Tag: Mary

Silent Night 2016

How would you describe 2016? If you Google “2016”, you’ll see one of the top searches was “2016 the worst year ever.” Some of these articles go back to this July, not just the recent days of December. This year has been mired in social media arguments, political unrest, and a lack of empathy to say the least.

All of 2016 has led us to the December Christmas season. In a time of thoughtful and spiritual reflection, our minds can race through the anxiety and at times even anger from the last eleven months. The idea of Advent, Christ’s coming, seems so distant from the chaos of the world around us.

Recently, I sang “Silent Night.” Two lines of the song stopped me:

All is calm
All is bright

Questions emerged in my mind. Was it really all calm? Was it really bright? These questions seem fodder for theologians to debate late into the night. Part of the cynic in all of us asks these questions, because our current reality may not match the lyrics.

The Christmas story disarrays the characters. Mary has to explain the meeting with an angel and an unforeseen pregnancy. Joseph has the same problem. This couple then gets displaced from their current residence to Bethlehem. They find lodging in a stable as opposed to a room. They would later escape to Egypt because of an evil ruler. We could include the shepherds and the kings who got re-routed to see Jesus.

“Silent Night” offers us the radical message of hope. A hope based on Jesus, the Messiah, entering the world of chaos. Rather than elevating His heavenly power to become an earthly king, He steps into the disarray of the world as a powerless baby. That’s Good News because He has walked where we walked, especially in 2016.

What Mary and Joseph experienced and what 2016 has brought us is the Savior stepping into the darkness with us.

Celebrating Christmas in 2016 is much more than the presents, tinsel, holly, and feel good notions. It’s hope for people stuck in this year’s reality. Looking for the bright and the calm has less to do with the present circumstances, and more to do with the deeper significance and meaning of “God with us.”

Whatever 2016 has brought, let the Christmas season move you beyond the current chaos to the reality seen in the Gospel. The Savior born in an unexpected context brings us hope in His death and resurrection.

Photo credit by Ben White.

The King of my Heart

“What did you think of the song on Sunday?” Jason, the worship director, asked the question about a new song. A group of us sat in a debrief meeting for the church service this past Sunday. The question hit me like a high school pop quiz when I forgot to do the homework. I heard the song during the week played in Jason’s office and even a portion during practice. It never occurred to me to take notice of the song.

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Sunday was exhilarating. Browncroft, the church I serve, embodied the Gospel. A group of passionate volunteers assisted people in getting connected to a community. These Browncrofters affirmed and encouraged others to take the next steps in their spiritual growth. Not in a forceful way, but an empathetic and encouraging way that said, “I took this step too, and Christ worked in my life.”

I spent that day frantically sweating the small stuff. My mind ran through the to-do list a thousand times. Each moment brought a worry that I had forgotten something. Rather than pausing to see the Gospel displayed by God’s people or listening to the new song, I rushed in my anxiety.

Honestly, I identify with Martha more than Mary. Sitting still to listen to Jesus seems foreign and unnatural. In a Martha tone a voice, I can hear my thoughts, “Jesus don’t You see the work needing to get done.”

Somehow the lie of earning God’s love and grace reoccurs in me. If I’m not producing, then I’ll disappoint God. The Gospel says otherwise, but old habits die hard.

Jason asked about the song called King of My Heart by John Mark and Sarah McMillan After the meeting, I looked up the song and listened to it. The following lyrics stopped me:

Let the King of my heart be
The wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves;
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart be
The fire inside my veins
And the echo of my days;
Oh He is my song

You are good, good, Oh
You are good, good, Oh

I wonder how often God calls us to simply be with Him. We worry ourselves with unnecessary concerns. Our hurry from task to task can cause us to neglect seeing the beauty of Christ presence all around us. As I look back at Sunday, in my busyness I overlooked the chance to recognize Him by listening to a song.

Christ, who anchors our souls through the waves, invites us to know Him. What if at one moment today, you stopped to recognize His presence with you? What would you see?

Often, we remained tunnel vision by what we do and accomplish. Grace stops us to take notice of what we could never make happen on our own. Christ has reconciled us through His death and resurrection. Sometimes He calls us to sit like Mary because we need to pause to meet with Him.

