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

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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

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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.


Advent Day 10: Friends and Family

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We often say that the holiday season, and particularly holiday celebrations are “all about family.”  What we look forward to more than most things on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s day is spending it with our loved ones.  For some, this is blood relatives.  For others, we are talking about those that we have forged relationships with over time.  Whatever your definition, though, there seems to be certain safety and familiarity that comes with being around those we are closest to.
 
This was also true for Mary.  After her encounter with the angel Gabriel, her time explaining it to Joseph, and Joseph’s subsequent angelic encounter, Mary takes some time to get away with family.  Though we don’t know the specific relationship these women have, they certainly have some things in common.  Both are experiencing something miraculous in their lives in the form of their pregnancies.  Both have experienced divine activity in their lives and in the lives of their spouses as well.
 
We also don’t know why Mary went to see Zechariah and Elizabeth.  It is possible that she was encouraged to get away from her village for a while, being that she was pregnant out of wedlock.  Perhaps Mary had heard of Zechariah’s encounter with an angel during his Temple duties.  Regardless of the reason, Mary’s visit is confirmation for both women of the great things God is doing through their lives.
 
There is something beautiful about sharing in joyous moments with those we love.  Maybe this is what gives us such great memories of our loved ones during the holidays.  Particularly around Christmas, we share the “good news of great joy” as a common point of celebration.
 
Does your family take time to reflect on this?  Do you spend time celebrating the great things that are going on in each other’s lives?  How would your family gathering be different this year if you spent time rejoicing together over what God is doing in each person’s life?

 Prayer

Father God,
We can feel the excitement of Mary and Elizabeth as we read this passage today.
As we continue in our Advent journey, our hearts also fill with anticipation,
as we await the coming of our Lord once again.
Sometimes, however, we find our minds cluttered and clouded,
consumed by the things of the season and the worries of life.
Help us, as we gather together this holiday, to look at the great work that you are doing.
May our focus be shifted off of ourselves so that we may celebrate the joys and victories that others are experiencing,
and glorify you for all that you have done.
We pray this in the name of Jesus, through whom you have worked salvation for us, Amen.


Advent Day 9: Immanuel

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God sends Isaiah to give King Ahaz a sign in the midst of difficult times and struggles that he and the people of God are facing.  Ahaz had already gone looking for help in other world powers at the time, particularly the kingdom of Assyria.  In fact, at this moment, king Ahaz actually rejects seeking a sign from God.
 
Simply put, though, anyone’s rejection of God does not imply that God will reject them.  In fact, God gives Ahaz a double sign, one that will be fulfilled in the present context and one that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ.  God addresses Ahaz’s present needs and concerns.  Ultimately, though, God is pointing Ahaz to the more important work of Salvation that He is working toward.
 
Ultimately, the truest sense of this can be seen in the name given this baby boy, “Immanuel.”  While names these days have relatively little meaning, the Hebrew people were very particular about the names they chose.  In this case, God already indicates that the name will be Immanuel.
 
If you have been around church for any length of time, you have probably heard that “Immanuel” means “God with us.”  This name is a reference to the reality of God’s purposes of restoration of humanity’s relationship with Him.  In Genesis, we see God dwelling with Adam and Eve; in Exodus with His people in the Tabernacle.  Later, God’s dwelling is in the Temple.  However, after the Fall of Genesis 3, there is always a barrier, a divider that separates God from humanity.  The coming of this baby boy, foretold by Isaiah and born of Mary, heralds the removal of that barrier and the ultimate redemption of God’s people.

 Prayer

Restoring God,
We confess that, far too often, we look for help for ourselves in places and things other than you.
More than we care to admit, we try to control our own destinies,
thinking that our plans for ourselves are better than Your plans for us.
Thank you for never turning Your back on us,
even when we have turned our back on You.
Humble us Lord and gently lead us to reverent surrender of our lives,
that we may turn to you and know true peace and hope.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Advent Day 8: Fulfillment

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Life often seems random.  Events happening this way and that seeming meaningless, sometimes even unjust in the grand scheme of things.  We ask questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?”  Through it all, however, Scripture assures us time and time again that God is not only in control, but He is also actively working.
 
Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel along with her subsequent pregnancy was not a random act of God either.  This had long since been planned, foretold many times by many people throughout Israel’s history.  Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah many times, most particularly in chapters seven and nine.   “The virgin shall be with child…” Isaiah says, prophesying about the coming of the Messiah some 600 or more years prior to Jesus’ arrival here on earth.
 
Not only is God at work at this moment, making sure that Mary is not left to fend for herself, but God is also actively working to bring to fulfillment everything that He has said He would do.  As we see throughout Scripture, God’s promises are sure, spoken as if they have already been fulfilled.
 
We look at this story in the midst of the greater narrative taking place at this time.  Knowing the end helps us see the purpose of the actions as they happen.  Yet, in our lives from day to day, this is not necessarily the case.  When we lose our job, fight with our spouse, or lose a friend, we cannot see the “why” behind the situation.  What we do know, however, is that God promises His faithfulness to us.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,” God says.  The psalmist echoes this in the beautiful words of Psalm 121.
 
As we consider the words we read here, let us also consider the actions that Joseph takes.  Sure, we may not be receiving angelic visits during the night that illuminate our understanding of the situations we are in.  We do, however, have God’s Holy Word close at hand, and we can find peace, comfort, and hope in the assurances of God there for any season of light.

 Prayer

Almighty God,
You sit enthroned in heaven holding the whole universe in the palm of your hand.
From Your throne, you rule over all things,
providing and sustaining them at all times.
You work out your will and purposes for the salvation of those who love you.
Help us to remember Your promises and trust in Your unfailing love.
Guide us to seek you in all circumstances, help us to follow in obedience.
May we always be listening to the voice of Your Holy Spirit,
even when we don’t understand the happenings of our lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 7: Faithful Husband

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Yesterday, we saw that the actions of God to bring about the birth of Jesus through Mary left her in a vulnerable position socially and culturally.  As one who was betrothed, or engaged, her being found to be pregnant would have ruined their relationship.  The social implications wouldn’t have stopped with Mary either.  Both her family and potentially Joseph and his family would have been seen as suspicious through all of this.
 
While we do not get, from this story, all of the juicy details of gossip that probably went around town, what we do see very clearly here is God’s faithfulness in providing for Mary.  Joseph indeed discovered his wife to be was pregnant.  I’m sure Mary passionately tried to convince him of the story of her visitation by the angel Gabriel.  One has to admit though that, for even the strongest relationship, angelic visitation resulting in pregnancy is a bit of a stretch.
 
God, however, is not content to leave Mary to sort this out on her own.  He sends an angel to visit Joseph in a dream.  The angel relays the message and, as we’ll read tomorrow, convinces Joseph not to leave Mary.
 
Sometimes the Lord may sometimes call us to seemingly extreme things that may not be the most socially acceptable.  Even then, as we read here in Matthew, God makes a way for these things to happen.  As God said to Abraham, and reiterated to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
 
As the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way.”  How much more true is this when it is God’s will that is to be accomplished, both in Mary’s life and in ours?

 Prayer

Faithful God,
In you there is nothing that is impossible.
From nothing, You created everything,
out of death, You create life.
We confess that, far too often, we doubt your faithfulness.
We find ourselves worrying more about worldly image than committed obedience.
Help us to see and hear the places you are moving in our lives,
and the “impossible” things that you are calling us to.
Give us courage and strength to follow you into the unknown,
and bring the message of the Gospel with us as we go.
We pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.


Advent Day 6: Highly Favored

Reading

Meditation

Speaking of angelic encounters, as if Zechariah’s encounter with God’s Archangel wasn’t enough, Gabriel shows up again a few months later to Mary.  Now, Mary is very different from Zechariah.  She’s a poor, unwed, nobody from a small town in the proverbial armpit of the Roman Empire.  From a worldly perspective, she couldn’t be less important.  Beggars in town would have had more say than Mary in the goings-on of village life, simply because they were male.
 
Yet, despite the reality of her situation, Gabriel, the Archangel of God, shows up and proclaims to her the reality of who she is in God’s sight.  “Greetings, you who are highly favored…” he says.  I can imagine that Mary was indeed a bit confused by this greeting.  No doubt she knew her place in society, getting married was most likely her best hope for being provided for and having a decent life.
 
Into that “hope,” God introduces a plan that might not only ruin her chances of getting married but would certainly ostracize her from the community that she lives in.  The worldly logistics of this are, to say the least, a bit much, but what is impossible for man, however, is absolutely possible with God.  In fact, Gabriel’s response to Mary, particularly in verse 37, is strangely reminiscent of God’s words to Abraham  and Sarah in Genesis 18, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
 
Imagine getting a message like this in your own life.  God essentially blows up any chance that Mary has to be normal by the world’s standards.  Isn’t this similar, though, to the call of God in Romans 12?  Paul doesn’t offer the opportunity for a “normal” life by the world’s standards.  Cultural norms and worldly success, at any time and in any age, aren’t what the believer is called to.  Rather, Christ-followers are called to a life surrendered to Him, “living sacrifices” that are transformed by the mercies of God and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.  Mary, like us, is invited into a life that is wholly different and fully surrendered.
 

 Prayer

Transforming God,
As You called Mary on a road and a journey that you had prepared for her,
You also call us to a transformed life, one that is different from the world around us.
We see Mary’s willingness to follow and desire to follow you with the same courage and boldness.
Help us, in this season of Advent, to listen to the Spirit’s prompting,
 and show us the places where complacency and comfort are inhibiting the mission you have for us.
Remind us that you have given us Your Holy Spirit to live as salt and light in the world.
Embolden us to live into the identity we have in Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
We pray this in His name,
Amen.