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 9

Dove

Genesis 8:6-12; Leviticus 1:14-17; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Galatians 5:15‑25

The dove is mentioned often in the Bible, from helping Noah know when the waters had receded, to serving as a sacrifice for the poor.  The dove is also the most common image of the Holy Spirit.  Do you recall the scripture passages which tell of the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove? (Matthew 3:16) 

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead.  He is the Comforter of Jesus’ followers, and the Giver of the gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit. 

The Gifts of the Spirit are God-given abilities.  Every believer has at least one, a few have several, and they are all to be used for the building up of the church and the glory of God.  These are not the natural talents, inherent in nonbelievers and believers alike.  Preachers and evangelists often display speaking gifts (prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, teaching and exhortation) and while serving gifts (leadership, helps, giving, mercy, faith and discernment) are frequently found in other groups.  Prophecy is the speaking forth of God’s Word, knowledge is the understanding of His truth, and wisdom is the practical application of that truth.  Teaching is the ability to help others understand a concept fully, and exhortation is the power to effectively encourage.  Of the nonverbal gifts mercy is the ability to empathize and sympathize, faith is an unusual depth of trust in God, and discernment helps the individual distinguish truth and falsehood.

The Fruits of the Spirit are character traits planted by the Holy Spirit and growing in everyone who knows and loves the Lord.  Their presence proves that a man is a Christian, and their absence proves that he is not.   Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are all within our reach. God develops these fruits within us as we read and obey His word, and as we step out in faith. 

The incessant demands of life, especially during this season, can prevent us from developing our spiritual gifts, and slow our growth in spiritual fruit.  The Spirit of God rarely shouts through an earthquake or a storm, but usually whispers to us during our quiet moments.  Lives that overflow with frenzied activity and mountains of material goods will never overflow with the Spirit of love and power.  The dove is not a prince among birds, but in its simplicity and ordinariness it was chosen above all other birds to represent the Holy Spirit. 

Will you develop your Gift of the Spirit this Advent season?  Will you cultivate your soul in trust and obedience so that the Fruits of the Spirit can grow in you?  This Advent season, and any time you see a dove, remember the Holy Spirit of God, and thank him for the gifts He has given you, and in the Fruits of the Spirit available to all.

 

What Child is This?

 

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Chorus

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
the King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Chorus

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 1

Christmas Tree

Genesis 1:1, 11-12, 24‑31; Genesis 3:22-24

Hang your tree up today.

Plant life forms the basis of life on earth; providing oxygen, food, shade, building materials, fabrics, and fuel. Plants also remove waste products, including carbon dioxide, and other human and animal waste. Life on earth would be impossible without plants.

Trees are the largest and often considered the most noble of the plants. Evergreen trees such as spruce, pine, and fir, seem to live through all seasons. Trees have long been symbols of the life sustaining power of God. Our reading today reminds us of their fundamental role in Creation, finding ultimate expression in the Tree of Life.

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to earth. Jesus is the Creator of all things and the source of physical life. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the fountain of living water providing eternal life for those who believe.

Do you know where the first Christmas tree came from? There are many theories, some reaching as far back as Saint Boniface (born 7th century, died 5 June 754). Trees had long been important in pagan worship in Northern Europe. Donar’s (Thor’s) Oak, located in the state of Hesse, was considered sacred by many in Germany. In a challenge to the pagan deities, Boniface began to chop down the oak, and suddenly a strong wind blew it over. When Boniface was not struck dead by the Germanic gods, the people rejected them and accepted Christianity.   They continued using trees in services, but rather than worshipping spirits in the trees they worshipped the One who made the trees.  

Another story tells us that one evening Martin Luther was walking home through a forest in Germany. As he looked up through the trees he saw a host of twinkling stars in the dark sky. He thought about the Star of Bethlehem. As he gazed at the stars framed so beautifully by the branches of the fir trees, Luther was filled with awe. He wished that he could take that lovely scene home to his family so he cut down a small fir tree, took it inside his house, and decorated it with tiny flickering candles.

Green is associated with life and living things. The shoots and signs of growth in spring remind us of the color green. The evergreen Christmas tree speaks of life that will never end.

As you put up your Christmas tree today. read of Saint Boniface and Martin Luther. Turn out the lights and sit in the dark quietly. Light a candle and have the Scripture read. First the passage in Genesis and then John 12:44‑50. Sing softly the German Christmas carol “O Christmas Tree.” Think about the gift of God, Jesus Christ, which has made our own everlasting life possible.

