8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
Song | Go Tell It on the Mountain —
Song | Hark the Herald Angels Sing —
Scripture | 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 —
5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Throughout this Advent season, we have continually discussed the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) that the angels spoke of to the shepherds. That good news – that gospel – is as sweet and good for us today as it was two millennia ago.
Paul gives a succinct picture of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….
That is going to be our focus. This Christmas, we are going to look at what is “of first importance”, just as it was “received”. We are going to read the accounts of the birth of Jesus from the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and we will read through them chronologically. You can find a link to the audio below, but it will not contain verse references. Those can be found below.
The Beginning of the Good News
Mark 1:1a The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. 3 So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life,, and that life was the light of men. 5 That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’ ”) 16 Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, 17 for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.
The Record of Jesus’ Ancestors
Matthew 1:1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
2 Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Aram, 4 Aram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 5 Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, 6 and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife, 7 Solomon fathered Rehoboam, Rehoboam fathered Abijah, Abijah fathered Asa, 8 Asa fathered Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat fathered Joram, Joram fathered Uzziah, 9 Uzziah fathered Jotham, Jotham fathered Ahaz, Ahaz fathered Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, Manasseh fathered Amon, Amon fathered Josiah, 11 and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel fathered Abiud, Abiud fathered Eliakim, Eliakim fathered Azor, 14 Azor fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Achim, Achim fathered Eliud, 15 Eliud fathered Eleazar, Eleazar fathered Matthan, Matthan fathered Jacob, 16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, fourteen generations.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
Luke 1:5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.
8 When his division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
18 “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen. You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was making signs to them and remained speechless. 23 When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, 25 “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged, to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30 Then the angel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”
34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?”
35 The angel replied to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 And consider your relative Elizabeth—even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 “See, I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Luke 1:39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah 40 where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! 43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”
The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise
Luke 1:46 And Mary said:
My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy. 50 His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him. 51 He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. 53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.
56 And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home.
The Birth of John the Baptist
Luke 1:57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son. 58 Then her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her his great mercy, and they rejoiced with her.
59 When they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day, they were going to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But his mother responded, “No. He will be called John.”
61 Then they said to her, “None of your relatives has that name.” 62 So they motioned to his father to find out what he wanted him to be called. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came on all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard about him took it to heart, saying, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him.
Luke 1:67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and provided redemption for his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets in ancient times; 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us. 72 He has dealt mercifully with our ancestors and remembered his holy covenant— 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham. He has given us the privilege, 74 since we have been rescued from the hand of our enemies, to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us 79 to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
80 The child grew up and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,
which is translated “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.
4 Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, 5 to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
The Shepherds and Angels
Luke 2:8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!,,
15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.
Jesus is Presented in the Temple
Luke 2:21 When the eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus—the name given by the angel before he was conceived. 22 And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord,) 24 and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,).
The Prophecy of Simeon
Luke 2:25 There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,
29 Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation. 31 You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory to your people Israel.
33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed—35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
The Prophecy of Anna
Luke 2:36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,,37 and was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Visit of the Wise Men
Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born.
5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet:
6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”,
7 Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.”,
9 After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.
“He’s Here!” The story of the Nativity as told in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible
Everything was ready. The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help His people, just as He promised in the beginning.
But how would He come? What would He be like? What would He do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, He came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, He came.
There was a young girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. (Joseph was the great-great-great-great-great grandson of King David.)
One morning, this girl was minding her own business when, suddenly, a great warrior of light appeared – right there in her bedroom. He was Gabriel, and he was an angel, a special messenger from Heaven.
When she saw the tall shining man standing there, Mary was frightened.
“You don’t need to be scared,” Gabriel said. “God is very happy with you!”
Mary looked around to see if perhaps he was talking to someone else.
“Mary, you’re going to have a baby. A little boy. You will call Him Jesus. He is God’s own Son. He’s the One! He’s the Rescuer!”
The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all – was making Himself small. And coming down…as a baby.
Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?
“But it’s too wonderful!” Mary said and felt her heart beating hard. “How can it be true?”
