619) Away in a Manger

  File:Kempele Church Paintings 2006 07 24 B.JPG

     Painting on the wall of the Kempele Old Church, Kempele, Finland, by Mikael Toppelius (1734-1821)

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     The word ‘manger’ is used three in the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke chapter two:  in verse seven which tells us that is where Mary laid the newborn infant, in verse twelve where the angel tells the shepherds they will find this newborn Savior of the world lying in a manger, and in verse sixteen when the shepherds do indeed find the baby Jesus, lying in a manger.  Mangers are wooden troughs in stables from which animals eat; so from those three references it is assumed that Jesus was born in a stable, and, that animals were present .

     A stable is like a prison for an animal.  In stables (or barns) there are pens, gates, stanchions, and ropes– whatever it takes to keep the animals from getting away.  The animals are probably not bothered by this confinement, as long as they are fed and watered and warm.  A cow probably wouldn’t get much out of a trip to the Grand Canyon anyway.  And an old sow probably doesn’t care if she never gets to the Mall of America.  She wouldn’t know how to act there, and all those people and all that noise would just make her nervous.  I don’t think animals mind being penned up, as long as they have a little room to move around.  That is all they have ever known.  So the purpose of a stable is to confine animals.  And why are they confined like that?  So that you can have milk to drink and butter on your bread and a slice of ham on Christmas Day.  Those animals are confined to those places for you.

    With this in mind, the animals in every nativity scene become an illustration of what Christmas is all about.  Unlike your average cow or sow, Jesus was not used to being confined.  Jesus was used to being God, ruler over all things, seated with the God the Father Almighty in heaven.  The message of Christmas is that Jesus chose to allow himself to be born, and thus, to be confined to a human body, living a life on this small speck of dust we call earth, in one small corner of the vast universe that He created.  Not only would his birth here confine him to a very small place, but he would also be confined to limited amount of time.  What a prison that would be for one who was used to being the ruler of the universe!  With Jesus’ birth in that stable, the eternal God confined himself to the limits of a human life, and in the end, would allow himself even to die.  And why?  FOR YOU, said the angel to the shepherds.  The angel said, “For you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  

     Then the angel said, “You will find this baby in a manger.”  Here is an accurate and wonderful symbol of the incarnation.  God, in Jesus, came to earth, confining himself to a life like we are confined to; and he was born among animals, in their place of confinement.  Jesus, born for you, in a place where animals are kept for you.

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In the Christian story God descends to reascend.  He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down to the very roots of the Nature he has created.  But he goes down to come up again, and bring the whole ruined world up with him.  One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself under some great complicated burden.  He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

–C. S. Lewis, Miracles

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Luke 2:7  —  She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:12  —  This shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Luke 2:16  —  And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

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Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle til morning is nigh.

Away in a Manger, verses 1-2

618) A Savior Has Been Born For You

    

     Martin Luther once preached an entire sermon on just two words from the Christmas story– the words FOR YOU.  These words appear in the angel’s words to the shepherds in Luke 2:11 in the old German translation.  The NIV (below) reads ‘to you.’  The old, familiar King James Version reads, “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord.”  Other translations vary it even more, one saying “Your Savior has been born,” and another one says, “a Savior has been born for everyone.”  They all communicate the same message; saying the same thing in different ways, but still true to the original text.  My favorite is Luther’s: a Savior has been born, said the angel, FOR YOU.

    The Christmas story, Luther said, is a nice story.  A young couple, far from home and down on their luck, can’t find a room for the night, and have to stay in a barn.  That is the very night that Mary goes into labor and gives birth to her first child, a son.  But everything works out just fine, and soon they find that they are not alone, but shepherds arrive with the news that a sky full of angels had told them about this birth, and that this child was to be someone very special.  That is indeed a nice story with a happy ending.

     But Luther is quick to add that this is not only a nice story.  The story of Hansel and Gretel is also a nice story.  At first there are some tense moments with the wicked old woman threatening to bake and eat the two little children; but then it all works out, and, just like the Christmas story, it has a happy ending.  However, Luther says, the Christmas story is also a true story.   This is the first thing we need to remember.

     C. S. Lewis was an expert on stories.  He was a professor of Literature at Cambridge and Oxford, and part of his job was to teach about the stories in civilization’s greatest literature.  He knew what made a story great, he knew how a good short story or a good novel should be structured, he knew about character development and dialog and styles of writing, and he knew about symbolism and hidden meanings.  He was a recognized world authority on fictional stories.  He was also a writer of stories; children’s stories, science fiction, and religious fiction.  Today, over 50 years after his death, all Lewis’s works are still in print and selling very well, and his Narnia Chronicle series is being made into several movies.  Lewis knew about stories and inventing stories and writing stories.  Lewis did not become a Christian until he was in his thirties, and when he did, he said to a friend:  “The thing I finally came to realize about the story of Jesus is that it is true.”  From beginning to end, he said, it is not the sort of thing one would make up, nor is it told like a made up story.  It is told like a story that really happened.  Once he realized that, Lewis said, “I had to become a Christian, because there is no other true story like it in all of human history.”  So said C. S. Lewis, whose writings convinced me of the truth of the story after two years of doubt and uncertainty.  So also said Luther: not only is the Christmas story a nice story, it is a true story.

