bear their contempt.[2]

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men (John 2:24 NIV).

Jesus, however, did receive and accept glory as part of the Godhead.

  • For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:11, 13-14).
  • When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
  • “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son also may glorify You . . .Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:1, 24).
  • Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
  • For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17).
  • “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You” . . . “Let all the angels of God worship Him”. . . But to the Son, He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” . . . (Hebrews 1:5, 6, 8).  Read the entire chapter for amplification.
  • Saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13).

The uniqueness of Christianity is the Person, Jesus Christ, and the distinctiveness of Christ is the fact that He is the God-man. In other words, He is a divine-human Being, something unique in time and eternity. It is also a concept very difficult to understand, for we have no basis for comparison with another God-man in history nor do we get any help from our experience. Yet this is not a dogma imposed on us simply to receive without question; it is a conclusion which grows out of the evidence in the Bible. Many facts point to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God; many others lead to the conclusion that He is truly human; at the same time we see only one Person moving across the pages of the gospels. This union of undiminished deity and perfect humanity forever in one Person is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that is, the union of two hypostases or natures), and this is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.[3]

When His work was completed, He asked His Father to restore His pre-incarnate glory: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:4-5).

Jesus’ Choices

Have you ever thought it strange that when the Son of God became the Son of Man angels appeared to shepherds instead of priests – that a widow instead of a princess was privileged to see the Infant in the temple – that a virtually unknown man recognized the baby as the promised Messiah instead of a government official?

If you were in charge of planning the announcement of the Son of God, who would you have notified? Would you have chosen a woman of royalty to give birth to Him or would you have chosen Mary? Would you have prepared a man of political standing and reputation to go before Him and announce the beginning of His ministry or would you have chosen John the Baptist?  Would you have chosen a man of substantial wealth and influence to raise Him as his foster child or would you have chosen Joseph? Would you have prepared a palace for His birth or a manger?

The revelation of His imminent coming was to male and female, young and old, peasants and princes, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor.  Of the men, there were wise men, a priest, shepherds, Joseph and Simeon.  Of the women, there was a virgin, a widow, a married woman who was barren until God miraculously gave her a child.

God used His creation, a star and angels, as well as dreams and prophecies to announce the coming of new covenant through His Son to people of all stations.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:28-29).

Jesus chose to tell people He was coming 

There are hundreds of Old Testament prophecies surrounding Jesus, many of which had to do with the unusual circumstances of His birth. The New Testament notes their fulfillment. Just a few of them are:

  • He would come as the Son of God (Psalm 2:7, Luke 1:32, 35).
  • He would come as the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15, Galatians 4:4).
  • He would come as the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:3, 17:7, 22:18, Acts 3:25, Galatians 3:17).
  • He would come as the seed of Isaac (Genesis 17:19, Matthew 1:2).
  • He would come as the seed of Jacob (Numbers 24:17, Luke 3:34).
  • He would descend from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10, Luke 3:33).
  • He would come as the seed of David (Isaiah 9:7, Jeremiah 23:5, Matthew 1:6, Romans 1:3).
  • He would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23).
  • Great persons coming to adore Him (Psalm 72:10, Matthew 2:1-11).

Jesus chose Gabriel to announce His coming

Jesus sent Gabriel to Zacharias. And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings . . . your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:19, 13). Gabriel told Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and when Mary visited her, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and the babe leaped in [her] womb for joy (Luke 1:44). At John’s circumcision, on the 8th day after John’s birth, both Zacharias and Elizabeth surprised others by naming him John.

Jesus sent Gabriel to Mary. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin . . . whose name was Mary . . . behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus  (Luke 1:26-27, 31). And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).

This was not the first time Gabriel appeared with an announcement about the coming of the Messiah.  Both Zacharias and Mary would recognize Gabriel’s name as the messenger sent from God to Daniel to explain a vision he had seen (Daniel 8:16, 9:21).  In the explanation, God promised the coming of the promised Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27). On these two occasions, hundreds of years apart, God’s special angel messenger carried glad tidings. 

Jesus chose John the Baptist to be His forerunner

The Old Testament, filled with prophets announcing the coming of the Messiah, ended with Malachi predicting the return of Elijah (Malachi 4:5). The intervening four hundred years placed John the Baptist at the precise point in time in which Jesus planned for him to announce His imminent arrival. Jesus verifies John the Baptist was the prophet who prepared the way for Him (Malachi 3:1 Matthew 11:10) and was the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 17:10-13). John’s miraculous birth and his mission were announced to his parents by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:11-19). 

