Wicked and Wise

 Day Five: The Twelve Days of Christmas 


Nativity paintings typically feature Mary, Joseph, and the little baby Jesus surrounded by angels, shepherds and the animals. And, almost always, the Magi are painted into the scene. I get the shepherds and angels but why the Magi? Who were they and why did they come? 

Mary, Jesus, the wise men and in the background, is Joseph. Maybe not historically or culturally accurate, but it sure looks good at Christmas!


The Magi were scholars, astronomers, and philosophers. In their culture, they were highly important and wielded great influence. They were King makers, so, those on thrones rose to power because of Magi. They were commissioned to serve the royalty of the Babylonian empire.

Do you remember the Daniel of Daniel and the lions den? He became a person of  significance for interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. As a reward, the King made him ruler of the province and made him the chief Magi, Daniel 2:48:

“Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.”

Daniel taught them the prophecies of the one to be born king of kings. As king makers, they took this seriously and each generation passed the prophecies to the next one. They followed the time line that Daniel provided and when the time arrived, they looked for the sign, an evening star leading them to the infant king. 


Herod was King of Judea and a wicked man. He wasn’t a rightful heir to the throne since he was neither Jewish or a descendant of King David. Herod wielded great power and placed his sons in positions of regional authority and used his political connections in Rome to expand his domain. He was possessed with unquenchable ambition and even murdered some of his family to eliminate potential rivals. 

When Herod heard about the birth of Jesus, the newly born King of the Jews, he immediately launched a search for the infant to have him killed. 

Herod: The wicked and violent King of Judea


  1. The wicked sought to kill Jesus while the Wise sought to honor him.
  2. The wicked put down threats while the Wise pursued divine opportunity. 
  3. The wicked feigned interest in worshiping while the Wise worshiped with awe.
  4. The wicked would give Jesus a sword while the Wise sought to give him royal gifts. 


On Christmas Eve, children will leave milk and cookies as gifts for Santa. Come Christmas morning, Santa will have left gifts for children. But I wonder, what will Jesus get? Are we finished giving to the one born the King of Kings?

Will there be praise and glory for our Emmanuel? Perhaps it depends on whether we are more like the wise or more like the wicked.

What does Jesus has on his wish list this year?

What gifts does he look for you to give?

Merry Christmas!

All Alone On Christmas?

Day Four: The Twelve Days of Christmas


All Alone?

In 1992, a relatively unknown singer named Darlene Love recorded a Christmas song that went on to be one of her all time greatest hits. It’s called,

“All Alone on Christmas”

It’s more popular today than it was 25 years ago, as is the artist. The song isn’t known as well as, “The First Noel” or as nostalgic as “White Christmas.” It lacks the Jesus centric  message of, “Away In A Manger.”

However, it is a song about love, family and the heartache of being alone on the biggest day of the year. It’s a rock and roll song and one of my holiday favorites.  

“All Alone on Christmas”


I’m told that the entire grandparent world revolves around their grandkids, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas. I remember one when grandma visited. I remember because she gave me my first skateboard, a present I treasured for years. Nope, no socks from grandma. 

Grandparents and grandaughter


Well, did Jesus have grandparents? It’s hard to say. But we know that he had a grandfather, his name was Jacob. From Matthew 1:16:

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus”

Jesus had a grandfather, and although I’m just speculating, it’s reasonable that he had a grandmother, and perhaps grandparents on his mother’s side as well. I like to think that Jesus grew up with grandparents who were connected with him and a big part of his life. 


Well, his grandparents didn’t celebrate Christmas. There wasn’t a beautifully decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby. There weren’t any stockings hanging from the fire place and there wasn’t any eggnog. 

grandfather and grandson at Christmas

Obviously, the celebration of “Christmas” was way off in the future. His birth would be globally observed, but not then. On his birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with brightly wrapped gifts and the grandparents may not have been able to visit. Why? Because Mary and Joseph were not in their Nazareth home to be surrounded by adoring family. They were hiding in Egypt and striving mightily to keep him alive.

From Mathew 1:13

“Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him”


Is there anything better than a house full of family on Christmas? Anything more enriching than a house full of love and holiday warmth? But for the first few years our little messianic family were probably separated from their family.

Can you imagine them huddled together; loving, caring and alone. 

I think Darlene was right, nobody wants to be alone on Christmas.

