Saturday, December 4, 2021

Mary’s Journey: On the Road to Bethlehem

 




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! May we have the humility and faith of Mary, trusting God each step of the way! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives



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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Sign in the Sky


Photo by Vxfour11 2019

 

The Signs of the Times truly seem to indicate that we are in the End Times, including signs in the sky! On November 19, 2021, was the longest partial lunar eclipse in 530 years, visible from North and South America, Australia, and parts of Europe and Asia. It was accompanied by a blood red moon, as prophesied first by the prophet Joel (2:31) and then repeated in Acts 2:20

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come. 

It reminded me that the Lord's return is imminent, and led me to repost a blog from 2013, which I have inserted below, about an unusual sign in the sky that seemed to have particular Biblical significance. May we all remember to look up, for our redemption draws nigh! 

 

 Prophecy tells us to watch for signs in the sky (Jeremiah 10:2; Daniel 6:27; Joel 2:10; Luke 21:11; Acts 2:19), and a special sign is now on the horizon! A comet that could be hailed as “Comet of the Century” flew around the sun on Thanksgiving Day, was given up for dead, but emerged and now may be best seen in all its glory on Christmas Day!

Signs in the sky will herald the second coming of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-27). He will appear in the heavens like lightning (Matthew 24:27,30) in His triumphant return to defeat the enemies of Israel at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), and ultimately conquering Satan, sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). All those who have placed their trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will accompany Him in the armies of saints (Revelation 19:14).

Jesus said to look up when we see the signs of times (Luke 21:28), for our Redemption is near! At any moment, but at least seven years before the glorious second coming described above, the trump could sound, heard only by believers. We shall be changed in an instant (1 Corinthians 15:52), caught up to meet Christ in the air, to spend eternity with Him in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49,54) that will never age or feel pain or sorrow.

To date, the most radiant and long-awaited sign in the sky was the Star of Bethlehem, illuminating the birth of Jesus, the Word Himself made flesh (John 1:14), and guiding the wise men who sought the promised Messiah (Matthew 2:2-9).

When will His second coming be? No man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36), but only God the Father Himself. Yet we are told to be vigilant and aware of the signs of the times (Matthew 24), which encourage us and strengthen our resolve to keep our hearts in Him (Matthew 6:21; John 15:5) and our lamps burning with the flame of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 26:1-13).

That is why I’m excited about recent news of a comet that made a hairpin loop around the sun on Thanksgiving Day, passing so close that some astronomers wondered if it would survive the encounter. I began writing this blog post the day before Thanksgiving, and I must admit that my heart sank when reports on Thanksgiving night proclaimed that the comet was destroyed, as it was no longer visible.

But on Black Friday morning, the headlines read: Hold the obituary! The comet has emerged from behind the sun and has begun to brighten. According to the initial predictions, it would reach its peak brilliance in December, even though its brightness to the observer already increased 25 times between November 13- 21! It may be ranked as one of the brightest comets of the past 50 years, and at its peak, it may even be visible in broad daylight!

For best night-time viewing, astronomers advise seeking rural areas, free from the light pollution of cities. The comet is most radiant against a backdrop of total darkness, seen without distraction from manmade lights. However, they strongly warned that only experienced observers should attempt to view the comet as it whipped around the sun. Although there is no danger in observing the comet itself, staring directly at the sun can result in blindness as infrared rays painlessly burn the retina of the eye.

As the comet approached the sun, the scorching heat and gravitational force of the sun presumably gave rise to a long, brilliant train, although this was not visible from the Solar Dynamics Observatory where NASA was focusing. According to initial predictions, the comet should climb noticeably higher in the north-northwest sky from December 21-31, and by Christmas Day, should no longer rise or set, but should remain above the horizon all night long.

By now you’ve no doubt guessed why I am so amazed by this comet, for it reminds me of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Its flight so close to the sun is like the proximity of Jesus Christ, Son of God yet God Himself, to God the Father. Even in His earthly ministry, Jesus and the Father were one (John 10:30), and now He sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Romans 8:34).

Even though Jesus told His apostles that He would rise from the dead (Matthew 20:19; Luke 24:7), they lost all hope after His burial and crucifixion (John 20:19). But just as He said He would, Christ rose again on the third day, that all who place their faith in Him would live with Him forever! (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

How appropriate that the comet’s approach to the sun occurred on Thanksgiving Day! What better reasons do we have to be thankful than for the Word becoming flesh to pay for all our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2;4:10), to give eternal life to those who trust Him (John 3:16), and now to intercede for us with the Father? (Hebrews 4 :14-16)

Yet not all are thankful, for many are lured away by the world and have not yet seen Him as their Lord and Savior. Even those who are saved can see Him more clearly away from the distracting glare of worldly light pollution (Romans 12:2). He is the Light of the world (John 1:9; 8 :12 ;9 :5 ;11:9) Who shines brightest against the darkness of our sin (Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:6).

The astronomers warned us not to look directly at the comet as it approached the scorching light of the sun, but to safely enjoy the view of the comet at night,  When Jesus walked among us, bringing light to a world darkened by sin, looking at His face was no doubt the best blessing imaginable (2 Corinthians 4:6). Yet man cannot look directly at God the Father because of His supreme glory and holiness (1 Kings 19:13; Exodus 3 :6; 19 :21).

