The Rise of Covid. In the months since Covid-19 surfaced in Wuhan China, the pandemic has spread fear and anxiety along with a wave of coughing and fever that has circled the globe. As of the end of November over 12,000 have died of Covid in Canada since the first death was reported in the second week of March. In comparison Canada averages 7274 deaths annually from influenza/pneumonia (Stats Canada, 2014-2018).
Despite attempts to reduce the spread of the virus, the number of people contracting the disease and filling hospital rooms continues to increase. Most nations have instituted restrictions ranging from limiting social gatherings to full lockdowns. Ironically, wearing a mask when walking into the bank or convenience store is now expected.
And now Christmas is approaching. Within our culture, Christmas is the culmination of a month or more of preparations and activities. The preparations lead to the celebration with family and friends on December 24 and 25. In a normal year, the largest uncertainty is whether it will snow on Christmas Day. This year the amount of uncertainty is much higher. Will we be able to have social evenings with friends? Will we be at the church singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve? Will Grandma and Grandpa be allowed to come to our house for a turkey feast? Will we be able to hug our grandchildren?
What we know with certainty is that Christmas will be different. There is no point in attempting to make this Christmas look or feel like last year or the year before. It will not be the same.
The holiday of Christmas, while centered on Christ also involve tradition, and tradition is important. Traditions provide a sense of comfort and security. This year, many of those traditions will not happen and Christmas may not have the same feeling of comfort. Christmas is being turned upside down and stood on its head.
Throughout 2020 we have had layer upon layer of stress, anxiety, and fear; and Christmas may add another few layers of stress. So, how do we cope?
1. If you are struggling, admit it. As Christians we are notorious for not wanting to admit we are struggling. Tucked into the recesses of our brain is the foolish thought that if we feel sad, depressed, or upset, that we are a somehow a weak Christian and do not trust God.
But let’s accept reality. We are imperfect humans. We are all, in some way, broken people. As men and women, we sometimes struggle with emotions. God, who is the All-Knowing God, already knows when we are fighting with our emotions. Our family and close friends can see the changes in our mood. We are not fooling anyone. We might as well be mature enough to admit when we are not coping well with stress.
If you do not want to use the word “depressed” to describe your feelings, fine, do not use the word. But at least admit you are in a bad mood. It is when we are willing to own our emotions that changes can be made.
Begin by telling God exactly how you feel. Name the emotions you are struggling with: anger, fear, loneliness, insecurity, depression, sadness, anxiety, or any other emotion.
Then ask God’s Spirit to replace your sadness with joy, your anxiety with peace, your unease with comfort. Ask God to help you feel His love and experience His presence and strength. Asking God for help is part of humbling ourselves before God. It is a realization and recognition that we need God’s help. This is when God can work.
2. Be intentional about putting more focus on Christ. No one needs to remind us that the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when a pandemic is circulating through the community, our attention is easily diverted.
Take three or four minutes and read Matthew 14:22-33.
When life is like a sailboat gliding across a smooth lake it is relatively easy to keep our attention on Jesus. But when blasted with a storm or when a gale is howling, our focus can be diverted onto the waves that are swamping the boat.
Part of the background to Matthew 14 is that the disciples had been struck with the unexpected news that John the Baptist had been executed by the government (Matthew 14:1-12). Their world, though not turned upside down, had certainly been tossed on its side! Would they be next in line to be targeted by the government?
Jesus gave them a two-part tutorial about faith and keeping their attention on Him. It began on a mountainside along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus was teaching a massive crowd. By late afternoon, the disciples were in favor of telling the people to leave and find food in the surrounding villages. Matthew 14:13-21 recounts the miracle of Jesus feeding over 5000 people. As the disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers, it was a reminder that Jesus possesses the power of God.
We now move to part two. Night had fallen and Jesus sends the disciples in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee while He stays behind to pray. Hours go by. One of the horrendous Galilean storms roars out of the east and the disciples, in the middle of the lake, are fighting to stay alive. Their fear was compounded by the local belief that these storms were caused by the evil spirits lurking in the depths of the water. Their faith was taking as much of a beating as their boat.
After fighting the storm for hours, Jesus, unknown to them, leaves the shore and begins to walk on the water towards them. At three in the morning, in the blackest part of the night, they glimpse something walking toward them on the water and assume it is a ghost. The fear of their impending death has been confirmed. As they shouted in panic, Jesus called to them to calm down.
While the rest of the disciples cower in the boat, Peter has the faith to ask if he can come on the water to Jesus. He climbs over the side of the boat and takes a few steps on the water before his attention is diverted from Jesus to the waves. As soon as his eyes were off Jesus he began to sink. Jesus, of course, reached out and saved him.
