“Our Son Is Missing”

 INTRODUCTION

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?

WHEN THE KIDS WERE SMALL

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.

AND JESUS?

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. 

THEY FOUND HIM 

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.

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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. 

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.

IN CLOSING

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.

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Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas

Happy Holidays

A Most Wonderful Time

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas

 INTRODUCTION

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”

SOME LYRICS

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.”

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

A WISTFUL SONG?

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.

A SCROOGE?

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.”

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TO CLOSE

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Nativity

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

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

Merry Christmas

Day Seven: Do You Still Believe?

Day Seven: Twelve Days of Christmas

My Dad knew some things.

Believing Him

When I was a kid I built a balsa-wood glider, from scratch. My enthusiasm was high, but my skills were less so. Since Dad was a pilot and an aviation expert, I asked him for help. He advised me to rebuild it. But I thought it unnecessary, as it would be a lot of extra work. However, he was right. I should have listened and I should have believed him.

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Not me, my Dad, or my glider, but close. I should have listened to him.

Believing God

Here’s some things the Father said about his son. That he would be:

  1. born in Bethlehem.
  2. born to a virgin.
  3. called Emmanuel.
  4. David’s heir.
  5. anointed with the Spirit.

He said his son would be:

  1. despised
  2. pierced
  3. abandoned
  4. denied
  5. betrayed

Is all of that true about Jesus? Have we listened, do we believe the Father?

A favorite holiday movie is, “The Polar Express,” an animated film about some kids discovering the spirit of Christmas. A main character is a boy who struggled, but eventually believed. As a reward, Santa gave him a perfect silver bell with a clear, beautiful sound. Because he believed, he could hear the bell. Only those who believed could hear it.

The adults never could.

In A Few Days

Hundreds of millions will celebrate the birth of Christ. Fireplaces will glow, stockings will hang, and gifts will stack up under the trees. Christmas morning will be fun, and a little chaotic, as we stand knee deep in torn, wrinkled paper. It will be glorious!

Let us also reflect on what God has done. He sacrificed his son because we needed him to. We were lost, helpless, and broken, and by his death we have life. But I wonder, have we listened? Do we  believe?

Spiritually, are we the adults who stopped listening, and no longer believe? 

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Do we still believe?

In Closing

The glider turned out sweet, it looked great and flew like the wind. But not at first. I had to go back and fix it, to make it like my father said. I should have listened, I should have believed.

God sent his son to seek and to save the fallen.

Do you believe?

Merry Christmas

The Christmas Messengers

Day Six: Twelve Days of Christmas

God sent messengers to tell the story.

Milk Messenger

My school had a milk program. Each day a student was selected to be milk monitor, an honor awarded for good class behavior. Occasionally, it was awarded to me and it felt great. Because of me, kids had something to drink with their peanut butter sandwiches.

God’s Messenger

Heaven had a program too. An angel was sent as a messenger to announce the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2:8-11:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were much afraid. 

 But the angel said, “Do not be afraid. 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.”

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The Shepherds

 Most likely, they were poor, ordinary men, and were nothing special. Except, they were chosen to see the infant king. Think about it. The Lord chose keepers of sheep to visit the  Lamb of God.

Where did they find the baby Jesus? He was in an ordinary place that was nothing special. They found him in a covered stall used for draft animals.

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An angel of heaven’s glory gave the message to men reeking of sheep. Perhaps they were chosen because the newly born King also smelled of the barn? I guess God decides what makes a man special.

Did the shepherds tell anyone about it? Luke 2:17-18:

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

To Close

It was great being milk messenger, it was an honor, and I did my best. The shepherds did a pretty good job too. Theirs was the message of angels, the message of God, sharing good news of great joy with all the people.

Today, a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas

A Christmas Story: Wicked & Wise

Day Five: Twelve Days of Christmas 

Here’s a story about the wicked and the wise.

Paintings of the Nativity have angels, shepherds, and animals with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and almost always, the Magi. I get the shepherds and the angels, but who were the Magi and why were they there?

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Traditional and beautiful but not culturally or historically accurate.  

The Wise

The Magi were scholars, astrologers, and philosophers. In their culture, they wielded great power and influence. There’s was an ancient caste serving the kings of the Babylonian empire, specifically King Nebuchadnezzar.

Because he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, Daniel was made 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 the Messianic prophecies to the wise men and each succeeding generation passed them down. The prophecies of Daniel 9 provided a time frame for when to expect the Messiah’s birth.

The Magi were looking for a sign, and they found one, it was the star.

The Wicked

King Herod, the King of Judea, was an evil man and not the rightful heir to the throne. He descended from Esau, not Jacob, so he was an Edomite, and not Jewish. For political reasons, he had three of his sons and one of his wives executed. But he had deft political skills with Rome and possessed unquenchable ambition.

After hearing about the birth of the King of the Jews, Herod hatched a plot to kill the infant king. But, of course, he failed.

The Wise & the Wicked

The wicked wanted to kill to protect his empire. The wise wanted to worship the newborn king. The wicked exterminated those who threatened his rule. The Magi presented royal gifts to the infant Messiah. The wicked had evil duplicity and the wise had transparent righteousness.

I like the gift givers. 

To Close

On Christmas Eve, children will leave milk and cookies for Santa. On Christmas morning, there will be buckets of gifts for everyone. That’s the Christmas I know and love.

But what will Jesus get? Are we finished giving him gifts? Will there be a heart-felt moment of praise for him?

Maybe the answer depends on whether we are more like the Magi, or more like Herod. 

What gift does Jesus want from you this year?

Merry Christmas

All Alone on Christmas?

Day Four: Twelve Days of Christmas

All Alone?

In 1992, recording artist Darlene Love released a Christmas song entitled,

“All Alone on Christmas.”

It’s not as famous as,”The First Noel” or “White Christmas,” but its peppy and has a nice beat. And yet it’s wistful, for nobody wants to be all alone on Christmas.

Grandparents Don’t

Their world revolves around Grandkids, especially at the Holidays. I loved having Grandma visit us. She was fun, laughed a lot, and gave me my first skateboard. It was a Christmas present.

Grandparents and grandaughter

And Jesus?

Jacob was Joseph’s father, in Matthew 1:16:

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

Jesus had a grandfather, and it’s reasonable that he had grandparents, but they aren’t mentioned in the narrative. Did Jesus grow up with them in his life? Did they know their grandson was the Messiah?

grandfather and grandson at Christmas

Was it difficult for Mary and Joseph to be separated from their parents while in Egypt? Was it hard for the Grandparents to not see their Grandson?

And Christmas Day?

Well, they didn’t celebrate Christmas, did they? There wasn’t a decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby out in the yard.

I know, “Christmas” was a long, long way off from being observed. In fact, on his first birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with the Grandparents. No, they were busy keeping him safe.

“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. Matthew 1:13

To Close

I guess Darlene’s song still stands: Nobody wants to be all alone on Christmas.

But our Savior and Lord very nearly was.

Merry Christmas