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JOURNEY TO THE OF CHRISTMAS

hear

Reflections From Our Daily Bread


The people walking in darkness have seen a

great light;

on those living in the land

dawned

of deep darkness a light has

ISAIAH 9:2


CONTENTS PAGE The Heart of Christmas �������������������������������������������������������������������������������2 What the Prophets Foretold: Bible reading notes (1–3) �������������������������6 What Elizabeth and Zechariah Received: Bible reading notes (4-5)�����12 What Mary Pondered: Bible reading notes (6–10)���������������������������������16 What Joseph Decided: Bible reading notes (11–12)�������������������������������26 When the Journey Isn’t Straightforward�������������������������������������������������30 What the Shepherds Saw: Bible reading notes (13–15)�������������������������36 What Herod Fought: Bible reading notes (16–18)����������������������������������42 What Simeon and Anna Confirmed: Bible reading notes (19–22) �������48 What the Angels Announced on Christmas Day: Bible reading notes (23–27)�����������������������������������������������������������������������56 What We Can Do About Christmas: Bible reading notes (28)���������������66 Where the Journey Takes Us���������������������������������������������������������������������68

Scripture taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved. © 2020 Our Daily Bread Ministries® • ourdailybread.org • europe@odb.org Printed in Europe


heart THE

OF CHRISTMAS


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hristmas—that outrageous season of tinsel, gift-wrapping, parties, cheesy movies and far too much chocolate; a time where the normal rules of life don’t seem to apply! Families gather, children lose themselves in the excitement, and we grieve those who are no longer here to celebrate with us. For Christians, it is more than just fun and togetherness. Our minds go to a young couple—a virgin and a carpenter—and a stable in Bethlehem where the young bride has just given birth to the Saviour of the World. We rejoice with the angels who declare “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (LUKE 2:14). But the real story of Christmas begins long before Bethlehem. In fact, it begins at the very beginning of time. The story of the birth of our Saviour begins the moment we first needed to be saved . . . way back in the opening pages of God’s Word. Almost as soon as the serpent tempted our first parents to sin, God made a promise:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. GENESIS 3:15 From that moment, the coming of a Saviour became the central storyline in human history; and the overriding theme of God’s Word. When God chose Abraham to be the father of His nation, He promised that through him “all nations on earth will be blessed” (GENESIS 22:18). How would they be blessed? By the birth and atoning death of Jesus; Abraham’s distant descendant. And so begins a long series of snapshots of the coming Saviour. In the story of Isaac, we catch a glimpse of a substitute; one who will be sacrificed on behalf of another. At Passover, we see that an innocent lamb makes a way of deliverance for God’s enslaved people. In Aaron’s priesthood, we find that humanity needs a mediator; a go-between to stand in the gap between us and God. Through Moses, God promised a coming Prophet who would speak and act on behalf of God. When we get to the Bible’s history books, we meet Joshua; the humble but valiant man who led God’s people into the Promised Land. He conquers


enemies and grants a permanent inheritance to every household in Israel; another foreshadowing of Jesus. He is followed by a series of judges; deliverers who save the people from oppression again and again. The highpoint of the Old Testament is undoubtedly the reign of King David. And once again, there is a promise of a coming King—One who will reign forever in perfect justice and equity; the Son of David. Entering the wisdom books, we meet Job, the ultimate man of faith who never doubted God’s good character despite his indescribable suffering. He made a profound statement about Jesus thousands of years before that first Christmas:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes— I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! JOB 19:25-27 The Psalms are full of references to Jesus’ coming: the King, the Shepherd, the Son of God, the Saviour. He is the Wisdom in Proverbs and the embodiment of true love in the Song of Solomon. The Prophetic books are bursting with references to the coming Messiah; but perhaps the richest ones are found in Isaiah:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. ISAIAH 9:2, 6-7


The people walking in darkness finally see the dawning of Light! We all know the world can be a dark place. But on that first Christmas, Jesus appeared as the Light of the World! It was the dawn of a new day; a day of salvation from darkness, emptiness and sin. Heaven gave a Son—the very Son of God—so that we could be saved. The Child that was born is the Messiah, the eternal King, the Prince of Peace! Wherever He goes, He brings light. The opening pages of the New Testament retell the story that we’ve come to know so well; so well, in fact, that it is easy to miss the magnitude of the miracle! Jesus is not a man who became God; that is impossible. He is God who became man! The very God of creation born into the deep darkness of our world. This year, the events of this world have made it feel more bleak and hopeless than ever. But light shines brightest in the dark. When things are at their very worst, that’s when the hope that Jesus brings has the most powerful impact. As we take our journey to the heart of Christmas, we are going to meet some of the familiar characters in the story. Seeing the events through each of their eyes will help us to see the wonder and beauty of Christmas from their perspective. Our hope is that the light He brings will shine brighter and brighter in our own lives; so that others will see it and know that He really is the Saviour of the world.


WHAT THE PROPHETS

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foretold

1 D E CE MB E R

A SPECIAL BIRTH

Heavenly Father, as I journey to the heart of Christmas, to the heart of Your story, to the heart of Your incredible love for me, open my eyes to take in the awesome sight of Jesus leaving heaven for me. Bring me a fresh thankfulness that the King who made the world knew He would die upon it for love. For me. I praise the precious name of Jesus. Amen

I SAI AH 7: 1 0 -15 10

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.’ 12

But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15  He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 13

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n the pages of Scripture, several baby-boy births stand out. Cain, the firstborn after creation. Isaac, the hope of Israel’s future. Samuel, the answer to a mother’s fervent prayer. All extremely important. All joyously expected. And all described exactly the same by the chroniclers of Scripture: in each case, we are told that the mother conceived and bore a son (GENESIS 4:1; 21:2-3; 1 SAMUEL 1:20). Now consider one more baby boy’s birth. The description of this arrival was much more detailed: a few words were clearly not ISAIAH 7:14 enough to tell us about Jesus’ birth. In Micah, we were told where He would be born— Bethlehem (MICAH 5:2). In Isaiah, that His mother would be a virgin (ISAIAH 7:14), and that He was coming to save people from their sin (ISAIAH 53). In the New Testament, we were given such key information as what His name would be and why (MATTHEW 1:21), where He was born in fulfilment of prophecy (2:6), and how both His birth mother and His adoptive father were part of God’s plan (1:16). Jesus’ birth stands above all births. His coming changed the world and can change our lives. Let’s step into the journey and rediscover the most important birth of all time. o DAVE BRANON

THE LORD HIMSELF WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN: THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL.

Read today’s passage again. What does Jesus’ birth mean to you personally? How does it encourage you that Jesus’ birth was God’s “sign”—His announcement to the world of His salvation—that was planned long ago?

Thank You, Father, for giving so many details of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection in the Old Testament. We know He truly is Your promised King; the light of the world; our wonderful Saviour.

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2 D E CE MB E R

WAITING

Sovereign Lord, remind me of Your goodness and faithfulness today. In a world that demands instant answers and gratification, help me to wait on Your voice and Your life-giving words of love. Amen

MI CAH 5: 2 – 4 ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ 2

Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 3

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 4

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ow much longer until Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used an Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating. We can easily recognise a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s MICAH 5:2 people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (MICAH 5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (V. 4). The initial fulfilment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (MATTHEW 2:1)—after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfilment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth” (MICAH 5:4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over. Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honour His promises to be with us as we wait (MATTHEW 28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (SEE JOHN 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return. o AMY BOUCHER PYE

BETHLEHEM . . . OUT OF YOU WILL COME FOR ME ONE WHO WILL BE RULER OVER ISRAEL.

Read today’s passage again. What prayers are you waiting for God to answer? In what situations are you awaiting His rescue? How do these verses help you put your hope in your Shepherd who has made us such incredible promises?

We wait, Father God, and we hope. We wait, dear Jesus, as we long for peace to break out. We wait, comforting Spirit, for all the world to experience Your love.

