This devotional appeared first on Susan Cady’s blog, Get Real!
As we seek to prepare our hearts and homes in order to celebrate what’s truly important this Christmas season, let’s take time to stop, look, listen and celebrate Immanuel—God with us. (Download/Print the study guide, including family activities and Preparing Our Home ideas)
We begin our Advent study looking at the truth found in Psalm 86:11:
#1 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;
God’s ways are not our ways and we often miss His presence and joy because either we are not looking or we are looking for things that don’t line up with His truth or His ways. Or rather His ways don’t seem to line up with what we “think” His ways should be. This is what happened in the first Christmas story. God had things planned beyond their wildest comprehension:
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. —Isaiah 64:1-4
Our God is still a God who acts for those who wait for Him.
We are going to look at a bit of the history at the time of Christ’s birth and investigate further some of the details of the Christmas story. This may seem boring and unnecessary, but it is crucial to helping us understand who God is and His ways.
God made a way for us to understand His ways and His truth:
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… 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 1:1-5, 14
Jesus! He is Immanuel —God with us. This title for Christ is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 and fulfilled in Matthew 1:23. There are over 300 prophecies from the Old Testament about the birth, life and death of Christ Jesus and every one of them was fulfilled! Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way… (Matthew 1:18)
WHEN? When is the fullness of time?
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “ Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. —Galatians 4:4-7
There have been 400 years of silence from the last word the Lord spoke to His people through His prophets or angels until the setting of the birth of Christ. What has been happening? Was God still working? Yes! God was at work, preparing for the fullness of time. It is the time of the Roman Empire (Luke 2) and Caesar Augustus is the Emperor of Roman empire —a brand new empire. Here are four historical facts that helped to prepare for the birth of Christ in the exact time and place in history that God has purposed long ago:
- Pax Romana – Roman Peace – conquest not followed by oppression but consideration for local customs and ensured military protection and domestic peace (general not local). It is the first time where cultures/national heritages were allowed to exists but were united under one government. Caesar Augustus was not about continuing to conquer but firm administration over what had been conquered. The Roman Empire lasted more than 500 years, longest lasting empire ever. There was relative peace in the world.
- East and West Come Together – all parts of empire had begun to freely mingle. People could travel all over and gave cosmopolitan character to the empire – all races and languages.
- Roads – connecting empire (could travel by horse 100 miles in a day).
- Language – Greek was the common language even spoken by Romans – permeates Eastern and Western Roman Empire.
We think of our lives in terms of past, present, and future. It isn’t that way with God. He is outside of time. We need to remember this when we wonder about God’s plans and purposes. We cannot understand this about God, because he is so different from us in this respect. But we can accept it and respond by worshiping such a great God and entrusting him with our lives. —Ann Hibbard
WHERE? Where is the setting of the Christmas story?
Micah 5:2 prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. We find it is fulfilled in Luke 2:4-7.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. —Micah 5:2
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, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 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
WHO? Who are the people God has chosen to take part in this glorious event?
Let’s look at the characters in the Christmas Story. Read Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:40. As you read through the accounts of Jesus’ birth, note what you learn about each of the people involved. What do learn about their character and their part in the story? John MacArthur in his book, God in the Manger, notes that the Christmas story contains examples of three basic responses people of every locale and historical era have typically had toward Him: hostility, indifference and worship. Note next to each person their response to the birth of Christ.
- Caesar Augustus – Luke 2:1-2 (an unlikely character in our story but part of God’s plan. Caesar Augustus was the greatest emperor of the most powerful and influential government this world has known. Yet his decree was merely God’s tool.)
- Herod – Matthew 2:1-12,16-18, 2:19-23; Luke 1:5
- Gabriel – Luke 1:11-19, 26-29
- Zechariah – Luke 1:5-25, 67-80
- Elizabeth – Luke 1:39-45, 57-66
- Mary – Luke 1:26-36, 56
- Joseph – Matthew 1:16, 18-25, 2:13-15,19-23
- Shepherds – Luke 2:8-21
- Magi/Wise Men – Matthew 2:1-12
- Simeon – Luke 2:22-38
- Anna – Luke 2:22-38
I hope this big picture overview of the birth of Christ was encouraging and insightful for you. If you’d like to study some of the characters in more depth, check out the devotional study, Do You See What I See?
WHY? Why didn’t the Jewish people recognize Jesus when He came? They were looking for a political Messiah and national restoration of Israel and its glory. They wanted to be saved from Rome but didn’t understand salvation from their own sins.
“These verses are very simple and straightforward, just as Mary and Joseph were simple people. God is not impressed with the great and mighty Caesars of this world. He looks for simple Marys and Josephs who are listening for his voice and ready to do what he says.” —Ann Hibbard
WHAT? What characterizes one who walks in truth? What can learn from those in the Christmas story?
God did not choose the wise or wealthy or those of great social standing. He chose those who were humble and obedient to His Word even in the face of bizarre circumstances. He chose those who were still enough to hear and listen to His instructions. We also see he used the unsuspecting and unwilling. What does this tell you about God’s character, His ways and promises?
Too often we get so busy with our drive-thru, instant gratification lifestyles that we miss the life God has for us. There were those who missed the grand and glorious fulfillment of His promises from years before and those who missed hearing his voice after 400 years of silence.
HOW? How will this affect your Christmas and transform your every day life? Read 2 Peter 3:8-18.
Three times in this passage of Scripture we find the repeated phrase “wait for” (verses 12, 13, 14). Like those over 2000 years ago, we too are waiting.
wait for – prosdokaō – to expect, look for, watch with anticipation.
We are waiting on Christ — for His second coming. What should we be doing? How should we be preparing?
Are you preparing as you wait? Will you be caught off guard and miss it like those that night so long ago in Bethlehem? In the following weeks we will examine our hearts as we seek to prepare not only for the celebration of Christmas this year, but to prepare to be a people ready when Christ comes again! Next week we will examine three aspects of a heart that seeks to know God’s ways and walk in His truth.
Prophecy Jar/Chain – read one Scripture from Old Testament and one from New Testament each night and discuss. Download 44 Prophecies on the Birth of Christ.
Nativity – if you have children at home, consider setting up the Nativity over a period of weeks leading up to Christmas and place characters in setting as it happens. This is a great way to teach our children the story of Christmas. It’s a wonderful activity to go alongside the Prophecy Jar/Chain activity.