Jesus chose His mother and foster father

Jesus chose His ancestry, linking His birth with His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. His legal right to the throne of David through Joseph’s lineage is recorded in Matthew 1:1-17.  There are some unexpected entries in that genealogy, Gentiles and women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and one who had been the wife of Uriah.

It was no mistake that Mary was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter and humble follower of God.  Matthew includes Joseph’s perspective on the arrival of the Christ Child.  God led him in successive dreams to do His will, protecting Mary and the Child (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19, 22).  His obedience brought about the fulfillment of many of the prophecies concerning Jesus (Matthew 1:21, 25, 2:14-15, 21-23).

His foster father taught the young Lord the craft of carpentry. Together, they worked with timber to construct useful objects. The One who used His human hands to learn carpentry was the same One who created the world and placed the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The One who made tables with Joseph was the One who knelt around a table with His disciples at the Last Supper. The One who worked with wood as a young Man carried His own wooden cross to Calvary.  The One who formed furniture from felled trees knew that He would one day give His own life upon a tree. As he hammered nails into wood as He worked, did He think of the day when huge nails would pierce His hands and rip His flesh as He hung upon the cross?

Jesus chose His mother carefully. Mary’s response to the surprising news that she would bear the Christ Child was “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). As her young mind was filled with the word of the Lord, she quotes Scripture throughout her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Luke gives the account from Mary’s view and traces Jesus’ genealogy back to the beginning of the human race.

Jesus had prepared this girl to care for His needs as a child, nurture Him as a young Man and suffer with Him as He accomplished His purpose. He knew she had what it took to trust her firstborn Child as her Savior. He knew she would call upon God for the strength to bear the trials ahead. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35 NLT).

Jesus chose the time of His birth 

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4).

Although the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments are often called the “silent centuries,” God was at work during that time to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, did not exist until after the conquest of Alexander the great and the spread of the Greek language sometime between 300-200 BC. Many early Christians and New Testament writers depended heavily upon this translation as the Hebrew language was no longer used as widely as it had been.

The development of the Sanhedrin happened during this period.

The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jewish nation, comprising 71 members is first mentioned’ in a letter written in 198 B.C. by Antiochus III of Syria to the chief Jewish representatives. Until the attack made by Antiochus IV on the Jewish nation and religion, the Sanhedrin, under the presidency of the high priest. regulated the internal affairs of the Jews. The authority of the Sanhedrin tended to diminish under the autocratio Hasmoneans; but after the Roman conquest of Palestine it enjoyed considerable freedom in the internal concerns of the Jewish people, not only in Palestine, but even (as the circumstances of Paul’s visit to Damascus show) to some extent in other provinces. We gather from John 18:31 that, while the Sanhedrin could sentence an accused person to death, this sentence could not be executed without the consent of the Roman governor. It was for this reason that the Lord Jesus, having been sentenced to death on a charge of blasphemy (because He confessed Himself to be the Messiah), was then brought before Pilate. Pilate, as the Sanhedrin knew, would not be interested in a charge of blasphemy, and so it was on a charge of seditious activity that our Lord was arraigned before the Roman judge.

Politically and religiously alike, the period between the Testaments is far from representing a standstill, but shows a steady moving forward to the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the redemption wrought out by His Son.[4]

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6). 

Jesus chose the place and circumstance of His birth

Jesus chose Bethlehem as His birthplace and informed the Old Testament prophet Micah (Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4-6).

In 31 B.C. the civil wars which had raged in the Roman world for many years came to an end with the sea-victory won at Actium by Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, over his rival Antony and Queen Cleopatra, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty. With this victory Octavian had the whole Roman world at his feet, and he ruled it until A.D. 14 as first Roman Emperor, under the name Augustus (which means something like ‘His Majesty’).

And so it came to pass that when the fulness of the time came and God sent forth His Son, that Son “was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king” (Matt. 2:1), Joseph and Mary having travelled to that place because “there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1).[5]

As Jesus came to identify with all men, He chose a feeding trough – a manger – to lay His newborn head. He knew there would be no room in the inn. During His years of ministry, He said, “The foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).  Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb.

Have you ever had the chance to share the gospel with those who are homeless?  In His birth, His lifetime and His death, Jesus chose to identify with them. 

