Mark 2:11 ” I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

On this last day of 2021, like yesterday, we’re going to look at the past…but in a much different way. In this Scripture Jesus is talking to a paralytic that had been carried to Him by friends. In this setting, no doubt, all the disciples were witness to this miracle as the man got up, threw his mat over his shoulder, and walked away healed. For we see Peter in Acts 9:34 speaking to longtime paralytic in the same manner…but with one big difference. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat. Immediately Aeneas got up.” Peter knew where the healing power came from. But in both Scriptures Jesus and Peter tell the paralytics to pick up their mats and go home…not to leave them behind, or burn them…but to take them home. Their mats represented their past…as dirty, nasty, and stinky as they might be, they were still their past – their irrefutable testimony of what Jesus did in their lives. But so often as we heal and move on from our past, our mat gets put in the closet…away out of sight. The plain truth is we don’t want to be reminded and we think no one else would want to hear our testimony…but I would ask you this one question today. If, when you were in the very worst part of your situation, someone had shared their story with you and how the Lord had brought them through victoriously…how would it of helped you? Just to be able to talk to someone that had been in a similar situation and to listen to them talk about God’s mercy, grace, and hope would no doubt make a huge difference in how you looked at your own trial. We think nobody wants to hear our testimony…but I know there’s someone out there today that is desperate to hear it…so it can give them hope to hold on one more day.

John 7:17-18 ” If anyone chooses to do God’s Will, he will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the One who sent Him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about Him.”

With only a day left of 2021, I find this quote from Oswald Chambers very appropriate, “Beware of paying attention or going back to what you once were, when God wants you to be something that you have never been.” We will never experience God’s Will if we refuse to let go of the past. For choosing His Will over ours, when we’re forever looking over our shoulder at the past, is difficult if not just plain impossible to do. It’s like being tied to the dock…and if we don’t cut the line ourselves – God may use a storm to sever the mooring for us. So examine what might be holding you back from doing God’s Will today. It might be long held on to anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness…it may be fear of the unknown…it may be spiritual apathy. Regardless, today is a good day to say “Yes” to moving forward in God’s Will for your life. For it’s only when we choose to do God’s Will, and let the past to the past, can we truly experience all that God has for us.

Matthew 18:3-4 ” And He said: ‘ I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ “

The disciples were feeling pretty full of themselves when they asked Jesus this cringe-worthy question at the beginning of this Chapter…”Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The Twelve were no doubt jockeying for status and recognition among the rest and wanted Jesus to publicly name His favorites. This is when Jesus sat a young child on His lap and began to school them in the true meaning of having a servant’s attitude. To the disciples, children were a irritating distraction from their work…while Jesus welcomed children to Him wherever He traveled. So with the little one as His visual aid, Jesus compared a child’s dependence upon others and how they humbly accepted what they could not provide for themselves, but also their plucky boldness to ask for things, to the self-serving attitude the disciples were exhibiting. He reminded them that if anyone would be first, he must humbly be last, and servant of all. (Mark 9:35) And so it goes for us today, our Spiritual life must be one of a child…not uncertain of God, but purely trusting Him for all our needs…and of having a child-like relationship and a life full of spontaneous, joyful expectancy.

Psalm 97:9-12 ” For You, O Lord, are the Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods. Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise His holy name.”

As we wind down the last few days of 2021, I know for many this has not been an easy year. But hopefully we can look at this Psalm and gain comfort and hope. Our God is the only true and supreme God, and He should be greatly exalted as such…regardless of what kind of situation we find ourselves in. We are to desire and delight in doing what is right and not choose evil simply because it’s the most attractive option…for God watches over and preserves the upright and rescues them from harm and the oppression of the ungodly. For with obedience to God comes life and salvation, wisdom and understanding. So give thanks and rejoice in the Lord today for what he has done, is doing, and will be doing in your life ahead.

Luke 2:38 ” Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Yesterday we looked at Simeon in the Temple as the baby Jesus was being dedicated by His parents, Mary and Joseph. Today we look at Anna. Now Anna had been married only 7 years before her husband died, leaving her a widow for 84 years. It doesn’t say if she had any children to care for her in her old age, but it doesn’t appear there was anyone by the text. It tells us she spent all her time in the Temple, worshipping, fasting and praying…relying and dependent on the Church to meet her meager needs…utterly trusting in God to provide for her as Isaiah 54:5 says, “Your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His Name….” Her simple life one of service to God and others as she waited for her Redeemer…and here He was before her…her heart overflowing with thanksgiving to God as Anna stared into the baby’s face.

