At Christmastime we often hear the story of how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the miraculous birth of Jesus. But did you know that Gabriel also spoke to Mary's husband? Let's listen to what happened when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream:
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel.' (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV).
Matthew quoted the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14 ESV). Seven hundred years after Isaiah spoke, the archangel appeared to Mary and Joseph to announce that through Jesus, whose name means Yahweh saves, the prophecy would be fulfilled and from that point forward, God would forever be among his people.
In the Old Testament after the fall of Adam and Eve, God was with his people from a distance - in the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus 13; on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19; and hovering over the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies in Exodus 40. The birth of Jesus brought God ever so much closer to us. In the New Testament gospels, the sweet baby born in a stable would grow and thrive to become the man who would reach out and touch the untouchable, dine with the unmentionables, and die and rise again to save the world from sin. He walked, talked, healed and taught among us, as one of us. As John wrote in his gospel, Jesus was "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—" (1 John 1:1 ESV).
At first, the only New Testament saint to experience the presence of God dwelling within her was the virgin, Mary; but beginning in Acts chapter two, when the church was born through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' presence with us became even closer, and now he dwells deep in the heart of every believer. Jesus truly is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).
Over many years I have participated in ministries that visit and provide comfort and prayer to those who are suffering in nursing homes, hospitals, and jails. The one thing that is unfailingly true in every situation is that the presence of Jesus Christ is with his people in every sick bed and jail cell. I have witnessed men and women come to the Lord in situations where they have felt so lost, forgotten and alone that they did not believe that they could withstand it for another day, and in a single moment, I have seen them repent and return to hope, life, and peace - where although everything outside of them remained the same, everything on the inside was changed forever.
As Isaiah prophesied, the Son who would be given to us would be our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father and our Peace (9:6). And yet, Jesus is even more than that. He is one of us, and he is with us. When we receive him as our Lord and Savior, he literally sends his own Spirit to live within us. Jesus is with us when we are sick. He is with us when we are alone. God Almighty, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace is with his children when they are in a jail cell. He is with us when we are in a hospital bed or a nursing home. He is always with us, and when we suffer he suffers with us (1 Peter 5:10). When we are lonely, he comforts us (John 14:26). When we are guilty, he saves us by his grace (Ephesians 2:8). When we face disease, by his stripes, we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). When we face persecution, his love never wavers (Romans 8:31-39).
Often when we think about these things, we picture God as out there somewhere, acting on us from a distance. That may have been the case for the Old Testament saints, but for us, on this side of the Cross, Jesus is not "out there," he is "in here." He lives inside each one of us who believe. So when we suffer, he suffers with us and he comforts us. When we are lonely, he is with us. When we are confused, he will guide us from the inside. When anyone is lost who comes to him, Jesus saves.
David, the sweet psalmist who was filled with the Holy Spirit knew this when he wrote:
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,'
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you."
(Psalm 139:1-12 ESV)
King David's words are true for us too, because Christ lives within us. And because Jesus lives within us, he knows us. He cares for us more deeply than we can possibly imagine. He is Immanuel, God with us.
So if the holiday season is difficult for you, if you're suffering or facing a difficult diagnosis, or you are alone and in a situation that you cannot change - please remember that Jesus, the One who saves, is also called Immanuel - the One who is always with us.
Jesus is the One who stepped down from his throne in glory to be born in a stable and to be nailed to a cross for us. He came to live as a human man, die the death that we should have suffered, and rise again to give us eternal life. And when he had accomplished the work that our Father in heaven gave him to do among us, he sent his Spirit to abide within us, forever, so that we would never be without our Comforter.
Hear the still, small voice within you that says, I Am with you. I AM Immanuel!
"...And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b ESV).
We hope you enjoy this gorgeous, uplifting version of the ancient hymn:
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" - (Piano/Cello) - The Piano Guys https://youtu.be/iO7ySn-Swwc
Then came Hanukkah (The Feast of Dedication); it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon's Colonnade. The Judean leaders surrounded Him, saying, "How long will you hold us in suspense? I you are the Messiah, tell us outright!"
Yeshua answered them, "I told you, but you don't believe! The works I do in My Father's name testify concerning Me. But you don't believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear (listen) My voice. I know them, and they follow (obey) Me. I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand. I and the Father are one."
Again the Judean leaders picked up stones to stone Him. Yeshua answered them, "I've shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone Me?"
The Judean leaders answered, "We aren't stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy. Though You are a man, You make Yourself God!"
Yeshua answered them, "Isn't it written in your Writings, 'I have said you are gods'? If he called them 'gods,' to whom the Word of God came do you say of Him, the One the Father set apart and sent into the world, 'You speak blasphemy,' because I said, 'I am Ben-Elohim'?"
"If I don't do the works of My Father, don't believe Me! But if I do, even you don't trust Me, trust the deeds. Then you may come to know and continue to understand that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father." Therefore they tried to capture Him again, but He escaped from their hand.