“Is anything too wonderful for God?” Gabriel asked.
So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see. And she believed. “I am God’s servant,” she said. “Whatever God says, I will do.”
Sure enough, it was just as the angel had said. Nine months later, Mary was almost ready to have her baby.
Now, Mary and Joseph had to take a trip to Bethlehem, the town King David was from. But when they reached the little town, they found every room was full. Every bed was taken.
“Go away!” the innkeepers told them. “There isn’t any place for you.”
Where would they stay? Soon Mary’s baby would come.
They couldn’t find anywhere except an old, tumbledown stable. So they stayed where the cows and the donkeys and the horses stayed.
And there, in the stable, amongst the chickens and the donkeys and the cows, in the quiet of the night, God gave the world His wonderful gift. The baby that would change the world was born. His baby Son.
Mary and Joseph wrapped Him up to keep Him warm. They made a soft bed of straw and used the animals’ feeding trough as His cradle. And they gazed in wonder at God’s Great Gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.
Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus, “Emmanuel” – which means “God has come to live with us.”
Because, of course, He had.
 Yes, this is from a children’s “bible”. We’ve spent a lot of time reading the Scriptures verbatim from the Word of God, and we absolutely should give priority to Scripture in our devotional life. But, maybe – just maybe – we could all benefit from looking at the Scriptures from the mindset of a child. Could it be that there is no perspective with more substantial faith at Christmas than a child’s? May we see Christmas in that way.
16 For in this way God loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, in order that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world in order that he should judge the world, but in order that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: that the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. 21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, in order that his deeds may be revealed, that they are done in God.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God sent his one and only Son into the world in order that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
It was not to the throne room of a king, where he would have been received in solemn majesty, that he came that night. It was not to the banqueting hall of a governor with its flickering torches, its loaded tables, and its throng of revelers, nor to the packed inn where frantic serving maids ran in and out, answering the surly cries of hungry travelers. It was to starlit fields, where in silence broken only by the soft sounds of sleeping sheep the shepherds were doing what they were supposed to be doing, that he came—the angel of the Lord, in the terrifying glory of the Lord, bringing with him the good news of a great joy for all people, even for them, the shepherds.
We are told that they went as fast as they could to Bethlehem to see what had happened. They found the Savior of the world with Mary and Joseph, though how they found him we are not told, nor how they recognized him as Christ the Lord there in the dark cave, in the animals’ manger. We are told that they reported what the angel had said to them and then went back to their fields. That is all that we know they did, but we imagine more. We see them kneeling in the straw, offering to the baby their worship and, perhaps, some simple gift. We imagine everyone who came kneeling down in adoration, humble and glad in the steamy darkness, laying before the Child some present. A twelfth-century Christian pictured even the animals bringing their gifts:
I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown, I carried His mother uphill and down. I carried His mother to Bethlehem town. I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown. I, said the cow, all white and red, I gave Him my manger for a bed. I gave Him my hay to pillow His head. I, said the cow, all white and red. I, said the sheep, with curly horn, I gave Him my wool for a blanket warm. He wore my coat on Christmas morn. I, said the sheep, with curly horn. So every beast, by some good spell, In the stable rude was glad to tell Of the gift he gave Immanuel, The gift he gave Immanuel.
We cannot imagine adoration without gift-giving, and at Christmas we have the opportunity, by wise and honored custom, of expressing appreciation and love to others by making them presents.
We offer to God our thanksgiving for his “unspeakable gift,” that little child at whose birth angels sang, a human being, coming into the human scene for the sake of humans—all of us, the shepherds, the mysterious sages from the East, godly Jews who had looked all their lives long for the Messiah, all the rest of the teeming world. “Joy which shall be to all people.” We think of that gift, and we thank him.
We think of God’s other gifts and most of us wonder, at Christmas time, what gift we may give to him beyond our thanksgiving. Money, time, talent, possessions? We check them off impatiently. “I do tithe, I give my time, I share what I have.” Or perhaps we check off the list with diffidence, asking, “Of what use will that be for God?”
Yet we know that all we have is given to us by God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights.” So we give him back a portion of what was always his, trusting him to accept it and make use of it in his own way. It is not beyond our powers to imagine God’s making of our time, money, talents, and possessions instruments of good in the world.
But there is one other thing we may offer, something that seems perhaps much more our own, of much less “use” to the world at large, and a paltry present at best, one we are sometimes hesitant to surrender. Christina Rosetti’s lovely carol reminds us of it:
What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give Him—give my heart.
How am I to do this? Some measure of trust and commitment is involved in the giving of any gift. The child proffers the crushed dandelion to his mother, sure that she can be trusted to be pleased with it and—what matters far more to him—to receive him. It is not to obtain the mother’s love that the child gives her the flower, but because he knows he has already obtained it. To lay my heart before Christ the Lord would be unthinkable without the same confidence felt by the child—the assurance of acceptance, not that I may hope to receive grace but that grace has already been poured upon me. In all my giving I only appropriate God’s supreme gift.
I bring, then, my heart—all my heart—an unopened parcel. No one else knows what it contains, but I myself know there is nothing there of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. There is nothing in the parcel except the panic, the fear, the chaos of whatever storm buffets me now, and, like the disciples in a storm-tossed boat, I find, to my amazement, that I am given something in return—peace, the peace of God that passes understanding.
I bring, like the five thousand long ago, my hunger, and like them I am fed.
I bring the darkness of my heart, even that worst darkness which prefers darkness, and, simply because I have brought it, the Light that no darkness can comprehend shines in.
It may be that the heart I have to offer is a broken one. If so, I bring a broken heart. And somehow, after a time, I receive healing.
I bring whatever there may be of ashes, mourning, the spirit of heaviness, and I go away with beauty, with the oil of joy, with the garment of praise.
The story is told of a hermit who, having suffered the loss of all things in his renunciation of the world, yet found no peace. It seemed to him in his lonely cell that the Lord was asking something more.
“But I have given you everything!” cried the hermit.
“All but one thing,” answered the Lord.
“What is it, Lord?”
Like the hermit, I bring also my sins, for they, too, are contained in the parcel. And I receive in exchange forgiveness.
It is a tremendous mystery—out of this darkness, this song; out of this chaos, this peace, Christ giving to us himself. And we, in mysterious exchange for the crushed dandelion that would have been of no use to anyone at all, are granted precious things that, even more inexplicably, we may give in turn to other people. We may participate, through this transformation, in the work of the Prince of Peace in the world, giving away joy and peace, things listed in no Christmas catalogue. It may well be that some of the gifts we had sighed over in the catalogue were withheld precisely in order that we might receive instead priceless ones for the sake of others, gifts whose sharing, far from impoverishing, enriches the giver.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, yet in this world of sin Where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.
 Elisabeth Elliot, “The Wondrous Gift,” in A Light Has Dawned: Meditations on Advent and Christmas, Best of Christianity Today (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 224–230.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God sent his one and only Son into the world in order that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we reside in him and he in us: that he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
When the apostle John wants to point us to the love of God, he does so by highlighting the very truth that we celebrate at Christmas: “…the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” That simple yet profound truth should give us confidence in God’s love.
One of the primary purposes of 1 John is to give genuine believers confidence that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and one of the primary ways John does this is by reminding us of the character of God and His saving work in Christ. Gratefully, our assurance is not ultimately based on our own obedience or faith, which is always imperfect, but rather on God’s sacrificial love.
The fact that God has demonstrated His love reassures us that Christmas is not merely wishful thinking or a blind hope. It is grounded in the reality that God Himself has come to dwell with us. As the old Christmas hymn says:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see Hail the Incarnate Deity Pleased as man with men to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel
God demonstrated His love through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and He did not wait for us to earn that love. He did it “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). And if we received such love while we were sinners, how can we doubt that God will continue loving us now that we have been reconciled to Him (Romans 5:9-10)? Along with the apostle John, we should be able to testify with confidence that “the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
 David Platt, Advent (Birmingham, AL: Radical, Inc., 2019), 36.
