Advent: Glory, Mercy and Truth

If you want to truly appreciate the New Testament you’ve got to begin in the Old.

Jesus is written on every page, revealed in increasing measure in every story.

From Genesis to Revelation, God the Father displays His purpose, plan and passion for His children.

The ultimate unveiling is Immanuel-God with us.

And so the Living Expression became a man and lived among us! And we gazed upon the splendor of his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father overflowing with tender mercy and truth!

John 1:14 TPT

Ever since Eden, humankind was banished from unafraid, uninhibited communion with our Maker.

Sin separated us from His holy Presence.

Pin on Ron DiCianni Artwork
The Fall by Ron DiCianni

When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had Moses construct a Tabernacle for His Presence to rest in the midst of His people but they still had to remain afar off.

Only Moses could come near. And when he left the Tabernacle, he wore a veil to hide God’s glory reflected on his own face.

Moses Face Shining: When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin  of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near… | Exodus,  Exodus 34, Exodus 33

And then came Jesus-His perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection-removed the veil.

He revealed God’s glory and holiness.

But He also revealed God’s mercy, grace and truth.

Hebrews 1:3 — Berea Project

The Law teaches hearts that no one can measure up.

Christ teaches that because He fulfilled the Law, if we trust His finished work we don’t have to.

Our God who breathes stars, He breathed Bethlehem’s Star, then took on lungs and breathed in stable air.

Our God who formed and delivered the heavens, He waited patient like an embryo in a womb and delivered Himself to free all humanity. Our God who cradles whole galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain, He folds Himself into our skin and He curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough — and we are saved from ourselves.

We are saved from our hopelessness — because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the nail sharp edge of our sins.

We are saved from our pain — because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and He took the nails.

We are saved from our loneliness — because God is love that can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves. The entire cosmos sings it leading up to Christmas Eve:

We are not alone.

We are a pinpoint in the universe that is now nailed to eternity because of the wood of a manger, of a Tree, of a crowning wreath of thorns.

Ann Voskamp

QUESTIONS:

  • Before they sinned, Adam and Eve enjoyed open fellowship with God. They walked together in the cool of the evening. But disobedience and distrust ruined it. Jesus paid the price to restore fellowship. Have you thought recently about the great value of that gift? How have you felt His Presence this Advent season?
  • Jesus took on flesh and walked among men as the living, breathing embodiment of God. He wasn’t primarily an example (although He was the perfect example). He came to be a sacrifice. God’s holiness is beautiful but frightening. His grace and mercy are beautiful and inviting. How have you experienced the grace and mercy of the Lord?
  • Do you ever feel alone, abandoned or forgotten? Does it help your heart to meditate on Immanuel-God with us?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You could have started over and abandoned us. But your love compelled You to reach out and reach down to make a way.

Jesus is that Way.

He came to reveal more than your glory and holiness. He came to reveal your mercy, grace and truth.

He showed us your heart.

It’s a heart of love and good intentions toward me. Help me trust that heart when I can’t trace your hand. Give me assurance of your Presence no matter how dark the night or desperate the circumstance.

Amen

Advent: Right On Time

I admit it-patience is not my strong suit.

I’m a person of action rather than deliberation.

Sometimes that gets me into trouble. Almost always it makes me intolerant of delays.

So I have to be very, very careful not to apply my impatience to God’s timing.

I’m pretty sure Israel was getting tired of looking here, there and everywhere for Messiah. I’m almost certain some folks felt abandoned and forgotten. It had been centuries since the last prophet spoke truth to God’s people. And another despot now ruled over the Jews.

Yet God was not late in fulfilling His promise, He was right on time.

But when that era came to an end and the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,[a] born under the written law.[b] Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children.

And so that we would know for sure that we are his true children, God released the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts—moving us to cry out intimately, “My Father![c] You’re our true Father!”

Now we’re no longer living like slaves under the law, but we enjoy being God’s very own sons and daughters! And because we’re his, we can access everything our Father has—for we are heirs of God through Jesus, the Messiah!

Galatians 4: 4-7 TPT

Of course, for those trapped in time, it was hard to wait for and maybe hard to understand how perfectly every little detail came together surrounding the birth, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus.

I’ve touched before on how the census brought Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Bethlehem.

