To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.
Dying, Jesus honored His mother’s courage by acknowledging her pain. She was losing the Son she loved and it hurt in a way that only mothers can comprehend. He didn’t tell her that it would “be alright” or that “the ending is ultimately victorious”.
Instead, He looked upon her trembling figure and saw her broken heart.
Even that most awful first day I swallowed tears as I made phone calls and airline reservations and asked for help from those I knew would lend it.
But sometimes the weight of grief and life and stress and pain is simply too much to bear.
So falling apart is really the only option.
And that’s OK.
I can let go and let the tears flow.
I can hide under the covers or inside the house and not answer the phone.
I don’t have anything to prove.
Because I know the One who will hold me until I feel strong enough to pick up the pieces and carry on.
And when you are old, I will still be there, carrying you. When your limbs grow tired, your eyes are weak,And your hair a silvery gray, I will carry you as I always have. I will carry you and save you.
A few times in my life I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy.
And like David who danced before the Lord when the Ark was returned to Jerusalem, I simply can’t contain myself. I want to move my body in response to the rhythm of the good news.
So I understand Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing:
And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home. Luke 1:46-56 MSG
Known as The Magnificat, Mary’s heartfelt response to the work God was doing in and through her is a perfect introduction into the upside down Kingdom Christ came to establish.
The Jews were under occupation, under the thumb of a pagan Roman government where might made right and the outcast poor had no hope for justice.
But the Holy Spirit revealed to Mary how very great was this Good News-no longer would evil reign nor the wicked rule. God’s mercy would be supreme! His people would be blessed and every single promise of the Lord would be fulfilled.
So she danced to the tune of salvation. Even though the music was faint and far away.
I’m invited to dance to the same song because God’s promises are sure.
Sometimes I have to strain to hear the music.
But if I lean in and listen closely, it’s there.
Have you ever experienced a moment when you were utterly overwhelmed with a sense of God’s goodness and faithful love? How did it make you feel?
Mary’s song emphasizes the truth that God will not allow injustice to reign. He will make every single thing right. But it can be hard to wait sometimes. Does this promise make waiting any easier for your heart? Why or why not?
Sometimes we look around and think, “What’s the point of trying to live a righteous life? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer!” Do you think that there is an eternal reward that outweighs any temporal inequity?
Music and dancing go hand in hand. God has created us to be physical and sensual beings. Have you ever been so moved by truth (especially when presented in musical form) that you could not help by responding with your whole body?
Father God, You never fail. Your purposes are sure and cannot be thwarted. You will not allow injustice to rule forever. You sent your Son to set the record straight, to pay the price and to squash evil tyranny.
It’s true that He has not yet established His Kingdom in its fullness. But the enemy doesn’t stand a chance. The devil is on the defensive and we are guaranteed victory.
Help me hold on to the fullness of the gospel message-not only that my eternal hope is secure (and those I love who have received salvation through Christ) but that You are working in and through your people to restore justice and equity in the world right now.
Make me an instrument of your peace. Give me words of hope to share with a frightened and confused world. Let me lead others in the dance of my Savior.
Luke tells us that his purpose in writing is to give an orderly and full account of the life of Jesus.
It’s far from a dry “news report” though. It’s full of personal encounters, emotion and delightful detail.
I love the description of a (probably slightly perplexed and perhaps frightened Mary) and her older cousin Elizabeth:
Afterward, Mary arose and hurried off to the hill country of Judea, to the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. 40 Arriving at their home, Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the moment she heard Mary’s voice, the baby[a] within Elizabeth’s womb jumped and kicked. And suddenly, Elizabeth was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit! 42 With a loud voice she prophesied with power:
“Mary! You are a woman given the highest favor and privilege above all others. For your child[b] is destined to bring God great delight. 43 How did I deserve such a remarkable honor to have the mother of my Lord[c] come and visit me? 44 The moment you came in the door and greeted me, my baby danced inside me with ecstatic joy! 45 Great favor is upon you, for you have believed every word spoken to you from the Lord.”
