Identity

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child, and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)

         As Jewish law would prescribe, on the eighth day, Jesus is circumcised and officially given the name of Jesus.  What began with Gabriel revealing to Mary the miraculous birth now culminates in Mary and Joseph giving their newborn baby the name they had been instructed.  This child would be named Jesus.    As Jesus lived out his life, his name would become known to many who would be transformed by his love and grace.  Fishermen would call him Jesus, prostitutes would know his name, tax collectors would call him a friend, religious leaders would debate him, and even a thief on a cross would call out his name.  The name Jesus was more than a name; it was who He was.  Jesus means: God is salvation.

         One of the main aspects of discernment is seeking out our identity as a follower of Jesus.  Who are we when we claim that Jesus is our Savior and our Lord?  What is our identity as we follow Jesus along the way?  What is our identity as a church, and how are we known by those around us?  Through discernment we hopefully answer these questions and many others.  But until we know who we are, we cannot discover who God is calling us to be.  Knowing our name is important.

         The Apostle Paul literally had a new name and identity after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The former persecutor of the Christian Gospel named Saul would become Paul, God’s messenger of the Gospel.  Thus, Paul, in reflecting on his life to the Church at Galatia, could write, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Paul had been given a new identity and a new mission.

         We, too, are given a new name and a new mission.  In discernment we prayerfully seek to discover this name and mission.  Through prayer, mediation, conversation, silence, listening, and scripture, we open ourselves up to God’s will and God’s way.  We follow the Light so we too might then be lights in the world. 

Prayer:  Lord, wherever you lead, I’ll go.

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Returning

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)

         Luke doesn’t tell us how long the shepherds stayed at the stable.  Were they there for a few minutes, or did they spend a much longer time at this holy moment?  Luke does tell us that the shepherds returned to their work as shepherds.  Someone still had to watch over the sheep.  They still had to make a living and help support their families.  As great as the stable moment was, the shepherds returned to everyday life.  Yet, as Luke writes, they “returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”  They returned to their lives, just not the way they first left them to visit the Bethlehem manger.

         As we seek to discover God’s will, we must still live our lives.  While there are times to pull away from the world in contemplative prayer and thought, at some point we must re-engage with the world in which we live.  We seek discernment about our lives, and thus, we must take what we discover and apply it to our daily living.  While it is tempting to stay on the mountain peak with God, we eventually must go back to the valleys and live out God’s will.

         The world around us is still looking to find its way.  As Jesus’ followers, we are called to bear witness to the way, the truth, and the life that is Jesus.  The Light of the World has now made us lights in the world to reflect the glory of the only begotten Son of God.  We who follow the Light, must now bear witness to the Light.  We must go or return to wherever God has placed us and live as the shepherds did, “glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.”

Prayer:  O Lord of Light, help me to live as your light in the world so others might experience you in a way that brings light into their darkness.

Treasures of the Heart

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19)

The heart and mind of Mary.  What was it like to be Mary as the shepherds retold their story to her and Joseph in their stable setting?  So much had already happened to Mary.  From Gabriel’s visit announcing to her the impending pregnancy, to explaining it to Joseph, the trip to Bethlehem, a stable birth, and now a visitation by local shepherds.  How does one person digest all that transpired?  Luke writes that Mary treasured and pondered everything in her heart.  It is a reflective moment for Mary, a holy pause where she considers what God has brought about.  Such a moment required deep reflection in light of God’s miracle.

If spiritual discernment is anything, it is deep reflection.  Life can easily speed by us without leaving us any time to reflect on what happened.  One event moves quickly into another, and we move with it.  Discernment, however, is a holy pause where we consider what God is doing and revealing to us.  Like Mary, we must ponder and treasure each moment and learn from them.  As we consider each part of our lives, we prayerfully place each part in God’s light so God might show us what it means for us going forward.

The psalmist would proclaim, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) This stillness does not come easy to us in our fast-paced society.  Life moves so very fast.  Therefore, as Christians, being still and listening for God’s word is a discipline that requires a commitment to pacing ourselves so that God’s word is not drowned out by the noise of our world.  In such stillness, we can discover that our God is speaking to us about our lives, and offering words of comfort, assurance, and direction.  Like Mary, we must treasure these words and ponder them in our hearts.

Prayer:  Help me to be still and to listen to your word, O Lord.

