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What We See in the Manger

MEDITATION:

Written by Robert Wacker, a contemporary pastor and chaplain for Concordia Ministries.

I can still hear the crackle of the needle on the vinyl as we set up our Christmas trees as children. I can hear the pops in the songs from the needle running over the tracks and the imperfections in the record. I can hear our laughter as we placed the ornaments on the tree and the bickering of siblings who shared the love for one specific ornament and who should get to put it on the tree that year. I can hear the crunch of the needles (real or manufactured). I can see the sparkle of the lights on the tree. I can clearly hear four songs playing that were a must-play for our family as we decorated. First was always Alvin and the chipmunks’ “Christmas Song.” …Then we would sing “Silent Night” and “O Christmas Tree” in German and then English. Then “Away in a Manger” sung by someone like Jonny Cash or Alabama. Then my dad would always play the entire album by the Carpenters “Christmas Portraits.” This was some of our traditions in my family as we set up the house for Christmas. To this day I like to pull out the record player and my dad’s records when we set up our tree to hear these songs and share them with my son. At church, we would have the Christmas story read, but the tradition was that it was read in the King James Version. To this day, I still hear the story of our Savior’s birth in my head read in that particular translation.

As we celebrate with those we love, we develop our traditions together. Newly married couples develop their own traditions their first year together, and it’s often a merger of their families traditions. As we go through our traditions each year, they remind us of those we love, those who love us, and the love of our God who was born in a Manger that night all those years ago to the Virgin Mary…It is in this Baby that all the promises and prophecies of God would be fulfilled to save the world from sin…This is what we see prepared for us when we look at the Christmas Manger scene every year, as we look to the birth of our savior, that God loves you so much that He came to save you, and He did so in Jesus. He died for you. Forgiving your sins, giving you salvation, and He gives you eternal life. This is what we see in the manger.

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 2:11

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Family Christmas Celebration

MEDITATION:

Written by Marsha Wenskay from the Village Church.

When my children were young we were blessed to have doting Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Godparents. These beloved people showered our children with gifts for special occasions. Christmas was no exception. Like many blessings of abundance, there was a downside. We did not need to add excessive material gifts, yet, as parents, we wanted to have the joy of gifting our children. I was always open to trying to simplify the Christmas “Crazies” with young children.

We decided to embrace the holiday as a true celebration of the birth of Jesus. The Bible story of the Three Wise men led us to a perfect solution. Each child would receive three gifts from us. That included the obligatory new Pajamas for everyone to wear to bed on Christmas Eve. That took care of the gift situation. We also made sure to have each child pick from the Angel Tree and participate in gifting children from the church Christmas project. So, we covered both the giving and receiving from the Jesus perspective. Then on Christmas morning, their Father got out his saxophone (Just like he did for the children’s birthday) and we sang a rousing “Happy Birthday dear Jesus!” After the morning gift rush! All three participated in blowing out the candles on the simple birthday cake that we served with Christmas morning breakfast. We started this tradition when they were toddlers and now my youngest is 30, the middle is 37, and my oldest is 41. The tradition still stands. If I have time, I bake the cake. Some years, it came from Ralphs! Whatever worked to keep it Simple. Merry Christmas and HBD Jesus!

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 2:11

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Teach Us to Love

MEDITATION:

Written by Mark D. Roberts, a contemporary author and speaker.  This is an excerpt from his work “Yearning for Face Time.”

How, we might wonder, does God teach us to love? It’s important to remember that, in the Bible, love isn’t mainly a matter of emotions, though love can certainly have feelings attached to it…In Scripture, love is mainly a matter of action. It is actively doing what is best for others, often at a considerable cost to yourself. So, when we think of God helping us to grow in love, we should focus not so much on developing warm feelings for others as on choosing to act in a loving way toward them. God will help us to do this if we ask and if we respond to the guidance of the spirit. If you want to grow in love today, ask the Lord to show you whom to love and what to do. Then do it! Often, feelings of love follow from actions of love. Loving others can sometimes require costly and sacrificial action. We might think, for example, of Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) and her years of loving people who were dying of things like leprosy, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. But, for most of us, most of the time, love is expressed in relatively modest, small ways. For example, as I was working on this devotion, I asked the Lord how I might grow in love today. I had a strong impression that I needed to reach out to a friend who is going through a difficult time. It was too early in the day to call, so I sent him a quick “check-in” text. I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad to get the text, and I expect it will be a catalyst for further communication. This experience makes me wonder how my life would be different if each morning as part of my devotional routine I were to ask the Lord, “Whom should I love today? How should I do it?” In response to my wondering, I’m going to add that prayer to my daily practice. Down the road a piece I’ll let you know how it’s going. Perhaps you’d like to join me in this experiment.

PRAYER:

Written by Mark D. Roberts, the author of today’s meditation.

Gracious God, thank you for the reminder that love isn’t something static, something we achieve and move on. Rather, love is something in which we should be growing each day. Help me, Lord, to increase and abound in love. Guide me, by your Spirit, to know when, whom, and how to love. Bring to mind people I can love today and help me to act on your guidance. As I pray for myself, I also pray for my church. Help us, Lord, to grow in love for each other and our neighbors. Amen.

The Danger of Enthusiasm

MEDITATION:

Written by John Wesley (1703-1791), an English cleric, theologian, and evangelist who was a leader in the revival movement known as Methodism.  This is an excerpt from his book “Christian Perfection.”

Beware of the daughter of pride: enthusiasm. By enthusiasm I mean the tendency to hastily ascribe everything to God, supposing dreams and voices and visions to be special revelations that God has given to you. While they may be from God, they may also be from the devil. Therefore, ​“believe not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they be of God.” Test all things by the written word of God and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of enthusiasm every time you depart even a little from the Scriptures. We must never depart from the plain meaning of Scripture, and we must always take it in the context in which it was written. But keep in mind that we must not despise reason, knowledge, or human learning, every one of which is a gift of God and was given to serve a purpose. One general inlet to enthusiasm is expecting the end without the means: expecting knowledge, for instance, without searching the Scriptures and consulting with the people of God or expecting spiritual strength without constant prayer and steady watchfulness, or expecting God to bless you without hearing the word of God at every opportunity. Another inlet to enthusiasm may be the very desire to ​“grow in grace.” For some people, this will continually lead them to seek ​“new” grace and thereby lead us to seek something other than new degrees of loving God and our neighbor. Some will think they have come upon a new grace when they have discovered what it means to be ​“one with Christ” or to ​“die with Christ.” When we take a fresh teaching from the Scriptures to heart, we must not conclude that it is a ​“new” gift. We have all of these things when we are justified; all that remains is that we experience them in higher degrees. We should always remember that love is the highest gift of God. All of our revelations and gifts are little things compared to love. There is nothing higher in religion. If you are looking for anything else, you are looking wide of the mark. Settle in your heart that from this moment on you will aim at nothing more than that love described in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. You can go no higher than this.

PRAYER:

Written by David Jeremiah, a contemporary pastor, speaker, and author.

Lord, I have a lot of things going on today. Help me to take You with me wherever I go. And help me to bring Jesus and His truthfulness and openness and honesty into every situation, with kindness and love. Amen.

Give Thanks

MEDITATION:

Written by Debbie McDaniel, a contemporary author.

