Mary’s Birth Story

She was very surprised to learn she was having a baby. This pregnancy was unplanned. To say the least. She was engaged to be married. She was a virgin. So, technically, there was no way she could become pregnant. Except for one thing. An angel of God visited her. He said she would have a child. This child would be the Son of God. She was to carry and birth the Savior of the world.

Then during the final days of Mary’s pregnancy, she and Joseph left town. They traveled to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. It was roughly a seventy mile trip. Mary on the donkey. Joseph on foot. The terrain was hilly and uneven. It was rough country. The trip either went straight through Samaritan country, or down an out of the way path around the city to reach Bethlehem. The first option was dangerous and uncertain. The second route added more time to an already long trip.

On top of the uncertainties of the trip, Mary was heavily pregnant. Her time was coming due. Oh. She had no birth plan, as is the norm these days. She had never given birth. Perhaps she had been involved in midwifery for other women. Yet she was young. Perhaps she had witnessed her mother birthing younger siblings. Had her mother instructed her on what to expect in birthing a baby? Was she prepared to be completely alone with her husband who was not the father of her child? Did Joseph know what to expect when his wife was expecting?

When the couple arrived in Bethlehem, there were crowds of people. Hotel rooms were full. No vacancy anywhere. They found space in a stable where they spent time awaiting the impending birth. And her time came as they were in the distant city. She was not surrounded by women who knew her. She was not in the company of friends. She was alone with the man who was her husband but not the father of her child. She had yet to know this man intimately, yet he was to help her birth the baby.

Was it an awkward experience for both of them? Joseph was not experienced at delivering babies. Oh. He worked with his hands, but as a carpenter. His hands were rough and strong. But perhaps he was gentle as he soothed her sweaty brow. Was she in labor for hours? Was it an easy birth? Or, was this the perfect labor and delivery, because the Deliverer was being delivered? There were no robes of royalty for this newborn. Mary wrapped this infant King in strips of cloth.

Oh. There was no birthing room. No blood tests. No IV. No heartbeat monitors. No epidural. No apgar test. There were no newborn photos to share with the family. There were no footprints inked on a birth certificate. No steak dinners to celebrate the happy occasion. They were in a stable where animals were kept. Nothing was sterile about the place, yet this perfect child came to save an unsterile world.

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel. Matthew 1:23

But the birth announcement was out of this world. Literally. As shepherds were in the fields that night, an angel burst onto the scene. He announced the birth of this baby. And then a choir of angels appeared and sang to the shepherds. They sang of his birth. Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all men. The shepherds immediately left the fields and found the stable in Bethlehem. There they worshipped the infant King of kings and Lord of lords.

On the eighth day after his birth, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the temple where he was circumcised. He was given the name Jesus. An offering of two doves was presented that day. It was a typical day in the life of a couple christening their child.

But there were those in the temple. Two who had been waiting for this moment. They had been waiting for years. Their hearts had been stirred as he was brought in for this ceremony. They knew what only his parents knew. They confirmed that he was the Son of God. The Incarnate God in flesh. And only eight days old.

I’m sure Mary pondered this unusual announcement in her heart. She and Joseph had not shared the details of this immaculate conception with strangers. There was no need. Yet here they came. An elderly man named Simon and an elderly widowed woman named Anna. They each shared the prophecies of the birth of this One born in the royal line of David.

Everything we need to know about Mary’s birth story has been written. The information is shared throughout the Bible. The more personal and private details have been left out. Because they aren’t the focus of the story. The baby’s weight is inconsequential. The hours of labor aren’t counted. It doesn’t matter when her water broke. Or when she was fully dilated. The birth of this baby was ordained by God the Father. His birth was part of a beautiful, sacrificial plan for mankind’s salvation. No other birth story compares. The breath of eternal life is given to everyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

Like A Shepherd

There is a rift in our world. A rift caused by mandates, politics, social justice issues, divisiveness and ideologies. We are being pulled apart by evil forces. Oh Lord, I ask that you heal the rift. Bring us together to have meaningful conversations. Help us, regardless of our stand on issues, to be open to hearing another viewpoint. But always, Lord, always point us back to you. Point us back to the need for salvation and forgiveness of sins. Point us to the babe in the manager who was born so we could be delivered from eternal condemnation.

