Examining those unexpected journeys helps us to find ourselves in their journeys and gives us 5 ways to identify with the Christmas story.
For the believer, the Christmas season is always an invitation to revisit the humble manger scene in which the Savior was first born into our lives. One of the great wonders of Christmas is the miracle of our own salvation. What can compare in eternal significance to when we first came on bended knee before our Lord Jesus and humbly offered the gift of our very lives to Him? Pause now and think back to that time in your life, that day when you first experienced the awe of meeting Jesus face to face and found your soul unalterably changed. Recall to mind the beckoning circumstances that drew you to that penitent place of recognizing your need for a Savior and yielding to His Lordship to rescue you from your own sinful nature and self-destructive lifestyle. Do you remember the immense relief and accompanying joy that washed over your soul as you were given a “new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)?
Revisiting the humble beginnings and immediate transformative evidences of our initial encounter with Jesus is a key to what the Bible refers to as “restoring the joy of our salvation.” It is an all too common experience for Christians to forget the wonder and import of our redemptive experience. Life, with its worldly lusts of the flesh, lust of eyes, and pride of life has a way of dulling our spiritual sensibilities and robbing us of our devotion for Jesus. It is worth noting that the early church faced the same temptations and tendencies to a waning zeal for God.
It is always a joy to revisit the Christmas Story. In reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and accompanying Old Testament Messianic prophecies, I never cease to be amazed at the treasure trove of spiritual insight and principles revealed therein. After forty years of ministry and multiple Christmas sermon series, I would estimate I have probably given over 100 messages focused on those Scriptures. One would think whatever could be said, has been said, but every year my heart is stirred afresh with some new perspective on God’s salvation gift to the world of His only begotten Son!
This year I have found myself viewing the nativity through the lens of prayer. (You may have noticed that is a common perspective from which I view many things these days.) What I have discovered underscores once again the imperative of prayer, both in our personal lives and in the unfolding of God’s purposes in the earth. John Wesley, great revivalist of the 18th century, once made a very provocative statement. I have yet to see anyone disprove it. “God does nothing but in answer to prayer!”
Not surprisingly, therefore, we need only look at the beginning of the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter one, to see that prayer was the catalyst that initiated God’s redemptive plan heralding the coming of Jesus.
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:24 (NIV)
You may not have realized it, but Joseph was the very first Christian. Now stop and think about it. Becoming a Christian might best be defined as accepting Jesus as both the Savior and Lord of ones life. And that is exactly what Joseph did when he agreed to take Mary home as his wife.
The angel that appeared to Joseph in the dream informed him of two things. He told him that Mary, his fiancé, had conceived by the Holy Spirit and was pregnant. And he told Joseph that the child within her womb was named “Jesus” the promised savior of the world.
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.” (vs. 20-21)
Joseph’s acquiescence to the angel’s command to take Mary home as his wife was in essence and more importantly an assent to take Jesus home as well.
Accepting Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins is an act of faith. It is rooted in the belief that such forgiveness and the resultant transformation in our lives are really possible. It took tremendous faith on Joseph’s part to accept the fact that this Jesus, whom he had not yet seen, was the Messiah the scriptures had promised would come and the one who would make all things new. When he agreed to take Mary home, he was explicitly taking Jesus home as well and implicitly putting his faith in Jesus as his savior. His acceptance of Jesus as the Christ sets him apart as the first human being ever to do so.
But to me, the even more remarkable aspect of Joseph’s response was his acceptance of Jesus as his Lord. It has been said that most people want salvation and the forgiveness of sins, but few want lordship. To yield ones life to the rule and lordship of another call for the total surrender of ones will.
What are some of your favorite Christmas memories? Stop and think about it. Several come to mind for me and as one might guess, they were mostly when I was a child.
My childhood was an idyllic one growing up in the 1950s in a small town out in Montana. It was an era when little boys were captivated by western movies and cowboy heroes and I was no exception. Like Ralphie in the classic movie A Christmas Story I was infatuated with Red Ryder and longed for the day when I would be old enough to have a carbine action BB rifle. When I turned eight, to my mother’s dismay, my father actually gave me one. Unfortunately my first time out with it I shot someone in the thumb, but that is not a favorite memory so enough said.
When I was five, in the fall of the year, I entered a contest to name Red Ryder’s horse’s pony. I don’t remember what the grand prize was but I put my whole heart and soul into trying to come up with a unique name that I hoped would jump off the page when those judging the contest read it.
One night, as I was getting ready for bed it came to me, just out of the blue – Beldy. I was so excited. I called my mother into my bedroom and told her. My mother said “What?” And I said “Beldy.” “Oh,” she said, “are you sure?” “Yup” I said. And Beldy it was.