“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ ” (Luke 2:15)
After their once-in-several-lifetimes experience with the angels, the shepherds response was, “Let’s go! Let’s investigate. Let’s confirm this supernatural revelation with our own eyes.”
Too many people want to have the experience of seeing angels and feeling overwhelmed by the wonder of Christmas and having God “blow their socks off” — without wanting to follow that up by going and seeing what God is doing in the real world around them. After the experience of the angels, who really cares about a newborn in a barn?
For those who truly believe the message of the angels, though, real everyday life is injected with meaning and excitement. The baby in the manger is the Son of God! The kid working the drive-thru was formed by the Creator of the universe! The God of all has sent me to represent His love and grace to these people I will spend Christmas with!
Nothing is ordinary for those who believe in angels — if we’re willing to go and see and test and practice God’s truth in our everyday lives.
Think: God has revealed lots of His truth to you in the Bible. What biblical truths will you be looking for or acting on in your life today?
Pray: Ask God to give you the faith, courage, and will to practice what He has revealed to you in all the ordinary parts of your life this week.
Do: Go and look for evidence in your Christmas celebrations that the supernatural God is at work in your natural, everyday world.
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ ” (Luke 2:13-14)
Very few people have ever knowingly glimpsed any of the heavenly army (or “host”), let alone a “great company” of them, let alone a great company of the heavenly host praising God together.
What the shepherds saw on that wild night was nothing less than a peek into our eternal future in heaven when we, too, will witness the staggering company of angels singing glory to the Lamb:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne. . . . In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’
I wish I could have seen it; I can’t wait to see it forever.
Think: How do you think what the shepherds saw that night changed them? Do you think it increased their appetite for heaven? What would make you hungrier to be in heaven with God forever?
Pray: Praise God for His glory and thank Him for the gift of peace to those He favors, all those who trust in the Lamb who was born to be slain.
Do: Try to imagine the joy and spectacle of a great company of angels praising God together on the night Jesus was born.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ ” (Luke 2:10-12)
These words are almost too familiar to even understand any more. And the weird thing is most of us associate them with Linus and Charlie Brown or some cute kid with a gold tinsel halo.
But the being speaking these words to the shepherds wasn’t cute, and I’m guessing he didn’t have a lisp. He was so scary looking he had to command the shepherds to stop being afraid of him. He had to announce up front: “This is good news.”
Try to listen past the tinsel: Great joy. Your Savior. Born today. Did he say manger?
As Jewish men, the shepherds had probably grown up believing a Christ (or “Messiah”) would come to rescue Israel one day. But the idea that some baby born that night in a small town barn to a road-weary teenage girl was the Promised One would have sounded like a joke — unless you heard it from a terrifying angel.
These words matter because they were true and because of who said them.
Think: Do you think we sometimes miss the importance of these passages because we know them too well? What is the most remarkable thing to you about these verses?
Pray: Thank God that the Christmas story is not just a story but also the Word of God for you today.
Do: Make a quick list of three times you got big news that brought you great joy.
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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:8-9)
I think most of us tend to root for the shepherds in the Christmas story. They represent us. No matter what role you played as a kid in your church Christmas pageant, none of us are angels. And though we’re all learning to have faith like Mary, none of us will ever have her experience exactly.
No, we’re the shepherds — just living our everyday lives and suddenly terrified to realize that God has noticed us and overwhelmed to understand that the message He is delivering is Good News. For us. And it’s happening right now.
Like the shepherds working the night shift, we live in the dark. And like the shepherds, God’s light broke through the darkness of our fallen world with a spectacular opportunity: Believe in Jesus and live in great joy.
Don’t be afraid the light. It’s a good thing.
Think: Have you ever tried to imagine what that night was like for the shepherds out in the dark? Why do you think the shining “glory of the Lord” was so terrifying?
Pray: Thank God for making sure you heard the story of the shepherds and the angels so you could understand Jesus better.
Do: Think about reading Luke 2:1-7 to get caught up with the story again.
” ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38)
Do you see God as someone who has the right to tell you what to do, whatever that is? Or do you see yourself as someone willing to consider obeying God on a case-by-case basis?
