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Archive for November, 2011

Life can turn and change so quickly at times. We experience the highs and joys and then reality comes crashing in and we hit a low point. Things can happen so swiftly that we can feel like our minds are swirling in the currents of  life. I often wonder how Mary must have felt during the weeks before and after the birth of Jesus. She had already made it through the initial difficulty of revealing to Joseph that she would have a miracle baby from God, Joseph not believing her, and then God speaking to Joseph so he would believe and take Mary as his wife. Then the long journey while due any day pregnant to the town of Bethlehem. A journey made riding on a donkey, not in a luxury car. Then they can’t find a room anywhere and Jesus is born in a stable where animals normally ate and slept. This is the baby that the angel told her is from God. The most special baby ever born and there they were in a stable.

Then shepherds come rushing to them after Jesus was born and tell them about angels visiting them to tell them about the birth of Jesus and of all the wonderful things the angels told them. The bible says that Mary-“treasured these things in her heart”. What wonderful memories to treasure: Gabriel’s message to her, the angel speaking to Joseph, and angels announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds. Not to mention being visited by wise men from the East who brought expensive gifts to Jesus.

But there were also ominous warnings she heard such as what Simeon said to her about a sword piercing her soul and the angel speaking to Joseph to flee to Egypt because King Herod was seeking to kill the baby Jesus. These kind of events do not seem to fit in with a Joy to the World scenario of a “happiest time of the year” overly romanticized holiday we celebrate in America. They certainly not seem to fit with the joy a new mother would feel with her new baby.

I also wonder at times how Mary must have felt about the seeming contradiction between the song she sang under inspiration of the Holy Spirit when she visited her cousin. The one where she said all generations will call me blessed and even her older cousin called her blessed among women. Contrast with the gossip she must have endured in her hometown of Nazareth.

Mary went through all of these things as a result of saying yes to God’s plan. She stepped out in faith trusting God to take care of her. She stayed faithful to her call even to the point of watching her son die on the cross. She was there at the foot of the cross watching him die a horrible death. I wonder what she was thinking at that time. She would also see him after He was raised from the dead.

There may be conflicting views about Mary within Christendom, but the one thing we should all agree on is that Mary deserves to be respected. Respected for her faithfulness to God and willingness to serve God at her own expense and resulting difficulties. Respected for the example her life is of living for God. Most of all respected because she is the mother of Jesus and ministered to Jesus as His mother and was there for Him when He died.

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At Christmas time many enjoy the festivities of shopping, going to church programs, and Christmas Eve services. The focus is on the joy of Christmas and songs are sung such as Silent Night and Away in the Manger and we think of the baby Jesus. Babies do not force us to deal with harsh realities. They pose no threat to us. When a woman has a baby, there is a special glow of love between mother and infant. Family and friends rejoice with the new mother. It is supposed to be a time of joy, but for Mary while in the midst of her joy of being with her new born child, a strong message showed the purpose of Jesus coming as a baby and what it would mean to her someday.

Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple when he was 8 days old to present Him to God. Ok I have to consider the irony of that- they took Jesus, God the Son who came to earth, to the Temple to present Him to God. Anyway, Mary and Joseph faithfully followed what they were supposed to do as Jewish parents of a new born son. They took Jesus to be circumcised. While at the temple, an old man named Simeon held Jesus in his arms. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die  until he saw the Lord’s salvation. When Simeon saw Jesus, he knew Jesus was the promised one from God. Simeon then had a message for Mary. He spoke about how Jesus would cause many in Israel to rise and fall. Jesus would be a light for all peoples. In other words- Jesus came to be our Savior. Then Simeon said something that a young mother of a newborn does not expect to hear. He said, “and a sword will pierce your soul too” in reference to the sorrow Mary would feel when Jesus died on the cross.

When we remember the baby Jesus, it seems a safe thing to do. We focus on a baby bringing great joy. Mary’s baby, however, grew to be a man. He was not just a man, but the Son of God. He would grow and do miracles to show His glory. He would grow and one day die on the cross for us and defeat death for us. A baby does not force us to be accountable to anything. Jesus was no ordinary baby. He is God the Son who left heaven to come to earth to die for us. Mary got that message about the suffering of Jesus when no one would expect such a message, when Jesus was only 8 days old. However, that message shows why we have Christmas.

