Journeying to Bethlehem and Beyond: Reflections on the Christmas Story
Each day you may like to use the following structure:
O Lord, open our lips
And our mouths shall proclaim your praise.
Reveal among us the light of your presence
That we may behold your power and glory.
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, to you be praise and glory for ever. In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night. As we look for your coming among us this day, open our eyes to behold your presence and strengthen our hands to do your will, that the world may rejoice and give you praise. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Blessed be God for ever.
Bible Reading & Reflection Questions
Our Lord says, “I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
May the Lord when he comes
Find us watching and waiting. Amen.
Monday 2nd December: Luke 1:5-17
- Zechariah was a lowly priest. Elizabeth was a barren woman. Both were elderly. In the sight of many, they would have been seen as unimportant “have-beens”. Yet God chooses them. What does it tell us about God and the story we are about to begin that our story begins with them?
- The angel’s presence inspires fear and awe, and yet his words are one’s of hope and joy. In your worship of God, do you ever experience those range of emotions? When was the last time God spoke to you?
God our Father, you gave to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age a son called John.
He grew up strong in spirit, prepared the people for the coming of the Lord, and baptized them in the Jordan to wash away their sins. Help us, who have been baptized into Christ, to be ready to welcome him into our hearts, and to grow strong in faith by the power of the Spirit. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world. Amen.
Tuesday 3rd December: Luke 1:18-25
- Why do you think Zechariah is struck dumb when he asks questions but Mary’s questions are answered (1:34)? How does his dumbness make an impact on others? When was the last time we were “struck dumb” in the presence of God?
- Elizabeth’s gratitude and joy highlight the challenges of being a childless woman in a culture where the only social security provision was one’s own children and where the greatest sign of God’s blessing was believed to be a large family. Throughout our readings, we will see God’s intervention on behalf of the poor and marginalized. What does this say to us today?
Lord Jesus, light of the world, John told the people to prepare, for you were very near.
As Christmas grows closer day by day, help us to be ready to welcome you now. Amen.
Wednesday 4th December: Luke 1:26-38
- Imagine what it must have been like to be Mary. To be greeted by an angel, to be told that the centuries-longed-for Messiah was finally going to come, that you were going to be his mother, that you would become pregnant even though you were not yet married. How would you respond? What do you admire about Mary’s response?
- “For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Take one of these phrases and reflect and pray upon it during the course of the next 24 hours.
God our Father, the angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of your Son. Though Mary was afraid, she responded to your call with joy. Help us, whom you call to serve you, to share like her in your great work of bringing to our world your love and healing. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world. Amen.
Thursday 5th December: Matthew 1:18-25
- Luke focuses in his account on Mary. Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. What challenges do you think Joseph had to face? What challenges does God ask us to face in following him?
- Matthew tells us that the baby is to be called Jesus (meaning “the Lord saves”) and Immanuel (meaning “God with us”). Those two names encapsulate the significance of Christ. Take time today to reflect on what those names mean to you in your day-to-day life as you seek to follow him.
God our Father, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph the carpenter to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and husband of Mary: give us grace to follow his example of faithful obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Friday 6th December: Luke 1:39-45
- On the arrival of Mary, John is described as “leaping in the womb”, the same phrase that would be used of a dance of joy or the skipping and gamboling of lambs. It confirms the angel’s words to Zechariah that John even from his mother’s womb would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Already Luke has described the elderly barren woman, the young, poor teenage girl, and now the defenceless, unborn child, all filled with God’s holy spirit. How might the very young alert us to the presence of God in our midst?
- There is something beautifully natural about this scene – two relatives coming together to support each other and share their news of their pregnancies. But there is also something remarkable in Elizabeth’s words as she recognises the privilege of “the mother of her Lord” coming to visit. How might we see God’s presence in the apparently “ordinary” today?
Mighty God, by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary and greeted her as the mother of the Lord: look with favour on your lowly servants that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy name and rejoice to acclaim her Son our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Saturday 7th December: Luke 1:46-56
- Take time to read again as a prayer Mary’s wonderful song of praise. What “great things” has God done for you? How might you praise him this day?
- How might God’s lifting up of the humble and the “sending the rich away humble” be a challenge to how you live today? As we approach a general election, how do Mary’s words speak into our current political situation? How might we pray for those seeking to become MPs?
God our redeemer, who prepared the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Monday 9th December: Luke 1:57-66
- John’s birth came as a source of joy and wonder to Elizabeth and Zechariah, and to the wider community. When did you last give thanks for the wonder of new life? Who in your wider family can you give thanks for today?
- Again we see the importance of names in this account. John means “God will show him favour”, and it serves to reinforce the impression that John is going to be a special child. And if John is just the forerunner of the one to come, how even more special will he be? There is a building sense of anticipation. With just over two weeks to go, are you excited about the celebration of Christ among us?
