Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Shepherds – Luke 2:8-20 A Study in Contrasts

Oh, the life of a shepherd!

As an introvert, sometimes I long for it, especially at Christmastime. No rushing around. Far from the bustle of the city. Camping out under the stars. Lots of time just “being.”

Oh yes, there is responsibility. Those dumb sheep could get lost. And, of course, there could be a wolf roaming around. But for the most part, day after day, quietness and reflection.

With the company of a small group. Like minded people not prone to drama. Drama was found in the city, not the countryside.

Close relationships. People you could trust with your flock. People who had your back. People who knew you — your dreams, your sorrows, your hopes.

So you’re just handing out, chewing the fat, wondering about if price of sheep is going up or down. Nothing new. Just under the stars, night after night.

Then bang! The sky lights up beyond everything you have ever seen. You look at your friends — they are seeing the same thing, faces aglow with reflection. It’s not a hallucination. It’s angels, real angels!

Speaking to me…speaking to us?

 Of course I’m afraid!

 “Behold, I bring you…”

 Me? Why me? I’m just a shepherd, nothing special. I sleep outside with a bunch of smelly sheep. Me?

 “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Do I look like a messenger? Boy, I’d love some good news! And I’m all for joy. But how can I be a representative to “all the people?”

 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve heard of the Messiah in the temple, the few times I have gotten to go. Life has been hard, especially with the Romans roaming the country, taking sheep for their dinner.

But a Savior, for us spiritually, for us physically, for the nation of Israel? He would be Christ the Lord, the Master, of all. How can this be?

 “And this will be sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Ok, now something I can relate to – a barn. But the contrast, a Savior, Christ the Lord, as a baby?

And then there is not just one angel, but a whole bunch! People used to being alone in the darkness; now their world is surrounded by light, by beings, praising God, promising peace.

Overwhelmed is an understatement.

And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it’s gone. Darkness. Silence. I wonder how long it was quiet before someone broke the silence. I wonder what they first said, confirming what they saw, knowing that a group can’t hallucinate the same thing!

I wonder if they all went, or if they left one behind with the sheep? I wonder what it would have felt like to be the one left behind?

I wonder if they were filled with curiosity, to see if it was really true, or belief, to confirm that what they saw was true?

They went to the village. Did anyone know of a baby that was born tonight? Introverts who were used to being alone we now talking to others, searching for meaning. Anyone know a pregnant woman who is staying in a barn?

And then they arrived and saw it for themselves. The moment of awe when, like the Magi, their experience became very real and deeply personal.

People who were usually shy are now bubbling over, interrupting each other to tell the story of angels, describing the lights, the sounds. It was more than they could contain.

And it wasn’t just Mary and Joseph they told, but “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” I picture a little parade through the dark, making it’s way to the barn, waking up others as they heard the commotion. Those shepherds, their story, was the center of attention.

And then, it died down again. Those who hadn’t seen the lights, heard the words themselves, went back home and back to bed.

After all, it was just a baby.

The shepherds returned to the fields, to their responsibilities, to relieve the ones who had been left. They told them what they had found, how the vision had been confirmed. How it wasn’t just a dream.

It was more than a baby.

It was hope for a future, a world forever changed.

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Magi – Matthew 1:1-12 Choices

As amazing as the visit from the Magi was mind blowing for Mary and Joseph, I can’t imagine how mind blowing it was for the Magi themselvs.

 After all, they were from another culture. Their kings are born in palaces, not of humble means. They served powerful men who ruled through war and domination, not babies.  They valued education, exploration, scientific studies, not the simple mindedness of a child.

 And yet, this is where their journey across miles and miles has ended. It wasn’t what they expected, and yet, it was what they received.

 They made a choice.

 They had seen a new star in the heavens, sparking curiosity. What did it mean? It was a choice for them to share their curiosity with other Magi. It was a choice for them to pack up their animals for the trip, to follow the star wherever it would lead. It was a choice for them to go to the bank (or it’s equivalent) and then to the market to buy supplies as well as gifts for those they may encounter on the journey. They kissed their loved ones and said their goodbyes, headed for the unknown.

It was a choice for them each day, each night, to not loose heart, to follow the star. They made observations, charted the course. It took them into unknown territory.

And it took courage to follow the star. Would the people they met be friend or foe? Would robbers meet them on the trial and strip them of their goods or life?

It took perseverance to follow the star. As they entered Herod’s palace, where they thought they would find answers, they found ignorance and insecurity. I’m sure Herod put on quite a show for his foreign visitors, trying to impress them with his wealth, power, knowledge. He may not have even noticed the new star himself.  Surely he had not questioned it. Through research, spurred by the Magi, his wise men found answers.

But Herod did not choose to go.

He stayed in his palace, in the midst of his unbelief. Instead of curiosity, he chose comfort. He chose to not believe.

