The people who walked in darkness
It's Christmas Eve. The longing and anticipation of Christmas has finally drawn near. Tomorrow we celebrate. But for today, we wait for the dawning of Christmas morning. We have seen a great light. In our world of darkness, a light has dawned. Christ has come. Our hope has drawn near. Our joy is here. Our peace has dwelt among us.
Christ is coming. Tomorrow we celebrate.
But for today, we wait... we anticipate... we long the dawning of the light of Christ.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come quickly.
You are the reason we celebrate.
Coming Lord Jesus,
We are excited. The anticipation for Christmas has been full of wonder and excitement, but we confess that we have so often taken the season of celebration and made it a season of selfishness and sentiment. Forgive us for the time when we have loved gifts over your grace. We have loved ourselves and our families more than we have loved you. We need you, Jesus, to be the center of our celebration; be the reason we celebrate.
As we celebrate, Lord Jesus, we long for you to come again as you promised you would. We pray that we would be ready for your coming, and I pray that as we prepare for Christmas, that you would prepare our hearts for the day when you will return. Thank you for coming a lowly baby to associate with us; we now long for your coming as a reigning king to rule over us in perfect justice and peace. Come, Lord Jesus. O Come, O Come Immanuel.
We pray that you would give us grace this Christmas as we gather with family. We pray for those we hold dear who do not know you. We ask that you would make yourself and your gift of grace known to them this Christmas. Give us grace as we grieve those who are not with us this Christmas. Give us wisdom as we finish another year and begin a new one. Give us peace as we face turmoil and confusion in the world around.
Lord Jesus, give us your joy as celebrate you this Christmas. AMEN.
Today's post is an excerpt from a Christmas sermon that Peter preached a couple of years ago. It's our hope that this 10 minute audio clip will encourage your soul and direct your focus to our Savior as we celebrate Christmas this coming week!
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:9-12
I love Christmas lights. It amazes me to ride around and see the houses that decorated from the roof to the yard with enough lights to make my eyes hurt. On the one hand, I find it an incredibly silly tradition that we have of filling our yards with lights, but on the other hand, I find that Christmas lights shining in the darkness of the night remind me of Christ—the true light who came into the darkness of the world.
John makes this great analogy as he opens his gospel; Jesus Christ came to earth as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). This world of sin and brokenness he compares with darkness. Jesus came at Christmas as the light, but the darkness does not like to have its brokenness and sin revealed, and so the darkness rejected the light. But those within the darkness who see the light of Jesus and receive him by believing in his name, we are told that we are given the right to become children of God. The Jesus reveals the darkness of sin, but he came into the darkness to take its sin upon himself at the cross. The cross is the moment when the light and darkness collide. The resurrection is the moment when the light of Jesus shines in victory over the darkness.
This Christmas, we still live in a world full of darkness, but we celebrate that the light has come. We celebrate the reason he came—to free us from the darkness. Jesus’ coming at Christmas is the reality that we are no longer children of darkness but children of the light. So as you see the Christmas light shining in the darkness, I pray that you will be reminded that the Light has come into the world.
Jesus is the light of the world.
And that’s a reason to celebrate.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
The well-known tune of Handel’s Messiah has made Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus a familiar passage of Scripture. When I read these words from Isaiah 9, I sense the wonder and majesty of Christ’s coming as Handel portrays through his musical masterpiece. The lyrics climax at the list of names which Isaiah ascribes to the coming Christ. These names are more than titles for Jesus, they are descriptions of his identity, his character, and his actions. The child that was given to us at Christmas bears a name that demands our attention, our worship... and our celebration.
Wonderful Counselor – Jesus comes to us as supernatural wisdom. This first title for Christ is a designation of divine authority. He comes to us in all the knowledge and understanding of the Godhead, and he visits us in our world of brokenness and futility. He listens to us in our grief. He hears us in our pain. And he does not come to us merely teach us wisdom... he comes to us to be our wisdom. Jesus shall be called Wonderful Counselor.
Mighty God – Jesus comes to us as the strength of God. This second name ascribed to the coming Messiah is what sets apart Jesus from any other child. He is God. This simple yet complex title changes everything, for God in all of his strength and might has come to us as man. He is not just a man who is strong in the Lord... He is a man who is strong because heis the Lord. Jesus shall be called Mighty God.
Everlasting Father – Jesus comes to us as a Son and a Father. The mystery and majesty of the Trinity is seen in this third description of Jesus, for the Son of God is one with God the Father. The implications of this are not just mind-boggling, but they are personal and powerful. Jesus comes to us as a child so that we can come to the Everlasting Father and be welcomed into his family as a child of God. In Him, we find that God is not some divine being distant from us, but he the eternal God who came near to be our Father. Jesus shall be called Everlasting Father.
