advent 2015 — 1

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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11

Finally, here we are at the pointy end of Advent. And when we get right down to it, Christmas is not really all about the tree, the tinsel, the food and the family. It is not really about baby Jesus either for that matter. It is all about the presents.

Well, that’s the way it seems when you watch the telly and visit the shops.

The wise men brought presents to the baby Jesus, so Jesus received gifts too – and very expensive ones at that. But it appears that as soon as the wise men entered the house they immediately fell down and worshipped him.

This reminds me of time when Judas brought the soldiers to the garden where Jesus was. When the soldiers said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus responded with: ‘I am he,’ and ‘they drew back and fell to the ground’ John 18:6. And in Revelation chapters four and five, the elders and living creatures fell down and worshipped the Lamb on the throne.

It seems then that even as a baby, Jesus had the majesty, the command and the authority he had as a hunted man and later after his death and resurrection, as the glorified Christ, the Lamb of God.

So, the wise men worshipped Christ, then gifts were offered.

What gift could we buy for our Lord Jesus this Christmas? What could we possibly give to our God who created all things and owns the cattle on a thousand hills? What could we possibly give to the King of kings and the Lord of lords?

Perhaps we should come as the wise men, the soldiers, the inhabitants of heaven, and the humble little drummer boy, with nothing to give but our worship and adoration and praise.

Little drummer boy Boney M

advent 2015 — 2

Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honoured, and they shall not be small. Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them. Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the LORD. And you shall be my people, and I will be your God. Jeremiah 30:19-21

Two more sleeps!

But while we are waiting, here is yet another question to consider: Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus?

Much is made of family get-togethers and feasting at Christmas time, but in the light of the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth, there is nothing about family gatherings or partying.

So should we remember this momentous event in the way we have become accustomed?

The concept of feasting and gathering together is not foreign to God’s people. The Old Testament features various feast days and Jesus himself participated in a banquet held in his honour (Luke 5:29). The biblical feasts were a means by which the Israelites could not only acknowledge God’s deliverance, but also express their thankfulness for his provision and the favour shown towards them.

While the feast days were often solemn occasions and sometimes incorporated a sacrifice of atonement for sins, they were also times of gladness and rejoicing.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25 December, or on 26 December in my family’s case. The day and date is of no consequence, but the purpose of the celebration is.

How can we not celebrate and be glad and rejoice in the good news the angels brought to the shepherds: that in the babe of Bethlehem, the Saviour, God has made all the provision necessary to bring us into his family – to fit us for heaven to live with him there.

Away in a manger Casting Crowns

advent 2015 — 3

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

On Sunday night, we spent the evening singing carols with our family and friends and others from the local community. Although the wind was a tad cool, it was delightful to hear children play their musical instruments, recite the nativity story and sing ‘Away in a manger’.

A couple of days ago, I asked the question about the point of Christmas trees. My question today is: what is the point of singing Christmas carols?

I’m not talking about ‘Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer’, ‘Jingle bells’ or ‘Have yourself a very merry Christmas’. These songs and others like them have not been motivated by the Christmas story.

Several years at another carols night, the MC explained that the carols did not appear in a vacuum. Godly people were inspired to write the carols in response to the wonderful thing God has done for his people: carols such as ‘Hark the herald angels sing’, ‘Angels we have heard on high’, ‘O come all ye faithful’, ‘Joy to the world’ …

While some of the songs embellish the Christmas story – the night may not have been ‘silent’, there could have been a howling storm – these songs contain so much of God’s Christmas truth.

Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
Who hath made heaven and earth of naught
And with his blood mankind hath bought

God rest you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

Even ‘The holly and the ivy’ uses something of nature to remind us of the purity of Christ, his blood shed for us and the crown of thorns placed upon his head – the coronation of the King of the Jews.

At this time every year, so many people sing the words to these wonderful songs of joy, but how many of us actually listen to the words and understand and believe what we are singing?

The point then of singing Christmas carols? Yes, this time there is a point.

We reiterate the Christmas story each year in song. By singing carols, we remind ourselves and others of God’s demonstration of gracious love for sinners.

O holy night Celtic Woman/Chloe Agnew

advent 2015 — 4

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8

Many of our homes, inside and out, are highly decorated at this time of year. Some are so gaily lit up, it is almost like day in the dead of night.

