Mary Did You Truly Know?

Closeup of motherhood figure

“Mary, did you know

that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know

that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know

that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great “I am”?”

As a mother, I often wonder about Mary. How she handled the usual nervousness of becoming a first-time mom with the added responsibility of being the mother to the King of Kings. Did she fully know what she was being called to do? Did it weigh on her heart like many of my motherly duties often do?

When Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem, his response to her worry was “Where else did you think I would be?” In that moment, did she think, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out”? Or did she realize at that moment that he was so much more than just her child? Her patience and grace had to be the reason she was chosen to be his mother.

I love looking at my daughters while they’re sleeping and quietly wondering what they will become as they grow up. Will they choose to follow Christ? Will they be loving, caring women that exemplify Christ’s love through their actions towards others? I’ve done that since they were born: wondering, hoping, and praying. Holding them as newborns, honored (and slightly terrified) with the new responsibility I had been bestowed upon.

Mary must have looked into Jesus’ precious, newborn face and known that he was going to be something more. She must have seen the glory and awe that all mothers experience when they hold their child for the first time. She had to have prayed for his safekeeping and acceptance in a broken world. Imagine the love she must have felt holding him for the first time, knowing he was born for so much more and that she had been blessed to be chosen as his mother. What an honor. What a blessing.

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all of these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Carol Badaracco

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Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig

Lament for Aleppo

WARNING: This video contains distressing, graphic images from Aleppo. I recommend watching it but muting the sound, as the images alone are very powerful.

I caught sight of a friend’s post this afternoon that linked to a news report about Aleppo. The quote in the article read, “Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.” My eyes rose to the movie that had begun to play. I was at work, so I muted the sound. A little boy of maybe three or four sat on a table in an orange sweatshirt, his hair tousled, eyes full of horror, lips pressed together, a wound on his forehead. His small hands touched, the fingers brushed against each other. He stared sadly at those examining him. Oh, be gentle, I pleaded silently.
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Oh dear God.

A mother wailed that she had lost all of her children.

A teenage boy sobbed as he clasped the body of his infant baby brother.
Oh God, these dear ones made in Your image… There are thousands.

I cannot ignore this. I weep for the horrors they have seen, the terror on their faces, the agony and despair. I weep because while I have never experienced their specific losses, I know what it feels like to be shattered, traumatized, lost and overwhelmed. My heart breaks, spills over.

I sit alone in the darkness with Christmas lights overhead, and I believe with my whole heart that my God sees and knows and cares, both for them and for me. He knows the depth of their pain and He understands mine. He was here.

Here.

My God came here into the mess, the horror, the sadness, the chaos of this world. And He didn’t come with walls and barriers to shield Himself from it all – no, He embodied it, He suffered, and then He conquered it. So in all the sadness I cling to Him, my hope.

I ask, Oh God, who will care for them? Who will help them? Can I? Will You? Please show me how. Please show them mercy. Please, please, please save them.

Save us.

Save me.

Lauren McWilliams

Great Expectations Come True

vannessblogI was told by my mother that one of the last wishes of my grandmother was to live long enough to meet her first great grandchild. Marilyn and I had the great honor of fulfilling that wish when we introduced her to our son, Joshua, about four years before her death. As I recall, she commented that all was well because he had ten fingers and ten toes. Twenty-eight years later, our daughter had the same honor of introducing my mother to her first grandchild, Kayla Joy. Like my grandmother, there was an unmistakable sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she met and held her first great grandchild.

As I consider my grandmother’s wish I am drawn to Simeon, a more obscure character in the story of the Incarnation. He too, looked forward to the birth of a baby. Unlike my grandmother, however, he lived with the promise (Luke 2:26) that he would one day see the Messiah, or as the New International Version translates it, “the Lord’s Christ.” He didn’t have to hope this would happen, he lived in expectant faith that he would one day see Jesus. When that much anticipated day finally arrived, Simeon “took him in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:28-32)

As I recall my grandmother’s introduction to Josh, I can easily picture the quiet joy, wonder, and excitement of Simeon when he embraced Jesus. It was a deep inexpressible joy as demonstrated by his jubilant prayer of thanksgiving to his Heavenly Father. For Simeon and for all who will embrace the Christ child as Savior, Jesus’ birth is the culmination and reality of God’s one-way covenant to mankind as declared throughout the Old Testament.

As we ponder and celebrate the reality of the Incarnation and what it means for us, we can join with Charles Wesley who beautifully captured the desire of Simeon when he penned the following words:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

 

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thy own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

(Come Thou Long Expected Jesus)

 Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Jesus has come to rescue us in our sin. He has come to give us freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and one day will deliver us from the very presence of sin. This is “good news!”

Rob Van Ness

My Bethlehem Prayer

Star of BethlehemOne of my favorite Christmas Carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. It’s a sweet hymn that I love to sing and listen to throughout the Advent season. Of all the stanzas though, my favorite is the fourth and final. It’s a simple prayer directed to the newborn Jesus and captures so perfectly the beauty and glory of Christ’s Birth and the gospel message.  Here is how I have made it my prayer and maybe can be yours today…

O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray

Father, with thankful hearts we rejoice that you left your heavenly realm and condescended to us and entered our sinful and broken world. We are thankful that your eternal and glorious kingdom broke into the middle of space and time to bring hope, healing, salvation, and peace to our lives, our relationships and the world you created.

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today

Father we are a broken and sinful people, our hearts have wandered far from you and daily we seek to gratify our lives and our relationships with things that were never meant to satisfy. As you move in our hearts, reveal to us those dry and empty wells that leave us empty and longing and lead us to the spring of life that comes through Jesus. May the reality and life-giving power of your gospel be born afresh in us each and every day.

We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell

As the Shepherds rejoiced with the angels’ proclamation that “A Savior has been born”, may our hearts be rejuvenated with the joy of the gospel. May our hearts be overwhelmed with the amazing good news of your forgiveness, your boundless love, your abiding presence and rejoice that your Kingdom has come.

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel

Thank you that you have come, for you truly are our Emmanuel, our God with us. Thank you for your abiding presence and the secure hope in knowing that you are with us always; in times of need, in times of sorrow, in times of great rejoicing, in times of fear and even in the times we can’t seem to see you.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Steve Dallwig

What Has Changed and What Remains

What is Changed pic

As 2015 approached, my heart began aching, because this was the year my twins would graduate and go away to college. Everything was going to be different. I would not see them in the halls of school being silly and recognize their laughter before I turned the corner. I would not have to call them repeatedly to dinner each night, only to go and find them snuggled in their beds napping. I would not be woken up at 1 AM when one of them was just starting homework and would wake up the other one to ask what the homework was. I would not have to spend 200 dollars a week on groceries getting all their favorite snacks and seeing how excited they got as we unloaded them. I would no longer get to sit on their beds late into the night and listen to their funny and often inappropriate stories, knowing we were all going to oversleep the next morning. I would no longer have the privilege of hugging them whenever I wanted or be there for them when they were hurting. I would no longer hear their prayers or hold their hand during worship. Everything was going to change and I just didn’t think I would survive it.

Well, the year that I so deeply dreaded is now ending and I did manage to survive. I realized that I was so scared of what my life would be like without the twins that I wasn’t trusting God’s plan for my relationship with them. My life definitely looks very different now, like cheaper grocery bills and less emails about missing homework; but my bond with my kids has not changed at all. The things that really matter are no different. They still love to share stories with me late into the night but what used to be bedside conversations now come in the form of facetime. They still talk to me when they are struggling and let me comfort them with words while giving them a raincheck on a big hug. They send encouraging texts to reassure each other that they are praying for each other’s needs and when they come home for visits, they still allow me to rub their backs during church as if they were still little.

 

My Prayer:
These moments that God blesses me with remind me that even when life changes, the things that count most, like His faithfulness to know my true needs and the absolute joy my children fill me with, remain the same.
Father, thank You for being so steadfast. You answer my prayers, not in the way I want or ask, but in the way that I need. You are the Perfect parent. You have been so generous to me in how You have loved me and what You have given me through my children. Thank you for this year of change in our lives Sweet Father and thank You for what is unchanged in our hearts. I am so blessed that you know my parent longings and I am so glad to be your child.  Amen.

 

Tonya Cherry

Christmas Happens

FullSizeRender_jpgI love Christmas lights.

But I don’t love everything about them.

Looking at them? You bet. Putting them up? Nope.

Think of it this way – if you were to combine impatience with a mile-wide competitive streak, and then add a healthy dose of an unhealthy attentiveness to aesthetic detail, what you’d get is a bomb, primed and ready to explode at any minute. That’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here. I spend most of the year masquerading as a relatively sane, reasonable person only to become completely unhinged at the beginning of each December, all over a few Christmas lights.

This year was no different. I spent parts – large parts – of three days trying to get our lights up and working to no avail. Strands that were working in the house wouldn’t work once they were outside on the bushes. The icicle lights were a mess. My remarkably patient wife spent hours methodically going through each bulb of each strand to make sure they were all in good working order and yet we have no lights on our house.

