Luke 2:8-12 – He’s Not Santa

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” – Luke 2:8-12ESV

When you think of symbols of Christmas, if you live in America there are a few things that probably universally come to mind: Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, and of course, Santa Claus. He has become so synonymous with the Christmas season, he has even found popularity in countries with little historical connection to Christmas, such as India and Japan.

In America, this red clad, jolly man slips into homes on Christmas Eve, via the chimney, to deliver brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts to good girls and boys. But for the disobedient children, Christmas morning provides something different from the joy and hope of the season. For them, rather than presents under the tree and overflowing stockings, Santa leaves only a lump of coal – a reminder of the ways they have failed to meet his expectations over the last year.

Isn’t it horribly ironic the figure also known as “Father Christmas”, a figure so tied into the season we celebrate Christ’s birth, should have as part of his very nature the very opposite intentions of God come as the baby in the manger?

In Luke 2:8-12, the angels appear to shepherds outside Bethlehem to announce the birth of the long-awaited, Jewish messiah: Jesus. In the dark, star-lit fields, the night was split by the shining “glory of the Lord” as an angel appeared, joyously announcing God’s message “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 8:10b-11ESV).

Now the angel could have stopped there. Lights out. Show’s over. Back-to-Heaven-we-go. He had announced the fulfillment of God’s millennia-old promise fulfilled. He had done his job. God surely didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to these men. God had done that over-and-over to the Jews throughout their history. Not to mention, God has every reason to demand the trust of humanity. He created us and everything we’ll ever perceive. Everything belongs to Him. His will and power are the last word on reality.

Yet God knows His creation. He knows what we are…our limitations…our fear and weakness and doubt. And unlike Santa, He doesn’t demand our obedience in order to experience His goodness. So… the angel had more words from God for the shepherds that night: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 8:12ESV).

The God of the Universe bridges the gap between our doubts and His faithfulness. He draws near to us, saying, “Come! Look at this! Hold me! Know me! Look into my face! I am here!” God offered the stunned shepherds not just words, but proof His promise had finally been fulfilled. This long-awaited Messiah could be known and seen in a newborn, wrapped and lying in the most unlikely place: a manger.

And He still invites us to see and touch and know Him today, in every day. Not just in the sharing of the Last Supper of Jesus at Sunday worship. Not just in the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But in our love for one another. In the wonder of natural creation and the brilliant creativity of the human mind. In the thousands of tiny whiffs of miracle spilt from God’s hand in every day, overflowing around us. May we have the eyes to see His fingerprints in every day, the ears to hear His delighted laughter. This Christmas, may we feel Him draw near to us, not because of our own hard work, but because of His declaration of endless love over us in the person of His son: Jesus the Savior.

  1. The Christmas season is full of “busy.” How has some of the “busy” commandeered your heart’s attention away from Jesus?
  2. It’s easy to view God as the critic-in-the-sky. If you’re being honest, what is one area in your life you are constantly (and maybe secretly) trying to prove you’re “good enough” for His love?
  3. Thinking back over the last month, think of one “whiff of miracle” God has provided. Thank Him out loud for it!
  4. Challenge for the week: once each day, pause and write down one way God might have “drawn near” to you during the last 24hrs. At the end of the week, look back with joy on all the little “I love you” moments from God!

Matthew 1:18-23 – God With Us

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
– Matthew 1:18-23ESV

When I met my husband, he had already been an avid roller skater for eighteen years. And unlike my dedication to walking for some twenty-odd years, which had shown little improvement in avoiding embarrassing moments of clumsiness, he had put his years of skating to good use. He didn’t just skate… he could breakdance on wheels. I’m talking stalls, spins, backflips, jumps, and more. (If you’re really interested, you can find plenty of examples on YouTube.) By comparison, my roller blading had peaked in 8th grade at little more than desperately careening around the roller rink as fast as I could. I hadn’t skated since.

To watch my husband skate was amazing. Until that point, I hadn’t realized what was possible. Quickly, skating became a regular part of our relationship. Unfortunately, it was a rocky restart for me, and on roller skates this time. I wanted to do what my husband did, to learn to love what he loved and do what he did. Where he glided, I staggered. Where he stopped on a dime, I careened on. Where he easily dodged other skaters, I fell.

But every circuit of the rink, he was with me. He could have been dancing in the middle of the floor, drawing admiration, photos, and requests for coaching (which happened regularly.) Instead, he set aside himself to teach me, to help me up, to model the skills to me I needed to grow as a skater. Eight years later, there are still no backflips or rolling splits, but falls are rare, and I can skate on my toes and spin. I have a long way to go, but people now occasionally ask me for advice on how they can grow as skaters. That is all because Joseph set aside his chance for glory. He chose, instead, to be with me. And when Jesus entered into this world through Mary’s womb…He did and does much the same on a much greater scale.

In Matthew 1:18-23, Matthew highlights a prophecy about Jesus from Isaiah: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Of all the titles Jesus could claim and would claim, the one He chose to prophesy His coming hundreds of years before it would happen is “God with us.” He is the All-Mighty Creator, King of the Universe, Commander of Angels, Vanquisher of Evil, Lord of the Earth, Knower of All, worthy of all “glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). Yet the name from prophecy, the name by which generations of people would look forward to his coming…was “God with us.”

Jesus wanted us to know He is the God who is with us. The God who will sacrifice all He is entitled to so He can have a relationship with us…with you. He speaks love into your life by revealing His character in the Bible, by speaking through the words and actions of the people around you. He summons you back to Him and pursues you into your darkness, seeking you out to heal you…even in the darkest corners of your life. No matter how hard and fast and far you fall…the cold, scratchy, filthy cradle in a cave in poverty-stricken Ancient Israel is a testament to your “God with us”.

Fearlessly, He demonstrated how far He is willing to fall to lift you up. The God who spun out the cradles of the stars chose to be born, helpless and weeping, into a brutal world on the first Christmas. He walked in the shadow of the cross His whole life on earth…to be where you are for all your days…on both sides of eternity.

  1. If you could choose any name to be known by, what name would you chose for yourself?
  2. Jesus chose “God with us” to be the name we first knew Him by. What does that tell you about what kind of relationship He has with you?
  3. Many people view God as far-off and detached from what happens in our world. Knowing our God is “God with us”, how does that reframe how you view Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: If God is with you always, that means there is evidence of Him at work in your life all the time. Spend some time each day intentionally looking for the little ways He is at work in your heart and in your environment. Keep notes of what they are so you can reflect on how God might be trying to speak into your life.