December 31, 2019
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:17-19)
A couple of weeks ago, I was cleaning out the top drawer of my dresser, looking for my son's Social Security card. It was amazing what we found: report cards from first grade; baby teeth, carefully kept; a birthday candle (age 3); a silver teething ring. And of course, there were any number of "Do you remember?" conversations that night.
Parents treasure things related to their children, and Mary was no exception. In her case, she treasured less tangible things—what Gabriel said when he told her she would bear a Son; the shepherds' story and the angels' song; the sights and sounds of Jesus' birthplace. Many years later, she would share these stories with other Christian believers, and they found their way into the Gospels.
Why do we treasure these things—these objects, these stories? Probably because they are the only way we can hold on to the people we love. Children grow up and go out into the world; friends and relatives grow old and die. We suffer loss. And so we treasure the links we still have to those we love. It is the best we can do.
But God can do better than that—and He does. There was a time when God faced losing us, the people He created and loved. And it wasn't just to the ordinary process of growing up, but to something worse, to death and hell. Faced with that, God took action. He came into the world as our Savior Jesus. He fought the powers of death and the devil for our sake. And He rose victorious from death three days later, with the prize He wanted firmly grasped in His hands. We are that treasure.
Because of Jesus, God doesn't have to treasure objects or stories related to us. He treasures us directly and forever, as His own children.
THE PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for treasuring us and making us Your own forever. Amen.
Used by permission; all rights reserved by the Int'l LLL (LHM).
December 30, 2019
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
When I was a child, almost every day I would hear these words: "Hurry up! You're going to be late! Are you a turtle? Get down here right now!"
Those words did not inspire me with joy, to say the least. They meant I was about to get in trouble. They meant the speaker was mad at me. And so I was even less willing to hurry up because doing that would only mean I got to be around an angry adult that much faster.
But nobody had to hurry up the shepherds in this story. "They went with haste" to Bethlehem, the story says. They hurried themselves up. They were looking forward to getting to their goal—finding the baby Jesus that God had told them about. And when they saw Him, they were happy.
It's still like that for us now, isn't it? Tell us to "hurry up" to something unpleasant and it's just not happening. Our feet may move quickly, but our hearts stay behind. But give us a reason to move—a party, a new movie, an all-you-can-eat buffet—and it's amazing how quickly everyone takes off. The house is empty in seconds.
God knows this about us. And so He calls us to Him with love and mercy, not with anger and threats. Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
In another place, He says, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
You are wanted by God—deeply, truly wanted. He calls you to Him. He is not planning to scold or punish you when you get there. Instead, He is giving you a gift—the best gift of all—our Savior Jesus, to be your own.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, bring me to You with trust and joy, to receive Your blessings. Amen.
Used by permission LHM
December 29, 2019
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 among those with whom He is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14)
I love these angels. They are just so extremely happy about this wonderful Gift God is giving the human race—the Savior, Jesus, Christ the Lord. It's as if they can't control themselves, and once the lead angel has given his message clearly and carefully to the shepherds, they all burst onto the scene, celebrating and singing and praising at the top of their lungs. It's party time!
And they are right to do it. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die ..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Well, and so there is also a time to party, a time to be glad and celebrate—and this is it. This is not a time for sour faces, not a time to pick over old grievances or worry about the future.
That's a reminder I can use. By nature I am a worrywart. I can find something to be anxious about on the happiest occasion. And if I'm not anxious, I can become anxious about the fact that I'm not anxious! It's like an emotional snake swallowing its own tail.
To this God says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. ... The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4-5). Oh yes, Jesus is definitely at hand—as a tiny baby sleeping in a manger; as the Lord of life who died and rose again to save us; as the One who has promised to come at the end of time and take us to be forever with Himself. This is good news!
And so we gladly say, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:9).
THE PRAYER: Lord, I am so glad You have come. Thank You for that. Amen.
Used by permission. All rights reserved by LHM
December 28, 2019
December 27, 2019
And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
It's a strange phrasing the angel used: "unto you is born" a baby. That's usually what we say to a parent, right? Not to some set of strangers who've never so much as met the family. But the angel had it right because this was the one baby who was born to every human being in the world—every person in need of a Savior. He is ours, as closely and intimately as He is Mary's. God planned it that way.
