Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 25

Five pointed star

Matthew 2:1‑12; Numbers 24:17; Revelation 22:16

Today is Christmas Day, the day of Christ’s birth, the advent of the Messiah, the Anointed One of Israel, and the Savior of the World.  All that we have learned in the past 24 days has pointed to this day, one of the two most wonderful in the year. 

The symbol for today, the five pointed star, reminds us of the last part of the Christmas story, the star that guided the Magi, who came sometime in the first 12-18 months of Jesus’ life.  Mary and Joseph were directed by God through an edict of Caesar Augustus to Bethlehem, 80 miles to the south. They had little choice to go.  The shepherds were called by the glorious sight of angels in the heavens to go to Bethlehem, a few miles away. They had great incentive to go.  But the Wise Men, nobles in the Parthian empire, were neither forced by Caesar nor enticed by glorious angels.  They traveled the 700 miles because they saw the star, and were looking for a king.     

Many have tried to identify Christ’s star, and there are some fascinating astronomical events that occurred around the time when Jesus was born.  A conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn occurred in 7-6 BC (occurring only once every 805 years).  Chinese and Korean records identify a nova or supernova in 5 BC and a comet in 4 BC, respectively.  Other rare astronomical findings occurred around the same time, making those few years a period of unusually great activity in the heavens.

The Magi were part of a hereditary priesthood, probably of Scythian origin and often holding great political power, first identified in the 7th century BC.  Over time, the religion of the Magi was incorporated into Zoroastrianism, and came to closely resemble Judaism.  The first Biblical mention of the Magi is in Babylon (Jer 39:3, 13), when Nergal Shar’etser is mentioned as a high official in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.   During his reign, he made Daniel chief of the Magi (Dan 4:9).  In the ensuing centuries, the political fortunes of the Persians and the Jews were tightly linked as well, fighting against the Macedonians, Seleucids, and Romans.  When the Magi, de facto king-makers in the Parthian empire, visited Jerusalem looking for a Jewish king, Herod’s fear was completely understandable, though his action was evil.  One wonders why the Magi didn’t take the Holy Family back with them to Babylon to wait for Jesus to grow up and then make Him king.  Perhaps they tried.

God used the Magi, the Wise Men, for His holy purpose.  Probably their discovery made a difference in Parthian politics, and their example has attested to the truth of Christ throughout his ministry.  Certainly they gave concrete proof to Joseph and Mary about their unusual child, and they financed their sojourn in Egypt.  Today the five pointed star, the Star of Epiphany, is used to symbolize the Magi’s role in Christmas.  It is placed on the top of the tree and represents the manifested nature of God. The five points symbolize the head, two arms and two legs of a man.

God used the “star” and the Wise Men to accomplish His perfect purpose.  With our lives centered around Him as a planet orbits the sun, so we will accomplish His perfect purpose in our days. 

As these Christmas celebrations draw to a close, let us review each of them, remember their meanings, and consider their impact on our lives.  By so doing, we can heighten our awareness of God and His great work. Until next year!

Silent Night, Holy Night

 

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent night, holy night,
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing
Alleluia to our King;
Christ, the Savior is born,
Christ, the Savior is born.

 

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 24

Manger

Luke 2:1‑20

The Greek word (φάτνη phatnē), derived from the verb, pateomai (“to eat”) is usually translated “manger” in the New Testament. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, and in ancient Israel near Bethlehem it was probably an area cut out of the rock wall of a cave used to keep sheep.

How was Jesus’ birth? On that amazing day, Joseph and Mary, finding no room for themselves and their unborn child in an inn, were forced to take refuge in a cold, damp cave used as shelter for animals. Mary would have looked for the most comfortable place and, since animals were there, brushed away the manure. As a poor girl from Nazareth, she was used to the smell. Mary probably had no bed or birthing stool, so she would have laid back or squatted down in whatever hay was available and in the clothes she was wearing.

Did the innkeeper’s wife and her friends help the young mother deliver? Did Mary have an experienced midwife to coach and encourage her? Were fears a constant companion, at least before the pain became so bad that she could think of little else? Did she regret that she could not be at home with her mother, family and friends? The angel had promised that she would deliver a son, but he did not promise that she would be physically healthy afterwards.

