A Father I Can Count On

Father’s Day.  It is always a bittersweet time for me.  Growing up I looked up to my father and wanted to be just like him.  Then, as a teenager my father left our family and after that my relationship with him was very chaotic.  When Father’s Day comes and so many speak of their great fathers, I find myself wanting to feel the same.  My emotions run the gamut from fond memories to times I never want to remember.  I shared these feelings in a post some time ago.  Thank you Dad!

So, another year, another Father’s Day.  In a recent conversation with my pastor, he mentioned a verse in Psalms that he was going to use in his message.  That brought back memories again – but they were memories of my heavenly Father and how He has been such a comfort to me through all these years.  The verse is from Psalm 27 and it says

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

I am so thankful that early on I found God to be not only the Creator, the awesome God, but also a loving father.  How He comforted me when I cried myself to sleep at night missing my Dad, then actually scared of my Dad, then with great pity for my Dad.

I am thankful that my heavenly Father has been one I can count on.  Over the years when trouble came my way, He has been there.  His Word has strengthened me and given me hope.

So today for all who have fathers you can count on, make sure you let  them know how much you appreciate them.  For those whose great fathers are no longer with you, cling to those memories you have.  And for those who fathers were not there for them, I invite you to reach out to the Father you can always count on.  God loves you!

 

Little Country Church

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Little church in the country

Growing up my earliest memories of church took place at Zion Methodist Church.  This country church is just east of the town of Mt. Vernon, Illinois where I was born many, many years ago.  My mother and father made a commitment to serve the Lord in this little church when I was just a few months old.  Although I was obviously too young to remember anything about this event, I heard my father tell the story so many times I feel as if I do remember it.

The Story Goes

My parents were not followers of Christ and enjoyed going to the movies on Sunday nights.  My oldest sister, who was nine years old, started attending church with my aunt and uncle.  Although only a young girl she understood the simple salvation message the minister preached and made a commitment to God.  After that she began begging my parents to attend church with her.  One evening to just shut her up they agreed to pass up the movies and go to church with her.

Adam, where art thou?

My father sat through the worship, but about halfway through the sermon, his cigarette habit called to him.  At least that was the reason he was giving for leaving in the middle of the service.  Later he admitted he was feeling God speaking to his heart and he knew if he did not get out of the building, he would have to surrender his life to God.

He got up and started to the center aisle when the minister reached the point in his message where he said,

And God said, Adam, where art thou?

My father often spoke of this moment with great feeling.  He said his ears heard “Adam where art thou?” but his heart heard “Hal, where art thou?”

Decision time

At that moment he knew he had to make a decision.  Would he turn to his right and walk out of the church and silence the voice of God speaking to his heart?  Would he turn to his left and walk down to the altar and surrender his heart and life to Jesus Christ?

I am so thankful he made that turn to his left and said yes to the call of God.  I spent the first six years of my life every Sunday morning at the church.  My Sunday School teacher was the same one my father had when he was a young boy and attended that church with his mother.

fanspotbelly stove

The church was heated by a pot belly stove in the center aisle.  In the summer there was no air conditioning, but we used paper fans.  Most of the fans had advertising from a local funeral home.

Because I was very young, I would often fall asleep in the Sunday evening services.  One evening my family started home, my folks in the front seat and my siblings in the back.  About half way home they realized I was not in the car.  My parents had thought I was sitting on my older sister’s lap in the back seat as I often did that.  My siblings thought I was layig down on my mother’s lap in the front.  They quickly turned around and headed back to the church.  Thankfully I was still asleep in one of the pews.  I cannot imagine how frightened I would have been if I had awoke and found myself alone in the darkened church.

Such are my memories of this little country church.  On a recent trip down memory lane I asked my husband to take me to the church and let me get a picture.  Standing in front of the church – all the memories that came flooding my heart and mind.  My parents are now gone, my aunt and uncle also.  But I will always treasure that little church where I first heard the words:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

 

Who Do You Turn To?

It’s 8:30 at night – I’m sitting in my recliner – in my pajamas – and I’m crying!

