Dec 20

Morning December 20

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’” – Luke 1:46–55

We see in Scripture Mary’s gratitude for God and His awesome power and provision. Mary is so moved by this vision of God that she breaks out in song—a song that has come to be known as the “Magnificent.”

One of the blessings in my life is to teach kindergarten at an independent school. Soon after Thanksgiving, I read the Christmas story from the Bible and various picture books. I love sharing the true meaning of Christmas with my students because many are not familiar with it. After reading the stories, we act it out using simple costumes and props. My lessons are short and focused (remember, 5-6 years old have a short attention span.) I build on the story over three sessions so by the end, we have the complete Nativity story. This is an in-class unit with our Elementary Chaplain joining us for the finale.

Two years ago, the Chaplain asked my students to perform for the Junior High Christmas Chapel. I immediately panicked because it is one thing to do in the comfort of my classroom, but how would this unfold in front of hundreds of junior high students in a large gym, yikes! It is impossible to predict what kindergartners might say or do at any given minute. I prayed about it and felt God gently calling me to accept the invitation and lean on Him. The day arrives and I bring my students in costumes carrying simple props up to the gym.

The plan is to act out the story and then finish by singing “Away in the Manger.” My heart pounds and it is all I can do to appear calm and relaxed! We begin and go through the beautiful Christmas story and sing our song. I expected the middle school students to clap politely at the end, but something much more happened…the second that we finished, the entire junior high body gave a standing ovation, clapping and cheering wildly. The joy and blessing of seeing sweet Kindergarten students share the Christmas story with others made my heart sing as well as so many others!

How is your heart singing during this Advent season?

What do you hope for, expect or anticipate?

How can you prepare your heart to experience the Christmas story in a fresh new way?

– Jenny Goodenough

 

Dec 19

Evening December 19

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” – Luke 1:39–45

What expectant mother has not exulted (and maybe winced) at the kicks in her womb signifying a healthy new life? But the kicks—the “leaps”—in Elizabeth’s womb signaled not only new life but an eternal life change. Elizabeth’s newborn would grow into the man known as John the Baptist, the herald of our Lord and Savior—the fruit of Mary’s womb.

Mary and Elizabeth were the unlikeliest of mothers-to-be—a teenage virgin and a “barren” woman, “well along in years”—chosen for God’s most important missions. Little wonder the rejoicing in Zechariah’s house. A “leap” for the ages.

The Bible recounts many examples of God’s unlikely chosen servants: a stuttering Moses; the boy David; and Saul, the Jewish zealot who would become Paul, the indefatigable Christian missionary. And so it is in our times, too: Agnes Mojaxhiu, the tiny Albanian revered today as Mother Teresa of Calcutta; Chuck Colson, the convicted political operative who would found an international prison ministry; and Malala Yousafzai, the brave, wounded Pakastani teenager who has focused worldwide attention on education (and won a Nobel Prize).

In fact, you might say God is the ultimate equal-opportunity employer. He can use all of us, if we are open to Him. (Even if we’re not, He can be very convincing. E.g., the reluctant Moses.) One of the most active members of our church outreach ministry is Coleen Zeiser, a young, vivacious 92-year-old.

Maddie Reasner, when just a seventh grader, raised $12,000 for laptop computers she delivered to needy students in the Congo.

In fact, you might say God is the ultimate equal-opportunity employer. He can use all of us, if we are open to Him. (Even if we’re not, He can be very convincing. E.g., the reluctant Moses.) One of the most active members of our church outreach ministry is Coleen Zeiser, a young, vivacious 92-year-old. Maddie Reasner, when just a seventh grader, raised $12,000 for laptop computers she delivered to needy students in the Congo.

Illness snatched Melody Rossi’s first calling, to opera, but not her sense of a new calling to her Cloud and Fire ministry to kids in some of the toughest L. A. neighborhoods. “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus told his disciples, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve . . .” Service—the “leap” that God loves.

 

– David Dow

 

Dec 19

Morning December 19

“And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. – Luke 1: 36–38

Reading these verses I am reminded of the difficult time I am having in my own life right now and wondering how God will answer my prayers. He has proven that He can perform miracles by making Elizabeth pregnant even though she was told that she will never be able to have children. With my own health issues, I often wonder how and when He will perform a “miracle.”

