Since this is the season of Advent, it seemed right to begin with the most recent devotional message given to the nursing home residents on December 15, 2013. As the Director of our church's nursing home ministry, I have the delightful privilege of participating every week in the worship service we present at the local Community Care Center (hereafter CCC). Each non-denominational, Christ-focused service contains Scripture reading, prayer (often led by pastors who are residents at the CCC), worship and singing, and a message. We offer communion quarterly, and host special programs for Easter, Memorial Day, and Advent.
In these services I do not usually have the privilege of giving the message; seven wonderful men from local churches speak in rotation. But on this day I subbed in at the last minute and decided to share with them - and now with you - what the Lord has been teaching me as I read, once more, the Christmas Story.
The Journey is Part of the Gift.
The late Ruth Stafford Peale once told the following story:
Her husband, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, had been preaching and teaching in Africa when a teenaged boy was saved and baptised. He left soon after to work in the fields, and they both thought they'd seen the last of him.
But Mrs. Peale said her husband opened the door one night a few weeks later to see the teenage boy, holding a beautiful conch shell. He had traveled many days, always by foot, to bring the shell to them as a Christmas present. The boy described how he had spent many days combing the beach, looking for just the right shell, one with just the right iridescent hues, one with no chips or cracks, one that when held to the ear, produced just the right sound of waves rushing to the shore.
Mrs. Peale said she felt overwhelmed that the young man had walked so far, all alone, just to bring them a Christmas present.
But she said the young man just smiled. "Oh no," he exclaimed in his best English, "you see...long journey part of gift."
The Long Journey is Part of the Gift.
We think a lot about Jesus’ birth at this time of year. The name we call him by, Jesus, is just a Greek variant of the Hebrew Jeshua But Matthew 1:23 gives us another name for Him “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” (which means “God with us”).
God with us.
That in itself is a gift of rare beauty. But like the boy’s shell, there’s more to it than even that.
As we think about that Baby in the manger, we remember what He became; what He came to do, as we should. But we don’t often think about where He was before that Holy Night in Bethlehem. But if we consider the journey He made to come to Earth, we will have an even greater understanding and appreciation of the gift.
What was He doing before He was born on earth? John 1:1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word Was God. He was in the beginning with God."
So before Bethlehem He was God The all-powerful, almighty God.
Born in Bethlehem, he was still God….but in human flesh. And in His humanity, He made Himself subject to our frailty. For the first time, God fell down and scraped his knee. Caught a headcold. Felt pain. Just imagine…being God and accidentally pounding your thumb with a carpenter’s hammer! That’s quite a big step on the journey.
And we read on in John 1: "All things were made through him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."
Wow. So before Bethlehem, He was the agent of creation. He created EVERYTHING that was ever created. Now that’s Power!
But when He was born in Bethlehem, for the first time in His limitless existence, God experienced a need.
And the terms he placed on Himself said He could not meet the need Himself; he had to depend on others.
What others? A carpenter and a teenage girl. It would have been slightly better if He had some to earth as an adult; but a Baby? He needed everything: He needed to be fed. He needed to be changed. He needed to be carried, and protected, and kept warm.
But even more, before Bethlehem, He was the boss. He had the authority to command; He said in the garden, after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Born in Bethlehem, He put Himself under the law; the law He Himself established. The law that subverted itself to try, convict, and execute Him.
Before Bethlehem, Jesus was worshiped along with the Father; many Psalms speak of Him and exalt Him and magnify His name..
But after Bethlehem, His own people – even his friends - mocked, ridiculed, and denied Him.
Does that give you some idea of the long journey He had to go on to give us the Greatest Gift? Do you understand what He gave up to pay your debt; to win your soul?
A perfect human could have paid the price and satisfied God’s wrath and paid our sin-debt. And that would have been an amazing gift. But for God…for Jesus…the long journey was part of the gift.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with out weaknesses…” He understands us—all of us— because He has been where we are.
Once you start thinking about it that way, it becomes easier to accept that He understands us. But I think the residents are uniquely precious to our Lord and Saviour because They understand Him They have been mothers and fathers, pastors, businessmen, teachers, ministry leaders and commanding officers. And now they are dependent on others to direct their lives and meet their needs.
When you hear songs about Emmanuel and catch yourself thinking about God with Us this Christmas, think about where He came from…Before Bethlehem… And when you thank Him for the gift, thank Him also for the Journey.