No-One Can “Cancel” Christmas

I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of difficulty and pain for many people. It isn’t one that most of us will look back on with fondness, and perhaps it’s one that we are looking forward to seeing the back of.

Many people in the UK were looking forward to having a few days at Christmas with family or loved ones, but as the days have gone on stricter restrictions have been placed on our gatherings. At first, it was that up to three households could meet together for five days over Christmas, running from the 23rd to the 28th. Then there were statements issued that we must have a “merry little Christmas”, with “little” being the main point. Then yesterday large parts of the south east were placed into tighter Tier 4 restrictions, meaning that no-one from those areas is meant to leave their homes to travel and see family in other parts of the country. For those of us who can still move around a bit, family gatherings have been restricted to one day only, Christmas day itself.

The media have taken to saying that the government has “cancelled” Christmas. It may be that for many of us, Christmas will not be what it usually is, and there will be sadness about that. But the government can never take away the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever our circumstances, whether we find ourselves in want and need at this time, or in plenty; whether we are suffering ill health, or are well, the true Light of Christmas will never be extinguished.

Jesus Christ was not born into wealth or privilege. He wasn’t born into plenty, he was born into poverty. The political situation at the time was not good. Rome was occupying Israel; things were pretty bleak. Into this barren landscape the Saviour of the world was born. He didn’t come to a palace, he came to a lowly stable, being laid in a manger by his young teenage mother, Mary.

Jesus’ birth brought joy, though, real and lasting joy. We read in Luke 2 of the angels who visited the shepherds that night. It was probably just a normal night for them, watching over the sheep, and then “an angel of the Lord appeared to them”. They were terrified, yet the angel told them not to fear.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (v10, 11)

This was not an exclusive message that was only for a few chosen people, this was inclusive, for everyone. After the angel had shared this message a great throng of angels filled the sky praising God, saying:

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those 
with whom He is pleased!"

God was pleased to send His Son into our broken and needy world so that people like us might experience the hope and joy of sins forgiven even in the midst of pain and suffering. This present world and all its struggles are not the end of the story. There is so much more!

In John 1, the writer introduces Jesus to us as the true Light.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (v5)

“The true Light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (v9)

This is the true Light of Jesus Christ which the shepherds witnessed that night as they went to see Him for themselves. They were so overjoyed to have found the Light that they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).

So, in these days, as the media tells us that Christmas has been “cancelled”, and we feel the darkness of the pandemic, look to the Lord Himself who loved us so much that He entered our world as a tiny, helpless baby. He brings lasting joy, and gives us a peace that no circumstances can destroy. He is our Light in the darkness which no darkness can extinguish.

With every blessing to you and your families, whatever your circumstances this day. May you know the Light of His presence at this Christmas time and into the future.


The Enormity of God Wrapped Up in a Tiny Baby

"From heaven You came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled;
Not to be served but to serve,
And give Your life that we might live..."

G. Kendrick

This song reminds me of the glory that the Lord Jesus left behind when He came into our world as a tiny, helpless baby. A later verse in the same song speaks of “Hands that flung stars into space” being surrendered to the cruel nails of a cross. For Jesus, His entering into our world was one of complete submission to the Father’s will and involved an enormous step down that we cannot comprehend.

Jesus did not live His human life in the lap of luxury. He wasn’t born into a palace surrounded by pomp and privilege, with the best in health care and provision for all of His needs. I often think about the contrast between Jesus’s lowly start in life and that of the newest additions to the British royal family. Here, the new royal babies usually begin their lives in a plush private hospital wing, no doubt with the best doctors and midwives in attendance. Outside of the hospital, the world’s media assembles ready to capture the first valuable pictures of the newborn infant as he or she leaves the hospital with the well-groomed royal parents.

Not Jesus. There wasn’t even room in a proper inn, so He was born in a damp stable cave, probably with the smell of animal droppings all around. His mother was very young and his earthly father was a lowly carpenter. There wasn’t a midwife in sight and there certainly wasn’t an en-suite shower room attached! Here we have the King of Kings being born into poverty, while our earthly royal babies enjoy all the luxury and notoriety that their position affords.

Try to imagine the great glory that He left behind in order to do this for us. We can’t really grasp it. We read something of it in John 17 where Jesus prays in the garden before His arrest:

“And now, Father, glorify me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” John 17:5

If you have ever held or cared for a tiny new-born infant, you know something of the smallness and vulnerability of that stage of life. Babies are completely dependent on their adult carers for food, warmth and everything pertaining to life. Can you imagine the One who was there in the very beginning submitting to that fragility? He was there with God as the universe was created and was involved in the whole process.