Local synagogues, teachers of the Law and a well-organized system of worship and education guaranteed Jewish males knew what God required and (if at all desirous of pleasing Him) recognized the chasm between personal holiness and that of the Lord. The whole Sermon on the Mount was about pointing out the impossibility of meeting the Law’s requirements.

It’s hard to appreciate freedom if you’ve never known bondage.

Jesus preached freedom from the Law through His perfect and final sacrifice.

That was welcome news to hurting hearts.

Galatians 5:1 — Verse of the Day for 07/04/2017

I can tell you that I was never more thankful for the truth of the Gospel than when I learned Dominic left this physical plane and entered Heaven.

I was desperate for my Abba Father to assure my heart of His love, His Presence and His provision.

I’m so, so grateful that I don’t have to wonder if Dominic “measured up” because God wasn’t measuring my son. When Dom trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, he was no longer a slave to the Law. He was free from the penalty of sin and the sting of death.

The Father looks at Dominic and sees the righteousness of Jesus.

My son is clothed with His Son.

Now it’s still hard for me to wait for the final unveiling of what God is crafting from my sorrow.

But I’m absolutely, positively certain it will be glorious.

And I can rest assured that the revelation won’t be early or late-it will be right on time.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever considered the historical context of Jesus’ birth? It was a unique point in human civilization. Roman rule meant that there was a (nearly) universal language. The empire built and maintained roads that connected most of the then-known world. Even Roman persecution of Christians aided the spread of the Gospel. Can you think of other ways this was the “right time” politically?
  • The Babylonian captivity spurred Jewish religious leaders to codify and expand details of the Law. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees and Sadducees had, in many ways, made a “god” of the Law itself. Jesus rebuked them over and over during His public ministry. His death, burial and resurrection satisfied the Law’s requirements and opened Heaven’s doors. Have you received the free gift of eternal salvation through Jesus? Has someone or some experience made you doubt that you are clothed in His righteousness?
  • Not all of us have (or had) a good relationship with our earthly father. But most of us have an ideal in mind of what a daddy should be. When Paul said we have the right to call God “Abba” it was a radical idea for the time. Jews tended to think of God as distant, separate, unreachable and definitely NOT “daddy”. How does it make you feel to know God IS your Father? Can you (do you) come to Him with outstretched arms? What do you expect if/when you do?
  • Are you ever impatient waiting for God to answer? Does the Christmas story, with all the perfectly timed and perfectly positioned events encourage patience?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You for sending Jesus at just the right time. Thank You for preparing a people, a world and hearts for the Good News. Thank You that because I’ve trusted in Christ, I CAN call You “Daddy”.

I admit that even though my heart rests in Yours I can be awfully impatient. It’s hard to wait.

Help me recount and recite Your past faithfulness so that I’ll be more inclined toward patient waiting.

The Christmas story is a perfect example of how You work all things together to accomplish your purpose and to bring You glory.

Grant grace and courage as I count the days until every promise is fulfilled and my faith is made sight.

Amen

Advent: Extravagant Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

They were asking around to find a king and found out no one else (even the current king!) seemed to know anything about it.

 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

Matthew 2:1-12 MSG

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants. Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

QUESTIONS:

  • Many scholars think that the wise men were from Persia-the same area Daniel and his friends were taken. It’s believed that Hebrew Scripture and knowledge were added to the amazing library kept there. So while the wise men most probably weren’t “believers” they were most definitely “seekers”. This story encourages my heart on many levels. Are you encouraged by God’s redemption of Daniel’s hardship and heartache? Why or why not?
  • It’s difficult for us to understand how expensive and dangerous the trip was for these men. Obviously their desire to find this newborn King was compelling. Do you think you would/could risk as much to worship Jesus?
  • Herod was a very wicked and ruthless man. He wasn’t interested in worshiping the Christ, he wanted to eliminate the competition (that’s why he had all the male children under 2 years of age murdered). Do you ever despair over injustice in the world? Do you ever wonder why it seems God intervenes sometimes and not other times (I do!)?
  • It’s folklore to say there were three wise men but we have no idea. There were three named gifts, though. Gold-traditional gift for a King; Frankincense-offered by priests in worship; and Myrhh-used as a healing poultice and also to embalm bodies. Consider how these gifts from pagan travelers emphasize the offices Jesus came to fulfill. Can you personalize His role of King, High Priest and Healer/Sacrificial Lamb?
  • I have to choose daily to offer up the sacrifice of praise. Some days it’s easier than others. How do you help your heart turn toward the Lord in spite of disappointment, pain and sorrow?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You gave everything so that true worship is possible. You have made a way where there was no way. The veil is torn. I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace without fear. Thank You.

