Are You Ready?

Someone asked me yesterday if I was “ready for Christmas.” They wanted to know if I had prepared for the holiday– had I bought and wrapped presents for the family, sent out Christmas cards, decorated the house, baked cookies, etc.? I had to admit that I was not ready in that sense. I don’t generally do much in the way of decorating, and I’ve cut back on the cookie baking, too. I’m not sending greeting cards this year, and I don’t have all the presents purchased or wrapped.

But I AM ready for Christmas– I’m ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus to Earth; His life, death, and resurrection; the new life and hope that resulted from God’s boundless love. I’m ready to sing carols and light candles and rejoice! I’m ready to be awestruck again by the ancient story of shepherds and angels and wise men from the East; of the little town of Bethlehem and the manger stall and a bright star; of a newborn child; the Lord of all Creation wrapped in rags; the Word of God willingly limited to unintelligible cooing and soft cries, to nakedness and infant human weakness.

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Being “ready for Christmas” means different things to different people. To many, it means surviving the stress of shopping, going to rounds of holiday parties, and trying to remember that it is supposed to be a season of “peace on Earth.” For others, it means watching the celebration from the outside looking in; facing loneliness, grief, regret, and envying or resenting those who have found joy when all they see is darkness. For some of us, it means reflecting on the amazing transformation we experience because of the coming of this single baby. We remember that there was a time when there was no Christmas– only a dim hope that God would someday send a Savior. Once the prophets could only speak of what had been promised, but not yet seen– could only remind people to “get ready” for something they had never known.

The world was waiting for the Messiah’s coming, yet it was unprepared for His actual arrival.

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But the story of Jesus Christ didn’t end with Christmas. It didn’t even end at Easter, with the glorious resurrection. We await the triumphant return of the risen Christ. He is Coming! He will return in an instant…no long period of Advent; no countdown calendars or lists of things to get ready; no angels or stars to announce His arrival; no Christmas pageant or Easter sunrise service–just a trumpet blast and an explosion of Glory. He will not arrive as a helpless babe, or a suffering servant, but as a conquering King. There will be no carols about little towns and sleeping cattle; no time to “let every heart prepare Him room.”

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Today, we prepare to celebrate Messiah’s coming. We spend time and money and energy getting “ready” to recreate the Advent of Jesus Christ. How much time have we spent getting ready for His return? I pray that this Christmas season will mean more than just a happy celebration of one event– even one as joyful as the Birth of Christ. Let us prepare our hearts to live out the joy of His Salvation, and prepare to receive our King in triumph.

Of Gingerbread, Christmas Trees, and Frankincense…

As the Christmas season approaches, people are decorating their homes– wreaths, Christmas Trees, lights, gingerbread houses, manger scenes, elves and reindeer, candles and more. And along with the sights and sounds and tastes, the air is redolent with the scents of the season.

Scents evoke memories and emotions deeper than any of our other senses. We can close our eyes or ears to unwanted stimuli, but it’s difficult not to breathe in the spicy air filled with cinnamon or cloves, or ignore the scent of pine or scented candles filling the room.

There was no gingerbread, or evergreen tree, or clove orange in the stable where Jesus was born so long ago– no candles or air fresheners to cover the other scents of animals and afterbirth. But when the wise men arrived to worship the infant King (which may have been a couple of weeks or even months later), they brought gifts, and two of the three were spices– Frankincense and Myrrh. They were precious spices, with medicinal and healing properties, and were also used in embalming– symbolic of Jesus’s future life and death. Oddly enough, their fragrances are reminiscent of citrus and pine, two scents we commonly associate with the Christmas season. https://www.history.com/news/a-wise-mans-cure-frankincense-and-myrrh

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God never wastes details. The Bible is full of them– lists of names, detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and Temple, references to various places, animals, trees, events– seemingly unimportant, sometimes even distracting–but all of them have a purpose. The gifts of the Wise Men (or Kings) were costly, prophetic, and worthy of a newborn king. But they were also physical gifts. The Bible never tells us how the gifts were eventually used– Did Joseph and Mary use the gold to help pay for their flight to Egypt? Did Mary save the frankincense and myrrh to use for Jesus’s burial? We don’t know. But the spices would have kept their scent for a long time, releasing their fragrance whenever the jars or containers were opened. And they reveal something about both the recipient and the givers.

