Pressure

One of the messages we, as Christians, hear most often is probably that others should see something different about us. We are not to be like this world; we are called to be the Light of our Savior. Talk about pressure, right?

Luke sets the stage for Christ’s birth by giving the brief account of John the Baptist’s birth. An angel appears to his father Zacharias and tells him that his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will be highly favored by the Lord. Zacharias does not believe this, since he and his wife are past child-bearing age and she has not had children. Because of his disbelief, he is turned deaf and mute until his son is born (Luke 1:5-25).

Just the next verse over, in Luke 1:26, the angel appears to Mary and tells her she will have a son. She is shocked, but she worships God. Her next move is to go visit her relative, Elizabeth. (Yes–it’s the same Elizabeth.) And what happens when she appears? “And as it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

Elizabeth knew, her unborn son knew, that Mary was different. In fact, Elizabeth asks Mary, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary is already being referred to as the mother of the Savior. If anyone has ever known pressure in her life, it’s Mary, I’m sure.

We can see the difference in Zacharias’ and Mary’s responses–one of disbelief and one of worship. I think that’s a pretty clear example of how we can handle pressure. We can believe in God but have disbelief about His works that we become silent. Or we can believe in Him and, even in the midst of the unbelievable, say “may it happen as You command it, Lord!”

And that is how people know who we belong to.

A few months ago, when I was getting my nails done, I got into a conversation with the lady next to me about my circumstances. Nothing detailed, nothing overly personal. She said she had felt like she should talk with me, and she asked if I was a “believer.” To be honest, this term throws me off. Can’t you just ask if I’m Christian? Or a woman of faith? I could “believe” in a lot of things. Anyway… She said she felt I was because of how at peace I seemed. After the conversation ended, I smiled. I had never had someone assume I was a Christian because of how I talked, and I had a moment where I thought “but how did she even see that?” And then I had another moment later: “Oh, no. What if I don’t always show that? What about those days I feel utter despair and no peace? Am I fraud?”

It can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes, but that’s because we are human and we aren’t perfect. But God loves us anyway. And in this season, where everyone else is so uplifted and joyful but I still struggle with a sense of hopelessness some days, I have to remember to take the pressure off myself. I’m not a “bad Christian” because there are days I just want to cry when I get home. I don’t believe in God any less because I sometimes struggle to see the good that can come from this season. My first response needs to be Mary’s, not Zacharias’.

And here’s the thing: God put that pressure on someone else, on His Son, so I didn’t have to struggle with it.

So, I want to leave you with this: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Preparation

What do you do when you’re expecting someone into your home? You probably clean, and clean everything. You might add some decor. Maybe you light a few candles to make your home smell good and feel cozy. But do you pray?

I admit, I usually don’t. If I do, it might sound something like “God, please give me the strength to get through this social interaction.” Socializing takes a lot of emotional energy for me, so my prayers are usually pretty selfish before any of those interactions.

My husband and I didn’t prepare anything before we adopted Belle. I found her at the shelter, sent him a photo, and his response was that we were going back to the shelter when he was off work because he was sure we would be adopting a dog. We had been thinking of getting a pup for a while, but the actual act of adding her to the family was spur of the moment.

We didn’t prepare anything before we adopted our male cat, Raptor. We thought “hey, maybe Sabrina could use a friend?” And we wanted another cat.

And I didn’t prepare anything before I adopted my female cat, Sabrina. She was with her litter in the veterinarian office I worked in at the time (I was 16), and I told my mom to hold her because I wanted her, and we left with her that day.

Prayer wasn’t even a thought in any of these instances. And there wasn’t a lot of preparation for a lot of decisions I’ve made.

In Luke 1:39, we see Mary visits Elizabeth, who is 6 months pregnant with John, and in verses 46 through 55, Mary praises God, beginning with “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Verse 56 tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months.

Three whole months. Can you believe that?! There is a brief explanation about Mary in these verses in my Bible. I won’t copy out the whole thing, but here’s the piece that stands out: “It is clear that she did not claim to understand it herself, but simply worshiped God in humble acknowledgment of the phenomenon engulfing her existence” (italics mine). Mary didn’t have a physical place to prepare–we know Jesus was born in a manger–but she prepared her heart through worship. Think about what could have happened had Mary not worshipped God after the news.

That’s what this season and the weeks leading up to Christmas are all about: preparing our hearts.

I admit, I have not been great at it. Even though I’m in a slightly better head space this year than I was last year, the season sort of snuck up on me, and I have allowed work and responsibilities to get the better of me. I am tired and cranky, and by this point, I just want my vacation. But I’ve been trying to get myself back into that heart space. I have been playing Christian music on my drive to work in the morning and home in the afternoon. I have been sending up small prayers throughout the day. When I get frustrated (as anyone who drives in the DC area is bound to be), I try to check myself. Because my heart needs to be right.

Think about how different we would be if we worshiped the Lord in acknowledgement for our existence. We may be anxious for what lies ahead, we may not understand the path, but we can prepare ourselves by worshipping the One who does know.

. . . . . .

How do you prepare your heart?

Is it sometimes hard for you to prepare your heart for God? Why?

The News

What is your reaction when you hear incredible news? Do you scream and shout? Gasp? Are you vocal or silent? Are you reserved or outspoken? Do you worship?

Worship? You might ask. But what if it was bad news? I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter the type of news we get, our first response needs to be to worship God with whatever we have in us.

Imagine being Mary. An angel of the Lord visits you and tells you that you’re going to be pregnant, even though you haven’t known your husband, and–wait!–that son will be the Savior of the world. My reaction might have been something along the lines of:

giphy-1

or

giphy

But Mary seemed to respond calmly as she asked the angel how this would be possible. When the angel explained, Mary’s response was to declare herself a servant of the Lord: “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word'” (Luke 1:38).

Man, I wish I could have that response to situations. I mean, I also wish an angel of the Lord would appear to me and tell me how things are going to work out (am I right? anyone?). But to have the confidence that it was God’s word that was spoken to you and to be excited about it is incredible.

According to the definition in my Bible, “word” here means something that is spoken, and the additional study material at the back of Luke (in my Bible) says this scripture is telling us to submit our plans and future to God’s will. So, she knew God told her this would happen, and she faithfully accepted the plan and submitted herself to Him.

That is remarkable to me. Mary had no idea what would happen next. All she knew was that she would give birth to Jesus. She left her uncertainty with God.

Granted, I have no way to know if she felt any uncertainty, but I know I would. And how often has something happened that I say “God, tell me what’s going to happen,” but He only gives me a piece at a time. Because that’s what He does. He works in such huge ways that He can only give us a small piece of His plan at a time, otherwise we would be overwhelmed. Imagine if He had told Mary everything to expect with Jesus. She may not have departed with such faith–she may have felt more fear and uncertainty, which would not propel her forward into God’s plans.

When something happens, we often want the whole picture right away. But, more often than not, God deals in short utterings, telling us only what we need to know right then. It’s a gentle nudge, a whisper of “do not be afraid…for with God, nothing is impossible.”

And worshipping is our indication to Him that we know that.

Different Versions

Have you ever had an experience with a friend, but they seem to remember it differently than you? That’s how I’m feeling as I am reading about the birth of Jesus.

Luke doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on His birth. In fact, Luke 1:39-56 is all about Mary visiting Elizabeth while Elizabeth was pregnant with John and Mary worshipping God. There are only 20 verses, Luke 2:1-20, that talk about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Needless to say, even after looking at footnotes and related passages, I left these passages feeling a little disappointed. Advent is about waiting expectantly, hopefully, with joy, and I felt…underwhelmed.

So in my desire to more fully know this story, I turned to another gospel: the book of Matthew. There is a significant difference between these two gospels, one that I had forgotten when I took on this endeavor, but one that is interesting to see.

Matthew 1:18 through Matthew 2:23 is the birth of Jesus, His family’s escape to Egypt, and establishing their home in Nazareth. Luke doesn’t cover any of that. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I remember most about the story of Christ’s birth is the star, the angel coming to the shepherds, and the wise men. Matthew covers all of that.

But what I find really intriguing is that while Luke writes about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the reaction to the pregnant Mary by Elizabeth’s unborn child (John), Matthew writes about Joseph’s struggle with the news of his betrothed’s pregnancy. Joseph was concerned about what he would do with this woman who was pregnant though they were not yet together. And in his worry and attempt to solve it on his own–by “putting her away secretly” (Luke 1:19)–an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, that this was by design of the Lord.

Joseph is described as a just man. According to a Word Wealth section in my Bible, this description means the following: “upright, blameless, righteous, conforming to God’s law and man’s. In the NT, it is used primarily of persons who correspond to the divine standard of right made possible through justification and sanctification.” So, Joseph was a man of God, by God’s own definition, and even he was afraid.

How many of us have gone through a situation where we have no idea how it started or what will come of it, but we are afraid? Maybe we are afraid of what others will say. Maybe we are afraid of what we will be like when it’s over. Maybe we hope that by hiding it away, it will go away. And have you ever wished God would just come down to you and say “Don’t worry–this is by design” followed by specifically the good that will come from it? I know I have. Heck, I still do.

But that’s the incredible thing about Christ’s birth: He is the way God told us not to be afraid. And I was reminded of that when I read this passage. That is what this season is about: waiting for Jesus without fear.

We are going to be afraid. We are going to go through all the possibilities in our minds of how to solve our problem. We are going to wonder. But God is telling us that we should not be afraid, that if we just wait we will see God with us.

Talk About Orderly

Have you ever talked with someone about an event and they just breeze through it? “This happened, then that, and then this thing, and then it was done.” And you’re left thinking, “that’s it?”

I mentioned that one reason I was drawn to reading through Luke is because when I was researching the story of the birth of Christ, all the sources I came across–including personal ones–said it’s a very orderly account and is written for non-Jews. And that’s true. To a huge degree.

If you just read through Luke, without pausing to look at footnotes or other associated verses, it moves very quickly through the birth of John the Baptist and then Jesus. Admittedly, I was left thinking, “Really, Luke? That’s all you’re giving me?”

The thing is I think that’s how a lot of us approach our Bible reading at first. I know that’s true for me. I struggled to treat it with the reverence it deserved, and reading it often felt more like a check box to complete at the end of my day. But I want to change that.

I started with a cursory read of Christ’s birth so I could actually study it. I wanted to see what I felt was missing, develop questions, see what was confusing to me.

My questions so far:

  1. Why does he cover John the Baptist’s birth so in depth?
  2. Why could John’s father not speak for so long?
  3. Why do I feel like there’s detail missing on Christ’s birth?

I am sure these questions will be answered, at least a little bit, as I keep studying. And I am sure I will develop more questions. I’m really looking forward to continuing this study. I have a feeling it will transition to another of the Gospels, but I am excited to see what I learn.

. . . . . .

Have you been reading Luke? What questions do you have? What questions do you have about Christ’s birth?

Why Start There?

One of the questions that was asked at my small group last night, and which is very fitting to my personal study right now, was: why is the book of Luke is the book most people navigate to when they begin to study the nativity or the story of Jesus? So that is where I wanted to start: why I’ve chosen to follow the story of Jesus through Luke.

The Bible I own is a New Spirit Filled Life Bible. It was gifted to me by a friend in ministry when I was in college, when I chose to actually declare my faith. If you’re not familiar with this type of Bible, let me explain why I like it. Each book has an introduction that includes the history, proposed authorship, context, connection to Christ, and personal application that can be found in that book. Then, there are a multitude of footnotes and Word Wealth boxes that help you navigate and analyze the text further. As someone who spent years studying words and texts, I appreciate this on a deep level.

Luke 1:3 explains that his aim is to “write…an orderly account” of Jesus’ life. For someone like me who likes chronological explanations, this is a hug contributing factor to using this book. But the introduction to Luke states that “Luke stresses the fact that Jesus is not merely the Jewish Deliverer, but the Savior of the entire world.” In other words Luke writes for the gentiles, the rest of us.

This time of year is the also the time most of us want to feel closer to and see the Lord. And the introduction to the book of Luke states that “no one who reads this book should feel he [or she] is beyond the reach of the gospel of salvation.”

I pray that as we begin reading, we remember that: we are never beyond the reach of Jesus.

. . . . . .

What faithful reminder do you need this season?

Have you read Luke before? What were your thoughts?

What is your “go-to” book in the Bible when you want to refresh yourself?

A Season of Hope

Do you celebrate advent?

All through my childhood, my parents would gift me with an advent calendar on December 1. I was always excited to open the little window and eat the little piece of chocolate as I eagerly counted down the days to December 25. I never really knew what “advent” meant, but I knew I loved the anticipation of Christmas Day.

Why? Because the Christmas season is a time of hope. If you’re a child, you eagerly await Christmas Day to see the magical appearance of presents that may not have been there the night before, hoping you got that gift you asked Santa for. If you’re an adult, parent or not, you eagerly give others presents, hoping they like the gift.

And if you’ve ever faced a heart-breaking disappointment, you hope for relief…and maybe a miracle.

I wish I could tell you I got the Christmas miracle I begged God for last year, but I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that this year doesn’t ache, but I can’t. It doesn’t hurt as much, but the hurt hasn’t entirely gone away. I wish I could tell you that I’m not still walking through the difficulty, but I can’t.

I wish I could tell you my childlike joy never faded, but it did.

But the great thing about the Christmas season is that it’s never too late to get that joy back. And that is why I am going to be working to celebrate this season and read the story of Christ, through the book of Luke. I encourage you to join me.

If you’re curious about what hoping and waiting on Jesus means, if you’re struggling to find even simple happiness this season, or even if you just want to read along to see what’s going on, I welcome you.

Let’s unwrap joy together.