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Tell Your Story

“When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2: 17-18)

         Everybody loves a story, especially a good story.  A story that invites you in and allows you to feel as though you were there in the drama.  People also love good storytellers.  These individuals know how to weave a tale together that holds our attention and remains with us later.

         The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “But how could you live and have no story to tell?” Life is about stories.  Stories that involve us as well as stories that involve those we know.  The moment we are born, we begin our own story as our life develops and moves and transitions over time.  To live is to have a story.

         The shepherds now had a story to tell.  As they visit with the new parents and the infant Jesus in their stable accommodations, they relate to them the miraculous story of their angelic visitation.  Whether there were more people at the stable than Mary and Joseph, we are not told, but all who did hear their story were amazed.

         Discernment is about a spiritual reflection of one’s story, whether it be an individual or a church.  We must listen to our stories, consider the people and places in them, the events that happen, and the emotions we feel along the way.  Most important is we must ask ourselves how God fits into the story.  What role does God play in our stories?  What influence does God have upon our stories?  And are our stories honoring God in the way they are told and lived?  In listening to our own stories, we can discover how God has worked in the past, continues to work in the present and the promise of his presence in the future.  God loves stories and desires nothing more than to be a part of ours.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the stories.  Thank you for my story.  That you for the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

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Haste

“So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:16)

         Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”  You might say it is the poet’s way of saying, “do not let an opportunity pass you by.”  Life presents us with different opportunities over the course of our living.  Opportunities we may take, or we may refuse.  It is always our choice.

         The shepherds on the Bethlehem hillside made a choice to go and seek out the baby the angels had told them about.  They could have received the good news of the Messiah’s birth and remained where they were.  They could have passed on the opportunity to experience this holy birth.  Instead, with “haste,” they went out and found the baby lying in a manger just as the angel had said.  They would not let this opportunity pass them by.

         In discerning God’s will, we must take advantage of the opportunities that God brings into our lives.  When God opens a door for us, it takes faith to walk through it. It requires faith because, at that moment, we might not see the benefit of walking through the door.  We might be afraid of what is on the other side.  God doesn’t always reveal everything to us at one time.  We will still have doubts, questions, and uncertainties as we follow God’s will for our lives.  Yet, we must take the opportunity that is there and trust that in doing so, God will bring us to where we need to be.

         The shepherds took advantage of their opportunity and were one of the first ones to encounter the infant Jesus.  They now shared in the blessing of being part of God’s miraculous work in the world.  We, too, can share in God’s miracles when we step out in faith, take the doors that are open to us, and seize the moment.  Moments that can be transformative and life changing.  Miracles happen every day, and we can experience them when we step out in faith at each opportunity.

Prayer:  Help me, Lord to say yes to the opportunities you present to me and step out in faith in response.

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Together

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)

         When the hillside turned dark after the angels departed, the shepherd decided to go together to see the child they were told about.  How long did it take them to reach the stable, and what did they talk about along the way?  Perhaps they were so overwhelmed that they talked excitedly about what would happen next.  Or perhaps they walked in stunned silence on their way to Bethlehem.  The scripture does not tell us.  All they said to one another was, “let us go.” They would go together.

         In Jesus, we are called into a community of faith. In our Christian journey, we walk with one another.  While we each have an individual relationship with God, God calls us to share our lives with other Jesus followers.  Our faith is a joint adventure where we walk together as Jesus’ disciples.  The apostle Paul would write in his letter to the church at Rome: “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:5) We belong to one another.

         Discernment rarely takes place in isolation.  Together we encourage, support, challenge, and love one another as we seek to discover God’s will.  As the church, we are one body, and thus we seek to discern God’s will through unity and mutual affection.  As Paul states, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) As the song says, “We all get by with a little help from our friends.  We are in this together as the church.  Through the ups and downs of community life, we find God’s strength in one another.  We discover God’s will together.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for those who journey with me as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

When Heaven Moves

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2: 13-14)

         It was no longer a silent night on the Bethlehem hillside.  The shepherds were suddenly met with a chorus of angels crying out in praise for God’s great gift in Jesus.  As the old Christmas carol states, “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.”  The joy of Christmas would not be limited to the earthy realm of Bethlehem, but even heaven was joining in the party.  Heaven itself was moved with Jesus’ birth.

         In Jesus, heaven came down and fully entered our earthly existence.  The Bethlehem babe came to be the bridge between our world and heaven’s glory.  This divine-human connection would forever change us, but it would also change heaven.  

