Read: Matthew 1:18-25
The uniqueness of this particular moral dilemma is absolute. No other couple has faced this specific moral crisis. The word from the angel about this child changes Joseph’s mind. Apart from Revelation his decision would have meant a quiet divorce. Now, he believes that Mary’s pregnancy is the work of the Holy Spirit and does not violate the law. The conception of Jesus does not abolish the law but fulfills the law. It is not a disgrace but a work of grace. God is taking Joseph and us beyond the Law.
Righteousness is not an abstraction. We cannot measure it with a score card. Righteousness involves a personal relationship with the Righteous One. We may know the law and doctrine backwards and forwards but that does not make us Christians. The new birth, like Christ’s birth, is a supernatural work of grace. Joseph had to go beyond the Law to Jesus. He had to trust that what God was telling him about Jesus was true. Joseph is the historical link connecting Jesus legally to the house of David. More importantly Joseph was a believer. He had the courage to believe in the Word of God.
Prayer: Father, sometimes it seems so much easier to trust in our religion and our tradition than it is to believe in Your Holy Word. Lord, free us from our hang-ups. Teach us to know You; Love and Obey You. We want to have the courage of Joseph, in spite of what people might say. Amen
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
Fear comes in many forms. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom but the fear of people is the beginning of confusion, insecurity and disobedience. Joseph’s concern for what people might say and do left him with few alternatives. He could expose Mary in a public divorce trial for her apparent unfaithfulness or divorce her privately before two witnesses. He chose the later. He was unwilling to put her to shame. We can read between these lines a great deal of emotional trauma for both Joseph and Mary. Joseph cannot accept Mary in marriage but he is unwilling to hurt her publicly. Strange, isn’t it, that God lets Joseph wrestle through all of this before the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream.
The fear of man is a strong, controlling influence in most people’s lives. In the case of Joseph it is the fear of moral man; man under the law of God. He cannot reconcile Mary’s pregnancy with moral decorum. When your wife-to-be shows up pregnant something is wrong somewhere in spite of what she may say. Consider the irony of it all. God’s great miracle for mankind, the Incarnate One, is mistaken as illegitimate.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, overcoming the fear of what others will think is one of the hardest things for me. My choices are not always between good and evil but between Your good and other people’s good. Lord, help me when obedience to You looks like disobedience to others. Amen.
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
Read: Luke 1:26-38
Angelic visitations are few and far between in the span of time covered in the Bible. They are rare exceptions to a general pattern of quiet revelation received by faith, handed down from one generation to another, superintended by the Holy Spirit. God usually uses Prayer, Bible study, and Worship to make His will known and to center our thoughts on God’s agenda. Conversations with angels are not routine for Christians. God goes in for less dramatic communication. Signs and wonders are not daily occurrences.
But Christmas is different. It is like the Exodus and the Resurrection. The intent of God is boldly presented in a dramatic event. The commentary may be brief, as it was to Mary, but the impact shapes the eternal destiny of mankind. The curtain concealing the universe next door is pulled back and the glorious, illuminating light of God pours in. It does not blind us or take away the need for faith but it shows us the power of God to penetrate the darkness.
Prayer: Father, we need to hear Your words to Mary with our own heart and receive the blessing of Your Son by faith. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for not leaving us alone as unattended cosmic orphans. The reality of who we are is affirmed in this holy, Christmas greeting. Praise be to God. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:26-38
The first Christmas greeting was anything but polite and perfunctory. The angelic greeting was awesome! So much so that the first thing the angel needed to say to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and the Shepherds was, “Don’t be afraid!”
The will of God is not as tame as we might suppose. Our lives adjust to the daily routine. We become accustom to the ebb and flow of feelings, the stress and strain of working and the ups and downs of living. Normal living is pretty well knowing what the next day will bring. But suddenly all that changes, in a flash the routine is forgotten. We realize that life is more than “my” schedule. God’s agenda is bigger than any of us realize.
Do we resist the work of God in our lives out of fear? Are we so addicted to our routines and schedules that we are afraid God will require something that disrupts our lives and changes the pattern?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for breaking into our lives and showing us the greater meaning for our daily lives than putting in time. We accept by faith the fuller reality of your salvation. We live and move within a destiny greater than we can imagine. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:26-38
Mary is not a modern Madonna who must make a name for herself. She is not a star or a celebrity. Mary is not a heroine. She is a disciple who lives her life in quiet obedience and humble obscurity. Mary has only one thing to say to us about personal ambition, self achievement, and popularity; Let God be God.
If we live our lives in righteousness why do we worry so about getting ahead? If God wants to use us a certain way He will. Mary did not aspire to greatness the way modern people strive to get ahead. There was no competition to be the mother of Jesus. No job interview or competency test. God simply chose Mary.
Prayer: You have promised, O Lord, never to leave us or forsake us. Above all else we desire your favor. We need your blessing. Forgive us for seeking the world’s fame and recognition. Help us to seek Your favor and righteousness. Amen.
