Tuesday, December 5, 2017

EmmDev 2017-12-05 [Five Thoughts for Advent 2017] Mary: Thoughtful Wonder

Mary: Thoughtful Wonder

19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart...

(And then 12 years later when they find the boy Jesus in the temple surrounded by priests)
51 ... But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Although some traditions consider Mary to be a saint or immaculate - there is simply no Biblical truth for this idea - she was a fallible person just like you and me. But there is a lot we can learn from her faithfulness and devotion.

Mary sets an amazing example. She responds to God's gracious favour and the announcement of her miraculous pregnancy with significant faith and humility. "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said." (Luk.1:38)

Later, when John the Baptist has done a happy dance in Elizabeth's womb, Mary bursts forth with what we now call "the Magnificat" - a hymn which reflects a significant understanding of who God is, what the Messiah came to do, and her part in all of it.

Mary is Mom to the Son of God and is present at the cross where, as Simeon prophesied, a sword would pierce her own soul. She then became an important part of the life of the early church and her son, James would emerge as the head of the church.

But what was Mary's secret? I believe it is the attitude of thoughtful wonder. Luke affirms this twice over in our readings. Mary observed the birth, the shepherds, the magi and pondered and treasured them. She reflected on the 12 year old Jesus surrounded by flabbergasted teachers of the law and treasured these thoughts.

We can know the Christmas story.
But have we pondered and treasured it?

Maybe we should resolve to enter into this Advent season with an attitude of thoughtful wonder. So what if the the shops are decorating and playing carols already - can we not use this as an opportunity to reflect on the wonder of a Baby's birth that is still impacting the world and prompting acts of kindness and beauty?? Dust off the carols and the nativity scenes, re-read the gospel accounts of Jesus birth, marvel at John's poetic prologue about the "Word made Flesh," immerse yourself in the wonderful celebration of the greatest gift ever given to humankind. See the Christmas story through the eyes of a child. Treasure these thoughts and ponder them.
This is the end of the EmmDev eDevotions for 2017. Thank you for reading and for the many messages of encouragement I have received from many of you. I have loved our journey together.

Friday, December 1, 2017

EmmDev 2017-12-01 [Five Thoughts for Advent 2017] Shepherds: Transformed

Shepherds: Transformed

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
...15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.      (Luke2:8-18)
Scholars are divided about the shepherds: Some identify them as being on the criminal and deviant fringe of society - dishonest, unscrupulous, thieving, cruel, irreverent and undesirable. Other scholars suggest that they were the shepherds in charge of the temple passover lambs and that, as such, they were a special group of shepherds with a holy task.

I prefer the first option.
If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, then it is fitting that the Good News of His birth would be extended to those who were far from God. If these were the elite passover-lambs-shepherds then the implication is that the Good News is only for those that are good enough. As nice as the theological connection with Passover Lambs and Jesus-the-Lamb-of-God is, I think the angel's use of "Good News" (the Greek word is where we get "gospel" from) is a clue to the nature of this encounter.

Look at their journey:

  • The angels appear and the shepherds are terrified. The Greek literally says: They feared (with) a mega fear. This is not holy reverence - this is genuine terror. Was it the holy splendour of the angels or their guilty consciences? Maybe a bit of both...
  • The shepherds, after seeing the host of angels, are obedient. One can only imagine that the incredible joy of the angels made the shepherds brave enough and hungry enough to "go" and "see."
  • They see Jesus and it changes their lives! I just imagine these rough tough men holding the new-born Jesus in their arms, maybe caressing a smooth cheek with a rough knuckle with tears coursing down their cheeks - "God has come to us - He has really come!"
  • They start telling others. We should not forget that Bethlehem was full because of the census. One has to imagine that there were some soldiers and representatives of Rome officiating over the census. The disturbance the shepherds cause in the night would cause some ripples - but this does not stop them.
  • Others take them seriously. The shepherds are not dismissed as mischievous, crazy or intoxicated - people are amazed at the message of the shepherds and it is in no small part because it is obvious that something special has happened to these men.

The story of the shepherds is the story of every Christian witness:
We did not expect or deserve the Good News of Jesus' coming, but we heard the news and "went" and "saw" and it changed our lives. Now it's up to us to reflect that glory to the world. In a time where "Seasons Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" are the way in which the world wants us to think about Advent and Christ's birth, it is up to us to "go" and "see". And we should "see" long and hard enough that it once again fills us with joy and peace and wonder that we just can't keep to ourselves!

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