We are in a spiritual battle, as never before in our lifetime. Oh. There has always been trouble. People have always disagreed with each other. Political parties have tried for centuries to destroy the opposition. Sports teams have always had rivalries. Wars break out and will continue to do so. Animosity is forever a part of history. But this is different. This battle is spiritual. At its core, evil forces are moving. Wreaking havoc. And we must be on guard. Because this battle is for our soul. And we need the babe born in a stable. Born to be the Savior of the world to fight this battle for us. We need Him now more than ever.

We need this Savior to shepherd us in the path of life. As we face every decision, temptation and trial down the winding road, we need a Savior. And so we ask. Savior, like a shepherd lead us.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use Thy folds prepare. Oh. Heavenly Father. How we need your tender care. Not just in this season, but in every season of life. Your tender care and mercies carry us through the disappointments, hurts and trials of life. Only you can lead us in the path we should go. For we know that those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. We ask that you prepare your folds with plenty, so we can be well fed in your pleasant pastures. We hunger for your presence and for your sustaining grace.

We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the Guardian of our way. Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray. Even when we stray, Father, we pray that you will be our friend. Be the guardian of our way. Seek us out when we stray from your will and from your presence. As our friend, we ask for your strong defense when we can no longer defend ourselves. When we are at the end of our rope, pull us back into the safety of your loving arms.

Thou has promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be. Thou has mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free. Your mercy is new every morning, Father. Your Word says so. We ask that you extend your mercy to our broken, poor and sinful selves. Cleanse us from all our sins and free us from the power of sin. Make us white as snow, with the mercy you provide for today. We ask that you break the chains that bind us. Shower us with grace in our moments of failure.

Early let us seek Thy favor, early let us do thy will. Blessed Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our bosoms fill. Help us, Father, to seek you early and often. Nudge us and make us aware of your love. Fill us with your presence and guide us to do the works that you have called us to do. Your will is the only will we must follow. For you will not lead us astray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus. Thou hast loved us, love us still. We know, Father, that nothing can remove us from your love. And for that we give you thanks. We don’t deserve your love. But oh, how we need it. We are broken and battered by sin. The scars of our faults and failures are on full display for you to see. Yet you love us still. Your love is everlasting. For eternity. And we are eternally grateful.

For Thine is the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The Messenger

His parents waited many years for him to come along. They were a barren couple. No children and now old age had somehow crept in. Until one day, Zechariah received a visit from an angel of the Lord announcing that he would be a father. Oh. Zechariah was so pleased and in disbelief that he was tongue tied. He wasn’t able to speak from that day until his son’s birth announcement. Zechariah was able to announce that his son was to be named John.

The angel told him wonderful things about this child who was to be born. His son would grow to be a man, and would be great in the eyes of the Lord. He was called to a special assignment. He was to prepare the people for the ministry of Jesus Christ.

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” Luke 1:13-17

John was a voice calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. As he taught, the people would ask what they should do. John’s response was straight and to the point. If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry. He told the corrupt tax collectors to collect no more taxes than the government requires. And to the soldiers, he said not to extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.

John knew he was the messenger for the Promised Messiah. He knew there was one coming who was greater than himself. John was comfortable with that. He didn’t try to be the Messiah. He was paving the way for One to come after him. He was the voice calling to the crowds that a new King was coming.

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord ’s coming! Clear the road for him!’ ” Mark 1:1-3

Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Mark 16:15

Now we too must share the message of the One who is coming. We too must share the good news of His promised return. Oh. He has already come to the earth as the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He who was hunted as a child. The twelve year old who knew he must be about his Father’s business. The young man who learned the trade of his earthly father. And at age thirty, he started a ministry that turned the world on its heels. And for three short years, his message rang out for those who would listen.

Oh. He was rejected in his own hometown. People thought he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. After all. He was the son of a carpenter. He wasn’t God. That’s what they said. But little did they know. Little did they believe.

