Advent: Of Love and Mary

Christmas is days away, and as you may have noticed because this post is late, I don’t have all my eggs in a row (or maybe it’s supposed to be ducks in row…). So this post is a few days late. Regardless, we have come to the fourth and final week of advent. So far, we’ve looked at the prophets, angels, and the shepherds. This week we’re going to look at Mary.

Advent 4.jpg

Mary has been portrayed a number of ways in books, movies, and plays, but she’s often just, well, she’s just Mary. We often forget that something was special about Mary.

Imagine this:

You are Mary, favored one of God, of the Most High.

You’re young, just a teenage girl, and you find yourself holding a baby in a chilly cave in Bethlehem. He’s beautiful. Perfectly formed fingers and toes. A patch of dark hair on his head. A tiny chest that steadily rises and falls. Bright, clear eyes that peer up at you. He’s breathtaking, this baby boy of yours.

You glance at Joseph to see that he sleeps. You’re glad he can finally rest; these last few months, these last few days, these last few hours have been so much. And the Most High has brought you to this. You look back down at your baby. His eyes are heavy too. You rock back and forth a little, humming softly.

You don’t think you’ll ever forget the day the angel came to you. It’s hard to believe it’s already been nine months. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been nine months. The angel’s words echo through your memory. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” You remember the initial fear. You remember the confusion and awe. The wonderful things he said of the baby you would bear. Great. Holy. His kingdom will never end.

The Most High, the God you worshipped, called you to be His Son’s mother, and while you didn’t understand, you believed.

For the first few days, you could only think of the privilege and honor, and you puzzled over why He’d chosen you of all the Jewish girls. Favored one. But why? You weren’t exceptionally pretty. You didn’t have any special talents. You honored your parents, loved your siblings, and tried to keep the Law of the Most High, but you couldn’t see how those things made you favored.

But then you started wondering about how to tell your parents and Joseph. Joseph. Thoughts of divorce and stoning made it hard to sleep. And even if he didn’t accuse you of adultery, you would be shunned. Always. A baby outside of marriage would always stain you, and gossip would only make things worse.

But looking back over the last nine months, you can see how the Most High moved. When you visited Elizabeth and learned of Zechariah’s encounter with an angel of the Most High. When Joseph upheld your betrothal and told you of the angel sent to him from the Most High. The safe journey to Bethlehem. The stable to stay in. The delivery of a healthy baby boy. The Most High provided.

You wonder what it will be like, raising the Son of the Most High. You’ve worried if you’ll be a good mother, or if maybe you’ll do it all wrong. Shouldn’t the Most High have chosen another girl? Someone wiser? Someone kinder? Someone better? But after the last several months of carrying this baby inside, you find you love Him more than you thought possible, and you’re thankful that the Most High chose you even though you aren’t the wisest and best.

You kiss His forehead and set him in the manger Joseph dragged over. He hardly stirs. You may be young and still a little frightened, but you intend to be the best mother you can because you love Him.

In the remaining days before Christmas (and even the days after it), I encourage you to look at Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words.

We don’t know a lot about Mary, but her willingness to obey and serve God is quite clear. So often, we are willing to serve God in comfortable ways, but if He calls us into something different and, heaven forbid, hard, we backpedal and ask question after question. God called Mary to a thing that drastically changed her life in many difficult ways, but Mary asked only one question. One question. And then she basically said, “I’m God’s servant; let’s do this.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a heart like that—a heart that loves and obeys. So, think about Mary’s response and look back over some of your own responses to God. Are you His willing servant? Do you love Him enough to serve Him? Find a way to serve Him that’s outside of your comfort zone.

Some passages to look at are: Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:39-45, Luke 1:46-56, and John 14:15.

Let’s drop a gift-wrapped bookend on this post.

What do you think? What are some hard things God has called you to? How do you respond to God? What strikes you about Mary? What will you do to serve Him in a way that stretches you?

