Luke 1:68-70: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.”

When Elizabeth was six months into her pregnancy, she and her husband Zachariah had a very special visitor: her relative Mary who was pregnant with Jesus.  Mary stayed with the couple for approximately three months. She left Zachariah’s household before Elizabeth gave birth to her son – possibly to avoid drawing undue attention to her own pregnancy.

As members of the priesthood, Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were public figures; so the birth of their first son was no minor event, it was practically the talk of the town. Needless to say, the circumcision ceremony held in the Jerusalem temple was well attended and drew the crowds – especially because of the unusual circumstances leading up to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Everybody knew that Zachariah had not uttered a single word ever since Elizabeth got pregnant, and rumor had it that this was a God-ordained event.

Then, in the middle of the circumcision ceremony there was confusion! It was tradition that the first male child carried on his father’s name; “Zachariah” would have been the logical name choice.  But then Elizabeth interfered; she insisted that their son’s name was supposed to be “John”. Immediately the attention turned to her husband Zachariah.

Meanwhile, Zachariah had been a silent witness of extraordinary events.  For the past nine months he had witnessed his wife’s and Mary’s pregnancy – both announced by angels, both a miracle. Zachariah had initially doubted God’s messenger, and he had been silenced by God because of it. His predicament, however, gave him plenty of time to contemplate, which seemed to have softened his heart; as a result Zachariah rose up to the occasion a much humbler man; and when publicly addressed with the question of how to name his son, His answer on the writing tablet was very clear: “John”, just as God’s angel had requested in their earlier encounter.

It was then and there that God broke his silence, and the first words coming out of Zachariah’s mouth were heartfelt praise. He then uttered a prophecy by addressing Mary’s son first (Luke 1:68-70):

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.  He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised.”

In his closing remarks he turned his attention to his firstborn (Luke 1:76):

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.”

Zachariah’s profound transformation is a great example of how God can change a human heart.  And once we’ve submitted our own hearts into His hands we’ll see how He can change yours and mine.

Christmas time, most wondrous season of the year – thinking of the time when Jesus Christ appeared. He came for all the people. That’s why we sing this song, and everyone who’s glad sings along.” Songwriters: Bill & Evelyn Snyder

Matthew 1:22-21: “As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

Faith sometimes means acting against your own instincts!

Joseph, engaged to Mary, found himself in a challenging situation. What would you do if your fiance tells you a story that sounds like a lame excuse?  Nothing made sense to Joseph anymore after seeing his fiance returning from her recent family visit, three months pregnant. Pregnancies have always been evidence that a man and a woman had sexual relations. Claiming otherwise is foolish, which is why Mary’s pregnancy remains a hot topic. A woman getting pregnant without a guy being involved – why would God do such a thing?

However, this is Mary Joseph was dealing with here, his very own Mary.  He thought he knew her.  It puzzled him to think that she would go behind his back with a secret relationship, dishing a lie to explain away her pregnancy, and asking him to marry her to cover it all up.  That certainly was not the Mary he was familiar with.

In sleepless nights to follow Joseph would wrestle with the prospect of getting married to cover up what he believed to be a lie. After agonizing over his decision, he was prepared to quietly break the engagement. God, however, anticipated Joseph’s reaction and sent Him an angel with an important message reassuring him that Mary had told the truth. According to Matthew’s gospel, this is what the angel told Joseph (Matthew 1:20):

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” 

Not only had God anticipated Joseph’s reaction, He had also anticipated the world’s skepticism regarding the whereabouts of Mary’s pregnancy. So, 600 years before these events transpired, God foretold them. Isaiah wrote the famous prophecy (Isaiah 7:14):

“The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son.”

Even though God had revealed His intentions and sent angels and prophets to confirm His message, it still requires faith to believe Mary’s account.  We know that Joseph believed and followed through with the angel’s instructions. He became Mary’s husband, named Mary’s child “Jesus”, and believed that the child she carried is the Son of God.

Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make. Would you take that leap of faith and believe the story of Christmas to be true?

“Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy”

(Mary’s Song co-written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton)

Luke 1:46+49: “Mary responded, ‘O how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me’”

Mary, Mary, quite contrary!

Contrary to everybody’s expectations, Mary was pregnant well before her wedding. That was an absolute no-no in a society where pregnancy out of wedlock prompted the death penalty! Probably to protect herself from any unwanted attention, Mary decided to disappear for a while; and when she heard that her relative Elizabeth was also expecting a child she went to see her. With a 70-mile-walking-distance, the trip must have taken her several days.

The reception at Elizabeth’s home was warm and heartfelt. Here they were – two expectant mothers standing in the doorway weeping with joy as they embraced each other. In her first trimester Mary could not have been obviously pregnant. So the fact that Elizabeth immediately knew about it was quite the revelation, not to mention her understanding of the unusual circumstances leading up to it.

Elizabeth herself was no stranger to a miracle pregnancy. She had been well past her childbearing years when angel Gabriel announced that she would have a son. Her husband Zachariah, unfortunately, doubted the messenger and found himself grounded by God. For a while his ability to speak was taken from him according to the motto: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all! 

As it turns out, there was a lot of wisdom in his God-imposed silence. If Zachariah had trouble believing his aging wife could have a son, what do you think would have come out of his mouth as he ran into Mary, Mary, quite contrary? It wouldn’t have been pretty, I’m sure! Instead, he now stood back and watched incredible things unfold before his very eyes.  The words of Psalm 46:10 may have gone through his head:

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

In this day and age, are we able to settle down, be still, and listen with our hearts?  Rushing through life without taking meaningful breaks, we will definitely miss out on the good things God has in store for us; miracles in our lives may very well go unnoticed.

God is good – and it is good to tell Him just that! Not that God needs to be reminded of His goodness, but most of all: we need to be reminded. Christmas is as good a time as any to pick up new habits.  Why don’t we make it a new habit to take note of the good things around us and be thankful? We will find that by lifting up the Lord, we will be uplifted.

“There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill”
Stephen Schwartz

Luke 1:30-33: “‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’”

God’s kingdom will never end – that’s what Angel Gabriel told a baffled teenage girl when he announced the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. And it was Jesus, the Messiah, who introduced us to the concept of God’s kingdom. In a nutshell: the concept is to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God with all your heart. According to Jesus, that summarizes all books of God’s laws. However, God’s Kingdom is more than just a concept – it already exists! In fact, that’s why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10):

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

God’s kingdom has its roots in Heaven, and Heaven is everywhere where God’s will is being done.

As we all know, there is a lot of bad stuff happening on Earth that is contrary to God’s will, but, on the bright side: there is a lot of good stuff happening too! And wherever good things are happening, the kingdom of God advances. If we’re doing the right thing, the type of thing that is not easy to do – the type of thing we think may go unnoticed or doesn’t make a dent in the grand scheme of things, well, nonetheless, here is the very good news: it makes a big difference because we help usher in God’s kingdom. His kingdom comes as His will is being done! That’s what Mary did when she decided to say “yes” to Angel Gabriel’s question. That’s what Joseph did when He made up his mind to marry Mary. That’s what happens today every time someone goes out of his or her way to do the right thing.

We may have a discouraged outlook on the world’s affairs these days, but know that God is the eternal optimist, and He has a very good reason for being one:

Light always beats the dark.

Have you ever seen darkness snuffing out light? It’s always the other way around, isn’t it? Light emerges, a candle is lit, and boom! The room wakes up and all of a sudden we can see our surroundings.

Everywhere where people stand up for what is right, they light up the world. And as a side effect, they give hope! God’s kingdom is permanently on the rise and never on the decline, in fact, God’s kingdom permeates the fabrics of our society not unlike yeast permeates the dough. At least, that’s what Jesus, the Son of God, compared the progression of God’s kingdom to. Let’s hear what He has to say (Matthew 13:33):

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

If yeast bacteria can invade the dough enough to make sourdough bread, how much more will the children of God spreading light in the darkness make God’s kingdom on Earth?