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3 D E CE MB E R

WINTER SNOW

Heavenly Father, Your ways are so much higher than ours. Thank You for the wisdom with which Your provided a broken world with the gentle healing of Your Son. Help me to marvel again at the upside-down arrival of the King into a lowly stable. Amen

I SAI AH 42 :1 – 4 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4  he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope. 1

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n winter, I often wake to the beautiful surprise of a world blanketed in the peace and quiet of an early morning snow. Unlike a spring thunderstorm that announces its presence loudly in the night, snow comes softly. In “Winter Snow Song,” Audrey Assad sings that Jesus could have come to earth in power like a hurricane, but instead He came quietly and slowly like the winter snow falling ISAIAH 42:2–3 softly in the night outside my window. Jesus’ arrival took many by quiet surprise. Instead of being born in a palace, He was born in an unlikely place, a humble dwelling outside Bethlehem. And He slept in the only bed available, a manger (LUKE 2:7). Instead of being attended by royalty and government officials, Jesus was welcomed by lowly shepherds (VV. 15–16). Instead of having wealth, Jesus’ parents could only afford the inexpensive sacrifice of two birds when they presented Him at the temple (V. 24). The unassuming way Jesus entered the world was foreshadowed by the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied the coming Saviour would “not shout or cry out” (ISAIAH 42:2) nor would He come in power that might break a damaged reed or extinguish a struggling flame (V. 3). Instead He came gently in order to draw us to Himself with His offer of peace with God—a peace still available to anyone who believes the unexpected story of a Saviour born in a manger. o

HE WILL NOT SHOUT OR CRY OUT, OR RAISE HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS. A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK.



LISA M. SAMRA

Read today’s passage again. What encourages you most to “put [your] hope” (Isaiah 42:4) in Jesus based on this description of Him?

Lord Jesus, thank You for willingly giving up Your majesty and for coming to earth in order to offer peace.

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WHAT ELIZABETH AND ZECHARIAH

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receied

4 D E CE MB E R

FROM SHAME TO HONOUR Heavenly Father, thank You for Your eternal faithfulness to me. All I need is found in Your presence; please help me to rest expectantly in You now. Amen

L UKE 1 : 1 8–25 18

Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.’

The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 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.’ 19

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 21

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’ 23

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t’s that time of the year again, when families gather to celebrate the festive season together. Some of us, however, dread meeting certain ‘concerned’ relatives whose questions can make those of us who are still single, childless or still have something to ‘achieve’, feel that there’s something wrong with us. Imagine the plight of Elizabeth, who was LUKE 1:25 childless despite being married for many years. In her culture, that was seen as a sign of God’s disfavour (SEE 1 SAMUEL 1:5–6) and could actually be considered shameful. So while Elizabeth had been living righteously (LUKE 1:6), her neighbours and relatives may have suspected otherwise. Nonetheless, Elizabeth and her husband continued to serve the Lord faithfully. Then, when both were well advanced in years, a miracle occurred. God heard her prayer (V. 13). He loves to show us His favour (V. 25). And though He may seem to delay, His timing is always right and His wisdom always perfect. For Elizabeth and her husband, God had a special gift: a child who would become the Messiah’s forerunner (ISAIAH 40:3–5). Do you feel inadequate because you seem to lack something—a university degree, a spouse, a child, a job, a house? Keep living for Him faithfully and waiting patiently for Him and His plan, just as Elizabeth did. No matter our circumstances, God is working in and through us. He knows your heart. He hears your prayers. o POH FANG CHIA

[THE LORD] HAS SHOWN HIS FAVOUR AND TAKEN AWAY MY DISGRACE AMONG THE PEOPLE.

Read today’s passage again. What are the things in your life of which you can say, “The Lord has done this for me”? Why not spend some time thanking Him for His loving provision.

God, You are forever faithful and good. Help us to keep trusting in You, even when we experience heartache.

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5 D E CE MB E R

THE “HOPE FOR A BABY” TREE Loving Father, my ever-present help, You know the doubts and questions that plague my heart. You know every prayer and need I have committed into Your hands. Help me experience the peace and reassurance of Your faithfulness today. Amen

L UKE 1 : 6 7- 80 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 68 ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71  salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’ 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. 67

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tied pink and blue bows on the tree’s branches and christened it our “Hope for a Baby” Christmas tree. My husband and I had been waiting to adopt a baby for more than four years. Surely by Christmas! Every morning I stopped at the tree and prayed, reminding myself of God’s faithfulness. On 21 December we received the news: no baby by Christmas. Devastated, I paused by the tree that had become a symbol of LUKE 1:68 God’s provision. Was God still faithful? Was I doing something wrong? At times, God’s apparent withholding results from His loving discipline. At other times God lovingly allows delays to strengthen our trust. In His perfect wisdom, God withheld a child from Elizabeth and Zecharaiah for many years. Yet when Gabriel appeared to Zecharaiah and announced the time had come for their child to “ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17), Zecharaiah’s response was disbelief (v. 20). Yet his doubt could not undo God’s faithfulness to them or us. He provided in His perfect timing. And when Zecharaiah later received his speech again, the first thing he did was praise God for His faithfulness “because he has come to his people and redeemed them” (v. 68). In His time, God answered our prayer as well. I left the tree standing well beyond Christmas and continued my morning prayer. At last, on the following Easter weekend, we received our baby girl. God is always faithful, though not necessarily on our timeline nor always according to our desires. o ELISA MORGAN

PRAISE BE TO THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, BECAUSE HE HAS COME TO HIS PEOPLE AND REDEEMED THEM.

Read today’s passage again. What are you waiting on God for? What doubts stop you seeing God’s faithfulness? Share your burdens and questions with God again today. Dear God, help me trust You today even when I can’t see what You are doing. I always have reason to praise You for Your goodness and love.

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WHAT MARY

pondered

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6 D E CE MB E R

THE BIRTH OF CHRISTMAS Loving Father, Your Word and ways are life to me. Show me again the joy and strength of resting in and obeying Your Word and commands. Amen

L UKE 1 :2 6 - 38 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 favoured! 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 favour 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 for ever; 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. 26

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hen the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and then to shepherds with good news for the world (LUKE 1:26-27; 2:10), was it good news to this teenage girl? Perhaps Mary was thinking: How do I explain my pregnancy to my family? Will Joseph call off the betrothal? What will the townspeople say? Even if my life is spared, how will I survive as a mother all alone? LUKE 1:38 Even though she was “greatly troubled” (V. 29), her trusting reply was, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . May your word to me be fulfilled” (V. 38). Despite the overwhelming announcement, she chose to obey God with rejoicing (V. 47). When Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, he was troubled too. He could divorce her publicly and allow her to be publicly scorned, or break off the engagement quietly. But God intervened. He told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (MATTHEW 1:20). For Mary and Joseph, Christmas began with submitting themselves to God in spite of the unthinkable emotional challenges before them. They entrusted themselves to God and in doing so demonstrated for us the promise of 1 John 2:5: “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.” May God’s love fill our hearts this Christmas season—and every day—as we walk with Him. o ALBERT LEE

“I AM THE LORD’S SERVANT,” MARY ANSWERED. “MAY YOUR WORD TO ME BE FULFILLED.”

Read today’s passage again. What do you think made Mary so willing to obey God when she received such a life-changing announcement from Him? What can you be doing to grow your love for God so that you too are always ready to obey His leading?

Fill my heart, Lord, with rejoicing at the gift of Your love and forgiveness found in Your Son Jesus. My life is yours.