Advent: Joy and the Shepherds

It’s almost to the middle of December, and Christmas is nearly here. And we’ve come to the third week of advent. First, there were was hope and prophets, and then peace and angels. This week is about joy and shepherds.

advent-3

In contrast to the enigmatic prophets and the eonian angels, shepherds are incredibly… earthy.

Imagine this:

You are a shepherd.

Shepherding used to be a noble business, it really did. You remember the stories of the shepherds in the time of the Patriarchs and famous King David; he was a shepherd before he was a king, before Adonai had him anointed by a prophet. But shepherding isn’t like that anymore. Heavens, no. A lot of things have changed since the days of David.

First of all, there’s other people. Other Jews don’t like you because you’re a shepherd. You’re treated like a second class citizen, like you’re less than a person. When it comes to society, you are on the very bottom, considered quite nearly valueless.

Then there’s the sheep themselves. Brainless is the word that typically comes to mind. Or witless. Or simply dumb… but in an oddly endearing way.

Your life is solitary. Most of the time, it’s just you and the sheep on the hills outside of Bethlehem, the hometown of the shepherd-king David. The years drag by, and most of them are the same. The rams get the same bad attitude when autumn brings rutting season, then there’s mating season, then a cold winter, then the ewes have their lambs come spring, and then there’s shearing, and the summer is spent teaching the lambs the sound of your voice, and then rutting season comes again. Not much changes for you. Waiting for the next season, waiting for the next predator to fight off, waiting for a lost sheep to find, waiting, waiting, waiting.

You’ve heard of the coming Messiah, the One that Adonai’s sending. He’ll be a Savior, The Savior. The other Jews are eager for the Messiah, but from what you’ve heard from fragments of stories and prophecies, He’s not coming for you. He’s not coming for another shepherd after His own heart. He’ll set Israel free from its oppressors, but that won’t change much for you. You’ll still be shunned by your own people. You’ll still be alone with the sheep.

Another year passes, and before you know it, winter has come. One night, you’re laying with your back against a rock. Your crook leans against the rock, and some of the ewes have piled in around you. Your flock rests, and a few hills over, you can see another shepherd’s flock.

And then there’s a flash of blinding light. You scramble to your feet, sheep scattering as you reach for your crook. It’s an angel. You know it as soon as you set eyes on him. He’s tall with a shining face, and he’s absolutely terrifying. He must be an angel. You start to back away, holding your crook with shaking hands. There’s so much light and dazzling glory. Perhaps you should follow your sheep as they run away.

But then the angel speaks. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

Don’t be afraid, good news, something about joy and all people. You don’t run, but your shaky legs give out and you fall to your knees. The angel continues. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

You blink, and suddenly, there are thousands with the first angel, a multitude of angels saying like thunder, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

And then the angels leave as quickly as they came, and you are alone. The air is startlingly cold and quiet. It starts to sink in. A Savior is born, just a few hills away in Bethlehem. Good news of great joy for all people. Unto you is born this day. This will be the sign for you. You will find a baby.

Another shepherd skids to a stop beside you. “Did you see them? Did you see the angels?”

You nod and use your crook to shove yourself to your feet. You’re not as young as you once were, but you take off at a run.

“Where are you going?” the other shepherd shouts after you.

“To Bethlehem!” you yell back. “To see this thing that has happened.” You trip and tumble down a hill, but then you’re up and running again. You come to the top of the next hill and throw your arms wide, jubilant. “Hallelujah!” And then you’re off, sandals slapping the earth. You pass another shepherd who is still wonderstruck from the angels. “Come with me to Bethlehem!” you shout to him.

The angels were right. This is good news, and it’s brought such great joy. You were wrong when you thought the Savior wasn’t coming for you. For all people. And all people includes you.

Great joy.

People have come up with lots of theories to explain why God sent a multitude of His host to some shepherds who were the lowest of the low. Personally, I think the angel put it quite eloquently when he said the news was for all people. Our response to the good news of Christ should be the same as the shepherds’: joy. And they’re joy isn’t something they kept to themselves; they went and “made known the saying that had been told them”

This week, I encourage you to look for ways to be joyful in light of the coming of Christ and what it means for all people. Praise God; give Him glory. And then go tell someone.

