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All Mary Wanted for Christmas: Justice (Part 2)

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Photograph by Ed Kight

God’s love for the “lowly” is evident throughout the Christmas story – a poor virgin, shepherds, and a baby’s bed in a feeding trough – and Mary is so moved by this vision of how God works that she breaks out in this beautiful song.

She focuses on God’s greatness, His mighty deeds, and His cosmic rule. It ought to follow that this mighty God values and seeks out mighty men, right?

That’s not Mary’s God, and it isn’t our God. In God’s upside down kingdom, the humble and poor are exalted and the haughty and prideful are brought down.

This is God’s form of justice, of giving people what they deserve.

What I want to want is to see the world as God sees it, to “do justice” as we’re challenged to do in that often-quoted passage from Micah 6:8.

How do I even begin to think about giving something back to God when I am so often the source of injustice, of being haughty and prideful myself, of being blind to the needs of those around me?

God’s plan for the world always involved Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to exercise justice through punishing the prideful. He came to bear the punishment. When he went to the cross, He took on God’s judgement, freeing us up to respond with obedience.

When we praise the God who sees everyone through the lens of His Son, Jesus, as Mary did, we gain eyes to see as He sees.

What changes our affections, and thus our behavior, is what captures our emotions and desires; our imagination is captured by what we praise. It shapes who we are.

Praying the Magnificat can change who we are and, therefore, the way we see the world and the people in it.

So, join me in praying:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
 of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

If a song helps you do this more effectively, enjoy this version of the Magnificat by Rain for Roots.

 

By Lisa Bond

All Mary Wanted for Christmas: Justice

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Photograph by Anna Arpasi

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
 of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

 

Mary enters the story of history as a young virgin told she is going to give birth to the Savior of the whole world, and she is shocked and more than a little hesitant.

God, in His immense love, gives her a sign – her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant! Elizabeth was old and barren and yet God would use her to bring a great messenger of Jesus into the world, including her in a long line of unlikely men and women to find themselves in God’s story of salvation for His world.

We need only look at the genealogy of Jesus to see misfits, outcasts, barren women, and younger brothers in a patriarchal society. Abraham and Sarah were also old. Jacob, or Israel, was the younger brother. Rahab was a prostitute, and by the way, a woman. Ruth was an immigrant and seemingly barren. David was an adulterer and a murderer.

God had always used the unexpected, the weak, those upon whom society looked down.

Mary is surprised, but not shaken. As a Jew awaiting the Messiah, she knew what she was waiting for, someone who would bring God’s form of justice to the world. What Mary wanted for Christmas was justice.

So, what is justice?

I’ve always seen justice as punishment or judgement for those who have done wrong. Yet, over and over again, God expands our perspective. “Getting what you deserve” isn’t limited to punishment, not in His good world. It also means human rights – dignity for the oppressed – is justice too.

It’s no accident that Jesus Himself, in His first sermon, points to Himself as the fulfillment of justice. He opens a scroll from Isaiah and launches His career as a teacher reminding His people that God sent him “to proclaim good news to the poor” and “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:14-20).

That’s what the little baby conceived in Mary came to do, and it’s what Mary longed to see happen for herself and for her people. Here in the midst of harsh Roman rule, poverty, and hardship, God would respond to her longing by sending the Messiah of the world through the womb of this poor, humble woman.

But how would God bring justice to His world? The way God exercised justice is as upside down as His definition of justice, and this is what we get to celebrate tomorrow.

Prayer: Lord God, we know You are completely good and Your ways are beyond our ways of thinking and being. Reframe our idea of what justice is and reveal those places we can do justice, Your form of justice, in the places you have us. Amen.

 

By Lisa Bond

All Elizabeth Wanted for Christmas (Part 2)

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Photograph by Katherine Ashdown

It’s easy to see how God delivered in a big way when it came to Elizabeth’s desire for a child. And when she finally got the gift she had been hoping for, for so long? Elizabeth responds with joy and gratitude—that’s often what happens when you wait all your life for a gift to come.