Lord’s Prayer in Swahili

Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Orphaned children adopted at an older age usually struggle before opening up to their new parents.  As a result, prospective parents who enlist for adoption mostly prefer adopting children at a younger age – because they are less likely to cause them as much trouble.

Contrary to this practice, our Heavenly Father has been adopting children of all ages and walks of life since the beginning of the human experience. He went through a lot of trouble to free us from the most unfavorable of circumstances, which the Bible depicts as slavery. To free us from slavery God Himself became a slave. How God’s infinite mind works and how He resolves issues never seems to make sense to the finite human mind; nevertheless, here is the outcome:  by paying the ultimate price, the death penalty, God has officially bailed us out. And with His adoption comes a happy side effect: we establish family ties.

Establishing family ties is a process. Everybody knows that the transition from stranger to children is quite a bumpy road in the process of adoption.Adopted children mostly suffer from a distorted world view and need some time to get adjusted to their new identity.

The same is true with God’s adopted children. We see for instance that the people of Israel wandered the Sinai desert for decades before they were able to embrace their new identity as a free people and leave their former slave experience behind. Their exodus from Egypt was just the first step. While they were physically removed from slavery, still their hearts had to learn what it means to be free.

It will always take time and patience to embrace a new identity.  We all have our personal hang-ups and natural tendencies that want to drag us down.  The Prince of Peace is lending us a helping hand here.  Jesus informs us (John 16:33):

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart,because I have overcome the world.”

To be adopted by God is our glorious first step – but still, it’s just the first step. Carrying God’s family name has no meaning whatsoever, unless we experience the family life attached to the name. God has adopted many different children from many different places. There is a lot to be learnt, not the least of which is people skills. Growing up with very interesting siblings and experiencing God’s expert parenting skills is certainly part of the family experience. A profound joy lies hidden in the gradual discoveries of God’s wonderful heart.  It’s great to be adopted by God and to realize more and more what it means to belong to Him. The family of God is quite the motley crew- and God is quite the amazing Father!

“There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God”          Written by Joel Lindsey, Twila J. Labar

Isaiah 7:14: “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”

During Prophet Isaiah’s lifetime the home country of the Jews was divided between the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The split happened after King Solomon had died, and ever since the two kingdoms had been at odds.

Now Judah’s King Ahaz was threatened by Israel’s King Pekah. King Pekah made an alliance with the Syrian King to overturn the kingdom of Judah. Naturally, King Ahaz became extremely anxious about the impending war.

In this situation God spoke words of encouragement to King Ahaz and the people of Judah by saying that the planned invasion of Israel and Syria won’t happen. And in order to confirm the prophecy, God asked King Ahaz to request a sign from Him. For reasons unknown to us, King Ahaz refused to do so. His official statement (Isaiah 7:12):

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Here is Isaiah’s response to King Ahaz’s reaction (Isaiah 7:13-14a):

“Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign.”

So, the Lord insisted on choosing a sign, since this was not really just about King Ahaz but about every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. And here is the sign God chose (Isaiah 7:14):

 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Virgins don’t get pregnant, so this is obviously a supernatural phenomenon. Also, the name of the virgin’s son is very remarkable: “I Am with you” contains God’s name “I Am”. What would you think God is suggesting with this kind of name choice other than bestowing His family name to the baby, thus implying that a pregnant virgin will give birth to the Son of God.

When Virgin Mary gave birth to a baby boy 700 years later, Isaiah’s stunning prophecy was fulfilled.

The virgin birth stands out and is different from any other demonstration of God’s involvement in human history. Supernatural phenomena such as stopping the Sun in its tracks or parting the Red Sea show God’s unlimited power. God born into a human family, Mary’s and Joseph’s family, shows His desire to be near us, so near that He becomes our relative. This very special relative of ours has a name: “The One who saves”, aka Jesus.

Bells of Night written and performed by Bill and Evelyn Snyder, recorded by Alpha Recording LLC. All rights reserved.

Deuteronomy 18:15: “Moses continued, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.’”

When God came down with fire and thunder on Mount Sinai, people were terrified; paralyzed with fear, they were too shocked to listen to God’s message.

