Christmas Is Over, Now What?

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” – Corrie Ten Boom.

It’s the day after Christmas and all through the house there are piles of junk, cast-off toys, and piles of unwanted gifts to be returned as soon as possible.  Perhaps you’re hoping to exchange the flannel shirt Uncle Pete gave you. The kids have already found that the cardboard boxes their toys came in are more interesting to play with than the items which the boxes originally contained.

You’ve already made the decision to put the tree out on the curb for pickup tomorrow and get ready for the new year. Maybe this year should be different. It is the time to pause and answer a question: “Is there any correlation between the focus of the Christmas holidays—and what drives and motivates your life after the Christmas decorations are gone and the poinsettias have wilted?

Yes, it is Jesus’ birthday, but it is also the beginning of the gospel story. We are not just celebrating the fact that Christ came as a baby. We are celebrating that He came and brought redemption to our world. In other words, He came to redeem everyone who believes in His name.

Here is how Paul answered that question in I Timothy 1:15: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.” Paul was thinking about the grace of God shown to him. He could not get over it. We too should be amazed. We too should not be able to get over it. We too should be in awe of God with us. We should be in constant astonishment at God’s grace and mercy that began for each of us on that first Christmas night.

Some people want to put Christmas behind them until next December.  But others bask in the reality of the meaning of Christmas, the Incarnation.  For them, Jesus is not a babe whose manger is getting pretty old and dusty.  He is the living Savior, the One who became flesh at Bethlehem, the One who wants to touch the lives of people today. He can be pushed aside by packing up the Christmas decorations. Moving on after Christmas should include the risen Lord who will someday return from heaven. May we enter the New Year with our eyes focused on the risen Savior.

Take the time and the step of remembring the Christmas story during the year. Try to understand what “God with us” and “unto you is born a Savior” really means all year long.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think about Christmas year-round?
  2. What would you suggest are a couple of practical ways to help refocus on the true meaning of Christmas during 2023? 

When Plans Go Astray

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:6-7.

Everybody has a friend(s) that plan every single thing. There’s no space for spontaneity. They have a blueprint in place that will help them know how to make the most efficient use of their time and energy. Nothing frustrates them more than when a well-conceived plan falls apart at the seams. Yet life has a way of changing the best-laid plans.

Joseph and Mary were all excited and planning to get married, when all of a sudden, an angel told Mary she was going to have a baby. And not just any baby, but the baby that would later save the world from our sins. Mary isn’t married yet. People, including Joseph, would have a pretty hard time believing she got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Consequences could’ve been pretty dire for Mary if anyone wanted to make an example of her. So, yeah, their plans took an inexplicable turn.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling as they arrived in Bethlehem and were unable to find the living space that maybe they were hoping for?  While we don’t know their exact plan after arriving in Bethlehem, it probably didn’t include laying Jesus in a feeding trough after He was born.  Regardless of His make-shift crib, Jesus’ birth was no less miraculous.  His arrival on this earth was made no less meaningful.  His first moments and cries no less special.  It was that powerful moment that ultimately changed life as we know it, and it didn’t take everything going according to plan to make it so.

Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan. Mary could’ve insisted that having a baby wasn’t in her life plan, and even if she were going to do this, couldn’t God wait until she was happily married? But she didn’t. In the middle of her worries, fears, and doubts, she trusted God enough to know that His plan was better. And because she was willing to trust in God’s plan more than her plan, she played a huge role in His story on earth.

This Christmas, remember that when things don’t go as planned, God has the most room to work. And may this Christmas remind you that in the midst of our unplanned lives, God is with us in the waiting, working to bring the best plans—better plans than we can ask for or imagine.

As you get busy this Christmas weekend gathering with friends and family, orchestrating feasts, and making sure that everyone has the holiday experience they were hoping for, take a moment to stop thinking about what comes next, or perhaps what didn’t quite pan out earlier that day.  Set aside the plan.  Breathe in the hope of a newborn Savior.  Remember the peace that He brings with Him.  Celebrate the joy that His birth offers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Joseph and Mary’s reaction to their plans being changed? When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?
  2. 2. Proverbs 16:4 says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?

