Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger

Each day we are 24 hours closer to celebrating the birth of Christ. Although things are still a little messy around our house with Christmas preparations, I still need to take time to prepare my heart for the holidays. Once again, I stop to examine the figures of our nativity scene. Today my attention is drawn to the wooden shepherd. According to the scriptures, the shepherds were in a nearby field taking care of their sheep that starry night when Jesus was born. Suddenly, an angel personally delivered to them the birth announcement of the Savior of the world! They immediately decided to go see this baby. What a glorious birthing party they attended when they arrived at the stable in Bethlehem where they found Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus! (See Luke 2:8-20)

The shepherds did not bother to change clothes before they searched for this baby boy. They were dirty sheep tenders who lived in the open fields with their sheep. Currently, however, they were more concerned about finding the infant than they were about their appearance. It was probably natural for them to begin their quest for this little one in a stable since they were shepherds. Well, I guess they did have help from an angel. The messy manger was a location where the shepherds were comfortable.

I notice that when the shepherds went to Bethlehem, they left their sheep in the fields. Did they realize they were going to welcome the Lamb of God to this earth? (see John 1:29) Was this newborn babe worthy of a higher priority than taking care of their flock of sheep? Why would the Lamb of God be in a messy stable?

Although the shepherds had little knowledge about the infant who was introduced to them as the Savior Christ the Lord, I wonder if they felt a prophetic kinship with him. When they saw him, did they comprehend who he would become? Let us fast forward about 30 years when Jesus compares his life to that of a shepherd in John 10. In verses 1-6, Jesus shares about how sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd while they do not respond to the call of a hired hand. In verses 7-10, Jesus describes himself as the gate for sheep and in verses 11-18, he reveals himself as the good shepherd. Wow! When the shepherds visited Jesus, he was a baby in a manger. As a man, he became the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. What a future for the infant born in a manger!

The messy shepherds were comfortable around the Christ child because they found him in a messy manger. Today, Jesus is comfortable with our messy lives because He experienced a messy manger. According to John 1:29, He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, the messiness of our lives. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd who wants to take care of us and guide us so we will not get into more messes. Psalm 23 portrays an excellent example of a shepherd’s job physically and spiritually.

In conclusion, messy shepherds came just as they were, and that is how Jesus wants us to come to Him. I am reminded of the hymn Just As I Am with lyrics by Charlotte Elliott. Please join me in singing or reciting the first two verses of this hymn. It is a good way for us to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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Mary and the Messy Manger

As I survey my surroundings, I am aware of Christmas stuff scattered around our home.  While listening to the news reports, I hear of turmoil throughout the world.  Wherever I turn, there is another mess.  I pick up the hand-carved figure of Mary in our nativity scene and realize there were some messy situations in her life as well.  

I wonder what thoughts went through Mary’s mind that night when Christ was born. Most likely, she expected the birth of her first child to take place in a warm, cozy room. She may have imagined herself being surrounded by family and relatives in her hometown of Nazareth. I am quite sure she did not expect her newborn’s cradle to be a feeding trough shared with a cow! After all, who would choose a messy manger in the little town of Bethlehem for the birth of a baby? The answer – God. As Heavenly Father, God chose a messy manger for the birth of His Son! Mary’s perception was interrupted by the Lord’s plans and purposes. God did not do things predictably over 2000 years ago, and He still often does not do things as we expect.

Our Heavenly Father has plans and purposes for each of us as His kids. However, His plans for Jesus, His only begotten Son, were special. (see Jeremiah 29:11 and John 3:16) Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, Jesus came to earth not only to live but to die. He died so that we can be born again. (See John 3:3) Jesus relinquished His position beside His Heavenly Father to be born into the world’s messy manger and 33 years later to die for us. Although our lives may look like messy mangers, we are given the opportunity to die to ourselves and be born again. Then we receive the gift of eternal life. The sacred cycle of life and death occurs both physically and spiritually.

While holding the figure of Mary in my hands, I meditate upon the fact that Mary was privileged to hold God in her hands. She was the mom of Jesus. She was the first person to give God in the flesh a hug. Mary experienced a miracle firsthand!

