Thanks for joining us for the Advent study, ‘Tis the Season: Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for a Christ-Centered Christmas. If you missed the earlier post on the inspiration for this study, you can catch up here.
Our study is based on the verses found in Psalm 86:11-13:
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Each week you’ll find a section on Preparing your Heart and then tips and activities for Preparing Your Home. When I teach this study “live”, I always have ladies share ways they prepare their homes for Christmas. I’d love to hear from you! Comment and share, upload a picture or two and let’s encourage and inspire one another.
As we seek to prepare our hearts and homes in order to celebrate what’s truly important this Christmas season, let’s take time to stop, look, listen and celebrate Immanuel—God with us.
I invite you to download and print the free e-book study guide that accompanies this online discussion.
We begin our Advent study looking at the truth found in Psalm 86:11:
#1 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;
God’s ways are not our ways and we often miss His presence and joy because we are either not looking, or we are looking for things that don’t line up with His truth and ways (or perhaps His ways don’t seem to line up with what we “think” His ways should be). This is what happened in the first Christmas story. God had things planned beyond their wildest comprehension and as 2 Peter 3:8 encourages us:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Read the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. —Isaiah 64:1-4
Our God is still a God who acts for those who wait for Him.
We are going to look at a bit of the history during the time of Christ’s birth and investigate further some of the details of the Christmas story. This may seem boring and unnecessary, but hang with me.
God made a way for us to understand His ways and His truth — Jesus!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. —John 1:1-5, 14
Jesus! He is Immanuel —God with us. This title for Christ is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 and fulfilled in Matthew 1:23. There are over 300 prophecies from the Old Testament about the birth, life and death of Christ Jesus and EVERY one of them was fulfilled. Matthew 1:18 begins the story of the Nativity with these words… Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way…
The Christmas story and the Easter story are summed up beautifully in Galatians 4:4-7. It is the Gospel in a nutshell.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “ Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Let’s unpack these verses a bit.
WHEN? When is the fullness of time?
There had been 400 years of silence from the last word the Lord spoke to His people through His prophets until the birth of Christ. What had been happening? Was God still working? Yes! God was at work —preparing for the “fullness of time”. It was the time of the Roman Empire (Luke 2) and Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of Roman empire —a brand new empire. Here are four historical facts that helped to prepare for the birth of Christ in the exact time and place in history that God had purposed long ago:
- Pax Romana – Roman Peace – Roman conquest was not followed by oppression but consideration for local customs and ensured military protection and domestic peace (general, not local). It is the first time where cultures/national heritages were allowed to exist, but were united under one government. Caesar Augustus was not about continuing to conquer but firm administration over what had been conquered. The Roman Empire lasted more than 500 years (longest lasting empire ever). There was relative peace in the world.
- East and West Come Together – all parts of the empire had begun to freely mingle. People could travel all over and gave cosmopolitan character to the empire – all races and languages.
- Roads – connecting the empire (one could travel by horse 100 miles in a day).
- Language – Greek was the common language even spoken by Romans – permeates Eastern and Western Roman Empire.
We think of our lives in terms of past, present, and future. It isn’t that way with God. He is outside of time. We need to remember this when we wonder about God’s plans and purposes. We cannot understand this about God, because he is so different from us in this respect. But we can accept it and respond by worshiping such a great God and entrusting him with our lives. —Ann Hibbard
WHERE? Where is the setting of the Christmas story?
Micah 5:2 prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. We find it is fulfilled in Luke 2:4-7.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. —Micah 5:2
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. —Luke 2:4-7
All Scripturally informed Jews knew certain facts about the Messiah who would one day come to earth:
- from the royal line of David and reign from throne in Jerusalem
- born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) – if events had progressed ordinarily, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem. But God orchestrated it so that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem.
WHO? Who are the people God has chosen to take part in this glorious event?
Let’s look at the characters in the Christmas Story. Read Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:40. As you read through the accounts of Jesus’ birth, note what you learn about each of the people involved. What do learn about their character and their part in the story? John MacArthur in his book, God in the Manger, notes that the Christmas story contains examples of the three basic responses people of every locale and historical era have typically had toward Jesus: hostility, indifference and worship. Note next to each person in the story their response to the birth of Christ.
- Caesar Augustus – Luke 2:1-2 (an unlikely character in our story but part of God’s plan. Caesar Augustus was the greatest emperor of the most powerful and influential government this world has known. Yet his decree was merely God’s tool.)
- Herod – Matthew 2:1-12,16-18, 2:19-23; Luke 1:5
- Gabriel – Luke 1:11-19, 26-29 (Gabriel’s name means, I am he who stands in the presence of God.)
- Zechariah – Luke 1:5-25, 67-80
- Elizabeth – Luke 1:39-45, 57-66
- Mary – Luke 1:26-36, 56
- Joseph – Matthew 1:16, 18-25, 2:13-15,19-23
- Shepherds – Luke 2:8-21
- Magi/Wise Men – Matthew 2:1-12
- Simeon – Luke 2:22-38
- Anna – Luke 2:22-38
I hope this big picture overview of the birth of Christ was encouraging and insightful for you. If you’d like to study some of the characters in more depth, check out the devotional study, Do You See What I See?
WHY? Why didn’t the Jewish people recognize Jesus when He came? They were looking for a political Messiah and national restoration of Israel and its glory. They wanted to be saved from Rome but didn’t understand salvation from their own sins.
Four major reasons genealogies were critical to ancient Jews: (John MacArthur)
- determined one’s claim on land based on original allocation by tribe when entered land
- determined claims to the right of inheritance
- established basis of taxation
- any claim to priesthood/royalty had to be verified by genealogy
Jesus’ genealogy makes a crucial contribution to His credentials as Messiah.
“These verses are very simple and straightforward, just as Mary and Joseph were simple people. God is not impressed with the great and mighty Caesars of this world. He looks for simple Marys and Josephs who are listening for his voice and ready to do what he says.” —Ann Hibbard
WHAT? What characterizes one who walks in truth? What can we learn from those in the Christmas story?
God did not choose the wise or wealthy or those of great social standing. He chose those who were humble and obedient to His Word, even in the face of bizarre circumstances. He chose those who were still enough to hear and listen to His instructions. We also see God used the unsuspecting and unwilling. What does this tell you about God’s character, His ways and promises?
Too often we get so busy with our drive-thru, instant gratification lifestyles that we miss the life God has for us. There were those who missed the grand and glorious fulfillment of His promises from years before and those who missed hearing his voice after 400 years of silence.
HOW? How will this affect your Christmas and transform your every day life? Read 2 Peter 3:8-18.
Three times in this passage of Scripture we find the repeated phrase “wait for” (verses 12, 13, 14). Like those over 2000 years ago, we too are waiting.
wait for – prosdokaō – to expect, look for, watch with anticipation.
We are waiting for Christ as well — for His second coming. What should we be doing? How should we be preparing?
2 Peter 3:8-18 instructs us to be a people whose lives are characterized by holy conduct and godliness. We are to diligently seek to be at peace with God and we are to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But God does not leave us without help.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. —2 Peter 1:3-4
Are you preparing as you wait? Will you be caught off guard and miss it like those so long ago that night in Bethlehem?
1. Your Christmas List – Make a list of your normal Christmas/Holiday schedule of activities. Pray over this list and examine your heart. What can you do to make your Christmas more intentionally focused on Christ?
2. Prophecy Jar/Chain – read one Scripture from Old Testament and one from New Testament each night and discuss. Download 44 Prophecies on the Birth of Christ.
3. Nativity – if you have children at home, consider setting up the Nativity over a period of weeks leading up to Christmas and place characters in setting as it happens. This is a great way to teach our children the story of Christmas. It’s a wonderful activity to go alongside the Prophecy Jar/Chain activity.
Lord, teach us who You are and Your ways, that we may be women who walk in truth and reflect Christ to those around us.
(This post originally appeared on October 29, 2014 as part of the online Bible study.)