Any Room

During the holidays, people travel a lot and stay in all types of places. Some opt to stay with family. Others choose hotels and motels for accomodations. A few may decide to stay at a bed and breakfast or maybe rent a cabin. On the other side of the equation are the hosts, hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and cabin owners. These all must decide if they have available room for guests.

A key component of the story of Jesus’s birth involves travel and accomodations. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem in response to a decree by the Roman Emperor. When they arrive, they search the city for a place to stay. The question which Joseph probably asked again and again was, “Do you have room for us?” This is a question which the Lord asks each of us still today. “Do you have room for me?” Ponder your response as you listen to Casting Crowns sing Make Room.

Birth Announcement

Read Luke 1:5-20

If you are a Star Wars fan, you know that the first released movie trilogy was toward the middle of the whole story. Since the first three movies were released, we have received the three chapters of the story which were before the original movies. There have been prequels, sequels, individual character focus, and parts in between made into movies. Star Wars is not the only movie franchise which has included prequels and sequels. Some have also had spin-offs featuring characters from the original movie; i.e., the Marvel stories. We are even beginning to watch movies and anticipate these additional ones since it has become so commonplace.

Today’s passage is a necessary prequel to the story of Jesus Christ. We encounter Zechariah, one of God’s faithful priests, and his wife Elizabeth. Much like we will see in the announcement of Jesus’s impending birth, Zechariah is amazed at the angel’s words as he is consumed with fear and doubt. This presents us a precursor of the angelic announcement to Mary and Joseph. Because of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s age, the idea of a child being conceived is almost preposterous, similar to the unlikeliness of Mary becoming pregnant based on her circumstances. The child, John, will always be preparing people for Jesus and it begins with this announcement of  his upcoming birth.

As we continue to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’s birth and look toward the Savior’s return, this story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John has value in our understanding of Jesus. John is the prequel to Jesus. This is why people were wondering if John was the Messiah. If we overlook John’s story, we lack the preparedness to experience Jesus’s story. Spending time discovering Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John, helps us to anticipate Jesus’s birth and life.

What Do You Know

Read Luke 1:35-38

There is not a person on earth who can predict the future. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next thirty seconds, let alone a day, a month, a year, or ten years from now. We may have insights into possibilities and probabilities based on observations and patterns. But these predictions are not absolute and often lack some level of accurate detail. This is why many become frustrated with meteorologists because their weather predictions have a limited  level of accuracy.

So the song which I am sharing with you today is based on a question which is unfair to Mary. Mary’s announcement from the angel was alarming and unpredictable. How could Mary  ever know who and what Jesus would become? Even if she connected her child to the ancient prophecies, she could not know the details or timing. This song shares what we, on the other side of Jesus’s story, know happened. We know who Mary’s child is and what he has done.

As you listen to Mark Lowry’s version of the gospel, consider what you know about Mary’s child. How do you tell others what you know?

Message Received

Read Luke 1:26-33

Today we have so many ways to communicate. The use of electronic messaging is now commonplace and the top method of sharing a message with others. A person can feel overwhelmed at times with the number of messages received in one day. Some of these messages are uplifting, helpful, informative, and/or meaningful. Other messages are upsetting, destructive, trivial and/or annoying. There are times when we experience great joy with the message we receive. Still at other times we may be shocked by the contents of the message. Messages have the ability to inspire and motivate, or they can leave us scared and defeated.

The reading for today is a portion of Luke’s narrative on the birth of Jesus. A messenger of God comes to Mary. The greeting which the messenger offers is unsettling for Mary. She is informed to not worry because she is seen in a positive light by God. This is followed by the announcement that she is to conceive a son who God wishes to be named Jesus. The last statements in this portion of the message describes who this child will be in life. The description fits the prophecies regarding the Messiah. What an unnerving, and yet profound message Mary has received, a message she received because she chose to be open to it.

Many messages came our way on a daily basis. In reading about Mary’s receipt of a message, an obvious question presents itself, “Am I open to receive a message from God?” Since God does not use conventional means to deliver messages to us, we must be alert to the various ways God may choose to communicate with us. The most frequent method is through other people who God places in our path. But God uses Scripture, the arts, nature and even dreams as well. We may receive profound and life-changing messages as Mary did. We may also receive messages of reassurance, love, forgiveness, and hope. Whatever the message may be, we can only receive it if we are open and alert for it.

