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Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections from His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verse is Matthew 4:17, where the Bible says,   

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

We’ve already passed the “gift giving” season, or have we? That’s my problem with the way that the world celebrates Christmas. They miss out on the real party. They miss the 12 days of Christmas which are just beginning on Christmas day. They miss out on the party of Epiphany on January 6 which celebrates the Wise Men acknowledging just who this baby is (see Matthew 2:1-12). And they miss out on the afterglow that follows throughout January and the whole Epiphany season. Just think about it. God sent this gift for the world, and this gift is for me! Wow!

It seems like we are being conditioned, even as Christians, to miss the whole thing. We too are drawn into the modern, cultural Christmas celebrations -- you know, “Happy Holidays” type stuff. That view focuses on the weeks leading up to Christmas and then shuts everything down on December 26th. The lights come down, the presents get shelved, and even the tree is thrown out mere days after Christmas. Jerry Seinfeld once did a comedy routine about that attitude. He observed that we treat Christmas trees like “mob-hits.” Trees are cut down and stripped of their decorations; their needles are shed like blood; then they are thrown to the curb like yesterday’s garbage. It’s easy to see why people miss the enduring joy of the season; they think that the really important things are Black Friday, Cyber Monday, gifts, eggnog, and the NBA on Christmas day. If that’s all it is, I’d be depressed by the end of January too.

Well, let’s turn things around. Let’s learn from the ancient church. They didn’t even start celebrating Christmas until Christmas day. Then they actually observed twelve days of Christmas. Why? Those twelve days were to be reflections, continued celebrations of who the baby in the manger truly is, the eternal Son of God. He came as God’s gift to the world. He came as God’s Savior of the world. He came to bring a kingdom into our world that would last forever. John, the forerunner of Jesus, said it simply last week, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In today’s verse the Lamb of God Himself tells you what’s at stake. “Repent!” That means to turn away from yourself and your sins, and turn to God. Why? “The kingdom of heaven has come near,” because I am here for you!

Just a couple of thoughts about this kingdom. You can’t create it and you can’t make it happen; you can only receive it as a gift from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Secondly, it’s the only kingdom that lasts. It’s the only thing in this life that will endure. So whatever you and I think is important in life, nothing is more important than receiving this kingdom from Jesus on grace terms alone, through faith in Him. As you venture into the Bible with me this year, let’s try to unpack more completely the gift He brings to us because that gift has an enduring joy, a peace that passes all human understanding, an abundant life, and a relationship with God that never ends!

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, of all the things that I cherish in this life, let there be nothing that I cherish more than the gift of everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven that You brought into this world for me and for all. AMEN.

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