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Blog / Because of Bethlehem: An Interview with Max Lucado

Because of Bethlehem: An Interview with Max Lucado

Max LucadoDoes the rush of celebrating Christmas get in the way of appreciating its profound meaning? A baby in a manger became the King on the cross. Christmas proclaims the truth of Easter to come. This year seize the significance. Start early. Focus on what matters.

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Bible Gateway interviewed Max Lucado (@MaxLucado) about his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here (Thomas Nelson, 2016).

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Why do you love Christmas so much?

Max Lucado: I love everything about the Christmas season. But spiritually, I love it because somewhere someone will ask the Christmas questions: What’s the big deal about the baby in the manger? Who was he? What does his birth have to do with me? The questioner may be a child looking at a front-yard crèche. He may be a soldier stationed far from home. She may be a young mom who, for the first time, holds a child on Christmas Eve. The Christmas season prompts questions.

When did you start asking these kinds of questions?

Max Lucado: When I was a young kid, my dad, a man of few words, told my brother and me, “Boys, Christmas is about Jesus.” I thought about what he said, and I began asking the Christmas questions. I’ve been asking them ever since. I love the answers I’ve found. Like this one: God knows what it’s like to be a human. When I talk to him about deadlines or long lines or tough times, he understands. He’s been there. He’s been here. Because of Bethlehem, I have a friend in heaven. Because of Bethlehem, I have a Savior in heaven.

Christmas begins what Easter celebrates. The child in the cradle became the king on the cross. And because he did, there are no marks on my record. Just grace. His offer has no fine print. He didn’t tell me, “Clean up before you come in.” He offered, “Come in, and I’ll clean you up.” It’s not my grip on him that matters but his grip on me. And his grip is sure. So is his presence in my life. God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us. We may forget him, but God will never forget us. We’re forever on his mind and in his plans. He called himself “‘Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt. 1:23).

How is it possible for you to compare Christmas stories in the Bible to modern life today, a couple thousand years after it was written?

Max Lucado: I believe the Bible tells a story we recognize as true. I don’t just mean it tells an accurate story—though it’s telling that the Bible stands tall even after more than 2,000 years of secular criticism. What I mean is that its account of humanity and the world we live in rings true. Reading the Bible can be like meeting someone you don’t know who, oddly, somehow seems to know you deeply. It’s uncanny. Sometimes when you read the Bible, you find yourself asking, “How does this book know that about me? How does it know that about our world—especially when it was written so long ago?” When you read the Bible, it’s as though it reads you. And it’s my hope that as you dip your toe into the Bible’s story and viewpoint, you’ll find yourself feeling that the Good Book knows more about the world—and about you—than any normal book does.

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You say that Jesus promises a “repeat performance.” How will his next appearance differ from the first one in a manger?

Max Lucado: Bethlehem was just the beginning. I call his next appearance, Bethlehem, Act 2. No silent night this time, however. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin. He’ll empty the tombs and melt the winter of death. He’ll press his thumb against the cheek of humanity and wipe away all tears. “Be gone, sorrow, sickness, wheelchairs, and cancer! Enough of you, screams of fear and nights of horror! Death, you die! Life, you reign!” The manger dares us to believe the best is yet to be. And it could all begin today.

How does the “hassle” of Christ’s birth give us hope today?

Max Lucado: It shows us that no day is accidental or incidental. No acts are random or wasted. Look at the Bethlehem birth. A king ordered a census. Joseph was forced to travel. Mary, as round as a ladybug, bounced on a donkey’s back. The hotel was full. The hour was late. The event was one big hassle. Yet, out of the hassle, hope was born. It still is. I don’t like hassles. But I love Christmas because it reminds us how “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” (Rom. 8:28 NLT).

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Why did God decide to be become a human and go through everything he did?

Max Lucado: A chief reason is this: he wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face. Jesus is not “out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Heb. 4:15–16 MSG). Since you know he understands, you can boldly go to him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, you can answer these fundamental questions:

  • Does God care if I’m sad? Look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands near Lazarus’s tomb.
  • Does God notice when I’m afraid? Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as he marches through the storm to rescue his friends.
  • Does God know if I am ignored or rejected? Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as he stands to defend the adulterous woman.
  • Does God understand you? Find the answer in Bethlehem.

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How does the name Jesus imply the way God saves us from ourselves?

Max Lucado: Look carefully at the words the angel spoke to Joseph. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). We may not see the connection between the name Jesus and the phrase “save his people from their sins,” but Joseph would have. He was familiar with the Hebrew language. The English name Jesus traces its origin to the Hebrew word Yeshua. Yeshua is a shortening of Yehoshuah, which means “Yahweh saves.”

Who was Jesus? God saves. What did Jesus come to do? God saves. Jesus was not just godly, godlike, God hungry, God focused, or God worshipping. He was God. Not merely a servant of God, instrument of God, or friend of God, but Jesus was God. God saves, not God empathizes, cares, listens, helps, assists, or applauds. God saves. Specifically “he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Jesus came to save us, not just from politics, enemies, challenges, or difficulties. He came to save us from our own sins. Here’s why. God has high plans for you and me. He’s recruiting for himself a people who will populate heaven. God will restore his planet and his children to their Garden of Eden splendor. It’ll be perfect. Perfect in grandeur. Perfect in righteousness. Perfect in harmony.

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What is the lesson to learn from the Wise Men who traveled to the manger?

