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Each week in December, my family lights a new candle in our advent wreath—a tradition many people observe throughout the Christmas season. My family always did advent candles when I was a little girl, and I have kept the same tradition with our own children—we follow the same pattern each year. The first week, we light a candle in remembrance of the prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus long before He was born. The following weeks, we remember the Angels in the Christmas story, the Shepherds in the fields, and Jesus’s mother, Mary. The final candle—the one in the center of the wreath is traditionally not lit until Christmas morning—when we celebrate the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem!
If you have children, you may relate to this next part of my story. It rings true to the inevitable reality that no matter how hard we may try to create a perfect family memory—once kids enter the picture, SOMETHING always happens. Someone spills. Someone is irritable. The candlelighter is missing. SOMETHING! I try to roll with it—really, I do. We try to be the flexible parents—the ones that let the little things go, and make the best of it!
Well, this year, we sat down around our coffee table, ready to light the first candle of advent. It was our daughter’s turn (since OF COURSE we have to be sure everyone gets equal candle lighting opportunity to keep the peace!) and I helped her hold down the button on the child-proof candle lighter to light the first candle: The Prophets. She finished lighting the white candlestick, and then…SOMETHING.
May: “Mom, I want to light the Jesus candle”
Me: “No. It’s not Christmas yet.”
May: “But it’s the JESUS CANDLE!”
Me: “You have to wait.”
Then her brother chimes in:
Jeremiah: “But, mom. It’s Jesus. Jesus is ALWAYS WITH US.”
May: “He’s right! Jesus came and is ALWAYS with us!”
Both kids: “MOM! Please?! PLEASE?! It’s the JESUS candle!”
And there went tradition. Right out the window. And our Jesus candle has been steadily burning since our first night of Advent. Even as I am sitting here writing mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, it is flickering away—right in the face of tradition. Because, how can you argue with that? Jesus is always with us.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel (which means ‘God With Us’).” Isaiah 7:14
And so, the Jesus candle is taking on a special new meaning for me this year. Jesus is Emmanuel. He is God With Us. At Christmas, we don’t celebrate and remember that Jesus WAS God With Us—we remember that He IS God With Us! What a sweet reminder that God gave me this year—even if it was only because a little girl wanted to light two candles instead of one—she was right.
Jesus is with us. Because He stepped down from Heaven and humbled Himself enough to be born in a stable. And because He died on a cross and rose again. Because of His great love for us, He came. He came and He is with us still. He IS Emmanuel.
I love traditions—and I am thankful to see God’s gentle hands at work in ours. May we be drawn closer to Him this Christmas as He has drawn near to us. And worship Him with all of our hearts as Emmanuel, God With Us.
I love to think of the shepherds, out in the rocky hill country with their sheep, with absolutely no idea of what they were about to see and hear the night the angels came. I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and see the area surrounding Bethlehem as a teenager, and knowing that angels sang above in that same sky still gives me chills. I think we may all put ourselves in the place of the shepherds—seeing their humble lifestyle and profession. They were certainly not well-known or highly respected in their communities. In fact, we do not even know exactly how many there were or what their names may have been. What we do know is that God, in His mysterious kindness, gave these men the first glorious announcement of His Son’s arrival.
Truly, can’t we all sit in wonder at how God’s goodness and love extends to each of us? These verses in Luke describes the shepherd’s reaction to the angel’s announcement:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” - Luke 2:8-9
I think it is safe to say that these poor shepherds were completely caught off guard and, as verse 9 describes, “filled with fear.” The knowledge and the experience of God’s glory are two very different things. These shepherds may have known full well of God’s holiness and splendor. But on this night, they saw and experienced the majesty of His glory. Notice it tells us not only the angel appeared to them, but the GLORY of the Lord shone around them! The majesty of our Creator is not something we should forget or overlook as we remember the birth of Jesus so many years ago. Our King of Kings, lying in a lowly manger, and the GLORY OF GOD was filling the night sky only miles away.
As God’s glory overwhelmed these men, we read how the angel continues with his wondrous news—telling the shepherds not to fear, but to celebrate!
“And the angel said to them, ‘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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:10-14
The arrival of the long-awaited Savior of the world had finally come, and a multitude of angels appeared from Heaven in our world to rejoice and praise God! Do we find ourselves looking back at this real event in real human history and miss the awesome glory in this moment? I love nativities. We always had several nativities in our house at Christmas when I was a little girl, and I loved rearranging the wise men, the sheep and shepherds—placing each figure in just the right spot to get the perfect angle of the little ceramic baby in his manger. I will tell you that these days I find myself sitting and watching my daughter doing the same thing. And I wonder, Do we realize that it’s really real? There were really shepherds, sheep, hay, a donkey. Only, there was no posing—no staging. It was spontaneous, and full of complete surprise and mystery! If we are going to remember the miracle of angels in the sky, shepherds running through the streets—possibly with sheep flung over shoulders—we MUST not lose the glory of God! I am so thankful for our Christmas traditions, dusty ornaments and tangled lights in plastic tubs that come out every year—it is no exaggeration to say it is the most wonderful time of the year at my house! But I pray that the sacred truths of God’s most precious gift are not lost as we teach our children about this most amazing night!