“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 anything made that was made.” John 1:1 – 3

Look up at the stars on a clear night. Think about how far away some of these constellations are, how massive some of the stars are, how huge and mind-blowing the universe is, and then ponder the fact that this Creator chose to enter into our messy world as a tiny, vulnerable baby! Of course, Jesus didn’t stay a baby. He grew and developed and became a Man; ultimately He became our sin offering as He died upon that cross. Praise God that the grave could not contain Him and this unique Person was raised from the dead, and now He offers forgiveness and new life to all who follow Him.

As you enjoy celebrating Christmas with your family and friends on Wednesday, and perhaps unwrap some special gifts, ponder and consider the greatest Gift of all: Jesus Christ, the infant King.

The Quest of the Wise Men

Tradition tells us that there were three wise men, or Magi, who travelled to find the Baby Jesus, but the Bible itself doesn’t specify how many of them there were. All we do know is that there were at least two! The story is told in Matthew 2:1 – 12. We find that these wise men visited King Herod in Jerusalem having followed an unusual star from the East to seek the birth place of this King of the Jews (v2). The word “magi” comes from the same Greek word from which we get “magic” and “magician”. However the title “originally referred to the Median priestly caste in Persia, who were both religious leaders and philosophical teachers” (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p896).

Interestingly Herod himself and the whole city of Jerusalem seemed troubled by the birth of this new King (v3) and appeared unaware of the Biblical prophecy which the wise men did know, despite the Scriptures not having been given to them (v6). It seems that Herod felt threatened by the kingship of this unknown Infant and sought to wipe out the competition. He had been made king by Augustus and Antonius who were at that time the chief rulers of the Roman state, and went by the title of Herod the Great. However, he was now an old man who had been on the throne for 35 years and his lies and cruelty were well-known. Perhaps he simply couldn’t stand the thought of a fresh new rival.

Again we see a common Biblical theme playing out, in that the Jewish nation who had been blessed with so many spiritual blessings didn’t want the Child born King of the Jews, but Gentiles from further afield travelled long distances to seek Him out for themselves. God spoke to them in a language they could understand, namely astronomy. Their people had worshiped the stars for centuries, now the Lord used that to point them to the true King.

Having been sent on their way by Herod under the pretence that he too wanted to join them in worshiping this new King, the wise men continued following the star until it rested above the place where Jesus lay. The Bible tells us that at this, “they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (v10). On entering the house and seeing the young Child with His mother, they “fell down and worshiped Him” (v11).

Surely there is something to be said here to us, in following the light that we do have. We may not know all the answers, but God has revealed just enough to us that we recognise the identity of His Son. If we do know that, what are we waiting for? Why don’t we, along with these wise men, fall down in worship at the feet of this infant King? The wise men didn’t have all the benefits of the Jewish nation, yet they still recognised the Messiah when they saw Him and reacted accordingly.

They gave Jesus their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, offering the best that they had whilst also signifying the kind of life Jesus would have, as both Lord and King and our sacrifice in His death on the cross. Having seen Him for themselves they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod because his intentions were evil, as we see in the rest of the chapter.

At first glance this story seems like a great quest; a long journey from a distant land to find a King in an unknown place. However they were led by God Himself by the means of the star, and brought to the understanding that this Child was indeed the long-prophesied King of the Jews. Sometimes when we think of our own faith journey we get things back to front, and think it was us who started seeking after God off our own backs. We took the initiative, we looked for Him in places that were alien to us, we couldn’t rest until we had found Him for ourselves. If we think about it more carefully, though, surely like the wise men we were led to that new understanding of the person of Jesus and His relevance to our lives. Perhaps it was a sense of incompleteness, or a feeling of need that drove us on in our search. The Bible is very clear that no-one seeks God for themselves; in fact we are all dead in our sin until He breathes life into our lifeless souls.

Praise the Lord that He hasn’t left us to our own devices, that He Himself stepped into human history in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby so that we might be lost no longer but found and saved by His precious blood! Rather like the wise men when they had found the Infant King, let’s bow down and worship while we rejoice at His salvation plan.

Anna Rejoices to See Her Saviour

In the last blog post I wrote about Simeon and his long wait for the Messiah and thought about how we deal with waiting in our own lives. There was also another character in the Biblical narrative who had had to wait a very long time to meet her Redeemer, and her name was Anna.

Following on from the account of Simeon in Luke Ch 2 we read about Anna the prophetess (v36 – 38). She was now a widow of around 84 years who it seemed was a constant presence in the temple, serving the Lord with fasting and prayer. Her name, Anna, means “gracious”. The text says that she had only been married for seven years before she was widowed. Imagine that for a moment. There is no mention here of any children she may have had, so it’s possible she had no family. Rather than seeking another husband she had sought sanctuary in the house of the Lord and found her joy in His service.

In our society, it’s often said that older women are “invisible” and have no prominence. Perhaps if you look at our TV screens you might think the same. God doesn’t have any “invisible” children, though, as the following texts illustrate:

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” Psalm 34:15

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chron 16:9

The Lord rewarded Anna for her many years of service with the physical presence of her Messiah, even though He be a tiny baby. How her heart must have rejoiced when she heard Simeon blessing this child! We’re told in v38 how she gave thanks to the Lord, and not only that, but she talked about Him to all who were looking for salvation in Jerusalem. Even though she was getting on in years, the Lord still used her to spread the Good News, and there is no one that He cannot use as part of His great commission. While Western societies might consider senior citizens to be “past it”, God chooses and uses Anna as one of the first to meet the Lord Jesus Christ and spread the wonderful news of the infant Saviour. There is no such thing as retirement for the Christian! Whatever our limitations we all have something we can offer to the Lord in His service. A lady I know talks of being constantly “recycled” into new roles of service as her life has gone on. Another older lady told me that nothing in her experience had ever been wasted. God had used all of her life experiences to enable her service of Him and to help others along the way.

As Christmas time approaches, we can remember Anna and her joy in the Lord, her deep-water faith and her prayer life, as we join with others to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and point non-believers towards Him.

Mary’s Magnificent Faith

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

These are the words that Mary uttered after being visited by the angel Gabriel and told she was about to conceive and carry the Son of God! It is hard to believe that Mary, thought to be a young girl of around 14, had such faith to trust the Lord’s plans for her life.

Can you imagine what that would have been like? Here she is, with her whole life ahead of her, engaged to Joseph to be married, probably thinking she would go on to have a fairly normal existence, when her whole world was changed by the visit of Gabriel and the message he delivered.

It’s hard to put ourselves into Mary’s shoes and imagine how we would respond. No doubt we would all be shocked by the appearance of a divine being to talk directly to us. Luke tells us that she was “greatly troubled” by the appearance of Gabriel and she was unsure why he was there and what this all meant (v29). Gabriel immediately put her mind at ease telling her not to fear because she had found favour in the Lord’s sight.

The magnitude of the message is hard to take in, and for Mary it must have seemed incomprehensible.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Lk 1:31-33

Those are such huge statements, and we can only guess at how Mary took it all in. Her only question is how it would all happen since she was a virgin, to which the angel responds by telling her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would miraculously conceive this holy baby who was to be the Son of God.

What a special assignment from God Mary was given! Yet Mary’s faith did not waver and she bowed the knee to the Lord’s sovereignty in her life. She knew that she was His to do with as He deemed fit.

Now, none of us have Mary’s particular privilege, but each one of us has a purpose to live lives that are pleasing to God where we are. Perhaps we are the only Christian in our family or workplace, and we are on assignment to live godly lives before these people. Perhaps we are involved in our churches in one way or another, and it’s our role to serve the Lord humbly and our Christian brothers and sisters there. Some of us are largely at home for one reason or another, yet God has given us a ministry of prayer. Do it for the Lord, even if no-one else sees or knows about it.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Col 3:23 – 24

Through Mary’s sacrificial service the Lord Jesus Christ entered the world to be our Saviour and Friend. It must have cost her a great deal, not only in terms of bearing the baby, but in the misunderstandings of those around her. Joseph only kept his commitment to her because an angel also visited him and told him what was happening. Otherwise he knew it looked very bad! (See Mat 1:18–25) Then there was the lowly birth in a cave that was used for animals, and then the flight to Egypt to escape from the madman Herod’s forces, determined to destroy this new born King. Not only all of these things, but then the horror of watching her Son as He died on the cross, bearing the weight of our sins.

Perhaps we struggle to keep going with our Christian lives, but remember the angel’s words to Mary:

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Lk 1:37

Wherever we are, however we feel our lives have turned out, our Christian walk is not impossible. Immanuel Himself is with us!