The Magi pressed forward, with new information, until they found themselves in a small village, in the presence of a humble family holding a baby, in the presence of an unknown, unrecognized, king.

I wonder what that moment was like?

In my mind, I feel a moment of silent recognition. This is it. This is the meaning of the star. All the desires, all the hard work, all the expense, all the hard choices collide in this one moment, in this one place. They are awestruck.

What was knowledge became reality.

What was knowledge became extremely personal.

They didn’t walk away just knowing an answer. No, they bowed their knee in respect, in devotion, in deep admiration for the miracle they were beholding. After all, a new sign had been in the heavens, out of man’s control. It had heralded a new age, a new kingdom, lead by a baby.

They had chosen to follow the star.

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Magi – Matthew 2:1-12 Late to the Party 

And then there were Magi that showed up…

Fascinating thought…If the star appeared the night of his birth (as per the shepherds’ account), and the Magi were from the East far enough away to come from a different culture, they must have traveled for some time to get to Jerusalem, which is not far from Bethlehem.

Picture this…you are a humble family in the middle east giving birth to what some think is your child conceived before marriage. You have registered that child with the government and done what Hebrew law required spiritually. You are probably staying in meager quarters (probably out of the barn) because you didn’t budget for this unexpected detour. You’re staying until your wife can bear the trip home (no air fares available!).

Three Magi show up out of the blue. Magi is often translated as “wise men” or “kings.” Magi is related to our word “magician.” They were so wise, so all knowing, that what they did was considered “magic” by those they astounded. There is no indication that they were kings or rulers, but they were probably closely related to kings because a king would want to be close to their knowledge, their insight, as well as their entertainment.

So, they are dressed for court as they enter. After all, they knew they were going to meet a future king. They had just been in Herod’s court and saw all the riches it beheld.

So…in your mind, picture Mary, Joseph and little Jesus standing there while these Magi, men from another culture, come in with their riches. Mary and Joseph know the truth about their baby. And shepherds, humble folk they could relate to had visited before, but now this?

And then, they prostrate themselves. They bow down and worship their baby boy. I can imagine Mary and Joseph looking around, wondering who was seeing this! Was their secret out? They had been trying to blend into woodwork, but all of Bethlehem must have seen the parade through the city of these foreign men. And now they are declaring him, worshipping him, as King.

And the gifts — gold, the wealth of a king; frankincense, the aroma of the spiritual; myrrh, the embalming spice of death. How overwhelming! How curious! What would it all mean?

Throughout life, God revealed what it meant. The gold was used to flee to Egypt, to fulfill scripture and save Jesus’ life. The frankincense was probably used in worship as they took Jesus into the temple of his true Father. And the myrrh, representative of the death of a king.

God sometimes does amazing things in our life, out of the box, and it takes time to realize what it means. In amazement, we need to take it in and live in the moment. God will show us in the future what it means.

Have you ever had one of those “God moments” that later you know what it meant? I’d love to hear about it…

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Mary – Luke 1:26-56 And It All Became Real

It had all be so personal for Mary – a visit from the angel, the sense that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We don’t know if she told her parents or guardians, but she knew the physical sign of what has been happening to her would be in seeing her barren cousin, Elizabeth, with child. So in an era without text messaging, she did the next best thing and headed off to see her.

Can you imagine the moment when she saw Elizabeth pregnant?

Everything became real. It wasn’t just her imagination or a dream. The Holy Spirit did overshadow her. Elizabeth is proof of miracles.

What was spiritual, became physical.

Not only that, Elizabeth confirmed what Mary knew in her heart. Before words came out of Mary’s mouth, Elizabeth recognized what had happened deep within Mary. And Elizabeth’s baby responded as well, as it would be the call on his life to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s faith that there would be fulfillment of prophecy.

And at that moment, Mary’s tongue is loosed. What had been secret now is real! She knows it’s true, not just hallucination.

She knows she can’t take credit for any of it!

Mary doesn’t talk much in scripture, at least in what is recorded, but in this case she bursts into praise. She gives credit where it is due – on the Lord, God, her Savior. She is overcome with gratitude (I’m sure she needed to lean on later when tough times came) that God had chosen her to bear his Son. He would not only be the Savior of Israel, and of the world, but he would be her personal Savior.

Remember, she says all this no knowing how it will all work out. She says this not knowing if she will be a single mother, living in shame. She doesn’t know that her Savior will face the cross.

She only knows that there is life within her.

I can’t help but reflect on the moment I turned my life over to Christ. It was a private moment of complete surrender. It’s hard to describe it, but I knew the Holy Spirit was there, giving me new birth.

I was private about it for a while. But then people began to notice a change in me. I began to make different choices in my life. I began to believe that he who I had entrust a moment to be my Savior would also be faithful for the rest of my life.