The ancient Israelites had a concept we usually translate as "redeemer" or even "kinsman-redeemer." This was the person you needed if you got into trouble or lost all your money. The kinsman-redeemer had the legal right to buy your property back from the new owner. He could buy you back as well, if you got sold into slavery. He was allowed to do this because he was related to you. The closer the relationship, the more right he had to rescue you. Of course, you still had to hope he had the money to redeem you! Otherwise, he could do you no good.
A kinsman-redeemer is exactly what we need as human beings. Once all of us were under the power of the devil, living as slaves to guilt and shame and sin. We needed help. But who could do it? We got ourselves into that situation—by rights it ought to be fixed by a human being. But no human being was in a position to pay. God could pay—but He was not human. By being born into our human family, Jesus fixed that problem. He became our Kinsman-Redeemer, our blood relative who has the right and the ability to buy us back out of slavery.
So yes, Jesus is born to the shepherds—and to me—and to you. He is born to all of us, as close kin as our own children, as generous and loving as the best relative you ever had or dreamed of. And because He became our kin, now we can become His kin—children of God, sharing His everlasting life and joy.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank You for coming to be my Redeemer. Thank You for being born to me. Amen.
December 26, 2019
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. (Luke 2:8-9)
I doubt the shepherds were expecting what they got that first Christmas night. Surely, they kissed their families goodbye, took their dinners, and went out to the fields to do the same job they'd been doing every day since they were children—watching the sheep, making sure they were all there, and keeping an eye out for predators. If it was lambing time (which it may well have been), they would be checking the ewes to make sure none of them was having trouble in labor. Other than that, not much. A dark night. Stars, probably. Quiet. Maybe storytelling or a game of dice to stay awake.
And then! And then a glorious light that lit up the fields all around like daytime, and an angel, looking like nothing they had ever seen before—except they knew it was an angel, they had heard the stories, and they panicked. This was not an ordinary night at work after all.
And yet the shepherds were on the spot at the right time to see the angel—why? Because they were doing their ordinary jobs, faithfully, quietly, just as we do ours. God came to meet them on the job—not in the temple, but in the middle of the stink and sweat of laboring ewes and the dirty clothes their wives and mothers would have to launder later. They went to see the baby Jesus dressed like workmen. God came into their real, ordinary lives, just as He comes into ours.
There is no need for us to "dress up" for God. He comes to us where we are. Jesus comes to us as our Savior—not in a storybook, not in a stained-glass picture of events far away, but in reality. He wants the real us, and He gives His own life to make that possible. And He promises us Himself in return.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, bring me close to You in truth, and not in daydream. Be with me in my everyday life, and help me to trust in You. Amen.
Christmas devotion by Lutheran Hour Ministries
December 25, 2019
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
Mary loved her baby. You can see it in her actions. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes—these were strips of cloth that mothers used to bind their babies so they would grow up straight and strong. And of course, she wanted the best for her baby. So she must have packed them, back in Nazareth, in case of need. They weren't silk or satin, but they were the best she could offer.
Joseph loved the baby, too. We can see that by all the hard work he went to, to keep Jesus and His mother safe. Was it he who brought over the manger so that Jesus could have a safe place to sleep and Mary wouldn't have to worry about Him? It seems likely. He couldn't provide Jesus with a crib or cradle, but he could at least get Him off the floor. It was the best he could offer.
And God the Father? Ah, His love was the best of all. For He also provided the best He could offer—Jesus Himself, our Savior. God did not send us an angel. He did not send a wise and holy man, or a great leader, or an epic hero. He sent His own Son Jesus into the flesh: God incarnate born as a human baby.
Jesus offered Himself up for our sakes—from the first day of His life to the last. He offered Himself at the cross in order to destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil. He brought the whole human race out from under those terrible powers. And when He rose from the dead, He guaranteed that whoever trusts in Him will have the best of the best—will become a child of God and enjoy His love, and deep, joyful, meaningful life, forever.
Who could offer anything more?
THE PRAYER: Father, thank You for Jesus. Take my heart and help me to trust in Your Son forever. Amen.
