Christmas: Good news for all people

Missions: The heart of God

"The angel said, 'Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide.'" -- Luke 2:10, The Message

Christmas is about even more than the wondrous nativity scene. Some key details in the gospel stories of Jesus' birth highlight God's desire that His salvation "be known on earth . . . among all nations"1 (Psalm 67:2).

To shepherds in a field near Bethlehem, an angel said "all the people". That night, the angel could have simply said, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy." However, when the angel added "for all the people," he anticipated two thousand years of world evangelism efforts.

Following the nativity scene, Luke's gospel describes Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. Taking six-week-old Jesus in his arms, the elderly Simeon prayed over Him using Old Testament phrases: "My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:30-32, with wording from places like Isaiah 49:6, 52:10 and Psalm 98:2-3). Simeon's expressions of joy at seeing the infant Messiah underscore God's heart for world missions.

As for Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, the genealogy in chapter one lists two women, Ruth and Rahab. Having two women in the genealogy might be unexpected since the other names in the list are all male names. In addition, it is even startling because the two females on the list were Gentiles.

Matthew's gospel was likely originally written to show Jews that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For what reason would Matthew insert the names of Gentile women - - including one of dubious character -- in the Messiah's genealogy? Did the Holy Spirit intend for this most-Jewish of the gospels to strongly emphasize that Jesus was to be the Messiah for all peoples?

Some Christians seem uncomfortable having a hated Moabite and a Jericho prostitute as Jesus' ancestors. It has, therefore, been argued that both women were really Jewish and that the Rahab of this list is not the one we encounter in Joshua 2. Of course, if the two women had been Jewish, and it was a different Rahab, would there have been reason to put them in an all-male list of ancestors?

Matthew is also the Gospel which tells the story of the visit of the Wise Men. In this very Jewish gospel, no Jewish VIPs showed up to pay homage to Jesus. The visit of Gentile Wise Men from the East, like that of the names of Ruth and Rahab in the genealogy, signals that Jesus is the Messiah for all peoples.

A concern for world evangelism does not emerge only at the end of Jesus' earthly life with the giving of the Great Commission. The idea of "all" -- all people, all nations, all the earth -- resounds throughout Jesus' earthly life, beginning with some details in the Christmas story.

1Note: In the Bible, the word "nations" does not mean political entities like China, India, or the USA. Rather, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culturem and live in or have originated in the same area. "Nations" is synonymous with the plural word "peoples." In other words, nations in the Bible means all of the people groups of the world other than the people of Israel.

Discussion questions

  1. What does the inclusion of Ruth and Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus suggest about God's heart for all peoples?
  2. In what ways do various details in the Christmas story, such as the angel's message to the shepherds and Simeon's prayer, emphasize God's concern for world evangelism?
  3. How does the use of the term "nations" in the Bible differ from how the word is generally understood today? Why is knowing the different nuances of meaning important for understanding the message of Christmas?
  4. How might the visit of the Wise Men from the East have challenged the expectations of a Jewish audience reading Matthew's gospel?
  5. Why might observant Jews in the First Century have been uncomfortable with the idea of Ruth and Rahab being ancestors of someone acclaimed as the long-awaited Messiah?

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the engage.htm">"Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

What meaning does the pre-Christmas season of Advent have for us today?

Advent devotional thoughts: Are you ready for Christmas?

The King is coming. That's the message of Advent. Are you ready?

During a Christmas season when our children were small, we were praying together. In th,at pray.htm">prayer, I thanked the Lord for His presence with us and said, "Amen."

A split second after my "amen" our five-year-old daughter cried out, "Presents? Where are the presents?"

The prospects of His presence -- Emmanuel, God with you -- should excite us. We ought to be even more thrilled than my daughter was when she thought some gift-wrapped packages had arrived. This is the coming of our Redeemer, of our Savior, of our worth.htm">Passover Lamb. Are you excited? Are you getting ready?

A century-old gospel invitation song goes: "There's a great day coming . . . Are you ready for that day to come?" That Wil Thompson song from the late 1800s grabbed people s hearts. Thousands (perhaps millions) have come to Christ as Thompson's lyrics were being sung. Admittedly, the words were not about Advent. They were asking about being ready for the Final Judgment Day. Still, the song's question can be used to reflect on the season of Advent: Are you ready? Am I ready?

The King is coming. Let's get ready.

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways do we sometimes allow the commercialization of Christmas to overshadow the true meaning of Advent?
  2. How can we balance the excitement of our gift-giving to family and friends during the Christmas season with the true meaning of Advent?
  3. How can we help children understand the true meaning of Advent and avoid becoming solely focused on presents?
  4. What role can Advent devotions and practices, such as lighting candles or reading scripture, play in preparing for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ?
  5. How can we apply the message of the Wil Thompson song, "Are you ready for that day to come?" to our personal preparation for the Advent season?

Originally written for an Advent devotional booklet produced by Warr Acres (OK) Christ's Community Church of the Nazarene

Why Xmas?

