Today likely has not been your perfect Christmas. Many families are not meeting together because of concerns over transmitting or catching the virus. Some are meeting virtually, or driving by and social distancing. Some are getting together but wearing masks. Many are spending Christmas alone or only with their household.
The season may not have been near perfect either. Shopping was a challenge for some, and buying was prohibitive for many, especially those whose small businesses closed this year, or whose employers laid them off.
For some, the loss of a family member during the past year has made Christmas more of a time to dread than to welcome.
There was a young couple who could identify with a less-than-picture-perfect holiday. Mary and Joseph had no relatives gathered around to celebrate the first Christmas. In fact, they weren’t even at home or among family. And likely their family and friends were a little off-put by the “out of wedlock” pregnancy.
And then came the order that would take them on a grueling journey for an expectant mother, as the Roman soldiers announced the order that would take the couple several days journey near the end of Mary’s pregnancy. Once they got to Bethlehem, perhaps they could find lodging and rest. That would be perfect. Yet, that was not to be.
Weary from travel, yet without time to give in to fatigue, Joseph found himself scrambling to find lodging in a town that was packed beyond capacity due to the decree of a tyrannical ruler, Caesar Augustus, who really wanted to know how many people he could push around, tax, and disrupt. Nevertheless, this journey had been in God’s plan and provision. Though Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth, it had been foretold that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
So here was this young, poor, possibly misunderstood young carpenter on his own with his very pregnant young wife, and as they arrive in Bethlehem, she goes into labor. She is not among the ladies of her town — her midwife is several days’ journey away. And on top of this, there’s no place open to them. Don’t you wonder if Joseph was panicky or if he calmly went about looking for shelter? I’ve always pictured him knocking on every door, begging someone take him seriously, but perhaps he simply trusted that God would not allow His Son to be born in the street. Either way, he got the job done, and the babe was born … in a barn.
Did your mother ever fuss at you, saying, “Child, were you born in a barn?” If so, I guess you could have told her that you were in good company, because Jesus was too.
But who would have expected the Lord of the universe to be born in a barn?
The first Christmas wasn’t what most people would have considered anywhere near perfect. However, it perfectly fulfilled God’s plan to save humanity.
This year has defied all the expectations we had on January 1, and the 20/20 hindsight is painful for many of us. Yet as this unconventional Christmas draws this unanticipated year to a close, let us remember that, if God could use a poor carpenter and his betrothed to bring His Son, the very representation of Himself, into this imperfect world, certainly He can reach down into our circumstances and work them for our good and His glory.
May we appreciate our perfect Lord and His perfect sovereignty over the affairs of humanity, and trust Him to work it into His tapestry of grace that reaches from the moment He said “Let there be light!” till the moment He invites us to the wedding supper of the Lamb.
I was an oddly patriotic kid. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, under the continual threat of the Soviet Union launching a nuclear attack or invading our land. Movies like Red Dawn and The Day After made a strong impression on me, and I wondered if someday we would face an attempted totalitarian takeover or a nuclear holocaust.
During my senior year of high school, my oddly patriotic spirit was intrigued by the opportunity to serve my country. While I was still in high school, I raised my right hand and vowed to defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I began going to weekend drills in January 1989, and left for basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, in June. The following February, I graduated from Defense Information School as a photojournalist. I returned to my reserve unit, the 100th Division, in Louisville, KY, and started college, only to be activated for Operation Desert Storm a few weeks into the semester. When my service was up in 1995, I didn’t leave my patriotism behind.
Though I grew up during the Cold War and served my country during an era governed by a different threat, I never actually feared that America would cease to be a nation. In the past few years, though, I started to wonder if the sun was getting ready to set on the American era. It seemed plausible, given that we have, in so many ways, descended headlong into depravity.
Yet there was always hope. I was never truly concerned that I’d live to see the end of the United States of America …
Tomorrow we “celebrate” our 244th birthday as a nation, and I wonder if it will be our last. We are fighting an unseen microscopic organism, with threats of other micro-enemies almost surely promised. We are witnessing our leaders trampling the Constitution, that same almost sacred document I swore to protect from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And, I believe worst of all, we are living through an undeclared civil war. We are literally destroying ourselves from within.
How do you celebrate a birthday under these conditions?
There’s a part of me that wants to petition the Lord of the universe to spare our nation, but I’m going to be honest: I don’t think He will. I think we’re getting what we deserve, as we have spent our entire history stained with the blood of innocent lives, whether through slavery, prejudice, senseless violence, or abortion. Whenever people decide that some human lives are worth less than others, God is not pleased.
I also believe the world is gearing up for the Great Tribulation, and that our days are numbered.
Recently I read Daniel 5. King Belshazzar received a supernatural message, directly from the hand of God:
What did this mean? Perhaps America is being given the same message now:
God has numbered the days of every kingdom and every person in that kingdom. Though we began, in many ways, as a God-honoring nation, we had some fatal foundational flaws. For the past 150 years, we have been on a downward moral slide in many other areas, and that has accelerated exponentially since the Bible and prayer were removed from schools and public life. Our days may be drawing to a close.
Is the handwriting on America’s proverbial wall?
We have been weighed in the balance. We have not practiced justice. We have not acted rightly. We deserve to be judged.
And we have been divided across most any imaginable or man-made division. We now have no idea who we are, or who the real enemy is.
Those of us who follow Christ know that Satan came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He is a deceiver, a murderer, and a liar (Genesis 3:4-5; John 8:44; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 5:8). Right now he is getting us to destroy ourselves from within.
We are likely more divided than ever, because we are divided over every conceivable issue. We are not divided on geographical lines and in danger of splitting the country in two parts; instead, we are divided in every state, in every city, and perhaps in every church and every family, and therefore in danger of destroying ourselves in our quest for justice and peace.
If we do celebrate another Independence Day, the likelihood that we will celebrate the birth of the country that our founding fathers fought for, that our grandparents fought for, or even that my generation fought for, is very unlikely. As an oddly patriotic American, I mourn that.
Yet there is cause to celebrate, though in a bittersweet way. As a Christian, I have put my trust in Christ alone, not in this country or this world. All of this will pass away, and maybe it will be sooner than any of us can imagine. Perhaps, for those of us who follow Christ, we will soon celebrate a true Independence Day in heaven, where we will be free from sin and death, where our mourning will be turned to dancing, where there is no more fear, no more deception, and no more unrest. The more I see what’s going on today, the more I long for my heavenly home, because my true citizenship is in heaven.
If you don’t yet know Christ, I urge you to repent, to put your trust in Christ alone, that you may have assurance of salvation through a relationship with the Living God. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord, you can do that right now. This takes an honest and genuine acknowledgement that you are a sinner, that you can’t do enough good deeds to be right with God because He is holy and we are unholy, that you need Him to save you, and that you are willing to follow Him and allow Him to govern your life. Baptism is the outward expression of this inward decision and should be done publicly and by immersion, in an act of obedience, submission, and testimonial to others. You also should read the Bible, pray, gather with other believers, and obey God’s commands, not to be saved, but out of gratitude for salvation, a desire to grow in your relationship with God, and in hopes of winning others to the Lord. Taking this step will provide a freedom that cannot ever be taken from you, no matter how bad things get in this world.