How Can This Be?

Luke 1: 18-20

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

 

 

The angel Gabriel made two visitations, and got the same response, but issued two very different outcomes.

It actually seems a bit unfair on the face of it: Zacharias is muted, and Mary gets an explanation.

Zacharias, as priest, had been serving for a long time, had no doubt read the Torah through countless times, studied at the feet of rabbis, and was deemed worthy to serve in the temple, and up to this point, had probably never experienced a visitation quite like this.

But he’d read of them, and studied them, and knew of the power of G-d performing miracles where His people were concerned.

He’d read of G-d opening the wombs of the barren, and so, we discover, prayed that his own wife’s reproach be removed.

Yet when the moment came, instead of offering his praise and thanks, he, like Abraham and so many others, doubted. Abraham and Sarah’s time had also passed beyond the realm of physical love.

But if G-d did it to His purposes for Abraham, would He do less for Zachariah and Elizabeth, using them as vessels, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, to fulfill all righteousness? (Matthew 3:13-17)

Gabriel had to remind Zachariah too, despite all he’d learned, studied, and experienced in the natural world, that all things are possible with G-d.

Luke 1: 30-34
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Mary, a young, betrothed, village girl, not widely known beyond her village, expresses wonder at the angel’s news.

Raised in the tradition of a patriarchal society, she is a dutiful daughter, faithful to the Law, and to G-d. But there’s something else there too: a courageous heart.

Gabriel’s announcement takes her from the obscurity of her village to the eternal stage in a matter of moments, and the Lord chooses her because she has the mettle to not back down from the hidden-behind-the-hand whispers of gossip from the village women, the embarrassment to her betrothed and her family.

Nor will she run away from the coming challenges of the arduous journey to be present for the census, then the perilous flight to Egypt.

She ponders the meaning of her role in G-d’s plan, and though she later forgets (Mark 3:21), she is still no less faithful in the moment of her Son’s execution than she was at His birth. She was there for Him in the beginning, and the end, of His earthly ministry, and grieved with a mother’s love.

As she was a virgin, unknown to a man, and untried in the ways of the world, Gabriel did indeed have to explain what G-d was about to do.

And her answer confirms the Father’s choice as the correct one:

(38) Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.     

No matter our age or station, there are times the Lord demands things of us where we don’t see how they’re going to happen, or even why.

There are times we pray, and are surprised when they’re answered.

There are times we’re blessed, when we haven’t asked for anything.

This holiday season, let’s remember with gratitude all the Father has done for us through the Son and the Spirit. We need not get caught up in solstices, pagan rituals, or the accuracy of the calendar, or even whether or not He’s commanded us to celebrate.

(He didn’t command us not to 😉 )

All of that is pretty rubble and utter nonsense in the light of the coming glory that awaits His faithful.

Winter is cold, beautiful, and a season of death, but it is also a herald to a season of renewed life. If the natural world reflects the kingdom, and if the words of Christ are indeed true, we too shall experience a season of renewed life.

We shall be spotless and blameless before the Almighty, the blood of His Son covering the blight of our flesh, and shining forth the purity of Jesus’ righteous spirit.

Our illnesses will be made well, our bodies transformed as His when He ascended.

The Spirit of Christmas will indeed be manifest, without all the trappings and frenzy of things that are not of G-d. Our family gathering will be never-ending. The feasting will be holy, and the fellowship happy.

And while we yet dwell, awaiting His return, let us continue to spread the Gospel to those we have in this moment, and be at peace with ourselves and each other in the doing.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

Devotional 76: The Hired Man’s Rest

Job 14:1-6

14 “Man who is born of woman
Is of few days and full of trouble.
He comes forth like a flower and fades away;
He flees like a shadow and does not continue.
And do You open Your eyes on such a one,
And bring me[a] to judgment with Yourself?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one!
Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.
Look away from him that he may rest,
Till like a hired man he finishes his day.