The tears are partly a result of the tension of the past few days.  For over a month I have been planning a women’s retreat for my church.  With the guest speaker, who is my youngest daughter, I have brainstormed picking a theme, planning the lessons, the decorations, the music.  I so wanted it to be a success.  But as the weeks went by I had to ask myself – why do I want it to be a success and what needs to happen for me to consider it a success?

I have questioned my motives.  Do I just want to impress everyone with how smart I am?  Do I just want everyone to see what a great speaker my daughter is?  Do I want the women of my church to be encouraged and help them better understand God’s Word?  Do I want to see spiritual growth among my “sisters?”

Will it be a success if we have a large number show up?  Will it be a success if everyone has a good time?  Will it be a success if someone really is encouraged, really does develop a greater desire to know God, have a better appreciation for God’s Word?

So I have prayed that my motives would truly be pleasing in God’s sight and that there would be nothing in my efforts that would desire anything other than that God would be glorified and lifted up.  I have prayed that there will be a good response, that the women will show up, will enjoy, but most of all will draw closer to God as a result of the weekend.

Then, there was the worry of getting it all to come together.  Finding the right decorations to set the scene (but at a cheap price as I promised the church board it would not cost the church anything so the expenses are on me).  Getting volunteers to bring food for our Friday night snack and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.  Will I have enough food?  Finding volunteers for the skit I want to do on Friday and for worship on Saturday.  Praying for my daughter as she prepares the lessons I have asked her to do.

In the middle of all this I start having terrible pain in one of my teeth.  I had it filled last year but the dentist told me the tooth was really bad and he was not sure the filling would hold. A call to the dentist and off I got to get it pulled.

I’m feeling great!

Everything is coming together!

I have my tooth pulled on Wednesday.  Dentist tells me I can expect pain, bruising and swelling.  But here it is Friday.  I have had no pain, there is no sign of swelling or bruising.  My husband says it’s a God thing.

I truly believe my heart and my motives are right – that my desire is only for God’s glory.  I find most of the decorations at the Dollar Store – budget saved.  Tables are decorated and the room looks great.  My daughter sends me her notes for the handouts and they look perfect.  Volunteers have all responded and the skit, the worship, the food – it is all on track to be a great event.

Oh no!

Friday morning I start cutting up veggies for the Saturday lunch.  Suddenly my carefully laid plans all seem to come apart.

My husband comes up from the family room in the basement and he looks white as a sheet.  He tells me he almost passed out and off we go to the doctor’s office.  After examining him and talking to his heart doctor, we are off to the emergency room for further evaluation.  He had a heart attack in 2009 and has had 4 stents put in since then so the fear of another heart issue makes me very nervous.

Now I’m getting up tight.  Clearly I need to be here with my husband, but what about all the things I still need to do to be ready for tonight?  Is he going to be okay?  Is he having a heart attack?

While waiting for the doctor to evaluate the EKG and the blood work I pick up my cell phone to start calling our kids to let them know their dad is in the ER.  Before I can dial out, my phone rings and it’s our son.  When I answer he tells me that he has just had a call from his wife and he is rushing to the ER in their town.  Their daughter has been in a bad car wreck.  He doesn’t know more than that but wants me and his Dad to be in prayer.

Now I’m really stressed!

I try to hold back the tears as I think – “What do I do?”  I have to tell my husband, but is that going to add to his stress and cause a heart attack?  After sharing the news with him, we hold hands, crying and calling out to God for our granddaughter.

I watch the clock waiting for the doctor’s evaluation pulled between needing to be with my husband and needing to get back home and finish final preparations for the night session at the retreat.  Of course, my husband keeps telling me I need to go on and get ready for the evening and I keep telling him no way I’m leaving him until we find out what is going on with his heart.

And we keep waiting for our son to call with more information on our granddaughter.  How badly is she hurt?  Is she going to be okay?

He’s going to be okay

The doctor finally comes in and tells us that he is not having a heart attack but they do want to keep him overnight for observation and possibly do some tests in the morning.  When I am assured that he is in no immediate danger, I finally leave, hurrying now to get cleaned up myself and get to the church to finish final preparations.

