For many people, Christmas 2020 looked different than in years past. Thankfully, no matter how things around us might change, nothing changes the reason for the season: God sent Jesus to walk among us on earth so that He could save us from our sins.
I hope you all have a blessed Christmas season and healthy, hope-filled New Year.
Years ago, one of our former pastors would invite people in the congregation to help write an Advent devotional book that we could use together as a church family. He mapped out the Scripture readings and let us write whatever came to mind. Entries were written by teenagers, retirees, and everyone in between.
I found a couple of these booklets while cleaning out some things in my office. Flipping through and seeing the names of those who shared their thoughts was a sweet walk down memory lane.
She was one of “my girls” in youth group and now she’s married and a mom herself. They moved away so I haven’t seen them in years, but we keep up with each other on Facebook. She was such a beautiful example of what a Christian woman should be; now she’s singing with the angels in heaven.
With Christmas only a few days away, here’s the devotional I wrote for one of those booklets.
Scripture reading: Matthew 23: 1-12 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
This story is one of several when Jesus “called out” church leaders or other supposedly important people on their hypocrisy and lack of understanding. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were highly educated men who didn’t have a clue. I’m sure their cheeks burned and their indignation ran high at Jesus’ words.
The Pharisees not be called instructors? Servants were the greatest of all? They needed to humble themselves in order to be great?
Didn’t Jesus realize who He was talking to? Who He was talking about?
Of course He did. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law then, but to each of us now.
Being humbled isn’t any more fun for us than it was the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, though we’ve all been there. The situation that puts us in our place often takes us by surprise and leaves us scratching our heads until we realize just what happened – and why. Once we think about it, we may realize that we deserved to be humbled, whether we want to admit it or not.
The only man who never deserved to be humbled was Jesus, yet He was willing to be humbled enough for all mankind. He left His throne beside God to become one of us, to humble Himself to the point of becoming fully human and surrounding Himself with the sins of the earth.
The last verse of today’s Scripture passage says that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus was certainly exalted after His time of humility on earth, when He returned to His rightful place in heaven with God. Because of the sacrifice He made – beginning on that quiet night of His birth we’re preparing to celebrate – we too can be exalted with Him someday.
And that’s the best gift of all during Christmas.
Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to live among us so we could learn more about you and know that someday we’ll be with you in heaven. As we celebrate Christmas this year, give us a new appreciation for how great a sacrifice Jesus made to be part of your plan. Amen.
This is the first week of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas when we prepare to celebrate God’s gift to us in Jesus and prepare ourselves to receive that gift. It can also be a good time for us to think about what we can give God in return – not because we’re trying to win God’s approval or buy our way into heaven (we know that’s not how it works), but because we’re hopefully trying to follow God and be a little more like Jesus every day.
Looking at it from that perspective, here are six real-world gifts we can consider giving to God this Christmas.
A = Attention
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV)
Somewhere in the middle of all the shopping, wrapping, cooking and running around, God wants us to still focus our attention on Him. He’s a jealous God and wants our attention – just like we want the attention of our own families and friends.
D = Dollars
The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37: 21 ESV)
God wants us to take some of our money and things, and use them to help other people. There are always opportunities for us to give, but sometimes we tend to think about them the most at Christmas. Whether it’s big or small, it’s still making a difference in someone’s life.
V = Very full calendars
This day belongs to the Lord! Let’s celebrate and be glad today. (Psalm 118:24 CEV)
It can be hard to focus on God or on the reason for the season when our calendars are bursting at the seams. I think this is a challenge for many of us – I know it is for me. We might not be pulled in quite as many directions this year because of COVID, but in a “normal” year we’re dealing with school activities, work parties, family get-togethers, shopping, cooking, decorating … and on and on and on.
It’s got to stop somewhere, or we’ll miss Christmas itself. That’s easier said than done and I must say it’s nice to have things looking like they’ll be a little slower than usual this year.
E = Energy (or lack thereof!)
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:31 ESV)
Advent should be one of the times when we feel closest to God and have the most appreciation for the gift He gave us in Jesus. But some years I find that it can turn out to be one of my most distant times from Him because I’m so busy with – or tired from – other things that my devotional time can get lost in the shuffle. I need to be more intentional than ever about carving out quiet time or I’ll soon be running on empty.
N = New eyes and ears
I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15 HCSB)
Jesus told His disciples that people needed to come to Him as a child, with open minds and hearts. I think the same is true for us during Advent and Christmas – we need to get back in touch with the excitement and the miracle of it all.
It’s like when we went to Disneyworld years ago and our daughter (who was almost 4) saw Cinderella. I would give anything to have a picture of her face when that carriage stopped right in front of us during the parade and Cinderella blew a kiss. Our daughter was so excited – she was completely beside herself because she was convinced that the kiss was for her. It was probably the biggest highlight of her life at that point, just like Christmas should be a highlight of every year for us.
No, I’m not trying to put seeing Cinderella in the same category as Jesus being born, but you get my point. Seeing her so happy made the rest of us happy, too. Getting back to that childlike excitement at Christmas can help us enjoy it in a new way, too.
T = Thanks
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 NIV)
We were taught to thank people for the gifts they gave us, even if the gift was something we already had or didn’t really want. As cheesy as it might sound, Jesus is the best gift we’ve ever been given. There would be no need for Christmas if Jesus hadn’t been born, so the least we can do is thank God for sending Him to us.
But our thanks don’t need to end when we pack away the lights and decorations. These things I’ve highlighted (which spell Advent, by the way – I do love an acrostic) are ways we can give to God all year, not just when the calendar turns to December.
Do I do very well with it myself? Some days yes, many days no. But the beautiful thing is that just like Jesus is God’s gift to us all year long, every day is a new chance for us to give our own gifts to Him.
Let’s be intentional about finding ways to do that during Advent and beyond. I’d love to know how you’ll try to do that.