Sharing Good News

Read Matthew 28:1-10

Think about a time in your life when you had exciting news to share. Maybe you had something to tell your spouse, your parents, or your best friends. Remember how it felt to try and keep this news contained until you had the opportunity to share it? The time it took to get ahold of or come to the person who you wished to receive the news may have seemed way too long. Your excitement drives you to hurry without delay. In your thoughts you hope that the recipient will be as overjoyed upon hearing the good news as you were upon learning it.

The passage lifted up today is a familiar one from Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning. In Matthew’s telling of events, two women who each were named Mary come to Jesus’s tomb. When they arrived there was a violent movement of the earth and the stone at the door of the tomb was moved away. The image of someone is visible. The women are told the good news that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is resurrected as he said he would be. They are invited to verify this news with their own eyes. Then the Marys are told to go tell this news to the disciples and to direct the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus appears and verifies the news. Matthew tells us that “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…”

The enthusiasm, joy and urgency of the women as Matthew tells the story is much like how we have felt when we have had great news to share. Do we feel these same feelings when we think of Jesus’s resurrection today? For many believers, the good news that Jesus is risen has become just an everyday element of their faith. Since this happened centuries before us and our learning of it may have been many years ago when we first became involved in the church, we have lost the enthusiasm, joy and urgency. A sense of it may return if we attend a worship service on Easter morning but it is likely to fade again a few hours later after the songs end and we return home.

The word “gospel” means good news. This good news of the Christian faith is in part the reality that Jesus is not dead in a tomb but risen and alive today. Each one of us has had someone who has declared the gospel with us. We are given opportunities to share this good news with others. May we recapture the enthusiasm, joy and urgency we had when it first became real to us if we have lost it. May we be like the two Marys who “hurried away from the tomb, afraid and filled with joy” as they ran to tell others that Jesus is no longer dead. Share the gospel with energy and urgency because you are so excited that you cannot contain it!

Just Sit

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

Hosting guests or family gatherings can be a stressful experience. As host, making sure all the details for making your guests comfortable and cared for can be overwhelming. Preparing as much in advance as possible helps to reduce your to-do list when your guests arrive. Even if you prepare though, once the guests do arrive, there is still plenty to be accomplished. A person can be so tied up in tasks and on edge with worry about something forgotten or checking on the needs of the guests that you get little or no time to spend with your guests.

As we read from Luke’s telling of the Gospel, we hear about Jesus, Martha, Mary and the close disciples. Jesus and the disciples are in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to Jesus as he teaches. Martha is busy trying to be a good host by preparing food and other accommodations for the guests. Martha comes to Jesus frustrated because Mary is sitting instead of assisting her. She tries to get Jesus to instruct Mary to help her sister. Jesus responds that Marth is worried about too many details but Mary has chosen the only one which matters.

So often we are like Martha. If we had a guest of honor such as Jesus in our home, we would make every effort to be extremely accommodating. Instead of sitting so we could absorb all our guests have to offer, we would be wrapped up in detail so we could present a positive image. How many times do we let the opportunity to sit with the Lord pass us by because we are busy with life’s tasks? Jesus’s response to Martha reminds us to keep track of what is important. We must make time to be still with the Lord. We also must make time to be with the people in our lives. Those times are precious and will not always be available. Be wise like Mary.

He Is Alive

We are over halfway through the Easter Season as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter. Today I invite you to consider what it may have felt like to be one of Jesus’s disciples on that Easter morning. After all which they had witnessed, many had scattered. A small group had sheltered and hidden in fear of being rounded up for a similar fate as Jesus experienced. Today’s song carries us inside one of the hiding places early in the morning after the sabbath. 

What would have been your fear?

How would you have responded to Mary’s story?

When you saw Jesus, what would your thoughts have been?

What causes you to fear about being known as a Christ follower?

Morning

One of the misunderstood aspects of Easter is that many people view Easter as a one-day celebration. Like Christmas, most people set aside one day out of the year to celebrate and remember. Christmas has twelve days in the church’s liturgical calendar. Easter on the other hand has seven weeks in the liturgical calendar. Today is the second Sunday of Easter. Since it is important to make each Easter Sunday special and unique, I have decided that on Sunday we will focus on a music video to help us look at the impact and emotions around the events connected to Easter.

Today’s music video is “Then Came the Morning.” I was first introduced to this song when I was asked to narrate an Easter cantata by the same name which a local community choir was performing.

What would your response be if you were one of Jesus’s disciples and watched him die on the cross?