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7 D E CE MB E R

TWO BETHLEHEMS

Heavenly Father, as I live in this world that is often too busy to consider You, renew my love for You and for the people I know who desperately need Your salvation. Thank You for being with me now. Amen

L UKE 2 :1 - 7 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

1

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 4

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he birth of Jesus Christ was unlike any other. Mary’s was an ‘other world’ conception. The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most ONE CAN SEE THE High will overshadow you” (LUKE 1:35). The child conceived in her was from outside our KINGDOM OF GOD world. And it had to be so, because the boy UNLESS THEY ARE born to Mary was Immanuel, “God with us” (ISAIAH 7:14; MATTHEW 1:23). BORN AGAIN.” The baby born in Bethlehem was of heavJOHN 3:3 enly origin. God had entered the earth in the form and nature of Mary’s little son. He came into the world from above, and His incarnation made possible our redemption. Now think about it. Our own new birth—our regeneration—comes from outside the world. Jesus said that we are born again “of the Spirit” (JOHN 3:3,7-8). Our salvation is not from an earthly source, but from God Himself through Jesus by means of His Spirit. In a sense, then, our heart becomes a “Bethlehem stable,” a place where Jesus comes into the world. We open the door to Him by faith—just as Mary believed the angel’s message over 2,000 years ago— and He is born in us by the blessed Holy Spirit. We make Him known to others by His power in us. He affects every aspect of our lives. We are a ‘Bethlehem’, His place of entrance into today’s world. o

JESUS REPLIED, “VERY TRULY I TELL YOU, NO



DAVID C. EGNER

Read today’s passage again. Where do you experience “no room” for Jesus amongst your loved ones and your community? How can you be His place of entrance to their worlds?

Thank You, Father, for the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine and I am His. May I be a ‘Bethlehem’ to someone today.

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8 D E CE MB E R

PONDER IT Dear Lord, I come now to be still and know You are my God, my Rock, my Fortress. Show me marvellous things about Your infinite majesty and keep my eyes lifted heavenwards. Amen

L UKE 2 : 8–20 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 8

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uring Oswald Chambers’ years at the Bible Training College in London (1911–15), he often startled the students with things he said during his lectures. One young woman AND PONDERED explained that because discussion was reserved for the following mealtime together, THEM IN HER HEART. Chambers would frequently be bombarded LUKE 2:19 with questions and objections. She recalled that Oswald would often simply smile and say, “Just leave it for now; it will come to you later.” He encouraged them to ponder the issues and allow God to reveal His truth to them. To ponder something is to concentrate and think deeply about it. After the events leading to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, followed by the appearance of angels and the shepherds who came to see the Messiah, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (LUKE 2:19). New Testament scholar W. E. Vine said that “ponder” means “to throw together, confer, to put one thing with another in considering circumstances” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). When we struggle to understand the meaning of what’s happening in our lives, we have Mary’s wonderful example of what it means to seek God and His wisdom. When we, like her, accept God’s leading in our lives, we have many new things about His loving guidance to treasure and ponder in our hearts. o DAVID C. MCCASLAND

MARY TREASURED UP ALL THESE THINGS

Read today’s passage again. Allow yourself a few minutes of quiet during this busy season to sit and listen for what God might be saying to you.

Father, guide me by Your Holy Spirit as I consider Your great love and embrace Your plan for my life.

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9 D E CE MB E R

SEASONS

Loving Father in heaven, thank You for knowing me so perfectly. Every season of life brings so many challenges. I give my pains to You now and ask You: please fill me with Your Spirit of power, love and truth. Amen

L UKE 2 :2 5- 35 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 25

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ 29

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ 33

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s a Pastor I have ministered to many women during their seasons of motherhood. I have called on mothers in the hospital and rejoiced with them for their precious baby who had come into the world. I’ve counselled anxious mothers and tried to reassure them that God was watching over their rebellious teenagers. I’ve stood with mothers at the bedside of an injured or ill ECCLESIASTES 3:1 child and felt their pain. And I’ve cried with them in their grief when their precious child passed away. Mary the mother of Jesus also experienced these times of joy and sorrow. What rejoicing when the Christ-child was born (LUKE 2:7)! What excitement when the shepherds told of angels in the sky (VV. 8-20), and later Magi came to worship (MATTHEW 2:1-12). What uneasiness when Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her soul (LUKE 2:35). And what heart-wrenching grief as Mary watched her Son dying on the cross (JOHN 19:25-30). But her seasons of motherhood didn’t end with that terrible scene. She rejoiced that He rose from the grave. And because she trusted Him as her Saviour, she is now in heaven with Him. We will all experience joys and sorrows, whether over our own children, our grandchildren, our own ups and downs, or anything else. But if we submit our lives, and every season we go through, to God, we will find it all serves God’s eternal purposes—just as Mary’s life did. o HERBERT VANDER LUGT

THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING, AND A SEASON FOR EVERY ACTIVITY UNDER THE HEAVENS.

Read today’s passage again. In what ways has Jesus gently revealed the thoughts of your heart (Luke 2:35) and helped you to rely on His strength and grace?

All-knowing God and Father, I thank You that my life is in Your hands. Even though I cannot see where I am going, I know the One I go with. May all the seasons of my life bring glory to Your name.

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MOSAIC OF BEAUTY

Faithful God, I praise You that You are faithful to Your promises. I put my trust in You for now and all the days ahead. Amen.

L UKE 1 : 46 –5 5 And Mary said:

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‘My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 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.  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 for ever, just as he promised our ancestors.’ 50

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itting in the courtyard of the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel, I was overwhelmed with the beautiful display of sixty-seven mosaics containing the words SPIRIT REJOICES IN of Luke 1:46–55 in as many languages. Traditionally known as the Magnificat from the GOD MY SAVIOUR. Latin “to magnify”, these verses are Mary’s LUKE 1:46–47 joyous response to the announcement that she will be the mother of the Messiah. Each plaque contains Mary’s words, including: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. . . . For the Mighty One has done great things for me” (LUKE 1:46–49). The biblical hymn etched in the tiles is a song of praise as Mary recounts the faithfulness of God to her and the nation of Israel. A grateful recipient of God’s grace, Mary rejoices in her salvation (V. 47). She acknowledges that God’s mercy has extended to the Israelites for generations (V. 50). Looking back over God’s care for the Israelites, Mary praises God for His powerful acts on behalf of His people (V. 51). She also thanks God, recognising that her daily provision comes from His hand (V. 53). Mary shows us that recounting the great things God has done for us is a way to express praise and can lead us to rejoice. This Christmas season, consider God’s goodness as you reflect on the year. In doing so, you may create a mosaic of great beauty with your words of praise. o LISA SAMRA

MY SOUL GLORIFIES THE LORD AND MY

Read today’s passage again. Make a list of all the ways God has blessed you this year and reflect on it with Him. Is there someone you can share the story of His goodness with?

Father, I praise You for the great things You’ve done in my life. I rejoice in Your eternal mercy and care for me.

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WHAT JOSEPH

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THE BIRTH OF CHRISTMAS Merciful God, You have given me so many inspiring heroes of the faith in Your Word. Show me what it means to submit to You, to be humble, and to know the fullness of life that comes from living for Your glory, rather than my own. Amen

MAT T HEW 1 : 1 8-25 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 18

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

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All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).

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When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

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or most of my life, I missed the importance of Joseph in the Christmas story. But after I became a husband and father myself, I had a greater appreciation for Joseph’s tender character. Even before he knew how Mary had become pregnant, he decided that he wasn’t going to embarrass or punish her for what seemed to be infidelity (MATTHEW 1:19). I marvel at his obedience and humility, as he not only did what the angel told him (V. 24), but also refrained from physical intimacy with Mary until after Jesus was born (V. 25). Later we learn that Joseph was willing to flee his home to protect Jesus (2:13-23). Imagine the pressure Joseph and Mary MATTHEW 1:19 must have felt when they learned that Jesus would be theirs to raise and nurture! Imagine the complexity and pressure of having the Son of God living with you every moment of every day; a constant call to holiness by His very presence. What a man Joseph must have been to be trusted by God for this task! What a wonderful example for us to follow, whether we’re raising our own children or those born to others who are now entrusted to us. May God grant us the strength to be faithful like Joseph, even if we don’t fully understand God’s plan. o RANDY KILGORE

BECAUSE JOSEPH HER HUSBAND WAS FAITHFUL TO THE LAW, AND YET DID NOT WANT TO EXPOSE HER TO PUBLIC DISGRACE, HE HAD IN MIND TO DIVORCE HER QUIETLY.