The night of Jesus’ birth, Mary held him in her arms. In a few weeks, Jesus grasped Mary’s finger in response to her holding his little hand. I am reminded of how a person can wrap someone around their little finger. It is possible for a person to gain control over another individual and make that person do whatever one wishes. Although Christ desires to have preeminence in our lives, He allows us to make that choice. (See Colossians 3:18) I must admit that I would rather be held in the arms of Christ than for me to wrap Him around my little finger! Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Although the inanimate figure of Mary does not allow my hands to feel her heartbeat, another image of the closeness of Mary and the infant Jesus comes to my mind. I see Mary Mom holding Jesus close to her heart allowing him to hear her heartbeat while she is feeling the rhythm of his heart. Today Jesus wants us to hold Him close to our hearts so that He can hear our heartbeat and we can feel His. He gives each of us a new heart – a heart that is in love with Him. (See Ezekiel 36:26-27) God is love. Jesus is God. So, Jesus is love. Mary had the privilege of holding love in her arms. Now we have the privilege of holding Jesus, the love of God, in our hearts when we personally invite Him into our lives. (See I John 4:7-17)  Jesus in our hearts can help us handle the messiness of our lives.

My Reader, may you experience the love of Jesus in your heart.  Please join me in either singing or repeating the words of the first verse of the Christmas song Love Came Down at Christmas by Christina Rossetti.

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.

Joseph Knocks and Gets a Messy Manger

 

 

Christmas is coming and I am beginning to decorate our home for this sacred season. One of my favorite focal points is our nativity set of olive wood figurines depicting the scene of Jesus’ birth. I meticulously place Mary and Joseph in the center of our crèche with baby Jesus in a little manger between them. There is a kneeling shepherd along with a few animals. I stand one sheep on a small bale of hay and scatter a few pieces of straw on the stable’s floor. I place the wise men to one side of the barn since they have not yet arrived upon the scene. Hmmm. Is this how Jesus’ birthplace really looked that night so many years ago? I don’t think so. Sharon Garlough Brown, in her book Barefoot, describes the birthing scene as a messy manger. This may be more accurate.

As a potentially more authentic picture, I imagine dirty cattle huddled in a corner stall swishing their tails to keep away flies and insects while their feeding trough now holds a tiny baby rather than grain and hay. This dilapidated barn shelters a donkey and a few sheep while pigeons flutter in the roof rafters. Jesus most likely was born in a messy manger – He was born into a messy world.

From now until Christmas, we are going to look closely at one figure of the Nativity scene each week. Today we begin with Joseph.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary and they had marriage plans. That is until Mary told him that she was going to have a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph did not fully understand all Mary was saying, but he did know he was not the father. What a mess! Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly but then God told him in a dream to go ahead and take her as his wife. (see Matthew 1:18-25) As the time drew closer for the baby to be born, Caesar Augustus decided to take a census that required Joseph to register in Bethlehem. Mary went along. (see Luke 2:1-5) Then things get even messier because Mary went into labor. Joseph had to be wondering where this uniquely conceived baby would soon be born. Surely God would provide a special place for His Son to be born! Well, yes, God did provide a special place, but it was not where Joseph expected.

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph began persistently knocking on the doors of inns and homes seeking a place to stay. No room! Ugh! Because all these doors were slammed shut in his face, Joseph was only able to provide Mary with an unsanitary stable for the birthing place of her baby. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was born in a messy manger.

I wonder if Joseph’s continuous knocking prophetically portrayed how in years to come Jesus would stand at the door of each person’s heart repeatedly knocking and seeking entrance. Jesus lets us know in Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Joseph pounded on many doors that were never opened, or if they were opened, there was no available occupancy because of the crowd of travelers in Bethlehem for the census. Today as Jesus knocks on the door of each of our hearts, are we open to letting Him come in and take up residence within us, or are we allowing other things to crowd out His place in our lives? Listen to the words of the Lord in Proverbs 23:26, “Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways.”

Jesus was born in a messy manger into a chaotic world. When He was born in a messy manger, Jesus revealed that He was not picky about His surroundings. Jesus came as Emmanuel; He came to be God with us. (see Matthew 1:23) Today, Jesus is willing to come into the mess of our lives and cleanse of all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Knock! Knock! Is that Jesus knocking at the door of your heart? He wants to come in and celebrate His birth with you. He doesn’t care if your life is a little discombobulated. It will remind Him of the night over 2000 years ago when His bed was a messy manger. Answer His knock by joining me in singing or repeating the lyrics of Into My Heart found below.