Some passages to look at are: Luke 2:8-20, John 3:16-18, Philippians 4:4, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

Let’s drop a snowy bookend on this post.

What do you think about the shepherds? Why do you think that God sent angels to a group of misfits and outcasts? How will you be intentionally joyful this week? What do you think we can learn from the shepherds?

Advent: Of Peace and Angels

Apparently, these advent posts (which were supposed to be a Sunday thing) are more of a Sunday or Monday thing. Alas, it turns out that if it comes down to taking a nap or working on blog posts, I’ll take a nap. What can I say.

Anyway, the second week of advent has begun! Last week was about hope and the prophets, and this week is about peace and angels.

advent-2

Angels are the subject of much interest; most humans find these spiritual beings to be unendingly curious and fascinating. In Hebrew, they are mal’ak; in Greek, they are aggelos. Both words mean messenger.

Imagine this:

You are angel, a servant of God, a servant of the Almighty. You were created by the Almighty, and your home is at His throne in heaven. You worship Him and His bidding, whatever it may be, without hesitation or question. In fact, the idea of questioning the Almighty never entered your mind until that fateful day when Lucifer and his followers rebelled and were thrown from heaven (something more on that later).

You watched the Almighty speak light into existence. You saw Him craft the earth. You could see the special interest He showed in that last creation, the one He called Man. And you saw Man fall. You heard the command from the Almighty’s lips for one your brothers, one of the cherubim, to stand guard over the Garden of Eden.

You were there when the Almighty sent two of your brothers to Sodom and Gomorrah. You were there when the angel of death went out from the throne room to strike Egypt. You were there when a coal was given to Isaiah to purify his lips so that he could speak for the Almighty. You were there when orders went out for Gabriel to appear to Daniel, and you were there when Michael was sent to help fight the kings of Persia.

You’ve seen the history of the world unfold within the palm of the Almighty’s hand. His plan is so deep in the story of earth that you can’t even see all of it. You know it’s a war, this fight that persists between Lucifer and the Almighty; you’ve fought in it. But you can hardly believe that Lucifer actually thinks he can win because he is so largely beside the point, a dim spark next to the inferno of power and glory and God that is the Almighty.

You remember those first words spoken about the Son. “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” As the centuries went by and prophets were called and served and died for the Almighty, more words about the Son, your Lord and King, were spoken. And you worshipped the Almighty, and you waited.

And then the fullness of time came.

You were face down before the throne, telling of the wonders of the Almighty, when Gabriel was sent to a particular man named Zechariah who had married a daughter of Aaron. And shortly thereafter, Gabriel was sent out again, this time to that special girl Mary, whom the Almighty favored. And then another of your brothers was sent to Mary’s betrothed, Joseph.

Now, mere months later, it’s come to the birth of Jesus. You’re waiting with a host of heaven to deliver a message to a group of shepherds who are keeping watch over their flocks by night. The message is about the Son of the Almighty, the King now wrapped in swaddling clothes, and of the peace He gives to those with whom He is pleased.

Peace and angels.

It seems like an unlikely combination. If it weren’t for this time of year, I doubt that we’d ever put the two together, but I do believe they belong together in a way. The peace of God doesn’t mean that there is no strife and suffering. The peace of God means that there is supernatural tranquility, fullness, hope, and even joy in the midst of strife and suffering. This kind of peace comes from a large view of God, a deep understanding of Him. Oftentimes, we humans question God and His plans and His words; we don’t understand all that He Is. I think angels get it better than we do. I can’t say that they fully understand God (I doubt they do), but I can say that they worship God as God.

This week, I encourage you study and reflect on the Almighty because I believe that true peace follows the ardent pursuit of God.

Some passages to look at are: Job 36:26-33, Job 37:22-24, Job 38-41, Psalm 20:7-8, Psalm 33:9, Luke 1:5-25, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-24 (the O.T. passages are for study and reflection on God, and the N.T. passages are the appearances of angels before Christ was born. Again, this list is not exhaustive.).

