Christmas Advent, Faith, Spiritual Encouragement, Stories from Scripture, Uncategorized
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Simply Jesus, Day 8

Before Angelo and I were married, we only had ideas of marriage. Of course we had experience in dating, and in being in a committed relationship, and in being in love and engaged. (Aw, hearts all-aflutter).

But the real purpose of marriage? The actual demands and benefits of seeing this thing through “till death do us part”? We only knew the little that we knew.

On a drizzly afternoon, just before December, we drove home for the very first time with a baby snuggly strapped into a carseat. Nine months of waiting and almost 24 hours of labor and we had ourselves a baby girl. Nothing we’d done to prepare ourselves would prepare us for the next several weeks of adjusting to the myriad emotions and new responsibilities of parenting. We were overwhelmed with joy as well as a cavernous comprehension of our ineptness.

Not knowing the whole story, not realizing the true cost of our life’s choices often proves to be beneficial. Sacrifice and suffering yield a surprising resultant blend of hard-earned lessons and grace covered beauty that we cherish. Living in this information age, are we finding that our dependency on readily available information is crippling our faith? Has our sense of adventure been made anemic by our craving for knowledge? We have at our fingertips the news in Syria, the scientific classification of the three-toed sloth, and a bevy of information on gluten. But, we still don’t know what the next minute holds. We don’t know if cancer cells are invading our intestines at this very moment, nor do we know if a terror cell of the Boko Haran is invading a small village in Africa. And here, we who know it all become paralyzed by what we fear we don’t know.

When God sent the angel Gabriel to meet with Mary, a young Hebrew girl in a nondescript, one-light village in Galilee, his message to her about her upcoming life was a mere tidbit of what her future really held. But it held just enough danger that Mary had to address the conflict of fear and faith and make a choice. Her choice made all the difference.

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 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. 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.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and 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.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered, “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Inspiration: The Truth of God For Us

The story of Jesus’ impending arrival comes by way of Gabriel, apparently God’s most-important-message-deliverer. Gabriel was a name recognized by Hebrew people because Gabriel appeared and spoke with Daniel the prophet 500 years before he arrived in the temple to see Zechariah.

The business Gabriel was about was paramount. He was no second-class angel like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.

So it’s no wonder that the appearance of the angel left Mary feeling “greatly troubled”. The Greek  word used by the author, Luke, that’s been translated to “greatly troubled”, “perplexed”, “deeply troubled”,  “agitated” is diatarasso (de-a-tar-a-so). It is used only here, this once in the entire New Testament.

Tarasso is used 18 times in the New Testament, and it means to trouble, distress, cause anxiety, strike with fear, distress.

The preposition dia seems to emphasize the thoroughness of this trouble, the level and degree.

Mary was, in our vernacular totally freaked out.

This wasn’t just a troubling vision of an angel — she was greatly troubled, greatly distressed. She was having a complete breakdown inside.

Remember that when minutes later she gives her answer to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

These moments with Gabriel were thoroughly upheaving, totally alarming, terrifying to an absolute degree.

She was no placid saint, swathed in baby blue wool standing in an aura of golden light. Mary was a freaked out and emotionally shaken inexperienced child.

So wasn’t it grace and kindness that the angel Gabriel only told her the promise of Jesus’ success – that he would be called Son of God and reign on the throne of David? Wasn’t it a gift that he told her about Elizabeth – gave her a mentor and friend to turn to in the months to come?

I imagine Gabriel, intimidating in his heavenly raiments, kneeling down and calming Mary, speaking in tones of comfort and concern. Gabriel’s three recorded missions were important, but they all held so much trouble and pain (read Daniel 8, Luke 1 for more) that I believe he is particularly gifted somehow at extending God’s compassion to humans. After all, these were just normal people called to participate in extraordinary events.

Mary later pondered things — when the shepherds came on the night of his birth, when they met old Simeon at the temple to dedicate Jesus. But again, the Greek words give us clues to the real meaning lost in translation.

When the shepherds came to worship the child on the night of his birth, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Treasured up literally means, kept hidden thoughts to herself.

Pondered means mentally disputed, conversed within herself.

I’ve mistakenly seen this picture of Mary in a rosy light. There is Mary, counting perfect little round toes and watching the tiny hand of God grasp her finger while she warmly welcomed the raucous shepherds into the stone-walled animal shelter turned birthing room. But, when examined through a clearer lens, what I see now is Mary taking in everything of these wild circumstances, keeping all her thoughts and emotions to herself and battling out the visions of her imagination versus the facts of her reality.

Aren’t I supposed to be mother to the king of Israel? Why am I in a stable? Why are remnants of the afterbirth tossed into the straw? Why are these strange men here? Why did a heavenly host appear to them and leave us here, homeless, giving birth in little more than a trench? Has something gone wrong? Could Gabriel come explain this, uh now? If only I knew what was really going on!

It isn’t until 8 days later when Mary and Joseph make a day trip to Jerusalem with their newborn to follow the custom of circumcision and ceremonial cleansing at the temple as well as following the instructions of the law to dedicate their firstborn son to the Lord (Exodus 13:2) that Mary finds some peace for the conflicting war of thoughts and emotions in her.

