Monday, December 25, 2006

The 12 Days of Christmas

The 1st Day of Christmas - Christmas Day
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens 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, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-18 ESV)
This first half of the first chapter of John's Gospel is, to me, the real Christmas story. Jesus was the one true God made flesh. The Christmas story isn't just one of a baby born to a virgin in a manger. It is the story of God become man in the form of Jesus Christ. This Jesus is the light of the world from the very beginning. He came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law that was given through Moses. Consider also Philippians 2:5-11 as translated by JB Phillips:
Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus "every knee shall bow", whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, "every tongue shall confess" that Jesus Christ" is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is the true story and reason for Christmas. I pray that you have a Merry Christmas this year. If you have any questions or if you would like more information about Christianity, please see my contact information at the top of my site. God bless you all!

The 2nd Day Before Christmas – Christmas Eve

Today we will mention two items of significance for the number 2.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." (Luke 2:22-24 ESV)
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, his parents took him to Jerusalem for their own purification. According to Levitical law, Mary would have been unclean for 7 days after giving birth and another 33 days after that she will continue with her purifying. After that a woman was to give two offerings. The standard was for the offering of a lamb.
And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean. (Leviticus 12:8 ESV)
This 2nd day before Christmas, consider the family that raised Jesus. They were not a priestly family. And, though they were both of the lineage of David (see 11th Day), they were not royalty. They were a poor, young couple that could not even afford the standard offering of a lamb. They would later flee to Egypt to return to Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Jesus lived a truly humble and uneventful life until we have another mention of the 2nd occurrence of something.

This is the 2nd coming of Elijah who the Jews expected would herald in the coming of the Messiah. This person was Jesus' relative John. His baptism ministry was so significant that Josephus (Ant. 18.5.2) even states that
“some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism...”
It was this John who also baptized Jesus in AD 30 when Jesus was probably about 36. At this point Jesus began his public ministry that we have recorded in the four Gospels.

This Christmas Eve, consider the humble beginnings of the One who would have the greatest impact on the history of mankind!

The 3rd Day Before Christmas

There are possibly too many instances of “3” to discuss. The Trinity may be something too expansive to discuss in this setting, and it's easy to think of the three gifts Jesus received at his birth by the three (maybe) magi. Something else to ponder is that Peter denied Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion. How many times we do that! Related to the crucifixion, we can also consider that Jesus took the place of one of three “robbers” who were to be crucified. Instead, I would like to focus on the “Three Rusty Nails”. In that song about a desperate gambler, Dale Thompson writes the following:
“He found love on three rusty nails
Surrendered all on three rusty nails
Used to sharpen his fist on a smooth wet stone
Scars stitched like a railroad track up and down his arms
Then he saw life cursed upon a tree
Like a lone flower at cave hill cemetery”
This Christmas, let us not forget that Jesus came to give his life on a cross for us. After being hung on the cross with three nails, Jesus died. The earth shook, the Temple veil was ripped from top to bottom, there was an eclipse to darken the earth. But it was not over because just three days later he rose again. Not only do we have to consider Jesus' death this Christmas, but also (possibly more importantly) we have to consider his resurrection!

What have you found on the “three rusty nails?”

The 4th Day Before Christmas
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mar 2:1-12 ESV)
Yesterday I asked you who your “five brothers” are and what you would tell them if you died. Today, consider that you have the opportunity, along with 3 others, to help someone be healed. To what length would you go to in order to accomplish this? We have the story here of four men who had a paralyzed friend. They knew that Jesus could heal the man so they took it upon themselves to get him to Jesus. They even went as far as opening a hole in the roof to lower the man to Jesus. Not only did Jesus heal the man physically, but he also forgave his sins! This is something that he can do for you as well.

On this 4th day before Christmas, consider what you and others can do to bring health to your friends. What can you do to draw them closer to Jesus? How will you make a difference in someone's life today?

The 5th Day Before Christmas
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
In this story, Jesus relates the tale of a rich man who was not a Believer and a poor man who was. The rich man had 5 brothers that he would like to have told about the eternal life that he would not receive. Abraham reminded the rich man that they could have come to faith through the Law and Prophets. But this man insisted that they might believe if someone came back to warn them. Foreshadowing His own resurrection, we read that even one rising from the dead wouldn't be enough to convince those who are already hard to the basic teachings of the Bible.

On this 5th day before Christmas, what would you want to tell your “five brothers” after you die? You can figure out who your 5 are...

The 6th Day Before Christmas
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7 ESV)
Thomas à Kempis may have put this best when he wrote the following in the 15th Century:
"Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If thou remain in my way thou shalt know the truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold on eternal life."
Commenting on the "offensively exclusive" claim here, F.F. Bruce stated that "the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word (incarnate or otherwise), mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach."

Where do you stand on this 6th day before Christmas. The One who came at Christmas to be your way of truth and life has been revealed to you this day. What will you do with John 14:6?

"Here I stand!"

Where do you stand?

