[All Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Christian Bible.]
Christmas is much more than a story about a Baby born in a cattle stall and it lasts longer than some think. There twelve days of Christmas, from December 25th to Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany Sunday [or “Little Christmas”] is celebrated on the Sunday after New Year’s Day, to commemorate the time when the “Wise Men” or “Magi” came to visit Jesus [See Matthew 2:1-12]. The gifts of the Magi tell us who Jesus is and why He came. On Christmas, Jesus was born to be our Immanuel – “God with us” [frankincense for Deity]. Jesus came to suffer and die [myrrh for mortality] on the cross to pay for the sins of the world [See John 3:16] on Good Friday. Three days later, He rose from the dead on Resurrection Sunday and is our King of kings and Lord of lords [gold for royalty]. Christmas is only a portion of this “wonderful old, old story” which really has no beginning and no end. His story continues with the empty tomb. The wrappings of death could not keep Jesus in the grave!
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … [The soldiers] put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and bowed His head and gave up His Spirit” [John 19:28-30; Also see Matthew 27:45-56, Mark 15:33-41, Luke 23:50-56].
“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound [wrapped] it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish Day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” ’[Mark 19:38-42; Also see Matthew 27:57-61,Mark 16:42-47, Luke 23:50-56].
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was dark, and saw that the stone was taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved…Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first…Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there [unwrapped], and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded [wrapped] up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he believed; for as of yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I don‘t know where they have laid Him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’…Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni! (this means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers’…Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ [See John 20:1-18; Also see Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12].
Jesus, the Word of God, the Creator of the universe, chose to become one of us, not to learn what it would be like to be a human being. He already knew all things. He was born the Baby of Mary, so that we would know Who God is and what He is like. Jesus was born to save us from our sins, by dying on the cross, rising from the dead and, in so doing, He reconciled us to God. Followers of Jesus, those who have received forgiveness through His sacrifice, are children of God. Because of Jesus we can say, “Abba! Father!” [See Romans 8:15]. Jesus defeated sin and death because of God’s love for us. “For our sakes He made Himself sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [II Corinthians 5:21].
“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconciled to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” [Colossians 1:19-20].
I heard a sermon once about why Jesus’ face cloth was “folded in a place by itself.” In those days, when a person got up from a meal without folding his napkin, it signaled the servant that his master was done with the meal. But, when He folded his napkin, it meant that he was not done and would be back to finish eating. In the same way, we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven [40 days after His Resurrection], believing that Jesus is coming again to rule the world with justice [See Psalm 9:7-10].
“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, [wrapped up in a cloud] and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven’” [Acts 1:9-11; Also see Luke 24:50-53].
Ten days after Jesus ascended to the Father, on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus gave His disciples the promised Holy Spirit [See Acts 2:1-13); the Helper, Comforter and Teacher. Jesus told them, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will declare it to you” [See John 16:13-14]. When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they were finally able to see the BIG PICTURE. As followers of Jesus Christ, 21st Century Christians who love the Lord of the universe and Savior of their souls have the same Holy Spirit indwelling them. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Advocate, Counselor], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him or knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and is in you” (John 14:15-17]. The Holy Spirit is the Christmas Spirit Who makes Christmas last all year round. [The only reason I take down my Christmas decorations is I have to make room for my baseball decorations.] Because I love Jesus, the Holy Spirit tells me that I am a child of God and that I will live with Him forever [See John 1:12; 14: and I John 3:1-3]. Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live” [John 14:19b].That is why I am looking forward to the day of Jesus coming again. Knowing what will happen when Jesus comes again also helps me in my grieving for my friends Jerry, Wanda and Ruthie, who have gone to be with the Lord this past year [See I Thessalonians 4:13-18]. I am thankful that we will see each other again, without the wrappings and trappings of our earthly bodies [See I Corinthians 15:50-58].
MARANATHA! COME LORD JESUS, COME!
“Have Yourself a MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS!”
At the beginning of each year, I choose a Bible verse or two as my theme for the year, which will help me to intentionally work on something I need to work on. No one knows how many years they have left or when Jesus will return. That is why, whatever happens, I want the Lord to find me faithful to Him These are my verses for 2015:
“…And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… [and] You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [See Mark 12:29, 31].
As I get older and “WIDER”, I see the need to pull out all the stops. God deserves all of my love and my life’s focus to be on Him and “His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven“[See Matthew 6:9-13]. These verses help me to ask myself, “How can I respond in a loving way to someone who has just ticked me off?” or when I am stressed out with “life” is not going as I want it to. I pray that this will help me to be more Christ-like in how I respond to people. My thanks go to my friend Paul who gave me these verses in one of his recent sermons.