Elizabeth’s desire was about more than just longing for a child; she wanted the Lord to take away her disgrace among the people… and boy did He ever. In fact, He over-delivered. God could have given her a child years earlier, but she would have missed out on her son playing such a significant role in paving the way for the Lord. I bet if we could ask her, she would say that the years of waiting were worth it, that the years of longing couldn’t have prepared her more for the pride and joy she felt over her son’s contribution to the world. At any point, God could have given her a child and that would have satisfied Elizabeth’s longing; but instead, He gave her John the Baptist, who went on to do all of the things prophesied about his life, a life more significant than a mother may have ever dreamed of for her son.

That’s often how God’s gifts work—when they do arrive, they hold more significance than we could have possibly imagined. The joy of fulfillment is often greater after immense periods of waiting, the ability to cherish and appreciate the gift is increased by our longing. God knew what He was doing when He was making her wait, and it just goes to show that He’s not holding out on us, but simply holding out for something greater for us.

I know we wish it was as easy as when we were children: scribbling a letter to Santa Claus, listing our heart’s desires, and having them magically appear under the tree only weeks later. But how boring would that be if God’s gifts came that way? He wouldn’t want to ruin our anticipation with predictable fulfillment on our terms and timelines. God is the ultimate Giver of gifts, so our seasons of waiting? They’re given by Him because He knows that our longing holds gifts of its own and that the waiting will be worth it. He knows that waiting for what we want brings gifts of deeper trust, wisdom, and intimacy with God. And like Elizabeth, when our desires are finally fulfilled, the reality of that gift is often more than we could have imagined.

Lord, may we trust that your gifts are perfect and given in your perfect timing. Help us embrace the season of waiting as a gift of its own. Give us wisdom to know that our longing will be satisfied by you alone, and show us how to walk with you in the meantime. Amen.

 

By Kara Brown

All Elizabeth Wanted for Christmas

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Photo by Cara Spinks

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! 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 the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:39-45

At the start of this advent series, we read about Zechariah losing his voice after being given the prophesy about his wife, Elizabeth, bearing a son. We soon learn that Elizabeth’s story ends happily, and despite her old age she is given the baby she always longed for, a child who will grow to be John the Baptist and pave the way for the Lord. There’s no doubt that God ultimately delivered an amazing gift to her…

But what about her lifetime of waiting that we read so little about? What about the decades of heartbreak and shame and longing? Sometimes it’s easy to look at those who have finally been blessed and forget that their journeys there were first long and hard; it’s as if the struggle gets swept under the rug once their gift finally arrives—as if that erases the years of pain and doubt and uncertainty. It doesn’t. But Elizabeth teaches us that while the eventual blessing doesn’t erase the pain leading up to it, it does make it worth it.

Even though scripture doesn’t share much of Elizabeth’s heartache of waiting for a child, I know from experience that her journey must have been full of longing and questioning and persevering and surrendering to God that His timing is best. And the parallel isn’t just for the childless women out there; her story holds universal truths about our longing for family and a sense of community and connection—a true church family, a group of friends who embrace us, a spouse, children, reconciliation with our siblings, or to be truly known by our parents.

We all understand what it’s like to have this desire we’ve desperately wanted, waited for, for as long as we can remember…but despite our hope and faith and submission and patience, it just doesn’t seem like the dream will be coming true. We know what it is like to wait and to wonder and to worry that our desire may never be fulfilled.

Because sometimes the thing that we desperately wanted doesn’t look the way we wanted it when it finally comes.

Sometimes, the timeframe that we begged for doesn’t happen as we had hoped.

But if you’ve been waiting and you still haven’t found it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t coming; it means we are given seasons without so that we greater cherish the gift we’re given when it does come.

If you’re walking a long, drawn-out road like Elizabeth’s, I hope you find comfort in knowing that the Giver always delivers, just not in the ways or timeframe we may expect. Elizabeth’s story illustrates that no matter what type of family you’re longing for, in God’s eyes it’s never too late and never too miraculous for that longing to be met.

I know for many, the holidays seem to highlight what we’re lacking… It’s easy for the emptiness to be amplified with the rest of the world celebrating all that they have. As we wait for our Christmas wishes to be fulfilled, maybe we can all embrace Elizabeth’s anthem as our own: Blessed are we who believe the Lord will fulfill his promises to us!