In our daily lives, heaven pays attention.  The psalmist would proclaim, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91: 11-12) Now the Bible does not tell us that every person has a guardian angel like Clarence is to George Bailey in the holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life.  However, we do know that God’s angels care about us, and they can intervene in our lives as they are called by God.  Jesus would teach in his parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15) Heaven just seems to have a connection with you and me.

I like to think that in our lives, heaven is rooting for us as we live out our lives.  The angels on the first Christmas celebrated with the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth.  Heaven celebrates with us as well.  God’s chorus of angels cheers us on as we live in our earthly home.  This is good news.  In our every day living, heaven pays attention. 

Prayer:  May your holy angels watch over me always.

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Signs

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

         The angels inform the shepherds that they are to look for a sign that this birth has taken place.  Traveling to Bethlehem, what were they to look for?  The angelic message is that the sign will be a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.  Indeed, a newborn infant lying in a feeding trough would be a sign of all time.

         The late Henri Nouwen, in his book’s preface, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, states, “God is always speaking to us – individually and as the people of God – at different times and many ways: through dreams and visions, prophets and messengers, scripture and tradition, experience and reason, nature and events.” Discernment is the spiritual practice of trying to understand what these signs mean.  

Through prayer, we seek to come to an understanding of how the signs in our lives speak to us.  What message are we to learn from them?  These signs are gifts of God’s grace to help show us the way. They are like lights in the darkness which give us glimpses of God’s will for our lives.  These lights help us find our way when we are uncertain of the path before us.  They are signs which reveal God’s word to us when we are searching.  Psalm 119: 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” 

The baby in a manger would be a light to the feet of a dark world.  Shepherds, magi, tax collectors, prostitutes, the lame, the poor, the blind, the helpless, the hurting, the broken would all see the sign.  This sign would make all the difference for them.  It makes all the difference for us as well.

Prayer:  Help me to see the signs you place in my life and the light of your presence they display.

Good News Delivered

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2: 10-11)

Over the course of my ministry, I have had to be the bearer of both good and bad news.  Events interrupt a normal day with news that must be shared.  If it is bad news, it can be a challenge to figure out a way to tell those affected.  How do you break the news to someone when you know that it will be devastating for them to hear?   On the other hand, sharing good news with another can be a joyful experience and you can hardly wait to share it.

The shepherds who were watching over the flocks by night in the Christmas story receive good news from the angels.  The darkness of the night is awakened by the light of God’s glory in the angels’ appearance.  While scared at first at what they were witnessing, the shepherds would soon discover that they were the recipients of good news: “to you is born this day in the city of the David a Savior, who Christ the Lord.” Their lives would now be overturned by good news.  Good news which would redirect their lives.

In our lives, both good news and bad news can redirect our lives.  Life is interrupted by an event or situation which causes us to reexamine our lives, our direction, and what our ultimate destination is.  Such events are often unexpected and leave us wondering what is next.  The shepherds would have to choose what to do with this news.  When life interrupts, we, too, have the freedom to choose how we respond.  Discernment involves making decisions.  Discernment includes both rational and intuitive processes: it means taking stock of your situation, your circumstances, the movements of your soul. It entails paying attention to your reactions, observing your physical and spiritual responses to things around you. 

The shepherds would have to decide what to do with this news.  We, too, must decide what to do when the news changes our situation.

Prayer:  Help me, Lord make sense of the news that interrupts my life in such a way that honors you.

Ordinary People

“In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2: 8-9)

         For the first time, unnamed individuals enter the Christmas story.  Shepherds watching over their flocks by night encounter heavenly messengers on a Bethlehem hillside.  Shepherds watching over sheep was a common site at the time of Jesus’ birth.  They were hardworking individuals who looked over some of the most vulnerable creatures.  It was not a lucrative occupation, but it provided a steady living.  These were ordinary folks doing ordinary work.  God would use them, however, in the Christmas story.

         God often brings individuals into our lives that make a difference in our stories.  These unexpected visitors may be with us for only a brief time, but they impact us in life-changing ways.  They often intersect our lives when we least expect them.  Yet, something about their story influences our own.  

         In discerning God’s will in our lives, we must pay attention to the people around us.  God often uses others to reveal himself to us in ways that we are not expecting.  Through the lives of others, we sometimes receive glimpses of God.  In Hebrews 13:2, we read, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” The shepherds were not angels, but they did experience the glory of God on that Bethlehem hillside. They indeed would become “messengers” of God’s good news as the first Christmas unfolded.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to pay attention to the people in my life and how You might be using them to speak to me.