Mary believed God had the right to tell her what to do. That doesn’t mean she never sinned. Even servants sometimes disobey. But there’s a big difference between that and seeing God’s commands for us as optional somehow.
If an angel showed up on your doorstep with a message from God tomorrow and said, “You’re going to have a miracle baby” or “Go and tell your neighbor about Jesus” or “Don’t ever lie to your parents again,” would you be able to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. If He said it, I’ll do it”?
It takes faith like Mary to obey like that
Think: Why do you think it’s hard for us to say, “God has the right to tell me what to do, no matter what that is”? What’s the alternative to believing God has the right to tell us what to do?
Pray: Ask God to help you to be convinced that He has the right to tell you what to do — and then to help you to have the faith to keep obeying Him, no matter what.
Do: Read about Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-56 — and don’t miss Mary’s song.
“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:36-37)
Six months before coming to see Mary, Gabriel had delivered a baby announcement to Zechariah, the husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for a baby for a long time, but Zechariah still couldn’t believe it. He asked for evidence — and the angel muted him for not believing.
We saw yesterday that Mary didn’t ask the angel to prove he was telling the truth (though she did ask “how will this be?”). Still, Gabriel graciously let her know that she wasn’t alone in all of this. Her barren cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with her own miracle baby. Mary would quickly be able to confirm this wasn’t just a crazy dream she was having.
God wants us to believe Him, to take Him at His word — and He often provides us both with confirmation that what He’s telling us is true and Christian family to believe Him with. Nobody has to believe alone.
Think: How much harder is it to believe God when you don’t think anyone else you know believes? How much easier is it when you realize many other people are believing God and choosing to obey Him?
Pray: Thank God for all the Christian family you have in your life to believe Him with
Do: Ask an older Christian who likes you how they choose to keep believing God even when it’s hard.
” ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’ ” (Luke 1:34-35)
“I know I’m just a teen girl from a small town, Mr. Angel, but if my understanding of human biology is correct — how am I going to get pregnant if I’ve never had sex?”
It’s a good question. Anyone would have asked. Mary was ready to believe, but she thought she was missing something. Virgins don’t have babies, right? It would take a miracle for a virgin to get pregnant. Exactly.
Why is the virgin birth such a big deal to Christians? It’s embarrassing to some people. They think everyone lies about sex, including the Bible. They want to believe in a God who doesn’t do miracles, just “miracles” that can be explained away by cultural misunderstandings or coincidences or translation issues or science. They don’t want a God who manipulates the laws of biology or physics as a way of proving Himself.
They don’t want the God who kept a promise written by Isaiah hundreds of years before the angel spoke to Mary: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Think: Why do you think anyone who was otherwise inclined to believe in God would not want to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or other miracles in the Bible?
Pray: Thank God that He had the power to keep His promise to bring Jesus into our world through a virgin birth.
Do: Read Matthew 1:18-23 to find out what happened when Joseph found out his supposedly virgin fiancée was pregnant. Specifically, listen to what the angel told him.
“. . . you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
It’s one thing to find out you’re going to have an unplanned pregnancy; it’s another to hear that you baby will be the Son of God and the king — forever. I’ve heard those words every Christmas since I was born, and I still don’t completely get it. Mary’s head must have been spinning.
But this promise to her is for us both history and future. It is the beating heart of our faith in Jesus. We do call Him the Son of the Most High, and we do pledge allegiance to Him as the King and our own Lord forever.
God had promised long before this moment to send the Savior, the Messiah, the King. This announcement to a small town teen girl that she would give Him birth proved again that God always keeps His promises.
Christmas is a promise kept.
Think: If Jesus is not the Son of God — if He is not the king forever — is there any point to celebrating Christmas? Does it have any real meaning if Jesus is not the Christ?
Pray: Thank God for keeping His promise by sending His Son to be your savior and king.
Do: Find a few minutes this week to think hard about these big ideas.
[ December 18, 2009; ] December focus on HIV/AIDS
THERE IS HOPE1
As each sibling died, Agnes took care of their children. “They had no one else” she explains. The partners of her brother and sisters were either already dead or disappeared when the sickness came. So last year, Agnes a widow, found herself responsible for 13 children – seven orphans, three [...]