Our Christmas Message

David Brandt Berg


All over the world, there are people who can’t understand why you insist that they have to be a sinner before they can get saved. Americans, of course, have a Christian background and culture, so they know what a sinner is. They know when they’re a sinner. They know what they’re supposed to be like and they know they’re not like that, so they know they’re sinners. Of course they’ve committed sins; of course they’re wicked old sinners.

Some of the good and righteous Easterners, they’re good people, law abiding, not criminals, they do good. We have to have a new approach for those people. “God? Which God?” They think they have everything they need. “Who needs you? Who needs your God?” But they know there’s something wrong because they’re not happy, they’re not satisfied. They’ve got everything, and yet they can’t keep peace with their wife, they’re not happy with their girlfriend, things go wrong with their children, they have troubles, problems, business failures.

You need to ask them a question, something like Mary Pickford did, the most famous actress of the days of the silent movies. She’d won all the laurels and was world-famous and had a big mansion in Beverly Hills, yet she wasn’t satisfied. She said she was totally unsatisfied, like Lord Byron: “I have quaffed every cup of pleasure and I have drunk every cup of fame, and yet I die of thirst.” But then she got saved and she wrote a book: Why Not Try God? You’ve tried everything else, why not try God? She wrote it for the acting population of Hollywood. She was on the top of the heap. So when she gave a testimony, she could tell them; she knew what they needed. “You’ve tried everything else, why not try God?”

Some people have tried everything, they’ve got everything, or they’re trying to get it, and they think when they get it that it will make them happy. You just need to ask them, “You know what’s wrong with you? Maybe you think everything’s all right, but you need Jesus. You’ve got everything else, but still you can’t understand why everything goes wrong. You know you’re not perfect, you know you’ve made mistakes, and it troubles you—you missed the mark, and that’s wrong—that’s a sin. Why not try Jesus?”

Like that drug addict, the prostitute who drifted into a mission one night where my mother was preaching. She came to the altar when Mother said, “All you need to do is just receive Him; just take Jesus.” And she gripped my mother’s arm so tight that when my mother got home, she said she still had the imprints of that girl’s fingernails in her arm.

She said, “You mean to tell me all I have to do is take Jesus? That’s all I have to do, is take Jesus?” Mother said, “Yes, that’s all you have to do.” So the girl said, “I take Him!” And just then the Salvation Army band started striking up a tune and playing a hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and she got up and staggered out the door, followed the Salvation Army band, went to the Salvation Army for a place to stay, and didn’t even want to go back to her old room where her things were. She said she didn’t want anything of that old life anymore; she didn’t ever want to go back there. She said, “I’ve taken Jesus, and all I want is Jesus!” She only lived about a year, but she became known as the angel of some street; I’ve forgotten now. It’s a true story. She just took Jesus.

Lord, You so loved the world You gave Yourself for us, so we won’t perish but have everlasting life in heaven. And You are giving Yourself even now, to any soul that needs You and is willing to admit and confess that they need You, and that they want You enough to be willing to pray and ask You to come into their hearts. Help them, Lord, to have that little bit of faith. Like the man who said, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). He had his doubts, he had his questions, he had his problems, but he still believed in You, Jesus.

Help them to believe in You! Give them the faith! You’re the only one who can give them the faith, Lord. Faith comes through You, Lord, by Thy Spirit, by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Help them to just take You, Lord! In desperation or in true sincere crying out for help, help them to be willing to try You, Jesus, and we believe You’ll honor what little faith they have. You’ll come into their hearts and show them, in Jesus’ name.

I think my favorite Christmas carol is that one that talks about taking Jesus into our hearts.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend on us, we pray,
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.
—Phillips Brooks, 1867

All we need to do is receive Jesus. You can put faith into their hearts. If they hope it’s true, Lord, that’s a form of faith. If they want to believe it’s true, You’ll certainly help them believe it. In Jesus’ name we ask it for Your glory.

Let others see You in us, Lord. If they haven’t seen You anyplace else, if they don’t understand Christianity, Lord, help them to see Jesus in us.

