Intentional Thoughts

A Starry Night

Take a piece of dark paper/wall board/poster board/ etc. Attach this to a wall or some other well-traveled place in your house. Cut out white stars and place near this spot along with a pen. As the days pass take time to write things of thanksgiving, instances of joy or happiness, or even concerns that we have. After pasting these to the board this will help serve as a reminder of events in our lives.

Mary’s Intentional Thoughts

Christmas now looms just 11 days away. However you may plan to celebrate and whatever your thoughts are this Christmas let’s try to imagine Mary and Joseph for a moment.  Out of place, adapting to and learning the reality of the other person so prominent in your life and into this confusion comes a baby. What an opportunity to love!

And then the shepherds. It’s more than likely that there were several people at Jesus’ birth. In the communities of those days everything was shared and the needs of this young woman would have been a priority for many, especially those whom had carried and born children themselves. Those people were expected. What was not expected was men coming down from the hills outside of town to visit and bless this child.

Luke seems to be retelling this story from Mary’s perspective and the phrase he uses should cause us to pause today; But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. She was intentional in her memory and it caused her to keep these memories in a way that would influence later actions. This is the same type of thing you would do if you realized that every day at the same time you were blocked by a train on the tracks. You might consider a different route to take or an alternate time to travel. Mary is literally allowing her life to be changed by what she is viewing happening around her as she watches these men and others react to the birth of Jesus.

So often I am unintentional in my habits and lifestyle choices. I bounce around in areas of gratefulness and can quickly become sidetracked in remembering spiritual and life lessons that I have learned. Today’s opportunity for a family will help in these days leading into Christmas and even into the new year.

Embracing Brokenness

Cold. Dark.  Lonely. Regular. Expected. Normal. Think of your life and think of tasks that you perform regularly. Maybe you dread them. Maybe you enjoy them. What you do not expect is to be visited by angels.

Why do we not expect angels? Should we expect messengers from Heaven? In the circles that I have normally moved around in we have a little bit of an unhealthy relationship with angels. We either ignore them or we seek to venerate them by trying to fully define their roles and their possibilities. To some degree this is due to the fact that we have a tendency to seek to control God so therefore it must be that we control his creatures as well.

In Luke’s Gospel however we view this theme developing that God can work and does work, miraculously. Free from the abilities and expectations of everyone who is present. Free from the systems and methods of power that have been adopted and coerced upon us.

Zechariah meets an angel. Mary meets an angel. Joseph meets an angel. Now we are headed towards the night of the birth when a group of shepherds meet a group of angels.

As we simply read through the story we find ourselves realizing that the shepherds seemed to have a different experience than the others. They were notified by the angels after the birth of Jesus. All of the others were told of a promise that was yet to come, theirs had already come to pass.

There is more happening here though than simple linear time. The shepherds, just like the others mentioned above, had to decide whether or not they would act on what they were told. Could there really be a baby born in a stable that could change the world? Can there be peace on earth?

What do you think? Can there be peace on earth? Is there peace on earth? Often when we use these phrases we excuse them by giving them some other definition of meaning that allows us to excuse what does not seem or feel like peace to us.

God comes in humility but God is always proclaimed. Jesus himself said that our worship of him was truest and most possible when we serve in humility. Then he says in those moments of service that we meet him.

Would if the obstacle to peace on earth in my life is my pursuit of things that promote and celebrate me instead of worshipping in humility at stable troughs?

A Family Challenge

It’s Monday with all the busyness of the holiday season. Here is a simple thing that your family can do over the next two weeks as you approach Christmas by using the Christmas cards that your family receives as an opportunity to bless others.

When your family is together, take a few moments and allow family members to pick cards and take turns praying for the families represented on the cards. If you place your cards in a basket this is a simple task and can be done at the dinner table. If, however, your cards are used as decorations throughout the house you may have to pick a room or different area each time that you do this. If you have smaller children then your prayers might be the most interesting thing that your family does this Christmas.

