Friday, October 24, 2014

Mary's Song

46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

As Mary is inspired to utter what is called the "Magnificat", we see some significant things about the nature of God. This song of Mary is sung within many liturgical churches, especially with the Roman Catholic and other traditional churches like the Lutheran and Episcopal. It is often used at nightly vespers services. This was one of the earliest Christian hymns in the church. One commentary said this about the Magnificat:

Mary's Magnificat, celebrated only in Luke's Gospel, is one of four hymns, distilled from a collection of early Jewish-Christian canticles, which complement the promise/fulfillment theme of Luke's infancy narrative. These songs are Mary's Magnificat; Zechariah's Benedictus (1:67-79); the angels' Gloria in Excelsis (2:13-14); and Simeon's Nunc Dimittis (2:28-32). In form and content, these four psalms are patterned on the "hymns of praise" in Israel's Psalter. In structure, these songs reflect the compositions of pre-Christian contemporary Jewish hymnology. (Magnificat, Catholic Encyclopedia)

Praise and worship has always been a part of the response to God's revelation to us. Worship always follows what God has done for us in Christ. Notice all the "he has done" in the passage. He has brought down, he has fulfilled, he has helped are a few of the examples. True worship flows upward in response to the downward descent of God the Father in God the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. We read that there are angels in heaven who surround the throne of God with the Lamb in the center, and worship all day long singing, "holy, holy, holy"!

When we worship we are doing something we were created to do. We are going to worship something, the only question is what. That is why on Sunday we call it the "worship" service. We hear God's Word, receive the Sacrament and then respond in prayer and praise. We don't go to church, we go to worship. And we don't just worship on Sunday, but every day of our lives. When Mary received this incredible revelation of how God was going to use her, she could only respond in joyful and thankful worship.

How is your worship life? Have you spent time worshipping God in lieu of what He has done for you? You don't have to wait until Sunday. You can do it right now wherever you are. If you don't know where to start, just begin to list all the things you are thankful for. May our souls glorify The Lord and our Spirit rejoice in all He has done.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Reflection: Yesterday we talked about stepping out in faith, as we hear God's voice and say as Mary said, "May it be to me as you have said, may your word be fulfilled in me!" And we see today that she got ready and hurried to her relative Elizabeth and greeted her. It is not certain whether she is an aunt or cousin, but for sure she is a relative of hers, most likely a cousin. We don't know if Mary has a mom, so there a couple of reasons why she might have went to see her relative.

1. She wanted to see if the prophecy the angel regarding her relative Elizabeth was true. The angel said she was six months pregnant, which squares up with the fact that the baby leapt in Elizabeth's womb when he heard Mary's greeting. Later in life, when the baby had grown up, he would proclaim, "repent for the kingdom of God has drawn near." From the beginning John the Baptist knew Jesus was special, and this also confirmed for Mary what she had heard from the angel.

2. Some suspect that since Mary's mother was not mentioned that she was afraid and alone, with really nowhere to turn. In those days to be pregnant before marriage would have stigmatized her as an immoral women with many negative ramifications. So some think part of it was an escape from all that pressure she would feel, and also the sense of being alone with all that has transpired. Also, we must remember this was no easy journey. 80 miles saddled up to a donkey was no easy road trip. This gives us even more appreciation for the faith of this young teenage girl.

Maybe the reason involves a little bit of both of these. Whatever the case, Mary's faith is rewarded and confirmed when she arrives at her relative's house, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit as she sees Mary. As we mentioned the Holy Spirit is a big theme in Luke, and we certainly see this in the first two chapters of Luke. Elizabeth is overjoyed and this puts together yet another piece in her journey, as she waited until an old age to give birth to a son.

What can we learn from this? First, as we listen to God's voice and act on it, this will often lead to an adventure of the faith-filled life. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and stepping out in faith can lead to abundant blessings in our lives. Notice Mary did not have all the answers but began the 80 mile journey to see if what the angel had told her was true.

Sometimes stepping out in faith is not quite as big as a decision as Mary had to make as a pregnant, young teenage girl. Sometimes it is a little prompting to do something God has called you to do. Maybe to reach out to someone, or a call to deeper level of service of Him. I have found that the more faithful we are in these small steps of faith, the more we are given. And, of course, we need to keep the Holy Scripture as our guide. God would never call us to do something which is not in alignment with His Word. Though he may call us to do something that is not exactly in alignment with what we has planned to do with our lives on our terms.

So a question for you today might be what might God say to you if he knew you were listening? As you continue to ground yourself in His Word and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, you will be challenged to step out in faith just like Mary did. And may we also like Mary said yesterday be able to say, "May it be to me as you have said!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Gabriel makes a second appearance today, this time to the Virgin Mary who was engaged to Joseph. In those days the rules surrounding engagement were very tight so the news that Gabriel shared with her would have been most disturbing to young Mary. Most would she was in her teens, so quite a young age for such a pronouncement. Here are some other observations surrounding the birth narrative of our Lord:

1. Two times the angel says she is favored or found favor with God. Note her favor is accompanied by the statement, The Lord is with you. Favor comes when God is with us. We today have favor as a result of the Holy Spirit being with us and in us.

