John 3:19-21: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Hiding in the dark is a human trait that started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden and hid from each other behind big fig leaves.

It all began with a mistake they made. The second mistake was not to step into the light and be honest about it. I often wonder if the course of human history would have changed significantly if Adam and Eve had been bold enough to take responsibility for their wrongdoings. We will never know.

What we do know is this: Believing in God’s mercies, we step out of the darkness into His wonderful life-giving light. God is good and His mercies are new every morning. There is a chance of a new beginning for each one of us. Dare we believe?

Isaiah 43:16,18-19: “This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

In a time of need, Jacob had to move his entire family to Egypt where he was received with open arms. One of his sons – Joseph – had become an influential man in Egypt, and so Jacob’s family was treated with much respect. Unfortunately, 400 years later all of this was distant memory. Jacob’s offspring had grown in leaps and bounds. Feeling threatened by their explosive population growth the tides had turned against them. Egypt’s Pharaoh forced them into slave labor.

It was time to leave Egypt.

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was no minor feat. In order to arrive at their destination – a region southeast from the Mediterranean Sea – they had to pass through treacherous desert terrain and get past the Red Sea. With the Egyptian army on their heels, the Red Sea quickly turned into a death trap. There simply seemed no escaping from the Egyptians.

And Israel cried out to the Lord.

All of a sudden the waters began to recede until a pathway opened up, right ahead of them. Led by Moses they ventured into the dried-up seabed to cross the Red Sea on foot. With their children, their livestock and all of their belongings they fled to the other shore. Meanwhile the Egyptian army had arrived and they were stunned to see the mysterious pathway through the Red Sea. After a moment’s hesitation the Pharaoh ordered his army to continue their pursuit – but when the last Israelites reached the other shore the waters of the Red Sea returned and the waves crushed over the pursuing soldiers, their horses and chariots. All of Pharaoh’s army drowned. A day of tragedy and triumph, it was on this occasion that the nation of Israel was born, a pivotal moment in their history.

And yet, now the Lord says: “Forget this miracle at the Red Sea! This is nothing compared to the miracle that is about to happen.”

If every piece of information on the internet was a tree, we would have an endless forest of information right at our fingertips – but how do we get to the bottom of things? To cut through a sea of data, we need to remember that only one tree matters to humanity: the tree Jesus was nailed to. Back in Paradise, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered the fruit of death. On Golgotha, the tree that Jesus was nailed to offers the fruit of eternal life. His subsequent resurrection stands for victory over death. Jesus draws every human being to Him. He brings peace to a broken world – thus the arrival of God’s Son surpasses the miracle at the Red Sea.

The Lord makes a way in the wilderness. Let us not dwell on the past and look forward to better things to come.

John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If life had a name, then I’m sure its middle name would be Trouble with a capital T. First and last name? Constant Change! Note that our hearts are fragile. We need to take good care of our hearts, or else we’ll be overcome by life’s middle name.

How we handle trouble is similar to digestion. Food is worthless and can actually kill us if our bowels refuse to work and our whole digestive system shuts down. Nourishment has to be processed to be of value. So does life – and we need to invest time to processing life events, especially life-changing events.

I remember when my dad was unable to get to the phone I would listen to his voice message which said:

“Sorry I can’t take your call right now, but you can leave me a message right after the beep. Lay it on me!”

My dad’s sense of humor came through in the last four words of his message: “Lay it on me!” Well, the Lord has also left us with a message – a message of peace. Shortly before His death He told His followers [John 14:27]:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

We are doing ourselves a huge favor when we allow God into our lives. Jesus’ foremost mission is to reconnect us with God, the source of all peace. Believing that the Lord can help us will guard our hearts from descending into desperation. God cares for us – His love is the most effective ointment for a broken heart.

Laying down our burdens brings long-lasting relief. Sometimes the only thing hindering us is pride. We think we can manage alone and don’t want to appear weak. The truth is that we all have our limitations. So don’t hesitate to lay it on Him. He can take it. Trusting the Lord is our way to peace.

John 14:1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Jesus was there when the stars and the moons were put into place. His heart is fully vested in His creation. He can tell you all about the inner workings of the universe; intimate details of star systems and galaxies are on His mind. He knows how planet Earth was put together, how plant life came to be, how the animals were created and finally, how the first human beings were introduced.

When God became man, the Builder of the universe was born into a builder’s family, and I think this is no coincidence. Under Joseph’s tutelage Jesus worked with His hands and built things out of wood. In His childhood He probably spent a good amount of time in His father’s workshop.

Spiritually, Jesus came with the mission to rebuild what had been torn down previously. Death had crept into His beautiful creation and rendered everything transient. But, death was not supposed to have the final say in the matter. At age 30, Jesus began His public ministry, preaching about the kingdom of God. He began to heal the sick, wake up the dead and spread God’s compassion wherever He went.