Prince of Peace – Jesus comes to us as the only perfect ruler. The name of Prince, not only indicates Christ’s authority, but it also points us to his coming reign as King. Jesus did not come at Christmas to fully establish his kingdom on earth, but he came to proclaim his authority, his power, his peace, and his coming kingdom. He came to a world of injustice and turmoil, and he came to bring us the peace of God. And though we still await his coming to establish his perfect peace on earth, we celebrate his coming at Christmas because he himself is our peace. Jesus shall be called Prince of Peace.
This Christmas, I pray that we will find great comfort, encouragement, and hope in the one whose name is above every name for “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
It’s more than a name... it’s a reason to celebrate.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Expectations can get us into trouble. Christmas comes with all kinds of expectations. From the expectations of family traditions to the expectation of receiving that gift you’ve been asking for, we come to Christmas with anticipation, but there are times when our expectations lead to disappointment.
Israel—God’s chosen people—had some expectations about the Messiah whom God had promised through the prophets that he would send. Israel expected a political leader, a king who would conquer the surrounding nations and establish his kingdom by power and force. After all, God had promised through the prophet Isaiah, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore...” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Israel’s expectation was that the coming Messiah would come to overthrow the Roman government and establish the reign of God on earth.
Needless to say that Jesus being born in an animal stable to the family of a simple carpenter was not what many of the people of Israel expected. In fact, as Jesus began his ministry on earth by proclaiming the kingdom of God, you can imagine the disappointment that much of Israel felt when this man who claimed to be the promised Messiah looked less like a conquering king and more like a homeless preacher. So as we read the gospel accounts, we find that Jesus was rejected by many of his own people because he was not what they expected.
God chose to do things that way. He chose to use the weak and foolish things of this world to shame the strong and to humble the wise. God didn’t come as a conquering king but as a suffering servant. God chose the humiliation of the cross because he wanted to use what the world deems as foolish—that God would suffer and die—so that the salvation that comes through Jesus would be all about him and not about us. God chose to come not as we would have expected because he wanted to teach us that he is bigger, stronger, and smarter than we could ever imagine or expect.
So as the anticipation continues to build for Christmas, with all the expectations and disappointments that come along with it, I pray that you be reminded that God’s plan is bigger, stronger, and smarter than the expectations we have of him. Perhaps there will be times this Christmas when God will disappoint you, whether it's unanswered prayer or circumstances you can’t control... I pray that in these times we will turn to the one who came as a baby in a manger, and I pray that we will be reminded that even when things were not what we expected God came to us and is here with us... and his perfect plan is bigger than ours.
So even when our expectations are met with disappointment...
We have reason to celebrate.
“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Many Christmas pageants and nativity stories have begun at the same place where Luke begins: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered...” Hearing this story as a child, it seemed like an incidental detail that Caesar was having a census. I assumed that this backdrop of the Christmas story was simply the setting that comes before the show, an unimportant detail similar to me telling you that I am writing this while I sit in a coffee shop. But the more I read and reflect upon the Christmas story, I see God in the details of Caesar’s census.
This setting is what brings us to Bethlehem at Christmas. The prophet Micah foretold of Jesus’ birth being in Bethlehem... “But you, O Bethlehem... shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). However, the significance of Jesus’ birth place was more than the mere location of this little Judean town; the significance of Bethlehem is who this city is know for... Bethlehem is the hometown of David, the second king of Israel, the one to whom God made a promise that from his offspring would come a ruler whose house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
Joseph, Mary’s fiance, was of the house and lineage of David, meaning that he and Mary had to make the 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to registered in David’s hometown. It doesn’t seem to be the most conventional thing for a woman who is in her last stages of pregnancy to make this 80 mile trip to her fiance’s hometown... all because Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world be registered. However, this trip to Bethlehem was more than a civil responsibility; it was a divine appointment for the birthplace of the promised descendent of David, the one we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Joseph was more than the fiance of Jesus’ mother; he was the man who connects David with Jesus, Nazareth with Bethlehem, a seemingly incidental census with a reason to celebrate. God brings us to the hometown of David, as unconventional as the journey may seem, to bring us a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
So with Christmas less than a week away, I pray that as we read and sing of that little town of Bethlehem that we would be reminded of God’s hand at work in the details. During Advent, we celebrate the reality that God is not distant and uninvolved in our lives, but he came to us... He cares about the details of our lives.
The birthplace of Christ in David’s hometown is not just a detail.
It’s a reason to celebrate.