Let others see Jesus in you.
Let others see Jesus in me.
Keep telling the Story,
Be faithful, be true.
Let others see Jesus in you!
—B. B. McKinney, 1924

Even if they don’t know anything about Jesus, Christmas, or God, they can see Jesus in you. That’s a good chorus to remember this Christmas night.

Even if you may not feel like it or see that you’re having any effect, keep telling the story of Jesus; be faithful and true to Jesus. Let others see Jesus in you. Let’s praise the Lord and thank Him for this night.

We thank You for the night we’re commemorating when You were born, Lord. Let others see You in us, Jesus. That they may know You, whom to know is life eternal. In Jesus’ name.

Let others see Jesus in you!


Copyright © The Family International


Christmas is for All People with Rick Warren


Christmas Angels

By David Brandt Berg

free-bible-studies-online-anchorFor the Christian, every day can be Christmas. Jesus showers His love down on us every day of the year. But sad to say, it’s not that way for those who haven’t yet found the real meaning of Christmas.

So many people are lost, lonely, downtrodden, weak, and weary. Some are weak in their bodies, others are weak in their minds, and yet others are weak in body, mind, and spirit. There are those who are trampled on: the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, victims of war and crime and exploitation; those nobody wants or cares about, those who have so little in the way of worldly goods, those who lack even the basic necessities. Then there are others who have material goods and who appear to “have it together” in the eyes of others, but who are prisoners of their own selfish desires. They are weary and heavy laden with problems, stress, fears, and phobias.

There are those who wear a smile, yet ache inside; those who are engulfed in a sea of emptiness; those who suffer from pain, guilt, bitterness, and condemnation; those who feel remorse over the past or fear the future.—So many lost and desperate folks in the world today! It reminds me of the words to that old Beatles’ song, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” Many of the lonely people, the downtrodden and the forlorn, come from a society where people look to their own needs and not to the needs of others. They’re victims, the sad result of what happens when people’s lives aren’t ruled by love, and when the world forgets its Creator.

Event after event leaves people questioning. “Why all the pain and strife in the world? Why the slaughter of the innocents? Why troubles and sorrows?” It’s reminiscent of that famous Christmas carol “O Holy Night”: “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining! It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and [sorrow] pining …”

And yet, there’s much talk about the “advancement” and “betterment” of mankind—advanced medicine, modern technology, new inventions, better governments to make it a better world to live in. Never before has there been so much confusion, so many voices saying, “This is the way to go.”

The song continues: “A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The world is in great need of a ray of hope! People need to hear about the new and glorious morning that is just around the corner.

The refrain is also very significant: “Fall on your knees! O hear the angels’ voices!” Just like the shepherds heard the angels announce the birth of Christ, the Lord wants the people of the world to hear those angels’ voices today.

You can be one of those Christmas angels sent from Jesus Himself to proclaim the good news to the lost and lonely of the world, to give them the ray of hope they have been waiting for. Who better for Him to use than His own children who have His words of life, who know His truth, and whom He’s made rich in faith! As the darkness falls on the world and the cold winds blow, His children are called to hold up the light for all to see. If you will shine His light on people, He’ll cause it to accomplish His purpose in their lives and hearts and minds.

People not only need to hear about the love of God, they need to see it. They need to see God’s love put into action! Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one toward another.” (John 13:35) It’s not enough to just talk about love. Jesus said you have to have love; you have to live love. The Lord knew that there would be no denying that sample.

So this Christmas and throughout the coming year, give the Lord the gifts that He’s most pleased with—gifts of love! Give of yourself! Shine forth the love and sweetness of Jesus through the light of your eyes, a loving look, kind speech, and kind deeds. Be the living example of the message, the living proof that it works.

What better way to live Christmas each and every day of the year than to continually give to those around you, to truly live as He taught us, to show His love in all the little ways throughout the day, to show the world living proof that the love of Jesus works? “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love, and His gospel is peace.” He’s entrusted you, His child, with His law, which is love. He’s trusting you to follow it and to live His love so that by this, all men may know that you are His disciples.

What can you give the one who has everything? You can give your love not only to Him, but reach out and give your love to others. His gospel is love. Will you live it? Will you give it? You might not feel equal to the task, but God is, and He’ll help you if you try.

Ask the Lord to help you live Christmas each and every day of the year by helping you to follow His great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Give of yourself! Give others your prayers, your time, your attention, your care. Love God by loving your neighbor, and your life will tell it all, because you’ll be the living proof.

As you live in His love, it will bring down His power upon you. And as He pours out His power upon you, His power and glory will be made known to all the world forevermore—the power of God’s love! Let others see Jesus in you! That’s what Christmas is all about! Merry Christmas!


Copyright © 2016 The Family International.


Christmas Shalom

By Peter Amsterdam

free-bible-studies-online-anchorOne of the portions of the story of the Nativity which I find most beautiful, exciting, and meaningful is when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus’ birth, followed by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God. It’s such a fitting entrance for the birth of the Son of God. Luke tells us what happened:

In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8–11)

The angel announced the birth of the Savior, but that wasn’t the end. Luke goes on to tell us:

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14)

This connection between the Savior and peace is seen in the Old Testament prophecies as well; for example, in the book of Isaiah where we are told: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” (Isaiah 53:5)

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Messiah—the Savior—has a connection to peace. Yet as we look at the world today, or at almost any time in history, peace is often the last thing we see. Wars and civil strife are endemic to humanity. Sadly, lasting peace throughout the earth hasn’t happened, and it certainly doesn’t exist today. So why is Jesus called the Prince of Peace? Why did the angels, when praising God at Jesus’ birth, speak of peace?

The word used most often for peace in the Old Testament is shalom. While the word shalom is sometimes used in Scripture to define peace as the absence of war, it has other meanings as well. The root meaning of shalom refers to being whole or sound. It speaks of completeness, soundness, safety, health and prosperity, contentment, tranquility, harmony, peace of mind, the absence of anxiety and stress. It also refers to friendship between individuals, as well as peace and friendship between individuals and God.

The Greek word most often used in the New Testament for peace (Eirēnē, pronounced eye ray nay) is sometimes used to mean a state of national tranquility and the exemption from the havoc of war. However, it is used more often to express security, safety, prosperity, harmony, and good will between individuals. It also refers to the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.

While the world will one day know peace in the sense of an absence of war after Jesus’ second coming, the peace so often spoken of in God’s Word refers to the overall wholeness of individuals, both physically and spiritually. Scripture repeatedly states that such wholeness, tranquility, and shalom comes through having a right relationship with God, a relationship which is made possible through the Savior, whom the angels announced to the shepherds that night over two millennia ago.

Humanity has ever been in need of reconciliation with God. Because of our sin, we are separated from Him and unable to bridge the gap. The apostle Paul likened it to our being enemies of God. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection brought reconciliation between God and man. Through faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we are able to be at peace with God. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8, 10)

Through the Prince of Peace, harmony and relationship can be restored between God and all those who embrace Jesus as their Savior. Salvation results in righteousness before God as our sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of salvation brings us peace and joy. We can then possess the fullness of shalom: completeness, soundness, safety, contentment, tranquility, harmony, and peace of mind, which is the source of inner peace in the midst of the storms and challenges of life that we all face throughout our lives. It is this righteousness, through our salvation gained by Jesus’ sacrifice that brings peace with God, which in turn is the foundation for true peace within ourselves.

Jesus, the Lord of peace, brings us peace that exceeds anything we can understand. He has given His peace to us, and as we keep our mind on Him, as we trust in Him, He gives us perfect peace, or as it says in the original Hebrew, shalom shalom. Repeating a word was the Hebrew way of expressing a higher degree; in this case, not just peace but perfect peace. We find peace in the Savior, peace when we love God’s Word, peace when our ways please the Lord, peace through the presence of the Holy Spirit, peace in faith, and peace when Christ rules in our hearts.

The angels praising God on the night of Jesus’ birth were heralding the peace that God was making available through the birth of the Savior.—The peace with God that comes through salvation, the inner peace that comes from our connection with God, the peace we have from knowing that God loves us and has made a way for us to be with Him forever. This is the same peace He has commissioned us to take to others through sharing the message of God’s love. It’s the peace we bring when we share the message of reconciliation with God, the message of salvation, the message of eternal peace.

May we all do what we can to bring God’s peace into the lives of those who don’t know true peace, the peace only God can give. May we all share the message of the greatest gift of all, the Prince of Peace, with many this Christmas season.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
—Howard Thurman




Christmas Shalom

Copyright © 2016 The Family International

All I Want for Christmas

David Brandt Berg


You can have your little baubles
And your Merry Christmas tree
But all I want for Christmas
is God’s Spirit, wild and free!

For the Son of God was given
And was hung upon a tree,
And the only Gift for Christmas
Is His Gift for you and me!

It’s the Spirit of that Christmas
That gives life to you and me
For a very happy New Year
And a life that’s wild and free!

Give me Spirit, give me Spirit!
Oh, that’s the life for me!
So for a happy New Year
Give me Spirit that is free!

You can have your earthly treasures
Your silver and your gold,
You can live a life of a pleasure
Like a tale that’s often told.

You can have this world’s full measure
From your birth till you get old,
But the Spirit, it’s the Spirit
That can never yet be sold!

You can travel in the Spirit
From the Moon to distant Mars,
You can travel by the Spirit,
Hitch your wagon to the stars!

You can travel in the Spirit
So much further than in cars,
It’s the Spirit, it’s the Spirit
That keeps breaking all your jars! (Mark 2:22).

It’s the Spirit, it’s the Spirit!
It’s the Spirit that’s for me!
In the Spirit, in the Spirit
You can live a life that’s free!

In the Spirit, in the Spirit
You can live in any clime,
In the Spirit, in the Spirit
You’re not bound by tide or time!

Oh the Spirit, Oh the Spirit
For the life that’s never bound!
Oh the Spirit, yes, the Spirit
For that place of heavenly sound!

You can build your house with measure
That will decay and will mold,
It’s the Spirit, it’s the Spirit
That has never yet been sold!

In the Spirit, in the Spirit
I can travel far and wide,
In the Spirit, in the Spirit
I’m not bound by time or tide!

Through the Spirit, through the Spirit
I can see the other side,
By the Spirit, by the Spirit
I am able there to hide!

You can have your earthly pleasure
Your silver and your gold!
I prefer no earthly measure,
And a life that ne’er grows old!

You can live a life of leisure
And have virtues that are sold,
But it’s the Spirit, just the Spirit
That will never rot or mold!

In the Spirit, in the Spirit
All my life is like a song,
In the Spirit, in the Spirit
I am happy all day long!

In the Spirit, through the Spirit
You can work and pray and play!
When I’m happy in the Spirit
I don’t care what others say!

You can live a life of Spirit
In a world that’s always free,
You can live a life of Spirit
That’s not bound by land or sea.

You can live a life in Spirit
That no man can ever see,
You can live a life of Spirit
And be what you want to be!

Yes, the Spirit, yes, the Spirit!
Oh the Spirit is for me!
In the Spirit, in the Spirit
I can live a life that’s free!

Oh the Spirit, yes, the Spirit!
Yes, that’s the life for me!
For the Spirit, by the Spirit
In the Spirit you are free!

Oh the Spirit, blessed Spirit,
How I thank Thee, for by Thee
I am always in the Spirit
And I live a life that’s free!

Oh I thank Thee for Thy Spirit
Thou hast given unto me,
For it’s only by Thy Spirit
I have truly been set free!

Oh in Spirit, yes, in Spirit
Won’t you come along with me?
For by Jesus‘ precious Spirit
We can both be wild and free!

Oh the Spirit, oh the Spirit!
It’s the only life that’s free!
Oh the precious Holy Spirit!
That’s the life for me!

Neither whisky, wine, nor spirits
Can behold what I see,
But God’s precious Holy Spirit
Is the only One for me!

In God’s precious Holy Spirit
We can sing and dance so free!
O my dears and O my darlings
Won’t you come along with me?

Give me Spirit, give me Spirit
For the life that’s wild and free!
I only want the Spirit
For my Merry Christmas tree!

For the Son of God was given
And was hung upon a tree,
And the only Gift for Christmas
Is His Gift for you and me!

You can have your little baubles
And your Merry Christmas tree!
But all I want for Christmas
Is God’s Spirit wild and free!