Sometimes I don’t want to bring my offering to You. I’m hurt, confused, angry even. I want answers to questions and it seems the cost is too great.

Forgive me for holding back.

Help me be as fearless as the wise men who risked a dangerous and expensive journey to worship Jesus. Give me strength to bring all I am and all I have to lay at the feet of Christ.

Only You are worthy of worship. Only You are worthy of praise. May my words and my life always point others to You.

Amen

Advent: Ponder and Praise

The nativity story is full of contrasts.

Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.

Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.

Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.

Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Luke 2:19-20 VOICE

My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.

She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.

I’ve pondered too.

“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).

What we don't know about Mary and Joseph - Under His Wings

When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.

I was forced to make a decision.

I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?

After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.

I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.

I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.

But she held on.

She believed.

And the Lord called her blessed.

I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.

Sometimes my faith wears thin.

But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.

QUESTIONS:

  • We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
  • How has child loss impacted your faith?
  • The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
  • Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.

But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.

Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!

Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.

Amen

Advent: Unlikely Messengers

Bethlehem isn’t far at all from Jerusalem if you measure the distance in miles.

But it was a world apart if you measure the difference in circumstance.

Like our world today, there was a huge gap between the richest of the rich (King Herod and his cronies, the religious elite) and the poorest of the poor (Mary, Joseph, shepherds and others like them).

Hearts full to overflowing with pride, self-reliance, love of power and money can’t find room for a message that suggests they might need saving.

Empty hearts, hopeless hearts, worn, weary and desperate hearts are hungry to hear that help is on the way.

Maybe that’s why God sent a most spectacular birth announcement to shepherds who were considered the lowest of the low.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Luke 2:8-18 NIV

If you do a little digging you will discover that large flocks were kept in Bethlehem to facilitate worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since many of the faithful came from quite a distance, instead of bringing a sacrifice they would purchase a suitable animal once they made the trek.

But shepherds rarely got to mix and mingle at the Temple because they were stinky and dirty. It was tough to try to clean up without running water and washing machines. They smelled of sheep, goats and smoke. Not a welcome addition to worshiping crowds.

Yet God deemed these lowly, (probably) uneducated folks worthy of the most spectacular display of His approval and the dawn of a new age of grace. The outcasts became the “in” crowd.

The first messengers of the Good News weren’t priests or royalty, they were regular people.

I know many days I wonder if plodding along in my everyday duties makes a whit of difference in the world. I tire of routine and repeated, ordinary tasks.

But in the Kingdom there is no such thing as meaningless work or unrewarded obedience.

The shepherds were perfectly positioned to receive God’s message and to deliver it to a waiting world.

God has placed me right here right now for His purposes.

I’m not responsible for results.

I’m only responsible for waiting patiently for His direction.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve heard the Christmas story over and over it’s easy to miss historical context and the significance of certain details. But Luke specifically set out to give an account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that revealed His deity and God’s purposes. Have you ever thought about how odd it was that shepherds got such special attention and treatment from Almighty God?
  • The shepherds apparently discussed what they had seen and heard among themselves. Can you imagine what that sounded like? Do you think you would have second guessed the experience if you had been there? Why or why not?
  • Once they saw the Baby they could not contain themselves. Do you remember the joy of salvation when (perhaps) you were compelled to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus? Have you lost that urgency? If you have, how might you regain it?
  • People were amazed at the shepherds’ message. I imagine it was partly due to the nature of the story and partly due to the ones who were telling it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were certain the message was from God but the messenger didn’t fit your idea of what he or she should look like? Did you dismiss the message or look past your preconceived notions?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are no respecter of persons. All are in need of your mercy and grace. You reach out and reach down and reach across divides and prejudices and preconceived notions of who should be “in” and who should be “out”.

Salvation is available to every single heart who chooses to believe in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes I can draw circles around who I think is deserving and who is not. When people don’t look like me, talk like me or think like me I can look down my nose at them and expect You to do the same.

Rescue me from the prison of prejudice!

It’s the worn out and weary who long for a Savior. It’s the breathless and broken who need fresh wind and healing hope.

Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of the Good News. Help me hold onto the joy of my salvation. May I feel the same urgency as those shepherds long ago to run first to Jesus and then to share Him with everyone I meet.

Amen

Advent: Behind The Scenes

So often it seems like God is dragging His feet, holding out on us, refusing to grant something we desperately desire.

The people of Israel waited and waited and waited for Messiah.

Many felt abandoned.

But God wasn’t being slow, He was waiting for the precisely perfect moment to send His Son.

Image may contain: night, text that says '+ when the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son Galalians s'

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Luke 2:1-7 VOICE

An entire kingdom was mobilized to fulfill prophecy!

Because Rome demanded taxes from conquered peoples and wanted every penny owed, a census was ordered. Because the only way to get an accurate count was to order folks back to their ancestral hometowns, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. Because of the timing, Mary was bursting with baby and gave birth.

Just as promised: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ” Micah 5:2 KJV

Caesar was acting in his own self-interest.

Mary and Joseph were complying with the law.

Nature took its course as Jesus grew in the womb.

All the while God was weaving together the strands behind the scene to bring forth His purpose and provide salvation for His people!

I’m not privy to everything God is doing in the world. And, frankly, what I see sometimes looks like He’s not doing much. I want Him to step in and make things right according to my limited knowledge.

But He’s working behind the scenes in ways I can’t imagine or comprehend.

He has a purpose and plan that will not be thwarted.

I do not for one moment believe that God Took My Child. But I absolutely, positively believe that He is using what the enemy meant for evil to accomplish good.

So I try to be patient.

Even though it’s a lifetime.

Because no one who waits on the Lord will be disappointed.

QUESTIONS:

  • It’s so easy to read the familiar words and forget that each element of the story was important in fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever looked back on a series of seemingly unrelated events and realized how they came together to orchestrate God’s purpose in your own life?
  • I have often wondered how much Joseph and Mary might have thought about (if they thought about it) the words of the prophets as they fulfilled God’s commission to faithfully raise His Son. Can you put yourself in their position and imagine the weight of responsibility and also the fear of uncertainty they might have experienced in real time?
  • I admit that waiting is hard. I long for a supernatural revelation that gives my heart a handle on how long I’m going to have to practice patience. But I take some comfort in the multitude of promises kept by my God and His ever-faithful, always trustworthy character. When your heart doubts, what promises do you cling to?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You literally moved Heaven and Earth to bring salvation to Your people. You work where I can’t see and in ways I can’t comprehend.

But it’s hard to hope when things look dark and it seems as if You are slow to act. And sometimes it looks as if evil, death and sin are winning. That’s when my heart has the most trouble holding onto hope.

Help me cling to truth in spite of my feelings. Give me light in the darkness. Teach my heart to trust and sing hope over my soul. You are Faithful and True.

Even if I wait a lifetime my waiting will not be in vain. Every one of Your promises is “yes” and “amen” in Christ. The end is guaranteed. Victory is assured.

May I rest in Your unfailing love.

Amen

Advent: Highly Favored

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.

Reflection on the Visitation of Mary | Society of the Holy Child Jesus

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.

QUESTIONS:

  • 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?

PRAYER:

Lord,

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.

Amen

Advent: God With Us

Jehovah is the God of promises made and promises kept.

From Genesis to Malachi, God sent prophets to proclaim the coming of Messiah.

And He used Mary and Joseph, willing servants of the Most High, to bring about His plan.

22-23 All this happened to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”)

24-25 When Joseph woke up he did what the angel had told him. He married Mary, but had no intercourse with her until she had given birth to a son. Then he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:22-25 PHILLIPS

Not only was Jesus the Child of promise, the Messiah, the Savior, He was God wrapped in flesh.

Fully God and fully human.

The King of all creation chose to subject Himself to it. He was born in the ordinary way though His conception was miraculous.

There are many religions in the world. But there is not a single other faith whose cornerstone is Deity come to earth.

Only Christianity can claim that our God left Heaven and took on flesh to dwell among His people and that makes all the difference.

Grief is isolating.

There are moments, days-even weeks-when I feel trapped inside an impermeable bubble of sorrow and pain. No human touch or words can pierce the armor around my heart.

I can’t pray, I can’t read my Bible, I can barely lift my head.

It’s then that Jesus comes to me gently, sweetly, with grace, compassion and love because He knows every single heartache I endure. He walked the earth and was betrayed, wounded, forsaken. He is not far off and unaware.

