Daily Devotion for December 24, 2013
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Prayer for the Morning
May all I do today begin with you, O Lord. Plant dreams and hopes within my soul and revive my tired spirit: be with me today. Be at my side and walk with me; be my support, that your hand may be seen in every action I take, that your goodness may be in every word I speak, and that your spirit may inhabit my every thought. Make my thoughts, my work, and my very life blessings for your kingdom. In Christ's name I pray,
Prayer for Christmas Eve
Gracious, loving and merciful God, on this Christmas Eve, as the light of your Word penetrates our hearts, as we are reminded of the gift of life and faith, as the glories of the heavenly hosts are echoed in churches all over the world, I open myself up to your Spirit and give you thanks. I am grateful, Lord Jesus, that your story has become our story, and we celebrate your birth.
Continue, I pray, to instill in my heart and the hearts of all who confess your name, a profound sense of your abiding presence, and help us to take to heart the wonder of your love, that we may walk in your ways and delight in your will.
Help us, Lord God, to be the faithful, gracious, loving, giving and forgiving people you would have us be.
Another of the great Christmas Eve hymns, this one featuring the great voices of Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. (I have no idea why they have a picture of Elton John in the video.)
Music by Adolphe-Charles Adam
Lyrics by Placide Cappeau c. 1847
Christmas Tree Blessing
Holy Creator of Trees, bless with your abundant grace our Christmas trees as symbols of joy. May their evergreen branches be a sign of your never-fading promises.
May their colorful lights and ornaments call us to decorate with love our home and our world. May the gifts that surround them tree be symbols of the gifts we have received from the Tree of Christ's Cross.
Holy Christmas trees, in our homes and churches every place they may be found, may Joy and Peace come and nest in your branches and in our hearts, and may you remind all who see you that Christmas is the celebration of the Christ child, a feast to commemorate the coming of our salvation into the world.
Prayer of Resolve
I bind myself to you this day, oh Christ, in your truth and in your sacrifice. I give to you my anxiety and my fear, my depression and my doubt, for you have promised to take them if we only ask; and I take upon myself your burden, for it is light and your way is gentle. May I keep this in my heart and mind all this day.
(Additional prayers may be found at Prayers for All Occasions.)
God be with you 'til we meet again.
Matthew 1:18-25 (New King James Version)
Christ is Born of Mary
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows:
After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Notes on the Scripture
The word betrothed means something very similar to what we would call "engaged" today. But it was more binding; it was a legal contract. Even as late as 100 years ago in our own society, people rarely got stood up at the altar or broke an engagement; it happened, but it usually generated a lawsuit for breach of promise. In Hebrew culture of Joseph and Mary's day, the period of betrothal was at least nine months, for a specific reason: to ensure that the bride was not pregnant by another man and could thus be presumed to be a virgin.
The betrothal process, thus, was partly an assurance to the groom that he would not find himself responsible for another man's child. But poor Joseph. He was obviously fond of his bride-to-be and had not slept with her, when suddenly he faced the prospective groom's worst nightmare: his fiancée was pregnant, but not by him. But what a man Joseph proved to be; he loved Mary so much, that instead of breaking the engagement (which was the main purpose of the betrothal), he hid her from sight, so that she would not suffer the disgrace of her condition. The verse is not clear whether he still planned to marry her; possibly, the words "put her away" imply that he would break the betrothal, possibly not. Deuteronomy 24 does not require that divorce be public.
Or perhaps, more likely, he was confused and uncertain and was trying to make up his mind what to do, because today's Scripture says that the angel came to him "when he considered this".
So why was Joseph so willing to trust a dream he had? Matthew says, "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet." This rang a bell with Joseph; every Hebrew knew the words of the great prophets Isaiah and Micah, and knew that the redeemer would be born to a virgin. So he was faced with the rather mind-boggling possibility that he would be the stepfather of God made flesh. Joseph was clearly a righteous man, because not only did he take Mary as his wife, but he allowed her to remain a virgin until Jesus was born.
We don't find out very much about Joseph and Mary after this. They certainly lived in the fear of God, and they went through quite an ordeal to keep Jesus safe from harm, moving to a foreign country (Egypt) on a moment's notice. And we know that they traveled to attend religious festivals, because we see them traveling when Christ was 12 years old. But after that, they were a fairly normal couple. They don't appear to have been either rich or poor. We do know that Jesus had younger siblings, so obviously they entered into a normal conjugal relationship.
It is a bit heartwarming to think of this young man and woman thrust into these extraordinary circumstances; and on this day, we especially remember Mary, who gave birth to her first child, the child of God, lying on a pile of straw in a smelly stable. We are reminded of the humility of Christ's birth, by being told that his first bed was a feed bin. The human side of Christ was an object lesson to all who would come to believe in him; the humility he preached was a humility he had lived.