Again He went back across the Jordan to the place where john first started immersing, and He stayed there. Many people came to Him and were saying, "John performed no sign, but all John said about this man was true." And many trusted in Him there. ~John 10:22-42
Some powerful messages in the links below:
Message below: from Rabbi Kirt Schneider at Discovering The Jewish Jesus:
Music for Hanukkah:
Bethlehem.... though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel... ~Micah 5:2
At nearly six feet six, weighing 300 pounds, Phillips Brooks cast a long shadow. He was a native Bostonian, the ninth generation of distinguished Puritan stock, who entered the Episcopalian ministry and pastored with great power in Philadelphia and in Boston. His sermons were topical rather than expositional, and he's been criticized for thinness of doctrine. Nonetheless he's considered one of America's greatest preachers. His delivery came in lightening bursts; he felt he had more to say than time in which to say it.
While at Philadelphia's Holy Trinity Church, Phillips, 30, visited the Holy Land. On December 24, 1865, traveling by horseback from Jerusalem, he attended a five hour Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was deeply moved. "I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem," he later said, "close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior's birth."
Three years later as he prepared for the Christmas season of 1867, he wanted to compose an original Christmas hymn for the children to sing during their annual program. Recalling his magical night in Bethlehem, he wrote a little hymn of five stanzas and handed the words to his organist, Lewis Redner saying, "Lewis, why not write a new tune, I will name it 'Saint Lewis' after you."
Lewis struggled with his assignment, complaining of no inspiration. Finally, on the night before the Christmas program, he awoke with the music ringing in his soul. He jotted down the melody, then went back to sleep. The next day a group of six Sunday school teachers and thirty six children sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
Brooks was so pleased with the tune that he did indeed name it for his organist, changing the spelling to ST LOUIS, so as not to embarrass him. The fourth stanza, usually omitted from our hymnbooks says:
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
Excerpt from: Then Sings My Soul, 150 Of The World's Greatest Hymn Stories By Robert J. Morgan
Great message from Beth Ariel - Jacque Isaac Gabizon
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
By Phillips Brooks and Lewis H. Redner
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary And gathered all above;
While mortals sleep the angels keep Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together Proclaim the holy birth;
And praises sing to God the King And peace to men on earth.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv'n;
So God imparts to human hearts, The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, But in this world of sin;
Where meek souls will receive Him still, The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.
I've had Mary on my mind this Christmas season, as I think about how grateful I am for the unspeakable gift that God has given us in his Son. Although scripture only gives us a few glimpses into Jesus' childhood, we know the Christmas story doesn't end in the manger.
Mary played an incredible, immaculate role in God's gift of salvation. Not only did she carry our Savior, nurturing him near her heart in her womb, but once he was delivered she cared for his every need, she loved him, she guided him and she kept him safe. She was his mother, and she mothered him.
Luke 2:49 relates that the young Jesus, "...grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him" (ESV). We know that Jesus was, is, and always will be the ultimate in perfection. He does not change, and he will always be sinless. But in the gospel of Luke, we get a small inkling that sometimes it was challenging to raise even the most perfect child...
When Jesus was twelve years old, he and his family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. Afterward the family caravan was headed back to Nazareth, and after a day's travel, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not in their company. He had stayed behind to hear and question the teachers in the temple.
"And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.' And he said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?'"
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:48-49; 51-51 ESV).
This is the time of year when we take lots and lots of photos and videos of our children and grandchildren, dressed as little lambs in Christmas pageants, opening gifts under twinkling trees, or building snowmen with cousins that they haven't seen in a while. We want to hold on to those wonderful memories. But Mary didn't have the latest iPhone, or Facebook or Instagram. As she treasured up the memories of her precious, precocious Son in the chambers of her heart, did she know that he would one day become the Savior of the world?
The modern Christmas carol "Mary did you know?" - written in 1984 by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene - helps us imagine what it might have been like for sweet Mary, still a very young woman herself, to understand the importance of what was taking place in that lowly stable 2000 years ago. Did she know? Could she possibly have had any idea who her infant Son would grow up to be?
Have you ever heard about The Song of Mary, also known as The Magnificat? The gospel of Luke says that the archangel Gabriel had come to announce to the young virgin that although she had never known a man, she would bear a Son who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit. That her Son would be the Son of God, our Savior. When this prophecy had been fulfilled in her, Mary went to visit her elder cousin Elizabeth whose pregnancy had also been foretold by the angel, and who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. When the two mothers met they were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, the babies leaped for joy, and Elizabeth prophesied over Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:1-42 ESV). Then Mary praised God and prophesied:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46b-55 ESV)
Did Mary know that her baby boy would one day walk on water? Probably not. But she knew, Beloveds. She knew because as he did with Isaiah, who prophesied about the coming Messiah:
"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6 ESV).
the Holy Spirit inspired Mary with the vision that her infant Son would one day be the Savior for the whole world.
In our Pentacostal tradition, we do not worship anyone but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4). But, especially during the Christmas season, we can certainly call Mary the mother of our Lord and Savior, blessed; and those of us who have been blessed to be mothers and grandmothers can relate to her. She was a woman, like we are. She had joy and sorrow, like we do. She prayed over her children, and she fussed over them. I love Mary, and I am grateful for her. And one day, when I meet her in heaven and we share the stories we've treasured up in our hearts as mothers, I will thank her for the part she played - not only in the Christmas story, but in all our stories. I'm so grateful that her answer to God's annunciation was: "...Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word..." (Luke 1:38b ESV). May we all be so humble and obedient!
