20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 Luke 2:20  (NIV)
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you have enjoyed our Christmas journey. Today is the last day of our Christmas readings, and the Christmas festivities are coming to a close. Just as the shepherds returned to their regular lives, we will soon return to our regular activity. As the shepherds returned, they continued to praise God. As we exit the holiday season, let’s remember to keep growing closer to Jesus. Let’s praise Him and study the Word all throughout the year.  The journey does not stop today. It continues for all eternity.

19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her  heart.

 Luke 2:19  (NIV)
Mary had an eventful year. She spoke to an angel. She visited her  barren cousin, who gave birth to a prophet. She avoided being stoned. She  traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph and gave birth to the Messiah, in a barn.  Then, shepherds came to see her because a sky full of angels told them to. After  all of these happenings, she stopped to ponder. She took time to think about  what had happened, and she may have considered what would happen next. Sometimes  we all need a little time to just sit and ponder.

 This time of year my family likes to stop and  ponder about the events of the year. While we write a Christmas letter to family and friends, we go over all the memorable moments from the year and decide what we want to share.  As Mary pondered the events in her life, she treasured them in her heart.  Not everything is meant to shared. There are many special moments my family keeps to themselves, but we do take time to ponder and treasure all that God has done in our lives.

 I also spend this time looking what I had planned to accomplish and what I actually accomplished. This year I had some plans that did not come to pass. God had other plans for me.  I am sure Mary had not planned her year quite the way it happened. She probably
did not realize the next step in her journey would be fleeing to Egypt to protect her child from being killed. Planning is a key to success, but we cannot predict what will happen.  As we look to our future year, let’s also look to the One who knows the beginning from the end.

 The busyness of Christmas is almost over. The New Year will soon begin. This is a great time take a few moments to ponder the events of the year and make plans for next year. How can you make some moments to ponder in the next few days?

 Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2:20.

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Luke 2:17-18 (NIV)
We are getting so close to Christmas right now. My children are talking about the possible gifts, and by this time tomorrow they will have opened up gifts at Grammy's house. There is question in my mind that over the next couple weeks everyone they meet will hear about their very favorite gifts. Actually, people will probably hear about the gifts I get, too. That's way many people are. When we get an awesome gift, we want to tell everyone. That's what the shepherds did.

The shepherds had just seen the Messiah. The promised Deliverer, whose arrival everyone had been awaiting, had come. They knew this was the greatest gift the world had ever seen. They could not keep the news of this gift to themselves. They went around telling people.

Jesus is still the greatest gift the world has ever received. God gave us Jesus, His Son, so that we could have ever lasting life. Because of this gift our sins can be washed away, and we can spend an eternity with God. Suddenly, I thought of a new pair of boots or a book from my wish does not seem worth talking about. I have received a gift that nothing can compare to its greatness. I have received Jesus.

In the days after Christmas, most of will see someone who we want to tell all about our Christmas gifts. Will we remember to mention the greatest gift of all? Will we follow the example of the shepherds and spread the word about Jesus?

Tomorrow's reading is Luke 2:19.
15 When  the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one
another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the
Lord has told us about.”

 16 So  they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the  manger.

Luke 2:15-16 (NIV)
The shepherds now had the information of a lifetime. They knew the Messiah had come. Now, they had a decision to make and a journey to take.

Could the shepherds just stand there in the field, when they knew the Messiah had been born? Of course, they wouldn’t want to miss seeing the Messiah. Quickly, they said, “Let’s
go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” The decision was easy. 

What impresses me is that they acted on their decision, so quickly. “They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby.” I remember when I decided to publish Mary, Don’t
be Afraid!
It was years before I actually did it. How often do we wait before we act on something we promised God we would do, and sometimes we put it off so long that we never finish it. We can miss out on so many blessings when we delay acting on our decisions. The shepherds did not delay and they got to  see Jesus.

 The New Year is coming soon. We all make so many decisions and promises during this time of year. I am going to think now about what I want to do for God in the coming year, so when the New Year comes I will have already made my decision and I can act right away. I challenge you to do the same.

 Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2:17-18.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on
whom his favor rests.”

 Luke 2:13-14 (NIV)
Now comes the big shebang that we sing about. Hark the shepherds  heard those angels sing. I’m sure the sky was glowing and it truly was a  glorious sight. It sounds like a great event, but it wasn’t the big event. It  was merely a celebration of the big event.

In celebration the angels sang, “Glory to God.” I am sure it was  a beautiful sight for the shepherds, and they enjoyed the celebration. I enjoy  Christmas celebrations throughout December. The food, fun, and fellowship are a  part of Christmas that I do not want to miss, but the busyness of these  celebrations can make us forget what we are celebrating. When the sky filled  with angels, the shepherds could have thought they had seen the most amazing  sight they would ever see. They could have missed what the angels were singing  about.

