Stranger in the House 

Part 3

36 “Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age.

People said she couldn’t have a child.

37 But nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.”

Then the angel left her.”

 

The Stranger (Angel) has been interacting with young Mary, giving her the news that her entire life was about to change, and a Path was being laid for her that no other human being had ever walked. Patience and gentleness was extended to this young teenager as they spoke together in her family’s home.  The Stranger had given her a brief glimpse of who this Child would be . . . in her body, her life, in her world, in history, and in the entire story of Eternity.  To say it’s a lot for a young girl to take in is the gravest understatement ever.

She would have to agree to everything the Stranger had told her.  It would be her choice.  Nothing would be forced upon her.  I wonder how many other young women had been approached with this invitation.  Had others encountered this Stranger, but been unwilling to hear?  Unwilling to consider the Proposal?   Unwilling to say “Yes”?  We don’t know….nothing is written of such a story.  But God has always used humans to carry out His Plans.   Some have said “Yes,” and we have all those stories to read in His Book.  How many were invited to join Him in His Plans, but knowingly or unknowingly refused to say, “Yes.  I will.”?

Mary did say yes.  She had no idea of the repercussions of that choice which would echo throughout time and all of history.

In this Story, the Stranger had one more thing to tell Mary:

36 “Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age.

People said she couldn’t have a child.

37 But nothing is impossible for God.”

What a Gift this was to Mary!   Her relative, Elizabeth, was six months ahead with her own miracle baby….who would be called John the Baptist.  Elizabeth was someone she knew.  Someone she trusted.  Someone her family would trust.

God, Who’s Timing is always perfect, had brought into being another child, one who would be among the greatest Prophets of God in all of history.  A miracle conception.  A miracle birth.  A Divinely-orchestrated Destiny that would be interwoven with the life of Jesus throughout His time on earth.

Mary would have many months with Elizabeth….watching the phases of pregnancy that she would soon experience, in a safe, loving environment. It would be away from the gossip and condemnation of the townspeople of Nazareth who knew Mary and that she was not yet married.

The babies would be cousins, both carrying the Message of God….John’s message focusing on the One Who would make it possible to know and be reconciled to God….Jesus being the Perfect Picture of God and the Great Sacrifice to make it possible for mankind to find forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God.

As young Mary spent her days with Elizabeth, all those conversations that Mary may have not been able to have with her own mother were safely shared with Elizabeth.  And all the experiences of each stage of pregnancy were shared together, including Elizabeth giving birth and those critical first weeks/months as a new mother. Mary had a close view of Elizabeth’s “new mother” experiences.  And Mary lived under the shelter and protection that Zechariah and Elizabeth provided.

Mary watched a miracle baby and his mother and father for 6 months, before returning home to Nazareth and all the life-changing experiences that lay ahead.  She could not have known that her own baby would be born in a dirty animal stall, in a strange town and only her new husband with her, not her mother.  Then their flight to Egypt through the desert with their baby boy.  Mary had learned what to expect in caring for a new baby through her time with Elizabeth.

God alone knew what was ahead for that young family.  He had it covered.  Not in a way that would have been humanly preferred nor planned.  But covered, nonetheless.

~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~

How willing are we… am I… to say “yes” to something God is asking of me?  Without the full plan, the details, the purpose, strategy, financial impact, the “what will people think” considerations all thought through?  Though those things are valid, God does not seem to work on those terms.    I need  to simply trust that HE has all of that worked out, and it’s my most important role to put my eyes on Him, slip my hand into His, and say, “Yes.  I will.  I will trust You.”

Stranger in the House

Part 2

30 “The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.

31 You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.

32 He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.

33 Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever,  and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.”

35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of

the Most High will overshadow you.

Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.”

 

Following the Angel’s reassurance and encouragement to this frightened young teenager whose world is about to turn completely upside-down (vs.28-30), he goes on to give her some of the practical details.  She has no idea at this point what this Stranger in her house will say.

In one sentence,three points, (v.31) he presents the mission she has been asked to join:

  • Become pregnant;
  • Give birth to a son;
  • Name Him Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’d probably have tuned out after the first bullet-point.  It seems to have been true for Mary, as well. . . “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

The Stranger had moved right on to His most important subject….all the unfathomable descriptions concerning this Baby who was about to turn her world  upside down.(:32-:33)  But, Mary apparently was still stuck on the very first step of her future. . .

And to add to the complications, she was engaged.  But she probably wasn’t even thinking of what to do about that!

(:31)  “You will become pregnant….”

She asks, “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

God has the full plan….sees the past, future and present all at the same time.  Time and human limitations are not any problem for Him.  And His unending patience  is just part of how He continues to interact with  us.   His patience with Mary is so gentle!  The Stranger steps quickly into her questions and her shock.  There is no condemnation like, “Where is your faith?   Do you doubt me?  Do you doubt God???”….none of that.  So patiently and gently the Stranger takes a step backward to meet Mary where she’s become stuck.  He walks her through the process, from the start…

The Holy Spirit will come to you…the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

It would not be a physical interaction for this young virgin. It would be Spirit…the Holy Spirit….coming to her.  Then God’s Power would cover her….”overshadow”…. A shadow is not a being…there is no human tangible substance in a shadow.  You can see a shadow, you can be “in” a shadow.  But there is nothing to do with a shadow that is physical.  There would be the Power of God present, but that thought, hopefully, is one of wonder and awe…not fear.

The work would be all on God’s part.   Mary would only have to be willing to let Him do His work in her life.

Something so far beyond human understanding, yet brought to her with respect, gentleness, patience, and allowing her to ask questions and be answered in human terms that she could try to absorb.  No guilt.  No condemnation.  The pure nature of the Holy Spirit was so beautifully displayed through the Stranger in His interaction with young Mary.

Asking “How?” of God isn’t wrong.  We may not be able to absorb or fathom His “How’s”, but it isn’t wrong to ask.  And then hold on tightly each step of the way ahead.

 

Stranger in the House 

Part 1

“The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph.

The virgin’s name was Mary.

 When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said,

“You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”

 She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.

 The angel told her,

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.’”  Luke 1:27-30 GW

 First, a little Middle-East context:

  • It is the most common place for women and girls to be: In the house.  For a woman or young girl to be outside doing anythingalone is questionable…even dangerous.  It gives a sense of being unprotected, vulnerable, or even morally questionable.
  • Visitors and guests to a home are honored, and show honor. When a guest comes to the home, they make their presence known by announcing “Peace”….(Shalom!  Salaam!)  It puts the person inside the house at ease.  (no doorbells or intercoms!)
  • The greeting from the angel was different from any other throughout the history of the world. Within middle-eastern greetings, there are traditionally polite inquiries as to how family members are before getting down to the point of the visit.  That point may be further delayed by greetings from other family members or friends in the home.
  • This greeting appears to come quite quickly in the conversation. He did not ask first to speak with her father or mother.  This Messenger had information to share that needed to be said directly, without delay. “You are favored by the Lord!” “The Lord is with you.”   How kind the angel was to assure this young, unsuspecting girl that God was the One who was sending the message, and that it was ALL GOOD.
  • This Stranger called her by name.  He knew her name. Knowing a person’s name, and calling them by name breaks through many unspoken barriers. Knowing someone’s name is a big step toward singling out someone from the crowd.  My name identifies me as a unique individual.  It is the “title” of my identity.
  • “Mary” . . . was the Messenger’s way of making her realize that this conversation was very specific, unique, and within the context of a very personal one-on-one connection. She wasn’t just a random young girl.  He wasn’t just talking to the first available female in the house.  She had been pinpointed.  He, speaking for God, knew her by name.

God’s Messenger, carrying out to the detail what God had given him to communicate, includes such gentleness and sensitivity toward Mary:

  • He came to her….within her context…within her daily life; her most comfortable setting;
  • He respected her culture. I’m sure this isn’t the “normal” culture of Heaven;
  • He was sensitive to her mental and emotional reactions…especially fear;
  • He calms and reassures her first, so that she could even hearthe words He was sent to tell her.

This is how God, through His Holy Spirit, approaches us.  He “knocks at the door of our heart.”     He waits for us to open the door and invite Him in.   He does not barge in uninvited.  He calls us by name.  His Spirit – the Comforter – comes to us and oh so patiently begins to show us the Plans He has for my life, and unfolds more of the picture as we slip our hand into His and begin to walk the Path upon which He leads us.  One step at a time.   (to be continued)

“To” is Harder

“Mary said, ‘My soul praises the Lord’’s greatness!

My spirit finds its joy in God, my Savior,

 because the Almighty has done great things tome.

His name is holy.’ ”

Luke 1:46-47

I never get tired of the Christmas Story, nor of spending time contemplating its innumerable facets.  I’ve heard the story read at Christmas time since my earliest memories.

Today, as I read this familiar passage, I was struck by a tiny word that wasn’t the familiar version I had memorized as a child.  The little word “to” caught my attention.  I had always known it to be “for” me.  Today, it was different  –  “…the Almighty has done great things to me.” A tiny word can make a lot of difference.

Mary’s entire world and life turned upside down when she accepted the role of being the mother of the Messiah.  Throughout the ages since then, Mary has been honored, praised, and beloved.  Her change in status throughout history has been uniquely honored.  This would be the aspect that comes to mind when I read “…the Almighty has done great things forme.” Which is absolutely true.

But, while the miracle was taking place inher, and all the days of her life following the birth of Jesus, God was doing great things to her.   He was literally changing her body, her heart, her family, her community, and her future.  Much of those changes were painful, unpopular, and challenging.

It is far easier to embrace what God does forus.  But it is much deeper, more intimate, scary and life-changing when we allow God to do what He wants to us.  It is much more risky to invite Him into my life.   It will change not only my present, but my future.  And those life-alterations are not in our control.

