Some Final Ponderings

by Carolyn Hope

The past two weeks, we’ve observed several different pieces in the story of our Savior’s birth. We’ve read about shepherds, prophets, and angels. We’ve seen individual characters such as Elizabeth and Mary. There are many parts to play in such a momentous birth, a birth that shook the world.

I’d like to leave you this week with a few thoughts:

  1. God took the lowliest and the least and used them in mighty ways. Shepherds were outcasts; angels were often unseen; the prophets were rejected. Mary was ordinary; Elizabeth was old. Every character had multiple reasons for disqualification, yet God never considered those. He chose them, and He chooses you too. When God calls you, nothing can disqualify you. You yourself are enough for the journey He is leading you on.
  2. One ordinary night became an encounter. At an unexpected time and an unexpected place, God showed up. What started as a normal day became a day that changed history. You never know what today could bring. Stay expectant and stay hopeful. Wake up each morning eager to see all that God will do. He is working and moving on your behalf. Today could be the day that everything changes.
  3. God’s plan for your life is greater and more risky than you could ever imagine. Mary and Joseph’s calling to be the parents of the Christ was incredibly dangerous; yet they were never unsafe as they followed the Lord. There will be great risk in your story, and there will even be danger. Do not let those facts deter you or frighten you, for your God is with you through every moment. He will protect you and fight for you through it all.

I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas!

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Supporting Actor: Joseph

by Carolyn Hope

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. … When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-19, 24-25)

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. (Matthew 2:13-14)

Joseph came up with the best plan he could think of, to divorce Mary quietly. He didn’t want to make a scene. He may have feared the public scandal and shame that would fall on them, and on the child Mary was carrying. He may have feared that by marrying her, he was owning to being intimate with her before they were married; certainly, that’s what many would assume. God had different plans. As kind and careful as Joseph’s plan was, God wanted more. He wanted Joseph to be Mary’s wife, and He wanted him to be Jesus’ father on earth. The Lord planned for him to be part of this holy family. This plan wasn’t clean, or quiet, or pretty. It was risky and scandalous. In following God, Joseph and Mary found themselves in a messy situation. They were willing to be accused of wrongs they did not commit for the sake of the Lord’s plan.

Joseph was obedient. Simply yet scarily obedient. He obeyed faithfully, trusting in whatever the angel told him and heeding the warnings in his dreams. He didn’t question or object, but simply submitted in full and quick obedience. He followed instructions word for word and step by step. Though there was much danger involved, Joseph and Mary had no need to fear being killed or cast out. God was with them, and He blessed their obedience.

Going after your King and trusting His plans may put you in scary situations, but you are never unsafe when you are in your Father’s will. It may feel that way. It may appear so. However, the Lord will always protect you on the path He leads you through. Are you willing to risk it all in order to obey Jesus? Will you trust Him unshakably? Will you let Him direct your life and follow Him no matter what it looks like?

You can be a Joseph. You can be a Mary. All you have to do is believe God’s promises and trust His leading. When you surrender all for the sake of His Kingdom, you’ll see Him do mighty works through your life. You have the capability to make an incredible impact on the world. Are you willing to embrace the life Jesus has for you?

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Extras: Shepherds

by Carolyn Hope

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people …” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:8-10, 16-18)

An ordinary night became an encounter.

The shepherds were caring for their sheep, like any other night. They had no idea that it was the fated night of the Savior’s birth. Then in one moment, everything changed. Normal became extraordinary, and what was a typical work night became an unforgettable evening that the world would marvel about for ages to come.

It’s so very sweet of our King to share the good news of Jesus’ coming first with shepherds. They were common, unimpressive, dirty, and looked down upon. God, in His incredible way, took the outcasts and the lowliest of society and made them the heralds to announce the coming of a new king!

I want to encourage you to be expectant. You might have woken up today like any other day, but today could be a day of life-changing encounter. Every day is full of beautiful potential and is tingling with destiny. Today could be the day where the miracle comes. Today could be the day when God calls you to something new. Today could be the day when revelation washes over your heart. Today could be the day …

No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what others think of you, God has a plan and purpose for you. His dream for your life is far greater than you can understand, and it will blow your mind to see where He takes you. Do not discount yourself because of your background, your status, or your past. Jesus loves you immeasurably, and He wants to do amazing exploits in the earth through you.