No Place

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

         Perhaps one of the most well-known parts of the Christmas story is when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and could not find any place to stay.  With so many individuals in town because of the census, accommodations were few.  We can imagine Mary and Joseph going place to place looking for somewhere to stay.  Turned away repeatedly, the expecting couple found rest in a stable.  Jesus is born, and Mary places him in a feeding trough as a cradle.  When they dreamed of Jesus’ birth, they could not have imagined it turning out the way it did.  Homeless and on the road, they were in an in-between time.

         A lot of life is lived during in-between times.  We find ourselves on a journey but not yet at our destination.  The Bible is full of stories of such journeys.  Most notably, there is the story of the people of Israel after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.  They were no longer slaves, but they still did not have a place to call their own.  They spent years traveling in the desert on the way to the promised land.  As we read the stories from the book of Exodus, these were challenging times for God’s people.  They were in-between times.  

         It is during these times that we must trust that God is present with us.  Our situation may not be ideal, but God is with us.  Jesus is our Emmanuel, meaning God with us.  When Mary placed Jesus in a wooden manger, God brought stable time to our in-between times.  We might not be where we want to be, but God is right where we need him to be.

Prayer:  During the in-between times may we can experience stable time.

Timing

“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” (Luke 2:6)

         Timing is everything.  I’m not sure this statement can be attributed to any one person. However, it is a statement that I think most people would agree with. Timing can often make all the difference in how an event unfolds or an outcome is reached.  

         The song Turn, Turn, Turn became an international hit in late 1965 when it was adapted by the American folk-rock group the Byrds. The folksy lyrics became part of a generation of turmoil.  Yet, we must step back in time to the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament to find the source of the song.  It was the writer of Ecclesiastes who said, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

         Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem when the time came for Mary to deliver her child.  If Luke was a physician, as we suspect, he knew that a normal pregnancy took nine months.  Luke 2 records that the time came for Mary.  Yet, it might mean more than simple “clock” time.  Perhaps Luke was sharing that it was the pivotal moment in time in which God would step into the world in human flesh.  This was a holy moment where heaven intersected the earth, and Jesus was born.  This seems to be what the Apostle Paul alluded to when he wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Galatians 4:4) This was all about God’s timing.

         As we seek to discern God’s will for our lives, timing is everything. We must seek to match our lives to God’s tempo.  We cannot rush ahead, nor can we lag.  Through prayer, scripture, worship, and conversation, we live into God’s timing.  As the psalmist would proclaim, “I trust in You, O LORD; I say, “You are my God. My times are in Your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)

Prayer:  My times are in your hands, O Lord. Help me to trust in you.

Movement

“In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:1-5)

Mary and Joseph were out of towners when they gave birth of Jesus.  The Roman Emperor Augustus had declared a census that required every individual to return to their hometown to be registered. Mary and Joseph packed their bags, left Nazareth, and headed to Bethlehem. They had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem. It was a grueling trip.  The familiar pictures of Mary riding on a donkey with Joseph leading have become an iconic image at Christmas.  As God’s plan of salvation became a reality, it would require Mary and Joseph to move.  It would be a journey.

Discerning God’s will for our lives can be understood as a journey.  While there are times when God speaks very directly to us about a situation, like Moses at the burning bush, much of understanding God’s will takes time.  While Moses encountered God in a bush, it took a long time to reach that point in his life. 

Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel was just the beginning.  Babies aren’t born overnight, and her pregnancy would include the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  While it was a literal journey that could be mapped out, I imagine that both Mary and Joseph felt as though they were on an inner journey with their lives as individuals and as a couple. Where would this journey take them as the soon-to-be parents of Jesus?  What did it mean for the rest of their lives?

Discernment is a journey.  It takes time.  There are good days when God’s will seems clear to us and other days when we feel as though we don’t have a clue about what is going on.  Faith is about trusting God while we are moving as well as when we are standing still.  Just as Mary and Joseph’s journey was trying at times, so too ours will be as well.  Yet, like these soon-to-be parents, we walk by faith, not by sight, trusting that God will bring to pass that which God desires in our lives.  

Prayer:  Help me to move when you call and to be still when you ask me to.  May my journey follow your leading.