Last night, I listened to the King of My Heart. At some point in the day, take the time to listen to this song and ask God to give you the vision to see Him. Perhaps, Christ has called you to do less so that you might rest in Him.

Photo credit by Thibaud Vaerman.

When You’re Tempted to Compare this Christmas

A week from today we celebrate Christmas Eve. Until then, many of us will experience a whirlwind of activities. Wrap the presents. Many of us still have to buy the gifts. Attend whatever party or function left in the schedule. Travel to our Christmas destination. Perhaps, clean the house and cook a meal.

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In the midst of all the exhaustion, we will hear about our friend’s Christmas celebrations. Then you might see the pictures of the perfectly wrapped present under the tree or the neatly set table for dinner. One friend may get the Lexus with the bow on top. We will face the temptation to compare:
They create the greatest traditions for their family.
Why won’t my kids sit and smile during the pictures?
Their decorations far exceed my own.
They got invited to this party and I did not
Look at the gifts they gave their family.

Luke 1:39-45 depicts Mary and Elizabeth sharing their news of expecting children. It seems like one of the least talked about Christmas stories. Both women have a radical visitation from God. Elizabeth old years will have a son John, who will prepare the way for Jesus. Mary will have Jesus, the Savior of the world.

I think I have tended to focus on the fact, that John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrives (vs. 41). We consider the miracle and the celebration of each of their birth announcement. Leon Morris in his Luke Commentary makes this observation:

We should not miss the absence of all jealousy in Elizabeth’s attitude to Mary. The older woman, who had received a blessing from the Lord, might well have tried to guard her position jealously. But in genuine humility, she recognized the greater blessing God had given Mary (pg. 83).

In the midst of Elizabeth’s joy for her own child, she did not miss the coming of Jesus through Mary. She could have asserted her own position with God. Rather, through God’s presence, she could see that Immanuel was to come through Mary.

Through the next week, we will face the temptation to compare, envy, and think jealous thoughts. What would happen if we began to take the attitude of Elizabeth? We would then rejoice in other’s rejoicing. Even more so, you and I could see Christ at work in other people.

Contentment and gratitude oppose comparison because they remind us of the grace God has given us. In this season, the Good News of the Gospel communicates to us how Christ has given far more than we could ever deserve by coming to earth. Through His death and resurrection, we have received life.

Let’s consider Elizabeth in this season; recognizing how Christ blesses us and others. How will you guard against comparison this Christmas? How can you see Christ in others this Christmas?

Photo credit by Chelsea Francis.

The Surprising Presence of Immanuel – An Advent Reflection

Today’s church-wide Advent reading came from Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s prayer (the Magnificat) responds to the shocking news of the coming of the Savior. Luke captures the surprising arrival of Immanuel; this Savior comes in the context of humility and mercy. A vast different arrival than what the religious contemporaries of that time imagined. He comes as a child in a manger as opposed to a gaudy coronation of a kingdom.

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Mary’s story mirrors our stories. Immanuel makes His presence known to us in ways that we could never imagine or expect. In many ways Mary’s surprise is our surprise; It’s a miracle that God comes to earth in the first place. Lowly shepherds celebrate His birth. Immanuel is born in minuscule Bethlehem and not the grandeur of Jerusalem or Rome. Luke highlights the humility of Mary, because the people who recognize God’s appearing know who He is and who they are.

Advent invites us to reflect on when Immanuel has appeared in our lives. I was reminded of the past year.  There were times when God surprisingly graced me with His goodness and opportunities I never deserved. Yet, I recognized Him the most during the seasons of difficulties and challenges. The humility God gave Mary is still something He is teaching me.

He appears in the midst of our darkness and disappointments. Often, we notice Him in the quiet and the ordinary. In looking back, He answers our prayers by mercifully redirecting us or even by saying no. We see Him in the minute details of smiles and tears. Even on a day full of snow, the never to be repeated flakes speak of Him.

Luke and Mary teach us about the heart that notices His surprising presence. It’s in this context of humility and mercy; His grace given to us allows us to recognize Him.

Let this Advent remind us the surprising arrival of Immanuel in the Gospels and also how He still surprises us with His presence in our lives.

How have you experienced the surprising presence of Immanuel?

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

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