The true big event was a humble happening hidden in a stable. The birth of a baby in less than extravagant conditions is an event that could easily be overlooked.  It certainly isn’t as beautiful as angels filling the sky. Sometimes we miss the truly glorious moments because we are so focused on the glorious. We get excited about the big Christmas cantata
at church, but miss the young girl who sat in the back of the church giving her life to Jesus.

It is not that the celebrations are bad, but if we look at the celebrations as the big event, we miss the truly big event and we can forget what we are celebrating. The year my daughter died I was so sad that she was not here for all the Christmas celebrations. Then I realized that she was with the One we celebrate. Suddenly, I wished my celebration was as glorious as hers. As we attend celebrations with friends and family, we can have an enjoyable time  and still remember what Christmas is truly about.

The next reading is Luke 2:15-16.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12 (NIV)
Today, I asked my 6 year old son what he thought of our scripture reading. He said, "They listened." He's right.   The shepherds listened to the message God sent through the angel. A message of happiness, a message of hope, and a message of humility.
The angels told the shepherds that this announcement would bring "great joy." This joy was not just for the shepherds. It was for "all people." Yet, the shepherds were the ones who listened. What joy might God be trying to share with us today?  Will we listen to His message of happiness?
The message brought hope. The Israelites had been waiting for the Messiah for generations. We know what great hope we have because of Jesus. How exciting it must been for people who had been waiting for so long for the hope that the Savior brought. So many of us get discouraged waiting for just a brief time for a promise from God. We need a message of hope to keep us going. If we listen, could we hear God's message of hope to us?
The sign for this great, hoped for Messiah was not  an elegant prince in a palace. It was a baby in a manger. We expect so much. We think so highly. Sometimes we need to lower ourselves to see the greatest blessings. Let's not overlook the blessing God has for us because it is not wrapped in the package we expected. Let's listen to this message of humility.
I am grateful for all of God's messages. I am grateful for messages of happiness and hope, but I am also grateful for messages of humility. Mostly, I am grateful that God cares enough about us to send us these messages.

Tomorrow's reading is Luke 2:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:8-9 (NIV)
Many of us want to see God's glory. Some would like to see an angel. Most of us do not want to miss out on the next move of God. I would rather be the person to see the miracles happen and be part of a movement, than the person sitting at home hearing about it later. The shepherds got to be part of the move of God. They got to see Jesus soon after He was born. They even had angels come announce His birth to them, but were not roaming around chasing every wind of doctrine. They were not giving up every earthly responsibility to chase all the big personalities and "new" messages. What were they doing? They were standing their post and paying attention.

These men stood their posts watching the flocks, and God brought the new movement to them. We all have certain responsibilities. My post is watching after my children and meeting their needs. I want to know what God is doing and be part of His next movement.  I cannot just leave my children, but God can bring the next move to me. God wants to take care of responsibilities, be part of what He is doing on the earth, and see His glory. Stand your post and be amazed what God can do right where you are.

While we are standing our post, let's pay attention. When I think of the angels appearing to the shepherds, I think of the sky glowing and the multitudes of angels filling the night. However from these verses, it seems that at first there was only one angel. He may have looked like a person just standing in the field. The shepherds could have missed him. Had they not acknowledged the first angel, would the others have appeared? I don't know, but I do know we can miss God's glory. Every day we can see God's glory, if we pay attention. If we do not pay attention to the everyday sightings of God's glory, I don't know if we will see the big and miraculous. Let's stop and look for God at work in our everyday lives, so we are ready to see the big moves when they happen.

I want to be the type of person that is part of God's next move. The type of person who sees God's glory. The type of person who follows the example of the shepherds. Do you? Then, what are you doing? Are you standing your post and paying attention?

Tomorrow's reading is Luke 2:10-12
 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:6-7 (NIV)
Yes, we got to the birth of Jesus with still a week to read in the Christmas story. We will keep reading as the shepherds make their visit to the Christ child, but for today let's look at this miraculous birth as we enter this extremely busy week. During this week, remember that we will take time for what is important, we can keep it simple, and we can make room for Jesus.

"The time came for the baby to be born." Did it really have to happen then, while they were traveling? Couldn't it wait until they found somewhere comfortable to birth a baby. The truth is babies come when they are ready, and we always stop whatever we are doing for a baby to be born. Suddenly, that meeting isn't so important. Last year, my family completely changed our holiday plans because my fourth child, due at the beginning of November, decided to wait an extra week and make her entrance the week before Thanksgiving. We adjusted schedules and holiday plans because she was more important than parties and decorations. Every day, holiday or not, baby being born or not, we make decisions based on what is important to us. Let's look at our activities and see if our priorities are in line with God's priorities.

