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Atlanta, 23 December 2015

Happy Christmas!

In our third and final Christmas issue, I want to write about God's Christmas present to us. To fully appreciate this gift, we'll take a brief excursion into theology. Afterwards, I'd like to share one of our family's Christmas traditions. It's a simple idea, and it might save you a lot a money (especially if you have kids).

But first, and so that you'll have all our Christmas material in a single place, here are the links: 
God's Christmas gift
Reaching back
All the gospels tell the story of Christ, yet each has several distinctive emphases. In the gospel of Mark, we meet Jesus coming to be baptized by John (Mark 1:9). He is already a grown man, somewhere in his early 30s. In Matthew, a genealogy traces Jesus all the way back to Abraham. He is a son of Abraham and a son of David (Matt 1:1). In Luke, the genealogy stretches even farther back: "... son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God" (Luke 3:38).

Each successive gospel reaches back into time, farther than the previous one. What about John? "In the beginning was the Word... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory..." (John 1:1,14). The Word became flesh. Although no one has ever seen God, we see him in Jesus Christ (John 1:1,18; 14:9; and many other passages). John takes us all  the way back. Jesus existed before he became a man.

The Son of God enters our world, becoming one of us. This is the incarnation (from the Latin carō, carnis, flesh), or enfleshment. It's a uniquely Christian doctrine: God becomes human, sharing fully in our humanity, becoming one of us in order to redeem us by offering himself. What better "Christmas" gift could there be?

The incarnation is, in fact, the central miracle of Christianity. It is prophesied in the Old Testament and beautifully illustrated in the Tabernacle, the portable temple of the Jews in the early period (see Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; in Deuteronomy we read of the tent of meeting). The Tabernacle was where God's Spirit dwelt among his people (Exodus 40:34-38).

John 1:14 revealed
To appreciate John's message, it helps to know a Greek word or two. The word for tent or tabernacle is skēnē. The word in John 1:14 often translated "dwelt" is eskēnosen. The allusion to the Tabernacle should not be obscured, even if the result is unusual vocabulary. Now we can read John 1:14, "The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us..." Just as in Old Covenant times, God is with his people. While Jesus lived on earth, he was among us bodily. Now, through the Spirit, he is among us spiritually, as he resides in our heart -- and the church of Christ is his body (Col 1:18). For more on this lofty theme, listen to Seven Sanctuaries.

That's the true meaning of Christmas, the celebration of Christ's birth. Immanuel, with-us-God. What greater gift could there be?
Meet Darcy
The Jacobys have a simple Xmas custom. Christmas stockings are opened on the morning of the 25th, and have always been a lot of fun. When I was a kid, we pulled every gift out of the stocking at light speed -- the Yuletide equivalent of wolfing one's food! No more. Vicki and I always wrap the stocking stuffers -- a custom she brought from the British side of our family. The unwrapping builds anticipation and slows everyone down; stockings can take up to an hour. But that's not the Xmas idea I wanted to share.

It's on Christmas Eve that we gather by the tree and open our "family Christmas present." (No, that's not a typo; it's present, not presents.) Instead of dozens of packages under the tree, there's just one. (If someone outside the family gives a gift, under the tree it goes, too -- we're not legalistic about the one-present thing.)

The family Christmas present is something we can all enjoy together. One year is was a membership in the Baltimore Aquarium. Another time the gift was an opportunity to serve orphans in Mexico. Last year it was a Xmas in England (I get mountains of frequent flyer miles).

The 2015 family present is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Vicki named her after Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Despite those sharp puppy teeth and the daily 3:00 am walk, she's already a beloved part of the family. 

Visit Israel in 2016!

For those fascinated in the Scriptures, the Biblical Study Tour opens a panorama of history and imagination. Visiting so many places of biblical significance can literally change how we read God's Word. Tour leaders: Douglas Jacoby (Atlanta) & Steve Kinnard (New York). Already 75 have signed up, from 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas! 

Why not join in next year's adventure? To learn more, CLICK for the webpage.

Happy Xmas
We wish you all a happy Christmas.

Ho ho ho,
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