Christmas: Winter Holiday or Divine Encounter

                                                                                                        Essentials for Christmas

When Nancy and I moved to Ukraine, we knew we were in for a lot of surprises as we learned the culture. But one of the surprises we did not expect was the believers’ questions about how to celebrate Christmas. Each time we would say, “We celebrate Christmas by…” they would respond. “We do that for New Year’s. So what special do you do for Christmas? You see, their culture had created a winter holiday that sounded to them almost identical to Christmas.

So how would you answer? What is the difference between Christmas and a winter holiday? For many people, there is none. Christmas, for them, is a time to spend with family, eat lots of food, enjoy the good life, and maybe get away from the routine to do something you especially wanted to do. In short, exactly what Ukrainians called a winter holiday. For many people – even Christians – that is Christmas. Our culture has influenced us to substitute a man-made festivity for a divinely orchestrated event.

A biblical Christmas does not require beautiful lights, gift exchanges, human relationships, or even vacation time. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those, but they are not the key elements of Christmas. So what are the essential elements of a biblical Christmas?

The message of Christmas repeatedly occurs throughout the Old Testament, almost like dress rehearsals for the main event. And whenever it does, it seems to me that three significant themes always are involved:
     1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
     2. A reminder of God's Promise.
     3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

There are many narratives in Scripture where those three themes converge to create the spirit of Christmas. I want to mention three of them. I will only give you the outline, so you can enjoy filling in the blanks.

Event #1 – Mt Moriah (Gen 22)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Event #2 – The Choice of Ahaz (Isaiah 7-9)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Event #3 – Bethlehem (Luke 2; Matthew 2)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Come to think of it, those three themes are present in your happiest memories of Christmas.
     a. There was a need/want that seemed impossible.
     b. There was a promise – likely from an earthly parent – that "something good is going to happen"
     c. There was a faith – however child-like – that the problem could be solved.

If we deny or ignore the unsolvable human dilemma we are facing, we will never again have Christmas. If we find our satisfaction in anything other than God's Promise, we will never again have Christmas. If our faith is in our own resources rather than God's provisions, we will never again have Christmas.

The church at Laodicea illustrates the point. They admitted no personal/human dilemma. They said, "We are rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing." The result was spiritual disease rather than delight in the Promise.

The angel told Joseph, "His name shall be called Immanuel – God with us." The great human dilemma is that humanity is separated from God! God's promise from Eden on is that someday The Promise would come – the separation would end. The challenge for Joseph, and for us, is to believe that Jesus is that Promise. If we fail to join those three elements, all we have left is a winter holiday.

2022-11-22T17:21:41+00:00December 1st, 2022|Categories: Banner Editorial, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

A Promise of Success

Read Judges 1:1–4
“And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand” (v. 2).
When phone caller ID service first became available, I received a call and recognized it as my elderly mother’s phone number. She was startled when I answered, “Hi, mom!” and she asked how I knew it was her. I told her my new phone system had caller ID and not only could I see who was calling but where they were and what they were wearing. Since my mom was so predictable, I guessed what outfit she had on and described it to her. I happened to be right, and she was aghast responding, “That’s not right that phone companies can do that!”
I confessed to my mother that I had made up the story, and she laughed with relief. However, I am reminded of our God who is also predictable. Just as my mother’s daily habits were predictable, God’s promises are foreseeable, and we can count on His guaranteed outcomes. He never changes, and we can trust the promises He has given us. God assures, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you … to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11). It is such a comfort to know that God not only thinks about us but He also promises to take care of us according to His perfect, divine will and plan for our lives. (Clifford Churchill)
’Tis true, oh, yes, ’tis true.
God’s wonderful promise is true;
For I’ve trusted, and tested, and tried it,
And I know God’s promise is true. — Leila N. Morris
“God never made a promise that was too good to be true” (D. L. Moody).
This devotional is the Monday, January 22, 2018 entry of Opening the Word.

2018-01-26T14:26:08+00:00January 26th, 2018|Categories: Opening the Word|Tags: |0 Comments

Israel’s History Foretold

Read Genesis 15:8-16
“And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (v. 14).
With each move, from parsonage to parsonage, from one church and town to the next appointment, our possessions increased. I have a mental picture of that move from our first church to the second. All we owned fit in the back of a borrowed pick-up truck. We saw the baby dresser and rocker at the back of the truck as we followed in our car down Mississippi’s red-clay roads. My pastor/husband’s books could fit in one bookcase, assembled by his father, and now his study has floor to ceiling built-in shelves nearly full of books and resources.
God’s promise to Abram included “great substance” after 400 years of affliction in a strange land. God repeated that promise with specifics to Moses: “When ye go, ye shall not go empty” (Ex. 3:21). The Israelite men and women would “borrow” gold and silver jewelry from their Egyptian neighbors. Thus, Israel would “spoil the Egyptians” (Ex. 3:22). The gold and silver, along with fine linen, would be used to build the tabernacle. (Ann Coker)

The God of Abram praise, All praised be His name,
Who was, and is, and is to be, Always the same!
The one eternal God, Whose timelessness is clear;
The First, the Last: beyond all thought, Throughout the years!
— Daniel ben Judah

What God promises He fulfills in His good time.

This devotional is the Tuesday, October 24, 2017 entry of Opening the Word.

2017-10-25T08:55:29+00:00October 25th, 2017|Categories: Opening the Word|Tags: |0 Comments

God's Sure Promise

Lesson 9 - October 29, 2017
Focus Text: Genesis 15:1-8; 17:3-8
Central Truth: We can trust God to keep His word.
Objective: By the end of this lesson my students should be able to list various promises God has fulfilled in history.
Lesson Outline:

  1. Promise of the Covenant (Genesis 15:1-21)
  2. Confirmation of the Covenant (Genesis 17:1-9)
2017-10-23T08:15:00+00:00October 23rd, 2017|Categories: Weekly Lesson Summaries|Tags: |0 Comments


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