DAY 25

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

// John 1:14-18

As we spend this day with loved ones, sharing gifts, food and memories, we should also take a moment to think of the gift God gave to the whole world, and thank Him for what it means. God’s greatest gift to us came wrapped in flesh and innocence, sparkling with promise and prophecy, given away as a ransom to a people that would despise and reject Him, all for the sake of saving a wayward world.  

But it doesn’t stop at salvation. Salvation is not an event but an ongoing, growing reality. And what salvation gives us – what Jesus is inside of us – is the key to how He saves us, and how, through us, He continues to save the world.

The miracle of Christmas is the miracle of the Incarnation. We have celebrated this Incarnation through the term Advent – a coming into being – but it is not only Jesus’ incarnation that Advent points to, or that the Scriptures reveal to us in the Gospels. His Advent is our own; His glorious Incarnation is our own. When we trust in Him for salvation, it is not a one-off event but the beginning of a whole new life – an incarnate life lived out daily. He incarnates Himself in us and we, by faith, live His life daily here on earth. We get to display His innocence, His purity, His childlike faith, His unfailing love, His unbroken trust, His relentless hope – we do this every day when we choose to let His incarnate life shine through our lives. 

When we trust Him daily, and as we continue to become more like Him, we show the world that the miracle of His incarnation was not a one-time event that occurred 2,000 years ago, but it’s an ongoing experience for the whole world. Every day, everywhere, the Incarnation continues to unfold. Every part of the world is under the growing influence of the miracle of the Incarnation, as more people give their lives to Jesus and more people become more like Him.

Every day, everywhere, the Word is continuing to become flesh, continuing to dwell among us. The Incarnation has no end!

Everywhere we go, Jesus is incarnating Himself and living out His life on earth. Daniel saw this miracle as a little pebble that grew into a mountain and filled the whole earth. Each of us are but a pebble of that mountain, the mountain of His life and faith in us, growing to fill the earth and bring His message to all: “Peace on earth, good will to all, for with all He is well pleased.”

DAY 24

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

// John 1:29-34

While it may seem odd that we have jumped from the Nativity scene to Jesus’ baptism, the narrative we’ve been exploring wasn’t only about Jesus’ birth, but also John the Baptist’s. What’s more, this is the first time in Scripture that John knows for certain his second cousin is the Christ, the Lamb of God. Imagine the humility John had to look at his own cousin, with whom he’d probably grown up and spent Passover, Sukkoth and family gatherings, and see Him as the Lamb of God. That kind of vision only comes from true humility, which involves being teachable and possessing the excitable eyes of a child. 

So why, this Christmas Eve, would we focus on this passage, of all passages? Because we all are called to see Him as the Lamb of God. Like John, we’re to see and bear witness that “this is the Son of God,” remembering that when we see Him, we become more like Him. The Apostle John also said, “…We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). So if we will see Him as the Lamb, we too will become like lambs before Him. If we open our eyes to behold the Innocent Christ Child, we too will become as innocent children. To see Him is to be purified by Him, to become just as pure as He is.

This Christmas Eve, as we turn our attention to feasting and celebrating with loved ones, we add another thought into the mix: how do I most want to see Jesus right now? Who do I most want to be in this upcoming year? Where we feel things lacking in ourselves, or in our experience of Him, that’s what we should ask for. That’s what we should look for Him to be. Jesus is the greatest gift the Father could give us: He made Jesus a Present to us, so that His Presence would always be with us and He’d become our Immanuel.

If we show up before Him in worship, look for Him by revelation of all that He is, the Spirit of God promises to transform us into a mirrored reflection of what we see in Jesus. So let’s go to Him and kneel down and cry out to see Him as the Lamb, so that we might become His lambs; let’s see Him as an Everlasting Father, so that we might become His own everlasting children; in Him let’s see the Prince of Peace so that we, ourselves, become peacemakers.

Come, let us welcome Him into our lives, and let Him be all He wants to be for and in us. Come, let us bring to Him all that we have, as we recognize that in Him the Father has given us all that He had. Come, let us regain our innocence and our childlike wonder, as we kneel to worship in awe of all the Father esteems, wrapped up in the flesh of an Innocent Son. Come, let us adore Him.

DAY 23

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

// Matthew 2:19-23

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, meaning “House of Bread”, which was the birthplace of David and his father, Jesse. But Jesus was raised in Nazareth, which means “the Branch” or “shoot/sprout." There is a prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 that says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

Matthew places an emphasis on the geography of Jesus’ life because he wanted to show His Jewish readership how perfectly and completely Jesus fulfilled all that was prophesied, proving Him to be the Messiah: Jesus was born in Bethlehem – the stump and root of David’s family tree – but grew up as a Branch or Shoot in Nazareth. And God devised all the details of Jesus' life to help us all believe that Jesus really is the Promised One. God sent angels and dreams to Joseph to be sure that Jesus would be born in the right place, then exiled to Egypt just like the Hebrews had been, and then raised as a Branch from the lineage of Jesse in a town called “the Branch.” Isn’t our God so clever?

