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What we can see with our eyes

The time came for Mary’s son to be born and with Joseph by her side, she delivered her first child.
A baby boy who they named Jesus.
[In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David.
His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary.
Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.
But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you:
You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-28 MSG]
As she was remembering, I am sure she was overwhelmed with emotions.
The road to the stable was long and hard and she was tired.
You can imagine her feeling exhausted, sad that she left her family, weary from the days of travel.
I am also sure she was overwhelmed with the ‘thought’ of this little baby being someone very special.
As they rested she probably thought back on all the conversations she had shared with Elizabeth.
She remembered how Elizabeth’s baby responded to her voice and how powerful that moment was for them.
So much was on her heart and in her mind and mixed with her emotions of just giving birth.
The next cast of characters to arrive on the scene are the Shepherds.
In Luke we find the story.
[8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep.
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.
This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over.
“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
Seeing was believing. (THIS is what WE SEE with our eyes)
They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child.
All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.
It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!]

What we don’t really know

Mary went with Joseph on the trip to do the census in the town of Bethlehem.
She didn’t have to go as she was not ‘his’ wife, and the custom was for families to be counted.
[Luke 2: He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.]
Our Pastor said today there were a few ‘ideas why’ she went with him.
Joseph was told by the Angel to name the baby Jesus.
If he had gone on without her the baby might have been born before he got back; and his name might not have been ‘chosen to be Jesus.’
Being young the ‘family’ might have chosen a different name for him.
The other idea was she was so far along Joseph didn’t feel right about leaving her alone, so he took her with him to be close to her.
Another idea was to protect her; for to be pregnant without being married would be cause for her to be stoned.
He was saving her life by taking her with him and walking with her on the road together.
The other idea was he had to follow the ‘direction given’ for them to have a baby in a manger, fulfilling the prophecy written.
[6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn.
She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel there.]
Remember this is in the middle of a census which would mean many rooms would be full and many homes not available.
We often remember the ‘story’ of Joseph going door to door asking for a room, and the Innkeeper saying, “there in no room in the inn.”
We don’t really know if that actually happened or if it has been a story passed down just to make it more interesting.
I also read somewhere that if he was to meet family on his side they might have not been accepting of her, since they were not married.
What we do know, Mary and Joseph were to have their little baby in a quiet little stable among the sheep and cows.
Maybe after being with Elizabeth Mary had an idea of what to do during birth, she might not have had a midwife help her.
I am not sure if they tore the donkey’s blanket and made it a swaddling cloth for the baby.
Perhaps they had brought a few baby things, just in case they would need it, before leaving on this road trip.
We are not told about conversations between the two of them, or the discomfort Mary had felt while traveling this ‘long journey.’
Anyone who has ever been expecting knows and understands this would be a very long hard road for her.
Whether she walked part of the way or rode the donkey the whole time, it was not easy or comfortable.
We don’t know many things about this Christmas story, but we do know, it was planned and it was supposed to take place.
In the little town of Bethlehem, so that scripture could be fulfilled.

What we wonder about

The next character we are introduced to; is Joseph.
There is not a lot about him that we know, he was older than Mary, he was a carpenter.
He was a descendant of King David so the lineage for Jesus would be right and accurate.
He was an honorable and righteous man. I would imagine and wonder if he had a ‘religious’ faith.
I also wonder about the conversation he might have had with Mary.
We know she went to go see and be with Elizabeth, maybe as a way for Joseph and herself to have time to think.
To be expecting a baby, without having been with ‘him’, or anyone would be hard for Joseph to understand.
I wonder what they talked about.
She was confused at what the angel had told her, and he must have been confused as well.
Mary seemed to accept her role in this ‘story of Jesus’, now Joseph has to accept this too.
When he has a dream he is told to marry her from the angel.
[Matthew 1:18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this.
His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph.
Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.)
Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream.
God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived.
God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant.
She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.”
This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this — a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary.
But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.]
I wonder how this all happened to both of them emotionally.
To have a life ‘altering event’ come at you full force.
Not having a lot of time to think on or ponder about it.
They had to deal with it right then and right away.
During this time frame; Elizabeth gave birth to John and then a census was issued for all people to return to their ancestral towns to register.
Luke 2:6 So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census.
As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
The journey was not easy for them as we will soon find out.

