Advent Day 25: Incarnation

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At the risk of being over-repetitive, the Incarnation of the Word is one of the top three events that creation has ever experience.  Though I wouldn’t dare rank them, as the other two would be the death of Jesus and His resurrection, I would argue that these other two wouldn’t have happened without His birth.  The events we celebrate at Christmas set all of Jesus’s life in motion.  They pave the way for Salvation to be won for humanity.
 
While we often celebrate the fact that Jesus has “come to us,” we must also be wary of such language.  The angels announce to the shepherds, “unto you is born this day…”  We, when hearing this, and in our celebrations must be careful.  Contemporary Christianity has pushed a sort of individualized religion, one that puts the emphasis solely on ourselves.  This can be quite dangerous.
 
When we think about the reality of God becoming flesh, we must not uncouple it with the mission of God either.  Certainly, we can say with confidence that Jesus came for “us.”  We must, however, never forget that Jesus came for “them” as well.  This is the reality of the Incarnation.
 
As the Word of God “puts on flesh,” He doesn’t just come to those who “have it all together.”  He comes precisely because no human does.  We are sometimes tempted to differentiate ourselves as those who have “the true meaning of Christmas.”  Those who don’t believe, or perhaps aren’t like us, are forgotten.
 
Yet this is the exact opposite message of the Incarnation.  God had every right to keep His distance from humanity.  Instead, though, He jumps right in.  He becomes like us in every way, the writer of Hebrews says.  What would happen if we took on that same outward-focused love?  Like Paul, who “became all things to all people, in order to win some for Christ,” would we be willing to go out from “us” to “them” in the name of our Incarnate, loving, Savior?
 
Maybe that is what Christmas is really all about.

 Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,
No human language possesses an adequate expression of thanks for what You have done for us.
The true meaning of Your Incarnation is truly beyond our comprehension.
Yet, even in the magnitude of this event, we recognize You becoming one of us.
You took on our flesh and our life, and eventually our sin on the cross.
Even while we were still Your enemies, You came for us.
Help us to remember this true meaning of Christmas,
and to see those around us, those who we may tend to avoid,
with Your loving eyes and Your heart of mercy.
May we always seek to bring the message of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior,
to all those within the spheres of our lives,
and those outside of those spheres as well.
Amen.


Advent Day 24: Born to Reign

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On Christmas Eve, my family would often find ourselves reflecting on the Luke 2 narrative of Jesus’ birth, whether at church or as we celebrated with our family.  It was a good moment for us to meditate on the events that we celebrate every Christmas.
 
It is, however, this passage in Isaiah, as well as other prophecies throughout the Old Testament that help to paint the bigger picture of the significance of the Incarnation of Jesus.  God didn’t come to earth to set up some manner of earthly Kingdom.  He didn’t come just to throw off an oppressive government or dispose of some tyrannical leader.  Jesus didn’t follow the pattern that was set down in many of the mythological stories of demi-gods and the like.
 
Rather, Jesus came to restore the justice and righteousness that was originally created in and for this world.  Instead of riding in on a white horse, armed for war, Jesus arrives as a helpless infant.  His goal, unlike the human rulers of the world, was to serve.  His mission was accomplished through his sacrifice.
 
The names that Isaiah gives this Messiah ironically contrast our human expectations.  The Mighty God humbled Himself to become human.  The Everlasting Father became mortal, subject to death by those He created.
 
Though He brought peace to the world, He was despised and rejected.  Yet despite all of this, His greatness is unparalleled and unmatched.  He meets all of our needs, the provider of all things in heaven and on earth.  And He will continue to as well, for all eternity.
 
As you think, reflect, and remember Christ’s birth this year, think beyond the manger in the stable.  The true picture of Christmas is world-changing.  From this point, nothing would ever be the same because salvation has come.

 Prayer

Jesus Christ, Wonderful Counselor,
We thank You for coming into the world for us.
You are the great King, the whole earth bows before you.
As we meditate on Your birth this Christmas,
help us to see the greater picture of all You have done and continue to do in our lives.
We worship You, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Our voices join with the angels singing “glory to God in the highest.”
Continue to establish Your Kingdom, Your Righteousness, and Your Peace in us,
each and every day of our lives.
Amen.


