Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 20 - Advent Devotional 2014

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The story of Jesus' birth recalls how the angel Gabriel appeared before a young woman in Nazareth. Scripture describes their encounter including Mary's confusion, fear and the words of Gabriel: Do not be afraid. It also tells of Mary's acceptance: Let it be as you have said. Let it be. We think of Mary when we think of the Annunciation. But, as the Gospel according to Matthew tells us, Joseph also played a part here.

Since the Reformation, emphasis has been on Joseph not as father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary to make things look proper. Actually, Joseph finds himself caught up in a cosmic drama of redemption without ever being asked. He is simply told that the woman to whom he is engaged was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit not by him.

So Joseph was placed by God, no less in the predicament of marrying a woman who would be seen as unfaithful, or of ending the relationship with her and there by preserving the community standards. He could expose the one he loved to public disgrace possibly even death or he could take Mary as his wife and share the shame living day after day as a member of the community that regarded his wife as a tainted woman. What was he to do?

There is no hint of anything except an overwhelming concern for Mary's public reputation - there is not angry outburst, no violence to Mary, no consultation with experts int he law. Matthew simply says that Joseph was a righteous man, and for that reason he planned to dismiss her quietly salvaging, in effect, her reputation and his.

But something happened, didn't it? And it is in this action that Joseph becomes more than the husband of Mary. He becomes the father of Jesus. The sacrifice and faithfulness of both Mary and Joseph were essential for the birth of Jesus. Joseph affirms the worthiness of Mary unconditionally. In the midst of things he cannot comprehend, disturbing things, mysterious things, he affirms Mary anyway. And, in doing so, he affirms the child Jesus that is within her. He awakes from sleep, and acts on the message that he hears from the angel of the Lord. He takes Mary as his wife, and he welcomes Jesus into his life.

Joseph made a decision to let Jesus be born into his life when he took Mary as his wife. We find ourselves in the same place: we must make a decision to allow Jesus to be born into our lives or not. Like Joseph, we must be present. We must trust. We must decide, through the prompting of the Spirit, to step out in faith for Jesus' sake. When all the evidence to the contrary says that we should play it safe to follow the conventional wisdom of dismissing quietly the direction of the Lord, we must follow Joseph's way of being faithful in spite of. We must be true to our conviction.

Even when we are sure, a voice from within, or a voice from without, whispers. Maybe I am wrong . . . the dream is only a dream, not reality . . . don't be a fool . . . look out for yourself. In these situations of conviction surrounded by doubt, when things outwardly at least seem out of control, the words of the angel to Joseph take on their highest significance: Do not let fear overwhelm faith, he was told. Do not let fear overwhelm faith, we are told.

Source:  Daniel Rondeau
Photo:  St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, Guido Reni

View all Advent Devotional 2014 posts here.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Friday, December 19, 2014

December 19 - Advent Devotional 2014

Friday, 20 December 2014

Whatever upheaval Zechariah had to grapple with was minor league compared to Mary’s dilemma. Let’s consider her situation when confronted with the news that she would bear God’s Son through the virgin birth. What might this mean to her?

Mary was probably about 16, perhaps even younger. She becomes pregnant. Given the societal mores of the time, she could have fully expected that she would be disgraced, that her fiancee Joseph (who knew he wasn’t the father) would abandon her, and that she would probably never marry. It’s also important to understand that Jewish society in the first century took a real hard line on “blasphemy,” as later accounts of Jesus’ ministry and death make clear. A young, single woman claiming that God had made her pregnant would have encountered trouble.

We can try to imagine ourselves in Mary’s shoes, but I don’t expect we can ever really grasp the enormity of her situation. Mary must have known there could be problems. But rather than focusing on the size of her problems, she chose to trust in the size of her God.

I am the Lord’s servant,” she replies. “May it be to me as you have said.

In Luke, Mary offers one of the most powerful examples of a person submitting to God’s will, surrendering self and setting aside fears about the future. It is a response that ultimately has little to do with Mary’s age, gender or marital status. Mary’s example of a life yielded to God’s purpose speaks powerfully to us today, its simplicity transcending 2,000 years of complex theology.

God touches our lives often, in ways we almost never expect. We can relate to Zechariah’s confusion, but we must aspire to Mary’s faith. We need to try, as best we can, to be the Lord’s servants, entrusting ourselves to His care as we walk through each new day in His world.

Source: REMinistries, the Internet outreach of Rich Miller of Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Photo: St. Matthew-In-The-City, Auckland, New Zealand.

View all Advent Devotional 2014 posts here.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18 - Advent Devotional 2014

Thursday, 18 December 2014

What would happen if one morning, during the middle of your daily routine, an angel appeared and told you that God had a plan that would completely change your life? How would you respond?

Luke's account of the Christmas story includes two such incidents, and there are important truths and lessons to be found in these events.

In the first instance, the angel Gabriel appears to the priest Zechariah in the temple as he conducts his duties. Zechariah "was startled and gripped with fear." Well, I suppose you and I would be, too.

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah," Gabriel tells him. "Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John ... he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Zechariah has been confronted with the heavenly glory of God's messenger, a clearly supernatural interruption of his day. Yet his response to the angel's astounding news is to try and fit it into his existing assumptions about his life and his future.

"How can I be sure of this?" responds Zechariah. "I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." Zechariah can't believe that he and Elizabeth could have a child, much less grasp the magnitude of John The Baptist's mission.

Gabriel, who was pretty sure he was being clear, is unamused. "I stand in the presence of God," he says. "You will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."

When God communicates with us or takes action in our lives, it is rarely with the impact of the angel's appearance. But our reaction is often much like Zechariah's. We question whether it is real. "Was that God speaking to me, or a hallucination? Was that a miracle, or just a coincidence? And if that really WAS God, can that really be what God meant?"

While we may relate to Zechariah's confusion and skepticism, we must be aware that it has its cost. It's not so much that we might be struck dumb if we doubt God's authority or interest in us, but that we might miss the blessings and peace God desires to share with us.

Whether they come to us through a heavenly messenger or a passage of Scripture, God's promises are trustworthy, and our ability to accept them and live them is limited primarily by our ability to believe them. As Zechariah's story demonstrates, God is never predictable, but is always faithful.

Source: REMinistries, the Internet outreach of Rich Miller of Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Photo: Annunciation to Zechariahfragment of Russian icon

View all Advent Devotional 2014 posts here.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee