Look Into the Face of Jesus

Who is this baby we call the Messiah? John 1:1-3 starts at the dawn of human history. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him.” Verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth” (NLT). The baby, Who was (translated into English) named Jesus, was previously called both the Word and God.

Luke 1:26-35 tells Mary’s side of the story. The angel appeared to Mary, informed her that God favored her and chose her to be the mother of the Messiah. The angel told her to name the baby Jesus.

Can you imagine Mary’s shocked response? “I’m engaged, but I’m not married yet, and am still a virgin! How am I going to have a baby?”

The angel replied essentially, “Mary, this is an act of God. If you’re willing, God will supernaturally plant the seed within you, and you’ll remain a virgin until after the baby is born.”

With trepidation, Mary agreed with the angel. But Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, had a different reaction.

Matthew 1:18-25 gives us Joseph’s viewpoint. Joseph wanted nothing to do with an unmarried, pregnant woman! He intended to dump Mary for being pregnant out of wed-lock, but the angel finally convinced him of God’s plan, and that Mary was honest, undefiled, and still a virgin. The angel told Joseph in a dream that God wanted him to marry Mary, the baby was to be named Jesus and would [eventually] save people from their sins. Understanding the shame and derision they would endure, Joseph accepted Mary as his wife and adopted Jesus as his own son.

The Imperial decree ordered all men to return to their town of birth for the Roman census, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem. On the night of Jesus’ birth, the first yard to light up the community on the first Christmas was the field just out of town.

That’s where we read that after the angel scared the daylights out of the shepherds, the angels gave the world-changing announcement that God had entered humanity in the form of a baby. When the shepherds calmed down and believed the angelic message, they were the first visitors to look into the face of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to welcome God, in the form of a baby, into the world. I also believe they were the first to offer a gift on Christmas night. They gave a lamb to the new-born King.

The wise men, Persian scientists, received the message of the new King as they studied the sky. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known” (NLT).

About a year later, these scientists were the first visitors of their kind to welcome God into the world. Looking into the face of our Savior, in the form of a toddler sitting in His mother’s lap, they gave Him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Remember that I said Joseph adopted Jesus – the Son of God – as his own son? Now the situation is reversed. If we accept Jesus as our Savior and live to honor Him, God will perform a miracle and adopt us – humans – into His heavenly family. And that introduces another miracle: Jesus, Who is God, is the best Friend a person can ever have!

Christmas is not limited to a starry-eyed baby lying in a manger. It wasn’t intended to be depicted by trees, lights, glitz, hoopla, parties, noise, and a lot more associated with the secular holiday event.

Christmas is about God entering humanity to rescue us from our uncontrolled descent into debauchery and death. God entered humanity as a baby, died on the cross as a man, but broke the curse of sin and death by rising from the dead as Almighty God on the third day and returning to heaven. That’s what Christmas is really all about.

Give gifts. Enjoy the season. Love your family. But look into the face of Jesus. Honor Him in everything you do.

Merry Christmas, friends.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

Do you know that the first hint in the Bible of what we call Christmas is in Genesis 3:15? A lot happened between Genesis 3:15 and Matthew 1:18, but we won’t go into all that today.

My questions are: How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you go over the river and through the woods to visit grandma? Do you read the Scriptures that talk about Jesus’ birth? Do you take a trip? Invite people to your house? Do you watch movies or football games? What’s your favorite Christmas meal?

I looked up historic Christmas celebrations. For about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were no observances of His birth – therefore, no festivities. The first one recorded was in Rome, on December 25, 336 A.D., but didn’t become a primary Christian observance until the 800s. Decorating trees started in Germany, but had nothing to do with Christmas.

In the fourth century, church officials decided to observe Jesus’ birth as a holiday; and for non-biblical reasons, Pope Julius chose December 25. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 A.D., and to England by the end of the sixth century. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders thought that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but in doing so, they gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. Therefore, on Christmas, many people attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere.

Hmmmm … It seems like that still happens today.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in Victorian England in the 1840s, Charles Dickens vowed to do something about it, and writing was what he did best. So, in 1843, he published his novel, A Christmas Carol. Although the book is more a work of sentiment than of Christianity, it captures something of the Christmas spirit.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. While acknowledging the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them. Dickens encouraged joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

How do Carol and I celebrate Christmas?

We read about the birth of Jesus in chapters 1-2 in Matthew and Luke. That sets the tone for the celebration. We often visit one of our kids, but this year we’ll visit our daughter’s in-laws, Robert and Phyllis Crawford, near Oklahoma City. And instead of buying gifts for our families who live far away, then pay more for mailing them, we’ll mail the allotted money and let them choose the gifts.

Have you heard of the song, Over the River, and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House, We Go? I grew up singing it at Christmas, but it was written as a Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, and referred to Grandfather’s house. I find it interesting that where Carol and I live, all five of our children and their families have to travel over rivers and through forests to reach us.

My favorite Christmas meal is not turkey. (Shhh…don’t tell Carol.) My favorite is ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams with marshmallows, and fruit salad with whipped cream. Two to three hours later, I want pumpkin or apple pie with vanilla ice cream! Oh, yes – and coffee.

I like to watch football. On this coming Christmas day, the Minnesota Vikings will play against the New Orleans Saints. But I won’t watch it. Not on Christmas Day. This is a time to spend with family, which includes church family, and helping others.

