God With Us: Day 15

Devotional Passage: Luke 2:6-7

Today you’re going to read two verses that describe Jesus’ birth. Yes, Christmas is still a week and a half away. Don’t worry. You’ll revisit them. But it’s good to spend some time reading about this event now. Why? For starters, because we can’t read it enough, but there’s a second reason. The idea of reading this passage now is so that you have the next few days to reflect on it. While we should spend time reflecting on the Gospel all year long, the opportunity for the focused devotion that comes with the Christmas season is a relatively short one. You should spend as much time as possible, reflecting on the birth of Christ.

Read Luke 2:6-7. Slow down and focus on it. See if you can imagine what it must have been like in that stable, which most scholars believe was more likely a cave than a barn. Can you imagine? Animals. Hay. The sights and sounds of giving birth. A newborn baby. An excited father. An exhausted mother. And through it all, there in the manger, the Son of God lies still.

Can you imagine what could be going through Mary and Joseph’s minds? What a rush! God had seen them through this challenge. This holy pregnancy that had to have caused drama? It was over. God had done what He said He would do.

Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son. How amazing it is that the eternal Son of God willingly chose to step into our world and take on the power of a “birthday.” What does that mean? Think about it. God never had to willingly come in the form of the Son to our earth. Jesus never had to lower Himself to take on the form of the very beings He created. We could have been left in our sin. We certainly deserve it. But through the simple act of the Eternal One embracing the concept of a birthday, a pathway was made to God. Humans no longer had to feel separated from God because of their sin. And all of this came to fruition in a stable on a Bethlehem night.

The King had come. The God-baby was born. And nothing has been the same since.

Think about this:

• Think for a moment where you have encountered the true Christmas story this Christmas season. Isn’t it interesting how hard we have to look to find it in our culture?
• Who in your life needs to know about the life-saving story of Jesus? Say a prayer right now that God will allow you to share this amazing story with them.

God With Us: Day 14

Devotional Passage: Luke 2:1-5

Timing is everything. Timing is the difference between a base hit and an out. Timing is the difference between a well-delivered joke and a lame attempt at humor. Do you slow down for that yellow light or speed up? Timing. Want to go to prom with your crush? Better make sure you don’t mess up the timing of your ask. Too late, and you’re sitting at home alone.

Here’s a truth for you to remember: God’s timing is always perfect. Always.

Read Luke 2:1-5. The cool thing about this part of the story has everything to do with God’s timing. But to truly understand it, we have to know a little something about the Old Testament Book of Micah. Micah was a prophet preaching God’s Word about 750 years before Jesus was born. In Micah 5:2, we read these words: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” This is a prophecy predicting where the Messiah was to be born. Cool, right? There’s only one problem: Jesus, the Messiah, didn’t live in Bethlehem. He lived in Nazareth, a roughly 80-mile journey.

So, here’s where timing comes in. Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor at the time, decided he wanted to count his people. He wanted to see how many people were in his realm for tax purposes. Now, we know that God is in control of all things. Nothing happens without His knowledge or permission. We can rightly say that God used this secular ruler to set in motion His plan. And so it was that Mary and Joseph found themselves in Bethlehem at the exact moment that Jesus would be born. Did I mention that God’s timing is perfect?

Christmas is a time of wonder. Take great wonder and awe in the fact there is no one like God. There is no detail too small for His notice. There is no obstacle too big. God orders the universe. He knows the paths of people, time, nature, and events. He brings all things to His purposes. The Christmas story is arguably the crowning achievement of His sovereignty. Let this lead you to praise and worship this season.

Think about this:

• Look around you. What do you see that points to God’s powerful control over all things?
• How can you have an attitude of awe over the last few weeks of this Christmas season? What can you do to make sure you’re not missing out on who God is or how He works in your world?

God With Us: Day 13

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:67-80

This day’s devotional will be our final visit with Zechariah and Elizabeth. It’s interesting that they play such a prominent role in the Christmas story, isn’t it? The reason is that God’s plan all along was to have the respective ministries of John and Jesus be linked. John went ahead of Jesus and paved the way for Jesus’ message. Their lives were entwined, and so it makes sense that their births would be as well. And so it’s fitting that we’ve given Zechariah and Elizabeth their due.

As we wrap up our look at this couple, read Luke 1:67-80. You’ve just read Zechariah’s response to seeing God keep His promise of giving Zechariah and Elizabeth a son. (Can you imagine what a big day this would have been for Zechariah???) It’s in looking closely at Zechariah’s response that we understand why it’s such a valuable aspect of the Christmas narrative.

