What has been the best and most memorable Christmas gift you have received? Was it that first bicycle, that first BB gun, a puppy or kitten? As a Christmas gift, it was probably my bicycle. It allowed me to travel further than ever before. In my childhood it was not unusual to ride anywhere within one square mile of my home, and I lived in a city (Tulsa, OK). I rode my bike almost two miles to school while in junior high and thought nothing of it. We don’t live in that world anymore.
In this world and at my age, I can truly say that the best gift is my family. They have provided me with more joy, tears, hope, happiness, and support than I could ever have imagined. But the greatest gift of all is the gift of salvation and eternal life through my faith in Christ. Jeremiah 29:11 God Himself tells me that He knows the thoughts that He thinks about me and they are thoughts of peace, not evil, to give me a future and a hope. I am not promised a life without sorrow, or difficulty. I am promised a future, a hope and a peace that surpasses the understanding of those who don’t know Him. I am promised a home in paradise that He creates just for me to spend eternity in His presence. Christ requires that I be honest enough to admit to Him that I am a sinful soul and not worthy of salvation. I am required to acknowledge that Christ alone is the Son of God and able to forgive me of my sin. I am required to place my life in His hands and follow His will for my life. He is the gift, the sweetest gift.
The earliest Scripture reference to a Savior is found in Genesis 3:15 when God tells the serpent (Satan) that he will crawl on his belly. God says that the seed, or offspring of Satan, will bruise the heel of the seed of God, but the seed God will bruise the head of the seed of Satan. God stepped out of heaven in the form of an infant, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be born of woman.
Old Testament prophets like Isaiah told of the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 9:6 ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Child is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father Prince of Peace. The prophet Micah told us that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem 700 years before the event. When Herod asked the chief of priests and scribes where this new king was born, they replied “In Bethlehem of Judea”, and quoted the words of Micah.
Christ proclaimed “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That word “believe” means much for than believing a fact. It means placing your trust, faith, and life in the hands of a Savior. The birth of Christ did not automatically save the world. It is a personal relationship based on an individual decision to place our life in the hands of the one who created us. In the book of Revelation Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me.” There is a God sized void in the heart of every human and only Jesus Christ can fill that void. We have to make room for Him. He is the Hope of Christmas.
Every time I read all of the Scriptures concerning the birth of Christ I learn something new. In Luke 1:26-38 Mary has a conversation with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel announces to the teen that she has found favor with God Almighty. God has chosen her to bring the promised Savior into this world. Mary has a few questions. Since she is a virgin, Mary doesn’t understand how it is possible for her to have a child. Gabriel explains that conception will come through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Mary responds with a beautiful answer in verse 38, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be according to your word.” Have you ever volunteered for something only to wonder what the consequences of your decision might be?
When it became obvious that Mary was expecting, many people turned against her, thinking that she had been unfaithful to her fiance, Joseph. Friends of Joseph advised him to walk away from the relationship but another angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained the situation to him. I was struck by the fact that no one traveled with them from Nazareth to Bethlehem since Mary was ready to deliver her child at any moment. These two young people were alone.
The second chapter of Luke tells of the birth of Christ. When angels appeared to shepherds in nearby fields, they ran to see the promised Savior. After their visit they told everyone they knew what had taken place but Scripture tells us that Mary kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart. Mary took time to reflect on what had happened and probably wondered what the future would hold for her and her husband. God had entrusted them with His only Son…let that sink in.
As Christ matured and began His ministry I am sure some people asked, “Mary, did you know?” What about Joseph? After all, it wasn’t his child.
Two events in our town ring in the Christmas season, the lighting of the square and the Christmas Parade. In 2008 it was a cold windy day so Nana and two of the grand daughters bundled up and headed downtown. Their little brother was going to be an elf on one of the floats and nobody wants to miss that.
I have always loved photography. I took my first photos in college in 1965 of a local sports car race. I bought my first serious 35mm film camera while in Vietnam in 1967. I purchased my first digital camera in the late 90’s when the LCD screen was barely larger than a postage stamp and a 3.2 megapixle camera was state of the art. One thing that this hobby has allowed me to do is capture family memories. This image was captured by our daugher of my wife and me with the grand kids. That little fellow in Nana’s arms was 4 months old. He is now 6′-4″. The youngest grand daughter is in my arms and is now a junior in college. The little blonde is in grad school and the oldest is married and teaching kindergarten! These images allow us to remember just how much joy God has brought our way over the years and just how blessed we are. Thank you Lord for family.
As I said in an earlier post Christmas is all about family, friends, and faith. It has always been a special time when the whole family could get together. Now our grand kids have grown into young adults and scheduling is sometimes an issue. I know it will get more difficult as time passes, so it is important to cherish the times we are together and the memories we can make.
The Christmas of 2005 was special because it snowed about 6″ on Christmas Eve. We were at my wife’s parents house so I got up early Christmas morning, walked out the back door and all the way around the house to get this photograph before any footprints appeared or snowmen were built. It is a family favorite image.
We have lived in three homes during our thirty-five years in Northwest Arkansas and I have decorated everyone with lights for the holidays. I may get them installed the first week of November but, like this marathon, the lights don’t come on until Thanksgiving.
A special memory from 2001 is that our youngest grand daughter played the part of Jesus in the Church Christmas program. Lexi was only a month old when this photo was take and her parents, our daughter and son-in-law were Mary and Joseph. It was a family affair.
We really have no concept of the struggles that Mary and Joseph endured leading up to the birth of Christ. An angel of the Lord named Gabriel appeared to this teen aged girl and told her that she had been chosen by God Almighty to bring the Messiah into this world. Mary didn’t understand how she could give birth to a child when she was still a virgin. Gabriel reminded the teen that with God, nothing is impossible to which Mary replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary’s obedience to the Lord caused her much hardship. She was seen by some as a harlot. Her betrothed, Joseph, was advised to walk away from the bride in waiting but an angel of the Lord appeared to him and revealed to the young groom to be that Mary was carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The nation of Israel had been pleading for the Messiah to come for centuries. He was born in Bethlehem, just like the prophets said. In His own words, He has come to save this world, not to condemn it. But Christ came to save us individually. He enters the heart when we open the door. Open the door and say, “Come Oh Come Emmanuel.”