Advent Day 23: Timing and Purpose

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Paul does a lot of work throughout his writings in the New Testament to interpret and apply the life and teachings of Jesus.  In doing so, he lays out for us exactly what the impact that Jesus’ life has on the world and, particularly, in the life of believers.  Here, we read some of his interpretation and application of what we celebrate as Christmas.
 
As we have seen over the past couple of weeks, the timing, arrival, and events of the birth of Jesus were perfectly orchestrated by God to fulfill all of the prophecies in scripture about Jesus.  God did not leave out a single detail.  Mathematically speaking, the odds of Jesus fulfilling all of the prophecies about him are astronomical.  Some people have placed this statistical probability at greater than 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power.  That is a 1 with 157 zeros behind it!
 
To put this in perspective, the chances of winning the lottery are roughly 1 chance in 302,600,000.  Additionally, the chance of getting struck by lightning twice in a lifetime is only 1 in 9,000,000.  So, for one man to fulfill all of the prophecies of Scripture about the Messiah, the chances are inconceivable and practically impossible.  Yet, for God, nothing is impossible; He makes the impossible possible.
 
Along with this, Paul also points out that Jesus’ birth happened at just the right time.  God had been working toward this for a long time, over 2,000 years in fact.  All that time was spent working out the events of history and the necessary details for Christ’s arrival.  Though it seems like a long time for us, with God a 1,000 years is like a single day.
 
While it is amazing to see God’s work over a long period of time in Scripture, we don’t always enjoy the waiting and patience that are often required in our own lives for God to work.  Once again, though, we see very clearly the faithfulness of God.  His promises are true and certain.  For us, what we see in God’s past work gives us assurance and hope for the ultimate accomplishment of His work in us and in the world.
 
Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are all living proof of this.

 Prayer

Everlasting God,
In You, all things life and move and have their being.
The whole universe exists by You, for You, and to You.
We thank you for creating us, for providing for us, and for being faithful to us.
You have shown us the fullness of Your love in sending Jesus to this world.
Through Him, You adopt us as Your own children and give Your Spirit to us.
Help us to be constantly and consistently aware of Your work,
and of Your loving and guiding presence in our lives.
May our lives reflect Your love for us and the Good News of salvation through Your Son, Jesus Christ.
Amen.


Advent Day 22: Great Gifts

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Anyone familiar with the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth knows that the gifts that the Magi brought were that of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The significance of these gifts, though, has been lost for us over time and cultural context.  With the rise of the use of Essential Oils in our culture, things like frankincense and myrrh are readily available to anyone.  In a booming economy, and in an increasingly cashless society, obtaining gold seems unnecessary and rather old school.
 
Yet, for Jesus and His family, these gifts had incredible value.  Frankincense and myrrh were both rare spices that had a variety of uses.  Gold, back then, as it is supposed to be even now, was the base and foundation of currency.  These were indeed great gifts.
 
More than that, however, is the reality that their bringing these gifts was also a fulfillment of prophecy.  Psalm 72:10 says, “May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him.”  Isaiah 60:6 prophecies to this event saying, “…and all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”  Both foretell the eventuality of the Magi’s presence and presents to the coming Messiah.
 
Myrrh, especially, was an oil of great value in those days.  Scripture records it as a gift that is “fit for a king.”  Incidentally, the women who wrapped Jesus’ body after His death also used myrrh as they prepared to bury Him.  Could this have been a foreshadowing of something to come?  It certainly seems possible.
 
One thing that Matthew would have wanted the reader of His Gospel to see, though, is that Jesus was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews.  His majesty and royalty have divine acknowledgment.  Gentiles and Jews alike come to worship Him and offer gifts.  Though His birth is humble, and the location almost humorous, all of the “normal” nods of divinely appointing kingship are there.

Prayer

Lord God,
All authority, dominion, and power belong to You.
Only You can grant these to another, and You have done so to Your Son, Jesus.
At His arrival here on earth, the angels sang,
kings and peasants alike bowed down.
Even in the highest heavens, stars shown out there light in glory to Him.
We worship You, today, Lord as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Help us to acknowledge Your Lordship in our lives,
and live You at the center of who we are.
In Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 21: Ulterior Motives

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Scripture records the conversation between Herod and the Magi, not revealing at that moment what Herod’s goal actually was.  For the early hearer of this narrative, especially hearing for the first time, this would have cast Herod in a positive light or created some suspense.  We, however, know very well that Herod’s intentions were ultimately to kill young Jesus.  Doing so would have eliminated any threat to Herod’s power or throne.
 
