Behold Immanuel

Behold Immanuel

This advent season I have heard a lot about two terms; Behold and Immanuel. The word “Behold” is used 1298 times in the whole Bible. It means to look intensely not just a glance but to gaze upon, regard, pay attention to something special.

 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [8]   Isaiah 7:14

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

Immanuel means God with us. It is a title (among others given) and not another name for Jesus.  Immanuel is spelled with an I in Hebrew (old testament) and an E in Greek (new testament). In Hebrew the title expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God became flesh and made His dwelling with man. (John 1:14)

Ward Cushman, in an article on To Every Nation, gives four reasons why Jesus’ title Immanuel is important to us.

  • Immanuel means the Father showed Himself to us.
  • Immanuel means Jesus identified Himself with us
  • Immanuel means Jesus gave Himself for us.
  • Immanuel means the Father, Son and Spirit have stayed with us. 

He promises to be with us Matthew 18:20. One way that is fulfilled is by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives John 14:16-18. This means we can rely upon Him. Immanuel is a practical truth that can change your life.   The shepherds were given the glorious message of good news and told to go, see, examine, and investigate for themselves.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-11

Behold -have you examined this good news for yourself? Prophecy was and will be fulfilled because God keeps all of His promises.  The Messiah, our Savior was born as a baby in very humble circumstances and not in a palace so all people could draw near.  And because He was confined to time and space Jesus understands all of our problems. Remember this Christmas that God loves us so much He gave His only Son to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The question remains, is there room in your busy life for him? He promises internal and eternal peace and joy despite our current difficulties. We don’t have to be afraid of the future because Immanuel has come.

***Come and behold Him, born the King of angels . Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. ***

The Message of the Angels

The Message of the Angels

Angels play a big part in the Christmas narrative. They appeared first to Zechariah, then Mary, Joseph and lastly a group of shepherds.  But the initial reactions to these supernatural beings was not joy but; dismay, being gripped with fear, perplexed and terribly frightened. I would have been too. Angels in Scripture are formidable and shine brilliantly they are not fluffy little child like creatures. The message for each person was individual but they all heard the comforting words: “do not be afraid, we have good news”.     

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”     Luke 2:8-12 (ESV)

 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”   Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

Even though the birth of Messiah had been prophesied long before by Isaiah, Micah and other prophets it seems very few were actually looking for him like the wisemen and not everyone was happy. Zechariah was a priest and he had trouble believing the angels’ message. King Herod was afraid of competition for his illegal position on the throne. People respond the same way today to God’s message.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (which means God with us)    Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)       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 (ESV)

Whatever our journey has been or the circumstances we find ourselves in today, God doesn’t want us to be afraid but instead to come to Him.  “A child was given” – He came as a baby so people would approach him. Jesus grew into a man and experienced everything that we do so he really understands our feelings and problems. The good news is for everyone.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.         John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Jewish word Shalom is more than just simply peace; it is a complete peace.  It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being, and harmony. The peace Jesus offers is not like what the world offers. He is Immanuel. God is with us, watching over us and walks beside us. The angels’ message of good news is for everyone. Can you hear them?

From Casting Crowns- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men  *** Chorus

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men  ****

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Christmas Catastrophe

As we look forward to celebrating Christmas and saying goodbye to 2020 it is okay to acknowledge that 2020 has been a disaster in many ways – the media has bombarded us with earthquakes, fire, floods, pandemic and political unrest. But remember the narrative of our Saviors’ birth happened under Roman occupation, forced to travel miles for a census and not being able to find a proper Inn, Mary gave birth in a stable. That seems pretty awful to me but it was part of God’s plan.

It seems an appropriate time to share one of our stories. It was early Christmas morning when my husband awoke to the smell of smoke.  The alarms hadn’t gone off yet. Thankfully it was not a fire but our furnace had “puffed back” and oily black soot was infiltrating the house. Paul shut off the heat, opened the bulkhead door and later at a decent hour called our oil company.

The children were up and opening their presents with great joy when “Dennis” arrived tool box in hand. They were wearing their footsie pajamas and had blackened little noses and toes but barely paid attention as the stranger entered the house. They didn’t notice the chill in the air or soot on their toys. I asked them to stop playing and wave good bye as we thanked him profusely and apologized for ruining his Christmas morning. While I was greatly dismayed thinking about the clean up that would come afterwards, the children were focused on their gifts. 

