Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Magnificat Two

Mary’s worship song takes a turn right after her declaration that “he who is mighty has done great things for me”.  Up to this point Mary was worshipping God remembering all He had done for her.  Now she turns her attention to what God does in general.  The Scripture records go from the first person to the third person.

Mary bookends this part of the song with the theme of God’s mercy.  The names of the bookends extol how God shows His mercy. 

The first bookend is about God’s strength.  Our little GRANDson sings about God’s strength, “our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do”.  The words of that child’s song challenge me.  Do I really believe there is nothing my God cannot do?  I’m living with several unanswered prayers.  It causes me to wonder if God really can do ANYthing.  That thought leads me into Mary's second comment about the proud.

Am I so arrogant or proud as to think that I know the best way for God to answer my prayers?  A few years ago I was listening to a missionary report.  The missionary was telling us about a pastor in the persecuted church who had asked that we NOT pray FOR him, but that we pray WITH him.  His greatest desire was for the advance of the gospel in his country.  Other things like the persecution he lived with was not as important.  My prayers might be asking for lesser things.

Mary's third comment is another aspect of pride.  God brings down the mighty and He exalts the humble.  Mary is thinking about a lot of history as she sings this verse.  But this verse is not just history.  God still is doing this.  And I’m thankful … at least after a while.  I’m thankful for my friend who recently questioned my thinking on a particular scripture passage.  I had cross references lined up to support my proud thought.  As I pondered her question, I came to the conclusion that I really don’t know exactly what God means by this passage.  I need to be humble.  I may not be right!  It was good to admit that to her.

Mary's fourth comment reminds us about how God is able to fill the hungry and deal with the rich.  This contrast tells me that God is the provider and the great equalizer.  He is faithful.  He will meet our needs.  Because of being career missionaries this concept is very real.  Bill and I have no guaranteed salary.  Over the years we have seen God provide faithfully for us.  As a wedding gift one of our friends made a calligraphy print of part of Psalm 84:11 for us.  “… no good thing does the Lord withhold …”.  We have prayed that scripture for the last 38 years.  God is faithful. 

Her last comment is about how God has helped his servant Israel.  God is still in the business of helping.  I’m experiencing that as God answers my almost daily prayer, “God, what would it look like to trust You today?”  I need His help daily. 

And Mary leads us back to the topic of mercy, the bookend. 

These are heavy comments.  Two bookends are needed.  The other bookend that is supporting the mercy bookends is the generation bookend.  Verse 50, “And his mercy is ... from generation to generation”.  Verse 55, “as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  As an adopted child of my heavenly Father, I am one of Abraham’s offspring.  Everything that was true about God for Abraham is true about God for me and for my children and grandchildren and for all the future generations of the children of God.  What an incredible God!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Magnificat - One

I just HAVE to tell you!  I’m so excited I’m about to burst!  REALLY!  Our son just received word that he won the prestigious fellowship he applied for.  J  (I didn’t even know that when I wrote my first draft of this post.  But what a wonderful gift and illustration that is.)  You know, I think that’s how Mary felt after Elizabeth’s affirmation.  She just had to burst into song.  I find it interesting that Mary’s song did not come after Gabriel’s announcement to Mary it came after Elizabeth’s affirmation.  There is something special about the affirmation of a girlfriend … or in this case a female relative.  God, please help me to be an affirming friend to the women I come across today. 

God, through Gabriel and Elizabeth, said to Mary, I love you.
Mary’s response, her song is saying back to God, I love you.  It was worship.

Mary’s song came from the depth of who she was.  She says, “my soul magnifies… my spirit rejoices” in “the Lord” … in “God my Savior”.  In the words Lord and Savior, Mary acknowledges who God is in her life.  Previously she had referred to herself as a servant, this time she speaks of the same relationship only looking at it from God’s side.  He is her Lord.  And like me, Mary needed a Savior.  Like me, God is her Savior.

But it was the next few verses that caused me to burst into song.  Mary says, “for …” or “because” and lists four reasons why she is magnifying and rejoicing in her Lord and Savior.

1.     “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”  When God looked at Mary, He saw humility.  He saw a servant.  Those observations affirmed to Mary His love for her.  My question for me, what does God see when He looks on me and how has God affirmed His love for me today?

2.     “… all generations will call me blessed;”  That started with Elizabeth.  A few chapters later another woman called Mary blessed.  Jesus was there and He responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Luke 11:28.  Both are true.  Mary was blessed.  I can be too.  My question, what do you want me to hear today God so I can trust, so I can respond and so I can be blessed?

3.      “He… has done great things for me,” God was active in Mary’s life.  My question, how have I seen God active in my life this past week?

4.     “… holy is His name.”  This character quality of God seemed to summarize for Mary all that she was experiencing.  My question, what would be the character quality I would ascribe to God as a result of my experience with Him recently?

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Psalm 103:1

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Elizabeth

Mary had just experienced an amazing encounter with an angel.  The angel, Gabriel, had communicated to her that she had found favor with god, would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and her child is the Son of God.  After a few questions, Mary humbly surrendered to Gabriel’s message and Gabriel departed.  I love that Gabriel stayed with her until Mary was able to embrace his message. 

About ten years ago, Bill and I were involved in a marriage counseling intensive.  I remember the first day the counselor saying to us “We don’t know how long the intensive will last, maybe one week, maybe two, maybe a month.  But we will both know when the intensive has done its work”. He was right.  We both knew.  (It was 2 weeks.)  Our counselor stayed with us until we had embraced his message.  Gabriel stayed with Mary until she had embraced his message.  I want to be like that for my friends too.

The next thing recorded for us is that Mary went with haste to visit her relative (cousin?) Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was much older than Mary and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Oh how I identify with Mary at this point.  Having a conversation with an angel must be quite wonderful, but sharing with someone with skin on is so helpful.  Their family relationship gave them a special bond.  Their supernatural pregnancies gave them a special bond.  Their faith in God gave them a special bond.  And I wonder if like me, sometimes Mary needed to process externally.  What a gift Elizabeth was to Mary.

Elizabeth was there.  Elizabeth was available.  Elizabeth was affirming!  Affirmation is a wonderfully powerful gift.  Elizabeth first affirmed Mary’s identity, “Blessed are YOU”.  Gabriel said, “O favored one”.  I am blessed because of my relationship with God.  That blessing speaks of who I was created to be not what I was created to do.  Secondly Elizabeth affirmed that Mary’s baby is also blessed.  Gabriel named the baby Jesus and called him the Son of God.  Jesus is the fruit of Mary’s womb. For Mary, carrying Jesus was living out who God created her to be.  Lastly Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s surrender to God.  Elizabeth voiced to Mary her faith, “blessed is she who believed”.  Gabriel affirmed it by departing from her.  Elizabeth affirmed it with words.

There is something very special about woman-to-woman affirmation.  God used Elizabeth significantly in Mary’s life.  Mary’s Song of Praise, known as the Magnificat is recorded after her time with Elizabeth, not Gabriel.  And in the process, Elizabeth was also blessed.  When Elizabeth greeted Mary, the baby Elizabeth was carrying leaped for joy.  Elizabeth had been hiding her pregnancy for five months.  Was she embarrassed because of her age?  Was she fearful of a miscarriage?  Was it too good to be true?  Did she just want time to savor it with Zechariah?  I don’t know.  But I do know that when Elizabeth affirmed Mary, Elizabeth was also set free to enjoy her pregnancy publicly.  I bet they had a lot of special conversations over the next three months as Mary continued to stay with Elizabeth.

My prayer is, “God, would you please use me like you used Elizabeth to be an instrument of affirmation to the women around me.  Thank you.”

“Blessed is she who believed …”  Luke 1:45

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Ponderings

I enjoy changing the d├ęcor in our home with the seasons.  The basic furniture stays the same, but it’s adornment changes. 

It’s the same way with my time with God.  The basics are the same:  my Bible, my journals, a good book or two that have been ministering to me.  But what I focus on changes.  So with the beginning of Advent, my Word time this year is centering on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  What a gift that her story has been recorded for us!

Mary doesn’t yet know that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant when she is visited by the angel Gabriel with his amazing message.  “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you”. The Bible records that Mary was greatly troubled at the saying.  Gabriel has not said anything to Mary about being pregnant with Jesus yet.  He has just spoken something about her identity and Mary is greatly troubled.  The identity Gabriel gives her speaks of God’s love for her.  I bet Mary was more in tune with being the beloved of Joseph, the soon-to-be bride than being the favored one of God.

My culture has so programmed my identity for me that I too can wonder when someone speaks to me using God’s identity markers for me.  I’m sometimes more in tune with being “the basket lady” rather than the beloved child of my Heavenly Father.  Or even an identity I love, “Mana” (grandma) can be more real to me than my truest identity.

Mary’s response reminds me that I need to listen well to surprise affirmations as they might be from God!  I’m challenged to approach my friends this Christmas with their God-given identities. 

I love Mary’s vulnerability and honesty.  Gabriel continues on with his BIG announcement.  Mary’s first response is a question.  I don’t picture her question as a challenging question but rather a question from what Mary knows is true.  She is a virgin and virgins can’t be pregnant … at least apart from the intervention of God.  Gabriel gently speaks to her wonderings.

This so encourages me.  God is not threatened by my questions.  His answers may not come to me as quickly as Mary’s did but I believe they will come.  Questions are ok.

One other thought and this is a big one for me.  “… you will conceive … and bear a son …”.  Mary is going to bear physical fruit.  My desire is to bear spiritual fruit for God.  These words communicate to me that when I live out of my God-given identity I too will bear fruit. I love Philippians 1:22.  If I go on living out who God created me to be, it will mean fruitful labor for me.  My loose translation. 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  Hebrews 13:2