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Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. - Luke 2:9-10 (NLT)
A few years ago Febreze released a commercial in which people were blindfolded and led into a room that had been sprayed (liberally, no doubt) with Febreze’s latest and greatest fresh scent. They were asked to sit on a couch located in the center of the room and describe their environment based on their senses of smell and touch. They used words like “clean,” “home,” and “fresh.”
When asked to remove their blindfolds they were shocked and horrified to realize they were sitting on an old, ratty couch in a dark, dank room covered with old sheets. The revelation was meant to highlight the ability of Febreze’s product to effectively cover up the smells produced by dingy couches and mildewy fabric. Personally, I would have been more disgusted by how filthy the room was, despite the fact that it may have smelled better. And then I’d want to get out fast!
The visible glory of God is often described in the Bible as a bright light, overwhelming the viewer with terror and awe, as with the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. When face-to-face with the God of the Universe, we immediately see the contrast: the holiness of God and the filthiness of sin in our lives. His holiness lifts our blindfolds to the reality around us and gives us the ability to see that the world is not as it should be. But thank God that Jesus entered into our messy, dark world to be our Savior and to show us God’s grace. Jesus didn’t come to simply cover up the nasty effects of sin - He came to completely eradicate sin from our lives and restore us as holy and blameless in the sight of God once again. And that is really good news for us!
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” - Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)
My 4-year-old son is obsessed with The Grinch right now, and he can practically recite the entire book by memory. We recently saw the latest adaptation of The Grinch in theaters, and I was touched by how the filmmakers brought the story to its familiar conclusion. After the Grinch realizes that Christmas is not a cheap commercial holiday that promotes self-gratification and fake cheerful facades, he delivers the stolen Christmas trappings back to the Whos, meekly apologizes, and retreats back to his mountain lair. Later that day, little Cindy Lou Who ventures to his home and invites him to dinner. Puzzled, The Grinch reminds her that he did something horrible. She shrugs and replies, “I know. Dinner’s at 6!” When he arrives for dinner, the Grinch is contrite as he enters the home but everyone is happy to see him. To his great surprise, they give him the seat of honor at the table and even invite him to carve the “roast beast.”
Jesus isn’t mentioned a single time in the story but to me it is the most spiritual non-Christian Christmas story that exists in our culture today. The heart of this film echoes the heart of Jesus. When Jesus was asked why He was having dinner with disreputable sinners, Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor - sick people do… For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13, NLT). The Grinch knew he had committed a terrible deed, but rather than facing condemnation he found grace, forgiveness, and invitation. He was given the honor seat at the table. In essence, he was shown the heart of Jesus from the way he was treated by godly people.
This Christmas remember that God sees you, He hears you, and He has good news for you. There is salvation in Jesus, forgiveness and a seat at the table for all who accept Him. In that assurance we can find great joy, and we need to make sure we are inviting everyone around us to share in that same joy!
Think about a person or family in your life who could benefit from closer community and take a step in faith - invite them to a meal. If they say no, that's okay... wait a while, then ask again. Be praying for them. God is patient in His pursuit of us, so we should not give up so easily!Share Tweet
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” - Luke 2:15 (NLT)
Social media is truly a grand social experiment, stretching our concepts of community, connectedness, and individuality. Handheld mobile devices such as smartphones have drastically altered the way in which we experience the world around us. Case-in-point, go to a concert these days and where you used to see hands in the air as people moved and swayed the music, you now see thousands of tiny screen lights as people record the entire event. The audience is no longer engaged physically. Our digital world can be a diversion from reality and often serves to hinder our ability to experience reality in a meaningful way.
We are missing out on real experiences today because we just cannot put down our phones. And I cringe at the thought that we are missing the tangible works of the Lord Almighty because we have become so lost in the digital landscape. When the shepherds saw the angels in Luke chapter 2, they were terrified to see these timeless spiritual beings appear before their very eyes. Can you imagine if the shepherds had pulled out their smartphones and started recording the whole event? Do you think they would have been able to respond to God’s heavenly messengers while posting their video to Instagram? #heavenlyhost #blessed
In order for us to respond to God, we have to be engaged and listening. If you’ve ever tried, you know how difficult it is to have a conversation with a distracted listener. The conversation is never fruitful. Let us make sure that our time is not wasted, especially when we could be encountering the Almighty in real and tangible ways.
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others - the armies of heaven - praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” - Luke 2:13-14 (NLT)
I lost my mother to breast cancer in 2009. In my heart I knew that I would see her again someday, and that heaven had received a beloved daughter who had anxiously awaited her return home for many years. It was hard to remain here, though. Hard to move on without her, even with the heavenly hope that we both carried. In my life she was the person who modeled godly community, worship, and devotion. She taught me how to pray.
Recently I was brought to a passage in Hebrews 12 which describes what happens when we are worshipping God. Like, what really happens. When we worship, the author says, we come to “countless thousands of angels in joyful gathering,” to God himself, and to “the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect.” Not to a physical mountain, but to the city of the Lord… Heaven (verses 22-24 NLT). We knew that Jesus tore the veil when He declared “it is finished” on the cross, and this passage vividly reminds us of that incredible truth!
I thought perhaps I would not get to worship with my mother again until that glorious day when I would finally join her in the presence of our Father in heaven. But I have found comfort in this passage from Hebrews that my mother is one of those spirits in Heaven who has now been made perfect, and my praises here on Earth are echoed in eternity with my mom’s own heavenly songs. When I pray, or sing, or read the Word, I am doing these things with my mother and with the angels in worship to our God. And so it is for all of us when we worship Him.
Who has been an example of faith in your life? A family member, friend, pastor, author? Offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for these people and their faithfulness. If this person is still alive, write them a letter or give them a call to specifically thank them for their godly example.Share Tweet
The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. - Luke 2:20 (NLT)
Think about the power of personal testimony. Some stories tell of awesome and dramatic transformation, such as when an addict found freedom from codependency when they chose to follow Christ. Some tell of God’s provision, as for a single mom who had struggled to provide but was blessed by strangers when she needed it most. Others tell of God’s transcendent peace and comfort in times of long-suffering and sadness.
We need to hear these stories often, because they remind us that God is powerful and He is at work in our lives. He moves to bless the oppressed, uplift the beaten down and comfort the broken-hearted. Testimony reminds us that the effects of sin are real and painful and affect all of us, but will never prevail when the redeeming blood of Christ is applied. “...Greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ,” (Romans 6:17 NLT).
The body of Christ is, in a way, the story of God in a billion parts - the most rich and inspiring collection of stories ever told, with the common thread of God at work in humanity since the beginning of time. When we come together as the Church to worship, we bring our own unique stories into the larger story of salvation. Gathered together, we sing, pray, teach from the Word, take part in Communion… all acts of devotion that help us unify our focus around the person of Christ and give Him glory for all that He’s done and is going to do.
God continues to write the salvation story through each of us. Remember that your story matters and God is not done with you. He will be with you all the way through the final chapter, and then forevermore. I pray that you would find hope and encouragement through the testimony of other Christians. And I pray that God would give you the courage to tell your own story for the benefit of others and to the glory of His name.