Saturday, December 20, 2014
On Mary’s arduous trip to Bethlehem, she was ready to deliver at any moment, fearing that her water might break with each bump in the road, with each plodding step of the donkey (Luke 2:4-6). Yet her journey began long before, and ended long after, with God leading her every step of the way (Psalm 37:23).
With God there are no accidents and no surprises (Romans 8:28-30). From the beginning of time, He had chosen Mary for the awesome privilege, yet tremendous challenge, of carrying, delivering, and raising His Son. He knew that even though she was a young virgin (Luke 1:27,34), she would humbly and willingly accept this mission (Luke 1:38,48), giving glory only to Him (Luke 1:46-55).
Her family would be from the line of David (Luke 3:23-38) in keeping with the prophecy that the Messiah would rule eternally over the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). But she was also related to Elisabeth, who hailed from the priestly line of Aaron (Luke 1:5) – a fitting ancestry for One Who would be our great High Priest (Hebrews 5:5-6).
Mary would be born into a devout family so that she would have knowledge of Scripture even without formal education, as evidenced by her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) mirroring that of Hannah when God answered her prayer to have a son (1 Samuel 2:1-9).
Her social circle would include Joseph, so that the young couple could fall in love and become engaged (Luke 1:27). Joseph was also handpicked by God to raise and protect Jesus and his mother, and he too was of the line and house of David (Matthew 1:1-16). Like Mary, David was of humble means and yet had great faith in God and willingness to serve and obey Him.
Once the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary with the astounding news that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Son of God within her womb, Mary did not falter (Luke 1:26-38). Her faith far exceeded that of Zacharias, who, despite his maturity and status as high priest, doubted the news that his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-18).
Unlike Zacharias, Mary did not demand proof that what Gabriel said was true. Instead, she offered herself willingly as the handmaiden of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48). No doubt menacing shadows darkened the path before her, as she wondered if she should run away.
Would Joseph reject her (Matthew 1:29), her family despise her, her village ridicule her, and would she even be stoned to death? (John 8:4-5) But the light of God’s Word (Psalm 119:105), delivered through the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and personally by Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38), illuminated her dangerous, difficult journey.
First, alone and pregnant, she would travel “with haste” to a city of Juda in the hill country, to visit her cousin Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-40). That would be a long trip under the best of circumstances, and particularly for a young woman dealing with morning sickness. But God rewarded her perseverance with the joy she shared with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, as all were filled with the Holy Spirit. John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb; Elizabeth knew through the Spirit that Mary was carrying the Son of God; and Mary sang a hymn of praise (Luke 1:41-56).
Mary needed that confirmation from God as she set out three months later (Luke 1: 56).on her long journey home. By now she would be starting to show – how would Joseph, her family, and her village react to what they would naturally assume was proof of her infidelity? But God would pave the way, sending His angel to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary was carrying His Son and that he should marry her as planned (Matthew 1:18-24).
God even used pagans to work out the details of Mary’s journey. When Caesar commanded everyone to return to the city of their lineage to be taxed, Joseph and Mary would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of the lineage of David (Luke 2:1-6). Mary would deliver there, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; John 7:40-42).
Caesar’s decree meant that Mary would journey by donkey, for that is a reasonable assumption given the limited transportation options in that day for an 85-mile trip along a rocky, hilly road. She would not have been able to walk that distance, and riding side saddle while at full term (Luke 2:5) was probably not much better.
But thanks to God, Mary had a devoted and loving protector in Joseph, and without him, that journey would have been impossible. He put her needs and those of the unborn Child ahead of his own, refraining from marital relations until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25).
No doubt Joseph eased Mary along the painful path to Bethlehem and fought off wild animals or bandits who may have threatened them. He encouraged her to hang on just a little longer, and searched tirelessly for shelter once they arrived in the crowded city, where there was no room for them at the inn (Luke 2:7). A stable was probably the last place either of them envisioned that Mary would deliver the Son of God.
Or did Mary know that the stable was God’s predetermined, perfect destination (Isaiah 55:9) for this miraculous, paradigm-shifting event? Or did she trust Joseph’s decision to accept this poor accommodation, or was it just desperation as her labor pains demanded she give birth right away?
Thankfully, that phase of Mary’s journey finally ended with the precious, long-awaited sound of her Newborn’s cry, with her cuddling, nursing and gazing with adoration at the Son of God, her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), symbolizing His future burial as He came to die as the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:16). She laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7) among the animals, this lowly beginning representing His first coming as a humble Servant (Philippians 2:5-8).
As always, God was faithful to lavish blessings and confirmation on His handmaiden, as the shepherds told Mary of the angel’s Good News that her Infant was the Saviour, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-18). They told her of the glory of the Lord that shone around them, and the angelic multitude praising and glorifying God for the peace and goodwill He had brought to the world. And Mary thought long and hard on these things, wondering at the new direction of her own life and perhaps even at the changed destiny of the whole world (Luke 2:18).
But God had made a Way (John 14:6) between His holiness and man’s sin where there was no way (Isaiah 40:3). And Mary’s journey had only just begun, as we shall see next week! May we have the humility and faith of Mary, trusting God each step of the way!
© 2014 Laurie Collett
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Each time I read the Christmas story, I marvel that the Son of God, the promised Messiah, left His throne in Heaven and came to us in human flesh (John 1:14) to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). Yet the birth of Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords, and King of Kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16), happened in the most lowly of circumstances. He was not born in the comforts of a royal palace, but in a cold and drafty stable, among the odors of barnyard animals, laid in the scratchy hay of a feeding trough (Luke 2:7).