Max Lucado: Matthew loved the magi. He gave their story more square inches of text than he gave the narrative of the birth of Jesus. He never mentions the shepherds or the manger, but he didn’t want us to miss the star and the seekers. It’s easy to see why. Their story is our story. We’re all travelers, all sojourners. In order to find Jesus, every one of us needs direction. God gives it. The story of the wise men shows us how. The star sign was enough to lead the magi to Jerusalem. But it took Scripture to lead them to Jesus.

The wise men earned their moniker because they were indeed wise in the response to Jesus. Their hearts were open to God’s gift. The men were never the same again. After worshipping the Christ child, “they departed for their own country another way” (2:12 NKJV). Matthew uses the word way in other places to suggest a direction of life. He speaks of the narrow way (7:13-14 NASB) and “the way of righteousness” (21:32). He may be telling us that the wise men went home as different men. Called by a sign. Instructed by Scripture. And directed home by God. It’s as if all the forces of heaven cooperated to guide the wise men.

God uses every possible means to communicate with you. The wonders of nature call to you. The promises and prophecies of Scripture speak to you. God himself reaches out to you. He wants to help you find your way home.

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While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.

Max Lucado: We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Like the innkeeper, Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus. God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets. But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.

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How is Christmas a season of waiting and watching?

Max Lucado: The first Christmas was marked by “lookers” as well. Joseph looked for lodging. Mary looked into the prunish face of Jesus. A thousand angels looked upon the King. The wise men looked at the star. But no one was looking with more intensity than a seasoned saint named Simeon in Luke 2. History is not an endless succession of meaningless circles but a directed movement toward a great event. God has a timeline. And because of Bethlehem, we have an idea where we stand on it.

As the apostle John said, “My dear children, these are the last days” (1 John 2:18 NCV). We enjoy the fruit of the first coming but anticipate the glory of the second. We refuse to believe that this present world is the sum total of human existence. We celebrate the First Advent to whet our appetites for the Second. We long for the next coming.

’Tis the season to be looking not for a jolly man in a red suit but for a grand King on a white horse. At his command the sea will give up the dead, the devil will give up his quest, kings and queens will give up their crowns, broken hearts will give up their despair, and God’s children will lift up their worship. Wise is the saint who searches like Simeon. If you knew Jesus was returning tomorrow, how would you feel today? Anxious, afraid, unprepared? If so, you can take care of your fears by placing your trust in Christ. If your answer includes words like happy, relieved, and excited, hold tightly to your joy. Heaven is God’s answer to any suffering you may face. If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you do today? Then do it! Live in such a way that you would not have to change your plans.

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How do you compare each of us to a Christmas tree?

Max Lucado: What you do for a tree, God does for you. He picked you. Do you purchase the first tree you see? Of course not. You search for the right one. You walk the rows. You lift several up and set them down. You examine them from all angles until you decide, This one is perfect. You have a place in mind where the tree will sit. Not just any tree will do.

God does the same. He knows just the place where you’ll be placed. He has a barren living room in desperate need of warmth and joy. A corner of the world needs some color. He selected you with that place in mind. In the manger God loves you; through the cross God saves you. But has he taken you to his home? Not yet. He has work for you to do. He wants the world to see what God can do with his purchased possessions. So he prunes you. He takes an ax to your prejudices and clippers to your self-pity, and when there’s a tilt in your character that needs to be removed, he’s been known to pull out the old Black & Decker. Jesus said, “My Father is the gardener…He trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit” (John 15:1–2 NCV).

Once he stabilizes us, the decorating begins. He festoons us with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He crowns us. Most people crown their Christmas trees with either an angel or a star. God uses both. He sends his angels to protect us and his Word as a star to guide us. Then he surrounds us with his grace. We become his depot, the distribution point of God’s gifts. He wants no one to leave our presence empty handed. Some people find the gift of salvation. For others the gifts are smaller: a kind word, a good deed. But all the gifts are from God. Our task is to stand tall in his love, secure in our place, sparkling in kindness, surrounded by his goodness, freely giving to all who come our way. You, me, and the Christmas tree. Picked, purchased, and pruned.

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What hope does the dirty, dingy manger offer to someone who feels unvalued?

Max Lucado: Maybe your life resembles a Bethlehem stable. Crude in some spots, smelly in others. Not much glamour. Not always neat. People in your circle remind you of stable animals: grazing like sheep, stubborn like donkeys, and that cow in the corner looks a lot like the fellow next door. You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of a slamming door.

So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity it seems. You do your best to make the best of it, but try as you might, the roof still leaks, and the winter wind still sneaks through the holes you just can’t seem to fix. You’ve shivered through your share of cold nights. And you wonder if God has a place for a person like you. Find your answer in the Bethlehem stable.

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How is the story of Christmas the story of God’s relentless love for us?

Max Lucado: If God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for us are off the table. We might question his actions, decisions, or declarations. But we can never, ever question his zany, stunning, unquenchable affection.

The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: there’s no place he will not go. If he’s willing to be born in a barnyard, then expect him to be at work anywhere—bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, and brothels. No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There’s no person he cannot reach. There’s no limit to his love. When Christ was born, so was our hope.

What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Max Lucado: My favorite Scripture verse is John 3:16— “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” I’ve found that verse to be a source of encouragement, just simply due to the fact that it invites every person to believe, to trust, and to stand upon the open invitation of God.

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Bio: More than 120 million readers have found inspiration and encouragement in the prolific writings of Max Lucado. Browse his books in the Bible Gateway Store, where you’ll enjoy low prices every day. Max lives with his wife, Denalyn, and their mischievous mutt, Andy, in San Antonio, Texas, where he serves the people of Oak Hills Church.

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Filed under Books, Christmas, Interviews