Jesus chose to announce His imminent arrival to a chosen few 

Although prophesies abounded about the birth of the Christ Child, at the point in time when it actually happened, there was a special revelation to a privileged few. The message and manner in which they were notified were varied but all miraculous. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus prepared

  • Zacharias and Elizabeth by sending John the Baptist as their miracle child.
  • Mary by purifying her heart and sending His special messenger Gabriel to let her know she had been chosen to bear the Christ Child.
  • Joseph by sending angels to appear to him in his dreams.
  • shepherds by sending an angel and a heavenly host.
  • Simeon in the years he waited for the Consolation of Israel with the promise from the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
  • Anna by speaking to her heart through the many years she spent fasting and praying in the temple.
  • wise men from the East by sending His star to lead them to come and worship Him. He chose the gifts that they brought: “gold to honor His kingship, frankincense to honor His Divinity, and myrrh to honor His Humanity which was destined for death. Myrrh was used at His burial. The crib and the Cross are related again, for there is myrrh at both.”[6]

Jesus chose His human Name

Names given to our Lord in the Old Testament looked forward to His coming as the Savior of the world.  As Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).  An angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-21).

This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which was originally Hoshea (Num. 13:8, 16), but changed by Moses into Jehoshua (Num. 13:16; 1 Chr. 7:27), or Joshua. After the Exile it assumed the form Jeshua, whence the Greek form Jesus. It was given to our Lord to denote the object of his mission, to save (Matt. 1:21).  – Easton’s Bible Dictionary

Jesus (je’-zus) = Jehovah is salvation; Jehova, my salvation; Savior. Greek form of Jehoshua. – Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible names

Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation,” Christ means “Anointed One.” Since names were so important in Biblical times, Jesus knew that those who trust Him would understand why He chose the name He did. 

Jesus chose the town in which He grew up

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23).

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see” (John 1:45-46).

It was not by accident that He spent His youth in Nazareth, a place despised by others. He knew that He would be despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53:3). He could then identify with those who did not measure up in the eyes of men.

In this quiet and obscure village, He learned submission to His mother and foster father all the while knowing His calling was to do the will of His Heavenly Father. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:29-52).

The years in Nazareth prepared Him for His ministry. Submission to His earthly family prepared Him for the trials ahead. Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus Chose to Be Born In Order to Die 

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8)   the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8 NIV).

Jesus took on man’s skin because it is only possible for a man to die.  In order to offer salvation to mankind, He chose to be our substitute.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV).

In the NKJV above, Paul said that Jesus made Himself of no reputation (verse 7). Many other translations render that emptied Himself; NCV but he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing and NLT he gave up his divine privileges.  Even though The Message is a paraphrase, not a thought for thought or a word for word translation, it does bring some clarity to our modern ears.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of the status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lives a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.  Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11 The Message).

In his comments on this passage, Charles Ryrie says the doctrine of Kenosis (Greek for “an emptying”) is derived from verse 7 – emptied Himself or made Himself of no reputation:

But in what sense does Paul mean that Christ emptied Himself at the incarnation? “Emptied” may be a misleading translation because it connotes Christ’s giving up or losing some of His divine attributes during His earthly life, and that was not the case. Therefore, the kenosis cannot be understood to mean a subtraction of deity but the addition of humanity with its consequent limitations. Indeed, in the passage itself, the verb “emptied” is explained by three participles which follow—(1) taking the form of a servant, (2) becoming in the likeness of men, and (3) being found in fashion as a man. The kenosis is further explained in the text by the parallel clause which follows, “He humbled himself.” The idea is that by taking on humanity with its limitations, there was a humbling which, although real, did not involve the giving up of any divine attributes.

If our Lord did surrender some of His divine attributes when He came to earth, then His essential character would have been changed, and He would not have been fully God while on earth. You cannot subtract any attributes without changing the character of the person. . . Thus any doctrine of kenosis which says Christ surrendered attributes at the incarnation is in direct conflict with scriptural evidence concerning His person during the incarnation.

What is included in a proper statement of the true doctrine of the kenosis? The concept involves the veiling of Christ’s preincarnate glory (Jn 17:5), the condescension of taking on Himself the likeness of sinful flesh (Ro 8:3), and the voluntary nonuse of some of His attributes of deity during the time of His earthly life (Mt 24:36). His humanity was not a glorified humanity and was thus subject to temptation, weakness, pain, and sorrow. Choosing not to use His divine attributes is quite different from saying that He gave them up. Nonuse does not mean subtraction.[7]

Jesus chose to be born the Son of Man. In Heaven, in His perfection, He maintains both natures.  He identified with man as a child, as a boy, as a young man who carried out His Father’s call during His life. He still identifies with us as He intercedes for us at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Hebrews 7:25, 8:1).

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Jesus chose to be born the Son of Man so that you could be born again as a child of God.