I am often reminded that God doesn’t give you struggles beyond that you can’t handle, that your strength comes from Him. There are times where I need to be reminded of that more often, because, during some of those times, I ask myself, “Why would He let all that’s happening to me happen?” and “I’ve been strong for so long; I don’t have the strength anymore.”

God has a plan for me – A plan right now that I don’t particularly like, but as Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” I need to work on surrendering to Him so that He can perform miracles in my life.

Reflect:

Today think about where in your life you feel that God isn’t performing “miracles,” or answering your prayer as you want. In the end, somehow, He does perform miracles and answers prayers, even if it takes a long time.

– Amanda Nelson

 

Dec 18

Evening December 18

“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  35 The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.”  - Luke 1:31–35

Shocking. Just the first few words are shocking. Imagine that you were just doing whatever you do and then—Boom—an angel appears out of nowhere and tells you you’re going to have a baby when you’re not married and then, He will be the Son of God?! You still haven’t gotten over the fact that there’s an angel talking to you in the first place!!! This shows that God always has a plan for us and things happen for a reason whether you’re going to have a baby that will be the Son of God or just that you’re going to be happy. One day I woke up and realized that my dad had left L.A. early in the morning for an important business trip and I had forgotten. Consequently, I went through a very hard morning because of my sadness. But when I got to school, my friends came over and got me laughing so hard, my insides hurt. That’s how God showed me He had a plan for me and when one door closes another opens. How has God shown you that He has a plan for you? How can you help yourself trust Him and His plan?  : )

– Grace Higginbothom, age 10

 

Dec 18

Morning December 18

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” – Luke 1:26–30 (New Living Translation)

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!”

FAVORED woman? The LORD is with you? You have found FAVOR with GOD? The message was shocking enough, but add the specter of an angelic messenger! This was either the granddaddy of all nightmares or worse…the real thing!

Yes, this young girl from a humble village had no doubt worked hard to be good and stay in favor with her parents, her neighbors and her faith community. But she hadn’t been perfect. Even when she was successfully pleasing everyone around her, she harbored thoughts and desires and resentments that were…unfavorable. Yet, here she was: in the shocking presence of an angel who assured her of God’s favor. Of course she was confused and disturbed!

Being engaged to a man who was “a descendant of King David” was the farthest thing from her mind. So was the “favor” that had been shown to Abraham when he had been chosen to be the father of God’s Chosen People…and the treacherous journey that followed. So was the blessing (favor) that was promised to flow through this Chosen People to all the nations of the earth…and the horrendous persecution that was to be endured in the process.

Mary had no way of knowing that, thirty years later, her Son would announce that, in Him, the “time of the Lord’s favor” had come. (Luke 4:19) Nor could she know the terrible price Jesus would pay to bring that favor to fruition.

God’s favor came to Mary not because of her goodness, her knowledge of the Scriptures, nor her grasp of His ultimate plan. It came as the unfolding of another chapter in God’s story of love, redemption, reconciliation and restoration. This truth makes it no less personal. If Mary were here to testify, she would tell us…it was personal! But it was part of a vast and glorious plan.

Questions to Ponder:

Who or what are the messenger(s) that have brought the Lord’s favor to you?

To whom will the Lord’s favor be granted through you?

Are you “confused and disturbed” at the Lord’s favor?

Or are you reveling in it, living into it, passing it on?

– Dan Kornychuck

 

Dec 17

Evening December 17

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” – Luke 1:21–25

Two years ago, on a blistering hot day in August, I did the unthinkable.

I left home early in the morning to drop my son off at school and then
to go to work. With us in the back of my car was my red retriever Russel who came to work with me every day since I had adopted him several years before. He was well liked by everyone in the office. And for some reason that I still can’t fathom, when I arrived at the office on that morning I left my dear, dear dog in the car where he died of heat exhaustion later in the day.

I’ve played the morning’s events over in my head hundreds of times.
The memory of it still crushes me and if I think on it long enough it makes me cry every time. Every. Time.

I still sleep next to Russel’s ashes in a redwood box on my nightstand somehow hoping that in God’s scheme of things, I’ll be able to see him again and tell him that he was a great dog and how sorry I am for what I did. So when I read anything about disgrace and shame like I do here in Luke, it immediately takes me back to that hot August morning that I just wish never happened.