This very clever series of events demonstrates and assures us that God is committed to getting us where we need to be in life so that we’ll thrive and bear fruit. It will require living in humility and obscurity, at times, if our greatness and the greatness of His call is to be revealed in our lives – neither Bethlehem nor Nazareth were thriving metropolises of the ancient world, but rather obscure podunk towns. But if we will live according to God’s desire for us – lives lived in humility always, in obscurity sometimes – then our lives will be filled with the greatness of who He is.

When we follow His leading like Joseph did, our lives will fulfill the prophetic desires He has for us and we will grow great in faith before His eyes. In the world, we assume that great people do great things; but in Heaven’s eyes, those with great faith can do extraordinary things, and they can do them while living in quite obscure places.
 
True faith – childlike trust coupled with great humility – can do far more to fulfill the plan of God on earth than the world’s view of ‘greatness’ ever will. Great faith does great things.

DAY 22

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

// Matthew 2:13-18

Even as a two-year-old, Jesus’ life story was touched by oppressive powers when He was subject, along with His family, to displacement, terror and threats of death. The journey by which our God came to save us was anything but easy.

When Jesus came to earth He voluntarily made Himself so vulnerable – what could be more vulnerable than a baby being hunted to be killed? – so that He could feel, know and relate to our pain. Our God exchanged His Heavenly rights to be close to us, to be in the depths of our fear, our struggles and our desperation alongside us. He traded it all in so that He can truly say, “I know how you feel.”

The Advent story includes and bears relevance to people of every social standing – from ‘wise men’ who can afford expensive gifts, to the pregnant teen, the barren, the homeless, the obscure, the impoverished, the widowed and now the refugee. He loves us – all of us. No one is exempt and no-one is too far away. His story of ‘coming into being’ is one of the most humble, most scandalous, most obscure of beginnings so the we know none of our stories are too complex or twisted or marred for Him. The Lord stands with the humble; He is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

He’s the God we can trust. He’s seen life from both sides. He knows well – first hand – the human condition and what it’s like to be at the very bottom. He also knows what it is to reign victorious over evil and to see the world from Heaven’s perspective. He knows the way out of every situation and every circumstance – He knows the end of the story, He knows what’s best for us, He knows how to save us, He knows the way to our victory: Jesus.

His protection is in His words. He calls us out of dangerous and dark places where harm can come for us. And when God speaks we must have the courage to immediately obey – for Joseph and Mary it meant rising in the middle of the night to flee the country, and for us it may mean a change equally as challenging, dramatic or terrifying.

His ‘coming into being’ is for all of us. It’s good news for every people group, every individual and every circumstance. It includes everyone – absolutely no-one is excluded. Jesus Christ stands with anyone who’s ever been affected by discrimination or tarred by stigma. And He calls us too, to stand with them – the marginalized, the oppressed, the crushed in spirit – on His behalf, to show them the truth of His great love.

DAY 21

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

// Matthew 2:7-12

There’s a song that says, “Shine in our hearts, Jesus, beautiful Star; lead us to where you are.” We are called by the Father to follow Jesus’ Star to where He is, so that we can bow down and adore Him. He should be the principal Star that excites our interest, draws out our fascination and leaves us star struck. If we are to become as He is, like John the Apostle encourages us, then we have to ask ourselves how childlike we are willing to become in order to find Him. Childlikeness involves fascination, wonder, awe and an incredible imaginative capacity. It takes true humility and uninhibited faith.

These wise men, these Magi, came from the East to find the Child, which His Star declared, because they were fascinated and filled with wonder. Like Abraham, they left Persian lands to head West, looking for they knew not what, all because they were fascinated by the arrival – the Advent – of a new Star. Scholars believe it took about two years from the time they first saw His Star until they beheld Him for themselves, and that their journey from Persia to Bethlehem would have taken at least a month on foot. How many of us would be willing to go out wandering into unknown lands because we’d caught a glimpse of something fascinating?

And what’s more, these Magi weren’t devout Jews living afar from Judea, but they were heathens and pagans. They were Zoroastrian priests who practiced astrology and magic. They knew little of the true God or of any prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, His Son. (There’s actually reasonable evidence to suggest they may have read of a coming Messiah from their sacred texts, because the Magi were from the same lands where Daniel was exiled, where he had taught the magicians – the Magi – of Babylon how to interpret prophetic messages.) And yet, they were fascinated by what His Star told them and they knew Him to be a great King, so they struck out to find Him, to see if these things were true.

They came prepared to worship Him: they came with their treasures, they came with joy-filled hearts, they came ready to welcome Him into their world. Unlike the shepherds, who met Him as an infant, these Magi had the joy of seeing a wily toddler of two years, and in Him they could see a King worthy of their awe and their treasures. Once they found Him, their sense of awe and wonder wasn’t disappointed.

When we read the story of the ancient Magi, it raises some crucial questions for us even today: do we have a sense of awe of Him? Do we let that awe drive us to find Him and fall to our knees and worship Him? How childlike is our wonder? How fascinated are our hearts? Let the Advent of Christ capture your imagination this Christmas season, sparking your fascination and your childlike sense of wonder.

DAY 20

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

// Matthew 2:1-6

“For we saw His star rise…” What a beautiful image. These Magi saw the rising, the advent, of another’s star and knew Him to have been born a king. They came prepared to worship Him, to recognize His kingship and to seek Him out.