The astronomers initially predicted that this comet’s appearance to earth would culminate with an amazing display on Christmas Day, when it would neither set nor rise, but remain above the horizon all night long. Thanks to Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), as celebrated on Christmas Day, those who trust Him are no longer in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). We have seen the bright light of the Morning Star!  (Revelation 22:16) He alone will light the New Jerusalem in continual radiance and there will be no night, nor any need for the sun (Revelation 22:5). 

Oh, and did I mention the name of the new comet? It is Comet ISON! The name is an acronym for the International Scientific Optical Network, which discovered the comet last year. But to my mind, this is a contraction of I AM THAT I AM, the self-existent Name of God (Exodus 3:14), and GOD THE SON, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13; 1 John 4:15, etc.), the Word from the beginning (John 1:1) and eternally our Lord (Hebrews 13:8).

Not that we need any sign (Matthew 12:39) to have faith in Him, for the facts of His death and resurrection are sufficient! (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Regardless of whether ISON lives up to expectations or disappears from view, we have faith – the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1) – that Christ reigns forever. Look up, and remember the Word made flesh, Our Redeemer, and His promise to return!    

© 2013 Laurie Collett

Edited and reposted from the archives


 


 

 


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Songs of Thanksgiving

Photo by Ben Schumin 2009

Thanksgiving is nothing to keep quiet about – we should shout our thanks to God from the rooftops (Luke 12:3), and sing it aloud until the joyous sound overflows the sanctuary into the streets, for all to hear and rejoice! Even without corporate worship, we can sing the melody of thanksgiving in our hearts until it bubbles over as joy in our everyday life!

We tend to think of Thanksgiving as a holiday with time off from work, gatherings with family and friends, a feast day when we often overindulge in delicious food, the big football game, a televised parade that becomes more secular with every passing year, or even planning ahead for Black Friday sales and shopping spree.

As pleasant as all this can be, Thanksgiving is not about us. It’s all about God, and thanking Him for all the amazing blessings He has bestowed on us. Thank God we are saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven! Let us give Him thanks for His Word, the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, guide and encourage us; family, friends, health, prosperity, a loving and Bible-preaching church, and ministry opportunities in which to serve Him and bless others.

Sometimes it is easier to be thankful than in other times, but even in trials we can thank Him that He works all things together for our ultimate good, the good of others, and His glory (Romans 8:28).

There is nothing passive about thanksgiving as described in Scripture, for it is accompanied by active participation in praise, worship, sacrifice, and prayer.

The Law of Moses described sacrifices of thanksgiving that did not involve merely bringing an offering, but preparing, cooking and even frying it first! Unleavened cakes were to be mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes of fine flour and oil were to be fried. Leavened bread was also part of the sacrifice of thanksgiving, so you can imagine all the baking that went on before these offerings could even be brought to the tabernacle or temple! (Leviticus 7:11-13).

This was not to be done grudgingly or out of a sense of duty, but of the giver’s own free will (Leviticus 7:15). And yet, you can’t outgive God! (Ephesians 3:20). He commanded that the sacrifice of thanksgiving, once offered to the Lord, was to be eaten by the giver the same day, so he was rewarded for honoring God’s commandment (Leviticus 7:29-31)

It reminds me of the Easter basket my grandmother used to prepare before Resurrection Sunday, full of delicious dishes like roast lamb, colorfully dyed eggs, Kulich (a very tall coffee cake filled with candied fruits), and Pascha (a creamy sweet spread). She would bring it to the Russian Orthodox church the afternoon before the Easter vigil as an offering to be blessed, and after the candlelight procession and singing to celebrate Jesus Christ rising from the dead, we would bring it home and devour its tasty contents, all the while thanking God for His goodness!

Thanking God for a great work He has done through us (John 15:5) should not be a perfunctory acknowledgement of God’s blessing, but an active celebration, often involving song and music! At the dedication of the wall rebuilt in Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership, all the Levites were summoned to keep the dedication with gladness, thanksgivings, singing, cymbals, psalteries, and harps, to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God (Nehemiah 12:27, 46).

The Psalms are replete with descriptions of voicing thanksgiving to God through joyful testimony of all He has done (26:7; 107:22), singing (69:30; 147:7), joyful noise (95:2), praise (100:4), calling on His Name (116:17), and praising Him on the harp (147:7).

The first Thanksgiving after I was saved, the church we joined had a service in which members were invited to stand and give a brief testimony of what they were most thankful for. I felt a very strong leading by the Holy Spirit to get up and thank Him for my salvation, yet my timidity won out, and I quenched the Spirit by remaining quiet. The next day I awoke with laryngitis and was unable to speak at all, which I took as a warning to obey God immediately when I clearly heard His voice calling me to use mine, to His glory! 

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of God’s plan to restore salvation to Israel, which would be accompanied by joy, gladness, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3) and “thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry” (Jeremiah 30:19).

Thanksgiving need not be loud and boisterous, but may be whispered quietly, as in prayer and supplication (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2).  The apostle Paul encouraged us not only to encourage one another and worship Christ in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs sung aloud, but also to make melody in our heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

Not only on Thanksgiving Day or in harvest season, but every day until Christ comes again to rapture His children, may we honor Him and encourage one another with songs of thanksgiving, whether sung aloud or lifted up in our hearts!

© 2021 Laurie Collett



 

 


 

As a song of Thanksgiving, I wrote words to a song, "Give Thanks to the Lord," sung on Nov. 21, 2021 at Fowler Ave. Baptist Church. I pray that you will find it a blessing!