God reveals Himself to us in many ways– and He appeals to all of our senses. Our worship of and fellowship with Him should do the same. We may not have access to frankincense or myrrh (though they have increased in popularity and are readily available from dealers in essential oils), but the Bible tells us that WE are a fragrance– our worship, our obedience, our sharing of the Gospel with others.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV) via http://www.biblegateway.com

Above all, our prayers are said to be incense– a pleasing aroma before the throne of heaven:

The Lamb Takes the Scroll (Revelation 5:1-10 CSB)

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

The Lamb Is Worthy

When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

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You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.
10 You made them a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.

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This season, as we revel in the scents of the season and remember the gifts given to the infant Emmanuel, let us present Him with the gift of fervent prayer and enthusiastic praise. He is Worthy!

Taste and See…

Candy canes, Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, fruitcakes, and families feasting…this season is filled with food and memories of food shared with those we love.

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But there is no feasting in the Biblical tales of the Nativity. No cookies or pies, no roast lamb or goose, no hot cocoa or fruitcake. So is it wrong to celebrate Christ’s birth with tasty treats?

I don’t think so. (And not just because I enjoy tasty treats!) We’ve spoken recently about seeing Jesus as the Light of the World, and hearing the Word of God, and feeling the warmth of God’s Love…God speaks to us through our senses, and taste is no different. There is nothing inherently sacred about Christmas cookies. And even foods like pretzels and candy canes, which can be symbolic of prayer or the shepherd’s crook, or other religious symbols, are still ordinary.

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But the Bible is not silent about food and feasting. In fact, King David said:

” Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack! “

(Psalm 34:8-9 ESV, via http://www.biblegatewaycom)

And Jesus would invite each of us to “taste and see” His goodness as we remember His death and resurrection:

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23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (ESV) via http://www.biblegateway.com

As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of our Savior, may we engage all of our senses to recognize His goodness, and may we share the memory of all the good things He has given us– physical and spiritual. May we delight in the tasty treats, but let us also remember that Jesus is also the “Bread of Life,” and the “Living Water.”

Also, in this time of bounty and excess, remember that we are to “taste” and see God’s goodness, and to share it! Christmas gluttony does nothing to remind us of God’s goodness, and may prevent other “hungry souls” from being able to enjoy. And that doesn’t just apply to food. May we be eager to share– food, laughter, hugs, good news, compassion, and the truth. The sweet and the bitter…may we taste and recognize our health, strength, and life in the Goodness of our Great God.

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Thank you, Jesus, for being our nourishment. Thank you for precious memories shared around tables–food and fellowship, laughter and love. Thank you for being God With Us in every “sense.”

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Christmas is a time of joy and light. But the time of Advent is often a time of somber reflection. We remember a time we have never known– a time before the coming of Christ the Messiah– a time before the mysteries of Heaven were revealed and before the victory of Salvation was accomplished. Advent reminds us of the spiritual darkness that existed before God, in human form, in humble obedience, and in sacrificial love, became the Light of the World, and the Hope of All Nations.

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Before the bells rang, and the angels sang; before the kings brought gold and the shepherds ran to tell the news; before there were Christmas Carols, Christmas decorations, or Christmas pageants– there was solemn silence, fear, dread, and waiting. God had been silent. The prophets had been silent. The world had grown hard and cold.

Jesus stepped out of the unfathomable glory of the Highest Heaven– surrounded by armies of angels all worshiping Him and ready to do His bidding. In an instant, He became a helpless fetus inside a helpless young woman, a subject of the Roman Empire, and at the mercy of her culture. Her fiance could have repudiated her; her parents could have disowned her; her community could have had her stoned to death, along with her unborn child. No one, even those who were anticipating the arrival of a Christ, was expecting this tiny baby growing inside the womb to change the course of history.