What we see Zechariah doing here in verses 68-75 is starting up the ol’ time machine and walking us through a little history session. He recalls the promise God made to Abraham to make a nation through him. He recalls God’s faithfulness in promising a Messiah to rescue Israel from exile. He sees the promise of Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph through the lens of God’s faithfulness in providing him and Elizabeth with a son. He is grasping the history-altering, world-rocking mission of God. Zechariah is starting to sense that something pretty awesome is happening.

Check out what he says in verses 68-69: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? Isn’t this why we get so excited this time of year? Jesus was God wrapped in flesh, hanging out with us, His children. Jesus was God’s pathway to peace and harmony between humankind and Himself. And it all started with a little baby born in humble surroundings. This is why we celebrate.

Think about this:

• In your own words, come up with why Christmas means so much to you.
• What is your favorite thing about Christmas to celebrate?
• Is there anything you can do mentally or spiritually to put yourself in a position to make Christmas more meaningful?

God With Us: Day 12

Devotional Passage: Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 1:32-33

Turn to Isaiah 9. Before you read this well-known passage, let’s make sure we’re good on the context. Isaiah was one of Israel’s most important prophets. Isaiah was God’s mouthpiece to warn God’s people that if they did not turn back to God, they would experience God’s judgment. But wrapped up in this pronouncement of coming dread was a hopeful promise of God’s faithfulness. That’s what we read in verses 6-7. Go ahead and read them now.

If you recall back to when Zechariah encountered the angel in the Temple, you’ll remember the an-gel’s announcement echoed God’s words in Isaiah 9. Isaiah 9:7 says of the predicted Messiah, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” When the angel appeared to Zechariah, he said, “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Pretty cool, right? This is a very clear move on God’s part to clue in people that Jesus was God’s Son, promised centuries before His birth.

When we see prophecies fulfilled, it gives us confidence that God can accomplish His purposes. And so when we see in Isaiah 9 that the coming Messiah will be the Wonderful Counselor, we can trust that Jesus can meet the needs of our hearts. When we read that Jesus is the Mighty God, we can know that the one we serve is Lord over all things. When we read that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, we can trust Him to calm the turmoil in our lives.

Knowing exactly how the birth of Jesus was a part of God’s big-picture plan assures us. Which, when it comes to our faith and our lives, is a really big deal.

Think about this:

• Is there something going on in your life where you need to be assured of God’s ability to handle it? If so, now’s a good time to think about the truths of who Jesus is.
• Write a prayer to God, asking Him to remind you of who He is. Rest in the truth that He is in control of all things.

God With Us: Day 11

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:57-66

Take a moment and read Luke 1:57-66. Elizabeth is an older woman, way past her child-birthing years. The birth of her baby is a true miracle. And when we look at verse 58, the reactions of the people back this up. People are excited. They’re praising God as a result of this incredible event. But something hap-pens in verse 59 that causes a ripple in the otherwise peaceful narrative.

When Elizabeth goes to name the boy John, just as the angel had instructed her, the people try to put on the brakes. They essentially say, “Hold up. That’s not how tradition says that we do this. You don’t have anyone in your family named John. Shouldn’t you name him after his dad like you’re supposed to?” The crazy thing? They didn’t even bother to listen to Elizabeth. They go straight to Zechariah. But the cool part is that Zechariah has a little surprise in store.

Read verses 62-66 (remember that Zechariah hasn’t been able to talk for months because of his initial doubt that God would bless him with a son). When the people looked to Zechariah to back their play over his wife, he was having no part of it. He supported Elizabeth and God and told the people that their son would be called John. Guess what happened: His obedience was rewarded when God gave him his voice back. This was a sure sign that God was at work. It was just another way that God over-turned their understanding of tradition and custom.

We don’t always have an awareness of God’s plan. It’s easy for us to just go with the flow, doing things the way we always have. But if we begin to look for God at work, our expectations get blown wide open. Especially at Christmas, we have to look for God to do huge, God-sized things. And then? We must join Him at His work.

Think about this:

• Do you try to make God safe and predictable? Do you try to box Him in? If so, why do you think it’s our tendency as humans to do this?
• Say a prayer and ask God to help you see through any old customs or traditions keeping you from pursuing Him more.

God With Us: Day 10

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:46-56

One of the things about our faith that makes it so unique is that it is intimately personal and universally general. Huh? Seriously, though. It’s true. As individuals, we have this amazingly personal relationship with God. He knows us. He works in our lives for our good. We are His children. That’s super personal. But at the same time, God’s plan is HUUUUUUGE!!!!! He doesn’t only work for us and within us. He works for and within all people. And all space. And all time. See? Personal and general.