Whether it was the execution of John the Baptist, or the fear of death on the Sea of Galilee, Peter and the other eleven disciples were learning an important lesson about not being distracted by the circumstances surrounding them. 2000 years have passed since this incident, and we have the same challenge as the disciples. Circumstances such as a globe encircling pandemic can divert our attention from Jesus to the storm surrounding us.
The challenge is to continually keep our attention on Jesus even when the boat is filling with water. God created us as spiritual beings and we are at peril if we ignore our spiritual nature. Decide that this will be a priority in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
At the end of this article are some suggestions to help keep your attention on Jesus.
3. Maintain traditions as much as possible. Traditions are an important part of life. Unfortunately, many of the traditions that bring us comfort and security will be cancelled this December. Despite this, do not throw in the towel. Even if there will only be a few of you at home, work to maintain your traditions as much as possible.
Bake smaller batches of your favorite Christmas cookies. Play Christmas carols. Decorate your home even if you do not at first feel like putting in the effort. Decorate a tree, set out candles, and hang the mistletoe. Plan an online gift opening on Christmas morning with family you cannot be with. You may not have a large traditional family gathering but continue to plan for a Christmas dinner. Be with those you can be with - just buy a smaller turkey (or chicken).
If you are not able to attend the Christmas Eve Service at the church, plan to watch it online. Though there will be some large scale, impressive Christmas Eve Services broadcast by large churches, I urge you to watch the South Calgary service. South Calgary is your church, and we are a church family. Even if it is online, celebrate Christmas Eve with people you know.
4. Begin new or renew old traditions. In a year when some traditions will not be able to happen, intentionally plan to fill the gaps. Be creative and start one or two new traditions or consider renewing a few traditions you have not followed in the past few years.
Bake a few plates of Christmas goodies to take to your neighbors. Expand your repertoire of Christmas baking by experimenting with several new recipes. Watch a classic Christmas movie. Plan to watch some of the Christmas TV classics – what would Christmas be without the 1966 Grinch movie or the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Movie? Discover a new board game. Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Take an evening drive to see Christmas Lights at Spruce Meadows (Friday – Sunday evenings) or through your community. Make an Advent Wreath to light each Sunday during Advent. Go online and find a crafty nativity scene you can create with your children or grandchildren.
By being inventive and discovering new ways to celebrate, your Christmas will be filled with a little more joy than otherwise.
Christmas 2020, while being a very different experience than previous years, has the potential of being just as meaningful as previous years. Admit to God your struggles with emotions and ask God’s Spirit to give you joy, peace and comfort. Be intentional about not being distracted from focusing on Jesus. Maintain as many traditions as possible and try a few new traditions.
May you have a Christ focused Christmas that is fulfilling despite the storm of Covid-19.
Three Suggestions to Help Keep Your Attention on Christ.
Here are some suggestions for the weeks approaching Christmas:
A) Read the “Christmas Story” as recorded in Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke. Isaiah 9:1-7; Matthew 1:18-2:18; Luke 1:1-2:38
B) Be sure to listen to South Calgary’s Christmas sermon series titled A Promised Christmas, beginning on December 6.
C) Follow this Scripture reading plan for December 1 – 25.
This Bible reading / devotional plan is divided into two parts.
1. From December 1-18 are Psalms written by King David (not all the Psalms were written by David). They are all uplifting Psalms that God can use to encourage and strengthen us.
2. From December 19-24 are a series of devotionals based on the Christmas story as written in the Gospels.
Tuesday December 1 - Psalm 8. God is magnificent. We begin with a Psalm that focuses on the creation of God and His majesty. Notice that the first phrase is repeated as the last phrase (verses 1 & 9). This was a common literary technique used to indicate the main point of a poem or song. The Psalm declares the magnificence of God – even His name is magnificent. We serve a God who created us with His glory and honor (vs 5) and who in every way is amazing and incredible!
After reading the Psalm, take a minute to praise God for creating us and for His magnificence.
Wednesday December 2 – Psalm 13.
A prayer for deliverance. This Psalm, like many others, is divided into two parts. In the first part (vs 1-4) David is expressing his feelings and thoughts. It is clear that much in his life has not been going well and He is feeling forgotten by God. In the second part (vs 5-6) David declares that despite his feelings, he continues to trust in God’s faithful love and looks forward to being delivered by God.
Maybe you have been feeling abandoned or ignored by God. Like David, in a prayer, express to God your feelings. Then, as a declaration of your confidence in God, repeat verses 5-6 as part of your prayer. Thank Him, in advance, for the deliverance He will provide and for His generosity towards you.