 

By Kara Brown

 

All Joseph Wanted for Christmas (Part 2)

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Photograph by Anna Arpasi

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.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:20-25

We pick up the story where Joseph has just decided to divorce Mary quietly to keep her from public disgrace. That night (I’m assuming it was that night), an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and fills him in on what’s going on. The thing I appreciate most about this story is that God meets Joseph where he is. Amid the swirling doubts and questions, God speaks to him in the way that Joseph needed. We know this because the account says, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home to be his wife.” He pulled a complete 180 immediately upon waking up! I think it’s safe to say that God spoke to him in the exact way Joseph needed to hear it.

Have you ever thought about what your preferred method of communication would be with God? Would it be a dream? Would He appear to you in person? I know for me, I’d say something like appearing in person or writing a message in the sky. But I would bet my generally skeptical self would find a way to doubt it, explain it away, or rationalize it. After all, some people saw Jesus in the flesh and didn’t believe. Fortunately for all of us, I believe God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He wants to communicate with us. May we all be open to hearing what He has to say.

Jesus, what we really want for Christmas is to hear You speak to us in a way that’s special and unique to each one of us.

By Dan Francis

All Joseph Wanted for Christmas

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Photograph by Brody Bond

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

 

Sometimes it’s easy for me to gloss over the details because I’ve heard this story so many times. Even the writer glosses over many of the details as he has more important details to get to. Namely, Jesus’ birth. However, if you enter into this story, the details are scandalous! You’ve got a young, engaged Jewish couple where Mary gets pregnant and Joseph knows it wasn’t him. I can imagine Joseph feeling the hurt that Mary won’t tell him the “truth” of who it was that got her pregnant. He’s feeling the embarrassment of being “cheated on” and having a broken engagement. He is mourning the loss of a relationship he thought was supposed to be for the long haul. The questions and doubts creep in. God, why me? God, how could you let this happen? God, how can you be good and let this happen to me? How could I be so wrong about Mary? What did I do to deserve this? And with all of that swirling in his mind, he “decides to divorce her quietly,” because he didn’t want to “expose her to public disgrace.”

While we really don’t know very much about Joseph, we do know that given the choice between retaliation and forgiveness, he chose to forgive. In the face of doubt, he chose to trust God. I imagine that what Joseph wanted was just a normal life, a normal engagement, and a normal story. But God had something different (and better) in mind for Joseph. Joseph chose to trust God.

Jesus, what I really want for Christmas this year is to trust You like Joseph trusted You.

 

By Dan Francis

All Mary Wanted for Christmas: God’s Favor (Part 2)

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Photograph by Natalie Romano

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”

Luke 1:28

 

The journey Mary was about to embark upon as the mother of the Son of God (the Son of the Most High) would require enormous grace, composure, and steadfastness. The challenges she would face and the destiny of her beloved child would be truly heart-wrenching, for Jesus was both child and Child.

Luke tells us that Mary saw herself as a humble servant girl. Yet the visit from the angel, Gabriel, began with the declaration of her as favored by God. That encounter set her life on a different course — one from which she never wavered.

I will confess that when God brought Tom, my second husband, into my life, I knew with every cell in my body that even though I didn’t deserve it, God loved me best of all his children. I would weep with prayers of gratitude that after a lonely marriage, He would shower me with such a love – God’s love for me made manifest in my daily life. To this day, 25 years into our marriage, I consider my life with Tom to be a love song from God directly to me.

Yet when the challenges of life arise, I must still call upon the message that Gabriel delivered to Mary:

“For every promise from God shall surely come true.” (Luke 1:37)

God’s mission for us can have great loneliness or significant challenges embedded. His messages can feel abstract and hard to understand, but the truth is, He promises to be merciful. As our own stories unfold, we see that He is.

We love you, God, and we give thanks for your faithfulness. We thank you for sending your Son as our Savior, and we thank you for all the other sons and daughters you deliver into our lives, who are a part of our journey, who are a part of your great heart for us.

You are forever and ever. Amen.

 

By Rhonda Sanco

All Mary Wanted for Christmas: God’s Favor

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Photograph by Al Hammar

How will this be? For I am a virgin.