Read today’s passage again. How does being “faithful to [God’s Word]” (Matthew 1:19) make us sensitive to God’s voice? Can you create some space today to sit quietly and listen to what He is saying to You through Joseph’s example?

We know, Father, that Your wisdom is far above our limited understanding. We thank You that we can rely on You to carry out Your good plans for us. You are worthy of our trust and praise.

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GOD'S GUIDANCE Heavenly Father, thank You for speaking to me through Your Word. Help me to be still and listen to Your voice, Your guidance and Your heart that I may know Your perfect and life-giving will. Amen

M ATT HEW 1 : 1 8-2 5; 2:13 -15 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

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When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ 13

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he Christmas story contains a surprising glimpse into the way God guides those who trust in Him. When the Lord was about to turn the lives of Mary and Joseph upside down, He revealed His plans to them at different times and in different ways. Mary received advance notice from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (LUKE 1:30-35). But Joseph, her fiancé, seems to have received no word from God at that time. Later, when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’” (MATTHEW 1:20). Later, when the Child’s life was in danger, it was then to Joseph that God spoke, saying, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” (2:13). Such is the mystery of God’s guidance. Mary was told beforehand and Joseph had to struggle with what must have seemed a crushing blow. Then Joseph was given the responsibility of saving his family. But no matter when God’s word came to them, Mary and Joseph both faithfully obeyed. They didn’t tweak God’s commands to be more comfortable, neither did they hesitate (despite their doubts and fears). As they heard God speak, so they obeyed. We cannot predict all that the Lord wants us to do, but we can be confident that He will guide us. And, like Mary and Joseph, we must be ready to follow His leading. o DAVID C. MCCASLAND

[GOD] SAID, “TAKE THE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER AND ESCAPE TO EGYPT.” . . . SO [JOSEPH] GOT UP, TOOK THE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER DURING THE NIGHT AND LEFT FOR EGYPT. MATTHEW 2:13-14

Read today’s passage again. What stops you from having the desire and zeal to follow God’s leading as promptly as Joseph, even when you don’t fully understand it? Lord God, You are my strength; Your grace is sufficient day by day. Give me the confidence in Your Word and Your Spirit to willingly follow where You lead.

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WHEN THE JOURNEY ISN’T

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he first Christmas; imagine that enthralling night of watching shepherds, choirs of angels and wondrous heavenly peace. The infant Messiah quietly slumbers while his new parents look on serenely. In tranquil Bethlehem, the stars gently twinkle while “the world in solemn stillness lay”1; a silent, holy night. Except, it was probably nothing like that. I suspect that the first Christmas wasn’t particularly peaceful or straightforward for Joseph and Mary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if their journey to Christmas was plagued with anxiety, pain and unanswered questions. Perhaps it was particularly distressing for Joseph; the helpless husband of a young virgin in the throes of labour. We’ve seen him in hundreds of pictures on Christmas cards, carvings in Nativity sets and little lads wearing tea towels on their heads in their school Christmas plays. We see him dutifully leading a donkey and knocking on inn doors. But do you ever wonder what was really going through his head that night? We know from the story that Joseph was an honourable man of faith. Yet I struggle to believe that Joseph never once doubted the identity of the child Mary was carrying; never once felt afraid, confused or frustrated. Surely he must have thought, as we often do in challenging circumstances, Is this really God’s plan? Or have I got the whole thing completely wrong? But wait—hadn’t an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream at the beginning of all this? Surely that was enough to sustain him during the difficult journey ahead. I’m not so sure. We human beings have a pretty short memory when it comes to God’s blessing and faithfulness, especially when life gets tough.

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“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”


JOSEPH’S JOURNEY

As far as we know, Joseph was no spiritual giant. He wasn’t a rabbi or philosopher known for his profound insights. He was just a carpenter; a regular guy with an ordinary life who loved God and wanted to do the right thing. He had chosen a bride—or had one chosen for him—and his life was about to begin. Then, his world was turned upside-down by the news that she was already pregnant. Being an honourable man, he did not want to publicly disgrace her, despite the pain he must have felt. And that’s when God stepped in:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” . . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. MATTHEW 1:20-25 Then came the census; a massive upheaval for the nation as everyone was required to go to their hometown and register. By now, Mary was heavily pregnant; the timing for taking a long journey could not have been worse for her. And, as the well-known story goes, after their tiring journey, they then struggled to find somewhere to stay in an over-crowded Bethlehem.


If I had been Joseph, after the first few inns in Bethlehem were full, I would have started to pray. Please, Lord, we need a room. Make it a nice room in a nice inn. This is an important time and Mary’s been through so much on this journey. Please do something amazing and give her a lovely room in a really good inn. Let it be one of those miraculous provisions You do. We can’t take any more hardship right now. So often the things God calls us to do aren’t smooth or glamorous. The dominos don’t always fall in a perfect pattern, and it causes my faith to wobble. Sometimes, when I pray for things to get easier, they get harder. When that happens I find myself second-guessing God; questioning His goodness or wondering if I’ve got everything wrong and messed up His plan. I realise I am speculating; we don’t exactly know how Joseph felt or what he prayed. But I can’t help wondering if Joseph entertained doubts just as we do when ordinary life is stripped away and replaced with the challenge of following God into the unknown. Consider what this calling cost Joseph. Firstly, his marriage plans were scuppered. No first century man dreamed of marrying a pregnant woman. He would probably be seen as immoral, being so dishonourable as to sleep with Mary before they were married. Otherwise, people would assume somebody else got her pregnant; either way, he looked bad. Fulfilling God’s calling cost him his good reputation. Secondly, he kept his bride a virgin until after Jesus was born. This was not exactly the honeymoon he had imagined. He gave up his right to consummate his marriage. That can’t have been easy. Finally, he had to take his heavily pregnant wife on a dangerous 90-mile journey in winter; up hills, down valleys, through forests and plains carrying their water and provisions. It probably took over a week. At the end of it, they had to stay in a make-shift accommodation which, presumably, had been used for animals. I doubt it was filthy; it was probably made somewhat clean and comfortable. But it wasn’t home and it wasn’t easy.


Look inside and see Joseph with Mary, watching helplessly as she is in labour. She groans, she cries, she shouts out in pain; and he can only watch. He can’t provide, he can’t protect, he can’t make things any easier. This is the moment I imagine him taking himself outside for a little rant at the Almighty. God, You could have stopped this journey. You could have let us be at home with our family around. Her mum and sisters could have been with her instead of strangers. You could have provided a better place. You are God! You could make her labour a little easier; You could make the baby come quickly. After all, this is supposed to be Your conquering Hero! Why do we have to suffer for Your plan to be fulfilled? I used to think any doubts and questions in Joseph’s mind would have melted away the moment he held the little Messiah in his arms that first time. But as any new parent knows, holding your newborn baby is not the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning. It’s daunting, stressful—and for Joseph, he had the added responsibility that this baby was meant to be the Saviour of the world. I could be wrong, but I see confusion and doubt in his eyes as he sits next to his new little family. But then there were shepherds!

STRENGTH FOR THE WEARY

This might have been the moment that everything changed for Joseph. There was a bustling outside. Shepherds came knocking, looking for a newborn baby. They talked over each other with some wild story about angels lighting up the sky and telling them to find a baby—the Saviour of the world! I sometimes wonder if God sent them just for Joseph. It was one of those moments when all that is wrong in the world fades away as God clearly shows Himself and His faithfulness to His people. This really is the Messiah! He really will save His people from their sins. And Joseph was there, right at the heart of the story. Joseph’s name is recorded forever in the Scriptures. The reputation he may have lost in his local community was nothing compared to the


one he gained in God’s kingdom. He is the stuff of legend: the husband of the woman who gave birth to the Son of God; the carpenter who raised Christ. Joseph was a vital part of God’s incredible plan of salvation. And he was a frail and faltering human, just like us. Each one of us is part of God’s plan too. Just as He did with Joseph, He wants to use us to bring the Saviour into a world that’s confused, hurting and looking for peace, especially after the disruptive and worrying year the Coronavirus has given us. It may cost us our comforts and our reputation; we may have to give up control. Joseph's journey reminds us that straightforward paths are not the norm when we obey God. We will have doubts; we may struggle to understand the direction God is taking us in and the trials He leads us through. But what we can be assured of as we look back on Joseph’s journey is that God’s plan is always good; and all the twists and turns will be used by Him to help us bring Jesus into the world. When everything seems dark and confusing and you can’t see what God is up to, remember Joseph and be encouraged. God will lead us just as faithfully and, in His perfect timing, He will send ‘shepherds’ our way to give us strength and keep us going.


WHAT THE SHEPHERDS

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THE SHEPHERDS Heavenly Father, the One who formed me in the womb and wrote out the days of my life. Thank You for Your perfect, wonderful knowledge of me. Warm my heart with passion for You today. Amen

L UKE 2 :8- 2 0 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 8

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he angel bypassed Jerusalem, the religious centre of Israel. He didn’t go to Herodium, Herod’s villa near Bethlehem. He appeared instead to a band of shepherds WILL FIND A BABY tending their flocks. Back then no one thought God would be WRAPPED IN CLOTHS interested in shepherds, or that shepherds AND LYING IN A would be interested in God. Shepherds were notoriously irreligious, ranked by the rabMANGER. bis with prostitutes and other ‘habitual sinLUKE 2:12 ners’. They were outcasts, barred from the synagogue and polite society. They assumed that God would never accept them, and they were afraid of Him. But God spoke to them. I think He knew that these shepherds, like so many people who appear indifferent to spiritual things, were quietly longing for God. All of us have a longing for something more. And no matter how hard we try to appear self-sufficient, sooner or later we run out of something essential—love, money, time or life. Isolation, loneliness and fear of death lead us to acknowledge our need for a Saviour. But where can we find Him? The angel’s words to the shepherds were simple and direct: “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (LUKE 2:11). You can find Him too. o DAVID H. ROPER

THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU

Read today’s passage again. How does it encourage you that God’s message to these ‘outcast’ shepherds is “Do not be afraid” (v. 10) and “peace” (v. 14)?

Lord Jesus, I need You for every moment, for every breath. Thank You for coming to save me and to bring me peace with You forever.

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CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY

Heavenly Father, You reign with righteousness and justice for eternity. You are my refuge and my hope. May I find freedom and joy in Your presence now. Amen

I SAI AH 9 : 1 –7 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan –

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The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. 2

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ON THOSE LIVING IN THE LAND OF DEEP DARKNESS A LIGHT HAS DAWNED. ISAIAH 9:2

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ev. Martin Niemoller, a prominent German pastor, spent nearly eight years in Nazi concentration camps because he openly opposed Hitler. On Christmas Eve 1944, Niemoller spoke these words of hope to his fellow prisoners in Dachau: “My dear friends, on this Christmas . . . let us seek, in the Babe of Bethlehem, the One who came to us in order to bear with us everything that weighs heavily upon us. . . . God Himself has built a bridge from Himself to us! A dawn from on

high has visited us!” At Christmas we embrace the good news that God, in Christ, has come to us wherever we are and has bridged the gap between us. He even built a bridge from Himself to humbled, outcast shepherds, transforming them into evangelists of His life-changing salvation (LUKE 2:17)! God can invade any prison of darkness we find ourselves in with His light, lifting the load of sorrow, guilt or loneliness that weighs us down. On that bleak Christmas Eve in prison, Niemoller shared this good news: “Out of the brilliance that surrounded the shepherds a shining ray will fall into our darkness.” His words remind us of the prophet Isaiah, who prophetically said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (ISAIAH 9:2). No matter where today finds us, Jesus has penetrated our dark world with His joy and light! o DAVID MCCASLAND Read today’s passage again. How has Jesus brought light into your life? What title or description of Jesus in verses 6 and 7 gives you most hope if you feel trapped today?

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, I ask for Your strong deliverance today. Thank You that Your loving reign over the world and over me will never end.

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THE PLACE OF GOING FORTH

Heavenly Father, thank You for the angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth. Thank You for the shepherds spreading the good news. Today, please fill me with the desire to join them in announcing that salvation has come. Amen

M I CAH 5: 1 -4 Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.

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‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ 2

Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

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He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 4

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lot of attention was suddenly focused on the small town of Bethlehem. Jews from many parts of the world came to be counted in a census. Mary and Joseph travelled COME FOR ME ONE there from Nazareth. Shepherds came from the fields to see the Baby lying in a manger WHO WILL BE RULER (LUKE 2:15-16) after a multitude of angels had OVER ISRAEL . . . HE come to announce, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on WILL STAND AND whom his favour rests” (VV. 13-14). SHEPHERD HIS FLOCK Every Christmas, in our imagination, we go to Bethlehem to celebrate Jesus’ birth. But we IN THE STRENGTH OF cannot stay there; we must leave. The angels THE Lord. returned to heaven. Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem and then sought safety in Egypt. MICAH 5:2, 4 The shepherds’ exit gives a clear message to us. They left the stable and told everyone about the holy Child. “All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (V.18). It’s appropriate for us to do the same. Micah prophesied that from Bethlehem would go forth a Ruler of Israel, the eternal Maker of the world, the Good Shepherd who had come to save mankind from sin (MICAH 5:2-4). This season, let’s join those who have gone forth from their visits to Bethlehem to proclaim the good news of Christ, who came to save us. o DAVID C. EGNER

BETHLEHEM . . . OUT OF YOU WILL

Read today’s passage again. Where do you see Jesus shepherding you in His strength? Do you live securely in Him, no matter how uncertain and trying each day may be?

Heavenly Father, thank You that Jesus left heaven to rescue me. Show me where I need to go and who I need to tell of Your great salvation.

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WHAT HEROD

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THE ONLY KING Sovereign Lord, You are the King. Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus; every tongue will acknowledge You are Lord of all. I gladly confess this truth now as I come to reflect on Your precious Word. Amen

M AT T HEW 2 : 1– 12 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’ 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 1

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s five-year-old Eldon listened to the pastor talk about Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth, he gasped when the pastor thanked Him in prayer for dying for our sins. “Oh, no! He WORSHIPPED died?” the boy said in surprise. From the start of Christ’s life on earth, there HIM. were people who wanted Him dead. Wise men MATTHEW 2:11 came to Jerusalem during the reign of King Herod inquiring, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (MATTHEW 2:2). When the king heard this, he became fearful of one day losing his position to Jesus. So he sent soldiers to kill all the boys two years old and younger around Bethlehem. But God protected His Son and sent an angel to warn His parents to leave the area. They fled, and He was saved (VV. 13–18). When Jesus completed His ministry, He was crucified for the sins of the world. The sign placed above His cross, though meant in mockery, read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37). Yet three days later He rose in victory from the grave. After ascending to heaven, He sat down on the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords (PHILIPPIANS 2:8–11). The King died for our sins—yours, mine and Eldon’s. Let’s allow Him to rule in our hearts. o ANNE CETAS

THEY BOWED DOWN AND

Read today’s passage again. What does it mean for you to have Jesus as your King? Are there areas of your life where He’s not?

Jesus, thank You for willingly dying for my sins and offering forgiveness. Teach me to submit to Your rule.

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CHRISTMAS CHOICE Lord Jesus, I gladly choose You now. I come to know Your goodness, Your love, Your lordship. Deepen my understanding of who You are today. Amen

MAT T HEW 2 :1-16 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’ 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ 16 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 1

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he glitter of bright decorations, the sound of joyous Christmas carols, the happy children and the cheerful “Merry Christmas” greetings sometimes give the impression OVERJOYED. that everybody is glad that Jesus came to our planet. But that isn’t true today, and it never MATTHEW 2:10 was. The news of Jesus’ birth evoked a mixed reaction. The wise men joyfully welcomed and worshipped the Saviour (MATTHEW 2:10-11). But King Herod was so troubled when he heard about it that he tried to find and kill the baby Jesus (VV. 3-4, 16). Most people, however, were unaware of the significance of what had happened. Still today, multitudes honour Jesus and rejoice in their salvation. But many others hate Him. They grumble about the singing of Christmas carols in shopping centres and the display of nativity scenes in public places. Others are apathetic. They go along with the celebration of the season. They may join in singing Christmas carols, but they never ask themselves who Jesus is or why He came. They don’t think about their need to believe in Him and receive Him as their Saviour. Are you among the indifferent? To ignore Him and His claims is to reject Him. Christmas demands a decision about Christ. The choice is yours. o

WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE



HERBERT VANDER LUGT

Read today’s passage again. What reaction to Jesus in the story most closely matches your own: “disturbed” like “all Jerusalem” (v. 3), “furious” like Herod (v. 16) or “overjoyed” and full of worship like the Magi (vv. 10-11)? Is your commitment to Jesus different at Christmas to the rest of the year?

Loving and merciful God, You know how easily my heart grows cold to You. Forgive me for my apathy and lead me again in a life of joyful worship for Your Son.

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OUT OF EGYPT Father in heaven, show me again how much it cost Jesus throughout His time on earth to make me His. Reignite my love, awe and thankfulness today. Amen

MAT T HEW 2 :1 3 -21 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’

13

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’

14

15

When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

16

‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’

18

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt  and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’

19 20

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

21

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ne year when our family was travelling the long road to Grandma’s house, we arrived in town just as a tornado warning was issued. Suddenly everything changed as we ESCAPE TO EGYPT. feared that our children might be in danger. I mention that story to help us imagine MATTHEW 2:13 what it was like for Joseph’s family as he, Mary and their young Child travelled to Egypt. Herod, not a tornado, threatened them as he sought to kill their little Boy. Imagine how frightening it was for them, knowing that “Herod [sought] the child to kill him” (MATTHEW 2:13). We usually take a more idyllic view of Christmas—lowing cattle and kneeling shepherds in a peaceful scene. But there was no peace for Jesus’ family as they sought to escape Herod’s horror. Only when an angel told them it was safe did the family leave Egypt and go back home to Nazareth (VV. 20-23). Consider the awe we should feel for the incarnation. Jesus, who enjoyed the majesty of heaven in partnership with the Father, set it all aside to be born in poverty, to face many dangers and to be crucified for us. Coming out of Egypt is one thing, but leaving heaven for us—that’s the grand and amazing part of this story! o DAVE BRANON

TAKE THE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER AND

Read today’s passage again. Where do you see most clearly that, in becoming a man, Jesus is truly able “to feel sympathy for our weakness” (Hebrews 4:15)?

Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving heaven to save me. For every trial You endured, every bit of suffering inflicted upon You, You showed Your unbreakable love for me, a sinner. My life is Yours.

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19 D E CE MB E R

ON TIME Heavenly Father, it can be hard to set my mind on heavenly things when there is so much on earth demanding my attention. I trust those things to Your perfect timing now so I can refix my eyes upon You. Amen

L UKE 2 : 2 5–3 8 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ 33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eightyfour. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 38  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 25

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ometimes I joke that I'm going to write a book titled On Time. Those who know me smile because they know I am often late. I rationalise that my lateness is due to optimism, COME, GOD SENT not to lack of trying. I optimistically cling to the faulty belief that “this time” I will be able to get HIS SON. more done in less time than ever before. But I GALATIANS 4:4 can't, and I don't, so I end up having to apologise yet again for my failure to show up on time. In contrast, God is always on time. We may think He's late, but He's not. Throughout Scripture we read about people becoming impatient with God’s timing. The Israelites waited and waited for the promised Messiah. Some gave up hope. But Simeon and Anna did not. They were in the temple daily praying and waiting (LUKE 2:25–26, 37). And their faith was rewarded. They got to see the infant Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him to be dedicated (VV. 27–32, 38). When we become discouraged because God doesn't respond according to our timetable, Christmas reminds us that “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son . . . that we might receive adoption to sonship” (GALATIANS 4:4–5). God’s timing is always perfect, and it is worth the wait. o

WHEN THE SET TIME HAD FULLY



JULIE ACKERMAN LINK

Read today’s passage again. Think about what life looked like for Simeon and Anna as they waited for God’s salvation to be revealed. How does their approach to waiting help shape your attitude to waiting on God?

Heavenly Father, I confess that I become impatient and discouraged, wanting answers to prayer in my own time and on my schedule. Help me to wait patiently for Your timing in all things.

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THROUGH THE EYES OF FAITH Thank You, heavenly Father, for Your goodness and Your patience. Shape me today and grow my faith in Your unshakable, unending faithfulness. Amen

L UKE 2 :2 5- 35 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 25

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ 29

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ 33

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hat a touching scene—an aged man holding the baby Jesus in his arms and praising God! (LUKE 2:27-32). Simeon had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would not PROMISED, YOU die till he had seen the promised Messiah, and he came into the temple at the very moMAY NOW DISMISS ment that Joseph and Mary entered with the YOUR SERVANT IN baby Jesus. I once felt that Simeon was more blessPEACE. FOR MY EYES ed than I am because he had the privilege of HAVE SEEN YOUR actually touching Jesus, but I must believe without seeing or touching Him. Now I realSALVATION. ise that he too had to exercise faith. After all, LUKE 2:29-30 he was holding in his arms an infant born to a couple he had never met before. His assurance came through the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart, and we must depend on that same witness today. Near the end of our Lord’s time on earth, when He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (JOHN 20:29). We too, through the eyes of faith, can know Christ in a close, personal way. As we celebrate Christmas, let’s pause to look at the Lord through eyes of faith. When we do, we will be able to lift our voice in praise to God. o

SOVEREIGN LORD, AS YOU HAVE



HERBERT VANDER LUGT

Read today’s passage again. What doubts do you wrestle with? Where do you turn to in God’s Word to hear His promises to you again?

Merciful Father, thank You that my doubts are not an obstacle to You. Relieve my fears, strengthen my faith and help me hold unswervingly to my hope in Christ.

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A NEW FORCE

Sovereign Lord, the One who planned salvation to be in Christ before laying the foundation of the world, help me to grasp the full story of Christmas. I don’t want to be so distracted by the cradle that I forget the cross. Amen

1 CO R I NT HI ANS 1:20-25 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 20

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hen Matteo Ricci went to China in the 16th century, he took samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. They readily WHICH YOU HAVE accepted portraits of Mary holding the baby Jesus, but when he produced paintings of PREPARED IN the crucifixion and tried to explain that the THE SIGHT OF ALL God-child had come to be executed, his audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They NATIONS. couldn’t worship a crucified God. LUKE 2:30-31 As I thumb through my Christmas cards, I realise that we do much the same thing. In our celebrations and observances, we may not think about how the story that began at Bethlehem turned out at Calvary. In Luke’s account of the Christmas story, only one person—the old man Simeon—seems to grasp the mysterious nature of what God had set in motion. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,” he told Mary, and then he made the prediction that a sword would pierce her own soul (LUKE 2:34-35). Simeon knew that though on the surface little had changed—Herod still ruled, Roman troops still occupied Israel—underneath, everything had changed. God’s promised redemption had arrived. o PHILIP YANCEY

MY EYES HAVE SEEN YOUR SALVATION,

Read today’s passage again. What is your reaction to Jesus on the cross? Do you recognise this act of love to be the wisdom of God to fully save us and make us His own?

Lord Jesus, my incredible Saviour. I am awed that You would be born to die for me. What can I do but give my life to Your love and grace!

