PEACE, JOY, AND HOPE AT CHRISTMAS
With all the upheavals and turmoil in the world today, how much peace do we have to be able to enjoy the Christmas of December 2008?? If your fear of the world’s present and future economy, inability to overcome your financial problems, inability to marry, or have a good marriage, have children, get healed of a troubling sickness, resolve a political issue, deal with an enemy, obtain the help you need at school or on the job, or experience a successful business or fruitful ministry, etc., puts you in a state of mind or position that prevents you from enjoying this Christmas, then the question is: should your condition dictate your celebration of Christmas and its significance, or the occasion is rather given to you freely by God in order to bring back to you the peace and joy that you have lost or have been craving for? We can explore several reasons for Christmas and be encouraged to enjoy the occasion, but I wish to enumerate 8 of them.
When the Shepherds heard the message from the Angels that Jesus was born, they were not told to go and see Jesus, and behave towards the baby in a particular way. They believed what they heard, and decided (used their sanctified common sense) to “go to Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has made known to them” (Luke 2: 15). They did not merely discuss to do a good thing and then end there. “They came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 16). They acted quickly without delay when they knew God had given them His word.
- Christmas is about Easter. What do I mean? Christ was born in order to shed His precious Blood and die for us. Jesus died to wash our sins in His Blood, and redeem us (buy us back from the slave market of sin). Anyone without a true understanding of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ will also not really understand Christmas, no matter how he or she tries to celebrate the occasion. People who dislike Christmas do not really understand or appreciate the Redemption plan of God, and do not understand why we should take one day in the year to celebrate the birth of the Savior. Whether Jesus was born on 25th December or not is not the issue. It is a day chosen by those who love God and understand what Jesus has done for them, to specially honor the Lord, and proclaim His salvation plan to the whole world. In fact, any true Believer should see it an annual opportunity to spread God’s good news around, rather than the politics some people try to play with the occasion by putting forward all kinds of meaningless and unreasonable arguments about the celebration.
- Christmas is about God’s favor and blessings. When the archangel Gabriel was sent to Mary, he must have dashed down to earth with excitement to give her the message about the birth of Christ. The first utterance from his lips to Mary was “Hail, you are highly favored (God’s favor), the Lord is with you (God’s Presence); blessed are you among women (God’s blessings)!” (Luke 1: 28). God’s chief messenger was excited about the favor (approval and grace) of God upon the life of Mary. Why don’t you and I seek after God’s favor as our primary goal in 2009? God’s favor must go with His divine Presence, and will ultimately be accompanied by His blessings upon your life. If Mary had all these 3 essential qualities before she became the wife of Joseph, why shouldn’t the woman you are going to marry have these 3 qualities in her life as well? The man, who is going to be the Head of the woman, should have the favor, Presence, and blessings of God upon his life first, in order to qualify to marry such a lady specially prepared by God for him. If the man is wishy-washy, and is merely looking for a partner to satisfy himself selfishly, he will not have any godly and moral standards that are high enough to look for a woman with God’s favor upon her, and will not even recognize or appreciate the qualities when they are presented to him in the woman.
- Christmas is about marriage and family life. God’s salvation plan was made manifest through the family of Joseph and Mary. Anyone with a contorted view of real marriage and family life will also hate or misunderstand Christmas. Marriage is the highest ordained institution of God for ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN. It is Adam and Eve, and NOT Adam and Steve, Jennifer and Stacy, or Araba and Ekua.
Mary and Joseph gave us a true example of a pure relationship leading to marriage. The bride-to-be (Mary) kept herself pure as a virgin for her future husband. Even after their engagement, which was a kind of traditional marriage (similar to the traditional marriage or customary marriage in some cultures like Africa etc.), they did NOT have any sexual intercourse because the marriage had not been finally blessed by God (Mathew 1: 18). We need to be careful and ensure that we do not hinder the Hand and power of God’s holiness that must follow us into our marriages and bless our family life, by disobedience and refusal to do what is right in the eyes of God. For true Christians anything they have must be sanctified by God before they can use it meaningfully. The first thing God did for the first couple (Adam and Eve) was to bless them in His Presence (Genesis 1:28). That is why we even sanctify the day with scriptures and prayer in the morning before we use the day to do anything. If we do not allow God to be in charge of affairs this way, then the Hand of God will not follow us in the things we do. Joseph and Mary believed in complete obedience and not partial obedience like the case of Moses who tragically lost His only chance of entering the Promised Land that he so much toiled for. We are told that “Joseph her husband, being a just (righteous man), was not willing to disgrace Mary publicly, and was contemplating on how to put her away (divorce her) quietly (Mathew 1:19)." If people found out that Mary was pregnant and thought she had committed adultery, she would be stoned to death! By the way, if we (people of today) were in the Old Testament days we would see many dead bodies (especially dead men) in our streets each morning after the horrible adulteries that take place each night (and in the day too) these days! We would stone people until all the stones in our neighborhoods get finished! Anyway, we learn from Joseph that one sign of a just and righteous husband (or man) is one that loves his wife (or fiancée) so much that it will hurt him to disgrace his wife or fiancée publicly. Men and husbands, can we use this standard to test our righteousness now and in the future?