 

I think it’s true that it’s when G-d moves in sovereignty, entrusting us with His silence, that we have our crises of faith. But we are encouraged to remember this:

18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:18)

Job, in the midst of his affliction, asks G-d to look away so that a man can rest. For him, it would be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If He doesn’t look on us, we can rest from the kingdom labor to which we’ve been called as believers.

These days, we’re certainly being tried and tested, as our once-sacred holiday season crumbles into  fits of mass hysteria and greed.

But we are yet called to remain as salt and light, yet to be light on the hill, and yet maintain our peace beyond understanding in circumstances that drive others to act emotionally and make bad decisions.

We are reminded in the Gospel of Luke by our Savior: ” “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

And again: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

We now live in prophesied times, where it was said that what was done in the darkness will come into the light, and men who thought they held power forever are being toppled.

Increasingly, we’ve heard major natural disasters being described as ‘unprecedented.’

Our Lord tells us that these are the beginnings of sorrow as we leave the year of the Lord’s favor, and enter into the day of his vengeance.

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24: 4-10)

We know in hindsight that although Job thought it was G-d who afflicted him, it was Satan, and what he saw as the one thing that kept Job connected to G-d was in fact not, although it was a barrier.

In the end, it’s Job who claims:

Job 42:4-6

Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”

There is nothing left for the enemy to use as a wedge against Job, and so it must be with all of us.

In the aftermath of our own afflictions, can we counted on to keep our integrity in the face of such affliction?

Remember that although He gives us the desires of our hearts, He also gives us over to our sins, should we persist in our willful rebellion.

(Romans 1:24-28)

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.

 

Neither did G-d spare His chosen, whom He handed over to their enemies on multiple occasions as they forgot Him and sold themselves, being brought back to repentance in the lands of their captivity.

Let there be no barriers, no potential weaponry of idolatry to give the enemy. In the days ahead, seek always to be mindful, prayerful, and peaceful.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

I would have no barriers between us, though there are times my thoughts and my heart toward you are full of frustrated emotions, and I act out in the short term instead of the eternal perspective.

Daily You examine me, and hold up for me the standard of Your Word, which is higher than Your name, and the words of Your Son, who shed His holy blood to turn Your wrath from me, and reconcile me to You as sinless, that I may enter into His joy in worshiping You eternally, in the light of Your presence shining on the new earth.

Help me to remember that although Your judgment isn’t swift in coming, it is no less terrible for the delay, for you tell us that vengeance is Yours, and You will repay.

We stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters with no voice, and are hated. Embolden our quailing spirits in the face of a secular population that no longer celebrates the season, but litters it with the luxurious garbage of the world, even purging the name of Your Son’s title from its celebration. Let us return to spirit and truth, and purge it also of its pageantry and pagan symbols.

We remember that He told us these days would come, and the love of many would grow cold.

It is a cold season in which we live now, so we ask, Father, for You to rekindle the flame of our first love within us, and like the star of Bethlehem, be an oddity among the things of the world, a one of a kind, unique, and shining wonder, brighter than any hillside lantern, shouting from the rooftops what You’ve whispered to us.

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” For faith comes by hearing the Word of the Lord, and one day, we will see You too, as Job did, with no filter between us, as it was meant to be before Adam, asking not, like the prodigal, that You make us as hired men for sinning against You, but as true sons of the kingdom, grafted in by Your mercy and grace.

And we ask that, like Job, our latter days be blessed with more fruit than the former, as new creations to Your glory.

In His name I ask, believing I’ve received. 

Amen.

 

Devotional 72: Not With a Loyal Heart

2 Chronicles 25:1-2

Amaziah Reigns in Judah

25 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a loyal heart.

The Chronicles, if nothing else, testify to man’s inner heart when he comes to power and prospers, when he leads others, and when or if he follows the Lord, as the Kings of Israel were supposed to do, but with Amaziah, there’s a different shading.

In His compassion, the Father granted the Israelites their desire not to deal directly with Him, as they sent Moses up the mountain, when G-d would have addressed them all. It grieved Him, but He did it, even though He also said everything the bad kings would cause them to do, and suffer.

The kings seemed cases of extremes, swinging Israel and Judah on the pendulums of their egos first one way, then the other, but with Amaziah, we see a difference: he did right, but not with a loyal heart.