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38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Five simple yet profound words from a young woman in response to the Angel Gabriel’s message to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus the Savior of the world. She first acknowledged who she is- the Lord’s servant. She understood her life was for God and not for herself. Her desire was to please God even in a way that would make life difficult for her. She then accepts her call to be the mother of Jesus by saying “May your word be fulfilled”.

Think about what that meant to Mary in her life. In that culture at that time for a woman to be caught having sex outside of marriage meant being stoned to death. Mary accepted God’s call knowing the possible risk she was taking. It also meant facing possible ridicule by her neighbors gossiping about her. She was engaged to Joseph and was a virgin. She had never had sex. She would have a miracle baby. She would be in a vulnerable position yet she trusted God to protect her and take care of her. She accepted the call of God which meant God would have to take care of her as she lived out what He asked her to do. She took the step of faith relying on God.

Mary is an example for us of what it means to follow God. We can at times be at risk for living as God wants us to live. We could risk being ridiculed, misunderstood, made fun of, and gossiped about. In some countries following Jesus means risking death or imprisonment. Accepting God’s call on our lives does not mean everything will be smooth sailing for us in this life. It does mean we trust God to take care of us no matter what the outcome is for us. We move forward relying on God. We take that step of faith and leave the results up to God knowing that in the final outcome He will bless us whether it is here in this life or in heaven. We remember that this life is only a vapor. This life is so short. Heaven is eternal. It lasts forever. I like this quote- He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to receive what he cannot lose. That was Mary’s attitude when she accepted God’s call. She gave up what her life was before that moment to do what God asked her to do while trusting that God would bless her in His timing.

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Luke Chapter 1:26 to 33-  26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Thanksgiving is over here in America and it seems the Christmas Advent Season came so quickly. Nevertheless, my thoughts now turn to the first Christmas when Jesus was born.

Imagine being Mary and suddenly an angel appears to you. Mary was perhaps 14 or 15 at the time.  She was engaged to Joseph and her life was normal and then all of the sudden out of nowhere an angel is talking to you. She is startled by his appearing and his words trouble her. He says “Greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” This is not a normal greeting. Even back then people didn’t just walk around saying greetings like “you who are highly favored” to each other. Understandably Mary is troubled by this surprise visitation. We would all be troubled if an angel popped out of nowhere and began speaking to us.

The angel Gabriel tells her, “do not be afraid Mary”. Easy for the angel to say, but perhaps not so easy for Mary to be speaking to an angel. He goes on to tell her that she will have a son who will sit on David’s throne. Mary knows the promises from the law and the prophets that the Messiah will come. Now this angel is telling her that she will give birth to the Messiah. Imagine being in her place. One minute you are minding your own business walking along on a normal day. The next minute the angel Gabriel pops out of nowhere and tells you that you will give birth to the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

One thing I have learned about following God- expect the unexpected. God ways are not our ways. He is always at work around us, but to us it seems sudden when it happens in our lives. We go about our normal everyday lives, and surprise God shows up. We think our situation is hopeless or we think God has forgotten us, and then there He is doing His work and we are surprised. The Romans had occupied Israel for so long that there seemed little hope of a Messiah coming, and now an angel is telling Mary that she will give birth to the Messiah.

Only one small problem that Mary can think of at that moment. If she is to give birth to the Messiah, the problem is that she is a virgin. In our modern society it is possible for a virgin to have a baby with medical intervention. Back then doctors thought bloodletting was a good idea. They did not have hospitals or OB-GYN doctors. So Mary asks the angel a question, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Gabriel tells her that the she will conceive of the Holy Spirit and the child will be the Son of God. He tells her that nothing is impossible with God. How many times have we had a situation we think is impossible? The birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary is a testimony that stands for all time of how nothing is impossible for God. Tomorrow I will look at her response to all of this. For today I want to reflect on the fact that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD.

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