2. You are to call him "Jesus". This name means "God saves", and is a derivative of Joshua.

3. Jesus is given the throne of his descendant David thus fulfilling the royal covenant given to King David in 1 Samuel. The only difference is Jesus is the last king and will rule forever in God's eternal kingdom.

4. Jacob's descendants are mentioned thus fulfilling the covenant with his grandfather Abraham, that through his line all nations would be blessed. Also this shows us that Jesus' salvation is retroactive to the people of the promise in the Old Testament.

5. When Mary asks how she will do this the angel says, "the Holy Spirit will overshadow you!" This is a good reminder to us that if we are to do anything for God it will be by the Holy Spirit overshadowing our own natural limitations.

6. "For no word from God will ever fail!" It's good to know that though sometimes our words fail, God's never will. So if we are hearing God right and acting on it, we can never fail. That's why when we step out in faith we can see whether something is of God or not. Either it will fail or be successful, depending on if it is in alignment with God's Word. God may have to re-align us sometimes to a proper understanding of His Word.

7. Finally, these are some of the greatest words ever uttered in history. "I am the Lord's servant. May Your word to me be fulfilled." Mary is in the best possible place to be used by God. First she says, "I am the Lord's servant!"
She is ready to do anything necessary to have God's word fulfilled in her. She is not seeking what God can bring her but what she brings to God, her heart and will.

What would it mean for us each day to start out each day and say, "I am the Lord's servant, may Your Word be fulfilled in me today!"? This puts us in the best possible position for the Holy Spirit to overshadow us and bring in Jesus to our world today.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Birth of the John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Reflection: Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple, offering incense before The Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. His name in the original is "Gabor" with the idea of a strong, powerful and intimidating presence. Obviously Zechariah felt that, as he was gripped with fear. The angel, which means messenger, gave him his message. His wife Elizabeth was to give birth, even in her old age. This reminds us of the story of Abraham and Sarah, when they were very old and conceived Issac against all odds.

Not only would this child, which they would name John, be great in the sight of The Lord, but he would call the people back to God. This was the function of the Old Testament prophet, though John would be pointing and leading the way to a far greater prophecy. As the child grew, he would never drink anything fermented and would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. This will be a theme in Luke, as he mentions the Holy Spirit quite often. He also has a concern for women, and uplifts the faith of Elizabeth, who acknowledged that, "The Lord has done this for me." It is one thing to hear a prophecy, it is quite another to believe it has come from The Lord!

As Abraham and Sarah brought in the chosen one, Issac, as a sign of the Promise, so Elizabeth and Zechariah brought in the One who would point to the Promise fulfilled. And while we may not see a Gabriel in our lives, God calls us into the Promise as God's chosen ones. We too are filled with the Holy Spirit, since our spiritual birth. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith and empowers us to work with others to being the Promise to all nations. We are in a sense like John, messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You might say, well I am in my old age, God couldn't use me. Or, I am not religious enough God for to use me. Or I am too young. Whatever excuse you would use, God uses ordinary people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and me and you to bring God's message of forgiveness through His Son. Most importantly may we acknowledge like Elizabeth, "The Lord has done this for me!" Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Introduction of Luke

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Almost all scholars are in agreement that the author of the third gospel is Saint Luke, the physician Paul refers to in Colossians 4:14. It is also assumed that Luke wrote the companion book Acts, although they are separated in order by the Gospel of John. Luke resided in Antioch, where the early believers were first called Christians. The church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to teach and encourage the new Christians there, after a good amount of Gentiles were converted to the Christian faith. Barnabas stayed there initially, then went and got Paul, who was in his home town of Tarsus. This might explain why Paul and Luke went on so many mission trips together. Many times in Acts while Luke is describing the mission and work of Paul, he uses the word "we". Since Paul went to Antioch for a whole year, it makes sense he met Luke there. We also know that Antioch was a hugely important port of the a Northwest tip of the Mediterranean Sea, and even more good reason for God to use an orderly presentation of the Gospel to spread in this strategic location.

Luke starts out the second longest gospel (Luke and Acts represent over 25% of the whole New Testament) with his purpose, which was to give an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. He refers to the eyewitnesses as if he were not one of them. No one has figured out who "Theophilus" is, but His Greek name means "lover of God". He could have been Luke's benefactor, or representative of the Gentile audience Luke was looking to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ. And we see his objective is that Theophilus would be certain of what he has been taught. Notice Theophilus being taught infers he is a person, and a Christian who needed a more formal presentation of the gospel. And again the purpose is that he would be more confident of what he was taught. The great need of new believers is to be taught so they may know the one in whom they have believed. We also call this, "faith seeking understanding".