What takes away our attention from God’s gift? There was great joy at Jesus’ birth despite the difficult and humble beginning. If you remember, Joseph and Mary didn’t plan any of their circumstances! Maybe it will be good for us that our celebrations will be “different” this year. Missing family members, downsized celebrations and maybe a quieter day will give us time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:8-14

Christmas Day will come – whether there is a pandemic or your furnace has trouble. Most of our problems are temporary and can be cleaned, fixed or healed. Christmas is the day for remembering that God came down to earth to make His home with mankind and later to lay down His life for us. Knowing Jesus brings peace to our hearts, hope for the future and true joy. Make sure your focus is on His best gift today.

 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Blessed Nativity and The Broken Camel

Blessed Nativity and The Broken Camel

The National LaSalette Shrine in nearby Attleboro (MA) celebrates Christmas by lighting every tree on the property and proclaiming Jesus’ birth in story and song. Thousands come every year to worship and or enjoy the lights and myriad of displays. One of the buildings houses a collection of nativity sets, large and small, from all over the world.  Many of these are quite different from our American scenes.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.   Luke 2:15-16

For many years I collected Precious Moments figurines including the Nativity scene which are made from porcelain. I always told my children that they could look but not touch. Invariably I would find the sheep had wandered away from the stable or baby Jesus had acquired a ball to play with. “Somehow” a camel broke its neck one year. I was quite upset at the time but couldn’t get too angry – it was an accident. We carefully glued the pieces and today I can hardly see the crack. In high school my son added a Spiderman quietly hanging over the manger. And so, this porcelain “no touch” nativity set became precious as our family enjoyed the sweet figurines and cherished the story of our Saviors birth every year.

The whole point of having a Creche and all the pieces is to recreate and retell the story found in Luke 2 and Matthew 2. The real birth of Jesus was far from a perfect setting just like the broken camel. Forced to travel for a Roman census, no room with family or at an Inn , Mary gave birth in a barn. The hard reality is that Jesus was born during Roman occupation where Jews were barely tolerated and King Herod of the Jews wanted to kill him. Dirty shepherds were the first to visit the newborn. This is not a comfy cozy narrative like we envision today. God came into a broken world as a baby so we would approach Him without fear. He knows that life can be hard and promises to be with us and give us peace.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 His government and its peace will never end. Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

I set my figurines up after Thanksgiving thru New Years to remind us that the season is not about Santa bringing us gifts but That Jesus came to offer us the best gift of all. The love of God goes beyond barriers to offer us undeserved forgiveness for sin and peace that passes all understanding. All we need to do is come to Him in faith.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. Romans 10:9-10

The Innkeeper and the Rest of the Story

Every Christmas pageant that I have seen includes an Innkeeper that gruffly says; “Sorryno room but there is no room in the Inn. Go away,” and he slams the door.  Poor little Billy’s heart wasn’t in it. After perfectly saying his lines he whispered, “you can stay in my room.”    I hate to burst your bubble but the Bible doesn’t mention an Innkeeper and there were no Hilton hotels in first century Palestine.

4 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, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.            Luke 2:4-7 (ESV)  or because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:7 (NLT)

Mary and Joseph were inconveniently ordered to go to Bethlehem in Judea – his ancestral home for a census.  It would be customary to find a relative to lodge with but we can safely assume that other family members beat them there.  The Greek word used here for “Inn” is “kataluma” meaning guest room.  This is the same word used for “the Upper Room” Jesus shared His last meal in.  The word used for “Inn” in the story of the Good Samaritan was “pandocheion” where a fee was paid.

The stable we like to envision was actually in a cave or more likely an extra room below the family home where animals were brought for warmth and safety at night. The manger would have been a stone chiseled feeding trough not a wooden crib.  However the truth is it would still have been warm and far more private to give birth there than in the hallway or middle of a room surrounded by people.  We don’t know if a mid-wife was on hand to help or any other small details.