Coming Lord Jesus,
We thank you for the promise of your coming. We praise you for the words that you spoke through the prophets, promising that you would come to be our Immanuel - "God with us". And we celebrate this Christmas season because you keep your promises. We celebrate with joy because you came to earth, you humbled yourself, you - the Creator of mankind - became a man. Jesus, the perfect son of God, you took on our sin so that we, who are sinful, can take on your righteousness. We celebrate your coming, for your coming is to us our joy, our hope, and our righteousness.
Lord Jesus, prepare our hearts for Christmas. Fill our homes with joy. Fill our churches with celebration. Fill our lives with you. We long with expectation for Christmas morning because it reminds that you, our God, keep your promises.
So we pray as you taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!"
In the name of Jesus who came and is coming again, AMEN!
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Hundreds of years before Jesus’ coming, God made a most unusual promise. He promised that a virgin would give birth. He promised to do something humanly impossible and even laughable. God promised that Jesus’ coming would be a miracle. There has been much debate over the years about this virgin birth... specifically why was it necessary that Jesus was born by a virgin? Is there a reason? Was it an incidental promise? Or was God promising something much bigger than merely the miracle of the virgin birth?
A key into the meaning of this promise comes in the next words of Isaiah, telling us that the child’s name would beImmanuel, meaning “God with Us.” This name for Jesus is theologically packed full of meaning. The identification as Immanuel points us to the bigger miracle of God’s promise through Isaiah... while it is a miracle that a virgin would give birth to child without a human father, it is a bigger miracle that this child would be God with us.
This is where the significance of the virgin birth comes in. If this promised child would himself be God, and God himself is without the depravity of sin, then Joseph could not have been Jesus’ father. We are born into our fallen and sinful condition as the sin of Adam is reckoned to each of us through our father (Romans 5:12). This is not an indication that males are more sinful than females but merely that Scripture points to the male line as the one through whom our sinfulness is inherited. All this to say, Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth was not incidental, but it was an essential promise that Jesus Christ would be Immanuel—God with us— a perfectly sinless Savior. He would be fully human, born of the virgin, and he would be completely sinless, the Son of God.
So the miracle of Christmas is not merely that Mary had a child without a human father; the greater miracle we celebrate is that this child’s Father is God. The virgin birth is a reminder to us Jesus was not just a great man or great teacher; he is our Immanuel who came to us as fully human and fully God so that he could stand in our place at the cross and so that we can stand in his place in the presence of God. This is the miracle of Christmas. This is the hope of Advent.
So I pray that the virgin Mary would not just be another sentimental figure in the nativity scene but that she would be a reminder to us that Jesus Christ is our Immanuel. I pray that we will celebrate this Christmas the promise of Isaiah that has been fulfilled in Christ.
Immanuel has come.
And that’s a reason to celebrate.
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1: 46-49
A popular song in the Christmas season is the modern carol, “Mary, Did You Know?” The beautiful song captures the wonder and imagination of Christmas as it draws us into Mary’s perspective of Jesus’ birth. The basic question driving the song is… Did Mary realize the life-changing greatness of the baby she gave birth to? While I appreciate the sentiment and wonder of this song, I think Scripture gives us some indication that Mary DID know to some extent the magnitude of child that she delivered.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary to announce that she would give birth to Jesus, I can’t imagine what Mary’s thoughts must have been. How do you receive the news that God is going to do something that is humanly impossible, and you are going to the carrier of God’s Son? I can’t imagine what it must have been like, but we are told that her response was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary understood what God was going to do, and she offered herself as a servant of the Lord.
We are given a glimpse into Mary’s understanding of this whole event as she breaks out into a song, which has come to be known as the Magnificat. She understood that the coming of Jesus was a reason to celebrate. She understood that there was a reason to rejoice because her God is her Savior. She understood that God looked upon her, sees her humble estate, and that he was going to great things… things that would change the course of history. Mary understood that her bearing this child would be an event that every generation would look back upon and call her blessed… Because through her would come the child who would be a blessing to all generations.
The picture we are given as we overhear Mary’s song of worship is a woman who understood that Jesus is the one we have waited for. He is the one who would change everything. He is the one who looks upon our humble estate and comes to us at Christmas. Mary knew more than we probably imagine. Did she know how this child would be her Savior? Probably not. Did she know that this child would do something that would cause us to still be celebrating over two thousand years later? I think she did.
So as Christmas eve is only a week away, we join Mary in the anticipation and celebration of the coming of the one who would change the course of human history. May we respond as she did, by worshiping and rejoicing in God our Savior. I pray that your Christmas preparations would be filled with a sense of wonder and awe as we remember the child of Mary who is the Son of God.
For God has looked upon our humble estate.
And that’s a reason to celebrate.
The Frey Life
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"May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word." Psalm 119:74