Thursday December 3 – Psalm 18.
David Praising God for saving him. This is a bit of a longer Psalm (50 verses) that was written when God saved David from King Saul (who, because of jealousy was trying to kill David). The Psalm is divided into four primary sections. 1) In verses 1-3 David is praising God for saving Him from his enemies. He describes God using words such as: rock, fortress, deliverer, stronghold, mountain, and shield. 2) In verses 4-6 – David describes the feelings that prompted him to call to God for help. He uses poetic phrases such as “ropes of death,” “torrents of destruction,” and “snares of death.” 3) Verses 7-24 provides God’s response to David. 4) Lastly, in verses 25-50 David, in a variety of ways, praises God.
As you read through this chapter, pay attention to the phrases David uses to describe his situation. Make note of any phrases that describe your past or current feelings or situation. Then as you read the rest of the chapter make note of phrases or descriptions of God that stand out to you. In prayer, use these phrases to praise and thank God for the deliverance He has, or will provide to you.
Friday December 4 – Psalm 22.
From suffering to praise. In this Psalm David provides a contrast between his feelings and what he knows is true about God. For example, in verses 1-2 he describes his feelings that God had abandoned him, then in verses 2-5 he declares what he knows to be true. Notice that David does not ignore or try to downplay what he was feeling. His (and your) feelings are real; David also acknowledges that which he knows to be true about God – that God is holy, that God can be trusted and that God rescues those who cry out to Him.
As you read through this Psalm, watch for the phrases and words that stand out to you. Pay special attention to the phrases that declare who God is. In prayer, describe to God your feelings of suffering and then use David’s phrases of praise to give praise to God.
Saturday December 5 – Psalm 25.
Depending on God. There are times when the circumstances of our lives result in our feeling massive discouragement. David experienced and lived that discouragement. He also knew, deep within, that he could depend on God. The main point of this chapter is that we too can depend on God.
As you read through the chapter, underline the words and phrases that God’s Spirit calls to your attention. Again, as with other days, use those phrases to offer praise to God knowing that despite your current situation, you can depend on God.
Sunday December 6 – Psalm 27.
God as our strength. In the first verses David describes God as our light, our salvation, our stronghold, and because of these truths, we do not need to fear. David was looking towards eternity. He knew he would be able to dwell in the house of the Lord forever (eternity with God) and therefore he did not have to fear anything related to this earth. Nothing would take that from him.
David concludes the chapter with a challenge to “Wait for the Lord” (trust in the Lord). Also read Isaiah 40: 27-41 and through prayer thank God that He is the one who gives us strength and endurance when we feel like giving up.
Monday December 7 – Psalm 29.
Giving Glory to God. This Psalm, like many others, is a Psalm of praise to God. After you have read the chapter, re-read verses 1-2. Note that in these two verses God (Yahweh) is given glory. The chapter describes the greatness of God and because of His greatness, He is to be given glory. Now turn to and read Revelation 5. Revelation 5 describes, in part, the throne room of heaven. Within this setting Jesus, as the Lamb of God, is given glory (vs 12-13) because He provides us with salvation. Jesus is given glory by every creature in heaven and on earth (vs 13), just as God is given glory by everyone in His temple (Psalm 29:9).
After reading the scriptures, in your prayer, offer glory to God and Jesus for the salvation and eternal life given to each of us.
Tuesday December 8 – Psalm 32.
Forgiven by God. In some ways, this is part two from yesterday’s scripture. Yesterday we gave glory to God the Father and Jesus the Son because of the salvation and eternal life we are offered. Part of our salvation is that our sins are forgiven. In Psalm 32 David expresses joy and praises God for the fact that his sins have been forgiven. We are promised by God that as we confess our sins, we will be forgiven (1 John 1:9). In your prayer today, thank God for the fact that Jesus has forgiven your sins and that you are spiritually pure.
Wednesday December 9 – Psalm 33.
Praising God the Creator. This Psalm includes a passage praising God as the Creator of all there is. Slowly read verses 6-9 a second time. Intentionally take in each word written in these verses and use these verses as a prayer to God praising Him for His power, strength, and might. Remember that you are part of God’s creation and because He created you, He loves you!
My favorite hymn is How Great Though Art. It is a powerful song of praise to God because of creation, salvation, and our promise of eternity. Here is a link to a video of How Great Though Art. I suggest you watch it as part of your prayer and praise to God.
Thursday December 10 – Psalm 57.