Luke 1: 39-45 TPT
It’s unclear from the text but it could be that Elizabeth and Mary were close before they shared the secret that they both carried sons of promise. For some reason Mary went quickly to her after the visit from Gabriel.
Was it to buy time before her belly gave her away? Was it to seek godly counsel or confirmation from an older, wiser woman? Was it simply because she had heard Elizabeth was also pregnant when it seemed unlikely it could be?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that every person in the nativity story was a real live flesh-and-blood individual who was as trapped in time as I am. They had to walk out events as they happened and didn’t know the end from the beginning even if they’d been given promises from an angel.
God provided extraordinary confirmation for them both. What a beautiful moment!
Not only did John leap in Elizabeth’s womb, the Holy Spirit came upon her and gave her a message for young Mary. Mary was “highly favored”, chosen as a vessel of honor and blessing.
I imagine Mary held those words close to her heart over the next many months when whispers and sideways glances followed her everywhere.
I know I hold close the words the Lord has given me.
When I read Scripture, the Holy Spirit often quickens my spirit to take note and take hold of a verse or two. He whispers, “This one is for YOU”, to my heart.
I underline it, write it down, meditate on it, come back to it and rest in the truth that if God says it, it’s true.
Mary was highly favored because she believed “every word spoken to her by the Lord”.
Jesus was born a single time-no other woman will ever again carry God’s Son in her womb. But we can each carry God’s word in our hearts.
When we do, we too are vessels of honor and blessing.
Have you ever stopped a moment and thought about how the people in Bible stories were, in fact, real people? If not, do it now. How does that impact your understanding of the text?
Mary was an unmarried virgin who became pregnant. No matter that Gabriel assured her it was by the Holy Spirit, I imagine others thought something very different. Why do you think she went to see Elizabeth?
Which of Elizabeth’s words to Mary mean the most to you?
Has the Holy Spirit ever quickened verses that you read? How do you make a note of them? Have you ever come back to them later and realized God used them in a special way to encourage your heart?
Sometimes trusting the promises is a struggle. I want to believe, I try to believe but no amount of willful conjuring on my part can make me believe.
But for this, I have Jesus and your Holy Spirit. Like Elizabeth and Mary, You quicken your life, hope and power within me.
You have given me your word. Your word is truth. I can rest assured in the promises that have been fulfilled and know the others will come to fruition when the time is right.
Help me believe every single word You have spoken. Help me be a vessel of honor-to hold close and hold dear what you plant in my heart.
The world is waiting breathless for salvation from the prison of hopelessness.
We long for an end to the tyranny of fear, physical destruction and the power of an enemy that is stalking, harming and killing those we love.
Rumors of imminent help pass from lips to lips but rescue is still a distant hope.
Israel was waiting too.
And that is when God gave Isaiah this message for His people:
“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great. The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways— He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 VOICE
This message is for us as well-so much truth, hope and promise packed into a single verse!
The Christmas story is all about beginnings and seeds of promise. But Jesus didn’t remain an infant and the prophet takes us from birth to Second Coming in a few sentences.
Yes, a Son was given but that Son grew into a Savior.
I’m oh, so thankful that the Baby in the manger is now the reigning Prince of Peace! I cling tightly to the truth that He is my “Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness”!
The day Dominic died I wrote in my journal:
“The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the Name of the LORD. May my soul find rest in Thee alone. May my eyes look only to Thy face. May my heart’s peace be the Prince of Peace. ‘Dominic’–belonging to God–You gave him to me and he is Yours again. Marana Tha–Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
When Jesus was preparing the disciples for His death, He knew they would need a Counselor in their grief. They would need a guide through the difficult and scary and confusing path they were about to walk.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit-the Father will send Him in My name-will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”
John 14:26 CSB
Because I believe with my whole heart in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood and the supremacy of His Lordship, I am filled with His Spirit.