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He was born in obscurity, in ignominious squalor. He was the Lord of All Creation, wrapped in rags and laid in a feeding trough in an overcrowded city at tax time. There were no bells or carolers, no glittering trees or festivals of lights, no sounds of joy and celebration– not in that manger in Bethlehem. Instead, there were strangers pushing and shoving, shouting, and snoring in the inns and houses and streets, being watched by soldiers and pickpockets alike, as they made their way through narrow, unfamiliar streets and tried to lock out the worry and danger and dread. There may have been silence in the fields and valleys outside of town, but not near the stable where Jesus was born. No. The “silence” we sing about during Advent is the silence inside our own hearts– a call to “be still,” and know that this baby we celebrate is God Incarnate. He is the One to whom every knee will one day bow, and every tongue confess that He is LORD.

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In the stillness and silence of Advent, in the darkness lit only by candles and faint hope, we being to understand the contrast. We re-imagine what came before the joy and hope and eternal clouds of witnesses shouting, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” We remember the days and years before the angels sang, and the star danced across the night sky– before the shocking crucifixion and the glorious resurrection of this still unborn Savior.

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Let us spend these days of Advent preparing our hearts for the true wonder of Christmas. It doesn’t come in the wrapped packages under a festive tree, or in the feasting with friends or family. It doesn’t come with sirens and parades, or speakers at the mall blaring out favorite tunes. It doesn’t come in the majesty of a Cathedral ringing with the voices of a choir and organ. It comes when the silence and darkness of our sin and dread are pierced with the overwhelming glory of God With Us– Emmanuel is coming! But for now, for these moments, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.

Star of Wonder…


We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.

John H, Hopkins, Jr.
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The Visit of the Wise Men
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who was born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are no longer least among the princes of Judah;
for out of you shall come a Governor,
    who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a
Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, carefully inquired of them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, so that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed. And the star which they saw in the east went before them until it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great excitement. 11 And when they came into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 But being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12 (MEV)

Yesterday, I revisited the account of the shepherds; today, I’d like to take a closer look at the wise men from the East.  First, a bit of clarification:

  • They are (most likely) NOT three kings– at least not in the literal account given in Matthew.  (See more about the number and possible names  and places of origin of the wise men in various traditions here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi)
  • They did not arrive alongside the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth.  Again, tradition says they may have arrived as early as twelve days after his birth, or up to two years later.  Matthew’s account is very vague.  It quotes the prophesy about Bethlehem, but does not say that this is where the wise men actually found the child (notice that Matthew does not call him and infant or babe).  Their arrival in Jerusalem to make inquiries suggests that some time had elapsed, and the travelers were expecting to find ready knowledge of the birth (or perhaps the child himself) in the capital city.
  • They came “from the East”– which leads me to ask: Why were there no wise men in Judea studying this star and its significance?  These wise men had traveled for weeks or months, bringing gifts. They were  ready to honor a king they knew only from a few prophecies and their study of the night sky. Matthew’s account tells of their arrival and their questions.  They came looking for “the king of the Jews”, suggesting that they were aware of some of the prophecies about Messiah, but they were unaware of Micah’s prophecy concerning his birth in Bethlehem.  Yet the scholars and wise men of Jerusalem were “disturbed” rather than elated or excited by these revelations.   God had not spoken through the prophets of Israel for over 400 years, but He had not forgotten His promises, nor had He abandoned His people.  They, however, had lost their desire to study the prophecies; they had lost much of their hope and faith.  Not everyone had fallen into complacency– the book of Luke points out two specific people who eagerly awaited the coming of Messiah (See Luke 2:21-40).
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But it is not just the wise men that capture my attention…it is that miraculous “Star of Wonder.”

Scholars debate whether or not the “star of Bethlehem” was an actual star or another astronomical event.  See one good explanation here:   https://www.timesofisrael.com/can-astronomy-explain-the-biblical-star-of-bethlehem/

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I am not an astronomer, but everything about this story brings a sense of awe… If this was an actual star (either a new star or a star exploding into a supernova of intense bright light), its light would be traveling several millions of miles, even light years to be visible on Earth.  The star would have to have been burning several years before the birth it announced, and its light would have to reach the Earth in coordination with the events taking place across the vast emptiness of space.  If the “star” was actually a configuration of planets or another astronomical event, the same impeccable timing needed to be activated across the span of eons– just waiting for this exact moment for all the planets and other cosmic elements to align.  It is yet another incredible example of God’s sovereignty and omniscience that all of time, space, history, politics, and celestial objects came together to fulfill multiple prophecies given over multiple centuries and studied by people the world over.

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What can we learn from all this?  I pray that we would be open to the wonder and awe of every aspect of the Advent and Nativity.  I pray that we would seek as intently as these wise men of the East– that we would not be “disturbed” and taken aback when God fulfills His promises and sends signs and portents.  And I pray that we would shine in such a way as to draw people to the wonder of the Savior, even those from distant lands who have never heard the gospel.

Go, Tell It on the Mountain


Go, Tell It On The Mountain

While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth;


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born;
And God sent out salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.


When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day
I sought the Lord to help me
And He showed me the way.


He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall
And If I am a Christian
I am the least of all.


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

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During the Christmas season, we often focus on giving.  And it’s certainly appropriate.  But there is another aspect of Christmas that sometimes gets overlooked– Telling.

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Christ came to earth humbly, but he didn’t come secretly.  Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds; stars aligned and shone brightly as a signal to the wise men.  Prophets had foretold his coming for centuries.  John the Baptist even went ahead of Jesus, baptizing and preparing his hearers for the good news yet to come.  The earliest followers of Christ were eager to tell of his words, his deeds, and his glorious resurrection.  Many lost their lives doing so.

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If the birth of Christ was reason to fill the night sky with songs and wonders,  reason enough to send angels and stars, prophets and messengers; what about the news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension?  Why do we allow this amazing news to sit on a dusty shelf, unopened and unshared?  Or treat it like a secret, good news for only the few, the righteous?

We have the greatest news in all of history– more important than any political scandal, more amazing than the latest technology, more joyous than any other announcement imaginable.  Emmanuel– God WITH US–He came, he lived, worked, spoke, laughed, shared, loved, cried, ate, slept, and died, WITH US.  And he died and rose so that we could continue to live WITH HIM!

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God didn’t send all the signs and wonders– he didn’t come into the world to be a guilty secret.  And though there is still a risk involved in proclaiming the gospel, it is no less good, and no less NEWS now than it was nearly 2000 years ago.  Let’s TELL it!  SHOW it!  POST it!  SING it out!– Everywhere!

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Father, Thank you for this wonderful news. Thank you for the Greatest Gift–Yourself.  Give us hearts filled with joy and courage, and lips eager to share your grace and love with those we meet.  Help us to be faithful messengers of that grace and love; transparent and true in word and deed.  May every mountain and valley, forest, meadow, desert and ocean ring with the hope and glory of your nativity, your ministry, and your death and resurrection.

What Child is This?


What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Words by William C. Dix

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No other name in all history elicits such differing and intense responses.  Jesus, the son of Mary
Jesus, the Son of God
Jesus, the Son of Man
Jesus, the Son of David
Jesus, the Christ
Jesus, the Messiah

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Who is this child– ruler of the universe,
Laid in a feeding stall,
In a simple stable,
In a small town,
In a captive land?
Son of a carpenter (illegitimate, by some accounts),
In the royal line of David (but so far removed as to be of no account).

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Yet angel hosts sing “Gloria!”
Kings and philosophers travel from distant lands for just a glimpse,
Bringing priceless treasures and humbled hearts,
While the beleaguered puppet king of a conquered people 
Prepares to destroy him.

Will he rise to take his place in Herod’s palace?
Will he lead a revolt to free his people from Rome?
Will he bring together rival factions among the priesthood?
Will he …
Die in agony, betrayed and scorned?

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This, this is Christ the King;
The Lamb of God.
Savior and Sacrifice.
“The Silent Word”, 
Pleading,
Healing,
Bleeding,
Ascending.
Even in his humble life and
Ignominious death
He rose to change the world–
Stopping time and dividing it into
All that came before and
All that has happened since.

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This is Christ the King
Bruised for our sins,
Betrayed by our selfishness
Cheapened by our compromise and corruption.

Bring him incense, gold, and myrrh;
He is more than our tinsel, jingle bells, and platinum charge cards.
He is the King– He is a Babe; the son of Mary.

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