Praising God for His protection and faithfulness. All of us, either now or in the past have experienced difficulties. In this Psalm, David is offering praise to God for God’s protection and faithfulness. Notice that verse 11 is a repeat of vs 5. This gives us a hint about the main point of the Psalm. When David wrote this, his desire was to praise the greatness of God because of God’s protection.
Re-read verses 7-11 and use them as a prayer of praise to God. Regardless of how desperate your situation is, God’s faithful love towards you is as high as the heavens (vs 10)!
Friday December 11 – Psalm 62.
Trusting in God alone. Our society, like many others has been conditioned to look for help in many directions other than towards God. We look to government to protect us from a pandemic. We look to education to protect us from poverty. We look to friends and family to comfort us. While government has an important role in society; education is important; and family and friends are crucial; as Disciples of Jesus we need to be looking directly at God as our Rock, our Salvation and our Stronghold (vs 1). Our hope for today and the future is God (vs 5). God provides us with strength and faithful love (vs 11-12).
In prayer, give thanks and praise to God for how he protects and cares for you and your family.
Saturday December 12 – Psalm 65.
God caring for His creation. Approximately two thirds of the Psalm describe God’s role in caring for His creation. Whether it is the majesty of the mountains, a tranquil stream, or the beauty of a beach; we are naturally drawn towards creation. It is the way God created us. In this Psalm David is praising God for how He cares for His own creation. Embedded within the Psalm is the recognition that God uses His creation to care for us (we are, after all, part of His creation!). Verse 9 describes God providing people with grain and verse 13 describes pastures clothed with flocks.
In your prayer today, thank and praise God for how he cares for His creation including yourself. Praise Him for how He uses His creation to provide food for you and your family.
Sunday December 13 – Psalm 69.
A prayer for God to save us. There are times when we feel as if we are completely overwhelmed by the situations around us and that there is no way out. This is what David was describing when he wrote the first two verses. The rest of the chapter is David calling to God to be rescued, to be saved. As you read through the chapter take note of (and maybe underline) the phrases and descriptions that stand out to you. Use those as part of your prayer to God.
As part of today’s prayer, call out to God to be saved from whatever circumstance you are facing and praise Him in advance for His faithfulness in saving you.
Monday December 14 – Psalm 86.
A prayer for help. Within this Psalm (a prayer from David) there are several emphases. First, in verses 1 and 6 David asks God to answer him and to protect his life. The basis of this request is in verse 5 where David writes that God is kind, ready to forgive, and faithfully loves him (and us). In verses 8-9 David then praises God and asks for two things: to be taught God’s ways and to be given “an undivided mind” towards God (to be fully committed to God). This is intriguing because David understands that a relationship with God does not just go one way. Just as we expect God to help us and give us strength when we are going through a very difficult time, we also have a responsibility to be fully committed towards God.
In your prayer today, use verse 11 as part of a prayer to be fully committed to God.
Tuesday December 15 – Psalm 103.
The faithful love of God. There is a two-part emphasis in this Psalm. Part one is the emphasis that our God is a forgiving God. Verses 3, 8-10, and 11-12 all deal specifically with God being a forgiving God. The second emphasis provides the reason God is a forgiving God. Verses 11 and 17 talk about the faithful love God has towards us. Much of the rest of the Psalm describes the result of that faithful love. While we live in a world that can be quite impersonal, you can know that your God loves you immensely and unconditionally!
In prayer, thank and praise God for His faithful love towards you.
Wednesday December 16 – Psalm 139.
Praising the all-knowing God. One of the amazing realities about God is that He knows each of us completely and is always with us. In Psalm 139 David describes the reality that God is aware of every aspect of our life. There is nothing that is secret from Him. As you read through the Psalm, be aware that God knows you intimately which proves His love for you. Regardless of your situation, God is aware of what is happening in your life. He rejoices with you and cries with you.
As part of today’s prayer, give thanks and praise to the God who loves and cares for you.
Thursday December 17 – Psalm 143.
A prayer for help. Today’s Psalm is another prayer of David’s asking God for help. As you read through the Psalm, watch for the reasons David is confident in asking God for help. For example, in verse 1 David mentions God’s faithfulness and righteousness and in verse 5 David mentions all God had done in the past. We can have the same confidence as David had, that God will help us, and we have the same reasons for that confidence.
In your prayer today, boldly ask God for whatever help you need and know that God will provide you with everything you need for today.
Friday December 18 – Psalm 145.
Praise to God. The last Psalm we are looking at is a Psalm of praise to God for His greatness. Use the words of the Psalm to offer your praise to God. He is a God of greatness (vs 3), splendor and glorious majesty (vs 5), and power (vs 6). As you read through the Psalm, take note of all the reasons David gives for his praising God.
