by J. Lee Grady
The virgin birth contradicts the laws of science. But our faith rests on the miracle of the Incarnation.
My wife and I have four girls, and I was in the hospital room for each birth. There was a normal amount of blood, but no serious complications. Our oldest took forever to be born. Our second was in such a hurry that we thought she might end up on the floor of a hospital hallway. Our third tied her umbilical cord in knots in the womb. And our youngest calmly slipped out as if to say: "OK, I'm born. What's next?"
I had very little to do in the delivery room. My wife was the hero. She sweated, strained, pushed and gasped for hours. I stroked her arm a few times—and ate some doughnuts.
Normal births are amazing, whether they occur in hospitals or homes or the back seats of taxis. But when I consider the birth of Jesus, I'm in total awe—not just because of Mary and Joseph's bumpy ride from Nazareth, Mary's lack of a doctor (and no anesthesia!) and the crudeness of the manger, but also because of how Jesus was conceived. Mary was a virgin. Joseph, the "father," had nothing to do but stand in the background.
Secularists and liberal theologians have mocked the virgin birth for centuries. Thomas Jefferson called it a fable, while Episcopal heretic John Shelby Spong called it an "entrance myth." The concept of a woman giving birth to a baby without a man's involvement is ludicrous to unbelievers. It contradicts all the laws of biology.
Yet Mary was not a scoffer. She asked the angel how she would bear this child, and he said: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35, NASB).
I would have asked for more scientific information. ("Um, thanks Gabe, but how does this process of miraculous impregnation work?") But Mary didn't quibble over details. She believed Gabriel's announcement and submitted to God in childlike faith.
The Greek word for "overshadow," episkiazo, is a reference to the cloud of God's presence that materialized in Moses' tabernacle. The Amplified Bible translates Luke 1:35 as: He "will overshadow you like a shining cloud." This same cloud hovered over the ark of the covenant, led God's people through the wilderness and filled Solomon's temple with shimmering shekinah glory.
by Jonathan Bernis
It has been said that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. This is certainly true of the birth of the Messiah, which we celebrate this month. One need only turn to the pages of the Old Testament to discover where, when, how and why Jesus of Nazareth was born.
Where would the Messiah be born? When Herod the Great sought to find the Messiah, he asked the Jewish religious leadership to discover where He would be born. They, of course, had the answer immediately: Bethlehem.
How did they know this? Because the prophet Micah had recorded this revelation hundreds of years earlier. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2, NIV).
There are two interesting points to this prophecy. First, the word Bethlehem is formed from two Hebrew words, bait ("house") and lechem ("bread"). It is no coincidence that Yeshua, the
Bread of Life, was born in the town known as "house of bread."
Second, this verse has the fascinating statement, "Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." This prophecy reveals the amazing paradox that the Messiah would be born, yet He
already would have existed! Only Yeshua, who John reveals was in the beginning with God and is Himself God (see John 1:1) could have fulfilled this.
When would the Messiah be born? To answer this, we have to turn to Daniel 9 (for further study on this chapter, I recommend Daniel's Prophecy of the 70 Weeks by Alva J. McClain, Zondervan). "The Anointed One will be cut off but not for Himself. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary" (see v. 26).
by Sandra Clifton
"Frank, you don't have to do this!" Harriett called out to her husband. It was early afternoon of Christmas Eve in the 1920s, and the arctic winds were beginning to howl across the Kansas plains. "A promise is a promise!" Frank called back to his newlywed wife. "And God has promised me that I would have roses especially for you by Christmas!"
The young couple had wed last summer under financial duress and had gone without roses, Harriett's favorite flowers, at their wedding. On their wedding night Frank had vowed to his new bride that God would allow him to make it up to her, with the gift of beautiful roses by Christmas.
So on what looked to be the worst weather day of the year, with a major wind and snowstorm settling in, Frank was off like a mule, headed toward town with the goal of finding flowers for his Harriett, to make good his promise of roses by Christmas.
Four hours had now passed since Frank disappeared into the winter storm on his way to town. Harriett wiped the frosted front window and surveyed the empty lot in front of their farmhouse. From the sheets of white frost moving sideways across their yard, it was all too obvious that blankets of snow would soon cover the land and barns and all of life. Where was Frank?
To busy herself in an attempt to allay her worst fears that her husband was trapped in a snowstorm, Harriett piled on her coat and stepped onto the porch to gather stacks of wood for the cast-iron stove that would need stoking throughout the night. Life was hard on the Kansas plains that winter—and roses by Christmas, no matter how great a promise her loving husband had made before God to her, seemed a bit far-fetched.
Suddenly through the glare of the white crystals of snow emerged an image—of a perfect line of red roses. Was this a mirage? thought Harriett. This perfect line of roses was slowly moving toward her—as if floating through the air. Then Harriett saw the hands holding this image—those of her husband Frank.
by Linda Mintle
I used to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping rush.
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic—only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were bulging from every available nook and cranny.
I slumped to the floor and thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for 10!"
My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we giving our children?
One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile. This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for a special reward for hard work.
Finally the stack looked sensible.
Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future, Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2) a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.