I pray that you and your loved ones have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!
*To enjoy the song, Mary Did You Know? sung by CeeLo Green: watch the video and get the
lyrics at: https://binged.it/2RWOCHL
* To listen to J.S. Bach's Magnificat, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQAWqqaUTHE&t=71s
*For more information on the painting, The Holy Night by Carlo Maratta, above:
- Many thanks to my dear friend, Wendy, for the inspiration for this post, with much love!
This year Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication and Festival of Lights, is December 22-30 with Christmas in between. The menorah or lamp stand was the light of Israel's temple. When we receive Jesus, Who Is the true Light of the world, we become temple lights that point to Him.
More about Hanukkah here: Keep The Light Burning
God created the Light.
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. Ane God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from darkness. ~Genesis 1:3-4
The Light brings hope.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. ~Isaiah 9:2
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. ~Isaiah 60:1
seek the true Light.
"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." ~Matthew 2:2
and behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. ~Matthew 2:9-11
We can have
this Light, also.
"I Am the light of the world. Those who follow me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." ~John 8:12
If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...~1 John 1:7
He shares His Light
in His Word.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. ~Psalm 119:105
He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him. ~Daniel 2:22
The Light continues
to walk in our midst.
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke to me. And having turned I saw seven golden lamp stands, and in the midst of the seven lamp stands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. ~Revelation 1:12-13
Our purpose is
to shine His Light.
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:14-16
For so the Lord has commanded us: "I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be salvation to the ends of the earth" ~Acts 13:47
An encouraging message in the link below from House Of David/Curt Landry Ministries:
The carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one of our favorites, and I couldn't resist re-posting the links from our series that explores the "hidden meanings" for the symbols in that wonderful song.
Hope you enjoy - and God Bless!
To read the entire series, just click on day one, then follow the links at the bottom right of each page.
The Forbidden Chapter
"Behold, My servant will prosper,He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at You-- His appearance was disfigured more than any man, His form more than the sons of men. Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, for what they had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will perceive.
'Who has believed our report? To whom is the arm of Adonai revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground. He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, nor beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, One from whom people hide their faces. He was despised and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our pains. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, struck by God and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities. The chastisement for our shalom was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us turned to his own way. So Adonai has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. Because of oppression and judgment He was taken away. As for His generation. who considered? For He was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people-- the stroke was theirs His grave was given with the wicked, and by a rich man in His death, though He had done no violence, not was there any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased Adonai to bruise Him. He caused Him to suffer. If He makes His soul a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the will of Adonai will succeed by His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul He will see it and be satisfied by His knowledge. The Righteous One, My Servant will make many righteous and He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the spoil with the mighty-- because He poured out His soul to death, and was counted with transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.'"
~Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12
A Prophetic Heritage
Isaiah 53 is often referred to as the "forbidden" chapter because of the controversy it has caused among Jewish scholars. Their attempts to explain away the obvious description of Jesus Christ in the midst of their ancient prophetic scriptures, to their chagrin, (written 700 years before He was born in the flesh) is an overwhelming task that is much easier when avoided altogether. But what a witness!!!
So what, you may ask, is my personal interest in Israel and the Jewish cause? I am not Jewish myself, nor as far as I know do I have any Jewish lineage. I am a southern belle from the Bible Belt where in my world I have had limited interaction with Jewish people. But it has become a great fascination how Yahweh has used this peculiar people, Israel, to bring about His promises in fulfillment of our Lord and Savior, Yeshua Ha Mashiach.
Old Testament study is underappreciated and terribly neglected by the modern day church, in my opinion. This dilemma seems to create much confusion about Who our Savior actually is thus our world sadly grows increasingly dark. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge... ~Hosea 4:6 Did you know that Israel consists of more than just the Jews? The word "Jew" comes from Judah who was only one of the 12 sons of Jacob who was Israel. The rest of Israel (lost tribes) by now is blended into the gentile world, perhaps including many of us.
My late husband was a remarkable story teller. Many of his colorful childhood memories dance around my mind so endearingly as though I were there (I was an adult when we met), including hilarious family tales of noteworthy characters, few of whom I ever actually met. This became part of my story when we married. God's Word has just this sort of flavor. It is His story about His family with the telling of how Messiah came to be. Old and New Testaments are not separate stories, they are one and the same.
Since we belong to him, it is our story as well. Whether believing gentiles or found Israel we have been grafted (back) into Abraham's tree, God's family (Romans 11:17-24, Ephesians 2:11-13). We should be inspired to know more about our heritage and our missing family, those we do not know as well as those we do know. Let us continue to pray fervently for prodigal Israel who has been cut off, that they may return to the sheepfold where their loving Father awaits with open arms.
Listen to some testimonies of some who are found. I Met Messiah
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