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22 D E CE MB E R

A REAL CHRISTMAS

Lord Jesus, heaven’s Champion and mighty Warrior, strengthen me today for the challenges that lie ahead. You make me brave because I know You stand with me. Amen

E PHESI ANS 6 : 10-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 10

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 18

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quotation in our church’s Advent devotional guide caused me to rethink my approach to Christmas: “Let us at all costs avoid the temptation to make our Christmas FALL AND RISING OF worship a withdrawal from the stress and sorrow of life into a realm of unreal beauty. It MANY IN ISRAEL, AND was into the real world that Christ came, into FOR A SIGN WHICH the city where there was no room for Him, and into a country where Herod, the murderWILL BE SPOKEN er of innocents, was king. AGAINST. LUKE 2:34 “He comes to us, not to shield us from the harshness of the world but to give us the courage and strength to bear it; not to snatch us away by some miracle from the conflict of life, but to give us peace—His peace—in our hearts, by which we may be calmly steadfast while the conflict rages, and be able to bring to the torn world the healing that is peace.” When Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus to the Lord, Simeon said to them: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (LUKE 2:34-35). Christmas is not a retreat from reality but an advance into it alongside the Prince of Peace who gives us His armour “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (EPHESIANS 6:13). o DAVID C. MCCASLAND

THIS CHILD IS DESTINED FOR THE

Read today’s passage again. How does Christ’s coming to save you and give you His armour help you have the confidence to say with Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Thank You, Jesus, for being my strength and my armour. You know the battles I face today; please lead me through, protected by Your righteousness and held by Your strong right arm.

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WHAT THE ANGELS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

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CHRISTMAS AWE Awesome Father in heaven, You frame the world with Your Word. You alone deserve my worship, my praise, my adoration. I give you my heart, soul and mind now. Amen

HEB R EW S 1 :1– 9 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 1

For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ 7 In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.’ 8 But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’ 5

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was in London one night for a meeting. It was pouring rain, and I was late. I rushed through the streets, turned a corner, and then stopped still. Dozens of angels hovered above Regent WORSHIP HIM. Street, their giant shimmering wings stretching across the traffic. Made of thousands of pulsing HEBREWS 1:6 lights, it was the most amazing Christmas display I’d seen. I wasn’t the only one captivated. Hundreds lined the street, gazing up in awe. Awe is central to the Christmas story. When the angel appeared to Mary explaining she would miraculously conceive (LUKE 1:26–38), and to the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth (2:8–20), each reacted with fear, wonder—and awe. Looking around at that Regent Street crowd, I wondered if we were experiencing in part what those first angelic encounters felt like. A moment later, I noticed something else. Some of the angels had their arms raised, as if they too were gazing up at something. Like the angelic choir that burst into song at the mention of Jesus (VV. 13–14), it seems angels too can be caught up in awe—as they gaze on Him. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (HEBREWS 1:3). Bright and luminous, Jesus is the focus of every angel’s gaze (V. 6). If an angel-themed Christmas display can stop busy Londoners in their tracks, just imagine the moment when we see Him face-to-face. o

LET ALL GOD’S ANGELS



SHERIDAN VOYSEY

Read today’s passage again. When was the last time you felt a sense of awe? How can you rekindle a sense of awe over Jesus this Christmas?

Father, I worship You. Thank You for the gift of Your awesome Son.

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A UKRAINIAN CHRISTMAS

Lord of lords and King of kings, I want to give You all the glory this Christmas. Please bless me, humble me and strengthen me in Your good and mighty presence. Amen

L UKE 2 : 6 - 1 4 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

6

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ 8

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

13

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ 14

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he people of Ukraine include many wonderful elements in their observance of Christmas. Sometimes wisps of hay are placed on the dinner table as a reminder of the HEAVEN, AND ON Bethlehem manger. Another portion of their celebration echoes the events of the night EARTH PEACE TO when the Saviour entered the world. A ChristTHOSE ON WHOM mas prayer is offered and then the father in the household offers the greeting, “Christ is HIS FAVOUR RESTS. born!” The family then responds, “Let us gloLUKE 2:14 rify Him!” These words draw my mind to the appearance of the angels in the sky over Bethlehem on the night Christ was born. The angel of the Lord declared, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (LUKE 2:11). The heavenly host responded, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (V. 14). Those twin messages give such depth of meaning to this wonderful time of year. The Saviour has come bringing forgiveness and hope—and He is deserving of all the worship we can give Him. May all who know the wonder of His gift of eternal life join with the voices of that angelic host declaring, “Glory to God in the highest!” o BILL CROWDER

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST

Read today’s passage again. Do you find strengthening and peace in glorifying and praising God? Why not spend some time lifting up Jesus’ powerful name today.

Father God, I want You to have all the glory in my life. Please take away the things that compete against You, and allow my gaze to linger on You alone.

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CH R I S T MAS DAY

JOY FOR ALL

Praise the Lord, O my soul; praise His holy name! Father, grant me again the joy of resting in Your good, good presence today. Amen

J OHN 3: 1 6 - 20 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 16

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n the final day of a Christian publishing conference, 280 participants from 50 countries gathered in the outdoor plaza of a hotel for a group photo. From the secNEWS THAT WILL ond-floor balcony, the photographer took many shots from different angles before fiCAUSE GREAT JOY FOR nally saying, “We’re through.” A voice from ALL THE PEOPLE. the crowd shouted with relief, “Well, joy to the world!” Immediately, someone replied LUKE 2:10 by singing, “The Lord is come.” Others began to join in. Soon the entire group was singing the familiar carol in beautiful harmony. It was a moving display of unity and joy that I will never forget. In Luke’s account of the Christmas story, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (LUKE 2:10–11). The joy was not for a few people, but for all. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (JOHN 3:16). Though this broken world of sin deserves judgement, Jesus did not come “to condemn the world, but to save the world” (V. 17). As we share the life-changing message of Jesus with others, we join the worldwide chorus in proclaiming “the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love”. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” o DAVID MCCASLAND

DO NOT BE AFRAID. I BRING YOU GOOD

Read today’s passage again. What reasons are we given to be thankful for Jesus’ arrival in our world? What gives you the greatest joy in your walk with Him?

Father, give us eyes to see people of all nations as recipients of Your grace and joy.

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B O XI N G DAY

CHRISTMAS AT MACPHERSON GARDENS Dear Father, You are so great, clothed with splendour and majesty. I find such encouragement in the clarity with which you announced Your salvation to the world. Thank You for bringing salvation to me when I was helpless to help myself. Amen

L UKE 1 :6 8–75 ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 68

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David

69

(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

70

salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – 71

to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73  the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 72

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75  in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 74

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bout 230 families and individuals live at MacPherson Gardens, Block 72 in my neighbourhood. Each person has his or her own life story. On the tenth floor resides an ISRAEL, BECAUSE elderly woman whose children have grown up, got married and moved out. She lives by HE HAS COME TO herself now. Just a few doors away from her HIS PEOPLE AND is a young couple with two kids—a boy and a girl. And a few floors below lives a young man REDEEMED THEM. serving in the army. He has been to church LUKE 1:68 before; maybe he will visit again on Christmas Day. I met these people last Christmas when our church went carol-singing in the neighbourhood to spread Christmas cheer. Every Christmas—as on the first Christmas—there are many people who do not know that God has entered into our world as a baby whose name is Jesus (LUKE 1:68; 2:21). Or they do not know the significance of that event—it is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, culture, gender or financial status, Jesus came to die for us and offer us complete forgiveness so that we can be reconciled with Him and enjoy His love, joy, peace and hope. All people, from the woman next door to the colleagues we have lunch with, need to hear this wonderful news! On the first Christmas, the angels were the bearers of this joyous news. Today, God desires to work through us to take the story to others. o

PRAISE BE TO THE LORD, THE GOD OF



POH FANG CHIA

Read today’s passage again. What is your story of God’s redemption (v. 68), salvation (v. 69) and serving Him “in holiness and righteousness” (v. 75)? Who can you share your personal story of God with?

Lord, use me to touch the lives of others with the news of Your coming.

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27 D E CE MB E R

DON’T BE AFRAID! Lord Jesus, I am amazed that You stepped out of heaven for me; humbling Yourself to die on the cross in my place. I love You and give You my heart afresh. Amen

L UKE 2 :42 - 52 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ 42

‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

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Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

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early every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Don’t be afraid!” Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance MARK 1:15 in a form that doesn’t frighten. In Jesus, born with the animals and laid in a feeding trough, God takes an approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby? On earth Jesus is both God and man. As God, He can work miracles, forgive sins, conquer death and predict the future. But for Jews accustomed to images of God as a bright cloud or pillar of fire, Jesus also causes much confusion. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, a man from Nazareth, be the Messiah from God? Why does God take on human form? The scene of twelve year old Jesus debating rabbis in the temple gives one clue. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers”, Luke tells us (2:47). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation with God in visible form. Jesus can talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!” In Jesus, God draws near. o

THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR.



PHILIP YANCEY

Read today’s passage again. What is your reaction to God humbling Himself so that His people can easily talk with Him, sit with Him and know Him face-to-face?

Heavenly Father, we pause at Christmas to remember how Your Son came to us in the form of a helpless baby . . . and we worship in amazement and wonder that You have come near to us.

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WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT

/

Christmas

28 D E CE MB E R

THE BEST GIFT EVER Wonderful Saviour, help us not to keep Your love to ourselves. Renew our passion to share the gospel with others; even those whom we’ve stopped sharing with. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit so we can be a powerful witness for Jesus. Amen

1 PET ER 3: 8–16 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, 8

‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 13

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t a men’s winter retreat one of the men asked the question, “What was your favourite Christmas gift ever?” One guy seemed eager to answer. “That’s TO EVERYONE WHO easy,” he said, glancing at his friend next to him. “A few years back, I thought I was a sure ASKS YOU TO GIVE bet to play professional football. When it THE REASON FOR THE didn’t happen, I was angry. Bitterness ate at me, and I shared that bitterness with anyone HOPE THAT YOU HAVE. who tried to help.” 1 PETER 3:15 “On the second Christmas—and second season without football—I went to a Christmas play at this guy’s church,” he said, gesturing towards his friend. “Not because I wanted Jesus, but just to see my niece in her Christmas nativity. It’s hard to describe what happened because it sounds silly, but right in the middle of the nativity, I felt like I needed to be with those shepherds and angels meeting Jesus. When that crowd finished singing ‘Silent Night,’ I just sat there weeping. I got my best Christmas present ever that very night,” he said, again pointing to his friend, “when this guy sent his family home without him so he could tell me how to meet Jesus.” It was then that his friend piped up: “And that, guys, was my best Christmas present ever.” This Christmas, may the joyful simplicity of the story of Jesus’ birth be the story we tell to others. The best Christmas gift is Jesus bringing peace and forgiveness to others. o RANDY KILGORE

ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ANSWER

Read today’s passage again. What is the reason for your hope in Christ? How has this journey to the heart of Christmas reignited your hope? And who can you share this with?

Father, give us eyes to see those who need a Saviour and the courage to tell them about Him. Help us remember that hearing and telling the story of Your Son is the real reason for this season.

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WHERE THE JOURNEY

takes us


O

ur journey to the heart of Christmas isn’t complete without a closer look at the most puzzling characters of all:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” MATTHEW 2:1-2 Much mystery surrounds these curious figures: the Magi. They are usually depicted on Christmas cards in royal splendour presenting their gifts to the young Jesus; but we really know very little about them. Who were they? And how did they know to look for this newborn King of the Jews? It is possible that they were from Babylon where Daniel (from the Old Testament book of Daniel) had been one of the chief wise men during Israel’s exile. Perhaps he taught them to look for the Messiah and his teaching had been passed on. We don’t know for sure, but it’s a compelling idea. Whoever they were, they play an interesting role in the story of Christmas; they were the first ones to seek Jesus in order to worship Him. It’s true that the shepherds sought the baby Jesus to see if what the angels said was true; but the Magi were different. They left everything and made the long journey from a foreign country, bringing extremely valuable gifts . . . simply to worship! Take a moment to consider what “worship” meant for them. First of all, it involved their minds. They had to study to understand the significant details of the birth of Christ; the timing and the specifics regarding the guiding star. Next, their worship cost them money; money they could have spent on improving their own homes and lives. The gifts they gave were not cheap; they brought no token offerings for the King of kings.


Then, their worship required them to leave their home, their family and friends, and even their country—everything that was comfortable and familiar—and head to a foreign land, following a star in the night sky. Yet as they drew near, the Magi made a mistake; one that we can all make. They took their eyes off God’s guidance. For us, that often means a growing complacency around God’s Word and spending time with Him. For the Magi, this meant turning aside from the star that God had provided, and instead drawing their own conclusions about where they would find the newborn King. After all, surely the King of the Jews would be born in the palace? So they ignored the star and went to Jerusalem seeking the Messiah. It is here that we are introduced to some surprising reactions to the news of Jesus’ birth. The appearance of these imposing strangers caused great disturbance in Jerusalem. Herod, the notoriously paranoid king, called for the Bible scholars and asked them where this newborn King of the Jews was to be found. They seem quite casual in recounting the prophecy that He was to be born in Bethlehem. It’s strange how those religious leaders who knew so much about Him had no desire to go find and worship their own Messiah; they were just indifferent. Not so Herod; he was full of hatred. There was no way he was sharing the spotlight with another king; not even a tiny one. So he pretended to be a worshipper while secretly having no intention of bowing to anyone but himself. It is highly significant that ones who did desire to worship Jesus were foreigners. In the Old Testament, God had instructed His people to stay separate from other nations because of their idolatrous practices. This led many of the Jews to assume that they were the only people God loved. Therefore, there was a tendency to feel superior to outsiders; as though they were the only ones qualified to worship God. But God’s heart has always been for the world; not just Israel (GENESIS 12:3). How interesting that it was foreigners, not Israelites, who first made the journey to the heart of Christmas to worship the King of the Jews.


He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. JOHN 1:11-12 That first Christmas was the beginning of a new era of global worship of the one true God. That’s where most of us fit in the story; we are outsiders who have been brought into God’s family by seeking, finding and believing in Jesus. And it is our joy and privilege to bow before the Saviour of the world and worship; that is the destination of our journey. This year, as many of our comforts have been stripped away, we have an opportunity to follow in the excellent footsteps of the Magi who left everything to worship Jesus. We’ve seen something of the vulnerability of the things in which the world places its trust; and perhaps it has given us a new appreciation for the rock-solid security of knowing Christ for ourselves. Maybe the trials we have been through this year, and this journey we have been on this Christmas, have been the reminders we needed that Christ is of infinitely more value than anything else in our lives. Or perhaps we’re still on the journey of discovering Him. Whatever the case, remember the Magi. Those who were far away are brought near on an incredible journey of worship.


Glory o God

in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests. LUKE 2:14


These

specially selected daily readings for December offer you a reflective journey this Christmas season. Yet it’s not just a journey simply reliving the Christmas story. The Our Daily Bread writers offer you a journey to the very heart of Christmas; to the One who started the Christmas story before time and will write the last full stop when you are seated with Him in His home forever. Marvel at what the prophets foretold, pause to ponder with Mary, gaze upon what the shepherds saw, receive with joy the angel’s announcement and bring your worship with the Magi. See in the One born to save us— born to die in our place—the heart of God; a heart full of love for you.

Visit ourdailybread.org for more information on our resources. Alternatively, please contact the office nearest to you from the list below, or go to ourdailybread.org/locations for the complete list of offices. Germany: Our Daily Bread Ministries e.V., Schulstraße 42, 79540 Lörrach deutsch@odb.org ~ +49 (0) 7621 9511135 Ireland: Our Daily Bread Ministries, 64 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2, D02 XC62 ireland@odb.org ~ +353 (01) 676 7315 UK & Europe: Our Daily Bread Ministries, PO Box 1, Millhead, Carnforth, LA5 9ES europe@odb.org ~ +44 (0) 15395 64149

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Profile for Our Daily Bread Ministries - Europe

Journey to the Heart of Christmas  

These specially selected daily readings for December offer you a reflective journey this Christmas season. Yet it's not just a journey simpl...

Journey to the Heart of Christmas  

These specially selected daily readings for December offer you a reflective journey this Christmas season. Yet it's not just a journey simpl...

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