“He will go on before the Lord their God…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”
Read: Luke 1:14-17
The son of Elizabeth and Zechariah was given the important responsibility of announcing the coming of Christ. John introduced the Messiah and prepared the people with a message of repentance. He turned “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.”
We need help in opening our lives to God. Left to ourselves we concentrate on ourselves. Fathers reject their children and the disobedient thumb their nose at righteousness. Confession and repentance are the correct preparation for celebrating Christmas a Christian can experience and encourage. If we want others to turn from their sin and seek Christ we need to set the example. The forerunner of the Messiah was not a publicity agent but a prophet calling for repentance.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we repent of our sins. We confess our selfishness and turn away from what displeases You. Help us to overcome our impatience, anger, deception, and pride. Forgive us our sins and help us to forgive those who sin against us. May Christ’s forgiveness fill us with gratitude and prepare us for Christmas. Amen.
“The Lord has done this for me.”
Read: Luke 1:5-26
Elizabeth and Zechariah became involved in God’s timing. They were co-workers, partners with God, in the unfolding work of redemption. They entered into the work of faith, removing their disgrace and filling their lives with purpose. God’s work does not use us up and cast us off. It fulfills us. In the fullness of time God makes good on His promises. Personal fulfillment and God’s cosmic mission coincide. God’s glory and our joy stand together.
Elizabeth cherishes God’s favor. Her personal acquaintance with disgrace is overcome by blessing. Like Elizabeth we need to go beyond a barren, sometimes bitter, past and trust in God’s goodness for us.
Prayer: We rejoice in Your favor, O God and look to You for our salvation. In ourselves we cannot remove the disgrace of sin and death. We turn to You for our fulfillment, both for our personal, daily well-being and for our future everlasting life Thank you, Lord, for designing a lift plan that is for our best and your glory. Amen.
O Father, you are sovereign in all affairs of man;
No powers of death or darkness
can thwart your perfect plan.
All chance and change transcending,
Supreme in time and space,
You hold your trusting children secure in your embrace.
“How can I be sure of this?”
Read: Luke 1:13-25
There is not a Christmas that goes by that we are not tempted by Zechariah’s question. We live in the scientific age. How can we believe in an honest-to-goodness God inspired prophet? How is it possible that a virgin conceived and the Lord of the Universe laid in a manger? Do we believe in the unbelievable during the holiday season only to revert back to business as usual January first?
The answer is “No”, we reject the unbelievable.
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried; on the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
This is what we believe. We do not believe that time plus chance produces the world we live in or that biological determinism accounts for the depth and meaning of human personhood or that death ends all. And we don’t believe in Santa Claus, either.
Prayer: Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Celebrating Your birth as a human being reminds us of the profound realities that shape our lives and our cosmos. But we so easily forget and limit You to what we can see and touch. Reality is the mall. Its something we can buy. But we know otherwise. Help us to live in the reality of Your world and Your salvation. Amen.
“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.”
5 Read: Luke 1:5-22
It was not by accident that God spoke to Zechariah when he was in the temple praying. Time and Place are always important. God made His will known to Zechariah as he fulfilled his priestly responsibilities. Right in the middle of worship and prayer God moved the plan of salvation one step closer to fulfillment. He brought this old, faithful priest into his confidence. He answered his prayer. God’s will and Zechariah’s plea intersected only to take off in a direction Zechariah never dreamed of.
It is in the thoughtful routine of worship and in the practice of spiritual disciplines that the meaning of Christmas becomes clearer. It is as we pray and sing and wait in quietness that God often speaks. Worship frees us from all the hassles and the clutter and points us in the direction of the Savior.
Like Zechariah we often find God taking us in directions we never expected. The world and the forces of evil are pulling on us as well. Will we listen and obey God?
Prayer: Father help us to quiet ourselves and discipline our restlessness. We need to hear Your Word and rejoice in Your promises. If we cannot center on You we will be pulled in every direction. Teach us to know You, quietly sovereign, Lord of our life. Amen.
“Both of them were upright in the sight of God . . . But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren.”
Read: Luke 1:5-17
From a human perspective the timing looked all wrong. “In the time of Herod king of Judea” was about the worst time we could imagine. But from God’s perspective it was the fullness of time. God does not operate on worldly standard time. Nor does he use the people we might expect. There is no perfect time. There are no perfect people, but that didn’t stop God!
Life often does not turn out the way we expect it should. It certainly didn’t for Elizabeth. She had no children. If we read between the lines we sense a lot of suffering in Elizabeth’s life even though she was good and obedient. The danger faithful people face, especially older Christians, is believing that life is nothing more than a mixed bag of good and evil. We need to learn what Elizabeth did; that in one way or another God does overcome the barrenness of life when we trust Him and are faithful to Him.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach us to trust you in the middle of our disappointments. Sometimes we are frustrated that You do not work the way we expect you should. We keep looking for a blessing that doesn’t come. Lord enable us to accept both the strain and the promise of faithfulness. We are Your children and we look forward to Your inheritance Amen.