     And yet, said Luther, that is still no big deal.  But, he said, what IS a big deal about the Christmas story, and what makes it the most important true story of all time, is that it was all FOR YOU.  God became a man, born as a little baby in those most humble circumstances, FOR YOU.

     The Christmas story was just the beginning of the story of what God would do FOR YOU while he was on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus would grow up, as children do, and go on to live a life and work a job just like anyone else.  Then, at age 30 he would begin a three year ministry that would change the world.  And then, most importantly of all, he would die on a cross, giving his life as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of all the sins ever committed in all the world.  By that forgiveness, God offered to all who would believe in Jesus the gift of eternal life in his heavenly kingdom.  Jesus’ birth would not only change the whole world for the time being, but it would, in the end, offer YOU the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.

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Luke 2:11  —   Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

I Corinthians 11:23b-24  —  The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Acts 3:19-20  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

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Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay

Close by me forever and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in your tender care,

 And fit us to heaven to live with you there.

Away in a Manger, verse 3

258) God’s Perspective on the First Christmas

From ‘ Sermon for Christmas Day’; Text: Luke 2:1-14; by Martin Luther (1483-1546) 

     …Behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven.  On earth it occurs in this way:  Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth; she is not highly esteemed, but is of the humblest citizens of the village.  No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears.  She is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town.  She starts out with her husband Joseph, obliged to leave their home.  They probably owned a donkey, upon which Mary rode, although the Gospel does not mention it, and so it is possible that they went on foot.  Imagine how she was despised at the inns along on the way, although she was worthy to ride in a chariot of gold.  There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that time who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances.  What distinctions there are in the world!

     When they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, and had to take refuge in a stable.  They had to share lodging, table, and bed with the cattle, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord.  No one noticed or was aware of what God was doing in that stable.  See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has, or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has, and does.  This shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, its best actions are wrong, and its greatest treasures are misfortunes.  What did Bethlehem have when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

     But the birth itself is still more pitiful.  There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night.  There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times.  Every thing is in a commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, and no one thinks of this poor woman.  Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?

     Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised by men.  The angels did not find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news, but the most humble people upon earth.  Could they not have addressed the high priests who supposedly knew so much concerning God and the angels?  No, God chose poor shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty worldly honor, as if we had no honor to seek in heaven.

     Every one should ponder this for himself.  As we see, it is the purpose of the divine Word to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is nothing.  For Jesus did not have possessions, nor temporal honor and power.  He shows no interest in them, but he works in opposition to these temporal things, and looks with favor upon that which the world despises.  He goes to that from which the world flees and takes up that which it discards.  And although we may not want to receive blessings, honor, and life in this way, God does not change his purposes or ways.  We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us.  In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels made known to none but to poor shepherds?

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As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.  –Philip Yancey

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Luke 1:52 — He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Luke 2:6-7 — And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Philippians 2:5-7  —  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

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A CHRISTMAS PRAYER:  The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.  Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wisemen.  Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.  Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.  Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.  May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.   –Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)

257) For You (part two)

     (continued…)  There is another word in the Christmas story that can serve as an illustration of the meaning in the words ‘for you.’  The word ‘manger’ is used in the story three times: first in verse seven when Luke describes where Mary laid the newborn infant; and in verse twelve when the angel is giving instructions to the shepherds on where they could find this newborn Savior of the world– “This will be a sign for you,” the angel said, “You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger;” and in verse 16 where we read that the shepherds did indeed find the baby in a manger.  From those three references, it is assumed that Jesus was born in a stable and there were animals around.  Stables had mangers in which to put feed for the animals.

     To an animal, a stable is like a prison.  In a stable you have pens, you have gates, you have stanchions, you might have chains or ropes– you have whatever it takes to keep the animals from getting away.  I’m not saying the animals are bothered by not having the freedom to wander all over the world.  They probably don’t mind it as long as they are fed and watered and warm.  A cow probably wouldn’t get much out of a trip to the Grand Canyon anyway.  And an old sow probably doesn’t care if she never gets to the Mall of America– all the people there and all that noise would just make her nervous.  I don’t think animals mind being restricted to pens or pastures.  That’s all they have ever known.  But think about that– those animals are confined like that for you— so that you can have milk to drink, and butter on your bread, and a slice of ham on Christmas day.  Those animals are confined to those places for youfor your sake.

     This is an illustration of what Christmas is all about.  Unlike your average cow or sow, Jesus was not used to being confined.  Jesus was used to being God, ruler over all things, seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  And the message of Christmas is that Jesus chose to allow himself to be born, and thus to be confined to a human body, living a life on this small speck of dust we call earth, in one small corner of the universe he created and rules over.  And not only would his birth here confine him to a very small place, but he would also be confined to a limited amount of time.  The eternal God would submit himself to the limits of a human life, to suffer, and then, to even die.  And why?  FOR YOU, said the angels to the shepherds.  “For you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  “And,” said the angel, “you will find this baby in a manger.”  What a wonderful image that is.  God, in Jesus, came to earth and was confined to a life like we are confined to, being born among animals, in their place of confinement.  Jesus, born for us, in a place where animals are kept for us.  It would be hard to imagine a more humble birth, and all for you.

File:Kempele Church Paintings 2006 07 24 B.JPG

Painting on the wall of the Kempele Old Church, Kempele, Finland, by Mikael Toppelius (1734-1821)

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Luke 2:10-11 — The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:7  —    And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

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A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS CAROL

SIX LINES TO TELL THE STORY; SIX LINES TO SAY A PRAYER TO JESUS: 

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay,
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray!
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.

256) For You (part one)

     The angel said, “Today… there has been born for you a Savior” (Luke 2:11).  The Christmas story is, of course, a very nice story.  A young couple named Mary and Joseph are far from home and down on their luck.  They can’t find a room for the night, and have to stay in a barn.  Not only that, but it becomes the very night that Mary goes into labor and her first child is born.  But then everything works out just fine.  It turns out they are not alone, but shepherds come into the barn with the news that a sky full of angels told them about the birth, and that this child was to be someone very special.  This is indeed a nice story with a happy ending.

     But it is not only a nice story.  The story of The Three Little Pigs is also a nice story.  There are some tense moments with the big bad wolf huffing and puffing and blowing everybody’s house down, but then it all works out, and, like the Christmas story, it has a happy ending.  But the Christmas story, unlike the story of the three little pigs, is a true story.

     C. S. Lewis was an expert on stories.  He was a Professor of Literature at Cambridge and Oxford Universities.  He knew what made a story great, he knew how a good short story or a good novel should be structured, he knew about character development and dialog and styles of writing, and he knew about symbolism and hidden meanings.  He was a recognized authority on fictional stories.  And, he was a writer of stories– children’s stories, science fiction, religious fiction– all kinds of stories.  Today, over 50 years after his death, all of his works are still in print and selling very well.  Lewis did not become a Christian until he was in his thirties, and when he did, he told a friend, “The thing I finally came to realize about the story of Jesus is that it is true”– from beginning to end, he said, it is not the sort of thing one would make up, nor is it told like a made up story.  It is told like a story that really happened, and “Once I realized that,” Lewis said, “I had to become a Christian — because there is no other true story like it in all of human history.”  Not only is the Christmas story a nice story, it is a true story.

     And yet, even at that, this story is still no big deal.  There are many wonderful and true stories in the world.  What IS a big deal about the Christmas story and what makes it the most important true story of all time, is that it was all FOR YOU.  God became a man, born as a little baby in those most humble circumstances, FOR YOU, said the angel.  You see, the Christmas story was just the beginning of the story of what God would do for you while he was on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus would first have to grow up, as babies must do.  And then, even after he was grown, he would, for a while, live a life and work a job just like anyone else.  But then, at age 30 he would begin a three year ministry that would change the whole world.  And then, most importantly, he would give his life as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of all the sins ever committed in all the world, and by that forgiveness, offer the gift of salvation; and by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus would offer eternal life to you and to all who would believe in him.  Of all the stories ever told about all the things that ever happened, only this story contains a wonderful promise that can help you even after you die.  As Lewis said, “There is no other story like it.”

     This is what God’s Word tells us, not only in this story at the beginning of Jesus’ life, but also throughout Jesus’ ministry, and then, also, at the end of his life.  In words you have heard many times, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and gave thanks; broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘take and eat; this is my body, given for you…”  And then, “Take this cup…it is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.”  This is reason and purpose and central point of the story– from the announcement of the angels at the birth of Jesus, to his last will and testament to the disciples just before his death, in the whole story, it is made clear that it is all for you.  The story of Christmas and the entire story of Jesus life on earth is, from beginning to end, the story of God’s grace.  It is certainly not anything we could have managed on our own, and it is simply by hearing that story and believing in that story that it becomes our own story.  It is all by God’s action, all by his grace, grace given freely to you and for you.    (continued…)

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II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Luke 2:10-11 — The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 22:19-20 — And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

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Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to earth as a baby so many years ago, for me.   Thank you that He paid the punishment for my sins by dying on the cross.   And thank you that He rose again to prove that death was truly defeated.  I place my trust in You to be my Savior.  Guide me through the dark times of my life and give me courage to live for you.  Amen.   –Max Lucado

249) Quotes for Christmastime

When we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans; and all that lives and move upon them.  He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit, and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused.  And to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.  –Sigrid Unset, Norwegian novelist (1882-1949)

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?  –G. K. Chesterton

Christ was born in the first century, yet he belongs to all centuries.  He was born a Jew, yet He belongs to all races.  He was born in Bethlehem, yet He belongs to all countries.  –George W. Truett

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” –Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1957

Despite the most earnest and vigorous efforts, it has proved impossible entirely to separate Christmas from Christianity.  –G. K. Chesterton  (1874-1936)

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…  And so as Tiny Tim said:  “A merry Christmas to us all, my dears.  God bless us, every one.”  –Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Ask your children two questions this Christmas.  First: “What do you want to give to others for Christmas?”  Second:  “What do you want for Christmas?”  The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus.  The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first.  –Anonymous

And, while on the topic of selfishness:  Christmas is the time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it.  Deficits are when adults tell government what they want and their kids pay for it.  –Richard Lamm

How many observe Christ’s birthday, how few, his precepts!  O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.  –Benjamin Franklin

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.  –Winston Churchill’s Christmas Eve Message, 1941, in the early years of World War II 

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the most profound unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie.  God became man;… the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…  The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.  Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the incarnation.  –James Packer

A scientist, making a plea for exchange scholarships between nations, said “The very best way to send an idea is to wrap it up in a person.”  That was what happened at Christmas.  The idea of divine love was wrapped up in a Person.  –Halford Luccock

A prison cell– in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside– is not a bad picture of Advent.  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a Nazi prison in WWII

One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born.  The inn-keeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied.  This is the answer that millions are giving today.  Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ.  All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests.  Their response is not atheism.  It is not defiance.  It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christ.  –Billy Graham
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John 3:16-17 — 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 1:10-12 — He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

II Corinthians 5:19 —  …God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…

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Let every heart keep Christmas within. 

Christ’s pity for sorrow,
Christ’s hatred for sin,
Christ’s care for the weakest,
Christ’s courage for right.
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!  –Phillips Brooks

248) Keeping Christmas

A Christmas meditation and prayer by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933); American author, educator, and Presbyterian clergyman

     It is a good thing to observe Christmas day.  The mere marking of times and seasons, when folks agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom.  It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life.  It reminds a person to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity… 

     But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, ‘keeping Christmas.’  Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you?… to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world?… to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground?… to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy?… to realize that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life?… to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness?… are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can ‘keep Christmas.’

     Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children?… to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old?… to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough?… to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts?… to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you?… to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you?… to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open?… are you willing to do these things even for a day?  Then you can keep Christmas.

     Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world– stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death– and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?  Then you can keep Christmas.

     And if you keep it for a day, why not always?

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Romans 14:6a  —  He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.

Luke 2:10-14  —  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

I John 4:19  —  We love because he first loved us.

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 “A CHRISTMAS PRAYER FOR LONELY FOLKS”

Lord God of the solitary, look upon me in my loneliness.
Since I may not keep this Christmas in the home, send it into my heart.

Let not my sins cloud me in,
But shine through them with forgiveness in the face of the child Jesus.
Put me in loving remembrance of the lowly lodging in the stable of Bethlehem,
The sorrows of the blessed Mary, the poverty and exile of the Prince of Peace.
For His sake, give me a cheerful courage to endure my lot,
And an inward comfort to sweeten it.

Purge my heart from hard and bitter thoughts.
Let no shadow of forgetting come between me and friends far away:
Bless them in their Christmas mirth:
Hedge me in with faithfulness,
That I may not grow unworthy to meet them again.

Give me good work to do,
That I may forget myself and find peace in doing it for Thee.
Though I am poor, send me to carry some gift to those who are poorer,
Some cheer to those who are more lonely.
Grant me the joy to do a kindness to one of Thy little ones:
Light my Christmas candle at the gladness of an innocent and grateful heart.

Strange is the path where Thou leadest me:
Let me not doubt Thy wisdom, nor lose Thy hand.
Make me sure that Eternal Love is revealed in Jesus, Thy dear Son,
To save us from sin and solitude and death.
Teach me that I am not alone,
But that many hearts, all round the world,
Join with me through the silence, while I pray in His name:
Our Father which art in heaven…