We finally hear from our son.  Our granddaughter was hit in the passenger side by a young man drunk and high on drugs.  He hit her at such a high rate of speed it flipped her car over twice, crushed in the front and they had to pull her out through the windshield.  But, miraculously she has no broken bones, no life-threatening injuries, but is terribly bruised and some cuts on her arms from being pulled through the broken windshield.

While working with my daughter to put the finishing touches on everything at the church, we get a text from my son.  He has sent us pictures of my granddaughter’s car.  When we see the pictures my daughter and I both began to cry and to spontaneously praise God.  From the pictures of the car we realize we have seen a miracle.  There is no way anyone should have walked out from the car alive.  The whole front and right side is smashed in, the windshield completely broken out.  We get pictures of my granddaughter’s neck and front of her chest.  She looks like someone who has been severely beaten.  Clearly she has subsisted some terrible bruising and will be in pain for some time.  But no broken bones, no concussion.

As we praise God, I feel the tension drain from my body for a moment.  Then my husband calls.  They are going to do an angiogram tomorrow morning.  Doctor thinks they may be more blockage.  I start to get uptight again, but I’m reminded in my spirit that the same God who protected my granddaughter is the same God who will be with my husband in the morning.

Long day at hospital

But now, of course, I cannot be at the retreat on Saturday.  I know between my daughter who is speaking and the women who will be leading worship I don’t have to be there.  But I’m disappointed.  I have enjoyed watching the women in our Friday session and seeing their hearts being opened to God’s Word – just as I had prayed – and I really want to be there Saturday to share with them.

But I know there is no question about where I belong.  I love my husband – my best friend – and I not only need to be with him, I want to be with him.

The procedure is done and they have to put in another stent (his fifth).  The doctor shows me an area where there is a 50% blockage but says he will not touch it until it becomes blocked enough to be life threatening.  Because of its location it will require open heart surgery.  This makes me nervous.  How will he know it has become life threatening until it is life threatening?  On top of that they had trouble getting the bleeding to stop and have had to put a pressure cuff on his groin which is pushing down and is very painful.  While normally a person has to lay on still on their back for two to three hours, he lies all day – over six hours – not being able to move from his back and having this pressure cuff pushing down on his groin.  A rough day for both of us.  Since he cannot sit up, I help him try to get some food down.

The day is over!

Granddaughter is very sore – will be out of commission for a few days – but she is alive, she is going to be fine.

My husband is out of immediate danger.  He has to stay overnight in the hospital just to make sure he does not move too much and the bleeding stays stopped.  But, all is well with him.  I can bring him home tomorrow.

The retreat appears to have been well received by everyone.

Who Do I Turn To?

So, I need to be rid of all this tension.  What do I do?  Guess I could pick up a glass of wine.  I could put on a favorite movie.  I could take a hot shower, a sleeping aid and go to bed.

But I turn to the one I have always turned to.  My Savior, my Lord, but also my friend.  I put on a CD by Selah, lean back and think of all the times in my life – when my father walked out on the family, when my first husband was accidentally killed and my daughters came home and found him dead, when I was diagnosed with cancer and told I did not have a very good chance of making it – and so many other times when crisis came and how Jesus has always been there.  Giving me wisdom, peace, comfort.

And as I meditate on His goodness, His love to me, the tension drains from my body and my tears become more than just tears of release.  They become tears of love and gratitude.

I turn to Jesus.  Who Do you turn to?

When I’m far away from home
And the cold wind starts to blow
When I’m empty and alone
I turn to You

When there’s hardness in my heart
And I can’t see the truth
And I’m wondering in the dark
I turn to You

And here in Your holy presence
It’s all that I can do

For the faith to move ahead
And to let go of the past
And to see me as You do
I turn to You.

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do
I turn to You

You alone are worthy
The one and only God
The Ruler of the nations
And Father of my heart

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do, Jesus
I turn to You

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Do Cookies!

cookies

It’s that time of year!

All over the country mothers and grandmothers are busy in the kitchen baking cookies with their kids and grandkids.  On Facebook I see post after post of beautifully decorated cookies and smiling faces of children with their mother as they happily put their special touch on the cookies made to look like snowmen and angels and reindeer.  So many creative women out there making wonderful memories with their children.

Then there’s me.  Mother of the year – NOT!

When my girls were little I wanted to be that mother who makes such memories for her children by following that tradition of making cookies for Christmas.  I got out my cookbooks and looked for recipes that said “easy to make.”  All excited, I brought my little girls into the kitchen, sat them up at the counter and explained how we would start our own tradition and have these wonderful bonding moments making memories to last a lifetime.

We followed the recipe and put the cookies in the oven.  When the timer went off, we eagerly opened the door expecting to have these wonderful cookies to decorate.  The cookies were a disaster.  They looked burned to a crisp.

Not one to give up easily, we made a new batch and tried again this time taking them out earlier.  The cookies were still a disaster.  This time they were gluey and clearly not done completely in the middle.

We pressed on!

I tried valiantly several times to make Christmas cookies before I finally accepted the fact that I don’t do cookies.  No matter what recipe I used, no matter how hard I tried, my cookies were always too hard, too soft, overdone, under-cooked.  In other words, I don’t do cookies.

I make a mean apple pie.  At family gatherings, my kids and grandkids always ask for my banana pudding or peach cobbler.  My husband requests my black forest cake and it is always a hit at potlucks or parties.  But cookies?  I don’t do cookies!

Hopefully my daughters were not scarred by being the only kids in the family who did not make Christmas cookies with their mother.  Hopefully my grandchildren have not felt disappointed that Grandma never had plates of delicious, beautiful decorated cookies to eat at Christmas time.

Papa to the rescue!

This year my husband has come to my rescue.  He makes wonderful jumbo raisin cookies using his mother’s recipe.  When my youngest granddaughter came over today he took her into the kitchen and patiently helped her crack eggs, toast walnuts and showed her how to make cookies.

Papa makes the best cookies in the world!

Sampling the cookies when they came out of the oven looking just right, my granddaughter declared, “Papa makes the best cookies in the world!”  She was right.  They are delicious!

raisin-cookies

We made other memories!

Despite my total lack of cookie-baking ability, I know my girls and I made other good memories at Christmas time.

  • Wooden Christmas decorations we painted one year that they still have on their tree
  • Watching the movie, “Popeye”
  • Snuggling in bed and reading the “Ugly Joke Book”
  • Decorating the tree

So as I look at all the Facebook posts of beautiful Christmas cookies, I thank God for all those mothers out there making memories.  But I want to encourage those mothers whose house does not look like it was decorated by Good Housekeeping, whose cookies are a flop, and whose Christmas presents are not elegantly wrapped.

Just love your children and laugh with them.  Cookies or not, they will love you too and treasure their Christmas memories.

Life — What a Wonderful Gift!

I Made it!!!!!!

This month I celebrated three years of retirement!!!  Over thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with a very advanced and aggressive breast cancer and told the “odds were not in my favor.”  (https://barblaneblog.com/2014/10/13/cancer-survivor/).  As I went through nine months of treatment, my prayer was “Dear Lord, please let me live until I can retire and give me three years of retirement to enjoy with my husband.”

On January 3 of this year, I reached that milestone.  I  have enjoyed three wonderful years of retirement.  My husband and I have been able to travel to the east coast visiting the homes of Presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe as well as the Confederate States White House in Richmond.  We followed the Morman Trail out west and visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our daughter and her husband.

I have enjoyed days of working in our hosta garden, reading all the books I brought when I was working but never had time to read and playing countless games of Scrabble with my husband.  We share an addiction to the game.  (https://barblaneblog.com/2015/02/22/confessions-of-a-scrabble-addict/)

I am so thankful that my prayer was answered and I have had these past three years.  Each day that I live beyond January 3 is like a priceless gift – a gift “above and beyond.”  I have no idea how much further this “journey’ will take me.