What a gift!To have the Living God in me–my ever present Guide even on this most treacherous journey.
This is what the Baby came to bring-restoration, redemption and ever-lasting life.
An end to the tyranny of destruction and fear.
A hope and an eternal future.
I once heard a Bible teacher explain Isaiah’s visions like this: It’s as if he saw two mountain peaks clearly (the earthly beginning of Jesus’ life, ministry and sacrifice and the ultimate, powerful rule and reign of His Second Coming) but couldn’t see the valley in between. I think that idea is perfectly illustrated by these verses. Jesus has come but there is still much suffering. What promises do you cling to in this Valley?
Do the names of Jesus described in these verses bring you hope? Why or why not?
Which is your favorite? Consider using a concordance to look up other verses in which it is used. Does that flesh out the meaning in any way?
I have frequently copied this passage into my journal and illustrated it in various ways. If you’ve never done something like that, try it. Writing the words in my own hand has really made them come alive in my heart.
You will notice I use a variety of translations in these devotionals. There are a number of free online Bible resources that will allow you to compare multiple translations at the same time. Try it with these verses or others. How does that help you gain a greater and deeper understanding of God’s Word?
There are days when my candle has burned low and my heart is heavy with grief. There are moments when hope feels so far away I can’t even imagine it still exists. Just then, You whisper, “Courage, My child”, to my soul.
So many times I’m at a loss for words but the Counselor prays for me. Often I wonder if there will ever be justice for the cruelty I see around me but I’m reminded that You are the Mighty God and will not allow injustice to reign forever. When peace feels like a distant dream, You come with a lamp as the Prince of Peace and flood my heart with wholeness.
Thank You that I have a Savior. Thank You that He conquered death. Thank You for these words of truth.
We left Zechariah yesterday just stepping up to the Altar of Incense.
I like to put myself in the story and imagine him slightly trembling at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to creep closer than all but a handful of Israelites to the Holy Presence of God Almighty.
Perhaps he was already a little afraid.
Maybe his heart was racing and his palms sweaty. He most certainly recognized the privilege and responsibility as he offered the fragrant smoke and many prayers.
And how like a human heart to hand up its desires in the midst of corporate pleas for mercy, justice and grace!
But it seems Zechariah didn’t expect an answer. Certainly not the one he received.
11 All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
12 Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13 But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer[c] for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14 His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15 He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people[f] who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
Luke 1: 11-17 TPT
I can imagine the years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth fell asleep praying God would grant them a child. I can just picture Elizabeth outside in the Temple courtyard adding her longing and hoping, hoping, hoping Zechariah would dare to bring their personal plea before the Most Holy God.
The angel not only promised Zechariah a child, he promised him a childOFpromise-one whose birth had been foretold. This would be no ordinary son. He was to be the forerunner and path-maker for the Christ!
No wonder Zechariah had a few questions.
I’ve had questions too.
Prayer after child loss has been hard for me.
Before Dom ran ahead to Heaven, I was a seriously praying woman. I kept prayer journals, wrote individual prayer cards for people I loved and knew and was a fervent believer in God’s faithful answers-even if they were long in coming. I had personally experienced the power of earnest prayer to make way in the heavenlies.
I never asked for a life of ease, only life and the grace to greet each day.
So when one of my most oft-repeated and (what I felt was very basic) prayers went unanswered, it shook me to the core. Why was my son not kept safe?
It’s taken a long time for my heart to rest again in what seem like straightforward promises of Scripture and to venture tentatively toward the Throne of Grace expecting any favors.
God does answer.
But like Zechariah, long years of waiting and disappointment have made me more than a little surprised when He does.
Do you pray? Why or why not?
Do you expect God to answer when you pray? (Not audibly but through circumstances, people, His word.)
How has loss changed your prayer life (if it has changed it)?
How do you feel when it feels like God doesn’t hear your heart?
Have you ever waited long only to be surprised by God’s ultimate intervention or answer to your prayer?