Remember Your Past

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1: 54-56)

         As Mary concludes her song of praise, she remembers that she is part of a larger story.  Mary does not live as an island to herself, but she is part of a greater narrative of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.  Mary recognizes that what God is doing in the present is tied to the past.  Her story is intricately tied to the story of a people.  God long ago had called Abraham and Sarah to begin a journey with him that would ultimately bring God’s blessing to the entire world.  What God was doing now in Mary’s life was part of the same journey.  Mary was not beginning from scratch.  She had a history that propelled her forward.

         In our Christian walk, we too are part of a larger story going all the way back to the first Christians.  Those early followers of Jesus who gathered as the church are the foundation upon which our lives are built as individuals as well as a church.  Likewise, this foundation is made up of individuals from our most recent history.  Every Christian and every church have a family tree that has helped bring them to where they are today.

         When we are seeking to discern our future, we must never forget where we’ve come.  This doesn’t mean that we must be and do everything just like those who went before us, but it does call us to honor those who lived out their faith before us so we might live out our faith today. We need to remember our foundation in gratitude to God.  God has blessed us with generations of saints that came before us.  We must never forget their story.

An Active God

“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1: 50-53)

As a parent, I can remember listening to my children play together in another part of the house. The sound of their voices let me know they were having fun and involved with some kind of activity.  I can also remember when the sound of them playing went silent for a length of time.  It was then that I began to wonder, “what are they up to?” The silence led me to question their activity.

Sometimes as Christians, we wonder what God is up to. We might feel as though God has grown silent and is no longer paying attention to our lives. This is especially true when we find ourselves facing a time of uncertainty.  Such times may leave us feeling anxious about the present moment. We might begin to doubt God’s presence.  If we don’t hear God, does this mean that God is taking a break from involvement in the world and our lives?

         As Mary continues to sing her praises to God, she confesses that God is a God of action who is always working to make his Kingdom a reality in the world.  With the strength of God’s arm, God is seeking to overturn the way the world works.  God is scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty.  God is active in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Mary recognized that the child in her womb would be God’s great change agent in the world. Jesus would visually demonstrate God’s power and presence. 

         In our lives, we can trust that God is indeed actively working to bring the Kingdom into our own lives.  God invites us to join him in this grand transformation that overturns the world as we know it.  As we seek to know God’s will in our lives, we can be confident that if we are living out the values of God’s Kingdom in the world, then we will be following God’s will. God will not ask us to participate in that which violates the values of the Kingdom of God.  For where God is King, God’s will is being done.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to live out your Kingdom in my life so as to bear witness of your work in the world.

Praise and Gratitude

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”          The Magnificat, also called Canticle of Mary, is the hymn of praise by Mary, the mother of Jesus, found in Luke 1:46–55.  It is named after the first word of its first line in Latin (“Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” or “My soul magnifies the Lord”).  At Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth and in response to her blessings, Mary sings praises to God for what God had done and is doing in her life.  Mary recognizes that God is worthy of her praise.  Mary is grateful for all that God is doing.

         Whenever we are seeking God’s will and direction for our life, as an individual or as the church, we should always begin with praise for what God has already done in our lives.  Our relationship with God tells the story of God’s faithfulness.  As we look back in our lives, we see how God has worked in our lives to bring us to where we are in the present.  There is no present without God’s guiding hand in our past.  Gratitude is our song to God.

         Thus, when we are looking to the future, as Mary was with this unexpected pregnancy, we can trust that the God of yesterday will be faithful in what is to come.  This gives us the hope to step forward in faith, knowing that we are not alone.  Every new day offers us the opportunity to experience God’s gracious work in our lives again.  Each new morning, we can sing the words of the old hymn’s lyrics, “Morning by morning new mercies I see.”  Great is God’s faithfulness.  This is something to sing about.

Prayer:  Thank you, God, for your faithfulness.  I am grateful for all you have done in my past and promise to do in my future.

Affirmation

“In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1: 39-45)

         Discernment does not occur in isolation, even in our personal discernment journeys.  Rather, as we seek to know God’s will, we often turn to the people around us for affirmation and support.  When we feel as though God is speaking to us, we look to family and friends for encouragement.

Soon after Mary’s encounter with Gabriel about God’s working in her life, Mary travels with “haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant even in her old age. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, will eventually become the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus. 

