Archive for December, 2021

The Journey and the Joy

The Bible account of the approaching birth of Jesus Christ tells us all we need to know, but not as much as we would like to know. Some extra-biblical sources help fill in the blanks. Reliable records of customs and conditions of the time help the pieces fit together. 

Artists, not the Bible, depict Joseph leading a donkey ridden by Mary on their journey to Bethlehem. Not so. Donkeys were for village and urban use, not journeys. Camels were for commerce, horses were for the wealthy and Romans. It is highly likely the poor couple had no animal, but walked. If they had an animal, it would have been, are you ready for this, a mule. Mules were in common use for such purposes. Incidentally, no self-respecting Magi would have ridden a camel. That would have been like an eighteen-wheeler, and beneath the dignity of their office. They would not have used horses because Romans used them. They, too, would have ridden mules.

To avoid the desert heat, they would have traveled at night. As an aside, that made it easy to follow the star. Scripture notes they saw the star in the east. It was they who were in the east, not the star. Bethlehem was west of them and the star would have been to their west, thus it was actually a western, not an eastern star.

Mary and Joseph in their journey would have left Nazareth and rendezvoused with a group at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. Robbers and wild animals made it essential to travel in groups. Small militias were paid to escort groups. They would have walked along the east bank of the Jordan River through the area of Perea, to Jericho, where they would have crossed back to the western bank. They would have ascended to Bethlehem through the Wilderness of Judah by way of a deep  foreboding perilous valley named years before by David as “the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” That ascent would have been approximately 2,000 feet.

The date of Jesus’ birth is not known. However, those who say it could not have been in December, winter, because shepherds are not in the field during winter are incorrect. I have been in Shepherd’s Field on Christmas Eve and shepherds were there watching their flocks by night. One led his flock within fifty yards of our campfire. 

The inn had no innkeeper. Actually, there was no inn as we know them. Inns were carvanceries. They often consisted of an open space bordered by rock walls made from the area of the infield. These often had caves along one perimeter. Such was the “stable” in which Jesus was born. Though primitive, it was one of the better places under the circumstances. The animals would have been in an outer chamber, and the people in an inner portion. The animals helped provide heat for the people. In addition to providing shelter for the birth, it would have also allowed privacy.

We have visited that cave more than fifty times, every time being the first. Tapestries line the walls, and ornate oil lamps hang from the ceiling. All are gifts of heads of state and notable individuals from all over the world who have visited there through the ages.

It is a moving moment to stand there and think, “Here, right here, the Word became flesh and came and dwelt among us.” That makes for a Merry Christmas.

What It Would Take To Make Your Christmas Merry

What would it take to make yours a Merry Christmas? Stop waiting for it to come to you and ask yourself what it would take to make yours a Merry Christmas.

To start, consider what does it mean to be merry. Synonyms are: cheerful, joyous, happy. Though not a synonym “content” can well be considered a summary of them all. Three components are normally associated with being merry, happy, or content. They are: people, places, and things. To be bereft of any of the three is to have contentment challenged. We often have our contentment challenged by comparisons. We tend to compare ourselves with those who appear to have all three all the time. Reality is, they don’t so don’t disparage if you don’t. Actually there are persons who have found contentment without these components. They are accepting of what they do have and do not bemoan what they don’t have. It is a matter of perspective, that is, how you look at things. 

Long before there was a Parton named Dolly there was a “Miss Dolly” in my life. She was a poor elderly lady who lived by herself in a house on stilts with chicken and dog pens beneath it. In early fall my mother sent me over to help Miss Dolly winterize her house by stuffing paper in the cracks of her walls and tacking up cardboard to keep out the cold. Yet, I always enjoyed visiting her because, yes, she was merry all year.

Another such person in my childhood was blind Dr. Biggs. On pleasant summer days I walked through the woods to his house where we sat under the big oaks and he read to me from his braille Bible. He had it; merriment, joy and cheerfulness. He was fulfilled because he was content.

These two lived alone, apart from family and friends. Their places were humble. Their things were few and meager. So they had contentment without the three things associated with it.

Perhaps there are things you can be proactive in changing to make it a Merry Christmas. Assume the accountability for doing what you can to make it a Merry Christmas. Don’t begrudge what you can’t control.

Turn your gaze on others. What can you do to help someone else have a better Christmas? Such a simple thing as a phone call can brighten their day. Make the call timely, short, and positive. In doing so, you will be fulfilled. 

What constitutes a Merry Christmas? Gifts all wrapped under the tree do not. What does? Love is foundational. However, the people we depend upon to make it merry are not always available for shared love.

Spend time reflecting on the first Christmas and the initial gift. Again reflect on what it was that made the first Christmas possible. If you think you are  not loved or that there is no one with whom to share, love remember God loves you and Christmas proves it, “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son.”

The original gift makes it truly merry. It brought joy to the world. It was a love gift. 

Sometimes there is nothing a person can do to make it a Merry Christmas. In that case accept it for what it is and resolve to rely on the one sure thing to make it the best possible. Even if you can’t change circumstances, you can change your concept of what is required to make it a fulfilling and Merry Christmas.

The gift of God’s only Son is His way of saying —- MERRY CHRISTMAS.

God Is Not Bound By Natural Laws

Christmas challenges us to look into a mystery encapsulated in a conundrum and enshrouded in an enigma.

“What is supernatural about Christmas that interests Christians?” The following is an attempt to answer that in part. 

First, the major miracle involved a virgin conceiving. Any person who knows anything about natural procuration or biogenesis knows that is physically impossible. That is the nature of a miracle.

Louis Pasteur, the well known French chemist and microbiologist, made this observation regarding the miracles in the Bible.

“Laws of nature are a comfort zone designed for our comfort by God. They are not a straight jacket for Him. He abrogates them as He will.” Meaning God doesn’t impose the laws of nature on Himself. He can change them to benefit His cause.

A summary overview of what that miraculous birth entailed follows.

It was as though the Trumpeters of Eternity took their stance on the turrets of time to herald Jesus’ birth. The angels proclaimed glory to God, and all heaven broke out.

The dark night’s sky formed a canopy for the Light of the World.

While Rome was busy making history — God arrived. The gospel writer Matthew reminded his peers and us that Isaiah the prophet wrote they called His name Emmanuel, which is “God with us.”

While man was trying to make himself god, like Alexander the Great and Herod the Great, God made Himself a man. While the world reeled from portentous gods Mary had a Little Lamb. Jesus was divinity dwelling in a squealing human form.

He was royalty born in a barn.

The “Great I Am” became captive to time.

At His birth the vastness of eternity was squeezed into a moment in time. 

He who existed from everlasting-to-everlasting was reduced to living moment-by-moment.

He was as old as His Father and eons older than His mother. 

He who in eternity leaned on the breast of His Father on earth nursed at the breast of His mother.

He could not restrain His desire for an eternal relationship with you, therefore He seized the love initiative and came to earth for you.

Now back to the scientific aspect of all this. Consider a weight, a clock, and a ruler. They aren’t always the same.

A one pound object here on earth weighs one pound because of the gravitational pull on it. On the moon that same object weighs three ounces. Could it withstand the heat on the sun it would weigh 28 pounds.

The ruler represents mass. Mass, that is the size and density of an object also varies depending on speed. Driving at 50 miles an hour your car is three ten-millionths of an inch shorter. Traveling at 90% of the speed of light it would be half its length.

Now the mind boggler. The star Sirius is nine light years away. If traveling there and back  you could travel at 99.99999% of the speed of light the following would occur. Your friends on earth would be 18 year older and you would be 12 hours older.

I don’t understand all of that, but I accept it. I can’t comprehend all that is involved in the virgin conception by Mary, but I do believe it. It simply means God knows more than all of us combined. Using that love, wisdom, and power Mary brought forth her firstborn son and laid Him in a manger. I have stood in that manger more than fifty times and every time I recount, “Here, right here, the Word became flesh and came and dwelt among us. That makes for a MERRY CHRISTMAS.

A Faith Walk With Immanuel

Christmas is commemorated and celebrated globally. On every continent devotees pause to reflect on the birth heralded by a natal star, the birth of Jesus Christ.

For those not of the Christian faith the following is shared in order to help understand what it is Christians are solemnizing. For Christians it is an opportunity to reflect on a distinction of their faith. This account encapsulates history and faith. It recalls an event and shares a revelation of who Christians conceive Christ to be.

The cast on earth and in heaven was assembled. Let the drama begin. The curtain call was about to be given by Gabriel. It was a sermon, not a song that came from the angels, but it has put a song in the hearts of devotees ever since.

Mary and Joseph, a nonpareil young couple from Nazareth were about to have their faith stretched. 

Jesus Christ’s birth defied possibilities and marched just inside the realm of reality.

With a heart full of love with resolve He quietly walked into Time. As with the virgin waiting on earth, His time had come. It was His moment to be born of Mary. The heartbeat of heaven was soon to be heard in an infant’s small chest.

In Eden God produced a motherless woman from the body of a man named Adam. In Bethlehem He produces a fatherless man from the body of a woman named Mary. In Him were combined the greatest of all possibilities. He was the God/man-man/God, as much man as though He were not God, and as much God as though He were not man. He was conceived by and born of a woman, but not begotten by man. Don’t wait until you fully understand that; we can’t even fully understand human beings’ birth.

Christmas is the occasion when Christians celebrate the moment the foreshadowed Prince of Peace stepped on history’s stage with the floodlight of prophecy focused on Him. Immanuel came to be temporarily domiciled in flesh in Bethlehem. 

Little wonder that Mary “pondered” these things as it is noted by Dr. 

Luke. It means to put together things in light of circumstance.

Great choirs sing of the joy it brought to the world. The peace promised on earth is still possible. The declaration of peace on earth was not a prophecy, but a prescription for individual peace as personalized in Bethlehem’s babe.

The renewed Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas Carol said, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when the Mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

Let the little girl within you ladies and the little boy who still lives in you, fellows, come out and enjoy Christmas. 

As with Mary and Joseph Christmas is a grand time to start a faith walk with Immanuel. 

During this season may you make time to reflect on this miracle of love, and how it affects you. Doing so can result in a Merry Christmas.

The Curtain Call of Christmas

Today is the first of 11 Posts related to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. For emphasis some material will be repeated in these Posts. May the historical and inspirational material be a blessing to all who read them. First, the background. 

The cast on earth and in heaven was assembled. Let the drama begin. The curtain call is about to be given by the angel Gabriel.

Earth’s greatest mystery, the greatest mission, was about to unfold. Imagination is ignited in two realms, heaven and earth.

He who the whole universe could not contain was now to be bound by the walls of a cattle stall. The voice that called worlds into existence was for a time to be reduced to a baby’s cooing. The voice that stirred the deep dark to sprout worlds now cries with the voice of the infant He was to become. He who breathed the breath of life into man, now as a man breathes so slightly as to seemingly have no breath at all. With a heart full of love He with resolve was to enter time. The heartbeat of heaven was soon to be heard in an infant’s chest.

He who in eternity leaned on the breast of His Father is now in time to lean on the breast of His mother. He was as old as His Father and eons older than His mother.

At a time when man was trying to make himself god, God made Himself a man. The creature could not come up to the Creator, so the Creator came down to the creature, humans.  

In antiquity there were two stages of Jewish marriage, the Kiddushin and the Huppah. The first was a period of betrothal, also known as espousal. A binding contract was agreed upon and signed. At that point they were considered legally married. However, at this point they did not come together and often never even saw each other for a year. If the male died during this period the woman was referred to as a virgin who was a widow.

At the end of this first phase the actual wedding, which often lasted several days, was conducted, and thereafter the marriage was consummated. 

It was during the period of betrothal an angel announced to the virgin Mary she would have a child fulfilling the prophet promise:

“For unto you a Child is born,

Unto you a Son is given.”

The enigmatic couple locked wills and began their faith walk. As the birth neared they complied with a government decree and began their journey from Nazareth that would have taken them along the western bank of the Jordan River and through the Wilderness of Judah to Bethlehem. There Mary gave birth and thus the Word became flesh and came and dwelt among us.

There is a formula applicable to all of life that is especially appropriate for the birth.

“The length of wait multiplied by the depth of anticipation equals the height of joy.”

For good reason heaven burst forth with angelic voices proclaiming the birth. Shepherds left their solitude and ventured into Bethlehem to marvel over the event. Wise men journeyed a great distance to pay homage. 

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared and the soul felt its worth, a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….”

That is what Christmas is all about.