Joseph – Quiet Strength & Commitment

The Holy Family – Artist Unknown

The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-19 (CSB)

While reading the Gospel of Matthew, my thoughts wandered to Joseph and the emotional upheaval he must have experienced upon discovering Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. Contemplating the disappointment and uncertainty that arise when our plans diverge from God’s plan, I marveled at Joseph’s reaction.

In a society where he had the legal right, according to the law of Moses, to have Mary stoned for adultery, Joseph’s response was unexpectedly compassionate. Instead of exposing Mary to public disgrace, he chose a quieter path, walking away with a shattered heart rather than seeking her harm. The compassion in his natural reaction closely resembles that of The Father’s compassion towards us. Surely, this is why he was chosen to be the earthly father of our Lord Jesus.

As I get older, Joseph is easily becoming my favorite “character” in the Christmas story. His quiet obedience speaks volumes and stirs my own faith. While we acknowledge Mary’s obedience and understand Joseph’s role in staying with Mary, raising Jesus, and imparting his trade to him, it’s crucial to pause and reflect on the enormity of what Joseph was asked to do.

An upstanding man in the community, Joseph was asked to risk his reputation to raise a child that was not biologically his; in fact, he was asked to believe that this baby was God’s Son! The pressure of being asked to guide and protect the very Son of our Creator adds extraordinary dimension to Joseph’s role. He wasn’t just called to raise Mary’s child but to safeguard the Savior of the entire world. This included journeys to Bethlehem while Mary was with child and later fleeing to Egypt to shield Jesus from King Herod’s threat (Matthew 2:13-20). Without Joseph’s protective presence shielding them from danger, who’s to say what could have happened to Mary and Jesus?

Joseph’s obedience isn’t a grand spectacle like Jesus’ glory or Mary’s sacrifice. Instead, it’s found in the steady, quiet steps of a simple “yes.” It’s a willingness to step back and humbly submit to another’s call. In Joseph’s case, he became the sturdy foundation of the holy family, ensuring that Mary had everything she needed to fulfill her calling. Let’s not allow Joseph’s obedience to fade into the background. May our own faith and response to God’s call, and the calls on the lives of those around us, be anything but ordinary.

As we reflect on Christ’s birth, we recognize that each person in the story carries a message for the Church today. Looking at Joseph, I find inspiration in his quiet strength and unwavering commitment to God’s plan. May this same spirit reside in us.

Father, thank You that we get to know about Christ’s birth and that You have a message for your Church today wrapped in each one of the people involved in the story. As we look at Joseph, I am inspired by his quiet strength and his unwavering commitment to Your plan. Do that in us, Lord. Help us to walk more like Joseph. May the Holy Spirit fill us so much that integrity, compassion, humility, and willingness to serve You flourish like wildflowers at the river. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Mary – Joy in Giving

Mary Sings to Jesus, by Mike Moyers, Digital Illustration For Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary
By Ascension Press © Mike Moyers 2019

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ 12‬:1‬-2‬ ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Not too long ago, I found myself happily committing to a task for someone I care about. I knew it would take me ages to complete, and though I was paid, it wasn’t really for the money. I was happy because my friend was happy. However, weeks into the project, not even halfway through, I found myself grumbling. Shamefully, more than once. The turning point came when I heard the soft yet strong voice of Holy Spirit, questioning, “Wait a minute now, why did you start this to begin with?”
“To make my friend happy,” I replied.
“Then why are you complaining about the details? You knew the cost, calculated it, and still chose to give the gift of your time.”

I fell silent internally, and my mouth clamped shut. I repented for my attitude and my words spoken and the ones I had selfishly thought but not yet spoken. Holy Spirit was, of course, right. I had lost joy in my giving.
When I held my first child in my arms, he was only a few months old at Christmas time, and I found myself wondering, as I have many times since if Mary ever lost joy in her giving.

Reflecting on moments of giving, I thought about Mary, who carried a life and surrendered herself entirely, her whole person. And her commitment wasn’t just from 9 am to 5 pm. And it wasn’t only for the waking hours. No, her commitment was a 24/7 “yes” for 9 months. That’s 280 days!

I wonder if, during any of her many restless pregnant nights, when she had to get up to pee, again, did she wonder if all of this was worth it. Did she stop mid-task, stretch her strained back, wipe away the abundance of sweat in the most uncomfortable places, and think, “How much longer?” Did she groan with pain in the work of bringing our Lord into the world and think, “Why did I say yes?!”
As lovers of Jesus, we may enthusiastically say “yes” to the Lord, knowing the cost, but harbor regret and a desire to repent (go another direction) when we find ourselves groaning from the actual labor we committed to. Maybe Mary was better than me. I like to think so. And since the Word doesn’t mention it either way, we can reasonably conclude Mary maintained her joy, trusting God would honor her for her gift, even when tired or sore.

For Mary to maintain her joy, she must have keyed into the wisdom of God’s Word: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you (we) may discern what is the will of God—what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” His good and perfect will doesn’t always come through easy avenues. Rather, it is achieved through rough terrain and requires us to harness both mind and body to focus on His ways and not our own. This calls for the constant renewal of our thoughts and the attitude of our hearts, allowing us to experience His joy when we find ourselves within His good and perfect will.
Mary’s “yes” symbolized a profound gift—she offered her body as a home for our Savior. Every ounce of her time, energy, and being was devoted to bringing Immanuel, God with us, into our lives. What an extraordinary gift!

Celebrating Christmas can, and in our culture often does, turn into a chore. While some commitments may serve as enjoyable distractions, a handful encapsulate the true spirit of Christmas. In the coming month, a multitude of opportunities will arise for us to give gifts and dedicate ourselves to a plethora of worthy causes and joyful occasions. It may be having that lonely neighbor over for a Christmas feast or stopping to take care of a person you see in need. You may be late and rushing off to Christmas Eve service and see a family with a flat or in need of a battery boost.

Brothers and sisters, if you come to your wit’s end or find yourself weary and achy, it’s crucial to remember, even in fatigue, to present your body, renew your mind, and experience the joy and gift of aligning with God’s good and perfect will.

Mary – The Mother of Jesus

Mother and Child, by Mike Moyers, Digital Illustration For Rejoice!, An Advent Pilgrimage Into the Heart of Scripture – Year A
By Ascension Press © Mike Moyers 2022

When we contemplate Jesus, we recognize Him as God’s Son—the most significant person ever born on Earth. Equally, He was Mary’s son. Mary, chosen to carry the Son of God in her womb, must have been extraordinary. God bestowed upon her the most profound gift, knowing her heart to be one of humility, courage, and righteousness. Her fearlessness to face multiple tests is evident.

Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery; a woman in Mary’s situation would have faced stoning. And what was Mary’s situation? She was a pregnant woman who was unmarried. Can you fathom the thoughts that raced through Mary’s mind as she proceeded with God’s plan? What was she thinking when the angel Gabriel proclaimed her blessed and favored by God, destined to conceive the Son of God through divine impregnation?

The Gospel of Luke provides insight into Mary’s thoughts. In Luke Chapter 1, Mary asks, “How can this be?” Her mind was greatly troubled and disturbed, wondering about the nature of Gabriel’s greeting. I’m sure she wondered how she could be picked for this amazing event, but also how? How would she become pregnant without intimacy with a man? Amidst her questions and puzzlement, she said yes, declaring, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

I wonder if she had doubts about what had just happened and what would happen. After Gabriel’s departure, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who, in her old age, was also pregnant through an act of God. As Mary approached, Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy, confirming the reality of the extraordinary event. Mary’s doubt dissipated; it was happening just as Gabriel had said. This was the confirmation. There was no going back. It was real.

Can you imagine what it was like when Mary told Joseph? I believe he was shocked and afraid. Should he still marry her? Matthews’s gospel tells us he was going to divorce her privately. This was so no harm would come to her. Surely, Mary began to doubt Joseph’s trust, devotion, and love for her. But God brought him into alignment through a dream, leading them to marry and eventually travel to Bethlehem, where Mary was ready to give birth. Even under these unbelievable circumstances, Joseph stayed by her side. Joseph’s incredibly generous gift of loyalty and devotion must have helped Mary overcome any fear or doubt that had crept in.

In the humble setting of a stable, Jesus was born. If I were Mary, I would have wondered how the child she bore could really be the Son of God. How could God’s son be born in a stable, not a palace? Even with everything Mary had experienced thus far, could there be reason to doubt once again? But then at their doorstep stood shepherds and later wise men from afar, proclaiming Jesus, her son, to be the Savior Israel had long been awaiting.

Throughout moments of doubt, God remained faithful to Mary, bringing others into her life and gifting her with faith. Mary, a wise woman, must have had the confidence to proceed after Gabriel’s visit, knowing God’s plan extended beyond Jesus’s birth. But God used others to help her faith along the way.

Luke 2:19 tells us Mary treasured and pondered everything in her heart. It makes me wonder if she knew more was to come. When Mary and Joseph had Jesus dedicated at the Temple, in accordance with Jewish Law and practice, they were approached by a man named Simeon. Simeon told Mary of Jesus’s destiny and the sword that would pierce Mary’s soul. Despite not comprehending all her son would face or accomplish, God sent people to Mary to declare His purposes and will for His son, providing her with faith for the future.