What we are amazed by

[39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”]
When we read these verses we are amazed that John who was not born but very much alive inside Elizabeth,
heard and knew Mary had arrived and HE knew her voice and the truth about her baby filling Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t that powerful?
Elizabeth who had known Mary all her life realized in an instant, SHE was the mother of Jesus. The chosen one.
It is both amazing and awesome that the bond between  these two women were around the miracles they were given.
Both were carrying special son’s and both were chosen to do the miraculous.
After hearing Elizabeth and seeing her excitement, Mary said this prayer.
[ “My soul glorifies the Lord
47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48  for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50  His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52  He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53  He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55  to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.]
What we are amazed by is her response.
She was a young teen and she has been told she was going to be the Mother of Jesus.
Her response was acceptance, obedience and even peace.
We are not told about Mary’s family, whether she had a mother and a father, but we do know she was close to Elizabeth.
Was she there when John was born? Was she there for Elizabeth to help her in her aging condition?
Many things we don’t know. What we do know is this: We are amazed at the miraculous.
Let us continue on as we move through the Christmas story.

What we believe to be true

We know that the story was planned way before it actually took place and we also know God had a certain way for it to play out.
The next person we are introduced to, is Mary.
She was a key player in this ‘story’ and a wonderful example of faithful obedience.
In the New Testament book of Luke:
[26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.]
What we believe to be true.
Mary was a virgin and had not been with any man before.
She was chosen and set aside by God; who knew her and understood the condition of her heart.
She asked a simple question, “how can it be?” not unlike the question Zechariah asked. Only she was told the HOW and He was told to be quiet.
The angel validated her question with, the answer “even Elizabeth your aging relative is having a baby too”.
I believe that was making the miraculous more powerful for Mary because she knew Elizabeth’s age.
The preparation of hearts and obedience took place.
Mary had to have been thinking, what shall I do now?
Can you even imagine being told by an angel YOU are highly favored by God?
It would be something very life changing to grab onto and understand, a baby… YOUR baby will be born.
He will be special and He will be chosen just as YOU were chosen.
What we believe to be true is this: Mary was chosen and because of that choice her life was forever altered.
In a very intense way.
Let us continue onto the Christmas story.

What we have read

The Christmas story does not begin in the New Testament of the Bible.
It actually began in the Old Testament beginning with Genesis when the word was with God and we read that the word was Jesus.
Then it moves to the book where we find ‘Zechariah and Elizabeth’… as a few of the first key players.
Think of it as act one, in a stage play where the first scene builds to the second and the second builds to the third till the full story is told.
In Luke 1:7 it tells us about Zechariah and how he was a tribal priest and was honored for the ‘first time,’ at a very old age to go into the temple and burn incense.
This was a very formal and special occasion and he had waited for many years to be asked to do this.
[When he went into the temple he was praying and an angel showed up right next to him. (can you imagine?)
When Zechariah saw him he was startled, and gripped with fear.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.
(Remember he is a very old man at this time.)
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call him John.
He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.]
Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, and John would be like a cousin born before Jesus but paving the way for his ministry.
This was told and spoken before either of them were born.
He was an important player to the story of Jesus… and his birth.
As we continue to read this story:
[Zechariah had doubts and asked the angel. “how can this be? how can I be sure?”]
I think that was a logical question to ask, for they were both beyond the age of ‘child bearing.’
[The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, I have been sent to you to speak to you and tell you this good news.
And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.]
Everything was ordained and orchestrated in order for the story to be told.
God had it planned, He knew when the time was to take place and HE was preparing the way.
What we have read, is this: Nothing is without a plan or reason.
The Christmas story had many players and each one had to be; ‘chosen, set aside and spoken to, in order for the story to be completed.’
Let us continue to see how God in His wisdom creates the Christmas Story.

What we have been given

The Christmas story is one of the most extravagant presents of all.
It not normally thought of as a gift.
But let’s look at the reason behind the baby in the manger.
God so loved the world, that HE gave (HE chose) He declared, His only son to be the righteous hope and redeeming love for a world who often failed him. John 3:16
Isn’t that an extravagant gift?
Even as an adult later in the story we see the conversation.
[Even Jesus when he was talking to the woman at the well, said to her, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”]
He knew his purpose all along. He knew from the beginning of time He was from His Father.
Those who were chosen to be in the beginning of the story didn’t have a clue they were to be in the final moments of God’s plan.
Could it have been a different way, perhaps another way?
I don’t think so.
He needed all the characters, all the pre-planned people who played part in this nativity story to be innocent of the master plan.
Extravagant means exceeding the bounds of reason, going beyond what is deserved or justifiable.
We as a people surely didn’t deserve to be given such a valued gift, but God who knew us from the beginning and knew we needed a Savior for we couldn’t save ourselves.
What we have been given is a beautiful story of love, of mercy, of compassion and strength.
Without the nativity there is no cross.
It was planned from the very beginning, that Jesus would come in a way that was not forceful, not over powering and not too intense.
Isn’t a baby a tender way of showing us HIS love.
When we see a newborn we move towards it, not away. For it’s sweetness is something we all ‘find to be precious’.
As we move through the story, we will see this baby in all His innocence and all His ability to bring others to the awareness of more.
Let us learn and discover the story together.

