Devotion to God: Luke 2.22-40

We’ve made it to the hinge of the years, once again, haven’t we? Before most of you hear from me again, we’ll be well into the new year.

How do we best move from year to year?

In Luke 2.22-40, we’re transitioning from the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus to Jesus’ childhood and youth. In this passage, Mary and Joseph bring their infant son to the temple for a series of ceremonies involving the redeeming of Jesus as their firstborn son and His dedication to God. The picture of the young family that emerges is one of a poor but pious and devoted Israelite family. Truly, His parents are devoted to God. But, do Jesus’ parents fully understand the degree to which Jesus belongs to God? In light of all they learn about their son through the prophecies of Simeon (:29-35) and Anna (:36-38), including the “sword” that will pierce Mary’s soul, do they fully affirm everything that God will do in Jesus?

It’s a good question for us, as we move from 2018 to 2019. For many, the year we’re closing down and putting to bed included some “pierced souls.” Hard things. Even so, we have to affirm that God grew us, didn’t He? He was sufficient. Likewise, the incoming year will doubtless include some (let’s not mince words) really bad things. But, as He always does, Jesus will serve as a “light for revelation” to all peoples (:32); He will be about the “rising and falling of many” (:34); He will reveal the “thoughts from many hearts” (:35), so that motives and intentions of individuals will be brought into the open.

One year from now (if Jesus hasn’t come for us), who will be those who, in the spirit of Simeon, depart this new year in peace? (:29). It will be those who, like Simeon and Anna, have devoted themselves to God through His work in Jesus. It will be those who don’t confuse the trappings of success or prosperity or comfort for God and the salvation He offers us in Jesus.

That’s really good news, no matter what the incoming year holds.

We move best from one year to the next when we affirm our devotion to God through His work in Jesus.

Let’s give thanks to God for all that the closing year has included, by His grace. Let’s trust Him for the year ahead, because of Jesus.

What did this past year hold for you? What are some of the hard things you endured, by faith? How did God grow you? What difference did the work of God in Jesus make as you grew? 

Now, how does Jesus as “light for revelation” to all peoples give you confidence as you enter the new year?

See you next year …(:

Growing in Faith at Christmas: Luke 1.57-80

Has God ever called a timeout in your life so that you could grow?

This week, in Luke 1.57-80, we consider the birth of John the Baptist, and think especially about his father, Zechariah. Remember, Zechariah had been taken aback a bit at the angel’s announcement of his wife’s pregnancy: How will this be?  (1.18). God responded by making Zechariah deaf and mute, so that he’d have time to ponder what God was doing.

Zechariah’s naming of his son “John” at the baby’s birth, and in obedience to God’s command, indicates that Zechariah has grown in faith during his time of silence. Then, Zechariah responds by speaking of what God will do through the boys, John and Jesus.

In the same way, many of us get time to ponder during the Christmas season. Much has happened since Zechariah praised God at John’s birth. Jesus has come in the flesh! He’s died for our sins, and we await His return. Still, Zechariah’s response, even as he was released from his time of silence, can be a pattern for us during these deep and rich days after Christmas.

Growth in faith for each of us this Christmas looks like recognizing our need for God and responding to the saving work of Jesus. 

Maybe, you’d like to do the following:

  1. Take some time this Christmas to consider your need. What areas of my life am I keeping from God? Where do I need to trust Him like never before? 
  2. Then, just read the Gospel of Luke. Get to know the Savior. Learn more about how God will accomplish His purposes through Jesus.

And, have a blessed and Merry Christmas! See you next week …

Praise, for God’s Merciful Blessing: Luke 1.39-56

Most people don’t think about it when they pull their phone cameras from their pockets to snap a picture, but every lens has an “infinity setting”. In the old days, like when I used my Nikon F2 “film” camera, there was a little figure-8 setting that let you crank the lens to one extreme to bring into focus everything past a certain distance, as far as the eye could see. 

That’s the “infinity setting,” and it’s a picture that helps us understand our passage this week. 

In Luke 1.26-38 Mary gives praise to God for His merciful Blessing in Jesus. She considers what God has done, and what God will do. The setting of the passage has Mary visiting her older cousin Elizabeth. A journey of 80 to 100 miles brings Mary to the house. When she enters, and Elizabeth sees her, Elizabeth’s not-yet-born baby, John, leaps for joy. Elizabeth blesses Mary: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord (:45). 

Then, Mary gives God praise for what God will do in Jesus (:46-55). She praises God for His mercy to her, for His mercy to all who fear Him, and for His mercy to those in covenant relationship with Him. Along the way, she praises God for the way He has: … scattered the proud … brought down the mighty … sent the rich away empty. And, she praises God for the way he has: exalted the humble … filled the hungry with good things.

Pertinent question for us: Has God really done this? I mean, this week there was another school shooting in Virginia. (Didn’t notice, did you? They’re so common now.) There’s constant squabbling and accusations and scandal in our highest leadership circles as a nation. I read this week about another mega-church meltdown—accusations of pastoral power-abuse and misappropriation of funds. 

In what sense has God “made all the sad things come untrue?” as Tolkien’s Samwise Gamgee says at the close of the Lord of the Rings.

One of Luke’s purposes throughout the rest of his gospel is to show how God’s work of redemption in Jesus comes in two stages. There’s Jesus’ first coming—the incarnation, for which Mary gives God praise, and in which (as Mary will learn) Jesus will die but then be raised from the dead. Then, there’s Jesus’ second coming. That’s when He’ll reign. That’s when He’ll “make all the sad things come untrue”. 

Mary is seeing God’s prophetic plan through the “infinity setting” of redemption, as the Spirit enables her. She speaks of ultimate redemption as though these acts of God’s deliverance had already take place because, at the coming of Christ in the flesh, they are as good as done. 

How about us? In this Christmas season when incomplete pictures of Christ and His work abound in our culture, leading, sometimes, to cynicism and despair, do we give praise to God through His “infinity setting”? You bet, things aren’t what they’re supposed to be. But, as those who live between Jesus’ two comings, we live in hope. Amidst the fallenness of our world (and our own fallenness), we can praise God, having believed that there will be fulfillment of all that God has spoken and promised. 

My right response to God’s merciful blessing in Jesus is praise!

Have you ever been depressed, cynical, or even downright antagonistic about Jesus during the Christmas season?  What do you think that said (or says) about your view of the totality of Jesus’ work in His two comings? 

How does realizing that things aren’t yet the way they will be help you depend on Jesus and long for His return? How does this realism make the Christian story more believable for you? 

Mary starts her hymn: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices (literally, “has begun to rejoice”) in God my Savior.” How does looking at everything Jesus will accomplish in His two comings change the way you relate to God in your troubles? 

Let it Be to Me: Luke 1.26-38

This week the nation buried President George H. Bush. We flew our Woodland flag at half-mast, and our family streamed snippets of the ceremonies, in between care visits, large-group hosting and homeschooling. I had to wonder what it would be like to conduct that service in that cathedral—five presidents present, four of them living. The eyes of the world trained on Washington D.C.

Also this week, we lit the Christmas tree in “downtown” Westboro, Taylor County. A few of us gathered in the dark. Candace plugged in the tree she’d decorated herself, and we all cheered. Then, we sang Christmas carols, especially the ones about Jesus Christ. You know, the Son of God come in the flesh. Nobody minded. Most of those who might be offended have never heard of Westboro, Taylor County. Then, we went inside for cookies and a craft. 

Two different places, Washington and Westboro. Do you think both matter to God? 

In Luke 1.26-38, Gabriel the angel announces the coming of Jesus to Mary. The passage contrasts with 1.5-25. Two  places (the temple in Jerusalem and an unknown setting in Nazareth); two mothers (one married to a priest, one engaged to a carpenter). You’d expect the Christ-child to arrive in the temple or, better, a palace. Mary is surprised to learn the Savior would be born to her. Who is Mary? Where is Nazareth? The whole thing is unlikely.

There’s three exchanges in Mary’s short interview with the angel. There’s a greeting  and a troubled silence (:28-29)Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! says the angel. Mary doesn’t respond; she ponders. What’s this all about?

There’s a promise fulfilled and an honest question (:30-34). Gabriel says: … you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High … the Lord will give him the throne of his father David … and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

All of this is fulfillment language for 2 Samuel 7. King David had been promised a descendant to rule forever. How does Mary respond? With a question: How will this be, since I am a virgin? She’s not doubting; she just wants to know how this is going to work. 

Finally, we see the promised, life-giving power of God and a willing spirit (:35-38). Gabriel explains: the Holy Spirit will come upon you … the power of the Most High will overshadow you … the child will be called holy—the Son of God. God will give life without the normal, human biology. He’ll “overshadow” with His shekinah glory (see also Luke 9.34). What’s Mary’s response? Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. 

Stepping back from this well-known passage, a couple applications present themselves: 

First, God continues to create life in Jesus. He does this … not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit …(Titus 3.5). Whenever someone trusts in Jesus (“let it be to me according to your word”), new life is created by God in Jesus through faith. 

Also, God continues to work in small, out-of-the-way places when people respond to Him with a willing spirit. Mary’s response to God’s work is a model one, not because she’s in a palace or a temple, but because she had a willing spirit before.  That’s why there’s hope for Westboro. That’s why there’s hope for any of us.

Could it be that God might be preparing a significant response to Himself in little Westboro through largely unknown people who respond to Him this Christmas in Jesus and with a willing spirit? Might He do such a thing where you live?

My right response to God in Christ is a willing spirit.

In what areas of your life do you need to respond to God with a “let it be to me”-response? 

Why is there hope in this passage for all o us, no matter how unknown we are or how small our place? 

How would you go about sharing the message of this passage with your friends and neighbors who aren’t thinking a bit about Jesus this Christmas? 

Have a great week of Christmas preparation in the Lord!

Jack and Henry make a craft at Westboro’s Christmas tree lighting.

The singing, Christmas-celebrating group in Westboro. 

Almost Time!: Luke 1.1-25

Have you ever had to wait until it’s time?

Of course, you have. Every expectant mother waiting for a baby, every schoolchild waiting for recess, every chemo patient waiting for hair to grow knows what it’s like to wait.

When we come to the New Testament, we’re looking at a people who have waited—waited for some sign that God is there, that He cares, that He’s coming. Four-hundred years have gone by. The nation is occupied by a foreign power. The work of the priests in the temple go on. But … nothing. No word from God.

Luke records what happens when God breaks His silence (Lk 1.1-4). His gospel account takes the form of a meticulous, “orderly account” written for a certain Theophilus, probably a high-ranking Roman official having something to do with the Apostle Paul’s impending trial in 61-62 CE.

Luke then tells the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk 1.5-25). Of their desire for a child, and (like Abraham and Sarah and Hannah before them) of God’s deliverance of a baby for the benefit of the whole nation. It’s a sign that God has not forgotten them; that God cares and is coming for them.

As we begin Advent at Woodland, we’re recognizing that people are still looking for signs—in nature, in near-death and out-of-body experiences, in the clouds. Everybody wants to hear from somebody who (like Zechariah the priest) gets to go behind the curtain and hear from God.

In the midst of all this searching and anticipation, we get to celebrate the greatest sign ever given by God. It’s the coming of the Lord Jesus, carefully researched and documented by Dr. Luke (see Col 4.14). A man of science, he gathered the eyewitness accounts of the Lord Jesus, and we get to benefit.

The reason Luke prepared his orderly account is so that the world may know that the Christ has come. 

And, you know what? Because Jesus came the first time, He’s coming again. And, that’s our hope as we enter into this Advent season.

Here’s some questions to consider with friends:

What about Luke’s approach as a researcher you do you as a modern person find compelling? What about his content is appealing to modern people, but also hard to believe? (Think: angels, prophecies, private experiences). 

How do you see Luke setting us up, in this first chapter of Luke? You know the story, but there’s a contrast between Zechariah and Elizabeth (and their “fitness” to bring about a prophetically significant child) and what God will actually do. What is Luke preparing us for? 

Have you been waiting for a sign from God? Are you waiting to believe? What would you consider a “good” sign, the kind of sign you’re looking for? 

What do you think about the idea that the Lord Jesus is the best and clearest sign that we could possibly receive from God? 

See you Sunday, or next week. Then, we’ll hear from Luke as he develops his careful account of the Christ-child who has come, and will come again.

Have a great week, in the Lord.