All across our nation, Thanksgiving is a day that we set aside in order to do one thing. Be thankful. And usually what goes along with it, is lots of food, family and friends, laughter and fun, times of giving to others in need, maybe some football, or traditions that you’ve recognized through long years. And sometimes too, there is also loneliness. And struggle. Or deep loss. Feelings of hurt and painful circumstances that you’re still trying to hurdle over. Whatever you’re facing this Thanksgiving Day, in the midst of all of it, may we remember again that God gives us the opportunity each and every day, to give worship and thanks to Him. Every morning He gives us breath, His invitation to come joyfully into His Presence. He reminds us that He alone is God and we belong to Him. He assures us that His plans in our lives are for good, that his love covers us securely, and His faithfulness extends from generation to generation. No matter what, He’s given us so many reasons to choose thankfulness and joy this day. Let’s do what the Psalmist (Psalm 100) says: Shout for joy. Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful songs. Know that He is God. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. Recognize His goodness, love, and faithfulness, through all the generations of our family. Happy Thanksgiving.

PRAYER:

Written by Debbie McDaniel, the author of todays Meditation.

Dear God, Thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over our lives. Forgive us for when we don’t thank you enough, for who you are, for all that you do, for all that you’ve given. We’re so grateful to you for your amazing love and care, for your mercy and grace, for always working on our behalf, even behind the scenes when we’re unaware. Thank you that you are always with us and will never leave us, even through loss and the most difficult of times. Thank you for your incredible sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life. Help us to set our eyes and our hearts on you afresh. Renew our spirits, fill us with your peace and joy, this Thanksgiving Day and every day. We give you thanks and praise, for You alone are worthy! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Beware of the False Lover

MEDITATION:

Written by Os Hillman, a contemporary speaker, author, and consultant on faith at work.

When a measured assault enters our life, we often respond in two different ways. The pain caused by the assault drives us to a place of either embracing the pain or we embrace anything that will make us feel better. That becomes the entry door to a false lover. Men and women each seek to avoid pain in different ways. Larry Crabb has summarized these two unique strategies often used to avoid deep pain: All of us are trapped by addiction to a desire for something less than God. For many women, that something less is relational control. “I will not be hurt again, and I will not let people I love be hurt. I’ll see to it that what I fear never happens again.” They, therefore, live in terror of vulnerably presenting themselves to anyone and instead become determined managers of people. Their true femininity remains safely tucked away behind the walls of relational control. More common in men is an addiction to non-relational control. “I will experience deep and consuming satisfaction without ever having to relate meaningfully with anyone.” They keep things shallow and safe with family and friends and feel driven to experience a joy they never feel, a joy that only deep relating can provide. Their commitment is twofold: to never risk revealing inadequacy by drawing close to people and, without breaking that commitment, to feel powerful and alive. Power in business and illicit sex are favorite strategies for reaching that goal. Many times, we seek to deal with our pain through various forms of addictions designed to resolve the inner pain we feel. All addictions represent a counterfeit desire for genuine love and intimacy. We conclude these lesser desires are legitimate needs instead of band-aids of our fleshly soul. These addiction lovers become isolation chambers created for ourselves designed to mask our pain. Every human being has a desire to be loved. When we do not feel loved because of some event in our lives we seek to reconcile this emotional pain. So, if you are fighting any kind of addiction–over control of people, sex, drugs, alcohol, workaholism, shopping, overeating–you are seeking to fill a void only God can fill. Pain has a useful purpose in our lives. Facing it, rather than medicating it, allows us to move to a place of discovering a capacity for a different kind of joy. That is the purpose of pain. We must let inner pain do its work by experiencing it fully. It feels like a contradiction to embrace the pain, but it is the only remedy for moving past it so it can yield its purpose in our lives. Otherwise, we remain unaware of our deeper desire for God and be driven toward a false lover.

PRAYER:

Today’s prayer is from the “Carmina Gadelica,” six volumes of prayers, hymns, blessings, songs, proverbs and literary folkloric poems from the Gaelic speaking regions of Scotland.  Compilation of the works began by Alexander Carmichel between 1860 and 1909.

