Just Write Off 2020?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth RiceHandford
Most things about the year 2020 we would like to forget. So many losses, so many disappointments, such drastic changes, dear friends lost to covid. Should we just write the year off as a lost cause? Maybe not. I think we learned some needed lessons about ourselves, our neighbors, and about our God during this difficult time.
In 2020 we discovered that the democratic process still works, that the procedures shaped by our constitution do exactly what they are supposed to do: every American citizen had the right to vote; most were able to vote. The change in leadership will be constitutionally and properly handled. Given the stresses the pandemic put on our nation, our constitution, that bulwark of our freedom, still stands secure.
In 2020 we learned that we could not look to our government to meet our needs. We found (if we didn't already know it) that our leaders are vulnerable, very human, people. They are not prophets. They certainly are not God. They cannot predict the future, and they cannot magically produce protection whatever we think we need. Heroic measures did give some relief from our financial distress in 2020, but at the terrible cost of a burden our children, and theirs, must repay. "Unless the Lord keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vain"(Psalm 127:2). Why had we forgotten this?
In 2020 we learned that there are a tremendous number of valiant, dependable people all across our country who responded with courage and self-sacrifice to see that the vulnerable were taken care of. Not always. But all across the land, doctors, nurses, aides, policemen, clerks and janitors, neighbors and friends, families and strangers, institutions and individuals, cared for others. That unselfish out-pouring of loving care all over our nation reminds us again that the fabric of America is made up of millions of honorable and caring people. That is a glory not to be forgotten as we face the new year.
In 2020, we learned to search our hearts about our attitudes toward others who are different from us. In the past, we might have given a glib assent to the truth that "all men are created equal." The Bible says that the Lord Jesus broke down "the wall of hostility between us" (Ephn. 2:16). Yes, we were divided by race and income, by age and by culture, but we learned that we have far more in common than we have in differences. There is room for diversity. But we share the the values of the really important things in life: honor, love, family, truth. That's a lesson we must learn from 2020 and never forget..
Best of all, and I could hardly wait to get to this!, in 2020 we found our Heavenly Father, God Himself, still in charge. He is in absolute control, and nothing-nothing!-can thwart His will for the world He loves so much. He gave us food and clothing, shelter and friends, and when we lost a loved one in death, He comforted us in 2020. And God will still be Almighty God in 2021.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love.
Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't.
Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow,
and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away.
Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean,
nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us
from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Just Think! The Child Has Finally Come!
A Word of Rejoicing from Elizabeth Rice Handford
True, some people hated the Baby Jesus from the moment they heard about Him. But think of the amazing assortment of people who circled around Him in worship, welcoming Him with tears of joy and gratitude! The wise men-wealthy, powerful, intelligent-rubbed shoulders with unlettered shepherds who spent their days and nights in the field. God made sure that all of them, everybody, heard the good news that Jesus was born. This Child, this Savior, came to redeem all of us, rich or poor, wise or foolish, esteemed or trashed, child and aged. That's how much God "so loved the world"!
Those shepherds? As soon as the angels had gone away, and the glorious light was gone, they ran into the city of Bethlehem, hearts pounding, searching until they found the Child sleeping in a bed of sweet hay. They couldn't contain their joy. They ran through the streets, shouting out the news to everybody:
"Listen, people, listen! The Savior was born tonight!" (Luke 2:15,17)
I wonder how long it took them to gather back up all those poor little sheep they left untended?
Eight days after Jesus was born, an elderly man, Simeon, hurried into the Temple. He was driven by the Spirit of God who had promised him he wouldn't die until he'd seen the Savior. When he saw Mary and Joseph, there to offer a sacrifice, Simeon took the Baby in his arms and said,
"Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Savior you have given to all people." (Luke 2:17)
There was an old, old woman named Anna, a prophet who lived in the Temple day and night. She saw Simeon holding the baby Jesus, and heard what he said. Immediately, "She began praising God. She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38)
These three weeks, we've seen many different reactions to the news of Jesus' birth. Perhaps now is the time for you to search your own heart. How have you responded to the news that God loved the world- and you-so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to give you eternal life? Is this Christmas the time you should make Christmas your very own, and take Him as your Savior?