But it did. And I must live with it. And hope.

We are told in this evening’s passage that Elizabeth was unable to have children and even though it very well might have been her husband Zechariah’s biological fault, nonetheless the shame was all hers.

Being barren pretty much disqualified her from participating in God’s redemptive plan for the world. She was simply “left out” and after all those years of hoping, her body was now old and any hope of having a child was long gone.

And then, the miracle happens: she gets morning sickness and her hope returns.

I don’t know of what you are most ashamed. I’ve been alive long enough to know we all have something—we all have something. Why not take a moment now to remember it, ask to be forgiven—yet again—and tell the Father that, despite your doubts, you still hope for the day when “everything that is wrong will be undone.”

– Scott Prewett

 

Dec 17

Morning December 17

“Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” – Luke 1:18–20

 

How many times have we viewed a situation as absolutely impossible? Zacharias, a priest who married Elizabeth, knew impossibilities!

Zacharias and Elizabeth led lives that were pleasing to God. They submitted to the will of God and obeyed. They did not care about the status that went with the priesthood. They did not have something they very much wanted…a child. This was a deep sadness to both of them. Something that they believed was a hopeless situation was not impossible with God.

After Zacharias had committed his problem to God, he continued to trust God with it. He did not stop praying and bail out because his situation looked hopeless. It is so much easier to quit and run away from difficult circumstances, but that usually compounds the problem. God wants us to take our difficulties to Him in prayer together, search the Word together for encouragement and direction, and then wait patiently for Him to work.

Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, appeared to Zacharias in the temple. The personal visit of an angel from God was a distinction that had been afforded only a few people in the history of the human race. It was a frightening experience. But immediately the angel spoke: “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

All this was too much for Zacharias. He had been praying for a son, but admittedly, his faith had been weakening. Before he had a chance to get his thoughts together, he blurted out, “How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18) Zacharias was a man of God, but he had human weaknesses. God understands a weakness like this.

Zacharias knew the Old Testament. He knew how God had given a son to Sarah in her old age. But he did not think about that Old Testament precedent at this moment of need. God did something for Zacharias to help him believe. He gave him a sign. “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time.” (Luke 1:20)

Maybe you think the Lord has forgotten you in your situation. He does impossible things for people every day, and you may be next. Believe Him. Keep on faithfully living for Him and patiently waiting for Him to work, just as Zacharias and Elizabeth did. While their names are not mentioned again after the birth of their son, John, they have left us a lovely legacy of faith in the promises of God, the God of the impossible.

What promises in God’s Word do you find difficult to believe? Is there a situation in your life that seems impossible? Commit it to God in prayer, and ask Him for the patience to live with it graciously until He changes it.

 

– Lisa Glenn

 

Dec 16

Evening December 16

He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. – Luke 1:16–17

Most parents-to-be spend time thinking about what their child might be like, and how they will all relate together as a family. Many may dream of certain attributes, or hope for specific talents, and for those of faith, there is likely a wish for their child to share in their values and ministry. Zechariah has just been given the news that he is to become a father, amazing news indeed; but the angel goes on to tell him exactly what God’s plan is for his son. He is to prepare the people for the Messiah! No wonder Zechariah is stunned!

Even from the womb, where his conception to an elderly father and a “barren” mother had people amazed, John was already preparing the way to another amazing conception just six months later. Filled with the Spirit, he showed the people the Lord’s emphasis on the family and restoring order as preparation for the Messiah’s coming. Turning the hearts of parents to their children (and some versions add and the children to their parents) was spoken at a time when there was much turmoil in the Jewish community, and family relationships were tested. John knew it was necessary for those who were disobeying God’s laws to return to the faith and listen to those of wise counsel. God created families, and showing the people the need for restoring that order was a necessary part of John’s mission.

What do we need to do to be ready for the Messiah today? I’m not talking about shopping or cooking or gift wrapping or mailing cards. What do we need to do to prepare the way for the Messiah in our hearts? Are there relationships that need to be mended, apologies that need to be extended, words of forgiveness spoken? Are there people who would be delighted to receive a phone call with your words of caring and encouragement or a visit where you give your time and mainly just listen? Are there people who need to know they matter to you? Is there someone’s wise counsel that you have been reluctant to hear or follow?