Father beloved of every naked one, from Whom all gifts and goodness come. Our hearts illumine with Thy mercy, and in Thy mercy shield us from all harm. Without Thy divinity there is nothing. In man that can earn esteem; Without Thyself, O King of kings, sinless man can never be. In succor Thou art of all the best against the soul of wildest speech; Food art thou sweeter than all; Sustain and guide us at every time. The knee that is stiff, O Healer, make pliant. The heart that is hard make warm beneath Thy wing; The soul that is wandering from Thy path. Grasp Thou his helm and he shall not die. Each thing that is foul cleanse Thou early. Each thing that is hard soften Thou with Thy grace. Each wound that is working us pain, O Best of healers, make Thou whole! Give Thou to Thy people to be diligent To put their trust in Thee as God, that Thou mayest help them in every hour With thy sevenfold gift, O Holy Spirit generous! Amen.

What Really Matters

MEDITATION:

Written by Meg Bucher, a contemporary writer.

The pit in my stomach starts to swirl when the Lord is convicting me to be cautious or alerting me to take action. The decisions we make in our everyday lives can either lead to pure and blameless lives or heaped in the consequences of incorrect choices. Paul’s adamant to get his message across. Every decision matters. We cannot walk through life without pausing to perceive what is happening around us. To know what really matters takes mature discernment. Discernment is the acuteness of judgment and understanding. To discernis to “perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect.”  Our decisions affect the people God has purposefully placed in our lives to love. When we consider the effect our decision will have upon others, we are more cautious than if we were just thinking about ourselves. When my daughters were young, I read a devotional book with them every night. I cherished the conversations we would have and loved hearing their little voices pray to their big God. Over time, though, I knew they needed to grow beyond just a devotional at bedtime. The next step for them became the kids’ program at our local church. They looked forward to going every Sunday and eventually jumped into volunteering and serving as they got older. Now they are teens, and they are active in their local youth group. I miss bedtime devotions with their tiny voices praying to their great big God. But I love watching them grow into their faith on their own accord. In our everyday lives, God is faithful to meet us where we are at. He wants us to understand what really matters.

PRAYER:

Written by Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), an English cleric and author.

Father God, You desire peace and unity and encouragement for our body of believers. Help us, Lord, to pursue what makes for peace and for building one another up. To pursue the things You will lead to peace and unity. Give us discerning hearts to know Your will and give us the courage to be obedient. Lord, we know that without You and Your Holy Spirit indwelling each of us, we cannot do any of these things. But, with You and for Your glory, grant our body peace and unity. Amen.

United World

MEDITATION:

Written by Dennis Praeger, a radio talk show host and writer. This is an excerpt from his book “Genesis: God, Creation, and Destruction” from his The Rational Bible series.

It is very tempting to seek a united world—one language and one governing authority, with no divisive national identities. But God declares such a world dangerous [Genesis 11:6]. For one thing, it inevitably concentrates power in the hands of the few who run that united world—and power corrupts. For another, diverse national identities and cultures are a good thing. The united world the Torah seeks is a world of nations united in acknowledging the one God and living by His moral code. Beyond that, diversity in national identity, language, and even religion is welcome. Regarding the latter, the Torah and later Judaism are unique among monotheistic faiths in not seeking a world in which all people are members of their religion. Rather, the Torah wants all people to be ethical monotheists—people who acknowledge the one God of the Torah and live by His moral demands.

Virtually every call for “unity” is disingenuous. People who call for ideological unity do so on the presumption that it will be based on their values. When a Christian calls for Christian unity, he is calling for a unity based on his understanding of Christianity. Protestants who call for Christian unity are hardly willing to accept the Catholic pope or Sacraments, and Catholics who call for Christian unity are hardly willing to give up the papacy or the Sacraments. Likewise, orthodox Jews who call for Jewish unity assume it means all Jews embracing Halacha (Jewish law); and few non-Orthodox Jews who call for Jewish unity are willing to embrace most, let alone all, of Halacha…and the Torah never calls for all the world’s population to unite as Jews – only as followers of Torah’s God.