Immanuel Changes Everything | True Woman Blog | Revive Our Hearts

Immanuel-“God with us”-isn’t just a lofty theological concept.

It (He!) is a living reality.

In my weakest and most vulnerable moments, when I can’t conjure hope for myself, He brings it to me.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to YOU that God took on flesh?
  • Have you ever thought about Jesus as a man, living like a man, hitting His thumb with a hammer, stubbing His toe, loving His mother and all the other things life means? Or do you simply think about the punctuated moments described in Scripture?
  • The writer of Hebrews says that because Jesus experienced humanity in every way we have a High Priest who sympathizes and understands our weakness. I find that liberating! How might embracing this truth encourage your heart to bring every request, lament, praise and doubt to the throne of grace?
  • When have you experienced the Presence of Jesus?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your people waited long for their Messiah. After hundreds of years You didn’t just send just someone, You sent your own Son. Fully God, fully human. He walked among us. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that idea.

But what I know from experience is that You ARE the God of Presence. You do not abandon me to despair. When I am most lonely and my heart is crushed under the weight of sorrow, help me remember that.

Give me the confidence to bring the good, bad and the ugly straight to the throne of grace. Remind me that though Heaven is your high and lofty holy dwelling place it’s not so far You can’t hear me.

And You DO hear me. You see me. You capture my tears and count them precious. Thank You for your promises. Thank You for your peace. Thank You for your Presence.

Amen

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Advent: A Willing Heart

It’s easy to read the stories of Zechariah and Mary, both visited by the angel Gabriel with unlikely and hard-to-believe messages, and wonder why Zechariah was struck dumb when he asked a question but Mary was commended.

The difference is heart attitude.

26-28 Then, six months after Zacharias’ vision, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a Galilean town, Nazareth by name, to a young woman who was engaged to a man called Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel entered her room and said, “Greetings to you, Mary. O favoured one!—the Lord be with you!”

29-33 Mary was deeply perturbed at these words and wondered what such a greeting could possibly mean. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly. You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be known as the Son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and he will be king over the people of Jacob for ever. His reign shall never end.”

34 Then Mary spoke to the angel, “How can this be,” she said, “I am not married!”

35-37 But the angel made this reply to her—“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holy—the Son of God. Your cousin Elisabeth has also conceived a son, old as she is. Indeed, this is the sixth month for her, a woman who was called barren. For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.”

38 “I belong to the Lord, body and soul,” replied Mary, “let it happen as you say.” And at this the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 PHILLIPS

Zechariah was a priest who had studied the Torah and should have understood the sovereignty of God. He didn’t ask a question about how Gabriel’s prophecy would come true, he asked for proof that it WOULD come true.

He questioned God’s character and faithfulness.

Mary was a poor young woman who was (most likely) unfamiliar with Scripture except what she had heard in the synagogue.

She knew how babies were made and asked a very practical question.

She wasn’t suggesting God COULDN’T do it, she simply wondered HOW He would do it.

It is portrayed so sweetly in Christmas plays and Christmas movies:

Mary bowing her head in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she has been chosen to bear the Savior.

I don’t know what went through her mind before she answered.  I’m not sure she had a clue what submission to God’s will would look like as it played out across the months and years.

I only know that she was willing.

And God honored her willingness to bend her knee and her heart regardless of the unknown cost.

I’m not as noble as Mary.  I didn’t answer quickly when God allowed my life to be turned upside down. I kicked and screamed and resisted as long as I could.

But who can fight Almighty God?

How can I carry on if I resist the Only One Who can carry me?

My heart still balks.

It. Is. Still. So. Very. Hard.

But I bow my head and heart each morning and ask for the grace to make it true:

“Behold, I am the servant of the LORD; let it be to me according to your word.” ~Luke 1:38

hand-coffee-roosevelt

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of the people reading this are bereaved parents. While Mary was indeed “highly favored” the role for which she was chosen was one of heartache as well as honor. If you knew then what you know now, would you have still chosen to bear and love your child?
  • It is absolutely OK to bring our questions, doubts and fears to God. Do you see the difference between Zechariah’s and Mary’s questions? Or do you think there was a difference? Why or why not?
  • Have you reached a point of submission regarding the loss of your child? If you have, how did you get there? If you haven’t, what lament do you need to offer up to God so His grace and strength can fill your heart?
  • It’s easy to read Bible stories like make-believe fairy tales and discount the flesh and blood humans who lived them in real time. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to realize that none of them could see the end from the beginning? Does it encourage you that they were able to rest in the Lord’s faithful and unfailing love? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Oh, how I long for Mary’s faith! How my heart yearns to be always willing, always wanting to let You do whatever You deem good and right. But I balk at giving up control-even as I admit I have no control-to You or anyone else.

