Advent Readings Day 22

Reading: Luke 1:46 – 56

“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:50 – 53

Isn’t it wonderful when a plan comes together?  All of a sudden a foggy dream becomes much clearer.  A once distant and out of focus image on the horizon is now close by and the identifying features can be discerned.  A vision that has been cast over the ages is about to be fulfilled.  As Mary speaks (or sings) these words, history is on the edge of a seismic shift and she recounts God’s goodness that has sustained Israel to this point in time.

Now, of course Mary did not fully understand what was about to play out, but how many of us ever do?  We are so limited in our ability to understand and grasp the mind of God.  We are able to express the part of the reality that we do understand in praise while understanding that the details and the full reality are up to Him to deliver in His timing and His way.

But look at Mary’s words as this cosmic earthquake, that would forever change the landscape of everything, was about to hit.  God was about to deliver on His promise in an unexpected way.  He was coming to earth – Immanuel – God With Us.  The Mission that He has been on ever since The Garden of redeeming and restoring was about to enter the phase that would bring it to completion.  Hold on.

What do you do when you sit on the edge of a history changing event?  First, is to praise God.  Mary praises God for what He has done for her as well as for Who He is – Holy is your name.  She refers to God here as The Mighty One.  What a name for God.  The One who is all powerful and who has protected His people and His Plan throughout the centuries and Now He is powerful enough to move and bring fulfillment to that promise.  He is not weak.  He is mighty.

Another quality that Mary focuses on is God’s mercy.  He has not given Israel what they deserved.  Unfaithful humanity is being redeemed by a faithful God.  Mercy from generation to generation.  Mercy for Israel who turned their backs on Him time after time and forgot about Him, yet He remembered them and now is delivering on His promise.  How easy it is to be unfaithful toward God.  Yet, in His mercy, He does the inexplicable.

Third is Mary’s understanding of how God is turning everything upside down through His mighty arm that has stretched out and remembered those who were oppressed and forgotten.  Notice, Mary’s song does not focus on God somehow having come to rescue the successful, the have’s, the powerful and the rich.  It is quite the opposite.  The God who has sided with the oppressed and the poor, speaking against injustice and corruption throughout the centuries, is now delivering justice by turning everything upside down.   I believe Mary is prophesying here.  She knows what is coming and speaks as if it already is done, because as God’s plan unfolds these promises will become reality.  How?

  • He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. We hear echoes of Jesus words, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.    The rulers who sit elevated on their thrones in control of the politics and resources and power of the world are being dethroned and brought down.  The humble are are being lifted up. We hear echoes of Jesus’ words “The First shall be last.”
  • He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich go away empty.  What amazing imagery as we think of a table where a hungry person sits with nothing on a simple table except maybe a piece of stale bread compared with a lavish banquet table filled with decoration and silver as well as the finest roast beast of the rich man.  Jesus words suddenly echo through the place, “I am the Bread of Life.”

I have the privilege of seeing this upside down reality every day.  Take my neighbor for instance.  She and her brother live in a tin shack that is 8 feet by 10 feet.  In that one room shack they sleep, they eat, they cook.  It is everything that they own.  They are in their late 40s and 50s I would guess, yet they look much older than that.  They are in no way shielded from the harshness of life.

The first day we met them was one month after moving into our house.  We were returning from a religious festival called Timkat (which celebrates the baptism of Jesus) when our neighbor called us into her house.  We entered into this one room and she scrambled to find us stools that we could sit on.  We tried our best to hack away at some Amharic to break the silence, but then she did the unthinkable.  She had been fasting for days to prepare herself for the festival, but she asked us if we would join her in breaking the fast.  This made us very uncomfortable because we knew that she had so little, but trying to be gracious guests we said, yes.  She was so delighted as she went to her cupboard that was totally bare inside except for one small loaf of bread that was a bit bigger than a dinner roll.  She took it and passed it around to us – all 6 of us – and we each tore off a tiny bit, trying to make sure there was enough left for her.  And we all sat in this tin shack and had this moment of a Kingdom reality.   She has so little, yet she has so much.  Jesus has come for her and He is making Himself known.

Now, that event started a great relationship between us.  We all try to be good neighbors to each other.  We help them out and they help us.  They are deep in our hearts and everyday they are an example to us of an upside down Kingdom.

Mary had an inside glimpse.  Everything is changing.  Redemption and Restoration is at hand.  The Empire of darkness and Satan is about to be overthrown.  There is going to be a new sheriff in town and His Rule is amazing.

Today I invite you to rehearse Mary’s Song a few times.  Give praise to God that through Jesus He has done this very thing that she sang about.  She had a window into the future of what God was up to, but we sit surrounded by the reality of His Kingdom, His redemption and His restoration.  May we praise Him all the more for what He has done and what He is doing in, through, and around us.

Advent Readings Day 21

Reading: Luke 1:26 – 45

 “I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38

There are few people in the Bible who impress me as much as Mary.  That may come as a surprise to many, since I have spent my life as a Protestant believer and many times us Protestants aren’t quite sure what to do with Mary.  However, there truly is something about this young teenage mom who gave birth to and mothered Our Lord and Master.