When the Lord first visited Abraham and promised that he would be the father of many nations, He took him out into the night, turned his gaze upwards and asked him to count the stars. Is it any wonder, then, that these men from Persia, living close to where Abraham had emigrated from thousands of years earlier, were found looking up into the night sky to behold His star, and then set out along the same trajectory that Abraham had taken to find the King he had been promised?

We can learn something so powerful from these Magi: they were looking up into the heavens for understanding, direction and inspiration for their lives on earth. Sure, in the most literal way, they were simply staring into the night sky, but this episode shows us the importance of looking into Heaven to see what it will reveal to us about the King and where we should seek Him. 

When our eyes are fixed on Heaven we become men and women of faith, like our father of faith, Abraham. When we behold Heaven’s plan for our lives on earth, we will set out to walk an unfamiliar path, heading in an unfamiliar direction, in order to seek out God’s newly-born purpose for us, wrapped up in the unusual packaging of humility. It takes a humble heart to gaze into Heaven, to lift our eyes up and away from our own strength, our own efforts and the power of our hands’ abilities. It takes courage, when we’ve seen His Rising Star and heard the call to seek Him out, to strike out by faith into the unknown.

Like the Magi, we will find ourselves journeying toward Bethlehem – a no-name small town in the backwaters of Judea (think “Fargo, North Dakota”) – to kneel before and behold the King. And when we walk by faith we can be assured, though our pursuit of them may lead us to Bethlehem, that we will also find the King and His purposes hidden there, in the obscurity. 

Here’s the great mystery: Bethlehem means “House of Bread,” and in Jesus’ ministry He stood up and called Himself the Bread of Heaven (see John 6). When our eyes are fixed on Heaven, we will see that God has made provision; it may take great humility to journey toward obscurity in order to find it, but that provision is His very own Bread from Heaven – Bread that gives us His Everlasting Life. When we are willing to lift our eyes to the Lord, we are assured that He will always provide for us. It may just take profound humility to kneel down and find it.

DAY 19

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

// Luke 2:36-37

Anna had seen heartache in her life. Having lost her husband after only seven years of marriage, Anna spent the majority of her life – close to 60 years – alone, as a widow, no doubt impoverished and underprivileged, at the very bottom of the social ladder. Of anyone, Anna had reason to turn her back on God. She was a woman with seemingly nothing to her name. But she was also one who knew: Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

Devastation – the death of a loved one, the loss of livelihood, prolonged isolation – can lead us in one of two directions. It can make us either run from God or run to Him. We can blame God for our circumstances, hold Him responsible, shut Him out and curse His name. But this short glimpse of Anna’s life shows us an alternative. In fact, she goes to the other extreme.

We’re told that Anna never left the temple. Day and night she would be there, and not just on the sidelines but serving with all hear heart, with passionate prayer and sacrificial fasting. Even without the Bible at her disposal and well before the redeeming work of Christ had been completed, Anna was steadfast – fanatical, even – in her faith in God. Her perseverance, consistency and dedication are obvious from Luke’s description. But 60 years of spending every day at the temple, praying and fasting, doesn’t seem like a regular service to God. And it isn’t.

Anna allowed her adverse circumstances to propel her towards God. She dedicated her life to serving the God who turns mourning into dancing and sorrow into joy, who exchanges beauty for ashes, who causes the cup of the impoverished to overflow. Anna found out the truth: when God is all we have, He’s all we need.

Anna’s story provides us with one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s faithfulness: as she was faithful throughout her life and stayed at her post, serving in the temple, God was faithful to come to her. Despite her obscure circumstances, Anna’s name went down in history. He used her to bring His message of redemption to many and still uses her example to teach us, some 2000 years later, to be resolute in our faith in the Faithful One.

DAY 18

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed  and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

// Luke 2:25-35

In this passage, Simeon received a remarkable promise and experienced a remarkable event, when the Holy Spirit told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. As well as its literal meaning, this promise also includes an allegorical one: you won’t see death until you look at the Christ. Jesus came expressly to become our salvation, which would include His own death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit was promising to Simeon that when he looked at Jesus, looked at the Lord’s salvation for the world, he would see that His death would end all sin, death and shame for humanity, for all time. The death of the power of Death was written into the face of an innocent Infant, only a few days old.

Notice how Simeon got to the Temple. He didn’t walk to it, he didn’t take a camel or a horse, nor did he have the luxury of the MTA as an option. No, he took a different mode of transit all together. The Lord repeated with Simeon what He did with Ezekiel: He transported him from where he was in Jerusalem to the Temple, where he could find the Christ. So Simeon was just having a coffee on a Tuesday in a Jerusalem cafe and the next moment he found himself in the courtyard of the Temple with the Holy Spirit. He was simply, supernaturally transported. Now that’s a good Tuesday!

What can we learn from Simeon’s part of this narrative? Firstly, we each have a promise to see the Lord’s salvation, if we will look for it in the most unlikely form of packaging. For Simeon, it was in the face of an Infant. Secondly, the Lord will get us from where we are to where we need to be, in a split second, in order to fulfill His promises to us. We need only to trust Him and live devoutly to Him, and we can be assured we will always get to where we need to be to see Jesus and receive the fulfillment of God’s promises. 

