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What I Love About Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

To be honest, I love everything about Christmas. But if pressed to name one thing, my choice may seem a bit unusual because I would have to choose the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus. The story of the birth of Christ is rich with meaningful metaphors but there is something about that particular group of men that stands out to me.

Shepherds of biblical times spent long periods of time living among their flocks. These men camped out with the sheep to protect them. It wasn’t an easy job. They often risked their lives for the animals entrusted to them, sometimes facing thieves or predatory animals. This outdoorsy lifestyle did present some drawbacks. Bathing would be sporadic if at all, so we can assume they would be rather dirty, raggedy-looking and (oh, let’s just say it ) stinky. They lived their lives on the outskirts of towns, never really invite in. They were B-list material at best. Yet they are the very people God choose to announce the most incredible event the world had ever seen. Though society had counted the shepherds out, God counted them in.

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 19:30

It doesn’t end there. Throughout his ministry, Jesus would refer to himself as the Good Shepherd. Sheep present us with a striking picture of human nature. A shepherd must find food and water for his flock, keep them clean and free of parasites, help them deliver the new lambs each spring, protect them from predators and gather those who wander on a daily basis. The problem with sheep is that they are not very bright animals and notoriously hard to train. Sheep have poor vision and hearing and are slow moving with no natural defenses such as claws or sharp teeth. They can be easily frightened or confused. A shepherd knows that he cannot “drive” them, they must be willing to follow. They do have a powerful instinct for following, but that same instinct has been known to send them blindly following one another over a cliff. Does this all sound disturbingly familiar? No wonder Jesus considers us to be like sheep. Though we may be more intelligent, how many times have we made the same mistake over and over again. We are difficult to teach and stubborn to boot! We have no defense against our enemy Satan and tend to let him to scare and confuse us. Our “Good Sheoherd” is the one who protects us, cares for us, watches over us and will lead us if we choose to follow. In Hebrews 13:20, Jesus is referred to as the “great Shepherd” who brings us back to God. 1Peter 5:4 takes it one step farther. Jesus is called the “Chief Shepherd” who will present his followers with an eternal crown of glory. Here is the Jesus who reigns in Heaven, who has prepared the way and a place for us in his kingdom. He will continue to watch over us in eternity.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 

John 10:11

Finally, Jesus calls us to be shepherds too. “Feed my sheep”, he told Peter. Be a shepherd, caring for all those that God puts in your path. Care for physical and spiritual needs and care – just care – about people. Help when help is needed. Feed the sheep that God puts in your life.

Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

John 21:16

Singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once said:

” I take comfort in knowing that it was shepherds to whom the angels appeared when they announced Christ’s birth. Invariably throughout the course of history, God has appeared to people on the fringes. It’s nice to find theological justification for your quirks.”

And I guess that is the part that I love the best. God uses those long ago shepherds to illustrate the fact that He can take us with all our quirks and all our faults and still use us for His purposes. I’m sure that shepherds wouldn’t have been the most socially adept men due to their solitary lifestyle. They certainly would have trouble speaking in public, yet God choose them to be the very first missionaries. The shepherds prove to me that God will take all the nonsense that I struggle with and turn it to His good. I just have to remember to listen and then act on God’s words like those shepherds of old did.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

Luke 2: 8

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The Perfect Gift

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Remember that first Christmas with your spouse and how you struggled to find the perfect gift that would speak of your love? How about putting together that perfect Easter basket for a special child in your life? I have spent hours in a Hallmark store looking for the right card to express my condolences to a friend who is hurting. It has to be perfect, yet we are imperfect creatures. The only time i ever recieved a gift that was perfect was when I recieved Christ as my Saviour. That’s not exactly a fair comparison to any other gift but it does make a point. Perfect gifts are not ours to give.

Two thousand or so years ago, three gifts were given to a perfect baby. I wonder if those long ago Magi felt intimidated as they knelt and laid thier gifts before the King. What could they possibly give that would be appropriate? Surprisingly, they came up with some pretty good ideas for that unusual baby shower. They brought three gifts that had to be divinely inspired since they captured the moment so beautifully, almost perfectly.

There is alot of interesting conjecture about who the Magi or Wise Men of the Christmas story might actually have been. All we know for certain is that they studied the stars, lived east of Judea and were so convinced of what they saw in the night skies that they traveled a long way to see the one they considered a King. As any considerate guest would do, they came bearing gifts. Gifts carefully chosen to honor the child and when they found Him, they bowed down and worshipped.

The first gift that is mentioned is gold. This precious metal has always been associated with royalty. By giving Jesus the gift of gold, the Magi were declaring thier support of His Kingship. but they were also worshipping the King. Gold is intertwined with the concept of worship in the Old Testament. The Hebrews were instructed to make a sanctuary or tabernacle in which God Himself would dwell (Exodus 25:8,9). God gave His people very detailed instructions not only to the construction of this wilderness temple but also described every stick of furniture that was to be placed in it. The items were made of gold or overlaid with gold against curtains of fine cloth. Although I have seen artist’s renderings of what the inside of the tabernacle must have looked like, I think we can all agree that whatever is in our mind’s eye falls far short of how stunning it must have actually looked like.

The gift of gold represents an acknowledgement of Christ’s Kingship in our lives and our desire to worship HIm as King. Give Jesus the gold of your life. Offer up your most honest submission and ardent thankfulness as worship to the King.

The second gift listed is frankincense. This is a gummy sap that oozes from the Boswellia tree. The resin hardens and is then scraped off the trunk of the tree. It can be burned or steamed to yeild essential oils. Frankincense has a sweet citrus flavor that is most often enjoyed by burning it but it can be eaten or chewed also. Medicinal uses include treatment for some cancers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and asthma.

Two thousand years ago, frankincense was a very important oil for fragrance and medicine. It is also believed that it was considered to be more valuble than gold. This was the fragrance that was burned as an offering in the temple by the High Priest.

The gift of frankincense represents Jesus’ divinity and position as HIgh Priest who intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25). In ancient times the priest would offer daily sacrifices but Jesus has done away with that system when He offered Himself on the cross. Therefore, the gift of frankincense is symbolic of the preistly offering. We may consider the temple offerings to be an archaic form of worship, no longer relevant today – but that would be a serious mistake. Romans 12:1 calls us to be a “living sacrifice”. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are a “royal priesthood”. In other words, when we offer ourselves to God to use as He will, we are burning our little bit of frankincense on the altar of our lives. May it’s fragrance, offered freely and lovingly, be as pleasing today as those long ago priests.

Lastly, the baby Jesus was given Myrrh. This is another resin similar to frankincense. It comes from the commipheri tree, seeping though man-made cuts on it’s bark. The hardened resin is broken off and can be used as an oil or in it’s hard form.It has a piney, bitter odor when burned. Myrrh was well known to ancient cultures who used it in perfumes and oils, as incense, insect repellant, as a salve for wounds or as an embalming agent.

The gift of Myrrh was given to the man that the baby Jesus would become. It speaks of the bitterness of His earthly life and death. Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Although the Magi are not mentioned in this passage, it does refer to all the signs and wonders of her son’s birth. What was she thinking when she held that last gift? Did she recoil when she realized what it was? Did the foreshadowing of something as dreadful as the cross register in her maternal mind? Probably not. The full impact of His earthly life and death are hard to comprehend even today, but this gift reminds us of the child born to die. If frankincense is our offering to hIm – then myrrh is HIs offering to us. It represents His sacrifice, given freely to us. The One who came to save, first had to die. As such He was able to offer the only perfect gift ever to be given or recieved, the gift of salvation.

Gold for the King of kings, frankincense for the High Priest and myrrh for the ultimate sacrifice. Unwrap the bitterness of myrrh and you will find the golden glow of the King. Take a moment to inhale the sweet smell of frankincense eveloping that gift box. And inside – a little baby who would turn the world upside down. The perfect gift for a hurting world.