What are you longing for that you need to bring before the Throne of Grace today?
Does Zechariah’s story encourage you?
Lord, You are the Most High God. You know the beginning from the end and hold time in Your hands.
It is so, so hard for me to wait patiently for answers. And, frankly, some of the answers are not blessings but heartache.
I’m wary about bringing my requests to You because while I know You have the power to grant them, You also have the power to delay or deny them. So I am sometimes surprised when You answer. I’m often amazed at how You weave together the ordinary with the extraordinary and how Your eternal plans are always being worked out.
Help my heart lean in and take hold of Your hand. Help me trust in Your unfailing love and abundant grace. And give me bold courage to step forward with open hands, bringing my requests to You, resting in the fact that whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “wait” it is for my ultimate good and Your glory.
Today’s verses may seem an odd choice as a stand-alone source for an Advent devotional.
But when you dig a little deeper, they are a beautiful affirmation of how God used ordinary people to bring about His extraordinary purposes.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were two humble and obedient Jews living their lives according to the Law. As a priest, Zechariah was responsible to serve in the Temple two weeks of every year. He’d been faithfully doing his duty for years. Elizabeth had done hers too.
But they were fruitless. Elizabeth was barren. And barren women (in those days) were considered cursed.
And then something amazing happened.
Zechariah, chosen by lot, seemingly random, is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord. A sacred trust, a holy encounter representing the prayers of all Israel and especially those positioned outside in the temple courtyard.
“5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”
Luke 1: 5-10 NIV
We will stop here for today although I’m sure most of you know where our story is going.
I’m glad to take things a little slow. Because when I race through verses full of detail I tend to miss important insights. And there are several in these words that help my heart.
Doing my daily duty can be pretty boring.
Living a life of faithful obedience sometimes becomes a burden. And when obedience doesn’t lead to blessing but perhaps even to pain I can lose heart.
Luke reminds me that being precisely where God wants me to be doing exactly what He’s called me to do may lead to unimagined and unanticipated blessing.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea that their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem would change everything.
But it did.
And that was just the beginning.
Do you ever tire of daily routine, regular responsibility? Does this passage challenge that attitude?
Scripture teaches that God is in control even when it seems like chance rules. Is that a comforting thought? Why or why not?
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story echoes that of Abraham and Sarah. An old couple, past the age of childbearing whom God blesses with not just any child but a child of promise. How does their story once again that God is the God of the impossible and improbable?
Prayer is likened to incense throughout the Bible. I sometimes like to light a scented candle in the still dark early morning hours when I talk to God. Do you have any physical representations that help your heart connect with the Father?
I admit it-sometimes I’m just flat out tired of doing what’s expected of me. Dishes and laundry and ordinary work are dull and hardly rewarding. Obedience takes self-control. I’m not always interested in being who I ought to be especially when I feel like maybe there’s no upside to sacrificing fun for duty.
Even worse, I feel cheated when I’ve been a “good girl” and still not received the desire of my heart. In fact, the desire of my heart has been snatched away.
Help me feel Your Presence speaking courage and strength to my soul when I grow weary of doing well. Help me show up every time and everywhere You want me to be. Let the truth that there is no better place to be than in the center of Your will sink deep into my spirit.
You have a plan and You work through perfectly ordinary people to bring it to life. Who knows? It might be me doing my daily duty that impacts eternity. Thank You for inviting me to be part of the Eternal Story.
Some are outside myself and others start in the secret corners of my own heart.
All of them make me wish for quiet and calm, peaceful waters where I can sail the ship of life and not worry about sinking beneath the waves.
When I’m afraid I remind myself that Jesus is the Peace Speaker.
He calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee and He will calm the wind and waves of my heart.
He is the unchangeable, faithful God and I am always safe in the sea of His love and goodness.
Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, You remain the same.
Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of Your love I came to life, by Your love I am sustained, and to Your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by Your unwavering love….
O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea.