M is for Mary

M is for Mary -

Mary has to be one of the most well known and respected people in the Bible. Very little is really known about her. The book of Luke is where she enters the Bible as a central character in the greatest story ever told.  The most important details of her life are shared, but there is so much more that we don’t know.  Did she know when she responded to the angel in the affirmative that for the rest of time her story would be told and celebrated?

Mary is believed to have been in her early teens when an angel came to her, to let her know that the God of her fathers, the God of the universe, had chosen her to carry and give birth to the most important gift ever given to our world.  The Bible tells us that she was afraid at first, and who wouldn’t be startled in the presence of an angel?  The angel didn’t give her a lot of information.  Mary asked but one question. After that had been answered, her response was yes.  Her willingness to submit is so incredibly profound.

I am intrigued to know what happened between the verses in Luke. Were there times she was frightened?  Did others believe her story?  Who did she tell her story to?  Was she ostracized for being pregnant?  Did she worry about how she would raise the Son of God?  Did she spend her days wondering how he would come to be given the throne of David?   Would she have said yes had she known what would be required of Him…of how His life would end?  

As the story unfolds, others come to the see the infant, each with their own piece of the story to tell.  The Bible tells us in Luke 2:19 that, “Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”  She wasn’t told the details of the events surrounding the birth and life of her son. She was watching and would continue to watch the story unfold as it happened.  

No one else in history was or will ever be in Mary’s position.  There was but one Son given to all mankind for all time.  This Christmas, as I ponder Mary’s story, I am thankful, thankful that she allowed herself to be used by God to bring to us the gift of her son, for life can live forevermore because of Him!

 

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L is for Love

L is for Love -

 

“Long ago The Lord said to Israel, ‘I have loved you my people with an everlasting love. With an unfailing love, I have drawn you into myself.” Jeremiah 31:3 [NLT]

Never has anyone loved so purely, wholly and unconditionally as our Lord.  It’s really beyond our comprehension the kind of love that He has for us!  

Throughout history God has shown this love for mankind, but never more than that first Christmas. God wrapped love into a bundle and send Him to earth. John 4:9 tells of this phenomenal event and the reason for it. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” [NIV]

We are so blessed that God promises us that there is nothing that will ever sever that love.  Romans 8:38-39 states with much assurance, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [NIV]

I am so happy this love will never end. It is, by far, the greatest thing that we will ever experience. 1 Corinthians 13:13 authoratively states, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

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K is for King

K is for King -

Earlier this year, the world watched and waited with much anticipation for the future king of England to be born.  There was pomp and circumstance.  It had been many years since the prince’s father, second in line to the throne had been born, so for many it was the first time they had witnessed an event such as this.

In much the same way, the nation of Israel had been waiting for a king, but the circumstances were quite different. King David was considered to be an exemplary king.  His success brought about a 400 year dynasty that had broken apart in 587 BC.  The north and the south split, becoming the northern and southern states.

After the split for the nation of Israel, many of the rulers were wicked and unjust.  No one was able to live up to the ideal David had set. Eventually the southern kingdom fell, as did the Davidic prince of the north.  The people of Israel became increasingly anxious for someone to become the righteous ruler that they desired.  The idea of a “Messianic hope” took root and grew amongst the people.

Old Testament prophets had foretold of the coming king.  Isaiah chapter 11 tells of one who will come from the tree of David (some translations say Jesse, who was David’s father). Isaiah states that He will have the Spirit of “wisdom and understanding”, “counsel and might”, and the “knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” He goes on to say that He will “delight in obeying the Lord”, and that he would be just in His decisions.  The second part of verse 4 says, “The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked. [NLT]

Another scripture that tells of the much-anticipated king is found in Jeremiah 33:15 – “In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. [NLT]  You see, this king was to be a King unlike any before Him.  The people were anxious and ready for Him to come.

Jesus first coming didn’t result in Him setting up His kingdom on earth, but rather He came to make a way that we could one day be a part of that kingdom.  He is to come again as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).   Peter shares a promise with those of us who have trusted Christ for our salvation in 2 Peter 1:11,  “Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [NLT]  I am ready, ready, ready for the day to come when I will see the King of Kings return!!!!

The information about David came from the 2nd edition of the “New Bible Dictionary”, published by Inter-Varsity Press.

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J is for Joseph

J is for Joseph -

After Jesus, Joseph is probably my favorite person in the story of the birth of Christ.  Not much is written about him, but scripture certainly lets us know that he was a man of great integrity and character.  His story is often overlooked, but he had to have been so in tune in his relationship with, and obedience to God, to have been given the awesome responsibility of raising Jesus.

As we look at the story in a different light, there are a few things worth noting from Joseph’s perspective.  Mary was visited by Gabriel, who let her know of the child that would be growing within her womb. Shortly after this encounter Mary left to visit Elizabeth without telling Joseph what had happened.  Mary remained in Elizabeth’s home for the first three months of her pregnancy.  It wasn’t until some time after she returned that she was found to be with child. (Mt. 1:18)

I can only imagine the gamut of emotions Joseph surely felt when found out – anger, sadness, hurtfulness, fear, panic, among others – must have coursed through him.  Matthew 1:19 tells us of the dilemma Joseph faced.  He was torn between his desire to be faithful to the law and his love for Mary, whom he did not want to be publicly disgrace.  In all probability, she would be put to death.

The scripture tells us that he decided to “quietly divorce her”.  I’m not sure how that would have worked in those days…but then God enters the picture by sending an angel to Joseph in a dream.  It was considered a mark of God’s favor to be visited by an angel in your sleep.  The angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, that the baby had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that he was to name the baby Jesus.  Joseph woke up and did what the angel had told him to do.  I find it interesting that Joseph didn’t question the angel.  He just did what the Lord had told him to do.

The scriptures tell us in Luke 2:21-22 that Joseph fulfilled the obligations of law by having Jesus circumcised on the 8th day and they then took him to Jerusalem for the purification offering and to present him to the Lord.  Some time after the circumcision and purification offering, the Wise Men visited Jesus.  Matthew 2:13 tells us that Joseph receives another message from God via an angel.  “After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” Again, Joseph immediately obeys, taking off for Egypt that night.

Joseph is visited by an angel two more times in Matthew chapter 2, both times in a dream.  After Herod’s death he is told to return to Israel.  Again, he obeys without hesitation.  When he had returned to Israel, Joseph found out Herod’s son had come to power and this frightened him.  He once again is visited by an angel who instructs him to settle in the Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.

Little more of Joseph is mentioned in the Bible.  With the exception of their annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, the happenings of Jesus’ everyday life during his growing up years are not recorded.  We know that Joseph was a carpenter and that he is not specifically talked about during the ministry of Christ.  During the time of Christ’s ministry, Matthew 13:55 and John 6:42 speak of Jesus being referred to as “Joseph’s son” and “the carpenter’s son”.  The tense the text is written in indicates that he could have still been alive, but He is not mentioned at the end of Jesus’ ministry or during his death and resurrection, leading us to believe that he had passed away.

Joseph was obedient and was willing to answer the call that God had placed on His life.  I am most certain that when Joseph entered heaven, he heard God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”!

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I is for Inn

I is for Inn -

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us any more than this about the accommodations Joseph and Mary had on the night Jesus was born.  It is probable, based on historical teachings, that Jesus was born in a cave that doubled as a barn.

At the time of Christ’s birth Bethlehem was a small town four and a half miles south of Jerusalem. It was located on top of a low, but fairly steep ridge.  There was nothing special about the town that distinguished it from the other “hamlets in the stony hill country of Judea”.  It is possible that around 300 people lived there.

Despite it’s size, Bethlehem was a busy place.  It was a stopping off point for caravans that were traveling to Egypt.  A Palestinian version of an inn had been constructed there during the time that King David was alive (which was 1,000 years earlier).  It was still in use at time of Christ’s birth.

I’m not sure why God wouldn’t have intervened and made sure a room was available, but He had to have had a good reason. It is possible that it merely goes along with Mary and Joseph’s status in society.  No one, but they themselves, knew that they were about to birth into the world the King of Kings.  Had people known, they probably would have been ushered into the most luxuriant of rooms for a proper birth – one fit for a King. Joseph was just common man, a laborer, and no one was going to give up their room for the child of a carpenter to be born.

It is possible that no one made room for Mary because of the nature of her pregnancy.  She wasn’t supposed to be pregnant.  She and Joseph had not been together long enough for her to be with child yet.  People aren’t kind or understanding.  They were living in times when women were put to death for such indiscretions.  We don’t often give thought to all that must have entailed for Mary and Joseph, but it was certainly a difficult journey to take.

A third possibility was God’s plan to keep things low-key.  Herod was a deeply troubled and unstable man who had killed members of his own family.  It was imperative that Jesus remain alive to fulfill his destiny.  A non-conspicuous birth would have made things more difficult for Herod to find the child that was “rumored” to have been born and was to become King.

Whatever the reason, he was born… He was protected…He fulfilled His mission…and, throughout history He has desired a relationship with each one of us.  One thing is for certain, there is always room in His inn for any of us that choose to make Him Lord of our life.  He will not turn anyone away.

Information from paragraphs 3 & 4 was found in “Great People in the Bible and How They Lived” and was published by Reader’s Digest in 1974.

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H is for Heavenly Host

H is for Heavenly Host -

Take a little trip with me, back 2,000 and some odd years ago. Imagine yourself a shepherd in charge of tending sheep for the night.  You might be a little cranky that you drew night duty again (it really was your brothers turn this time).  You might be dreaming about the day you don’t have to be the shepherd in charge of night duty any more.

You and your friends were finally able to get the sheep bedded down and are visiting amongst yourselves about the activities of the day. You might be discussing some of the friends you saw in the Bethlehem market earlier in the day who are in town for the census.  You may be sharing concerns about these taxes that are to be imposed and how it will impact your family.  You might be discussing the plans you have to spend some time with relatives that are in town for census as well.

There are no electric lights illuminating the nearby towns.  There are no donkey-drawn carts driving by with headlights.  Darkness surrounds you. It’s just you, your shepherd friends and the sheep.  The only light you see is the distant light of the stars.

All of a sudden…out of nowhere..an angel appears in the sky and STARTS TALKING TO YOU!!!!!!  You are scared out. of. your. mind. “WHAT ON EARTH!?!?!?!?” you wonder as you scramble to retrieve your staff.  “But the angel says to you, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 [NIV]

Your fear dissipates and your excitement starts to build.  Then…your story gets even crazier.  “ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”  Luke 2:13-14 [NIV]

I don’t know what a heavenly host looks like, but there is no doubt that it was the most beautiful thing those shepherds had ever seen.  Can you imagine the excitement and joy they would have radiated?  By this time, the shepherds are so fired up that the New King James version of the Bible says that they came “with haste” to find the babe.  The definition of haste is “excessive speed or urgency of movement”.

Notice that they didn’t doubt what they had been told.  They believed and they went searching. They were not disappointed.  The scriptures don’t tell us how they found Mary and Joseph, but find them they did and with them, the infant who was to become their Messiah.

We may perhaps ask, why shepherds?  Why weren’t the Heavenly Host sent to the chief priests or nobility of that time?  I would guess that it just falls in line with the way Jesus lived His whole life on earth.  He interacted some with the leaders of His time, but those He spent most of His time with, those ate with and He worked beside, were commoners.  He lived among the people who were real, honest and searching for Him.

The part I love the most about these common men, these shepherds, is that they were excited and they didn’t waste any time telling everyone about what had happened out in the fields and that they had seen the Messiah.  May we so bold in telling others about Him!

(I’m not sure what happened to the sheep.  Maybe a few angels hung around to watch them while the shepherds went on their mission?  Hey, it’s possible.)

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G is for Grace

G is for Grace -

The definition of grace isn’t something that is difficult to understand.  It means “unmerited favor”.  Unmerited means “undeserved” and favor is defined as “an act of kindness beyond what is due”.  Putting that all together we could say that grace is undeserved kindness.

It seems though, that it is a difficult for people to fully comprehend God’s grace.  We, as humans, have a hard time understanding anything that is free, especially when it is undeserved.  Yet, it is something we must accept in order to receive the gift of salvation.  It is impossible to be good enough or work our way to heaven. In Galatians 2:21, Paul states, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

But Christ did have to die and God, in His great love for humanity, is the one who set it all into motion. This is verified in Ephesians 1:7, “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”

Even after salvation, we often feel we have to be good enough, act a certain way and work valiantly for God’s love.  God continues to provide the gift of grace, that unmerited favor, on a continual basis, but we allow stubbornness and guilt to keep us from experiencing this amazing, perpetual gift from God.  He knows we can’t live perfect lives and that we will need to ask for forgiveness.  That same grace that He extended through salvation is the grace He gives time and time again.  It’s not that we lose our salvation and have to be saved over and over again, we just have to make things right between ourselves and God by asking for forgiveness, just as we do anyone we have wronged.

We don’t have to be afraid and can go to Him, knowing that He will forgive us. Hebrews 4:16 so beautifully describes this. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

On the other hand, grace isn’t a ticket to do whatever we want.   Romans 6:15 clearly defines this point, “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?  Of course not!”  When we sin, we open ourselves up for the consequences of that sin.  Usually those consequences are painful.  However, we don’t have to live under self-condemnation or the condemnation of others.  There is always hope.  There is always love. If we ask, there is always forgiveness.

You see, when we are saved our lives are never the same.  Because of God’s grace and salvation, we can live our lives knowing that we have been forever changed.  I LOVE how Colossians 1:6 sums it up.  “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.”

All of today’s scriptures come from the The New Living Translation.

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