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Christmas Advent | Shepherds

Christmas Advent - shepherds.jpg

I love to think of the shepherds, out in the rocky hill country with their sheep, with absolutely no idea of what they were about to see and hear the night the angels came. I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and see the area surrounding Bethlehem as a teenager, and knowing that angels sang above in that same sky still gives me chills. I think we may all put ourselves in the place of the shepherds—seeing their humble lifestyle and profession. They were certainly not well-known or highly respected in their communities. In fact, we do not even know exactly how many there were or what their names may have been. What we do know is that God, in His mysterious kindness, gave these men the first glorious announcement of His Son’s arrival. 

Truly, can’t we all sit in wonder at how God’s goodness and love extends to each of us? These verses in Luke describes the shepherd’s reaction to the angel’s announcement:

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” - Luke 2:8-9

I think it is safe to say that these poor shepherds were completely caught off guard and, as verse 9 describes, “filled with fear.” The knowledge and the experience of God’s glory are two very different things. These shepherds may have known full well of God’s holiness and splendor. But on this night, they saw and experienced the majesty of His glory. Notice it tells us not only the angel appeared to them, but the GLORY of the Lord shone around them! The majesty of our Creator is not something we should forget or overlook as we remember the birth of Jesus so many years ago. Our King of Kings, lying in a lowly manger, and the GLORY OF GOD was filling the night sky only miles away. 

As God’s glory overwhelmed these men, we read how the angel continues with his wondrous news—telling the shepherds not to fear, but to celebrate!

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:10-14

The arrival of the long-awaited Savior of the world had finally come, and a multitude of angels appeared from Heaven in our world to rejoice and praise God! Do we find ourselves looking back at this real event in real human history and miss the awesome glory in this moment? I love nativities. We always had several nativities in our house at Christmas when I was a little girl, and I loved rearranging the wise men, the sheep and shepherds—placing each figure in just the right spot to get the perfect angle of the little ceramic baby in his manger. I will tell you that these days I find myself sitting and watching my daughter doing the same thing. And I wonder, Do we realize that it’s really real? There were really shepherds, sheep, hay, a donkey. Only, there was no posing—no staging. It was spontaneous, and full of complete surprise and mystery! If we are going to remember the miracle of angels in the sky, shepherds running through the streets—possibly with sheep flung over shoulders—we MUST not lose the glory of God! I am so thankful for our Christmas traditions, dusty ornaments and tangled lights in plastic tubs that come out every year—it is no exaggeration to say it is the most wonderful time of the year at my house! But I pray that the sacred truths of God’s most precious gift are not lost as we teach our children about this most amazing night!

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” -Luke 2:15-20

I pray that as we celebrate another Christmas, that we remember the awe and wonder and reality of Jesus coming to earth for US! And I pray that, like the shepherds, we will run to worship Him and glorify Him with all we have today. Glory to God in the highest!

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Christmas Advent | Wise Men

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“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” -Matthew 2:1-12

Did you know that the Gospel of Matthew is the only book with a record of the Wise Men and their visit to see the newborn Messiah? I am so glad that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to include this part of the story because it is such a mysterious and wonderful example of the majesty and wonder of Jesus’s birth.

We don’t know very much about these Wise Men (or Magi, as they are also called) except that they had travelled from a far off land in the East, following a star that had appeared in the sky. We know they were scholars because they recognized the star as unusual. And we know that they came to worship.

This part of the story is so meaningful for several reasons, but the first is the reminder that God reveals Himself to us in a way that we can understand. The Wise Men found Jesus in the manger because God used a physical sign to lead them straight to His Son. The Wise Men are the only people we read of who did not find out about the coming of the Messiah from an angel. God revealed Jesus to them in a way that they understood. This is such a sweet reminder to us of the kindness of God that He KNOWS each and every one of us and speaks to us in ways that we can understand. 

Another significant thing to notice is how, even though the Wise Men followed the star to find this new king, God’s Word played a powerful and necessary part in their understanding of the sign in the sky. It was God’s Word that led them to Bethlehem! We all love when God does miracles, and when are able to see God work in supernatural ways, it causes us to wonder and worship Him because we SEE Him at work. But remember that God’s written Word, the Bible, is not merely the Christian’s study tool or textbook. It is the living, powerful, very Word of Almighty God! The Wise Men were seeking Jesus, according to the miraculous and reliable Word of God. Just as the star took on meaning as the Wise Men considered the Scriptures, the world around us literally comes alive with hope and meaning as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s written Word, the Bible.