The night before His death Jesus talked to His closest friends, His disciples. He shared with them that He was going back to the Father. His followers were deeply disturbed and unsettled. How could they live a single day without Jesus? And the Lord comforted them and said [John 14:1]:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”

As people of the Jewish faith the disciples already believed in God. But then Jesus happened – and He brought us closer to God. Similar to seeing the Moon with the naked eye as opposed to looking at the Moon through a telescope, we see more of the intricate details. And having been brought near spiritually, we recognize that God is Trinity seeing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in action.

In times of trouble we hold on to God – but we especially hold on to the Son who became Man walking in our shoes. He’s the One who redeemed us and His new kingdom is built to last.

Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A cardinal mistake is to believe that everything is up to us. Maybe this is one of the reasons why humans get so tired and burnt out.  We are putting too much on our plate. Aware of our human tendencies Jesus kindly addresses us. “Come to me”, He says, followed by another invitation [Matthew 11:29-30]:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

A yoke is a wooden beam used between a pair of work animals so they can pull on a load together. What Jesus is referring to here is team work; paired up with the Lord our burdens are much easier to carry. 

Working together is no new concept. God’s operating as Trinity suggests He invented team work, and I believe we are blessed to follow His example. We’ll be both inspired by the Lord and by the people we are teaming up with. Jesus did not come to order us around. He rolls up His sleeves and gets down to the nitty-gritty; He wants to share our burdens. Welcoming Him is the onset of humility in our hearts.

Humility makes a tremendous difference in this world. It takes the pressure off of us because we know that we are not the ones running the show, God is. And when the time comes for us to step aside, we can do so with confidence – knowing that life will go on without us. While everyone is irreplaceable, the person picking up where we left off will bring a new perspective. Once again, this shows the beauty of teamwork.

By trusting the Lord, we know that our life on earth is not in vain. God’s children leave indelible footprints.

Psalm 103:1: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”

“Elephant memory” has become a coined term and refers to the ability to retain information for a very long time. Saki, a British writer who was born in Burma in 1870, once said:

“Women and elephants never forget an injury.”* [*Source: quotes.yourdictionary.com; web link: https://quotes.yourdictionary.com/author/saki/101236 ]

Living in Southeast Asia, Saki was very familiar with elephants and appreciated the smartness of the animal. Working elephants can commit to memory a large number of commands. They recognize other animals and people, thus remembering both kindnesses and injuries. With a life-span of 50 to 60 years, these memories are long-lived, which is why in their natural habitat it’s always the older elephants that lead the herd to the waterholes. Matt Lewis, the Senior Program Officer with the World Wildlife Funds Species Conservation Program says:

“The tragedy,” says Lewis, “is that when one of these [older elephants] is lost to poaching, the information dies with her, leaving the rest of the herd at a disadvantage—and having severe consequences for the species as a whole.”* [*Source: theweek.com; web link: https://bypass.theweek.com/articles-amp/443717/true-that-elephants-never-forget ]

In the wild it is crucial to remember to survive. I believe the same is true spiritually. If we don’t keep in mind the good things the Lord has orchestrated in our lives, it is just a matter of time that we feel disjointed and become dissatisfied.

With advanced age comes experience; but old age in itself does not warrant wisdom. We need to learn from our experiences or we just continue to make foolish decisions. The key to wisdom is to use the brain God has given us to our advantage. Let us think about all the situations the Lord has helped us through and be thankful. With David we pray [Psalm 103:2]:

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—”

Luke 2:28-32: “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon held Jesus, the Messiah, in his arms; this little bitty baby was going to save the world! He looked at Him in awe and wonder, and he believed.

To Simeon, the news of the Messiah’s arrival must have felt like rainfall after a long dry-spell. Israel had seen many prophets come and go, but for centuries no fresh message was received. God seemed remote and withdrawn.

In their history, Israel had been brutally subjected by empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. The more freedom eluded the people, the more they craved it. They called for a Redeemer who would set them free once and for all. And so it happened that, under the Roman Empire, God sent His Son Jesus.

We sometimes hear the saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” People see us pursuing a dream, but foresee a problem, should this dream ever come true. The Messiah was such a dream. God answered many prayers and Israel’s Messiah finally came to deliver the Jews – actually, He came to deliver the entire human race. This clearly went beyond everybody’s prayers and expectations. God made a wish come true, but the Son of God was not what Israel had bargained for.  

Before we start pointing fingers at Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, let’s stop right here and ask ourselves this question: Don’t we all sometimes wish that God answers prayers our way? Well, if we do, then chances are we won’t recognize God’s answers to our prayers – as in Israel’s case. Of course, God is never beholden to our expectations. He knows what He is doing, and He continues to answer all our prayers His way. We can ask for His redemption – but we cannot tell Him how to redeem us. That is definitely His decision.

God has sent us Emmanuel, God with us; and God is indeed with us, albeit unbeknownst to the world. All the while God’s Spirit continues to speak to us – are we listening? When Simeon laid eyes on the Messiah in the Jerusalem temple, He believed. It’s our turn now.

“Children go where I send thee, 
How shall I send thee? 
Well, I’m gonna send thee one by one
One for the little bitty baby
Who was born, born, born in Bethlehem”
Roderick Williams

Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Mary and Joseph had just begun to feel relaxed. Every day well-wishing people came to pay homage to the child. Some offered help, others brought expensive gifts. Three distinguished visitors had traveled a long distance to present them with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Shepherds had been spreading word of their special baby in the local neighborhood. Everybody was excited and happy. The Messiah was born!  

As they retired for the night, Joseph considered prolonging their stay in Bethlehem to give Mary a chance to fully recuperate before hitting the road again. – That’s when it happened. – He looked around and saw an angel standing in the room. It was the angel of the Lord. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Then the angel addressed him [Matthew 2:13]:

“Get up”, he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph woke up, startled to realize, it was a dream. He immediately woke Mary, and they left within the hour.

Mary and Joseph were in the eye of a storm as they packed up and left for Egypt. They fled just in the nick of time, right before Herod’s soldiers arrived who methodically killed all infants and toddlers in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

And so it was that Jesus narrowly escaped the massacre. Still, other babies were killed on that horrible day. Does this make any sense? – No, that’s the point! These are senseless murders, and they are symptomatic for the greater problem humanity has: We were created human but we evolved and became inhuman. The killings are a sobering reminder why the Messiah had to come in the first place.

The life of Jesus was no Rose garden. Early on he had to deal with offense and life threatening situations, which is why He can appreciate what we are going through. He empathizes with us and carries us through our worst nightmares, even death; He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

This world is badly broken. Jesus came to heal the world. The Prince of Peace is more than just a pat on the back and a quick fix. His mission is to get to the bottom of things. Jesus’s parting words to His followers were [John 14:27]:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Healing our hearts, Jesus heals the world. Having turned our affairs over to Him, we have made peace with God. Peace on earth is a revolution from within and begins in the temple of our hearts.

Luke 2:16-20: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

It was an exceptional night. Bethlehem lay quiet and deserted after the rush and business of the preceding day. Local shepherds were walking the streets of Bethlehem. They were looking for the newborn Messiah. A brilliant star seemed to be transfixed on a certain location – a barn …. They opened the barn door, and there was the baby! He was in a manger, soundly asleep, just as the angels had told them.

Mary and Joseph looked surprised when the shepherds entered the room. After introducing themselves they related to the stunned couple what the angels had said. Mary hung on every word of their story and treasured up everything they said; to her it must have felt like puzzle pieces falling into place. Hearing the good news from strangers made it all the more real.

Imagine an angel has a message for you. This angel tells you that God wants you to become parents to His Son and asks for your permission to adopt Jesus into your family. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? I am assuming that Mary and Joseph went through that, which is why it was so important for them to meet the shepherds. Faith is not meant to be lived out alone. We need each other to be strong. In this respect the shepherds played an important role in the chain of events. When they shared their story Mary and Joseph’s their faith was strengthened.

God continues to choose people for His purposes, and sometimes we have a hard time believing in God’s choices. However, if we think we need to be perfect to be chosen by God we are completely missing the point. It is God who makes things perfect. And He is the One who perfects us while we follow His call.

Isn’t it wonderful that God invites us to play a role in His story? And by using regular human beings for His divine purposes on a star-filled night, God has made us part of the miracle of Christmas.

Luke 2:11-14: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Camping out in the desert under the Middle Eastern skies were local shepherds. Day in and day out they would work and sleep outdoors. It was their job to lead the flocks to good grazing locations. At night they had to stay vigilant and watch out for predators. Desert nights can be quite cold. The shepherds on guard duty were seated around a fire when on the spur of a moment night turned into day.

Out of the blue angels appeared. They came with exciting news: “The Messiah is born!” – Startled, the shepherds just stood and stared trying to decide whether or not this was a dream. One of the shepherds had the presence of mind to ask: “The Messiah is born? Here, in this neighborhood? Where would we find Him?” The angels replied: “You will find the baby sleeping in a feeding trough.” And as sudden as the angels appeared they vanished into the night leaving the stunned shepherds with an open invitation to go see the Messiah. Immediately the shepherds left the campsite to look for the mysterious baby. The heavenly messengers had given them one specific clue – an infant sleeping in a manger is unusual to say the least.

Meanwhile, Mary, Joseph and the newborn rested in their quarters. Their long and arduous journey had been topped off by Mary’s going into labor. The couple was exhausted, but they were probably too excited to sleep. Gazing at their baby in wonder, many questions must have raced through their minds. Then, there was a knock on the barn door. The door quickly opened and closed, and stepping inside came a group of complete strangers. They identified themselves as local shepherds. Apparently, they had listened to angel reports – how else would they have known about a baby sleeping in the manger? Nobody could have guessed that. And how come they knew that Mary’s baby is the Messiah? God had to have revealed it to them.

God still speaks to us through signs and wonders. At times God can be very obvious (it’s hard to overlook a host of angels), but mostly He is very subtle – probably not to overwhelm us. Whenever we take notice of Him, we have a story to share. And I believe one of the best tales from God’s point of view is sharing how we met Him.