Luke 2

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

a world-changing announcement

It’s caroling Sunday again. The formation and use of the word Noel has an interesting and complicated history. Originally the word means to be born and then through some double usage and similar words it now is used to mean the Christmas season or Christmas carol. More info Here

Thousands of years before God had told Abram that through him a kingdom would arise and through that kingdom the entire world would be blessed. This carol encapsulates that story. The shepherds; who are Jews are the genetic descendants of Abram. The wise men who eventually arrive are the spiritual descendants of Abram.

A birth announcement that had been foretold that changed the world. In Jesus we are one. We are the children of faith and now we sing Noel; the King is born.

Lyrics from Hymnary

1 The first Noel the angel did say 
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; 
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, 
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. 

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, 
born is the King of Israel. 

2 They looked up and saw a star 
shining in the east, beyond them far; 
and to the earth it gave great light, 
and so it continued both day and night. [Refrain]

3 And by the light of that same star 
three Wise Men came from country far; 
to seek for a king was their intent, 
and to follow the star wherever it went. [Refrain]

4 This star drew nigh to the northwest, 
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest; 
and there it did both stop and stay, 
right over the place where Jesus lay. [Refrain]

5 Then entered in those Wise Men three, 
full reverently upon the knee, 
and offered there, in his presence, 
their gold and myrrh and frankincense. [Refrain]

The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989

sitting quietly

It’s Saturday and there are only 13 days that separate you from Christmas. What are the plans for today? Shopping? Cleaning? Baking? Sitting? Whatever your plans, or combination of plans might be, the reality is that most of us don’t expect our world to get turned upside down.

If, however, we do find our world turned upside down we may make the mistake of seeking validation by condemning others, complaining about our circumstances, or simply refusing to along with whatever may be happening around us.

Meet Joseph. Engaged to be married only to find out that the woman you are engaged is expecting a child. Spoiler: it’s not yours. As a conscientious person he makes plans to deal with this setback as quietly as possible. No calling up the friends and having a pity party. No posting on social media; Some people SMH. I. Can’t. Even.

In fact, we are told in Matthew that Joseph was only considering severing his relationship with Mary. He hadn’t decided yet. There is a pause. He hears the news and takes at minimum a day or two to consider what he has heard. Maybe Mary has told him about the angel or maybe Joseph is simply wanting to make sure he does the right thing so he sits quietly and waits.

Then God sends an angel. Joseph responds to this midnight visitation by taking Mary into his home. The scorn that would have been hers now becomes his. The rejection she would have experienced is now turned on Joseph in mockery. Joseph looks weak by every measurement of our cultures.

In God’s eyes he is the fulfillment of a human; made to glorify God. In his love for Mary, and ultimately Jesus, he signifies to each of us how we should care for the mocked and outcast around us. The reality of our lives is that we are constantly being interrupted by people whose problems seem their own – and overwhelming. God has called us to join them.

Wait on your vision if you must, but take a cue from Joseph and wait quietly. The expectation grows as miracles continue to occur in the lives of those who surround the birth of Jesus.

The Magnificat | A Declaration

 46And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

50His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

53He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

54He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

55to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.”

    56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Mary is often portrayed as a young and simple girl. She may have been both but it becomes very clear from her song that she had very clear observations about the world around her and the expectations that she had for the coming Messiah.

Today’s thought is to simply reflect on Mary’s words. Could they be mine? Who are the humble that I would desire to be lifted up? Do I know hungry that need to be filled? Could I articulate my hope for the world as Mary did in a way that doesn’t look like me simply getting my way?

The Magnificat; truly magnificent.

Interactions of Faith

The story of Mary is one that we know well. A young woman engaged to be married has an encounter with an angel who tells her that a true miracle is happening within and around her. Mary asks questions but it is clear from Luke’s telling that she is a woman of faith.

Mary is told that the unimaginable is going to happen – she who has never been intimate with a man – is going to have a child. In the same breath the angel points to other proof of God’s ability; that her cousin Elizabeth is expecting a child well past natural child bearing years. While these are obviously different miraculous events it is clear that Mary is impacted by what she hears.