- Christmas is about God’s love and forgiveness. God manifested His ultimate love by giving us His only Son Jesus at Christmas. The good news is that no matter our past sins and mistakes, and whatever our condition at this moment, God still loves us, and is ever ready to forgive and forget the past, provided we acknowledge our ignorance, pride, disobedience, sins, and weaknesses, and truly repent. Although we are the ones that committed horrible sins against God, He chose to come down to us in our miserable situation, dialogue with us, and save us out of our sins. “Come NOW, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1: 18). God’s love and forgiveness are unconditional, and we must learn to do the same for others.
- Christmas is about peace, joy, and hope. We have peace with God (by accepting His offer of Christ to deal with our sins, guilt, and diseases), which is automatically followed by the Joy of The Lord when we continue in obedience by making Jesus both Savior and Lord (absolute Master) of our lives (Romans 5: 1). God must be pleased with us before we can experience his true peace. When Jesus was born the Angels sang: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men (WITH WHOM HE IS PLEASED)” (Luke 2: 14). Many people walk around today with little or no peace in their minds and hearts! The solution is in a life that is yielded to the Lordship of the Christ of Christmas, and using His word to control your mind, emotions, attitudes, choices, and actions. God came down to give us hope for a better future and a final hope for Heaven.
Shepherds were placed at the bottom of the ladder in society at the time Jesus was born, and were not respected at all. We are told that they were not even allowed to participate in activities within the temple. But they were the people God rather chose to reveal Himself to, through the angels (Luke 2:8-16), and became the first people to receive the gospel.
Please keep performing your normal duties in 2009 and beyond, and trust God to honor you, even when humans will not appreciate you. When Joseph and Mary were rejected at the local hotel, they ended up in an animal house to have their Baby, but God made sure that He allowed shepherds who are used to the smell of animals to come where they were, appreciate them, and worship the Savior. No matter your condition, God knows how to bring the right people into your life in the times ahead, so stop being envious or jealous of others, and stop competing with people or undermining the achievements of others. Wait humbly and obediently for God to honor, bless, and prosper you.
- Christmas is about giving. It is often said that your giving will always give you away (i.e. will reveal who you really are). Apart of God giving us His only Son, the Wise men (Magi) also gave the baby Jesus three important gifts (Luke 2:1-12). They gave gifts to Jesus that had value and meaning. Their gifts constituted an interesting mixture of 3 items, and we learn that:
They had good motives for their giving. Your motivation gives importance and value to your gift as well. Do you check your true motives before you give your gifts to people?
- The timing was right. Timing gives meaning to your gift, and determines the extent of its value as well.
- The gifts were precious and significant. Gold signifies the Royalty of Jesus, Frankincense signifies His Divinity (Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16), and Myrrh signifies His Humanity (and death). Myrrh was crushed before the sweet-smelling oil was extracted. Jesus was crushed (bruised) for our iniquities (Isaiah 53: 5). When the scent of myrrh gets into your dress, it is difficult to get it out; the Lord Jesus is like that in our lives.
- The motivation of their gifts was right.
- Christmas is about miracles. The greatest miracle in the history of the universe happened when a baby was directly placed in the womb of a young virgin, developed to full term, and born naturally. Wow! That baby was God Himself (God the Son) who humbled Himself to become flesh, and came down to the earth to live among men. Do you notice that every miracle on earth has a natural component? Whatever supernatural occurrence God has graciously allowed to experience or whatever special gift He had given you by His divine power, there is a part God does not play. If God heals you, then you are responsible to play your part by walking and using your healed legs productively. Never expect God to do any particular thing for you, that He expects you to obtain through obedience. That might be the problem you are facing now (but you may not even be aware of it), after The Lord worked in His own special way (usually as an answer to prayer) by healing you, providing you with a fiancée, giving you a spouse and children or nice family, giving you good friends, providing you with a job or house, blessing you with wealth or valuable property, opening the door for you to obtain admission or scholarship, enabling you to have good education, giving you a position or promotion, graciously allowing you to win an election, causing your bills to be paid or finances to improve, providing you with the much-needed visa to travel or immigration papers to live where you are, and enabling you to establish a good church or ministry. Instead of submitting what God gave you to His Lordship in order for him to give you the wisdom to handle His gifts and miracles, you “become a possessor of the Holy Spirit” instead of the Holy Spirit possessing you. When that happens, then what should give you joy will rather give you unhappiness (at Christmas, in your marriage, as a single person hoping to marry some day, in your home, as a leader or boss, at school, on the job, in your business, as an immigrant overseas, in your church and ministry etc.).
I have come to learn that when you (the proud self in man) control any gift or blessing you have from God (intelligence, education, beauty, achievements, marriage, family, sexuality, business, money, opportunities, position, talents, abilities, etc.), then whatever is supposed to give you contentment, joy, and peace, will rather give you pain, and can even become a thorn in the flesh.
- Christmas is about believing and acting quickly.
Now let us confess: How many times did you and I kept delaying until we forgot to do something important in 2008 or some other time? Are we going to improve upon that in 2009 and beyond?
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