The Cast of Advent: December 15 – the Holy Spirit

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The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Oh, that’s right. Over the past few weeks, we’ve considered all kinds of people from priests and laity to patriarchs and prophets to virgins and angels. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten that God is a major player in the advent of Christ!

The Spirit of God was there at creation, empowered judges like Samson and enlivened dry, dead bones when Ezekiel preached. Now the third person of the Trinity overrules the order of creation and makes it possible for a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son. Just when you think you’ve got life figured out, God comes at you in a way you never expected!

We ought never underestimate what God can do. No person is beyond the reach of his grace. No darkness can dim his light. The worst sin has already been atoned for by Jesus’ death on the cross. He is present in the womb and at the death bed. He loves you on your best days and your worst.

Sometimes it feels like a shadow darkens our lives. When that happens, we quickly assume the worst, allowing our fears, doubts and worries to take over our thoughts. But what if that shadow is the Spirit of God? Do you ever stop to consider that the power of the Most High might be overshadowing you?

No shadow can exist without light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Don’t let the shadows fool you. They testify to the light no darkness can overcome, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thank you, Lord, for the light and the shadows in my life. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 14 – Jacob

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The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31,33).

Over her long history, many kings had ruled over Israel, here called the “house of Jacob.” After Jacob wrestled all night with God (Genesis 32), he received a new name: Israel. Some of those kings had been faithful and devout. Others were horrible and brought destruction on the nation. Mary’s son, however, would be the last king they would ever need or have. “Of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Monarchies, empires and dynasties come and go in the pages of world history. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Walmart and Microsoft reign in the marketplace. But they all have beginnings and all will one day come to an end. Broadway shows that play for years and years all have a final performance. Brilliant careers all end in retirement. A kingdom with no end is definitely otherworldly.

And our Lord’s reign also had no beginning. He was on the throne before creation just as he will be there when heaven and earth pass away. Yet he steps into this world with both a birth and a death, events that look like a beginning and an end. His beginning and end, though, testify to his eternal nature. He is not passive in that beginning and end. He actively becomes flesh, willingly allows his death, and then powerfully comes back to life. Those events that limit our lives do not restrict him.

The bible is serious when it says that his steadfast love endures forever. It reaches back into our past, covering all our sins. It extends into a future that has no end. It defines who were are today, too. The eternal king has given us the gift of eternal life.

Lord, let your love, grace and peace rule my life today and every day. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 13 – David

The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:31, 32). 

David’s name comes up in the advent of Christ because of a promise God made a long ago. God promised that he would establish the throne of David’s offspring forever (2 Samuel 7:13). There would only ever be one dynasty in Israel, and it would be the royal line of David. 

It had been a long time since a descendant of David had ruled over God’s people. 586 years to be exact. That’s how many years before this Babylon had invaded and destroyed Jerusalem and deported its inhabitants. While they would return and rebuild the city and its temple, they wouldn’t really have a king again until Jesus. And just like God said, his kingdom would last forever

Wise men would later arrive, seeking to worship the king of the Jews. Jesus would be hailed as king when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Pilate would challenge Jesus, “Are you the king?” 

We usually picture Jesus in a manger, on a cross, with the children, or maybe walking on the water. But do you picture him on a throne? Jesus never really assumes the throne until his ascension. Just before that, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Sounds kingly to me. That picture of Jesus comes to us courtesy of David, a king after God’s own heart. 

Thank you, God, for giving us a king like Jesus. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 12 – the angel who came to Joseph

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“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20,21)

We aren’t told the name of this angel. It may have been Gabriel, messenger to Zechariah and Mary. Or it may have been another. Another who got the short straw. 

How would like to take this message to Joseph? It’s out there to say the least. Even though it goes against every nuance of the law, go ahead and marry Mary. Even though this isn’t your son, he will save his people from their sins. 

I can imagine Joseph waking up the next morning breathing heavy, covered in sweat, thankful that it was just a dream!  Or was it? Was this one of those dreams where God is actually communicating with you? Or your worst nightmare?

The other angel got to announce an answered prayer to Zechariah and God’s favor to Mary. This angel comes to Joseph looking for a favor. “Can you just go ahead and marry her? She’s going to need a husband and he’s going to need a dad.” And that’s exactly what Joseph does. 

I wonder if the angel was relieved that Joseph responded in this way? Imagine if you had to go back to God and report, “He won’t do it.” 

Thanks, Lord, for Joseph’s positive response to an unusual dream and an angel’s words. Amen.  

The Cast of Advent – December 11: Joseph

“When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18,19).

Social media has become a place to shame people (and pets!) for their appearance, beliefs or actions. In a twisted way, we feel better about ourselves if we have put someone else to shame.

On the other hand, you’ve got Joseph. As a “just man,” he knew what he had to do when his fiancé Mary is pregnant and he’s not the father. Old Testament law was clear about how to handle unfaithfulness. He was also a compassionate man, for he decided to divorce her quietly, without any publicity or shame. And he was also a man of faith. Most likely Joseph would endure some shame when people noticed Mary was pregnant. But he knew it was worth it, for he believed this child was from the Holy Spirit, and would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20,21). 

We may endure shame for our faith, too. There are those who will talk down to you because you believe in God, trust in Jesus, and seek to walk in his ways. We quietly endure that shame, for we know what he comes to do and how he can change lives. 

Thank you, Lord, for Joseph’s obedience, compassion and faith that inspires my walk with you. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 10 – Mary

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33)

One day, Mary learns that she had landed a starring role in God’s plan of salvation. She is going to be the mother of the Son of God! This is not a part she auditioned for. This is not a job she applied for. She did not volunteer for this mission. She has no experience in being a mother. Why in the world would God choose her?

The word favor must have something to do with it. The angel said, “You have found favor with God.” Favor is pretty much the same as grace. Mary discovered God’s grace. Grace of course has nothing to do with who we are or what we’ve done. It is God’s undeserved goodness toward us. Mary scored front row seats to God’s amazing gracious plan of salvation for his people.

There are others in the Bible who are “favored.” Noah, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, and Samuel are just a few who discovered that God was gracious and worked through them to save his people.

As those saved by grace through faith, we’re among those whom God “favors.” You and I have great seats from which to see God’s plan of salvation continue to change hearts and lead people to faith. You see, we too get to carry Jesus into this world as we show mercy, forgive those who wrong us, and talk about what the Christ has done for us.

Don’t ever forget that you are one of God’s “favorites” too!

Thank you, Lord, for Mary’s faith and willingness to be your servant. And thanks for your favor in my life. too. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 9 – Elijah

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Here’s what the angel Gabriel said about Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17).

Who was Elijah? He was an Old Testament prophet who infuriated some and blessed others. He called for a three year famine to move God’s people to repentance during the reign of Ahab.  He also miraculously provided for a widow during that time. He wiped out the prophets of Baal after his sacrifice to the true God was consumed with fire from heaven. 

Four hundred years before, Malachi had prophesied, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). Everyone had their eyes peeled for an Elijah-type personality. When he showed up, the Messiah couldn’t be far behind. And then it would finally rain. Or as Jesus put it, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). 

Later, Jesus would help his audience put the pieces together by explaining, “if you are willing to accept it, [John] is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). Not only that, but this is how Jesus identifies himself as the Christ. 

Sometimes we need an Elijah to get our attention, call us to repentance, and turn our hearts to Christ. Thank God for those people in our lives who challenge us, “What are you doing?” Or urge us, “You need to make better choices!” Or even better, “Our God abounds in steadfast love.” 

Who’s your Elijah? For whom might you be an Elijah?

Thank you, Lord, for those Elijah-types in my life, who grab my attention and remind me of you. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 8 – John (the Baptist)

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“You shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

John is a miracle baby. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth had resigned themselves to growing old together with no children. But God had other plans. Well, actually, he had just one plan, and their son John was a part of it. He would make ready a people prepared the for the Lord.

Even before he was born, John was excited about the arrival of the Messiah. As soon as his mom Elizabeth heard Mary say, “Hi!” he leapt for joy in her womb! John’s popularity would soar when he began preaching in the wilderness. “Just wait,” he explained. “Someone much greater than me is coming.”

In what must have seemed like a split-second, John’s ratings plummeted. He was thrown in prison until his head was served up on a platter. But he knew. John knew his life would fade as the Lamb of God was glorified.

He was like the rabbit in a mile race. The rabbit goes out fast to make sure the field runs at a record pace. The rabbit won’t win the race. In fact, he doesn’t even finish. A lap or two in, he steps off the track and a much better runner will break the tape at the finish line.

John knew that. In fact, every time someone spoke to him, he would be reminded of that. The name John means “Yahweh is gracious.” His whole identity was tied up in pointing people to the Lord.

When I remember that Jesus came into this world for me, lived a perfect life for me, died on a cross for me and rose from the dead for me, I remember that I really find my identity in who he is. When I proclaim who he is, I know exactly who I am. I’m a child of God because he is the Son of God.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me of who I am – your dearly loved child. To you be the glory! Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 7 – Gabriel

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“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news” (Luke 1:19). 

Zechariah is incredulous. There is an angel standing by the altar in the temple telling him that he will soon have a son. 

The angel Gabriel is incredulous, too. Zechariah isn’t buying it. He wants more assurance that he isn’t seeing and hearing things. 

I think it’s fascinating to consider what we believe and what we don’t believe. Way too many people fall for the lies of scam artists and phishing emails, willingly giving up sensitive information like social security and credit card numbers. But when God says something, we’re dubious. God’s Word quickly raises questions like, “Are you sure? How do I know I can trust you?” 

The argument quickly comes to an end when Gabriel calls an audible. Or more accurately, an “inaudible.” Gabriel must have had the authority to take the message one step further when he says to Zechariah, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). 

Jesus was right when he warned us about those who come to kill, steal and destroy. We should be very cautious when someone promises us wonderful things. Unless that someone is the Lord, who comes that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

How would your day go differently if you simply took Jesus at his word without reservation?

Thank you, Lord, for your messengers and your message which gives me life. Amen.