This last day of 2020 is filled with Hope for the future. Hope that the Pandemic that has plagued the world this year will soon end. Hope that the vaccine will protect us from the Corona Virus. Hope that the economy will recover. Hope that our world will again be open to travel. Hope that our lives will again begin to intertwine with others face to face. Providentially, the Word God gave me for this year was HOPE. I have seen it manifested in my life more and more as the year progressed. The scriptures I claimed this year were Psalm 71:14 “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more”, Psalm 119:147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. and Psalm 39:7 ““And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”
As I began the year, my reasons for choosing Hope were based on the eternal hope I know I have in Jesus. The hope I have that His Word anchors me in both the good times and in those that are difficult. His hope gives me confidence and joy in living each day. As the year continued, I saw the great need for His Hope in my life to ward off the fears of isolation, desperation, confinement, loneliness and boredom. He led me so that I was able to learn and grow in spite of all the confusion and helplessness I was feeling. I learned new ways to connect with others, the value and need I have to be connected and how to function together with others without being physically with them. I am eternally grateful for the Hope I have in Jesus that sustains and leads me. The lessons God taught me about His Hope caused my faith to grow and increased my assurance that His Word is true in every way.
What word will you ask God for in 2021? In 2019 my word was Trust. I saw my need for trust in God grow through the events of that year and the truth of God being Trustworthy. As I look toward 2021, God has been saying to me that my joy is in Him. So this next year I am convinced that JOY is my word for 2021. May God lead you as you reflect upon His Goodness, Patience, Love and Mercy as you end 2020 and look into 2021 with a HOPE that only Jesus can give!
The old saying, “It is so good to go but oh so nice to come home”, could be said of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in this last episode of the Christmas Story. God again directed their pathway and protected them from harm. He led them to the place Jesus would call home until His public ministry began some 30 years later. Matthew 2:19-23 “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”
As this portion of Jesus’ life concludes we see the hand of Sovereign God protecting the child and his parents yet again from the evil leader who might seek to harm the child. Archelaus was evil and tyrannical like his father Herod. He only remained in power for 10 years but was know as unusually cruel and tyrannical before being deposed. His reign was short and Judea a became a province of Rome thereafter and was ruled by those appointed by the emperor. Again, God spoke and Joseph listened and obeyed his dreams. Going back to Nazareth was probably comfortable as that was where they had lived prior to having to go to Bethlehem for the census several years before. Even though people would have known their history, they were returning as a married couple with a small child. Scripture does not indicate there was any animosity towards them or held beliefs or prejudices. Nazareth was a quiet backwater type of town where obscurity could be achieved and the child protected. Again, this protected location is seen in the prophesies that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. These exact words are not found in the Old Testament but their meaning of one who is despised and rejected is referred to in Psalm 22:6 and Isaiah 53:3. Being referred to as a Nazarene in Jesus’ day was synonymous with one who is despised. Surely, nothing good could come from Nazareth was the assumed idea. No one would look for the ‘king of the Jews’ in such a place and no one did!
What can we take away from this story today? We see that God’s will and plan for the redemption of mankind through His Son could not be thwarted by men. God had a plan for our salvation and nothing could disrupt it. Job 42:2 reminds us of this ““I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” We also see God’s hand of protection in Mary and Joseph’s story and His guidance to Bethlehem, Egypt and back to quiet Nazareth. So many things could have befallen them on their journey, but God protected and guided them home. He can and does this for us in our lives, too. We may not see it, but as God grows our faith and opens our eyes to His goodness as we come to trust more fully in His plans and ways. It is a life long process of growing in the Lord that matures our faith. I’m confident that this ‘journey’ was one of growth and trust in the Lord for both Mary and Joseph.
As we leave this last installment of the Christmas Story, let us remember with confidence that God’s plan is sure Job 42:2, His ways are not our waysIsaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” His ways are always right Psalm 71:19“Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? and He does things for our good and His glory Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Praise God for His blessings and what He teaches us through His Word. The Advent Season is one to be cherished and loved. We can cling to the Hope, Love and Redemption we see throughout the year. Jesus is the reason for Advent Season! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16
This portion of the Christmas Story is not very pleasant. It shows how evil, greed, power and the thirst for absolute power can consume a person. It shows how selfish desires can cause irreparable damage to those around us. Matthew 2:16-18 tells of Herod’s reaction and subsequent actions when he heard that the Magi had not returned to tell him about the child born ‘king of the Jews’.
