2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5and he shall be the one of peace.
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
I’ve always liked the underdog. As a sports fan, I cannot stand it when the same team wins championships year in and year out (unless they are my favorite team, of course!). There is something fascinating about someone or some group who works hard to defy the odds to accomplish something significant. I think of this with the early followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. A small band of the faithful were able to “turn the world upside down” (see Acts 17) for God’s purposes. And these were not the most educated or highest members of the social food chain. These were everyday men and women who were willing to give their all to the work of the kingdom of God. Today, their influence continues to be felt and the fruit of their actions continues to grow.
Even before the early Church, God used the little or the lowly to bring grace, hope, and mercy to the world. One small family became God’s chosen people. One small shepherd boy defeated the giant. One woman in the king’s court saved a nation. And one small town gave the world one tiny baby, and out of that setting God brought salvation to the world.
Sometimes we all feel insignificant. How could our one little life make a difference? But be of good cheer! God designed the world to be transformed by the little, mundane miracles that are produced at the grassroots level of each individual life. When you are kind, it accomplishes God’s purposes. When you show welcoming love, it furthers the kingdom. When you serve one person’s needs, you fulfill the mission of the Christ child.
Jesus was clear in his teaching that God values the lowly and overlooked. What better way to show that than to come to the world as the lowly and overlooked himself! So often we think that we can only experience God in the big, flashy “mountaintop” moments. Yet, God is often hidden in the little experiences of genuine connection of the spirit. The “ancient” treasures “of old” are often only found when you commit to searching them out.
In the story of Jesus’s birth, I am amazed at who recognized him for who he is: shepherds, a simple carpenter, a young maiden, a baby in another woman’s womb, religious outsiders from afar, and a humble, devout man and holy widowed woman. And think of who missed the significance of Jesus: the crooked king, the self-centered religious authorities, and the distracted crowds. The humble see him; the self-important miss him. What a lesson for us all. Let us ask God to humble us this week so that we will not miss out on the One who came to lift up the lowly to his merciful side.
Journaling Focus: Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
What memories do you treasure in your heart? They might be Christmas memories, but they might be memories from other times of year as well. Pick one or two special memories and reflect on them this week as you write. Who or what turned these memories into treasures? Where was God in these memories? Ask God to give you new opportunities to discover treasure in the year to come.
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
Read and sing the hymn Away in a Manger. By following the link, you can access the text and audio files for the hymn. Pay special attention to the last line of the third verse. What does it mean to be “fit for heaven”? How do the seasons of Advent and Christmas do this for us? What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: The rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
As we approach Christmas, I am reminded that for many people the thought of Jesus will dissipate once Christmas Day comes and goes. So many of our “kindred” have yet to turn to God in a permanent manner. Pray that this year the hearts of people will be turned to God during Christmas. Trust God to remove the barriers of the heart, mind, and spirit that keep people from accepting the Christ child. Ask that those who need God would accept God and find their place int he kingdom. The transformation of the world begins with the transformation of the individual lives of our brothers and sisters.
Meditation Focus: Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.
This week, go to Bethlehem in your mind. Walk from wherever you are and consider the path you have taken in life toward intimacy with God. With each step let God fill you with gratitude and confidence. As you approach the stable, pause and ask God to complete any last preparations you need before your audience with the Christ child. Open the door and notice Mary and Joseph. What expressions are on their faces? Are they tired? Peaceful? Happy? Afraid? Or a mixture of all of these? What do they say to you as you enter? Now walk over to the manger and see the Christ child. What is his mood? What do you see in him that tells you he is God’s Chosen One? Ask Mary and Joseph if you may hold the baby in your arms. As you do so in your mind, actually cradle your arms as if you are holding him. What do you experience? What do you feel? What is God communicating to you? As you conclude your time of meditation, simply hold the Christ child in your arms and be still.
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How has the approach of Christmas affected you?
- Where do you see Christ alive?
- How has God fed you?
- Where have you seen/experienced the wonders of God?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Look for the little things that pack a big punch. I think of my daughters, 9 and 11, who often have great wisdom and insight when it comes to the way the world works and the way God works. I also love to watch birds and insects and meditate on what they can teach us about life. So keep an eye out for something small that can teach you something big this week. And when you discover it, pause, pay attention, and listen!
Breath Prayer: LORD God, may we experience the wonder of the Christ child.