8 Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will pass away. If there are tongues, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but whenever the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside the things of a child. 12 For now we see through a mirror indirectly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know completely, just as I have also been completely known. 13 And now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Everyone agrees. Faith is admirable, hope is wonderful, but love is the greatest. There are songs about faith and words about hope, but the songs and words about love easily surpass them in number and in eloquence.
But why is love the greatest? Is it just because Paul says so here?
On Christmas Day this year, as every year, some TV channel will show a rerun of one or other of the movie versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is a quintessentially Dickensian novel, and has given the English language one of its most memorable nouns—“scrooge”. The story touches something deep within us because of the way it describes the transformation of a mean and miserly heart into one of sympathy and love.
But if we want to learn what Christmas means, and about the meaning of love, we would be wiser to read someone who was an almost exact contemporary of Dickens: Sir James Young Simpson (1811–1870).
James Young Simpson was born in Bathgate in central Scotland. From his early days he seemed destined for a stellar career. A brilliant student, he completed his final medical exams at the age of eighteen, and had to wait another three years before he could graduate. His accomplishments over his lifetime were such that the day of his funeral was declared a holiday, and it is said that 100,000 people lined the streets of Edinburgh on the way to Warriston cemetery, where he was buried (the family having declined Westminster Abbey). James Young Simpson is best known today because he was the first surgeon to use chloroform as an anaesthetic (he used to experiment on himself and some friends to test the anaesthetic properties of new chemicals!).
But in his own day, Simpson was also well known because of his Christian faith. He well understood why Paul wrote that love is “the greatest”, because he understood the gospel.
He explained it very simply in a little essay entitled My Substitute:
When I was a boy at school, I saw a sight I never can forget—a man tied to a cart, dragged before the people’s eyes through the streets of my native town, his back torn and bleeding from the lash.
It was a shameful punishment. For many offences? No, for one offence. Did any of the townsmen offer to divide the lashes with him? No, he who committed the offence bore the penalty all alone. It was the penaltyof a changing human law, for it was the last instance of its infliction.
When I was a student at the university, I saw another sight I never can forget—a man brought out to die. His arms were pinioned, his face was already as pale as death, thousands of eager eyes were on him as he came up from the jail in sight. Did any man ask to die in his room? Did any friend come and loose the ropes and say, “Put it around my neck, I will die instead”? No, he underwent the sentence of the law. For many offences? No, for one offence. He had stolen a money parcel from a stage-coach. He broke the law at one point, and died for it. It was the penalty of a changing human law in this case also. It was the last instance of capital punishment being inflicted for that offence.
I saw another sight, it matters not when—myself a sinner standing on the brink of ruin, deserving nought but hell. For one sin? No, for many, many sins committed against the unchanging laws of God. But again, I looked and saw Jesus, my Substitute, scourged in my stead, and dying on the cross for me. I looked, and wept, and was forgiven. And it seemed to me to be my duty to tell you of that Saviour, to see if you will not also “look and live”.
And how simple it all becomes when God opens the eye. A friend who lately came from Paris told me of an English groom there, a very careless old man,who had during a severe illness been made to feel that he was a sinner. He dared not die as he was. The clergyman whom he sent for got tired of visiting him, having told him all he then knew of the way of salvation. But one Sunday afternoon the groom’s daughter waited in the vestry after church, saying “You must come once more, sir; I cannot see my father again without you.” “I can tell him nothing new,” said the preacher; “but I may take the sermon I have been preaching and read it to him.”
The dying man lay as before in anguish, thinking of his sins, and whither they must carry him. “My friend, I have come to read to you the sermon I have just preached. First, I shall tell you of the text: ‘He was wounded for our transgressions’ (Isaiah 53:5). Now I shall read.” “Hold!” said the dying man. “I have it! Read no more. He was wounded for my transgressions.” Soon after he died rejoicing in Christ.
In the incarnation the Son of God became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But we are not justified, or adopted into God’s family, or sanctified, or glorified simply because the Son of God shared our flesh and our sorrows. Yes, that means he can sympathise with us in our weakness because he experienced it. But he came to accomplish much more—something we could never do for ourselves—he came to die for us. Only when we can say, “He was wounded for our transgressions” have we grasped the meaning of the gospel and the wonder of love.
