Mary’s Story — Love of Advent

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.1, 16
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Luke 1.28
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Reflection: Mary’s Story — Love of Advent
By Erin Newton

These are the matriarchs of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. This is Mary’s story.

Unlike the other matriarchs of Jesus’s lineage, Mary is the focus of a multitude of hymns and prayers. She is the feature of paintings with token blue robes and a golden halo. As the mother of Jesus, she adorns nearly every nativity scene and features prominently in Advent messages.

The angel calls her “highly favored” and Elizabeth heralds her as “blessed among women.” Mary is well-known, famous to be precise. She is the foremost saint in the Catholic church. We know her story well.

Mary is the easiest character to place in the genealogy. Her story doesn’t center around abuse or widowhood. Yet we know she suffered for the task placed upon her. Her husband was not evil like Er, or sickly like Mahlon or Kilion, or murdered like Uriah. But Joseph was tempted to leave her child fatherless.

Her status as an unwed, pregnant young woman was met with skepticism and doubts. She was outcast in some ways—like Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, and Bathsheba. But Joseph stayed by her side, more like a Boaz than a David. No hand was laid upon her body, more loving than Judah or the men of Jericho.

Mary was a Jew. She did not have to struggle with a foreign culture. She could stay among family and provide safe haven for the Messiah inside.

Mary’s greatest asset to the world was her faithfulness. As men had chosen women before for their bodies; Mary was divinely chosen for her faith. Advent paints a rare and shockingly different picture of love.

Her story is unique, being the only divine conception that ever existed. But in some ways, she’s rather typical and expected. Her past is not powerfully redeemed. Her heritage was not amazingly rewritten.

She is well-known and respected. Her presence demands honor and dignity. Her burdens, disadvantages, and crises are seen as a badge of honor for the one who carries God in her womb.

She is the mother of Jesus. Mary, a woman of faith is chosen and honored as one of five women named in Jesus’s family.

In the love of Jesus belong the ordinarily faithful.

God can dramatically transform, and God can dramatically indwell. No matter our story, we belong within the love of Jesus. Advent invites us to a place of belonging.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,… make your way straight before me. — Psalm 5.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 17  (Listen 2:48)
Psalms 119.121-144 (Listen 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 18  (Listen 5:51Psalms 119.145-176 (Listen 15:14)
2 Chronicles 19-20  (Listen 8:09Psalms 120-122 (Listen 2:12)

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Mercy Seat and Manger — Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 3.1
1 Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.

Luke 1.34-38
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.

Reflection: Mercy Seat and Manger — Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

Temples intend to overlap the mundane and the mystical, allowing humans to interact with gods. The holiest place in the Temple was “the mercy seat,” where human guilt was confronted by God’s righteousness and mercy. The Temple site on Mount Moriah was a place of confrontation and sacrifice long before the Temple was built. 

David purchased Araunah’s threshing floor as a place of sacrifice for his own sin. (1 Chronicles 21) David chose plague as punishment, but God stayed the sword of the death angel on the threshing floor. Then David said, “I, the shepherd, have sinned…These are but sheep…let your hand fall on me…do not let this plague remain on your people.”

Abraham was sent to this mountain to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but God stayed his knife, providing a ram in Isaac’s place and fulfilling Abraham’s promise to Isaac as they traveled, “God himself will provide the lamb.” (Genesis 22.8)

John the Baptizer calls Jesus “the lamb of God” (John 1.29, 36) but also describes him as coming “to clear his threshing floor…gather the wheat into his barn, but…burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3.17)

Threshing separates grain from chaff and produces seed and food from grass that would otherwise fade away. It brings life from death. The place where Araunah threshed wheat was a place where the Lord threshed human hearts. It is a place where the holy confronts the unholy. (Isaiah 6.5) In that holiest place, we find mercy and hope.

John says Jesus “tabernacled” among us. (John 1.14) Jesus is where human space overlaps divine space—a Temple that comes to us. Jesus is our mercy seat, the holy one in whom we hope. The mercy seat and the manger represent God’s throne. In the gold-covered room, we glimpse his glory and worth. In the humble manger, he shows us ours.

David met an angel, made a sacrifice, and prepared a place to welcome God’s presence. Generations later, David’s daughter, Mary, did the same to welcome Jesus.

David and Solomon built God a house with rooms covered in gold. Through Mary, Jesus chose to house himself in a poverty-stricken womb.

David, the shepherd, sinned, bringing punishment on his sheep. Jesus, the shepherd, is sinless, taking punishment for his sheep. 

Jesus stays the sword of judgment and knife of sacrifice, providing himself as the lamb.

Jesus threshes life out of death.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 3-4   (Listen 5:42)
Psalms 108-109 (Listen 4:28)

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In the Face of the Impossible

Scripture Focus: Luke 1.18, 34, 37
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
“…no word from God will ever fail.”

Reflection: In the Face of the Impossible
By John Tillman

Luke plunges into visionary tales of the impossible and people who, to one degree or another, expressed doubts, reservations, and fears, and felt themselves unqualified for the task.
Madeleine L’Engle, in her book, Walking on Water marvels at how often God gave glorious visions and impossible tasks to those who were ill equipped.

“We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought it possible to do, from Gideon, to Esther, to Mary. Jacob, one of my favorite characters, certainly wasn’t qualified. He was a liar and a cheat; and yet he was given the extraordinary vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending a ladder which reached from earth to heaven.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Nathanael is given a glimpse of what Jacob saw, or a promise of it, and he wasn’t qualified, either. He was narrow-minded and unimaginative, and when Philip told him that Jesus of Nazareth was the one they sought, his rather cynical response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet it was to Nathanael that Jesus promised the vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending upon the son of man.”

God chooses to do the impossible with the unqualified, to frustrate the wise with the foolish, and to overthrow the strong with the weak. He subverts the systems we rely on and reminds us that our competence is an illusion and his grace shown through us comprises all that is good in the world.

We face the impossible, like Zechariah, when the world sees us as cursed and broken.
We face the impossible, like Mary, when the world strives to keep us powerless and vulnerable.
In the face of the impossible we are forced to keep our faith where it always should have been—on God. We are not qualified, but, L’Engle concludes, God will be glorified.

“In a very real sense, not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.“

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 18 (Listen 3:54)
Luke 1.1-38 (Listen 9:26)

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Madeleine L’Engle was often perplexed at the tendency of scholarly Christians to hold at arm’s length the angels and miracles of the Bible.

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Humility and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 8:22-23
22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Luke 1:46-48
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.

Reflection: Humility and Joy—Joy of Advent
By Erin Newton

Before the group of families began the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra called them to prayer and fasting. They sought God’s protection for the perilous road ahead.

Ezra knew that he could trust God. He had studied all the great acts of God in history. He knew God watched over him and prepared the way. But he also knew of the stories of danger and tragedy in the past. It is one thing to know that God is trustworthy and another thing to step out into the wild world.

Ezra felt the depths of his need for God’s provision. He fasted. He prayed. He denied himself the comfort of food so he could seek God with humility.

Four and a half centuries later, a young girl would begin a journey that would change the course of the world. Mary was chosen to carry the world’s greatest gift. With each step, she walked along a path of faithfulness to her call.

Ezra’s journey was a path back to worship at the newly built temple. Mary’s journey was the unpretentious path from one trimester to another. But Mary did not travel to worship God, he tabernacled within her.

Ezra and Mary sought a spirit of humility as they spoke to God. Both were blessed by the hand of God through miraculous protection.

Humility involves emptying oneself. It requires letting go of our plans and self-confidence. It requires the ability to be misunderstood and uncomfortable.

Ezra and his companions arrived in Jerusalem overloaded with treasures and offerings. For decades in captivity, they had been unable to present sacrifices to God. Nearly 200 animals were sacrificed upon their return. A joyous return to the house of worship.

Mary faithfully carried the incarnate deity within her womb. She laid aside her own plans and became the Lord’s servant. She knew that whatever God said would come to pass and she trusted in that promise.

The joy of Advent requires humility.

The road ahead of us is difficult. There are scars of past trauma and reminders of grief yet healed. We stop every few steps and question the journey itself. Why us? Why this path? We need his eye and hand upon us. 

God’s humble servant, Mary, prayed to God in her womb, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” May we seek God this Advent with humble hearts. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.
He will bring me safely back…God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me. — Psalm 55.17

Today’s Readings
Ezra 8 (Listen 5:40
Revelation 7 (Listen 2:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 9 (Listen 3:19)  Revelation 8 (Listen 2:15)
Ezra 10 (Listen 6:19)  Revelation 9 (Listen 3:30)

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Read more about Saccharine Joy — Joy of Advent
Artificial sweeteners don’t destroy our ability to taste sugar or honey, but our addiction to ecstasy and luxury makes us insensitive to and unsatisfied by true joy.

Devotion and Joy — Joy of Advent

Scripture Focus: Ezra 7:10
10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Luke 1:42-44
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.

Reflection: Devotion and Joy — Joy of Advent
By Erin Newton

The blessing of God continued as the second round of exiles returned to Jerusalem. Leading them was Ezra, a trained priest and scribe. Ezra was well-versed in the Law and trusted to deliver more gold and silver to the Israelites. Under his leadership, they carried their gifts to present before God.

Ezra was not only born into the lineage of the High Priest but devoted himself to learning about God. He committed time and effort. In an age when literacy rates were low, Ezra was among a privileged class who could read and write. His heritage granted him the ability to do what others could not.

This gift of circumstance was shared among his community. As instructed by the king, he taught others about the laws of God.

Each year at Advent, neglected Bibles are opened. Artwork depicting the manger scene covers a few shop windows or appears in yard decorations around town. As a scientific anomaly, the virgin birth is the most well-known aspect of the story. Is that all there is to know?

The story of Jesus is not just about his miraculous conception and mediocre place of birth. Everything about Jesus defies common sense. He is weak when people expect him to be strong. He is friendly when the religious think he should shun. He dies when the disciples expect him to wage war.

The complexity of who God is and how he intervenes in human history has been a subject of study long before Luke wrote his gospel or Ezra returned to Jerusalem.

I imagine Ezra, as he sat in Babylon, studying about the Red Sea crossing. Maybe with the letter from Artaxerxes in one hand and the song of the sea (Exodus 15) in the other, he was about to embark on a similar journey. Both blessed by foreign kings, he too would bring gold and silver to worship God. A joyous journey ahead.

Luke also devoted himself to the study of God. He begins his Gospel with the story of John in utero. Separated by wombs, John leapt for joy at the mere proximity of Jesus.

These stories are known by those who spend time learning about God. It is a story worth more than a highlight reel on major holidays. 

The joy of Advent is knowing him. Devote yourself to know more than his birth. Leap for joy as you draw near.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

Today’s Readings
Ezra 7 (Listen 4:39
Revelation 6 (Listen 3:12)

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Read more about Consolation and Patience — Joy of Advent
The very reason for Christ’s delay is that more may be saved. The greater number of people we bring with us, the greater our joy will be.