DAY 25 | PONDERING & WONDERING

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

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As we open gifts and celebrate this day the birth of Christ, let us ponder what John is telling us in this verse. When John writes of the Word becoming flesh, we see the Incarnation—the recreation of humanity and God at home in the hearts of this new creation. When John writes that Christ didn’t just come but also “dwelt among us,” he uses a word in Greek that means more than “dwelt.” The word John uses is actually “tabernacled” and recalls Moses’ tabernacle from the time when God gave to the Israelites escaping Egypt a new way to worship.

When we look at Jesus, we see the prototype for a new humanity that is also the new tabernacle or temple of God, and when we look at Him we remember that to look at Him is to look in the mirror and see how God has now made us. Now, because of the new birth, we are a new humanity. Now are we a new creation. Now are we a new tabernacle—just as He is. Now do we worship in spirit and truth, for God alone has fused Spirit and flesh in our hearts. Now do we have a more full, more complete knowledge of our Father, for in the eyes, face, voice, hands and actions of the Son do we see all that God is, was and will be.

Now do we wonder, now do we come to Him in awe, now do we kneel before Him in worship, to ponder the wonder at our King. Now has He become to us “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He came to us, He dwelt personally amongst us. And with every new birth, He makes His home more and more with us, and He tabernacles more and more amongst us.

In closing, as you let Him move your heart to adore His Son at His Advent, as you realize that God sent His Son to enact your rescue because He adored you, even in your darkest darkness, join the shepherds in their wondering, join Mary in her pondering. Consider these words from Luke, as you kneel with the Magi to open your heart to Him: “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:17-19).

DAY 24 | OPEN YOUR TREASURE

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 

Matthew 2:1-2

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The Jewish shepherds had angels appearing to them at night to announce to them the birth of Jesus, for angels had been there when Moses got the Law and were depicted on the drapery within the Temple itself. The Magi, Gentiles, had only a star to follow, for it was amongst the stars that they searched for Truth. What’s interesting is that God called out to both Jews and Gentiles, shepherds and Magi, according to how they were familiar with their idea of Him, with what they used to try to worship Him. He took their knowledge of Him—angels and the Temple for Jews, stars and astrology for Magi—as His starting point, and then He reconfigured it by showing them His knowledge—His firstborn Son.

What we have to come to understand is that, with the Advent of Jesus, God was launching not just a new creation, but a new model for worship. The baby the shepherds saw in the manger, the toddler the Magi met, this was more than a just baby or a toddler. Christ had come as a new temple, a new humanity—it was God indwelling flesh, where flesh and Spirit joined as a new place to worship. God used the angels with the Jews and stars with the Gentiles—things already familiar to their search for God—to call them deeper. God will use both our informed worship (like with the Temple of the Jews) as well as our misguided worship (the idolatry of the Gentiles) to draw us deeper.

And when we go deeper we will, like the Magi, open up our treasures to Him. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also” (Matthew 6:21), so when the Magi open their treasures to Him, we see that it’s because God opened their hearts to Jesus. The Magi’s presentation of the “gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” recalls, for a Jewish reader of Matthew’s gospel, the time when God moved the Hebrew’s hearts to bring the treasures they took with them out of Egypt and present them to Moses to build the Tabernacle. And if we remember that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt after the Magi presented their treasures, it will become clear to us what Matthew is showing us here. What Matthew is trying to do here is show us that God is enacting a new Exodus and building a new Tabernacle.

When the Magi present their treasures, it shows us that their hearts were opened to God and offered to Him there and then, as their treasures given to Him—because God treasures our hearts. It also shows us that God is up to building a new Tabernacle, for we remember that God’s first tabernacle was built with the treasures of idolatrous Egypt. Matthew’s account of this moment is his way of telling the world that a new way to worship God had come when Jesus came, and in Christ we find the new, and better, Tabernacle of God. And further, we see how God redeems our idolatry, just as with the Magi, for He gives us the chance to present to Him both our treasures and our hearts.