It all comes down to a matter of choice. . . the choice to trust Him with my life, no matter what.  Or will I hold onto my life as tightly as I can?  Will I desperately hold onto His Hand, do what is hard, painful, seemingly impossible….simply because He’s asked me to?   Or not?

Unlikely Threat

“He [King Herod] called together all the chief priests and the experts in the Scriptures

 and tried to find out from them where the Messiah was supposed to be born.

They told him, ‘In Bethlehem in Judea.

The prophet wrote about this:

 ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah.

A leader will come from you.

He will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

Mtt.2:4-6  GW

desert spring blog by Janet Lenz Unlikely Thread

Herod, an egocentric, scheming King calls on top religious leadership – ‘experts in the Scriptures’ – under the guise of wanting to worship the Messiah.  But his heart was focused on removing the Messiah’s perceived threat to the King’s position.

The religious leaders knew their Scriptures, and readily shared the ancient prophecy of where

the Messiah would be born.  Religious top leaders, and now political top leadership knew where

the Messiah would first touch the earth.  Bethlehem.  Considered to be least among the leaders of the land.”

In the midst of those top leaders, the ancient prophet’s words rang out.  “A LEADER will come from you (Bethlehem.)”   But not a political leader.  Not a wealthy leader.  Not a flashy or self-absorbed leader whose goals in life would be fame, wealth, or popularity.  This “leader” would be a shepherd.  The Shepherd of all shepherds, a drastically sharp contrast to the leaders hearing the words of that ancient prophecy.

A shepherd’s life included…

     …no house to shelter him

      …no pillow for his head each night

      …no money to accumulate towards a better life

      …long absences from a wife to care for him, love him,

      …long separations from his children to snuggle every morning and night

      …away for months at a time to provide good pasture for his flock

      …no prospect of wealth, influence nor popularity

The ancient words spoke of a simple shepherd.  A Shepherd of God’s people, His “Sheep,” with all of the struggles and dangers of that humble shepherding life. A Protector, Leader, Provider, always “on call”, always watchful.  Always ready to use his simple tools – a staff, a rod – with the expertise of keeping at bay all of the dangers lurking in the shadows, watching for the opportunity to steal and devour a helpless lamb.  A Shepherd who could read the stars in the night sky to navigate the sense of direction he must have.  A Shepherd who understood the sweetness of a song in the silent night. 

May this Christmas season find us sheltered under the loving care of our Good Shepherd.

What’s in a Name?

gareth-harper-175342-unsplash

“So the Lord himself will give you this sign:

A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,

and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].”

Isaiah 7:14

Try to imagine young Mary, a teenager, unmarried, having grown up under the powerful, evil rule of an occupying government, where every move you make is watched, controlled, and dictated by cruel men who have no tolerance for nor acknowledgement of the God of Israel.  Underneath that dangerous dynamic was the power of the Jewish religious leadership, whose authority dictated all daily life…especially the inner world of faith, attitudes, behaviors and connections with God.

Mary would have been taught the ancient Scripture prophecies about the Messiah Who was to come….the One who would save her people from thousands of years of suffering.

In a moment of her everyday life, she was transported into the ancient Story…the ancient Promise that they had all been longing for.

She would carry and give birth to that baby boy, “Immanuel.”  God is With Us.   God had set it up…every detail, and brought Mary into that world-changing story. God entrusted Himself in the most vulnerable form, into the arms of a young girl…  She would have to hold Him close to her heart from the moment He entered this world.

The angel instructed both Joseph and Mary, separately, to name her baby, “Jesus.” (Meaning: He Saves.”)  A far more common, unassuming, and simple name.  I wonder if that wasn’t a ‘mercy’ for that new family.  Can you imagine how complicated it would have been if the “official”  ‘Immanuel’ was the public name!   “God-with-us”, it’s time to eat!  God-with-us, where are you?  God-with-us, come help your father!”

Oh! How she would need to know that God was with her from that day on.  Every day.  Every time she spoke her tiny baby’s name…every time she called to him as he played or approached an everyday danger, or heard the cruel whispers of shame from her neighbors.

“God is with us.”

“God is with me.”

As we walk through these days remembering that moment in Time when God came to us in baby-form, may our hearts embrace God where He always intended to be….With Us.

With me.

Refuge

Refuge post on Desert Spring Blog

The refugee camps had been devastated by unprecedented flooding.  Homes were gone.  Buildings were down.  Shops had collapsed.  Everything was changed.  Large ponds now covered the Sahara sands.

It was shocking to see the disaster that people with so little were now dealing with.  What will the future hold?  How do you rebuild when you have nothing?  

As regular visitors, we wondered what would now change in life as we’d always known it there.  

Seeing the concern in our eyes, our old Saharawi friend gently, simply said,  “Don’t worry.  

We are your refuge.