Looking at the recorded life of Jesus, what stands out to you?

Would you have the confidence which the song claims that Mary had? Why or why not?

How does the imagery of morning enhance your understanding of Jesus’s resurrection?

What thoughts after listening to this song will you take with you into this week so that Easter remains a focus in your life?

A Journey Companion

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:28-44 (NIV)

Having someone who can empathize with you and assist you in removing those aspects which hold you back in life is a great gift. We all need a person in our life who will walk the journey with us. The person may only be a part of the journey for a short period or for the whole of the journey. Who the person is may change as we continue down life’s path. These particulars are not important. What is important is recognizing the blessing we receive from having such a person on our journey with us.

For Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Jesus was such a person. We are not told how Jesus became so close to Lazarus and his two sisters. John records two stories in regards to Lazarus and Luke mentions Lazarus once. The first story John records is the one we read from today. Later in John’s Gospel he will tell of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. In the second story Jesus eats at the house and Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. Luke shares another story of Jesus coming to the house but does not mention Lazarus, only Martha and Mary. There is definitely a bond between Jesus and the three individuals.

Two aspects of what we read today stand out. The first is verse 35. Often referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible, it contains only two words, “Jesus wept.” The significance of these words is they demonstrate to us the empathy and love Jesus has for these two women and those who were mourning. This empathy and love make Jeans someone who is valuable on life’s journey. Even though Jesus clearly knew what was about to happen, he still stood beside those grieving and spent time with where they currently were before leading them forward.

Second aspect which stands out is found in verse 44. The final sentence of the verse when Jesus instructs the grave clothes to be removed so that Lazarus may go, or be free to live again, is important. Jesus is telling them to remove the things which bind Lazarus to his previous life and hinders the man from living the new life which Jesus has now given him. Again, Jesus as the companion on the journey is a blessing because he assists in removing that which holds a person back from living life to the fullest.

Jesus is always the right companion to have on the whole of our journey. He empathizes with us exactly where we are. He weeps with us, laughs with us, lies awake with us, and celebrates with us. Jesus has given each of us new life. With the gift, and as he journeys with us, he assists us in removing the grave cloths from our lives so we are able to experience and enjoy this new life.

Invite Jesus to be your companion on life’s journey. You will not sorry that you did!

Shocking News

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

With the introduction of streaming news sources, experts tell us that we are becoming numb in regard to news which would have shocked us in the past. There is no longer a barrier to obtaining all types of news. We hear of violence and disaster from every corner of the world in very visual and graphic detail. This has even entered mainstream television shows such as all the CSI series, the FBI drama shows, and case file shows like Dateline or 20/20. The bizarre and brutal seems commonplace to many of us. Being shocked by news of the world around us is now a rare occurrence. The only time when we are shocked and tempted to call something impossible is when it seems to not fit our scientific and world understanding.

At the time in which Mary and Joseph from the Bible would have existed there was more of a shock factor. Their shock factor was different than ours because it was not based on scientific knowledge but on observation. They understood their world based on what they had observed. Spiritual understanding and acceptance was more common then than in our time period. Aspects which they observed but could not explain often were credited to God’s work, or in other cultures the work of many gods. Even with this acceptance though, Gabriel’s words to Mary were initially shocking. The angel announced to her that she would conceive a baby, not just any baby but the Son of God. The English word used in Mary’s initial response may be misleading. Mary asks Gabriel how this can be since she is still a “virgin.” When we hear the word today, we associate it with not having sexual intercourse yet in a person’s life. However, the Greek word translated here can mean “young woman”. Either understanding still lends itself to seeing that Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s news. If the second translation is preferred, the shock may be caused by Mary’s view that she was too young and immature to be the mother of the Son of God. This was going to be a huge responsibility which she may have felt was more than she was prepared to assume. Though initially shocked, she accepts this duty as a servant of God.

When the Lord calls on us to do something, the news may be shocking. We easily can come up with many reasons why we are the wrong candidate, just like Moses did (see Exodus 3). The responsibility can seem to us to be too great for our abilities. We may not see how whatever God’s request could ever work out. Fear and a sense of inadequacy may lead us to attempt to decline. But we need to remember Mary’s story. Remember the promise that “the Holy Spirit will come upon (us) and the power of the Most High will overshadow (us).” We must recall Gabriel’s words, “no word from God will fail.” Then, like Mary, we should respond as the Lord’s servant, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”