  • Will I live to be 102?
  • Will this be the last year of my life?
  • Will I remain cancer-free and healthy?
  • Will some day the cancer appear again somewhere in my body?

But I have determined to not worry about tomorrow – but just enjoy today!  I cannot change the past – I cannot control the future.  But I can enjoy every moment of today!

“It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point in the journey.”
Jeffrey R. Anderson

 

So come on Life!

I’m looking forward to whatever God has in store for me tomorrow!!!!!!

Guidance and Direction for the Coming Year!

Looking Back at 2015!

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A new year!  As we look back at 2015, hopefully we all can say “It’s been a good year.”  Whether the year was a good one for you or not so good, we probably all can think of events that we would have handled differently if we could do it over.  Times when we wish we had remained silent – or maybe wish we had spoken up.  Times when we wish we had not attended that event – or maybe wish we had gone to an event.  Times when we wish we had loved more – times when we wish we had pulled back from a relationship.

Looking back we can always see areas in our lives where we could have done a better job of communicating, sharing, being brave, being restrained.  But the year is past.  What’s done is done.  Like Paul, the apostle, we need to say:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Now the New Year has arrived!

This is a time we often make new year resolutions.  We are going to work harder (or devote less time at work and more at relaxing), we are going to lose weight, we are going to be more faithful in our Bible reading, our exercising.  The list often goes on and on.

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

Here is one list of top ten New Year Resolutions

  1. Miss more time with family and friends
  2. Exercise – get in shape
  3. Lose weight
  4. Quit smoking
  5. Relax and enjoy time more
  6. Quit drinking
  7. Get out of debt
  8. Learn something new
  9. Help others
  10. Get organized

New Year Resolutions for the “Super Heroes”

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For many of us a New Year’s Resolution might look like this

My goal for 2016 is to accomplish the goals I had for 2015 which I should have done in 2014 because I promised myself I would do them in 2013 after much planning for them in 2012.

A worthy New Year’s Resolution

While it is always good to have goals for the coming year – may I suggest a goal that would really be of the greatest benefit in 2016 – a resolution to not just read, but really study the Word of God this year.

God’s Word is an excellent instruction manual for our lives.  Manual

 

 

There has been so much violence and discord in our country in 2015.  Who knows what the coming year will bring.  But, whether this year sees peace or war, prosperity or difficult financial times, excellent health or too many trips to the doctor, we can find strength in God’s Word.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.   Joshua 1:8

How can a young person stay pure?
    By obeying your word.
 I have tried hard to find you—
    don’t let me wander from your commands.
 I have hidden your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119

There are so many aids and helps in learning more about God’s Word.  One of the greatest ways to get into God’s Word is an organized, consistent reading plan.

There are excellent plans out there.  Visit biblegateway.com for a listing of many that can be sent directly to your mail each day.

Each day includes a passage from both the Old Testament and New Testament.
Read the Bible in the chronological order in which its stories and events occurred.
Read the Bible from start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation.
Read the books of the Bible as they were written historically, according to the estimated date of their writing.
An intensive Bible reading plan that walks through the entire Bible in 90 days.
Read through the four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–in 40 days.
Read the New Testament from start to finish, from Matthew to Revelation.
This reading plan is provided by Brian Hardin from Daily Audio Bible.
Daily Old and New Testament readings based on the Book of Common Prayer.
Short readings from throughout the Bible that focus on the meaning and events of Easter.
40 daily Scripture readings that illustrate the character of God and the nature of faith.
Scripture passages that focus on the meaning of Advent and Christmas.
A reading plan that walks through the entire New Testament in 24 weeks of daily readings.
A daily inspirational and encouraging Bible verse.
Daily Bible readings that follow the church liturgical year, with thematically matched Old and New Testament readings.
Daily Bible readings that follow the church liturgical year, with sequential stories told across multiple weeks.
The classic M’Cheyne plan–read the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels every day.
Read through the book of Proverbs every month of the year.

Check them out!