© Stephanie B. Blake

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.  All rights reserved


[1] Guffin, Gilbert L. The Gospel in Isaiah, Convention Press, Nashville, TN 1968, Foregleams of Christ, p. 69

[2]Henry, Matthew: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1991, S. Jn 8:48

[3]Ryrie, Charles Caldwell: A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago : Moody Press, 1995, c1972

[4] The Period Between the Testaments,1949 F.F Bruce. Reproduced by permission. Prepared for the Web in March 2008 by Robert I. Bradshaw.http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/

[5] ibid

[6] Sheen, Fulton, Life of Christ, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York, 1958, p. 40.

[7]Ryrie, Charles Caldwell: A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago : Moody Press, 1995, c1972

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Christmas Throughout The Year

Picture 684Preparing for Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year. In years gone by, I remember decorations coming out in retail stores after Thanksgiving. Then some marketing expert discovered that the earlier advertisements, decorations and specials came out, the more money consumers would spend. It created a larger window in which to capitalize on what most people count as their favorite holiday of the year.

Now little ones start making their lists in January or even late December – sometimes before the Christmas decorations are put away. People plan Christmas in July projects and stores start decorating in September. Many people, including me, prepare for Christmas all year long – taking advantage of discounted wrapping paper, cards and decorations after the season is over and always on the lookout for Christmas gifts for next year.

The gifts are put in their proper place. The wrapping paper and boxes are either thrown away or stored. The house gets put back in order. The non-stop eating ceases and everyone gets serious about being healthier and focusing on projects that were put on hold during the Christmas holidays.

DSC06772I do own a lot of Christmas decorations – some collected from countries all over the world, but my favorite is something my young son made me one year. He knew I wanted a nativity set and he started making one for me out of clay. He said he only had time to make one piece, but had started with the most important piece. He never finished it, but that was fine with me. I now have several nativity sets. One beautiful handmade ceramic set was given to me by a dear friend. I think of her with gratitude each time I display it. In the center of that nativity I place the piece made by my son those many years ago – the baby Jesus in the manger.

My son was right. The nativity is nothing without Jesus. Christmas was the beginning of the fulfillment of His plan to give us the most important gift we could ever receive. By choice, His cradle led to His cross and my salvation. I am grateful for that gift every day – not just on Christmas.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!… For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (2 Corinthians 9:15, Ephesians 2:8 NKJV).

 

The True Spirit of Christmas

Many people the world over look forward to Christmas. Time off from work, time spent with family, looking forward to special gifts and an occasion for parties may be the sole reason for the celebration.

Retail stores put out Christmas decorations earlier each year. They suppose – and they may be right – that makes it easier for customers to get in the Christmas spirit and desire to purchase their products.

Of course, merchandisers profit from the Christmas season. Many of us believe that it has, in fact, become way too commercial. On the other hand, generosity is expressed more freely by more people at this time of year than any other.

The signs of Christmas spirit may include:

  • making Christmas lists and checking off each present as it is purchased, wrapped, mailed or placed under the tree
  • preparing eggnog, special candies, cookies and a variety of other traditional family dishes
  • making elaborate preparations for parties, trips to see family, gifts for teachers, neighbors and others
  • decorating homes in and out
  • attending Christmas musicals and plays
  • looking for ways to help others through churches and charities

Part of the traditional Christmas celebration includes classic Christmas stories, which are read and reread to children at this time of year.

Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy old miser who preferred his own company, is visited by three Christmas spirits on Christmas Eve. What the spirits of Christmas past, present and future showed him so affected Scrooge that his life was radically changed. The result of their visits was that he became the exact opposite of what he had been before. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city or town in the good old world…. it was said of him ever afterwards that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge.”

A Christmas Carol is one of the movies that is on my Christmas season watch list, always saved for Christmas Eve. Of course, it is not the original Christmas story, but it does illustrate what happens when the true Spirit of Christmas visits someone. There is a radical change. To truly know how to keep Christmas well, one must be born of the Spirit of the Christ of Christmas.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”(John 3:5). Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Sunrise on Christmas Day

People around the world look forward to sunrise on Christmas day with eager anticipation, especially young ones. Children who have been told that they cannot look under the Christmas tree until after sunrise can hardly wait for the sun to come up. They hardly sleep the night before and when the slightest hint of light comes out in the morning, they run to their parents and ask, “May I get up now? May I see what Santa brought?”

???????????????????????????????The traditions of Christmas are about family, food and gifts. Some people spend all year thinking about the next Christmas. They shop a little during the year, hide the gifts away and save up for the special treats that the family loves to eat at Christmas time. More books, songs and movies revolve around Christmas than any other holiday. It is a celebration for people of all nations and cultures, even for those who do not believe in the Christ who made it all possible.

The first Christmas was anticipated for centuries. The prophets spoke about the coming of the Christ child long before that day Mary gave birth to Him and laid Him in a manger. Mary herself must have been excited about the dawn of the day when the promise given to her was born from her own body. That sunrise brought her Son to her and to the world.