I am often dismayed and even angry at the things You allow. I am distraught that You don’t intervene when You most certainly can and I think You most definitely should.

Help me submit willingly to Your plan. Help me wait patiently for the fruit of obedience. Give me strength to endure even when the road is long and the path inky darkness.

You are Faithful and True. You are Light and Life. Help me hold onto that truth and rest in Your goodness and love.

Amen

Advent: Stunned Into Silence

When I received the news that Dominic would never walk through our door again, I let out an unearthly wail.

Then I had to make phone call after phone call.

And after that I ran out of words.

So while I realize Zechariah’s silence was imposed on him by God, I can imagine how it felt to hold a secret so deep and yet not be able to speak it aloud for others to hear and share.

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is too old to give me a child. What sign can you give me to prove this will happen?”

1Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel.[I stand beside God himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news. 20 But now, since you did not believe my words, you will be stricken silent and unable to speak[until the day my words have been fulfilled at their appointed time and a child is born to you. That will be your sign!”

21 Meanwhile, the crowds outside kept expecting him to come out. They were amazed over Zechariah’s delay, wondering what could have happened inside the sanctuary. 22 When he finally did come out, he tried to talk, but he couldn’t speak a word, and they realized from his gestures that he had seen a vision while in the Holy Place. 23 He remained mute as he finished his days of priestly ministry in the temple and then went back to his own home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for the next five months. 25 She said with joy, “See how kind it is of God to gaze upon me and take away the disgrace of my barrenness!”

Luke 1: 18-25 TPT

I feel Zechariah’s pain!

He and Elizabeth had undoubtedly prayed the same prayer for decades so maybe he not only questioned what Gabriel told him, he may have questioned his own senses and sanity. That’s not in the text, but I can imagine he might have.

Before he could stop himself he blurted out that the words were all well and good but a sign would be something he could hold onto for assurance.

Mark 9:24 | The Consecrated Woman

Gabriel told him, in essence, that if his own presence was not enough to validate the promise, Zechariah wasn’t getting the sign he hoped for but he’d get another sign-one he wished he hadn’t asked for.

It’s natural for human hearts to long for something they can hold in their hands to act as guarantee of God’s promises. We are creatures of the earth and we live by our five senses.

Our Heavenly Father knows I am frail and made of dust. He doesn’t despise me. But He does insist that I walk by faith, trusting in His character, His love and His promises. He doesn’t supply me with signs and miracles as proof to soothe my doubts and fears.

He could.

But He doesn’t.

Instead I have the testimony of the Holy Spirit to my spirit. Leading me into all truth and helping me hold fast to hope.

If you are raising prayers or your heart to the Lord today, anxious for Him to show you that He’s listening, be still and let His Spirit speak to yours.

It won’t be an audible voice, but it will be unmistakable.

He’s still in the business of answering His children.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever prayed long for something? If your prayer was eventually answered did it shock you?
  • Sometimes silence seems the most holy response when I’ve spent time in God’s Presence. Can you remember a moment when what the Lord revealed to you felt too precious or too impossible to share with others?
  • What do you think Elizabeth’s response might have been when Zechariah came out and couldn’t speak? Do you think she had a clue what had happened?
  • Do you believe God answers prayer? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are my Maker. You know I am frail and prone to doubt. It’s especially hard for my heart to trust when it feels like prayers I’ve prayed for nearly my whole life have gone unanswered-or answered in a most painful way instead of the way I wanted them to be.

I confess, it’d be wonderful to have some sort of sign I could see with my own eyes, turn over in my hand and tuck in my pocket as a reminder of Your sovereignty. But that’s not how You work in the world.

You have given me Your Spirit and Your Word and that is enough. Help me believe that it’s enough-more than enough-to guide my heart through this Valley. You hold me fast even when my grip loosens and threatens to give way.

Thank You for Your Presence. Thank You for your Promises. Thank You for the privilege of lifting my hands and heart to You in prayer.

Amen