As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.
Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.
After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb, indeed, empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).
How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?
How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?
In “Christmas Every Day,” William Dean Howells tells of a little girl who gets her wish. For one long, horrible year it is indeed Christmas every day. By day three, the yuletide joy has already begun to wear thin. Before long everyone hates candy. Turkeys become scarce and sell for outrageous prices. Presents are no longer received with gratitude as they pile up everywhere. People angrily snap at each other.
Thankfully, Howell’s story is just a satirical tale. But what an incredible blessing that the subject of the Christmas celebration never wearies us despite the fact that we see Him throughout the Bible.
After Jesus had ascended to His Father, the apostle Peter proclaimed to a crowd at the temple in Jerusalem that Jesus was the one Moses foretold when he said, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” (Acts 3:22; Deuteronomy 18:18). God’s promise to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed,” was really a reference to Jesus (Acts 3:25; Genesis 12:3). Peter noted, “All the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days”—the arrival of the Messiah (Acts 3:24).
We can keep the spirit of Christmas alive long after the celebrations have ended. By seeing Christ in the whole story of the Bible we can appreciate how Christmas is so much more than just another day.
In winter, I often wake to the beautiful surprise of a world blanketed in the peace and quiet of an early morning snow. Not loudly like a spring thunderstorm that announces its presence in the night, snow comes softly.
In “Winter Snow Song,” Audrey Assad sings that Jesus could have come to earth in power like a hurricane, but instead He came quietly and slowly like the winter snow falling softly in the night outside my window.
Jesus’s arrival took many by quiet surprise. Instead of being born in a palace, He was born in an unlikely place, a humble dwelling outside Bethlehem. And He slept in the only bed available, a manger (Luke 2:7). Instead of being attended by royalty and government officials, Jesus was welcomed by lowly shepherds (vv. 15–16). Instead of having wealth, Jesus’s parents could only afford the inexpensive sacrifice of two birds when they presented Him at the temple (v. 24).
The unassuming way Jesus entered the world was foreshadowed by the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied the coming savior would “not shout or cry out” (Isaiah 42:2) nor would He come in power that might break a damaged reed or extinguish a struggling flame (v. 3). Instead He came gently in order to draw us to Himself with His offer of peace with God—a peace still available to anyone who believes the unexpected story of a savior born in a manger.
During Oswald Chambers’ years at the Bible Training College in London (1911–15), he often startled the students with things he said during his lectures. One young woman explained that because discussion was reserved for the following mealtime together, Chambers would frequently be bombarded with questions and objections. She recalled that Oswald would often simply smile and say, “Just leave it for now; it will come to you later.” He encouraged them to ponder the issues and allow God to reveal His truth to them.
To ponder something is to concentrate and think deeply about it. After the events leading to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, followed by the appearance of angels, and the shepherds who came to see the Messiah, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). New Testament scholar W. E. Vine said that “ponder” means “to throw together, confer, to put one thing with another in considering circumstances” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
When we struggle to understand the meaning of what is happening in our lives, we have Mary’s wonderful example of what it means to seek the Lord and His wisdom.
When we, like her, accept God’s leading in our lives, we have many new things about our Lord’s loving guidance to treasure and ponder in our hearts.
Nearly every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Don’t be afraid!” Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet Earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance in a form that does not frighten. In Jesus, born with the animals and laid in a feeding trough, God takes an approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby?
On earth Jesus is both God and man. As God, He can work miracles, forgive sins, conquer death, and predict the future. But for Jews accustomed to images of God as a bright cloud or pillar of fire, Jesus also causes much confusion. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, a man from Nazareth, be the Messiah from God?
Why does God take on human form? The scene of twelve-year-old Jesus debating rabbis in the temple gives one clue. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers,” Luke tells us (2:47). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation with God in visible form.
Jesus can talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!” In Jesus, God comes close.
