Caesar Augustus is remembered as the first and greatest of the Roman emperors. By political skill and military power he eliminated his enemies, expanded the empire, and lifted Rome from the clutter of rundown neighborhoods into a city of marble statues and temples. Adoring Roman citizens referred to Augustus as the divine father and savior of the human race. As his 40-year reign came to an end, his official last words were, “I found Rome a city of clay but left it a city of marble.” According to his wife, however, his last words were actually, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”
What Augustus didn’t know is that he had been given a supporting role in a bigger story. In the shadow of his reign, the son of a carpenter was born to reveal a glory far greater than any Roman military victory, temple, stadium, or palace (Luke 2:1).
But who could have understood the glory Jesus prayed for on the night his countrymen demanded His crucifixion by Roman executioners? (John 17:4–5). Who could have foreseen the hidden wonder of a sacrifice that would be forever applauded in heaven and earth?
It’s quite a story. Our God found us chasing foolish dreams and fighting among ourselves. He left us singing together about an old rugged cross.
“I have a message for you!” A woman working at the conference I was attending handed me a piece of paper, and I wondered if I should be nervous or excited. But when I read, “You have a nephew!” I knew I could rejoice.
Messages can bring good news, bad news, or words that challenge. In the Old Testament, God used His prophets to communicate messages of hope or judgment. But when we look closely, we see that even His words of judgment were intended to lead to repentance, healing, and restoration.
Both types of messages appear in Malachi 3 when the Lord promised to send a messenger who would prepare the way for Him. John the Baptist announced the coming of the true Messenger, Jesus (see Matthew 3:11)—the “the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1) who will fulfill God’s promises. But He will act “like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (v. 2), for He will purify those who believe in His word. The Lord sent His words to cleanse His people because of His loving concern for their well-being.
God’s message is one of love, hope, and freedom. He sent His Son to be a messenger who speaks our language—sometimes with messages of correction, but always those of hope. We can trust His message.
My husband invited a friend to church. After the service his friend said, “I liked the songs and the atmosphere, but I don’t get it. Why do you give Jesus such a high place of honor?” My husband then explained to him that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. Without Him, Christianity would be meaningless. It is because of what Jesus has done in our lives that we meet together and praise Him.
Who is Jesus and what has He done? The apostle Paul answered this question in Colossians 1. No one has seen God, but Jesus came to reflect and reveal Him (v. 15). Jesus, as the Son of God, came to die for us and free us from sin. Sin has separated us from God’s holiness, so peace could only be made through someone perfect. That was Jesus (vv. 14, 20). In other words, Jesus has given us what no one else could—access to God and eternal life (John 17:3).
Why does He deserve such a place of honor? He conquered death. He won our hearts by His love and sacrifice. He gives us new strength every day. He is everything to us!
We give Him the glory because He deserves it. We lift Him up because that is His rightful place. Let us give Him the highest place 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.
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 repair man looked young—too young to fix our problem, a car that wouldn’t start. “He’s just a kid,” my husband whispered to me, showing his doubt. His disbelief in the young man sounded like the grumbling in Nazareth where citizens doubted who Jesus was.
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son,” they asked (Matthew 13:55) when Jesus taught in the synagogue. Scoffing, they were surprised to hear that someone they knew was healing and teaching, asking, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (v. 54). Instead of trusting in Jesus, they were offended (vv. 15, 58) by the authority he displayed.
In this same way, we may struggle to trust in our Savior’s wisdom and power, especially in the familiar and ordinary details of our daily lives. Failing to expect His help, we may miss out on the wonder of His life to transform our own (v. 58).
As Dan found, he first needed to see that the help he needed was already here. Finally agreeing to accept it, my husband allowed the young man to look at our old car’s battery. By switching just one bolt, the young man had the car running in seconds—engine humming and lights ablaze. “It lit up like Christmas,” Dan said.
So, too, may we expect and experience the Messiah bringing fresh light, life and help into our daily journey with Him.
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?
This summer my husband and I toured Fallingwater, a house in rural Pennsylvania designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Wright wanted to create a home that rose organically out of the landscape, as if it could have grown there—and he accomplished his goal. He built the house around an existing waterfall, and its style mirrors the neighboring rock ledges. Our tour guide explained what made the construction safe: “The whole vertical core of the house,” she said, “rests on boulders.”
Hearing her words, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s words to His disciples. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told them that what He was teaching would be the sure foundation for their lives. If they heard His words and put them into practice, they would be able to withstand any storms. Those who heard but did not obey, in contrast, would be like a house built on sand (Matthew 7:24–27). Later, Paul echoed this thought, writing that Christ is the foundation, and we must build upon it with work that will endure (1 Corinthians 3:11).
When we listen to the words of Jesus and obey them, we are building our lives on a steady, rock-solid foundation. Maybe our lives can look a little like Fallingwater, beautiful and built to last on the Rock.