PRAYER:

Written by Candace Crabtree, a contemporary writer.

God, help our church body to walk in a manner worthy of the calling You have given us. Help us in all our interactions with one another to have humble and gentle hearts. Grant us patience for one another, bearing with one another in love. Grant the Body of Christ unity. May we walk humbly with You, God, allowing You to show us our wrongs. Amen.

Celebrate Each Other

MEDITATION:

Written by Peggy Stackle from the Village Church.

Have you ever considered how amazing you are? Seriously. You move about freely, wherever you want to go and you’re not plugged in, don’t require gasoline or electricity or robotics. You think you communicate verbally, and you can sing. Well, OK, some of us can’t carry a tune in a basket but we have voice boxes. Even though there is much about us that is the same, you are unique. Even if you have a twin there is still something that makes you unique. Let’s talk about being the same. The one basic defining issue is that we are human beings. Dallas Willard says that we are “spiritual beings in physical bodies”. That separates us from everything else. There are other creatures, and we know that they all communicate within their species at some level. But we have voice boxes, and we can communicate with really complicated thoughts. We can

communicate prejudice and bias or acceptance and openness, we can communicate contempt and condemnation or approval and appreciation, and so much more. Imagine how boring life would be if we were all absolutely identical. What if there were only one kind of flower or one kind of tree? If every person and every culture were the same, what excuse would we have to travel? What could we learn from others if everyone were exactly the same? If you have more than one child in your household or know a family with more than one, those children, raised by the same two parents in the same location and conditions, more than likely, are totally different from each other. Most parents are grateful for that. That’s how we were created. Unique. I wonder then why we do not celebrate the variety and the differences in our many cultures around the world. Geography has a lot to do with how indigenous populations develop. Weather as well. These two natural elements figure in world views. In the biblical text, mountains were centers of devotion in the communities around them. In California, mountains in winter mean skiing, another form of worship. We need to expand our understanding and our experience of our neighbors around the world. There is much to learn. There are many to love. Let’s celebrate each other.

PRAYER:

This prayer is from the PrayRay prayer website.

Lord, I thank you because I am relevant in your kingdom. You, God made us all unique. Lord, please let me be the change that the world needs. Use me for the world, let me be the salt that will sweeten this world, and let me be the light that will shine in this world.

Take Up Your Cross

MEDITATION:

Written by Alexander Smellie (1857-1923), a Scottish minister and writer.

The cross which my Lord bids me take up and carry may assume different shapes. I may have to content myself with a lowly and narrow sphere, when I feel that I have capacities for much higher work. I may have to go on cultivating year after year, a field which seems to yield me no harvests whatsoever. I may be bidden to cherish kind and loving thoughts about someone who has wronged me–be bidden to speak to him tenderly, and take his part against all who oppose him, and crown him with sympathy and succor. I may have to confess my Master amongst those who do not wish to be reminded of Him and His claims. I may be called to “move among my race, and show a glorious morning face,” when my heart is breaking. There are many crosses, and every one of them is sore and heavy. None of them is likely to be sought out by me of my own accord. But never is Jesus so near me as when I lift my cross, lay it submissively on my shoulder, and give it the welcome of a patient and unmurmuring spirit. He draws close, to ripen my wisdom, to deepen my peace, to increase my courage, to augment my power to be of use to others, through the very experience, which is so grievous and distressing, and then–as I read on the seal of one of those Scottish Covenanters whom Claverhouse imprisoned on the lonely Bass, with the sea surging and sobbing round–I grow under the load.

PRAYER:

Written by Scotty Smith, a contemporary American pastor.

Father, when we  begin to ask, “How long, O Lord?” When we wonder, silently and out loud, “How much is too much?” When we begin, or continue to doubt, your mercy and might, make the cross of Jesus clearer and dearer. O, for the Day when Jesus finishes making all things new. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ suffering and triumphant name. Amen.