Mary – Nothing Is Impossible

          Searching His Word
                 Seeking His Heart

When God gives us what feels like an impossible task, He also gives us encouragement, assurances, even something visible or concrete.

Gabriel gave Mary the message that she was honored by the Most High (God) and that she would bear His son. Here comes the encouragement from Gabriel…

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.” Luke 1:36

Here comes the assurance (and a promise), 

“FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.” Luke 1:37

What a promise for Mary.

Next comes her response. We can see the reason she was chosen—humble surrender to God’s will.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

We can’t be sure of the timing, but at some point Mary left to go to the hill country to visit her relative, Elizabeth (maybe an aunt.) Hear Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary. 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Luke 1:42-44

To see Elizabeth, very pregnant, and to hear her words when she entered the house were the visible, concrete signs Mary needed.

Hear a few of Mary’s words as she breaks forth in praise.

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Luke 1:46-47

Later in in her song of praise, she says,

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. Luke 1:52

Mary is not boasting of being “humble,” she’s acknowledging that this great thing the Lord has done in her has been done to a nobody, an insignificant peasant girl, not the seed of an earthly king. With God, nothing is impossible!

I remember when God called me to write about lesser-known Bible characters. I thought, “How can I do this? I’m not a seminary graduate or even an author.” But the call to the task was very clear through more than enough signs. Half-way through the first book, I thought again, “Who do I think I am to complete this task, but He reminded me, “You can’t,” but with God nothing is impossible.

The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.

May you joyfully celebrate with Mary and the angels and the shepherds as we all give praise that our Savior became “God with us.” And whatever task He calls you to do this next year, remember He will encourage you along the way for nothing is impossible with God. 

~ Joyce ~

Mary – Me?

         

         Searching His Word

                    Seeking His Heart

Before the Christmas birth story in Luke 2, we find the back-story of Mary in Luke 1.

The story unfolds at a time when her relative, Elizabeth, is in the sixth month of pregnancy. We are given a short introduction to Mary. 

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name is Mary. Luke 1:26-27

So, we know that Mary lives in Nazareth, is engaged to Joseph, and is still a virgin. It is important that Joseph is a “descendant of David” because the prophecy proclaims that the Messiah will come through the line of David.

Gabriel speaks,

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

I picture Mary alone in her house doing something mundane like cutting up vegetables. To have anyone suddenly appear in your house would startle you, but when that someone is angelic (perhaps emanating light), it can be downright frightening. But more than his presence, it was his words that concerned her most.

Mary was greatly troubled by his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:29-30

Imagine how overwhelmed you would be if an angel came to you and said you had found favor with God. You might question why and feel so unworthy. Me? What have I done to deserve this. Mary might have thought, “I’m just a common Jewish girl.” Gabriel piles on more amazing words.

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:31-33

Whoa, slow down, Gabriel. This is more than a girl can take in! Her response lets us know that she stopped hearing his message after “give birth to a son.” She asked,

“How will this be since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

Graciously, Gabriel explains in more detail how this will be.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

Has the Lord ever given you a task, a task you feel is beyond you? He specializes in doing things like that. You see, if it is a task we can easily do, then we don’t have to depend on Him. Every now and then, He “honors us” with an assignment that goes beyond ourselves, one in which we must trust Him. 

Next week, we will look at one of the choice promises that comes out of this account with Mary.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

Christmas – Praise from the Heavenly Host

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Before we come to the main event, let’s not forget poor Joseph who seems lost in all of the comings and goings. He’s heard that Mary is “to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), a story he can’t quite buy into. Joseph is left to ponder these things during the three months Mary is away at Elizabeth’s house.

What are we told about Joseph? 

1. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph (Matt. 1:18), which means they were legally bound but not yet living together. 

2. Joseph was a righteous man. Matt. 1:19

3. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace and had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19) He could have signed the papers to have her judged publicly and stoned.

4. He patiently spent some time considering this. (Matt. 1:20)

At last, God graciously sends an angel to Joseph in a dream. The angel says,

“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.” Matt. 1:20-21

We can add “obedient” to our list of things we know about Joseph. When Mary returns to Nazareth,

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took her home to be his wife. Matt. 1:24

So we see that angelic activity comes to Joseph as well as Mary and Zechariah. (Previous blogs.)

The heavenly host of angels now wait in the wings(smile) for their turn.

Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem, the town of David. By Roman decree each person must go to the town of his heritage to be registered for the census. While there (in the town where prophecy said the Messiah would be born), Mary gives birth and swaddles him up tight as we still do for our babies today. There is no room for them in the inn so she lays him in a manger which indicates they are in a stable for the night.

Meanwhile, shepherds tend their sheep on the hills outside the little town of Bethlehem. In the late hour, perhaps one or two shepherds are resting while the other does guard duty.

Suddenly, an angel appears to them and (don’t miss this) the glory of the Lord shines around them. What does the “glory of the Lord” look like? I’m imagining unbelievable brilliance! Result? They are “sore afraid”—terrified. Of course the first thing we hear is,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (That’s you and me and everybody then and now—all people.) 

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (The promised Messiah.)

This will be a sign to you: (Just so you can check it out.) You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Note that the sign is not a star (the star led the wise men), but a swaddled baby in a manger. Luke 2:10-12

As if that isn’t enough to knock their sandals off, it is now time for the whole host of heavenly angels to finally make their appearance. They burst forth in praise.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.” Luke 2:14

It had to have been absolutely glorious. Praise His name, our redemption has come! Blessed Christmas to you.

~ Joyce ~

Christmas – Elizabeth Receives a Visitor

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Meanwhile, back to Elizabeth…

Tradition says that Elizabeth had a sister in Nazareth named Anna. In Elizabeth’s sixth month, she heard the story of her sister’s daughter (Mary) and the special baby she was carrying. Mary, likewise, heard about Elizabeth from the angel, Gabriel, and decided to travel to Elizabeth’s house where she might find comfort and safety from public tongues wagging.

Mary entered Elizabeth’s house and called out a greeting.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:41

Elizabeth had yet another affirmation of how God had set apart her own child and blessed Mary’s child with holiness.

In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Luke 1:42-44

Notice, a loud voice! Elizabeth was overwhelmed with excitement and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Another important factor was that Elizabeth recognized that Mary believed what the angel told her. Elizabeth said,

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Luke 1:45

I had not keyed in with this verse before. Elizabeth had been reminded, for six months so far, about Zechariah’s doubting attitude. He still couldn’t talk. So it made an impression on Elizabeth that Mary readily believed the angel. 

Both women were filled to the brim with emotion and the spirit of God. Mary began her praise;

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant…” Luke 1:46-47

Mary stayed on until Elizabeth gave birth. Her neighbors and relatives shared in her joy.  On the eighth day, it was time for the circumcision ceremony and the naming of the child. Elizabeth told the officials that he was to be named “John.” Oh, but this was not traditional. After all, there were no relatives named “John.” So they went to Zechariah to get the straight of it. But remember, he could not talk. They made signs to him to try to communicate. Finally, he called for a writing tablet and declared,

“His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. Luke 1:63

In fact he was so filled with the Spirit that he began to prophesy in a twelve-verse song of praise. It became quite evident that he did hear the rest of the angel’s declaration six months earlier and understood, at least in part, the destiny of this special son. (Luke 1:67-79)

The neighbors were filled with awe and told about it all over the hill country of Judea. Their burning question was,

“What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. Luke 1:66

We, too, stand in awe of the great things God can do with simple people like Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Mary. It is a reminder that He can use even the likes of us to accomplish His purposes, great or small, if we believe and are willing. Amazing, isn’t it?

~ Joyce ~

Christmas – Gabriel Is Busy Again

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Zechariah returned home from his dramatic incident at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since he was now speechless, he had to gesture to his wife and write his amazing news.

Sure enough, Elizabeth conceived in her old age and declared,

“The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people. Luke 1:25

Like Sarah and Hannah of old, it was a disgrace not to bear children. She rejoiced to feel this life inside her body. Talk about a God-incident!

When Elizabeth reached her sixth month, the Lord had another special job for the angel, Gabriel.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26-28

Like Zechariah, Mary was also  fearful and startled by this sudden appearance and these words. Gabriel said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Luke 1:30-31

My guess again is that she, like Zechariah, stopped listening at this point. but Gabriel proceeded.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32-33

Thinking in practical terms, Mary asked,

“How will this be since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

I told you her mind had stopped on “You will have a child.” Somehow her demeanor and her tone did not have the same kind of skepticism that Gabriel heard from Zechariah. Gabriel gently explained,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

Even if Mary can’t quite take in the magnitude of these words, she must have had a willing spirit. Perhaps she began to ponder, what about Joseph? What will the people say? How do I explain this to mama and papa? Gabriel seems to know her anxiety and gave her comforting news about someone who could identify with her.

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a baby in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Ah, there is our thought again. “Nothing is impossible with God!” What a mixture of feelings and thoughts Mary must have had.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:36-38

I wonder how she told her mother about this. Did her mother believe her?

And then there is the unbelievable story about Elizabeth, her relative. At some point the decision was made that Mary and maybe her mother would make a trip to Elizabeth’s.

Isn’t it wonderful how God gives us special people in our lives? People to whom we want to go when our world turns upside down—someone to advise or simply be a listener and comforter.

Is there someone who is special to you? Would this be a good time to tell them how you appreciate them? What better time than Christmas to write them a note, give them a personal gift, take them out to eat—someway to express your love for them.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Three Smart men and a Star

Last night, we put away our last Christmas decoration. You may or may not have done the same. But before we leave Christmas as a 2014 memory, I’d like to explore the passage about the “wise men.” Their story is in Matthew 2.

 

1 After Jesus was born… Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

2 and asked, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matt. 2:1-2

 

Many believe these astrologers were from Persia and that they studied the stars with great wisdom. Somehow they had knowledge of Jewish names for celestial stars and clusters. Only in this way would they be able to identify them with a Jewish king. Where did they learn this? Could it be that Jews, taken into captivity in Esther’s day, had lingering influence on these Magi?

Some researchers believe the astrologers saw a particular set of stars that aligned themselves there in the eastern sky. They interpreted this to mean a special “king of the Jews” had been born (we have seen His star), and they were thus persuaded to make the long journey to worship him. This had to be more than just curious star-gazers.

They traveled to Jerusalem for, after all, that’s where the Jewish Temple was located. They posed their question to King Herod, who was not actually a Jew himself. He had to call in the religious leaders to find out where the Christ (Greek for Messiah) was to be born. “Bethlehem,” they told Herod.

So the Magi mounted their camels once again and set off for Bethlehem, another five miles away.

 

9 …they went their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child  was.

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. Matt. 2:9-10

 

What a thrill for them to see the star once again. What a confirmation that God was directing them in this last trek of their journey. Note that Jesus is no longer a baby, but a child.

 

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matt. 2:11

 

Jesus is no longer a baby in a manger, he is a child in a house. Well, that messes up our nativity scene and dramatic music programs, doesn’t it? Maybe we need a “some-time-later” sign.

Unlike the religious leaders, these strange men from a pagan country have discovered the leadership of the “One God.” Their immediate response? They bow down and worship him. They offer three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – leading us to assume there were three men. Maybe or maybe not.

The question I ask is, “Why did others not see this star in the east?” My conclusion is that these wise men were the only ones looking for it. Likely they had been following patterns in the sky for months, noticing the alignment beginning to take shape.

When the star appeared again outside of Jerusalem, it confirmed their faithfulness in making the long journey.

As we begin the New Year, let us intentionally look for God’s direction in our lives. What star does he have for you  in this new year? A ministry opportunity? A relationship to mend? The determination to spend regular quality time in prayer and Bible study? What star does he want to shine into your life?

As you faithfully launch out, no doubt he will shine that light upon you again as a confirmation. May it be so for you. I’d love to hear about it.

Happy fulfilling New Year to you all.

~ Joyce ~

 

Going to Elizabeth’s House

While out thoughts are knee-deep in Christmas, let’s explore an account that often goes unnoticed amongst the shepherds, manger, angels, and such. It’s Mary’s trip to visit her relative, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and her priest husband, Zechariah, live in the hill country of Judea. Their story is quite intriguing and can be found in Luke 1. In summary, Elizabeth (like Sarah, Hannah, and others) is devastated because she has been unable to have a child, something akin to a curse in her day. Zechariah serves his yearly one-week turn at the Temple in Jerusalem. While there, he is dumbfounded (read Luke 1 to get the pun) to discover that his wife is going to have a baby in her old age. We later learn that this child is none other than John, as in John the Baptist.

Sure enough, old Elizabeth does become pregnant! And gives credit where credit is due.

25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25

Six months later, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, revealing to her that she will bear a son and name him Jesus. He will, in essence, be the Messiah that Israel has longed for. Mary is startled and confused, but Gabriel satisfies her questions.

35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you… and he will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

The angel goes on to say,

36 “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. ”  Luke 1:36

Mary makes a trip to the hill country to visit Elizabeth. Zechariah is the first one to the door and as soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, baby John leaps in her womb.

41b …and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy SpiritLuke 1:41b

Elizabeth excitedly tells about her baby leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She goes on to pronounce blessing over Mary.

42 In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Luke 1:42

Two women – one old, one young. Both are told they will bear a son with a specific name  and specific callings. One son will prepare the way for the other. Both women are filled with the Holy Spirit. Both have their callings confirmed by each other. Two miracles takes place because “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Yet another reason for us to give thanks and praise during this season. We, too, can look back and see God at work in our own lives: affirming us, encouraging us, revealing his Holy Spirit, and at times, accomplishing what seems impossible. Think back on your year. How have you seen God at work in your life?

Next week, on Christmas day, we will hear a testimony from one of the Bethlehem shepherds.

~Joyce~