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So what do we know?   The Shepherds were told to find the baby in a manger as a sign and they did.  God shifted from the Divine to human when He sent His Son to be born to humble, outcast parents. A small baby is not intimidating but instead people draw near.  Jesus was not born in a palace but in the middle of a busy, crowded, small town to ordinary people.  Joseph and Mary were ordinary people chosen for a very unique and sacred task; to care for, teach and love the Son of God. We know that they trusted God and faithfully obeyed His Word.

Innkeeper or not, the same questions remain.  Will you make room in your heart and home for Jesus ? He doesn’t care about the busy, messy, crowded life you live. He wants to have a relationship with ordinary, everyday people, just like you. The Christmas season calls us to draw near, make room and worship Him.

 

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne –  a hymn

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,

When Thou came-est to earth for me,

But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room

For Thy holy nativity:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee

 

 

 

My A,B,C’s to a Merrier Christmas

My A,B,C’s to a Merrier Christmas

Angels –  The first messengers of Jesus’ birth.  They heralded the good news for all mankind – and they sang loud and clear.

Baking –  I enjoy making, sharing  and eating Christmas cookies. It’s fun receiving them too!

Cleaning – is not optional but you can focus on the main living areas if you don’t have company coming. Nobody is going to look in your closets or under the bed  (except the kids).

Deck the HallsThe 3 main areas you should decorate if you don’t have time or the money are the tree, the Door and the Mantle or table. (however I tend to deck the whole downstairs)

Enjoy – What is the point if you run yourself ragged and don’t enjoy the celebration?  Savor the memories!  Remember Emmanuel means “God with us.”

Food & Fa-la-la  Every holiday in America seems to include food. Make the favorites and forget the experiments. If you have a big gang coming – use paper and forget the china!!!

GiftsSanta promises a gift if you are good, NOT that you will get everything you ever dreamed of.  Being thoughtful and creative is best. Shorten your lists if need be or have a “Yankee Swap”.

Humor – Try not to be so uptight. Laugh at yourself and the foibles around you. It is really OK – no one will remember if the cake fell or your furnace died.  (I know because the oil man had to fix ours one Christmas and the kids paid no attention to that nice man!)

Invitation- you may get many invitations during the holidays but you do not have to say yes to them all. Most of us already have extra concerts, programs and family obligations on the calendar. Do not over extend yourself or your family – it only makes everyone grumpy.

JESUS He is THE reason for the season. Read the Christmas story to your family. Set up a manger that the children can touch. Have a birthday cake for Jesus.

KingListen to the Hallelujah chorus –“King of kings and Lord of lords!”  It will lift your spirits!

Lights –  There are many beautiful light displays to enjoy.  The bright lights make the gloomy short days of December so much better and remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World.

Music – Listen to music in your home and car. Sing along! Sing with your children. I can’t imagine Christmas without singing carols.

Noel – means Christmas. It comes from an old Latin word meaning “to be born.”

Open – your hearts to the One who loves you most. Open your home and open your arms for hugging.

Peace – Shalom means wholeness, wellness and inner peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Quiet Time – Play games, do puzzles, have some old fashioned fun!

Rest  God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Treat yourself to cat naps whenever possible. When we get over tired we lose our cheer and sanity.

Shepherds – were outcasts in their day – dirty and ceremonially unclean.  But God came down at Christmas for even the “least of these.”  Sharing with those who are needy is good for our soul and teaches our children to be grateful.

Tree – is more than a decoration to Christians. The tree is a symbol of everlasting life with God. It can also serve as a reminder of the Tree in the Garden of Eden and the tree (cross) Jesus died on.

Unplug shut the news off! Very little on TV is uplifting.  Limit your own time on electronic devices as well as your children. Sometimes the constant input can crank you up instead of calm you down.

Vintage I sometimes get miffed that toys I played with are now called “Vintage”. Sharing your stories and traditions with each other brings happy memories and laughter. Looking at old photos is also a wonderful way to remember those we loved who are not with us anymore.

Wisemen – The wisemen came from afar with costly gifts seeking the  prophesied infant King. Wisemen and women still seek Him.

Xmass is not offensive to me. The X represents the Greek letter chi, the initial letter in the word Xpiotoc (Christos)

Yuletide – the Christmas season  (remember it is only a season!)

Zzzzz it’s time to take that nap I mentioned.  Have a blessed, not stressed, Christmas season everyone!

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