As people choose Christmas gifts, they put much thought into it because they want to please the ones they love. Sometimes that entails sacrifice on their part. They may scrimp and save in order to get that special item to wrap and put under the tree.

The gift of the Son to save the world was planned by God before time began. He knew the gift that was needed and He sacrificed much in order to give that gift. God’s love for us is so great that He was willing to suffer to give us the gift that we needed most.

As the sun rose on that first Christmas, one day the Son will rise again. What God promises He fulfills.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Preparing for the First Christmas: Greetings from Gabriel

Preparing for Christmas is a delightful experience to me. I love getting out the decorations, playing Christmas music, watching favorite Christmas movies, lighting candles reserved for the season, entertaining, preparing special treats that for some reason are only eaten during Christmas time, strolling through stores and malls with special decorations and driving through neighborhoods that have prepared for this most important day.

Most of all, getting ready for Christmas includes the reading of the Christmas story. As a believer, I continue to be amazed and grateful that God would send His Son to live among men so that we might live with Him forever. As God was preparing the world for the first Christmas, He enlisted angels to bring messages to those who would be directly involved.

DSC06772Many people are fascinated by angels, including me. Movies, television programs and books support the idea that good people become angels. That theory can make interesting entertainment, but it is not true. According to scripture, angels are unique creations of God and are spirits sent by God to minister to believers.

Other popular pieces of literature about angels concentrate on their involvement in the lives of people – sometimes detailing rescues and comfort in trying situations. Although it is possible to have encounters with angels, these visitations originate with God, not the angels themselves. Good angels are always on assignment from God. He deserves the credit for any rescue or comfort received at the hands of angels.

Joseph, who was engaged to the virgin Mary, came to understand his special role in the life of Jesus through many visitations of angels. After the birth of Christ, humble shepherds in the field were honored to receive a birth announcement – via special delivery through an angel and accompanied by an angelic choir.

Gabriel is one of two angels whose name we know. We first discover him in the Old Testament where he was sent by God to explain visions to Daniel. His most familiar appearances were in the New Testament as God sent him to prepare the world for the coming of the Christ child. He told Zacharias that God sent him to bring him news of the birth of his son, John the Baptist, whose voice in the wilderness would prepare the way of the Lord. When Gabriel is last mentioned in scripture by name, it was to deliver greetings from God to a young virgin who, because she had found favor with God, would be blessed among women and give birth to the promised Messiah.

“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God… the angel Gabriel was sent by God…to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary…And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:19, 26, 27, 31, 35).

Christmas is coming

Spending a delightful day in mid-November in London, England, it was obvious that the city was preparing for Christmas. The stores, the streets, the advertisements all reminded one that “Christmas is coming.” Particularly enjoyable was a stroll through Covent Garden Market, where the decorations were all in full display. The gigantic Christmas tree was adorned in only lights and balls of all sizes. Overhead were gigantic red balls dangling from the rooftop of the market square. A hugh reindeer made of greenery was adorned with white lights.

Throughout the city the decorations were classic – large stars lit with white lights hung between the buildings on the main thoroughfares. Store displays were being dressed in Christmas colors and packages were lying in the windows all around with a gentle reminder that gifts would be needed for father, mother, aunt, son, daughter, uncle, aunt and cousin.

800px-Covent_Garden_Christmas_decorations_2011

Christmas decorations at Covent Garden, Westminster (borough), London in November 2011.Editor 5807

As a Christian, I am aware that preparation for Christmas in much of the world is a secular activity. On the web and in the mail, the announcements that Christmas is coming are in hopes that people will buy their products for Christmas gifts. Many people are simply looking forward to time off from work and the family traditions surrounding the most popular holiday of the year.

Unfortunately, few are experiencing the inner reminder that without the first Christmas, there would be no Easter. Without the coming of the Christ child, His perfect life, His substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection, there would be no hope for eternal life. Whether or not stores, streets and homes are decorated with the intent to honor Christ, the decorations can speak for themselves, just as the Bible says that the rocks would cry out if people fail to worship God.

All of the decorations in London did, however, remind me of the first Christmas – the coming of Immanuel, God with us. The balls reminded me of a globe – our world and the planets and stars of the universe. The Christ who was born in the nativity is the One who created the universe and our world. The trees and the reindeer caused me to reflect on how He adorned our earth with plants and animals and all that is good. As I gazed at the stars hanging over the streets, I envisioned the star that led the wise men to the Christ child. The lights everywhere – in white – made me think of Jesus, the Light of the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made…In him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:1, 3-4).