The Cast of Christmas

     William Shakespeare penned these words in his play, As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances…”

     Most of us have seen a wide variety of Christmas plays and pageants in our lifetimes and perhaps have even been in one or more of them ourselves. We enjoy seeing the tiny tots program—Mary in her blue dress and white veil; Joseph in a too-large bathrobe; both kneeling beside a manger with the “Baby Jesus”; and the little angel choir with crooked tinsel halos heartily singing “Away in the Manger” behind them.  We perhaps, too, have seen or participated in elaborate Christmas pageants with huge casts and conceivably thousands of dollars spent on costumes, backdrops, live animals, and professional sound and lighting. Both, in its own way, characterize that first great “Casting Call of Christmas.”

     For His cast, however, God the Father signed on and coordinated the innocent and the majestic, the humble and the proud, the unlearned and the scholarly, the good and the evil in widely diverse characters for roles in that first great Christmas drama. God’s choice of players includes:

     MARY: A young woman, pledged to be married to Joseph, finds herself visited by the archangel Gabriel one night. Gabriel announces to her that she will become pregnant. To overcome her confusion since she is a virgin, the angel explains to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” Though under Jewish law Mary knows she can be stoned to death for being pregnant outside of marriage and knowing that her husband-to-be will probably not understand, she bravely responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Traveling to Bethlehem while heavy with child, she ends up giving birth there in a stable. Since they could find no room in any boarding houses, Mary ends up laying her precious firstborn child in a feeding box for animals.  Notice the Bible says Mary was highly favored meaning that she was approved of God for the call He has laid before her. Do you have the heart beat of Mary, one God could trust to fulfill your call?

    JOSEPH: A righteous man pledged to be married to Mary.  When he finds Mary to be with child, he decides to divorce her quietly and not embarrass her publicly. The shock of this revelation must have been tremendous to Joseph who thought his beloved Mary was a pure and godly woman.  (Under Jewish law, engagement was as binding as marriage. To break it, a legal divorce was required.) Before he could do this, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, explains the situation, tells him to take Mary as his wife, and when the child is born “…to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph does as he is commanded, takes Mary as his wife but has no sexual union with her until after Jesus is born. This fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.” Joseph was a man of real Godly character, he fulfilled His part in the drama of Jesus birth and life. Joseph takes Jesus to Jerusalem for the purification, fleeing with Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod.  Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem each year for the Passover. Just as Joseph fulfilled his part – we are called to fulfill our part in this Christmas drama in telling others about Jesus Christ. Joseph put others ahead of Himself.  He could hear and obey the voice of the Lord. He could see his calling to a healthy completion. Let his life be an inspiration to you.

CAESAR AUGUSTUS: A Roman emperor (a small but very important part in the “Play”), who issues a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone must go to his own town to register. This requires Joseph to go up to Bethlehem, taking the very pregnant Mary with him, since he is of the house and line of David. This fulfills the words of the prophet Micah written over 700 years before, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, …from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2, NASB) Life Application: Caesar, a non-believer used of God to put into law all that was required to move Joseph and Mary to be in the right place at just the right time.  Another significance, Jesus, the King of kings, came in the fullness of time and was born under the law of mankind. God is still Sovereign today, fully able to accomplish His purposes.  We find ourselves under the law of mankind, yet we have a God who can accomplish His perfect will for us as we live in this world.  We have a God who can use laws written by mankind, to have us in the place He wants to be, to give witness of His Son. True Christmas is revealing to a lost world about the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, no matter where find ourselves, as the results of laws implemented by mankind.

THE SHEPHERDS: Generally poor, uneducated men doing what they do every night. Nothing extra-ordinary happens to them except for an occasional predator coming along to scare away or kill to protect their sheep. But the Author of the “Play” has something special planned for this night. They are about to be astonished by the brilliant shekinah glory of the Lord ripping open the quiet night skies, the angelic proclamation of a newly-born Savior and a great multitude of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”  After recovering their senses, they hurry off to find the Savior.  After seeing Mary, Joseph and the Babe in the manger “just as they had been told,” they return to their work. As they go, they glorify and praise God and testify to everyone who will listen of what they have seen and heard.  These men, whom the world would deem unworthy, have been among the first to see God in the flesh!  Life application – “Christians, who stir themselves up to be about their business for the Lord in their callings are able to receive divine revelations from the Lord if they know Him, love Him and are willing to obey His Word.” Many call the shepherds the first evangelist, they were not ashamed of the Gospel, not allowing it to be watered down with religious slogans or over shadowed by the issues of the day, but proclaimed what the angles had told them.  Have the heart of the shepherds!