Then God announced to the world that He would come to Earth as a human being. If God was human, there was no reason to be afraid, and people could receive His message.

And so it happened: God came down as a baby on the day when Jesus was born. We know that shepherds came to worship at His feet on the night of His birth, and that in His later adult years, Jesus had a following of people that He ministered to– but we also know of a number of people who chose not to believe and still refused God’s message.

A catch 22, isn’t it? People are either too overwhelmed or too underwhelmed to listen to what God has to say!

Meanwhile, as we all know, prophets have come and gone competing for our attention. Who is to say that one particular prophet is the Son of God? How would we know who the real deal is?

We are left to find out for ourselves, and there is only one way to do so: We need to tune in with our hearts and take a good listen! Only by listening can we begin to discern, can we make a distinction, and can we embrace what we find to be true. There are many voices in the world out there, voices that want to harm us, distract us, and disorient us. Among this choir of voices there is one distinctive voice that brings peace, clarity, and light in the dark. Our hearts will recognize this voice. Our hearts will be able to single out this one voice and drown out all the others. All we got to do is step back, take our time, focus and listen, and the Holy Spirit will speak to our hearts.

That is why Jesus says (Matthew 7:7): 

“Seek and you will find.”

You will find Him when you seek Him. Jesus is ready to meet you. Don’t you know? He was born ready!

“Now, I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange
Way to save the world” 
Songwriters: David Allen Clark / Donald A. Koch / Mark R. Harris

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

A Creator creates. Productiveness is the very essence of our Creator. We too are made to create. At the dawn of creation our Creator uttered His famous request: “Be fruitful and multiply!” Procreation is a funny thing. It almost comes across as if we were partnering up with our Creator in ushering in brand new life. And so we did. Along with plants and animal species we multiplied and spread out over the entire globe, our home planet Earth. Tragically, we have lost our innocence along the way. We’ve discovered how to be bad. Joni Mitchell wrote so pointedly: “We are stardust, we are golden. We are caught in the devil’s bargain and we got to get ourselves back to the Garden.”

Returning to the Garden is a great concept. So is recycling. There’s “cycle” in the word“recycle”, and for a reason. Something was created and used, but instead of landing in the trash it’s being recycled for further use. At the dawn of salvation mankind was recycled when Jesus came to restore our innocence. Now Jesus asks us to “produce much fruit”, a haunting reminder of the initial command: “be fruitful and multiply.” Coming full circle, now we know how not to be fruitful. We are God’s children, but we have fallen. There is a way to be productive without becoming the worst version of ourselves. Instead of evolving into a pain in the neck we can evolve into a light in the world: “Remain in Me”, Jesus says. That’s the secret.

Trailing woody-stemmed plants, vines derive from the grape family. Vines are climbers by nature. In order to climb they cling to something – such as a pole or a wall – in order to grow.  Jesus uses the imagery of a growing vine to symbolize a close-knit relationship. I believe Jesus picked the grape vine because they are so extremely attached, which is a great way of illustrating our friendship with Him.  I can almost hear Him saying: “Don’t go off on your own, buddy!”  Jesus’ words “I am with you always”, encourage us to grab His hand as we follow our Creator’s footsteps and plunge into our daily activities – with a friendly reminder to remain in Him!

John 14:6: “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’”

Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with His disciples before He died. He is mapping out the future for them, encouraging them to stay on course and giving them a little sneak peek of heaven. He says that there is plenty of room there; He is preparing a place for them, and, when everything is ready, Jesus will personally welcome them. Heaven is a real place, and there is an unmistakable way that leads there. Jesus is confident that His disciples know the way; His disciples on the other hand – not so much. Here is a snippet of the unfolding conversation between Jesus and His disciples (John 14:4-5):

Jesus: “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas: “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

This is when Jesus utters His famous statement, which precisely answers the question at hand:

“I am the Way the Truth and the Life.”

How come that Jesus was so confident while His disciples apparently were not? Well, I think human nature has not changed very much, and still today truth can walk right in front of us while going completely unnoticed. The secret His followers were about to discover boils down to this:

  • Jesus represents the road map to heaven.
  • Getting acquainted with Jesus, we study this road map by exploring His way of life.

