The Christmas Story Not Found in Matthew or Luke

At this time of the year we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to read the Christmas story. Each Gospel gives us a different aspect of the birth of Jesus.

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the King. He starts his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus showing his descent from Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, and David, their great king. It is the story of Joseph we read. Matthew tells us of the wise men who came from a distance bearing gifts and seeking for the newborn king of the Jews.

Our nativity sets showing the wise men at the manger are not correct. Exactly how many wise men there were we do not know – only that there were three gifts. Their arrival happened sometime after the birth of Jesus as Matthew tells us that they found Jesus in a house and calls him at that time a child. When Herod realizes the wise men are not coming back to tell him where this child is, he orders all boys in the area who are two years old and under to be killed.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi

While they asked for the king of the Jews, they clearly recognized that Jesus was God as Matthew tell us:

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. 

Matthew shows us that his birth is for all people. These wise men were Gentiles, yet they were one of the first to worship him.

On the other hand, Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He traces the line of Jesus all the way back to the first man, Adam. It is not of the wealthy, educated Magi that Luke writes, but the lowly shepherds in the fields, the lowly widow Anna who has been awaiting the arrival of Messiah.

While these two portions of Scripture are the ones we look to as we read of the birth of Jesus, I think there is a passage in the book of Philippians that gives a greater understanding of the meaning, the purpose of the birth of Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we celebrate the birth of this little child, let us not forget the very reason He came was to save us. And just as the shepherds and the wise men worshiped Him, let us bow down in gratitude and love to our Lord and King.

He Knows My Name

One of my favorite parts of the resurrection story is when Mary Magdalene was standing outside the empty tomb, heartbroken because the tomb was empty, and she did not know where the body of Jesus had been taken.

When Jesus appeared to her, she did not recognize him and thought he was the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you laid him.” At that moment, Jesus spoke her name. “Mary,”

At the sound of Jesus speaking her name, she realized it was Him!

Something is very special to us – the sound of our name in the voice of a loved one.

Jesus spoke of knowing His voice in John 10

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

In Psalm 139 the writer reflects on how well God knows us.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

To me, in times of difficulty – it is so good to know that Jesus knows my name.

Our Father’s Love

Reading this week a familiar parable Jesus told about the prodigal son that took his part of the heritage of his father and then proceeded to waste it away on careless living. The Bible says “when he came to his senses” he went back home to ask his father to just let him be a servant.

It is a very familiar story to anyone who has ever attended church or read the Bible. Being so familiar, I truthfully began to read over it quickly.

But this time something caught my eye.

The scripture says that the father saw his son “when he was a great way off.” Imagine the father every day going out to the road and looking down the path in hopes of seeing his son returning home. Imagine every evening before retiring for the day, taking another look down the road. Hoping, praying to see his son coming home.

The days, weeks, maybe years of disappointment as his glances show no sign of his son. But he never gave up. He kept looking, hoping, expecting an answer to his prayer.

As I read that this week, I thought of those who I am praying for. Loved ones, friends who have walked away from fellowship with others – some out of hurt, some out of misunderstanding, some out of losing sight of a relationship with God.

Honestly sometimes I lose hope that they will ever return. But this parable reminded me that I must remain faithful in praying, expecting and never stop looking down the road to see them returning home to God.

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Dangerous Prayers

My church has been doing a series on dangerous prayers – and it has given me much thought.

I have to admit that most of my prayers are for me and mine. While there is certainly nothing wrong with praying for my family, my friends, my needs, taking a look at some of the prayers in the Bible has reminded me that I am called to let my love and concern go beyond my own small circle.

Looking at the prayers in God’s Word leads me to go deeper in my prayer time. Time spent in prayer should not just telling God of our needs and desires, but a time to be quiet and let Him speak to us.

Psalm 139:23-24 – “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

The prayer of the early church in Acts has always amazed me. After two of their leaders had been arrested and spent the night in jail, they were released with the command to never speak of Jesus again. Arriving at the house where the church was gathered for prayer, I would think they would pray for God’s protection, for deliverance from the persecution. But they did not. Instead, they prayed “make me bold.”

Acts 4:29 – “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

In our culture today when it seems society is more and more hostile to Christian principles it can be so easy to just ask God to keep me and mine safe. But I need to ask God to help my family, my friends be bold to proclaim God’s love to this needy world.

Many times, when I pray for my family, my prayers are focused on more material issues. “Give this child a job.” “Heal this child.” “Help this child in their efforts for school or work or family.”

