And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius [Quirinius] was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:1-20 KJV
When I was a kid many many many years ago our family had a tradition. Before we opened our gifts my dad would read this story to us. I remember thinking, okay now can we open the gifts. Later as I grew older I would think more about what was being read and what it really meant. The older I get the more this story means to me. Jesus came into this world because of His great love for us, a greater love than I am able to ever fully comprehend. Fortunately God understands our inability to fully understand His love but I think it must still hurt Him when He hears someone say, if Jesus loves us so much then why does he allow pain or for loved ones to die before they should have too. I'm not real good at knowing how to best answer that but I do have a thought to offer you that has helped me.
God created everything that was made and it was good. Something else He did was create laws to keep us safe. He created the law of gravity and obviously without that law we would be unable to keep our feet on the ground. While this law was good it could cause great pain or death if you were to fall from a high building. Another law is the law of action versus reaction. Without that law we couldn't move from place to place but if misused, one could possibly be propelled forward until being abruptly stopped by a stationary object, also causing pain or death. There are many other laws, all meant to keep us safe but if broken, could as well, cause pain or death. Another law God created was the law of sin and death. Could you imagine a world where there was no consequences for evil. This law was definitely meant to keep us safe. Without there being a consequence for what evil brought to the world, man would soon totally destroy all of God's creation and man himself. Something that could save you if you broke the law of gravity would be a safety net which would stop your fall. God loved us so much that he came to earth and a safety net was produced for us for when we break the law of sin and death. We call it the cross. He loved us so much that he was willing to die for us so we could have life with Him forever.
Because of His great love, Jesus has given us so many great gifts. You can find these gifts all throughout the Bible. In Romans 5:17 Paul talks about the gift of righteousness that allows us to see God someday and in Ephesians 2:8-9 he talks about the gift of faith, given by His grace that saves us from death. There are many others that can be found. I have a good friend, Neal, who I had coffee with this week, he was telling me about how he would like to start giving friends challenges from the Bible to help strengthen them. I thought that was a great idea so I would like to give you a challenge today. As you prepare to open gifts today you could start by taking a pen and paper and listing all the gifts you have received from God or at least stop and take some time to think about and thank God for all the gifts He has given you. The first one would have to be His gift of love but the list could go on from there.
I know for me, I've received some fantastic gifts from Judy, and I think I've done okay at giving her some pretty good gifts as well but when I was thinking about what to write, I was thinking about all the gifts God has given me and when I finished I have to say His gifts were so much better than anything I could have ever received from or given to Judy. This year a couple of those gifts have definitely been PEACE and JOY, even in the midst of all that has been going on this year, including losing a brother in March and a sister just a couple weeks ago. God has been so good to me through it all and has given me so many great gifts, too many to mention here. I don't know about you but I am looking forward to being with Jesus face to face to thank Him personally for all the great gifts He has given me. I know I can do that now, but face to face will be so much better.
Hoping you all have a very Merry Christmas!
by Ken Edgerly photo: believed to be the actual site of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, Israel.