Bringing Bethlehem Home

A family starts a new Christmas tradition.

Houses shape the lives of those who live within them. When we moved four years ago to an old red-brick farmhouse called Maplehurst, we began sitting outdoors after dinner. Our kids would play in the yard while my husband and I rocked side-by-side in wicker rocking chairs. The wraparound porch had given our evenings a new rhythm.

Our ordinary days are different in this place, and our special days are different, too. Birthdays now mean picnics beneath the sour cherry tree, and every Easter we invite all of our neighbors to an egg hunt on the green grass that stretches on both sides of our long driveway. But the celebration that has shifted the most for us at Maplehurst is Christmas. For instance, we no longer travel during the holidays. This solid hill-top house says home so insistently we can’t imagine Christmas feasting anywhere else.

Last summer, my 12-year-old nephew came for a visit. On a warm June day, he and I stood outside watching his younger siblings ride scooters and bikes on the driveway that leads from the front porch far out to the country road. With a quick turn of his head, he looked at me and said, “This house was made for Christmas.”

My nephew has never been with us at Maplehurst during the holidays. When I asked what he meant, he said maybe it had something to do with all of the tall trees or perhaps he had remembered the snow we often have in Pennsylvania that time of year. Though he couldn’t articulate it, I think he understood how much the setting matters. Christmas at this old farmhouse would be different than the Christmases he had known in other places. It has certainly been different for me.

When I was a girl, I dreaded the end of Christmas Day. As darkness crept in around the edges of the windows, it felt as if the guest we had anticipated for over a month was slinking out the door before dinner had even been served. Christmas, with its unique and particular joy, was already slipping through my fingers. I always wanted to run outside, to heave up the setting sun, and beg Christmas to stay.

Perhaps the idea came to me because I still remembered that childish longing. Perhaps it came to me as I walked the extra-long driveway, which seems tailor-made for important journeys. Or perhaps it came when I noticed the half-rotted tree stump nestled up against the ruined foundation stones of a long-lost barn. However the idea originated, a few weeks before our first Christmas at Maplehurst I began preparing for a new tradition.

The end of Christmas Day felt as if the guest we had anticipated for over a month was slinking out the door before dinner had even been served.

I bought nativity figurines secondhand. They seemed to be made of a high quality resin, and the colors were muted and earthy. I imagined they would do well outside. My husband Jonathan built a small stable from old wood he found in our tumbledown shed. I gathered votive candles and jam jars and the glass-paned lanterns passed on to me by a friend.

For the first time in my life, I looked forward to sunset on Christmas Day. When it came, I whispered to Jonathan, “It’s time.” He slipped out of the back door with the stable and figurines tucked under his arms. His pockets were filled with votives. Before the kids could question where Daddy had gone, I began passing out winter coats and lanterns. I lit candles for our older three, and bundled the baby into a carrier on my back. We stepped outside and began to wander down the driveway and back again where it circles the house. My daughter asked where we were going, but the boys seemed content to swing their lanterns and crunch snow beneath their boots.

For the first time in my life, I looked forward to sunset on Christmas Day.

I told my daughter only that we were searching. Suddenly, she pointed. What is that? The boys looked up in wonder. We could see flickering lights in the distance. Now the children ran. I had been the one to plan this surprise, but when the baby and I joined them, I caught my breath.

We had journeyed to Bethlehem, and an infant king was in our midst.

The holy family looked at home tucked into the hollow of the stump and surrounded by flickering candlelight. I had not planned what we would do once the children found the little baby Jesus, but standing there, we instinctively held hands. Someone began to sing “Silent Night.


Illustration by Jeff Gregory

Recognizing God’s Open Doors

Acts 16:16-34

One way we tend to judge whether we’re walking in God’s will is by the outcome. The assumption is that when we’re doing what the Lord wants, life will run smoothly. But if all sorts of problems and heartaches occur, we often assume we must have wandered away from His will.

But Paul teaches that is not always the case. In 1 Corinthians 16:9, he writes, “For a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” And that’s exactly what happened when God closed one door and opened another on the apostle’s second missionary journey. (See Acts 16:6-10.) After Lydia and her household received the gospel, this new opportunity must have seemed hopeful. However, a short time later Paul and Silas, having been stripped and beaten with rods, found themselves sitting in a Philippian jail.

We don’t like to think God’s will for our life might include pain, suffering, or persecution, but that’s what Scripture teaches. The Lord uses affliction to test our faith, teach dependence on Him, develop godly character and spiritual maturity, and equip us to comfort others (Rom. 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 1:4). But He also uses our suffering to draw others to Christ. It’s doubtful the jailer would have been so ready to accept the gospel if Paul and Silas had not responded to their unfair treatment by singing hymns of praise to God.

When the Lord opens a door of suffering in our life, it’s an opportunity for unbelievers to witness God at work in us. Instead of trying to escape, let’s learn to respond in a manner that draws others to the Savior.

Little Children

“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-3)

Many adult Christians have the mistaken notion that little children are too young to understand the gospel and so should not be allowed to decide for Christ until they are much older. The problem, however, is not the children; it is the adults who find it hard to understand! They must become like little children before they can really comprehend the way of salvation and be converted. Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. . . . Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” (Luke 18:16-17).

After all, what is there to understand? A very young child, instructed in the Scriptures from infancy as God has commanded his parents (note 2 Timothy 3:15, which uses the Greek word for “baby” as the state in which young Timothy began to know the Bible), can surely comprehend that the God to whom his parents pray made him, that he has sinned against God when he does wrong, that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for his sins, and that Jesus can save him and take him to heaven. An adult may require much explanation and may imagine many difficulties, but a child will simply believe—and that’s enough!

The word for “little child” or “little children” actually means children who are not much more than toddlers. It is the same word rendered “young child” when the wise men came to find Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8, etc.). Little children should, by all means, be taught the gospel and should be encouraged to come to Christ before they grow too old to understand with their hearts! HMM

Silent Adoration

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. —Psalm 95:6-7

Next is adoration, to love God with all the power within us. To love God with fear and wonder and yearning and awe. To yearn for God with great yearning, and to love Him to a point where it is both painful and delightful. At times this will lead us to breathless silence. I think that some of the greatest prayer is prayer where you don’t say one single word or ask for anything. Now God does answer and He does give us what we ask for. That’s plain; nobody can deny that unless he denies the Scriptures. But that’s only one aspect of prayer, and it’s not even the important aspect. Sometimes I go to God and say, “God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already.” God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.

Lord, You have given me so much. Today I ask nothing but Your Presence as I bow before You in silent adoration. Amen.

His Mercy: A Boundless Sea

God, who is rich in mercy… even when we were dead in sins. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

A human being is never really aware of the great boundless sea of the mercy of God until by faith he comes across the threshold of the kingdom of God and recognizes it and identifies it!

My father was 60 years old when he bowed before Jesus Christ and was born again. That was a near lifetime in which he had sinned and lied and cursed. But to him, the mercy of God that took him to heaven was no greater than the mercy of God that had endured and kept him for 60 years.

I recall the story of an ancient rabbi who consented to take a weary old traveler into his house for a night of rest. In conversation, the rabbi discovered the visitor was almost 100 years old and a confirmed atheist. Infuriated, the rabbi arose, opened the door and ordered the man out into the night.

Then, sitting down by his candle and Old Testament, it seemed he heard a voice, God’s voice: “I have endured that sinner for almost a century. Could you not endure him for a night?” The rabbi ran out and overtaking the old man, brought him back to the hospitality of his home for the night.

Our Lord would have all his people

Our Lord would have all his people rich in high and happy thoughts concerning his blessed person. As a help to high thoughts of Christ, remember the estimation that Christ is had in beyond the skies. Think how God esteems the only begotten, his unspeakable gift to us. Consider what the angels think of him, as they count it their highest honor to veil their faces at his feet. Think of the mighty love which drew him from his throne to die upon the cross! See him risen, crowned, glorified! Bow before him as the Wonderful, the Counselor, the mighty God, for only thus will your love to him be what it should.