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Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas Christ the Savior is born.

Merry Christmas 2016


Christians believe that the almighty God has visited us, not just through prophets, saints and humanitarian heroes, but through sending his son to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem.

Babies are vulnerable, more helpless initially than any of the animals, without outside care lowly babies can not survive.

So too was the son of God, but every birth inspires hope, even when it is only hope against hope.

As we celebrate again the birth of the helpless newly-born Christ child, we should remember the sick and the sad, the lonely and the angry and reach out to help them.

Jesus was/is about "giving" not taking.
Jesus was/is about "kindness" not greed.
Jesus was/is about "helping" those in need.
Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season.

All of us here at Shekinah Fellowship desire that you have a blessed Merry Christmas.

Bethlehem Christmas Eve. Sheep grazing on the field of the Shepherds; in the background is the cave.

In 1976 I had stood in the place where Jesus Christ was born.

When Dr. Harte was secretary of the Palestine Y.M.C.A., 1918-1931, he purchased a plot of ground in the valley below Bethlehem which had been traditionally called "The Field of Boaz" or "Shepherds' Field".

There on Christmas Eve, members of the Y.M.C.A. and their friends used to meet for a service which ended with, a supper such as shepherds might have shared.

At this place, away from the crowds that thronged Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, it was easier to capture the scene of that night when shepherds saw the star that was to lead them to the Child.

This service was discontinued for a few years when the main road to Bethlehem was closed making access to Bethlehem difficult, but with the opening of a new road the service was revived.

 The discovery of a large cave in the field has added to the atmosphere of the place and has provided an excellent background for the service which each year attracts an increasing number of local Christians and tourists.

The sermon is usually given by a visiting minister and local choirs furnish music.

 Sheep are roasted in ovens at the entrance to the cave and timed to be ready when the service ends.

Each worshiper is given a piece of Iamb with freshly baked whole-wheat bread as he enters the cave on his way to an exit on the other side.

I  have been in this cave and have walked in this field of the Shepherds.

When you are standing there in person, you can not help but think that this is the actual location of the birth of Christ.

The gentle incline of the field combined with the wide open view of the sky above sends goose bumps when you ponder this location that took wise men up to two years to locate.

It is almost impossible to dig into the soil of Jerusalem without turning up some evidence of its ancient past.

Thus it is not surprising that when the foundation of the new Y was being laid workmen should come upon a tomb.

 It has been identified as First Century A.D. and it is in an excellent state of preservation.

 The tomb was obviously a private one, it may even have been in a garden.

 In it was found a jar in perfect, or nearly perfect condition.

A visit to the "Tomb in the Basement" may be of interest to you-ask at the desk.

The nearby field of Ruth is traditionally associated with the events of the Old Testament (recounted in the Book of Ruth 1:16).

This area is also believed to be where the Hebrew matriarchs Ruth and Naomi gleaned in the fields behind the harvesters on their way to Bethlehem from Moab (Ruth 2-4).

Ruth married Boaz, and they became parents of Oved, the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, who was born in Jerusalem.

 Thus Bethlehem became known as the "City of David" and it was predicted that the Messiah would be born there (Micah 5:1-5).

The roads descending to the east of Bethlehem lead through the mostly Christian village of Beit Sahour (or Bait Sahur), which includes the Shepherds' Fields: the fields identified since ancient times with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:8-10)

The fertile fields of Beit Sahour are believed to be where this biblical scene took place.

There are two rival locations for the exact site, one run by the Greek Orthodox and the other by the Franciscans.

Both sites have been excavated, and there have been churches and monasteries on both sites since the 4th century or earlier.

This site interested the earliest Christian pilgrims; in 384 the pilgrim Egeria was shown the church called "At the Shepherds" in a valley near Bethlehem.

She reported, "A big garden is there now, protected by a neat wall all around, and also there is a very splendid cave with an altar."

The pilgrim Arculf remarked in 670 that this site was "about a mile to the east of Bethlehem."

 The Orthodox site seems to correspond better with Egregia and Arculf's accounts.