What was spiritual, became physical.


Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Mary – Luke 1:26-56 One Detail

No one, at the time of Jesus’ birth, was impacted by the birth of the Messiah more than Mary.

First of all, she began seeing angels. Then she felt life inside of her, knowing she had never been physically intimate with a man.

After having the miracle confirmed by her cousin, she had the dubious job of going home and telling her parents and the man she was suppose to marry. She lived with the whispers, the shame, she knew was not true. Then she gave birth, and for the first time in history, saw God in human flesh.

All this was entrusted to a young girl, what we would consider a child.

And what was her response to the angel? Interestingly enough, she had one question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

I guess she assumed if God could handle that question, he could handle all the other details. The “shadowing of the Holy Spirit” would not just happen once, resulting in a pregnancy, but he would continue to overshadow her, protecting the life within her, protecting the life after it was born.

I’ve often wondered what prepared her to respond in such a submissive, humble manner? Her parents are not mentioned in the story, but obviously they had taught her scripture as her song of praise (Luke 46-55) is filled with it. Maybe she had seen them long and earnestly pray for the Messiah. She knew her cousin was godly and went to be with her for encouragement. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for their conversations!

Mary had no sense of self-sufficiency. With child-like faith, she leaned into the Spirit.

In this challenge, she knew God would be with her. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

God would protect her and the Messiah. She didn’t know how. She only knew one detail, how the baby would be conceived, and stepped out in faith into a world that could have been her death.

But one detail was enough.

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…Anna

Anna – Luke 2:36-38 Waiting a Lifetime

The stories of Simeon and Anna are usually told together, almost as if they were a couple. I’m sure they knew each other since they were both elderly and served in the temple. It’s more a matter of timing that she appeared just as baby Jesus was consecrated.

To me, the story of Anna stands on it’s own with it’s own message.

In a book where men seem to take center stage (good and bad), here enters a woman.

An eighty-four year old woman, in a time and culture when women and men rarely lived that long. I’m sure everyone knew her, as she was at the temple daily.

Her life had not been easy. Her dream was to be married, have babies, have a home. Instead, after 7 years of marriage, she had no children and her beloved died. Assuming she matured around 14, that makes her around 21 years old when she became a widow.

Obviously, none of the relatives took her in or gave her a child in the old testament tradition. Women like her often became prostitutes in order to survive.

But Anna was different. She made the choice to devoted herself to God. She’s called a “prophetess” but we don’t know what she prophesied. Obviously she was respected and allowed to stay in the temple.

Anna’s response to seeing God in the baby Jesus was twofold: she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Like Simeon, she was overwhelmed with gratitude. Salvation was on it’s way. She had seen the Christ-child.

But she went one step further. She had to tell others. You see, Simeon and Anna were not the only ones waiting for redemption. There were others.

Just like John the Baptist, Anna was a truth-teller, a for-teller of the Christ to come. Can you picture it? Little ol’ Anna, skinny from fasting and age, shuffling down the streets, telling everyone she had seen in the temple truly worshipping, believing, that she had seen the baby, the Christ-child.

Lessons for me from Anna —

  • I’m never too old to tell others of what I know.
  • Women have responsibility also, to make good choices and to speak out the truth. It’s not just a “man’s world.”

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…Simeon

Simeon – Luke 2:29-36 The Declarations

Let me set the scene again. Simeon waited his whole life to hold the Christ-child. And now he is in his arms. His life is fulfilled.


Because he has seen God’s salvation for his people.

I’ve never lived in a captured nation. I don’t have any idea of what it is like to live under that oppression. I can’t imagine having 100 soldiers march into my town, going house to house killing all the babies, at the whim of a political leader. I can’t imagine livening in that fear.

For centuries. One nation after another dominating them. Having promises from God you are trying to believe in, only met with silence. Going through the motions of faith, but seeing no salvation.

And then here it is, in a baby.

Because he has seen a light for revelation to the Gentiles.

It’s amazing how much Christian Jews fought Christianity being available for Gentiles, but it’s right here! The baby, the Messiah, was not just for the Jews, but for the people who were oppressing them. Salvation is not just for those who think they are holy, but for those who know they are not. It is offered to all.

Right there, in a baby.

But, that’s not all he sees, or says as he gently, lovingly, adoringly, hands the baby back to his mother and blesses them.

This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many Israel…so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

Simeon knows what will happen when this child grows up, God in the flesh. He knows hearts will be reveals. He knows the sin of his nation, the sin of the whole world, and that not everyone will rejoice as he is currently rejoicing. There are hearts which are sinful, full of pride, and don’t want a Savior. They will reject what he considers to be so precious.

And a sword will piece through your own soul also.

I can imagine Simeon’s eyes piercing Mary’s soul that very moment. She knew what he knew. Motherhood was not going to be easy. Not as Jesus was a child. Not as Jesus was an adult. There would be pain and rejection as he chose his Father’s house, his true heritage.

But no pain would be as great as seeing her beloved son, on a cross, with a sword piercing his side, piercing her soul.

Mary saw God born. She would also see him die.

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…

Simeon – Luke 2:22-29 Waiting a Lifetime

Our church’s advent series is called, “God at First Sight.”

Fanscinating concept, actually seeing God for the first time…being the first people to recognize God in the flesh.

Simeon and Anna waited a lifetime to see a miracle.

There had been generations of silence from God while his people lived in the midst of the consequences of their sin. But it’s never to late.

For Simeon, God promised he would not die until he saw “the Lord’s Christ.”

I don’t know if he kept that revelation a secret deep in his heart, or if he had told others and received the ridicule of unbelief. But it was something for which he lived for, day after day, baby after baby.

I wonder if he volunteered regularly to do the consecration of babies, the first born male, anxious to see if today was the day, holding, wondering, and then gently giving it back, a fatherly smile covering his disappointment. Or maybe his duty for consecration was by lottery, and today was his chosen day.

Anyway you look at it, he had done his share of consecrations with no Messiah. And here comes another day, another line of babies, faces he knew and some, like Mary and Joseph he had never seen. Maybe they were there visiting or registering for the census, who knew? The city was bloated with visitors and I’m sure the temple was also.

But Simeon was a man “moved by the Holy Spirit.” It’s mentioned three times: the Holy Spirit “was on him,” the promise was “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit,” and “moved by the Spirit” he went into the temple courts that day.

And when he saw this baby, this one baby, and everything was different!

He took him into his arms, holding God, incarnate. He had waited his whole life for this moment. And just like Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” Simeon knew his life was complete.

I can only imagine his feelings as he held, God in the flesh.


Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…Joseph, part 3 – Matt 1:24-25

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife but knew her not until she had birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

I love Joseph. He’s a man of action. I can picture him waking up, all indecision gone, racing to the priest to have whatever needed to be completed finished to make Mary his wife. Can’t you imagine the conversation they had that first night together after they were married — Joseph excited about his vision; Mary excited about hers; feeling the life in her belly together; planning their future knowing they have a secret no one else knows.

And that secret would be the salvation of the world.

That secret would instill the faith he would need to protect the boy who was his son, yet wasn’t his son. It would fill him with amazement when 3 kings show up at their humble abode to give gifts to their son. It would conquer fear as they fled to Egypt, ahead of Herod’s swordsmen. It would make him crack a grim when he saw small glimpses of the Holy Spirit in his son. It would give him perspective when they thought they lost twelve year old Jesus when he stayed back in his real “Father’s house.”

Joseph lived with the tension of humanity and the super-natural.

As far as we know, God never spoke to Joseph again. Faithfully he executed everything he knew from that brief encounter with God. We know Joseph protected Jesus, fleeing with him to Egypt, and then creating for him a home in the midst of his own hometown when it might have been easier to go somewhere they were not known. Family heritage was important.

We know Joseph taught Jesus a trade, carpentry, even though he knew Jesus would be the Messiah. And we know that he died before Jesus died, probably before Jesus started his ministry, probably never seeing Jesus do miracles or hear his public teaching.

For years he was faithful to the vision, balancing the tensions, believing in a future.

Lord, help me to be faithful to the vision you have for my life. Help me to balance the tensions of mortality and immortality. Help me to be spiritual and physical at the same time. Amen.

Advent Series: How the Birth of Jesus Impacted…Joseph – part 2 Matthew 1:20-21

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David…

God knew him by name. God knew him by heritage. God knew him by character.

 do not fear…

 The issue was fear – Joseph feared he would do the wrong thing. So God was going to tell him what to do.

 to take Mary as your wife,

Ah, sweet Mary, the love of his life! He doesn’t have to cancel all of their plans! He doesn’t have to divorce her before they were really married. He can still hold her, stroke her hair; tease her as she’s baking bread. She can still be his wife!

 …for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

The crazy story of immaculate conception is true, not just from the lips of his pregnant fiancée, but from the voice of an angel! Mary had her miracle; now Joseph has his.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

It’s the logistics, the details, that brings everything together and satisfies prophecy. Now he knows exactly what to do. Damn the naysayers! Let the gossip flow. He was going to have Mary as his wife, and a son, and a hope for the future not only of himself, but his nation.

Lord, thank you for the times you have confirmed your leading in my life. Thank you for the times you gave me a green light in the midst of confusion and the frustration of trying to figure it out by myself. Lord, thank you for speaking to us, either by angels or by a still small voice in our soul. Amen.

(more on Friday)