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!
How often you give us delight
In brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me.

O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

 

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Dein Kleid will michwas lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Trost und Kraft zu jeder Zeit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Das soll dein Kleid mich lehren.

 

Jesus’ Birth, Childhood, and Family Tree

It is interesting that the one part of Jesus’ life that is most recognized in mainstream American society is His birth.  We celebrate Christmas, and despite the concerted and oftentimes angry effort to take Him out of Christmas, He remains an important part, even for many who may not believe much else about Him.  Both Matthew and Luke provide valid historical accounts.

Overview – Jesus was born in 6-4 BC under remarkable circumstances.  An angel announced to Mary’s aged and barren cousin, Elizabeth, that she would bear a great prophet who would be a forerunner to the Messiah.  The same angel later announced to Mary that she, a virgin, would bear a son who was destined to be the Messiah.  The angel appeared to Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, to convince him to go through with his marriage to her, despite the troubling nature of her pregnancy.  In the fullness of time, John the Baptist was born, accompanied by the miraculous return of speech to his father and great prophecies about his future.  Not long afterwards, Joseph and Mary traveled 90 miles south from Nazareth through the hill country of Palestine to Bethlehem, a place in which they were alone and homeless.  In a stable for animals which was probably a cave, she had a son.  His birth was attended by shepherds, angels, and great fanfare (“Glory to God in the Highest…”).  After eight days He was circumcised and introduced to Anna the prophetess and Simeon at the temple in Jerusalem.  Both understood that he was the Messiah.  Shortly thereafter, Magi from the East (probably Parthia) came bearing gifts for the new king, Jesus.  King Herod of Judea, fearing a threat to his throne, ordered all male babies under two in Bethlehem to be killed.    Escaping in the nick of time, Joseph took his little family to Egypt to live.  After the death of Herod, Joseph the carpenter and his family traveled through Judah and settled in Nazareth of Galilee.

Very little is mentioned about his growth and development except that he grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.  At age 12 in the Temple, Jesus demonstrated His development in knowledge of God’s word and His ability to reason through it.  He also showed His priority focus on God the Father’s ministry for Him.  At Jesus’ next appearance in the Bible, he is 30.

Matthew – Jesus’ birth and childhood are mentioned only in Matthew and Luke. Judging by the genealogy and the abundance of OT scripture, it is safe to say that at least one major objective of Matthew in writing his gospel was to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.  The story of the Wise Men, prominently showing His readers the regal honor given the child, despite His humble advent, further supported this goal.  But Matthew did not record the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, or their eyewitness account.  Including the story of the sojourn in Egypt, Matthew took 29 verses for his account.  Matthew used dreams in his accounts of how God communicated with the main human actors in the story.

Luke – Having as a major goal the production of a careful historical account, Luke included a genealogy and also spent time on His birth.  A skilled historian, he began with the annunciation of John the Baptist, the forerunner for the Messiah. Then he weaved his narrative through the communications by vision to Mary, and her faithful response in the Magnificat.  The prose of Luke 1-2, including the accounts of the census, the journey to Bethlehem, the manger, the angels and the shepherds, is magnificent.  Whereas Matthew highlights the regality of Jesus’ birth, Luke highlights the humility of it.

The genealogies in the accounts can be harmonized, but with some difficulty.  The following are common attempts to make them consistent. Harmonizing the genealogies is considered important because some Jews, even today, use Jesus genealogy to “prove that he could not have been the Messiah.

  1. Matthew’s gospel provides Joseph’s genealogy, as he is the legal father, and Luke’s gospel provides Mary’s genealogy, as she is the biological and legal mother.
  2. Matthew’s gospel provides Joseph’s genealogy through his actual father, Jacob, and Luke’s gospel provides his genealogy through his legal father, Heli.  This assumes that Heli died childless and Jacob married his widow and fathered Joseph.
  3. Matthew’s gospel named the legal descendants of David in the official line of succession to the throne, and Luke’s gospel mentioned the actual line to which Joseph belonged, that Joseph’s father Jacob died childless and Heli became his legal father.

It is not clear which of these attempts, if any, are true.  Findings from archaeology, discoveries of ancient documents, and other sources may someday provide answers.