During this Advent season, we have likely spent a lot of time being very busy. I hope as we approach this final week we each make time to sit and listen to the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace.

 

– Ellen Baker

 

Dec 16

Morning December 16

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:14–17

How lucky is it to be Zechariah and Elizabeth? I mean think about it: they have angel of the Lord appear to them, tell them they are going to be parents to a son named John, and then they are given a glimpse as to how their child will grow up…“he will be great in the sight of the Lord”…“before he is even born he will be filled with the Holy Spirit”…“he will turn many people to God”…“he will make ready a people prepared for the Lord”. (Luke 1:14-17) This is just to name a few.

My wife and I have been trying to start a family for the past few years, and decided a year ago to start the process of adoption. After a year into the process, we have been paired with a birth mother, and are going to be the parents of a baby boy in late January. We couldn’t be happier!

Like most parents (and parents-to-be) we have hopes and dreams for our child. We have fears for our newborn. We will worry about and be responsible for his health while he grows up. We will watch our child thrive and succeed at times, and utterly fail at others. All the while, we will anxiously and actively wait to see how his life turns out. Our hands that will soon hold a newborn baby, will have to hold him openly to whatever the Lord wants for him.

Imagine how much easier it would be for parents to deal with the everyday situations and issues they have with their child if they knew how the child would turn out…

“John is staying out late with his friends in the village. I feel like he could choose better friends, but hey, the good news is, we know that he will turn many people to God. So maybe God is using these guys as practice?”

“I just can’t get John to clean his room, but at least he will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“John is really struggling to find friends at the village school, but I’m not too worried because he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

“Sometimes it feels as if John is just trying to be a ‘rebellious teenager.’ Whether this is just a phase or not, at least I am confident that he is filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Whether or not we know ahead of time how our kids are going to turn out, or even how we are going to turn out, there is a common characteristic needed in all situations: TRUST. Zechariah and Elizabeth had to trust God at His Word. They had to trust the word of the angel was true, even when it didn’t seem like it could be possible. Even though they had assurance, they had to move forward in trust.

This Advent, where do you need to trust God?

What promises has He given you in the past that now seem like distant and unattainable memories? What are some things you hoped for but He never promised you, and now you are not sure what to do or what the next step will be? Who or what is God asking you to trust him with? That relationship. That break up. That work situation. That career. That house. That car. That gadget. That salary (or lack thereof). That (fill in the blank).

May this season in which we celebrate the greatest birth story ever told in the person of Jesus Christ, birth something “new” in your life. May you trust in God in both the promises He has given you, and the ones He hasn’t. And may you hold your life openly to whatever the Lord wants to do with it.

– R.O. Smith

 

Dec 15

Evening December 15

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” – Luke 1:13

It’s interesting how even big blessings can take us way out of our comfort zone. Zechariah and Elizabeth are about to have a humongous one.

I love thinking about what Zechariah and Elizabeth would say if I could ask them, “Who is the God that you know?”

I think they might say “The God we know…”

is a God of Fulfillment. We desperately wanted a baby. And even though we were old, we kept hoping and praying, asking God to help us. And He did. He gave us the desire of our hearts, and told us to name him John (which means “gift of God”).

is a God of Miracles. It wasn’t what we expected. He promised us something that seemed impossible, yet in amazement we experienced His promise unfold into a reality in our lives.

is a God of Abundance. We asked for our baby, yet He gave us so much more! He let us love and nurture the child who would become the morning star before the new day. The voice in the wilderness who would prepare the way for our Messiah! We couldn’t grasp the fullness of God’s plan at the time. It was way more than anything we could have asked for or imagined!

And what if I could ask God, Who were the man and woman you knew in Zechariah and Elizabeth?”

I think He might say…

They knew My ways. They sought Me out and shared their heart with Me. They saw the wisdom in following My ways and tried their best to walk in them.

… They were humble stewards. They were easily guided and I could trust them, just as they trusted Me. I could rely on them to give John the love, stewardship and parental protection he would need. I could share with them My special plan for their son without it going to their heads. I could let My power flow to them and through them, knowing that they would use it to bless John and others.

Lord, help me set my mind and heart on Christ, that I might gain a deeper understanding of Your ways.

 

– Tom Turpin

 

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