Every Christmas, a friend of mine writes a long letter to his wife, reviewing the events of the year and dreaming about the future. He always tells her how much he loves her, and why. He also writes a letter to each of his daughters. His words of love make an unforgettable Christmas present.
We could say that the original Christmas love letter was Jesus, the Word made flesh. John highlights this truth in his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). In ancient philosophy, the Greek for Word, logos, suggested a divine mind or order that unites reality, but John expands the definition to reveal the Word as a person: Jesus, the Son of God who was “with God in the beginning” (v. 2). This Word, the Father’s “one and only Son,” “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14). Through the Jesus the Word, God reveals Himself perfectly.
Theologians have grappled with this beautiful mystery for centuries. However much we may not understand, we can be certain that Jesus as the Word gives light to our dark world (v. 9). If we believe in Him, we can experience the gift of being God’s beloved children (v. 12).
Jesus, God’s love letter to us, has come and made His home among us. Now that’s an amazing Christmas gift!
The loneliest Christmas I ever spent was in my grandfathers’ cottage near Sakogu, northern Ghana. I was just 15, and my parents and siblings were a thousand kilometers away. In previous years, when I had been with them and my village friends, Christmas was always big and memorable. But this Christmas was quiet and lonely. As I lay on my floor mat early Christmas morning, I remembered a local song: The year has ended; Christmas has come; the Son of God is born; peace and joy to everybody. Mournfully, I sang it over and over.
My grandmother came and asked, “What song is that?” My grandparents didn’t know about Christmas—or about Christ. So I shared what I knew about Christmas with them. Those moments brightened my loneliness.
Alone in the fields with only sheep and occasional predators, the shepherd boy David experienced loneliness. It would not be the only time. Later in his life he wrote, “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). But David did not allow loneliness to cause him to be despondent. Instead, he sang: “My hope,
From time to time we all face loneliness. Wherever Christmas may find you this year, in loneliness or in companionship, you can enjoy the season with Christ.
Well before the calendar flips to December, Christmas cheer begins to bubble up in our northern town. A medical office drapes its trees and shrubs in close-fitting strings of lights, each a different color, illuminating a breathtaking nighttime landscape. Another business decorates its building to look like an enormous, extravagantly wrapped Christmas present. It’s difficult to turn anywhere without seeing evidence of Christmas spirit—or at least seasonal marketing.
Some people love these lavish displays. Others take a more cynical view. But the crucial question isn’t how others observe Christmas. Rather, we each need to consider what the celebration means to us.
A little more than thirty years after His birth, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave responses others had given: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe another prophet. Then Jesus made it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
This year, many will celebrate Christmas without a thought about who the Baby really is. As we interact with them, we can help them consider these crucial questions: Is Christmas just a heartwarming story about a baby born in a stable? Or did our Creator truly visit His creation and become one of us?
Swimming with friends in the Gulf of Mexico, Caitlyn encountered a shark, which grabbed her legs and pulled at her body. To counter the attack, Caitlyn punched the shark in the nose. The predator unclenched its jaws and swam away in defeat. Although its bite caused multiple wounds, which required over 100 stitches, the shark was unable to keep Caitlyn in its grasp.
This story reminds me of the fact that Jesus delivered a blow to death, ending its power to intimidate and defeat His followers. According to Peter, “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on [Jesus]” (Acts 2:24).
Peter said these words to a crowd in Jerusalem. Perhaps many of them had been the ones yelling out, “Crucify him!” to condemn Jesus (Matthew 27:23). As a result, Roman soldiers fastened Him to a cross where He hung until they confirmed He was dead. Jesus’s body was carried to a tomb where it stayed for three days until God resurrected Him. After His resurrection, Peter and others spoke and ate with Him, and after forty days they watched Him ascend into heaven (v. 32).
Jesus’s life on earth ended amidst physical suffering and mental anguish, yet God’s power defeated the grave. Because of this, death—or any other struggle—lacks the ability to keep us in its grip forever. One day all believers will experience everlasting life and wholeness in God’s presence. Focusing on this future can help us find freedom today.