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Setting + Props: Barn and Manger

by Carolyn Hope

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)

The setting of Jesus’ birth was indeed unusual – but it was easy to find. If Joseph and Mary had been able to stay in an inn, the shepherds would have had quite the challenge finding Jesus. As it was, there was no question when they did find him that he was the one the angel had spoken of. What many would call a misfortune was, in fact, a unique identifier, a sign to the world.

It’s interesting that a manger was the Messiah’s first bed. That manger was crafted by a carpenter so the animals could be fed. Someone made that manger, but I bet they never knew it would be used for such a holy purpose. I like to picture Father God peering into earth as a person fashioned the pieces together of that particular manger and saying, ‘Ah, yes. That’s it! That’s where My Son will lie. It’s perfect!’

There will come circumstances that are perhaps lower than your expectations or hopes. There will be times where it feels like you’re barely making it by. Even in such instances, God will work all things for your good and for His glory.

The work you do for God’s Kingdom, whether big or small, significant or mundane, is important. God sees the labor of your hands and the purity of your heart. He is greatly pleased when you serve Him in the small things. Be faithful, dear one, and be encouraged. What you do for Jesus won’t be overlooked or forgotten. It will in fact be used for greater purposes than you could ever dream of.

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Lead Role: Jesus

by Carolyn Hope

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

Have you ever seen a play or movie in which the main character doesn’t have any lines? Yet this is what we find in the Nativity. Jesus is the star, the main event, the reason for the season. Throughout this story, however, he never says a word. Amazing.

We tend to treat Mary as the main character, or perhaps Joseph, or the wise men, or the shepherds. The truth is, Jesus is the one the story’s all about. In his sweet way, he quietly appears and doesn’t promote himself or draw attention to himself. He just is … and that is enough.

The greatest part of this story is the moment that Jesus is born. It’s what everyone’s been waiting for, eagerly anticipating, dreaming for, and hoping for. And when he is born … well, he’s born. The attendees to his birth are some dirty animals, some hay and straw, and a few rag-tag shepherd boys. When you think about it, it’s not what we would consider special. It’s not the type of phenomenal entrance that we would imagine. Still, it was supernatural. It was holy. It was beautiful. Jesus came, and He was. It’s simply astonishing.

That God would come down to earth as a human, and the weakest kind of humanity at that. That He would take on the position of a helpless baby. Protector and Provider humbled Himself to be protected and provided for. He could have come with an army of angels, descending from the clouds on a white horse, sword in hand and a crown on his head. He could have come as a fearsome, warrior king. That’s certainly what everyone expected. No. No, he came the way the rest of us come. We enter this world cold, naked, and more vulnerable than any other creature. Jesus did too. What a beautiful heart He has!

Jesus saw no need to seek attention. His humility shone brighter than the most glorious, majestic arrival we could imagine. I want to encourage you that there is great power in simple humility. Be who you are. You don’t have to promote yourself. There is no need for you to seek attention or affection. You don’t have to make everything work. Your responsibility is to be who the Lord made you to be and to do what He has told you to do. That’s it. Humble yourself, dear one, and your King will lift you up (see James 4:10 and 1 Peter 5:6). Be who you are; that is enough.

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Director: God

by Carolyn Hope

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

A play, production, movie, or show would be nothing without its director. The director is the one who makes everything come together. The director has the vision that carries the project. It is he or she who leads all the various roles to create something greater than any one of them could do on its own.

God is an excellent Director. He cast the vision for the story of this world. The dream that came to life in Jesus’ time on earth was birthed in the heart of the Father. He had planned this divine entrance long ago, and He knew exactly what He was doing. Before the foundations of the earth were laid, He named His son. Immanuel, a name full of purpose. Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” For this is God’s heart: to be with us.

Every single character, every single role, was particularly picked by the Lord’s hand. He chose the Magi and the shepherds. He chose Mary. He even chose Joseph. When God chose Mary, He factored in the fact that Joseph was her betrothed, and that he was a righteous man who would take good care of her. Mary needed a strong man, and Jesus needed a good earthly father. The Lord provided that with Joseph even before He sent His son into the world.

In all the divine plans, there was not a single afterthought. From start to finish, every moment was precisely and perfectly produced.

This same Director, who left no detail out, is the one who directs your life. Your story too has been personally and passionately prepared by your Father. He is excited about the plans He has for you! You can rest in His promises and be at peace, knowing that He who began this good work in you will finish it (see Philippians 1:6). Your story is important, it is impactful, and it is beautiful. Let the Director of your heart lead you and guide you on a path of adventure.

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Supporting Actress: Elizabeth

by Carolyn Hope

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:41-45)

Gabriel gave Mary a verifiable truth: Elizabeth was six months pregnant. This was a way to test his word. Mary could go and see for herself that her old cousin who could never get pregnant in her prime was now with child in her old age. If God can take a dead womb and make it live again, can He not also create a child without a man? If He can do the impossible with Elizabeth, can He not also do the impossible with Mary? I love that the proof was found in her own family. She didn’t have to go far and find some stranger to see if it was true. It was her very own relative whom she loved and was familiar with. She could go and find solace and comfort, as well as protection and faith, with her dear Elizabeth.

When Mary came to Zechariah’s house, she was greeted by Elizabeth, but the words that came from her mouth were from the Lord, not herself. What God spoke through Elizabeth directly confirmed everything that Mary had already been told. God watched over Mary and cared well for her heart. He comforted her and encouraged her through her cousin.

No doubt it took much courage, character, and grit to return home as an unmarried pregnant woman. That’s why it was good and important for Mary to stay with Elizabeth for the first three months of her pregnancy. She needed someone who would believe in her and in what God was doing in her. She needed a friend who would encourage her, build her up in faith, and prepare her heart to be courageous for what lay ahead. Elizabeth very clearly believed in Mary and spoke life to her, from the moment they greeted each other. I believe that being with Elizabeth for the first trimester of Mary’s pregnancy helped her face everyone else back home.

There are many ways that God confirms His Word and encourages us. One of the primary ways is through other people. There are people in your life that God has sent to strengthen and build up your faith and courage. Let these dear ones into your life; let them speak truth to your heart. Receive their love.

You also are such a person to someone. Ask the Lord to show you how best to encourage and build up those you love and those He has strategically placed in your life. You can be a deep well of comfort and hope to others.

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Supporting Actress: Mary

by Carolyn Hope

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:46-50)

Mary was an ordinary girl who found herself in an unexplainable position. One day she was engaged to be married and the next day she was told she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.

When Gabriel came as the mouthpiece to a divine message, he did not ask Mary to be the mother of God’s son; he decreed it as though it would be. “You WILL be with child … He WILL be great … his kingdom WILL never end.” Just as certain and sure God was of Jesus’ future greatness and kingdom, He was certain and sure that Mary would be his mother. It’s almost like Mary didn’t even have an option. There was no, ‘If you don’t want to do this, I can find someone else.’ Gabriel didn’t say, ‘Are you okay with this?’ God didn’t seek Mary’s approval of His plan; He simply decreed and declared what would be. Mary could have said no, but that was very clearly not what the Lord planned or desired. He wanted Mary, and He was so convinced that He didn’t even speak of the situation as though it was optional.

Mary believed this message and submitted to the dangerous call. Thus began her plight … or so we often think.

Mary said that all generations to come would call her blessed. While much of the church honors and respects Mary, we often view her predicament as a burden, not a blessing. We treat her pregnancy as a task, and not a gift. She seemed to believe that it was an honor and a joy to be the chosen mother of the Christ. We tend to focus on the negatives. ‘There was risk involved. She could have been killed. She was scarred with supposed scandal for the rest of her life. She almost lost Joseph.’ We forget all the joys and blessings that came with this divine and beautifully orchestrated call. Mary had a miraculous pregnancy and birth! She had a perfect son (I feel bad for Jesus’ siblings), who came to save all of humanity. Every parent has at least some bias toward their children, but with Jesus, no bias would be too much. His destiny, his call, his purpose was greater than any other human has ever known. Mary got to see what God looked like in human flesh. She was the first voice Jesus heard, the first to feed him, the first to be intimately close with him. She watched her God, her Lord and King, grow up in her own home. How special. How incredible. How beautiful.

