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The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus
by James Merritt
Learn More | Meet James Merritt
Christmas in the Garden
Santa Claus, Rudolph, Jack Frost, the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge — all of these stories have become part of our modern celebration of Christmas. But most people, even those who don 't go to church regularly, could probably tell you that none of these is the real story of Christmas. Everyone knows that the Christmas story started 2000 years ago with the birth of Jesus, right? Actually, no! The story of Christmas actually starts at the beginning of the first book of the Bible, at the very beginning of human history, in a place about as far removed from our idea of a cozy and snowy Christmas setting as possible. The story of Christmas begins in a garden.
The Garden of Eden was as close to heaven on earth as a place could possibly be. The weather was perfect, the flowers never withered, and if there were wasps, they never stung anyone. Adam and Eve didn 't have to worry about hunger or animal attacks or splinters. They were at perfect peace with each other, and God even walked with them in the garden.
But something happened that plunged this perfect world into the conflict that still rages today, something that causes all the suffering on the planet. The first sin was committed. You may think of sin as breaking a rule, but as we see in the Eden story, sin is simply disbelieving God 's word and disobeying his will. From the moment Eve disbelieved and disobeyed, everything and everyone has been infected by sin. Roses have thorns. Airports need metal detectors. Cities need cemeteries. And sin has poisoned more than the world around us. Why do we do things we know we shouldn 't, and why don 't we do what we know we should? Something is wrong in our hearts.
But God never leaves a problem unsolved. In the same moment sin entered the world, God had the solution ready, and he revealed it almost immediately for the entire world. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). The serpent would bruise the heel of this Savior, but the Savior would trample the head of the serpent. You don 't have to be a doctor to know which injury is worse — a bite to the foot or a kick to the head! Sin was to be defeated. We were to be rescued.
You may never have heard this verse referred to as the first Christmas story, but that 's exactly what it is. It 's the very first verse in the Bible to tell of a Savior who would bring us salvation from our sin. The most familiar Christmas verse in the Bible is probably Luke 2:11: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The very first word used to describe the newborn baby is "Savior" because that is what the world had been waiting for all those long years since Eve ate the fruit. Only when we understand our need for a Savior can we fully experience the celebration of his birth. So with every Christmas movie we watch, every cookie we bake, every carol we sing, and every decoration we hang, let these words echo: "I need a Savior — and he is here!"
Father God, thank you for solving the problem of our sin so we could once more walk with you. Thank you for sending us a Savior, and help us to remember our need for him every day of this Christmas season. Amen.
Write "I need a Savior, and he is here!" on some index cards. Parents or older children can print them, and younger children can decorate them. Put these notes where you 'll find them as the Christmas season unfolds — filed with the Christmas cookie recipes, stored with the gift wrapping supplies, and tucked in the cases of your favorite Christmas CDs or DVDs. As you enjoy your favorite Christmas activities, you 'll find these reminders of the reason behind all the fun and celebration.
What Child Is This?
In 1865, as Christmas was approaching, an insurance salesman named William Chatterton Dix wrote a poem he called "The Manger Throne." Dix imagined that those who passed by the manger 2000 years ago might have been confused about who the child was who lay before them. Why was he in a feedbox? Why were shepherds worshipping him? Why were angels singing over him? Part of the poem was set to a traditional English melody, and it eventually became the well-loved Christmas song "What Child Is This?"
The world has been asking that question and debating the answer for the past 2000 years. Muslims, for example, believe that Jesus was born of a virgin just as Christians do, but they see him only as a great prophet, not as God. Many Jewish people now see Jesus as a great teacher and political activist but not the Messiah. Buddhists see him as a perfectly enlightened being, full of compassion, who helps others. And millions of people who don 't embrace any particular religion don 't know what they think about him. So the question remains, what child is this? Well, 700 years before Jesus was born — before the star shone, the shepherds knelt, and the angels sang — a prophet of God named Isaiah told us in no uncertain terms exactly what child this was.
Jesus would come to be known by many names and titles — Lord, Savior, Christ, King of Kings, the Lion of Judah, the Rose of Sharon — but Isaiah gives us four special names that tell us specifically what Jesus would be to us. To the hurting and confused, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. Isaiah 28:29 says, "The Lord of hosts ... is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom." Unlike human counselors, Jesus doesn 't give advice or opinions — He gives truth. He is the truth (John 14:6). The greatest counselor you can ever have is the Son of God; the greatest counsel you will ever find is in the word of God.
To the helpless, Jesus is the Mighty God. Present everywhere, limitless in power, with nothing hidden from his knowledge, he is an ever-present help (Psalm 46:1). Nothing is impossible with this Might God. To the orphan and the lonely, Jesus is the Everlasting Father, a Father who will never leave or forsake you, who was before all things and will outlast all things, and who knew your name from before the foundations of the Earth. And to the hopeless and weary, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The peace he gives is not like the peace the world gives, which depends on fragile treaties and temporary solutions. Jesus gives perfect peace that can weather any storm.
Someday, the whole world will no longer have to ask, "What child is this?" The child who was laid in a manger will sit on a throne. The babe worshipped by shepherds will be worshipped by kings and rulers. And of the reign of this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, there will be no end.
Everlasting Father, thank you for loving us before the beginning of time. Mighty God, thank you for being our helper and our defender. Wonderful Counselor, thank you for giving us your word to guide us. And Prince of Peace, help us to share your peace with those around us this Christmas. Amen.
Find a recording of "What Child Is This?" As your family listens to the carol, consider who Jesus has revealed himself to be and who he is to you. Next, find a recording of "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" from Handel Messiah and listen to it as a family, noting every time one of Jesus 's names is sung. See if you can memorize all four names by the end of the song — or even the whole verse!
3MATTHEW 1:1-17; LUKE 3:23-38
When reading the book of Matthew or Luke, it 's tempting to skip over the long lists of names found in the early chapters. After reading three or four names into one of these lists, you may feel your eyes starting to glaze over. Get to the good part, you may be thinking! These long family trees may not seem as interesting as the familiar stories about the shepherds and the wise men, but every word of the Bible is from God, so if he thought it was important for us to know who was in Jesus 's family tree, we need to pay attention.
To understand why the genealogies listed in Matthew and Luke are important, think of the story of Jesus as you would a huge painting or mosaic — a masterpiece by a master artist, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Michelangelo took four years to complete the huge work, and only when viewed from a distance, from the floor of the chapel, can the scale and scope of the full work be appreciated. In the same way, when we look at the big picture of Christmas, we can appreciate the thousands of years and millions of tiny brushstrokes God used to complete the masterpiece of the birth of Christ.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah, a figure the Jews had been told would be a king. Unlike a president, a king does not come to rule by ballot, but by birth. A king has to prove his right to the throne by proving he is descended from the royal family. God had revealed that the Messiah 's "right to rule" would be proven by three things: He would come from the family of Abraham (Genesis 22:10), he would come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and he would come from the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Now you see why God thought it was important for us to see these names in Jesus 's family tree — they demonstrate his legal right to the throne.
But the genealogies reveal even more than that. Jesus 's legal right to rule came through Joseph, but the Bible makes clear that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. As Joseph 's adopted son, Jesus was a legal descendent but not a descendent of David by birth. Just so there would be no doubt at all about Jesus 's claim to the throne, God told Luke to include the other side of his genealogy — his mother 's side — which can also be traced back to David through one of his other sons. Jesus was physically born of Mary, so her genealogy shows us that he was a literal descendent of David as well as a legal descendent.
God didn 't leave one square inch of his canvas unfinished. He didn 't use one brushstroke too many or too few, but just the right strokes and just the right colors to create the masterpiece of the birth of Christ.
Dear Father, thank you for being the master artist who arranges our lives the same way you are arranged Jesus 's claim to his throne. Help us to trust that you are always working to place us exactly where you want us in the masterpiece you 're creating.
Decide as a family on the subject for a group art project. Pick a simple object or animal whose parts can be assigned to the members of the family. For example, an elephant can be divided into tail, body, trunk, and ears. A tree can be divided into branches, trunk, roots, leaves, and fruit. Decide who is going to draw or paint each part of the picture, but don 't discuss any other details about the picture, such as how big it will be or what color it will be. On separate pieces of paper, everyone draws or paints their individual part of the picture. When everyone is finished, try to assemble your picture using all the separate pieces to make the whole.
How did you do? You might have created a pretty decent picture of your object, or you might have created a monster! What does this exercise teach us about the "big picture" of our lives?
He Wanted to Come
When you were still in the womb, did anyone ask you if you wanted to be born? Did they check with you to make sure you were okay with living the life that was waiting for you on the outside? Nope. You and I didn 't have a choice when it came to being born. In fact, only one person in the history of mankind ever had a say in whether or not he would be born, and that was Jesus.
Unlike every other person who ever lived, Jesus was born but not created. The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus was before all things, as timeless and eternal as God because he is God. "All things were created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16) — that 's definitely never been true of any other baby born on earth! Existing outside of time wasn 't the only characteristic Jesus shared with God. God is all-powerful, and so was Jesus — "In him all things hold together" (verse 17). God is all-knowing, so we can be positive that Jesus knew exactly what his life on earth would look like and exactly how it would end long before he was born as a baby.
Think about that for a second — Jesus, being one with the Father, knew exactly what was waiting for him in his life on earth. He knew every splinter and bruise he would have to suffer, he knew exactly how many people would mock him and abuse him, he knew he would have to watch people he loved die, and he knew he would be beaten and crucified. And yet Paul tells us, "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to well" (verse 19). Jesus didn 't leave heaven and glory reluctantly or grudgingly. He was literally happy to do it — but why?
In the next breath, Paul goes on to explain that through Jesus, God was pleased "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." His love for us was such that he was literally happy to take on the pain and indignity of a human existence so we could be reconciled to him. When sin entered the world, mankind found itself reaching out for the God we had once walked hand in hand with, but no human being could come into his holy presence because of sin.
Because the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ, he could do what no one else could. He could take the hand of God as God. He could take the hand of man as man, and he could place our hand back in God 's having covered our sins with his blood. In him all things hold together, and because of him, because he wanted to come, God and man can be together once more.Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to earth even though you knew about every hard thing that awaited you in this life. Thank you for being pleased to come anyway. Because of you, we can once more walk hand in hand with God. May we seek your presence this Christmas as you sought outs on Christmas 2000 years ago when you stepped out of eternity so we could enter it. You are the firstborn from among the dead and the firstborn over all creation and we celebrate the night you came to the earth you created. Amen.
Take turns identifying the best Christmas present you 've ever received or a gift you wanted more than anything (even if it was unrealistic). What do you think would be number one on Jesus 's wish list this Christmas?
251 PETER 2:24
The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree Ever
Of all the traditions and decorations associated with Christmas, the Christmas tree is one of the most loved. I 'm willing to bet your Christmas tree is a big part of your celebration. Maybe you have a real tree that you picked out at a tree lot or even cut down yourself. Maybe you have an artificial tree, the kind that never turns brown or loses its needles. You might use colored lights or white lights, you might top it with a star or an angel, and maybe you decorate it while listening to favorite Christmas songs or drinking hot cider. It 's hard to imagine celebrating Christmas without a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. But have you ever looked at your tree and wondered how the Christmas tree originated and whether it holds a deeper meaning than just lights and tinsel and decorations?
The custom of the Christmas tree began in Germany more than 1300 years ago, and it was originally called Christbaum, or "Christ tree." The first person in history to bring a Christmas tree inside may have been the great Christian Reformer Martin Luther, who noticed the stars shining through the branches of the trees as he walked one evening in the woods. In an effort to recreate the effect of stars in the trees for his children, he brought a Christmas tree inside and decorated it with a small candles.
But as interesting as the history of our modern Christmas tree is, I believe the first real Christmas tree was found in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, in the shape of a cross.
The cross of Jesus Christ is referred to over and over as a tree. In the New Testament, the word used to refer to the cross also means tree. The greatest description of that tree and what happened on it found in one of the greatest single verses in all of the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." The cross, made of the wood from a tree, ultimately became a reason for joy, just as a Christmas tree is a reason for joy.
Think about the shape of a Christmas tree — like an arrow, like a cross, it points up. Two thousand years ago, at the base of a tree stood a crowd of sinful people looking up. Just as lights hang on our tree, the Light of the world hung on that tree, pointing to a God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us so that we might be saved.
Once a year, at Christmastime, we take a tree from outside our home and put it inside. That is exactly what God wants us to do in response to Jesus Christ on the cross — to invite him from outside our heart to live inside our heart, to live in the power he gives us to live for him and to do what is right. From now on, every time you see a Christmas tree, let it serve as a reminder to live your life for the One who came to give his life for you.
Father, you have shown yourself to us in many beautiful ways, and the Christmas tree might be the most beautiful of all. Help us to keep that picture of you, the Light of the world, bright in our hearts all year. Help us to see you in every aspect of our celebration today, from the gifts to the good food to our love for our family. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, and let us not leave hum under the tree, but accept him and invite him into our lives every day of the year. Happy birthday, Lord Jesus. Amen.
The waiting is over, and joy has come to the world! Plug in the lights, open the presents, play the music, eat the fudge! And when the day is over, gather as a family around the tree to thank Jesus for the gift of eternal life.
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