Again, these prayers are certainly ones we should pray. After all, God cares about every aspect of our life. But I found a prayer in one of the Apostle Paul’s writings that helps me focus on the most important needs of my family – their spiritual welfare.

Colossians 1: 9-12 – “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”

In today’s message my pastor talked about Isaiah and his experience when he had a vision of the Lord in all His glory. Isaiah’s first response was to recognize his own sinfulness and need of cleansing. When the seraphim placed a coal of fire on his lips and told him he was forgiven, his immediate response was to say “Send me.”

I often wondered why the seraphim chose to place the coals on his lips rather than on his head or hands. But when Isaiah saw the glory of God, he responded by saying “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

Isaiah understood what Jesus later told us. “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

As Isaiah experienced God’s forgiveness, he was ready to say, “Send me.” How often do I pray for God to meet this need or solve this problem, but how often do I make myself available for God to use me as an answer to that prayer?

I realize as I pray I need to take time to be quiet, to let God speak to me about areas in my life that need forgiveness, healing, strength. To say “search me.” To pray “make me bold” that I might be unafraid to share the good news of God’s love to those I meet at the store, in the library or wherever I may go. To focus more on the “spiritual” needs of those on my prayer list and not just on the “physical” needs. To ask God to “send me” and then seek to be more aware of the opportunities He places in my path to be used of Him.

Dangerous prayers – prayers that might require more of me rather than just giving God a list of wishes/needs for Him to take care of.

Join me in praying some dangerous prayers and see what God will do in us and through us.

Friday’s List for Wisdom and Laughter

  1. Eternity is too long to be wrong
  2. Say “no” to sin and “yes” to God
  3. Make no “appeal” for God until you “kneel” to God
  4. God is not so much seeking those who can do everything as He is those who are willing to do anything.
  5. Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God no matter what the danger.
  6. We cannot look at the cross and still think our life is of no importance to God.
  7. The only part of the Bible you believe is the part you obey.
  8. Man sees your actions, but God sees your motives.
  9. Satan never fears the Christian whose Bible is covered with dust.
  10. Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.

Friday’s List – Prayers for Christians Suffering Persecution

I have been sharing on Friday some of the funny and/or challenging things I read or hear in novels, sermons and conversation with friends. Since this week we are asked to remember the Christian martyrs, I would like to share a list of ten ways to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith even today.

  1. Pray that the persecuted believers will sense God’s presence.
  2. Pray they will feel connected to the Body of Christ.
  3. Pray they will experience God’s comfort when their family members are killed, injured or imprisoned for their witness.
  4. Pray they will have more opportunities to share the Gospel.
  5. Pray for boldness to make Christ known.
  6. Pray they will forgive and love their persecutors.
  7. Pray their ministry activities will remain undetected by those who wish to silence them.
  8. Pray they will be able to rejoice in the midst of suffering.
  9. Pray they will have access to God’s Word and grow in their faith.
  10. Pray they will know that others around the world are praying for them and have strength in that knowledge.

Friday’s Quotes – Importance of Prayer

  1. Let us never forget that the greatest thing we can do for God or for man is to pray.
  2. Intercession is service…unlike all other forms of service and superior to them in this: it has fewer limitations. In all other service, we are constantly limited by space, bodily strength, equipment, material obstacles and difficulties involved with differences of personality. Prayer knows no such limits…S.D. Gordon
  3. Prayer is partnership with God’s activities on earth…Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  4. The greatest need is prayer. Without increasing the number of Christian workers or their financial support, we could see multiplied results if we would only multiply prayer…Wesley Duwell
  5. One way of laying down our lives is by praying for somebody. In prayer I am saying “my life for yours.” My time, my energy, my thought, my concern, my faith—here they are, for you…Elizabeth Elliott
  6. Praying takes personal time, energy and determination. No other personal commitment has been so hard to carry out.
  7. Prayer is asking God to align you with His will rather than asking Him to be aligned with yours.
  8. Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed…E.M. Bounds
  9. Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts…Mother Teresa
  10. I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day….Abraham Lincoln

Friday’s List for Wisdom and Laughter

Recently I posted about my visit to the Wesley Garden on St. Simon’s Island.

Looking at that visit, I was reminded of the list John Wesley created for the group of people who were gathering each week to pray and encourage one another in their walk with God.

He had a list of questions they would use in their gatherings to help them in their Christian commitment. These are good questions for us to also consider today.

Questions to Ask:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Did any of my words or actions this week cause someone harm?
  6. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  7. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  8. Did the Bible live in me today?
  9. Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
  10. Am I enjoying prayer?
  11. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
  12. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  13. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  14. Do I disobey God in anything?
  15. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  16. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  17. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  18. How do I spend my spare time?
  19. Am I proud?
  20. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, like the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  21. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  22. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  23. Is Christ real to me?

