A young woman was sitting in her room thinking about all the exciting events that were taking place in her life. She was engaged to a wonderful man, and she was looking forward to all the planning that would take place in preparation for their wedding. It was going to be a wonderful day! In addition, her cousin was expecting her first baby…O how she loved babies!
Suddenly, she felt a strange, eerie presence in the room. As she looked around, she noticed a stranger standing in the shadows. Where did he come from? She felt uneasy and afraid. He greeted her by mentioning how happy she should be because she was so lucky to enjoy so many blessings. This greeting confused her a little bit, and she became even more frightened! Who was this stranger, how did he get into the house, and how did he know anything about her life? Had he been stalking her for a while?
And then he said those words; those words that would change her life forever…”By the way, you are pregnant and going to have a baby!” Oh my! How could this be?! She had never been unfaithful; she was not a party girl nor had she been promiscuous. She was committed to saving herself for her Prince Charming…the man of her dreams…the one she loved!
Suddenly a peace came over her, and she began to ask all these questions to the stranger. He listened patiently and answered all of her inquiries. The stranger encouraged her that all of this was good news, and she would be ok. In spite of her fears, the young woman thanked the stranger for letting her know about this “blessing”. After the stranger left, the young woman visited her cousin, shared her good news, and wrote a song about the amazing events that had taken place.
This strange and troubling tale may seem incredible, but it is true. On the one hand, it is a story that may comprise a parent’s worst nightmare, “Mom…Dad…a stranger came into my room, and I’m pregnant; I’m not sure what happened.” No parent wants to hear those words from their teenage daughter. However, it is the story of Advent; it is the Christmas story. This is the story of how the Angel told Mary that she would give birth to the long-expected Messiah. The Son of the Highest, the Holy One, a King of Israel, the Son of God, the Savior, her son named Jesus.
And, after working through her initial fears and apprehension, Mary accepts the Angel’s message and expresses gratitude for God’s faithfulness. How is she able to hold it all together and keep a positive attitude about this incredible news that is going to disrupt her life? How is she going to explain this to her friends and relatives? How is she going to live through the shame? Mary was able to walk this “dark road” because she was directed by the Holy Spirit to believe God’s Word and not fear the unknown. Mary believed the Angel when he said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”
And, Mary recorded her thoughts and feelings in a song that we know as the Magnificat. As we read through Luke 1:46-55, we gain a glimpse into Mary’s heart and mind as she is “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit.
First, Mary’s attention is on God, not her circumstances. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” While it is natural to focus on the events of the moment, God’s Spirit reminds us of the God Who controls the moment.
Second, Mary doesn’t pretend the circumstances don’t exist, but she understands and interprets her circumstances in light of God’s character and promises. “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” God can be trusted because of Who He is and what He has done.
Mary recounts God’s faithfulness as she recalls God’s dual action work of salvation: rooting out evil and redeeming His people. In His general redemptive work God “has shown strength with His arm…He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” In particular, "He has helped His servant Israel” and kept His promises to Abraham.
Mary, did you know? is a popular song at this time of year. In fact, I just listened to a wonderful rendition by the Singing Contractors! Mary may not have known all that was going to transpire with her Son, Jesus; but she did know the Father of her Son, and that knowledge gave her peace and courage. With joy and gratitude she trusted God’s promises and obeyed His Word. May our hearts rejoice as we remember the Advent story and sing the carols of the Christmas season.
Joy to the World, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!
This Good News should move us to respond, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” And then, go and live out the story God has written for you and share with others the good news of what God is doing for you and the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. Tell your Christmas story!
In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, the staff and students have been learning a little bit about many of the Reformers God used to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is the only Savior of all men and the “righteous will live by faith” alone! Luther and the Reformers went through many struggles and challenges: excommuni-cation, exile, opposition, treachery, deception, strangulation, burning, illness, the Plague, etc. These were not easy, copacetic times, and the average Reformer only lived 50-60 years as they defended God’s truth of salvation against scholars, theologians, church leaders and monarchs. God used all kinds of people, peaceful/aggressive, men/women, young/old, from multiple countries, to “reform” the teachings of the church. The Reformers understood that God’s work of salvation is not just about “asking Jesus into our heart” or being a “good” person or doing good works. It is about God redeeming His people and His creation. Many difficult battles have been and will be fought for God’s Truth.
Isaiah’s song in chapter 25 helps us see the paradox in which we seem to live…a loving God who is saving people and a just God who is rooting out evil. It is a chiastic poem that presents the form of law-grace-law or judgment-promise-judgment. This chapter is the OT origin of many of Jesus' statements (John 5:28), Paul’s teachings (1 Cor. 15:54), John’s use of OT imagery in Revelation, and Luke’s presentation of God’s redemptive plan recorded in Acts. Both aspects are an important part of God’s salvation as He swallows up death forever.
God’s Salvation is Wonderful - The Prophet begins by proclaiming God’s character. “O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise you.” Isaiah knows God in a very personal way and appeals to Him as a friend, Savior, and Sovereign. God does not sit in Heaven and react to events in a haphazard fashion. No, He is working out His plans which He established long ago before the foundation of the world. God’s work of salvation is a “wonderful thing” that is based in God’s “faithfulness and truth.”
God’s Salvation is displayed through His Power – While it is a challenge for our post-modern minds to accept the reality, the Prophet reminds the reader that God’s work of salvation involves dual action: 1) the destruction of the Ruthless (You have made a city a ruin) and 2) provision and protection of the Poor (You have been a strength to the poor). This truth is prevalent throughout Scripture as God’s power and presence as He saves His people are both positive and negative. Noah’s flood, the Exodus, and the Crucifixion serve as prime examples of how God’s salvation is displayed through His power.
God’s Salvation is a Feast for all Nations – Next, the Prophet paints a picture of a great feast that includes people from all nations, much like the vision Peter had in Acts 10. “The LORD of hosts will make for all people, a feast of choice pieces.” It is an abundant feast that includes all the best foods and drinks. God doesn’t hold anything back! Not only is there abundance, but it is also voracious. There are no leftovers! “He will swallow up death forever.” Once again, God’s dual action is set in motion as He saves His people by removing the sting of sin, death! What a marvelous statement! The original status of Eden is restored. Sinful, rebellious humans can be redeemed permanently! Death reigned from Adam to Christ (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but with Jesus' resurrection, death has been defeated. This act of grace and mercy provides healing, as well. “The Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.” The division and separation that is between man and God as well as the segregation that exists in society will be removed and all relationships will be restored in Christ. As Paul states in his letter to the Galatian churches, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This healing and reconciliation provides satisfaction and fulfillment. “We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” God’s salvation brings the restoration of joy and gladness to His people and His creation.
God’s Salvation is Selective: A Warning – Once again the Prophet reminds the reader of God’s dual action in salvation. “He will bring down their pride.” Even as God is abundantly pouring out His salvation to all nations, He is also trampling out those who stand against His truth. This is the imagery of the banquet table “in the presence of my enemies” from Psalm 23. This truth is the message from the beginning and throughout history…do it God’s way or suffer the consequences. And, God’s people must not only enjoy the benefits of salvation, but they must also provide a warning to the Proud who continue to fight against God’s plan of redemption. Because of God’s wonderful plan of salvation through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, those who are saved have a Great Commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”. God’s people want to tell others about God’s wonderful plan of salvation.
So as we remember the faithful labor of those who have come before us and look forward to a season of Thanksgiving, may we have hearts of joy and gratitude for God’s wonderful work of salvation as we feast together with family, friends, and neighbors. It is a great opportunity to share our story of God’s salvation and how He has swallowed up death forever.