December 24, 2019
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child. (Luke 2:4-5)
It could not have been an easy trip. Joseph needed to get to Bethlehem for legal reasons, and he brought Mary with him on the verge of delivery. In spite of the Christmas cards, there's a good chance they both walked. The Bible says nothing about a donkey. And the trip was at least 70 miles.
Why not leave Mary home? After all, surely she would be more comfortable with her female relatives to care for her, and a proper midwife on call. We don't know. Perhaps they remembered the prophecy that Bethlehem would be Jesus' birthplace. Perhaps Joseph just didn't want to leave his wife alone in the hands of gossips.
And then the birth itself—not in an inn, as there was no room for them there. Labor and delivery for a first-time mother—could Joseph find anyone to help? Who knows? An adorable baby, at long last. A manger, to keep Him off the floor so no one could step on Him and the rats wouldn't bite Him. The birth of the Son of God.
This wasn't what Mary and Joseph wanted. It wasn't what they planned. But it was what God chose.
This is how much God loves us, that He sent His only Son into the world under such circumstances. This is how much Jesus our Savior loves us. Our troubles, our suffering, our poverty, our griefs—He shared them all from the beginning, every day of His life. He came on purpose to be the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" that the prophet foretold (Isaiah 53:3). He took them to the cross.
And then He rose from the dead, triumphant over all of this—over evil, over sin, over death, over the power of the devil. He did it for you and for me, because He loves us. As He shared our suffering, so now we share in His joy and everlasting life. Jesus came to be Immanuel, God-with-us forever.
THE PRAYER: Lord, thank You for loving us so much. Draw me closer to You. Amen.
December 23, 2019
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a Son. And he called His Name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)
I really admire Joseph. What courage he had, to simply wake up and go finalize the marriage, bringing his wife home—all on the basis of a dream. Mary and Zechariah both had the benefit of a face-to-face meeting with a real live angel. Joseph? Well, like his Old Testament namesake, he got his instructions in dreams.
I think that most of us are a lot more like Joseph than like Mary in this. God speaks to us in less flamboyant ways—through the Bible, through prayer, through consultation with wise Christian friends. God makes Himself known, but He does it in ways that are easier to mistake.
And we worry about that, don't we? What if I get it wrong? What if I think God wants me to do something, and later on it turns into a disaster? We fret and worry, as if knowing God's will were some sort of test we could score an F on—as if we could fail, and disappoint God. Sometimes that worries us more than the actual outcome of the decision!
But that is not the case. Because of our Savior Jesus, we are now God's beloved children. We are very dear to Him-so dear that He lay down His own life for us!—and He is certainly not looking to set traps for us. As King David wrote, "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).
There is no chance that the same God who became a human baby out of love for us would be looking for things to blame us for. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will make the best decisions we can; and if things go badly (and face it, don't they often?), we will know that God is still with us, and we are still His children. After all, He is Immanuel; He is "God with us."
THE PRAYER: Lord, You know that I get confused easily. Guide me, and help me to trust in You when I am nervous and afraid. Amen.
December 21, 2019
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream ... (Matthew 1:19-20a)
There are many times when I wish God would speak to me from on high. Just open the heavens, shout (or whisper) a little guidance. Or send me an angel—or a letter, or a text message, you know, anything would be good. Because I just don't know what to do.
But of course, God usually doesn't do that. Angels are few and far between in my life, and (I'm guessing) in yours as well. Instead, we're left to do what Joseph did—lie awake, "considering these things" with the best wisdom we have available to us. We have to figure out what to do.
But the good news is that we do not have to "consider these things" on our own! Most of us are painfully aware of the limits of our own wisdom. But we have a better resource to rely on, what Paul calls "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24b).
James says this to us as well: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). We can ask for the help we need. We can ask about anything—even a situation as seemingly messed up as Joseph's, where he thought his future wife had cheated on him. God will not judge us for being in that situation. He will not say, "See, if you had listened to Me, you wouldn't need to ask for help!"
Jesus is not that kind of person. He listens to us when we are in trouble and cry out. He gives us the Holy Spirit's help to make decisions, even the terribly tough ones. After all, He knows what our lives are like. Isn't He the One who became a human being like us, to suffer, die, and rise for our sakes?
THE PRAYER: Lord, when I am in trouble, help me to cry out to You for help. You always hear me. Thank You. Amen.
Advent devotion by Lutheran Hour Ministries