Mary’s Amazing Faith

Sometimes the characters in a story take on a ‘larger than life’ quality.

It even happens in historical narratives, where those who did powerful things in life are made out to be ‘Super Human’.

One of those people is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

We tend to think of her as Super-stoic, Super-spiritual, even Super-perfect.

We think of her as “Mary-with-the-halo”, and we can’t relate to her.

But she was fully human, and had the very same emotions any other God-honoring young teenage girl would have if she was given ‘The News’ that she was going to be pregnant with the child of God!

This baby would change everything–in her life, as well as the rest of the world.

This baby would put in jeopardy her betrothal to Joseph, the Carpenter. How could he believe, after all, that she had “never been with a man”? How would anyone–family, friend, or community member?

She would most likely be shunned, if not worse!

Yet, when given the news, her response was “May it be to me as you have said”.

This young, teenage girl who’s life would be turned topsy-turvy said “Yes!”

That’s pretty amazing.

Read her story–or the beginning of it–in Luke 1:26-38 below (or from your own copy of God’s Word).

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you![d]”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[e] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.[f]”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.”

 

Pretty Amazing.

The faith, the courage…all from a teenage girl!

How could she do that?

Surely she must have been raised on the prophecies of the Messiah. She must have been raised being taught to listen for God’s leading and to follow Him.

But here it was happening in her time, in her own life–hard to comprehend!

Yet, she says YES!

Watch this clip from the Nativity Story:

 

Consider and Discuss:

What do you think about Mary–her faith and courage?

Has there ever been a time that God has called you to do something ‘by faith’? Talk about it!

What are you doing right now to increase your willingness to listen for His voice, and to follow?

 

Prayer Focus:

Pray that the Lord moves in your heart and mind to help you have more faith in Him and courage to follow.

Rest…and MIGHT!

Church songs have often been ‘stuffy’ over the years.

This is not a new phenomenon–more that 500 years ago, church songs–even about Christmas–were serious and somber, and there was little that the ‘everyday man’ could do about it. They had no power to change “The Church”.

So, what did they do? They started to write songs about Christmas that were ‘Folk Songs’, sung outside the church.

These were the first ‘Christmas Carols’.

One song sung around that time was one that we often associate with Charles Dickens and England in the 1800s, but was written to be a merry, joyous song about the most joy-producing event ever: The Birth of Jesus Christ.

This song, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen!” has been sung ever since.

Originally this song’s emphasis was not on ‘resting’ because of birth of Christ, but that the birth of Christ made men MIGHTY to do the things He wanted, and to overcome Satan!

One way of interpreting the first line of the song–according to today’s reading–is something like “Rest and be Merry, gentlemen! Don’t worry dismay–remember that Christ has been born!”

The way it was originally understood, however, was more like this: “God make you Mighty, Gentlemen! No matter where you come from, remember that Jesus has come to conquer the enemy, and save us from his power!”

As you read the lyrics of the song, think of these two contrasts:

Was God giving us ‘rest’ and ‘peace’ by sending Jesus on that first Christmas night, OR

Was God equipping us for battle to defeat the enemy (satan) hand-in-hand marching together?

I think both are true, but singing the song with the former intent encourages me to settle in and take it easy, celebrating His love, while latter intent makes me more willing to go out in the power and strength of the Lord, taking the battle to the enemy.

Listen to (or read) the song now.


God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Consider and Discuss:

In what ways does God use Jesus to bring us Peace and Joy?

In what ways does He equip us for battle, through Jesus?\

Prince of Peace

Newsflash: This world is FULL of conflict!

Strained relationships, tense work environments, bullies on the playground, governments at war…there are many examples of conflict all around us.

Jesus comes to us as the “Prince of Peace” to change all that.

“For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

What does this mean?

I think it means that He–the Christ child–was (and is) the key to Peace, in at least 3 ways:

Peace With God

Peace Of God

Peace Because of God

The ‘Peace With God’ is the most obvious: Jesus came as the perfect Son of God, so that He would live the perfect life–thereby fulfilling the “Law”. As a result, He was able to willingly lay His life down on behalf of those who believe in Him, paying the penalty for our sin, and making it possible for us to have a relationship with God. We now have “PEACE with God”!

It would be like you owing money that you have NO WAY of paying, when suddenly someone else steps in and generously pays your debt in full.

The ‘Peace Of God’ aspect of Jesus’ coming is that He enables us to have  “Peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7), even in the midst of difficult circumstances and trials. This peace comes from knowing that He has brought us through tough times in the past, and He promises to do so in the present and future. Knowing this–deep in our core–enables us to ‘rest’ and not worry.

The ‘Peace Because of God’ shows up in our relationship to others. Because we know that we are saved and forgiven by God’s Grace, through Faith in Jesus, we don’t have any reason, motivation, or justification in holding grudges and keeping conflicts going with others. As the Scriptures say, “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). In other words,’ In The Same Way that God has forgiven you (completely, totally, without regard to what you (and I) deserve), so you should forgive each other.

When Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, it meant all that, and more. Jesus was (and is) our source of peace, and in order to truly WORSHIP Him this Christmas, we must embrace His peace–with God, within ourselves, and with others.

That is a a great way to ‘worship Him.

 

Consider and Discuss: Has there been a time in your life when you did NOT have “peace with God?” If so, when did that change?

Is there any way in which your circumstances are robbing you of the Peace Of God?

If you have ongoing conflict with another, what would the Prince of Peace inspire you to do?

Everlasting Father

Jesus, the Christ Child, is also “Everlasting Father”.

How can it be that this little child was also ‘Father of Eternal Life’ for all who believe?

The Father and the Son are One, together with the Spirit. It’s a paradox!

It boggles the mind, yet the Scriptures make it clear that He existed before creation!

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[e]
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.                                                                                                                                                                    He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

Clearly, this baby was no ordinary baby!

This baby actually predated the earth!

He opened the way for eternal life!

 

This is obviously hard to understand, but the Scriptures make it plain that it’s true anyway. Jesus himself said so!

“The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.  But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:24-30)

 

This Christmas, as you seek to worship Jesus more fully, remember that, as God, He is beyond our understanding in many ways. There is a mystery here, but that does not mean that it’s untrue!

Worship Him as the Father of Eternal Life this year!

THIS Baby was different! THIS Baby was the King!

 

Consider and Discuss: 

If Jesus is truly the “Everlasting Father” of eternal life, what does that mean to you? If He has given you ‘eternal life’, how does that change your perspective on Christmas?

 

Wonderful Counselor!

We know from the Scriptures that Jesus–the Christ child–was the Son of God.

But who is He…in your life?

How has He shown Himself?

For many of us, He is our Savior–the One who took the penalty for our sins and gave Himself in our place, so that the debt is “Paid In Full”!

He is also our Lord–the One who guides and directs our steps, who inspires live for the Father’s Will, bringing our lives into conformity with His Word, the Bible.

Who is He to you?

Way back in history, hundreds of years before Christ, the Prophet Isaiah prophesied that “A child is born to us, a Son is given to us, and the government will be upon His shoulders, and He will be called…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

“WONDERFUL COUNSELOR”

Jesus is the perfect counselor, guiding us to make decisions that are not simply practical and helpful, but eternally wise as well!

Jesus is the perfect ‘counselor’ partly because He can see into our hearts–even better than we can! Sometimes we get confused as to what’s really best for us, but He doesn’t!

If we live in a way which surrenders to His wisdom and leading (found in His Word and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit), He will never steer us wrong!

All of us get confused at times. All of us get our priorities mixed up…but Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor can be trusted to lead us with wisdom, love, and with our eternal good in mind.

Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to rely merely on your own wisdom, but that He is close by whenever we call?

 

Consider and Discuss: Has Jesus ever helped you be being your “Wonderful Counselor”? Has He ever given you wisdom from the Word of God to guide you through a tough situation? Can you share about it? Praise Him for it!

 

Listen to this beautiful song about Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor (it’s from the mid-80’s, so you may just want to close your eyes and listen!) 🙂

What’s It All About?

If you ask 10 people on the street what Christmas is all about, you’d probably get answers like this:

“It’s about the children”, “It’s about giving”, “It’s about love”, “It’s about family”.

Some, in their more unguarded moments, might say “It’s about the presents!”

While some of these things are very good, and all of them are a part of how we celebrate Christmas, they are NOT what Christmas is all about!

In the classic tv special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie is wondering about the answer to this question as well.

He knows in his heart, that he’s ‘missing it’ somehow…that all the trappings and traditions around Christmas miss the mark.

He seeks to find answers from Lucy, the know-it-all who has no shortage of opinions, he seeks clarification from his dog Snoopy, but finds no help. He then seeks to get involved in a Christmas play, thinking that ‘involvement’ is the thing that will help him.

None of these help, and in his frustration, he yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

Linus steps forward (he’s my favorite), and says “Sure, Charlie Brown…I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

He then goes on to explain…well, I’ll let him tell you:

Simple, isn’t it?

Christmas is about Jesus, born to a virgin, coming to earth as a baby in a manger.

Compelled by the love and grace of God, He came…

Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Consider and Discuss: If Jesus had never come, would we celebrate Christmas? What differences do you think you’d see in the world if Jesus had never come? What differences would you see in your own life if Jesus had never come?

Prayer focus: Thank God today for His love, which compelled Him to send Jesus for us.

The Shepherds’ Reaction

The Shepherds…we think we know their story.

Lived on the fringes, outside of town, somewhat dirty and smelly. Probably considered ‘ceremonially unclean’ by the religious people of the day.

Yet, it was to the shepherds that the angels appeared to announce Christ’s birth!

What did they do? The scripture says that they said “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

They didn’t say ‘oh, that’s nice…’ and go on as if nothing happened–how could they?

They had to get up and go!

“They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” (Luke 2:16-17)

They had seen something miraculous, and the could not keep it to themselves! They had to tell their story, and they really became Jesus’ first ‘evangelists’ in that sense!

This song: Angels We Have Heard on High, is essentially ‘Their Story’….it is the shepherds telling about what they’ve seen!

In order to really ‘get it’ , you need to know that “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” means “Glory to God in the Highest”. It was not only the phrase that the angels used (Luke 2:14), but now it was the phrase that the shepherds were using! GLORY to GOD in the Highest!

Think of it as ‘The Shepherd’s Song’!

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains! And the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Come to Bethlehem and see Christ Whose birth the angels sing! Come, adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

See Him in a manger laid, Jesus–Lord of heaven and earth; Mary, Joseph–lend your aid, with us sing the Savior’s Birth!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Listen to the song, and discuss this:

When was the last time that you told anyone about Christ’s work in you, or the glory that He has at Christmas?

Pray for opportunities this week. Pray that the Holy Spirit makes you sensitive to those opportunities, then pray that He gives you the words (Note: He WILL!).

The Longing…

The Hymns of Christmas can express the longing of our hearts in a deep, moving way.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus was another Charles Wesley hymn, and it expresses our desire that Jesus would come to the world…and to our own lives.

This time, just listen, take in the words, and pray as you are led afterward!

Come Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free! From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee! Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art! Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart!

Joy to those who long to see Thee, Dayspring from on high appear! Come, Thou promised rod of Jesse, of Thy birth we long to hear! O’er the hills the angels singing, News–glad tidings of a birth! “Go to Him, your praises bringing–Christ the Lord has come to Earth!”

Come to earth to taste our sadness, He who’s glories knew no end. By His life He brings us gladness–Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend! Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall; this the everlasting wonder–Christ was born the Lord of all!

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King! Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring! By Thine own eternal spirit, Rule in all our hearts alone! By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne! 

Consider and Discuss:

The implications of the last verse. What would it look like if we lived with Him “reigning” in our lives, and “ruling” in our hearts?

Hark!

Christmas Carols–one of my favorite parts of the holiday season!

In our family, we have a tradition that we can’t really start listening to them until after Thanksgiving. (I should say that I, MYSELF have grown up with that tradition, and like it…but many of my family like listening to radio stations that play ‘all Christmas music, all the time’ after Halloween, so…).

Anyway, I love the music of Christmas, and while it’s always fun to find an artist who has recorded an entirely new Christmas song, I think the old Christmas Carols–especially the Christmas Hymns–are the best.

One of my favorites is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

For me personally, this was one of ‘The Songs’ that changed everything for me!

I was sitting in midnight mass one Christmas Eve, having been going through a difficult time during the prior months, but having recently opened myself up in faith on a much deeper level. I was excited to celebrate Christmas that year, because I felt like I finally ‘understood’ it.

