December 21 – “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

Read: Luke 2:8-20

The shepherds in the fields illustrate an important truth about evangelism and missions. There are times when it is most appropriate for God’s glorious good news to take people by surprise. The shepherds have no forewarning. No effort is made to lay the ground work for understanding. God did not send them prophets to explain angels or priests to define salvation or missiologists to articulate who should receive this good news. Suddenly, as if from no where, the sky is filled with God’s glory. God’s announcement resounds in the night air. Good news needs an audience and the shepherds were available.

The shepherds were not polled for their opinion or researched by an advance team. Yet they were recipients to one of the greatest evangelistic messages ever presented. Who better than shepherds, camped out under the stars, to receive the good news. Perhaps, most of the message went over their heads, but that was to be expected as was their hurried trip to Bethlehem.

Prayer: Move us, Lord, to express Your good news freely and joyfully. Free us from being so calculated and contrived in our witness. Your praise deserves an audience among our friends and neighbors. To God be the glory great things He has done. Amen.

December 20 – “…Caesar Augustus issued a decree

“…Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…So Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem.”

Read: Luke 2:1-7

God enters this world in disguise. Instead of a militant messiah with a vanguard of warlords the God of the cross is born to a peasant family in an obscure Palestinian village. He comes quietly, uninvited and unexpected. Theologians speak of the hidden God, His power and majesty concealed so the power of love and grace may be revealed. God goes before us in ways completely unexpected.

From his palace in Rome, Caesar issues an order effecting everyone in the Roman Empire. A word from Caesar and everyone must jump, but even the political power of the Roman empire is orchestrated to serve the purposes of God and fulfill prophecy. Caesar’s political sovereignty is an illusion but the poverty of Jesus is real. We get a sense of the fullness of time from Mary and Zechariah’s songs but when we actually look at what happened the circumstances look ill-conceived and difficult. I wonder if Mary and Joseph ever asked themselves, “If God is in this why don’t things go better?”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to see Your purposes in our difficulties. If our privations and problems reveal Your glory so be it. Help us not to complain and grow discouraged. Teach us to see Your grace going before us. May this Christmas be filled with joy not in spite of our poor circumstances but even because of them. May Your Glory be revealed. Amen.

December 19 – “…The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Read: Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah and Mary praised the Lord in similar ways. The same truths emerge in their songs of praise: God’s people need redemption and deliverance; God scatters the proud, turns away the rich, and rescues us “from the hand of all who hate us;” God enables us to serve Him without fear and God gives His people a future secured by His grace and mercy. Zechariah and Mary have the wisdom to see that all of this is God’s doing and not man’s achievement. They provide instructive commentary on our tendency to generate enthusiasm and manufacture “results.”

For Zechariah and Mary the “doing” is done by God. God’s grace goes before our work; defining, shaping and sanctifying our service. Our first task is always worship and praise; recognizing the great work of salvation God is doing. He goes before us, involving us in His work.

Prayer: Father, we are filled with praise for all You have done. Give us eyes to see Your grace and behold Your salvation. Forgive us for our self-effort and wrong-headed activism. Give us a heart that truly sings Your praises. Guide our feet into the path of peace. Amen.

December 18 – “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . . “

Read: Luke 1:46-55

Our prayers of praise may describe better than anything else who we really are. When Mary wrote what is now known as the “Magnificat” she was young but far from immature. Her wisdom is evident in her response to God. Mary’s life is centered in God. She is focused on the Lord of History and the God of the Ages. The poetry of her soul reveals a passion for God reserved in today’s church for people much older than a young teen.

Mary understands her personal deliverance in the larger context of God’s salvation history. In our imagination we might like to picture Mary as a young, innocent, sensitive girl, who felt more than she thought. Her song of praise proves otherwise. She is a serious Christian. Today we use her wisdom to instruct our worship.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Mary’s song of praise. May her praise become our praise and may our children sing her song of deliverance. Indeed, Your mercy extends to those who fear You from generation to generation. You have been mindful of our humble state and lifted us up. Amen.

December 17 – “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Read: Luke 1:29-56

We all have to serve somebody – the question is who? For Mary there was little question. She got to the bottom line without the inner conflict and questioning that bothers so many Christians today. Perhaps our confusion stems from not knowing who we really are. Is our self-identity defined by Christ or by something else? Some people’s self-worth is tied to their salary or their success at work or their stylish clothes or the sub-division they live in. Mary had none of the usual props that many seem to need for a good performance. Mary was her own person. She knew who she was because of her singular commitment to God. Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

Mary’s relationship with God meant she knew herself. Because we are made in the image of God and have an inner desire to know God and be loved by God we do not really know who we are apart from God. Mary cut through the confusion of overwhelming change with a simply stated, deeply felt conviction; “I am the Lord’s servant.” In Mary there was no conflict of interest. Can the same thing be said of us?

Prayer: Father, help me to connect with Your will the way Mary did. Like Mary I am surprised at times by what You want me to do. It’s not entirely clear as to what You want from me, but help me to be open and willing to do everything You have in mind. I am Your servant. Not my will but Your will be done. Amen.

December 16 – “…And they will call him Immanuel — which means ‘God with us.’”

“..You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
“…And they will call him Immanuel — which means ‘God with us.’”

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

The fact that we need God with us because of our sin is a sobering fact. We would like to be so attractive and righteous in ourselves that God simply wants to be with us because we are so good. But Christ did not come into his creation as a human being to congratulate us but to redeem us. Since mankind sold out to sin we needed to be bought back. The price was unbelievably high. Like a fire in an art gallery which destroys priceless, original masterpieces, sin destroyed the holiness and righteousness of God’s creation.

God did not wave a wand and start over. Even fallen, sinful men and women are made in His image and worth redeeming. God determined to restore the masterpiece to the specifications of His holiness and righteousness through the painstaking work of Jesus Christ. Becoming a new creation in Christ is possible because God did not give up on us but came to us to save us.

Prayer: We confess Lord, that we are not in a mood to think about sin at Christmas, especially our own sin. Your coming to earth and being with us seems so positive and inspiring and sin is so negative and discouraging. Help us Lord to face the sobering truth of why You came and then let us rejoice in Your forgiveness and acceptance. Give us courage to share the truth about Christmas with our friends. Amen.

December 15 – “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”

Read: Luke 1:39-45

Elizabeth played a special role in Mary’s life just like her son, John, did in Jesus’ life. Mary did not have to bear the blessing alone. She runs to Elizabeth for encouragement and support and she receives a tremendous affirmation. The Holy Spirit creates and confirms the work of God. The Spirit “overshadowed” Mary and “filled” Elizabeth.

Although we only have a brief description of their conversation, we can readily see that to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with unreserved, unashamed praise. “In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Added to her praise is humility. “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Added to her humility is joy. “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” And added to her praise, humility and joy, is faith. “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Elizabeth gave to Mary the best possible gift she could have. The work of the Spirit includes the work of encouragement. Who can measure the value of that gift shared among God’s people this Christmas?

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the “Elizabeths” in our lives, who encourage the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Fill us with praise, humility, joy and faith. Help us to recognize, appreciate and confirm Your work in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

December 14 – “…What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

The surprising work of the Holy Spirit is truly amazing. If we ever thought we could box God in, Christmas proves us wrong. No one expected exactly what happened. The coming of the Messiah was anticipated, but who dreamed it would happen the way it did. Mary surely didn’t. That is, until she heard the angel say, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” We expect the work of the Spirit of God to be inspiring, not impregnating. It is easier to picture people being overwhelmed emotionally than it is to understand Mary being “overshadowed” physically. The surprising work of the Holy Spirit engages the physical world, controls Mary’s body, and conceives a new life. The same Spirit who called creation into existence creates time and space in the womb of a maid for the Incarnate One.

The Holy Spirit surprised everyone at Pentecost too. Suddenly the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the gospel to Jewish pilgrims gathered to Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean  world. Because the disciples were enabled to communicate by the Holy Spirit, everyone could hear the gospel in their native language. Their speech was more than inspirational, it was indigenous. The Holy Spirit performed a linguistic miracle. The same Spirit who controls the womb controls phonetics and syntax. Culture and conception and everything else in creation are the easy tools of the Holy Spirit. We have a lesson to learn. The Spirit of God controls communication and conception. Nothing is too hard for the Spirit of God. We have no business trying to control and domesticate the Spirit.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we seem to have a natural bent toward limiting Your field of work and range of power. Holy Spirit, we acknowledge Your power over all creation. May Your work in our lives demonstrate the power and care of God so that others may see Christ. Amen.

December 13 – “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.. “

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

December 12 – “..He had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

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.

Encouragement to follow Jesus better!