And Now For The Rest Of The Story

“Christmas celebrates the awesome and amazing fact that God is grander, wiser, and more mysterious than we could have ever imagined.” – Dan Schaeffer.

Paul Harvey was one of the most famous radio personalities in America in the 50s and 60s.  Millions of loyal listeners tuned in to his “The Rest of the Story” broadcasts for their unique blend of true historical facts laced with mystery.  The rest of the story filled in the details of a story that most people did not know about. It would be nice to know the rest of the story of the most influential man in history. The birth of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, is the greatest gift that God has ever given.

We know so little about Jesus’ birth. Luke summarizes it all in one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

It’s kind of a  letdown, isn’t it? If we had been writing the story of Jesus’ life, we would have page after page, maybe several books. We would tell the rest of the story. For example, explaining why Mary was traveling with Joseph, to begin with, why no one in Bethlehem welcomed them into their home, why there was no better place for them to stay than a barn, who was with them when the baby was born, and so many more details. We probably would have drowned the story in detail. God doesn’t always give us all the details we want, but He always gives us the details we need.

There is one, clear indisputable detail in the Christmas story. Jesus comes in a humble matter. Luke talks about Augustus, the mighty Roman emperor. With a word, he could force people to travel significant distances to register for taxation. This is the most powerful man on the planet. But Luke doesn’t talk about him. Instead, he talks about a little baby, born in the most inglorious and humble circumstances. Born to a virgin, born away from home, born in a barn, laid to rest in a feed trough. The contrast is powerful and undeniable. The rest of the story would include a mighty Messiah, born in circumstances befitting a king. But no. Everyone in town turns away from His parents. They have nowhere else to go, so He is born in a barn and is laid to rest in a feeding trough.

Why? Because God will teach us through Jesus. God taught us that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the world’s eyes. God taught us humility’s a trait that God blesses. And He will teach it first and best through His very own Son: “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

He came as the least, and He came for the least. That is the rest of the story.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn about from our Lord on the essence of true humility?
  2. What will you do, beginning today, to cultivate a Christlike attitude of humility? 

Jesus Was Never Too Busy

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.” –  Matthew 9:35.

The Advent season has quite the ironic twist. It’s the time of year we most intend to reflect on our Savior’s birth, yet it’s the month we have the least time for reflection. We’re already busy, but we find ways to add holiday activities to our busy schedule: Christmas decorating, shopping, parties, traditions, crafts, events, and whatever else it takes to make it the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Our intention for these activities is to focus on the “reason for the season.” But it’s easy to lose sight of that goal. Christmas can quickly become the most stressful time of the year. And it might be the time in which we are most distracted. We live in a culture that wears busyness like a badge of honor. How do we practice the presence of the Lord in a season where there doesn’t seem to be any margin for more of God?  We want to show up for everyone in our lives, but there’s not enough time in the day.

Jesus gets it. Jesus had a full day too. Jesus was busy too. But one thing is clear: Jesus, both God and Human, didn’t handle the busyness the way most of us do.  For example, read Mark 1:21-45. In these several verses, a lot happens. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue; He heals many people, and crowds gather around Him. But it is also the pace of the events. In those verses, you’ll see the word “immediately” or words meaning the same thing used repeatedly. Reading those verses prompts you to want to catch your breath.

The bottom line is this. Jesus didn’t look at His watch until 5 pm when He could punch out and head to His car. He was busy. But His mission never ended. He believed every interaction with another human is important, powerful, and necessary. When the crowds arrived waiting to be healed, Jesus didn’t barricade the door. He continued to heal.  

