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THE HOPE of CHRISTMAS
By Jack Countryman
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Jack Countryman
All right reserved.
Messiah, Descendant of Abraham
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Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
What an amazing promise! The Creator of the universe chose to make this everlasting and irrevocable promise to Abraham and his descendants. Speaking these words recorded in Genesis, the Almighty pointed to the greatest blessing of all, a blessing that would be for all the earth: God would give His Son to die for sinners like us, that we might know forgiveness and eternal life. Through two thousand years and forty-two generations, a new chapter in the sovereign Lord's plan for humanity was beginning to unfold—and all the families of the earth would indeed be blessed.
Genealogy of Jesus
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The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.... So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
Matthew 1:1, 17
Promise made, promise fulfilled! Writing to a primarily Jewish audience, Matthew outlined Jesus' ancestry. The gospel writer wanted his Hebrew audience to clearly see that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited King of Israel, in the line of David, who would set God's people free from captivity to sin and its consequences.
Yet Matthew did something unusual as he outlined the family tree. He named five women: Tamar, a Canaanite; Rahab, a Gentile; Ruth, a Moabite; Bathsheba, King David's wife; and Mary, the teenage mother of Jesus. Why? Because their stories, recorded in the Old Testament, demonstrate that God's grace is available to all, regardless of gender, race, or personal history. In fact, even today God seems to delight in welcoming into His family those we might never expect.
This season, keep your eyes and heart open for unexpected ways that God will reveal to you the hope of Christmas.
* * *
When God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
Our God loves to pour out blessings! He demonstrates His love to those of us who love Him—who show our love by obeying Him—when He provides and protects, when He guides our steps and goes ahead of us, when He walks with us through hard times and brings us to good and pleasant places. God blesses us with His constant presence. Whatever trials we face, nothing can separate us from His love. Whatever twists in the road, nothing can interfere with His sovereign power and goodness. Whatever missteps we take, He can redeem. Whatever hurts we experience, He can heal. Yes, our God loves to pour out blessings!
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Heir to the Throne of David
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For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
What nation wouldn't want a leader described as "Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace"? No wonder the people of Israel, oppressed by the brutal Roman Empire, found in this 750-year-old passage by the prophet Isaiah hope for a military conqueror and deliverer. But these ancient words actually point to a much bigger plan—to the Lord's eternal strategy for conquering sin and delivering sinners from the unbridgeable distance between them and their holy God. And of the increase of His government and our peace with Him there will be no end!
Gabriel Visits Mary
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Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
An unremarkable day would soon become unforgettable for this young girl named Mary. Maybe she was grinding grain or mending a garment when, suddenly, a light appeared and an angel spoke. She was terrified.
"Do not be afraid," the angel told her as his message actually became quite fearsome.
Although she was an unmarried virgin, Mary would give birth to the Son of God. Gabriel went on to reveal that the child would be a descendant of David and that His kingdom would never end.
And so Mary waited for the miracle ...
God's Promise to Mary
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"Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."
And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth 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 on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
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 seed forever."
From all appearances, Mary was an ordinary girl living in a one-stoplight town—when an amazing moment revealed both her extraordinary character and her uncommon faith in her unseen and ever-faithful God. Believing the angel's outrageous claim that she would give birth to God's Son and completely trusting that the Almighty would enable her to walk that path, Mary yielded her life—her very body—to her Creator. Despite the cost to her, despite the public shame and her derailed dreams, Mary was a model of humble and willing submission to the Lord's plans, and the world has celebrated her obedience to God for more than two thousand years.
Away in a Manger
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky look down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus; look down from the
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
Anointed and Eternal
* * *
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
An unmistakable sense of joy fills the air. The crowd's excited anticipation is unmistakable. Everyone in the realm is joining in this celebration of the King's reign. The almighty God has anointed Jesus, our Savior, to rule—with justice and uprightness—over all history.
As He reigns for eternity with unwavering and holy righteousness, King Jesus will bring joy and gladness to His people and, more important, glory and honor to His Father. The King of kings and Lord of lords will come as a Bridegroom seeking His bride to reign forever with joy and gladness.
* * *
"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same."
From the beginning of time, Jesus has been present. He was with the Father and the Spirit when the earth was formed and the waters were separated from the land. Through the millennia, landforms have changed; in the course of a year, seasons come and go.
In contrast to this constant change, Jesus has remained and will forever remain the same: holy, good, strong, loving, faithful, powerful, and wise. So as the events of the world and the details of life whirl around you, know that Jesus will not change. He is a Rock, and He will never fail you.
The Word Became Flesh
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Have you ever received a one-of-a-kind gift? Something unique, completely unlike anything you had ever seen or even heard of? When the apostle John referred to Jesus as the "only begotten of the Father," the original Greek means "unique" or "one-of-a-kind." And as God's gift to us, Jesus—who is both fully God and fully man—is indeed unique.
Yet, as the Lamb of God who died on the cross on behalf of sinful humanity, Jesus is not a gift to be hoarded. What will you do to share your one-of-a-kind gift of Jesus with someone this season?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1–5, 14
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"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting." Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the Lord, In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land, And when he treads in our palaces, Then we will raise against him Seven shepherds and eight princely men."
Its name means "house of bread." It had been renowned as the City of David. Yet by Jesus' time, Bethlehem had become a humble town, small and seemingly insignificant. However, in that unassuming town, the prophet Micah said, the Messiah would be born. Micah's message to God's people was this: "Watch! Something important is going to happen in Bethlehem!" Would people listen? Would Micah be right? Would the Bread of Life indeed come into this world in the "house of bread"?
Born in Bethlehem
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Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The journey had been commanded by Rome. Joseph the carpenter and Mary, his betrothed, would cover the ninety miles in about three days. The young woman was exceedingly pregnant, and when they arrived, Bethlehem was crowded to its limits. Yet—as Micah had foretold long ago—Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem when the Savior of the world broke forth from Mary's womb.
The young couple had been directed to a nearby stable, and there Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and placed Him in a feeding trough. God's one and only Son had entered our dark and sinful world.
The Gift of Jesus the Messiah
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The Son of God, eternal throughout time, infinite in every way, entered the confines of a twenty-four-hour day and the finiteness of a human body in order to dwell among us. And He would do more—far more—than visit and observe. Jesus left His Father's side, took on human flesh, and walked among us in order to die for us.
And God had spoken through prophets to call people to watch for the coming Messiah. He sent angels to announce Jesus' birth, and Jesus revealed His identity through His signs and miracles and teaching—and His death and resurrection. Yet many people missed Him—and still miss Him today.
The night our Savior was born in Bethlehem was a night like many others before it—but unlike any night since. Would you have recognized its significance? And whom will you help recognize it even now, two thousand years later?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee
For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above;
While mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of
O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth;
And praises sing to God the King and peace to men
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv'n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His
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
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel!
Born of a Virgin
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The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.
It is an age-old story perhaps best brought to life by the youngest of Christ's followers. In churches across the land, the birth of Jesus will be celebrated by the shepherd wearing his oversized bathrobe and holding his too-small crook; Mary, draped in blue and busying herself with her favorite, now swaddled, doll; the king from the east waving to Mom, who snaps pictures from the first pew; the lamb from the three-year-old class wandering around the makeshift crèche as lambs do; and Joseph, looking like he'd rather be anywhere but on stage!
As Isaiah wrote when he was describing the righteous kingdom Jesus will one day establish, "a little child shall lead" (11:6)—and children do indeed lead us to the manger at Christmas!
Excerpted from THE HOPE of CHRISTMAS by Jack Countryman Copyright © 2012 by Jack Countryman. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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