Merry Christmas from all of us at FaithGateway Online Bible Studies!
We hope you’ve really enjoyed these past four weeks we’ve had with you soaking in our Savior and studying Because of Bethlehem with Max Lucado! Can you believe Christmas Day is finally here? How has your life, or your perspective on the gift of Jesus, changed because of this Advent study?
For me, the biggest thing I learned is that Jesus entered our mess and He understands what is it to be fully human. That means even during the seasons of life when Christmas doesn’t sparkle, Jesus knows and He is so generous and loving to be with us.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. — John 1:14 MSG
Thank you, Max, for illuminating the Word for us, for sharing Advent practices and Advent reflections to help open our hearts to our King.
OBS friends, if you’re still catching up with the videos, all four sessions will be available until January 2.
We hope you take the time to re-watch them and glean everything you can from Because of Bethlehem!
And, finally, as always, huge thanks to our special friends at FaithGateway and Faith.Full for all your wonderful work through this study. Jaime and Abby, thank you for all your love and care through this study. We are grateful for you!
I have so enjoyed being your Online Bible Study leader and praying through Advent with all of you.
And, we know you will be delighted to hear… Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way will be our next Online Bible Study starting January! We hope you’ll join us! Registration is now open at FaithGateway.com/OBS
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of Heaven — praising God; ‘Glory to God in the highest Heaven,’ they sang, ‘and peace on earth for all those pleasing Him.’ — Luke 2:13-14
As we close the study on this Christmas Day, we’d love to bless you with this final special message from Max, a reading for December 25 from Because of Bethlehem:
God became one of us so we could become one with Him.
The joy and promise of Christmas is that the miracle of Bethlehem still happens. God still enters into the reality of our messy everyday lives and loves us. And so on this day, we open wide our hearts to receive the Christ child with joy.
Psalm 96, Isaiah 9:2-7, Hebrews 1:1-12, Luke 2:1-20
Questions for Reflection
- Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth includes several characters and lots of action:
Mary and Joseph undertake a long journey under adverse conditions.
The Christ child is born in a humble stable.
The angel of the Lord brings good news of great joy to the shepherds.
The heavenly host praises God.
The shepherds are initially afraid but then receive and share the good news.
All who hear the good news are amazed.
Mary treasures up and ponders all she has experienced.
- As you read the passage from Luke 2, which characters or circumstances best represent you in your relationship with Jesus right now? For example, like Mary and Joseph, perhaps you find yourself in the midst of a difficult journey with Christ, seeking shelter and rest. Like the Christ child, you may be in humble or vulnerable circumstances, longing for comfort and care.
- How does the character or circumstance you identified help you understand what you long for in your relationship with Christ?
- Luke pointed out a compelling contrast when he noted that “all who heard it were amazed… But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:18-19, emphasis mine).
- To be amazed is to be astonished, surprised, or stunned. Depending on the circumstances, amazement might lead to admiration and wonder, or to shock and bewilderment. The contrast Luke identified between Mary and “all who… were amazed” doesn’t suggest that Mary’s response was better, but it was noticeably different. Based on your own experiences, how would you describe the difference between the two responses? What changes in you when you move from being amazed at an experience to treasuring or pondering that experience?
- The Greek words translated “treasured up” and “pondered,” mean to keep safe and close, to protect and preserve in memory, to bring together in one’s mind or to confer with oneself. During the four weeks of Advent, you’ve had a chance to reflect on many truths about the gifts we receive from Christ — hope, peace, joy, and love. As you reflect on this four-week journey, what insights or experiences — with God and others — do you want to treasure up? Briefly identify a few, and then allow yourself to ponder them in God’s presence, thanking Him for these gifts and inviting Him to reveal to you something of Himself through them.
- Max writes, “If the King was willing to enter the world of animals and shepherds and swaddling clothes, don’t you think He’s willing to enter yours? He took on your face in the hope that you would see His” (page 20).
- As you anticipate not only your celebration of Christmas but also the days and weeks to come, in what circumstance or relationship do you feel the greatest need to see the face of Immanuel, God with you?
- “When Christ was born, so was our hope… The manger… dares us to believe the best is yet to And it could all begin today” (page 135, 9). What is the best you might dare to believe about the circumstance or relationship you just identified? Prayerfully surrender these hopes to God, trusting that He is already at work to provide the light you seek, the help you need, the deliverance you long for.
Welcome, Lord Jesus. Make my heart Your home this day.
God created celebration: He is the author of joy, pleasure, and merriment. In fact, Jesus described the kingdom as a great banquet to which everyone is invited (Matthew 22:1-14). At Christmas we train our hearts for heaven by celebrating God’s miraculous gift of Jesus. And just as Paul and Silas chose to sing praises even while imprisoned (Acts 16:22- 25), we can choose joy and celebration at Christmas regardless of our circumstances. Author and pastor Adele Calhoun wrote:
The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our hearts on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality. Heaven is celebrating… Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. We are not alone — and that in itself is reason to celebrate. 1
God invites you to choose joy this day, to follow the happy commands of the psalmist: Sing! Praise! Proclaim! Declare! Worship! (see Psalm 96). Max puts it this way:
For your own sake do what the angels did: make a big deal about the arrival of the King… Do you love God? Let Him know. Tell Him! Out loud. In public. Unashamed. Let there be jubilation, celebration, and festivity! (page 65–66)
And you can choose joy in quiet ways as well. Be watchful for “every small experience of Jesus,” knowing that He often shows up in unexpected ways. Treasure up and ponder all the ways Christ reveals Himself to you — in events, music, meals, relationships, beauty, and the comfort of His presence with you.
HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Nature rise and worship Him,
Who is born in Bethlehem!
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’appear,
Jesus our Emmanuel here.
Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and Life around he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in His Wings.
Mild He lays His Glory by,
Born that Men no more may die;
Born to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born to give them second Birth.
~ Lyrics: Charles Wesley (1739) and George Whitefield (1753)
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. — John 1:14 MSG
I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! — Luke 2:10–11 NLT
For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16 NLT
You always get your Christmas miracle. You get God with you… Christ is all your good, and He is all yours, and this is always all your miracle. No matter the barrenness you feel, you can always have as much of Jesus as you want. ~ Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift
The eternal Son became a child so that I might become a child again and so reenter with him into the Kingdom of the Father. ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that he gave his only Son. The only requirement is to believe in him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life. ~ attributed to Corrie ten Boom