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To Bethlehem and Beyond

Christmas is quickly approaching and churches everywhere are preparing to reenact the Nativity scene. Every year as they prepare their stables and mangers, the wise men and the shepherds, my Mom would say, “Why are we so focused on reenacting the events of His birth? Why don’t we celebrate Jesus’ birthday like we celebrate our birthdays? It would be like all of us getting up on my birthday and going to the hospital and reenacting the day I was born. Nobody does that! We celebrate birthdays with the person the way they are now. Why do we keep presenting Jesus as a baby in a manger? He isn’t a meek, helpless baby. He’s the All-powerful Son of God, sitting at the right hand of the Father! Why don’t we present that image of Jesus to the world?”

As I was remember her question, I began to asking myself, “Do we choose to focus on the Baby in the Manger because it is easier than presenting the world or even ourselves with Jesus as He is right now?”

Let’s be honest, it makes a beautiful picture. A young couple struggling against the odds arrives in Bethlehem just as she is going into labor. We paint the scene of a manger, warm and cozy, surrounded by perfectly behaved animals, as the Baby Jesus comes into the world. In our crazy lives, we long for the serenity of a Silent Night where all is calm and all is bright. As we view that scene, we wish we had a night where everyone could sleep in peace.

Unfortunately, that picture isn’t exactly reality and that night was anything but silent. In fact, the arrival of the Christ didn’t bring peace or calmness to the lives of anyone affected by it. Instead, when Jesus entered the world He brought the same revolutionizing change to their lives that He wants to bring into the lives of anyone who invites Him into their lives. The truth is: when Jesus enters your life, your life will never be the same again.

Let’s look at how Jesus changed the lives of the major participants in the Nativity scene. We’ll start with Mary, a young girl spending her last few month’s at her parent’s home before she married. I’m sure Mary was anxiously awaiting her new life as a wife. Most likely, she looked forward to having a home, being a Mom someday and raising a family. Then with the visit of an angel, everything changed.

God chose Mary to give birth to the Messiah. From that point on, nothing in Mary’s life was ever normal again. Although she accepted the angel’s announcement with humility, I’m sure there were many days when Mary wondered how God was going to take care of her and her child.

What would happen when her parents found out? Would they believe her? Even if they believed her, what would they do? When Joseph found out, how would he respond?

As the angel directed, Mary left her parent’s home and went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth in another town. Like Mary, the arrival of the Messiah had changed Elizabeth’s life forever.

Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a priest in the Temple. They were an elderly couple that had lived most of their lives without any children. Although this was hard for Elizabeth, because of her age, she knew that having a child was now impossible. Basically, she’d come to terms with it.

Months before the angel visited Mary, Zechariah had an angelic visitation of his own. Ironically, it came on what he thought would be the biggest day of his professional life. Like all priests, he waited his whole life for the day that it would be his turn to burn the incense before the Lord in the Temple. Finally, his turn had arrived. As much as he looked forward to it, he never expected this day to be so life changing.

But that’s what happens when Jesus comes into your life—everything changes. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, that meant the angelic announcement that they were going to have a son. Not just any son, but a son with a very specific calling on his life. He was to prepare the way for the Messiah by preaching a message of repentance. When Zechariah asked the angel for a sign, he got one! From that day until the birth of the child, Zechariah was completely unable to speak. Try explaining that to your wife!

From that day on, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives were different. Yes, they were blessed with a son. However, he was not a son who would bring them peace and comfort in their old age. He never married or gave them grandchildren. He didn’t follow in the family profession of the priesthood. Rather, he left home at a young age and moved into the desert. In time, he was a prophet known for his boldness and straight-talk. When he spoke openly against the priests and the religious leaders for their sin and hypocrisy, he was probably speaking to his own relatives--the family and colleagues of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Ultimately, we do not know whether or not Zechariah and Elizabeth were alive to experience the heartache of seeing their son imprisoned or martyred by Herod. What we do know is that because of the arrival of Jesus, their lives changed forever.

Then there was Joseph. Here was a righteous young man who thought he had his life pretty well planned out. His trade was set—he’d be a carpenter. He was planning on marrying Mary and raising a family. He expected a normal, happy life.

Then he heard that Mary was pregnant. Suddenly, his life was in shambles. How could this happen? Who was the father of Mary’s child? What was he going to do?

He wrestled with the questions of right and wrong, and how to handle the matter until he came to a decision. However, before he could act on the decision, he received an angelic visitation explaining the miracle that was happening.