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour by the preaching of repentance: lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example, constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Tuesday 10th December: Luke 1:67-80
- The Holy Spirit plays a constant role throughout this first chapter of Luke’s gospel. He fills John the Baptist from his mother’s womb; he “comes upon” Mary; Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit as she praises God for Mary; and now Zechariah’s song of praise for John’s birth is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Take time today to pray that God will fill you with his Holy Spirit, that you may know his joy and his equipping for all he calls you to do.
- Zechariah sings of how Jesus will come “to bring the tender mercy of our God, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (vs 78-9. Who do you know who is in a dark place at the moment? Pray for them to know Christ’s light?
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors; to you be praise and glory for ever. You called Abraham and Sarah to live by the light of faith and to journey in the hope of your promised fulfilment. May we be obedient to your call and be ready and watchful to receive your Christ, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; for you are our light and our salvation. Amen.
Wednesday 11th December: Luke 2:1-7
- You may be surprised that so soon in our “journeying to Bethlehem” we have arrived! The Gospel accounts give us only sparse details (and Mark and John none at all!) However, it is unlikely it would have felt that way to Mary. Dealing with the innuendo and rejection of carrying an “illegitimate” child; having to undertake a long, several-day journey whilst heavily pregnant; facing the fear of a first birth cut off from all family networks in a distant town; having no accommodation and having to “make-do” in a stable. As Mary was growing up, this was not the kind of start to family life she would have hoped for. Have we had to face disappointments or failed expectations recently? Have you offered your feelings to God?
- Luke skillfully contrasts the two “kings” of this passage. The one has the power to order mass migrations of people across the world for the simple expedient of taking a register. The other is born into a world of poverty and anonymity. What does this contrast tell us about who Jesus is and the nature of God?
Lord Jesus, light of the world, born in David’s city of Bethlehem, born like him to be a king: be born in our hearts at Christmas, be king of our lives today. Amen.
Thursday 12th December: Luke 2:8-14
- It is as though heaven cannot contain its joy, as a “great company of the heavenly host” appears and sings God’s praise. When we worship God, we do not do so alone, but join in with the angels in heaven. Does that change your attitude to worship in anyway? And as we celebrate the birth of Christ, what is it that you particularly want to praise God for?
- Night-time shepherds were commonly some of the poorest and least educated labourers in ancient Israel. What does it tell us that God should announce to them the birth of his son?
Angels dance and the bright star shines. All creation bows to the Lord of all. Lord, bring us today into Christ’s light. Amen.
Friday 13th December: Luke 2:15-20
- In what ways are the responses of Mary and the shepherds to the birth of Jesus different? Who do you identify with? How will you make space for both the “pondering” and the “praising” over these next few days?
- One of the ways the shepherds respond to the miracle revealed to them is to share with others the good news. How will you share with others the good news of the Christmas story this year?
God our Father, the shepherds bowed in worship at the feet of your Son. Help us, who greet the birth of Christ with joy, to live in the light of your Son and to share the good news of your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who has come into the world. Amen.
Saturday 14th December: Luke 2:21-35
- Matthew and Luke have been careful to emphasise how Jesus is fulfilling the promises of God to the people of Israel. And now Mary and Joseph scrupulously adhere to the Jewish law, by visiting the Jerusalem temple, first for circumcision and then for purification. And yet the angel tells the shepherds that Jesus’ birth is good news for all How might Simeon’s words in vs 32 help us to understand this?
- Simeon’s words touch on the pain of parenthood. How do you think it must have been for Mary and Joseph to hear those words? What pain have your own parents, or maybe you as a parent or surrogate parent, had to carry? When did you last offer up that pain to God?
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was circumcised in obedience to the law for our sake and given the Name that is above every name: give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, to worship him in the freedom of the Spirit, and to proclaim him as the Saviour of the world. Amen.
Monday 16th December: Luke 2:36-38
- What was it about Anna (and Simeon) that made them receptive to spotting God’s Son when he arrived in the Temple? What can we learn from them?
- It is notable that just as there are two annunciations (to Zechariah and to Mary), so here we have two prophecies (by Simeon and Anna). It is a powerful statement of the equal value and worth with which God holds both women and men. In what ways does the church and society need to change to recognize the equal value of all people?
God in Trinity, eternal unity of perfect love: gather the nations to be one family, and draw us into your holy life through the birth of Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tuesday 17th December: Matthew 2:1-8
Our nativity plays and our liturgical calendars create the impression that the visit of the magi come hot on the heels of the shepherds. Chronologically, however, the implication of Matthew’s gospel is that the magi’s visit could have happened as much as two years after Jesus’ birth, whereas the visit to the temple would have occurred within a matter of weeks.
- The “star in the east” suggests that not only humans and angels are worshipping and celebrating the birth of God’s Son, but nature itself. Take a careful note of nature today. In what ways might the natural world be “offering God praise”?