I find it interesting, here, that God even allowed for this to happen.  Certainly, the star could have led the Magi in a different direction.  At the very least, the Magi, in Jerusalem, could have sought out religious leaders rather than the tyrannical and homicidal King Herod.
 
God, however, does not stop or inhibit the interaction between Herod and the Magi.  Herod is now aware of the existence of Jesus and the place in which He was born.  Perhaps we can be thankful, though, that Herod only sent the Magi rather than going with them.  Tomorrow, we will also read that God does eventually intervene, sending the Magi home by another route, thus thwarting Herod’s sinister plans.
 
The question that Scripture raises here, even if it is peripheral to the narrative, is why God would allow for this in the first place.  It seems like allowing for these interactions to take place jeopardizes the young and seemingly helpless life of His Son.
 
We journey through life experiencing similar questions.  Addressing the question of evil in the world when we worship and all-powerful God is certainly beyond the ability of this single reflection.  It is enough to say, however, that evil’s reality in the world, and its impact on our lives is undeniable.
 
If we are to read this narrative and note the question of evil’s presence, we also must recognize the reality of God’s providence.  Why God allows for the Magi to talk to Herod is somewhat of a mystery.  Later we will see that Jesus’ family must go to Egypt to fulfill prophecy.  At the moment, though, it seems somewhat dangerous and counter-productive.  Yet God IS still at work here, and out of this comes yet another fulfillment of God’s promises.
 
Sometimes it is hard to see in the difficult moments of our lives, but God is always at work.  What He is doing can be hard to see and articulate.  Usually, it is after the fact that we get a clearer picture.  In fact, in our lives, looking back on God’s faithfulness in the past can help us to trust Him in the future.

 Prayer

Faithful God,
You are the great Provider and Sustainer of all things.
Jesus points out that, just as You provide food for animals and adornment for flowers,
and that for us You always give us all that we need.
We are blessed far beyond what we could ask or imagine.
Thank You for your faithfulness in our lives through good times and bad.
Help us, as we experience trials, to remember your steadfast presence in the past.
May it give us assurance of your continued provision and work in our lives,
both for the present struggles and for those to come.
You hold us in the palm of Your hand and never let us go.
We thank You for this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Advent Day 20: Herod

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Herod the Great was the ruler of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.  He is widely known for the major building projects he undertook during his reign to improve the country and also to expand the area of the second Temple in Jerusalem.  He is equally known for a tyrannical rule fraught with suspicion, executions of his only family members and wives, and the Matthew 2 account of the executions of possibly hundreds of baby boys in an attempt to kill Jesus.
 
Why then, we have to ask, would the Magi visit such a person?  Quite simply because Jerusalem and even Herod himself would have been the natural starting place in a search for the next “King of the Jews.”  In the same way that if we were to look for the next president, we would (perhaps sadly) start our search in Washington D.C.  Being that the Magi were from out of town, they may not have known the true stories or nature of King Herod either.
 
Regardless, what was once a secret to Herod was now made known and his goal was to capitalize on it.  Being known for executing anyone that was a power threat, we assume that this was Herod’s plan for Jesus as well.  Interestingly, however, is how Herod’s evil plan plays right into God’s plan and the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.  More on that in the coming days.
 
God uses Herod and others in the Jerusalem context in a couple of ways, not the least of which is a direction for the Magi.  Once again, though, we have to note God’s use of people that are evil.  No depth of depravity can spoil God’s will.  In fact, we see confirmed, here again, Jesus’ fulfillment of His prophetic birthplace.  And, as we will see, God’s use of the enemy’s evil intent to bring about His will once again.  No matter how dire the circumstance, God can and will use each situation to work His will for the world.

 Prayer

Sovereign God,
Even in the darkest of times, you are at work.
From nothing, you created everything,
out of tragedy, You bring greatness and fulfillment beyond comprehension.
We praise you for Your constant and vigilant work in our lives and in the world.
Thank You for Your constant faithfulness to us,
and for How You have worked to bring to fulfillment everything that You have promised.
Help us to recognize Your hand at work in us,
and use us to accomplish Your will in our lives and in the world around us.
We pray this in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ, Amen.


Advent Day 19: Wise Men

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I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a nativity set that doesn’t include the addition of Three Wise Men as part of the scene.  In fact, the toy nativity that we bought for our kids includes them but doesn’t have any shepherds.  We have sheep, two donkeys, and a camel, but no shepherds.  This, to me, is laughable.
 
Scripture records the events of the night that Jesus was born which included angelic visitations to the shepherds, as we have recently seen.  We know that Mary and Joseph were also there as well as, obviously, Jesus.  These Magi, however, were probably not there.  In fact, many people think that it is entirely possible that they arrived somewhere up to two years after Jesus’ birth.
 
The obvious question that follows this line of thought, then, is if Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived in a stable for this amount of time.  Most of us are quick to answer “no” to this and would be correct.  After two years, most of the people who had returned for the census would have left.  Furthermore, the reality that we must recognize is that Jesus and His parents had likely been with their family since the beginning.
 
Being that Joseph was from Bethlehem, his return would have been to his ancestral home.  The stable, which was probably similar to the modern-day equivalent of a garage or shed, would have been a part of the family home.  It likely wasn’t the stand-alone structure that we are all used to seeing.  Many of Joseph’s relatives would have returned for the census thus leading to the “no room” comment.  The “inn” that we are all familiar with, was probably more like a guest room or spare room in the family home.
 
All that to say, when the Magi showed up, they weren’t hanging around in a barn with the animals.  More than likely they worshiped and interacted with a toddler, Jesus, in the guest home of Joseph’s family in Bethlehem.
 

Why does this matter?

Perhaps it doesn’t in the grand scheme of things. I think, though, that in our approach to Christmas, we need to be aware of our preconceived ideas.  Culture and tradition fill us with images and illustrations that tell us what the incarnation was like.  It is important, as we consider these things, to not lose the wonder of what actually happened.  Don’t put this moment in a box, thinking that you know what it was like.  As you consider the nativity this season, allow the Holy Spirit, through Scripture, to fill you with wonder at the great event of God’s incarnation.

 Prayer

God, our Father,
We stand in amazement at the coming of your Son, Jesus.
Too often, we pass by this moment as just another trivial fact of our faith.
We fail to realize the profound impact that Your incarnation had and has on the world.
Help us to not lose sight of this and help the deep meaning of Christmas to permeate our lives.
Thank you for coming to this world, for becoming human for us.
May we carry this truth with us far beyond the holiday season,
into a world that is desperately in need of Your love and presence.
Amen.


Advent Day 18: Pondering

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My wife, Bethany, will be the first person to tell you that I greatly despise doing family pictures at every holiday gathering.  While it is a thing that her family does and even treasures, to some extent, regular holiday pictures are not something I grew up with.  They have reminded me that this helps us to “preserve the memories,” but it seems like all I remember in those moments it lining up to take pictures, often while our kids are protesting.
 
With that in mind, I reflect on Mary’s reaction to all that took place on the night of Jesus’ birth.  Scripture tells us that, despite the visitors and all the excitement, Mary spent time reflecting.  Though there is no greater explanation of this, I get the sense that the moment was not lost on her.  She paid attention to what was happening, especially, I think, because of what had happened.
 
I’ve often heard that when families come through difficult times, things like holidays are infused with more meaning.  This is true when families experience loss too.  We remember, rather acutely, the person missing and feel their absence to a greater extent than normal.  We wake up to the moments we have and the meaning contained within them.
 
Scripture says that God knows every moment of our lives, even before one of them came to be.  In some sense, God pays attention to every second He gives us.  Scripture invites us to do the same, following Mary’s example here.  It shouldn’t take a tragedy for us to think this way.  Rather, God’s call is to be awake to the life we live, actively participating in every moment and with every person we are around.  In a world of distractions, we are called to be present in each moment in the same what that God is present to us in the Incarnation.

 Prayer

Incarnate Lord,
In the greatness of your immensity, You are also very personal.
In Your infinity, God You are also intimate with us.
You know our every thought, You see our every need.
We confess that we often go through life in a sort of “waking sleep.”
Rather than being present, we are distracted and absent to those we love.
Help us to wake up, following the description of Mary in Scripture,
pondering and treasuring the moments of our lives and the people in them.
In doing so, we honor and glorify You who gives us all of the blessings of our lives.
We thank You for Jesus, for coming to dwell among us.
May our presence and love reflect Yours.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 17: Go and See

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The term theophany means a “physical manifestation of the divine to humans.”  Certainly, we can agree that the shepherds in the fields, on the night of Jesus’ birth, experienced that and then some.  Luke gives us no indication of how long this angelic worship service went on for.  Nor does he tell us how long it took for the shepherds to recover.  What we see here, though, is that when this experience was over, the shepherds were moved to action.
 
