Advent 2022: Asleep on the Hay

“To us a Child is born,” Isaiah 9:6

To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Eyes closed to the world, mouth soft in repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.

Advent 2022: Joseph – A Man of Mercy

In the telling of the Christmas story, Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ of Jesus doesn’t get much attention. Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4). But I learned something recently about him that had previously escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – becoming pregnant as an unmarried woman was bad enough but to conceive a child with someone other than her betrothed was unforgivable. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21). It was a sin that merited public execution. Instead, Joseph chose to handle the situation quietly to spare her from disgrace and punishment. And because he acted mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8). His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). I think, sometimes the church has it backward. Much like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy. After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love poured out in mercy to sinners like you and me through Jesus Christ.

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love? No, they probably don’t deserve it – but neither did you. It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, Beloved, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

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?

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.

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).

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

A Mother on her Knees

I believe the heart of a mother comes closest to God’s own heart than any other on earth.  I love mothers in the Bible like Hannah who prayed for many years to have a child, and Lois and Eunice, a grandmother and mother pair who passed their strong faith on to Timothy – Paul’s “son in the faith.”  And, of course, Mary who, when told of her unconventional “assignment” from God simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). At this stage in my parenting I most identify with a mother who’s not in the Bible, but her influence on the church is remarkable.

Monica lived in a.d. 300-400.  She loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply.  Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer.  He pursued pleasure and made choices that broke his mother’s heart.  Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son.  She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the darkness and into His Kingdom.  Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1]  As Monica sought godly counsel for her son, she begged the local bishop to help him find God.  “Finally,” said her son, “the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2]  Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith. 

Motherhood is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church.  The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child.  Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.