Copyright © The Family International


Ebenezer and the Christmas Story

A compilation

free-bible-studies-online-anchorEbenezer Scrooge and the Grinch—ever sympathized with them as the Christmas season descends? Or perhaps not to that extreme, but you don’t feel the warm fuzzies that everyone else has?

Mid-2011, I was working on a Christmas article for a children’s website, and I came across this startling piece of information: “By the early part of the nineteenth century, Christmas [in North America] had almost died out. The Times newspaper, for example, did not once mention Christmas between 1790 and 1835.”

Curious, I asked Google why Christmas celebrations nearly disappeared during that period in American history. It turns out that many American settlers of the 1600s were Puritans, strict Protestants who believed that Christmas was a Catholic holiday and therefore not to be celebrated. And for the next 200 years, until the start of the 20th century, Christmas was not celebrated by most in America, and was celebrated quietly by those who did.

And in England under the government of Oliver Cromwell from 1653 to 1658, it wasn’t celebrated either. Though in 1660, two years after Cromwell’s death, the ban was lifted, and Christmas was again instituted as a holiday. However, from the mid-1600s to the end of the 18th century—almost 150 years—Christmas celebrations weren’t much like we celebrate today. It was during the Victorian era that so many of the holiday traditions that we currently celebrate were embraced. What changed? A lot had to do with one man writing a story about Christmas.

In 1843, British novelist Charles Dickens (1812–1870) wrote A Christmas Carol. Not counting the story of the first Christmas, it’s probably one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. In his novella, Charles Dickens idealized a certain kind of Christmas that we now base a lot of our Christmas perceptions on. You might think that with him writing such a wonderful description of Christmas as celebrated by Tiny Tim’s family, that this was how most of England celebrated Christmas—the tree, the Christmas carols, the turkey dinner, the family togetherness, the gift giving. But not really. At least, not at the time.

“When we read or hear A Christmas Carol,” says Bruce Forbes in an interview with a regional radio program, “We are not seeing a reflection of what Christmas was like in his day; we’re seeing what Dickens would like Christmas to be.”

At the start of the 19th century, Christmases weren’t like what we see depicted in A Christmas Carol. “There was a lot of unemployment,” Dickens scholar John Jordan says. “There was misery, and he saw Christmas as something that tended to function as sort of a counterforce to the negative effects of the industrial revolution.” So, many thanks go to Charles Dickens for somehow looking beyond how Christmas was celebrated at that time and creating a vision of something better.

I’ve been circling; what I’d like to say is that there’s nothing stopping you from creating your own Christmas traditions that have honest and special meaning to you.

Growing up, I had Scrooge-like feelings when it came to the Christmas holidays. For the past few years, though, I’ve come to enjoy Christmas, and I think it has to do with creating new Christmas traditions for myself, or reminding myself of the meaning of the old traditions. I’ve come to understand that traditions are at their best when they are done to commemorate something that shouldn’t be forgotten—and which absolutely needs to be celebrated.

Christmas traditions should be about celebrating a glorious idea—love.

Are opportunities to show love to those whom Jesus loves being lined up for you this year? Consider saying yes. And not just in your mind: that part that rationally understands that Jesus loves others. But also in your heart. Because if you can stand to say yes to showing love from your heart, that can make a world of difference—not just to those on the receiving end, but to your personal level of enjoyment as you do so.

Decide on wonderful things to do for those you love; bathe your actions in love—and you’ll have one of the best Christmas traditions ever.

—T. M.

A Christmas carol

The well-known tale of the bad-tempered, miserly Scrooge has been often retold through the many years since its first publication by Charles Dickens in 1843. To many, the story has become a symbol of Christmas; yet while most of us are familiar with the hardheartedness, stinginess, and greed of the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, how often do we apply the story’s lessons to our own lives?

The plot takes a wretched miser and brings him through a dramatic change for the better. Before his transformation, he was the opposite of all the good qualities that Christmas stands for—love, charity, goodwill, unselfishness, care for those around us. While Scrooge may be a rather extreme representation of miserly features, he’s perhaps also a metaphor for the miserliness that resides in each of us.

There’s a little selfishness in all of us, isn’t there? Goals gone a little awry, high ideals long forgotten? Do we pass by others without a word or kind glance when they cross our path, too caught up with ourselves to notice?