Let’s throw a garland adorned bookend on this post.

I hope that this has been helpful as we continue with advent.

What about you? What are your thoughts on peace and angels? Should the two ever be put together? What do you think of angels in general? What do you think peace is?

Advent: Hope and the Prophets

Christmastime is here, and this year on Penprints I’ll be going through some advent (of a kind—nothing here on Penprints is exactly traditional, and advent will be no exception).

advent-1

English takes advent from the Latin word adventus which means “a coming”. For Christians at Christmastime, that means a coming of Christ–specifically, His first coming as a baby. As lent is meant to prepare our hearts to remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of the Jesus at Easter, advent readies us to reflect on and celebrate His birth.

The advent of Christ has been foretold since the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15, right after sin and death entered the world. Throughout the entire Old Testament there are prophecies about Jesus’ first and second comings, and for advent today, I’m thinking about the all the O.T. prophets who heard from God.

Imagine this:

You are a prophet. You have been called by God, by Yahweh.

Propheting (that is definitely a word) is a rather lonely business. Your parents, siblings, and friends will reject you, and if you get married, it’s possible (probable, even) that your wife and kids will be an object lesson for Israel. Speaking of Israel, as a prophet it’s your job to communicate the words of Yahweh to His people who have been known to throw prophets in wells. And since, in general, people (including the Israelites) don’t respond well to what Yahweh has to say, they typically don’t like you either since you’re His spokesman. So, propheting is lonely.

But Yahweh speaks to you. Audibly and in dreams and visions. And He’s told you to write down what He says. The longer you serve Him, hear His voice, see His mighty hand, and write down His words, the more you begin to see the world like He does.

When Israel goes after another “god” again, you weep.

When Yahweh tells you He’s raising up a nation to enslave Israel, you understand why.

And when Yahweh says that a Son of David is coming, a Lamb, One who will bear the iniquity of all, you think your heart will burst from the excitement, and you write it down. Yahweh doesn’t say when, but the more He tells you of this Prince of peace, this Root of Jesse, the more you can’t wait for Him to come.

There’s a lot about His plan that you don’t understand, but it’s Yahweh. His thoughts aren’t your thoughts, and you have complete confidence in the Holy One of Israel. Years slip by. You see many of Yahweh’s words unfold as events. And you continue to serve Him. When He speaks, you listen. He tells you many more things which you dutifully write down and tell whoever you’ve been commanded to tell.

But you haven’t seen the Son of the Most High yet.

You wonder when He’ll come. You wait for Him. You know that when He does come, Israel will wander and weep no more and Zion will rejoice.

And as you get older, you realize that some of what Yahweh has told you won’t come to pass in your lifetime. You know that Yahweh may tell many other prophets about this Emmanuel before He actually comes. And as your life comes to its end and you look back, you see all the ways that Yahweh is faithful. He never breaks His promises. You cling to Yahweh and His promises, and you know that your life and all your hope in the promised Messiah have not been in vain.

The Mighty God is coming, and when He arrives, He’ll set everything right. You hope He comes soon.

The prophets waited in hope and expectation for the coming Messiah, and we are to follow their example. As we celebrate Christ’s birth, we must also remember that He is returning.

This week, I encourage you to study and reflect on all the hope that Jesus has fulfilled—in the centuries of prophecies and in your own life.

Some passages to look at are: Genesis 3:15, Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:2-7, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Micah 5:2-4 (note: this list is not exhaustive by any means; these are just some of my personal favorites).

Let’s put a holly covered bookend on this post.

I hope that this has been helpful for you as you begin advent; it was certainly interesting to write.

What sorts of things do you do for advent? What are your thoughts on the prophets and propheting? What will you do this week to remember hope and the prophets?

P.S. – I know that I said that there would be no Penprints in November, but that was because I forgot that the first week of advent is the last week in November. Oops.