Sometimes we view Gabriel’s visit to Mary as the great interruption; her life was flipped upside down (and maybe even ruined) from that point forward. Actually, it was probably one of the greatest days of her life! That was the day that she was chosen for something greater than herself. That was the day that God brought his dream for her and turned it into a reality.

I wonder if Mary had always felt different. If she had sensed that she was made for more than a normal life. Then one day here comes an angel, and suddenly all the strange longings in her heart made sense. What if, instead of totally freaked out and stressed and afraid, Mary was excited to give birth to Jesus? What if instead of being something to put up with, Mary’s call brought her exuberant happiness? What if this was everything she was waiting for? Yes, there was risk. Yes, there was danger. Yes, she could have lost everything. But think of all she gained! Think of all the blessings bestowed on her!

God has a call on your life, and it’s not meant to be a heavy burden that crushes your heart. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, there will be trials and danger. Don’t let that deter you. Far greater than the reality of the risk involved in your destiny is the reality of joy and peace. The life God has for you is the best that could ever be. When you follow after Him with all your heart, you will walk into the fullness of His goodness and mercy.

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Lighting: The Star That Shone

by Carolyn Hope

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:9-11)

We often speak of how the Magi followed the star to the house where Jesus was, but what about the star itself? It was used of God just as much as any character. The star shone brightly and with a purpose: to lead the Magi to the Messiah. It even went ahead of them, only stopping when it came to the house Jesus resided in. We often view stars as fixed points in the sky. What if each star is only waiting for the signal from its Maker to move? This star moved, much like the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness. The star came forth at the moment of Jesus’ birth, and it went before these mighty men from the East, showing them the way to the newborn king’s resting place.

It blows my mind that God would use a star in such a potent way. Imagine the awe of the Magi, men who had studied stars for much of their lives. This star was unlike any they had ever observed. God brought something that they related to and caused it to draw them to Jesus.

Each one of you is a unique and needed star. There are people who need to see your light, people who need to hear your words and know your love, so that they may be led to the Savior of the world. There are people that you can relate to, people that you can touch in a way that others can’t. God is sending you to them to shine bright and show them the way to everlasting truth. Let the light of your life shine for all to see. It is powerful, it is needed, and it is enough.

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Sound: Angels

by Carolyn Hope

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:28-30)

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

Angels would occasionally show themselves in the Old Testament accounts, but in the story of Jesus’ holy arrival to earth, we see them frequently and powerfully. Luke’s record tells us that the main angel in this story is named Gabriel.

Gabriel came to Mary bringing surprising and serious news. Even so, he made sure to comfort and encourage her. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is pleased with you.’ He called her by her name, and he told her plainly what was to come. I can almost hear the tender tone of his voice as he spoke these words.

After Jesus had been born, Gabriel appeared to some shepherds nearby. He delivered his message, and then a whole host of angels came, singing praises to the Almighty King. When they had returned to heaven, the shepherds decided to go see everything just as the Lord had said. Notice what they didn’t say. They didn’t say, ‘Let’s go see what the angel told us about.’ No, for they took what the angel spoke as words coming from the mouth of God. Gabriel was a transparent messenger of the Lord. He only said God’s words and only proclaimed His truth.

Let us be transparent messengers so that all others see when they look at us is Jesus. Let us be guided by His truth and led forth in His peace. You are a child of the Most High King; you are His representative on this earth. As you seek after Him and let Him pursue your heart, you become more and more like Him, yet without losing yourself. The closer you get to Jesus, the more of yourself you’ll find. Walk with confidence and grace, Beloved one. You can be a light to a dark and lonely world, and your voice can be the sound that changes nations.

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