Posts Tagged ‘Bethlehem’

The Characters of Christmas – Jesus

December 24, 2016

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 NKJV)

There has never been a more awaited birth or a longer celebrated one.  Ever since sin first entered the Garden of Eden through Adam and Eve, the world waited for the coming of the One who would destroy sin and the evil one.  Then one night in a little town named Bethlehem the One arrived as a little baby, God’s gift to mankind, the first Christmas gift.

Many men prophesied about this One, the Messiah, Savior of all the world.  Moses wrote that this One would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah (Genesis 17:3, 7, 19, 21:12, 22:18, 28:13-14, 49:8-10, Numbers 24:17).  Isaiah added that He would descend from Jesse (Isaiah 11:1); and Jeremiah added that He would come from Jesse’s son David, king of Israel (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15).  The prophet Micah further said that out of all the towns in Judah He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-3).  Isaiah further prophesied that He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).  David also foretold that God would be the Father of the Savior (Psalm 2:7).  This had to be because He could not save the world from their sins if He had sin in His nature too.  Since the sin nature was passed on through the man, the mother of the Savior had to be a virgin and the father had to be God.  Isaiah also said that this One would be God Himself (Isaiah 9:6-7).

King David, along with the prophet Isaiah, said that kings would bring Him gifts and bow down to worship Him (Psalm 72:10-15, Isaiah 60:3).  Hosea prophesied that He would spend time in Egypt (Hosea 11:1), and Jeremiah foretold the weeping that occurred when Herod killed all the boy babies two years old and under in Bethlehem (Jeremiah 31:15).  Isaiah even revealed that the Savior would live in the area around Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2).  Many more prophesies were recorded throughout the Old Testament about the Messiah, the Savior, but we won’t go into them here.

Only one person fulfilled all these prophesies.  He was born in Bethlehem to a virgin, Mary, a direct descendant of King David.  He was named Jesus. Angels announced his birth to shepherds. Kings known as wise men or magi brought Him gifts and bowed down to worship Him.  He was taken to Egypt by Mary and Joseph just before Herod called for the killing of Bethlehem’s baby boys two years old and younger.  He lived there until Herod died.  Then Joseph brought the family back to Nazareth in the region of Galilee.

Jesus lived a life just like we do.  He was tempted to sin just like we are, but He never sinned.  He suffered persecutions from those who hated Who He was and what He stood for.  Then He was crucified on a cruel Roman cross not because of something He did for He did nothing wrong but because He was the Son of God.  He went to the cross as God’s sacrificial lamb willingly giving up His life so that sin and the Devil’s hold on humanity would be broken forever.  Then Jesus rose from the dead to complete His wonderful work of salvation.  All this was prophesied in the Old Testament, too.

This year as you celebrate the birth of Jesus consider what gift you are going to give Him.  The gift He wants most is you.

Merry Christmas!