One Sentence for Wisdom or Laughter

Some wise – and perhaps some funny – sayings I found in my devotion book. Hope you enjoy them.

  • Lighthouses don’t fire off cannons to draw attention to their light – they just shine
  • If your service for God is worth anything, it’s worth everything
  • By the time you get your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone and your ear to the ground, it’s time for lunch
  • Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship
  • What you possess will go to someone else when you die, but what you are will be yours forever
  • The devil’s best tool is not an active sinner, but an inactive Christian
  • Failure is something we can avoid by doing nothing, saying nothing, being nothing
  • If you realize you are not as wise as you thought you were yesterday, you are wiser today.
  • Some people never change their opinion because after all it has been in their family for generations.
  • Some people pray like God is an aspirin tablet – they only pray when there is a problem.

My Miracle Man and His Art

About this time two years ago my husband fell in his art studio in the basement of our condo. It was a Thursday and because Covid had just started, we were not sure about going to the doctor. He felt fine so we went on with our daily routine as normal.

Until Sunday. After church on Sunday he complained of a severe headache and being nauseated. I drove him to the emergency room where I was told to go home and wait. They would call me after examining him.

When he went in to the ER he looked and acted fine to me. The only thing I was going on was his comment of the terrible headache he had.

About an hour later the ER called and told me a CAT scan revealed bleeding in his brain. They had called the main hospital in Lansing, the capital of our state, and an ambulance was getting ready to take him there for further evaluation.

I jumped in the car and raced to our local ER. Although at first they said I could not go in, I turned on the tears and pleaded to let me say goodbye to him. Realizing the seriousness of a brain bleed, I was afraid I might not see him alive again. My tears I guess were good enough because they let me go back to the room and say goodbye before the ambulance took him away.

I could not believe the change in him in just a little over an hour. He was very confused and very incoherent.

After they took him to Lansing, I returned home anxious to know what would happen next. About an hour later I got a call from the surgeon’s assistant who told him they were taking him in for emergency surgery. He asked me if he had been having trouble talking. He said that he was talking to them, but they could not understand what he said and it made no sense. Without the surgery I was told, he would not survive.

The assistant promised to call me after the surgery to let me know how it went. I got no call. They took him into surgery about 4:30 that afternoon and at 10:00 that evening I still had not heard a word. A call to the hospital revealed that the surgeon had completed the surgery and had gone home. All they could tell me was that my husband was out of surgery and in ICU. They promised to have the doctor on duty that night give me a call. Finally, around midnight the doctor on duty called. He said he was not involved in the surgery and all he could tell me was that my husband’s chart said the surgery went well and he was in ICU on a ventilator.

To make a long story short the next week and a half was very stressful as they worked for a few days to get him off the ventilator. Until he was off the equipment they would not be able to tell how much damage had been done to his brain. They warned me he might have difficulty speaking or understanding others, might have trouble swallowing, might have trouble walking. The day he got off the ventilator, they were looking for a rehab place to take him and indicated it might be weeks before he could come home.

But God had other plans.

Within days he was taking rehab there in the hospital – and he came home to me in just ten days. The first weeks at home he had to use a walker to get around and while he could clearly understand and communicate he did have moments when he would struggle for a particular word.

But he quickly recovered. Two things that helped I believe was our love of scrabble and his love of painting. We are very competitive and love the game. I worried that he would not be able to really compete with me again. He was a little slow the first couple of games we played but in no time he was beating my butt again.

The second week he was home he asked our son-in-love to bring his easel and paints from his art studio in the basement as he was still too weak to go up and down the stairs. He sat at our dining room table and painted this beautiful scene of the seashore.

In no time at all he was free of the walker, beating me in scrabble and back down stairs in his art studio painting away.

Recently a local business in our community held a Arts Explosion. From November through the month of February local artists were invited to display their work. The business is involved with educating the public about agriculture and has a lot of public events at its facility. During this time people were asked to look at the paintings and vote for their favorite artist.

Last night they held a “Meet and Greet’ for the community to come out, take a final look at the art and vote for their favorite.

It was a fun day – food and entertinment by the local high school’s dance team.

At the end of the festivities, they announced the winners of the People’s Choice. Out of 44 artists they had a winner and a runner up. To my great happiness my husband with his sea shore painting came in second as the People’s Choice.

The painting is back home now – and we are both rejoicing – not only for his award, but for the miracle this painting truly is.

To God be the glory – great things he hath done!