Manger Scene: Mary

Luke 1:26-38 Today we continue building our manger scene with Mary… the one who found herself unexpectedly pregnant and had faith enough to accept it. I have to believe that finding out you’re pregnant is always kind of shocking.  When I discovered I was pregnant with Eleanor, our oldest, it was very much planned for – Alan and I had been married a couple years and wanted to have a little Alan or Mary Jr. But it’s funny, seeing the positive result on that pregnancy test still took us off-guard.  I used my shaky hands to call Alan at work, hoping he could come home for lunch.  “No, I’m tied up today,” he said, not realizing the mind-blowing news I wanted to deliver. So I just blurted it out:  “Well then… I’m pregnant!”  When he finally came home and we got to talk it over together, we just laughed in a kind of hysterical disbelief.  We were trying and hoping for this end result… but now that it had worked, it felt a lot like our bluff had been called. And that’s with an expected pregnancy. So how much more shocking was Mary’s pregnancy?  No at-home test, no “trying,” even.  Just an angel showing up and saying, “Hello, Mary – God’s favored one!  God is with you!” Mary was likely just a girl (women got engaged around the age of 12), but she shows a mature intuition with this glowing greeting.  Luke 1:29 tells us she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (1:29). Here’s how I interpret...

Manger Scene: Joseph

Matthew 1:18-25 During Advent we at Andrews UMC are building a manger scene, adding a piece each week until Christmas Eve.  Today we begin with Joseph… which means, today we’re talking about Jesus’ earthly dad. I have always been a daddy’s girl.  I aspire to be like Dad in all important things, from the way I sink a basketball (sometimes) to the way I drink my coffee (black, always).  I love my daddy. But like many daughters, I was closer to my mom.  Being the only two girls in our five-person family meant that Mom and I naturally logged more hours together.  We’d shop all day, laugh late at night, and talk on the phone each morning until I was late for work.  I’ve always adored my dad, always felt close to him… but for much of my life, I knew my mom in an intimate, best-friend kind of way that I didn’t know my father. I think many of us are like this with Joseph and Mary.  We might admire him, but we don’t know him like we know Mary.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth tells us a whole lotta details about the Messiah’s mom:  her shared pregnancy with Elizabeth; her song; even some of her thoughts on things (“How can this be?”).  Mary shows up in the story of Jesus’ adult ministry (notably, around the cross); Joseph is only mentioned later as part of Jesus’ identity (“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”) Who is Joseph, really? Today’s Scripture tells us Joseph’s reaction to Jesus’ birth in just 8 verses… but those 8 verses tell us a very important thing...
The Shepherd that Seeks

The Shepherd that Seeks

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 The Prophet Ezekiel by Michelangelo (1510) Today we hear from Ezekiel, a smart and kind of strange prophet from the late 6th century.  That was a tough time to be an Israelite, because it was the period of the exile.  The Northern Kingdom had been kicked out of their share of the Promised Land since 722 BC, when the Assyrians came to power.  For the Southern Kingdom this exile is a fresher wound; the Babylonians took Jerusalem in 587 BC.  Ezekiel lived in that southern kingdom… lived in the past tense, because now he’s been forcibly deported 600 miles east to modern-day Iraq. Ezekiel has a message for God’s exiled people: God is searching for you. Ezekiel the prophet uses the image of the shepherd to explain this phenomenon.  “I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out,” Ezekiel says for God (34:11).  Imagine the sigh of relief this must have given the Israelites, to hear that God will find them and bring them home. Yes, it’d surely give them relief… if they could make it through the first 33 chapters of Ezekiel’s message. Chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel is a message of doom on a people who worshipped other gods not only near God’s temple, but in God’s temple.  Ezekiel’s vision is of God’s presence leaving that temple.  He compares Israel to an unfaithful spouse.  After all that – like an angry man ready to snap at the next person who comes into view – Ezekiel spends chapters 25 through 32 judging the surrounding nations. No one gets off the hook.  Mistakes have been...
Remembering God When Things are Good

Remembering God When Things are Good

Deuteronomy 8:10-20 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:10). Easier said than done, I think. I speak as one with authority, because today’s Scripture is preparing the Israelites to go from the wilderness into civilized life… and if you know me at all, you know I’ve spent my fair share of time in the wilderness.  As a backpacker, I’ve made my bed in a sleeping bag under a tarp.  I’ve packed up and walked and designated a new plot of land as “home” each night.  I haven’t survived on manna, but I have lived on the food I could carry:  dry goods and simple meals where “add boiling water” is the bulk of the recipe. In the wilderness you learn to ration… or you go hungry.  Then sometimes you do ration and you still go hungry.  You’re hungry for something besides granola bars and dry ramen noodles.  You’re thirsty for something besides plain lukewarm water. All this hunger and thirst and rationing leads a person to daydream about leaving the wilderness. Which is a funny thing about backpacking.  When I get to go on a hiking trip, I look forward to it for months.  And then, when I’m actually out in the wilderness… after about day 2 all I can think about are my creature comforts back home. I’m not totally convinced, but I think it’s possible that the main reason I like backpacking is the glorious moment when I step off the trail and into a climate-controlled vehicle… the triumphant ride back to...
How to be a house that serves the LORD

How to be a house that serves the LORD

Joshua 24:14-25 Joshua is old.  He is about to die. He has time for a farewell speech, though.  It’s a good speech, reviewing everything God has done for Israel:  setting them free from Egypt; leading them through the wilderness; bringing them to this promised land; allowing them to defeat bigger armies with bigger soldiers.  I can picture the people getting pumped up remembering all those victories. Then the trip down memory lane builds to a challenge: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:14-15). The people have a choice.  Neither God nor Joshua is going to make them serve God.  They can choose to go serve other gods, if they want. Joshua just made that good speech, though, so the people are prime for this kind of commitment.  Their hearts full of inspiration make the right answer obvious.  “We will serve the LORD!” the people say. “You better mean it,” Joshua says (my paraphrase).  “God won’t put up with unfaithfulness.” “We won’t be unfaithful – we will serve the LORD!” the people say. So they say. And so we say – in the moment.  It’s easy when we’re in church or at some retreat.  The right answer is...