As the New Year is only a few hours away, I sit with my computer wondering what I could possibly share that might be of encouragement to my faithful readers and supporters. Suggesting you make a list of resolutions would be useless because we all know a viable list doesn't survive 30 days. So, how might we begin this year? Instead of clicking glasses full of wine at midnight, how about going before the Lord in prayer and asking that He might direct our decisions?
Or what about reading a verse of scripture each morning or share a quick prayer with your children before they head off to school and/or your hubby before he goes to work? If you are retired, maybe pray each morning over a cup of coffee; call a shut-in once a week, or perhaps have a friend over for coffee (once the vaccines are distributed). There is always a few moments to think outside the box and reach out and touch someone (remember that song)....which might mean more than you can imagine to the recipient.
If you have other suggestions I would love to hear them. Please share if you have a few moments and maybe there would be a great idea for me as I, also, head on a new year journey right beside you!
If there are prayer requests, please don't hesitate to send them. Gary and I pray each morning together with our cups of coffee! We would love to pray for you.
God bless and Happy New Year!
Gary & Cookie White
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
I often comment in the fall of the year how much I don't like living in the dark. Until the 21st of December when we experience the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year in hours of daylight) the days turn dark much too early for me. Gradually after December 21st, we start seeing signs of each day lengthening and the prove my point, I asked Alexa (our wifi device) the time sunset occurs for several days beginning after the 21st. And yes, sunset occurs a little later each day.
Now there is a point I am making and I hope you stick with me. Here it is....I don't think it's any coincidence we celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom scripture has referred to many, many times as the Light of the World, after the 21st when light enters our world a little more each day. Yes, I do know that we don't know the exact time of his birth nor the exact date, but Christians have celebrated the 25th of December for a very long time. There could be other explanations and reasonings that concur or disagree with this particular date, but to me it makes perfect sense to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, at the time when the light begins to dispel the darkness.
Jesus has brought the light of his presence into a dark world.
Genesis, Chapter 1:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
Psalm 18:28 “For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.”
Micah 7:8 “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.”
Father, bring the Light of Your Son, Jesus, into our hearts and homes as we enter into another year. May we bring honor and glory to Your Name, Amen!
Luke 2: 4-7, NIV
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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.
Looks a little different when you see animals feeding from a trough like the one pictured above and you remember the Son of God being laid in a similar place, doesn't it? There is not one among us that would envision giving birth in a barn and having our newborn swaddled and placed in a feeding trough. We find it impossible not to have access to a sterile environment with doctors and nurses coming in and out the delivery room wearing fresh gowns, masks, gloves and handing sterilized equipment.
But our Lord left his home in glory and came to earth wearing human skin and taking on the form of a servant from the onset of his ministry. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords didn't have a castle, nor did he have an entire staff of medical personnel waiting to deliver him. Oh, but the significance of every piece of the Christmas story told countless times since its inception.
The most important piece of this story is the fact that the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ, was born in the town of Bethlehem called the House of Bread and was laid in a feeding trough, a manger, where animals came to feed. The Bread of Heaven illustrated moments after his physical birth that he came so that we might be fed spiritually. All we need to do is come to the table, the trough (if you will), and partake in the only One who has the power to save our souls from eternal damnation. His whole purpose in coming was to teach us about His Father and to become the sinless, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
But there's more....the emphasis of bread. We know that bread has properties that our bodies need for nourishment and growth. In fact, I would dare say every family has at least some type of bread within their homes; bread for sandwiches, rolls for dinner, biscuits for breakfast, cinnamon buns, and on the list could go.
When we go into a restaurant, what is usually one of the first things that is placed on our table as we await the waitress or waiter with the menus? Bread. Bread represents generosity and is a sign of welcome. And who can resist that warm bread with butter when it comes to the table? Don't we sometimes ask for it when it isn't brought out immediately? And that aroma...no wonder we're told when we want to sell our homes and potential buyers and coming to place a loaf of bread to bake in the oven! It is welcoming and fills people with visions of a warm inviting home.
Why is that? Because Bread of Heaven relates many examples in scripture of the emphasis of its importance. Abraham, told Sarah when three visitors came to share the news Sarah would give birth to the promised heir, to get the finest flour and bake bread for their visitors. It was an extension of generosity and a spirit of welcome. Remember the manna (bread) God provided daily through the forty years of wandering by the Israelites? Or the lunch of fish and bread the young boy offered when the crowd of 5,000 men, not including women and children, needed to eat? Jesus not only fed their spiritual bodies through his teachings that day, but he met their physical need.
And we must not forget the words of the The Lord's Prayer, "give us this day our daily bread" or the words spoken during the Last Supper by Jesus, "this (bread) is my body broken for you" before he was crucified.
Bread, such a wonderful reminder today....found within our homes on a daily basis, spoken of in our prayers and a blessing over our meals, points us to the Savior of the World, the Bread of Life....the One who was laid in a manger...a feeding trough to foreshadow the feast he continues to prepare for all those who will come to the table free of charge....and the benefit? Eternal life.
So this week, as you gather with your family, or perhaps for the first time without a family gathering due to the COVID situation, take bread you have in your home and lift it high and give thanks to the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life for sustaining our physical bodies and nourishing our spiritual souls.
Regardless of what is happening around us...God hasn't lost sight of us. His Son is alive and well and is waiting to inhabit our hearts, our minds, our thoughts and every facet of our being. Let's make 2021 a year to remember. May God break out a revival of such great proportions the rocks cry out! May no one go hungry for the Bread of Life multiples and never runs dry!
Hallelujah, Christ has come!
Gary & Cookie White
Moving forward from the setting of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, scripture reports when Mary and Joseph arrived in this little town no room was available at the local inn. Due to a major census initiated by Herod all those of the line of David (blood relatives) were to be registered in Bethlehem in the flesh. Without an iPhone, GPS, or a computer, hotel registrations were only made once you arrived at the inn. Unfortunately, the only place offered to Mary and Joseph upon their arrival was the stable out back where the animals were housed.
Being at the point of delivering her baby, Mary and Joseph welcomed the chance to have a place to rest and it was during that time the birth of Jesus Christ took place. Now imagine, if you can, this is basically a barn with animals and hay. No doctor or midwife is present. While I know babies have been born at the entrance of tunnels in Pittsburgh, the side of the road and various other peculiar places, I sometimes can't wrap my head around a barn, a bed of straw, incredible labor pains and my hubby delivering our child after traveling on the back of a donkey for days! But from the very beginning, God had a plan that included Jesus being born of humble birth. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords wasn't born in a castle with an entire floor set up as a hospital with numerous medical personnel in attendance. He wasn't ushered into this world surrounded by the elite or wealthy. He came quietly and without fanfare in order to relate to all people everywhere. If I could predict a skin color I would think a combination of all the skin colors in the world...red and yellow, black and white, just like the song, "Jesus Loves the Little Children" expresses would be the color worn by the Savior of the World. And here is the Bread of Heaven, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, and laid the only place available, but not without meaning....in a feeding trough.
Next....a feeding trough that held the Bread of Heaven....
Bethlehem…the setting of the Christmas Story
Let's begin with the setting for our Christmas story. We read yesterday of the account from Isaiah concerning the predicted birth of Christ. In fact, the actual date of recorded messages concerning the birth of Christ ranges from 1450 B.C. to 430 B.C. That's 400-1000 years before Christ's birth. Inspired by God to write not only the blessed message that the Messiah was coming but also the location of his birth, Isaiah and other prophets were integral messengers of this precious Word! Seems impossible, doesn't it? The span of time from the initial prediction to the actual birth of the Messiah? And not one fact written in multiple accounts contradicts another!
Back to the setting....Bethlehem. As Chapter 2 of Luke states, Caesar Augustus, a Roman emperor, desired a census to be taken. Although Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, they needed to make this pilgrimage to Joseph's hometown, because "he was of the house and lineage of David"...in other words, Joseph was a descendant of King David and he needed to return to David's ancient home in Bethlehem of Judea to be counted in the census. Now comes the interesting part that maybe we have overlooked. We all know that Mary was about to give birth. If you are a female and have given birth, or if you are a father and have dealt with a nine month pregnant woman, let's think about this.
Bethlehem is 5 miles south of Jerusalem. That's approximately a 68.9 mile trip. Now before you think it's only a 90 minute drive, let's remember they are traveling by foot with a donkey and a very, very pregnant woman. There were two routes they could take to get to their destination. The first route, the shortest one, would have them traveling through Samaria. This is a terrain full of hills and hostile Samaritans who didn't particularly care for Jews. Plus the added fact that having Mary walk up and down hills or Joseph pulling that donkey up hills...well, they decided for the second route.
This particular route would have been safer and more comfortable, but more distance. Probably this one was southeast through Jezreel Valley and east to the Jordan Valley. Although you'd need a map to follow this frame of reference, they would go south to Jericho, through the Judean Desert to Jerusalem and then arrive in Bethlehem. Total distance at this point, 90 miles. Scholars have predicted this to be a 4-7 day trip....not an hour by air conditioned car with comfortable leather seats. And Mary was at the point of delivery! When I was ready to deliver child number one, I could not stand the car going over small bumps. I can't imagine riding on a donkey and enduring that hardship! But God provided Mary with the ability to sustain that trip so scripture would be fulfilled.
Bethlehem....a little Judean town....sort of like a suburb of Jerusalem. Micah 5:2 says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Bethlehem...whose Hebrew name means "house of bread" was the town in which the Bread of Life was born to man.