The Advent of Christ is the arrival of a new humanity and a new tabernacle, of a new creation and of a new way to worship—all found together in the person of Jesus Christ.

DAY 23 | COME TO WORSHIP HIM

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Matthew 2:1-2

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The shepherds had a short way to go to find the Christ Child, just hours after His birth in Bethlehem. The Magi from the East, on the other hand, had to journey further in order to find Him, in order to arrive and worship Him as the angels and shepherds had done. But they had to arrive, and they had to offer their worship, for with their arrival two years after Jesus’ birth we see a picture of the Gentiles coming to Christ. The shepherds arrival to worship Jesus shows us a picture of the Jews, “who were near,” coming to Christ and with the Magi we see Gentiles, “who were afar off, and strangers to the covenants of promise,” coming to worship (Ephesians 2:11-18).

Paul, specifically in Ephesians 2:12-14 says that Jesus Himself is our peace, that “He created...one new man out of the two [Jew, Gentile], thus making peace.” This language of Paul’s sounds much like the announcement of the angels with Jesus’ Advent: “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” With the arrival of Christ we see God’s pleasure towards humanity—a pleasure He’d demonstrate through His forgiveness of our sins, the healing of our diseases, the rescuing of our hearts from darkness. And in Himself, He created one new man, doing away with the sense that some of use are nearer to God (depicted by the Jews), some of us are further off (depicted by the Gentiles).

He does away with this divide of near and far, holy and less holy, by coming near to all and, once and for all, doing away with these distinctions. Christ eliminates the sense of exclusion and animosity that this divide created by re-creating humanity in Himself. Jesus is our peace, and it’s through this Peace, His Peace, that He reconciled the division in humanity—a division about who was closer to God, who further.

His Advent meant that the Magi of the East—according to scholars these were probably astrologers and diviners from Persia, who may have followed the Zoroastrian religion—pagans who were “strangers to the covenants of promise” could come to worship Christ, and He’d receive their worship! Jews knew something of the True God, but the multitude of Gentiles would worship anything and everything because they knew nothing of the True God. In a way, both were blind and needed a revelation to see that the God they sought, in a temple (for Jews) or among idols (for Gentiles), had now come in human form.

To put it differently and simply, the Advent of Jesus meant for all humans, those near and those far, that His arrival was going to change worship of God entirely and completely, forever. The far off and the nearby could now all come, and revelation of who He is would be the only way they’d be able to find Him now, to worship.

DAY 22 | LET'S GO & SEE!

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 

Luke 2:13-16

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At the announcement of Good News of great joy, there came a multitude of angels praising God, adding their song, “On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” This phrase recalls what Gabriel said when announcing to Mary the baby within her: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” The pleasure of God, the favor of the Lord, was turned toward humanity by Christ’s birth, and its impact means favor and peace. What motivated God to send Jesus, what inaugurated itself as Good News (“Gospel”) with His birth, was the message that God had found humanity pleasing to Him and in His favor.

Does this mean God is pleased with our sinful actions, or that He ignores how badly the world has gone? Certainly not! But in all of these announcements by angels to humans—to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds—there isn’t an explicit mention of humanity’s sinfulness. What motivated God to act, what motivated God to send rescue, wasn’t our sinfulness alone, for in the Incarnation of Christ He was moving to act against sin but wasn’t reacting to sin. There’s something bigger going on here, something implied subtly but powerfully—God was moving in a way that He hadn’t moved since the creation itself. But if we don’t know what to look for, we will miss it.

The angels were praising God together, announcing the pleasure of God with humankind, and echoing the message of God’s favor revealed towards humanity. The angels praised—that’s our clue. This moment of praises for God and announcement of something hidden and unknown echoes a passage from Job 38 (verses 4-7 below):
 

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?


When God first created the world, which the whole of Job 38 depicts, the angels sang together and praised God. God was questioning Job and asking him if he was there when it happened, when God acted to create the world. But here in Luke, the angels sing together and humans are there when the announcement comes that God acted, and this act is the act of Creation—like when He first created the world. With the birth of Jesus we see the start of a new creation, the re-creation of humanity and the start of rescuing the whole world. The Incarnation is not just a singular, one-off miracle of God coming to the rescue, but rather we see in it the means for the rescue.

God’s answer to a fallen world, to a humanity infected with sin, was new creation, starting with humanity and, through a reborn humanity, rescuing the entire cosmos. Angels were there at the first creation, and here in Luke, we see humanity and angels together at the start of the new creation. This is cause for worship, for celebration, for praises to God! God has acted, in the Incarnation, and His act was to recreate. What wonder, what glory, what praiseworthiness arises in our hearts when we see what God was up to all along!

DAY 21 | GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY

And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12

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Outside of the Holy Family, the first people to learn of Jesus breaking into the world were shepherds just outside Bethlehem, in the fields at night with their sheep. And in these few short verses so much is happening. In the passage above we see the promise of the Good Shepherd coming to look for His sheep , as seen in Ezekiel 34 and the parable of the Lost Sheep (see Luke 15). Also, shepherds outside Bethlehem first heard the announcement, signaling to readers that this is the Son of David, the same prophesied to Israel through the life of David—who himself was a shepherd made into a king by God’s favor. And finally, this is the sign that Isaiah was prophesying to King Ahaz 700 years previously, this Child who was to become the humble answer to oppressive empire. 

God the Shepherd, God the King, God the Sign of Rescue—He was here! He arrived, finally, after so many hundreds of years, after so many prophesies. And He was born just steps away from where these shepherds kept their flocks. And the angel’s message to them, given the event announced, carries so much meaning: “Do not be afraid! For behold…” The Advent—our awaiting His arrival—would mean an end to fear and the beginning of true seeing. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden, their eyes were simultaneously opened and shut. Their eyes opened to a way of evaluating themselves by their knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were closed to their Father’s love by the fear that grew in their hearts, a fear we see displayed in how they hid themselves from Him when He came walking into the garden that fateful day to find them.

The angel announced this good news: God had come, in flesh, to undo what happened in that Garden. He arrived to undo the fear that shut our eyes to His love, and He was opening our eyes with His light. But more than just opening our eyes, He would direct our eyes—what to look for, where to look. “Behold” is a command to look, to see, to search and find; and what are we to look for, but for Christ! But to find Him, to see in a baby the King, to see in a newborn the Rescue of God, it will take faith. It takes letting this Good News, this Gospel of Great Joy announced to us, develop faith in our hearts so we can see what God has said: “Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!”

DAY 20 | GOD WITHIN US

But after he had pondered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold! The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”).

Matthew 1:20-23

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C.S. Lewis wrote, “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation.”

The Incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate on Christmas Day, is the fountainhead of every miracle. But here’s the thing: we have to see the Incarnation in our own lives, in our own hearts, if it’s going to be real for us—if it’s going to be more than a few Christmas songs and cards and niceties every 365 days.

Paul told us that the mystery of the Gospel is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The glory of Christmas Day is not just the glory of Christ’s birth into the world—although that was a glorious event in itself. That glory continues now. It was replicated with your new birth, and as the miracle of new birth multiplies and more hearts come to the light and believe in Him, the more of the glory of the firstborn Son we see (see John 1:14).

The glory revealed in Christ’s birth is the same glory revealed in your new birth. The glory resident in Christ’s physical body, that healed the sick and freed the demonized, fed the thousands and taught the multitudes, raised the dead and rescued humanity, is the same glory at work in you now, opening your eyes to help you see just how much you really are like Jesus.

The same Spirit who conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb, who planted Jesus into humanity, planted Jesus into your humanity and put Him inside your heart—that Spirit is hidden there, in you, and will be increasingly revealed through you the more childlike you become, the more humble you become, the more you yield to Him.

Our innocence is built from His innocence. Our childlikeness flows from and finds its source in Christ alone. The more we become like the Christ Child in our hearts, the more Christlike we will become. We must see Him in our hearts in order for the world to see Him through us. “God with us,” starting with the Incarnation and now through the new birth, has now come to mean “God within us.”

