Remember last week we talked about baskets? Can anyone remember what they were called? (The too hard basket and impossible basket.) We talked about how difficult it must have been for Mary to be told by the angel Gabriel that she, a young, unmarried girl was going to have a baby.
Well Gabriel also told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was going to have a child. Only Elizabeth’s situation was the complete opposite of Marys. Mary, a young, fit and healthy person was in a far better place physically to have children. Elizabeth, we’re told, was an old woman. Having a baby at her time of life was scary because it could have cost her her life. Remember, there were no hospitals, operating theatres or surgeons to step in if anything went wrong. But notice that neither Elizabeth nor Mary seemed to be terrified of their situations. Because the baby inside Elizabeth’s tummy moved when Mary arrived Elizabeth knew God was near and would keep her safe. And then she reassured Mary that God would keep Mary safe too.
How did Mary respond? She praised God, exclaimed His graciousness and blessing toward her. I don’t know about you but often, when I’m going through something scary that God has asked me to do the first proclamations out of my mouth are often complaints, concerns or maybe even questioning God’s wisdom in entrusting something important to someone like me.
Last week God challenged us not to focus on the difficulty of things in life but to trust in His strength. This week our challenge is “Praise before Pity”. Every time you start to feel sorry for yourself because something feels too difficult for someone like you, remember Mary and Elizabeth. Remember how impossible their lives must have suddenly seemed and remember that Mary praised God instead of pitying herself. I have a feeling that if we praised instead of pitied more we’d find things aren’t nearly as tough as we thought.
From the beginning of time God has claimed that marriage is a very special thing between one man and one woman. It quickly became socially expected that children would and should be born only to people who were married. Until quite recently if a girl was pregnant but unmarried it would bring great shame: Shame on herself and her family. This was so even in this country.
Pregnant girls were often sent away to a town where no one knew them until they’d had their baby. The baby would be given away to another family and the girl would return home and live as if nothing had happened. Now, what’s interesting about these stories is that we never hear much about the father. Much of what’s recorded about Jesus leaves out details of Joseph – Jesus’ earthly father. The book of Matthew gives the most detail about Joseph’s role in Jesus’ start to life on earth. So, we need to use a little wise speculation.
We don’t know how old Joseph was but when the bible talked about old people having children it generally specified this. So we can assume that Joseph was fairly close in age to Mary. How many of you know teenage boys? Are they quiet, sensible, thoughtful boys? Or are they a bit rowdy, a bit silly and not really all that sensible?
When I think about a young man finding out his fiancé was pregnant I see a young man being either very angry or very scared.
Matthew tells us that Joseph’s first instinct was to break up with Mary, which is not surprising. But he wants to do it quietly so Mary’s shame isn’t increased. This already shows us Joseph is kind hearted boy.
Thankfully another angel shows up in Joseph’s dreams and puts him straight about the fact that Mary is indeed a special young woman and that he should continue in his plans to marry her. Joseph fights his natural urge to dump Mary and run for the hills out of a desire to obey God.
We’ve talked a bit about difficult situations in the past couple of weeks. Jesus birth seems to be tied up with troubles and difficulty – for everyone involved. And for Joseph, just like Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, God asked them not to let their “natural” reaction take over but to let God’s nurturing love and divine power take care of it all. We can do this too.
When one of your classmates says something mean what’s your natural reaction? When your mum asks to you tidy out your wardrobe (because that’s where you’ve stuffed everything when she asked you to tidy your room) how do you respond? God understands our natural behaviour because He created us that way. And it’s important to know that if our natural responses are sometimes too strong for us to overcome, then it’s okay. But this week’s challenge is to try to put aside nature and choose God’s nurturing.
When you think that clearing up that huge pile of clothes, toys, books, shoes and unidentifiable stuff at the bottom on your wardrobe seems so impossible that only a tantrum of epic proportions will do, choose God’s nurturing love and His strength to put aside the natural tantrum and get stuck in. And when your mum is amazed by both your awesome behaviour and your super tidy room you can tell her that, like Joseph, you chose God’s strength and love to get you through it.
Luke 1:5-20 and 57-64
[Paraphrase verses 5-20]
Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was also visited by the angel Gabriel who told him that he and his wife would have a child. Now this was something that the couple had always hoped and prayed for but as they were old they felt that their own child was something they would never have. So when the angel Gabriel told Zechariah they would indeed have a baby Zechariah’s first reaction was disbelief and he said “How will I know this will happen? My wife and I are very old.”
Because of his lack of trust in God the angel told him that he wouldn’t be able to speak until Elizabeth’s son was born. Now Zechariah was a temple priest – sort of like our church minister. How many of you know the minister? How many of you know that he likes talking? He’s very good at it. Teachers of the Bible tend to like talking – it’s kind of necessary in a job like being a minister. I know one or two I-Girlz who like talking – maybe some of you would make good teachers of the Bible.
Now there is one drawback to liking to talk: it’s easy to forget to use a couple of other holes found in our head. Any idea what they might be?
Have you ever wondered why God made us with two ears and only one mouth? Most people believe it’s because we should listen twice as much as we talk. This is a good theory, but often it’s really hard to do. I think Zechariah may have forgotten this advice also. God had just given him some really important news and Zechariah used his mouth too quickly. God knew that in about nine months He would need to give Zechariah some more important information and God needed to be sure that Zechariah would listen without interruption so He took away the power of speech. Let’s read Luke 1:57-64 and see what happens.