For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
Sorry, No Room
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
You'd have thought common decency would have softened the innkeeper's heart when the distraught traveller asked for room in his inn. After all, it was obvious
that the man's wife was about to deliver her baby. But everybody was asking for a room. So many people claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, and they were all clamoring for rooms. But surely, surely, couldn't he have found a way to shift people around so that the young mother could have a quiet corner where her child could be born?
"Sorry! I have no room for you in my inn." (Luke 2:7)
I wonder if he ever learned that the Eternal God Himself, the Lord Jesus, was born in his stable that night? I wonder if he ever accepted the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Child came to offer him, and all mankind?
You don't see that indifference in the astronomers searching the skies that night in a celestial observatory far to the east. There, wise men huddled, watching for one special star they'd read about in the book of Moses. It promised that someday a king would be born who would save the world, but it didn't say exactly when. "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Num. 24:17).
They knew, from the book of Daniel. that He would come exactly 483 years after a king commanded that Jerusalem be rebuilt, but they didn't know which king. So they watched, and longed for that star to appear that would tell them their Savior was born. Then one night they saw that blessed, unmistakable star rising in the east, and they hastily gathered up the treasures they'd saved for Him. After a long four months' journey across the desert, they came to Jerusalem to the court of King Herod.
"Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and are come to worhsip Him!" (Matt. 2:2)
Wicked King Herod had no such joyful emotion when he heard the remarkable story of the wise men. No one, no king, no upstart, would threaten his kingship! He craftily lied to them, saying he wanted to worship the King, too. Instead, "Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys under two years of age in and around Bethlehem." (Matthew 2:16)
Those grieving mothers of Bethlehem wept, and the prophet Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled:
"A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah-mourning and weeping unrestrained. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted-for her children are dead." (Jeremiah 31:15)
But those grieving mothers can be comforted, because the Baby Jesus, who was kept alive that night, lived to one day die on a cross. He would offer them and their children eternal life, glorious life that would last forever.
This Christmas you may not be able to celebrate as happily as you have in past Christmases. We end a year unlike any year we've ever experienced. But thank God, Jesus did not die with the innocent babies of Bethlehem. Instead, He lived to die on the cross to redeem us from our sins. So let us thank God for His indescribable gift of Jesus this Christmas.
How Did People React When They Heard the Good New about Baby Jesus?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
You'd think that when people heard the news that God Himself, the very Creator of the Universe, was come down to earth to live and save the people He'd created, you'd think they'd be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
But that's not the way they always reacted.
Dear, sweet Mary was a young woman espoused to be married to a godly man who was a direct descendant of King David. God sent the Angel Gabriel to tell her she would bear the Child, the Messiah, the Savior promised from the creation of the world.
She couldn't understand it. She knew the facts of life; she knew she'd never been unfaithful to Joseph, that she'd never slept with a man (Matt. 1:18). So how could she get pregnant? She asked, bewildered, "How can this be?"
Did she have any intimation, then, of the years of heartache that lay ahead, as the mother of Jesus, when a "sword would pierce her own heart " (Luke 2:35)? We don't know. But her response to the news was, so sweetly, (Luke 1:26-35).
"I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants."
Her espoused husband, Joseph, was heart-broken when he was told that the woman he'd thought pure and godly was pregnant. Was it the malicious gossiping
women in Nazareth who gleefully told him the fact? Joseph loved her so much. How could she betray him like that? He wouldn't humiliate her publicly; he loved her too much for that (Matt. 1:19). But how it broke his heart that she would never be his wife and mother of his children!
God's angel came to him, too. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the Child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:20,21). His response to the news of the Baby Jesus? (Matt. 1:24,25):
"He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her Son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus."
But those malicious gossiping women who lived in the disrespected city of Nazareth knew better than to believe a fanciful tale like mysterious angels and a virgin birth! (John 1:46 asks, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?") Where there was smoke, there was fire. They couldn't be deceived. So they talked, and thirty years later, their lies were still believed. Men trying to discredit Jesus sneered at Him,
"We were not born of fornication. We know who our Father is" (John 8:41).
Let us this Christmas, dear friends, open our hearts to the astonishing truth that Jesus has indeed come into the world to save us from our sins. Yes, we are going through truly terrible times of testing in our country. But what joy should flood our hearts as we celebrate, one more year, the blessed coming of Jesus!
Next week: How others react to the good news about Baby Jesus