The Other Side of Christmas

The first shoe to drop was in the fields outside Bethlehem. The most-favored angel of all the ages brought the best news ever delivered to a small cluster of shepherds who heard it in stunned silence.

Do not be afraid. For I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

In making this announcement-of-all-announcements, the angel was revealing what God was doing at that moment, Who the babe in the manger actually was, and the purpose for which He had made this momentuous journey.

He came as our Savior.

If I may be allowed to say so, Jesus wasn’t the Savior yet. He came to do the things necessary in order to become our Savior. Salvation is not a do-it-yourself project for us, but in a manner of speaking, it was for Jesus. He came into the world to become our Light, our Pioneer and Trail-blazer, our Sin-bearer, our Propitiation, our Substitute, our Mediator.

Our Savior.

That’s the first part of the story. The second part–the other shoe to drop–is the account of what He did to achieve our salvation.

The New Testament is rife with tributes to Jesus for what He accomplished. From the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, here are some of the glowing testimonials to what He achieved. And He did it for you and me.

Think of what follows as the other side of the Christmas story.

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C. S. Lewis’s Christmas sermon to pagans

Note from Joe: I picked this up off the internet. Am reposting it here because I love it so much and want to preserve it nearby.  Use if you can.

Editor’s Note: In December of 2017 the world got a Christmas present – a lost C.S. Lewis work was recovered.

Stepanie Derrick, a PhD student at the University of Stirling, found the following article doing her research. It comes from The Strand a now-defunct and historically significant publication in the U.K.

We are publishing the piece here to highlight Lewis’ provocative idea that a re-paganization of the West would be useful for the cause of the Gospel.

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The Christmas event: So worth thinking about!

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

We have become a generation of non-thinkers. We enter the house and flip on computers and television. We slide into our cars and hit the switch for our favorite entertainment. We go for walks with earbuds streaming nonstop chatter and music.  In our bedrooms, we set dials to certain music or talk programs to lull us to sleep and others to wake us up.

In doing so, we deprive ourselves of a vital aspect of life, a major component of the Christian faith in particular.

We fail to meditate on the things of God.

From the beginning, God has intended that His people would be reflective, would read His word and give thought to what they found there, would wake up in the middle of the night and lie there in thought on divine matters.

“I remember your Name in the night, O Lord….” (Psalm 119:55).  “At midnight, I will rise to give thanks to You, because of your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:62). “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).

Now, the Lord has left many nuggets lying on the surface, perhaps to entice the children to come over and search deeper. But the best treasures–the mother lode of His riches–are rarely left exposed in full view, but await the diligent workman underneath the surface, yielding their wealth only to those willing to dig and study, to wait and think, to obey and pray and dig a little deeper.

Mary got it so right. Little wonder all generations since have held her in such high esteem, even if some may have overdone the matter.

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Christmas Accretions (or, “What we have done with Jesus’ birthday”)

I was born on March 28, 1940, the fifth child of Carl and Lois McKeever.  I have four brothers (three of whom are in Heaven; Ron is still with us) and two sisters, Patricia and Carolyn.

You won’t believe what happened.  Here, I’ll tell you…

Now, for years, nobody gave a thought to my birthday. I was never given to a lot of hoopla, so that was fine with me. I’m not against celebrating special events or observing religious festivals, but well, you don’t see people throwing birthday parties in Scripture, so I got along just fine without one.

Then one day my sister got into the act. Carolyn loves making people feel special and she had this bright idea.

“It’ll just be a little dinner for your birthday,” she said. “Just the immediate family.”

She wanted to do it so badly, I agreed to it. And, sure enough, it worked out. About 10 of us gathered at my house, Carolyn brought the cake and Patricia made dinner, and it was a nice evening.

That was the first year.

The next year, Carolyn started planning the birthday dinner several weeks in advance. She was not satisfied with the intimate gathering we had enjoyed last year. She had enjoyed it, she said, but she felt badly that more family wasn’t included. This year the whole clan would be invited.

I suppose everybody showed up, because our house was crowded and some had to eat out on the front porch. We had a big time, laughing, singing songs, eating. I bet I got my neck hugged a hundred times. I blew out the candles and we ate cake. To my surprise, a few people brought presents. That was nice, but unnecessary.

The third year, Carolyn realized she was on to something.

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How God fooled Satan at Christmas

….the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory–I Corinthians 2:8.

This is a piece about Christmas, from a perspective you may never have thought of.

First.  Bear in mind that there is more going on in this universe–above us, underneath us, in the spirit world surrounding us–than any of us can ever imagine.

God is always at work. The hosts of Heaven are constantly serving Him in ways unknown to us.  But we must not forget that so is His arch-enemy also at work, as well as his minions. Satan is constantly on the prowl seeking whom he may devour.

We see this throughout Scripture.

Now, Satan is the enemy is all that is good.  Anything that would honor God, bless people, and spread the gospel, Satan works to sabotage.

But God is not stymied by Satan. The Heavenly Father loses no sleep worrying about him.  Satan’s doom is settled, his fate is sealed, his days are numbered.

“On earth is not his equal,” said Martin Luther about the devil in His majestic anthem A Mighty Fortress.  Granted, you and I are no match for Satan.  But in Christ we are more than conquerors.  This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith in Christ. (Romans 8:37 and I John 5:4)

God is constantly handing the devil defeat after defeat. We see it in life, we observe it in the world about us, and we can see it demonstrated in Scripture time and again.

Case in point:  The First Christmas. 