Mary was indeed a woman of faith, courage, and honor. She accepted God’s invitation to bear His son. If she had not, who knows what might have happened? But the gift of her life and faith, which impacts every believer, is one we should emulate. Amidst doubt and uncertainty, like Mary, we can choose to trust. So, as we celebrate Christmas this year, it is fitting to remember and honor Mary. Let’s give thanks to God for her life and her story. Her story, not merely a tale, was a real girl’s life, recorded under the direction of the Holy Spirit and shared with us to encourage our faith.

Take a moment to reflect on the people whom God has brought into your life to encourage your faith. Have there been those who faced similar challenges, letting you know that you are not alone? Think about those who remained steadfast and devoted during uncertain times. Were there moments when people unexpectedly appeared, dispelling doubt just when you needed it? Reflect on those who uplift you with encouraging words and speak into the possibilities of your future. Take a pause and express your gratitude. Consider reaching out to them to let them know.

Also, consider how you can be a source of encouragement for others. How can you lead a life that produces faith in those around you? Together, let’s trust God for extraordinary things and miraculous possibilities—both for ourselves and for one another. Just as Mary responded to God’s call with, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said,” let’s embrace a spirit of willingness and faith.

How God Changed This Grinch Heart!

How God Changed This Grinch Heart!

“Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came though, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two.”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

So it’s here again.  Christmas time is here.  So let’s crank up that Bing Crosby or the Michael Bublé version of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. Like it or not, it’s here.  Even with all the online shopping , the stores will still be bustling with people searching for that one gift that their loved one can’t live without. 

This time of year is so different from all the others.  There is just something about Christmas. All the stores and city streets are decorated with Christmas cheer.  You see it everywhere you go.  Driving in the neighborhoods you see it as well.  The neighborhoods turn into a competition for the unspoken champion of the light displays.  From the simple blow up Santa and reindeer to the full fledged computer generated, syncopated light and music extravaganza.   The cars driving down the road with the Christmas trees securely tied to the roof.  The conversation in the car goes something like this, “Oh I’m sure this huge tree is not too big for our living room.”  The families get home and try not to fight over how to properly decorate the newly purchased tree.  Ah…. Christmas.  

But wait, what about Jesus?  Did we forget about Jesus?  My conclusion in the past was to get angry about the “commercialization” of Christmas.  Santa, the reindeer, the lights, decorations, the trees, and the gifts, what does all this have to do with the birth of the Savior of the world?  I used to get so mad about it, but much like the Grinch I have had a change of heart.  Now I look at it quite differently.  Do I wish there would be a greater demonstration of the birth of Jesus? Of course I do. That would be nice for sure, but maybe I could look at it all in a different way.  My realization came while shopping in a store one Christmas.  I was looking for a gift for my wife when I realized I was hearing “Silent Night” playing on the speakers throughout the store.  I stopped and listened to the words and was reminded in the middle of that store decorated with Santa and the elves, Christmas trees and twinkling lights, the reason why everything was decorated was to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Maybe no one in that store had that realization, but I did.  In that moment I made up my mind to look at all the decorations differently.  I could get mad or I could use all of the fanfare of the Christmas season to remind me of why Christmas is important to me.  

And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Luke 2:8-12

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Now I enjoy the season in a new and profound way.  Whenever I see all the twinkling lights I think about Jesus being the light of the world and how He shines His light into my own darkness.  When I see the Christmas tree, I think of the life of God that I have in me because of what happened in that little town of Bethlehem.  When I receive that gift from a loved one I think of the ultimate gift from the One who loves me the most. When I hear “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”  I think of the joy that is in my heart because of God’s great love for me.  I know this could sound a bit sappy, but couldn’t this year use a little bit of sappiness?  It is all in the way we look at it.  We have to be careful that we don’t just develop that critical heart about everything.  We can use what we see around us to make us mad or we can use it to bring joy to our hearts.  I choose joy.  What about you?  The challenge as we approach this Christmas season is to choose to let the decorations remind you of the real “reason for the season.”  I choose to think about it like this. All these people decorated their houses, stores, and city streets, so I could be reminded of the most important event in human history.  God loved me so much that He sent Jesus to provide salvation to me for all of my wrong I have done.  I didn’t deserve it but God did it anyway.  That is what Christmas means to me and through that lens I choose to see everything else.  Let this Christmas season be different.  Let’s be reminded in all that we see that God still loves us.  I challenge  you the next time you hear a faith filled Christmas song this year, stop and take note.  Maybe God is trying to get your attention to help you remember.  Maybe like God did for my Grinch heart that day, your heart will grow three sizes too.  

Ahh.. Christmas,  It is truly the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.