Read Luke 1:46-56. Yesterday we looked at Elizabeth’s powerful reaction of joy and happiness at the work God was doing. Today we’ll look at Mary’s response. But we’re going to take a slightly different angle. We’re not going to look at the part of her response that is personal to her, but at the part that is general to all people. Because nestled within Mary’s prayer of praise to God for what He had done in her is a powerful declaration for what God has done for all people.

Re-read verses 52-55. Here we see one of the Christmas narrative’s powerful truths: Jesus came to completely overturn our reality. The world says that the true rulers are those with power. Jesus came to show us that true power is found in humility. Jesus’ life and teachings showed us that His people would be identified by service, not by pride. Over and over again, Jesus lifted the poor and oppressed and spoke convicting truth to those in power. Jesus demonstrated time after time that the spiritually needy will always find their fill if they honestly search for God. This is the heart of Mary’s words here! It is as if she were predicting the ministry of Jesus, which, in a way, she was.

God’s Kingdom is not like our world. God’s ways are not like our ways. Jesus came to save the spiritually poor. He came to flip the order. The weak will be strong. The last will be first. He disturbed the status quo. As His children, our lives are meant to be lived in very much the same way.

Think about this:
As you go throughout the Christmas season, make sure that you’re looking for opportunities to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth. How are you lifting the weak? How are you ministering to the needy? Talk with your family about practical ways you can serve those less fortunate than you this Christmas.

God With Us: Day 9

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:39-45

There’s a feeling among people who don’t believe in God that Christianity is a “no fun club.” They look at Christianity as nothing but a bunch of rules to follow. Maybe you know people like this. They don’t know God. And what keeps them from being open to it is a fear that God is nothing but a big wet blanket. The only issue with this is that joy is a huge part of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

The Bible is bursting with examples of happiness and joy flowing from God, and flowing from within those who follow Him. One of these examples is found in the awesome exchange between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Read Luke 1:39-45 as we pick up with these two women we were introduced to a few days ago.

Mary somehow caught wind of her cousin Elizabeth’s news. Maybe the Lord gave Mary some insight to the other miraculous pregnancy in the works. Maybe Mary heard it through the family tree that Elizabeth was expecting in her old age. Whatever the case, Mary made a trip to see Elizabeth. What happens upon their seeing one another is an epic reunion. The two women greet each other with re-markable emotion. But the source of the emotion is where you’ll focus your attention today.

Verse 42 shows us Elizabeth’s reaction upon seeing Mary. Elizabeth “exclaims” with a “loud cry” that she is super-pumped to see her cousin. But look back to verse 41 at the source of this joy and celebration. The Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth! He was the source of her excitement. God empowered the happiness Elizabeth felt.

If we’re not careful, we can view God in the same way that outsiders sometimes do. And yet God is the creator of all of our emotions. Happiness, joy, excitement, surprise, laughter . . . all of these originate with God. God takes joy in our joy. And if you take one thing from this book, let it be that your heart is to be JOYFUL this Christmas season. There is much to celebrate! Open your eyes. Take-in the moment. And allow the Holy Spirit to give birth to the joy within you at the birth of the King.

Think about this:

• What about the Christmas season brings you joy? What makes you smile?
• Is there a particular Christmas song that makes you happy? Take the time to listen to it today (or if you’re brave, sing it right now), and thank God for giving us the ability to experience joy and happiness.

God With Us: Day 8

Devotional Passage: Matthew 1:24-25

Obedience is an interesting concept. It gets a bum rap. Just saying the word — “obedience” — kind of makes you shiver, doesn’t it? Thinking about obeying brings to mind your mom telling you to take out the trash or clean your room. It recalls images of life in the slow lane, holding up traffic, driving the exact speed limit. There’s a part of us – part cultural, part spiritual – that rebels at the notion of obeying the rules. (Think of this the next time you sneak candy into a movie theatre.)

And yet, obedience is firmly entrenched as a central part of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Jesus said in John 14, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me . . . Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

So what does all this talk about obedience have to do with the Christmas story? Plenty. Read Matthew 1:24-25. We’re wrapping up our three-day focus on Joseph’s role in Jesus’ birth story. This is the third snapshot we’ve studied. Joseph had decided to divorce Mary because of her pregnancy. Then, the angel encourages him not to do so, telling Joseph that the baby really is God’s Son. But before we move on, let’s pause here for a moment.