The Greek Orthodox site of the Shepherds' Fields is at Kanisat al-Ruwat in the middle of fields 2 km southeast of Bethlehem.

 The ruins at al-Ruwat include a cave used as a church from the 4th century, of which the barrel-vaulted roof (5th century) still survives.

It is approached by a flight of 21 steps and has three apses with traces of mosaic and old frescoes.

The mosaic floor includes crosses, and therefore must predate 427, when this was forbidden as impious.

The church at al-Ruwat served the Orthodox community from the 5th century to 1955.

 It is the only 5th-century church outside Jerusalem to survive intact.

Above it a Byzantine chapel was built, and was in turn replaced by a larger church, which was then destroyed in 614.

It and a monastery were rebuilt in the 7th century and survived until the 10th century.

Today, a new large church has been built, the 4th-century lower church has been restored, and the remains of the upper church and monastery have been preserved.

About 600m to the north of al-Ruwat is the site the Roman Catholics (Franciscans) identify as the Shepherds' Fields, at Khirbat Siyar al-Ghanim.

Here there is a low natural cave or rock shelter in pleasant surroundings and with a fine view of the hills.

The cave, with soot-blackened roof, has been partly enclosed to make a modern chapel.

Above is a modern church (1954) shaped like a tent and decorated with a bronze angel.

To the north are ruins of a rectangular monastery founded on a site occupied by nomadic shepherds in the 1st century.

An early phase is dated from the late 4th century to the early 5th century and a second phase (which used stones from the original apse of the Church of the Nativity) to the 6th century.

Only the apse of the church survives, and a large lintel decorated with crosses.

The monastery had winepresses, bakery, cisterns and animal pens.

 Scholars tend to believe this was probably not the site described by Egregia, but simply one of many Byzantine monasteries of the Judean desert.

It may have been where Palladius began his monastic life with the miracle-worker Poseidonius in 419. It was not reoccupied after being destroyed by the Persians in 614.

Of course there is also a third site. 

The YMCA of Beit Sahour, east of the town center on the north side of the road, is where many Protestants commemorate Shepherds' Fields.

There is a grove of pines, a cave, and a view toward Jerusalem and the desert.

This is where I personally believe the greatest news event in the history of the world took place.

The Shepherds and the Angels

Luke 2:8-20

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David.)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. "-Luke 2:4-7.

"Silent Night" was written by a Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr, pastor in the Austrian Alps in a little town of Oberndorf.

It was Christmas Eve, 1815, when he meditated on the wonderful story of the birth of Christ and wrote the sweet, simple verses of this song.

The next day he took them to the village schoolmaster, an organist, Franz Gruber, who prayerfully put them to music that fits them so quietly and so well.

 And that night they had the choir sing it for the first time with only guitar accompaniment, since the organ had broken down.

 Through the years this sweet song drifted out to the world and now millions of people rejoice as they sing

Silent night, holy night,All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,Sleep in heavenly peace.

The name "Bethlehem" means house of bread.

John 6:35And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:48I am that bread of life.

Bethlehem is some six miles south and a little west of Jerusalem on the way toward Hebron.

It was the home of David and of Boaz and Ruth before him.

 Micah 5:2 prophesied that the Saviour would be born there: "But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

I think the dear Lord does not want us worshiping a place so He did not let it be settled surely, either the place of the birth of Jesus or the house in which He lived in Nazareth or the place of crucifixion or the tomb in which He was buried.

 All that is left a little unsure lest men should worship as an idol a mere place when the Lord wants us to worship the Savior Himself.

 At least Bethlehem represents the place where Jesus was born, whether we know the exact place or not.

It is true that there was no room for them in the inn.

Does that seem sad?

No, surely that foretold that the Lord Jesus would be a Man of sorrows and He would be acquainted with grief.

 He came to be abused and rejected as well as to save all who would receive Him.

 So Jesus is fitly born in a stable.

Since He is to be "anointed. . .to preach the gospel to the poor. . .to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives," it is suitable that His coming be announced to ignorant shepherds and not in the palaces of the mighty but to the poor.

 But remember, this is a glad time.

Jesus is born to die on the cross, but, oh, praise the Lord He is born!

The shepherds heard the angels say, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."

 So it is a joyful, happy time.

So the song very properly says,
"All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and Child."

 Mary is in sweet peace and joy over her God-given Son.

The Baby sleeps peacefully for He is in God's care and has entered His earthy mission.

Psalm 22:9,10 says, "But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly."
And that indicates that even the Baby Jesus was someway conscious that He was from God and that His hope was in God His Father.

 I think I see a bit of a smile upon the face of the sleeping One there in the manger cradle.

"Round yon virgin mother and Child," the song says.

 Oh, yes, Mary is still a virgin.

And the angel had said to Joseph, "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 1:20).

Ah, yes, this Baby Jesus is the "Seed of the woman" which was promised Eve.

This birth of Christ fulfills the promise of Isaiah 7:14, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son." Oh, here is Immanuel, God with us in human form.

 I was shocked the other day looking in a hymnbook and saw that this first verse of "Silent Night," had been wickedly changed, and the unbelieving hand that changed that first verse took out

"Round yon virgin mother and Child," and put other words. Oh, but Mary is a virgin and Christ is God in human form.

Jesus, Baby Jesus, of a virgin mother born, Laid in manger cradle, wrapped in swaddling clothes and warm.

Birth cry in a darkened stable, in the inn no room. Jesus, Baby Jesus, Son of God, to share earth's gloom.

Silent night, holy night,Darkness flies, all is light;

Shepherds hear the angels sine,"Alleluia hail the King!

Christ the Savior is born,Christ the Savior is born."

Yes, suddenly the darkness turns bright as day and the Heaven is filled with glory!

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. "

 It was the Angel Gabriel who had announced to Mary up in Galilee nine months before that she was to be the mother of the Savior.

We suppose this is the same Angel Gabriel bringing glad news.

The "Field of the Shepherds" is not far from Jerusalem, and we suppose it is the same field where the shepherds watched their flocks by night.

 It may be also the same field of Boat where Ruth, the Moabitish young woman who came back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi to live under the shelter of God's wings--and there in the field, perhaps, where Ruth gleaned and got acquainted with Boaz.

The announcement is wonderful:

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in, swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."-Luke 2:10-12.

Ah, the Savior is born!

And the angel says they may find Him in the city wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Then suddenly all the heavenly host filled the skies, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

The shepherds were told they would find the Baby Jesus "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger," and they went quickly to find Him.

Oh, they believed the story; they were glad to hear it. King Herod heard it and was troubled.

The scribes and Pharisees knew where the Savior should be born and they told Herod it would be in Bethlehem, but they did not heed the glad news brought them by the Wise Men from the east.

But these shepherds were so glad to hear it!

Oh, whoever reads it, be sure you run to see Jesus and know Him for yourself and go away to tell it gladly as they did.

Silent night, holy night,Guiding Star, lend thy light;

See the eastern wise men bring Gifts and homage to our King!

Christ the Savior is born,Christ the Savior is born.

 The Scripture says, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?

 For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." They are "wise men."

The term reminds us of the wise men, the magi, in the book of Daniel.

 And these are from the east, so if we go back some 500 miles or so to the site of ancient Babylon we find, no doubt, the area from which these wise men came.

They said, "We have seen his star in the east."

 Note carefully, they did not follow the star, traveling all this way.

They had seen the star in the east as a warning, a reminder.

But it seems evident they knew from the book of Daniel that the Messiah would come, and that He would be King of the Jews.

In Daniel 9:25 Daniel had been inspired to write it down, "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."

And it is interesting that although nearly all the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, certain parts of Daniel, including this part, are written in Chaldaic and so God must have intended that the Scriptures there should be kept in the Chaldean language so they would know about the coming of the Savior.

He is to be a Prince or King and He is to come to Jerusalem.

