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ANGELS (?) WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH

Every other year our church does a living nativity called Journey to Bethlehem as an outreach to our community. It is a huge event with more than 200-300 people from the church involved, and attracts thousands of people from around our area. I was able to go last night and tagged along with my sister Cheree and her husband and son.
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Actually, Journey to Bethlehem is much more than just the nativity scene. It starts in the church auditorium with a wonderful Christmas concert by some of our church’s very talented singers. This is where you wait for your journey to Bethlehem to begin. When it is time for your group of people to begin I could scarcely tear myself away from the beautiful music!
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A guide led us across from the church building to the family center. It is amazing to see as we step into the gym that it is no longer a gym, but is transformed into the village of Bethlehem, as well as Herod’s palace. Hundreds of people are in Biblical costume, sitting outside their homes and going about their daily chores, or selling their wares in the village market place. There are bakers and poultry, cheese, vegetables and grains vendors; sellers of leather, copper, jewelry, cloth, and flowers; tentmakers, dyers of cloth, and so on all trying to hawk their products as you walk by their booths. A well stands in the center of the village with a live goat tied nearby. I was amused as we passed the tentmakers’ booth. My sister Corinne and her husband Ray and youngest son Sam were supposed to be making and selling tents. As we walked by, Sam said, “Buy one, get one free!”
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Our tour guide took us to Mary’s house where we witnessed the angel of the Lord suddenly appearing to her, making the announcement that she was to be the mother of God’s only Son. We were then lead to Joseph’s carpenter shop. He told us of his thoughts when he heard that Mary was expecting a baby and it was not his, and how the angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to make Mary his wife. We were led to Herod’s palace and saw him questioning the wise men who came from the east searching for the newborn king of the Jews and heard Herod’s evil plans. (Another nephew, Lance, was one of the Roman guards. He played the part to the hilt, being as stern and authoritative as he could be—the complete opposite of the normally smiling and pleasant person he normally is!) We stopped at the tax collector’s booth where we registered for the census and paid our taxes, and then moved on to the inn in Bethlehem. We were informed there was no room and, in fact, the innkeeper had been forced to send one young couple out to the stable since she was about to give birth.
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From there our tour guide led us outside. It was pouring rain all day yesterday and didn’t let up at all for our Journey. All day I had thought about the poor shepherds (another nephew, Caleb, was one of them) standing out in the field and wondered how they would fare in the cold and wet. They had a big bonfire going, so I am sure that helped (although I wondered how that blaze kept going in the rain. It must have been a miracle!) There were live sheep there with them. Suddenly a bright spotlight shone down on them, and they hid their faces from the light. A voice boomed out of loudspeakers somewhere—the angel’s voice, obviously—and Cheree jumped! (Later, when I went to my mother’s condo which is about a mile from the church, I could hear the “angel” voices booming in her parking lot!) The angel told them about the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and the shepherds headed for the stable with us following through the rain.
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Mary and Joseph and the baby, as well as more sheep and a donkey, were at the stable, just as you would picture the scene. It does give you goosebumps as you look at the scene, and not just from the cold. You imagine how it must have been that night, bearing a baby all alone in such lowly circumstances.
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From there we were led to a barn where we were offered hot cider or coffee, and heard our pastor speak for five minutes about how the journey led from Bethlehem to the cross and an empty tomb and how we can be saved through that babe who became our Savior.
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Journey to Bethlehem is a beautiful experience and I can see why it is so popular in our community. It is one thing out of all the commercialism of Christmas that makes you stop and focus on the true reason for it all.
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I was thinking about those shepherds all day yesterday. Oh, not just those young guys playing a part at Journey last night—but about the actual shepherds who were out in the fields outside of Bethlehem that night more than two thousand years ago. Who were they? The Bible doesn’t give us their names. Most likely they were lads—sons of the owners of the sheep, or maybe hired to care for someone else’s sheep. I don’t know—maybe they were older adults. They were poor, I am sure, and probably had no expectations of being anything other than poor, lowly peasants all their lives.
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That night changed their lives. Here is the account as Luke 2:8-20 tells it:
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And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 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 Saviour, 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. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
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It was a night like any other night they had watched over the flocks. Can you imagine their fright when suddenly out of the darkness, the glory of the Lord shone ‘round about them and angels appeared before them? They wasted no time, however, once they had heard the message the angels brought. They hurried to Bethlehem and saw for themselves the Messiah, the Savior, Christ the Lord. They spread the word, not caring if others thought them crazy or not. And then they returned to their quiet, ordinary, lowly lives as shepherds out in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
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They returned with a difference, however. They returned praising and glorifying God for these glorious things they had heard and seen—the angels, the Christ-child—and for the fact that for some reason God had chosen them to be the first to hear the announcement of His birth! Who were they, that God would choose them above all people to hear it first? Just as God had chosen a lowly peasant girl to bear His Son, a poor carpenter to raise Him, and the humblest of places for his birth, He had chosen them.
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They returned changed. They would remember that night for the rest of their lives. I am sure often they would lie out in the fields, scanning the skies for a glimpse of the glory they had once seen and talking among themselves of that night they could never forget, remembering the sound of the angels’ voices and the glory too bright for their human eyes. They probably relived over and over in their memories how they had quickly sought for the stable and the baby lying in the manager. No, something like that they would never forget!
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We are ordinary people. I doubt that any of us sharing together here today have great wealth or position or power. We go about our ordinary lives, doing our ordinary jobs. But one day God chose us to show us a great miracle and a glorious message and to lead us to His Son, our Savior. He chose us, the lowly and humble and ordinary and yes, foolish and weak, as I Corinthians 1:26-28 puts it: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen… We may not have heard the angels’ voices, but we heard and responded to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
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He changed us. When we truly meet the Savior we cannot forget it. Our very purpose in life is changed from living for self to living for God and bringing glory to Him. Our standing before God is changed from His enemy to His beloved child. Our lifestyle is changed from walking in darkness to walking in the light. Our desires are changed from earthly concerns to things that matter for eternity. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

