The King is Born in a Manger
They crouched below ground, while above their heads they heard a massive roaring, crashing, banging, and then silence. Up the stairs the father went cautiously. He opened the door. It was blown away in an instant by the power of that storm. We came out of that basement and we were almost standing on the street. There are powers greater than anything we build against them.
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That is true physically, true relationally, true militarily, true politically and true spiritually and especially about God. For all his armies, Augustus never controlled God, and instead God used him and his edict about a census to bring Joseph and Mary to the city of David where the Messiah was to be born. Micah says:. God rules, and he rules supremely and his will is done in this world. For Jesus, there was no palace, no super-equipped hospital or even a doctor, not even a comfortable home-birth with midwife or family taking care of Mom and baby. Instead, an unfamiliar town far from friends or relatives, a place where animals belonged more than people, and perhaps no-one there except a teenage mother and an anxious father.
For Jesus no trappings of royalty or comfort. No special blankets, no heated wipes, no teether toys, no pretty crib, no twirling mobiles to amuse. The King of kings was born in very lowly surroundings. There is an ancient custom in Britain still observed each year on the day before Good Friday. It symbolizes the ancient custom of giving alms to the poorest of the land. These days, each recipient gets two small purses, one with ordinary coinage to help with food and clothing and the other contains the special Maunday coins made of sterling silver.
It is a lovely old ceremony and a fine gesture.
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But, of course, it is only a gesture. The poor remain poor and the monarch remains wealthy. Nothing is changed by the gift.
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It is very different with Jesus. Everything changed. From birth he was identified with those who had no place of their own and no wealth to buy anything to make life comfortable. He came to people in the toughest of circumstances. He was not even born in a place designed for human habitation. But it was no empty gesture. Because Jesus let go his riches and became poor, we have become the richest of all people. The plan of God needs neither our management nor manipulation to keep it safe. I have noticed a trend in big sporting events. Time after time the person leading a golf tournament, or the team ahead in a football match, ends up losing.
The King is Born in a Manger
They were far ahead, but they faltered and others came from behind and won. They tried to guard what they had, and they lost it. The story of Joseph and Mary is never one where they are in control. They did not initiate the events, did not determine the timing, did not organize places or dates, and did not even find anywhere good for the birth to take place.
God had it all in control, and he made it happen exactly as he willed. We are never justified in being irresponsible, as if it is not important whether we give our best or do right. The Chronography of illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome includes an early reference to the celebration of a Nativity feast. In a sermon delivered in Antioch on December 25, c. In a sermon in , Gregory of Nyssa specifically related the feast of Nativity with that of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen , celebrated a day later. By the feast was also held in Iconium on that day.
Pope Leo I established a feast of the "Mystery of Incarnation" in the 5th century, in effect as the first formal feast for the Nativity of Jesus. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the theological importance of the Nativity of Jesus, was coupled with an emphasis on the loving nature of Child Jesus in sermons by figures such as Jean Gerson. In his sermons Gerson emphasized the loving nature of Jesus at his Nativity, as well as his cosmic plan for the salvation of mankind.
By the early part of the 20th century, Christmas had become a "cultural signature" of Christianity and indeed of the Western culture even in countries such as the United States which are officially non-religious. By the beginning of the 21st century these countries began to pay more attention to the sensitivities of non-Christians during the festivities at the end of the calendar year. Early Christians viewed Jesus as "the Lord" and the word Kyrios appears over times in the New Testament , referring to him.
This image persisted among Christians as the predominant perception of Jesus for a number of centuries.
The lordship attributes associated with the Kyrios image of Jesus also implied his power over all creation. The 13th century witnessed a major turning point in the development of a new "tender image of Jesus" within Christianity, as the Franciscans began to emphasize the humility of Jesus both at his birth and his death. The construction of the Nativity scene by Saint Francis of Assisi was instrumental in portraying a softer image of Jesus that contrasted with the powerful and radiant image at the Transfiguration , and emphasized how God had taken a humble path to his own birth.
