About 230 families and individuals live at Macpherson Gardens, Block 72 in my neighborhood. Each person has his or her own life story. On the tenth floor resides an elderly woman whose children have grown up, gotten married, and moved out. She lives by herself now. Just a few doors away from her is a young couple with two kids—a boy and a girl. And a few floors below lives a young man serving in the army. He has been to church before; maybe he will visit again on Christmas Day. I met these people last Christmas when our church went caroling in the neighborhood to spread Christmas cheer.
Every Christmas—as on the first Christmas—many people do not know that God has entered into our world as a baby whose name is Jesus (Luke 1:68; 2:11). Or they do not know the significance of that event—that it is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, race, gender, or status, Jesus came to die for us and offer us complete forgiveness so that we can be reconciled with Him and enjoy His love, joy, peace, and hope. Indeed, all people, from the woman next door to the colleagues we have lunch with, need to hear this wonderful news!
On the first Christmas, the angels were the bearers of this joyous news. Today, God desires to work through us to take the story to others.
“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.
We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach the ends of the earth” (v. 4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.
Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.
When our children were young, they loved trying to catch the “helicopter seeds” that fell from our neighbor’s silver maple trees. Each seed resembles a wing. In late spring they twirl to the ground like a helicopter’s rotor blades. The seeds’ purpose is not to fly, but to fall to earth and grow into trees.
Before Jesus was crucified, He told His followers, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (vv. 23–24).
While Jesus’s disciples wanted Him to be honored as the Messiah, He came to give His life so we could be forgiven and transformed through faith in Him. As Jesus’ followers, we hear His words, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (vv. 25–26).
Helicopter seeds can point us to the miracle of Jesus, the Savior, who died that we might live for Him.
After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.
Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.
A popular children’s book tells the story of a poor, country boy who took off his cap to honor the king. An identical hat appeared instantly in its place on his head, inciting the king’s anger for what appeared to be disrespect. Bartholomew removed hat after hat while being escorted to the palace for punishment. Each time, a new one appeared in its place. The hats grew increasingly fancy, bearing precious jewels and feather plumes. The 500th hat was the envy of King Derwin, who pardoned Bartholomew and purchased the hat for 500 pieces of gold. At last, Bartholomew’s head was bare; he walked home with freedom and money to support his family.
A widow came to Elisha in financial distress, fearing her children would be sold into slavery to pay her debts (2 Kings 4). She had no assets other than a jar of oil. God multiplied that oil to fill enough borrowed jars to settle the debts plus care for their daily needs (v. 7). God provided financially for the widow in much the same way He provides salvation for me. I am bankrupted by sin, but Jesus paid my debt—and offers me eternal life as well!
Without Jesus, we are each like the poor, country boy with no means to pay our King for our offenses against Him. God miraculously supplies the extravagant ransom on our behalves, and ensures those who trust in Him will have life abundant forever.
Author and pastor Erwin Lutzer recounts a story about television show host Art Linkletter and a little boy who was drawing a picture of God. Amused, Linkletter said, “You can’t do that because nobody knows what God looks like.”
“They will when I get through!” the boy declared.
We may wonder, “What is God like?” “Is He good?” “Is He kind?” “Does He care?” The simple answer to those questions is Jesus’ response to Philip’s request: “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).
If you ever get hungry to see God look at Jesus. “The Son is the image of the invisible God,” said Paul (Col. 1:15). Read through the four Gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Think deeply about what Jesus did and said. “Draw” your own mental picture of God as you read. You’ll know much more of what He’s like when you’re through.
A friend of mine once told me that the only God he could believe in is the one he saw in Jesus. If you look closely, I think you’ll agree. As you read about Him your heart will leap, for though you may not know it, Jesus is the God you’ve been looking for all your life.
Horrified by his students’ poor writing habits, renowned author and college professor David Foster Wallace considered how he might improve their skills. That’s when a startling question confronted him. The professor had to ask himself why a student would listen to someone “as smug, narrow, self-righteous, [and] condescending” as he was. He knew he had a problem with pride.
That professor could and did change, but he could never become one of his students. Yet when Jesus came to Earth, He showed us what humility looks like by becoming one of us. Stepping across all kinds of boundaries, Jesus made Himself at home everywhere by serving, teaching, and doing the will of His Father.
Even as He was being crucified, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for His executioners (Luke 23:34). Straining for every anguished breath, He still granted eternal life to a criminal dying with Him (vv. 42–43).
Why would Jesus do that? Why would He serve people like us to the very end? The apostle John gets to the point. Out of love! He writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Then he drives that point home. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).
Jesus showed us that His love eradicates our pride, our smugness, our condescension. And He did it in the most powerful way possible. He gave His life.
The sequoia tree, one of three species of redwoods, is among the world’s largest and most enduring organisms. It can grow to 300 feet in height, weigh over 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kg), and live for 3,000 years. But the majestic sequoia owes much of its size and longevity to what lies below the surface. A twelve- to fourteen-foot deep matting of roots, spreading over as much as an acre of earth, firmly grounds its towering height and astonishing weight.
A redwood’s expansive root system, however, is small compared to the national history, religion, and anticipation that undergird the life of Jesus. On one occasion He told a group of religious leaders that the Scriptures they loved and trusted told His story (John 5:39). In the synagogue of Nazareth He opened the scroll of Isaiah, read a description of Israel’s Messiah, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Later, after His resurrection, Jesus helped His disciples understand how the words of Moses, the prophets, and even the songs of Israel showed why it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise from the dead (Luke 24:46).
What grace and grandeur—to see Jesus rooted in the history and Scriptures of a nation, and to see how extensively our own lives are rooted in our need of Him.
Although the world is connected electronically like never before, nothing beats time together in person. As we share and laugh together, we can often sense—almost unconsciously—the other person’s emotions by watching their facial movements. Those who love each other, whether family or friends, like to share with each other face to face.
We see this face-to-face relationship between the Lord and Moses, the man God chose to lead His people. Moses grew in confidence over the years of following God, and he continued to follow Him despite the people’s rebelliousness and idolatry. After the people worshiped a golden calf instead of the Lord (see Exod. 32), Moses set up a tent outside of the camp in which to meet God, while they had to watch from a distance (33:7–11). As the pillar of cloud signifying God’s presence descended to the tent, Moses spoke on their behalf. The Lord promised that His Presence would go with them (v. 14).
Because of Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection, we no longer need someone like Moses to speak with God for us. Instead, just as Jesus offered His disciples, we can have friendship with God through Christ (John 15:15). We too can meet with Him, with the Lord speaking to us as one speaks to a friend.