12/21/13

Three Choices for Christmas

Three Choices for Christmas? What could they be?

Those are the questions I asked when I saw the title of a post by Monica Bass at Ministry 127. Heart Choices Today (HCT) is all about the choices we make - how we want to make choices that align with the heart of God and the Word of God. After I read Monica's post I thought, "I want to reprint this, because it so blessed my own heart and I think it will encourage and challenge others too."

Monica's post is titled, "When Christmas Becomes More Than a Story: 3 Choices for Christmas," and I share it below, with her permission.

Monica wrote ...

To the actors in the original Christmas drama, Christmas was something far larger than a story.
When Gabriel first saluted Mary with the glad tidings that she was selected to give birth to the Messiah, it was not only a dream come true; it was a complete life change. This wasn’t something Mary read once a year before ripping into the presents stacked under the tree—this was reality.

Christmas was more than a story to Mary. It was her life.

Yet somehow, through the grace of God, Mary made three timely choices as her life spun out of her control into the sovereign prophecies of Scripture.

The choices Mary made are within the reach of every child of God. In fact, they are vital.

Trust

Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s visit; I’m shocked by Mary’s response. It seems to me that in the rawness of the moment, she might have questioned, “But what will Joseph think?” or “What will my family say? Can you go explain to them, too?”

But her first question was one of surprised wonder: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Her next response was one of mature faith: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Mary chose to trust
  • when she didn’t know the answers,
  • when she was numb with shock,
  • when every aspect of her future had just been rewritten, and
  • when her world had been shaken beyond her ability to wrap her mind around or sort out.
Her trust demonstrates a key principle:

Submission in an expression of trust.
In that moment, trust was not a reaction; it was a choice. Trust is never passive; it is active—a choice, a decision, an act of faith.

What in your life seems impossible right now? What is it that you know God wants you to do, that He has directed you to do…but all you can say is, “How shall this be, seeing [fill in the blank with visible evidence]”?

Listen carefully to Gabriel’s answer, “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). It’s true; but we have to make the choice to believe it.

Rejoice

Like you, I’ve heard many lessons and sermons that remind us of Mary’s difficulties—an unwed pregnancy, change of life plans, ridicule, fear, etc.

Think about it, though. You only find these difficulties in the narrative of the Christmas story—never from Mary’s mouth.

Mary had every reason to complain…but she didn’t. Instead, she chose to rejoice. Her first words to Elisabeth were a song of praise: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

In my most spiritual moments, my greeting to Elisabeth would have been something more like, “I
want to trust God, but I’m so broken and torn inside. Help comfort me, Elisabeth.” I might not have said it quite like that, but I definitely would have made sure Elisabeth knew all of my reasons to fear.

But just as Mary had every reason to complain, she also had every reason to rejoice! Although the news came in an unexpected way and with unexpected repercussions, she had just learned that she—Mary—would be the mother of the Messiah!

Mary could have justifiably complained or rejoiced…and she chose to rejoice.

To rejoice is a choice.

And it’s a choice God commands us to make: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

I can always find reasons—good, solid reasons—to complain. (And I often do!) But if I take Philippians 4:9 for the command that it is, I can also always find ample reasons to rejoice in the person of Christ.

The choice is ours: We can complain about the very real difficulties of life, or we can choose to rejoice in the very real favor and kindness of God.

Mary’s choice, while not the most natural, seems wisest.

Ponder

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get mechanical about the things I do often. Take singing in church, for example. Sometimes I sing with a heart full of worship. Sometimes I repeat words I know well while I prepare mentally for my next responsibility of the day. December itself has enough responsibility that it is easy for the entire month to turn into something like a grueling marathon of activity and exhaustion.

But Mary engaged in a way that allowed her to experience Christmas with awe and wonder: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Remember, Christmas wasn’t just a story to Mary. And she refused to let it be just an unusual set of circumstances that she experienced, only to move on to the next and less extraordinary events of life.

To Mary, Christmas was marvelous—because she took time to ponder the mysterious workings of God in her life.

But you and I rarely give ourselves the time, space, or quiet to ponder—to think. No wonder Christmas is mechanical! Exhausting. Distracting.

Mary’s stable wasn’t nearly as idyllic as we imagine. There were more than enough distractions in the surrounding hay. And, because she was as human as you and me, I’m sure there were plenty of inner distractions that threatened to hijack the attention of her heart and mind. Yet Mary chose to ponder.

Focus is a choice of the heart.

We must choose to carve out time in which we determine to focus our hearts on worshiping God. The distractions without and the cares within will never voluntarily subside to make room for meditation. We have to choose to shut out the noise and worship Jesus.

