I have two pictures that keep coming to my heart and mind this Christmas.
It's crazy how opposite they appear; yet, they both reflect one and the same story.
The first picture is found in Ezekiel 1. When I was listening to this chapter on my Bible App earlier this year, the events in this scene "got me."
To paraphrase (and it will only scratch the surface): the prophet Ezekiel is standing by a river when he has a vision of God. The heavens open up and there's a brilliance accompanied by a thunderous noise, along with supernatural beings bearing faces and wings. With all of this, there's a chariot with four gleaming wheels that all dart back and forth, moving in unison. This kinetic-radiance is a mere backdrop to what Ezekiel explained next:
"And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire, and seated above the likeness of a throne, was the likeness with a human appearance...and there was a brightness around him...such was the appearance of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face..." Ezekiel 1:26, 28
To fill in all the blanks with brilliant, word-for-word truth, please read ALL of Ezekiel 1!
In contrast to this other-worldly picture, and because we're now in the full thrust of the Christmas season, I can't help but think of Luke 2 (another great read!).
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.
The great I AM in a lowly feeding trough.
The Light of the world wrapped in a blanket.
The Creator was willing to be cradled.
He emptied himself...he humbled himself...
to be WITH US.
There is no greater love!
This Christmas, and then throughout the year, let's be awed by both
his glory and his grace,
his majesty and his mercy,
his light and his love.
The King of kings,
the Holy One,
the Humble One
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly,, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
Have you ever wondered why we bring a tree into our house at Christmas time? I did a little reading on its more recent history and there certainly is a time and a place that the modern Christmas tree began...
BUT... I also found something in antiquity (in the book of Leviticus of all places) that mentioned using tree foliage to decorate "houses." Listen to God's explicit instruction to Moses concerning the Israelite's yearly celebration, the Feast of Tabernacles:
You shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord... Leviticus 23:39-40.
The Israelites were to put all of these beautiful branches in and around their tent to signify His goodness to them as they wandered in the desert for forty years. He protected them, He provided for them, He was with them both day and night...
And now, do we not have even more reason to celebrate God with us?
He dwelt among the Israelites in a tent; He dwells among us in our hearts through Jesus Christ.
He has brought light into our darkness, hope into our existence, Life into our soul.
It is now our turn to decorate with meaning and rejoice before the Lord!
So yes, a tree is in my house! And it is adorned with lights and balls and berries and bows. For it represents the abundant Life I have found in my Savior. He became poor (think of the tree He died on, the old rugged cross), that I might become rich (the tree of Life!).
I am rich because my Wonderful Counselor, my Mighty God, my Eternal Father, my Prince of Peace has filled my hollow heart with love and joy and peace. You see, it's not really about the tangible, temporary gifts under the tree, the gift is the Tree, the ever-green-abundant-life-giving Tree.
Rejoice, rejoice, again, I say rejoice.
I challenge you to do two things this Christmas; actually, I think God does:
One, like our ancient brothers and sisters, bring in the foliage of beautiful trees into your home. As you set your Christmas tree up in its prominent place, worship the goodness of your God-- because He is with us!
And then two, go to the world, your world, and tell them why they have a tree in their house; keep this in mind, they are dying to know.
I have a collection of manger scenes, some small, some large, all unique. I love getting them out each year and finding a special spot for them. For some reason, as I have looked at these over the last couple of weeks, my eyes have been drawn to the manger bed that holds the Christ-child. How strange to focus in on something so seemingly unimportant. Why not concentrate more on the angels and their glorious singing? Or the wise men and the shining star? Or even Mary and Joseph in their wonderment? Hmmm, the manger bed? What’s the point?
And then, it hit me. We, each one of us, are that simple but unique vessel that cradles Christ. Just as Jesus was laid in the humble feeding trough 2000 years ago, He has poured Himself into our hearts through His Spirit today. This truth is the Good News that the angels sang about! We, through faith in Him, have the opportunity to house His holiness. We are not the point, but we have the incredible privilege of holding the Answer to life so all can admire and behold the Point: Jesus.
This Christmas, and then forward, consider the indescribable gift we have been given: the humbled privilege of cradling the King of kings. Hold Him securely for yourself, and then lift Him up for others so they can behold their Savior.
And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not ourselves (2 corinthians 4:7).
As we are now in the thick of the holiday season, the propensity to be distracted by so many things increases by the day, so much so that we lose focus of the one thing we are celebrating (see Luke 10:41-42). Let’s face it, we are a frantic and frazzled people, all in the name of Christmas.
Today, I’m hoping to pull you back in with some pleasant and peaceful thoughts about the one thing we are celebrating, Jesus.
The first thought is the lead-in question: If you were asked to describe your core personality with two words, what would those words be? Wholesome and happy? Calm and collected? Eager and excitable? Passionate and powerful? Think about this question for a while, and really answer it.
Now for the second thought, the main question: Do you know the two words that Jesus used to describe Himself? It’s found tucked into some of the most familiar verses that we know as believers:
Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mt. 11:28-29
Wow, Jesus, King of kings, called Himself…gentle. Jesus, Lord of lords, deemed Himself…humble.
The awesome paradox continues from Isaiah 9:6:
The Wonderful Counselor… left His holy throne room.
The Mighty God…was placed in a mother’s womb, and then into a feeding trough.
The Everlasting Father…walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem, and also washed feet.
The Prince of Peace…was smitten, stricken, and crowned with thorns.
This God-man emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…and He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil. 2:7-8
So today, my friend, think of the one thing that’s important, especially during this season. As you hit the ground runnin’ with your feet, keep the gentle and humble One tucked in your heart. He is the One that we are celebrating. Sing Him a song or two: a song of worship as King of all creation, followed by a song of thanksgiving as Savior of the world.
Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, “God with us.” Mt. 1:22
When thinking of the age-old Christmas story, one of the most familiar portions of Scripture is when the angel greets the shepherds in the darkness of the night. This passage is read so repeatedly each year that the event becomes a common scene in our minds. But goodness, how uncommon this real-life event must have been! First, one angel, then, a host of angels suddenly appeared, proclaiming the promise that had been held behind a divinely closed curtain for thousands of years. Yes, the wait of the great reveal had been put on sovereign hold since Adam and Eve's exit from the garden.
God's people suffered much, but they held onto the hope of their future Messiah. Here is only one of the many promises:
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them...For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest of His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)
This particular promise came 700 years before the fulfillment of it. Here is a challenge for you and for me: at some time in the busyness of this celebratory holiday, let's take 7 uninterrupted minutes to sit quietly and...wait. Might I suggest to wait in the darkness of a silent night? While waiting, add faith, add hope, add love. His promise is for you too.
And now...join the shepherds. Put yourself there on the hillside with them:
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them...and said, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:9-14)
The long awaited suddenly happened. Jesus, the anticipated Promise, appeared.
He is the only valid answer to this sometimes weary, sometimes confusing, sometimes sorrowful life. In Christ, you never have to wait without hope.
Good news, He is the answer to eternal life as well. One more time, there will be another long awaited suddenly. In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…we will be changed (1 Cor. 15:52).
Until then and while waiting, take time to see His glory in the quietness of your Silent Night.
My friend and interior decorator Madelaine Singleton and I just got back from Mississippi and Florida where we presented the Christmas Wreath of Hope to a few local groups. Through Scripture, I told the purposeful meaning behind each decorative element that Madelaine used in her wreath demonstration. It was a pleasure to share this symbolic message. As we journeyed along together, we jokingly called ourselves the “Tell and Show” show.
My talk was packed with God’s word, and Madelaine’s teaching was detailed, but below are the 5 basic wreath instructions along with their truths. After reading, who knows, you might be inspired to hang a Wreath of Hope on your own front door!
1. Start with a GRAPEVINE WREATH. These barren branches represents our life without Christ. Jesus says, I am the vine you are the branches…apart from Me, you can do nothing. John 15:5
2. Add RED RIBBON. This ribbon represents the blood of Christ that He shed on our behalf, His life for ours. When John saw Jesus coming toward him, he cried out, Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29
3. Insert GREENERY (from your yard or from Michael’s). The green branches represent the new life that Christ brings. He cares for us, and He grows us. Jesus said, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
4. Add RED BERRIES. These colorful berries represent the fruit that Christ followers bear from knowing and walking with Him each day. Jesus says, He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. John 15:5
5. Add TWINKLING LIGHTS. These small lights represent the hope of Christ that lives inside of us through His Spirit. Scripture says, Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
The Wreath of Hope is now complete! However, let me mention that the circular shape even has meaning. The life we are living now is only half of the story; it is our “wilderness wandering” that Jesus graciously enters into to be with us. But the story is not over. Someday we will be WITH HIM, forever. Rest in this familiar promise, For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
This Christmas, make a wreath with your friends or with your children and share its meaning. We now have really good reason to decorate!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:13
Help us to not view praying as a waste of our precious time. On the contrary, may we humbly realize that prayer multiplies our time because when we lift our requests to you, you do things more powerfully and efficiently than we could ever do on our own. The extra blessing is that we gain peace in our hearts and minds. So today Lord, with thanksgiving, we will take time to pray...Amen.