Advent 2022 – Blessed are You Among Women

Image: “Jump for Joy” by Corby Eisbacher corbysart.blogspot.com

Advent day 2 – Read Luke 1:39-45

“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.”  Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth.  The angel had also said something strange about her cousin – that she was going to have a child – in fact – he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t?

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah?  Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor?  Someone in a high position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No.  She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea.  This was just not possible.  She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her.  The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart.  It was true!  Elizabeth was pregnant!  If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Bless are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true!  Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, believing is the sweetest blessing of all.

Advent 2022 – Gabriel’s Announcement

“The Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci

Day 1: Read Luke 1:26-38

She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her.  It was all so surreal.  She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time.  She had heard a rustling beside her and turned to see a man – but not a man – an angel?  Yes, it was an angel; he said his name was Gabriel and he called her “highly favored,” but surely he meant someone else.  She was a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.  Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family.  She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling  – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30).  Mary pointed out that she was a virgin, wondering – not if – but how this would happen.  He spoke of the Holy Spirit, an overshadowing, and the impossible becoming a reality.  Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of God” (v. 35).  Oh my!  Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? It was every Jewish girl’s dream. 

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears.  She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God.  She was put in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. It was an inconvenience, to say the least. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, perhaps even shocking?   It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or a great sorrow.  How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender?  Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

Hebrews: In Remembrance of Me

I hated lunchtime in the school cafeteria. Every day I walked around with my lunch tray looking for somewhere to sit. Classmates would quickly throw their purses and books in all the empty seats at their table – the non-verbal way of saying “We don’t want you.” I eventually found my way to an empty table and ate my meal alone. Now, as an adult, I usually gravitate to an empty table out of habit.

This all came to mind because of the verse we’re focusing on in Hebrews: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). Remember, the author’s audience is believing Jews that are being pulled back into their traditions and away from Christ. The brazen altar in the tabernacle was where blood sacrifices were made. The priests were allowed a portion of the meat from which the blood was taken as their meal portion (Lev 6:26, 29, 7:28-38; Deut 18:3-5; Num 18:10-20). But it could only be eaten by the priests and the males in his family. No one else was welcome at that table.

But Christians have an altar and a portion that no one else can share – not even the tabernacle priests. The altar is Jesus Christ Himself, and the meal is His flesh and His blood – the portion He gave to His disciples in the upper room before His death (Matt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-21). The portion He commended to us who believe in Him. We observe this as a sacrament we call  Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist.

I was privileged to serve communion one Sunday, and as I repeated the phrase “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” to each partaker it became a very profound and special thing to me.  As I passed the bread to each person in the line I realized that Christ’s body was broken for every single person – even those who don’t believe and haven’t received Him. I thought about the juice and the bread that would be left over after the service.  It would just be discarded – like grace poured down the drain.  It made me sad that the devil has blinded the world to this amazing gift of Jesus’ blood and body. After the service, I realized I had flour all over my clothes from the bread I had served.  I had the visible witness of the gospel all over me!

You and I carry the gospel with us wherever we go. Let’s make it clear and bold and winsome. Let’s bring as many to the table as we can. Beloved, your life is the best testimony to the world of the grace of God.

Jesus is Praying for You

Perhaps the sweetest words in all the world (after, “I love you, Nana”) are “I’m praying for you.” Oh, what a blessing are the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. James said, “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman, boy or girl] is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16). I am blessed with dear friends and family members who are prayer warriors.

But what strength and peace would be yours if you knew that Jesus was praying for you? That is what He promised Peter just before the enemy put the disciple through a sifter. Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Peter was about to endure perhaps the fiercest trial of his life; Jesus wanted him to know that he would not face it alone. I believe that we can take reassurance in knowing that Jesus does the same for us.

Pay attention to two things here. Jesus prayed before Peter’s trial – He knew what was ahead for his friend. Rarely do you and I know what is about to come into someone’s life – our prayers are most often reactionary. But Jesus knows ahead of time and His prayers are covering us before the trouble ever reaches us.  Also, notice what He prayed for—that Peter’s faith would not fail. Because the most important thing in this life is faith. And Peter learned the value of faith through his trial. In 1 Peter 1 he writes: “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 6-7).

As a side note, did you notice that Jesus said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). When. Not if. Jesus knew Peter would turn back – because He was praying for him.

Jesus is praying for you in your hard time. He is praying that your faith would not fail. He is praying that you will be a source of strength for others when you get to the other side. And you will get to the other side, Beloved. Because Jesus is praying for you.

Little Lost Lamb

In Luke 15: 3-7 Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves his safe flock to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:5-6a). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost. I find a lot of comfort in that.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, a situation you chose, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful, and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, because you never left His sight when you wandered away. That’s because He never left your side. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jos 1:5, 9). God is always with His child. Whether you get caught up in the glamor of the world and wander, or you run away in outright rebellion. Even if you go so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where you and I roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Something else I noticed – probably because I’m extra aware of seeing my granddaughter’s name in the Scriptures – He brings the lost sheep home with Joy. Not begrudgingly, not with words of anger or impatience. Not with frustration or resentment over the trouble the sheep caused. He’s just so happy to have His little lamb back with Him.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Trust in God’s faithful love for you. Did you carelessly wander away because you were distracted by the glitter and lights of the world? Did you stomp your feet and run in outright rebellion? Beloved, God is not mad at you. He wants you to come home. Call His Name from wherever you are right now, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

Grow Up With Jesus

Mary. Mother of Jesus. Most honored of women. Most humble of women. And most associated with the Christmas season. But did you know that Mary was there for more than just His birth? Once they got out of the smelly stable, they took Jesus – now forty days old – to the Temple to fulfill the rites of consecration according to Jewish law. There Simeon and Anna spoke of the salvation of the Lord and the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-38). When He was twelve years old, they took Him again to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover – and they lost Him. After a three-day search, they found Him in the Temple deep in conversation with learned men who were astonished at His depth of understanding (vs. 41-52). Mary was there, storing up treasures in her heart (v. 51).