Three Choices of Christmas

Mary’s decisions began with the simple choice to trust God, which she expressed through submission to His will.

She continued the path of trust by choosing to rejoice, remembering God’s goodness and favor instead of complaining about the pain.

And her choices were stabilized in her heart as she quietly made room to ponder, meditating on the wondrous events that were unfolding before her eyes.

We, too, will make these choices when we allow Christmas to become more than a story.

Which of these choices is the hardest for you to make? What can you do to change that this year?

Monica Bass is the editor for Striving Together Publications. She is a graduate of West Coast Baptist College and is involved in the student and college ministries of Lancaster Baptist Church. You can follow Monica at her blog,  Stepping in the Light.


Paintings: (1) "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst
(2) "The Visitation" by Sebastiano del Piombo, at the Musée du Louvre, Paris

12/18/13

Four Wonders at Christmas

Wonderful … it’s one of Jesus’ names (Isaiah 9:6). As we gaze upon Jesus – from His birth to His return to heaven – His whole life fills us with wonder.  In 2014, I will focus on the “wonder” missing in much of Christendom and how we can revive the wonder in our own lives.


But I want to start with the things I “wonder” over at Christmas, and specifically, four marvelous wonders of Jesus' birth (though there are many more):

(1)  The Wonder of The Father’s Choice
Jesus’ birth was intentional, to fulfill the promise to rescue fallen mankind (Genesis 3:15). The Father sent the Son “… to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). When the angel told Mary she would bear a son, a special, significant name was supplied for the child (Matthew 1:21; Luke1:32; 2:11). Jesus means “He saves.” 

The wonder of the Father’s choice is wrapped up in His nature. He is sovereign and holy, loving and merciful. Because our Creator is holy (and we are not), we need a Savior. Our Loving Father doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). He sent the Son, because He loves us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). He came for us, and later died for us, when we were most unlovely (Romans 5:8). 

Does your heart fill with wonder that the Father in Heaven loves you so?

(2) The Wonder of the Incarnation
This was Jesus' choice. Think about what Jesus left behind when He came to earth. Pre-existent with the Father, He cooperated with the Father’s will and became a man (Philippians 2:7). He was the Word made flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14).

The “Emmanuel” is God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew1:23). In Christ, God chose to identify with us in our humanity, so He could lift us from the bondage of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Imagine your life, if Jesus had not come. Allow the Lord's presence within you to spark new wonder in your heart.

(3) The Wonder of the Virgin Birth
This involves Mary's choice. She was willing to surrender her own will to God's will in order to fulfill His purposes.

The supernatural birth of Jesus should fill us with the same kind of wonder many reserve for Easter.
Consider the miracle of the Virgin Birth—the coming of the holy Jesus, born of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:26-38). 

Although the deity of this newborn baby was hidden from most of the world, there were clear signs to reveal the mystery of His birth—the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds about where they would discover the “baby in a manger,” and their awe and delight when they found Jesus (Luke2:8-12, 15-18); the worship of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12); and the witness of the multitude of angels singing “Glory to God” (Luke 2:13-14).

Do you believe in the wondrous virgin birth of Christ? Do you recognize the signs of Jesus' deity?

(4) The Wonder of the Gifts Christ Brings
Because Jesus came, we can have eternal life, lasting peace and joy, purpose and so much more. All good gifts from God come through His Son (James 1:17; Romans 8:32).

Christmas is indeed wonder-filled, but only for those with “eyes to see” and hearts to understand the deity of the precious, promised Christ-child. This final wonder involves our choice.

Those who will not recognize Christ miss the life, joy and peace He brings. But Christians can also miss out when they get distracted from the wonder of Christmas, enamored instead with the tinsel and toys rather than the Truth of scripture—the magnitude of God’s love in sending a Savior, His incredible, undeserved mercy and grace. 

It's so easy to be distracted and even overpowered by the celebrations of this season. But remember - it is a "holiday" ... it is a holy day set aside to remember the wonders of what God has done for us. It’s not wrong to celebrate with the traditions of the world, as long as they don’t stamp out the truth of Christmas. As Noel Piper wrote,
“May our decorations, gifts and festivities—or lack of them—never block our view of Him, but always point us toward Him. Only Christ matters” (Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions, Crossway Books, p. 88).
Like Mary, when we experience the wonder of Jesus’ birth and ponder who He is, we will praise our God with a revived heart: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …” (Luke 1:46-47). 

Is that your choice today?