What an ancient tradition can teach us about the heart of God
by Jack Hayford
The expression "Father Christmas" is commonly used in Commonwealth Nations of the British empire. That's how they refer to Santa Claus. Santa Claus goes by many different names in different parts of the world, and he's often a point of contention for some people.
As sincere as they may be, there are believers who take an antagonistic attitude toward celebrating Christmas, especially toward Santa Claus. Oftentimes, we're negatively orientated to things because we've never been faced with a living counterpart. The only counterpart we know is a dead thing of the past. If you are a person who grew up believing in Santa Claus but never having any understanding about Father God, then your transformation as a believer may have included accepting the view that says you shouldn't celebrate Christmas, or that the idea of Santa Claus is evil.
There are some things that have to do with celebrating Christmas and with Santa Claus that really are soured by carnality in the world, but there's another side to that. If you were told you shouldn't celebrate Christmas because it's an extension of an ancient, pagan holiday, consider this: It's also an ancient Christian take-over of a pagan holiday. Many of the things we associate with Christmas, like the yule log and the tree, have to do with things Christians did to sanctify the holiday with a living counterpart. They took the best of what was and reinterpreted it with life.
The Father of Christmas isn't Santa Claus; it's the living God who gave His Son. I came to understand the heart of the Father of Christmas because of the father that was closest to me in my first experiences of Christmas—my own dad. I was one year old when my mamma and daddy received Christ, and, so, I was raised by people who knew and loved Jesus Christ. Their fidelity to Him was unlimited and unqualified. They absolutely were committed to the truth of the Word of God, and the glory of the Son of God.
When it came time for Christmas, the Hayford family had Christmas. We weren't wealthy; my father was a switchman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. But our Christmases were full of splendor. We had some presents, and it seemed my parents went out of their way to make it as lavish as our budget could afford.
But what really made Christmas special was what was in my parents' hearts, especially my dad's. He fathered Christmas to me before I understood the eternal Father. The reason it's important to me to offer this illustration is because it all centered around my dad's being Santa Claus, though I didn't know that was what he was doing at the time. Let me share with you the story.
I can see the picture right now: it was before my brother Jim, who is 10 years younger than me, was born. My sister, mamma and daddy and I would be sitting at the table having dinner. It was about three weeks before Christmas. All of a sudden, my dad would say, "What was that?"
Everybody stopped. Then he'd say, "I thought I heard bells." Right now, my sister's and my eyes are lighting up. My father says: "Listen kids, you stay right here. I'm going to go outside and see if I can find it."
Don't allow gift-giving expectations to put you deeper in debt and rob you of the true joy of the season
by Amie Streater
I know what you're thinking: Here they come. Christmas and New Year's; gifts to buy, meals to prepare, decorating, houseguests, parties to attend, church activities, neighborhood events, school productions—and a partridge in a pear tree.
It's exhausting, isn't it? Add the fact that the last few years have been financially disappointing for most of us, and it's no wonder we get a heavy feeling in the pit of our stomachs when the calendar page flips over to November.
Life is about to get a lot more expensive, as if it hasn't been bad enough this year already. As Christians, we tend to feel guilty just thinking about the price tag that comes along with the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
After all, this is a time to be focused on gratitude for all God has blessed us with, especially the fact that He sent His Son so that we might be saved. It's just not very spiritual to think about money during this blessed time.
Actually, I think it is.
During the time of year when we celebrate the ultimate gift we have in Christ, I think it's healthy to explore why we feel like we're in bondage in so many other areas, such as our finances. It's OK to acknowledge that things don't look the way we would like them to. It's productive to take time to sit back and ask, "Why does my money—and my life—look and feel so yucky right now?"
You could plaster a plastic smile on your face and plow through the holiday season, and likely no one would be the wiser. But where, exactly, would that get you?
Mark 8:36 says, "For what will it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" What will you gain by having another plastic Christmas? How will that feed your spirit and connect you more deeply to God?
What will you really accomplish if you forge ahead with credit cards in hand, charging your way to what you hope will be a picture-perfect holiday season, yet on Jan. 2 face bills you can't pay and more levels of uncharted waters in your soul?
What if, instead of choosing to live out that candy-coated lie of the "perfect holiday season," you chose to lay hold of the abundant life Jesus told us He came to give us?
You can do just that if you will spend some time this season pressing in with God and asking the questions that, when answered, could really help heal your heart, and your finances.
As believers in Christ, most of the struggles we have are based on "counterfeit convictions," misconceptions about what the Bible says and what God's will for our lives really looks like. The tricky thing about counterfeit convictions is that they usually stem from some kind of truth. In most cases, a biblical truth gets polluted in our minds by lies we hear in the world or lies we choose to believe about ourselves, or both.
God promised us in Jer. 29:11 that He has amazing plans for each of our lives, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. So when our lives don't line up with that promise, our human tendency is to ask God why.
It's a good question to ask, but it is coming from the wrong perspective. Instead of asking God why His promises don't seem to be true in our lives, we should be asking God what we're doing to keep those promises from coming to fruition, what counterfeit convictions we're living by that are holding them back.