This is the heart of the matter—as Sir James Young Simpson saw so clearly. This is what we should never forget on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. The Son of God was born for us in order to die for us. When we see that, then we have begun to understand Love. And then we discover the joyful truth of John Donne’s words:
Whom God loves, he loves to the end: And not to their end, and to their death, But to his end. And his end is that he might love them more.
For this reason, Love came down at Christmas.
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Love Came down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (The Good Book Company, 2018), 151–155.
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I parcel out all my possessions, and if I hand over my body in order that I will be burned, but do not have love, it benefits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, it does not boast, it does not become conceited, 5 it does not behave dishonorably, it is not selfish, it does not become angry, it does not keep a record of wrongs, 6 it does not rejoice at unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Angels are in fashion—at least at Christmas time! Look at any collection of hymns or songs, and you may well find more references to angels in the section marked “Advent” than in all the other sections added together.
The New Testament word for “angel” means a messenger. Every time angels appear in the Christmas story, they are carrying messages from heaven to earth.
In the run-up to Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and—in dreams—to Joseph, his adoptive father (like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph was a dreamer). A vast crowd of them appeared to a few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Interestingly, it’s clear that all these angels spoke the local language—which happens to have been Aramaic, a form of Hebrew. Angels can speak in human tongues.
So, what does Paul mean when he begins the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) with a reference to angel tongues as well as human tongues?
This isn’t the first time Paul has talked about tongues in this letter to the Corinthians. In the previous chapter, he writes about their ability to speak in “various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10). In the next chapter he devotes 28 verses to discussing these tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1–28). Clearly this was a big deal in Corinth. Whether these “tongues” refer to foreign languages or ecstatic speech, the Corinthians—or at least some of them—may have believed they could speak “Angel”. Presumably speaking “Angel” carried more kudos than any other language. Imagine being able to speak the language of heaven! Were some of them even claiming that they had spoken with angels?
When one of our grandsons was about eight or nine, he told me how excited he was to be going to France for his summer holiday “because I’ll be able to practise my French on the French!” I said nothing. Despite five (miserable!) years studying French in school, I was silently thinking, “The French are the last people on whom I would want to practise my French”—and in my experience they have always agreed with me. But being able to practise your French on the French is nothing compared to being able to practise “Angel” on angels! Imagine it today: a publisher would offer a ghostwriter if need be to get your story. You’d be on the bestseller list and interviewed on TV (“Tonight we meet the author of I Spoke with Angels—this year’s number one bestseller”).
But notice what Paul says: if you can speak “Angel” but you lack love, you are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. You may think you’re special, but in God’s eyes—and ears!—you act and sound like a brass instrument making a loud, unpleasant noise. Actually, he doesn’t say, You sound like. He says, You are. You are not what you think you are.
Metalworking was a significant industry in first-century Corinth. So, the Corinthians knew all about what Paul meant. Imagine a little Corinthian factory where the craftsmen made gongs and cymbals! All that clanging and banging—the Berlin Philharmonic it wasn’t! You would want to cover your ears with your noise-reducing headphones. That’s what speaking in tongues sounds like in God’s ears if the speaker lacks love.
Some scholars think Paul may have been thinking about the metallic amplification systems that were crafted in Corinth for use in the theatre: You think you are something? You are just a self-amplifier!
You probably don’t claim to have the ability to speak “Angel”. But what Paul seems to be doing here is applying a general principle to a specific problem he saw in Corinth. That problem keeps on recurring. You encounter it whenever you meet someone who wants to tell you all about his or her gift (or “gifting”, as people like to say today). Ministers and pastors are sometimes asked, “If I become a member of your church, will I get to use my gift?” “Will my gifts be recognised by the church?” Or even, “Why aren’t my gifts being recognised by this church?”
Paul valued the gifts of the Spirit, but he wasn’t much interested in that approach. His first question at a church-membership interview would not be about your gifts. He’d want to know about your love—about how you want to serve others for Jesus’ sake. He’d “sound you out”—perhaps in more than one sense! He knew that any true fellowship of God’s people will make room for our gifts when people see we want to serve others because we have come to love them.