When this song came up and we started singing, the words hit me like never before–how powerful! I especially loved the 3rd verse, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth…” I was excited because I was aware that I, myself, had experienced that ‘second birth’! I knew that it referred to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. I sang that song that night with everything I had–not just as a celebration of Christmas, but as a real act of worship!

It wasn’t ’till later that I found out the story behind the song. Charles Wesley, a prolific church song writer, was a bit of a ‘reformer’ in the church, often irritating the leaders above him because he pushed for reform so much. One thing he believed was that the ‘theology’–the Biblical foundations of the Church–should be ‘accessible’ to the masses, and he liked to put his theology in song.

In “Hark the Herald”, we have, in essence, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in one song:

He was God “veiled in flesh”, He was born of a virgin, He came to reconcile mankind to God, and that happens in the human heart.

Interestingly, Wesley–being a serious theologian–never wrote that “Herald angels sing”. He knew that singing angels are nowhere in scripture and it irritated him that his song had been changed like this (by George Whitfield, a revivalist preacher in those days). Later, the poem of “Hark, How All the Welkin Rings” was changed by Whitfield, then merged with the music of  Felix Mendelssohn by a another songwriter, William Cummings. Wesley and Mendelssohn never met and neither gave permission for the changes, but in either case, the song took off then, and has remained popular today.

Read each stanza of the song and try to understand the meaning behind the words. I have provided some Scriptural support for you. Look the verses up! Celebrate not only a great song, but strong hymn of the faith!

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King, Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”. Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Luke 2:8-14; Luke 19:10, Romans 8:1-3)

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!  Late in time, behold him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased on earth with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King”! (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Colossians 1:15-20)

Hail, the Heav’n born Prince of Peace; Hail the Son of righteousness! Light and Life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth!  Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the Incarnate Deity! Hark! The Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (John 3:1-16; Philippians 2: 6-8)

Come, Desire of Nation, come! Fix in us Thy humble home. O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart! Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the Newborn King! Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Hark!” the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Colossians 1:19-22)

The song has several versions, all of which put the same words together, but in different order.

This Christmas, when you sing it, listen–really listen to the words, and enjoy!

Discuss: What does the ‘second birth’ mean? Have you experienced it? Tell about your experience!

Prayer focus: Thank God for sending His Son to reconcile us to Himself. Thank Him for changing our hearts and lives. Thank Jesus for His willingness to come as a baby, live and die for us and to give Himself completely for us.

In either case

Don’t Sleep Through Christmas!

Do you ever wonder what it was like on the first Christmas night?

The town of Bethlehem must have been unusually crowded. After all, it wasn’t that big, but with the Decree of Ceasar Augustus, everyone had to go to the town of his ancestors to register for a census, and that meant that MANY people who had been born into the “house and line of David” would be in Bethlehem.

Joseph went there and he brought Mary, his soon-to-be-wife who was pregnant by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. She had nothing to stay home in her own hometown of Nazareth for–she was being ostracized there, and wanted to be on the move.

Besides, as they would probably remember later, the Lord had prophesied that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem!

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
    one whose origins are from the distant past.” (Micah 5:2)

So, here they were–along with many other visitors, overwhelming the small town.

Joseph and Mary looked for a place to stay. It was especially crucial because she was “Great with Child”–she was about to have this baby! They couldn’t find anything, though, so they had to settle for a cave or barn–a place where animals were kept.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Hardly a great beginning for the Son of God!

But here they were–and it seems that virtually no one noticed!

The town of Bethlehem was asleep while their Savior came into their world!

They slept right through it.

Today, there are many right here in the United States of America who sleep through what God is doing also.

While we’re “Sung to sleep by philosophies” that exalt the self, and the here-and-now, we miss the work of God.

So, what about it America? If He comes again, will we miss Him? Will we be sleeping?

What about it, KCC?

Do WE need to ‘wake up’ this Christmas season? Do you?

Listen to the song from Casting Crowns, and consider whether or not you have been ‘sung to sleep’ by the philosophies of this world and missed what God is doing.

Consider and Discuss:

What are some evidences that our culture is ‘sleeping’ through the things that God is doing?

What do Churches that are ‘asleep’ look like?

What does it mean for you and your family to ‘Wake Up’ and experience God’s work this Christmas?

%d bloggers like this: