News for the week of Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sunday School Lesson — Explore the Bible
Dec. 22: Celebrate Jesus at Christmas!
By David R. Dean

Focal Passage: Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-7

As a child visiting grandparents in Robertson County I remember well the parade of meals at all the aunts’ houses with so much food — turkey and country ham, all kinds of cakes, and of course real boiled custard. We celebrated by fellowship, food, and of course, gifts! My grandfather would bring out his checkbook and present checks to all. My $5 became $25 after I graduated from high school. I remember also a special Christmas in 1950 when we lived in Cave City, Ky. I had saved $25 and was window shopping at a bicycle store. I found one which cost $50 and was sad that I could not afford it. Lucky me, a merchant in town saw my sad face and told the owner of the store that he would match my money and I rode home on my new bike. What a gift!

No gift can begin to compare with God’s greatest gift. Incarnation precedes both Christmas and Easter. The choosing of the pure vessel in the virgin Mary is the subject of this lesson. We honor her for her willingness and her being worthy of God’s choice for such a miraculous birth. Can you imagine how she must have felt to hear, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call his name, Jesus” (vv. 30-31). How she must have marveled at the words of the angel that her son would be called “… Son of the most high” and that He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, His kingdom will have no end” (v. 33). We all know why she raised the question, “How?” and heard the answer, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you” (v. 35). Mary now had nine months to ponder the privilege of mothering Jesus, “… the Holy One … called the Son of God.”

Note the emphasis upon “Holy One” for indeed Mary knew that this would be no ordinary birth, her Son was God’s gift wrapped in flesh, and she was chosen to deliver Him into human flesh. Yes, “The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen the glory, the glory of the one and only” (John 1:14). Mary surrendered her will with the familiar words, “May it be done to me according to your Word” (v. 38). And so began her privilege and burden of bearing the very Son of God. Her task was not simple or easy. She had no husband and was still a young girl herself. But Luke 1:46-49 records her song as she proclaims the greatness of the Lord. She “… rejoices in God my Savior … surely all generations will call me blessed … because the mighty one has done great things for me, and His name is holy.”

Mary’s life was all about Jesus. Christmas is all about Jesus. God’s greatest gift was wrapped in flesh and her womb bore the Son of God into this world. She knew He was the Holy One of God and she herself was amazed that she was chosen for this task. She would have pain in childbirth, rejection from those who did not comprehend, and anticipation unlike that of any birth ever recorded in history. Indeed, her firstborn’s date of birth would divide the centuries. She had felt Him move in her body and must have wondered many times how this could be. As she came full term, and they had to travel to Bethlehem to be taxed, she must have been sad to deliver Him and lay Him in a feeding trough. Yet with Joseph’s help, and the warmth of the animals, and straw in a feeding trough, she wrapped the Son of God in the best she had, and marveled at the majesty of the moment.

We malign the innkeeper who said, “No room.” But how much room do we make for Him? How will we celebrate His birth this year? Music. Gifts. Parties. All for one another! What about Christ Himself? Christ is still seeking a place to dwell in each of our hearts. Will we relegate Him to the barn, or the stable, or the garage? Will we substitute stuff for relationships?

The greatest gift from God is Jesus, our Savior. Our greatest gift to Him is to welcome Him as Sovereign Lord into our human hearts. Out of our hearts His love can flow to family and friends as we make room for Him.

Enjoy family and friends this year. Indeed, “It’s a Wonderful Life!” Share with someone the most wonderful gift of all. Make it all about Jesus! It is His birthday, after all. Happy Birthday Jesus!

— Dean lives in Orlinda. He is the retired executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.


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