It’s easy to breeze past “moments” in Scripture. Time is condensed. We don’t always get a ton of details about what a person is feeling. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to act is if Joseph were a robot, not a real human being. But at that moment, when the angel had wrapped up his speech to Joseph, Joseph had a choice. A real choice. He could either obey God’s will that he should marry Mary or he could disobey. We should recognize this choice, as it’s one we make every day.

Joseph, the human being, made an amazing choice. He demonstrated his love for God by obeying: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Think of all that Joseph got to experience because he obeyed God! Think of how rich his life was as a result. If we believe in God, we must believe that what He has for us is awesome. Disobedience robs us from experiencing a full relationship with God. Joseph somehow understood this. And his faithfulness allowed him to be an awesome part of the greatest story ever told.

Think about this:

• In your own words, what can we learn from Joseph’s example?
• Our obedience is motivated by our love for God. Grab a piece of paper, or a note-taking app, and write down three reasons why you love God. Then thank Him in prayer for loving you.

God With Us: Day 7

Devotional Passage: Matthew 1:20-23

What are you scared of? Heights? Public speaking? Getting struck by lightning? Are you scared of snakes? Small spaces? Sharks? (If so, good. Sharks are insane, people-eating monsters. I mean, it’s true.) Different folks are scared of different things. (Heck, you may even have chiraptophobia, the fear of being touched.) But there is one fear that most people struggle with, even if they never admit it—the fear of what other people will think.

You’ve probably felt this fear. It shows itself in funny ways sometimes. Like when you show up to school dressed for Tacky Day only to realize you have your dates off. Your big fear in a moment like this is that other people will laugh at you. But sometimes it’s more serious than this. Sometimes, concerned about what others will say or do, we bury our true selves. We hide our faith. Or we try to be someone we’re not. Fear of what people will think affects more of our decisions than we probably want to admit.

Read Matthew 1:20-23. We talked yesterday about the tension in Joseph’s decision. The angel was about to cut right into this tension. But look at the first thing the angel says: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” The angel assures Joseph that Mary is telling the truth. But the first thing the angel said to Joseph had to do with what other people would think of him. Do not fear. This will be hard. You’ll most likely get made fun of. People may even get upset with you and Mary. But don’t worry about them. God is in control.

Christmas represents a perfect time to be bold about your faith. As our culture seeks to make Christmas about anything other than the birth of Jesus, it’s a great chance for you to put the spotlight back on the true reason for the season. And so be encouraged by Joseph’s example. Live your life without fear of what other people will think of you. Listen to God. Follow His ways. And live boldly for Him.

Think about this:

• Why is it hard to be bold in our faith sometimes? What factors keep us from moving past what others think of us?
• What does your boldness, or lack thereof, say about your faith in God?

God With Us: Day 6

Devotional Passage: Matthew 1:18-19

Tension is an important aspect of great stories. Think about the last suspenseful movie you saw. There were most likely moments of tension throughout the movie. It’s the moment when the hero is being chased. Will he get away? Or maybe the hero is trying to download secret documents from the bad guy’s computer, and we know the bad guy is just about to walk in the room! Tension. It creates suspense. It creates a sense of expectation. It makes us cringe with excitement.

Sometimes, though, tension can be a bad thing, especially when it comes to relationships. Take a moment and read Matthew 1:18-19. Today’s passage stops at verse 19 for a reason. It’s a cliffhanger in the story. A moment of great tension. What will Joseph do? But it’s more than this. Consider for a moment that Joseph isn’t some make-believe character. He was a real man. A good man. And suddenly, his relationship was full of tension.

There are three moments we need to focus on. The moment Joseph decides to divorce Mary. The moment the angel comes to him and encourages him NOT to divorce Mary (we’ll look at that moment tomorrow). And the moment he decides to heed the angel’s advice and move forward with the engagement. We need to focus on the first two moments. How much time passed between the first and second moments? How long did God allow Joseph to live in the painful, heartbroken tension of feeling like his true love had been unfaithful to him?

Tension. Like many uncomfortable realities, God uses tension to teach us. When God allows you to walk through a season of tension, His desire is that it would turn your heart to Him, compelling you to seek Him in prayer. After all, Joseph’s story worked out pretty well, didn’t it? We have to trust that God is always working for His glory and our good. And we have to accept that He knows best.

Joseph’s story is one full of tension and peace. But to find peace, we sometimes have to walk with God through moments of tension.

Think about this:

• What other moments of tension can you recall in the Christmas story?
• If you can learn to see moments of tension in your life as God providing you a chance to seek Him more passionately, how do you think this might change your relationship with God?