And we are plainly told that it is to be sixty-nine weeks of years from the time Jews were to go back from captivity until the coming of the Savior.

 So they took what they knew from the Scriptures and then had a sign from God to verify it and they came.

Later they came to Jerusalem thinking the Savior, a King, would be born there.

There scribes and elders told them, as Herod insisted, that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem six miles away in the city of David and now they came to find it.

But how will they find the house?

 Ah, there is the star. They see it again and it stops over the house where the Child lay and they came in to see the Baby Jesus.

We are told that they opened their treasures and brought forth gold, frankincense and myrrh--gold, no doubt, as a proper tribute for a king and myrrh for the suffering of a Savior as picturing the spices of His burial, and like the bitter herbs with which the Passover lamb was eaten, and frankincense for worship to God, for Christ is God.

Oh, Wise Men, let us kneel beside you by the manger cradle and to Jesus let us open our treasures and bring all we have to the Lord Jesus.

Wise men came to see Him, having seen His star afar, Bro't their gifts of precious gold and frankincense and myrrh. Herod heard, was troubled, could not kill the Holy Child. Jesus, Baby Jesus, King and Priest, and Savior mild.

Silent night, holy night,Wondrous Star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King!
Christ the Savior is born,Christ the Savior is born.

There were wonders and marvels to astound the mind and lift up the heart, give a lilt to voices of praise the night Jesus was born.

His birth was itself a miracle. It was good news to all people.  

He is Christ the Savior.

The angels were miraculously present and it was so important that it seems every angel in Heaven wanted to join in the glad refrain, the chant, of peace on earth.

The star was wonderful, too.

 Some think it might have been the conjunction of two of the planets in the heavens that made an extra brightness.

 No, no.
 This was a special star.

Was it like a comet across the sky?

 Was it like a meteor falling into space?


 In those days before there were any telescopes, they did not have a great many names for heavenly bodies, they did not differentiate between ancient planets and suns and meteors and comets.

 This star was especially created for this time to announce the Savior.

The Wise Men saw it in the east, and again when they came to Jerusalem they saw the star resting over the house where the Baby Jesus lay.

We suppose then that star disappeared having run its course, having made its holy announcement.

But do not miss even a greater marvel than the angels and the star and the divine leading of these Wise Men.

They came according to the Scriptures.

Oh, the birth of Jesus was wonderful, but it was foretold and this is the Gospel "how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

All the other miracles and manifestations are subject to a divine pattern, a divine schedule written down in the Bible.

 It was in "the fullness of the time" that Christ came, as we are told in Galatians 4:4.

That is, He could not come before and He could not come after--He must fulfill the Scripture, and He did.

So wise men studied the Scriptures yonder in the area of ancient Babylon.

Old, old manuscripts and books they studied until they came across what Daniel had prophesied.

When they came to Jerusalem, they needed more light.

They came as far as they knew how.

They came into Jerusalem, but they found now the Scripture said the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, so they came to Bethlehem.

 In the east they were to follow the Scriptures but they had a star then to verify their decision and comfort their hearts. Now they follow the Scriptures out to Bethlehem and again God gave the star to give additional light.

Do you not see again, as we sing about the Christmas story, that the virgin birth of Christ is far better than any fairy tales of Santa Claus and reindeer and sleighs?

 Do you not see that the story of the announcement to the shepherds and the Wise Men coming from the east is far more joy and blessing than the worldly festivities and drunkenness and feasting and revelry?

Let us rejoice then in the blessed Word of God this Christmas season.

Jesus, Baby Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Tempted, poor and suffering no one knows us as He can!

Holy, righteous, blameless, fitting sacrifice complete. By His blood atonement, God and sinners in Him meet.
Now, let us sing again this sweet Christmas song, "Silent Night, Holy Night," for
"Christ the Savior is born,Christ the Savior is born."

Oh, make sure that you take Him as your own Savior, that you trust Him for forgiveness, that you love Him and give Him all your heart and all you have.

Jesus Christ loves you!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Shekinah Fellowship.


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