“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” -Luke 2:15-20
I pray that as we celebrate another Christmas, that we remember the awe and wonder and reality of Jesus coming to earth for US! And I pray that, like the shepherds, we will run to worship Him and glorify Him with all we have today. Glory to God in the highest!
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” -Matthew 2:1-12
Did you know that the Gospel of Matthew is the only book with a record of the Wise Men and their visit to see the newborn Messiah? I am so glad that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to include this part of the story because it is such a mysterious and wonderful example of the majesty and wonder of Jesus’s birth.
We don’t know very much about these Wise Men (or Magi, as they are also called) except that they had travelled from a far off land in the East, following a star that had appeared in the sky. We know they were scholars because they recognized the star as unusual. And we know that they came to worship.
This part of the story is so meaningful for several reasons, but the first is the reminder that God reveals Himself to us in a way that we can understand. The Wise Men found Jesus in the manger because God used a physical sign to lead them straight to His Son. The Wise Men are the only people we read of who did not find out about the coming of the Messiah from an angel. God revealed Jesus to them in a way that they understood. This is such a sweet reminder to us of the kindness of God that He KNOWS each and every one of us and speaks to us in ways that we can understand.
Another significant thing to notice is how, even though the Wise Men followed the star to find this new king, God’s Word played a powerful and necessary part in their understanding of the sign in the sky. It was God’s Word that led them to Bethlehem! We all love when God does miracles, and when are able to see God work in supernatural ways, it causes us to wonder and worship Him because we SEE Him at work. But remember that God’s written Word, the Bible, is not merely the Christian’s study tool or textbook. It is the living, powerful, very Word of Almighty God! The Wise Men were seeking Jesus, according to the miraculous and reliable Word of God. Just as the star took on meaning as the Wise Men considered the Scriptures, the world around us literally comes alive with hope and meaning as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s written Word, the Bible.
Finally, I love the multicultural nature of this part of the story. Though Jesus was born in the nation of Israel, in the line of David, in the little town of Bethlehem, God chose to include people from far off lands in the miracle of Jesus’s birth. To put it simply, Jesus came for everyone. We know that in Revelation, we read that in the end, people of every nation, tribe, and tongue are found before the throne of God in Heaven singing praises to the Lamb of God, Jesus. These foreign Wise Men showed up with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—very different from the shepherds who came in from the fields at night, in great haste without any sort of gift to present. Just as God’s use of the star and the angels to reveal Jesus were so different, we all bring something very different and beautiful in our differences. Don’t you love to see and hear people from other cultures worship? Some are loud and festive, others filled with reverence and awe. And this is good! We were not all made to be the same, and the precious treasures that the Wise Men brought were opened and laid before the Son of God as worship. What a beautiful picture of the nature of our God, who created us so different from one another, but loves each the same.
May we remember throughout this season the miracle of how God desires people from every background to come to Jesus. Let us meditate on His Word as we continue seeking Him daily. And finally, let us give thanks to God that He still speaks to us in ways that we can truly hear and understand. Oh come, let us adore Him!
Dear Redemption Family,
The Christmas season is s special one to remember how our Savior, Jesus, was born and came to display His love toward us. We are blessed to spend some of this special season with you. We have planned a few events of worship and fellowship to help steer our hearts towards Jesus during this busy holiday. May God bless you with a great sense of joy and peace throughout Christmas and the New Year.
Saturday, Dec 10th - 11am-1pm | Ladies Christmas Tea Party
Sunday, Dec 11th - 11am-12:30pm | Service at Carver: The King Is Born (pt1)
Sunday, Dec 18th - 11am-12:30pm | Service at Carver: The King Is Born (pt2)
Wednesday, Dec 21st - 7pm-9pm | Volunteer Christmas Party
Saturday, Dec 24th - 6:30pm - 8:30pm | Christmas Eve at Old School Square Amphitheater
Sunday, Dec 25th | Merry Christmas! (SERVICE CANCELLED)
Sunday, Jan 1st - 11am-12:30pm | 4 Year Celebration of Redemption Church at Carver
*Community groups will continue to meet throughout the month of December