The Birth that Changed Everything

Many years before Luke writes his Gospel account of the life of Jesus, Caesar Augustus thought himself to be a god and decreed that the people worship him.  This was still the political/cultural norm when Jesus was born.  The Caesars were to be worshiped and honored above all others.  The tiny baby in the manger was the One worthy of all praise and honor, not the Caesar in his palace.  Maybe that’s why the angels announced the birth with so much fanfare and JOY to the shepherds in the field – so there could be no doubt.

Before Jesus was born, Zechariah and Elizabeth got some great news.   The angel Gabriel came to visit Zechariah, a priest, as he burned incense in the temple.  He was an educated theologian from a long line of priestly people. But Zechariah responded with doubt and fear to Gabriel’s words and got to spend the next 9 months or so in silence contemplating what was happening. Maybe Zechariah needed a few months of silence so that he could learn to really hear.

When life seemed almost over, God gave Zechariah and Elizabeth the gift of new life.  These two had long since given up hope of having a family, but God was and is in the business of making all things new, of bringing hope when all seems lost.  And so their son John was conceived.

And

Gabriel came to Mary too.  Mary was a young girl from a humble family.  And she responded to Gabriel’s news with grace, acceptance and faith.

How would we respond to the sudden appearance of an angel at church or anywhere else?  Would we receive the angel visit with the eyes and ears of faith?  Fear, disbelief?

Read Luke 1, verses 26 – 37.  Take special note of verse 37.  It just seems to keep jumping off the page at me:  “For no word from God will ever fail”.  Thank God for that!

After her conversation with the angel, Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth and Elizabeth was moved by the Holy Spirit as John leaped in her womb recognizing Jesus.  In a loud voice she exclaimed….why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?…..Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!  (verses 39-45)  This realization comes before Mary has said a single word.

And then Mary sings!!

Different translations give her first line differently:

My soul glorifies the Lord

My soul gives glory to the Lord

My soul doth magnify the Lord

My soul magnifies and exalts the Lord

O how I praise the Lord  – Living Bible

I’m bursting with God-news – the Message

My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God – Passion Translation

Barnes commentary on this section helped me to realize that our words can’t make God greater than He is.  Our words can only attempt to express our realization of how great God is. I think Mary is trying to express how great God is at the very start of her song.

Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah – all had profound moments of a sort of awakening to the actual magnificence of God as He worked in their lives.  They could not help but EXTOL, glorify, magnify and exalt!  It just flowed from them!  The realization of the greatness of God – not just to them personally – but for all the world forever filled them up in JOYOUS expectation.

Then John is born and Zechariah’s tongue is ready to go, not just in the spoken word, but in JOYOUS song!  He’s had 9 months to think about it and he just bursts with JOY that can not be contained!

A new covenant is coming into the world! One not based on laws and restrictions, but on justice, truth, love and grace. Salvation through the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is God’s perfect plan come to earth.

There is a lowly humble birth in a stable among the animals.  There is a quiet night where the silence is broken way out in the fields by the celebration of the good news brought by the angels to the shepherds.  There is a silent, but bright star shining in the night sky.  The shepherds come for a visit and Mary treasures all these things.

Celebrate! Give gifts of JOY that express your thanks for the wonderful gifts God has given through the special people God has placed in your lives.  Gifts need not be expensive, just thoughtful and given with a thankful heart.

Sing!

Decorate your home and hearts for the birth of a Savior. It can be as simple as a nativity scene and as elaborate as your celebrating hearts want to make it.  But celebrate?  Oh we have more reason to celebrate than we can even comprehend! And we should celebrate in utter thankfulness for those who believed the promise, accepted the strange circumstances they found themselves in and obeyed in total faith and hope.  At a time when the world was dark and fearful, a child was born into lowly circumstances on a quiet night, a holy night and that changes everything!

 

Growing Larger: A Look at the Annunciation

37 For no word from God will ever fail.”38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary carried God. Jesus became human through Mary and the will of God. Jesus was truly human and truly Divine. Mary, a virgin, was truly human and truly obedient. Mary was the deliverer of God to the world, young inexperienced, yet trusting and faithful.

I see Mary as one who has pledged her virginity in faithfulness to God until her marriage with Joseph. That vow is important to her and of course to her family. Now stunningly she is visited by an angel – Gabriel himself – who tells her that she is to become pregnant via the Holy Spirit before her marriage to Joseph. The Bible does not say that she hesitated; it does say she was greatly troubled. Did her thoughts include: “wait, let me think about all this” or “what will my parents think?”, “what will Joseph say or do?” or “oh yeah! I could be stoned when people see me growing larger before my marriage”! All are thoughts that could have frightened her into a great panic. But Gabriel has already spoken peace to her heart perhaps not just because of the sudden surprise of his visitation, but maybe also to quiet any of these potential thoughts. He has told her he brings “good news for all people”, (Luke 2:10), so how can this be bad for Mary? She is a good Jewish girl awaiting the promised Messiah like her entire village and the whole Jewish world. Now she knows where and when He will come and she knows before anyone else.

She has been honored and blessed by God beyond human understanding. This is the knowledge that removes even the possibility of fear. God will take care of her and her situation and He has already thought of everything. (Just like He does for you and for me).

Luke’s account (1:26-38) also does not say that she wondered who would believe her story. Gabriel took care of that too by telling her about Elizabeth’s surprise and humanly impossible pregnancy. Strange things are happening and Mary knows that Elizabeth will understand, support and guide her. After the announcement by Gabriel, Mary wastes no time getting to Elizabeth.

Mary carried God in the form of a little baby boy that grew to be the One who sacrificed Himself for the sins of the whole world. Mary delivered Jesus to the world. Now He lives within all who accept His Lordship in their lives. How do we carry Him in this world? How do we deliver Him to those we encounter daily? Is it clear to others that Christ’s love is growing larger in our own hearts and lives every day?

As God cared for Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus by keeping them safe from Herod’s sword and from every other possibility of harm, He does the same for us. He loves us and wants us to love Him and each other through whatever crisis life might throw at us.  Those who are martyred for their faith and those who meet tragic deaths on this earth are not abandoned by God.  He is with them before, during and after their transition into the heavenly realm.  He has given us a promise, “Never will I leave you, and never will I forsake you”. Hebrews 13:5. “No word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1: 37. Amen.

The Vineyard God Wanted

…is not the one He got

Isaiah 5:1-7

The Song of the Vineyard

I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

 

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?

Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.”

 

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

At first you think you are going to hear a love song don’t you?  Well it is a song of love, it is also a lament, and a warning to us today.

God owns the vineyard and has done everything to prepare it for positive results.  Yet the vineyard – Israel – made all the wrong choices.  They were disobedient and forgetful of their loving God and so produced really bad fruit.  It wasn’t good enough to go into the wine vat that was prepared.  Really bad stuff.

Maybe they were too dependent on themselves, too in love with controlling their own lives.  Maybe they were busy rushing around doing “good” stuff, maybe just maybe, God’s voice was not the primary voice in their heads and hearts.  Were they too comfortable in the promised land? Are we? Too comfortable? What is the primary voice in my head?  I asked myself this question, I challenge you to do the same.

God asked them (and I would say He asks us too)  What more could I have done? Why did this happen?  I can imagine the tone of voice, the pleading for a response.  Like a parent whose adult child somehow disappoints might ask “what did I do wrong?” only more so because He is speaking to a LOT of His children, His beloved, His prized offspring.  Those chosen people that He has so lovingly cared for all these years.

What happens next in this passage?  Judgement.  Judgement defined as  “the destructive consequences that result from an action or actions”.  Perhaps also from inaction.  This judgement is a direct result of the poor choices of the people.  God was looking for specific fruit:  Justice and Righteousness.  Instead of Justice He saw violence and bloodshed, instead of righteousness, He heard the cries of victims.  This all sounds very familiar doesn’t it? He will take away their protection and allow the vineyard to be destroyed.  He will remove its wall and it will be trampled, He will make it a wasteland that is not pruned or cultivated and where briers and thorns will flourish.  He will command the clouds not to rain on it.

Defenseless land, easily overrun by things and enemies that destroy and lay waste.  The result of sin and disobedience, of worshiping things other than the One True God.  That is exactly what happened to them and not just once, but over and over.

I pray that we can yield our control to God alone and just let Him work through us to produce the best fruit of all!  The fruit of hearts and minds that love Him and want to serve Him and be His obedient children.  Then we will not just make good choices, we will make the best choices because He is leading us!

For your consideration:

What will happen to us in today’s world? Or perhaps, what IS happening?

Is our fruit good? or is it the best?

What/Who is the primary voice in our hearts and minds?  