Her response to her visit from the angel is to go and visit Elizabeth. In fact, the Scriptures seem to indicate that it was a little bit out of the way to get to where she was headed; the hill country of Judea. This is faith. You hear that God is doing something miraculous in yourself and that something miraculous has already occurred among a friend and relative and she heads out to be challenged and encouraged by what is happening in their lives.

What is God doing in your life right now? Does anyone else know? Have you made a trip to visit someone and asked questions and marveled in the unexplainable?

Let me show you a way that you may have done this without fully realizing what was happening. When is the last time that you sat in a church service? Now, with COVID-19 a reality some of you may have not done this for a while, but think of the last time that you were in a meeting like a church service.

Who was there with you? Would you believe the number of miracles that are happening in that gathering right then? Now I know as a member of a Southern Baptist church we have a tendency to only think something miraculous is happening when someone walks down the aisle or a baptism is celebrated. Certainly these are to be celebrated but as someone who sometimes faces the congregation the real miracles are sitting in the pews, watching via TV, or listening via podcasts sometime later.

What has brought that unique collection of individuals together to worship God together when there are so many barriers that would normally keep them apart? To willingly commit to be together with others, others whom are different, whom are challenging to us, this is a commitment of faith in the miracle working God of Heaven and Earth.

If you’re able, leave your seat; virtual or real, and spend sometime talking with and communicating with others. You will have your faith encouraged and be challenged in your belief in the One who is able to make all things well.

Surely salvation has come to Israel and the world.

The Quiet

The Quiet

Zechariah has been visited by the angel. Elizabeth is expecting a child. For everyone else though it must seem like everything is still normal.

The Judean countryside is still occupied by Roman soldiers. Herod is still working on the Temple, and it’s costing more every month. Food demand and supply seems the same. Normal?

In one family it is not normal. Something is happening. It’s happening quietly because Elizabeth spends 5 months without telling anyone of her great hope and joy; and Zechariah, well, he’s just quiet period.

These times of seeming quiet are what I find so hard to recognize in my daily life. Surely though we might think we could always recognize God at work? Can’t we see his work happening?

Unfortunately, we have intentionally implied many times that we simply must see where God is working and just go do something. This puts the emphasis on the abilities and intentions of the individual and forgets the transformative miraculous God that we serve. Often in conversations with others and myself I hear this conversation and we wonder if God is even at work at all.

Do you remember what happened when Zechariah came out of the Temple? He indicated to everyone that he had seen an angel – and then he went home. He didn’t live in Jerusalem and once his duties there were fulfilled he went back to his hometown and his family and friends. Elizabeth told no one that she was expecting a child.

Silence. But growth was happening.

In April of this past year a friend of mine commented on his social media that everyone who thought the world was paused should reconsider their perspective. He pointed out that children were being born, others were dying, and the realities of living and carrying on a life were still happening. People were learning – or not learning. We were helping – or growing more selfish. We were serving – or demanding service.

Do you feel like many of the 1st century Jews must have felt? Do you feel like nothing is happening? Friends, it may seem like a pause to you and I, but God is always at work. May we immerse ourselves in His truth as we trust Him.

A prayer for Advent/Christmas

As we seek to serve others, may we use our eyes to see those who are in need. May we use our ears to hear those who are crying out for help. May we use our mouths to speak up against the wrongs of the world. May our Advent time be focused on others and not ourselves.

Faithful Families: For Advent and Christmas – Traci Smith

Living Out Hope

Elizabeth is over the moon when she finds out that she is expecting a child.

When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. “So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said. The Message

23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. KJV

23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” NIV

23When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25“How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” NLT

23When his period of service in the Temple was over, Zechariah went back home. 24Some time later his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and did not leave the house for five months. 25“Now at last the Lord has helped me,” she said. “He has taken away my public disgrace!” Good News Bible

Zechariah is trying to figure out how he is going to raise a child with a priest’s retirement income and Elizabeth shuts herself up for 5 months for a personal party. Zechariah wants to question an angel but when Elizabeth realizes she is expecting she immediately knows who has intervened on her behalf – God!