Elizabeth offers to Mary just what she came looking for, affirmation and support. Upon seeing Mary, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy leading Elizabeth to confess, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth recognizes that indeed God was doing something miraculous in Mary’s life.  

         When we are seeking discernment in our lives about God’s will, it is a good practice to talk to others about what we are considering.  God often uses individuals in our lives to help us out along the way.  We should seek out other people’s thoughts as we wrestle with our own.  Indeed, God has a way of putting certain people in our lives to do this very thing.  I’m sure this was not the only time Mary turned to Elizabeth.  Family and friends are always a part of the discernment journey.

Prayer:  Thank your Lord for the individuals in my life that offer me love, support, and encouragement.

Here I Am

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

         I can remember in school that each day the teacher would take attendance.  It usually involved the teacher calling out the names of the students on their roll and the students responding, “here” or “present.”  Your response let the teacher know you were where you were supposed be as a new school day began.  

         After Mary hears the angel messenger speak for God, she responds, “Here I am.”  Even with all her doubts and fears, Mary would be present to Gods’ plan for her life.  She would not try to skip out on God’s agenda, but she would step out in faith and begin this incredible journey.  Hence Mary not only says, “here I am,” but she also states, “let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary would make herself available to be used by God in God’s plan to save the world.  Her life would now be led and shaped by God’s word.

         Trying to figure out God’s will for our lives means making ourselves present to God and willing to follow God’s word in our lives.  As individuals and as the church, we begin our journey with God by simply confessing, “here.”  We show up; we become present to God.  Then we surrender our wills over to God and commit to living out God’s will.  This is not an easy step to make.  There can be a lot of inner struggling between saying “here” and “let it be.”  However, like Mary, we can trust that the God we become present to will always be present with us.  God’s presence gives us the courage to surrender to God’s will and to trust God for the journey ahead.

Prayer:  Here I am, Lord. Send me.

Impossible

For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)

It can’t be done.  How often have we heard these four words in our lives in relation to a lot of our experiences?  It can’t be done settles the matter about something we perhaps hoped for.  Whatever our hope or dream was, it was not going to happen.  It would be impossible.

It seemed impossible for Mary that she could conceive a child at this point in her life.  Yet, the angel revealed that God’s Holy Spirit would be involved.  And when God gets involved in any situation, nothing is impossible.  

Impossible.  This word inserts itself in our stories at different points along life’s journey.  We face a situation that simply cannot be overcome. We realize that we have run out of options and that there is no hope for any change in the outcome.

Pastor and theologian John Piper states, “Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don’t. You are in good company… You will argue with yourself that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope.”

God would bring about the impossible in Mary’s life.  Mary would become the mother to Jesus.  In our lives, God can birth forth new possibilities when we feel as though we have no hope.  When our horizons are limited, we must remember that God’s viewpoint is much different.  Discernment is about trusting in God’s viewpoint.  God sees what we cannot see.  Faith is trusting in God’s vision.  In Hebrews 11:1, we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Sometimes we look at the evidence and say no way.  Faith, however, reminds us that with God, all things are possible.

Prayer: Help me to trust in your vision for my life and to hope even when everything around me says “impossible.”

The Work of the Spirit

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

Mary faced a seemingly impossible scenario: giving birth while still a virgin.  She had already asked the angel how this could be?  It didn’t make sense, and she was dumbfounded at the thought of giving birth without sexual relations. 

The angel addresses Mary’s doubt by revealing to her that God’s Holy Spirit will bring it about in her life.  The power of the Most High will overshadow Mary.  To overshadow means to cast a shadow, much like a cloud does with the sun.  In the Old Testament especially, a cloud often symbolized the immediate presence and power of God.  We think of the cloud that overshadowed Mount Sinai, where Moses encountered God and received the Ten Commandments.  

God’s power and presence would create new life in Mary’s virgin womb.  The holy child, the Son of God, would be born because of God’s Spirit working in the life of Mary.

As we seek to discern God’s will for our lives, God’s power and presence overshadow us as well.  Discernment must be Spirit-led.  When we seek to live our lives apart from God’s presence and power, then we are destined to fail.  Wherever humanity has sought to live outside of God’s shadow, humanity has fallen away from God’s will and God’s purposes.  When we turn from God and into ourselves, then we will ultimately end up discouraged, frustrated, and fatigued.  Outside of God’s presence, our lives remain barren to the possibilities of God.

Prayer:  Help me to trust in your Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct my life.