Merry Christmas

There’s No Place Like Home!

Day Three: The Twelve Days of Christmas


The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. I’m guessing you’ve either seen or heard of it. The film has an iconic phrase that Dorothy, the main character, repeated three times so she could get back to her family in Kansas: 

“There’s No Place Like Home”


In 1958 my Air Force father received orders for England, so off we went. I was just a toddler and don’t remember much. But what I do remember is how excited we were when it was time to go back. Why? Because:

“There’s no place like home.”


Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home and it would be home for Jesus too, but not in the beginning. It would take a couple of years to get there. We know that he wasn’t born there, but in the small village of Bethlehem. Not long after his birth they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod’s intent to murder their infant son, the new King of Kings. 



The strategy was to get out of Palestine and away from Herod’s clutches. But Egypt? I wonder how Joseph made a living? Did he speak Egyptian? Did they live off the treasures presented by the Magi? Was there a Jewish community, or a Synagogue? Could the grandparents visit? Hiding in Egypt must have been scary, difficult and lonely. But when it was safe, they returned to their family home in Nazareth, and so Jesus would be known as, “The Nazarene.”


The world needed him to die, to be sacrificed, but not as an infant and not in Egypt, Bethlehem, or Nazareth. At the right time it would happen in Jerusalem. But until then, Jesus was protected by two courageous people of faith who loved and cared for him.

Thank you Mary and Joseph.


At the right time Jesus died for us. He died because he came to die, he was born to die. In this holiday season we give thanks and praise for Emmanuel, our God who came near. For like Jesus in Egypt, this world is not our home.

Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”

Merry Christmas

Life In Small Towns

Day Two: The Twelve Days of Christmas


I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Life in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer and a place to escape urban  noise, city crime, and high pressure.  However, they have little to offer in terms of their significance to the world.

Our town got excited when a stop light was installed. It wasn’t a light with red, yellow and green, just a blinking red light purposed to blink for eternity. But it was a big deal, as if our town had risen in status. Does a blinking traffic light qualify for a rise in status?

But, once in a while a small-town kid grows up to be a world-class athlete, a superstar entertainer, or even President. Every now and then an unknown town produces a well known celebrity.


Guess who came from a small town? It was Jesus! He grew up in the tiny village of  Nazareth in central Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town and a place that  never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t prosperous, famous or exciting. Nobody gave Nazareth much thought. 

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”


Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple and the Sanhedrin. It was home for famous Rabbi’s and the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense to me that Jesus would be raised in Jerusalem. But he wasn’t.

No, our savior was a small-town boy who was destined for big-time things. 

Not even close to what it was 2,000 years ago.


Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world celebrates the Nazarene. Not because of where he was from, but because of who he became and for what he did. 

Jesus came for those in big important cities and for those in small unknown towns. He came for us all, he came for you.

I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Thank you Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas

“Our Son Is Missing”


Have you ever misplaced one of your kids? Ever lose track of one or leave one behind? Have you ever had to go and search for one of your children?


On Sundays we took separate cars to church. I usually left early and the family came later. It was a good system and worked fine. But it wasn’t fine one Sunday when my wife drove home after church thinking our son was staying to ride with me. He didn’t. When I walked in without our twelve year old she looked at me, and said,

“Where is Derek, did you leave him behind?”

Fortunately, I knew where he was and wasn’t frantically searching for him. I drove back to the church and found him there in the Father’s house, eating lunch with a Life Group. He knew we would come back to get him.


Culturally, when a Jewish boy had learned the Torah, he was rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. That typically happened at age twelve. Jesus was twelve years old when he traveled south with his parents to the Temple.

Afterwards, while returning home, his parents realized at the end of the day that their son was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan returning to Galilee. They left him behind. So, Mary and Joseph went to look for him, probably walking all night to reach Jerusalem by morning. Imagine the worry and fear they must have felt with every step. 


After searching for three days they found him in the temple courts, exchanging questions and answers with the Rabbis, who were amazed with the boy. But Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more exasperated. They were not happy with their first born child.


Mary said,

“Why have you treated us like this? We have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied,

“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  

But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that for Jesus, to be in the temple was to be in his Father’s house, and to be about his Father’s business. 


Before Jesus ascended back to God, there was a resurrection, an empty tomb, a cross. There were Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth. There were shepherds, wise men from the East and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were his Father’s business.


