Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s Magnificat

The Magnificat, a woodcut by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (NLT)

Mary’s great song of praise, having grasped the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah, affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.”  Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts. It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith.  Mary neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and was clear-headed about the grace shown to her.

Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless. Mary was quite ordinary for her day. She had no wealth and nothing which would cause anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God. And her wonderful response to grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

What is more, Mary had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field so that all persons have what they need. Her son, the Messiah, would carry this into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

God is full of grace, mercy, and power to those who are powerless and in need of help. The Lord has our backs. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done we would realize the consistent blessing of the Lord. 

I encourage you to take some time today and journal the ways in which God has been good to you in this Advent season, and like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy. Mary exhibited no helplessness but had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.

Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Luke 1:68-79 – All I Want for Christmas Is Peace

Welcome, friends! In a move of incredible mercy, God leaped down and came to live with us, giving us the peace of divine presence. The Word is present and lives among us. Click the videos below and let us worship the Lord for the indescribable gift of peace…

Luke 1:68-79
Zechariah’s Song | Official Music Video (WCC Worship)
May the Peace of God – Kristyn Getty, Margaret Becker, Joanne Hogg

“I leave you peace. It is my own peace I give you. I give you peace in a different way than the world does. So don’t be troubled. Don’t be afraid.” -Jesus (John 14:27, ERV)

All I Want for Christmas Is Peace

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:  to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79, NIV)

This beautiful psalm and prophecy came from the old priest Zechariah. It is a praise to God for the Christ about to be born; and, a prediction of Zechariah’s own son, newly born, as one who will prepare the way for Jesus.  This benediction speaks of better days to come, pointing forward to peace (shalom) spiritually, politically, and relationally.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past the childbearing years.  In fact, Zechariah is portrayed earlier in Luke’s Gospel as something of a stereotypical grump.  After being taken up to the temple in a golf cart because he could walk so well anymore, Zechariah was confronted by an angel and nearly lost his dentures out of fear.  The angel Gabriel told him that his wife would bear a son who will prepare the way of Messiah.  Zechariah then gave a sort of “Hmpff!  That’s not likely, Sonny.  Look at me and my wife.  Are you sure you have the right couple, and the orders in heaven didn’t get screwed up?”

Gabriel was not very keen on being doubted, and it earned Zechariah losing his voice until John the Baptist was born.  It was after Zechariah had nine months to think about that encounter, and experience watching a child grow in his wife’s womb that, after John’s birth, Zechariah was a changed man.  He went from just one of many old priests in Israel, to being inspired by the Spirit and singing the praises of God.  We can almost imagine him acting like Fred Astaire, picking up his cane and dancing with joy.

Nativity of John the Baptist, an Eastern Orthodox icon, 15th century

Our lives are not so different than Zechariah in this respect:  We are a complex concoction of both fear and joy that could combust at any time in either direction.  We sway back and forth from fear and anxiety to joy and gratitude.  Certain words can swing us to one extreme or the other: finances, pandemic, politics, religion, the future.  They can create in us either immediate tension or smiling happiness; tomorrow they might do just the opposite.  Zechariah went from anxious to elated, fearful to joyful.

We live in a toxic world filled with polarizing opposites and entrenched stereotypes of others.  We vacillate between love and hate, pursed lips of anger and dispositions of peace.  So, how do we rise above the heated rhetoric that exists in our world?  How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol? By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus.  Our feet need to be guided in the path of peace.

Jesus came to give peace.  All the words of Zechariah’s inspiration point toward the harmonious peace of salvation, rescue, and forgiveness.  The time was finally coming when there would be peace in its fullest sense – wholeness and thriving in life which was unprecedented and unthinkable before Jesus. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. captured the biblical sense of the word “peace” well when he said, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, tension or war – it is the presence of some positive force, justice, good will, brotherhood.”

We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear.  Instead, we are to focus on what we are called to be and to do.  Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins which enables us to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness, without fear.

Few good things in life just materialize out of thin air. Whether it is losing weight, getting in shape, building trust and relationships, or reaching out to make a difference, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into just about everything of importance.

Peace rarely just happens.  Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus.  And it must be pursued.  Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level.  Yes, obtaining peace is difficult.  Yet, we instinctively know it is worth it.

Spiritual health comes through cultivating the peace of God in our lives. It requires avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive. It depends upon reconciliation and making things right with others. It necessitates pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Rather than focusing solely on problem solving, we need to reframe our situations to a fresh vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, spiritual growth, and relational health.

Zechariah, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving.  The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.”  God has not forgotten his promises.  The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression today, globally. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. And, of course, depression can lead to suicide.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in this calendar year of 2020, figures have been as high as 40% of American adults suffering from either mental health issues, substance abuse, or both. The CDC has also taken notice of the rising figures of suicide in this country, which has been growing steadily for the past thirty years. This year alone, nearly 50,000 people will die by suicide in the United States. Perhaps it goes without saying that large numbers of people lack peace in their lives.