We don’t have to wait until we become as extreme in our selfishness as Scrooge before we decide to make a change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if at every Christmas we could take an honest look at our lives, at the things of the past, at what we’re doing in the present, and our goals for the future, and see what really has become most important to us?

In the ultimate act of love and unselfishness, God gave Jesus to us on earth, so that He could teach us His love, and then die for us to purchase our eternal salvation. At Christmas, we celebrate the giving of this marvelous gift. We can never hope to pay Him back, but Jesus says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV) Every kind word and deed done out of love—not because it’s logical or in our best interests, but because it will help someone else—will ultimately help us, most often in ways we were least expecting.

Let’s make it a goal—and not only at Christmas—to step back a bit and reassess our life and values and discern what has been the driving force in all our actions. Let us savor every moment while we have it, and make the most of every opportunity to help another human being, because in the end, that’s all that’s going to matter anyway.

—Natalie Anne Volpe (1991–2011)

Searching for Ebenezer

Toward the end of last year, I was haunted by the word “Ebenezer.” It all began when I heard it on a Christian podcast, but the speaker didn’t clarify what it meant. The word stayed in the back of my mind for days, and I wondered where I’d heard it before. My children identified it as the unusual first name of the Scrooge character in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, but that wasn’t the Ebenezer I was looking for.

The mysterious “Ebenezer” popped up again when I visited my daughter during the holidays. There it was, written in bold letters above the entrance to a new shop in the village square. “Ebenezer” seemed to be appearing all around me, but who was he?

The answer came when I was listening to another inspirational audio. Out of the blue, the speaker mentioned the word, and also gave a Bible reference: 1 Samuel chapter 7. I looked it up right away, and it turns out that in the passage, the prophet Samuel puts a rock between two places, Mizpah and Shen, after his people had won a great battle against their enemies. This rock was named—you’ve guessed it—Ebenezer, meaning “the stone of help,” and was set up in acknowledgment of and appreciation for God’s assistance. And so it turns out that “Ebenezer” wasn’t a “who” but a “what.”

I can picture myself sitting on top of that big rock. On one side, the year that has just ended, with all of its obstacles and trials and victories and joys. I look back from my vantage point and my heart fills with praise.

On the other side, the new year, full of mysteries yet to unfold. I’m filled with anticipation. If God has always come through for me in the past, surely He will in the future too!

This year, every time a sorrow or difficulty comes my way, I will strive to rely on Ebenezer, the stone of help and the rock of hope. I will make a resolution to face this new year with the expectation that the future is as bright as the promises of God! In the words of David, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1–2 NLV)

—Rosane Pereira




Ebenezer and the Christmas Story

Copyright © 2016 The Family International


Let It Shine

By Lilia Potters


This Christmas season the world aches and groans because of the losses and tragedies of the year. Many lives have been broken, and many dreams have been shattered. People the world over need to see the light of love that came down on that very first Christmas to brighten their lives, about which the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

Today it may seem that this light has all but disappeared, as the shadows around us deepen. But things that seem aren’t necessarily so. Darkness can never triumph over light. We have but to flip a light switch or light a candle, and darkness will be driven from the room.

It can be the same in life. We can let the light and love of Jesus into our hearts and then shine it onto those around us by reaching out with kindness and concern. His light will shine brightly against the backdrop of hatred and indifference that permeates much of the world, and it will drive away the darkness from our immediate surroundings.

“What’s the use of that?” you ask. “That does not change much!” It may seem that the difference would be too small to be noticed and too small to matter, but you’d be surprised. Even one candle can be seen a mile away when it’s very dark.

There is a story about a man who, as he walked along the beach, picked up stranded starfish and tossed them back into the ocean. A curious passer-by asked, “Why do you do that? There are hundreds of those starfish on this beach. What difference does it make?” The man bent down and he picked up another starfish. As he tossed it into the water he replied, “It made a difference to that one.”

You can make a difference, too, by letting your light so shine that those whose lives you touch will be encouraged and regain hope for the year ahead. As with the starfish, you may not be able to reach out to everyone, but you can make a difference in the lives you do touch. And it doesn’t stop there, because they, in turn, can make a difference in the lives they touch.

It can happen, and it can start now if we will all make this our Christmas prayer:

Dear Jesus, fill our hearts with the light and love of Christmas. Make of us a string of living lights that will conquer the darkness and light the world around us with Your love. Amen.


Copyright © Activated Magazine. All rights reserved.


Saint Francis and the First Christmas Crèche

By Curtis Peter Van Gorder


As a young man, Francis of Assisi loved material things, especially beautiful clothes from the shop of his wealthy merchant father. One biographer describes the handsome, young, fun-loving Francis as “the very king of frolic.” That changed at the age of about 20, after he went to fight in a skirmish with a rival city. He was taken prisoner, held for over a year, and came home very weak from a serious illness.

At some point during his ordeal, Francis realized that there must be more to life than shallow pleasures, and he came to the conclusion that real satisfaction was to be found in loving God and doing what God wanted him to do—love others. He was disowned by his father for giving away family wealth, surrendered whatever other worldly goods and privileges he had, and wandered the countryside, improvising hymns of praise as he went. Others, drawn by his sincerity, zeal, and joy, joined Francis in his vow of poverty—the beginnings of the Franciscan Order.

Francis loved people, from the rich and powerful in their palaces to the beggars in the streets. He also loved animals and is said to have been able to communicate with them. He also is said to have tamed a fierce wolf that terrified the villagers of Gubbio, Italy, and he petitioned the emperor to pass a law that all birds and beasts, as well as the poor, be given extra food at Christmas, “so that all might have occasion to rejoice in the Lord.”

Francis was always looking for new ways to make God’s truths easily understandable to others. At Christmastime 1223, while visiting the town of Grecio, Italy, he had the idea of showing people what Jesus’ birthplace must have been like. He found a mountain cave near the village and fashioned it into a rough stable. St. Bonaventure (d. 1274), in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi, gave this account of what followed:

“Then he prepared a manger and brought hay and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy. Then he preached to the people around the Nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, he called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Saint Francis is also considered the “father of the Christmas carol” for having been the first to include carols in Christmas worship services. As a boy, Francis had perhaps learned more in the school of the troubadours—itinerant composers and performers of songs—than from the priests of St. George’s at Assisi, where his father had sent him for an education. It’s not surprising, then, that joyous music became one of Francis’s favorite forms of worship. That joy was contagious, and still is.


Copyright © Activated Magazine. All rights reserved.


God Outdoes Himself!—Eight Miracles of the First Christmas

By Ronan Keane


Every baby is a miracle of God. The baby’s first cry rings out, the umbilical cord is cut, and the proud parents and everyone else present—whether it’s an obstetrician and attendants in a gleaming hospital or a tribal midwife in a thatched hut—rejoices at the wonder they have just witnessed. The birth of Jesus on the first Christmas was all of that, but also involved at least eight more miracles.

Angelic Pronouncement

Unlike others’, Jesus’ birth was announced before He was even conceived. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus'” (Luke 1:26-28,30-31). Miracle number one.

Miraculous Conception—Times Two

It is, of course, one of the best-known and most outstanding miracles that at the time of Jesus’ conception His mother, Mary, was a virgin. The Bible is very clear on that:

“Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God'” (Luke 1:34-35 TLB).

This event was foretold 700 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [‘God is with us,’ in Hebrew]” (Isaiah 7:14). In every sense, Jesus is the Son of God. Miracle number two.

Gabriel also told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, who had been barren and was now past the age for childbearing, would also conceive and give birth to a son who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” Elizabeth gave birth to a boy who grew up to be John the Baptist. Everything happened exactly as Gabriel had announced (Luke 1:5-25,57-66). Miracle number three.

Angelic Confirmation

What about Joseph, Mary’s fiancé? What was he to think when Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth and he found out that Mary was three months pregnant? As can be expected, his first reactions were mixed. “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly” (Matthew 1:19).

Joseph wanted to spare Mary humiliation and possible death—the punishment for adultery under Jewish law (Deuteronomy 22:13-14,21)—but we can also imagine the pain he must have felt, believing that his betrothed was bearing another man’s child.

That’s when God sent an angel to Joseph also, as much to reassure and comfort him as to clarify the situation, no doubt. “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 [“the Lord is salvation,” in Hebrew], for He will save His people from their sins.’ 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 [have sex with] her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21,24-25). Miracle number four.

Place of Birth

It was also a miraculous fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, since His parents lived in Nazareth, some days’ journey away. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

The Roman emperor Augustus Caesar had decreed that an empire-wide census should be taken, and Jewish tradition required that for any such business each man return to the place that he considered his ancestral home. For Joseph, a direct descendant of King David, that meant returning to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife, and she gave birth to Jesus shortly after they arrived. Miracle number five.

Angelic Announcement

Shepherds keeping watch over their sheep on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem were visited by an angel, who told them, “‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” (Luke 2:10-14).

The shepherds left their flocks and went to Bethlehem, where they found the Messiah exactly as the angel had told them. “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child” (Luke 2:17). What this means is that, from day one of His life on earth, there were people testifying to the fact that the Messiah had come at last. Miracle number six.

Sign in the Heavens

Wise men (according to tradition there were three, but the Bible does not specify how many) from the East (the Bible also doesn’t specify where in the East, but possibly Arabia, Persia, Babylon, or even as far away as India) observed an unusual occurrence in the heavens, which they interpreted to signify the birth of the “King of the Jews,” and they went to worship Him.

Travel in those days was difficult and slow, and it’s believed, based on other Scriptures, that it took the wise men up to two years of preparation and travel before they arrived in Judea and gave their gifts to Jesus. “Behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over the house where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11). Miracle number seven.

Best by Far

The supreme miracle of Christmas, however, is not about angels or wise men or a sign in the sky. It’s about God’s only begotten Son taking on the form of a weak, helpless baby in order to better love, understand, sympathize with, and eventually die for you and me. Eternal life is God’s gift to us, and that life is in Jesus (1 John 5:11).


Copyright © Activated Magazine. All rights reserved.


“What shall I give thee, Master?”

By David Brandt Berg


When Christmas comes, I’m already thinking about my goals for the next year and reflecting on the past year—what I didn’t get done that I meant to or should have. It’s like the message of an old song we used to sing:

What shall I give Thee, Master?
Thou Who didst die for me!
How can I give less than give of my best,
When Thou hast given all to me!

What shall I give Thee, Master?
Thou Who didst die for me!
How can I give less than all of my best,
I must give all to Thee!
—Homer W. Grimes

We’re talking about the Master’s birthday, and what could we give Him? Jesus said that if we have helped or fed or given a drink of water to someone in need, “to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). So whatever you’ve done to help people hasn’t just been for those people; you also did it for the Lord! Whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

The day came when I decided I should give my all to the Lord because the Lord had done more than all for me! How can I give less than all of my best, when Jesus gave all for me? And I encourage you to do the same. That’s what Jesus did—He gave you all!

Let’s give of our best to the Lord. Let’s give Him gifts that will please Him and show Him how much we love Him. Even our praises are gifts to the Lord. The apostle Paul tells us to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15)—”sacrifice” in this case meaning a gift, an offering to the Lord. To praise the Lord and thank Him for all His gifts is giving to the Lord!

Giving the Gospel to those who haven’t heard is giving to the Lord, and giving to the poor is giving to the Lord! Giving people the Lord’s solutions to their problems from the Word is giving to the Lord! There are so many ways we can give back to Him!

Whatever you do for someone else is giving to the Lord, because that’s what He would rather have you do than anything else—help others, give out the Word, get people saved, win new citizens for the Kingdom of God! We’re helping to fill up all that empty space in Heaven! He doesn’t want any vacancies!

So may that be your Christmas present for Jesus! God bless and keep you this Christmas and on into the next year!

Christmas Is a Time for Giving

Christmas is synonymous with giving, and our model of perfect giving is Jesus. Someone who followed His example well was Mother Teresa. Working among the poor of Calcutta, she inspired millions with her selfless love.

“I see Jesus in every human being,” she said. “I say to myself, ‘This is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.'”

Only someone who knows Christ’s love and has responded to it by passing it on could understand what Mother Teresa means.


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