- There are echoes in this passage of the events leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus is called “the king of the Jews”, Israel’s leaders gather against him, and there are secret plots. The end of Jesus’ life is foreshadowed in its beginning. Our culture seems happy, however, to celebrate Christmas but remain indifferent to Holy Week and Easter. Why do you think that is? How can we make the connections for ourselves this Christmas?
Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ-child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday 18th December: Matthew 2:9-12
- The magi’s journeying and gifts speak to us of the costliness and sacrifice of worship. We kneel before a God who is worthy of all the praise and adoration that we can offer. What offerings of worship can we give to God this day? Will they speak of the glory of God and what he means to us?
- The magi, in many respects, represent the wealth and wisdom of the Gentile world. They are in stark contrast to the poor Jewish shepherds who also came to worship. What does this tell us about Jesus? What challenge is there for us in the diversity of our church?
O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Thursday 19th December: Matthew 2:13-15
- Joseph, Mary and Jesus are forced to flee in the middle of the night to a foreign land because of threat to their lives. Our own city of Coventry is host to many families who have experienced something similar and are here seeking refuge. What might this story have to say to them today? Take time today to pray for them, and for the work of Carriers of Hope and other organizations working to support them.
- What does the story have to say to us? How might worshipping a God who was a refugee change our attitude to him? How might it change our attitude to others?
God our Father, in love you sent your Son that the world may have life: lead us to seek him among the outcast and to find him in those in need, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
Friday 20th December: Matthew 2:16-18
- Jesus escapes but many other children do not. Herod carries out an appalling genocide of babies and young children. The words of Jeremiah capture the terrible nature of the events. We are starkly reminded that intertwined with the joy of the Christmas story is the desperate reality of human cruelty and fear-driven violence. It was for such a world Jesus came. Take time today to remember those who are the victims of violence and war.
- Herod’s acts appear to be driven by both fear for his own position (status) and anger that he has been outwitted (pride). These are powerful forces that influence many, particularly those in positions of authority. What can we do to challenge those forces, both in our own lives, and in the lives of those around us?
Heavenly Father, whose children suffered at the hands of Herod, though they had done no wrong: by the suffering of your Son and by the innocence of our lives frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Saturday 21st December: Matthew 2:19-23
- Four times in Matthew’s account Joseph is guided by God in his dreams (twice in today’s reading, and also 1:20 and 2:13). Give time today to reflect on how God speaks to you? Through nature, through the Bible, through people, through prayer, through dreams? How might you be open to hearing from him today?
- Mary and Joseph finally end up back in Nazareth, a round-trip that took months, maybe even years. It is in this unlikely backwater that Jesus will grow up, and but for one brief account of a visit to the temple to Jerusalem, we know nothing more about him until he bursts onto the scene at his baptism. How might God use a lull in our lives for preparing us for the next step ahead?
Lord Jesus, light of the world, the prophets said you would bring peace and save your people in trouble. Give peace in our hearts at Christmas and show all the world God’s love. Amen.
Monday 23rd December: John 1:1-9
For the last three days of our “Journeying to Bethlehem and Beyond”, we will look at John’s equivalent of the birth narrative, a theological reflection on the coming of Christ.
- What are the things that John says about Jesus, the Word, in this passage? Now consider Jesus as the tiny, helpless baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in an animal feeding trough of Luke’s gospel. How do you respond to this?
- Jesus is described as “the true light that gives light to every person.” Prayerfully bring before God those people and situations you know experiencing darkness at this time. Pray that they may know the light of Christ shining in their darkness.
Lord Jesus, Light of light, you have come among us. Help us who live by your light to shine as lights in your world. Glory to God in the highest. Amen.
Tuesday 24th December: John 1:10-13
- John reminds us that the Word, Jesus, came into our world. He also, alongside his father, made the world. Why do you think the world has such difficulty in recognizing him? Take time to pray for all the thousands of people attending church over the next 24 hours that many may come to know the love of God for them.
- As we celebrate the birth of Christ this evening and tomorrow morning, we are invited to celebrate our own “birth” too, to give thanks that because of Christ’s coming into our world, we too can be born as children of God. How will you choose to celebrate Christ’s gift of new life this Christmas?
God our Father, this eve the Saviour is born and those who live in darkness will see a great light. Help us, who greet the birth of Christ with joy, to live in the light of your Son and to share the good news of your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who has come into the world. Amen.
Wednesday 25th December: John 1:14,18
- Today we celebrate that Christ has come and “made his dwelling among us”. Other translations put it this way: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message); and “The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us” (The Good News Bible). However it is phrased, there is a miraculous thought – God chose to live among us, to be present in our lives. In all else that happens today, just take a pause to consider that.
- Today we celebrate not only that God came and lived among us, but that in doing so, he made himself known. The God who no-one has seen can now be known, in Jesus. As we come to the end of our Advent series, the story we have followed has all been for one purpose, that God may find a way to make himself known. And in the coming of His Son, he has done just that. Rejoice that today marks the day the world changed for ever.
Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth: accept out heartfelt praise as we worship you, our Saviour and our eternal God. Amen.