Lastly, when our eyes are opened, as were Simeon’s, we will see the consequences of receiving Christ into our lives. His arrival in our world will mean that everything shifts: some will rise due to humility, some will fall over their own pride, and our lives lived by faith in Christ will uncover the secret thoughts of the hearts of all around us. In other words, to follow Christ is to create an unsanitized scandal all around us. But this can be a good thing: others, too, will see His salvation revealed in the unlikely “packaging” of our faces and lives.

DAY 17

And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

// Luke 2:21-24

Jesus was only eight days old when He was circumcised, as the Mosaic Law prescribed. The number eight, in the Scriptures, speaks of new beginnings and circumcision speaks of consecration. According to Mosaic Law, the firstborn male that opens the womb belongs to the Lord and is consecrated as holy to Him. That means Christ, as revealed here, becomes the Lord’s own, because when God gave Moses the Law He was thinking of how His Son would come to fulfill and satisfy the Law.

Whenever God does a new thing in our lives He is offering to us a new beginning, and it’s always meant to consecrate us to Himself. His new work brings us afresh to a place of being wholly His, which means all of our problems, pain and difficulties, as well as our victories and our obedience, all belong to Him. He doesn’t just consecrate us, but also all that concerns us. All of it becomes holy to the Lord, which means all of our mess and our triumphs become wholly His. That’s good news!

Jesus was Mary’s firstborn child and also a son, which means He was born holy to the Lord. According to Paul, when we are born again we are born into Jesus, and there we remain. Why does that matter? Because all we need to do in order to be holy is to be born into Christ – He who came as the Spotless Lamb, by nature, and was consecrated holy to the Lord, by law. Jesus is both legally and by nature holy; when we are born again, we get in on His deal. We are holy by birth, not by actions. That means we can’t do anything to lose our holiness and blamelessness in the eyes of God.

Can we mess up and sin? Sure. Can we live unholy lives? Yup. But who would want to do that when we really understand the Good News of the Gospel, which is simply this: Jesus was born holy to God and we were re-born in Jesus, and there’s nothing we can do to undo it. Jesus is holiness itself, incarnate in flesh, and so by our new births we are too. 

We are born holy when we are born again, so we have no reason to carry about shame, fear or sin, because now we’re too occupied with journeying into God’s heart to understand His great gift of salvation, given to us in Christ. His salvation in us gives us a brand new start, and we re-start as holy before Him.

DAY 16

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

// Luke 2:15-20

So these ragtag shepherds leap up and run toward Bethlehem, and are then face the arduous task of searching all the stables and barns in town for, of all things, a couple with a newborn child. The passage says that “they found their way,” which means they didn’t know where they were going, but had to seek until they found. Sounds familiar to us, right? Isn’t that the whole message of the Gospel summed up in these two ideas: we are searching for God and don’t know where to look; He is looking for us and, in fact, knows exactly where to find us, so He announces, “Look here! Look right here at Jesus!” That’s the Gospel, in a nutshell. 

And what do we find when we look for Him? We find a Child – an innocent Child who is helpless and dependent. But why do we first find the Lord this way, rather than as a conquering King or a meek carpenter? Perhaps we find Him in the way in which He wants to find us: innocent, in need of help and care, lovable and made sacred by the Father’s love. We find Him in the way that He intends to make us: a newborn Child, with a whole new life before them – one that is to be filled with the display of the Father’s love.

And think about this: outside of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zacharias, who knew about this prophesied birth? No-one. But they knew, for sure, that Jesus was to be born and that He was the Son of God. So, why were the first public outsiders to see the Messiah shepherds? Think about the lineage from which Jesus descended: from a shepherd boy named David, who was plucked from obscurity while doing the most thankless, low-class job around, to have Samuel prophesy to him that he was to be a king.

So when we search for a great King, one like David or Jesus, we shouldn’t look to palaces but among wasteland hills, where shepherds ply their trade unnoticed; and to the interior of a stinky stable, replete with putrid animal waste, wherein lies a Child. There will we discover the newfound cause of wonder and awe in our lives. And if we are wise, like Mary, we will treasure all of these things, pondering them in our hearts.

The more we recover childlike innocence, the more our sense of wonder and awe will increase.

DAY 15

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

// Luke 2:8-14

Ahh, the great heraldic announcement to the shepherds. Don’t we have this moment of the Advent story so burned into our memories? Some angels burst onto the scene in the dark of the night, some bewildered shepherds look up in awe as the troop of heavenly messengers sing their announcement, and then the night skies close up, leaving some rustic men and sheep to arise and go seek the heralded Child. Easy narrative, yes? What more is there to say?

Well, for starters, this whole announcement begins with just one angel, and it’s not until his speech concludes that we see the fabled angelic choir. Secondly, we don’t seem to pay much attention to the angel’s message or to the chorus line of the choir. If we look closely we see the Gospel is written for us, right there in plain sight. Essentially, they say: “God has some good news for you guys, which is that a Savior, the Messiah Himself, has just been born. And by the way, God is enthroned above all, yes! But He’s happy with humans, He likes humans, and to prove it He has sent His Son, the Prince of Peace, the One in whom He is well-pleased, to demonstrate how pleased He is with all of you.”
 
Does that message push up against how we feel, or what we assume the Lord is like toward us? Don’t we – especially when we screw up – get mad at ourselves or others and assume the Lord must feel that way, but magnified to the extreme? If we take the angelic announcement as “Gospel truth” – and we should because that’s what it is – we see the exact opposite: God isn’t mad or sad where we’re concerned, but quite happy. In fact, He is “well pleased,” so much so that He sent His angels to tell us He wants to make peace with all people who think wrongly about Him.

And what did the troop of angels tell the shepherds to look for? A child, wrapped in rags (not nice Carter’s onesies) and lying in a cow's feeding trough. They weren’t looking for a great King but a great Child, born in an unusual way. And it’d take some humility, some childlike imagination, to peer into the face of a newborn and behold the Greatest King who would ever live. 

DAY 14

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

// Luke 2:1-7

The census of the entire Roman Empire was taken mainly for taxation purposes; the Caesar of the day was accounting for all the people over whom he ruled to ensure the future wealth of his empire. Meanwhile, a seemingly meaningless subplot was happening with an unknown Jewish couple from the family heritage of King David. By this time, many generations after David, Joseph and Mary would not have been feeling very royal. They were nomads, now driven back to Joseph’s old hometown to register for the census, and Mary was heavily pregnant with a mystery Child.
 
The writer of this gospel, Luke, does not describe in detail where Joseph and Mary looked for accommodation. We can assume, though, that many of Joseph’s relatives would have still been living in Bethlehem, as was the tight-knit family tradition within Semitic culture. It’s strange that Joseph was not living in his hometown in the first place, but stranger still that, upon his return with a very heavily pregnant Mary, they were not received into the home of a family member or a neighbor in all of the town. It’s clear that this pregnancy was frowned upon, with its confusing set of circumstances and no clear explanation as to who the father was. Joseph was now the illegitimate husband of an illegitimate wife, who was the mother of an illegitimate, unborn child.
 
Imagine the anxiety, the stress, the confusion, the fear. There must have been much dismay as the couple knocked on door after door, only to be told there was no room for them to rest, nor to birth their Child. The town would have been very full with the occurrence of the census, the streets hot, busy, dusty and dirty. The nights would have been cold, lonely, dangerous and dark, and Joseph and Mary were desperate to find shelter.
 
Mary and Joseph knew that God was up to something, but they couldn’t yet see what we now know to be God’s huge and wonderful plan. From the outside it looked like they were in Bethlehem due to political circumstances, but God was at work, fulfilling His own prophetic word that His Son was to be born in a stable in a town called Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would have felt rejected, isolated and forgotten, not even being accepted in their hometown. Their rejection became their baby’s rejection; seemingly without His choice, this Child was being pushed into the most unique and isolated scene for a birth. The rejection of God by man had been going on since the very beginning, but this time it was different. Although they didn’t realize it, the people were again rejecting the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings. In a politically charged time in history with much oppression from all sides, here enters the Great Deliverer of humanity and he is welcomed by almost no-one. It was in God’s great manifold wisdom that He revealed His endless love through the rejection and weakness of man.
 
Still in His mother’s womb, the fullness of God dwelling inside a young girl, rejected by society. There was no home that would receive Jesus, to bring the birth of freedom for all of humanity.
 
Jesus knows rejection well. He knows anxiety – He felt His mother’s while in the womb. We know from medical science that a baby senses the stress hormones of its mother as they’re received via the placenta. The fetus’ developing brain receives this signal and interprets that there must be serious stresses in the external environment.
 
From the very start, Jesus placed Himself in the middle of our hurt and pain; He was born in the presence of our stress, He felt the fear of a desperate mother and the worry of a homeless father.

This young couple found a stable, Mary went into labor and so, amid tears of pain, rejection from society and fear of the unknown, she gave birth to Perfect Love. Perfect Love was born in the midst of human fear. And so it began, the day Perfect Love came to earth and drove out fear – and fear had no where to run. Perfect Love, Jesus. Oh, how great is His Love. Oh, how wonderful is His name. Oh, we cry out like a mother in labor, and in the middle of our pain and brokenness He is born into our lives, bringing joy, life and freedom, washing away our tears of pain and fear, replacing them with tears of joy. For unto us a Child is born. Perfect love drives out all fear. Welcome this Perfect Love into the inner most parts of who you are this day, this Christmas season.

DAY 13

But as he considered these things, behold, 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.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

// Matthew 1:20-25

The nativity narrative is punctuated with prophetic dreams, angelic encounters and supernatural events, telling us that the supernatural is perhaps a lot more natural than we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps it connects us to the truth we are pursuing throughout Advent: that we are now as pure, holy, innocent and blameless as He is. Christ came to be those things – not just for us, but also in us. He has incarnated Himself in us so that His name, Immanuel, is a truth that defines our new lives in Him.

So if the life of Jesus – its beginning and its entirety – was naturally supernatural, then it’s natural that Gabriel would show up in Joseph’s dream, explain the situation to him and tell him how heaven saw things working out. Everything God does in our lives, even when our circumstances cry “scandal” or “disrepute,” eventually reveals itself as born of Him. In the natural a situation might look more like a stable than a palace, but if we shut our natural eyes and let the Spirit of God open our spiritual eyes, we will have dreams, visions and God-inspired imaginations to see our situations as He does. He’ll show us He’s building a dwelling place, a royal palace, in our lives.

It is possible, in the midst of shame or fear, to rejoice and quickly obey, once we identify the things that the Spirit has birthed in us. When we do, like Joseph, we become privy to a great secret: that which God puts in us grows. It grows large, and it takes over our lives and displaces the shame and fear we once knew. What better way to divvy out salvation than to plant it right in the midst of fear, sin and darkness, and stand back to watch it grow to fullness, overthrowing everything else.

There’s no better way to rid a room of darkness than to place a lamp in its center, plug it in and turn it on. That’s what Jesus does for us – He comes right into the middle of our brokenness and shows Himself to be the very wholeness we need. We cannot claim to be broken after the One named Salvation has brought all of His wholeness into our lives. Perhaps we should just learn to bask in the Light that He is, rather than fearing the darkness will come back again. Just as Gabriel told Joseph the Lord tells us: “Do not fear."

DAY 12

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother 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

"Being just a man…” What a statement – one we can all relate to. When God asks big things of us or puts us in situations that are way over our heads, we can feel a little of what Joseph felt at this time. Sometimes we tend to romanticize the Gospels in such a way that makes us miss the very human, frail moments of these real characters, but they were people, just like us. 

Because the Semitic tradition of marriage began with engagement, not the nuptial ceremony itself, Joseph would have been considered as married to Mary, but not yet consummated with her. So, technically and culturally, Mary would’ve been seen as an adulteress, and this event would’ve been common knowledge to their neighboring villagers, who all lived in an agrarian society.  

Joseph was obviously an honorable guy, but still, he was just a guy. In his culture, the most honorable option left for him was to resolve to quietly divorce Mary. To stay married to her and to build a family together would have been a shameful thing for both families involved. At this stage, Joseph was unaware of the divine involvement of God Himself. What looked like a disaster for him and his family, a shameful and embarrassing moment, was actually the greatest moment for all of humanity, including Joseph.  

Salvation, or the welcoming of Christ into our lives, can be very similar to Joseph’s experience of welcoming this new baby. It’s never ideal, convenient or logical. Like Joseph, we have nothing to do with it – at this stage he played absolutely no role in bringing this baby into the world. God's arrival usually causes us a level of shame in front of others, a feeling of embarrassment about believing in an invisible God, or confusion about how it even came about.  

Joseph’s family, friends and neighboring villagers would have wanted an explanation for Mary’s pregnancy and he had none – not yet anyway. Sometimes the hardest thing for us is being associated with other believers. Joseph’s association with Mary was threatening his own reputation and his future within his community. In the same way, being planted in and part of Christian community can be trying, and our reputations are all wrapped up together in many ways. But through the mess and the unknown God always has a plan.  

We may plan to quietly divorce our community or remove ourselves from a difficult situation, but God desires for us to see there is more to every situation than we first realize. It’s in the remaining, in our connection to the unknown, that the world will be astonished. It may not have been clear to those around Joseph for some time, but it did become very clear over time that his eventual decision to stay with Mary was for a greater purpose than the protection of his own reputation.

Whether we feel like Mary – pregnant with great hope and joy – or like Joseph – trying to understand what’s happening, as the invisible God starts to impact our lives – it’s normal to feel like “just a woman” or “just a man” with human emotions and weaknesses. It’s these normal, human responses that allow God’s not-so-normal glory to shine through our lives the most.

DAY 11

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant—
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—
Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;
To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

// Luke 1:67-80

After Zacharias regained his powers of speech he immediately praised God, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. When faith enters our hearts, we can be like Mary or Elizabeth who, at the sound of the announcement of a promise alone, rejoiced and prophesied. Or we can be like Zacharias who, once he'd lost the muteness of doubt and his tongue was loosened by fresh-born faith, praised and prophesied, even when only looking at the small beginnings of something world-changing, as John and Jesus would be. 
 
Zacharias’ life is instructive to us in two ways: firstly, when we have doubt in our hearts, to God it sounds like muteness. This may, in fact, be a good thing, because when our heart is full of doubt the Lord doesn’t want to attend to the doubtful things we say. So to Him it just sounds like we went mute for a time and lost the ability to speak. This is a mercy, because we know that faith pleases God, so we only want Him to hear our faith-filled words. Our doubt doesn’t register to God. That could be cause enough to rejoice – for do we really want Him to remember what we said in our doubting moments?
 
Secondly, the instant his tongue was loosed, because faith was flowering in his heart, Zacharias prophesied. There are so many utterances of prophecy and supernatural events that mark the lead up to the birth of Christ. Revelation 19:6 tells us, “The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.” So whenever Jesus comes around, there will be prophecy. It’s how we know He’s come, it’s how we know that He is moving and is active in our lives. If Jesus is with you – He is Immanuel, “God with us” – then you can bet there will be prophecy. Prophecy is His testimony: it’s what He sees, what He hears, what He expects.
 
When our lives seem a mess, when we face difficulties and tests, do we want Jesus to just say, “There, there,” pat us sympathetically on the back, and move on with His day? Or would we like to know what He wants to say or do? To walk with Jesus is to follow in the slipstream of the Gracious One, who prophesies who He sees us to be, what we have the potential to do and what He dreams about for our lives. To be with the Good Shepherd is to hear His Prophetic Voice and learn, by faith, to say what He says about ourselves (and others) and to do what He is doing. Because of Him we can stand in the mess of our stables and have a promise to hold onto, instead of having despair in our hearts and doubt on our lips.

DAY 10

Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.

// Luke 1:57-66

God’s timing is perfect. Here in this passage we see the promised arrival of baby John. His parents, we have learned, were very pious, devout people, but they still had to learn to wait upon God and trust His timing for the arrival of their baby. As we wait for the promises of God, He does a lot more in our lives than we realize. Zach and Elizabeth’s waiting period was difficult, but we see that not only were their lives transformed in the waiting process and at the delivery of this baby, but God’s character and mercy were also displayed. It was because of this waiting time that God’s glory was seen in such a powerful way, not just by this couple but also by their neighbors.  

Their friends and family were also amazed by Zach’s agreement with the unexpected change of the baby’s name to John. Not only was it unexpected because of family tradition, but also because Zach was thought to be deaf as well as mute. We see that the people were using sign language to communicate with him and he used the first-known iPad to write, “His name is John,” so it was truly astonishing that he chose the same name as Elizabeth. But everyone was even more amazed when God then loosened Zach’s tongue, and he began to speak and praise God! It was clear now that this was no ordinary moment and no ordinary child, but God was up to something. Obedience is the quickest way to hear from God again and to find our voice.

If everything happened on our timing and schedule, we would not become the people God has destined us to be. The name Zacharias means "the Lord has remembered." This is God showing us that He never forgets his promises. We may feel, in the waiting period, that God has left us on our own or forgotten about us, but He never forgets. John is a very prophetic name, which means "the Lord has been gracious." John’s birth and his name are prophesying the coming of God’s grace for all of humanity. It’s a picture that God has not forgotten us in our brokenness, that He will not leave us in our pain and separation but by His grace He will bring us new life. Grace was on its way to these people and to the entire human race.  

Are there things in our lives for which we’ve been waiting and feel like God has forgotten His promise to us? We have the opportunity to take a step back and ask the Lord this Advent to reveal what He is doing in our hearts and lives while we wait. In the waiting time it’s easy to feel silenced or forgotten, but God has not forgotten you. When the perfect time comes the promise will come. It’s in the waiting time we learn that what we really need is not just a promise fulfilled – we need the Promise Keeper.

DAY 9

And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

// Luke 1:46-56

This famed passage has been called “The Magnificant” because of how Mary magnifies the Lord for what He has done in her life. This Magnificant reveals the state of Mary’s heart, and we have much to learn from Mary.
 
Humility
This song of Mary’s is replete with magnifying the Lord for how He treats those who humble themselves before Him. According to Mary, the humble gain His regard, receive His great mercy and arise by His hand to a place of exaltation. When we praise, when we celebrate, we exalt ourselves in Him – we lift ourselves up and arise in all that He is. He, in turn, raises us up to the place where He has called us to live. Our praise of Him demonstrates our humility before Him; the humble praise Him because they can see that He has lowered Himself to lift them up. Who wouldn’t praise a God like that?
 
Praise
Mary’s Magnificant also shows us how to magnify the Lord, how to increase Him in our view. To magnify Him in our eyes we praise Him: we exalt Him, we lift Him up. When we see Him “high and lifted up” like Isaiah did, we are lifted up too; praise has the power to elevate us to be seated beside Him. With a new, better vantage point from which to see Him, He is made larger in our eyes than we’ve previously seen Him to be.
 
Perspective
Magnification and exaltation is all about perspective and vantage point. It’s not that God gets bigger, and it’s actually not that we need to get smaller – He bows low to exalt the humble, which means we, in fact, get bigger. But when we magnify Him and we start to see just how big He really is, it enlarges our hearts. He increases in our eyes and we decrease, in that we lose ourselves in the exaltation of all that He is. We lose our wrong perspectives and gain His perspective.
 
This is how grace changes us. He raises us up to see Him differently, and better. The larger He is in our experience, the bigger we become in Him and the more we grow in Christlikeness. Just as Mary was able to magnify the Father when the Christ Child was still so small in her womb, so must we learn to praise God as He does the smallest of things in us. Our praise of Him helps facilitate His growing influence in our lives. 
 
Sometimes, in our process of growth in the Lord, it takes a while for us to see visible evidence of what He is doing in us. But that doesn’t mean we cannot still magnify the Lord’s goodness and exalt ourselves in Him. This Advent we can choose to say, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior”. 

DAY 8

Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

// Luke 1:39-45

Forget the blue headdress, the holy stars around her head, the rosy cheeks and the sallow, skyward gaze. Replace the mental image of stained glass widow, fishbowl-halo Mary with a cast member of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. That’s more like it.

At this point in the Advent story Mary is essentially a pregnant teenage runaway from a middle-of-nowhere small town. She’s seen as a disgrace to her family, undoubtedly the subject of small-town gossip, cutting rumors and judgmental whispers, and is sent to live with her older, more respectable cousin, Elizabeth. 

Living honorably and with clear conscience before God, Luke tells us, Elizabeth becomes Mary’s safe place of shelter, encouragement and sheer joy in a time of need. In stark contrast to the world outside, Elizabeth is overjoyed about Mary’s pregnancy and, filled with the Holy Spirit, she sings, gives thanks and glorifies God for the seemingly crazy situation going on in Mary’s womb. She blesses Mary, honoring her for being courageous and unwavering in her faith in God’s words, and counts herself as privileged to be able to host Mary in her home. 

We, the Church, are often referred to as God’s children. As such, we are all connected in the Spirit – we’re siblings, if you will, older and younger, within His family. Elizabeth shows us a prime example of what it is to be a good older sibling in God’s family and a tower of strength for those in need:

  • That we would carry ourselves with honor and live with clear conscience before God.
  • That we would provide others with a safe place of comfort, shelter, positivity, joy & love.
  • That we would encourage [fill with courage] those who the world would condemn.
  • That we would be generous, counting it as a privilege to bless others.
  • That we’d be filled with the Spirit, able to see and confirm God’s hand at work.
  • That we would understand that the complexities of life are no match for the plans and purposes of Almighty God.

Whether we’ve grown up knowing God as our Father of if we’ve been adopted into His family more recently, we are all older siblings in the House of God. May the story of Elizabeth and Mary infiltrate our hearts, our homes, our friendships, our families and our Dinner Parties.

DAY 7

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

// Luke 1:34-38

The Lord, in His kindness, does not announce to us a new or unusual thing that He will do without simultaneously encouraging us to look at what He has already done. In order to build Mary’s faith and ground His prophecy in the truth that “nothing will be impossible with God,” Gabriel pointed out what the Holy Spirit had already accomplished in her cousin Elizabeth. When the Lord promises to do a new thing in our lives, He will point to what He has done in others’, so that whatever “mustard seed” of faith we already have present in us will be watered and able to grow by the testimony of His work. 

Mary’s question, unlike Zacharias’, speaks of faith, which itself is instructive: we can present to the Lord our questions, from a place of faith, and the Lord will dialogue with us. He wants to build up our faith and, as we see time and again in the Gospels, one way He does that is by opening Himself up to our questions – even encouraging them. The Lord has no problem with us taking stock of the impossibility of a situation in our lives, so long as we are also open to taking stock of the testimony of His power at work in our past and in the lives of others. There is power in seeing that He has already done great things, that He is doing great things now, and that He will do more great things in the future. 

When we respond like Mary, when we say “may it be done to me according to Your word,” we welcome the new and unusual work of God into our lives. It’s not our job to see to its accomplishment, but it is up to us whether we accept or reject that which the Lord offers to do in and for us. When we open ourselves to Him, we open up to receive the “power of the Most High” to overshadow us and birth within us the “holy Child.” 

Thinking about what was promised to Mary – that she’d bear a holy Child – in relation to her reply, “may it be done to me according to your word,” it’s easy to see why God chose her to carry Jesus. Her trust and faith in what God would do, in the marvel that He’d accomplish in and through her, is childlike and thus powerful. It’s that childlike faith that revealed an innocent and holy heart in her – one very much like the Child she’d bear for all.

Because she was childlike in her faith, Mary was able to bear the holy Child. Perhaps we should see in this a litmus test: the more childlike our faith, the more we will bear the innocence of the holy Child, Christ, so that others can see Him in us.

DAY 6

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 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 name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

// Luke 1:26-33

It’s important to understand that the Semitic culture of Mary's day held very different views of marriage than we do today. We think of an engagement as pliable: one can enter into the contract to marry and also to break it off if things go awry. But in that day, once you were engaged you were legally married; it’s just that, until the wedding day itself, there would be no consummation of the marriage. So for Mary to be with child during her engagement to Joseph meant she’d have been seen as an adulteress in the eyes of fellow villagers and neighbors. They’d have thought that either she and Joseph had shacked up or she'd slept with a man who was not her betrothed husband. We know from Moses’ Law that the penalty for such behavior was death by stoning.

Mary, in short, was a dead woman walking from the moment Gabriel announced to her this Immaculate Conception. The Bearer of the world’s innocence would have His birth besmirched by scandal; His mother stigmatized much in the way we see Hester Prynne labeled (literally) in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It’s for this exact reason that we find the Jews always asking Jesus later in life, “Who is your father?” for they knew well the tale of His notorious birth. They might not have had Twitter back then, but gossip has always had its very swift feet.

So, within that context does Gabriel announce to Mary that she would bear the Son of the Most High. Think about that: salvation was promised to come through a stigmatized woman, and eternal life would emerge from a body marked for being stoned to death. God wrapped His Son in a scandal and embedded Him in the body of a woman who seemed, to all, to be an adulteress. The promise of innocence was to be found in the very heart of a scandal.

So what does this say of how the Lord sees our shame? What does He see when He looks at the scandal of our sinfulness? When our social reputations swell up with the public scorn of our failure, when it seems obvious to all just how ruinous our sins have been to our misshapen lives, when our lives seem pregnant with sin and death, do we ask what He sees? What do we see growing within us: sin or Christ? Do we push past the ridicule to see His truth about ourselves, that we’ve been re-made in His image – innocent, blameless and above reproach?

Perhaps it’s time we gained fresh eyes in order to see what He sees, to behold the Christ Child growing in our hearts, displacing our sin and shame with His own glory.