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Wednesday - Week 4

Mary's Song: The Magnificat

December 16, 2020 • Kaitlyn

I love Christmas decorations: twinkly lights, poinsettias, garland twirled around a staircase. My mom has an incredible collection of nativity scenes from around the world she puts up all over her house every year. Each scene is made from different indigenous materials, reflects different cultures, and includes slightly different elements. But each scene includes Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus; and most of them depict these three important characters in the same way. Jesus is laying in some kind of little manger, Joseph is standing next to him, and Mary is kneeling over Jesus. That’s the image many of us have of Mary: quietly kneeling over her newborn, playing the role of the meek and mild mother. Mary’s song is anything but meek and mild. A young unmarried girl had been visited by an angel and given the most terrifying news: she would miraculously become pregnant. That she would bear the Messiah is amazing news, that she would likely face scorn and abandonment by her family and community is not. When Mary says, “I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word,” she said yes to a daunting assignment. Mary traveled to meet Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon seeing Elizabeth and hearing her exuberant greeting, “blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42), Mary responded with her own outburst of praise. She praised and rejoiced in God, declared that all generations would call her blessed, and described the character of the God who blessed her. He is mighty, holy, and merciful to those who fear Him. He has demonstrated His power by scattering the proud and arrogant, bringing the mighty down from their positions of power, and lifting up the lowly. He fed the hungry while sending those who hoard resources away empty-handed. He protected Israel, remembering His promise to Abraham and acting faithfully toward His people. Mary’s song is not a sweet Sunday school song. It is a powerful declaration of God’s character, a theological treatise full of Old Testament references, and a stunning proclamation of Jesus’ coming ministry. Many of the themes in Mary’s words reflect not only God’s past action but the work Jesus described at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18) and would fulfill throughout His life. Mary’s faithful “yes” to God’s plan in her life also required a faithful “no.” She said “yes” to the terrifying task of birthing the Savior of the world and “no” the forces of sin and evil in the world He came to defeat. She said “yes” to God’s plan for her life and “no” to the plan she made for herself. She said “yes” to the powerful, holy, and merciful God and “no” to pride, arrogance, corruption, and injustice. Mary’s song is a powerful picture of a faithful life. She knew Scripture well enough to describe its story, she knew God well enough to describe His character, and she knew His redemptive plan for creation well enough to say “yes” to her part in it. May we all strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the same. -Kaitlyn

Friday - Week 4

The Promise Fulfilled • December 18, 2020

In the Old Testament, there was a season of time where a long awaited promise – a promise of a Savior, a promise of a salvation yet to come – seemed dormant and forgotten. There was a hush, a quiet from heaven for 400 years. For 400 years, there was no further prophetic word from God to His people concerning His promise of salvation. What would it look like? When would they see this word, this hope fulfilled? Life was lived, generations came and went, and I imagine some people wondered if God had forgotten about His promise. Or had they done something wrong? When might they see this promise fulfilled? What would it look like? God never forgot His Word concerning bringing hope and salvation to all people. He saw the end from the beginning and was ushering His promise to fulfillment. Then, on a seemingly normal day, and through ordinary people, the promise arrived. An angel visited a young girl named Mary and announced the promise God spoke hundreds of years earlier was being fulfilled. God began moving people and circumstances into place to show His Word would be fulfilled in full, exactly as He promised. Mary gave birth to this promise, and gave Him the name Jesus. On the night Jesus was born, God sent an angel to some shepherds in the field, filling the sky with the brightness of His glory and issuing a proclamation of awe and wonder and joy like the world had never heard, delivering this Good News that would bring great joy to all people: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born…” --Luke 2:10-11 What makes it so beautiful is that this time, when God spoke to His people, He sent this Good News to ordinary people. This time, the promise did not come through a prophet or preacher. It came through a young girl. It was announced to simple shepherds. He broke through every barrier, every assumption, every boundary, every limitation. He was speaking to the shepherds, just as He was to every person who would one day hear: “Listen carefully.” This message is for you. He made it clear that the Good News of salvation had arrived: Jesus, the Savior of the world was born, and this Good News was meant for all people. With the arrival of Jesus, God fulfilled the covenant promise made hundreds of years earlier. It was what it looked like for a long-awaited promise to be fulfilled. A Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, was born to save us from our sin, to bring hope, to set things right between God and humanity. I wonder what promise God has spoken into your heart that you have wondered if you would ever see realized. Perhaps it feels quiet, maybe forgotten by God. God never speaks a promise that He doesn’t also intend to fulfill. We can know this: God is the Promise-Keeper. He will fulfill every promise, every word, every covenant He has made. Even now, where we are today, the best is still yet to come. There is a promise yet to be fulfilled. We continue to look forward with hope-filled expectation for the day when Jesus, our Savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, returns again and fulfills His final promise. Jesus, we are waiting here for you. “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” -Andrea

Thursday - Week 4

The Birth Of John The Baptist • December 17, 2020 • Jen

The birth of John the Baptist is a beautiful story because it shows, yet again, the mercy and kindness of God. An older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, incapable of conceiving a child were given a promise by God that they would have a son of their own. Zechariah means “God has remembered again." Once again God we see God keep His word.  John would grow up to be used by God in a mighty way. He would proclaim to the people around him that the Messiah was on His way. His love for Jesus was bold and radical, and, eventually, he would lose his life for his faith and conviction. Zechariah lost his ability to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but at the birth of his son he regained his speech and immediately began to sing a song of praise to God. He sang of God’s goodness in keeping the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Zechariah’s name does not just refer to the fact that God kept His promise to this childless couple, but it reminded everyone that God keeps all of His promises, including the promise of a Redeemer.  It may seem like a lot of time had passed since the beginning of the covenant of grace until the day Jesus came, but God is not slow in what He does. His timing is perfect, His plan well thought out and meticulously executed. This plan included the birth of John and the preaching he would do to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.  This is true for our lives as well. As we get close to celebrating the birth of Jesus, remember God is the great Promise Keeper. If He loved you enough to make and keep all the promises that would lead up to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, we can be confident He will keep all the promises He has made to us. Do you recount and rely on the promises of God? He promises to forgive our sins and never forsake us. He promises nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-32). He promises to cause all things in our lives to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He promises to give you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He promises to cause our faith to persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6), and He will never lose any who are His. He promises all of His people a resurrection unto life (John 3:16), and to come again and gather His people together to dwell in paradise forever. These promises are yours in Christ Jesus. You can count on them, because you can count on God (Psalm 33:4). Looking to Jesus, Jen

Tuesday - Week 4

Amazed by Emmanuel • December 15, 2020 • Julie

Christmas is a strange time of the year, often filled with various emotions. There is much that is lovely and hope filled, especially for believers. However, it can also be a time when the pain we feel from the loss of loved ones is heightened, or we may feel deflated that our hopes and dreams for the year haven’t happened. 2020 has been a difficult year for many of us and it has definitely been different to how any of us had planned. In today’s reading, Mary’s plans for her future were altered, but her willingness to trust God took her whole life in a direction she never expected. The angel Gabriel made his second pregnancy announcement in Luke 1, this time to Mary. She was from Galilee in Nazareth and was engaged to a man named Joseph. Mary was likely to have been a teenager, going about her everyday life when suddenly an angel appeared and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary was understandably troubled and afraid. The familiarity of this story sometimes causes us to overlook the enormous shock this would have been. Gabriel reassured her not to be afraid, calling her by name, and repeating that she had “found favor with God!” Mary was told she would become pregnant with a son and she was to name Him Jesus. The Hebrew form of the name is Joshua – which means "Yahweh saves." This meaning is significant; just as Joshua lead God’s people into the Promised Land, so Jesus would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and lead His people to their eternal promised land of the new creation. Gabriel also told Mary that Jesus would be: Great. There is an interesting comparison here with the announcement of John’s birth where Gabriel said John would "be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15) whereas Jesus was simply described as great. There is no need to add to His greatness. He is great. He is God. John is a prophet, Jesus is Lord. The Son of the Most High. First century Jews used "Most High" out of reverence to avoid using God’s name. But in case of any doubt, Gabriel described Jesus as the Son of God. King. Jesus is from the line of David and will reign forever over the house of Jacob, God’s people! Holy. Set apart. All of these descriptions were to let Mary (and us) know that her son was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. He is the Promised Rescuer. The Messiah is coming. Jesus will redeem His people. This truly is good news! I love that Mary asked a practical question: how can this happen as I’ve not been intimate with a man? She realized there is an immediacy about Gabriel’s words, he didn't mention her getting married first and then becoming pregnant. The answer given to her was that the glory of the Lord would do it. This reflects the nature of Jesus; He is fully God and fully man. To help Mary see this was possible, her relative Elizabeth, considered too old and barren was already six months pregnant! The angel finished with the declaration “For nothing will be impossible with God.” How would you have responded to this news? You are young, engaged, and your reputation is at stake! If I was Mary I would have been asking for a few more assurances. Instead Mary’s answered “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” What an amazing reply. Her whole world had been turned upside down, all the plans she had for her future were in jeopardy. Even in her doubt, she reflected the words Jesus gave His disciples in the Lord’s prayer: “may your kingdom come, my your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Mary could respond with such faithfulness because of who she believed in. She knew God. She knew He was faithful, good, trustworthy, true, powerful, able, loving, merciful, and gracious. Mary found favor in God’s eyes, not because she was perfect, but because she was willing to be used for His plans and purposes. She trusted that God’s plans were better than her own. How willing are you to be obedient to God when He interrupts your plans? How willing are you to trust Him? It wasn’t always easy for Mary. Much that happened was good, for example, the shepherds reports of the angel choir when Jesus was born, the wise men coming to worship Jesus, and witnessing Jesus’ first miracle. However, there was also a lot that was painful and difficult, like having to flee to Egypt, seeing Jesus rejected in His home town, and worst of all, watching Jesus die so horrifically on the cross. Being obedient to God isn’t always easy, in fact it is often the more difficult path. What makes it possible is that God is with us! (See 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). While Mary had the blessing of Jesus physically with her, we have the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us. Are you willing to be obedient to God, even when it’s the more difficult path? This Christmas season, may we all be amazed by Emmanuel – God with us – and be thankful, willing servants of our amazing God. -Julie