Why? Because there was no room for Him and His parents in the inn (Luke 2:7). Each time I read that, I cringe to think what it means to have no room for the Saviour. What blessings did the innkeeper miss because he did not joyfully relinquish his best room to the Holy Child? What blessings did God’s chosen people miss because they did not recognize or receive Christ, their Deliverer? (John 1:11-12; 5:43)
What blessings will our nation lose because we no longer have room for Him in our schools, our courtrooms, and our public squares? Even those churches will be held accountable that no longer have room for Him and His Word. Instead, they are devoted to preaching a prosperity or social gospel, to false doctrine (Matthew 7:15; Ephesians 4:14; 2 Peter 2:1), to entertainment, to ostentation, and to social networking, all in the name of building their numbers while falling away from the One Sure Foundation (Luke 6:48-49; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
What blessings did I miss in those many long years before I was born again (John 3:3-8) by turning away from my sins and believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven? (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6). Before I was saved, my life was strangely empty, yet so filled with pursuing wealth, status, and other worldly treasure that I had no room for Him. What blessings am I missing now when worldly distractions (Hebrews 12:1) take up valuable space in my heart -- space that should be completely dedicated to Him?
So many today are like the fool whose chief concern is that he has no room to store his great accumulation of stuff, and decides to build a bigger storehouse for it all, failing to realize that he can’t take it with him (Luke 12:15-21). When death comes knocking, he who has the most toys does not win, but only he who has Christ living in his heart (2 Corinthians 1:22). All others will slip into eternity only to spend it in hell (Luke 16:22-26), forever separated from the God Who would have saved them had they found room for Him (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).
But yesterday, as I reread that there was no room for Jesus in the inn, I realized something new to me -- that was a good thing! With God, there are no accidents and no surprises, for He works all circumstances together for the good of those who love Him, to His glory (Romans 8:28). Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6) to fulfill the prophecies that the Christ, the Deliverer and Ruler of Israel, would be born there (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:4-6).
The town was packed out because Caesar commanded that all who hailed from there should return to be taxed (Luke 2:1-5). But had God the Father wanted His Son to be born in the best room Bethlehem had to offer, surely that would have happened, despite the overwhelming crowds and the modest means of His earthly parents (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27; Matthew 19:26).
But how would that have changed the course of history? Had Jesus been born in the privacy of a secluded, comfortable room tucked away in an inn, how would the shepherds have worshipped Him?
In those days, shepherds were on the lowest rung of society – outcasts and vagabonds who traveled about with their sheep, and not above stealing one another’s animals, food or possessions if they could get away with it. That was one reason why they had to keep watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8) Like all of us, they were sinners (Romans 3:23), but unlike many, they admitted their sins and longed for the change of heart only a Saviour can bring.
No wonder they were terrified when the angel of the Lord appeared to them (Luke 2:9). Yet the angel came not to condemn them, but to bring them the great news that their Saviour was born! (Luke 2:10-11) How like Jesus, Who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), to send His first birth announcement to lowly sinners who knew they needed Him!
Immediately the shepherds made peace with one another and agreed to leave everything behind and to rush off to worship the Son of God (Luke 2:15-16). The angel had told them they would recognize their Lord, for He would be wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger (Luke 2:12).
True, the angel could have said, “He’s at the inn on Main Street, second floor, first door on the left.” But how would even one shepherd have made it past the innkeeper, let alone the whole throng of shepherds visited by the multitude of the angelic host? Even if they had, how would they all have fit in a small room?
No, it took an open, vast, unguarded space for the King of glory to be adored by all those who wanted to fall down before Him. We tend to think of the stable as a small but cozy wooden enclosure, but it most likely would have been built into a cave on the side of a hill. The mouth of the cave would have been open, allowing the hillside and adjoining fields to be filled with hordes of shepherds worshipping Him.
Not only were the shepherds the first souls to be born again, but they were the first missionaries! After they witnessed the Child with their own eyes and found room for Him in their hearts, they told everyone who would listen what the angel had told them, that Jesus was their Saviour, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11,17)
As a result, many considered this testimony and no doubt were born again themselves (v. 18). The shepherds' testimony was a confirmation to Mary (v. 19), strengthening her for the difficult journey she faced mothering the Son of God, and their praise and faithfulness brought glory to God (v. 20).
So, had there been room for Jesus and His earthly parents in the inn, many would not have known of Him at that time, because there would have been no room for the shepherds to worship Him!
Later, Jesus continued to have the problem of “no room,” because news of His teachings and miracles caused great throngs of people to crowd around Him (Matthew 5:1; 13:2; 14:14-21; 21:9). Often, there was “no room” for those desperate for His healing word or touch, yet that often emboldened those in need.
The woman with the issue of blood fought her way through the crowds, risking being condemned as unclean, just to touch the hem of His garment (Luke 8:43-48). The friends of the man with palsy cut a hole through the roof of the house where Jesus was, having no doubt that He would help their sick friend (Mark 2:1-12). In every case, Jesus rewarded the faith of those who would not accept “no room” as their final answer.
God is not stingy in doling out blessings. Instead, He loves to shower blessings on His children, answering our prayers exceeding abundantly beyond what we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14). If we seek Him first, He heaps good things on us until we have no room to store them up inside, and they overflow to all those blessed to be in our path (Luke 6:38; 12:29-32).
May His Living Water flow through us like a river nourishing the parched soil around us! May His Light shine through us so that it cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:15), but illuminates the lives of all we meet! May we give Him all the room in our heart, so that we have no room for worldly cares or sorrows, and not enough room to contain all the joy and peace He gives us!
© 2014 Laurie Collett