John 1:1-5,10-14 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 nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
This past and coming week the whole world is reminded that Jesus Christ was born. Not only did millions—perhaps billions—celebrate that this most unique person came into the world, but in a few days time, all will also acknowledge His influence when this year 2003 ends and the next 12-month period begins. Modern history and global culture revolve around this Man—Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday I went up to Bethlehem with some of the medical students and my two sons. As you remember, the congregational offering from a few weeks ago was set aside to help provide toys for children living in the Bethlehem area. That was done, and there was a sense of joy and satisfaction in doing that in the name of the Lord Jesus. I was able to visit the homes of some Palestinian Arab Christian friends who live in Beit Jala. They were blessed and encouraged that someone “from the other side” would come during these times of troubles, and also be of one spirit with them to celebrate Jesus at this special time for believers. With your permission, I was pleased to give them a gift from the congregation here to their children’s center, Beit Halika, to bless them in the work they do as believers.
The Manger Square, where the festivities of Christmas Eve take place, was full of people, but not as in earlier years before the intifada. Despite being warned not to identify myself as an Israeli, God provided opportunities to do so, even to a policeman from Hebron with whom I had a conversation about the weather! I could also testify of the birth of Jesus as the reason we came, when asked at the checkpoints. They wouldn’t let me in as an Israeli, but as an American. Praise God! Even the apostle Paul found it helpful to have dual citizenships!
What was very evident at Manger Square was the political exploitation of the celebration of the Savior of the world to express anti-Israel slogans, whether hanging on banners from the roof and walls of buildings, or from the Christian patriarch at the midnight Church service, which was broadcast around the world. Just as Israel did not receive her King Messiah when He was born until this day, so do many of those in the Church today still not know Him, who was born and died to be the King of the Jews. The apostle John expressed it well: The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. It is truly saddening to see the Glory of God being “darkened” by the false prophets of this world. The Lord Jesus told us that His Kingdom is not of this world. The Holy Spirit expressly says through the Scriptures that such would be the situation in these last days.
We who believe are called – not to be lukewarm, not to be nationalistic and militant, but rather to be witnesses of Jesus as Lord and Messiah, the Son of God who is Heir of all things.
It is not certain what will come upon us during 2004. We do know that the time will come for the one to be called the antichrist, and it is written of him that he will change the times and law (Dan 7:25). Who knows, the day may come when the year will not be marked by the birth of Jesus by those in authority. And even now, laws are proposed and passed to change laws in western Christian nations to make it illegal to publicly express or display faith in the one true God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
As we look ahead to the next year and wish for others and ourselves a “happy and good year”, let us bear in mind that what is happy and good according to the world or to our flesh is not necessarily what will make for a blessed year according to God our Savior. He wants more people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. If you were to say that to unbelievers as you wish for them a happy and good year, they would not understand it that way! The Lord wants us to grow more mature in the faith, and often that comes only through suffering – trials and tribulations – of some sort or other. That is not what we usually consider as we wish each other, and ourselves, a good and happy year!
But God has a plan to bring honor and glory and praise to His Anointed One—Jesus—by whom all things were made, including us. I do pray and wish for each one of you, and for all of us together, a good and blessed year for the sake of the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace be upon Israel in our days!