Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

Still Under the Tree?

". . . they shall call him Immanuel - which means, 'God with us.'" - Matthew 1:23b

“. . . they shall call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” – Matthew 1:23b

Imagine you want to buy a Christmas gift for a special little girl. You shop for the cutest, cuddliest baby doll you can find, put it in a box, wrap it in beautiful paper, tie it with a bow, and give it to her.

She might take the box, open it and hold the doll in her arms. But after a few minutes, she puts it back under the Christmas tree and runs off to play.

A better scenario? She opens the box, takes the doll in her arms and carries it everywhere. Months later her mom tells you that your gift is the girl’s constant companion. The doll goes to preschool, to church, and to the grocery store and when the little girl is tucked into bed, the doll is tucked in with her. As the giver of the gift, you smile – this is exactly as you had hoped it would be.

When God sent His Son to earth, it was His intention for Jesus to be with us. Many look into the manger at Christmas time, comment on the beauty of the scene, and go on about their business. Others actually embrace Him as Savior, but tend to leave Him under the tree as life draws them away.

What would make the Giver of the Jesus gift most happy? If we make Him the center of our lives, being aware of His presence with us wherever we go and in whatever we are doing.

Jesus came to redeem us so He could be with us. Look to see who He really is and how much He loves you. He came to be with us, but waits for our response. Let’s not turn our backs on the amazing gift of His presence.

“True holiness is so often swaddled in the simple.” – Ian Morgan Cron

 

Anticipation

Let’s continue our thinking about Mary and Joseph, in that cold, dark stable in Bethlehem many years ago. The baby has been born, they are holding him, loving Him, and wondering what to do next.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Then as they look into his sleeping face, the doubts creep in: He looked like an ordinary child. Could this infant really be God? They may have thought that, somehow, deity would look different from this.

Sometimes when God directs us, we start on the path and then, when things don’t turn out exactly as we thought they would, we begin to doubt whether we heard God correctly. Did He really direct us? Did we misunderstand something?

That’s when God will reassure us if we let Him. For Mary and Joseph, God sent shepherds. Their coming to tell of angelic visitors most certainly would have quieted any doubts they had.

But after the joy, the wonder, the doubt, and the reassurance, Joseph and Mary must have been saying, “What now, Lord? How do we live with God in our arms? At our table? In our home?”

We might as the same question:  Jesus is still with us. How do we live with Him in our hearts, houses, and workplaces? The best way: in anticipation. With God among us, we sit on the edge of our seats, looking for His fingerprints, asking what He wants of us, and wondering what He will do next. We learn that, when God is with us, amazing things can happen. Watch for it!

Christmas has lost its meaning for us because we have lost the spirit of expectancy. We cannot prepare for an observance. We must prepare for an experience.” Handel Brown

It’s Not Easy

"Here I am - it is written about Me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God." - Hebrews 10:7

“Here I am – it is written about Me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.” – Hebrews 10:7

Can you imagine what it would would have been like to be Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and preparing to give birth to a child they believed to be God’s own Son? They must have looked at their desolate surroundings and asked: What do we do? What do we need? How can we manage such a birth in such a place?

Have you ever felt that way? God has given you something to do (maybe marriage, parenting, work/school, ministry), but it seems impossible. We, too, may have to look around, see what we have, and commit to seeing it through wherever we are and with whatever we find.

Then, as Mary’s painful labor went on, maybe for hours, they might have wondered about those angelic visitations. Is this baby being born really God? If so, why is it so hard? Why is it taking so long?

We expect that if God is in it, things will go well. But not always. Doing things God’s way can be hard. Mary’s giving birth to Jesus definitely was God’s plan, but it wasn’t easy.

And finally, joy.

The struggle, the anxiety fade away when the baby arrives. I imagine Joseph looking into Jesus’ face and saying, “Oh, Mary, He is so perfect!” And He was. The perfect Son of God, come to earth to live among us.

Reliving the story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that doing what God wants can bring anxious moments, doubts, or discouragement, but if we see it through, the end result is always joy.

“Our waiting at Advent – our sacred waiting – is not just anticipation of the coming of Christ, but a commitment to be consumed in His service.” – David Timms

The Voice

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All your desire to encounter Christ is embraced, transformed by His desire to come towards you.”

There were announcements of Jesus’ coming birth to Joseph and Mary, and shepherds. But in the darkness of the Bethlehem stable, the most amazing announcement of all came directly from the swaddled newborn boy as He stirred and His cry broke the silence of that night. That baby’s cry was the voice of God Himself.

That cry shook the world of angels and demons. Eons ago, they had heard it break the silence as it called the world into being. They knew it as the voice that cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. That voice was now coming from a small bundle of humanity. Could it be? What power was contained in that cry! What foreshadowing of what would come in His life. What hope for the world, created perfectly, now fallen. God had not sent a prophet this time or a king or an angel. He had come Himself and the world would never be the same.

The voice of God still speaks today for those who will hear. As we sit before Him in worship and wonder, we listen, waiting to hear again the voice that broke the silence of that holy night. Then we hear it: His voice resounds in the deepest recesses of our heart through His Word and through His Spirit. Receive!

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!”

Quote taken from a Pray-as-You-Go meditation. Thanks to Deb Karish for posting the Christmas pageant photo from 1980!

 

 

Joy!

At the time of Jesus’ birth, an angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

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“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55:12

That joy is for us, too! Have you found it? If so, you know it is not in the right gift under the tree, the perfect meal, or even the year-end bonus. These things delight for a time, but don’t give the deep-down, long-lasting, more-than-emotional, bubbling-over joy the angel was talking about.

The angel-announced joy was about an entirely new way of life that Jesus would bring – a life lived out moment-by-moment with Him. When we are in touch with our Creator, sensing His nudges, feeling His comfort, realizing His wisdom, and obeying His direction (even when it’s hard), there is joy.

True joy is recognizable by its awakening within us a desire for something that is beyond ordinary – maybe hearing music that sings to your soul, maybe in particular relationships, maybe in a resonating phrase or idea in a book you are reading, maybe in a neon sunset or a starry sky, maybe . . . what is it that makes your heart overflowingly happy?

Do you recognize God in your beyond-ordinary moments? He is there. We know authentic joy only because of relationship with the Eternal. Thank You, Jesus, for being the joy of Christmas and every day thereafter!

“Joy is God in the marrow of our bones.” – Eugenia Price

 

 

 

Pause for Peace

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“Sacred is the pause that draws us into stillness. Nourishing are the moments when we step away from busyness. Teach us the wisdom of pausing. Reveal to us the goodness of stopping to breathe.” Macrina Wiederkahr

We are now in busiest, most pressured time of the year for most of us.

Knowing that, let’s think about how we might find ways to pause, to reconnect with our Creator, and to breathe in the peace the angels promised (and we so often miss!) on that first Christmas day.

Many of us begin our day in a devotional connection with God, but a few weeks ago, I decided to try what I call “a holy experiment” by adding two spiritual pauses in each day – one at about noon and another just before dinner in the evening.

I stop, read a devotional thought or a psalm and pray, just briefly. With minutes, I am refreshed. Then I re-enter my day with a new attitude and already thinking about when I get to pause again. The result? Awareness of God and His presence permeates my day. And where He is there is peace.

How about you? Are you looking for calm in the busyness of this season? Try a holy experiment of your own: Take a short break, in your mind’s eye look into the face of the only One who can give you peace, and let Him in. He’s just waiting to be asked.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16