One element of the Franciscan approach was the emphasis on the humility of Jesus and the poverty of his birth: the image of God was the image of Jesus, not a severe and punishing God, but himself humble at birth and sacrificed at death. Thus by the 13th century the tender joys of the Nativity of Jesus were added to the agony of his Crucifixion and a whole new range of approved religious emotions were ushered in, with wide-ranging cultural impacts for centuries thereafter. On one hand the introduction of the Nativity scene encouraged the tender image of Jesus, while on the other hand Francis of Assisi himself had a deep attachment to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross and was said to have received the Stigmata as an expression of that love.
The dual nature of Franciscan piety based both on joy of Nativity and the sacrifice at Calvary had a deep appeal among city dwellers and as the Franciscan Friars travelled, these emotions spread across the world, transforming the Kyrios image of Jesus to a more tender, loving, and compassionate image. According to Archbishop Rowan Williams this transformation, accompanied by the proliferation of the tender image of Jesus in Madonna and Child paintings made an important impact within the Christian Ministry by allowing Christians to feel the living presence of Jesus as a loving figure "who is always there to harbor and nurture those who turn to him for help.
Luke's Nativity text has given rise to four well known canticles : the Benedictus and the Magnificat in the first chapter, and the Gloria in Excelsis and the Nunc dimittis in the second chapter. The Magnificat, in Luke —55 , is spoken by Mary and is one of the 8 most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. The three canticles Benedictus, Nuc Dimittis and the Magnificat, if not originating with Luke himself, may have their roots in the earliest Christian liturgical services in Jerusalem, but their exact origins remain unknown.
The earliest artistic depictions of Nativity of Jesus were in the catacombs and on sarcophagi in Rome. As Gentile visitors, the Magi were popular in these scenes, representing the significance of the arrival of the Messiah to all peoples. The ox and ass were also taken to symbolize the Jews and the Gentiles, and have remained a constant since the earliest depictions. Mary was soon seated on a throne as the Magi visited. Depictions of the Nativity soon became a normal component of cycles in art illustrating both the Life of Christ and the Life of the Virgin. Nativity images also carry the message of redemption: God's unification with matter forms the mystery of the Incarnation, a turning point in the Christian perspective on Salvation.
In the Eastern Church icons of Nativity often correspond to specific hymns to Mary , e. First the event portrays the mystery of incarnation as a foundation for the Christian faith, and the combined nature of Christ as Divine and human.
Born In Bethlehem
Secondly, it relates the event to the natural life of the world, and its consequences for humanity. Like 1st century Jews, early Christians rejected the use of musical instruments in religious ceremonies and instead relied on chants and plainsong leading to the use of the term a cappella in the chapel for these chants. One of the earliest Nativity hymns was Veni redemptor gentium composed by Saint Ambrose in Milan in the 4th century. By the beginning of the 5th century, the Spanish poet Prudentius had written "From the Heart of the Father" where the ninth stanza focused on the Nativity and portrayed Jesus as the creator of the universe.
In the 5th century the Gallic poet Sedulius composed "From the lands that see the Sun arise" in which the humility of the birth of Jesus was portrayed. Saint Romanus the Melodist had a dream of the Virgin Mary the night before the feast of the Nativity, and when he woke up the next morning, composed his first hymn "On the Nativity" and continued composing hymns perhaps several hundred to the end of his life.
Sophronius in the 7th century. The largest body of musical works about Christ in which he does not speak are about the Nativity.
A large body of liturgical music , as well as a great deal of para-liturgical texts, Carols and folk music exist about the Nativity of Jesus. The Christmas Carols have come to be viewed as a cultural-signature of the Nativity of Jesus. Most musical Nativity narrations are not biblical and did not come about until church music assimilated opera in the 17th century.
But thereafter there was a torrent of new music, e. According to Christian tradition, the two accounts are historically accurate and do not contradict each other, pointing to the similarities between the two accounts,  such as the birthplace of Bethlehem and the virgin birth. George Kilpatrick and, separately, Michael Patella state that a comparison of the nativity accounts of Luke and Matthew show common elements in terms of the virgin birth, the birth at Bethlehem, and the upbringing at Nazareth, and that although there are differences in the accounts of the nativity in Luke and Matthew, a general narrative may be constructed by combining the two.
Neither Luke nor Matthew claims their birth narratives are based on direct testimony.