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READ: Luke 2:9-15, Mark 1:13, Matthew 26:52-53, Luke 22:42-43, Ephesians 3:10, 1 Peter 1:10-12 (click on verses to read)
If there is one set of characters that dominates the drama of Christ’s birth, it is the angels. What would the Christmas story be without Gabriel and friends stunning Zachariah in the Temple or announcing the call to Mary or showing up in Joseph's dreams, or serenading the shepherds? For that matter, what would Christmas be without a rousing chorus of Hark the Herald Angels sing?
But the angels play roles in Jesus' story far beyond the holy family’s humble beginnings. It seems they were always showing up--warning Joseph of impending danger, meeting Jesus in His 40-day wrestling match with Satan or strengthening Him in the garden of Gethsemane. You almost get the sense that the hosts of heaven hung around the Son of God all the time, just waiting for a chance to do something, hoping to be of service to Him in some way.
As it turns out, that is exactly what they were doing. When Peter sliced off a temple guard’s ear, Jesus informed them that he could call twelve legions – one for each of them – which meant that over ten thousand angels hovered at His beck and call. Peter later wrote to the new believers that God’s plan to save the world was something angels yearned to understand. The word he used implied an insatiable curiosity and depicted them stooping down and examining all the parts, hoping somehow to finally grasp the big picture. Angels, it seems, were privy only to the snippets of the story that God chose to bring them into.
Can you imagine Gabriel heading back to heaven with the details he’d discovered about the Almighty God planning to enter a woman’s womb? Can you hear that heavenly chorus jabbering all at once, trying to figure out the meaning of the song they'd been given to sing over a band of peasants on a hillside? How would the morning stars who once sang for joy over creation have felt at that troubling scene, where the One who spoke the world into existence now lay in a heap with blood oozing from His pores? Could the story of their Master sacrificing His life to save those who had rejected His love ever make sense to the angels who existed to do Christ’s bidding?
At first glance, the answer would seem to be no, that the angels will never have the blessing of understanding redemption’s story. After all, the Gospel is a mystery that even those of us who are made in God’s image must grapple with, gaining understanding only when He opens the eyes of our hearts by grace. But Paul wrote of a profound reality, one that boggles the mind, which is that those who’ve been purchased with the blood of Christ actually have the privilege of making this mystery known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. How in the world is that supposed to happen?
Paul doesn’t go on to explain, but it seems to me that it must be through the way our lives are transformed through the Spirit's working within us. Isn’t it true that the Gospel story is being retold in our stories as we live redemptively and the Light of Christ shines through us? This is amazing, when you think about it. With each work God does in your heart and mine to make us more like Him, heavenly hosts are stooping down to eagerly watch, insatiably curious to see why He sent His Son to earth on that first Christmas 2000 years ago.
So as we rejoice in our salvation this Christmas, let us be in awe that we are uniquely privileged to grasp the beauty of His plan, formed before the foundation of the world. And as we go about our holiday busyness, let us remember that we are being looked upon with wonder, that our lives are on display before myriads of angels who long to understand the glorious mystery of the Gospel. As they watch you and me this day, may their wish indeed be granted.
Consider that your life is the story of redemption, that the transforming power of Christ within you is one of the ways God makes His manifold wisdom known to the angels. Ponder this reality for a few minutes. Reflect on the truth that as a participant in Jesus' story, you have privileges that the angels who live in God’s very presence yearn to get a glimpse of. What might these be?
The glory of God refers to all that He is – His character, attributes and ways. What would you want your life to say to the angels about God’s glory, which perhaps they don’t know on their own? (Remember that they have no personal experience of salvation). Make a list of these things and give God thanks, worshipping Him for the wonder of being human, and being His children.
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Look around for angel decorations – on the tree, on wreaths, in stores etc. Each time you see one; ponder the amazing truth that through you, God is revealing the beauty and wonder of His redemptive story to the angels who fill the heavenly realm.
READ: Luke 2:8-20 (click on verses to read)
Footloose and fancy free. That's what comes to my mind when I think about those shepherds in the Christmas story, I suppose because of the way they dropped everything and went the Bethlehem to see the new born king. That term has a storied past, but most agree that it refers to someone who has no obligations to anyone, no love or family interests to consider as they choose their path day in and day out.
But footloose and fancy free doesn't really describe those shepherds. After all, they were poor peasants, trying to make a living in one of the most difficult occupations of that time. Day by day they wandered the hillsides outside of Bethlehem, moving their small flock around, making sure they got their fill of healthy foliage. At night they drew together – perhaps for camaraderie or comfort or for the safety found in numbers. Sleeping under the stars, they had to protect their lambs from predators like wolves or other savage beasts, making sure they didn’t wander off. The livelihood of a shepherd’s family, which may have included their parents or widowed sisters, rested on his shoulders. Even if he was a free spirit at heart or footloose in his yearnings, a shepherd didn’t have the luxury of doing whatever suited his fancy at any given time.
That’s what makes their reaction so intriguing. There they were, resting after a long day, perhaps sharing some bread and swapping stories, having no idea that they were about to be brought into the central drama of history. Out of nowhere, some strange and ethereal light splattered the night sky and an angel materialized at their feet, telling them of a Savior born in a stable. If that wasn’t enough to make them want to run for their lives, the deafening sound of an angel choir singing something like the Hallelujah Chorus came crashing in on every side. What in the world were they to think?
But that’s just it – they didn’t think. They didn’t stop to talk about what they had seen, or to plan a course of action. They didn’t debate what to do with their sheep, or how they’d convince anyone of what they had seen, or where they would go once they got to Bethlehem, a city bulging with a million pilgrims. Someone said, “Let’s go”, and they all took off as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
Those shepherds were making space for God, something that, ironically, I find harder and harder to do during this season. Reading their story makes me want to change all that. Though I’ve never witnessed the glory of the Lord filling the sky above me, or had an angel set my heart pounding, or heard a heavenly host singing arias to the Most High God, I know that God can break into the ordinariness of my days with thundering grace, leaving me with the same decision they faced. Will I drop what I am doing and run to see what and where and when and in whom and how He wants to show me His glory? Will I make space for him?
Footloose and fancy free. Will you join me during these days of Christmas by offering Christ a heart that will drop everything to invite Him in? In the shopping, caroling, wrapping, eating, gathering, cooking and partying, will you determine to be a footloose follower of Jesus, if only for a minute or an hour or even a day? Who knows what glories might be ours for the taking if we do?
Think of times when you have made space for God. What did He show you? How did He meet you? Spend a few minutes reminiscing with a grateful heart. Now, what would it look like for you to drop everything and make space for God today? This week? Journal your thoughts with the Lord on this.
Worship the Lord as you imagine what it would have been like to hear the choir of angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Offer your own song of praise, personalizing the Psalm below:
Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4)
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Ask God to enable you to do something completely out of the ordinary today. Listen for His voice throughout the day and when you hear that gentle whisper, drop everything as best you can, and go do it.
READ: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:3-5, Matthew 13:54-55, Luke 4:22 (click on verses to read)
If there is one character in the Christmas story that seems to get short shrift, it's probably Joseph. This could be because he wasn’t Jesus’ biological father or because Scripture doesn't say much about him after Christ's birth. Whatever the reason, people don’t talk about Joseph much, even today.
But when you think about it, being the step-dad of the Messiah had to have turned that carpenter’s life upside down in ways we probably fail to fully appreciate. It would be hard, for example, to measure the price Joseph paid in loss of reputation and privacy and respect, when he married the young pregnant woman instead of finding a nice way to get her out of his life.
Or consider the inner turmoil that must have plagued Joseph as he faithfully raised the boy – wrestled with him and taught him and fed him and disciplined him and tucked him in at night – knowing all along that it wasn’t really his son at all. Can you imagine how Joseph’s heart must have been pierced after searching frantically all over the temple for Jesus during their annual visit, only to have the twelve year old ask, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Though we can surmise about these things, the reality is that Scripture gives us little to remember Joseph by. After the temple visit, he fades from view and we have no record of how or when he died. In all of the Gospel narratives, there is nothing written about what he felt or the things he might have said--when the angel woke him, or he took Mary as his own, or when the baby Jesus was born. It almost feels as if Joseph was a strangely silent bystander, with nothing to say at all.
Or was he?
Truth be told, Joseph left us a profound legacy – not in words, but through his acts of quiet obedience. When Gabriel told him to wed his pregnant fiancé, he did so without argument. When an angel warned him to leave Bethlehem, he took Mary and baby Jesus and traveled to a hostile land where they would have no family, no friends and no source of income. When Herod died and God told him to take his family back to Israel, Joseph packed up and went, once again. And when he got there, only to be warned not to settle in Judea--the place that clearly would have made the most sense--he journeyed instead to Galilee to set up housekeeping, ensuring that a prophecy about the Savior being a Nazarene would be fulfilled.
What can we glean from these few scattered verses about the legal guardian of our Lord? Whatever else Joseph might have been, it is clear that he was a man who loved God enough to relinquish his rights to comfort or career or status or security or even social identity. Over and over God asked Joseph to make hard and costly choices, and he did again and again, seemingly without complaint.
So as we approach Christmas, let us look a little more intently at this one whose quiet obedience tells a story all its own. May his life cause us to consider what kind of message our stories send to those who may be watching on any given day. And as we remember this one who stood so humbly at the edges of the Christmas chronicle, may we offer our hearts afresh to the God he served with such abandonment.
Spend some time prayerfully meditating on Joseph’s quiet obedience in light of your own life. Are there acts of qiet obedience that no one knows about in your life? Do you need to hear God whispering to you, "well done, good and faithful servant"? Let God minister to you today. Consider your own desire to follow, even when no one knows or affirms you. Hear God's affirmation of love.
While our tendency is to glorify such awesome obedience, there is a hidden reality that is far more important. Why did Joseph obey? What had he seen of God that made him so willing to sacrifice? Only the Almighty, full of grace and glory, could inspire such incredible submission. Worship Him this morning as you make the following verses your own:
Psalm 104:1-2, 31-34
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
Let the glory of the LORD endure forever;
Let the LORD be glad in His works;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him;
As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD.
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Look for opportunities to respond with quiet obedience to the Lord as you go throughout this day, and rest in the wonder that He is pleased with you, no matter who else sees what you do.
READ: Luke 1:26-35, 46-56, Matthew 12:46-50, Acts 1:12-14
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and pastor of Global Leadership Development at All Peoples Church in San Diego, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.