"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).
For starters, an angel said "all the people" to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem. That night, the angel could have said, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy." 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 of males. However, what is startling about the two female names is that both women were Gentile.
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, there would be little 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, it was not Jewish VIPs who 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 the political entities like China, India and the USA. Rather, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culture and live in or have originated the same area. "Natioins" 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.
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "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?
The King is coming. That's the message of Advent. Are you ready?
One day during a Christmas season when our children were small we were praying together. In that 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 Passover Lamb. Are you excited? Are you getting ready?
There's a century-old invitation gospel song that goes: "There's a great day coming . . . Are you ready for that day to come?" That Wil Thompson song from the late 1800's grabbed at people s hearts. Thousands (and 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.
Originally written for an Advent devotional booklet produced by Warr Acres (OK) Christ's Community Church of the Nazarene
Sometimes people get upset when "Xmas" is used, thinking that "x" means unknown (as it sometimes does in mathematics). Actualy, 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 . . . ?"
"Good news of great joy that will be for all the people" -- Luke 2:10
Note: Help me out! I tried to get all the transliterations correct for languages using a form of writing other than the modern Latin or Roman alphabet. If I messed up, please let me and I'll make corrections.
I could easily have found one more language to get to an even 100. However, having a list of 99 seemed more unique!
-- compiled by Howard Culbertson
|What Does God Want for
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?
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.
It was my turn as pastoral counselor in the Florence 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 hyper sensitivity of the tiny Italian Protestant minority living in the shadow of the politically, religiously and economically powerful Vatican. However we 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 also join me in a special prayer that soon Elena will come to know this Jesus as her Savior, Shepherd, and King, as she puts her broken life back together?
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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