The 7th Day Before Christmas
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
Reflecting on Christmas, what was Christ's mission? It wasn't to come in judgment – we have all been condemned already. His mission was to bring forgiveness for our sins. But this forgiveness wasn't just some abstract principle. It was a forgiveness that we should extend to all in our lives as well. As Peter asked Jesus here – “how often should I forgive someone?” The answer wasn't just seven but as John Calvin said “he who shall be prepared to forgive seven times will be willing to be reconciled as far as to the seventieth offense.”

We should forgive others as we have been forgiven. It's the only logical thing we should do. With 7 days left until Christmas, what will you do with the forgiveness offered? Have you forgiven someone who needs forgiveness but who you haven't forgiven for one reason or another?

The 8th Day Before Christmas
Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed." And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35 ESV)
Here we have the story of a man paralyzed. One of the sick that Jesus came to heal through his Apostles. He had been bedridden for 8 years – but may have been paralyzed for a longer period of time. At Christmas time we think about Jesus coming as a baby. But that should not be our focus. Jesus also came as a doctor for those who are sick both physically and spiritually. The wonderful thing about this story is that Aeneas was healed by Peter in the name of Jesus Christ. I'm not into the TV healers. But this story does have some powerful application in our lives. Back in 1977, Petra had a song titled “Holy Ghost Power” that speaks of this:
Holy Ghost power gonna fill you today
Holy Ghost power gonna take you away
Holy Ghost power gonna fill you within
Holy Ghost power gonna save you from sin
Don't give me no jive, you ain't even alive
'Till you get your heart right with God
Better ask Him in and forget your sin
Let Him fill your soul with power
Where are you on this 8th day before Christmas? Are you living in the power of the Holy Spirit? If you're a Christian, are you in need of more filling? I know I am. Or do you still need to receive an initial filling of the Holy Spirit?

The 9th Day Before Christmas
And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well." (Luk 17:12-19 ESV)
I've spoken of the major differences between Samaritans and Jews here in the past. Looking back at that post, the differences were stark! Of the 10 lepers Jesus healed, the only one to return thanks was not only a foreigner, but one who many would say (in that time) was of a different faith altogether!

So, what does this have to do with Christmas? Even though Jesus may extend some common grace and mercy to the ten lepers, only one of them was credited with having the faith to make him well. Of course Jesus healed the other nine, but the one with faith received not only physical healing but spiritual restoration.

On this 9h day before Christmas, reflect on what you have to be thankful for. Reflect not only on the common grace, but the saving grace that Jesus has extended to you by humbling Himself to be born as a baby at Christmas. Are you one of the nine who would walk away from Jesus when you get what you asked for? Or will you be the grateful one?

The 10th Day Before Christmas
"For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Mat 25:14-30 ESV)
What will you do with what has been given to you? Will you be a faithful steward of the gifts you have been given by God? Or will you just store them away? If the answer is the former, then we see what the blessing will be: “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” The promise is not one of worldly health or wealth – nor is the object of the faithfulness something tangible (in this parable it's money).

What will you do with your business? What will you do in your positions of leadership? What will you do with your family? On this 10th day before Christmas, think about these questions and whether you will be one of the faithful ones (who will walk away with 10 talents) or one who will squander away your opportunities and gifts.

The 11th Day Before Christmas

Eleven centuries before Christ, King David ruled over Israel. David was a prototype and ancestor of Jesus. There were some 92 prophecies from the Psalms that could be interpreted to speak of Jesus. Many of these were seen directly in the life of King David with ultimate fulfillment to come with Jesus. Speaking of the giants of the faith, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews had this to say:
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Heb 11:32-34 ESV)
Even though these things were accomplished by those of faith, Jesus came to accomplish even more.

Matthew and Luke each recorded genealogies of Jesus in chapters 1 and 3, respectively. There are some differences that are easily resolved. Matt Slick does an excellent job here. “There is no discrepancy because one genealogy is for Mary and the other is for Joseph. It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that it was through Mary.” This is not a far-fetched response either. Perhaps John Calvin (16th Century) has given this one of the best treatments in his commentary.

The point is that both point to Jesus as being from the lineage of King David. On this 11th day before Christmas, reflect on the preparation for Jesus going back well over 11 centuries.

The 12th Day Before Christmas

The following lyrics are from the song 12 off of Neal Morse's album "?".
Twelve groups of stars [Rev 12:1]
Surrounding God's heaven
Same as the tribes
The twelve tribes of Israel [Gen 49:28]

Each hold a sign [Num 2:2]
Surrounding God's presence
Blurring the lines [Heb 9:24]
'tween here and his residence

Twelve makes a day
Twelve tones in music
Twelve months a year
Do you think it's an accident?

Christ as the Sun [Heb 1:3]
Pictures the Father
Surrounded by twelve [Mat 23:8]
That he calls his brothers

Twelve precious stones [Ex 39:7]
Upon the Priests Ephod
Twelve were the sons [Gen 35:22]
The twelve sons of Jacob

Twelve oxen held [2 Chr 4:4-5]
In Solomon's temple
Three thousand baths
To cleanse all the Levites

Christ built his church [Eph 2:20]
Upon twelve apostles
And three thousand souls [Acts 2:41]
Were added at Pentecost


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