DAY 19 | THE LORD IS WITH YOU

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin pledged in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Luke 1:26-28

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“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” What a promise. What a declaration! Gabriel, when he announced the conception of Christ Jesus in Mary’s womb, told her of the favor she’d found in God’s eyes and of the grace extended to her in the promise that “the Lord is with you.”

Though she wasn’t to fully know or understand what that promise meant, we can see it now. When Gabriel told her the Lord was with her, it wasn’t just some extension of a nice greeting or salutation, like “God be with you.” No, there’s much more meaning in this phrase when you ponder that she was with child, she was pregnant with Jesus Himself. In other words, the God that was with her, who Gabriel announced, was the Child in her womb, sharing in her humanity.

Christ was with her by living within her, putting on her flesh. This was more than just a phrase, for it was a declared reality that Mary needed to see; her eyes needed to be opened to behold, by faith, what was happening within her. And so it is with us. It’s going to take faith to believe that the Christ Child is growing in our hearts, that we are becoming more and more Christlike. This is part of the Advent—the waiting—we are doing, for we wait to see in fullness what we now only see in part by faith, and dimly at that!

Gabriel began by pronouncing God’s favor and culminated with declaring that the God with Mary, the Immanuel, was within her, growing and taking on a full-fledged expression of humanity. Somehow God found a way to fuse flesh and Spirit together in Christ, and He was enacting that miracle in Mary’s womb. Wonder can spring forth in our own hearts when we let our minds wander into the mystery that as with Mary, so with us: Christ grows within us, putting on our flesh, and He will live out the life of God through us. What mystery, His incarnation! What wonder, our new birth in Him!

DAY 18 | CHANGE & BECOME LIKE CHILDREN

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.”

Matthew 18:1-5

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The Kingdom Jesus administrates, the Kingdom over which Jesus is King, is a Kingdom full of innocent, blameless, holy, tender-hearted, forgiving, gentle, compassionate, life-giving children of God. Jesus is the chief Child of God, and He is leading all of God’s children deeper and deeper into the fullness of God’s love. Just like Jesus came to earth as the full incarnation of all God is, so He comes into our hearts as the full incarnation of all we are called to be. In His first incarnation, Christ came to embody God’s qualities in human form; in your new birth, Jesus came into your heart to infuse your humanity with His divinity, so that you would become fully human. In Christ, God is fully visible and humanity is fully realized.

The incarnation of Christ 2,000 years ago was the greatest miracle of all, and it is the foundation for the miracle of the new birth—and the “new birth” is a continuation of the incarnational miracle, for now Christ arrives in you to heal a broken world with the wholeness He brings. To become like Him, and to enter His kingdom, you had to become like a child. To stay in His kingdom, to stay under His gentle and loving rule, you have to stay childlike. Think of it this way: your eyes will only ever be opened, and only stay open, when you become like a child—humble, small, in need of His help.

We came to Him like children when we first discovered faith in Christ, and we keep coming to Him like children to keep growing our faith in Christ. We will never “grow up” past our need for Him, but we will grow up the more we realize our need for Him. The greatest in the Kingdom are those most in tune with their need for Him, who come to Him confessing their humble desire for Him in every area of their lives.

The Christ the world is waiting to see is in you, in your heart, so let this verse be true of you, for the sake of the world: “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.” If we would be as children before the world, perhaps their eyes would see in our childlike hearts the Christ they seek, the Christ they await to save them from their pain and darkness. And perhaps we’d stretch out our hands and invite them into their own new birth, into the Light, into Christ.

Let’s go on being as children, let’s go on getting better at being childlike and humble. Let’s greet others with childlike hearts, welcoming them as if we were greeting and welcoming Christ Himself. Let’s be children who see childlike hearts in others, ready to welcome them into the Kingdom. Let’s get ready to welcome the Christ Child into our lives, whenever we meet our neighbor and wherever we have the privilege to love our neighbor as we love Christ.