Sometimes people get upset when "Xmas" is used, thinking that "x" means unknown (as it sometimes does in mathematics). Actually, this "X" comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christós, which we translate into English as "Christ." Early Christians suffering persecution under Roman rule sometimes used the letter X as a secret symbol to indicate to others their faith in Jesus Christ. So, Xmas is a way of connecting to those persecuted Christians of ages past.

"How do I say 'Merry Christmas in . . . ?"

Wishing people a "Merry Christmas" in 99 languages

"Good news of great joy that will be for all the people" -- Luke 2:10

Here's how to tell people "Merry Christmas" in their native language.

Note: Help me out! I tried to get correct transliterations for languages using a form of writing other than the modern Latin or Roman alphabet. If I messed up, please let me know and I'll make corrections.

  1. Afrikaans - Geseënde Kersfees
  2. Albanian -- Gëzuar Krishtlindje
  3. Amharic - melikami gena
  4. Arabic - eid milad saeid
  5. Armenian - Shnorhavor Surb Tsnund
  6. Azerbaijani - Milad bayramınız mübarǝk
  7. Basque - Eguberri on
  8. Belarusian - Z Kaliadami
  9. Bengali (Bangla) - Śubha baŗadina
  10. Bosnian - sretan božić
  11. Breton - Nedeleg laouen
  12. Bulgarian - Vesela Koleda
  13. Catalan - Bon Nadal
  14. Cebuano - maayong Pasko
  15. Cherokee - Ulihelisdi Unadetiyisgv'i
  16. Chichewa, Chewa, Nyanja - Khrisimasi yabwino
  17. Chinese -
  18. Cornish - Nadelik Lowen!
  19. Corsican - bon Natale
  20. Cree - miyo-manitowi-kîsikanisik!
  21. Croatian - sretan Božić
  22. Czech - veselé Vánoce!
  23. Danish - Gladelig Jul
  24. Dutch - vrolijk kerstfeest
  25. Esperanto - Gajan Kristnaskon
  26. Estonian - häid jõule
  27. Finnish - Hyvää joulua
  28. French - Joyeux Noel
  29. Galician - Bo Nadal
  30. Georgian - shobas gilotsavt
  31. German - Froehliche Weihnachten
  32. Greek - Kala Christouyenna
  33. Gujarati - Mērī krisamasa
  34. Haitian Creole Jwaye Nwel
  35. Hawaiian - Mele Kalikimaka
  36. Hebrew - Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
  37. Hindi - Bada Din Mubarak Ho
  38. Hungarian - Kellemes Karácsonyi unnepeket
  39. Icelandic - Gleðileg Jól
  40. Igbo - ezi ekeresimesi
  41. Inupiaq (spoken by Inuit) - Nayaa mik Piqagiñ
  42. Indonesian - Selamat Hari Natal
  43. Irish Gaelic - Nollaig Shona Dhuit
  44. Italian - Buon Natale or Buone Feste Natalizie
  45. Japanese - Kurisumasu Omedeto
  46. Korean - Sung Tan Chuk Ha
  47. Kurdish (Kurmanji) - Kirîstmas piroz be
  48. Latvian (Lettish) - Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!
  49. Latin - felicem natalem Christi
  50. Lithuanian - Linksmų Kalėdų
  51. Luxembourgish - Schéi Chrëschtdeeg
  52. Maltese - il-Milied it-tajjeb
  53. Manx Gaelg - Nollick Ghennal
  54. Maori - Meri Kirihimete
  55. Marathi - Shub Naya Varsh
  56. Mongolian - Zul saryn mend
  57. Myanmar (Burmese) - pyawshwinsaw hkarahchcamaat hpyitparhcay
  58. Navajo - Yá'át'ééh Késhmish
  59. Nepali - Mērī krisamasa
  60. Northern Sotho - Matlhatse le matlhogonolo mo ngwageng o moswa.
  61. Norwegian - God Jul
  62. Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German) - Frehlicher Grischtdaag
  63. Papiamento - Bon Pasco
  64. Persian (Farsi) - krismas mobaarak!
  65. Pig Latin - Errymay ristmaskay
  66. Polish - Weso ych Świąt
  67. Portuguese - Feliz Natal
  68. Punjab (Eastern) - Mērī karisamasa
  69. Rapa-Nui (Easter island) - Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi.
  70. Romanian - Cr&acaron;ciun Fericit
  71. Russian - schastlivogo Rozhdestva
  72. Samoan - manuia le Kirisimasi
  73. Scottish Gaelic - Nollaig Chridheil
  74. Serbian - sreć an Božić
  75. Singhalese - suba nattalak
  76. Slavonic - Christos Razdajetsja! Slavite Jeho!
  77. Slovak - "eselé Vianoce
  78. Slovenian - vesel božič
  79. Somali - Ciid wanaagsan
  80. Spanish - Feliz Navidad
  81. Sudanese - Wilujeng Natal
  82. Swahili (Kiswahili) - Krismasi Njema
  83. Swedish - god Jul
  84. Tagalog, Filipino - Maligayamg Pasko
  85. Tamil - Kiristumas vālttukka
  86. Telugu - Krismas śubhākāǹkșalu
  87. Turkish - mutlu Noeller
  88. Turkmen - Täze ýyl gutly bolsun
  89. Ukrainian - shchaslyvoho Rizdva
  90. Urdu - Bara Din Mubarak Ho
  91. Uzbek - Rojdestvo muborak
  92. Vietnamese - Giáng sinh vui vẻ
  93. Waray - Maupay nga Pasko
  94. Welsh - Nadolig Llawen
  95. Western Frisian - noflike krystdagen
  96. Xhosa - Ikrismesi emnandi
  97. Yiddish - lebedik nitl
  98. Yoruba - ikini dun keresimesi
  99. Zulu - Jabulela Ukhisimusi

I could easily have found one more language to get to an even 100. However, having a list of 99 seemed more unique!