Look, I tried, ok? Not without lots of shouting and swearing at the lights and then throwing them when they refused to comply with my very clear instructions, but I tried. And just in case you’re wondering, neither of those things helps the process one bit – it just scares the kids and the neighbors.

All this is to say that whether we have lights on our house or not, Christmas happens. Whether I get mad and make a fool of myself for the whole world to see or not, Christmas happens. Whether our house is the most beautifully decorated on the block or not (reference my earlier comment about competitiveness), Christmas happens.

In Matthew 1, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Mary will give birth to a son and that they are to give him the name Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins”.

Christmas happens. More importantly, Christmas happened. It’s the promise of restoration for a broken world. It’s hope for the hopeless. It’s forgiveness for the sinner. And it’s basis for our faith. I’m so thankful for that.

Merry Christmas.

Chris Reid

A Foretaste

Image-6158064-173326218-2-WebSmall_0_cf777f7bc895bf12df569976d9891503_1What are your family’s Christmas traditions? To be honest, I’ve always been a little embarrassed about our traditions. They aren’t terribly feel-good ones or ones which reflect excessive kindness. These traditions are what glue us together like nothing else. Those traditions: Food and Christmas lights. It’s true those are the only things we have. We don’t take a lot of time opening presents. We don’t always attend church, we don’t always open our doors to others, and we don’t always go out and do something together. But we always eat lots of yummy food and drive around looking at Christmas lights. As simple as those are, it’s become clearer to me the sweetness of these delights.

When Jesus was born, a star shone throughout the heavens to announce that the Savior had been born.

Jesus’ first miracle was all about making a party even more enjoyable with the finest wine.

When Jesus was alive he pronounced that He was the light of the world.

After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he showed them he was the bread of life.

Jesus tells us that when he returns he will be the true source of light without need for a sun.

He invites us weekly to get a taste of the wedding feast of the Lamb to which we are invited as Christ’s own.

As Christ followers, there is a sheer joy when the things of this world start to make sense in light of the world to come. Jesus promises to light our path, to find us, and to feed us from living waters. He does it all so that one Christmas we’ll be with him singing alongside the angels the song they shouted to the shepherds so long ago. But, today, we get to celebrate with little hints of that glorious tomorrow.

Anyone for pie?

Debby Sutton

The Lamb

The LambOne of my favorite Christmas poems comes from the 18th Century English poet, William Blake. The Lamb is written from the perspective of a child who is attempting to explain the birth of Jesus to her beloved lamb. It is brilliantly simple, and it informs the essence and vulnerability of Jesus’ birth. As the child explains Jesus, she realizes that her subject (the lamb) bears the title He bore.

I can just picture a child talking with such an animal (probably because we observed this in our little ones many times), accompanied by tenderness of voice and depth of affection.

What no child could or would comprehend is that Jesus ‘is called by his name’ because He was born, the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). He came, not as pet, but sacrifice – the one true and final sacrifice for sin.

So sure, we can agree that Jesus was referred to as ‘the Lamb of God’ because of the nature of the Old Testament sacrifices, but to stop there is to shortchange the beauty of the Incarnation. Jesus came in vulnerability because we are vulnerable. And he was born a newborn, because to the Father, in spite of what we know about ourselves, and with full view of our flaws, failures and daily struggles, amazingly and beautifully, to Him, we are precious – we are the beloved lambs He loves.

What good, sweet news…

peace.

Mike Khandjian

The Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

William Blake

That’s Pretty Cool

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Kids say the darndest things. I wish I could replay the many moments of my students saying the funniest, weirdest, borderline inappropriate things for you. We could laugh until we cried and then laugh some more.

Sometimes though, they say something that catches me off guard, something that make me think they understand more than I think they do.

Tonight I watched as one of my volunteer leaders (a high school student) taught a Bible study to a group of our middle school students. It was magical-I’m always amazed at how quickly my ‘young’ leaders become such mature examples for our students. During our discussion afterwards, I asked what would be the one thing they remembered from what we studied that night. Their responses were varied, but one stuck out:

“I think it’s pretty cool how God sent his son to earth the way he did. I mean, it’s pretty rough being born in a manger like that, and here he is, the King of Kings, coming to this world to save us, and he chose to come in such an un-kingly way. And all that just so that we would know we can relate to him, cause he was a kid once too. And all that before he died for me. I just think that’s pretty cool.”

You know what? I think that’s pretty cool too.

Jessica Bates