Names of Jesus
The Amen – Revelation 3:14
Angel – Genesis 48:16, Exodus 23:20,21
Anointed – Psalm 2:2
Apostle – Hebrews 3:1
Author and Finisher of our faith – Hebrews 12:2
Beginning and End of the Creation of God – Revelation 3:14, 22:13
Beloved Son – Matthew 3:17
My Beloved – Ephesians 1:6
Only Begotten – John 1:14, 18
The Branch – Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 2:23
Bread of Life – John 6:32
Bridegroom – Matthew 9:15
Christ “Messiah, the Anointed One” – John 1:41
Consolation – Luke 2:25
Cornerstone – Ephesians 2:20
Counselor – Isaiah 9:6, Colossians 2:3
Dayspring – Luke 1:78
Deliverer – Luke 2:11
Door – John 10:9
Emmanuel – Isaiah 7:14
The Faithful Witness – Revelation 5:5
The Father of Eternity – Isaiah 9:6, Revelation 1:8
God – Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1
God, My Savior – Isaiah 45:1
The Mighty God – Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1-3
Governor – Matthew 2:6
Head of the Church – Ephesians 5:23
Heir – Hebrews 1:2
Holy One – Isaiah 41:14, Mark 1:24
I Am – John 8:58
Immanuel – Isaiah 7:14, I Timothy 3:16
Israel – Isaiah 49:3
Jesus – Matthew 1:21
Jesus Christ – John 1:17
Jesus of Nazareth – Mark 1:24, Luke 24:19
King – Matthew 21:5, Psalm 2:6, Matthew 2:1-2
King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – Revelation 19:16
Lamb of God – John 1:14
The Last Adam – I Corinthians 15:45
Life – John 14:6
Light of the World – John 8:12
The Lion of Judah – Revelation 5:5
LORD – Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:1-8
Lord – Psalm 110:1, Luke 20:41-44
Lord Jesus – John 20:28
Man – 1 Timothy 2:5
The Second Man – 1 Corinthians 15:47
The Master – Matthew 9:11, 23:8
Messiah – Daniel 9:25, John 1:41
The Messiah – Daniel 9:25-26, Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:16-21
Paraclete – John 16:7, 14, 15
High Priest – Hebrews 3:1
Priest – Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 3:1, 5:5-6
Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6, Ephesians 2:14
Prophet – Deuteronomy 11:15, 18; Matthew 21:11; Luke 24:19
The Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:15-18, John 12:49-50
Rabbi – John 1:49, 20:16
Resurrection and Life – John 11:25
Righteous One – 1 Corinthians 1:30
Rock – Matthew 16:18
Savior, Christ the Lord – Luke 2:11, Titus 2:13, 2 Timothy 2:10
Savior of the World – 1 John 4:14
The Seed – Genesis 15:5, Galatians 3:16
Servant – Isaiah 42:1, 49:7
The Servant of the Lord – Isaiah 42:1, 52:13, Philippians 2:7
Good Shepherd – John 10:11
Shiloh – Genesis 49:10, Ezekiel 21:27
Son of the Blessed – Mark 14:61
Son of David – Matthew 12:23
Son of God – John 10:36
Son of Man – Mark 10:45
The Son – Psalm 2:7, Hebrews 5:8
The Son of Man – Daniel 7:13, Matthew 20:28
Stone – Matthew 21:42, 1 Peter 2:8
The Stone – Psalm 118:22, 1 Peter 2:4-8
Teacher – John 3:2, Matthew 9:11
Truth – John 14:6
True Vine – John 15:1
The Way – John 14:6
Wonderful – Isaiah 9:6, John 1:14
Word – John 1:1

The Characters of Christmas – Mary

November 25, 2016

It has been several years since I posted this blog series so I decided to repost it.  As Advent begins this weekend use these reflections as part of your Advent contemplations.


Mary lived with her family in the town of Nazareth.  They were a poor family living in a town with a poor reputation.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was the popular sentiment of the day.  They were descendants of King David through David’s son Nathan, but since the Romans were in control very few of the Jewish royal family were affluent.

Mary was a young girl, a virgin.  We don’t know her age.  Some believe she may have been as young as fourteen years old; others say she was older.  The Bible, however, does not give her age.  She was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart.  She was a thankful, trusting person, too.  She was obedient both to her parents and her God.  She was a normal, young Jewish girl with dreams of being a good wife and mother.

Mary’s parents were godly people who made sure Mary also knew God and loved Him.  They taught her the Holy Scriptures.  Because of this Mary was highly favored by God.

Mary was espoused to a man named Joseph, a godly man who also loved God, when she entertained a special visitor.  The angel Gabriel was sent by God to give a special message to Mary.  Gabriel said that God was with Mary and that she was blessed among women.  Gabriel revealed that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.  Mary knew all the prophesies about the Messiah.  She probably hoped that she would be the one to give him life, but she was still surprised and probably stunned to hear that she was the one chosen by God to bear His Son.  She was willing to be used by God but questioned how this was to come about.  She was a virgin.  She never had sex with any man.  So how was she to have this baby?  Gabriel explained that God would take care of everything, and Mary understood that this impregnation would occur without the help of a man.  Mary must have wondered what other people would think of her.  Here she would be pregnant without a husband.  Oh, how the gossip would fly.  And what would Joseph think?  Would he leave her?  Would he divorce her?  Would he make an example of her and cause her to go before the judges?  She knew that God’s law said adulteresses should be put to death.  But Mary’s faith and trust in God shone forth.  She knew if God called her to carry His Son then He would take care of her even if the whole world were against her.

Mary was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart as evidenced by what she did when she heard that her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant.  Mary, being pregnant herself, left her home and stayed with Elizabeth and her husband for three months helping them with the housework, with the work in the fields, with everything imaginable.  Elizabeth’s pregnancy, like Mary’s, was a miraculous pregnancy.  Elizabeth and her husband were too old to have children; yet God intervened and caused them to have a child.

Mary was a faithful girl, faithful to her God and faithful to her husband.  Instead of staying in Nazareth when the Romans made Joseph go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, where she could have had her baby in a warm house, Mary went with Joseph on the rough, possibly even dangerous trip to Bethlehem; and she made this trip when she was nine months pregnant.  Many believe that Mary made the trip riding on a donkey.  The Bible doesn’t say that.  She may have been walking.  Not likely, but it may have happened. I am sure Joseph would have done all he could to make the trip as easy as possible for Mary.  When they arrived at Bethlehem they were tired.  Joseph spent a lot of time going from inn to inn looking for a place for them to stay especially since Mary could give birth at any time, but nothing was available.  Mary was gracious.  When a stable was offered she willingly took it, choosing to sleep on the straw instead of the hard, cold ground.

Mary was also a strong girl, strong spiritually and strong physically, too.  She was tired from the long trip, tired from the search for a place to spend the night.  All she wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but she could not. Labor pains began.  The baby was born.  And yet she still could not rest for a group of shepherds entered the stable asking, “Is this the place?”  Then they explained why they were there.  What an incredible, unbelievable story!  Unbelievable to anyone who has never interacted with an angel.  Mary believed.  Mary knew why they were there worshiping her little Son.  Yet Mary did not understand everything that was happening because she pondered in her heart all that she heard.  She did not understand why her God would send His Son birthed by her to save the world from their sins.  Only after the shepherds left could Mary get some sleep if her thoughts did not keep her awake.

Two other times we are told that Mary pondered things she saw and heard in her heart.  One was about forty days after Jesus’ birth.  She and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifices of purification as demanded by Jewish law and the scriptures.  Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who were frequently found at the temple, came to them and worshiped Jesus and told Mary their story.  Simeon even prophesied about Jesus’ death.  This must have really puzzled Mary.  The next was when the wise men knocked on the door of their house.  We do not know exactly when this was as the Bible does not say.  We can surmise that it was more than forty days after Jesus’ birth because Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left for Egypt the soon after the wise men left.  It may have been as long as two years after Jesus’ birth.  Why else would Herod have killed all babies in Bethlehem two years old and younger?  The wise men worshiped her Son and gave him wonderful gifts.  The gifts that were given to Jesus would have caused anyone to stop and think.  Gold is a kingly gift, frankincense a priestly gift, and myrrh a burying spice.

Mary truly was blessed among women and highly favored with God and man.  She was chosen by God to bring His Son into the world.  She believed God and trusted Him to get her through the hardships of life and trusted her son, the Son of God, to take away her sins and be her Savior.

 

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2015

Luke 2  (NKJV)nativity scene

1And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Matthew 2   (NKJV)

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 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.

 

May you all have a blessed and merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.

Merry Christmas! From CustomsOfChristmas.com

December 24, 2014

Luke 2:1-20

1nativity scene And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Matthew 2:1-12

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 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. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

 

Merry Christmas!

Celebrating Advent

November 25, 2014

On November 30 our family will begin our celebration of Advent.  Advent for us is not just a countdown to Christmas.  It is a time for us to prepare for the celebration of and to remember the birthday of Jesus. Bartholomew's Passage

This year we are using a book written by Arnold Ytreeide called Bartholomew’s Passage.  It is about a young Jewish boy and his adventures just prior to the birth of Jesus.  This book is one of three interrelated books for Advent written by Mr. Ytreeide: Bartholomew’s Passage, Jotham’s Journey, and Tabitha’s Travels.  Every night we read a portion of the story until, on Christmas morning, the story ends with the main character of the story arriving at the manger where the baby Jesus lays.

This is an excellent way for the entire family to get into the Advent season.  Even our youngest child sits quietly to find out what will happen to Bartholomew tonight.

If you haven’t yet begun celebrating the Advent season or if you are looking for something new for Advent, why don’t you look for one of these books.  You won’t regret it.

 


 

The Cinnamon Bear Advent CalendarCountdown to Christmas with CustomsOfChristmas.com’s Cinnamon Bear Advent Calendar.  Taken from The Cinnamon Bear radio program the advent calendar follows the adventures of Paddy O’Cinnamon as he helps Jimmy and Judy find the silver star, stolen by Crazy Quilt Dragon, that belongs on top of their Christmas tree.  The 26-segment story, each segment 12 – 15 minutes long, begins on Saturday, November 29, and continues through Christmas Eve.  Join us and the Cinnamon Bear this Christmas season as we count down to Christmas.

 

 

 


 

Buckeyes

1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound milk chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and butter until well combined.  Shape into about 30 1-inch balls.  Place balls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Let stand for about 25 minutes or until dry.  Place water in the bottom of a double boiler to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Make sure the upper pan does not touch the water.  While balls are cooling and the water is heating, finely chop the chocolate so it will melt quickly.  Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat and place about ¼ of the chocolate in the top of the double boiler.  Stir until melted.  Add about ½ cup more, stir, and repeat until all chocolate is melted.  Stir until chocolate has reached 120 degrees; reheat if necessary to reach this temperature.  After the chocolate has reached 120 degrees, refill bottom of double boiler with cool water to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Stir frequently until chocolate cools to 83 degrees.  This should take about 30 minutes.  Using a toothpick, dip balls in chocolate, working quickly and stirring chocolate frequently to keep it evenly heated.  Place balls on cookie sheet.  (Chocolate will stay close to 83 degrees for about 30 minutes.  If temperature falls below 80 degrees, chocolate must be remelted.)  Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2013

How time flies!  I usually try to get in two or three extra posts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this year time just flew past.  I just finished posting a series of blogs on how to simplify your Christmas or how to make it more meaningful for you.  Therefore, I thought I’d give a simple Christmas message and recount the Christmas story.

Luke 2 (NKJV)

2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Matthew 2 (NKJV)

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 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.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

 

 

Christmas in Italy – part 1

May 25, 2013

nativity sceneItaly enjoys a wide range of weather conditions during the Christmas season. In southern Italy Christmas is warm and sunny. In Rome, Christmas tends to be chilly and damp, almost Spring-like. In the mountain regions of northern Italy, Christmases are white with a lot of snow, ice, and cold temperatures.

Preparations for Christmas begin in December. People around Sicily also enjoy puppet shows with hand-carved puppets performing fairy tale stories and enacting legendary battle scenes. Storekeepers decorate their shops with lights and greenery. Families visit vibrant Christmas markets looking for presents, goodies, and new figures to add to the home manger scene. In the schools children put on plays, give recitals, and make decorations. People begin visiting friends and family bringing gifts, sharing good food, and visiting as many magnificent nativity displays as possible.

On December 6 many Italians celebrate the feast day of San Nicola (St. Nicholas). All along the Adriatic coast, children anxiously await the visit of the saint with his gifts and goodies he brings.

On December 13 the people of Sicily celebrate the feast day of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy). Tradition says that, on the eve of her day, Lucia travels the countryside accompanied by a donkey carrying baskets loaded with gifts for those she visits. Children leave their shoes on the doorstep along with food for the donkey. Lucia then fills the shoes with presents. On the morning of St. Lucia’s day, a child, usually the oldest daughter of the family, dresses up as Lucia and serves the family breakfast in bed.

The Christmas season really starts in Italy with Christmas Novena. This is a nine-day period of spiritual preparation ending Christmas Eve marked by attending church services.

Christmas Eve is spent with family and for making final preparations for Christmas day. They may enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas and the smells of the Christmas markets. Some Italians attend midnight Christmas Eve services at their local churches. In Cortina D’Apezzo, a town in northern Italy, families gather to watch the Alpine guides ski down the mountain carrying flaming torches.

Christmas Day arrives with the pealing of hundreds of church bells. The tradition of ringing church bells at Christmas is thought to have begun nearly 1,600 years ago by Bishop Paulinas of Nola. Families spend the day together exchanging gifts, playing games, telling stories, and feasting.

On December 26 a number of Italians celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. Once a day of religious devotion St Stephen’s Day is now spent relaxing or visiting friends and family.

As Christianity spread in Italy in times past the Christmas season was extended to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Cities and towns host Epiphany parades, and people sing songs honoring the three kings.

The following recipe is a favorite at Christmastime in Italy.

Almond Macaroons

1 can (8 ounces) almond paste, cut in pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg whites
Pine nuts

Combine almond paste, sugar, and egg whites in a bowl and work with a spoon until smooth. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with unglazed paper. Top with pine nuts. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit about 12 minutes, or until delicately browned. Cool slightly, then remove cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

The Characters of Christmas – Wise Men

December 23, 2012

Of all the characters in the Christmas story the wise men may have the least said about them in the Bible and the most legend about them in stories and song. Here’s what we do know about the wise men based on what the Bible tells us.

First, there was more than one wise man. The Bible says that they were wise “men” plural, but it doesn’t reveal the actual number of wise men. Many say there were three wise men because of the number of gifts recorded as being given to Jesus. Next, we know that they came from the East. How far to the East we do not know. They may have been from Persia or even the orient. The wise men were astrologers; they studied the stars. They knew the stars very well so that when His star appeared they knew what they needed to do.

When they saw the star they left the comfort of their homes to seek out the newborn King of the Jews. They had a basic knowledge of this baby. They knew that He was to be King of the Jews and that He was to be worshiped. That is why they went to Jerusalem, to find where this King was to be born. The Bible does not say that the wise men followed the star they saw from their home to Jerusalem. It just says that they saw the King’s star in the East and came to worship Him.

The wise men caused quite a stir in Jerusalem. No one knew of a newborn King. King Herod, a ruthless and paranoid man, was troubled most of all. Was this another plot to depose him? He decided to play along with the wise men, find out where the baby was to be born, and have the wise men find the baby for him. Then he would destroy this new King. The chief priests and scribes, the experts in the Jewish scriptures, came and told the wise men that the baby was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod told the wise men to look for the baby and to return to tell him where He was so he could go worship Him, too.

When the wise men left Herod’s palace they looked up and once again saw the King’s star. This time the star led them to Bethlehem to the house where Jesus was. Some have speculated that the star was just a lining up of certain planets or a comet. But can a comet or a group of planets way up in the cosmos lead a group of men to a particular town and point out a particular house within that town? Instead the star seems to be a special miracle star that God made expressly for the purpose of showing the wise men where His Son, the newborn King of the Jews, was staying.

The Bible does not say how close to the birth of Jesus the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. However, it is safe to say that it was at least forty days and may have been as much as two years after the birth. We do know that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left for Egypt to flee Herod after the wise men left, probably the same night. When Jesus was forty days old He was taken to the temple so the wise men could not have arrived before then. We also know that when Herod discovered that the wise men had no intention of telling him where the newborn King of the Jews was he killed every baby in Bethlehem two years old and younger. This may be because the wise men traveled for two years before finding the baby Jesus. The exact time is unknown, but we do know that it was long enough that Joseph found a house for the young family to live in. The wise men never went to the stable.

When the wise men saw Jesus they fell down and worshiped Him; and they gave Him gifts: gold, signifying that Jesus is King of the world (that gold financed the family’s trip to Egypt to flee Herod), frankincense, a present signifying that Jesus is our High Priest, and myrrh, signifying Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of mankind.

That night God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod. The wise men obeyed returning to their home by a different route.

God’s Son Jesus was sent to the earth to be the Savior of all mankind. He is the Savior of the common man as shown by His announcement to the shepherds. He is also the Savior of the rich man and the scholar. Jesus is Savior and Lord of all.

The Characters of Christmas – The Shepherds

December 16, 2012

Many people use the fact that the shepherd were in the fields watching their sheep as proof that Jesus could not have been born on December 25. Actually, since we are never told why the shepherds were in the fields that night, any reason proffered is pure speculation. Why were they in the fields at night instead of in the sheep folds? We are never told why. Perhaps it was because of all the Roman soldiers in the area. The Roman soldiers were known to take by force what they wanted so perhaps the shepherds were out in the fields to keep the sheep away from the soldiers. In that case they might have been in the fields with their sheep cold or not. At any rate the shepherds were in the fields watching the sheep. Each day was spent making sure the sheep got the food and water they needed; each night watching the sheep sleep undisturbed by thieves or marauding beasts. One day ran into the next with very little change to the routine.

Then came that special night. The shepherds were watching their sheep sleep keeping active sheep from wandering away from the herd. The night sky became as bright as day and a person appeared out of the light. Understandably the shepherds were terrified. Where did this bright light come from? Who was this person who stands before them? Is he friend or foe? The person spoke, “Do not be afraid…” After this speech the sky was filled with more beings like the first one singing and praising God. Then they disappeared and the light faded to night once more. When the shepherds found their voices they discussed what they heard. The Messiah, the Christ, has been born. They left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem. They left their sheep in the hands of God and ran to behold the miracle of the birth of the Son of God.

We are not told how many stables with mangers there were in Bethlehem. The shepherds may have gone right to the one where Mary and Joseph were, or they may have had to search for it. When they found “the Babe lying in a manger” they told Mary and Joseph all that happened to cause them to search for the baby Jesus. We do not know how long the shepherds stayed with Mary and Joseph. At the time they left the stable, people were stirring in the town of Bethlehem; and the shepherds told everyone they met about their experience with the angels and going to see the Christ, the Son of God. The people marveled at the shepherds’ message possibly thinking the shepherds were going a bit loony spending too much time with their sheep. Mary, however, pondered everything the shepherds told her and kept their sayings in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praising God worshiping Him for letting them be one of the first to get the birth announcement of His Son. This was a sure sign that God sent His Son to the humble, the lowly, the common man.

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