The phrase "Merry Christmas" is a common greeting used during the days preceding December 25. The phrase's origin can be traced back to medieval England when the word merry meant "pleasant, agreeable, or enjoyable."

In the Middle Ages, the Christmas season was a time of feasting and celebration during which the greeting "Merry Christmas" was used to wish others a happy and joyous holiday. The word "merry" was also used in other contexts such as in "merry-making," which meant to celebrate or have a good time.

Usage of the phrase "Merry Christmas" gained popularity during the Victorian era in England, when the holiday became associated with family gatherings, gift-giving, and a festive atmosphere. The phrase was also popularized in Charles Dickens' famous novel A Christmas Carol published in 1843.

Today, "Merry Christmas" is used as a common greeting in many countries as is evident by the 99 different language versions of it given above.

What Does God Want for Christmas?

Leighton Ford asked Lausanne Movement leaders: "What does God want for Christmas?"

Executive director Michael Oh responded:

• The gospel for every person
• An evangelical church for every people
• Christ-like leaders for every church
• Kingdom impact in every sphere of society

What do passages from Psalm 22, 23 and 24 have to say to us at Christmas time?

Christmas reflections: Isn't it much more than "Sweet little baby Jesus"?

Psalms 22:1-5; 23; 24:7-10

22 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

23 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3    he refreshes my soul
. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk
   through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

24 7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   be lifted up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory?
   The Lord strong and mighty,
   the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   lift them up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory?
   The Lord Almighty --
   he is the King of glory.

Week 51 (December)

It was my turn as a pastoral counselor in the Florence, Italy, evangelical social services center.

The three-member staff had just opened the doors and I was making small talk with them when Elena walked in.

An 18-year-old who had been involved in prostitution, Elena was now trying to find a way to put her life back together. She had made contact with the center a month earlier through its remedial night school. Since then she had come by several times to talk and even to pitch in on secretarial work.

I told her I'd like to get to know her better. So, we went into the little library room and sat down. She talked for a long time about her life story. Then I began to ask her if she ever thought much about spiritual matters. She told me she always said a couple of "Hail Marys" at night but that she never went to church.

Then her dark eyes brightened: "But I do think often of Pope John XXIII. He saved my life!" Then she went on to tell me about a dream she had had in which this deceased Pope had spoken to her.

Finally, I asked her what she thought of Jesus Christ.

Well, she never really thought much at all about Him. "He's the one we call the Lord, isn't He?" she asked.

Elena had no idea that God, through the events of that first, now offers us a personal relationship with Himself. It's a relationship that does not depend on a third party such as a dead Pope or Jesus' mother.

Some of the rich significance of the Incarnation is depicted in a trilogy of Psalms 22, 23, and 24. Here are unfolded the sufferings, the shepherd-love, and the Lordship of the Messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

The way we celebrate Christmas often places a heavy emphasis on the Baby Jesus. A good deal of Christian art, particularly that produced by Roman Catholic artists, focuses on the Christ child.

However, the real story of Christmas is not that a baby was born. As an Italian evangelical recently wrote: "The exaltation of Baby Jesus is contrary to gospel teachings. The primary story of the New Testament is that of Jesus the adult. In fact, two of the Gospels do not even mention Baby Jesus."

It is possible that this Italian writer was reflecting a hypersensitivity of the tiny Italian Protestant minority living in the shadow of the politically, religiously, and economically powerful Vatican. However we decide to evaluate what he wrote, we would do well to remember that the biggest news out of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago was not that a baby had been born. The news was that the promised Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign had finally come.

That's good news for you and for me . . . and for a girl named Elena. As we prepare to celebrate another Christmas Day, let's use these three psalms (22, 23, 24) to remind us that God is really with us -- not just as a baby, but as a baby who came to become Deliverer, Shepherd, and Lord.

Would you join me in praying that people like Elena, whose broken lives need to be put back together, will come to know Jesus as their Savior, Shepherd, and King??

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways can Psalms 22, 23, and 24 help us to understand and better communicate the true significance of the Christmas season?
  2. How might cultural and religious contexts in which people impact their understanding and celebration of Christmas?
  3. In what ways can reflecting on the Messiah's sufferings, shepherd-love, and Lordship enhance our celebration of His birth?
  4. How might a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as our source of spiritual strength, guidance, and counsel differ from relying on a third party, such as Jesus' mother or someone on whom people have bestowed the title of "saint"?

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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