Love Unchangeable

My Facebook newsfeed has really touched me tonight. I’ve read about someone who’s away from their spouse for Christmas (Christmas Eve is a night more than any other when you just want to be held), someone else in prayer for a family-member, and another in horrendous physical pain. Maybe ‘Happy Christmas’ isn’t quite the right thing to say this year.

My heart goes out to you, however you’re feeling today. Maybe you’re in prayer for a friend or family-member, whose circumstances are changing when you’d rather they didn’t. Maybe you’re grieving. Maybe the hope of ever seeing a change in your circumstances is slipping away. Wherever this Christmas finds you, there’s a God whose love for you never changes, who sent His Son into the world to be our Immanuel – God-with-us: God with us in our loneliness; God with us in our suffering. We can give all our worries to Him.

Circumstances may change, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He wants so much to be invited into the nitty-gritty of your life, and to give you the hope of a future with Him in heaven. Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is love, and there’s none greater than the love Jesus showed. Will you love Him back this Christmas?

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I must share Robyn’s post with you, because it taught me something new about Jesus’ family. She writes about their stay in Bethlehem: “Why they didn’t make room for a girl about to deliver a baby is still a mystery”, which made me think. If she’s right (and I think she is) that the inn where they sought refuge was owned by Joseph’s relatives – after all, Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown; that’s why they were there, then surely under normal circumstances, those relatives would have made room for Mary. The fact they went out of their way not to seems to me like a snub: A statement that she’s not welcome in their home, this girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. It seems they had no faith in Joseph’s choice to stand by her, and no compassion for them after such a long journey, not to even give them a warm bed for the night. How different it might have been if their extended family had taken them in, and listened over breakfast the next day, as both Mary and Joseph told of being visited by angels and of their special child who was to come.

Instead, they and Jesus were ostracised; put in the stable away from the rest of the household. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be despised and rejected by men, and He was, before He was even born into the world. I hope my heart doesn’t do the same. Please help us, Lord, to make room for You in our lives this Christmas.

Joy in the Midst

Today is December 17th. 10 years ago, my church-family had just eaten a Christmas dinner. I came back home, but that light-and-fluffy Christmas feeling was the last thing on my mind. I was thinking about Christmas 2004 – a special one because my uncle and his family came for lunch. 6 months later, after a battle with cancer, my uncle was gone. 17 December was exactly 6 months after he died, and I sat there wondering what comfort I could offer his family. That was the day I wrote this song:
Last thing at night, Christmas Eve;
Excited children unable to sleep,
But she is rememb’ring Christmas last year,
Spent with an uncle no longer here:
She’s filled with love and compassion,
As she thinks of a card with a missing name –
A boy fatherless, a new widow,
And what can she find to give them?
The words of her pastor ring in her ears, spoken in these last weeks,
About joy in the midst of unhappiness; that’s what she wants them to know:
A joy that comes from peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed
.

You may be sat, listening,
Wond’ring why someone would write such a song,
But someday you may be in the same place,
Pond’ring a loved one you cannot embrace:
I hope – with love and compassion –
That even though things can’t be the same,
The truth of Christmas – the baby in the manger –
Will take on a sweeter meaning:
The words of the Bible will ring in your ears; tell you afresh of God’s love,
Healer of hearts and the Bread of Life; that’s who I want you to know:
The One who brings us peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed
.

Jesus is the Saviour,
And I would encourage you – while you have time –
To meet Him, love Him, cling to Him;
Don’t be robbed of your joy.

* * *

Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is joy, and that’s what I want to pass on to you: That you can be going through the most awful of circumstances, you can be in the most unhappy place, but you can still have the joy of knowing you’re right with God – of knowing that this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, came into the world to bridge the gap between you and a holy God, so that you could know Him personally. That’s something to be joyful about (whether it’s a loud celebratory kind of joy or a quieter, more reflective one), so I wish you a joyful, Christ-filled Christmas.

Peace in the Storms

It’s time again for OneWordAdvent, and this week’s word is peace.

Last time, we looked at John the Baptist’s parents – how they struggled with childlessness until finally, God answered their prayer. We never hear from them again.  It seems they had their happy ever-after and rode off into the sunset.

 

But there are some for whom when they’re called by God, life goes anything but smoothly. One of those is Mary.  When Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John, Mary was visited by Gabriel – the same angel who’d visited Zechariah.  The angel had similar news for her:  She too would bear a son, but Mary was a virgin.  Far from rejoicing at her son’s birth, people would be whispering and questioning the boy’s paternity.  Mary was aware it could cost her the man she was due to marry.  His obvious conclusion would be that she had broken their commitment with another man.  Despite this, Mary submitted to God’s plan for her life.  “May everything you have said about me come true,” she told Gabriel, and the adventure started.

 

Joseph cared deeply about Mary. Her pregnancy gave him the right to stone her to death for her supposed adultery, but he had no desire to.  He would settle for ending things quietly, perhaps resigned to the fact he had lost her to the father of her child, but God stepped in.  An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth.  One storm over:  Joseph stood by Mary, helping her to parent Jesus.

 

At the end of her pregnancy, the unanticipated census sent everyone to their hometowns to be registered. There were no postal votes in those days.  Mary had to go with Joseph to the town of his birth, Bethlehem.  As she made the long and gruelling journey, did she reach out to God in prayer?  Was the memory of Gabriel’s words a comfort, helping her to trust God for her baby’s safety?  They were taken care of when a kindly innkeeper offered them a roof over their heads in his stable, where Jesus was born.

 

In their Jewishness, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple at the appropriate time to fulfil the Law. They were probably keen to show Him off, like any other new parents with their baby, but one old man stood out among the rest.  Simeon seemed particularly eager to hold Jesus.  The Holy Spirit had led him there that day and shown him who Jesus was – the Saviour of Israel and a Light to the world.  Then Simeon turned to Mary.  Perhaps in his voice, she heard another impending storm:  “A sword will pierce your very soul.”  What would this soul-piercing be?  And when would it come?

 

Was Mary’s response to give in to anxiety, or to cling to the truth she had already learnt – that peace comes when you put your life in God’s hands?  She had seen Him speak to Joseph’s heart.  She had seen Him take care of her during her pregnancy, but when Jesus hung on a cross – hands nailed behind His back, it must have been impossible to imagine how God could work that out for good.  Impossible, but maybe somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Gabriel’s words rang out.  “Your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.”  Nothing was impossible with God …

 

And He proved it again with an angel, sent to roll away the stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead, and as she ran from the open tomb to pass on the angel’s message, Mary met Jesus (Matthew 28:1-9).  No questioning her response this time, as she saw the One who’d conquered death to become our Saviour:  She worshipped Him.

 

Perhaps this Advent season, we can thank God for Mary’s story – the way He controlled events and took care of her. Perhaps, as the angel’s words helped Mary, her story can help us to follow her example and trust God with the events in our lives.

The God of Hope

If ever anyone needed hope, surely it’s …  Well, sometimes I could say, surely it’s me.  Perhaps you could too, but the great news is that Christians serve a God of hope, who can fill us with joy and peace when we trust Him (Romans 15:13).

 

About fifteen months before Jesus was born, a man (one of the priests) was on-duty as usual.  In fact, the whole of life was pretty much going on as usual.  His wife was past childbearing age, and he had long accepted that the joy of bringing up children wouldn’t be theirs.  They both loved and served God wholeheartedly.  He could well remember the fervent prayers they had uttered time and again, but with the advancing years came a heaviness that settled on his heart.  As he saw new parents bring in their baby sons for the purification ritual, he would realise afresh that his and Elizabeth’s cries had been to no avail.

 

But God saw those baby sons too, as well as the pain of Zechariah’s loss, and He sent an angel to turn it on its head.  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” the angel said.

 

His season of pain was over.  The silence, the gnawing ache that had been there so long, and Zechariah couldn’t quite get it.  Imagine him saying through gritted teeth those words he must have repeated to himself every time that old, familiar desire clawed at his heart.  “I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”  Be reasonable.  These are the facts.  Get over it, but getting over it wasn’t in God’s plan for Zechariah.  His patience had paid off.  His prayer had been heard!  Their cries hadn’t been to no avail.  The God of hope had come into their world; flipped it over; given their lives a whole new and unexpected twist.

 

Nine months later, they and many others celebrated the birth of their baby son, later known as John the Baptist.  Zechariah must have remembered the angel’s words about him and marvelled as he watched them come true.  People did indeed rejoice because of his birth, and he would indeed go on to point people to Jesus and His future ministry.  Holding baby John in his arms and praising God, Zechariah was able to acknowledge:  “The rising sun will come to us from heaven … to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

The God of hope filled Zechariah and Elizabeth with joy and peace as they trusted Him.  He wants to do the same for us today.

* * *

My thanks to Bonnie Gray for her OneWordAdvent. If you decide to participate in the linkup like I did, please tell me here in the comments.  I’d love to read your post.