We usually watch It’s A Wonderful Life the week before Christmas. It helps us to realize – again – the intrinsic value of each and every life. I hope that every one of you reading this reflection understands that every person is important. If you are hurting emotionally or are happy, if you are sick or healthy, if you feel rejected or accepted, if you are poor or wealthy, please believe me: you are important! Whatever may be your status or position in life, reach out and help others. THAT, my friend, is one way of manifesting the spirit of Christmas…the Spirit of Christ.

I understand that the covid-19 pandemic is putting a crunch on worship services, family gatherings, and celebrations this year, but you can still give to others. Be creative and find a way.

But stop and think about what this celebration is really all about – Jesus Christ. He came as a human baby, but never relinquished His true identity – God.

That is spelled out in John 1:1-4. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people.”  

Then verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth.”

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.

Commander Fuchida Led the Attack

“Sweetheart, my sister just called. She wants to take us four sisters on a sisters-trip. She wants us to go next month. What do you think?”

 “That’s wonderful, Precious! Where are you going?”

“HAWAII!”

“You have to visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. That’s a must!”

“We have a month to plan our trip,” Carol responded, “but the USS Arizona will definitely be included.”

That was in June of 2003, and they had a marvelous time!

Years ago in New Mexico, three people who were protesting the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki challenged me about my emphasis on remembering Pearl Harbor. They said, “Pearl Harbor was nothing compared to what the US did to Japan!”

I responded, “You have it backwards. The reason it’s important to remember December 7, 1941 this: If the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor, the US would not have dropped the bombs on them. Knowing history helps us to keep things in perspective.”

Believing their gods declared that Japan would control the world, Japan was eager to expand its empire. However, the United States stood in its way, so Japan decided to knock us out. Their initial targets were our three aircraft carriers they thought were anchored in the harbor. But Admiral Nimitz sent them out to sea, and the catastrophe Japan accomplished in Hawaii did not destroy our fleet – and didn’t knock us out! (I don’t have time in this article to discuss Japans’ previous brutal and bloody campaigns in China and elsewhere.)

Although the attempt might have been made, the Japanese did not inform us about their declaration of war prior to the attack, and an unprovoked attack on American soil is not something we solve by verbal negotiation! That’s why President Bush and the US Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) responded as they did after September 11, 2001.

Japan had a long tradition of opening hostilities by surprise attack. The problem in America was that, as US-Japanese relations worsened, we ignored Japanese tradition and her history. (We keep making the same type of mistakes in the Middle-east today.)

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida was selected to train the pilots and lead the air attack on Pearl Harbor. A great tactician with a brilliant mind, Fuchida did his job well and shouted into his microphone, “Torá! Torá! Torá!” (Torá means Tiger; but is also an acronym for “totsugeki raigek.” That means “lightning attack” which denoted a complete surprise attack.)

However, as mentioned, the aircraft carriers were not there. Even as Japan celebrated the great victory, Admiral Yamamoto became deeply concerned. Although it has never been verified that he said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve,” (as stated in the movie Torá! Torá! Torá!), Admiral Yamamoto knew Japan would not be able to conduct a Pacific naval war with America for much longer than six months.

But Commander Fuchida was exhilarated! As Gordon W. Prange said on page 37 of GOD’S SAMURAI – Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor, “Years would pass before Fuchida understood that he had left behind more than smashed ships and aircraft and dead and wounded men. He also left behind a nation welded together by the fires he and his men had set—a United States that would not rest until the Japanese had paid in full for their mornings work.”

And the United States certainly did respond!

That devious and reprehensible act on December 7, 1941 forced the US populace to suddenly move from an isolation mentality to a war mentality, and that move sealed the doom for the Japanese aspirations for empire-expansion.

The focal point today for many of us regarding Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona which was sunk intact with up to 1,117 sailors on board.

But I have another point to make.

On April 14, 1950, Captain (promoted from Commander) Mitsuo Fuchida met his Maker.

No, Fuchida didn’t die then – he met Jesus Christ and became a Christian. (He died May 30, 1976.)

Fuchida, the fearless, outspoken warrior read a pamphlet by former prisoner-of-war SSgt. Jake DeShazer – one of Doolittle’s Raiders who bombed Japan on April 18, 1942. DeShazer was captured and treated cruelly by the Japanese for forty months. Fuchida also read about Peggy Covell’s missionary parents who were murdered by the Japanese. But DeShazer and Peggy had totally forgiven their former enemies.

Not understanding the difference between war and personal cruelty, these stories intrigued Fuchida. He then read the New Testament to see what changed DeShazer’s life from bitterness to forgiveness, and what helped Peggy to let go of her deep sorrow and forgive her enemy. As Fuchida read the Bible, he began to understand life more accurately. And that improved understanding included realizing his world view was totally wrong.

Asking Jesus to forgive him, Mitsuo Fuchida’s life was also changed, and he became life-long friends with his former enemy: Jake DeShazer. Dedicating the remainder of his life to Jesus Christ, he became an evangelist and introduced many others to our Lord.

It is Jesus Christ Who can turn bitterness to forgiveness, despair to hope, sorrow to joy, and hatred to love. God did it for the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, and He can do it for you.