Monday, December 29, 2014

The Next Morning

The Bible doesn't tell us about the next morning. The morning after Jesus was born when daylight appeared and the sun shone down upon Bethlehem. We are left to wonder what the day was like for the new mother and her baby king. I wonder if the star was still visible in the sky. I wonder if Mother Mary had trouble feeding baby Jesus. Did people still gather around the  stable and peer lovingly into the manger? Was Joseph tempted to shoo people away so Mary and Jesus could rest?

Did the city of Bethlehem rumble with the sound of voices as people passed the word about what had happened that night? Or was the Holy Family alone with the animals still trying to grasp the reality of what had happened the evening before? We don't know how many days the shepherds traveled to follow the star but we do know it was probably years that the Magi traveled to reach the baby king.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19 NIV) She must have been overwhelmed with love for infant Jesus and by the worshipful shepherds as they came to behold the baby. Surely the shepherds told Mary and Joseph about the star overhead that led them to the stable that night. Perhaps Joseph even slipped outside to take a look himself. The star must have reassured him that the message the angels brought was true. Their baby was the "Son of God", "Son of the Most High", "Immanuel", "God with us", "Jesus".

The unanswered questions don't matter. What does matter is that our Savior arrived that night in Bethlehem and he continues to reign in our lives today. May you celebrate today by praising God for sending his Son to save us. Amen and Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a beautiful Christmas with the story that never gets old.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night, An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Star is Born

"The star they had seen in the east 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 and of incense and of myrrh," (Matthew 2:9-11 NIV).

Herod was a jealous king. There wasn't room in his kingdom for another ruler so he set in motion a plan to kill all the baby boys born in Bethlehem. When rumors of a special child being born reached Herod, he sent Magi to track this baby and report back so he could go and 'worship' him also. Herod's plan didn't work so well. The Magi were wise and knew the prophecy that had been written. The ruler was to be born in Bethlehem and he would shepherd the people of Israel (Micah 5:2 NIV).

There was a star, so bright and unusual, that the Magi were in awe of it. They followed it east and were filled with joy when it stopped over the place where baby Jesus and his parents lived. They bowed down and worshiped him and presented gifts worthy of the highest positions - gold worthy of a king; incense often given to deity, and myrrh given to those who were about to die. Strange gifts for a little baby or young child, yet so appropriate for Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Son of God.

Shining brightly, the star appeared brighter than all the others in the sky. His life would glow in perfection of a human man. He would lead others who became followers by his example and purity. He would warrant gifts of the very best praise and worship. The one and only Savior who came to light up the world with his love. Jesus Christ, the Star is born.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Joseph's Dreams

"An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21 NIV).

I don't suppose it is unusual for engaged young men to have dreams before their weddings. But, Joseph's dreams were different. There are three times in Joseph's life that it is reported that angels appeared to him in dreams. All were in direct regard to his son Jesus and fulfilling prophecy.

He was pledged to marry Mary, a virgin carrying a child of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was a righteous man of integrity and he didn't want to publicly disgrace her. He respected her and considered quietly divorcing her. But the angel changed all that. In the midst of a dream the angel appeared and told Joseph it was okay to marry the blessed Mary. Joseph was part of fulfilling a prophecy of Jesus, born to the line of King David, the Savior of the world. So he did the right thing. He obeyed God and married Mary.

Later, when Jesus was a young child, another angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and the child into Egypt to escape King Herod's plot to murder the holy child. They fulfilled another prophecy. After Herod died, another angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and the child into Israel, settling in Nazareth; fulfilling yet another prophecy that had been spoken.

Though Joseph was not the human father of Jesus he lived and followed the Jewish law as any father would. He saw that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and that Jesus was presented to God as the firstborn son, at the age of one month. God used Joseph to bring the Savior into the world and raise him up as the special man he was to become.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sheep on a Hillside

One of my greatest pleasures of living in the country and raising sheep is watching the sheep out in the pasture. Sheep are funny creatures. They like to be with the crowd and follow a leader. If one sheep isn't paying attention and suddenly finds itself alone, it hurries to catch up with the group. They spread out over an area to eat grass and settle in for a good meal as long as the rest of the flock is near by.

In ancient times owning a flock of sheep was a sign of great wealth but after that they must have realized how stupid sheep really are and in Jesus' day they were owned by 'lowly' shepherds. Shepherds were plain and ordinary folk who wandered with the sheep, moving them from pasture to greener pasture. They must have roamed the hillsides for days trying to find the best feeding areas before returning home, tired and dirty. The sheep and shepherds would rest at night under the stars, watching for predators.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about" (Luke 2:8-15 NIV).

It was the shepherds who traveled and saw baby Jesus, the Lamb of God, just as the angels had told them and they quickly spread the news to others 'glorifying and praising God' for all they had experienced. They were humbled to be chosen to hear all that the angels had told them.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What to do about gray days

Part of my depression involves seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the past week has been exceedingly gray. SAD (such an appropriate acronym) is common this time of year and I have a light therapy box to use, but with my office in disarray I haven't set it up yet.  Just as the clouds block the sunlight, my life seems blocked from joy. I could hide under the bedcovers or turn on all the lights in the house but they don't change the heaviness that's hanging around outside.

One of the best ways I've found to get through a gray day is to turn on music; Christmas music this time of year. That always help me be distracted from the gloomy setting outside. It's the songs of praise and worship that turn my attitude when nothing else will. The scriptures heard in the words of music help brighten the day with rays of light.

Reading scriptures is another good way to fight the drabness outside by bringing the good news and its light inside. Visualizing Jesus' face brings brilliance to any room. Hearing his words of promise and hope helps break the day's anguish and despair.

"Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears let him hear" (Matthew 13:43 NIV).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mother-to-be Mary

Advent season is here and I'm thinking a lot about Mary. Since I'm not Catholic my perspective is probably rather humanistic though I in no way intend to be irreverent. Mary was a poor young girl who loved her Lord. She was engaged to marry Joseph and was making preparations as was common for her day. Suddenly, an angel appears to her and her life is changed forever.

Scripture tells us, in Luke 1:26-38, Mary was a virgin who found 'high favor' with the Lord. What an honor to be recognized by God as "highly favored"! Especially since nearly all those favored before here were men. By our standards she had three strikes against her: she was young, she was a girl, and she was from a poor family. Yet, God chose her. God knew she would obey what was required of her and He knew she would trust Him. Others were less worthy of this honor. Others may have ignored the angel's proclamation or disbelieved the profound announcement. Mary was chosen with good reason.

Mary reacted with her human emotions, she was troubled at first by the angel's message that she was favored by God. She must have been humbled by this praise and questioned what was coming next. Difficult to imagine, Mary asked how she could bear a child when she was a virgin. She listened to the explanation from the angel and immediately accepted her mission with honor. She didn't question the angel further, nor ask about Joseph, which must have been on her mind. She obeyed, accepting the angel's final words, "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37 NIV).

I can only try to put myself in her place and imagine how overwhelming the angel's message must have been. How do you process such a prophecy? One day at a time. Fortunately God gave her another honored one to share this amazing plan with, Elizabeth. The miracle of bearing such a holy baby with such a divine role to live would be beyond the mind's conception. Only Mary could respond, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38 NIV).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Good day to Praise God

I had a bad day on Monday. After I finished my blog and accomplished several other tasks the day went down hill. It was time to put the tree up so I hauled the necessary equipment from the basement and proceeded to put up our 25 year old artificial tree. It's been time to replace it for several years but I always thought, 'just one more year' because it looked good when it was decorated. I proceeded to put it all together, then came the ornaments. I have a large box of sheep ornaments. About 98% of the ornaments on our tree are sheep. I always enjoy looking at all of the different sheep as I put them on the tree.

There are sheep in sweaters, wooly sheep, fluffy sheep, wax sheep, ceramic sheep, sheep with wiggly legs, a sheep that sings, a sheep finger puppet, sheep in wagons, sheep faces, patriotic sheep, sheep bells, wooden sheep, sheep in a barn, sheep at the manger, a shepherd holding a lamb, sheep on sheep, sheep with bows, sheep on sleds, silly sheep, and peaceful sheep.

I was nearing the bottom of the box when as I placed another ornament on the tree, the tree fell over. On me. Ornaments went scattering everywhere. I grabbed the center trunk and held it but there was no chance at steadying it or getting it to stand again. The tree stand was broken. So I spent the next hour or so removing the ornaments from the tree and putting them back in the box while holding up the tree. Glad no one was watching. It must have been a hilarious sight. Once I had all the ornaments safely in the box I let the tree fall to the floor, lights and all.

After the man of the house officially announced there was no hope for the tree the clean up began and a new tree was purchased. It took several hours to get the new tree together but we have a decorated tree in the house again and hopefully it won't be falling over for at least 25 years.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God" (Psalm 43:5 NIV).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thankful hearts

Our pastor did the coolest thing. She asked us a week ago to write down on a notecard what we were thankful for. Yesterday she had a printout of the entire collection of what 50+ churchgoers had written down. It covered an entire page in 6 point type. It was fun to look through to find what others are thankful for. There were lots of names listed, special people that others were thankful for. Lots of homes and families mentioned and pleasantly a lot of jobs. Many mentioned the church and church family, specifically Bethel Grove. But mostly people were thankful for Jesus, our Savior, a personal relationship with Christ and for being saved by Jesus Christ.

When you take the time to write down all that you are thankful for you realize just how much we really have here in America and so much that we take for granted on most days. Running water, a shower, food in the cupboard, a refrigerator, fresh milk, shoes, tissues, clean water to drink, transportation at our fingertips, a cozy bed and pillow, automatic heat or coolness, windows, carpet or hardwood floors, communication by phone or email or Facebook, and so much more. So many people in the world don't have any of those things. That's humbling.

Even though Thanksgiving Day has passed for this year, the Advent season is upon us and our attitude should still be one of thanksgiving. For there is no greater gift that came to earth than Jesus Christ. Perhaps as a way to keep Christ in Christmas this year practice being thankful for one thing each day or list all you can think of each day. There is much to be thankful for and all of it comes through the Lord as blessings.

"And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:15b-17 NIV).