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About three months after Elizabeth gave birth to John, the emperor, Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that he was taking a census, and everyone needed to go to their ancestral territory to be registered. (Luke 2:1-2) Caesar Augustus was the kind of man who liked to have everything controlled and orderly. He could very likely have used this registration for many purposes, not least of which was taxation. So, Joseph, being a descendant of David, had to go to Bethlehem to register. (Luke 2:3-5) It is not clear whether Mary had to register separately or not. It is possible that Joseph could have registered for both of them, but there are probably several other reasons why Mary accompanied him on his journey, even though it would have been long (a little longer than three marathons) and arduous (through hilly countryside and rough terrain). Mary may not have wanted to be alone at this late stage in her pregnancy, she may have wanted to avoid the risks of public scorn for being in her condition before her wedding ceremony, but I think there is another reason too. Mary knew that she was carrying the Messiah, and she knew that it would soon be time to deliver Him. She also knew that the prophet Micah had said that the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) Perhaps for that reason she knew that she had to go to Bethlehem with Joseph whether Caesar required it or not.

The time came for her to have her baby, and there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7) I don’t know what your concept of an inn is, but mine is a lovely big, perhaps Victorian, home with lots of rooms. That was certainly not the case for Mary and Joseph. More likely it was an open, walled area that would provide a safe resting spot for animals and people, and would have a well to provide water for them. And it was full. So they had to find somewhere else. It is very likely that they found a cave that was used to corral and shelter animals. We don’t know that there were any animals there at the time of the birth, because the Bible doesn’t specify, but we do know that there was a feeding trough, which would have been the best place in that situation to lay an infant. Unlike most Christmas plays that you have seen over the years, the manger was probably made of stone, and it would have been left in the cave whether animals were there or not. Mary wrapped her baby in strips of cloth to protect Him, and to keep Him warm and comforted. That is pretty common practice even today for babies who have just left the safety of their mother’s womb.

In the meantime, the rest of the world was going about its business not paying much attention to this poor mother who was giving birth without the benefit of a midwife or a birthing couch. And yet, this was a momentous occasion, so God sent angels to declare it. (Luke 2:8-14) It’s interesting who God chose to tell. Shepherds. Shepherds weren’t considered the upper crust of society by any means. They were more like the outcasts. Because of their profession they were considered to be ceremonially unclean and unreliable. Their testimony was not even accepted in a court of law. And this is who God chose to tell?! By doing so, God demonstrated that this good news of great joy truly was for all people. (Luke 2:10) And He also showed that He does not look at the outward appearance of a man, but at his heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

The shepherds didn’t hesitate. (Luke 2:15) They didn’t question. They set out immediately to find this baby that the angels told them would be lying in a manger. They probably had a good idea where most of those were, but the word translated as found (Luke 2:16) means that they found Him after a search. Then they began to share the news. (Luke 2:17) Think about it. A heavenly host of angels showing up in the field where there were few people around, telling you about a baby who would be the King of Kings. And you find that what they said was true. And you have been waiting for this Messiah for hundreds of years. They found it hard to keep the news to themselves. But they were still shepherds and still considered unreliable, so it’s not surprising that people would be astonished at the news. (Luke 2:18) I wonder how many believed and how many didn’t. Some might have thought they were crazy. It has always taken some amount of faith to believe God. (Hebrews 11:6)

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart, and the shepherds went on their way praising God because everything was just as they had been told. (Luke 2:19-20) Remember that the purpose of Luke’s recording these events was to show his readers that what they had been taught is true. Just as it was their choice, it is also our choice whether or not to believe.

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I love to acknowledge birthdays. I love to celebrate the existence of my loved ones and the value of their lives. There is no birthday I am more grateful for than that of Jesus my Saviour. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to earth from His throne in heaven. Jesus came as a baby in the most humble of circumstances (Luke 2:10-11) so that He could experience every single aspect of life just as we do. (Hebrews 4:15) And His coming has provided us with a way to approach our holy God. (Hebrews 4:16) Because of Christ's sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins, God sees us just as He sees Jesus--one of His children. The full measure of God's gift to us is truly beyond my ability to fathom.

This is why we celebrate Christmas--God's gift of His Son. And celebrating Christmas is why I am posting early this week. I want to wish my readers all the very best this Christmas and for the coming year. I hope that the season will be filled with blessings for you as you celebrate the love of God and the love of family and friends. I will be back to regular posts on January 2, 2013.

Before I sign off for this year though, I would like to make an announcement. I am thrilled to share with you the launch of a new ministry website from Crossroads Christian Communications Inc. It is a new multi-channel online service found at crossroads360.com. There are currently seven channels filled with entertaining and informative content. If you have children home from school for two weeks, and they run out of things to do after the first one, check out the KidSpace channel--lots of videos and even crafts and colouring pages. Other channels include God Stories, Music, Explore Faith, Nostalgia, Everyday Life and News. There are episodes of past television shows, and there is a search function if you are looking for information or inspiration on a specific topic. Clicking on "crossroads 360" at the top of any page will take you back to the home page. I'm sure this new site will be a great resource to encourage you in your daily walk with Jesus. Enjoy! And see you next year!