Isn’t it odd that this chapter about love, which so many people “love”, begins by telling us what love isn’t? And about who doesn’t have it? Not really. One of the best ways of explaining something is by saying what it isn’t. Paul often does that. It helps eliminate a great deal of wrong thinking and misunderstanding. Here he says that love isn’t the same thing as having great gifts. You might be a very gifted teacher. You may be applauded as a musician. You might be admired for your spiritual prayers. But none of that matters if you do not love.
But if 1 Corinthians 13 contains a description of love, it must ultimately be a description of Jesus. And Jesus did speak with the tongues of angels as well as of men.
Jesus not only spoke “Angel”; he spoke with angels (Mark 1:13, Luke 22:43). He is their King. They are his servants and ambassadors. Throughout his earthly life they were—appropriately enough—waiting “in the wings” to do his will. Even on the cross he could have summoned legions of them and they would have come immediately to rescue him (Matthew 26:53). But he knew he couldn’t rescue us if they came to rescue him. It was him or us who would be saved, and he chose us. Although he could speak with the tongues of angels, he remained silent—because he loved us so much. Instead he spoke to his Father and asked him to save those who were watching him (“Father, forgive them,” he prayed). That was more important to him than speaking to the angels and asking them to save him.
In fact, Jesus not only spoke angel-language. He spoke the language of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). He was face to face with God, in intimate conversation with his Father. But “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He came face to face with us, taking our nature so that he might speak to us. As the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of faith, affirms, “For us and for our salvation he came down”.
Whatever gifts you may have, love always means that you come down. It means that you use those gifts for the good of others, not to make yourself feel good. It means that you are willing to do things that are uncomfortable or inconvenient for you, or that go unnoticed.
For “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. If so, I am not like Jesus. And ultimately, love is being like Jesus. It silences all noisy gongs, clanging cymbals and self-amplification systems. Real love always comes down. We know that because Love came down at Christmas.
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Love Came down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (The Good Book Company, 2018), 13–17.
1 Therefore, because we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces patient endurance, 4 and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Because sin has tragically infected all of us, the presence, work, and grace of that baby in the manger is what we all need.
You and I are very skilled and committed self-swindlers. Now I know that this is not how you would expect a Christmas devotional to begin. You would expect talk of angels, shepherds, a star in the sky, wise men, and a baby in the manger. But all of these story elements, which are so familiar to us, would not have been necessary without the single, dark reality we all work so hard to deny. From the moment of the very first sin in the garden of Eden, human beings have worked to deny what is true about them, that is, that we all desperately need what only God’s grace can give us. We all swindle ourselves into believing that we are wiser, stronger, and more righteous than we actually are. We all walk around with an inner law firm that mounts a defense whenever we are accused of a wrong. And when we do this, we are denying our need for what the baby in the manger came to do for us.
If you’re a parent, you see this truth played out among your children. Your son Danny has just hit his sister Suzy, so you go into the room and ask him why he would do such a thing. Danny doesn’t say to you, “Mom, I do violent things because I have sin in my heart. You should expect even worse from me.” In fact Danny doesn’t talk about himself at all. When you ask Danny why he hit Suzy, he immediately begins to lay the blame for his violence against Suzy on Suzy! Danny has swindled himself into believing that the wrong he has done is not his fault and tells him nothing about who he is and what he needs. It really is possible to live in a state of Advent schizophrenia, where you celebrate the birth of the Messiah while actively denying your need for his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
So what we all need to confess is that denying our need for grace is more natural for us than confessing our need for grace. You know how it is: when someone confronts you, don’t you find yourself immediately, silently in your mind, defending yourself? Have you ever had someone confront you, and your first thought was, “This is good, I need this, I wish they would do it more”? But there is something else we need to confess; if it is more natural for us to deny our need for grace than to confess it, then we need to humbly admit that it takes grace to confess our need for grace. If confession is owning personal responsibility for our words and our actions without excuse or shifting the blame, then it does take rescuing grace for us to come to the place where we admit our need for rescuing grace. Jesus came to provide that rescue.