If Joseph was alone, would he know how to deliver the baby? Childbirth was not a man’s business in Ancient Judea. Would he be able to care for the child once it was born? Did fears and doubts nearly overwhelm him, for knowing that many women died in or shortly after childbirth? How could Mary help him? Mary had seen other women have babies and helped a few, so she knew what to expect, but Joseph probably had no idea. If Mary was alone except for Joseph, she would have tried to talk him through it. Did the shadowy cave, probably illuminated by a single torch, add to his fear?

After Jesus was born, the attendant laid him on Mary’s breast, where he began to nurse. There may not have been salt to rub him down or water to drink and clean. Mary lay back to rest. Joseph, trembling with fear and excitement, watched carefully over them until he too collapsed into sleep, praising God for His goodness, yet exhausted from the night.

How can infinite glory, sublime beauty, and awesome power give way to sickly poverty, flawed appearance, and pitiful weakness? It is impossible to fully understand the glory of God in heaven, and equally impossible to understand how low Christ had to stoop when he came to earth.

As we read again the time-honored story of our Savior’s birth, listen to the words, and dive deeply into each part. What part of the story speaks loudest to you? Is it the actual birth, the shepherds, the angels, Mary or Joseph? What do you treasure and ponder in your heart concerning this story and its meaning for your life? Each time you hear the Christmas story you learn and marvel at the love of God for us. Let the words sink deep within you and praise the Lord for His matchless gift, Jesus the Christ. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

 

The cattle are lowing
The Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
‘Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven
To live with Thee there

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 23

Cross

John 1

December 23 – Cross

John 1

Crucifixion, a method of execution and torture invented in the 6th century BC, was practiced for the next 700 years by the Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Carthaginians, and Romans. First, soldiers scourged the victim until he was weak and bloody. Many victims died. Then, executioners fixed a cross beam to a tall post, attached the condemned man to it with ropes or nails, raised the cross, and anchored it in the ground.   Over the following hours to days hanging on the cross, gravity impaired blood flow to the brain and heart, breathing was nearly impossible, and birds and insects ate the torn flesh of the defenseless man. Soldiers were not allowed to leave and so they often broke the lower legs of the victim, making it impossible to support the body with the legs. Breathing became impossible and death followed in minutes.   Crucifixions, known in ancient times as the most horrid of all executions, were done in public, well-traveled places.   The body was left on the cross to be consumed by wildlife and to rot, further dishonoring the deceased and warning others against following the same path.

Jesus Christ was the Son of God and God the Son, Savior of the world. He is the one whose birth we celebrate in two days, and He was crucified. Unlike most victims of crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. He died as a sacrifice, taking the sins of His chosen ones on Himself and paying the ultimate price, in the most heinous way possible, so that we might live, now and forever, in fellowship with Him. Christmas has no meaning without Jesus’ death.

But His death was not the end of the story. Jesus Christ, the Sinless One, could not be held in the grave. Almighty God transformed Jesus’ body into a glorified, living one and Jesus left the grave, in absolute victory over sin and death. Because Jesus died and rose again, those who know him can be certain that we will do the same. After showing Himself to many people and offering many proofs of His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us (Acts 1, John 14).

The empty cross, generally favored by Protestants, signifies the risen Lord. Worship, acknowledging and celebrating the ultimate worth and glory of God and the profound mystery of His work, is the only reasonable, and acceptable, response.   How do we worship the Lord? We trust Him to care for us, we obey Him in every way on every day, and we enjoy Him in everything He is. This manifests itself by prayer and Bible study, by working hard in our jobs, our schools, our churches, and our families, by trusting Him to work ultimate good in everything we do, by finding joy and purpose in our activities, and by enjoying rest, food, recreation, and the other wonderful gifts He has provided.

Although today’s cross is the simplest form, many of the other symbols which use the cross combine this form. The cross with Jesus’ body hanging from it, the crucifix, used in Catholic churches, reminds us of Jesus’ death. When the cross stands on three steps, it represents faith hope and love. When it is combined with a crown, it shows the victory we have over death, and when it is shown with the circle, it represents eternity. Each of these symbols represents a segment of our belief and our heritage as Christians. We have so much to be thankful for, how can we fail to worship Him each day?