Seven hundred years earlier Isaiah had told of the birth of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son and had already shown that he should be called John. So, when God told John’s parents what his name should be Zechariah had to hear God as he couldn’t speak.
How often do we question what God is telling us, failing to trust His wisdom? How often do we completely miss what God is saying because we’re too busy talking, enjoying the sound of our own voices? Imagine how much stuff we’d hear if God did to us what He did to Zechariah. And it wouldn’t just be God we’d be able to hear more clearly. Our friends, our families, or teachers – their troubles, advice, lessons would all make more sense if we could only listen more and talk less.
Throughout this week remember:
Two ears, one mouth
Open two and shut the one in the South.
You’ll be amazed at the things you’ll hear
Both the quiet voice of God and of people very near.
Now, if you're anything like me your head will be reeling at all the things poor Jesus' family went through before He was born. There were angels popping up all over the place, well laid plans were being put aside for God's greater plan and the scandal of a young Mary having a baby before she was married. But there was one more test of faith and strength to come before Jesus was born.
We read in Luke 2:1-6 . . .
Caesar was the big cheese in those parts and when he told people to do something they got straight to it. Only getting from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a difficult thing to do. The distance they had to travel was about 150km – about the same as from here to the Bombay Hills outside Auckland. But Mary and Joseph didn't get to jump in the car, flick on the air conditioning, slap on a CD or fire up the portable DVD player and ride in comfort. They most likely had to walk all the way. Who's keen on a quick walk to Auckland?
If Joseph and Mary walked about 20 miles per day it would have taken them about four days to make the journey, and remember, Mary was just about to have a baby.
So, now we have poor Mary, nine months pregnant, she's just walked for at least four days and I'm fairly sure she'd like nothing better than a soft bed and a cup of tea. As you know, this wasn't about to happen any time soon. The young couple had to stay in a barn. Most likely a hot, dirty and fairly smelly barn. Yuk! But it's important to remember that there would have been lots of people going in to Bethlehem at that time and if Mary and Joseph had to sleep in a barn I'm certain there were others who would have had to sleep in the street, under a tree or anywhere else they could find. Jesus parents weren't the worst off I'm sure. Nevertheless, that our Saviour was to be born in a dirty, smelly animal shed is quite amazing. But today we're thinking about the journey that led Jesus' parents to that stable.
It would be fair to say that both Mary and Joseph had had a fairly difficult few months and then to top it all off they had to travel on foot for days and wind up bunking down in a shed. I wouldn't blame you for thinking that walking with God seems like hard work. I won't lie to you, many times it is. But look at what they had at the end of the journey – a beautiful, healthy baby boy. And not just any baby boy, but the son of the Most High God. If we could ask Mary herself I think she'd tell you that it was most definitely worth the difficulties.
Be encouraged; what God asks of us may seem hard and yet the journey He is asking you to go on with Him is the most incredible one and the reward at the end – eternity in paradise with Jesus – is worth every moment. And remember, an adventure is a series of difficulties one after another leading you to something truly amazing. Get going on your adventure with God.
We have spent this term looking at the events surrounding the birth of Jesus and we've been issued challenges along the way.
We met a young girl finding out she was pregnant with the son of God and were challenged to put away our “too hard baskets” because nothing is impossible for God.
We met her fiancé Joseph, who initially thought the best course of action was to quietly break up with Mary. We were challenged to put aside our natural tendencies and to trust in God's gentle yet strong and nurturing love.
There was Elizabeth who had prayed for her own child for years and, in her old age, her prayer was answered. We learned that even in fearful and possibly life threatening situations if we trust God He will keep us safe.
And, probably my favourite, there was Zechariah who was too quick to question God and he lost his voice. Through Zechariah we were challenged to try to listen more and speak less.
For our final devotion of the year I'd like to introduce you to some kids, probably about the same age as most of you. Let's read Luke 2:8-14.
Shepherd boys were probably the least important people in society. They spent most of their time out on the hills looking after sheep. Their jobs paid very little so they were poor and, in reality, the sheep were better cared for than the shepherds. And yet it was to these children that God sent the last of the angels in the Christmas story. And not just one . . . a whole host of them. Can you imagine how amazing that would be? Hundreds of angels around you singing the praises of God? I'm sure you'd at least have goosebumps.
I think there are all sorts of reasons God chose these young shepherds to share the news of Jesus birth:
Perhaps because Jesus, later in His life, would be likened to a shepherd tending his flock; Perhaps because children possess an abundance of faith and would never doubt the truth of the angel’s message. (The shepherds certainly didn't do a “Zechariah” and question the news. Verse 16 tells us they hurried off to find Mary and Jesus.) I also think that one of the reasons God chose the shepherds was because He wanted them and children for thousands of years to come to know that they are very important to Him. He wanted them to know that Jesus hadn't just come to save the rich, the powerful, the “important” people; Jesus had come for the sick, the poor, even the children.
Through this story God is telling you that He sent His one and only son for each one of you. That's how much He loves you.
On Christmas day I'd like you to take a moment to remember that you're really celebrating Jesus birthday. What would be the best gift you could give Him? A heart dedicated to Him, a life following Him would be the most amazing gift you could give Jesus this Christmas.