They did not simply sit on the hillside and talk about it.  Instead, they got up and left their sheep to go and see this great thing they had just been told about.  In a more contemporary cultural context, they didn’t snap, tweet, facebook, or Instagram a hashtag from the hillside, they went to see it for themselves.
 
In our culture, being a part of something often means little more than reposting in social media.  We create hashtags for events both positive and negative.  Our solidarity with abducted girls in Africa and our celebration of our friend’s marriage often garner the same response.  Worse, though, is that our reactions to the Good News of the coming of Jesus, our Savior, is much the same.
 
God’s work, however, at this moment in history is active and deserves an active response.  He put on Human flesh; He came to dwell among us.  This action single-handedly begins a march toward the cross, the grave, and the resurrection that paves the way for our salvation.  It isn’t a peripheral element of the season.  The incarnation is not just another news story.  God, the eternal, all-powerful, creator of the universe, came to earth for us!
 
How should we respond?  How will you respond?  What action is God calling you to take here and when will you make that move?  Will you tell others?

 Prayer

God, our Father,
In Jesus Christ, you acted on our behalf.
You opened the way to redemption, reconciliation, and salvation for us.
What was once impossible for us is now possible through You.
We confess, Lord, that this great reality is often placed on the periphery of our lives.
Rather than being our focus, Jesus is just another aspect,
reduced to one of the many things we have in our lives.
Help us to not ignore the great truth or significance of Your saving love,
so that we may live into it and speak out about it,
that others may see and hear and be amazed by You.
In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 16: Angel Choir

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For us, in western culture, the notion of a spiritual realm that we cannot see, but exists alongside our physical world is something that people struggle with.  There are many Biblical narratives that include both angelic and demonic activity.  We also read a great deal of fiction that involves a spiritual world.  Sadly, for many people, the great reality of God’s work in and through this invisible reality seems like just that: fiction.
 
We live in a world and a culture where, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  Though interestingly, many people still believe in ghosts and, loosely perhaps, in supernatural events.
 
Regardless of what people believe, however, the Bible paints a very clear picture of God’s “behind the scenes” work.  In fact, Scripture is clear that God is the creator and ruler of all things, visible and invisible.  And, while angelic encounters are certainly more of the exception than the norm, at this moment, God was pulling out all the stops.
 
As if to accent the point already made of the Savior being born in the village nearby, a whole host of angels suddenly appear.  One angel would probably have been enough.  An army of angels singing certainly drives the importance of this event home.  Part of me wishes that Luke would have recorded the additional responses of the Shepherds when the heavenly host appeared.  I can’t even imagine what this would be like.
 
These shepherds witnessed something that few people have ever seen.  When the curtain between the physical and spiritual words is pulled back, God’s glory is on full display.  We get a sense, here, of what that looks like too as we are invited into the angelic worship of God.
 
The Apostle John invites us into a greater understanding of this in the book of Revelation.  Around the throne of God, the angels are always worshiping.  We, too, are invited to come and worship Christ the risen King.  We join our voices with the angels when we worship God.

 Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,
Your holiness is beyond our comprehension and your greatness is more than words can express.
We glorify and worship you, the One and only True God.
As we read about the experience of the shepherds,
help us to recognize our own encounters with You in our lives.
Move us to prayer and worship in the name of Your Son Jesus,
and transform our hearts through those moments through Your Holy Spirit.
Thank You for the great gift You have given us.
May we never lose sight of Your love.
Amen.


Advent Day 15: Shepherds and Angels

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One of the great ironies surrounding the narrative of Christ’s birth is the manner in which God announces the birth of His Son and the people to whom He announces it.  We have already considered Mary and Joseph, though in the bloodline of David, neither are royalty by human standards.  Mary, in particular, is visited by Gabriel, one of the Archangels that stands in the throne room of Heaven.  By all worldly standards, the truly appropriate people would be royalty, and the place a palace.
 
Instead, however, God has chosen to work through some of the “least of these” to bring about His plan of Salvation.  Following suit, God’s announcement on the night of Jesus’ birth comes to those we would least expect.  Shepherds were the lowest of the so-called “totem pole.”  These truly were the least of all people by human standards.  Dirty, cheating and untrustworthy were their titles.  Even this is ironic seeing as the people of Israel were settled away from the Egyptians, in the land of Goshen, because they were indeed Shepherds.
 
