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Reflection on Mary

MEDITATION:

Written by Will Graham, grandson of Billy Graham and Vice-President and Associate Evangelist at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

It’s hard not to be intrigued and impressed by Mary. She was just a teenager, some estimates say between 13 and 16 years old, when an angel appeared to her. I can just imagine how a teen today would have reacted if an angel of the Lord showed up in their room. My guess is that the immediate response would be fear, screams or crying. The sheer overwhelming nature of the experience would be enough to cause that reaction. However, when the angel appears and brings a joyful message—“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”—the Bible says that Mary was “troubled.” The angel even encouraged her with, “Do not be afraid.” One would expect that Mary would struggle with this revelation and abrupt change in her life’s path. After all, things seemed to be going okay. She was even engaged to a man named Joseph, but now she would be the gossip of the town. A scandal like an unwed pregnancy would not go unnoticed and answering the critics by saying that an angel visited her would likely cause more questions than answers. But Mary was clearly no normal teenager! After her initial response, Mary embraces her calling as the earthly mother of Jesus. In what is called “The Song of Mary”, we see a young woman who considers herself blessed, who rejoices! Of course, the story doesn’t end there, and things don’t get any easier. Mary, at the end of her pregnancy, must endure the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, at the end of which she delivers the Christ child in a manger. Was she bitter? Did she shout at God, “You did this to me, and now you can’t even give me a decent place to give birth? Not even one room?” No, as she held her child, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, she pondered all that had taken place, keeping it in her heart. As you enter this Advent season, maybe this year hasn’t gone how you planned. Maybe you expected your life to be much different than it is. Perhaps you’re even mad at God and blame Him for your circumstances. If so, it’s okay to be troubled, but I invite you to do as Mary did, and rejoice in the midst of your pain. Lay it all at the feet of the One who came to save you, whose birth we celebrate. Despite the struggles, Mary considered herself blessed because of what God did for her, and you can too as you ponder how He has blessed you.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:34-38

MUSIC VIDEO: Mary, Did You Know?

Performed by Pentatonix

Mary on Donkey from the Ostheimer’s Nativity Collection from Germany

Reflection on Gabriel

MEDITATION:

Written by Jamie Janosz, a contemporary author.

According to several recent polls, more Americans believe in the existence of angels (55 percent) than in global warming (36 percent). In August 2007, a Pew poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” The story of the Nativity features one of these angels, Gabriel. His name means “the strength of God,” and he is often seen delivering messages of God’s kindness. The angel Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, first to Daniel (Dan. 8:15–16) and later in the New Testament, predicting the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. The passage tells us that the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in the “sixth month,” referring to the pregnancy of Elizabeth (1:36). The angel had previously appeared to Zechariah, and now was sent on a second birth announcement mission to Mary. To this young girl, a virgin, the angel Gabriel appears and addresses her with great respect: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (v. 28). Like most humans receiving a heavenly visitor, Mary was “troubled” by the angel’s appearance. Gabriel repeated that she has found “favor” with God (v. 30). The fact that God has favored or chosen her should allay her fears. He then told Mary the reason for his visit: she will bear a son, in a supernatural way, and name Him Jesus. This will not be an ordinary baby, because His destiny will be to reign over the house of Jacob forever (vv. 31–33). Jesus would not be the son of an earthly man, but the “Son of the Most High” (v. 32). The announcement of this baby certainly warranted an angelic messenger.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1: 26-33

MUSIC VIDEO: The Angel Gabriel

Performed by All Angels

Nativity Scene with Mary, Joseph, and Angels

Reflection on Zechariah

MEDITATION:

Written by Derrek Busha a contemporary pastor of counseling and Brynn James, a contemporary author.

It’s been 400 years since Israel has heard from Yahweh. They have hung on to the promise that the day of the Lord is coming. They believe that there will be a Messiah and one who precedes him to prepare the way.  This is where we find Zechariah. He is faithfully tending to his duties in worship at the Temple when he encounters an angel, who brings the good news that the old Zechariah and his barren wife shall finally have a son. The angel tells Zechariah that his son’s name is to be John, and that John will fulfill God’s promise! 