When we allow ourselves to get too busy, we don’t take the time to slow down and remember our relationship with God. God wants us to spend time daily to renew our relationship with Him.  He wants to know about our failures and victories, strengths and weaknesses, and joys and disappointments. If we fail to remember Him daily, we get caught up in the distraction of pleasing other people. 

We need to worship the Lord this advent season. The Bible says that God inhabits the praise of His people. Sometimes we get so busy that it’s easy to forget that. We forget that we belong to Him and need to put Him first.

God already values us more than anything. We don’t need to earn it. So as we go about following schedules today, let’s listen for God’s voice. 


Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you look at the Christmas Season and feel peace and joy for what Christ has done, or do you feel overwhelmed?
  2. When you look at your Christmas and holiday calendar, what do you need to do, and what should you eliminate to ensure you don’t miss Jesus again this year?

Why Jesus Came To Earth

 “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:19-20.

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning to the most beautiful gift under your tree. Wrapped in stunning Christmas paper and tied with a gorgeous bow. While you marvel at the beauty of the wrapping your eyes dart around looking for a tag that tells the name of the lucky recipient. Somebody taps you on the shoulder and tells you that it is your gift. You spend a few moments admiring the beauty of the wrapping before opening the package. There is something in the package that is intangible and real at the same time. The package contains hope.

The hope of Christmas is the most precious and beautiful gift ever given. The hope of Christmas is Jesus. The moment Jesus was born, the hope that had been lost when Adam betrayed God in the Garden of Eden entered the world once again. It is this powerful hope that caused the wise men to travel hundreds of miles to bring the newborn King gifts on the very first Christmas.

Christmas is a renewal of hope even when hope has grown dim. It was settled long ago, so we don’t have to doubt anymore. Jesus is the fulfillment of our hope, our deepest longings come true. When we as believers speak of hope, we don’t mean a desire that may or may not be fulfilled. No, our hope is certain. Our hope for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God, and a perfect, holy, eternal life, rests on the finished work of Jesus.

Our hope in Him is solid and it is real. God wants us to live with hope and assurance that all His promises will come true for us and that our future is firmly and safely secure in His hands for our good.

We have hope for the future that we will be redeemed. We have hope for the present because we are not alone, but are loved and have a purpose. And we have hope over the past because our failures are not greater than God’s power to transform.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV) tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. We think hope is only about the future. We can hope in Jesus today, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow. What is one thing you’re hoping for right now?

It Is Your Choice?

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” – Luke 2:13-14.

How does the old song go? “Forget your troubles and just get happy Ya better chase all your cares away.”  I can hear Ella Fitzgerald’s cheerful voice in my ear now, but most of us know that simply snapping our fingers and trying to get happy is easier said than done, even when tis’ the season to be merry. Christmas should be a season of peace, but the advent season can often make us feel like our life is a tangled-up string of Christmas lights.

While we may love the Christmas season, worry, busyness, family conflicts, and unmet expectations can take their toll. We are faced with a choice. We can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to bow down in worship.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.‘” And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.

Angels are a model of worship. They bow down before Jesus. They shout with incredible joy as they sing songs of praise. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God. Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than just a cliché. It is an intentional act of worship. It requires a heart of adoration, much like the angels had. When Jesus is the focus of our holiday, we’re focused on His love, peace, and joy.

When worship fills our hearts, it makes our choices for us. When our hearts are filled with worship there is no being annoyed at the long lines at the gas station. It also eliminates the stress that is often a part of the season. When we focus on what Christmas is truly about—the amazing gift of a Savior—we won’t stress out about what presents to buy. Rather we will exhibit the grace of God to others. Worship turns our attention to giving thanks to Jesus for all He has done and leaves little room for less important matters.

There will be lots of choices to be made during the month of December: where to serve, what gifts to buy, and how many events to attend. The most important choice we can make is to worship and sing praises to our Lord. For His gift. For His love. For His peace.

And when our hearts are at peace, our holidays can be too.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the way I worship say about God? What does my worship say about how I see God?
  2. We have choices to make this Christmas season: what can we do to make godly decisions? 

Wise Men And Worship

“Though many kings of the Jews had been born and died, none of them did the Magi seek to adore. And so they who came from a distant foreign land to a kingdom that was entirely strange to them…But they had learned that such a King was born that by adoring Him they might be sure of obtaining from Him the salvation which is of God.” – Saint Augustine.

The Magi or wise men from the east had come to Jerusalem. We don’t know how many came, we don’t know how they made the trip, or specifically from where they came.  We do know that they made a long journey from the east in search of the rightful King of the Jews. Clearly, the Magi understood that this king would be more than just an earthly king.

These wise men went to Jerusalem and began inquiring where the new king was.  It must have come as a shock that nobody knew anything about the king. Herod got wind that a threat to his throne may have been born among the Jews.  He calls together all the experts.  Everyone knows what is going on.  The experts in Scripture know about Bethlehem and the prophecies of the Messiah. But no one from Jerusalem goes to find out anything, except the wise men.

The Magi followed a star to a place in Bethlehem where they find Jesus. And when they found Jesus, they fell down before Him and they worshipped Him.  They humbled themselves and they fell down before this baby, they now called king and worshipped as God. They gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had found the Messiah, the King of kings, the Savior of the world and they worshipped Him.

These wise men were seekers.  It was in their seeking that they saw something.  They saw something of God in creation in the star, then in Scripture through the prophecy, then they saw God in the person of Jesus Christ.  They found the Savior.

It wasn’t just lip service to them. They obeyed God.  They didn’t just give their gifts and then do whatever they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. When God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, they didn’t.  They obeyed. Their worship was authenticated by their obedience.

They had great joy as well. The Scripture says that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  There is no stronger way to say that they had joy.  They were full of the greatest joy.  Worship brings joy.  Worship of the King of kings brings joy, unspeakable joy, hope, and life.  Worship and joy are inseparable partners.  And the Magi discovered it in Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the baby, Jesus? What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?
  2. The wise men were led by a star to Jesus. What are various things in your life that lead you to Jesus?
  3. The wise men went to great lengths to worship Jesus. But Jesus went to greater lengths to love them. How will you respond to God’s love for you this Christmas?

The True Christmas Gift

“but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” – Luke 2:10-14.

Despite man’s efforts to take Christ out of Christmas, He just won’t go away. Despite society’s best efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes. That first Christmas, there was no room for Him in the inn. The world never wants to make room for Christ at Christmas and in everyday life. Man killed Him and sealed the tomb with a huge stone to shut Him out of our lives once and for all. But God removed the stone to prove Jesus will not be shut up or shut out of His plans.

Christmas was never meant to be an event or a season. There are some things that could be changed when it comes to Christmas. For example, take out all the materialism. But we should never take the gift out of Christmas. After all, how can we take Christ, the true gift of Christmas, out of Christmas?

The question is why would people want to take Christ out of Christmas?  He is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. What a gift. His resurrection gives us life after death. That’s a gift. His death on the cross offered forgiveness for sins and a fresh start with God. That’s a gift. His grace offers the assurance of a secure future with God. That’s a gift. These are gifts we don’t deserve, but God desires us to have them. And the One guaranteeing the gift is the One who created all things and defeated death by rising from it. Christ is The gift of Christmas that no other gift can surpass. Jesus brings joy to the world and hope to our lives in the message of Christmas.

Today we face the danger of turning our attention away from the Gift of Christmas. You should never want to take Christ out of Christmas. He is The gift of Christmas that no other gift can surpass. Worse than taking Christ out of Christmas is leaving Christ out of your life. The gifts Jesus Christ offers are the things we need the most.

Discussion Question:

  1. Christmas was never meant to be an event or a season, it was meant to be a gift. Agree or disagree and why?

Don’t Miss Christmas – Part 3, Herod

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. – Matthew 2:1-3.