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Have you ever felt like you wanted to move forward, but every time you take a step you run into a brick wall? So you take a step in another direction, and there is another brick wall. You are surrounded by mile high brick walls everywhere you turn. That’s the way I’ve felt lately. It’s frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I feel hopeless.

Because of a car accident I was in a couple of years ago, I function at a much lower level than I used to. There are things that I want to do, but I just can’t. One of the few things I didn’t have to give up on was book club—truly one of the greatest blessings in my life. On Monday, we had our annual Christmas brunch. As has become a bit of a tradition, our leader read a story while we passed around a gift according to directions given in the story. The gift would be given to the person who was holding it when the story ended. This year, that person was me. Among other fun, unique and beautiful things was a fairly large box. When I opened it and pulled out the first tissue wrapped item, I quickly realized that the contents were letters spelling the word HOPE. They are designed to hold candles and could be used as a centerpiece on a table or buffet. But for me, the beauty of this gift was the much-needed reminder from God that I could have hope.

Only a few hours later, I came across Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." These are words that God said to the Israelites, a people who weren’t sure if they could have hope. They had disappointed God with their rebellion and had been exiled because of it. How could they know that God had not given up on them? How could they be sure that God would not punish them further? The word God gave to reassure them also reassures us. If we are children of God, He is with us, He will strengthen and help us. He will uphold us because He is righteous. The whole reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to be God with us. Emmanuel. (Matthew 1:23) Through Jesus, God is keeping for us the same promise that He made to the Israelites in Isaiah 41:10. No matter what we are facing, we can turn to Him and find hope.

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While I was growing up, my mother used to send out hundreds of Christmas cards, and she would get hundreds back. I enjoyed looking through them, not only because all of our friends and family made a point of saying hello and catching us up on news at this time of year, but because I liked all the different pictures and verses on the cards too. There was such a wide variety. Some were winter scenes, others warm cozy rooms by the fire. Some were silly and some were spiritual. Some said Happy Holidays and others said Season’s Greetings. And of course, some said Merry Christmas! I don’t ever remember being offended, or someone else being offended, by any of them.

Then I grew up and got a job. One of my first jobs included operating the switchboard in a high school. Representatives of the Board of Education were asked not to say Merry Christmas when answering the phone, but to say Happy Holidays instead. The reason—a lot of our students were Jewish. So in order to avoid offending members of either faith, we would not choose one over the other in our greeting when we answered the phone. We were never told that we were forbidden to ever say the word Christmas again. No one minded if we said it to the people who celebrate that holiday. We were only asked to be sensitive to those who didn’t.

Somehow though, saying Merry Christmas has become a fight—either not being allowed to say it or being forced to say it. I feel as though I will offend my Christian friends, or they will question the depth of my devotion, if I say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. These used to add a bit of variety and now they seem to indicate our religious status. It gets worse. Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my artist friends shared a post encouraging people to support their local artists this holiday season. I think that’s a very good idea any time of year, but one commenter left a tirade about denying Christmas. Then he left a second comment to say that he won’t support anyone who denies Christmas. Seriously? Anyone? Where do you buy your groceries or your gasoline or your clothes? The thing is that one should be able to use the words holiday season without someone assuming that they are denying Christmas. After all, there are a lot of holidays celebrated between November and January. And an artist should be able to sell her wares to anyone of any faith or no faith at all without her faith being called into question.

If you want people to know the reason for Christmas, try living your life in a way that shows Jesus. Be full of grace and mercy. And love. Read some of the accounts of Jesus in the Bible. He didn’t berate people into following Him. He gave them the opportunity to follow Him. Keep Christ in your heart and allow Him to shine out through you. I pray with the Apostle Paul “ that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Many of you have probably spent a fair amount of time getting ready for Christmas--shopping, baking, preparing large meals. Do you feel like the actual event is over far too soon? It is really only the second of the twelve days of Christmas, so I hope you are still enjoying time with family and friends.

Imagine that you live in a place where everyone not only likes you, but they have nothing but good to say to you or about you. Imagine that you have everything you need and much more besides. Imagine that all the problems you are facing now were gone. Jesus had things far better than we could imagine, and He left it all to come to Earth to face ridicule and persecution and torture. Why did He do that? For us. So that we could come into the presence of a holy God. So that we can enjoy the same privileges that Jesus has. That is the reason for Christmas.

This is my favourite carol. Merry Christmas everyone!

One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is the music, and generally I can't get enough. So I'm going to share a little bit with you over the next few posts. For those of you who didn't get live Christmas music while you were out in the crowded malls, I hope you will enjoy this.

'Tis the season of cookie exchanges, and I'm listening to Christmas carols as I get ready for one. I have a lot of Christmas CDs, but this year I have a new one--The Heart of Christmas by Matthew West. There are some traditional Christmas songs on it, but also some that he has written. One of them is called "One Last Christmas" which is a sad story about the loss of a child. The parents however have turned it into a story of hope for others who are facing similar situations by raising money for the hospital that treated their son. We celebrate so many blessings at this time of year, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we really need to consider giving to those who are hurting or are less fortunate. Acts 20:35 reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Please listen to Matthew West's song and consider giving to St. Jude's or a hospital in your area or any other charity that helps people in need. You can purchase his CD at his website or, particularly if you are in Canada, by giving a donation to another worthy cause at FullCircleTV.com

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Fair Disclosure: I receive no payment of any kind for this recommendation.