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
Herod was an evil, self-centered, tyrannical dictator who wanted no one else to come between him and his reign. He saw the child who would be king as a personal threat to his power and throne. God protected Jesus and his family by sending them to Egypt to escape the reaches of Herod and the Magi He sent home by another route after appearing to them in a dream. There was no escaping the evil Herod showed by killing all the male babies under 2 in Bethlehem. The anguish and sadness brought upon the people of Bethlehem at his hand is unspeakable. You might ask the age old question, why God? Why did God allow this to happen? My only answer is that we as believers live in a sin-filled world. We have to cling to the goodness of God and that His purposes are just and bring goodness to us and glory to Him. Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him”. Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
This action towards the innocents of Bethlehem shows the omniscient power of God to know the future as the prophecy in verse 18 from Jeremiah was given hundreds of years before. God knows the heart of mankind and the evil that our sin natures can cause. We have seen evil in the world century after century and the destruction it brings. We only need to remember the times of Noah, Judges and David in the Old Testament and those who plotted to kill Jesus, Paul, Stephen and Peter. It is by God’s grace that we are saved through faith and can rise above the desires and pressures of this sin-filled world. We can know God’s love, forgiveness and comfort even as the world struggles with sin that effects all the world around us. We can thank God for His eternal protection and salvation. We can know that in Him all is right. Take heart in these verses from Romans 8:37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Obedience brought protection for Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the Magi against the evil intent that God knew was in Herod’s heart. The Magi were obedient to follow the message in their dream to not return to Herod. Joseph was again visited by an angel and told to take Mary and baby Jesus and go to Egypt. He was obedient and packed them up and left immediately. The Magi returning home and Joseph taking his young family to Egypt and eventually Nazareth shows God’s omniscient power over current threatening events and in fulfilling prophecies given hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth.
Matthew 2:12-15 “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Where is God calling you to be obedient? Is He directing you to share, give, comfort, lend a helping hand, provide care or listen with a loving heart? Our obedience is important and loved by God. It is an attribute God desires for our lives and shows our love and respect for Him in a very real and tangible way. When I think on the priority God places on obedience, my thoughts go to 1 Samuel 15:22. “And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God desires that we are obedient and with that obedience comes blessing. The Magi were blessed with seeing the child and not giving further help to the evil of Herod. Mary and Joseph were blessed by continued protection from harm and provision through the gifts of the Magi. All of their acts of obedience brought glory to God and His plan for mankind.
Have you ever considered how your obedience is a tool for God to use in the lives of others? Your obedience, like that of Joseph, Mary and the Wise Men can and will be used by God to bless others. Meditate today on the effects of your obedience to God and His Word. 1 John 5:3-4 gives us a guide by which frame our obedience. It is specific and direct- not always easy but true. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Walk in faithful obedience to God’s Word and His Son and see how God blesses and multiplies your effect upon others for Him.
After the Wise Men met with King Herod and got further directions on where to find this possible child born ‘king of the Jews’, they proceeded to Bethlehem. Matthew 2:9-12 “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
Here we see the provision, protection and love God has for His Son who is now on earth. We know the Magi did not visit on the night of Jesus’ birth as in verse 2 we were told they came to see Herod after Jesus’ birth. Also there is no mention of a stable or animals but a house. (When visiting Bethlehem, guides took us to a house believed to be where Mary and Joseph lived during this time period. It is very near to the stable cave and had several rooms where they could have lived comfortably.) The Magi followed the Star and found where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were living. The gifts they presented to them were very costly and befitting a king. We see God’s Sovereignty in the fact that He warned the kings not to go back to Herod. God knew what was in Herod’s heart and protected His Son.