It’s important to remember that Mary is continuing to obey God, to live according to her declaration that she is God’s cooperative servant, in the midst of tremendous inner turmoil. She is walking along a path lit only step-by-step. She cannot see the tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it; she is walking obediently through the chaos of each moment, the what-if’s of right now.

Simeon, an old man well known for his devotion holds baby Jesus in his spindly old arms and prays: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” {Luke 2}

Simeon knew, just at the sight of Jesus all that! What peace this gave Joseph and Mary. They “marveled” at this, it says in Luke 2:33. Finally, a word that means “wonder, admire, amazed”.

As he hands the baby back to Mary he says, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too”.

Ah, the sinking thud of reality. Joy and pain. The broken hallelujah. Divinity and humanity. He would be like the spotless, adorable white lamb slaughtered to bleed out forgiveness for all people – Hebrew and Gentiles alike.

Mission: Take Away

When Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant”, she may not have had all the information. But do we we need to? We need to choose based on the information we do have. We have to choose even when we can’t make sense of the information.

This is where knowing Who God Is really helps. See, faith on it’s own is abstract, common, useless even. Knowing the character of God and the history of his interaction with humanity, his commitment to providing for us, delivering us, protecting us and redeeming us makes all the difference when we have to move forward according to what faith is telling us rather than what we can see or know or predict.

Mary may have been young, but she knew enough about God to follow him even in the dark, confusing future.

We live in dark times.

From the moment of mankind’s foray into independence (Genesis 3) we have been in the shadow of death, overcome by the darkness so dark it is ignorant of light. But God.

But God.

If you believe in God at all, you have to believe in But God.

Mankind fell into sin and was cast out of the Garden of Eden, severed from the peace with God that they knew …. But God never left them.

Mankind got really messed up and strange hybrids called Nephilim happened and the surface of the earth was destroyed by a flood …. But God called Noah to build a boat and spared humankind.

Mankind turned away from God and built a tower to heaven, they murdered and enslaved and battled …. But God called an average man named Abram and breathed YHWH life into the man and the desert and the world.

We who choose to believe the Bible, who can, by faith, look at these strange stories and see not mythology but the coming Christ, do so because we’ve chosen to believe in But God. A creator who has burnished his grace and redemption into every moment of our human history.


Like I’ve said before, it’s a big ask.

The thing we have going for us is that by accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ, we become transformed. We begin to take steps in the dark because we know God is there. We can give testimony to our own lives, once fraught with hopelessness and selfishness and confusion, being transformed by God’s forgiveness and grace.

We have the real deal, don’t we, when we know who God is?

We needn’t be so afraid that we stay behind. We can, even in the midst of confusion and our fear say, like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”.

We can listen to the angel’s message and believe, “Nothing is impossible with God”.

Play:Have Fun

Talking about fear and faith isn’t usually a fun activity, but if you have kids a fun way to approach this subject is to play One Day. You start telling a story with a remarkably happy thing, such as, “Allison awoke to the sound of the doorbell ringing and when she opened the door a man was standing there with a bouquet of balloons and keys to a new car!” The next person has to say, “But….” and tell a bad thing, like, “But… the man at the door was a zombie and she needed those keys to the car so she could get away!” And the next person says a happy thing.

Feeling Crafty? Martha Stewart has some fun ideas to reuse those old Christmas Cards.

Love:In Action

Make a list of Impossibilities in your life. Pray over them and tuck that list away. Remember that with God nothing is impossible. I have a friend who did this many years ago. Over the course of thirty years, a lot of good and a lot of terrible things happened in her life. She nearly lost all that was precious to her. But God gave her the desires of her heart. Eventually. Including a restored marriage and a pink victorian farmhouse.

Yes, and Amen:

Father of all —

You make it clear in the entirety of the Bible that you are for us, all of us. But you are sovereign, and you have made a way for us all through Jesus Christ. His is the name that divides. You are a God of Light and Truth and Love and darkness, lies and hate have no place with you. We are a creation that needs Jesus Christ. We praise you for making a way. But we ask, Lord, that you will embolden us, empower us with your Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus on our lips. Help us to remember that the whole story is written in your word — the past, the already here and the yet to come are all redeemed by Jesus Christ. We have fears. We fear war, death, violence, abuse. These are fearful things of this world. But God! You have overcome the world! Help us remember and bravely walk into darkness carrying the Light who is within us. We may physically be overcome, but that is a small thing to you. We are kin, now, children of the Most High, and eternity is our reality. We have the bravery of Jesus, the humility of Jesus, your agape-love has transformed us — help us to remember Who You Are. Changeless, marvelous, victorious, gracious.




1 Comment

  1. jodyo70 says

    Oh, I so enjoy your acronyms for this season! And I love learning about the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words–‘diatarasso’ equals ‘totally freaked out.’ I would agree….you made me laugh out loud, Alyssa. Thanks for all of this.

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