 

First Christmas vs Our Christmas Now!

Candles and Christmas (2)

Christmas!  What a magical time!  We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth and greet one another with “Merry Christmas!”

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.   Many of the cards show bright lights shining above the heads of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a litMV5BMTgwOTI4NDU2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MjY0NA@@__V1_UY100_CR25,0,100,100_AL_tle baby who makes no crying.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

 

Mary’s Story

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”   Name Him Jesus – “Savior”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What a honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

mary-learns-of-christs-birth-from-angel-gabriel-300

But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.  Mary had to decide – “Do I trust God?”

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”   Later Mary expressed how blessed she realized she was as she spoke to her cousin Elizabeth and said, ” “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!   For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.   For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

Joseph’s Story

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And what about Joseph?  A simple carpenter engaged to a young woman in the village, Joseph no doubt was making plans for his soon-to-be bride and the family they would someday have.   Looking forward with anticipation to their wedding, he is suddenly hit with the news that his future bride is pregnant.

What sorrow he must have felt as he believed Mary had been unfaithful to him.  What agony as he struggled with the decision he faced.  Should he publicly denounce her – maybe even see her stoned?  Should he, could he forgive her ?   Although his heart was breaking, all his hopes and dreams were crushed, he was a godly and kind man.

As he thought about what to do, an angel appeared to him and said,  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the  child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.   And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!   She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,  which means ‘God is with us.’”

While no doubt  Joseph rejoiced at this news, he had to have also been filled with thoughts of great apprehension.  What a tremendous responsibility he was given – to raise the Son of God!  Like Mary, he had to make a decision to totally trust God and welcome Emmanuel into his home.

journey-to-bethlehem-1062729_jpg_1418849826391_journey-to-bethlehem-1062729

And then the journey to Bethlehem.   How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Luke tells us:    “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

Mary and baby Jesus (2)

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manager, because there was no lodging available for them.

 

 

The Shepherds’ Story

And what of the shepherds?  If you had been given the responsibility to announce the birth of the Messiah, who would you have chosen to tell?   Would you have selected a group of people who spent most of their days in the fields with the sheep and had no influence with society?  Shepherds were the blue-collar workers largely unnoticed by those in authority.

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That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  See the excitement with which the shepherds received this news and hurried to find the child.

The Wise Men’s Story

And what of the wise men.  Matthew tells us

“About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.   King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:  ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”  After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

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The Wise Men traveled many miles to worship the King of the Jews.  They did not hop a plane and arrive at Bethlehem in a few hours.  They did not pack their SUV with food and drink and drive a few days across the interstate.  Their journey required many days riding through the desert on the back of camels, stopping to sleep at night in their tents.  It was not an easy journey, but they came eagerly seeking to worship the King.

What is the real purpose of Christmas?

Now we come to the real purpose of Christmas.  The story of Christmas is only the beginning – unless it leads us to the cross and the empty tomb, it has lost its real purpose.

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“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

First Christmas – and our Christmas now!

  • That first Christmas required Mary and Joseph to totally trust God and accept His plans for their lives.  To believe the words of the angel, Gabriel, and accept God’s will for  their lives.  This Christmas, are you trusting God, are you willing to accept His plans for your life?
  • That first Christmas the shepherds received the good news of the child’s birth with great joy and hurried to find the child.  Today is our excitement at Christmas more focused on the presents, the decorations, the meals, the parties?  Are we still excited about the good news that  “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace?
  • That first Christmas the leading priests and teachers knew the prophecy….knew God’s Word.  Yet, they made no effort to go to Bethlehem to check out this story of the Messiah.  The Wise Men traveled a great distance – but the religious leaders could not be bothered to travel the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  As we enjoy this Christmas season with all our decorations, food and gatherings with family and friends, let us be sure that we take time to really seek the Messiah.  Let’s ask God to return us to the simple but awesome truth of that first Christmas in a dark, possibly cold, stable where two young people faced the awesome challenge of raising the Son of God without money, fame or lots of support simply trusting and obeying the Father.