The Characters of Christmas: Joseph

“…an angel of the Lord appeared to (Joseph) in a dream and said, ‘…do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'” (Matthew 1:20, NIV).

The phrase “a chip off the old block” seems fitting when it comes to Jesus and his earthly father, Joseph. One can almost picture a young Jesus standing among the saw dust and filings fallen from Joseph’s work bench. From the time of Jesus’ infancy, Joseph served as an example of maturity, sacrifice, and so many other traits that would later be evidenced in Jesus’ life.

To say that Joseph overcame the many challenges of fatherhood would be a bit of an understatement. The announcement of his betrothed that she was pregnant, along with an angelic visit corroborating her seemingly preposterous story, would have been more than most men could handle. Still, Joseph remained faithful to Mary and to the God-given task at hand, raising the Savior of all mankind. 

It’s likely that Joseph died at an early age, before he could witness all that Jesus would become. Still, Joseph’s example lived on in the life of his son. Perhaps Jesus recalled Joseph’s treatment of Mary as he stood in defense of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Likely, Jesus considered his earthly father’s compassion for others as he arranged from the cross an informal adoption between Mary and John, who would now be the one to take care of Mary into her old age. 

I wonder if Joseph, as he stood beside Mary and the manger, understood the influence he would have upon Jesus.  Could Joseph have known that this child wrapped so warmly in cloths was his Savior? I’m certain that Joseph, like Mary, pondered these and so many other things in his heart as that first Christmas night surrendered to the light of a new day.

 

 

 

The Characters of Christmas: The Angel

“…the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord'” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV).

What an awesome and terrifying sight it must have been for the shepherds, when suddenly the night sky was illuminated by all of Heaven’s glory! An angel stood before them, prefacing the announcement of Jesus’ birth with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

“Of course, we’re afraid,” I imagine the shepherds saying to one another. “We’ve never seen anything quite like this!” But, the angel meant not to alarm them, but to bring them the very best news – a Savior had been born for them!

I personally have never seen an angel, at least that I’m aware of, for they do sometimes come in disguise. To see an actual angel, even one bearing good news, would be quite memorable, and likely a bit scary.

I think a lot of people have the same fearful feelings concerning God. And who could blame them? We often view God as judgmental at best, and petty at worst. At other times, God seems distant, and some people prefer to keep him that way.

But, God came near in Jesus when he took on human flesh and lived among us. He didn’t come to earth to instill fear in our hearts, but to bring us peace. He came, not in judgment, but in mercy and grace. Perhaps this is why Jesus appeared to man in such a non-threatening way – a baby gift-wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, God’s gift to us all. 

The Characters of Christmas: Mary

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV).

There are so many things for a new mother to treasure concerning her child. There are the firsts – the first sound her baby makes (even if it’s crying), the first moment her newborn gazes into her eyes, the first time he (and she) sleeps through the entire night. Then, there are the firsts to come – the first stumbling steps, the first mumbling words, the first time he says “I love you”, and the not-too-far-down-the-road first day of school. There are so many first time experiences that both thrill and overwhelm even the most prepared of mothers.

Jesus’ mother, Mary was anything but prepared, it would seem. Just a child herself, Mary was charged with the awesome and overwhelming task of giving birth to the Savior of the world. A frightening visit from an angel, the scandal of teen pregnancy, and an expecting mother’s long trek to Bethlehem would have been too much for most to handle. Mary, however, seemed to take everything in stride. She was, after all, God’s chosen vessel to bring Jesus into the world. 

There was so much for Mary to treasure in Jesus, God’s gift to her and to all of mankind. And there was much to ponder. This baby of hers was special. He was the Messiah, the Savior to Israel, God dressed in human flesh, and she adored him. Still she pondered.

Perhaps Mary mourned in the dim light of that moonlit stable. Although she did not fully understand all that her son would face in life, she knew that God had some sort of special plan for her boy. The baby she held so close would one day be held to a cross. The life she gave to her child would be given for all. For now, however, Mary treasured Jesus. She pondered. And she worshiped him.   

 

The Characters of Christmas: The Bethlehem Shepherds

“‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'” (Luke 2:12, NIV).

I find it ironic that a few lowly shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were hardly included in the upper crust of society. In fact, they were despised by most people. But, perhaps, it is for this very reason that God chose them to be the first to encounter the living Christ.

The shepherds in the surrounding fields of Bethlehem had the special task of breeding the lambs that were selected for Temple sacrifice in nearby Jerusalem. Only the choicest of lambs was offered. Therefore, once a lamb was born, the shepherd would wrap it tightly in cloths to keep it from injuring itself. It’s quite possible that the very stable that became the birthing suite of Jesus was also the birthplace of countless lambs before him.

When the angel told the shepherds of the sign given to them, that they would find the newborn Christ wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, these shepherds would likely have known where to find Jesus. The Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world, lay in a stable where multitudes of sacrificial lambs had been born before him. Unlike the temporary atonement they offered, however, Jesus’ one day, once-for-all sacrifice would change the world. 

How Big is My God?

“How big is my God?” I often have pondered.

In childlike faith with childhood wonder.

As high as the mountains and dense as the trees,

As broad as the heavens, as deep as the seas.

All-knowing, all-present, almighty he reigns.

No beginning nor end, God always has been.

Yet, something seems missing in all of this truth.

For God seems impersonal and so far removed.

His grandeur, his power, his greatness, and all

Seems so overwhelming, and I feel so small.

I need something more relevant, more intimate, more true

Than a God who is distant and hasn’t a clue.

And then I’m reminded of a baby in cloths

Wrapped up like a gift and placed in a trough.

When shepherds stood speechless and Joseph the same,

Messiah the King, born in Bethlehem!

A city so humble and lacking of worth

Became the hometown of the Messiah’s birth.

Angels proclaimed to the world great peace,

And all of creation fell to her knees

And worshiped an infant so fragile and small,

Perfection incarnate to save us all.

Great joy and glad tidings to everyone tell.

Of God in the flesh, Immanuel.

The question once pondered now brought to the light,

The answer revealed in that first Christmas night.

“How big is my God?” A few pounds, a few ounces

As Heaven rejoices and my heart dances.

No longer afraid of eternal danger,

My soul lies safe, like a babe in a manger.

And to this child I owe my soul’s rest

The God of Creation is God in the flesh.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Risen

Today’s post is the final devotion in my series on the symbolism found in my children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. I am so grateful for the work of artist Terri Melia Hamlin on this project. Terri’s illustrations compliment the story and visually depict deeper theological truths. In today’s devotion, I share the final scene in the book, which shows Jesus sleeping and dreaming.

So much of “Finished” is a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact, the book’s title, “Finished” reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross completed the work of forgiveness and restored the sin-broken relationship between God and man. It’s no coincidence that Jesus is sleeping as the story comes to a close. Sleep, after all, is a metaphor for death in the Bible. Make no doubt about it. Jesus lost his life to save people from their sins.

Still, the story is not ultimately over, and death never gets the final word. The illustration shows Jesus dreaming while he sleeps. Jesus’ dream is of a better day, the Resurrection Day, when Jesus would rise from the dead. The lesson here is that brighter days are always ahead for the Christian. The empty tomb of Jesus assures it.

I’d like to close this devotion by thanking you, the reader, for your investment in this project. I believe “Finished” has the potential to ignite conversations between young and old. My prayer is that both the reader and listener would grow in wisdom and in their relationship with the Savior, Jesus. May you and yours always be blessed.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: It is Finished

In today’s devotion, I continue my discussion of the symbolism found in my book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. In the story, Jesus has constructed a small wooden cross, which he holds in the light of Joseph’s workshop window. Jesus speaks of the project he and Joseph have constructed by saying, “It is finished.” These words of Jesus are meant to remind us of much more than the completion of a project. Indeed, they tell of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus will one day perform on the cross of Calvary.

According to the Gospel writer John, one of Jesus’ real-life statements from the cross was “…’It is finished’…” (John 19:30, NIV). With this simple, yet powerful, phrase, Jesus was announcing that the work of forgiveness was complete. Everything that had once separated sinful people from a just and holy God had been forgiven.

Notice again the window in the illustration. This time the clouds are gone, and the sun is shining. The hope of a new day has come. Darkness has been dispelled by the light of Jesus’ accomplishment.

The finished work of Jesus means that we are no longer considered enemies of God. Neither are we condemned. Jesus did everything to restore our broken relationship with God. Salvation was a price we couldn’t pay, but it was paid in full by our Savior. We are forgiven! Heaven awaits!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Responsibility

In my current series of devotions, I’m discussing the symbolism found in the illustrations of my Christian children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. The beautiful images found in the book were created by artist Terri Melia Hamlin. Terri’s artwork masterfully tells the story’s narrative in a way that is appropriate for children, while, at the same time, shares deeper spiritual truths with the adult reader. The book is meant to encourage dialogue between the two concerning the significance of Jesus’ life and death.

Today’s illustration shows Joseph assisting Jesus with a project. Jesus has fashioned two boards in the form of a cross. Because he is so little, and the hammer is heavy, Joseph must pound the nails into place. The image is meant to remind us of Jesus’ complete innocence and how each of us, like Joseph, plays a part in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Notice once again, Joseph’s workshop window, where we see storm clouds. The clouds are meant to symbolize the darkness of the events of the crucifixion.

The good news, again, is that Jesus lived and died for us. And, although it was our sin that placed Jesus upon the cross, he died there to remove it from us. Moreover, his Resurrection three short days later gives us newness of life. We are forgiven, and we are free! Praise God!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Nails

Today, I’m continuing my series on the symbolism found in the illustrations of my children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with artist Terri Melia Hamlin, and together we’ve put together a story that is both appropriate and entertaining for the youngest of readers, yet contains deep theological truths for adults.

In the illustration above, we see the hands of Jesus holding nails as he continues work on a project. The picture is meant to remind us of the nails that would pierce Jesus’ hands and feet as an adult. Jesus’ childhood hands are open as he submissively accepts the fate he must one day endure.

Think about it. The same hands of God, that formed man from the dust of the ground, would be punctured by nails as he died to forgive man of his sins. The hands that healed adults and held children would be held in place by such cruel and rudimentary instruments. The very hands that spread wide to embrace the most wayward of sinners, were extended fully in love and sacrifice on the wooden frame of the cross.

Our hands, by contrast, abuse our fellow man, bruising his body and shedding his blood. They are far too often clenched in fists. Our hands steal and destroy and point accusing fingers at others.

The amazing news of God’s grace, however, is that Jesus solved the problem of our sin. He took our spiritual dilemma into his own forgiving hands along with the nails that pierced his flesh. He died to free us from our inability to keep and shear defiance of his perfect commands and rose again to offer us a new way of living, forgiven and free and held in his resurrected and nail-scarred hands. We are his people, both created and forgiven by him.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Submission

In my last post, I discussed some of the symbolism found in the cover illustration of my first Christian children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. Today, I’m continuing the task of looking at some of the nuances and spiritual truths found throughout the images of the book.

Before I begin, I want to express my sincere appreciation to artist Terri Melia Hamlin for her work. Terri brought the pages of “Finished” to life with her passion and artistry. The book we created together would not be the same without Terri’s skill and devotion.

In the illustration above, we see Joseph constructing a pen for the family’s animals. Jesus is working, too, just a few feet away, on a very different sort of project. In the dust of Joseph’s workshop, Jesus has fashioned two small boards in the shape of a cross. Notice Jesus’ submissive posture as he kneels before the cross. The symbolism here reminds us of Jesus’ willingness to one day suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Notice also the stormy skies seen through the window of Joseph’s workshop. We’re reminded here of the darkness that “…came over the whole land…” (Luke 23:44, NIV) as Jesus suffered his ultimate fate on the cross.

The book “Finished” is a fictional story of Jesus’ childhood innocence. Still, the real-life story of Jesus is one that is hardly fit for the pages of a children’s book. The intense suffering and gruesome crucifixion of the Savior demonstrates all that Jesus must go through for people. The words of this event, as they are found in Scripture, do not seem to offer any hope of a happy, storybook ending. But, then comes the Resurrection and the entire narrative changes!