Let me suggest four ways that we all tend to swindle ourselves into believing that we don’t need the rescue that Jesus was born to provide.
1. We all tend to minimize our sin. We all have ways of naming our sin as something less than sin. We say we’re not really mean—it’s just our personality. We blame our poor attitudes on the weather, sickness, or busyness. We deny that our lies are lies. We tell ourselves that our lust isn’t really lust, but enjoyment of the beauty of God’s creation. With endlessly creative skill, we all tend to work to minimize the sin that we commit every day.
2. We all tend to doubt the wisdom of God’s law. This is exactly what the Serpent worked to get Adam and Eve to do. We mount logical arguments for why it’s okay for us to step over God’s moral boundaries. Perhaps we say we’re only going to do it this one time. Or maybe we tell ourselves that what we’re doing really isn’t what God meant by stealing. Perhaps we’ll argue that it doesn’t seem fair in a particular situation that we have to _________. The more we become comfortable with questioning the wisdom of God’s law, the more likely it will be that we will feel okay with breaking those laws.
3. We all tend to be more concerned about the wrongs of others than our own sins. I know that on any given day I can be more engaged in, concerned with, and focused on the wrongs of the people I live and work with than I am my own. You will always deny your need for God’s grace when you are more irritated than convicted. It’s possible to be irritated with things in other people that you regularly excuse in yourself. It’s possible to confront people with things that you minimize in your assessment of yourself.
4. We all tend to deny what’s in our hearts. In some way, we all fail to accept the fact that sin is not just a behavior problem, but more fundamentally a matter of the heart. Sin is not just a matter of occasional wrong actions; it’s a condition of our natures. It’s not just that we sin; it’s that we are sinners. When we tell ourselves that we can handle it, that we’ll do better tomorrow, or that we don’t need help, we’re denying that sin is a matter of the heart, and because it is, we cannot escape it on our own. So this Christmas, how about beginning your celebration with confession? I am convinced that when it comes to the redeeming work of Jesus, exuberant rejoicing begins with brokenhearted weeping. Only when sin breaks our hearts will the coming of the Messiah excite our hearts. And there’s grace for this!
 Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).
5 Think this in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, by becoming in the likeness of people. And being found in appearance like a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, that is, death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God exalted him and graciously granted him the name above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Son left his place in heaven so that God’s sons and daughters would be guaranteed their inheritance in heaven. Amazing grace!
The Christmas story is a destination story. It’s about an amazing journey that changed everything. It’s a story about a place left and a place guaranteed. Only God could write this amazing story of the two destinations of grace. Consider how Paul summarized the Christmas story [in today’s passage].
The incredible destination story would not have happened, with all the resulting grace that flows to us every day, if it weren’t for the sacrificial love of the Father and the humble willingness of Jesus. The loving generosity of the Father made him willing to send his Son from the glories of his perfectly holy place to the broken, dysfunctional environs of earth. And the Son didn’t resist the call; he didn’t fight for what was rightly his. He didn’t negotiate the terms, and he didn’t counter with a list of demands. I love how Paul captures it here: Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” You and I should be thinking right now, “Praise God, praise God, praise God that he didn’t!” If Jesus had wrapped his fists around his rightful position of absolute equality with God, you and I, as sinners, would be without hope in life and in death. If Jesus hadn’t been willing to make earth his destination, we would have no hope whatsoever of the new heavens and the new earth being our final destination. This is what we should be celebrating not just during the Christmas season but every single day of our lives. This willingness of the One who was God Almighty to leave the splendor of glory, to take on the normal limits and frailty of the human body, and to endure the daily realities of what it means to live in a terribly broken world is the definition of love.
It’s important to ask what fueled the Messiah’s earth-destination willingness. It’s humbling to write this, but it’s true: Jesus did what he did not because of something special he saw in us, but because of something holy and pure that was inside him. The Christmas narrative simply removes from every one of us any reason for boasting. There was not and is not one person who has any ability to earn or deserve the greatest gift that was ever given. In most gift-giving, there is something in the receiver of the gift that propels the giver. Maybe the person is your employee, and Christmas gives you an opportunity to say thanks. Perhaps the person has been a good friend for a long time, and Christmas is the time you recognize the investment he made in you over the years. Maybe it’s just that the person is your relative, and the back and forth of gift-giving is a product of familial love.
