“‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave'” (Revelation 1:17b-18, NLT).
Each year brings its share of death, but it seems this one in particular has been full of violent killings. Death is bad enough by itself, but many worry about what happens to their loved ones afterward. People believe many different things about the afterlife, including the belief there isn’t one, which is a sad way to live and die. Christians believe in heaven but hold various views on what it really is and worry about those who aren’t believers.
The truth is no one need be afraid of what happens after we die, believers or not. Jesus assures us we have nothing to worry about because he is the living one who died but is alive forever and ever. His resurrection means he holds the keys to death and the grave. He has forever locked the door on death and its power over us and he has opened the door to eternal life, which no one can close. Some think he may use the keys to lock out a few or even a lot of folks, but our loving Savior isn’t like that. He will only use the keys to lock out the real enemy, never his loved ones, the whole world, for whom he died.
“His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere” (Isaiah 61:11b, NLT).
Every fall the seed catalogs began arriving at our house and my dad would pore over them, making his list of all the vegetables and flowers he wanted to plant in the spring. He set up lights in the basement to get them going so the seedlings could be set out as soon as possible. Having a garden in Colorado could be iffy as it sometimes snowed as late as May, but it was wonderful to watch everything sprout and grow. His garden gave my dad a lot of joy.
In Christ, God’s righteousness is planted in the hearts of those who believe and trust in him. Just as seedlings take time to grow, so his righteousness in us takes time and nurture to develop. Sometimes we get impatient with each other, thinking because we’re Christians, we should be perfect, or at least further along than we are. We need to remember any good in us is from God—it’s his goodness, his righteousness and he is the one who causes us to grow and become more like him. Picturing each other as seedlings in God’s garden might help us be more like the Master Gardener as he patiently waits, nurtures and loves us to maturity.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1, NLT).
Everyone loves receiving good news, but as most of us know, it often comes with bad news at the same time. Sometimes we get to choose which we’d like first, but for the most part, we just have to take it as it comes.
Many years before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote about the Anointed One who would bring good news to the poor. It wasn’t any good news and it wasn’t just good—it was the most incredible news anyone could ever hope for: salvation by grace in Christ alone. But Jesus isn’t simply the messenger, he is the good news himself. He’s better than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and more exciting than a winning lottery ticket. He’s the be-all and end-all of life, the apex and epitome of all we want, dream of and hope for. Our temporary, physical existence brings a lot of bad news, but in Jesus, it’s all good, all the time.
“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14, NLT).
Most of us won’t get a chance to see celebrities in person, although from time to time at an airport or on a plane, you can spot one. I’ve seen a few on my travels but have probably missed some as they tend to look rather ordinary in real life, especially if they try to blend in by dressing like the rest of us.
When Jesus walked the earth as a human being, most didn’t recognize the most important celebrity in history. Even those closest to him didn’t understand exactly who he was until after the resurrection. He couldn’t help but draw attention because of his miracles and teaching, but he was just like us in every way except one—he was also God. During his time on earth God was live and in person and he still is today, though many don’t recognize him because he looks like you and me: he is God the Holy Spirit, living in us.
“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11, NLT).
Hope is one of the three things Paul said would last forever (1 Corinthians 13:13). People have survived many horrible situations by clinging to hope, however small or weak. For thousands of years, the hope of a Savior kept the Hebrews and then the Israelites going. They never gave up on that hope, no matter how many generations passed or what hardships they had to endure.
Jesus was the long anticipated hope come to life, not only for the Jews, but for all of humanity. The birth of a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling cloths gave hope a face, with flesh that could be touched, eyes to look into and a smile to light up the darkness. Today we celebrate the arrival of the Deliverer, Redeemer, Savior, Anointed One and King, God with us, everyone’s hope and the bright, shining star of our hearts. Merry Christmas and God bless you with his love and peace.
“And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12, NLT).
Many things have changed in the business world, including management, strategies and marketing, but one thing hasn’t changed: dressing for success. Being casual and comfortable is great, but if you want to stand out, nice clothes will do it every time. Giving attention to one’s appearance shows an attitude of caring. Unfortunately we sometimes tend to put more weight on appearance than what’s inside.
The beginning of Jesus’ life was obscure and inauspicious. Rather than coming into the world with much fanfare and hoopla, his birth took place in a barn and his first bed was a feed trough. His first outfit was simple cloth, cut into strips. This king wasn’t about fine clothes, rich surroundings and all the usual trappings of royalty. Jesus was definitely a power dresser, but he was clothed with love, grace and mercy instead of fancy robes and crowns. Jesus was dressed for success as a king who would all his life live and die for us.
“I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command” (Isaiah 45:12, NLT).
For thousands of years, the stars have been a source of fascination. To the naked eye they are little pinpricks of light in the night sky, tantalizing to our sense of wonder, curiosity and imagination. The Hubble telescope has returned some beautiful pictures and from them, scientists have learned a lot, but they are still a mystery only God understands. He is the one who created them and even named them (Isaiah 40:26).
The star that led the wise men to Jesus is also a mystery. Was it a figment of Matthew’s imagination, an astronomical anomaly or a real star put in place by God? We don’t know for sure, but we do know those wise men were able to find him (probably a few months after his birth) and worship this newborn king of the Jews. The star could be called God’s formal birth announcement, letting not just the Jews but the whole world know a new king had made his entrance into a world in desperate need of his grace and mercy: Jesus, the eternal Star and bringer of light.