A Child Is Born

Luke 2:1-20

By Chuck Griffin

The story of the birth of Jesus is both marvelous and deeply important to the world. Even nonbelievers have been heavily impacted by it, simply because Christianity has been a key driver of human history for nearly 2,000 years.

For a complete view of Christianity, you have to understand Jesus as an adult, and in particular, you have to understand the importance of his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ birth narrative, however, is the beginning of the description of Jesus as the promised Messiah, evidence that God has chosen to be with us in the most personal of ways.

News this important needs to be told. Luke’s spare, tight account of the birth is all about the telling, with voices declaring Jesus as Messiah from both heaven and earth.

Already, angels have punctuated the story repeatedly, prepping the key players for what is to come. The actual birth happens in a straightforward manner. Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem in answer to a census, and while there, Luke tells us, “The time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The formal birth announcement comes from heaven, with angels appearing before lowly shepherds, declaring the arrival of “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” The angels tell the shepherds how to find this great miracle—look for something common. “This will be a sign for you: You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

I find it instructive that while angels began the announcement, the proclamation effort quickly was turned over to humans, and quite common humans at that, at least in worldly terms. God’s good news spread from the bottom up, ensuring that the people usually left out of key events were the first to know about the most important event.

The shepherds went in search of evidence of what they had heard, finding it in a primitive barn. The baby in the manger was enough for them to begin to tell others what they had seen, causing amazement.

And here we are now, still celebrating what God has done for us through this incredible birth. Word has spread not because of angels but because of faithful telling and re-telling from generation to generation.

Have you told anyone lately? Have you amazed anyone with the story of how much God loves his creation? Have you helped the joy of Christmas seep into others’ souls so their joy may be eternal?

What an opportunity the Christmas season is!

I wish you a merry Christmas, and I pray that you will carry Christmas to those in need of good news.

Lower than the Angels, for a Little While

Hebrews 2:5-9 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

By John Grimm

Angels are cool.  They are literally the messengers of God, for that is what the Greek word means.  Though angels are higher than humans, they are not the ones to rule humanity.  Angels have some authority, yet they do not have the ability to give me salvation.  They can tell me what God has in store for me.  They cannot deliver me from my sins.

It is Jesus Christ who delivers me from my sins.  He is the one who became for a while lower than the angels.  It is Jesus who is crowned with glory and honor.  How did this happen?  Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering, death and resurrection.  Therefore, I can praise Jesus and I can honor Jesus.

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before his crucifixion is known now because she gave glory and honor to Jesus.  Now I have the time and means to give glory and honor to Jesus.  I started to give praise to Jesus when I first believed in Jesus as the Son of God.  I continue to heap praise upon Jesus for all the times he has been with me in my life.  Once God’s reign is established on the new earth, I will continue to give honor to Jesus. 

Praise you, Jesus, for coming to earth, to be a little lower than the angels.  Thank you for suffering so that we may live for all time with God.  This day is a day that we choose to praise you!  You are due all honor because of the great work you have finished for humanity.  We praise you.  Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Genesis 28:10-17 (New Living Translation)

Let’s take a few minutes to consider Jacob, Jesus, Led Zeppelin and the chance to have an eternal connection to God.

I would bet that upon reading this devotional’s title, most of you first thought of Led Zeppelin. I’ll go ahead and correct a critical theological error in the group’s most famous song. No matter how much money a lady has, she won’t be buying the stairway to heaven.

If you are wondering what the stairway might look like, Israelite patriarch Jacob got a glimpse of it in a dream, while sleeping against a rock in a place eventually known as Bethel. Angels went up and down the stairway, marking the place as a connection between heaven and earth. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, who restated promises made decades earlier to Jacob’s father, Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

Some of you raised on older English Bible translations may be protesting a bit right now, saying, “No, it was a ladder to heaven.” Many of us also were raised singing, “We are climbing … Jacob’s ladder.”

Either “ladder” or “stairway” works as a translation of the Hebrew word used in the story, which appears just once in Scripture. I like “stairway” better—as I imagine angels simultaneously going up and down, with God standing at the top, a stairway is more like what I see. As a child, I tried to visualize angels going up and down a ladder, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they felt crowded as they passed each other.

But back to Jacob’s dream. My New Living Translation Study Bible has a footnote attached to the story: “The point of the vision was that God and his angels were with Jacob on his journey.”

Jesus must have had that point in mind as he connected his very reason for existing to Jacob’s dream. In John 1:51, we hear Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man.”

In other words, God wants to be with us on our journeys, just as he was with Jacob. Jesus, God in flesh, is the stairway—because of his work as intermediary we have access to heaven.

God even comes down to us now, in this life! Belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross reconnects us to God, overcoming our sins, and God’s Spirit rushes to accompany us.

It really is incredible that all of this is free for us. Christ paid the price. We simply have to accept the stairway to heaven as our own.

Lord, thank you for the connection you offer us every day of our lives. Help us to use it well, drawing eternity into the lives we live now. Amen.

James: Single Mindedness

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 3:13-4:8

You’ve seen images of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, each whispering in a person’s ear what to do. Often, these pictures are meant to be funny, but they also portray a very real internal battle we each face every day.

We fully engage in this battle when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior.  In doing so, we commit ourselves to join Christ in his ongoing work, pushing back against sin wherever we can.

Once we’ve made that leap of faith—once we’ve chosen to call ourselves Christian and really own the vision—the battle between God’s goodness and the evil within us is on. That most immediate expression of God, the Holy Spirit, begins to work inside of us, contending with the world to make us into what God would have us be.

God is going to win, so long as we allow God to win. God’s desire for us to be free beings is the only possible impediment to swift victory. He lets us choose to keep him out, but will rush in whenever we allow. The more we let God work, the more complete the victory within us becomes.

In time, we actually begin to experience another world, the one Christ represents, the kingdom that ultimately will consume and replace the broken world so obviously surrounding us right now.

James lays out a simple plan so we can better allow God to go to work. James says:

Humble yourselves before God. That’s fairly simple to understand. Know who you are relative to God. Know that God knows better. A lot of people find this hard to do, however. Their pride is so intense that they cannot imagine submitting to anything.

Resist the Devil. Don’t panic; we don’t have to do this alone. We could never win on our own, anyway. But God calls us to participate in the fight against evil, knowing God is with us throughout, strengthening us for the task.

Wash your hands, sinners. While it sounds like COVID-19 advice, James is calling us to set right, as much as humanly possible, the wrong we have done. Again, we have to trust God to make the ultimate, great fixes to the universe, but he wants us to involve ourselves in the process.

Purify your hearts. Don’t be what is sometimes translated as “double-minded,” agreeing with worldliness one minute and Christ the next. We have to stop reserving places in our emotions or our intellect for ideas or impulses that are not of God.

As God is more and more present in every aspect of our lives—as we become single-minded—the devil will flee. What is unholy cannot stand a strong dose of what is aligned with God.

Tomorrow, we’ll draw on James’ exhortation as we consider what it means to seek healing, believing we can see God’s dawning kingdom undeniably among us.

Lord, help us flick the demons away and listen only to your guidance. Amen.