Luke 2:28 ” Simeon took Him up in his arms and praised God…”

Simeon was an elderly Jew, one of “the pious”, a minority of Jews who refused acts of violence and instead waited humbly for God’s deliverance from the oppressive Roman rule. He had faithfully waited a lifetime to catch a glimpse of God’s Chosen One, having been assured by the Holy Spirit he would not die until he had set eyes on the Messiah. That day, led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon entered the Temple and there encountered Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus coming towards him. As they approached, the Holy Spirit whispered to Simeon, “Behold, your Savior comes.” Taking the baby up in his arms, all Simeon could muster was to praise God for this opportunity of a lifetime…to be able to look into the face of the long awaited promise…Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 9:6 ” For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

On this Christmas Day this is possibly one of the greatest Scriptures of hope we can find in the Bible. This Prophecy of Isaiah shows us plainly both the humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ…giving us the real assurance that He is indeed – Immanuel – God with us. Also that Jesus is the promised Messiah born as a baby in humble surroundings in Bethlehem. But Jesus is also fully God as told to us in John 3:16,”For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” This was the only way that we could ever be reconciled to God…For God is perfect, but cannot die, and we humans aren’t perfect, but can die…so to be that perfect sacrifice, once for all, Jesus -fully man and fully God- came to died for our sins… born to die that we may live.

Matthew 2:1-2 ” After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the One Who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ “

These Wise Men came searching for a King. They themselves weren’t kings but rather priests or court advisors, skilled in ancient astrology and interpreting astronomical phenomena. When this magnificent star appeared in the East they consulted all they could to determine what it meant. They found a reference in Numbers 24:17, part of the Jewish Pentateuch, where it said, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Looking farther, they found Genesis 49:10 which read, “The scepter will not depart from Judea…” Knowing then they were looking for royalty, they set out to find this King of the Jews. Have you been on your own quest…searching for something, but not really knowing what? Have you been filling that void inside with all kinds of things that still leave you feeling empty? The answer is you too are searching for a King…a King to rule over your heart, mind, and soul…and His Name is Jesus.

Luke 2:8-12 ” And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ “

Shepherds were a despised class of people…their work caring for the flocks often times rendering them unclean and thus unable to enter the Temple. Their social status was so low, that their testimony wasn’t even considered valid or reliable in court. But here they were, witnesses to the greatest light show ever as the angels proclaimed the Messiah’s birth to them. But why them? We can first look at their fellow shepherd, David, when God anointed and bestowed dignity on the title Shepherd in II Samuel 7:8, “Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over My people Israel.” We then see the Lord taking on the actual title of Shepherd Himself in the very familiar Psalm 23, where it starts out, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” But despite being considered second-class citizens, the shepherds did one thing right that fateful night…their personal encounter with the splendor of God caused them to believe and trust that it was all true…to the point they left their flocks to go and see. This week before Christmas, you may have several opportunities to encounter Jesus personally…don’t allow disbelief, hesitancy, or doubt to stop you from seeking that baby in the manger.

Luke 2: 1,3,4-7 ” In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his own town to register. 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 first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In those days a census was a huge undertaking, so to make it the most efficient, people went to their ancestral homes for registration so entire families could be listed. So think of it as everyone who had ever lived in your home town coming back…and not only just them, but with all their kids, grandkids, pets, and livestock, Think of all the hustle and bustle and noise! What lodging places there were in this tiny town were bursting at the seams with family, friends and travelers returning to Bethlehem…and this is where we meet the harried innkeeper. He had to of been stressed to the max, trying to accommodate everyone clamoring for his attention. Soon he became short-tempered and irritated as more people came to his door inquiring about a room in a already overflowing inn. So when Joseph showed up with a very pregnant Mary it might of been the last straw for this man. In his impatience he could of flippantly offered the stable, which was off from the inn, especially so that the cries of a new-born might not disturb the rest of his customers. In his short-sighted stressful condition the innkeeper lost out on the opportunity to meet the King of Kings…and in his impatience, he also missed the chance to know the true meaning of Christmas. So during this busy week before Christmas, don’t be like the innkeeper…don’t allow stress and pressure to take away the joy of the coming birth of Jesus.

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