The third person who missed Christmas was Herod. It is very hard to find anything good about him. Basically, Herod was a selfish and evil man. We could probably call him the first Scrooge.

The Bible tells us that Herod called the religious leaders to find out where the future king should be born. He was told “Bethlehem.” After that, he called the wise men and asked them to report to him if their search in Bethlehem proved fruitful. God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod so they returned home by another route.  Herod was enraged and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem.  Joseph and Mary had already fled to Egypt.

The palace of Herod was brimming with wealth and luxury at the time Jesus was born. Fast forward to today. All that “Herod the Great” ever owned lies in the broken ruins and dust of the Middle East. There are no hospitals built in Herod’s name. No colleges or universities claim Herod as their inspiration. No charities rally people to a good cause by remembering Herod’s influence. Herod’s picture doesn’t adorn anyone’s building, home, or jewelry. If it weren’t for the Christmas story, most of us would have never heard this man’s evil legacy.

On the other hand, there is Jesus. In the beginning, Jesus was born in a homeless set of circumstances, while Herod enjoyed his choice of palace beds. In the beginning, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus ran from Herod. While Herod had enormous wealth, Jesus never had a penny. Herod had palaces, but Jesus had simple lodging. He probably slept on the ground, or in borrowed beds more than his own bed, during his ministry. To the untrained eye, in that day, Herod and his kind were in control, had the power, and left a great legacy.

In the end, however, Herod lay dead, and Jesus lived. Even after His death, Jesus lived again, and today, the world is a changed place not because of Herod “the Great,” but because Jesus lives.

See the baby Jesus in a new and fresh way this Christmas season. Give us ears to hear the angels singing. Give us feet like the shepherds to go swiftly to Bethlehem. Give us hands like the Wise Men to offer Him the best that we have. Give us hearts of love to worship Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God included Herod in the Christmas story?
  2. What can we learn from the story of Herod?
  3. What can we do this season to ensure we don’t miss Christmas?  

Don’t Miss Christmas – Part 2, Religious Leaders

“He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:4-6.

The story of Christ’s birth is full of characters who effectively missed the first Christmas. The innkeeper was one and the religious leaders were another. Matthew 2:4-6 describes the scene. Herod gathers all the leading priests and teachers and asks them where the Messiah was to be born. They tell him Bethlehem, citing Micah 5:2 which says, ”But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”

The chief priests and scribes knew exactly where Christ was to be born. These were the theologians, the minds, the brains, the religious elite of Israel. The Jewish people had been looking for their Messiah/Deliverer for a very long time.  They were waiting eagerly to end the Roman occupation and oppression.  Yet the religious leaders could not make the effort to go to Bethlehem to see if this was truly the Messiah.

The fact is, out of the entire population of Jerusalem and Judea, only a few shepherds came to see the Messiah. And do you remember what they did? After encountering Him, they joyfully told everyone about their experience until everyone in the Judean countryside heard about the birth of the Messiah. But even then, there is no record that anyone else, including the religious leaders of the day, came to see Jesus.

They probably figured they didn’t need Him. They were self-righteous. And they were indifferent. They thought they had it all figured out. But they didn’t. And neither do we. How can we take God – the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and put Him in our box? Do we think we have God so figured out that He becomes predictable or worse familiar to us?

Like in marriages, familiarity leads to complacency and eventually we take each other for granted. Relationships with our spouses like with God are an adventure. We seek out new things to learn of the other. We do the same with God. He is knowable to a point, but He is still God.

The Christmas story centers around this truth from John 1:14 (MSG): “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” That is the real message of Christmas. May we, in this busyness we call Christmas, not miss out on our Savior as the religious leaders did.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easy or tempting to miss Jesus during the Christmas season? Why or why not? 
  2. How does the familiarity of the Christmas story make it hard for us to be challenged by its message?
  3. What can we do this week to ensure we don’t miss Christmas?