You would think that Zechariah would respond with joy and gladness at the angel’s news. But instead, he seems skeptical, almost doubtful, as he responds: “How shall I know this? I am old, and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel informs him that because of his disbelief, he will be struck with muteness, unable to speak, to explain, or communicate what is happening until his son arrives.  So, Zechariah is left to wait—for nine months. He is left to ponder. All he can do is wait with intense hope and anticipation—anticipation that grows in strength all the way up to the day that his son arrives. 

Zechariah gets to speak again when his son is born. And the words that he speaks are of even better news to come. Zechariah’s waiting reminds us of Israel’s waiting. But unlike his growing anticipation, Israel’s doubt festered over a long period of time. There should have been anticipation while waiting on God to act. But because of their disbelief, they are left to wait a bit longer, and a bit longer…until the right time for God to enter back into their story. Like Zechariah, Israel doubted. But God’s Word was able to fill them with hope and salvation. This Advent, may we find hope and encouragement. And may we also find words to proclaim that God has broken the silence and has given us his Word in Christ.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1: 5-23; 67-79

MUSIC VIDEO: Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Performed by Tapestry Chamber Singers

Handmade Nativity

MEDITATION:

Written by Arlene Stamper

It was fall of 1969. My husband and I and our two-year-old daughter were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Anaheim CA. We were blocks away from Disneyland where we would watch the fireworks in the evenings from our little patio. 

After walking my daughter in her stroller one day, I spotted a hobby shop. They had the most beautiful nativity scene out on display!  Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. The three Wisemen and the Shepherd. The statues were each about a foot tall and burnished a rich gold.

Being a young married couple, Jerry and I did not have many Christmas decorations. In fact, we were still using the aluminum foil Christmas tree my folks had purchased in 1959!  So, I went into that hobby shop and signed up to make that nativity! I took weekly classes and learned how to make a wire form for each figure, drape and form the fabric for their clothing, and then finally burnish them. It was a proud moment when I applied the gold leaf just in time for Christmas!

This nativity has travelled to three different homes we have lived in over the years. Although we have received and purchased many Christmas decorations over the years, our first Nativity continues to bless and remind me of the real reason for Christmas.

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 7:10-14

MUSIC VIDEO: O Holy Night

Performed by Home Free

The Stamper Family Nativity

First Sunday of Advent

The History of Nativities

MEDITATION:

Excerpt from an article written by L.V. Anderson, a contemporary news editor.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with staging the first nativity scene in 1223. The only historical account we have of Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis’ death. According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorius III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Greccio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”) That nativity scenes had enormous popular appeal. Francis’ display came in the middle of a period when mystery or miracle plays were a popular form of entertainment and education for European laypeople. These plays, originally performed in churches and later performed in town squares, re-enacted Bible stories in vernacular languages. Since church services at the time were performed only in Latin, which virtually no one understood, miracle plays were the only way for laypeople to learn scripture. Francis’ nativity scene used the same method of visual display to help locals understand and emotionally engage with Christianity. Within a couple of centuries of Francis’ inaugural display, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe. It’s unclear from Bonaventure’s account whether Francis used people or figures to stand in for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, or if the spectators just used their imagination, but later nativity scenes included both tableaux vivants and dioramas, and the cast of characters gradually expanded to include not only the happy couple and the infant, but sometimes entire villages. The familiar cast of characters we see today—namely the three wise men and the shepherds—aren’t biblically accurate… Nowhere in the Bible do the shepherds and wise men appear together, and nowhere in the Bible are donkeys, oxen, cattle, or other domesticated animals mentioned in conjunction with Jesus’ birth. But early nativity scenes took their cues more from religious art than from scripture.

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 3: 12-17

MUSIC VIDEO: A Hymn of the Nativity

Performed by Julia Doyle and the City of London Choir

Assisi Basilica Lit with Giotto Nativity Frescos

If using an advent wreath, light the first purple candle, which symbolizes hope and is called the Prophet’s Candle. The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.

Pre-Advent Thoughts

MEDITATION:

Written by Kimberly Matthews, a certified lay minister and author. She also writes under the name Sandpiper.

This morning I picked up a book by Paula Gooder called The Meaning is in the Waiting. I haven’t started the book itself yet, but I did read the forward by Lauren F. Winner. “She says this: We are told, by advertisements and by our Blackberries, to squeeze time dry, to use it well, to maximize it. The church tells us a different story about it (time) — it is God’s and there is enough of it, more than enough. The church’s narrative about time is never clearer than during Advent when we are invited to spend our time very foolishly indeed. We are invited to wait. Just to wait.” Take a breath. Take some time. Waste it. Waste it during a season when everything around you demands that you make the most of your time. Wait on God. Lauren Winner tells us that something amazing happens when we do. We find that God is waiting on us. The image that came to my mind was of a parent waiting up at night for a teenager to come home. God is waiting for us. “The Lord waits to be gracious to you.” I find myself in a time that feels like limbo. Thanksgiving has come and gone; Advent has yet to come. We are waiting to begin waiting. My devotional challenge to you this week is to give some thought to Advent. What will you do as you wait for God? How will you prepare yourself to begin? My commitment this Advent is to find some quiet time each day for devotionals and prayer. I commit to more spiritual reading during this month. I want to draw closer to the Truth during this time of waiting, and I am going to be intentional about it. It is God’s time, and there is enough of it. Do what seems wasteful and wait for God.

PRAYER:

Written by Kimberly Matthews, the author of today’s meditation

Creator God, who stretches a hand across the heavens and spreads the stars in the sky, meet us in our waiting. Loving Son, who came and comes and will come, come today and meet us in our waiting. Abiding Spirit, who waits with us, speak to us in our waiting. Loving God, grant us the courage to wait for you and the grace to realize you wait for us. Amen.

Prayerful Joy

MEDITATION:

Written by Calvin Hoogendoorn, a contemporary pastor and author.

The great hymn “Amazing Grace” summarizes biblical faith well: “Grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” If grace reveals that joy is a gift, then prayer is the Lord’s gracious means through which he daily sustains that joy. We sometimes believe we are independent, self-sufficient people. Our tired minds, aching backs, and callous hands that produced a successful career and a comfortable home seem to affirm that myth. But what if corporate restructuring takes away the paycheck, or terminal illness robs our strength and vitality? Anxiety, worry, and fear set in, taking the place of our pride. Life comes from the Lord, and so does daily help. We come to the Lord through prayer, and the fruit of prayer is peace. Yet prayer is not a mantra, and we can’t use it to try to manipulate God. Prayer is a divine gift to strengthen the bonds of love between us and God. The act of prayer itself affirms our dependence on him for peace and joy. Peace is knowing that death is overcome by resurrection, falsehood by truth, confusion by wisdom, hatred by love. This is the joyful fruit of believers who seek the Lord! Then, when all else has failed, we can still say, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:18).

PRAYER:

Written by Jennifer Rothschild, a contemporary author and speaker.

Lord, when my heart is overwhelmed, overwhelm me with Your peace. Lead me to You, my rock. Guide me to Your Word which gives me strength and refuge. Help me not to run to lesser things. Draw me to run to You first. Help me get into the habit of taking my “overwhelmed” and placing it under your will. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Thanksgiving

MEDITATION:

Written by Debbie McDaniel, a contemporary Christian writer.

All across our nation, Thanksgiving is a day that we set aside in order to do one thing. Be thankful. And usually what goes along with it, is lots of food, family and friends, laughter and fun, times of giving to others in need, maybe some football, or traditions that you’ve recognized through long years. And sometimes too, there is also loneliness. And struggle. Or deep loss. Feelings of hurt and painful circumstances that you’re still trying to hurdle over.

Whatever you’re facing this Thanksgiving Day, in the midst of all of it, may we remember again that God gives us the opportunity each and every day, to give worship and thanks to Him. Every morning He gives us breath, is His invitation to come joyfully into His Presence. He reminds us that He alone is God and we belong to Him. He assures us that His plans in our lives are for good, that his love covers us securely, and His faithfulness extends from generation to generation. No matter what, He’s given us so many reasons to choose thankfulness and joy this day. Let’s do what the Psalmist says:  Shout for joy. Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful songs. Know that He is God. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. Recognize His goodness, love, and faithfulness, through all the generations of our family.

PRAYER:

Written by Debbie McDaniel, author of today’s meditation.

Dear God, thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over our lives. Forgive us for when we don’t thank you enough, for who you are, for all that you do, for all that you’ve given. We’re so grateful to you for your amazing love and care, for your mercy and grace, for always working on our behalf, even behind the scenes when we’re unaware. Thank you that you are always with us and will never leave us, even through loss and the most difficult of times. Thank you for your incredible sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life. Help us to set our eyes and our hearts on you afresh. Renew our spirits, fill us with your peace and joy, this Thanksgiving Day and every day. We give you thanks and praise, for You alone, are worthy! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Weak Enough to Rescue

MEDITATION:

Written by Adrian Rogers (1931-2005), an American pastor and author.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese teacher who founded many Christian churches, told a story of a man who was drowning. A crowd had gathered, but no one in the crowd could swim except for one man. To everyone’s shock and consternation, it appeared he would not jump in the water and rescue the drowning man. Finally, the swimmer jumped from the riverbank, swam out, put his arms around the man, and brought him to safety. But the crowd didn’t cheer the rescuer. In fact, they scolded him.  The rescuer explained to them, “I’m not that good a swimmer. Had I gone out there while this man was still fighting, he would have drowned us both. I had to wait until he was weak enough for me to save him.”  Are you weak enough to let God save you, or are you, like the swimmer who was flailing around, are you still trying to do it on your own?  Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Stop flailing around. Yield to Him.

PRAYER:

Written by Izwe Nkosi, a contemporary South African author, passionate about worship and prayer.

God of rescue and restoration, thank You for Your great and beautiful mission in the world. Here I am Lord, fill me with Your Spirit and send me. Amen.

Hope

MEDITATION:

Written by Greg Laurie, a contemporary American author and pastor.

A lot of people in our culture today are starting to lose hope. Experts say that one of the reasons suicide rates are so high is because people have lost hope. From the inside of a very large fish, Jonah was beginning to lose hope. But then he prayed.  Jonah said, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple…But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:7,9). Jonah didn’t have any promise that God would deliver him from the belly of that beast. But he gave thanks to the Lord while he was there. Maybe you’re going through a hard time right now, and you’re thinking, “I don’t feel like giving thanks to God. I’ll give thanks when I get through this problem.” Give thanks to God now. When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for preaching the gospel, we read that “at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). The Bible says, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! for His mercy endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).  It doesn’t say, “Give thanks to the Lord when you feel good” or “give thanks to the Lord when circumstances are good.” If you’re losing hope today, don’t give up. I don’t know what kind of situation you’re in right now, but you’re going to get through it. Remember this acronym for hope: holding on with patient expectation. Don’t lose hope. God is in control. God is sovereign. And if He got Jonah out of a fish, then God can get you through whatever you’re facing today.

PRAYER:

Written by Michael Saward (1932-2015), an English chaplain, journalist, broadcaster, and hymnwriter.

God of peace,

keep us always rejoicing in you,

make us gentle to everyone,

let us be anxious about nothing –

help us to ask you for what we need,

with thanksgiving;

and may your peace

guard our hearts and minds

in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.