How is that possible, to serve G-d doing good, but not with loyalty?

What, then, was in Amaziah’s heart: fear? Probably, for he saw what happened to the maverick kings, and he would not invite the Father’s wrath through his personal indulgence in all the potential debauchery a king could engage in.

Perhaps it was a sense of duty, obligations and rituals to be carried out, and he observed them along with the people, but did so with no joy or reverence.

As king, it could be said he carried out the letter of the Law, but had no spirit for it.

We call it ‘going through the motions,’ like people who hedge their bets by going to church on Christmas and Easter, like they’re keeping a foot in the door. They don’t want i to close, but they don’t want to come all the way inside to experience the Lord.

Perhaps he went through the motions during the day, and publicly, and indulged himself ‘a little bit’ privately.

We’ve had those days, those emotions, perhaps even today. We go through the day the Lord has made with no thought of Him other than ‘getting that out of the way,’ and coming back to the daily milling wheels He has us push around in seemingly pointless circles, to an audience of mockers and scoffers.

Is that all there is? they ask.

Where is your G-d?  they ask.

or, as they said to a pastor I know: ‘Oh, you’re one of those.

As I write this, it’s raining here, and I thought about how my day’s plans are now ruined, yet I have no idea if the sun is coming out later today.

Yet, I’m out of the rain, and I can write this on a pretty neat machine that allows me to do it quickly and share it with you, while having my coffee. By those standards, if my plans have to wait on the weather, should I not be assured that what I need to do will get done, just not on my schedule? By those standards, am I not blessed and provided for by His hand? Has He not told me not to worry on these things, because in His eyes I’m worth more than the birds that He also provides for?

And I remember I’m told to let my light shine before men, and that in this hostile climate of the nation I’m not allowed to hate my brothers, that I’m set apart and called to a higher standard, and I’m to serve and praise in spirit and truth, and keep the statutes and commandments passed on to us through the Son, confess Him before doubting, sinful, earthly minded people, and abide in Him, because I’m incapable of doing all of that without Him.

I say this to tell you that the first I focused on this morning was me, even as I got up and prepared to write this. So you see these are as much for me redirecting that focus as they are for anybody else.

Believers, we are told to guard our hearts for a reason; it is as possible to do good in the flesh as it is to do evil, yet our Savior tells us that if we do that, we have our reward, and to not let our left hand know what our right is doing.

In times of trial, grief, and loss, when our hearts are heavy, and reasons for them aren’t present, we can turn tearful eyes and angry hearts to Heaven, and like the rich young ruler, walk away with great sadness, having made our choice.

May the Lord’s voice be gentle in your ear: ‘Will you also go away?’ Like the unsteady, passionate Peter, let us answer: ‘To whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

It is the reason G-d says Israel  ‘honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8)

There is a reason why it’s first in the list when Jesus says, ‘Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ (Luke 10:27)

And to not let them be troubled by our fear: ‘Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (John 14:27)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We lift our hearts to You today, to do that which You need to it, for change, for cleansing, for softening so that Your words are fall into fertile spiritual soil that delights to do Your will.

Let our hearts be quiet within us when calamity comes, when the outside world is scornful and full of men scrambling for power they can’t keep, in a world they can’t stay in.

Let our hearts be steadfast within us when moments of doubt come, when the foolish wisdom of men and their philosophies seems to contain a form of godliness, but lacks the truth.

Let our hearts rejoice within us today at the reading of Your Holy Word, in the praises of our singing, and in the works of our hands as we minister and serve in Your Name, and to Your Glory. 

We thank You for this day, whatever the weather may be, whatever our plans are, and we will rejoice in it with grateful hearts of fear, reverence, and love as we gather to praise You, or meet with You in the quiet places of our souls as we speak to You alone. 

Replace the hearts of stone with those of flesh, tender, receptive, and discerning, as we turn them back to you, reconciled in the work of Your Son, to Your glory, and redemption of our souls.

I ask it, believing I’ve already received. 

Amen.