Tomorrow we begin to look at scriptures that lead us towards Christmas. One of the reasons we can praise God is because He offers us salvation through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In your prayer today, offer Him your praise!
The Christmas Story
The following five devotionals focus on the birth of Jesus Christ. All scriptures are from the Christian Standard Bible (used with permission).
Saturday December 19. Spiritual Darkness verses the Light of Jesus
Today’s scriptures are a Messianic prophecy from Isaiah and the first words of introduction from Luke and John. Our focus is on John’s description of Jesus as the Light that shines in the spiritual darkness of our world.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy., The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
4 For you have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as you did on the day of Midian.
5 For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
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 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.
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. 4In 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, 13who 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.
Have you ever had the experience of being in absolute darkness; a darkness so intense that it seems light has never existed? It is an interesting experience. Most people who have been on a tour of a cavern will remember the moment when the tour guide turns off the lights and plunges the group into utter blackness. Not even a hint of light remains. After a few seconds, the lights are turned back on and the darkness that was pervasive moments before is gone. It has disappeared.
Light and dark, like day and night do not coexist. They are opposites. When light is introduced into a dark room, the darkness is gone, it has vanished. God, through the writers of the Bible, uses the ideas of light and dark to introduce a spiritual concept.
The darkness and light described in the first verses of John is a reference to a messianic prophecy (Isaiah 9) written about 700 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah 9 records a prophecy describing a people walking in darkness who will see a great light. It further describes a light shining on those “living in a land of deep darkness.”
In addition to being a prophecy about Israel, Isaiah is also describing a darkness of the soul, a spiritual darkness. This spiritual darkness envelopes the world and infects us at a deep spiritual level. Most of us would like to deny this darkness inside us. We cringe at the idea of admitting that the larger darkness we see within the evils of the world could possibly be within ourselves. However, confessing the reality of a personal spiritual darkness is essential for the light to shine.
The “light” is the promise of a “spiritual light,” the Messiah, our Saviour. Imagine the light as the first rays of sun breaking through after a long, dark, devastating storm. The prophecy’s point is that in the middle of a world engulfed in spiritual darkness, Jesus Christ is our spiritual light. He willingly left His place in heaven to be born on earth to bring light the souls of every person willing to accept Him as Lord.
An intriguing aspect of this is that even after accepting the Light and making a decision to follow Jesus, and while the love of Jesus cannot be taken from us (Romans 8), there are times when we feel the spiritual darkness lurking at the edge of our lives. Spiritual darkness continually tries to creep back into our lives.
We may feel the darkness at the edge of our life after the death of a family member or during a time of depression or while experiencing and ongoing struggle in life. Whatever the reason we feel the darkness, it is real. Darkness is part of the world we live in. Despite the reality of darkness, Jesus continues to be our Light and we can stay within the Light.
Today, as you pray, ask Jesus, God’s Light, to bring more spiritual light and insight into your life.
Sunday December 20 – The God of the Impossible
Today’s scripture, from the Gospel of Luke, highlights the miracle related to the birth of John the Baptist. In this scripture we see God accomplishing the impossible. The God we serve is the God of the impossible!
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, 9it 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. 11An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12When 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. 14There 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.” 19The 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. 20Now 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.”
In a culture in which being a mother was a point of honor and being childless brought shame, Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah, would have struggled emotionally and spiritually. As they watched their siblings and friends experience the joy of childbirth it is likely they worked through questions such as: “Has God abandoned us?” and “Does God care?” It is clear from Luke 1:13 that the birth of a child had long been a topic of prayer for Zechariah and Elizabeth.
By the time the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, “both of them were well along in years” (Luke 1:7). It was no longer possible for them to have a child. From an earthly timeline, it was too late. Yet, God does the impossible. Elizabeth has a child! In fact, just a few verses later we are told “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
The point is that God never abandoned Zechariah and Elizabeth. God loved them. God cared about them. Despite years of pain, God’s plan was far greater than they could ever imagine.
It may be that you are enduring a situation where you have been fighting similar questions:
Does God love me?
Does God care about me?
Has God abandoned me?
Will God answer my prayers?
From your perspective it may seem that the time for a positive change to your situation is well past. But remember that God is the God of the impossible. Keep your faith. Keep your faith in God as the Ruler of all creation. Keep your faith in God as the God of eternal life. Keep your faith in God as a God who cares about you and will accomplish the absolute best for your life.
Specifically identify: “What is the “impossible” you need God to do in your life?”
