Luke 1:31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
Luke 1:30 “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God’”.
Luke 1:28 “And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Luke 1:26-17 “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”
In our stressful military world, we are often pushed and pulled in different ways. At times these ways be contradictory to previous instructions and require clarification and negotiation to sort it out. I think it’s fair to suggest that it can be demanding, frustrating and even aggravating at times. I would also suggest that at times we don’t respond as well as we could.
Matthew 22:36-40 reminds us, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Leviticus 19:9-18, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28)
When we find ourselves squeezed in stressful situations our aim is to respond the best way Jesus tells us. Love God, Love Neighbor. He knows that what is inside of us dictates what comes out of us. He want us to know that too.
Like a tube of toothpaste, no matter how hard or softly it’s squeezed only toothpaste will come out.
If we love self over others, when squeezed, Pride, Arrogance, Abuse, Disobedience and Ungratefulness comes out of our spiritual tube (2 Timothy 3:1-5). But in contrast, if we love God over self and love our neighbor, when squeezed, Kindness, Graciousness, Truthfulness, Hospitality and Welcoming comes out (Galatians 5:22-23)
If you love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well (James 2:8).
Aim for balancing Truth with Grace.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
Today is Palm Sunday. We picture ourselves welcoming the King into our city and into our hearts. He tries to make his intentions known by coming, not on a great stallion, but on a lowly donkey, meek and humble.
I wonder how many here look upon this lowly Servant- King and feel that this is just a thin veneer, and that beneath this lowly exterior there is a terrible power and authority which is just waiting to burst out against you if you slip in any way. I wonder how many feel that it is not really the deepest pleasure of this King’s heart to serve his people and meet their needs.
I wonder how many feel that he’s riding this donkey of lowliness as a kind of camouflage. And once he gains a foothold, he will throw off his rags, pull out his sword, and storm forth to do what he really loves to do, namely, judge and destroy. Of course, some will be saved—the few who somehow could please him. But that is not his heart’s desire. He is basically angry—always angry. And the best we can do is stay out of his way, and maybe, if we keep the rules well enough, we could sneak by him when he is in one of his temporary good moods.
God’s Deepest Delight
Jesus is at pains to help you not feel that way about God. And I want to draw your attention to one verse, namely, Luke 12:32, because every little piece of this verse is intended to help take away the fear that Jesus knows we struggle with, namely, that God begrudges his benefits, that he is constrained and out of character when he does nice things, that at bottom he is angry and loves to vent his anger.
Luke 12:32 is a verse about the nature of God. It’s a verse about what kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad—not merely about what God will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he loves to do, and what he takes pleasure in doing. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The phrase “good pleasure,” is a verb in Greek: “to be a pleasure” or “to be pleased by.” You could translate it: “It pleased God,” or, “God chose it gladly.” In other words, God is not acting in this generous way in order to cloak and hide some malicious motive. The word “good pleasure” utterly rules that out. He is not saying inside, “I will have to be generous for a while even though I don’t want to be, because what I really want to do is bring judgment on sinners.”
The Lord’s meaning is inescapable: God is acting here in freedom. He is not under constraint to do what he doesn’t really want to do. At this very point, when he gives his flock the kingdom, he is acting out his deepest delight. This is what the word means: God’s joy, his desire, his want and wish and hope and pleasure and gladness and delight, is to give the kingdom to his flock.
Zechariah 2:10-11 “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.”
Jesus came to establish His Kingdom. We, as believers, have seen Jesus and we have been impacted by our encounter with Jesus Christ. This calls for exuberant shouting and gladness because of what he has done and continues to do within us. Because of this, we have more reason than anybody to be a people of exuberant praise.
God is in the business of restoring our hearts to such a degree that we can be people who receive grace and forgiveness. Because of God’s great love, we can be people of hope even in the desert places of life. We can be people who are living testimonies of God’s splendor, and we can be people of praise because we know the hope of our Coming Lord.
Luke 1:46b-55 “And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
As God’s very own, we are called to be messengers of the salvation brought through Christ’s first coming and the hope, for those who believe, of His Second Coming. We can see our selves as God’s representatives in the world – to be living examples of God’s forgiving, transforming power in the life of a believer.