What we know

[In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the father), full of grace and truth.]
John 1:1,2
The message version is more detailed.
[From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.
The word of life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen!
And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this:
The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.
John: 3,4
We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Our motive for writing is simply this:
We want you to enjoy this, too.
Your joy will double our joy!]
I cannot imagine being in the time and place as the story of Jesus unfolded right before the eyes who were there.
Not even fully realizing the magnitude of the moment or what they were experiencing.
The birth, the baby coming to us, meaning so much for so many, especially those who were there.
The story tells of all who saw, all who experienced and all who played a part, of the nativity scene.
It had to happen. It had a purpose and there was a reason.
What we know; it was planned, ordained and orchestrated way before it ever happened.
God in His master plan and great love for us, designed a way for us to receive Salvation.
The way was going to be through His son, the Christ child, the baby Jesus.
As we continue on and move through the story, let us not forget the deep love God had for his people.
He brought ‘life’ to us through Jesus.
Let us not forget the powerful meaning of the story.

The story begins

We begin the Christmas season with decorations, and traditions of trees, lights, music and nativity sets.
Most of us have one special one we bring out each year.
We have a very simple one we purchased on our first year together. It was very expensive at the time as we were newly weds with little money, we found it at a local drug store and although it was above our budget we wanted a first nativity for our home.
Every year for 43 years we have set it out as a remembrance of many things.
The Christmas story has been told in so may ways.
Always the same characters and always the same story of hope.
We have seen children dressed up in Mary and Joseph outfits carrying a tiny doll representing the baby Jesus in church programs.
We have watched TV shows about the Nativity or movies that tell the story in a more real narrative way.
Each of us holds a reason for the season.
It can’t always be Santa and his sleigh or Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer. These are wonderful traditions for us, even Charley Brown and the crew sharing the Christmas story is tradition.
In the final decision making it is Jesus and his story that makes the Christmas season complete.
One cannot hear, “Oh Holy Night” and not capture the beauty of the birth, the Holiness of the season and the silence of the night.
The story begins with a simple couple who followed the path laid out for them through their obedience and faith.
It wasn’t easy, it was never meant to be.
It is a story that has lasted for years and years because it is real, and it gives hope and it tells us of God’s love for us.
The story begins.
In the Old Testament of the bible and then moved into the New Testament. There are many characters and many details.
The story. The story of life, hope and precious love.
As we move through the story let us remember nothing happened without a plan, nothing happened without a reason.
The story begins and we are told, Mary kept all the things in her heart and thought about them often.
Luke 2:19

Heading into a new season

Now that Thanksgiving is over we can adjust our schedules towards the season of Christmas.
I love the decorations, the music, the festive time of year.
Oh I do realize this is also a difficult season for many who are alone.
It is mostly centered around family activities and family focused programs.
But really Christmas is all in the ‘season of your heart’, whether alone or not.
It is the magical time of year for little ones who wait with anticipation of what is Santa going to bring.
It is the thrill of the possibility of snow, or church programs or seasonal services.
Many malls have activities and or decorations that are fun and beautiful.
We used to go out and cut our ‘fresh’ tree when our children were little. It became a family tradition.
There are endless possibilities should someone be wondering what to do in this time of giving.
I challenge us all this year to look at this season in a new way.
Perhaps for you, it’s the first time celebrating the reason for the season.
We know God sent His SON to come in a humble way, using Mary a simple teen, and Joseph a simple carpenter.
To tell the story.
For us to receive and hear and experience the whole reason, is the power of his love.
We cannot have Christmas without the reason, without the baby’s birth and all the orchestration God designed to get the story told and finished.
It is a season of celebration, of family and friends.
We sing the songs of worship. Oh little town of Bethlehem, and Oh Holy Night.
And one more year we allow the simple truths to ring clear in our hearts.
The reason for the season is Jesus.