First, understand that Satan is a created being. He shares none of the attributes of Almighty God—not omniscience, omnipresence, nor omnipotence—meaning that he is limited in knowledge and space and power. When it comes to predicting what God is going to do next, he has to rely on what he can figure out, what he remembers from the timeless past when he resided in Heaven as a favorite angel, and what he reads in Holy Scripture.

Since the Holy Spirit does not enlighten his understanding, satan sees as the world sees, not with the mind of Christ. Once we understand this, a hundred puzzles fall into place.

Satan did not know God’s plan which involved the cross.

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A shepherd reports on that night in Bethlehem

“Now there were in the same country shepherds abiding in their fields by night….” (Luke 2)

(What follows is a report from the youngest shepherd of that fateful night in the field outside Bethlehem, with the editor’s occasional remark in italics.)

I was not supposed to work that night, it being a school night. My friend Elihu asked me to fill in for him.  Now, my father is not real thrilled with me hanging out with some of these characters who work those night shifts with the sheep.  Shepherding is the ultimate unskilled labor and only those who can’t do anything else need apply.

But Father knows I’m a good student and agreed that we could use the money.

Anyway, that’s how it happened that I had the most amazing experience of my young life.

Did I say I’m only 15? So, it’s not like I have seen everything, but this is surely the high point of my life so far. I can’t imagine it getting any better.

Shepherding anytime is no fun, but at night it is the most boring work imaginable. The sheep are not grazing and not even wandering around. They’re asleep. Even dumb animals know night-time is when you shut down and get some rest.  But, I’m not complaining. It’s a job, and there aren’t many of those around for people my age.

Mostly, we were there to protect the flocks from the wild animals. Several small flocks were intermingled across the meadow. It’s too much trouble to herd the sheep back and forth from their farms each evening and morning, and labor being cheap, there we were.

There were four of us on duty there that night. What were we talking about? I ‘ve mostly forgotten. Something about Elihu’s real reason for missing work, I think. Yitzhak seems to think he has a girl somewhere and she sneaks out to meet him when her father isn’t looking. Since Yitzhak has done that a time or two, we teased him about being such an expert on the subject.

Scholars say shepherds in First Century Judea were notoriously dishonest and often disreputable. Their testimony was not accepted in court.  Interesting that the Heavenly Father chose shepherds as the first welcoming committee for the Lord Jesus. Clearly, the Heavenly Father is no Pharisee!

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Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.

(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)

What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?

A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey.  The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem.  Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.

And thus Jesus arrives on the scene.

Admit it.  You would not have done Christmas that way.  Me either.

It’s not just me.

As the God of the universe, the infinite and omnipotent Heavenly Father, you could do anything you please, right?  In the beginning, You created the Heavens and the earth, right?  The opening statement of Scripture certainly establishes who is in charge.  So everything is on the table.  Nothing off limits.

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Christmas Urgings

This is a word for pastors and other church leaders concerning the activities your church sponsors during the Christmas season.

I wish I could tell you how to slow down and enjoy the season. Christmas for ministers is a little like the Thanksgiving meal for mom. She spends so much time planning and shopping, baking and serving, that when she finally gets a chance to sit at the table, she’s too tired to enjoy the feast. She does it for the family.

That’s the ministers. They have a hard time enjoying all the services and ministries of Christmas since they themselves are spread so thin.

Following are a few suggestions–urgings, even (that’s stronger)–as to how to make the most of these events in your church, pastor.

One. If possible, for at least one service during the month, drop in on the Christmas service of a neighboring church.

This will allow you to worship anonymously, to sit back and listen, to stand up and sing, without a single thought as to what you must do next.

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Christmas reminds us this is the Gospel of great joy

Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people. (Luke 2:10)

I do love this story, everything about it.

I love to think of the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem that dark, dark night, standing around passing the time with idle chatter. Farm boys can tell you it gets mighty dark away from the city lights. Was there a chill in the air too?

Suddenly, the sky is ablaze with light, as though Heaven’s floodlights had been switched on. Furthermore, someone was standing in the thin air perhaps 50 feet away. The radiance emanating from him indicated he was an angel.

No wonder the angel began his soliloquy as they always seemed to: Fear not! Who wouldn’t fear?

The shepherds heard those words, but it’s one thing to be told not to be afraid and another one altogether to stop your knees from knocking and your teeth from chattering. Restarting your heart is another matter altogether.

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)

There it is–the best news that has ever been delivered at one place in one short paragraph.

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10 things about the Christmas story you may have missed

They were not “kings” from the east and there wasn’t three of them. And when they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were not still in the stable, but in a house, contrary to the Hallmark folks.

And there’s no indication there were cattle in that stable or anywhere nearby. In fact, the only thing that leads us to believe Jesus was born in a stable is that Luke 2:7 tells us Mary laid the Baby in a manger, a feeding trough.

But you knew all this.

And you knew that all of this was predicted through the centuries by God’s prophets. We particularly treasure the promises of Isaiah 7:17 (“Behold a virgin shall conceive….”) and 9:6-7 (“For unto us a child is born….”), as well as Micah 5:2 (“Bethlehem…out of you shall come forth One to be Ruler over Israel…”).

And you knew that, contrary to the Christmas hymn “The First Noel,” the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields did not “looked up and saw a star shining in the East beyond them far.” (Modern hymnals have revised that line to read “For all to see there was a star….”)

But, allow me to point out some aspects of this wonderful story it’s possible you might have missed. There is no particular order intended.

1. Joseph has no speaking lines.

This man who was to become the earthly father of our Lord Jesus was a man of action. He heard and he obeyed.

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