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Preparing Heart and Home for Christmas

christmas-preparingThis is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”
Matthew 3:3

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God….
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 40:3-6

As I look at the calendar, I realize that today is the end of November and tomorrow begins December. This means that I can start to focus upon the Christmas holiday. My goal in preparing our home for this sacred season, is to prepare for it in the way the Lord desires. I want to find spiritual significance in each activity my hands undertake in the coming days.

I have quoted the phrase “Prepare the way for the Lord” spoken by John the Baptist as he urged people to turn from their sins and live for God. He was preparing the way for Jesus and His ministry. John the Baptist chose these words that were first spoken by Isaiah almost 700 years before Christ when Isaiah was foretelling a message of forgiveness, comfort and hope for the Israelites who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Today I choose these words to speak to those around me the message of preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

christmas-treeAs I decorate the tree, I think about the purposes of the wood from trees relating to the life of Jesus. The wood that was used to build the cattle stall that became the manger for baby Jesus came from a tree. The beams of the cross upon which Jesus died originated as a tree. When I look at the Christmas tree in our home, I want to see more than an evergreen tree with lights and decorations. I want to see the manger where Jesus was born as told in Luke 2:7 American Standard Version, “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” I also do not want to be so shortsighted that I forget the words of I Peter 2:24, “’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’”

christmas-bakingAs I assemble my recipes for baking Christmas cookies, I am aware that some cookies are soft while others are harder and crispier. I take time to ask myself how can I help those around me prepare their hearts for Christmas? Ezekiel 11:19-20 says, “And I (God) will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” Only the Lord can do the work within a person that allows one’s heart to be permanently softened and ready to receive Christ into his or her heart. However, I must remember my responsibility of being a positive influence upon the hearts of those around me. Is my witness and way of softening the hearts of the hardhearted? I love to bake all varieties of Christmas cookies with my grandchildren but most of all I want to prepare my family’s hearts to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

christmas-candlesAs I place candles in the windows, I wonder how well I am fulfilling Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I must be careful during this hectic season that I do not become so stressed out that the light of my life flickers with weariness. I desire to focus upon allowing my actions to be good deeds that glorify God.

christmas-giftAs I wrap gifts that we have purchased for our children and grandchildren, I am reminded of the greatest gift of all. Romans 6:23 says, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If Jesus had not been born in the Christmas manger, He would not have been able to give His life for our salvation. I never want to forget that the reason for this season is that Christ was born so that He could die to give us the opportunity to receive the gift of everlasting life. No gift I purchase can compare to the gift God has given.

Preparing the way for the Lord in the way desired by the Lord can be very different from what my mindset can become if I take my eyes off the original meaning of Christmas. My goal is to follow the example of John the Baptist and personally fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy before we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, 2016. I definitely want to prepare in the way the Lord desires!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Decorating Heart and Home for Christmas

This is the first week of December and I am beginning to think about Christmas preparations. Because I want to be prepared spiritually as well as physically for the celebrations on December 25, my desire is to decorate both my heart and our home for the holiday. So, the boxes of Christmas decorations have come up from the basement and the book entitled His Name is Wonderful by Warren W. Wiersbe has come off my bookshelf. Now I am ready to dig into the boxes to find ornaments to put upon our tree and to dig into the Bible to find scriptures to meditate upon within my heart. For my Bible study, I am focusing upon Isaiah 9:6 that lists five descriptive names for Jesus. According to Warren Wiersbe, these names prophesied by Isaiah had two purposes. First, each name revealed who the Messiah was to be as a person. Second, each name described a blessing the Messiah would share with us. Today we claim Jesus as our Messiah and He personifies each of these names. I will refer to more of Wiersbe’s comments throughout this blog.

While decorating our Christmas tree, I carefully handle each ornament and remember where and why we purchased the specific decoration. While decorating my heart for Christmas, I ponder carefully each specific Messianic name recorded in Isaiah 9:6. I want to gain new understanding of each definitive title for Jesus mentioned by Isaiah. I want to envision each specific name recorded by Isaiah as a unique Christmas ornament.

For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

(It is interesting to note that the King James Version and the New King James Version are the only Bible translations that put a comma between Wonderful and Counselor resulting in two descriptive words rather than one. I like this distinction for my personal study.)

 

ornament-1WONDERFUL
His name is Wonderful. This takes care of the dullness of life. (W. Wiersbe)

You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
Psalm 77:14 New American Standard

During this busy season, life is certainly not dull for me but there are other times when life appears to be rather mundane. I can prevent this complacency by focusing upon the fulness of the wonder that is exhibited by Jesus and His life. I stand in awe of the revelation of not only His love, but also His power. Miracles are His wonders that fill the earth and my life.

My Reader, since Jesus is Wonderful, look for the manifestation of His wonderous works in your life this Christmas.

 

ornament-2COUNSELOR
His name is Counselor. This takes care of the decisions of life. (W. Wiersbe)

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Psalm 73:24 NIV

I definitely need the Lord’s counsel and guidance each day of my life, especially before the holidays. Without His help, I may not make the best decisions regarding Christmas preparations or major life decisions. Isaiah would not have described the Lord as a counselor if I did not require a counselor to live my life to the fullest.

My Reader, since Jesus is the Counselor, seek His counsel in a specific way each day of this holiday season.

ornament-3-mfTHE MIGHTY GOD
His name is the Mighty God. This takes care of the demands of life. (W. Wiersbe)

for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
Luke 1:49 NIV

As the Mighty God, not only has He done great things for me but He continues to do great things for me. This gives me the assurance that I will accomplish everything I need to do before Christmas Day. It may not be all I want to do but it will be all I need to do. I must remember the availability of the mightiness and power of God on a daily basis. However, He is concerned about much greater purposes than my Christmas plans.

My Reader, since Jesus is the Mighty God, rely upon His power for your strength during the days of Christmas and every day.

 

ornament-4-mfTHE EVERLASTING FATHER
His name is the Everlasting Father. This takes care of the dimensions of life. (W. Wiersbe)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10 New American Standard

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.
My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
John 19:10 New Living Translation

I like the wording of both of these translations and each one gives me a little different understanding. The thought of an abundant life is very appealing but I also like the description of life being rich and satisfying. “The dimensions of life” was a difficult phrase for me to understand. As I looked for some clarification, I found the word “magnitude.” I came to realize that life has a greater magnitude than the demands of preparing for the holidays. Warren Wiersbe says, “We live in time, but we live for eternity.” During this time of year, I might be tempted to think of abundance in relation to the number of gifts purchased or the amount of money spent. However, the abundance that God provides extends to eternity and has a much richer and deeper meaning. I do not want to get caught up in the materialism and commercialism of this holiday.
Jesus offers a dimension to my life that go beyond the natural realm to the supernatural realm. In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, “Father” meant “originator of” or “author of.” As Father, Jesus is the source of everlasting life because it is by accepting Him as our personal Savior, that we have the assurance of salvation.

My Reader, since Jesus is the Everlasting Father, see the baby in the manger as the source of eternal life as you celebrate Christmas this year.

 

ornament-5-mfTHE PRINCE OF PEACE
His name is the Prince of Peace. This takes care of the disturbances of life. (W. Wiersbe)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 NIV

Peace is a gift from God for the holiday season as well as all seasons of life. All of us have a legitimate concern for peace throughout the nations of the world but this is not the kind of peace offered by the Prince of Peace. God’s peace transcends even my request for sanity during the busyness of holiday preparations. It is a spiritual peace, not simply an emotional peace. I must strive to be at peace no matter what the circumstances are around me. The best way for me to experience this contentment is to fill my mind with scriptures that will allow the Lord to fill me with his presence.

My Reader, do not let stress overcome the peace of the Lord this season.

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JESUS
His name is Jesus. This is the name at which every knee shall bow. (Philippians 2:10)

“You will conceive and give birth to a son,
and you are to call him Jesus.”
Luke 1:31

Isaiah prophesied about him as the Messiah yet to come. He gave names that described him. However, Luke recorded the revelation given to Mary by an angel as to what His name was to be. Jesus – the name above all names.

Today I have taken time to embellish my mind with spiritual reminders of who Jesus is as well as to adorn our Christmas tree with decorative ornaments. The true meaning of the season will be more prevalent for me when I remember who I am honoring this season. I want to celebrate Jesus’ birth by commemorating who He is as a person and what He desires to do for me and all people. He is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!

My Reader, take time to decorate your home for the holiday but also take time to meditate upon God’s Word so that your heart and mind will be filled with the message of Christmas.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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