Let’s Go and See

from Lynda Lindsey

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

It is popular in today’s society to act world-weary, cynical, disenchanted. Perhaps it’s not an act. To openly express joy and delight leaves us accused of being naive, gullible, easily taken in and deceived. This attitude of I’ve-seen-it-all-done-it-all-nothing-can-shake-me-from-my-lethargy has been around since Solomon’s day; it continues to make a resurgence. It actually has a basis in fact: life apart from God is meaningless and we go through our days lifeless, disengaged. Shepherds, camped in fields outside Bethlehem on the evening of Jesus’ birth, were dutifully caring for their sheep when they had a terrifying experience, one calculated to shake anyone’s sense of boredom.

The darkness was suddenly pierced by an angel from the Lord with a message of Good News: Jesus Christ the Lord, a Savior, had just been born. Then a huge company, a multitude of angelic beings, resplendent and shining with God’s radiant glory, illuminated the sky, all praising and glorifying God. The sign of this truth? The shepherds would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger in Bethlehem. Astonished, the shepherds hurriedly set out to see for themselves what had been told them. How fitting that shepherds, not necessarily considered the highest class citizens, were the first summoned to see and worship the Lamb of God.

Once the shepherds saw Mary, Joseph, and the newborn baby, they departed joyfully, glorifying and praising God, spreading the word about the things they had been told and had personally witnessed. Caught up in the drama of a baby’s birth announced by hosts of angels, the shepherds response was anything but cynical. The shepherds let their joy show; that joy spread, rippling out like waves in a pond, touching all they encountered. Shepherds, witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, spread the Gospel, and all who heard it were amazed and in awe. To live in awe and wonder of God is often terrifying…in the best of ways; it’s also a sure cure for world-weary cynicism! Give it a try; it’s a refreshing change!

Finding Favor with God

from Lynda Lindsey

The angel Gabriel speaking to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. … Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:28; 30

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Luke 1:39-42

“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. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke 1:43-45

A gift, by definition, is a present given willingly to someone, without payment. The recipient doesn’t work for the gift, perform a service in exchange for it, or even deserve to receive it; gifts are given because the giver chooses to be generous and kind. Gifts are offered with the hope that the gift will be readily accepted, received and enjoyed; nonetheless it is still proffered.  A lagniappe is an extra gift given free of charge as an unexpected bonus; it is a special and welcome treat that serves as a-little-something-extra to encourage us, something to enhance the ordinariness of life. 

Mary and Elizabeth found favor with God. God, ever the gracious giver, gifted a virgin’s womb with a baby King that would change the course of history; God gifted a barren womb with a baby that would herald the arrival of the King. God, in His infinite love,  gifted the world with His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life! That is Good News indeed, that God’s grace, God’s favor is upon us. Messiah, promised and promise fulfilled, came to us, dwelt among us, died and rose again for us, gifted us with His Holy Spirit, both in the world and within each believer! But, that’s not the end of God’s redemptive favor! There is more to come. 

The promise yet future? Jesus will return! Long for His second coming! Watch and wait with the same joy and expectancy as Elizabeth and Mary excitedly counting down nine months of pregnancy! Like a nation watching for the King to return from battle, be watchful, be observant, be alert. Stand guard at the highest level of readiness. The time came for Elizabeth’s son to arrive; the time came for Mary’s son to come. Promises made; promises fulfilled. The time is near for Messiah to come again. It is promised; it will be accomplished. The lagniappe we need to encourage us in the ordinariness of life? The certainty that Jesus’ return is near! What a gift! Receive Him with joy!

Joy to the Barren

from Lynda Lindsey

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Luke 1:5-7 

The angel Gabriel, speaking to Zechariah: Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. …He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth…And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:13(b)-17

Elizabeth, praising God for her pregnancy: “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

Zechariah, a Levitical priest, and his wife Elizabeth, were upright in God’s sight; they observed all the Lord’s commands blamelessly. Spiritually and morally above reproach, they were obedient from the heart. But Elizabeth was barren. Not only were Zechariah and Elizabeth childless, they were so old they no longer had any hope of bearing children. Sorrowful, especially in a culture that thought of childlessness as a curse because one was out of favor with God. Zechariah, serving his rotation in the temple, encountered the angel Gabriel, who delivered astounding news. 

God had heard Zechariah’s prayer. Elizabeth would bear a son who would bring joy and delight to his parents and would also be great in the Lord’s sight. Their son, John, would be a powerful influence making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Zechariah, in his astonishment, let his faith slip; humanly speaking, who can blame him? Who continues to pray for children once it’s physically impossible to conceive? So Zechariah would be unable to speak until God’s miracle came to fruition; but Elizabeth’s joy was boundless; her praise probably made up for her husbands temporary silence! 

Barren. Unproductive. Barren lands produce no vegetation, yield no seed, fruit, or crops. Barren humans produce no fruit of the womb, no children. Barren, empty wombs. Barren empty lives, joyless, incomplete, unproductive without a Savior, a Redeemer. And God steps into the gap, achieving the impossible, the miraculous! Elizabeth conceives in her old age; Mary conceives in her virginity. And God’s redemption story continues, bringing joy to the barren! Rejoice, shout, and sing! The Redeemer has come! 