I believe Jesus’ way of life is basically love in action – no broken life goes unnoticed.  Jesus loves indiscriminately, with total abandon, and no strings attached. By living His way we actually bring heaven down. We can have heaven on earth by just going about our business the way Jesus went about His. People were always on His agenda. People always came first. If we all think this way, we have heaven on earth. In a sense we have arrived. We’re already home!

“I’ve been lost in my own place, and I’m gettin’ weary
How far is heaven?
And I know that I need to change my ways of livin’
How far is heaven?”  

 Songwriters: Henry Garza / Joey Garza / Ringo Garza

Salvador live performance of “Heaven”

John 11:25: “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.'”

Death always means separation, because the dead are separate from the living. We dig graves for that very reason, and we say goodbye when a loved one passes; it often bugs us to no end when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye before their passing. Death is final that way. On this side of heaven we won’t see this person again.

However, when it comes to death there’s still more separation involved than meets the eye.

  • There’s separation of body and soul, once our hearts stop beating. Not everybody is on board with an afterlife – assuming that once our bodies are dead, we are completely gone. Well, here is the good news: a person is way more than just a body (a good thing to remember if you happen to struggle with yours). The soul is the part that passes on, the body is the part that is buried in the ground.
  • And then there’s separation from God, also known as spiritual death. If one has a hard time grasping the fact that human beings have souls moving out of the body at the time of death, then spiritual death will probably make even less sense. Maybe it’s helpful to think of a spiritually dead person as a human being without conscience. We all are born with one. If we succeed in overriding this God-given inner compass we’ll be spiritually dead.

The Bible calls our physical passing “first death” and refers to our separation from God as “second death”. Getting separated from God is like severing roots from a thriving plant. Without roots this plant withers and dies. By the same token, without God our soul withers and dies. So theoretically, we could very well be physically alive but spiritually dead and vice versa. Worst case scenario: we’re both spiritually and physically dead.

Jesus’s resurrection is an amazing milestone in the history of mankind, because His resurrection counteracts both first and second death. Case in point: His body and soul were reunited when He rose from the grave, and He was restored to the Trinity when He went back to heaven. That is brokenness completely restored! Creation suffers from the death grip, animals included. All of this is reversed in one big swoop! The ripple effect is enormous. Can you imagine the kind of impact Jesus’s death and resurrection has made in the entire universe? Can you imagine what this means for you?

John 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

Jesus portrays Himself in various ways.  In one of His “I am” statements He refers to Himself as the good shepherd.

One of the things that piqued my interest is the fact that Jesus does not refer to Himself as a sheep herder but as a shepherd.  There is a significant difference between the two:  Sheep herders drive their herds much like cowboys drive their cattle by pushing them from behind, while shepherds guide their flocks by leading them from the front.   Also herds and flocks carry different notions.  While herding associates with feeding and running together, a flock is meant to congregate in places or alternatively head towards a location.  To put it bluntly:  Jesus is no cowboy and God’s children are not mindless sheep driven by one.  In Psalm 80 we address God as the beloved Shepherd (Psalm 80:1):

“O Shepherd of Israel who leads Israel like a flock;”

In Psalm 23 we put ourselves in sheep’s shoes (that is to say if sheep wore shoes) because King David wrote the lyrics of Psalm 23 entirely from a sheep’s perspective:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me”

Psalm 23 could not showcase the relationship between sheep and shepherd more beautifully.  I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when He says about His sheep (John 10:15):

“They know me, just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father.”

There is intimate knowledge, not just mere acquaintance, of all the parties involved.  What a gift to know Jesus and to be known by Him!

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

Marielene’s rendition of Keith Green’s song: “The Lord is my Shepherd. 

John 10:7, 9-10: “So he explained it to them: ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.’”

Imagine wide open spaces….imagine a fence-less society … hey, how about a fence-less world? “Yeah, dream on!” you might say. Well, it is dreams and hopes that keep us going, I think. John Lennon wrote in his song “Imagine”: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.” – And I couldn’t agree with him more! Most importantly, that’s God’s dream for our world today. God rolled up His sleeves and went to work to pave a way to the fulfillment of this dream by sending us the Prince of Peace. He is the gate to this dream, and this dream is definitely not a pipe dream. We will live to see a society built solely on love and mutual respect, a world where even animals will stop killing each other, a world void of crime and abuse, a world where we can devote our energies to build, create, invent, explore, interact, and inspire. I rest my case.

Unfortunately, as we all know, our world today is quite different. While life certainly has its precious moments, we devote most of our energies to battle; just take a quick look at our country’s budget to see how much money actually goes into warfare.

On a personal level we’re battling too. There are lots of things competing for our attention, not all of them in our best interest. Whether we like it or not, we have an enemy to our soul. This enemy is somewhat mysterious and carries many different names: Lucifer, Devil, and Satan, just to name a few.  He may be mysterious, but his hate is very real and has affected all of us one way or the other. It’s on his agenda to bring us down, destroy us, and ultimately kill us. Thankfully, he got overwhelmingly defeated! That’s the reason why the dream of a world of peace is not dead. It will come true. We can bank on it.

God’s way of saving the world clearly has rubbed some of us the wrong way. We may think this is outrageous that God chose to become powerless and relinquish Himself. Letting go of His power and submitting to our limitations, how in the world could God save us this way? It just doesn’t make much sense! Yet, puzzling as this may seem, obviously God’s method of salvation is not ours to choose.

The Trinity proceeded to select one of them, Jesus, to be the door opener to a new beginning for mankind. He conquered the devil by letting Himself get killed. Jesus upholds the principle of peace to His dying breath. That’s the principle of love, the kind of love that does not force, coerce, or take away. That kind of love beats evil. That kind of love brings about a fence-less society.

In a world full of fences and ongoing violence we are offered a different way of thinking and new code to live by. Jesus introduces us to this new world, starting in the here and now. He wants us to experience a meaningful life with a positive impact, a life that is a tremendous blessing, and friendship with God, which really is the greatest gift of all!

John 8:12: “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’”

If you’re visiting Arizona and one day decide to go on a hike, you’ll quickly discover that most hiking trails here are quite uneven. With boulders strewn all over the desert, hikers keep their eyes glued to the ground to avoid tripping and falling. I’ve done my fair share of hiking in the local deserts, and I especially love early morning hikes. Hiking before the Sun is up can be a bit hazardous as you may imagine. I once forgot to bring my flashlight, BIG mistake! To put it mildly, I stumbled more than I walked. Thankfully, the Sun rose just in time before I got hurt, and my faltering steps quickly turned into confident strides.

Witnessing how the horizon lights up long before the Sun actually arrives is quite a sight to behold! I think I’ll never grow tired of watching the Sun rise. As the Sun progresses higher and higher, the scenery is dipped in light. The world around me becomes distinguishable, and all the grey color tones slowly disappear and vanish into the morning mist. Dawn takes over. The early light paints the desert in soft hues of greens, yellows, reds and blues.

Since we’re all on a journey, probably more arduous than the toughest outdoor experience, we can all relate. In our wilderness walk through life we constantly need light, not just to see where we’re going but also to notice the different shades of color around us; life is meant to be colorful, and seeing that is to enjoy life in all its fullness.  No doubt, dark days and troublesome seasons continue to affect us, still, we can actually see in the dark when the Light of Life is walking right next to us. I think one of the reasons why Christmas lights so many candles – in our homes, in our yards, and in the streets of our towns and cities – is to celebrate the fact that Jesus’s foremost feature is being the Light of the world. He will literally light up our life if we let Him.

The Lord changes our fears and tears into hope and radiant joy, much like sunlight through the rain creates a rainbow. A life well-lived tends to have all the color hues of a rainbow. Jesus dips our life in color! That’s His specialty.

Walk with Him, and you will have the light that leads to life.