Take time right now to verbally “give” that impossible situation to God. Ask God to replace your worry or concern with His comfort and peace.
Monday December 21 – Responding to the God of the Impossible
In Luke 1 the Angel appears to Mary with news that she will be the mother of the Messiah, and in Matthew one the Angel appears to Joseph with the same news. We will be looking at their response to God, particularly the words of Mary in Luke 1:38.
The Appearance of the Angel to Mary
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.
30Then 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“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
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.”
22Now 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.”
24When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her.
Try to imagine the emotions Mary and Joseph experienced. Mary is shocked to be unexpectedly approached by an Angel. We have no idea what the Angel looked like. Maybe the Angel looked like a typical Jewish man that suddenly materialized in her house. Or maybe the Angel was appeared with an amazing halo of light looking supernatural and spiritual. Regardless, Mary was shocked at his appearance and message.
She was told that despite being a virgin she would become pregnant through a miracle of God and her son would be the Messiah. Whether or not she fully understood the spiritual implications of this announcement, she immediately understood the social implications. There were no circumstances under which her parents, friends, fiancé, or the community were going to believe her story.
The entire community would immediately assume she had been unfaithful to Joseph and was guilty of sexual sin. She was likely going to be ostracized by everyone including Joseph. According to the current laws she could be killed for having a sexual relationship outside of marriage (Leviticus 20:10; John 8:5). The announcement had devastating implications.
Now, think about Joseph. This unsuspecting young man was blindsided by his fiancé’s news and, predictably, he did not believe her. He decided to act in the proper, honorable way, and quietly end the engagement. After all, what Mary told him could not possible be true. However, before Joseph had time to act, the Angel appeared to him and confirmed Mary’s story.
Despite knowing they would be social outcasts, likely banned from the local synagogue, maybe shunned by friends and family, Mary and Joseph had the same response to the God of the impossible.
Mary’s reply to the Angel is intriguing. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). In the Greek language the literal English translation for the word for servant would be “bond slave.” A bond slave was not a slave as we think of slavery. This had nothing to do with ethnic slavery or forced work.
A bond slave was a someone who willingly made a lifelong commitment to serve another person in exchange for that person’s lifelong commitment to be their provider and protector. The bond slave would serve, and the master would provide housing, clothing, and food.
Mary and Joseph made a lifelong commitment to obey (serve) God regardless of consequence. God was their Lord, their Master. Too many people in our culture want to “accept Jesus” so their sins can be forgiven and have eternal life. I am convinced we are missing the larger picture that Mary and Joseph instinctively understood. Making a commitment to serve God as our Lord (Master) is what God requires. As we make that commitment Jesus becomes our Saviour, our sins are forgiven, and we are welcomed into the Kingdom of God and eternal life with God.
I encourage you to contemplate this question: “Has your relationship with God been focused on your receiving the benefit of forgiven sins and eternal life? Or does your relationship with God centre on God being in full control as Lord?”
If your relationship has been focused on Jesus as “Saviour,” I urge you to join Mary and Joseph with a lifelong commitment to serving God.
Tuesday December 22 – Why the Messiah Came
As a follower of Jesus it is crucial for us to have a solid understanding of why Jesus came. Many people, including the people of Israel did not fully understand why God sent His Son, Jesus, to be the Messiah. They, and we, often misunderstand the reason the Messiah came. Pay attention to Luke 1:69 where Zechariah talks about God providing a redemption for His people.
39In 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!” 
46And Mary said: My soul praises the greatness of 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, 49because 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.
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.
64Immediately 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.
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, 70just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets in ancient times; 71salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us.
72He has dealt mercifully with our fathers 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.
80The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Zechariah, like others, was familiar with what the Old Testament scriptures said about the coming Messiah. However, he, like others, did not have a full understanding of what the Messiah would accomplish (look back to Luke 1:71). The common expectation at the time of Zechariah was that the Messiah would establish an earthly kingdom and provide redemption by defeating their Roman occupiers.
This misunderstanding continues through the entire Gospels. The disciples maintained this line of thinking right up to the crucifixion of Jesus.
However, the redemption the Messiah provided was a spiritual redemption. Jesus accomplished this by inviting us into His spiritual Kingdom. The Kingdom results in our having a renewed and eternal life with God. The Messiah came to reestablish God’s intention of creation as described in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2).