We may have to make some changes to straighten out our priorities. You may be looking at your budget and your calendar thinking, "How can I make time for God's priorities?" Remember, Jesus was laid in a manger. We don't have to have huge Christmas displays on our yard or the must have toy under the tree. Although, I am fond of great Christmas displays and don't mind a few nice gifts, the problem is when those things cause us so much stress that we spend the holidays fighting with our spouse, we don't spend time with our children, or we do not make room for Jesus in our celebration.

There was no room for Jesus in the inn. Is there room for Jesus in our Christmas celebration? My husband and I decided early in our marriage that, in our house, Christ would be in Christmas. My husband's family had a countdown to Christmas candle that they would burn each day. We decided to add reading the Christmas story from the Bible while the candle burned to that tradition. Now, I am sharing that tradition with all of you. If you cannot find room for Jesus in your Christmas celebration, look for ways to add Him to the traditions you already have.

Christmas doesn't have to be a time of stress and a whirlwind of meaningless activity. As we celebrate, we can focus on what is important, make things simple, and make room for Jesus. It may not even mean cutting out a lot of the traditions we are used to doing. It may just require looking at our traditions differently and acknowledging Jesus in all that we do.

Tomorrow's reading is Luke 2:8-9.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

Luke 2:1-5
With Christmas a week away, many of us are making travel plans to visit the places we grew up. Mary and Joseph had to travel to the land of Joseph's ancestors leading up to the birth of Jesus, but it was not for a friendly visit. As we travel to spend time with our families, let's remember this young couple that traveled because of an order given by Caesar.

Caesar Augustus ordered that everyone go to the town of their ancestors to be counted in the census. This had to have been hard on Joseph and Mary. When I'm pregnant, I do not like to travel very far from home. Of course, travel is easier for us. I cannot imagine what it was like for Mary without our modern comforts. Tradition shows Mary riding to Bethlehem on a donkey, but some say she probably would have walked, not being able to afford a donkey. Either way it must have been a tough journey, but Mary and Joseph obeyed the king. As result, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling a prophecy about the Messiah (Micah 5:2). Obeying authority, even when it is tough, is the right thing do. Sometimes we walk into God's plan just by doing the right thing, one step at a time.

Whatever you are doing now, remember it may lead you to your destiny. Doing that difficult project at work that the boss ask you to do specifically could be a key to God's plan for your life. Serving on that committee at church, in which pastor asked you to be involved, could put you right in the place God wants you to fulfill His plan. Joseph and Mary made the journey because an authority in their life required them to. What are you being asked to do? Are you willing to take small steps that could lead to great journeys with God?

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Luke 1:80
John the Baptist had this great calling, his parents knew about the calling before he was born. It seems like he was already acting his calling before he was born. He did jump in Elizabeth's womb when Mary came to visit. It is like he was saying, "Ok, I'm supposed to prepare the way for the Messiah. Well, there He is in that girl's womb." Of course, he was not ready for his calling as an infant. He already had the calling on his life. He may have been born with certain a gifting for that calling, but some maturing had to happen. He needed to grow in the natural and in the spirit, and God hid him away until he was ready to minister publicly.

We don't always think about it, but natural growth is necessary for ministry. So maybe John did recognize Jesus even from the womb, but he could not perform his calling. He couldn't tell people to repent until he learned how to talk. He had to grow a little before he could baptize people. Moms, when we give our children healthy food and make sure they get active play to help them grow in the natural, we are preparing them for their destinies. We all have a responsibility to take care of our bodies. I am sure having a healthy, strong body benefits ministers in the mission field. Even in working with the youth or in children's church, having the stamina to maintain a high level of energy helps people serve God. Let's not forget the importance of natural growth in fulfilling the call of God on our lives.

Of course, spiritual growth is vital. We, as parents, train our children in the ways of God. I am sure that Zachariah and Elizabeth made sure John had rigorous spiritual training. They knew the importance of his mission. I do not worry about the occupations my children will have one day. I know God will put them where He wants them. I pray that they will have the character to do what God wants in those positions. As adults, we still need spiritual training. If we ever think we can stop growing spiritually, we need to look at God and see how far we have to go to be completely like Him. Spiritual growth is important in every stage of life for every person.

Thankfully, God will keep us hidden until we are ready for public ministry. Growth can be ugly. Spiritual growth can be much uglier than natural growth. I would rather be a pimple faced teenager, than be in public when God brings my deep sins to the surface. God hid John in the wilderness. You may be hidden in a cubical or at home with babies. Being hidden is not bad. It just means God is preparing you for the next work He wants you do.

John had to go through a time of preparation, in which he grew naturally and  spiritually, and God kept him hidden. We all go through these periods in our lives. These times prepare us for the great call God has for us. Let's get everything we can out of these periods. My pastor says, "Proper preparation in times of obscurity leads to proper performance while under the limelight."

Tomorrow's reading is Luke 1:1-3