 

The Power of the Spirit’s Flow

A boat full of paddlers can only go so fast in spite of their best efforts. No matter how much the crew team may train and drill, a lot still depends on the weather and the fitness of the crew as well as their teamwork. Are they in sync with each other? Are they all healthy today? OK that’s good, now which way is the wind blowing? In their faces or at their backs? All of this can make a decided difference in the race.

 

A boat full of river rafters can paddle in a rapid as hard as they are able, but the current of the water is ever stronger. Rafters must work together using the current to propel them downstream safely.  (And they should be having a good time too.)

 

 

A sail boat cannot make much headway if powered by paddles, because the wind will blow them along more quickly. The sailor has to catch the wind in the sails and use it to safely move in the direction the boat needs to go.

What’s my point?

If the wind and the water current symbolize the Holy Spirit, then you can see how .His power is more effective than any of our feeble efforts. We can exhaust ourselves training, running drills and working to maximize our own power, but if we really want to effectively move forward we must ask for the wind or the water current. We must pray for the Spirit of the Living God to move us forward. And then we must move our personalities and our own control issues out of the way and let God do what God does.

And what do we do when there is no wind or current? That is where faith sustains us. We must pray faithfully and sincerely for the power of the Living God to provide everything we need to move ahead and the strength to sustain us along the way. The lulls and doldrums of life have a purpose too – they help us to recognize where our help comes from and gives us the impetus to pray for God’s help in leaving the lulls. May we be led into the flow of God’s power for our lives and may we have the discernment to recognize His work when we see it.

“But you will receive power when the Holy spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8, NIV

How is the Holy Spirit working in your life?

Thanks to Dr. Sam Henderson for the inspiration for this post.

Hospital Sunrise

My son and I have enjoyed the beautiful sunrise from his window for the last two mornings.

It changes moment by moment becoming more vibrant as the seconds pass.

God’s light has come into the world dispelling the darkness and bringing glorious things to illuminate the world.

The beauty of this sunrise reminds me of Psalm 19.

Psalm 19[a]

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

11 By them your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12 But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This hospital has been a great place to be if your body is broken.

I know that God directs the work of the doctors, nurses, CNA’s, Respiratory Therapists, Physical Therapists, lab techs and house cleaners. I know that everyone I have met has done great work and I am thankful for God’s direction in their lives so that they can help my son and so many others.

This is a regional level 2 trauma center and the life flight helicopter that brought him here a few days ago was busy (along with other helicopters) last night bringing other broken and sick people. Many others. I found myself saying “God bless those in the helicopters – patients and caregivers”. I have counted all these medical personnel among my many blessings lately.

So where is the trauma center for a broken spirit?

It is called the Bible, the Word of God. And that reminds me of a another Psalm.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—

he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

Isn’t it wonderful that we have these beautiful things to comfort us in hard times?

Don’t Worry-Choose Hope Instead

Life can be hard, it can be full of difficult choices and uncomfortable situations.  We can try our best and work our very hardest yet in spite of our best efforts things might not work out the way we planned. Really often they don’t. So what do we do then?  Give up? Wallow in self pity? I don’t think so. 

A better choice would be to ponder these words carefully and see where thay take you. 

  • Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?     Luke 12:25-26
        Instead Paul has this to say about choosing hope.
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Peace, Joy and overflowing Hope versus frustration, worry and anger.  I think I know what I’d choose.  How about you?

Don’t Block the View

March 24, 2015

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister”. NIV

Sometimes children will chide the “bossy” one in the group with the question, “Who died and left you in charge?” It is a pretty good zinger that usually leaves the one to whom it is addressed with not much to say. We deserve to hear that when we think we have all the answers. Living in the world of adults soon teaches us there are lots of effective ways to solve a problem and a quick rush to judgment might mean that we miss something useful. Wise Paul tells us not to judge others – we’re just not qualified! Then he tells us what we should be spending our time doing. We need to make sure that our lives reflect God’s love. We need to remember that others watch our lives to see if our faith really makes any difference on a day to day basis. Does faith mean more to us than just going to church on Sunday? A hymn I learned in childhood sums it up:

Let others see Jesus in you,

Let others see Jesus in you.

Keep telling the story, be faithful and true;

Let others see Jesus in you.

Your life’s a book before their eyes,

They’re reading it thro’ and thro’

Say, does it point them to the skies, Do others see Jesus in you?

Baylus Benjamin McKinney, 1924

Prayer: Oh Lord, May I never do anything that blocks the view of You. Amen.