Promises and Pledges

from Lynda Lindsey

…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Matthew 1:3

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” Matthew 1:20-21

Mary and Joseph. Publicly acknowledged as a couple. Families in agreement. Promises and pledges made. A bride’s purity prized, guarded, honored. A groom’s  righteousness lauded. The bride preparing a trousseau, traditional even among the poorest of families. The groom making a home for his bride. Limited contact between the bride and groom. Mary, pregnant. 

Mary pregnant? His Mary? Joseph, shattered. Divorce her? A quiet divorce. Is such a thing as a quiet divorce possible? Would Mary be stoned to death? Mary, his beloved? Anguish. Pain. Betrayal. Disgrace. Disgrace made public. Whispers. Innuendoes. Raised eyebrows. But God intervened. At just the right time an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream with a proclamation that must have seemed just as surreal as everything else. Fear not! Take Mary home as your wife; her pregnancy is from God’s Holy Spirit. You, Joseph, will name Mary’s son Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. 

Jesus’ birth pronouncement is arresting for what it doesn’t say. Joseph is not listed as Jesus’ father…precisely because he isn’t! Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Joseph, although not Jesus’ father, was selected, chosen, and just as highly favored by God as was Mary. Joseph was a righteous man. Obedient. Humble. Submissive to God’s will. A man of integrity. Joseph demonstrates the truth that obedience to God’s call doesn’t erase the whispers, the innuendoes, the raised eyebrows of the skeptics. So Joseph took Mary home as his wife. And had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Promises and pledges, honored and kept, ensured the birth of the long promised, long awaited Messiah! Glory to God in the highest! 

Marvel, Wonder, Be Astonished!

From Lynda Lindsey 

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.  Psalm 29:10-11

An angel speaking to Mary about Jesus’ birth: 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

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

The Lord God, both exalted mighty King and humble peaceful Shepherd, rules and reigns forever. No coup, no revolt, no rebellion can topple His throne, unseat Him, or usurp His power. God, holy and exalted, powerful and majestic, Creator and Maker of all, is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. The power that unleashed the flood of God’s righteous anger, unmaking what was made, is the same power that strengthens those who bow the knee to Him; He grants grace, forgiveness and peace to those who call Him Lord. The Shepherd King nurtures and comforts us. Jesus gently and kindly shelters and protects us; in Him we are made strong and secure.

Mary, young, perhaps poor, pledged to be married, still a virgin, a descendant of David, highly favored by God, chosen to mother the Son of God. Mary, giving birth just as it was foretold, cradling the Savor of the world in her arms. No wonder Mary and Joseph marveled at the words spoken by Simeon and Anna at Jesus’ consecration! Under the earthly tutelage of Mary and Joseph, Jesus grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him. And Mary must have continued to marvel; just so do we.

Marvel. Wonder. Be astonished. The ancient story, retold each year, continues to astonish. Jesus, Messiah, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, born in a barn in the middle of a city teeming with crowds such that all the inns were full. Jesus, Messiah, growing, learning, wielding a hammer in Joseph’s workshop, dealing with siblings, perhaps interacting with dissatisfied, grumpy customers. The holy in the midst of the ordinary. That’s the marvel, the wonder. That’s the astonishing miracle! That Jesus, Messiah, the only name by which we may be saved, shed His blood for us, arresting our enmity with God, thereby reconciling us to God. The holy in the midst of the ordinary. Like Mary, ponder these things deeply within the heart. Marvel, wonder, and be astonished!

Hearts Set on Honoring God’s Name

from Lynda Lindsey
“If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.” Malachi 2:2

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 

Malachi 4:2 

Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which 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. Luke 1:78-79

To have our hearts set on something means we are totally consumed with our desire for something, believe passionately in the righteousness of our cause, and are laser focused on achieving our goal. This is also how we are to love and worship God: we are to set our hearts on honoring God’s name, to be totally absorbed in God. Malachi brought God’s rebuke to the Israelites for their unfaithfulness; sadly, God’s people had again turned away from God and were living as if God did not exist. Everyone, even the priests, were treating God’s name contemptuously, profaning and dishonoring Him. They called evil good, robbed God by withholding tithes and offerings, and even offered diseased and sick animals as holy sacrifices.

God, weary of His people’s broken faith, empty words, and cynical disregard for righteousness, warned His people to return to Him, or He would bring judgment. In that day of coming judgment, God’s wrath against the unrepentant will burn like a furnace, consuming all evil and wickedness. Yet God, ever gracious, ever merciful, will shine like the sun on His obedient followers living in darkness and in the shadow of death. In that day the sun’s rays, as well as the Son, will shine on all whose hearts are set on honoring and revering God’s name, on all who live to bring Him glory and honor! And what rejoicing there will be in that day for God’s treasured possession…His faithful ones!

In the Day of the Lord, we ultimately will have no need for the sun to shine by day, nor the moon by night, for God Himself will be our light! We will leap like long penned up calves released from a holding pen! With great rejoicing, we will leap and shout, sing and dance, worship and praise the Lord God Almighty! Those who have kept steadfast hearts will, for all eternity, be in the great throng offering alleluias to God! Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people! Live with the end in mind. Live well, with hearts set on honoring God’s name and sing His praises for all eternity!