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. 

The Cast of Advent: December 6 – All the people outside

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“The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense” (Luke 1:10). 

While Zechariah is in the temple, burning incense and having his angelic encounter, Luke tells us that lots of people were outside praying. And praying. And praying. And praying. And finally someone wonders, “What’s taking him so long?” Someone else asks, “What’s he doing in there?” Maybe another said, “I hope nothing happened to him!”

So what could have happened? What might go wrong when a priest enters the holy place of the temple to burn incense on the altar? 

  • Did he pass out, overcome by the smoke?
  • Was he having trouble getting the incense to catch fire? 
  • Was this his first time, so it took a little longer? 
  • Did he drop it and have to get some more incense to burn? 

Any number of things can happen when you are serving at the altar of God. It’s good to have a multitude of people praying for you! A priest – or a pastor – never does his thing apart from the people. It’s not a thing until we are together! The gathered, praying, faithful people of God are always a part of the advent of our Lord. 

I always thank God for those who come to listen to me preach. Without you, I wouldn’t have much to do, would I? 

Thank you, Lord, for our pastors who shepherd us. But thank you too, Lord, for all your people who gather to pray, praise and give you thanks. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 5 – Aaron

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“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth” (Luke 1:5). 

How about that? Elizabeth was a PK – a “pastor’s kid.” At least that’s what we call them now. She was a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the first priest of Israel serving in the tabernacle. Depending on your experience, you might consider that a privilege or you might bear it as a burden. I sure hope my kids experienced the former. 

I think it’s interesting that Luke records this detail. Life can be so different when it is intimately tied to the life of a church or the spiritual life of a nation. People expect a lot of you. People treat you differently. They don’t tell you the good jokes and they often apologize for their language. As if you never said anything like that. They’re always a little intimidated by you, since you’ve got an “in” with God. 

Being childless, I don’t think Elizabeth believed she had an “in” with God. Instead she wondered why God had left her and her husband high and dry when it came to children and a future. What good did it do to grow up in a family of priests and marry a priest if you couldn’t have what you most desired, a family?

Because she was from the “daughters of Aaron,” her son would be in line to be a priest, too. I’m sure many envied her for that. Until John grew up and became a radical preacher on the banks of the Jordan, far from the temple. No one ever said it was easy to be a part of the arrival or “advent” of Christ. 

Thank you Lord that I have an “in” with you by grace. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 4 – Abijah

The altar at St. Mark’s in Ridley Park where I first served

You are probably not familiar with the name Abijah, but he shows up in Luke chapter one as we are introduced to the priest Zechariah.

“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zechariah, of the division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5).

A long time before this, King David had organized the Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, treasurers and priests for service in the temple. The priests, who were of course all descended from Aaron, were organized into twenty-four divisions. Each division would serve for a week two times a year. Zechariah was part of the division of Abijah. Abijah didn’t know it at the time, but he was a part of the story of the advent of Christ!

A priest might only get to enter the temple and burn the incense once or twice in a lifetime, so this was a very important moment for Zechariah. It was made even more memorable when the angel Gabriel suddenly appears at the altar!

In the Sunday School opening for our smallest students, the preschool bunch, everyone wants a turn “serving at the altar,” that is, lighting and putting out the two candles on our small altar. One day, they will all probably get to take a turn serving as acolytes. I loved the moments when it was my turn to serve at the big altar, lighting and extinguishing fourteen candles plus two more on communion Sundays. And even thought I’ve consecrated the elements many times at the altar, I still treasure that moment when God comes to meet with us and feed us with his grace.

Thank you, Lord, for those who serve at the altar and the part they play in the advent of Christ. Amen.