Have you experienced the provision, protection and love of God during this pandemic year of 2020? I know I have. God has provided comfort and connection that I so desperately crave during these times of isolation. He has protected me from the virus and kept me in good health. I have felt His love through His Word and the kindness of others. God loves each of us and reaches down to touch us in ways we recognize and then some we don’t. Reflect as we end this year on ways God has met your needs and thank Him for His provision.
Matthew 2:1 clearly states that the encounter of the Wise men with King Herod happened after the birth of Jesus. So our story continues….
Matthew 2:1-8 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
When was the last time you went in search of something? Maybe you were looking for your keys, a particular piece of clothing, a special ingredient, an appliance or even a certain type of car? Did you make a plan for your search or have to drive from place to place? Maybe you called ahead or researched it on the Internet. In any case, it took time to search and you were looking forward to finding it. The Wise Men were looking forward to finding the babe, king of the Jews, so they could worship Him. Here are some thoughts about them and their journey. The Wise Men were from the east so that would be in the direction of Persia, Babylon or the Orient. They has been students of astrology if they were studying the stars enough to find the star phenomena that occurred at this time in history. Scholars believe it was a conjunction of planets that came together and then moved in retrograde probably Saturn and Jupiter. We had a similar occurrence just this last week that is very rare as the last time it occurred was in 1220. They were seeking the one born ‘king of the Jews’. This would indicate that they were gentiles. If they had been Jewish, they would have said our king and named him as Messiah. They were also seekers of truth as they had seen the star, been motivated to follow it and traveled hundreds of miles by caravan in pursuit of this ‘king’. These Magi or Kings themselves must have been men of means to be able to take the time and have all the necessary provisions-camels, men, money for this lengthy trip.
What would you do if you were the ruler of a country and someone came and asked where the new king was? We learn several things, not very good either, about King Herod from his words and actions with Wise Men. He was curious about the Wise Men, visiting dignitaries, and their journey. Visitors from the east were probably not an every day occurrence and created a bit of a stir. When Herod heard about their quest to find the ‘new born king’ scripture describes him as disturbed, troubled and all Jerusalem too. Herod was a very powerful tyrannical ruler who was a supreme builder. He shows himself here to be crafty and cunning. Herod told the Wise Men privately what his scholars had said about where the Messiah would be born and suggested they continue their search for this child. I’m sure he did not want it publicly known that there was a ‘new born king’ somewhere that might be the long awaited Messiah, hence the private audience. He asked them to come back and tell him when they found the child so he could worship him too. We learn later this was a crafty lie as he had no intention of sharing his throne with anyone.
What does this teach us about God? For one, all the universe awaited the birth of the Messiah and God used the heavens to declare his arrival. The prophecy in Numbers 24:17 speaks of a star in relation to a new king, “I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel. It will crush the heads of Moab’s people, cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth.” Since the king here was one that would be powerful and crush others, I’m sure this is yet another reason Herod feared a new king and wanted him gone. Another thought is that God can and does use all kinds of people to do His work. Lowly Mary and Joseph, elderly Zachariah and Elizabeth, Anna and Simeon were just ordinary people God used in mighty ways. Here God shows us He can and does use unbelievers to accomplish His plans. Their involvement in the coming of the Savior reminds us that Jesus came to save all people.
Blessings as you ponder anew the arrival of the Wise Men and their seeking hearts.
I would recommend the video The Star of Bethlehem produced by Stephen McEveely. You can look it up on their website at http://www.bethlehemstar.net It is fascinating and really faith confirming about how all the universe proclaims the arrival of God’s Son.
Merry Christmas! I found this Christmas Blessing while blogging this year and really loved the sentiments it contained. May you know the blessings of Peace that Jesus brings, John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” May you see your Hope in Him, 1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” May you feel the Sprit of His Love, 1 John 3:23 “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” May you have the Comfort of Faith in Jesus,2 Corinthians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”
All of these gifts complete the circle of our Advent Wreath as we light the Christ candle on Christmas Eve or morning proclaiming His birth. May you find His Love, Comfort, Hope and Peace in Jesus. May you rejoice in the arrival of Jesus and claim the JOY God has for you.