But he was God. And he’s still God. And before he returned to heaven, he suffered and died on a cross. He had a thorn of crowns shoved into his head. His clothes were torn in two. His side was pierced. And with his last breath, he was ushered into heaven to sit at the right hand of his Father. He is waiting there today for all His children.

And today that message is ours to share. We who have repented of our sins and called on his name for forgiveness are now called to share the good news of salvation. We are now the messengers calling others to repentance. Not in a superior tone of voice. But in love and grace. Because just as we have been saved from our sins, we want the world to also share in that forgiveness. But one must ask for this free gift.

The One who is greater than us is returning to gather his people. We don’t know when that day will come, but it’s getting closer. Signs point to the nearness of the time of his return.

Our message today is that there is one coming who is greater than us. Are you ready to meet him?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

The Act of Obedience

She was a teenage girl engaged to be married. She and her fiancé were waiting to consummate the marriage. And then she received a visit from an angel who shared with her that she had been chosen for a very important role in history. She was going to have a baby, the Son of God. And she agreed to do this with just one question. How can this happen since I am a virgin?

Mary believed the words of the angel. She accepted the fact that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God in her womb. She agreed to be his mother. She didn’t argue with the angel. She accepted all the knowns and the unknowns. She had no idea how this baby would upend her life. For the rest of her life. But she laid down her will and plans for a simple life and followed the will of her Heavenly Father.

I wonder. Did Mary, a teenage girl, ever wonder why she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God? Oh. She may have wondered. The Bible says that she pondered things in her heart. She knew her son was different, but she followed God’s plan.

Mary was a woman after God’s own heart. This was confirmed by her visit to Elizabeth, as she sang allegiance to Him in affirmation of her obedience to this heavenly request.

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:46-55

God chose you out of all the people of the earth as his cherished personal treasure. Deuteronomy 14:2

Joseph has his own side of this story. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, he knew he could divorce her. Because having a child outside of marriage could bring ridicule and shame on her for the rest of her life. And she was only a teenager. Did he want to raise another man’s child? Joseph considered divorce, but he was a good man. He was a godly man. And when an angel appeared to him in a dream, Joseph learned that Mary had been faithful to him. This child was God’s. Joseph believed the angel, and he willingly agreed to obey God. He would not divorce Mary. Joseph agreed to marry a woman who was pregnant with someone else’s child. He would not walk away from her.

Joseph later had other dreams where God gave him instructions. Each time, God warned him to leave his location or not to move to a specific place. God was guiding Joseph to protect the life of the child who didn’t carry his DNA. He never once questioned God’s commands. He obeyed without hesitation.

Joseph was a man after God’s own heart. He was the stand in earthly father to the Son of God. Imagine the thoughts he must have had when he laid his head on his pillow at night. What am I doing? Who do I think I am? Trying to be a father to this boy who is God. But he never backed down from the assignment.

I wonder. Did Joseph ever doubt that he had made the wrong decision? Did he wonder if he could do the job that he was tasked with? Did he wonder if he was capable of being father to a boy who was God himself? Oh. He may have. But he didn’t walk away from the call. He didn’t back down from obeying God. He walked into the path God set before him and kept on walking the road of obedience.

Obedience to God’s leading doesn’t mean that trials and troubles won’t come our way. Oh. They will. And they will be many. But the peace and joy of knowing we’re doing as God commanded will sustain us through those trying times.

God is sovereign. He has the power, authority and wisdom to do anything he chooses. He prepared Mary and Joseph to take on the task of parenting this child of heavenly royalty. God knew what he was doing in asking these two unsuspecting ones to birth and raise the holy Son of God. And they trusted him without question.

Oh. God has not asked me to do the hard task of raising his son. He doesn’t need to. He favored Mary and gave her that responsibility. But the role he has for me is still as important. In its own right. Because it’s the simple yet complicated act of obedience that sets us apart as his own. Yes. Obedience is simple yet very complicated. Simple because all we need to do is say yes. Complicated because the path is unknown and perhaps uncertain. But the Way Maker is the one who will provide the certainty and the courage. He’ll make the way when there seems to be no way. Our task is simply to follow.

Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.

C.S. Lewis