     THE MAGI: Wise men, astronomers, from the east. They have seen “His star” and have traveled a great and dangerous distance to find and worship the newborn King.  Stopping in Jerusalem to speak with King Herod, they find that the new King of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem. Going there, these obviously wealthy and prestigious men now bow in worship before this special Child, recognizing Him as King. After seeing the Savior and presenting Him with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they are warned in a dream not to tell Herod where they have found the Child so they return to their own country another way. In God’s Cast of Christmas, the Lord raised up worshipers who gave of their best. Life Application: Wise men still seek Christ as King and Lord of their lives, they give their best so they can help provide for His continued work upon this earth.  They travel the long hard road to find that place of true worship unto Him. True worshipers are led of the Holy Spirit, being led in their paths of this life to protect the Name of the Lord.  Can people see you are seeker, like the Magi of Jesus time?

HEROD, THE GREAT: The “bad-guy” in this drama, the current so-called “King of the Jews.” He is greatly disturbed by the Magi’s questions, since the birth of a new king would mean his reign is nearly at an end. He is a tyrant of the worst kind. He has already had many of his own family murdered so that they cannot threaten his throne.  Herod is a secular Jew that follows their strict dietary laws including never eating pork.  A commentator of his time stated, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son!”  Herod deceives and lies to the Magi, asking them to return to him after they have found the baby so that he, too, “may go and worship him.” When the Magi do not return to him, he puts his satanically inspired plan to kill the Christ child into effect. Without knowing the exact location or age of the Child, he orders the death of all Jewish male children under age two who were being raised the Bethlehem area. Life Application: The gospel messages are not always going to be received with a joyful heart. There a those who have no desire to have Jesus Christ be known about or worshiped, even during Christmas. There are many who do not want Jesus to be Lord a Savior of their lives.   This Christmas, spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to enable you to share about Christ this Christmas season.

     CHIEF PRIESTS AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW: The Christmas story has Chief Priest and Teachers of the Law in it.  After the Magi came asking their questions, Herod consults these Jewish scholars to find out where the Christ is to be born.  They know the teachings of Scripture that tell of the place of the Messiah’s birth, which was in Bethlehem. There is no place in Scripture that records any of them seeking out the Christ child. A little over thirty years after Jesus’ birth, it was men in these positions that called for the crucifixion of Christ. Which is a fulfillment of Scripture, Jesus was born to die for our sins. It was not until after our Lord’s death that some of these spiritual leaders came to truly believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah. Life Application: It is what is done with Jesus Christ in a person’s spiritual heart that opens the door to true revelation about the Son of God. It takes more than just knowledge of the Bible, church attendance or a religious spirit. There must be Holy Spirit illumination of the Word of God, which comes after truly believing Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Gift of God to all of mankind. True belief in Jesus replaces that dead religious look of just church attendance to a life that is lived in true obedience to our Lord’s teachings.

     SIMEON: A righteous and devout Jew to whom it has been revealed by God that he will not die before he has seen the Messiah.  Moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple on the very day that Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to be dedicated to God, he takes Him in his arms and praises God saying, “…my eyes have seen Your Salvation… a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”  He blessed the holy family and prophesied of Jesus’ ministry and death.

     ANNA: An elderly and devout prophetess who, having been widowed countless years ago, now spends all her time, night and day, in the temple worshiping, fasting and praying. At the very moment that Simeon was speaking, Anna, also drawn by the Holy Spirit, recognized the Christ.  She praised and gave thanks to God and testified of the Holy Babe to all around who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Christians are spiritual temples who can daily worship in Spirit and truth, thus they can be led of the Lord. Life application: True worshippers daily seek the Lord whole heartedly, not just during the Christmas season. These Christians find themselves being lead of the Holy Spirit of Christ like Simeon and Anna.  Worship for the Christ of Christmas involves considering how your thoughts, actions and life affects Him.

JESUS CHRIST, Son of God and Son of Man: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 1-2, 14). Jesus willingly gave up the majesty and acclaim of heaven. He humbled Himself so far as to be born a baby in a stable surrounded by the stench of animals and among human beings, most that would neither recognize Him nor care that He had arrived. As a Man, he got hungry, cold, and tired. As he grew, he was tempted in all ways, just as we are, yet was without even one sin. Then, in the fullness of His time, at the exact moment prophesied, he gave up His life on the Roman cross. The Jews of His day intentionally and wrongfully condemned Him to death; the Romans carried out their dreadful crucifixion; but it was our sins—theirs, yours and mine—that fashioned the nails. The final curtain fell.  Jesus was dead. But, the great “Play” doesn’t end there.

For three days, all heaven held its breath.  Then the Father cried, “ARISE, MY SON!”

Jesus is not dead! He rose again to life everlasting and lives today in heaven in the place of honor at the right hand of God the Father!  And you too can you live forever with Him because Jesus says in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die…”

As the “Drama” now continues, what role will you play? At the end of it all, where will you be found?

Scripture says, “Today is the day of salvation.” Don’t delay.  I urge you to receive Christ into your heart! Live for Christ every day of the year! Anticipate spending an eternity with Christ! He desires you to be with Him.  After all, He died so that you could serve and live for Him.  He has Spiritual Gifts for you so you can sacrificially serve others as he served and loved other.

A Full Measure of Thanksgiving

List of Holy Spirit Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Spiritual gifts are best understood as being Holy Spirit enabled to serve the Lord, the Body of Christ and those in this world for the glory of Jesus Christ.  The church is not a building, denomination, or fellowship.  The church is the Body of Christ, sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. (Ephesians 2:8)  Born again Christians have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ, (Ephesians 2:22) thus, they are equipped by Him to do service for the building of the Kingdom of God.  When we express gratitude to those who are exercising their Spiritual gifts through sacrificial love, (1 Corinthians 12-14) we are in fact expressing gratitude to God who created (Isaiah 45:12) and called the person to Christ, (John 6:44) expressing gratitude to Christ who purchased sinners by giving His life (Revelation 5:9) and expressing gratitude to the Holy Spirit who gives the gifts as He chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Here is a list of some very key Spiritual gifts that are worthy of expressions of gratitude (this is not a full exposition on Holy Spirit gifts or how they are to function in the Body of Christ).   To help you get a grasp on these gifts I am placing them in three categories, 1.) Service Gifts, 2.) Sign Gifts, and 3.) Spiritual Support Gifts.  (Please note: You may write a note, give a card or even speak personally to the servant of the Lord exercising any of these gifts.)

Service Gifts:

Administration – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of administration or leadership.  There are those who have on different occasions given direction, directed or governed some key spiritual ministry opportunity for the glory of Christ.  Take time to thank those who you have seen administer this gift in some way.  Be specific.  Example: “I want to thank you for taking the time to oversee the __________________ ministry.”

Encouragement – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of encouragement.  Often there is someone who has been in the same circumstance that you are in.  Through the counsel of God’s Word and testimony that glorifies the Lord, this encourager spoke a word that kept you on the course God had set you on.   Be specific.  Example: “I want to thank you for the encouragement the Lord gave me when you shared __________________.”

Contributing – Romans 12:8 speaks of those who have the gift of giving to the work of the Lord.  This gift is an enabling of the Holy Spirit to give beyond the tithe.  These Christians have given repeatedly to the work of the Lord and to meeting the needs of the people.  When appropriate, thank that person for a specific gift and share how it was used of the Lord.

Helps or Serving – Romans 12:7 speaks of those who are known as being Christians or people who express a life of helping others.  When you hear of a practical need, it does not surprise you to hear that those who have this gift are right at hand to meet the need again and again and again.  When you are aware of the person exercising this gift, take time to thank that person.  Being specific takes the expression of appreciation right to the heart.