Today, over 2000 years since the arrival of Jesus, it is easy to have as much of a misunderstanding as those who lived at the time of Jesus. Though we are not expecting Jesus to save us from a foreign army, we have the thought that Jesus came to forgive my sin, give me eternal life, and make my life easier. While there is truth in those expectations, we mistakenly think of Jesus as a personal safety line that we grab and hang onto in a stormy world.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came so that our relationship with God could be restored. He came so we would have the opportunity to declare Him as our Lord. As our Creator, Jesus deserves to be the Lord in our lives. What is important to understand is that, Jesus will never “take” that position. We must “give” Him that position. Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So, yes, because Jesus came, we can have our sins forgiven and have eternal life. However, those are the results of our declaring Jesus as Lord. The reason the Messiah came was to restore the relationship between Creator and creation. He came to take His place as Lord in our lives. He came to restore us to having a place in His Kingdom.
Is Jesus your Lord? Or have you been thinking of Jesus as a “safety line” to get eternal life?
If you have not given Jesus the place of Lord in your life, ask yourself: “Do I want Jesus to be my Lord, the One in control of my life, or do I want to try to control my own destiny?”
If you want to have Jesus as your Lord, take time to pray right now and declare Him as your Lord. Having done that, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).
Wednesday December 23 – Glory to God
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.
6While 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.
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But 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: 11Today 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.
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).
25There 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.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation. 31You 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.”
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.
38At 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.
In addition to Luke 2 being a narrative about the Messiah being born in a stable, this is a passage of glorifying God.
Admittedly, the idea of glorifying God is difficult to describe. The basic idea of glorifying God is to describe or reflect God’s greatness.
In Luke 2:13 a multitude of angels unexpectedly appeared to the shepherds praising God saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven . . .” A few verses later, in verse 20, the shepherds were on their way back to the fields after seeing the baby Jesus and they were “glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.”
The Greek word that is translated as “glory” is doxa which has the idea of stating or declaring that someone has high standing among others. In this situation, the declaration from the angels (verse 13) and the shepherds (verse 20) was that God has the absolute highest standing!
So, what are the implications for us?
The first implication is understanding that Luke 2 is more than a narrative about the events of an incredible night over 2000 years ago. It is a declaration about the high standing of God, and we should read it with that perspective. God had brought about the fulfillment of a promise that extends back to Genesis 12:12 when He called Abram (later named Abraham) to follow Him. Part of the calling was a promise that through Abram’s family all the people of the earth would be blessed. Later promises were more specific about a King being born and a Kingdom established that would never end (Isaiah 9). This shows us that God is faithful. Fully, completely, faithful! We can confidently declare that God not only deserves the highest standing of all, but that He does have the highest standing. God is the most powerful, faithful, and loving! Through His scriptures He has consistently shown that.
The second implication is that God has been and will continue to be faithful in our lives. We can be confident that He will continue to show us His love and kindness. We can be confident that God will fulfill His promise and welcome us into His Kingdom, providing you with eternal life.
In addition to God showing His greatness and faithfulness to us, we have the privilege to glorify God. We can proclaim His glory by praising Him, telling others about Him, and by living a life that reflects God and His commands.
Like the shepherds on that amazing night more than 2000 years ago, we have the privilege of glorifying God!
Thursday December 24 – God Is Faithful
At different times in our lives, all of us experience stress, anxieties, and fear. Circumstances are overwhelming and we seem to be drowning. Today’s scriptures describe a fearful time for Joseph and Mary. The scriptures show that God is always faithful!
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 Christ 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.
13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt.
15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. 
16 Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. 
17 Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, because those who intended to kill the child are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother, and entered the land of Israel.
22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. 23Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Genesis records the story of a young man by the name of Joseph being sold as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 37-46). Joseph was the son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac (also called Israel – Genesis 35:9) and great grandson of Abraham. Though Joseph was sold by jealous brothers, it was part of God’s larger plan to prepare for the people of Israel to be saved from a famine. Eventually, because of God’s directing, Joseph was released from slavery and became second in command in Egypt. A result of that is his family (even the brothers who sold him as a slave) were invited to move to Egypt and avoid the famine. Despite a situation that appeared to begin with a tragedy, God was faithful!
Years later, in what seems to be a catastrophe, while still living in Egypt, the people of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians. Four hundred years later God, through Moses, provided salvation for the people of Israel, brought His people out of Egypt, and eventually to the land God had previously promised to Abraham. Again, God was faithful.
Approximately 1500 years later a similar roundtrip of faithfulness takes place. Another Joseph, also a descendant of Abraham and the husband of Mary, is told in a dream to take Mary and Jesus, and escape to Egypt because a paranoid King Herod was wanting to kill the child.
Matthew 2:15 references a promise (prophecy) from Hosea 11:1; “out of Egypt I called my Son.” The move to Egypt and the subsequent return to Israel was a fulfilment of this promise. The Hosea 11:1 scripture not only looks forward to Jesus, it is also looking back at Genesis when God moved the family of Israel to Egypt and faithfully brings them back to the land promised to Abraham. Israel could know the future promise would be kept because of God’s faithfulness in the past.
The point is that God keeps His promises. He is faithful. So, what does this for mean us?
The family of Israel experienced a horrible situation as slaves in Egypt. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were experiencing a life-threatening situation in Bethlehem. Their lives had been turned upside down. They were likely not welcome back in Nazareth and now they had to pack up in the middle of the night and get out of Bethlehem. They had no family support and no friends to talk to. They likely experienced off the charts stress. Fear, loneliness, anxiety, stress, and isolation was closing around them like the darkness of a midnight storm.
And, God was faithful. He kept His promise to call them out of Egypt and back home.
What are you struggling with?
Take a minute to think about your struggle and clearly identify one or two specific issues. Identify the cause of the stress. You can be one hundred percent confident that God will keep His promises to you. God promises to provide comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), peace (Philippians 4:6-7), wisdom (James 1:5), and protection and provision (Psalm 23). We have the promise that Jesus is always with us, to the time of the end (Matthew 28:20). These are promises that God will faithfully keep.
You were created by God. You have value to God. He loves you immensely and He has promised to provide for your every need (Luke 12:22-30). Despite the stress, anxiety, and fears of today, God will faithfully keep His promises to you.
In the middle of your difficulties, give thanks to God for His promises and continue to trust that God will faithfully look after you in the middle of tough times.
 “The Word” is a title of Jesus relating to His role as the communicator of the message of God for the salvation of His creation.
 This is a reference to a prophecy in Malachi 3:1 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” and Isaiah 40:3-5.
 The literal translation is not “servant”, but “bond slave.” A bond slave had nothing to do with ethnic slavery but was a phrase indicating someone who willingly pledged lifetime service to another.  Joseph knew his family and friends would be horrified if he did not end his engagement to Mary. Ending the engagement was the “proper” response to her being pregnant. Joseph’s decision to continue with the marriage despite the consequences shows that he had the same commitment to God as Mary.
 The point is that not only did Mary do what God said, but that she BELIEVED. There was a deep inner belief that lead to her an action of obedience. This is crucial for us. Doing what God says is pointless unless the action stems from a deep belief in God.
 NOTE 7. We will read later in the ancestries of both Mary and Joseph that they were both descendants of King David. This is why they both had to travel to Bethlehem, the town of David. It also fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 6 that the Messiah will be a descendant of King David.  Note 8. Many historians agree that the sheep flocks kept in the area of Bethlehem were a primary source of lambs used for the sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. The angel announced to the shepherds of these flocks that the Messiah, the “Lamb of God”, the final sacrifice had just been born in Bethlehem.
 The name “Jesus” means “Saviour”
 This is an indication that Jesus, as Saviour came not just for the Jews, but for all the people of the earth. This coincides with the Abrahamic Covenant (a promise from God to Abraham) in Genesis 12:1-4, that out of Israel would come a blessing for the entire world.
 This is a reference to the Isaiah 9 Messianic prophecy that the coming Messiah would be a “light that shines in the darkness.”
 King Herod was appointed by Rome to govern Israel. He was known as a cruel, evil, paranoid person who did everything (including killing family members) to maintain his position as king.
 The “wise men” (magi) were astrologers and advisors of kings from Persia - formerly Babylon and now Iran. During the time of King Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and deported Jews to Babylon. After 70 years they were allowed to return to Israel. Many made the decision to stay in Babylon / Persia and were in positions of authority (Daniel being the most known example). It is possible that the “wise men may have been Jews.
 Literal translations use the word “house” to describe where Jesus was. Despite how our nativity scenes depict the birth of Jesus, the “wise men” were not present at the birth or shortly after. Given the likely feelings against Mary and Joseph in Nazareth it is not surprising that they chose to settle in Bethlehem. It it is likely that the “wise men” arrived up to two years after the birth.
 Though three gifts were given, we do not know how many “wise men” came to worship Jesus.
 This is a reference not just to the current situation of Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt. It also is a reference to a past Joseph being brought to Egypt thousands of years ago (Genesis 39-47) and the subsequent events that lead to God calling His people (the nation of Israel) out of Egypt (Exodus 1-14).
 King Herod was a mean, paranoid person who was obsessive about dealing violently to any perceived threat to his position. While we properly cringe at the brutality of killing babies, this act was overshadowed by other, larger acts of violence.