Jesus and His disciples would accompany Mary to a wedding where she would see yet another unexpected side of her son as He turned water into wine. And she would worry over Him like any other mother. Mark 3 records Mary and her other sons going to check on Jesus out of concern for His sanity. When told that His mother and brothers were outside, He said that His family – His mother and brothers – were those who did the will of God (vs 20-35). That was not a dismissal of Mary, but she understood that He was becoming less her son and more His heavenly Father’s Son.

And then there was the day that Mary watched Him from the foot of a wooden cross. I imagine she took out all of those precious treasured memories she had stored up – of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe – and hugged them to her breast as His life ebbed away. For a moment, Jesus was just her son again as He appointed John to care for her in His absence (John 19:25-27).

There’s one more time we see her. After His resurrection and ascension, the disciples gathered in a room in Jerusalem, and Mary – and Jesus’ brothers – were there (Acts 1:12-14).

Mary grew in her relationship with Jesus, and so must we. Every stage of Jesus’ life and every step he took toward fulfilling His purpose changed Mary’s experience with her son.

She was a woman of faith and surrender – Jesus was the Promised Son

She was a brand new mother – Jesus was her firstborn son.

She was a seeking mother – Jesus was her surprising son.

She was a mother in need – Jesus was the One who met her need

She was a worried mother – Jesus was the Son of His heavenly Father

She was a grieving mother – Jesus was her lost son

But

She was also a sinner and Jesus was her Savior

She became a disciple and Jesus was her Lord.

Beloved, have you grown in your relationship with Jesus?

Does Anyone See Me? Does Anyone Care?

When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat” for the first word of her song: Magnificat anima mea Dominum – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from His blessings to her as an individual to His work on behalf of the nation of Israel to His mighty hand in the world – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more simple girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth was mindful of her. She celebrated the God who “lifted up the humble – the lowly and despised” (v. 52).

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes, carry responsibilities that aren’t yours to bear. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. God told her to name her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” This same God sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and hope and strength. You are not unnoticed Beloved. The God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

A Lesson in Love

The man asked a burning question, “What must I do to be saved?” And he knew all the right answers – love God and love your neighbor. He even claimed to practice them regularly. But he wanted to “justify himself,” as the Greek says to “exhibit oneself such as he wishes to be considered.” He wanted to appear supremely righteous – even more righteous than Jesus – so he asked another question: “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus told a story of a wounded, broken man and the “righteous” people who passed him by. But an unlikely person came along – one who was considered most unrighteous.  It was he who stopped and rendered aid – he cared for the man and about the man.

Then Jesus turned the question around. “Which of these was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  See, the man wanted to know, according to the Law, whom he had to love. Jesus said love isn’t done according to the law, but according to the heart. The Lord pointed to the neighbor not as the one in need but as the one who met the need.

People are sad.

Lonely.

Hungry.

Abused.

Hurting.

Broken.

Homeless.

Afraid.

Grieving.

Helpless.

Sick.

Mistreated.

Hopeless.

And yes, angry.

There is no end to the needs in the world.

But I can’t fix everybody. Where do I start?

With the person God sets in front of you.

“Who is the neighbor. . . ?”

“The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

Gone Fishing

Jesus had commandeered Simon’s boat to serve as a speaker’s platform one early morning. His message to the crowd had no doubt been rich and powerful. I’m sure Simon was mesmerized by Jesus’ teaching. But now the message was done and Simon was ready to put his boat away and go home. Then Jesus made a strange request of him: “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). This was an odd request for two reasons. First, fishing was done at night and it was now daytime – most likely mid-morning, since Simon had been washing his nets when Jesus came along. In fact, he had told Jesus, “We’ve been fishing all night” (v. 5 paraphrased). Secondly, Jesus told him to go to “deep water.” Fishing in the region of Galilee was done by watching for schools of fish in the shallow waters and scooping them up in the nets You would not be able to see the fish in the deep water. The request must have seemed to Simon to be a foolish venture.

Sometimes God asks us to do the strangest things. To walk through walls of water. To march around city ramparts. To go into battle against a vast army with three-hundred men. To go on mission where “angels fear to tread.” Or maybe it’s something much simpler. To love an unlovable person. To give when you have little to nothing. To walk away from a lucrative job to be present with your family. To invest in people who have nothing to give you in return. Or something even simpler still: to sacrifice an hour of sleep to spend the morning in God’s sweet presence.

Why would Simon, weary from a long night’s labor, acquiesce to such a nonsensical request. For the same reason that you and I can – there was something about Jesus that Simon knew he could trust. The seasoned fisherman didn’t argue back but simply said, “Because you say so . . .” (v. 5). There have been many times God has asked me to do something that made no sense to me. I saw no benefit from it; I didn’t even see how it was going to work. Yet I did it because I trust Him. And my trust was always rewarded. Beloved, I don’t know what strange thing God has asked of you, but I do know that you can trust Him. He will never send you on a fool’s errand. Get in the boat and go fishing with Jesus – just be ready for a great haul!

Tangled

My husband is a Christmas movie junkie – you know, those sappy Christmas love stories where the plot never changes. He was watching one this week (in August!) and the couple was decorating a tree for the holidays. I could tell it was make-believe because the girl pulled the strand of lights out of the box and they were tangle-free. How many hours have we spent trying to untangle strands of wires and bulbs? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights? More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating. Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free. I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possessed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary Magdalene who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now. Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).