Mercy – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of mercy.  When people are hurting, especially because of choosing to live outside of God’s perfect will, there are Christians whom the Lord uses to express His mercy.  This mercy enables the backslid, the misguided and the lost to look to God for mercy with an expectation it may be enjoyed in due season.  Think of the time when the Lord brought such a person into your life.  Make time to thank that person for exercising this gift and share (when appropriate) the Lord’s goodness regarding the matter.

Sign Gifts:

Distinguishing Between Spirits – In 1 Corinthians 12:10 we read of Holy Spirit led Christians who have the gift of distinguishing between spirits.  Satan persistently tries to counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore, God has gifted His servants with the ability to discern spiritual things.  There are those who are not confused with a critical spirit in the natural, thus they are able to discern the heart of God in spiritual matters.  These Christians are very faithful in disciplined prayer and have great knowledge of the Word of God.  Every church that has true disciplined times of prayer has servants of the Lord whom you can trust to discern spiritual matters.   Think of that person who has proven faithful in long seasons of prayer and deep study of God’s Word.  That is the person you can show appreciation to, because distinguishing between spirits is a much needed gift in the Body of Christ.

Healing – There are those in the Body of Christ, as the Lord chooses and in His time who are given a word to speak forth healing through prayer. (1 Corinthians 12:9)  Take time to think of those who prayed with you in faith and the Lord granted the healing you sought.  Make time to thank them for praying with or for you.  God is the great physician, whether He chooses to use modern medicine or to bring healing at the moment when the prayer is offered.  It is God who gives His servants the faith to pray in a manner that honors Christ.

Spiritual Support Gifts:

Word of Knowledge – This gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8 and 14:6.  This is that word that was spoken to you dealing with a factual matter coming from a trusted brother in Christ who had no knowledge of the circumstance at hand.  It was given with the perfect timing uncontrolled by you or anyone else.  As the Holy Spirit reminds you of a time when you enjoyed this gift, make time to show appreciation to the vessel from whom it was exercised.

Word of Wisdom – This gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.  This is a word given through the Holy Spirit to you through a trusted brother giving you wisdom on how to apply a truth or accomplish the task set before you.  As the Lord reveals to you a person whom He has used to give you this wisdom, make time to express appreciation to that person.

Prophesying – Romans 12:6 speaks of those who have the gift of “prophesying” which is “…not primarily prediction but communication of revealed truth that will both convict and build up the hearers.” (The Expositors Bible Commentary)  It is a special gift that enables the preachers (Ephesians 4:11) to expound the Holy Scriptures. (Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon)  This gift of the Holy Spirit enables the proclaimer of God’s Word to declare the Lord’s purpose, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the hurting and afflicted. (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon; The Pulpit Commentary)  This gift enables the preacher to make known the will of God, which is designed to influence men. (Barnes Notes)      There are different people who have exercised this gift by denying themselves certain privileges so they can be prepared to preach and teach the Word of God.  The Bible says that people are unworthy of those who exercise this gift.  Make time to express appreciation to those who have a proven faithful to the Lord and to you through exhortation by exercising this gift.

Faith – 1 Corinthians 12:9 speaks of the Holy Spirit giving members of the church a faith that enables them to see through to completion that which God calls them to do.  The Holy Spirit using the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, gives such an enlightenment of a truth that it causes Christians to live a life of pleasing faith to God.  There is someone whom you know is a Holy Spirit enlightened, Word-minded Christian who expresses a genuine faith to God.  Take time to thank them for exhibiting Biblical faith.

Song Service Teams – 1 Chronicles 25 speaks of those having people trained and skilled for music in the house of the Lord.  Make time to thank those who weekly exercise their gift to the church.

Again this is not a exhaustive Biblical teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, there is enough truth presented here to equip you to show appreciation for those who exercise their Holy Spirit gifts for the common good of Christians and those who do not know Christ.

Praying the Lord’s best as you prayerfully consider how you may enjoy, “A Full Measure of Thanksgiving.”