His being left behind was upsetting to his parents. But Jesus was never lost and didn’t need anyone to seek or save him. He was only moving towards the day when he would be the one to seek and save the lost.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas

Happy Holidays

A Most Wonderful Time

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas


Do you know what time it is? According to the song it’s the best time of the year. Maybe it is. You may be asking, “What’s all the excitement about?” The answer is found with the guys who composed the song so let’s check in with them. Do you know Edward Pola or George Wyle? No? I’ll wager you know their song,

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

They wrote and published the song in 1963, and that same year Andy Williams recorded it on what would become an immensely popular Christmas album cleverly entitled,

The Andy Williams Christmas Album”


Absorb the nuance and embrace the happiness embedded within the words. Of course it’s the most wonderful time of the year. How could it not?

“With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer,

It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call,

There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Not my typical Christmas, not even close. Maybe if it was in color?


The song paints a picture of a Christmas I’ve never had. The lyrics ring out in joyous rapture about holiday parties, friends greeting you with good cheer, and gay happy meetings when friends stop by. Remember when “gay” meant having a merry time?

The people sure seem happy. With caroling in the snow and toasting the marshmallows, how could they not be happy? It sounds wonderful and it should, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Frankly, Christmas isn’t like that for me. I’m often rushed and stressed with deadlines to meet, events to attend, and things to plan and produce. Kids aren’t jingle belling, nobody drops by and there isn’t any snow for caroling.


Nope, I love Christmas. But the song elevates an experience beyond my reach. Maybe it’s the Christmas you always have, but not me. No, for me the joy of Christmas is found elsewhere: it’s in the Messiah’s birth.

All year, I’m about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But in the holidays, I’m all about his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world. As the angel said,

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

TheNativity (600 x 300)



I live in Houston, so there probably won’t be snow for caroling. Instead, I’ll be thinking how the universe shivered in awe as Emanuel came as an infant King.

For the next twelve days, I’ll blog about the Christmas story, beginning with his childhood and moving each day towards his birth. Please join me.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Merry Christmas

So, Until Next Year

Day Twelve: The Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s the day after, a day to reflect.

I’m reflecting on this year’s Christmas experience. About the parties in our house, the lunch our elders hosted for our staff. And the gifts, cards, and encouragement from friends.

I’m thinking about our Candlelight service. Seeing hundreds of candles lifted up in honor of the infant king always moves me!

Then Christmas morning, with the fireplace crackling, the filled stockings, and the brightly wrapped presents.

I love Christmas.

Regarding Joseph & Mary

Their trip to Bethlehem was a hard one. And I’ve tried to imagine them out in the stable, on a cold night, with the animals. I’ve thought about the angels, the shepherds, and the Magi.

It was a night divine, a silent and holy night.


I’ve wondered about Herod’s attempts to kill Jesus.

I’ve wondered if Mary and Joseph knew the families who lost their sons in Herod’s sweeping attempts to kill the infant king. They took their son and escaped to Egypt, but in their absence, other sons died, how very sad. Did Mary know? If she did it must have been a terrible burden to carry. 

To Close

Christmas can mean lots of things. For some, it’s the lights and decorations. For others, it’s being with family. Or is it the food, parties, and gifts, with snow on the ground?

In the beginning, it was about God coming near, the night of Emmanuel. So, when I say, “Merry Christmas” what I’m really saying is: 

“May the God of grace bless you in the celebration of his Son’s birth.”


So, until next year, Merry Christmas!

A Silent Night, A Holy Night

Day 11: Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s early Christmas morning and I’m the first one up.

A Christmas Tradition

 I light the candles, turn on the tree, and start a fire. Then its coffee, carols, and my daughter in her PJ’s sitting with me by the fireplace. She’s 28 and married, but she still likes to begin Christmas with her Dad, as she’s done since childhood. The family will be up later. It’s how we do Christmas.

For Mary and Joseph?

Christmas morning was different for them. They had arrived in Bethlehem, but not to what they were expecting: a warm room and a comfortable bed. It didn’t happen, the inn was full.

The exchange:

Inn Keeper: “Sorry folks, but we’re full.”

Joseph: “You don’t understand, we’ve traveled for days and my wife is expecting. You must have something?”

Inn Keeper: “No, we’re booked solid, there isn’t a spare bed anywhere.

Joseph: “You must have something, we’ll take anything.

Inn Keeper: Well, it isn’t much and it isn’t clean, but you’re welcome to stay in the stable with the sheep, donkeys, and camels.” 

Joseph: (glancing at his fatigued and very pregnant wife) said, “Okay, we’ll take it.” 

It Was Time

Mary was in labor. Was it a difficult delivery? Was her mom there, or even a midwife? Was it only Joseph? We don’t know, but there’s no mention of anyone else.

Regardless, the savior was born. I imagine him swaddled in his mother’s arms. Was all of heaven in joyous celebration? Did the universe shudder in awe seeing the creator arrive as a helpless babe? 

It was a silent night, a holy night, as God came to be with us, he was Emmanuel.

Was their Christmas morning a different experience? 

To Close

It’s early Christmas morning. It’s just me and my beautiful daughter. The fire is crackling, the coffee is fresh, and the carols are softly playing.

I’m guessing it was different for Mary and Joseph. But whatever it was God forever changing our world. It was good news of great joy for all the people.

He came because we needed him.

We still do.

It’s Christmas morning.

TheNativity (600 x 300)


Searching For Messiah’s Mom

Day Eight: Twelve Days of Christmas

God’s search for the Messiah’s mother.

His Criteria

What was God looking for? An upwardly mobile woman who was highly motivated and possessed high intelligence? Did those things matter? Or were there other considerations?

 Other Considerations

Some of what was required:

  1. From the tribe of Judah.
  2. In the line of David
  3. Had to be a virgin
  4. From Nazareth
  5. To be favored by God

The Lord needed a young woman, from Nazareth, of the line of David, who was a virgin and of unimpeachable character. I wonder, how many could there be?

He only needed one, and he found her, her name was Mary.

Something Deeper?

Gabriel told her that God favored her, and would give her a son, and she would remain a virgin as her son would come from the Holy One. Her son would be great and that his kingdom would never end.

Can you imagine?

Did Mary faint? Did she offer excuses and objections, maybe suggesting to Gabriel that he look elsewhere? Was that what God was searching for, that deeper thing, a quiet and submissive spirit? Her amazing response,

              “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

Incredible Strength

The Messiah’s mother would need incredible inner strength. Do you remember what Simeon said at the dedication?

                    “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary heard the insults and hateful comments. She watched the beatings and scourging.  Did she wince at each hammer fall on the spikes or when she saw her first born hanging on the old rugged cross? 

Only a mother could do that, and maybe not just any mother.

The Bible
“And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

She was amazing. She had to be, for she was heaven’s choice for the Messiah’s Mom.

In Closing

I think of Mary as lovely and beautiful, and perhaps she was. But God’s criteria had little to do with such things. He was looking on the inside, for deep faith, an abiding spirit, and incredible inner strength.

I’m deeply thankful for Mary.

She gave birth to a son and raised him to die.

Merry Christmas

Joseph: Divorce or Destiny?

Day Eight: Twelve Days of Christmas

Knowing what’s right is easy, it’s choosing what’s right that’s hard.

Difficult News

Imagine this: Your fiancé is pregnant and the baby couldn’t possibly be yours. You were promised to each other, pledged for marriage, and purposed in God to spend your lives together. Now, your hopes and dreams for that life are over.

Devastated, you ask yourself, “How could she do this to me?”

Even Worse

 In tears, she promises that she hasn’t been with anyone. In disbelief you ask,

“Then how can you be pregnant?”

 She says,

“The baby is from God, from the Holy Spirit, the angel told me.”

From an anguished soul you say,

“I can never trust you again, you have lied and betrayed me, we’re through.”

The Right Thing

However, what if instead of vengeance you chose righteousness? What if you chose to be considerate and not disgrace her with a public termination of the betrothal?

Could you make that choice? Believe it or not, it’s exactly what Joseph chose to do. Afterward, an angel said to him in a dream,

“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.”

We celebrate the story of Joseph, Mary, and the infant king. But 2,000 years ago, in a sleepy little Galilean village, there was a moment when it seemed unlikely. A lesser man would have walked away and not looked back. But Joseph wasn’t a lesser man.

In Closing

Just like his Dad, Jesus chose righteousness over vengeance. He forgave us all and forever changed our world, for the name “Jesus” means, “the Lord saves.”


Joseph was heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s earthly father. 

In this season of Emmanuel, I am grateful for Joseph.

Merry Christmas