“Then she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough-because there was no room for them at the inn. In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a manger.’
“Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’
“They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them” Luke 2:7-19.
Advent is about expectation and remembrance. We enter into the story of a world in need of a new start. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination. And as we travel on this Christmas journey we remember. We remember Christmases of joy and hardship. We remember people we love who aren’t around our table anymore. Some memories are sweet. Others are difficult.
The Italian poet Cesare Pavese wrote, “We do not remember days; we remember moments.” Another man at the end of his life said, “I’ve had my moments, but if I had my life to do over again, I would have more of them.”
Can you imagine all the moments Mary had that first Christmas Eve? Luke tells us that she kept all these memories and treasured them in her heart. She saw and experienced things no one had before or will again. She wasn’t selected because of her wealth, education, royal lineage, or great deeds. In fact, the Bible is silent about the requirements for being the mother of the Messiah. We only know that God favored her highly among women. God’s glory consumed her life from the moment Gabriel visited her. God’s glory, His radiant love transformed her. She held the Son of God that night of which we sing. It was a holy night. God’s glory came to earth and wrote a love letter to the world in the form of a newborn baby.
What happens when you catch a glimpse of God? You treasure it. Mary could’ve had bitter memories about the travel arrangements, the lack of planning, the constant need to improvise. But in a barn full of visiting animals, horses, mules, stray dogs, camels, splinters, hay, and horse manure, Mary kept all these things treasured in her heart.
That night she had to contend with Joseph’s snoring and the shepherds, loudly recounting the amazing appearance of angels. They probably woke the baby several times that night. But just before dawn, when everyone except Mary and a mule was still asleep, she gathered a tapestry of memories:
- the beautiful colors of Gabriel’s clothes
- the look on Elizabeth’s face when she turned and saw Mary
- the busyness of packing for the dreaded tax appointment
- the “No Vacancy” signs
- the nervous, frustrated father
- the tiny hands of the newborn king
I would imagine she wept and smiled. She experienced an orchestra of emotions in concert with the breeze that swept through the Bethlehem hills like a newly released Spirit.
We each have opportunities to capture memories of Christ when we follow Him. Knowing that He became our Savior gives us a reason for joy. It’s Good News worth celebrating and joy worth finding.
*** Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came to her and said, ‘Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.’ But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end'” Luke 1:26-33.
Happiness is an emotion that can disappear as quickly as it rises to the surface. Joy, however, is a choice. We have a choice. God gives us a joy that is unconquerable. We can choose to live in an attitude of resentment, anger, and fear or we can choose to pursue the joy of Christ. So what is the picture of joy in the Bible?
Joy is trusting when you want to doubt.
“Trust in the LORD forever, because in Yah, the LORD, is an everlasting rock!” Isaiah 26:4. As Christ followers we aren’t pressured to do it all for everyone. We trust in Jesus to do the heavy lifting. The key is trust. We just need to have Mary’s response to the coming of Jesus, “‘I am the Lord’s slave,’ said Mary. ‘May it be done to me according to your word'” Luke 1:38.
Joy is receiving what you want to reject.
Can you imagine how the innkeeper would have felt if he said to Mary and Joseph, “Of course you can’t stay in that stable! That’s for paying customers. Who do you take me for?” We find joy in making room for people in need. Reflect on the mysterious words found in Hebrews: “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2.
Joy is celebrating when you want to fear.
What’s the first thing angels say to mortals? It’s standard protocol. In just about every divine encounter the angels say: “Fear not.” I can hear Jesus instruct His most trusted angels. “OK, let’s go over this again … Most of the people that I’ll tell you to speak to will be scared out of their wits! So let’s practice the greeting one more time.” Then the angels would all say in unison, “Fear not.”
The message is clear. God is not looking for ways to scare us into faith. He drew near to us to relieve the worries we have about crossing over the divide between heaven and earth. He wants us to know that He’s going to take care of us no matter what happens. One of the names that He was called long before he ever stepped on this world’s stage was Immanuel meaning “God with us.” No matter what we go through we can whisper this simple truth: “Jesus is with me.” Think about it. He is with you in your greatest victories and your most humiliating defeats. Jesus is with you at all times in all things.
*** Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee