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.

December 11 – “You will be with child and give birth to a son,

“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.

December 10 – “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”

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.

December 9 – “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

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.

Encouragement to follow Jesus better!