Shepherds 5

Hebrews 5:8-9

At our Thanksgiving celebration this year we attended several gatherings of various family groups – my cousins, my wife’s cousins, our immediate families. Each gathering, each meal, was established for the family members to come together and celebrate our blessings.

But I noticed at each gathering that more and more people would come through the door and join in the party. As some of the people came in to join the feast our children would ask, “Who is that?” We would usually say, “I don’t know.”

It didn’t matter who the person was who came through the door. There was plenty for every person who entered. All were welcome.

The author of Hebrews explains what the gift of Jesus is all about. What relationship did Jesus have with God? What did Jesus become? What did he become to all of us?

Just as everyone was welcome to the celebration the families held at Thanksgiving, so it is with the gift of Jesus. The baby born in Bethlehem was a gift, first as God’s son intended to save his people, the Jews. But Jesus grew from a baby into the perfect teacher and Savior. Through him all are now welcome in the celebration of love that God offers.

Jesus is the source of salvation to all who believe in him. As the Savior to the world, then, the celebration of Christmas is a time to rejoice in the mercy and grace that is offered to us and to all people. Just as the shepherds – outsiders – were told the good news, we too are invited to share in god’s love.

Christmas marks the beginning of God’s expression of mercy and love to all who are separated from God. All are welcome to join in the feast of hope, mercy and peace. The celebration began as an expression of joy for the presence of Jesus but now grows to a time of rejoicing for all who believe.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you welcome others in your Christmas celebration?

Shepherds 4

Romans 3:25-26

When I started out in life I needed some financial help from my parents.  Over the years they assisted with school fees, car repairs, money for food, and so on. There was an unspoken understanding that these gifts were loans and would some day be repaid, but my parents never asked for the money to be given back.

In Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome he explains the meaning of the gift that God gave through the birth of Jesus. What was the intention of God’s gift? Why did he give Jesus to humanity?

We all know that we are sinners. We all know that we fail to be perfect in the sight of God. Knowing that, we all understand that we deserve nothing but punishment from God.

Yet God surprises us with His tremendous love. Instead of punishment and banishment God has given us the gift of Jesus, the birth we celebrate at Christmas. This gift is meant to be a gift of atonement. The birth of the baby was intended to be the beginning of God’s plan for humanity to be brought back into a loving relationship with the Almighty.

The birth of Jesus was the beginning of God demonstrating His incredible mercy and love. The birth of Jesus is the sign of God’s grace. Jesus would be that sacrifice, that atonement, that repayment of an eternal debt.

Jesus was given so that all people in all the world would have an opportunity for forgiveness. Anyone who accepts the gift of Jesus is welcomed back into the loving relationship of a connection with God.

The gift is a demonstration of God’s tolerance of our failings. It was a demonstration of God’s own justice, a justice that goes far beyond our own ability to be just and fair.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s love for all people. All are welcome to share the joy of knowing God is loving and forgiving.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you make the celebration of forgiveness part of your holiday?

Shepherds 3

Luke 2:8-11

While Christmas may be a time of joy for each one of us as individuals, and may be a time for joy that we share with friends and family, it is also a time of joy for all people. In the Christmas story we encounter the first outsiders in this passage from Luke.

Who is mentioned? Where are they? Who appears to them? What message is given?

Shepherds in the time of Jesus were a necessary part of the culture. They held an important job tending to the flocks of sheep that were so much a part of the economy and every day life of that time. But these men who tended the sheep were often thought of as outcasts and outsiders.

Shepherds conducted a dirty job – both physically dirty and spiritually unclean. As such they were seldom welcome in the society. Most people preferred to avoid them.

And yet we see in the Christmas story that it was shepherds who were the first people outside the holy family to hear the good news of the gift God had given. Angels appeared to them and announced the good news. These outcasts were presented with the news of God’s love.

In verse 10 we see the extent of this wonderful news. Not only were the shepherds – outsiders – told of the good news the angels explained that it was good news for “all the people.”

Just as the name of Jesus indicated that he would be a Savior to his people, and the implication could be that it was for not only the Jews but all who believed, the angel’s message now included all people. The good news of salvation is meant for everyone, including the outcast and the outsider.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this year we need to remember those people who are outsiders in our own culture. God’s love is extended to us as believers, but it also seeks those who do not know God yet. We can be the ones who bring that news of hope and salvation. We can be the ones who invite the outsider in to the celebration of love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who is an outsider you know who needs to know of the love of God?

Shepherds 2

Matthew 1:20-21

Just as John the Baptist was a part of the Christmas story, so too were angels. An angel spoke to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Angels appeared to the shepherds. An angel appeared to Mary and spoke to her about the birth of Jesus. And an angel guided Joseph.

This carpenter who was pledged or engaged to be married to the young woman, Mary, has discovered that the woman he plans to marry is already with child. Not understanding the heavenly and holy designs of what is going on Joseph decides to divorce her, to put an end to the relationship.

Who appeared to Joseph? What assurance is given? What name is to be given?

Joseph, a righteous man, has now been made aware of God’s plans. He has now been informed as to why Mary is with child and then he receives some instruction. Joseph should go through with the marriage and he should give the baby a specific name.

The name we are familiar with – Jesus – is actually just the Greek translation of the name “Joshua.” Just as most other names have a meaning behind them, the name Joshua has its own meaning. It means “the Lord saves.” But who is being saved and from what?

The angel explains in verse 21 what the birth is all about. Jesus – the Lord saves – will save people from their sins. He will remove the punishment earned from evil behavior. But who will receive this grace? The angel says that Jesus will save “his people.”

Our first thought might be that Jesus came to save the Israelites, the Jews, because Jesus was born as part of the Hebrew nation. While this may be true, I believe that “his people” are all the people who will accept Jesus as that Savior God has sent. I believe that Jesus came, not for a select group, but for all people. It is simply up to us to accept this gift and receive God’s grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you accept God’s gift this year?

Shepherds 1

John 1:6-9

If you examine the Christmas story in Luke 1 you will see that John the Baptist plays an important part of the story. It is reflected also in the beginning of the Gospel of John. John 1:1-5 talks about the Word being with God and the Word (that is, Jesus) being the light of men.

Who is brought into the story here? What is said about John and “the light”? Who was the light for?

We all undoubtedly believe that Jesus, even as a newborn baby, is the Prince of Peace and the Lord of our life. We give him honor and praise because he is the gift of God’s love and has come for our salvation. He is deserving of adoration and glory.

Yet, in spite of all this royal treatment and respect that is given we are also reminded that Jesus came to earth not to be separate and above all of us. Instead, Jesus came to be part of the lives of all humanity. He came to be that expression of God’s grace but also to live on the same level as each of us.

We see it in this passage. John was sent by God – inspired by God – to serve as a prophet for Jesus. John the Baptist was moved by God to begin teaching about Jesus and proclaiming his coming. In verse 7 the Bible tells us that John served as a witness to Jesus so that through Jesus “all men might believe.”

This is picked up again in verse 9. The true light – that is, Jesus, the love of God – was coming and Jesus was meant to give “light to every man.”

As we celebrate the holiday of Christmas we must remember that the birth of Jesus was a gift of incredible love from God. Jesus was an expression of God’s mercy and grace. And even though Jesus is of heavenly royalty he was given as a gift to every human being who will accept him.

We do not need to be extremely rich. We do not need high intelligence. We do not need to be perfect people. We simply need to see that the gift of Christ was a gift for you and me and everyone, no matter what place in society they hold.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will remind you that all people can receive the gift of Jesus?