Elizabeth considered this untimely pregnancy as a gift from God. Her focus was not on her abilities or lack of abilities or any other potential problem but on God’s goodness. Her praise was directed towards a God who blessed her.

You and I have met people like this. They get excited when they find an item they thought was lost. They love to hear little children talk about their hamsters, gerbils, and imaginary friends. When a friend calls to tell them good news they want to run and hug them.

These are the folks who believe and act as if God is present. God does not have to be summoned, he is present. God does not have to be coerced, he does good things.

It’s Christmas. Let’s act some like Elizabeth. Expectation of God’s presence will certainly open our eyes to what is happening all around us.

Not Now Please

Starting today we will begin to look at the characters that begin to make an appearance prior, and during the first few years of Jesus’ life. as we approach our celebration of his birth. It is my prayer that the reality of each of these individuals will cause us to remember that it is the God we serve that makes the miraculous possible, not our abilities, assets, or efforts.

A great way to include your entire family in the story of the nativity is to allow each of them to represent a person who would have been at the nativity, and tell the story of how they came to be there. For those of us who might be sticklers on the timeline of the Wise men, you can always move them far away and allow whichever child represents them to note the time gap in their travel, after Jesus birth. Small hands love to handle things, so if your nativity can withstand some touching let’s make that happen as well.

In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth the first person we meet is Zechariah. The priest Zechariah. The priest chosen to burn incense in one of the highest honors of the priestly family. The priest who met an angel inside the Temple. The priest who told the angel he had it wrong, there was a better – or at least another – way. The priest who subsequently didn’t talk for 9 months.

Zechariah loved God. Zechariah served God. Zechariah was not ready for God to act outside of his context and his comfort. Yes, he wanted a child, but at that point in his life Zechariah is probably thinking about a shore side villa. Now I know to some that might sound a little sacrilege, but how would you respond if an angel met you today and told you that the dream you had prayed for last 20 years ago would be granted today.

Are you too busy for your dreams from 20 years ago? Are you too tired from your desires of the past? Are you too cynical for those past desire and dreams to be put to work? Zechariah had this to say when the angel told him something miraculous.

  • Ha!
  • Really? If you were really from God, you would have arrived on my timeline.
  • Seriously? I just bought a pair of matching donkeys for Elizabeth and I. These donkeys won’t pull a cart and I’ll lose equity trading them in.
  • I’m old, to old.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” NIV

Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know if this is so? I am an old man, and my wife is old also.” Good News Bible

And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. KJV

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” New Living Translation

Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.” The Message

God was looking for a ‘yes’. Zechariah wanted to know why his plan had to change.

I have the potential to meet Zechariah’s skepticism. Later. A better time. When I’m not doing as much. When I’m doing more. When there are more people. When there are less people. Most of us would never say that we are to busy for God, but we often are to busy and distracted for God’s messengers. Say ‘yes’ to God’s work and God is constantly working.

Let’s Sing A Story

One of the absolute joys of Christmas, even when I’m being Scroogey, is the music. Christmas carols are so rich in the truths they convey that they can lead us to think deeply of Gods presence and love. To fully get a picture of the carol writer’s understanding it helps if we sing more than one verse at a time.

Most of the songs that we sing now originated from the 18th century onward. In the grand scheme of things they’re not really that old. So I did a little research and found one of the older hymns that has been sung in Christmas celebrations since the 5th century. The text is taken from HymnaryClick here

Representative Text

1 Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the Source, the Ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!

2 O that birth forever blessed,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

3 This is he whom heav’n-taught singers
sang of old with one accord,
whom the Scriptures of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected;
let creation praise its Lord, 
evermore and evermore!

4 O ye heights of heav’n, adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing:
all dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ry voice in concert ring, 
evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be,
honor, glory, and dominion
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore!

Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #268

Enjoy the truth of the humility and presence of God through the beautiful carols we sing.

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