Despite their outcast status, God sends a host of heavenly angels to announce the birth of His Son specifically to them.  Though their appearance is certainly startling, their message of peace and the birth of the Messiah have impacted the world for generations.
 
Interestingly, God’s message to the shepherds is somewhat of a microcosm of His plan of Salvation.  We who are outcasts because of sin, hear the message of Salvation through the Gospel message.  When we hear this message, we encounter God in a very real way.  Though it may not be the light of angels piercing the darkness of night, our encounter is no less divine.  The question we all face, though, is: what are we going to do about it?

 Prayer

God of Love and Mercy,
You reach down into this world, into our lives,
pursuing us when we are far from You.
Even when we were Your enemies, You showed us Your love
by sending Your Son into this world as our Messiah.
We thank You for Gospel truth and for calling us to Yourself.
Help us, each day, to continually respond to Your love,
and to tell others about Jesus so that they may encounter Your love too.
Amen.


Advent Day 14: The Time Came

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I’ve often wondered in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, did Mary carry to full term?  We know that she was “great with child” as the old Scriptural language suggests, but what does that mean?  Was she late in her delivery or was she early?  We probably don’t get this much thought as we default to the “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” songs of how perfect things were.
 
While this question seems relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, at its core, the question really has to do with how God actually brought about the birth of Jesus.  As we said yesterday, God’s timing is perfect.  So when the time comes for things to happen in our lives, God will make them happen.  Of this, we can be certain.  But I do have to wonder what would have happened if Mary and Joseph left a day or two later?
 
Granted, it probably wouldn’t have changed the date of our Christmas celebrations.  December 25 is widely considered not to be the date of Jesus’ birth.  Rather, it was a pagan holiday taken over by early Christians and turned into a celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
 
That said, when we boil this down to its roots, we are left to trust in God’s sovereignty over every situation.  Similar questions for the timing of Saul’s conversion, Peter’s vision of unclean animals, or even the call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles in Acts are all valid.  They all address the same theme and have the same answer: God’s timing brings about God’s purposes according to God’s will.
 
Though we may think we know the right timing in the growing seasons of our lives, God knows better.  He has a purpose to bring about His will for us.  And let’s be honest, God’s good and perfect will is better than anything we could come up with.

 Prayer

Faithful God,
You cause the sun to rise and set and the seasons to change in their times.
All of creation is perfectly ordered by You and exists for You.
You grant us seasons of growth and seasons of rest as well.
As we journey through our lives, seeking to follow You,
help us to trust Your will for us.
Whether the road of our life is smooth or rocky,
may we know that You are faithfully there with us.
You never leave us or forsake us, You are our refuge and strength.
Thank You for your faithfulness.
In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 13: Long Journey

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There are a lot of factoids that surround the Christmas story.  The Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, yet Joseph and Mary were natives of Nazareth.  Realistically, there was no reason at all for them to travel and certainly not during pregnancy.  It was even less likely that they would have chosen to travel so close to her birth.  So the timing of this decree by Caesar August was perfect timing as far as prophetic fulfillment is concerned.
 
Perfect timing; would we expect anything else from God though?
 
Bethlehem is a 33-hour walk from Nazareth, using today’s roadways.  Given Mary’s imminent birth, the hazardous travel conditions, and the renowned stubbornness of donkeys, it is not at all a stretch to imagine that this trip took three to five days.  If you are a woman reading this, can you imagine going through that pregnant?  It almost seems unfair to Mary to make her go through this just to fulfill a more than 500-year-old prophecy.
 
Sometimes the things that we go through in life don’t seem fair at the time.  Indeed, life is full of long and difficult journies as we see God working through our situations to mold, shape, and build us.  The proverbial roads of life that we travel are sometimes rough and we can be pretty stubborn when things don’t go our way.
 
Yet, in the midst of these difficult times, and especially on the other side of them, we see God’s work and promise fulfilled in our lives.  We may not have wanted to go; we might not have had any reason that we could see to endure.  God, however, can see the bigger picture and has a plan for each of us.
 
Had Joseph and Mary not gone to Bethlehem, a small part of the prophecy would not have been fulfilled.  It would have brought into question the whole person and purpose of Jesus.  Perhaps, in our long and difficult seasons of life, God is up to some important thing that He knows we just can’t live without either.  I’m sure Mary and Joseph’s journey required a lot of trust on their part.  We, too, need to trust the One who knows each second of our lives before they ever came to be.  His timing is always perfect.

Prayer

Sanctifying Lord,
We stand in awe of how You bring about each and every moment of the universe,
You know us and the plans You have for us.
In Scripture, You tell us those plans are to prosper us and give us hope and a future.
We confess that, more often than not, we are unwilling to trust You.
Instead, we hold onto control, thinking that we know better than You.
Help us to see where You are at work in our lives,
and to let go of our control, trusting You and Your plans for us.
Thank You for Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit that guides us.
May we listen for Your voice and follow Your leading,
Amen.


Advent Day 12: Holy Spirit Filled

Reading

 Meditation

Remember Zechariah?  He was visited by an angel and left mute due to his unbelief at the angel’s message.  His wife, Elizabeth became pregnant and gave birth to the one we know as John the Baptist.  It wasn’t until Zechariah indicated what the boy’s name would be that his tongue was released.  At that moment, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophecies about the boy and God’s work in Him.
 
Though you probably know the whole of this story, there is something here that challenges us in our faith walk as well.  Many times we experience what God is doing in our lives and, as it comes to fruition, we keep quiet about it.  God is always working out His will in our lives and in the world.  How often do you see it and yet say nothing about it?  More than that, how often are you a part of God’s work and yet don’t even glorify or thank Him for what He has done?
 
For Zechariah, it is probably a bit more acute.  He wasn’t able to speak, experiencing a sort of “punishment” for his unbelief.  Yet, when his voice is returned, the first words are that of praise, thanksgiving, and prophecy.  Though you may not have lost your voice, the experience of God’s work is no less profound.  Why should we keep quiet?
 
Those of us who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit in us.  Scripture tells us to “not quench the Spirit…” and yet we do just that when we don’t speak of God’s work in our lives.  Especially in this season of Advent, as we anticipate the coming of Jesus, we should be shouting out praise to God for His loving action, sending His Son, on our behalf!

 Prayer

Almighty and merciful God,
You are continually at work in the world and in our lives.
We praise You for the amazing things You have done in us.
Most of all, we worship You in thankfulness for Your Son, Jesus Christ.
Give us eyes to see and recognize Your work in and around us,
and help us to be open in our acknowledgment of Your mighty acts,
so that those around us may see and glorify Your Name as well.
We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,
Amen.
 


Advent Day 11: Song of Praise

 Reading

Meditation

The song that Mary sings here is one of four that are recorded in the first two chapters of the book of Luke.  Mary’s song is commonly referred to as the “Magnificat” which is Latin for “glorifies.”  It is clear why this name is appropriate.
 
More than the appropriateness of the name, though, is the source of Mary’s content.  As she sings this hymn of praise, she pulls from the book of Psalm.  There are at least nine unique references to the Psalms in these verses.  Additionally, Mary references the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habbakuk, and several other Old Testament sources.
 
When we read this, even at face value, it is a beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving.  Looking deeper at the content, I am always amazed at how the young woman that society would have seen as an outcast, would know such beautiful Biblical content.  Certainly, this could have been a Holy Spirit inspired moment; we shouldn’t discount that.  However, we also should not discount Mary’s Biblical understanding here either.
 
Drawing from this, we can and should be challenged in our own Biblical studies.  We live in an age where the Bible is more accessible than it ever has been.  Yet for many Christians, particularly in North America, Biblical literacy is at it’s lowest point in since things like this were recorded.  We often find ourselves unsure of what to say, how to pray, and even what to sing.  Worship songs have become repetitive and shallow.
 
Mary’s prayer is rich and full, informed and directed by Scripture.  While God invites us to “come as we are,” the invitation of Scripture is also to a much fuller and richer life.  One way this happens is through time spent reading and meditating on God’s Word.  As you consider your journey through the season of Advent, and the potential of the coming New Year, what would it look like for you to intentionally increase the time you spend in God’s Word?

 Prayer

Loving God,
You call us to Yourself, even when we are still Your enemies.
You welcome us into your presence, inviting us to come as we are.
Yet, in Your acceptance of us, You also love us enough
to call us to deeper and more dynamic transformation.
You came that we may have abundant life
and You have given us Your Word to grow us and reveal Yourself to us.
Help us to prioritize Scripture in our lives.
Make us restless until we find our rest in You.
In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.