But there simply was nothing in us to propel such a radical choice, such a radical gift that the Creator gave to the creatures who had turned their backs on him. Philippians 2 points us to the one and only thing that would ever make God willing to come to earth to rescue people who were more committed to worshiping themselves than worshiping him. In three words Paul tells us what motivated Jesus’s journey from glory to earth: “he humbled himself.”
You and I don’t really expect powerful leaders to be humble. We expect a bit of arrogant swagger. We expect some boasting of accomplishments and an enjoyment of the results of acquiring power. But the Lord of glory didn’t choose to bask in his glory; instead he emptied himself, took the form of not just a man, but of a lowly servant man. What humility! The Creator took on the body of a created man. The giver of the law submitted himself to the law. What humility! The King of kings placed himself under the rule of human kings. The One who owns everything was willing to live with virtually nothing. The One who is worthy of human worship willingly exposed himself to human rejection. What amazing humility!
Jesus’s humility is our hope. His willingness to leave glory unleashed glory on us and guaranteed that we would live with him in glory forever. He made this broken world his destination so that our final destination would be a place where every form of brokenness has ended, and where we would live with him in a complete peace and harmony that will never end. But the humility of Jesus didn’t end with his birth; it shaped the way he lived. He lived a humble, homeless life of daily service. The One whom creation was made to serve came not to be served, but to serve. It would have taken great humility for Jesus to leave his rightful place as God and live a lavishly rich life on earth, because no human wealth or power could compare with his rightful place. But he willingly emptied himself of all those rights and privileges, because he didn’t come for himself—he came for us. But his humility didn’t even end with his humble servant’s life: Jesus’s humility carried him to the cross. Without words or actions in his own defense, he humbly became the final sacrificial lamb, dying so that we would live. So this Christmas remember that what you celebrate is a destination story. Jesus left what was his right, to guarantee for us a place that is not our right but is a gift from his humble hands.
 Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).
25 “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity from the noise of the sea and its surging, 26 people fainting from fear and expectation of what is coming on the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!”
“Look Up, Your Redemption is Drawing Near” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Let’s not deceive ourselves. “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), whether we know it or not, and the only question is: Are we going to let it come to us too, or are we going to resist it? Are we going to join in this movement that comes down from heaven to earth, or are we going to close ourselves off? Christmas is coming—whether it is with us or without us depends on each and every one of us.
Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.
You know what a mine disaster is. In recent weeks we have had to read about one in the newspapers.
The moment even the most courageous miner has dreaded his whole life long is here. It is no use running into the walls; the silence all around him remains.… The way out for him is blocked. He knows the people up there are working feverishly to reach the miners who are buried alive. Perhaps someone will be rescued, but here in the last shaft? An agonizing period of waiting and dying is all that remains.
But suddenly a noise that sounds like tapping and breaking in the rock can be heard. Unexpectedly, voices cry out, “Where are you, help is on the way!” Then the disheartened miner picks himself up, his heart leaps, he shouts, “Here I am, come on through and help me! I’ll hold out until you come! Just come soon!” A final, desperate hammer blow to his ear, now the rescue is near, just one more step and he is free.
We have spoken of Advent itself. That is how it is with the coming of Christ: “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Application & Challenge
So often, this time of year is called the season of giving. Consider ways that you can give in the upcoming week. Here are a few suggestions:
If you are able, buy a present and give to a local ministry that seeks to share the love of Christ to families having a tough time.
Maybe you cannot financially support a ministry or buy a present at this time:
Do you have items that can go to support local ministries – extra clothes, coats, food, or used housing items or toys, etc.?
Are there opportunities to give of your time to minister to others – nursing home, food pantry, soup kitchen, etc.?
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, ed. Jana Riess, trans. O. C. Dean Jr., First edition. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 40–41.