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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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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Readiness

by Carolyn Hope

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

Mary was undaunted by Jesus’ original refusal. She acted in readiness for a miracle anyway. She still believed He would do what she asked, and she got ready for the miracle even before He agreed to do it. In an almost defiant faith, she prepared the servants to receive instructions from Jesus.

More often than not, there is a waiting process between the time you make a request and the time you receive what you asked for. There’s a season of waiting between God’s promises and their fulfillment. When you find yourself in this time, don’t sit around in idleness. Ready yourself for the miracle you’re believing for. Be prepared to use the gift you’ve asked God for.

Sometimes this readiness looks radical and crazy. If you’ve been asking God for a child for the past several years, act in faith by setting up the nursery. If you’ve applied for a specific job and are waiting to hear back from the company, go buy the new clothes you would need if you received the job. Be ready. Be ready for the answer you are believing God will give you.

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Request

by Carolyn Hope

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)

Mary saw a lack and asked Jesus to fill it. The wedding celebration was far from over, but the wine had run out. When Mary saw this, she considered it the perfect opportunity for her son to come forth and show Himself as the Messiah. With motherly subtleness, she went to Jesus and told Him, “They have no more wine.” This wasn’t so much a statement of facts as it was a nudging to do something only Jesus could do. What Mary was really saying was, Son, here’s your chance to help someone in need. Show yourself!

Don’t be afraid to make requests of God. When you see a need, come with boldness before your King and ask Him to satisfy it. Philippians 4:6 says “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Go ahead; speak up. Speak out. Share your heart and desires with Jesus. He longs to hear from you. He longs to know the deep hopes of your heart. You don’t know what can come from a faith-filled request. You could even see a miracle.

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