Imagine this young teenage girl with her whole life ahead of her.  She is devoted to God and His plan for her.  She probably had it all planned out.  Joseph seemed to be a stable guy, after all.  Get engaged.  Plan a wedding.  Get married.  Settle down. Start a family.   Seemed like a normal enough plan, right?

But that was before an angel showed up in her bedroom to announce the life-altering and potentially devastating news – “You are going to have a baby, Mary.”  Those simple words would change everything.  What would Joseph think?  Would he think she had not been faithful?  What would Mom and Dad think as disgrace was brought upon them?  What would the neighbors think?  How could she disgrace the name of God by devoutly following Him publicly and obviously fooling around behind the scenes?  How long could she hide it?  The gossip mill would be cranking up and ready to go full force.

Whether these questions went through Mary’s mind or not, we don’t have record.  They would be real questions to face.  However, what we do have record of is Mary’s response after seeking a bit more information from the Angel Gabriel.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Two things strike me about Mary’s response.  The first is her availability.  I don’t think that Mary made this up on the spot, but rather my guess is that she had practiced a softness and availability to the Lord over her short life, which is why He chose her in the first place.  “I am the Lord’s servant.”  I am yours.  Use me. Do with me whatever you wish, even if it radically changes the course of my life and causes pain and distress in the here and now – I am yours.  Use me.

The second is her trust in God alone.  “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  If it were me I might be praying that somehow God would remove this burden from me.  Mary, however, presses in and asks God to do this work He had planned.  She trusts Him.  She trusts that He is good and He will bring about good through this plan.  It won’t be easy, yet He is good and that’s all that she needed to know to trust Him fully.

What about you and I?  Am I fully available to The Lord?  No bargaining.  No excuses.  Just ready to say, “Lord even it you want to make a mess and bring me into it, I am up for it, because I am your servant.”  “I am fully available to you.”  As John Wimber used to say, “I am spare change in your pocket.  Spend me as you see fit.”

And then there is the question of trust.  Do I know that He is good?  Do I really believe that to the core of who I am?  He is good.  He has proved that over and over, but in no greater way than through Jesus’ coming.  Will I trust a God like that?

A young teenage girl teaches us what it means to be available and to trust The God of the Universe.  May we become available and grow in trust – seeing The World impacted by Our Master’s restoration, rescue and salvation.

Advent Readings Day 20

Reading: Psalm 80

“How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?  You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80

At this time one year ago we were confronted with a harsh reality in working with the families that our organization works with – Death.  It was not the first time I had encountered death before.  As a pastor I had sat with numerous families who have recently lost loved ones in the US.  I had helped with arrangements, viewed the body, put together funeral services and prayed at gravesides.   I had had the privilege and honor of grieving with those who grieved.  However, those experiences in no way prepared me for what I would face when the child of a mom who is the poorest of the poor would die.

We had watched this child get sicker and sicker and there was no medical intervention available for her.  A 4 year old child with Down’s Syndrome who was battling pneumonia and congestive heart failure, yet we somehow imagined that she had years in front of her.  But, then the news came that December morning – she had passed away the night before and she was being buried that morning.

Within this culture the burial has to happen fast because there is no embalming.  We rushed to the home where we viewed this tiny little lifeless body and in disbelief watched as her body was put in a makeshift pine coffin and carried by taxi to the cemetery.  There was to be no priest at the graveside because the mom was not in good standing with the church.  The women wailed and trembled as we walked ¼ mile to the gravesite.  Then we watched as young men dug the grave, the box was put in the ground and covered and the women wailed uncontrollably and staggered.  There were no prayers offered.  No words spoken.  No pronouncements made. No memories remembered. Just tears and raw pain.  I realized at that moment how in The West we do so much to cushion the blow of the rawness of death.

Where was hope?  That day those family members were eating the bread of tears and drinking tears by the bowlful.  Actually the eating and drinking of tears had started years before as this little girl was born with a disability to a single mom who was a refugee and without any financial means at all.  This family knew suffering well.  It was their life as they sat and ate and drank another round of tears.

Where was hope?  It is in the refrain of this Psalm.  It is in the hope that people in the dark times before Jesus’ coming somehow held onto despite the odds.

Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

No matter how many tears had been eaten and drank over years of darkness, there was this hope that The Almighty God whose arm was long enough to save, would reach in and bring restoration, wholeness and salvation.  Finally the things that were lost would be restored and the things that were broken would be made whole.  Sin, death and darkness would no longer get the last word.  Salvation and rescue would come.

And, in the flesh He came.  His name…Jesus.  Jesus, The Restorer.  Jesus, The Rescuer.  Jesus, The Savior.  Jesus, The Refrain.

No matter how dark and broken – there was hope.  It was possible to catch one’s breath and say, He is still coming.  The Almighty One will still save us.

And He did and He does and He will.

Today, renew your trust in Jesus.  Whether you have long ate the bread of tears and drank tears by the bowlful or things seem to be pretty smooth – He has come to restore you and to make His face shine upon you – to save you.  That’s Good News.