We are challenged as well to, like the shepherds, tell others of the Savior. Everything they had heard and seen that night they told to all they met. They spread the word in Bethlehem until the entire town was abuzz with the news. What?! The Messiah had come?! Not everyone believed, but some did, I am sure. They saw the change in the shepherds. Their words and their lives were witness to all that God had shown them and done within them. Like the shepherds we are chosen to be witnesses. Isaiah 43:10 says, Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen… Acts 1:8 talks about the change and the challenge: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Christmas is the perfect time of the year to be witnesses to others, when they are more focused on the birth of Christ and perhaps more open to reason He came.

This Christmas I am praising God for choosing me, nobody special or great or wise, to be His child. I am thanking Him for changing me and praying that I might bring glory to Him. And I am challenged, especially now at this time of year when we are more open to others and they might be more open to hearing about why Jesus came, to be a better witness for Him.

TWINKLE, TWINKLE

Ahhh – the sights…the sounds…the smells of Christmas!
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I walked into my mother’s home last night and it smelled soooo good! Cookies! Before her heart attack, Mom had mixed up the dry ingredients for six or seven kinds of cookies, put them in bags, and labeled them. My sister had baked a couple of batches before I got there, and the evidence still hung in the air. It brought me back to my childhood. One of my favorite childhood memories is of running all the way home from school and finding the house smelling deliciously of home-baked cookies. Mom always made double and triple batches of twelve or thirteen different kinds of cookies for Christmas – enough that she could give platters away to friends and still have plenty left for us! My brother teased her last week when she had her heart attack that, although she had to take it easy, the doctor had said her heart was still in fine shape for making Jumbo Raisin Nut Cookies. Thank goodness, my favorites, the kolachys, were already made!
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And Christmas music – each year I have to restrain myself from starting in too early singing, playing and listening to my favorite Christmas carols and songs. By the first of October I usually cave. I start playing them on my harmonica – for Robbie, of course. “We have to practice so we’ll be ready by Christmas,” I tell him. He beams, perfectly willing to go along with Mom’s eccentricities. Some of his favorite songs are Christmas songs, too. I love them all – old and new, secular and sacred. I sing and whistle around the house all year long, but it’s a continual concert for Bob and Robbie when this time of year comes around! Aren’t they lucky? And for every regular CD I have, I probably have five Christmas ones. I just cannot resist.
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Then there are the Christmas lights… Oh, how I love Christmas lights! To drive down the streets and see the neighborhood transformed into something pretty and sparkly on a frosty winter night, and main streets and malls ablaze with color and light… To watch the lights on my own tree twinkle and shine in all their multi-colored splendor… To bask in the warm glow of cozy firelight or candles… I love Christmas decorations, but if they’re lit up, all the better!
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My Christmas tree cannot have too many lights. Bob and I go through that discussion every year. “You don’t need more lights,” he says. “Yes, I do!” I insist. This year I got back from Ecuador to find that he had put the tree up for me and put on the lights. It’s pre-lit – but not enough for me. I add several more strings. Last year it had almost 1000 lights. Bless his heart. He was doing something really special and sweet for me – but to my shock and dismay I discovered he had put three strings on that didn’t even work! He forgot to test them first. I took them off and went out to buy some more lights on December 8th, and to my further shock and dismay, discovered Target and WalMart were totally out of lights and weren’t getting any more this year! I got the one box I could find and had to settle for that, but next year I’ll be out in October buying more lights!
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I love light. I’m one of those people whose mood is affected by dark, gloomy days. I wish my living room got more sunshine. One of the things I loved most about living in Colorado was the 300 days a year of bright, sunshiney weather and its big, clear blue sky. I love sparkly things – the Electric Parade at Disney World; fireworks; stars as you drive down a dark highway at midnight; sunlight as it glints of the surface of a lake; gaudy sweaters… What is it about light that we all like so much? As I thought about the lights of Christmas, I realized that there are several things that lights do that relate to us – we who are to let our lights so shine in this world that they might glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
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John 1:9 says, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” He also tells us in Matthew 5:14a, 16, “Ye are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
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The first thing I realized light does is attract. You know how a porch light in summer attracts moths and other creepy, flying little critters. That’s why merchants use neon signs and spotlights and begin putting up their Christmas lights and decorations in October – to attract shoppers and their money. As lights in this dark world, our lives ought to attract others to ourselves, and ultimately to the Lord. They should see something in us that they want in their own lives. A Christian who is living her life for the Lord will stand out. Her compassion and kindness will attract and bring opportunities to tell others about the love of the Lord.
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Secondly, light illuminates. Candles are a beautiful symbol Light of the World who came at Christmas to pierce the darkness of this world. If you were to go into a deep, dark cave and light just one little candle, you would be amazed at how that one small flame would illuminate and brighten the blackness of that space. Light reveals what the darkness hides. Have you ever tried to put on your makeup in fluorescent light? Yikes! It reveals every flaw, every spot and wrinkle! The glory of the one, true Light of Christmas revealed to sinful men His perfection and their own sin and shortcomings. To some it brought conviction and repentance. To others it brought hatred and the desire to extinguish that Light. We are not perfect like He was, but the light of our lives as we strive to live holy, separated lives unto Him will bring conviction to those around us. Not everyone will love us. Some will scorn us, but deep in their hearts they will be convicted of their own sinfulness.
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The third thing that light does is provide warmth. How wonderful to snuggle close with a loved one in the flickering light of a crackling fire! To draw close to the fireplace, or a bonfire and warm you hands and toes and backside at the fire – ummm! The light of our lives should provide warmth also for those around us. Our love is the fire that will provide comfort and encouragement and warm the hearts of those attracted to our lights. Jesus called us lights, but He also said they will know us by our love. Do others feel the warmth of your love and compassion?
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Of course, the most obvious thing we notice about the lights of Christmas is how they beautify. I enjoy driving around and looking at the lights. What a difference they can make! They can turn an old, run-down neighborhood into a beautiful fairyland of twinkling, sparkling beauty. I can never decide which I like best – the elegance of all white lights, or the gaiety of multi-colored lights. They’re both beautiful to me. Our everyday, ordinary living room is transformed each year when we bring out the decorations and tree with all its special ornaments and twinkling lights. The lights are turned on from the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night. There is nothing sadder-looking to me than an unlit tree. And when the lights are reflected in windows and mirrors, it’s even more beautiful! That’s how the light of our lives should be – reflecting His light, brightening and beautifying this world. Do you remember the old chorus, “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me”? I pray His beauty and light is reflected in my life.
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As we think of the lights of Christmas, we cannot forget the Star — the star that appeared as a sign to the wise men, announcing the birth of the King of kings… the star that led them mile after mile, month after month directly to the house where the young child lay. That light was a sign and a guide, and so ought our lives to be – lights that point the way to the one true light of Christmas, Jesus Christ.
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This is the one time of year when the world looks in our windows and sees our lights. This is the one time of year when perhaps they are more receptive to hearing about spiritual things. And yet we have the Light, the Truth, the best Gift of all – Jesus – all through the year. Let’s not be guilty of dragging out the boxes of lights, dusting off the old heirlooms and traditions and putting them on display once a year. Our lights ought to shine brightly all year long, reflecting the true light of Christmas that attracts and illuminates, warms and beautifies, and guides lost ones to an eternal and personal relationship with Him.

The Lights of Christmas
The night is bright with moon aglow,
Reflecting off new-fallen snow,
And up and down the street I see
The twinkling lights on homes and trees,
And in the windows candles burn.
It seems that everywhere I turn
The lights of Christmas brightly shine,
Reminding of that ancient sign –
A star.

A star whose brilliance pierced the night,
Whose glory was a wondrous sight.
A star which eastern wise men saw,
And filled their seeking hearts with awe.
A star which left a blazing trail
That led to a King so small and frail.
And yet the babe they found that night
He is the one true Christmas Light.
The Light.

In Him was life and light of men
To shine in a world made dark by sin.
His glory far out shone the star
And reached down to men who’d wandered far.
For like the star the Light had come
To show lost man the way back home.
The true Light of Christmas – Praise His name!
The Light of Christmas, Jesus, came!

C S Griffith — 1995