Luke 1:34

Taken at face value, this is a sweet exchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel who has come to share with Mary that she will soon bear the Son of God.

But upon further consideration, this exchange is at the heart of my own Christian journey.  My initial response when a new tension, a new barrier, a new burden arises tends to be one of doubt.  Before I have a chance to think, my life has been riddled with a response such as:

But how will this be? For I ….

  •       Am too young.
  •       Am too old.
  •       Am too stubborn.
  •       Am not strong.
  •       Don’t know how to apologize.
  •       Don’t know where she is.
  •       Can’t take any more.

And then, when I do pause to think, I realize this means I am at the doorway to my walk with God – these questions mean that my next steps take me beyond the place where I think I’m in control and put me entirely in His care.

I think of Mary, and the confusion and fear her visitation could have created.  She could possibly be subjected to great shame and rejection. Her humble family, living by modest means, could be ruined by scandal.  Joseph, her betrothed, while a kind man would surely cast her aside to preserve his own family’s dignity. Isolation and disgrace – that is what the future must hold.

However, Mary, still a child herself, responded with a grace of which I dream. She responded in the manner with which someone completely anchored in her walk as a child of God would:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

God, this Christmas, I give you my doubts and my trust. I lean into the faithfulness which you have always shown me.  At times, I haven’t understood what you were saying, but the truth is that you were there talking to me, and that is enough. Merry Christmas to you and to me.

By Rhonda Sanco

All Zechariah Wanted for Christmas (Part 2)

When Elizabeth gave birth to their son, neighbors and relatives arrived, ready to name him after his father, Zechariah. In obedience to God’s message from Gabriel, Zechariah pulled out a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” (Luke 1:63)

In that moment, God responded in a powerful way, demonstrating his faithfulness to Zechariah, who had patiently waited for that time to come:

“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:64)

Nearly a year of waiting and silence was followed by joyful celebration. God was faithful. God delivered on His promises. God showed up.

Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, would go on to prepare the way for Jesus and would ultimately baptize Him, bringing countless people to freedom in Christ throughout his ministry. What a testament to God’s faithfulness and the power of being still in the waiting instead of trying to have our way.

I connect deeply to this story because of my own journey with losing my voice and being muted. As a little girl, I wrote stories and poems and journaled, and I loved singing, but I was terrified of sharing any aspect of my voice publicly for fear of judgment, fear that it or I wasn’t good enough in some way. To add to that, I’ve struggled with illnesses that have attacked my throat and my voice – strep, acid reflux, vocal nodules and vocal strain – for most of my life. I experienced the worst of it two years ago when I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono. At one point, I completely lost my voice and didn’t have my full singing or speaking voice for months.

I was scared.

What was happening? Why was God doing this to me? After all, my job is public speaking.

In the months leading up to my muting, my prophetic friend, Heather Cotter, called me out of the blue one day and said, “I’m supposed to tell you something and I don’t know why, so here it is: Sometimes we have to get quiet in order to hear what it is that we need to hear.‘”

Little did she know how true her words would be during my time of waiting.

As I was muted, God’s voice and the voices of friends grew louder. I heard songs I’d never heard before that spoke directly to the places of pain in my body and brokenness in my spirit. Songs I’d heard for years took on new meaning, as the lyrics cut to my core. Friends in this community stepped out in faith and courageously spoke words of truth into my life – truths that were hard for me to hear about how I was showing up (or not) for my friends and family and how I was focused on career success at the expense of every other area of my life. They lovingly called out my scarcity mindset and questioned lies I’ve believed about myself and what makes me worthy. They surrounded me in my time of need when I felt completely and utterly useless and unimpressive.

My voice was muted, so the voices of those around me could be unmuted.

I look back on that time as one of the most difficult in my life, and I see threads of hope woven throughout it. I’m grateful for the waiting and for the lessons I learned during that time that I couldn’t have learned if I had not been slowed down and literally silenced.

God delivered. God showed up. God was with me in the waiting.

Reflect: If you are in a period of waiting, where can you see God moving? In what ways do you need to create silence and quiet time to allow for the voice of God to speak to you through scripture, music, or your community?

Devotional by Rachel Druckenmiller

Photograph by Katherine Ashdown

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