Beginning nearly ten years ago, a new kind of study has come from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report.  Every country in the world is ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life. 

The United States has yet to make the top ten list on happiness.  Even with our vast resources, we are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people.  I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another.  The Report consistently concludes that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of peace and joy in three sources: their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.

It will be hard to find joy in our lives through our Christianity if we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ. Christian liturgical rituals and observances of seasons like Advent help remind us we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are seven practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:

  1. Slow down, pause, breathe, and pray.

Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

2. Exchange fear for the presence of God.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV)

3. Listen to music, sing, or make music yourself.

Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, ERV)

4. Have a “go to” word, phrase, or Scripture verse. One of my tried and true verses:

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)

5. Unplug for a time and close your eyes. Closing your eyes reduces visual distractions and allowing for better focus. Several studies have shown that closing the eyes is the simplest way to change your state of mind. 

We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NCV)

6. Use some aromatherapy and activate your sense of smell. When you slow down to smell something, you tend to breathe more deeply which slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure. And this allows us to give off a peaceful scent.

Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, MSG)

7. Say “no” and set healthy boundaries.

Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So, she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There is only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, GW)

May the peace of Christ guide you into the path of peace and be with you, now and forever.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 – Being Confident

Our Lord, I will sing
    of your love forever.
Everyone yet to be born
    will hear me praise
    your faithfulness.
I will tell them,
“God’s love
    can always be trusted,
    and his faithfulness lasts
    as long as the heavens.”

You said, “David, my servant,
    is my chosen one,
    and this is the agreement
    I made with him:
David, one of your descendants
    will always be king….”

In a vision, you once said
    to your faithful followers:
“I have helped a mighty hero.
    I chose him from my people
    and made him famous.
David, my servant, is the one
    I chose to be king,
    and I will always be there
    to help and strengthen him.

No enemy will outsmart David,
    and he won’t be defeated
    by any hateful people.
I will strike down and crush
    his troublesome enemies.
He will always be able
    to depend on my love,
    and I will make him strong
    with my own power.
I will let him rule the lands
    across the rivers and seas.
He will say to me,
‘You are my Father
    and my God,
    as well as the mighty rock
    where I am safe.’” (CEV)

I wonder where the world places its confidence. I also sometimes wonder where the church places her confidence. Poverty, injustice, starvation, human rights violations, and war have existed throughout time. We all recognize these and the awful problems they are for so many people. It is, however, quite another thing when it comes to our confidence in addressing them and how they will ever be eradicated.

If we view these great humanitarian issues as a matter of ignorance, we will pursue education as the means of tackling them. If we discern them as political issues, we will seek to elect officials who will take them on, and we will lobby to make things different. If we understand them as moral issues, we will agitate for change and speak prophetically into what we believe to be the sources of the problems. In truth, each of these approaches have merit and are necessary components to a full orbed attention of their multifaceted and complicated nature.

For the pious and devout, the ultimate confidence comes in basic faith and trust of the Divine. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love are the solid foundation from which the believer constructs her hope and confidence.

The psalmist is not one bit bashful in reminding God of divine promises. God swore to King David that his descendants would rule forever. At the time the psalmist crafted these words, it was not looking much like those promises were having any attention from the Lord.

The David spoken of in the psalm is interpreted in the Christian tradition as Jesus. King David of old was certainly no perfect man, and the psalmist presents an idealized version, looking ahead to messianic qualities of a coming Ruler. Those qualities include a concern for the common good of all persons without striving for personal power or being aloof; and an ability to be victorious over foes.

Advent, much like today’s Psalm, calls on people to rely upon and have confidence in divine promises – even when those promises seem far from being realized. It is the trust and hope of the faithful which perseveres in prayer for a coming redemption and a day when wars shall cease, the rights of people are thoroughly met, starvation eradicated, injustice turned to justice, and poverty done away with once for all. In other words, a sinless world free from the machinations of evil.

It is no small thing holding on to our confidence as believers when circumstances all around us are askew and askance. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews had this to say to a struggling church who had a hard time seeing future promises fulfilled:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39, NIV)

We keep going by remembering God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and our past joy of committed faith. Then, like psalmist, we allow a song to bubble up and be sung about divine goodness. Never underestimate the power of memory and music to keep us on track toward living each day in faith and confidence.

May you be able to sing of God’s love forever.

May you give voice to God’s faithfulness.

May you express daily affirmations of faith in God.

May you bank on the promises of God.

May your faith be strengthened for the rigors of this life.

May your hope overflow.

May the love of God work in and through you to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever by Encounter Worship Band.