(Art by Dewey)
Only your body is limited. Your spirit can 'mount up on wings like eagles'
“There was no room for them in the inn”
( Luke 2:7)
In an age when there were no telephones, emails or ordinary mail services Joseph and Mary took their chances with accommodation. And, when they reached their destination of Bethlehem, they found that all the available places had already been taken. There was nothing suitable to be had for a heavily pregnant mother bearing the Son of God and Saviour of the world.
Right from the beginning both Mary and Joseph learned that a close association with the Lord might have many blessings and privileges – but comfort was not necessarily one of them. They had suffered both social and emotional pain and now were met with not only physical discomfort but with what might have felt like rejection and a lack of understanding from God.
Jesus confirmed this during His ministry when He told a would-be follower,
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
John the Baptist’s role was ‘to prepare the way for the Lord’ amongst the people to whom He would come. Jesus role was to seek out and save the lost. It was only as He prepared to return to the Father that He spoke of preparing a place for us. Until we reach that place we are on a journey with the Lord – it will not be all ease and comfort, but it will be the best place to be. For with Him there is true life!
There is a key question we need constantly to have at the forefront of our minds. Is there room in my mind, my heart and my spirit, and in my everyday life and living, for the Lord Jesus – or is He banished to the fringes by the affairs of my world?
We prepare a place for the Lord whilst He prepares a place for us with the Father.
Lord God, please help me to keep my eyes and attention on You and not just on my own affairs, comforts and pleasures. Amen.
“But when the time had fully come,
God sent his Son”
It was some 2000 years after God called Abraham and promised to bless all the families of the world through him. Now, Paul tells us, this was the right time. We do not know the full answer but there are certain factors that made this time suitable from a human perspective.
Firstly, there was a general peace in the Roman empire. The legions were everywhere keeping law and order and protecting travellers both on land and at sea.
Secondly, the common language of the empire was Greek – and the Old Testament in Greek, the Septuagint, was available.
Thirdly, there was an increasing spiritual hunger. The Roman gods had lost their appeal and the so-called mystery religions had a more personal appeal.
Fourthly, there were those who were attracted to the idea of the Jewish God and the high ethical standards that were a part of their faith.
Finally, Caesar had called for a census, and Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem where Jesus was born – just as had been prophesied.
Within this context Paul also was able to minister effectively and during a short period of ten years saw the church established in the four Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia.
Certainly God had chosen a good time – and may well have been influential in bringing it about! And how blessed we are that some 2000 years later we can look back on it and enjoy the fullness of its meaning. We are about to celebrate Christmas – not the Christmas of the tubby man in a red suit and a white beard, with too much to eat and drink and expensive present that don’t last. Our celebration is of the appearance amongst us of a Saviour – a baby who grew to be a man, who died upon a cross and brought us the gift of eternal life in the light and love of Almighty God, our Father in Heaven. This was not Father Christmas but the reality of the Son of God Himself.
Don’t miss it!
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Lord Jesus, enter more fully into my life to rule and reign there in the fullness of your light, life and love. Amen.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
that a census should be taken
of the entire Roman world”
Caesar ordered something that affected the entire Roman world. God ordained it in order to affect the entire creation.
Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman empire from 30 BC to AD 14. He decided that a census should be taken throughout his empire. This was not a regular occurrence but the first of its kind – and taxation was probably the reason behind it. The consequence was that people travelled to their own town to register, and this involved Joseph going to Bethlehem, ‘because he was of the house and line of David.’
Joseph did not need to take Mary with him but he obviously decided or agreed to do so. We know that she was in the advanced stages of her pregnancy and he may not have wanted to leave her behind in view of the Lord’s commission to him.
These two men, Caesar and Joseph, were both involved in Mary’s being in Bethlehem when Jesus was born there – just as the prophet had foretold.
Caesar, who would not have known of the prophecy or of Mary and Joseph, issued a decree that had to be obeyed. Joseph, as a husband, took the decision that Mary should accompany him. In this way the prophecy was fulfilled and God’s will achieved.
In just such seemingly unrelated and small details is the hand of God at times to be revealed. He is indeed able to direct the thoughts and decisions of people in order to achieve His will, and He is able to work in all things to the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)
Trust God to guide and lead you in the way that you should go (Psalm 32:8)
Lord please have Your hand on my life so that whether I am aware of it or not I will live and act as You wish, Amen.
“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.”
God was moving powerfully! He had begun this new part of His salvation plan with two mighty acts – both of which involved women in a special way.
Elizabeth, who had mourned the fact that she could not have a child, and had suffered the social indignity as a result, was delighted to be pregnant – even in her old age. And her son would be the great and promised forerunner of the Lord – one of whom Jesus would say,
“This is the one about whom it is written: “`I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John;” (Luke 7:27-28)
Elizabeth also had the privilege of meeting the Saviour’s mother, and knowing it at the time. It must have been a very special time that they enjoyed together, after Elizabeth had greeted her,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, 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 what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Mary was obviously conscious of the great honour that had been bestowed upon her, even although she could not at the time have realised what would be involved, or the pain that she would have to bear when Jesus was into His ministry. The Holy Spirit was clearly inspiring her when she exclaimed,
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
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”
Our lives can seem very ordinary to us at times, and we may feel that we are stuck in a physical or social backwater, where some of the blessings that others appear to enjoy have passed us by. We never know when God may come to us, or use us to fulfil a special purpose of His. Our names may, or may not, go down in history as did those of Elizabeth and Mary – but even the smallest stone in a Temple is of great importance, both to the whole and to the other stones around it. Each is hand-picked by God! – and with a specific purpose in mind.
Allow God to choose how to use you, and thank Him that He does.
Father, thank You that You do know the hearts and longings of Your people, and that You do, indeed, have a special purpose and plan for each one of us. May Your will be done in me also. Amen.
“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.”
In all that God was doing He did not for a moment forget a man called Joseph, whose life also was to be changed forever. When he found out that Mary was pregnant Joseph could have publically broken off the proposed marriage and exposed Mary not only to shame and ridicule but to the harsh provisions of the law. Because he did not want to do this he considered divorcing her quietly.
It was probably too much to expect that Joseph would unquestioningly accept Mary’s account of what had happened. It had never occurred before in the history of the world and would undoubtedly never happen again. He must have been bitterly disappointed and hurt at what he saw to be a terrible betrayal of their relationship and a rejection of their planned future.
God did not hold this against him but instead sent an angel to him in a dream. So vivid was the experience and so real the message that Joseph, on waking, seems not to have hesitated but to have believed and obeyed God immediately. We can read these words very easily – but perhaps need to ask ourselves what sort of a dream would cause us to both change our minds and our planned course of action so dramatically. The question would arise again when we ask what sort of a dream would cause us to wake the next morning and immediately set about taking our family to live in Egypt – as Joseph was to do later.
God was working powerfully and specifically, and was ensuring that His word was received, understood and obeyed. He had also chosen His man very carefully. Joseph and Abraham are just two examples of people who heard and obeyed the word of God. The fruit of their obedience would turn out to be far greater and more important than they could have imagined at the time.
We must not underestimate what God might do in and through us.
What will be my legacy?
Father it is difficult to say at times but – Your will be done on earth (in my life) as it is in heaven, Amen.
“You will be with child and give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus”
After four hundred years of silence God spoke twice within the space of a few months. The first was to Zechariah and the second to Mary. In both cases the message was delivered not by a prophet but by the angel Gabriel – underlining its tremendous importance and implication. They both concerned the birth of a child – firstly John the Baptist and then Jesus.
The message to Mary contained three important elements. Firstly ‘you are to give Him the name Jesus’ – which indicated that His mission would be to save.
Secondly, ‘He will be great’ – for He would also be called ‘the Son of the Most High.’ – This was an acknowledged messianic title and Mary would have understood it that way.
Thirdly, ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ – Here was a fulfilment of prophecy.
Gabriel painted for Mary a picture of a child who would be Saviour, Son of God and King – three stunning titles. Mary was both ‘greatly troubled’ and obviously mystified by the message that Gabriel delivered – and would have been overawed when He explained further,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God … For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)
Both from the message and the manner of His conception Mary would have known that this would be no normal child. And when she had the time to let it sink in and to reflect on it all, she would come to terms with the growing realisation and understanding that for all eternity she would be the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, the real miracle of Christmas is not the Virgin Birth. The great and awesome wonder is that God Himself should choose to come amongst us in human form. He put aside His majesty and glory to become like one of us – in order to save us from our fallen condition and from eternal separation from Him.
Lord God, help me to see beyond the human form of Jesus and to glimpse the reality of the Almighty, Majestic Creator humbling Himself to my level so that You could find me and lead me home again. Amen
(Picture: Nicolas Poussin, The Annunciation, 1657, National Gallery, London)
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith … Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful …. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”
In the Temple worship access into the Holy of Holies was ‘forbidden except for one person (the high priest) on one occasion (the Day of Atonement) on one condition (that he took with him the blood of a sacrifice)’ (John Stott). Jesus Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the Law and accordingly through Him access into the presence of God Almighty is now open to all believers all of the time.
As a result the writer of this letter urges his readers to respond in three ways.
“Let us draw near to God.” There is no barrier and we are called to enter into and remain in God’s presence through our faith in Jesus Christ and all that He has achieved for us.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” Notwithstanding the fact that many have fallen away and the world has turned away we hold onto our sure expectation that the Lord will come again in all His glory – and that we will be with Him. He has promised it and He is faithful.
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on.” Encouragement and example are great attractions. As we remain faithful in worship and ministry, and invite others to join in or stay with us it may keep them from falling away or bring them back. Relationships are a greater attraction than legalisms!
Be a witness through faith, hope and love in all the stages of life.
Lord Jesus help me please to remain faithful and true to You at all times and to encourage others in the same way. Amen.
“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time
he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool”
Jesus resting – from His labours; Jesus reigning – in majesty and power; and now Jesus waiting.
This understanding was first stated in Psalm 110 and Jesus referred it to Himself. It contains all the elements of resting, reigning and waiting.
Whilst He rests and reigns He also waits in the confidant assurance that all His enemies will be subdued and His kingdom will come in all its fullness. It is also clear that this waiting is not a blind and careless assumption that evil will eventually wear itself out. On the contrary the Godhead continues to act.
So God continues to work in and through and around our lives and situations to answer the prayer that He taught us.
The Revelation given by the Father to the Son, by the Son to John, and by John to the Church, leaves us in no doubt whatsoever.
Lord establish Your Kingdom rule and authority in my life so that I may be a part of the answer to Your prayer. Amen.
“He sat down at the right hand of God”
The second insight we gain from this scripture comes from where Jesus is sitting. He sits at the right hand of God – in the place of the highest possible honour. It is the supreme place of majesty, power and authority in the entire created order. And from here Jesus reigns.
It is from here that
Although the powers of evil have not yet surrendered Jesus showed quite clearly during His earthly ministry that He is able to exercise authority over them. When He decides that the time has come He will exercise that authority fully and finally.
Lord the kingdom, the power and the glory are Yours now and forever. Amen