Isn't that just like our Father in Heaven? He takes the lowly and lifts them up, He sent Jesus to serve and not to be served, He taught us how to wash one another's feet by giving to others and providing for one another, but most of all....He gave us His gift of Love....His Son, Jesus Christ!
Bethlehem....even the place of Christ's birth teaches us about the nature of God!
Blessings, my friends!
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth
It's amazing what you re-discover as you clean out your bookshelf! Among the books I found (again) was one entitled, Devotions for Christmas. These are short devotionals centering around our pivotal Christian event, the birth of Jesus Christ. I had to share with you something that resonated with me and I hope you can use this little "nugget" throughout your day.
"We do not need to create something extraordinary for God to show up. He sent angels to shepherds in a field. Zechariah, a priest, was performing his duties in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Jesus' first disciples were fishing when they were called to follow Him. Do you see a pattern? God shows Himself to ordinary people who are doing ordinary things. He knows where to find us, and when He does, beautiful things happen."
Here's to beautiful things happening in our lives this day!
Every Christmas I can remember, a Nativity set has been displayed. First, it started with my Grandma and then continued until I bought my very own set when I moved into my own place as an adult. The Nativity was a reminder of the Christmas Story which has been told each year of my entire life.
However, as I have gotten older, the Nativity has taken on a deeper meaning. Each piece of that Nativity Scene is representative of a profound truth that surrounds the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ. It's just not about a baby born in a stable, surrounded by shepherds and animals with his mom and dad on each side of a makeshift baby crib.
I am hoping that throughout this month I can share with you some of the meanings that are often lost as we go through the motions of placing the Nativity Scene on display. Maybe you will look more extensively at each piece and thank our Heavenly Father for including each of us in that humble event that took place thousands of years ago.
Let's begin today with defining the word Nativity and discovering, by using an online dictionary, what the nativity represents. First, the definition of Nativity; "the birth of Jesus Christ" and/or "a picture, craving, or model representing Jesus Christ's birth."
What does the Nativity represent? "...for many Christians throughout the world, no matter the characters, the sight of a nativity still evokes the miracle of Jesus' conception, his humble birth, his ultimate sacrifice and the gift of everlasting life to those who believe. The true meaning of Christmas." (The words in bold print were emphasized by the dictionary.)
There is another question brought forth within the context of the online explanations. "Why is the Nativity so important?" And the answer is plainly and simply stated, "Christmas is important to many Christians because it reminds them that: Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth for all people, symbolized through the visits of the wise men and the shepherds. Mary and Joseph both had a strong faith in God, despite the difficulties they faced." (Again, bold emphases is from the reference.)
I would ask as we move forward with these devotional thoughts, you reflect on your reasoning as to why a nativity scene is important during this season. Have you inadvertently begun to exhibit the Nativity as part of your yearly Christmas decor? Let's start anew today with the second chapter of Luke (NIV), verses 2-7 and begin to investigate a little closer the meaning of those pieces of our Nativity scenes.
2 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[a] 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. 6 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.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to live in a free society where we can display our Nativity scenes and worship the One, True God. Thank you for Jesus and this time of year when we can celebrate his birth in our homes, our hearts and our lives. Help us to reflect on our own yearly birthday parties and those of the ones we love so dearly and to realize Jesus deserves the same celebration each year! In His Name, Amen!
I guess I'm still on a Thanksgiving high with having my sweet family gathered around me for a couple of days. It was such a pleasant experience that I have been thinking about what comes next. Of course, Christmas is our most blessed season of the year, but after the New Year what's our plan? Now, if any of you know my hubby, Mr. Gary A. White, CPA, you will quickly know one of his character traits is planning. He knows destination times within a few minutes, he makes excellent travel plans including what time to leave and when we will arrive and actually includes stops for food. You gotta love it...and after 40 years, you go with the flow and actually begin to ask, "What's the plan?"
The only part of our life's plan that is currently up in the air is where we will head once our home is sold. Not that the house is up for sale yet because we haven't an idea of where we will set up housekeeping once the house sells! We've only been thinking about this decision for the past 11 years....so you can see our dilemma.
In fact, if you want to forward some ideas, just send them along. We actually read where a couple's house sold so quickly they bought an RV and have started to travel until they make up their mind where to put down roots! I just can't see hubby driving a truck and living out of an RV....in fact, I have a bit of trouble imagining myself in that situation. However, I'm up for an adventure. I have felt a deep responsibility for my mother since my dad passed away in 2013 and now that mom has joined the heavenly chorus I am, for the first time, not needing to make continuous trips to Virginia and check on every person that surrounds her daily life.
It would be a shame to waste time because before you know it, my kids will be making decisions for me and I have a feeling I won't be living in winter warm temps!
So, it's time to look forward....visualize myself elsewhere and go for it....and take hubby along for the ride! Pray for us. We will probably be at the same address next Christmas, but it's fun to think about it!
Judith "Cookie" White is the founder of The Sounding Board Ministry. She is the author of two devotional books which are available on this site.