John 6:35: “Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'”

The soul, similar to our physical bodies, gets hungry and thirsty; it can also get hurt and needs healing.  Our Western culture has a tendency to overlook such needs – probably because souls do not show up with physical evidence.

Imagine we could see each other’s soul-bodies and could recognize how malnourished or wounded some of us are.  God certainly can.  And as children of God we’re aware of the importance to address the demands and longings of our soul.  There are countless references to the human soul in the Bible, not the least of which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5).

In the book of Psalms our soul is encouraged to cry out to the Lord, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord.  As the body gets hungry, so does the soul. The body craves physical food while the soul craves spiritual food; God has plenty of spiritual food in store for the longing soul. In Peter’s first letter we read (1 Peter 2:2):

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” 

It is the Lord’s kindness the soul is after.  No amount of fame or fortune can satisfy the extravagant cravings of the soul, not even the love we experience from other people.  That is why Jesus says (Matthew 4:4):

“People do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

On that note, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” this request combines the physical with the spiritual bread, since we are in dire need of both. So let’s keep praying for God’s wonderful Bread of Life!

“Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honored; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13

Hebrews 1, 1-2: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.”

Let’s be honest: there are times when we feel God is a million miles away, and during such times we’re not even sure He speaks into our lives. If we feel this way we need to remember that generation after generation God has never been silent. He is actually way too passionate about us to not try to get our attention. And He has done so in various ways. Yes, we have a God who communicates! He has shared the truth with us for as long as there have been people. And while times have changed, truth never did. Neither did God.

We are all familiar with upgrades. Technology is always improving, and it has affected the way we communicate. The invention of the telephone (not to mention wireless phones) connected us globally and revolutionized human communication. Remember the snail mail? Remember how long it took to get a letter from one continent to another? Letters had to be shipped. And if your letter happened to be on a ship that never made it to the harbor you had to send another one. Long distance communication was difficult to say the least.

If cellphones and computers revolutionized human communication, how much more did divine communication improve with the arrival of God’s Son on planet Earth? It is so much easier for us humans to grasp God’s message of love by just observing the life of His Son Jesus. Jesus walked the talk. He is called “The Word” for a reason. In Him God’s Word became flesh and bones. Whatever God has been trying to say through His prophets throughout the centuries is now plain to see in His Son. The difference in communication is like night and day – similar to shipping an important letter to a distant country versus using a telephone. The question is: have we picked up the phone yet? Do we give God the time of day and lend Him an ear? That’s for you and me to decide. However, if we do pick up the phone and let God speak into our lives, good things are going to happen. Our lives will never be the same.

God speaks to us through His Son. How wonderful is that!

John 1:1-2, 14: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”

Isn’t it amazing that God, who made everything and is the source of life, recreated Himself in the form of a human baby? God, who was never born because He has always been, is now working Himself through His mother’s birth canal. God who has everything and does not need anything, turns into this bundle of joy demanding constant attention – food, shelter, clean up. All of you parents can probably relate. Not sleeping through the night because Baby needs food! Or Baby has other issues. Diaper needs changing, we can smell it! Oh boy, who is getting up now?

So God became human and needy. That’s just so odd and mind boggling! Why would God do such a thing?

Well, don’t expect anything conventional coming from the creative Godhead, the One who thought up the entire universe! It’s in His nature to come up with something extraordinary, something unexpected to solve a problem – and bridging the ever-widening gulf between the Godhead and His creation is a major problem.

It all began when the seed of distrust was sown, a long time ago, when the fateful words were spoken: “Did God really say?” Ever since there is fear, misinformation, and a lot of superstition. Death puts the stamp of futility on everything we know. The eternal God on the other hand is untouched by death – and seemingly out of touch for us humans.

Then a couple of millennia ago – boom! The Word became human. The Immortal became mortal; God became one of us, and if this is not bridging the great divide, then what else does? The God from way out there touched ground and lived on planet Earth, in the here and now. We could literally touch Him. We could put a face to His name. Looking into His face we see love, and we see glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son: Jesus.

“There He was to everyone’s delight in the middle of the night. What a beautiful wondrous sight!” (Christmas Bolero by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)