My journey though the Christmas scriptures has brought me to Christmas Eve with a humble and open heart. I know I did not get to the Wise men yet, but they truly did not arrive until about 2 years after Jesus’ birth and provided monies for Joseph and Mary when they fled to Egypt. I’ll continue with their part in the story next week. However, the journey thus far has given me renewed hope in the Sovereignty of God. He was then and is now in control of all things. God has a plan which is to bring as many people to himself as are willing to come. 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” All the details before, during and after the birth of Jesus shout of His sovereign power to bring about the impossible.
This Christmas Eve, meditate on the delivery of all mankind from the power of sin and the freedom revealed in Jesus’ birth. Power over sin-Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Romans 5:9 “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Freedom- 2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Lastly, take time to rejoice in the Savior. He is worthy of all our praises and brings joy for you and me. Romans 5:11 “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”
Have a blessed day remembering how God led us in the journey, delivered His promises and provided unending joy for all mankind through the birth of His Son.
Another confirmation from God came from elderly Anna. She was a widow of many years and was undoubtedly allowed to live in one of the rooms at the temple used for various things. She spent her days worshiping, fasting and praying. Anna was called a prophetess which was not as common as her male counterpart, prophet, of which there were many in the Old Testament, like Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah…. However, she was not alone as Miriam, Moses’ sister was called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, Deborah the mighty leader in Judges 4:4, Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14 and Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:9.
Here is her encounter with the baby Jesus from Luke 2:36-38. “Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”
What does this encounter with baby Jesus show us? God requires us to be diligent and patient, persisting in our faith. Anna took every opportunity to worship and pray. She was open to hear from God about the future. Her message to Mary, Joseph and all of us about this child is one of Hope. She saw in Him one who would rescue her people. We may not be prophets or eloquent preachers but we too have a message of Hope from Jesus to tell others. God’s indwelling Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we belong to Him and have the Words of light, hope and salvation to give in Jesus’ name. Light – John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Hope– 1 Peter 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you Salvation-1 Thessalonians 5:9 “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Will you persist in faith even when things get hard? Will you lean upon Jesus as your source of eternal light, hope and salvation just as He would want? Patient Anna was rewarded with seeing Jesus and knowing the truth of God revealed to the world. Take encouragement from her today and persist in your faith with diligent prayer and worship. You too will be rewarded by God just as He promises in Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.“
Just like after John’s birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph had a naming and circumcision ceremony on the eighth day. They named him Jesus as that was the name the angel gave them even before His birth. Luke 1:31 and Matthew 1:21 Then the Jewish law required the couple to wait 40 days before presenting their child in the temple for dedication to the Lord. On Jesus’ dedication day God prepared yet another confirmation for Mary and Joseph that their child was from God. Here is their encounter with Simeon and his words about Jesus.
Luke 2:25-35 “At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Wow! What confirmation from this godly man that Jesus was going to provide salvation for all people and bring light into the world. Bringing salvation– Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” and Hebrews 5:9 “In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.” Bringing light– John 8:12 “Jesus said to them, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” and 2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” Simeon also blessed them and spoke words for them to treasure in preparation for the future that God has planned for their child. Saving the world and giving light to all was not going to be an easy pathway as He would face opposition and many hearts would be effected, even theirs.
What encouragement do you find in this story of Jesus’ dedication? It confirms to me that God is Sovereign and Omniscient. He knows all that will happen and had a plan to redeem mankind. It shows God is Merciful, Gracious and Compassionate as He sent His Son to bring light into a dark world and provide salvation for all. God is loving and keeps His promises just as He kept his word to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Savior. He also prepared Mary and Joseph for the coming life their son would lead, one that would to be filled with godly purpose. God knows each of us as He did Simeon, Joseph and Mary. He knows what we need and His timing is perfect. Reflect today on how God’s timing has been perfect in your life. How has God fulfilled his promise in Romans 8:28 to you? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. I can attest to God’s hand in my life even in the darkest times. Even those tough times produced growth and experiences that God has used many times over to help others, to build my faith and produce results I had never envisioned or dreamed possible. God is indeed Sovereign and can and will use all things for my good and His glory as I walk with Him.