Our Christmas trees too are littered with lights, baubles, stars, angels, candies and small gifts. Under the tree, larger gifts aplenty are eyed off by impatient younger family members.

Christmas is a fun time, especially in Australian homes.

Jesus’ first ‘home’ on his birth day was not so. He was born in a stable and laid in a manger. In Aussie parlance, he was born in a shed and laid in a feed trough.

My nearest Australian experience of a ‘stable’ would have to be a shearing shed in which I worked as a shed-hand for several years in a former life. The shed was usually constructed of corrugated iron and wood. In the summer, the shed would become extremely hot and in winter, very cold. The air-conditioning was an open door and the hot waft of air, or freezing gale, depending on the season, coming up through the chute where the sheep were shoved after being shorn.

And one does eventually get used to the smell of sheep dung and the more than occasional fly blown, maggoty rear ends of the sheep.

Not a place I would take a new-born baby.

Jesus is God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Mighty God of Isaiah 9 and the creator of all things. His domain is the glory of heaven in which all creatures fall before the living God saying “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!”

Yet he emptied himself; he left all of the above and was brought low in humiliation, born into a poor family – from Nazareth of all places. Can anything good come from there? Born in a dirty shed, laid in a feed trough – no four by two brick and tile home in the suburbs with a decked out nursery.

Born into the poorest and meanest of situations. No tinsel, no fairy lights, no glitter.

He identified with all of humanity by becoming like the majority in our world: poor and lowly in station. And Christ’s humiliation continued though his life until his substitutionary death on the cross taking the penalty for our sins so we might share with him in his heavenly home.

Hark the herald angels sing Chris Tomlin

advent 2015 — 5

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Galatians 3:13

Only five sleeps ’til Christmas and counting down.

And only yesterday did one of my daughters buy a very small but beautiful Christmas tree for my home. I have not had one for several years. But with family staying over for Christmas this year, a Christmas tree does make it ‘Christmassy’.

Why do we decorate trees at Christmas time? What is the point? If I google it, I’m sure I could find various stories and ‘good’ reasons why we should have one.

The Bible does not mention a tree, or trees, in the narrative of Jesus’ birth. I’m sure there were trees around somewhere, but they don’t get a mention. A star does. A manger does. Swaddling cloths do, and so does an inn and a stable. And of course, we should not forget the gifts from the wise men from the east… but no tree.

Trees are, however, mentioned in other parts of the Bible: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life of the Garden of Eden and Revelation, the trees that are recognised by their fruits symbolising the good works of God’s people, and the tree of Psalm 1, also in reference to God’s people and their spiritual lives.

There is also the tree on which criminals were to be hung in Deuteronomy chapter 21 and Galatians chapter 3 with reference to Christ who redeemed us from the curse of the law by being hung on a tree as a criminal – even though he was no criminal.

Perhaps we should call the criminal’s tree the Christmas tree and have a wooden cross in our sitting rooms or adorning our front windows. Would we decorate the cross with tinsel and Christmas baubles and lights?

And yet the tree of the cursed is so much closer to God’s Christmas truth.

What is the point of the decorated Christmas tree then? There isn’t one. They are just pretty to look at.

The old rugged cross Anne Murray

advent 2015 — 6

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

Six days until Christmas and as one drives around, the streets of the cities and towns are alight. There are lights, lights everywhere. They look so beautiful and some displays are very impressive.

There is something about lights that draw us and make us gasp in delight, especially when contrasted with the darkness of the night.

The Father of lights, however, has done something far more impressive than the efforts of our citizens, as beautiful as they are. He created the lights in the heavens that declare his glory.

But an even greater work than this: he has given us the most beautiful of gifts, the Light of the world, in the person of the babe of Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem Evie

advent 2015 — 7

And coming up at that very hour [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:38

The idea of redemption is peppered liberally throughout the Bible. A redeemer was a male relative who was obliged to come to the help or rescue of one who was in trouble, danger or in need of vindication.

Because the human race has been mired in the ‘slough of despond’ since the fall in the Garden of Eden, we have been in desperate need of rescue.

Jesus was born a baby into the human race and is thereby related to us. He, as our kinsman, has the means by which he can rescue us: his perfect body and sinless life.

Anna spoke of the baby Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul said of Jesus Christ: ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…’ (1:7)

And Job said, ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth.’ (19:25)

My Redeemer lives Nicole C Mullen