Finally, I love the multicultural nature of this part of the story. Though Jesus was born in the nation of Israel, in the line of David, in the little town of Bethlehem, God chose to include people from far off lands in the miracle of Jesus’s birth. To put it simply, Jesus came for everyone. We know that in Revelation, we read that in the end, people of every nation, tribe, and tongue are found before the throne of God in Heaven singing praises to the Lamb of God, Jesus. These foreign Wise Men showed up with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—very different from the shepherds who came in from the fields at night, in great haste without any sort of gift to present. Just as God’s use of the star and the angels to reveal Jesus were so different, we all bring something very different and beautiful in our differences. Don’t you love to see and hear people from other cultures worship? Some are loud and festive, others filled with reverence and awe. And this is good! We were not all made to be the same, and the precious treasures that the Wise Men brought were opened and laid before the Son of God as worship. What a beautiful picture of the nature of our God, who created us so different from one another, but loves each the same. 

May we remember throughout this season the miracle of how God desires people from every background to come to Jesus. Let us meditate on His Word as we continue seeking Him daily. And finally, let us give thanks to God that He still speaks to us in ways that we can truly hear and understand. Oh come, let us adore Him! 

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Christmas Advent | Mary

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Have you ever imagined what it must have been like for young Mary to be told she was going to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah? Most of us are probably familiar with the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. It’s wonderful and exciting to reread the story of Mary receiving the joyous news that she was going to be carrying God’s Son, the Savior of the world! But when you go back to the story, it’s important to see that Mary’s first response was not joy and wonder, but one of uncertainty and fear. Mary wasn’t expecting to receive a visit from an angel any more than we would expect something like this to happen to us on an ordinary day! She was afraid and confused.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” -Luke 1:26-29

I love that the Bible doesn’t leave out this part of the story. For me, this is the Mary that I relate to and understand. It’s easy to see characters in the Bible as just that: characters. But we need to remember that these are real people who lived real lives just like ours!

Contrary to many false beliefs, Mary was not perfect. We know this is true because the Bible tells us that there is no one perfect but God Himself. (Romans 3:23, Mark 10:18) Knowing this, it makes it easier to read this part of the story knowing that Mary was a real woman who loved God and still found life to be frightening and full of questions.

Because Mary’s reaction was a real one, we get to see how God responds to us when are afraid or question His plan. Gabriel did not go find another woman who would respond better. He didn’t rebuke or lecture her about her lack of faith or trust in God. The first thing we see Gabriel do in response to Mary’s understandably troubled reaction is to reassure her with WORDS OF COMFORT. 

Gabriel’s response at seeing Mary greatly troubled was this:

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” -Luke 1:30-33

First, He told her not to fear and reminded her that God loved her. He had already told her this when he first showed up and greeted her as “O favored one!” But Mary was so overcome with fear that she needed to be reminded again in that moment that God was pleased with her. He loved her. This is something that we should all be reminded of on a daily basis. God wants to tell us in our moments of fear or uncertainty, “Remember, I LOVE YOU!” Mary had literally just heard that God favored her moments before, and rather than receiving a lecture on her lack of faith, Gabriel just told her again. 

This is why our Bibles are crammed full of the promises of God! His love, His faithfulness, His goodness, His provision, His comfort! We need to be reminded of these things just like Mary did! When you find yourself in a moment of fear or doubt, get into the promises of God! Open your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit remind you of His very great and precious promises! (2 Peter 1:4)

Finally, I want to point out that after this reminder from Gabriel of God’s favor for Mary and the wondrous things that were going to take place, Mary was bold enough to ask questions! She didn’t understand HOW God was going to make this happen because she was a virgin. There are many times that I don’t understand things and have questions, and I love that we have this example of Mary’s boldness and honesty even with the angel Gabriel! We can ask God when we don’t understand something He has told us, and He wants to GIVE US HOPE!

Gabriel answered Mary’s question of “how this was to be” in this way:

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’” -Luke 1:34-37

He gave her a brief answer and then He gave her reason to place her TRUST IN GOD: Nothing is impossible with God! Sometimes, we don’t receive all the information we think we need to understand why or how things happen in our lives. But we have a God we can trust. Whether you find yourself in a situation you don’t understand or can’t see how things are going to work out, remember in Whom you trust!

And Mary’s ultimate response after hearing these words was this: 

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” -Luke 1:38

Isn’t this the heart we want to have as well? Bringing our fears and uncertainties to our Heavenly Father, receiving His WORDS OF COMFORT and love, and being reminded that we can TRUST Him! May we be His servants, His children—fully trusting in His plans for us and saying, “Let it be to me according to Your word.” And may this beautiful response resonate in our hearts as we remember the God we trust, His unending LOVE for us, and the miracle of Christmas.

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