So welcome aboard as we get on the Lucan train and journey through a faithful presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that has saved we who believe. It is my prayer as we go through Luke that we too, like Theophilus, might know the certainty of what we have been taught. In a world that is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith and teaching, we would do well to be prepared to give the reason for the hope we have within us. On top of that it will give us more confidence in what we believe, so that when trials come, we might stand on and in our faith. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Resurrection Appearances!

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Many believe these last eight verses were added to Mark's gospel because of the awkward transition from verse 8 to verse 9, in chapter 16. Regardless, I am glad they are included. And because we know all of God's word is inspired and useful for teaching, these verses give us much to learn. We see in this story the appearance of Jesus to Mary, and to the two men walking from Emmaus (this story is recorded in Luke), that the eleven disciples (twelve minus Judas) were stubborn and slow to believe. This is consistent with their lack of belief and failure to see the cross as the way Jesus had told them salvation would be accomplished.

But in spite of this, he commissions them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all of Creation. And then he says simply, "whoever believes and baptized will be saved". Notice the combination of belief and baptism. We see this also in the Great Commission where Jesus tells the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all He has commanded. So the question would naturally be does baptism save us? And the answer would be faith in Jesus is what saves us, but baptism is the visible sign of that faith. As Martin Luther said in the Catechism, "it is not water or the amount of water that saves us, but water connected with the Word." And the Word is Jesus Christ, who brings us the Good News, which we believe in by faith.

Finally, we see that those who believe in Jesus, not only are saved by that belief, but will produce signs. These signs done in Jesus' name show that if we believe in a Jesus, we will do many of the same works as He did. Some might say these signs were only relegated to those first generation of believers to kick start the Church. I find that argument pretty hard to buy into. Would that mean only the believers of a certain time get to do the things that Jesus did? I think not. After all does the world today need any less evidence of the power and authority of Jesus' name? I think not!

How about you? Do you see yourself doing the things Jesus did? Why or why not? If we have the power of the Holy Spirit given to us as we believe and are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; how could we expect any less? Something to think about for sure!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jesus Has Risen!

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Reflection: Yesterday we left off with the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who rolled into place the stone for the cave like tomb he had purchased for Jesus as an act of devotion. In similar fashion today, the three women go anoint Jesus' body for similar reasons as Joseph. But as they went to perform their act of devotion to their Lord, they had one very practical question on their minds that day. Who would roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb? We know from all accounts that this was a very large stone and Joseph had likely needed help to roll the stone into the tomb. But instead they saw the stone had been rolled away.

And when they went into the tomb (the tombs were very large so much so that you could walk into them) they saw a young man dressed in a robe. In other passages this is said to be an angel, but not this one in Mark. Generally the commentators think it is an angel because often angels appear to be male, young and vibrant. Some think is a representation of youth and vitality and the eternal state in heaven where nothing decays. Being dressed in white is also consistent with heavenly beings. The white being described as white as snow, just like we have been washed by Jesus and are whiter than snow.

Whatever the case the significance lies in the fact that he is not there and the angels tell them that Jesus the Nazarene (a reference to his human origin), who was crucified is now risen. And importantly they say, "He has gone ahead of you and will meet you in Galilee." I love the saying, "He is ahead of you." Jesus is waiting for the disciples to come to him after the women have told them the Good News. Notice he doesn't go straight to them, but calls them to go to him where they will see him just as he told them.

But it would take one thing for them to go. They would need faith to go and check out whether it was true. The last time they had seen Jesus they had betrayed him in fear. Now Jesus invites them to come to him. What would you have been feeling if you were the disciples? Peter? In other versions we find out that Peter runs to the tomb to inspect the evidence. Yet in this version it ends by saying, "the women were trembling and bewildered and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid!"

This would explain why Mary says to Peter in John 20, "they have taken The Lord out of the tomb and we don't know where they have laid him." What makes these resurrection accounts so believable is that women are the first witnesses of the resurrection. In those days women would have not have have been seen as reliable either personally or in a court of law. So having the women as the first witnesses gives these accounts even more reliability.

And the end of the day we like the disciples are given the challenge, "go and find Jesus, he is ahead of you just like he said." Jesus was excited to reveal himself to these disciples who had forsaken him and given up hope that Jesus was who he said he was. So Jesus invites them to come and see him, and see that He is risen just as he said he would.

Jesus today gives us the invitation to come and investigate whether he is risen from the dead. Many people have written wonderful reasons why the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the greatest proof that Jesus was who he said he was. That he was and is the Son of God. The evidence is there, and maybe like Peter others have reported to you that Jesus has been raised from the dead. But just as Jesus meets each of them as he has gone ahead of them, he meets us as we go to the tomb see it is empty and conclude, "He is Risen, He is risen indeed!"

No matter how much you have denied Jesus in this life, he waits ahead of you calling you to check out the evidence. And just as the disciples went to him in spite of their earthly denial, we too can go to him in faith knowing that he waits for us and welcomes us into His kingdom. Amen.