It would be nice to think that this was the end of Joseph’s struggle, but it wasn’t. When Joseph decided to obey God and take Mary as his wife, his entire life changed. The next few years would involve a series of angelic visitations instructing Joseph how to care for Mary and Jesus. The angel’s directions involved a move to Egypt, a country totally unfamiliar to Joseph where he had no family, friends, or job.

After a few years, Joseph was directed to relocate again—this time to Nazareth. Again, a new job, new people, a new life. When Joseph agreed to obey God, all of the plans he had for his life went out the door. From that point on, his life belonged to God, and it was never the same again.

It wasn’t just people directly related to Jesus whose lives were turned upside down by His arrival. What about the wise men who spent 3 years of their lives following a Star? This was no short trip to see a baby. No, this was a long, hard journey that interrupted years in their lives. Although they thought they were looking for a prince in a palace, they were surprised to find they were searching for a young child in the home of two young parents who were in great need of the gifts they were to bring. If they intended to make friends with the Roman authorities by presenting gifts to the new arrival, they were sorely disappointed when their news instead enraged King Herod and they were forced to return home by another route to avoid the King and his deadly pursuit of the child. Talk about a change in plans!

Yes, the birth of Christ threw the lives of many people into chaos. Think about it. Years before the prophets declared that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

How did God arrange that Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem? He had Caesar Augustus declare that the entire world be taxed. In order to properly tax everyone, each person had to return to his own city.

Can you imagine the chaos and confusion as every person in the Roman World prepared to journey to their own city? There’s no possible way that Bethlehem was a quiet city that night! It was filled with people coming and going, travelling, asking for directions, trying to find lodging. Instead of being quiet, Bethlehem was filled with people whose lives had been interrupted and turned on end so that the Messiah could be born there.

In reality, every person in the Roman Empire was affected by the arrival of Jesus. For some, the interruption was temporary and brief. They went to their towns, paid their taxes and returned home. For other’s the arrival of the Christ-child brought life altering heartache.

Perhaps no one knew this more than the mother’s who lost their smallest children when King Herod declared that all children 2 years old and younger living in Bethlehem and its surrounding coasts be killed. Although the trip to Egypt was hard on Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, staying in Bethlehem was devastating for these women. As hard as it is to accept, this tragedy was allowed as part of God’s plan when His Son came to earth.

Perhaps if this was the storyline in our reenactments, people would be less drawn to them.

Honestly, are we ready to look at the true picture of the birth of Christ and learn the lesson that these people’s lives teach us?

Are we willing to face the truth that when Jesus enters into a person’s life, He comes to bring radical, life-altering change? Are we ready to respond as Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, and the wise men did and follow God’s will for our lives no matter what it may mean for our lives? Do we have the same commitment to God that they did?

You see, these people didn’t allow their lives to be changed because they loved a baby.

No, they allowed God to take complete control of their lives and do with their lives whatever He wanted, because of their commitment to Him as their King. For them, the night Christ was born was just one miraculous night in a lifetime of serving the King of their lives. When that night passed, they continued to allow God to rule and reign in their lives as He led their lives on His path to the cross.

As Mary stood at the cross, it wasn’t the memory of a baby in a manger that sustained her; it was her commitment to God as the King of her life. A King Who allowed her to walk a hard, heartbreaking road that didn’t always make sense and was never easy. However, it was the road that fulfilled the purposes of His Kingdom.

Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist were all committed soldiers dedicated to following the orders of their King for the advancement of His Kingdom.

So this year as we remember the birth of Christ, I challenge you to look beyond the baby in the manger and ask God to give you a fresh revelation of Jesus as He is today.

He is not a small child, sleeping on a bed of hay. Right now, He is in Heaven sitting at the right hand of God. He is a King with all angels, authorities, and powers in submission to Him. (1 Peter 3:22) This same Jesus wants to be the King of your life. The question is, “Will you allow Him?”

As we’ve seen in the lives of the people in the Nativity, there is no guarantee that allowing Jesus to have control of your life will give you a carefree life of peace and serenity. In fact, it will probably be quite the opposite. When Jesus is invited to rule in your life, He will bring radical, revolutionizing change.

He will change everything about you. He will expect you to learn and live by the rules of His kingdom. As you do this, you will become different. Your life will no longer be about pleasing yourself, but it will be about pleasing Him. He will lead you down the paths in life that He chooses. Although at times they may be hard, they will always be for your good and the good of His Kingdom.

If you continue to follow where He leads when He leads, you will ultimately fulfill the purpose and destiny that He has for your life. When this life is over, you will go to Heaven with Him where you will enjoy eternal peace, serenity, and joy. However, even then your true reward will be living in and serving the King of Your Life.

That’s the true story of Christmas. As Christians, that’s what we need to focus on: loving our King Jesus and committing our lives to Him.

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