Advent Week 3 ~ V for Vessel

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Entering week 3 using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of devotionals, my prayer for each reader is for God to fashion you as well, into a willing vessel for His glory.

The seaside park blossoms with booths and tents showcasing the richly diverse talents of artisans and craftspeople. My favourites are the potter’s works; earthenware, stoneware, ceramics and porcelain made for beauty as well as functionality. I like to carefully handle the pieces that interest me, feeling where the potter pressed his thumb into the wet clay on a mug handle, or used her hands to narrow the neck of a vase formed on a potter’s wheel. Simply put, they make vessels, hollow containers for holding something but it is obvious that their creations are so much more.

In the nativity story, Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a human vessel to receive the Spirit of God. In His infinite, mysterious wisdom God chose this poor peasant girl to carry His beloved Son in her womb. She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV) It is a question pondered by many since. The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

What qualities did God look for in a human vessel for His Son? Did He lovingly hold His creation, Mary, in His hands, turning her this way and that, looking into her soul for those certain attributes only He knew would suit His purpose? What set her apart from all other young women of her time who could have borne the Son of God? I cannot fathom the answer to these questions but I can rest in the certainty that He chose the perfect vessel.

God chose a vessel, first of all, who was pure. In order for His Son to be born a sinless man, He could not be conceived in sin, but would be born of a virgin. As Isaiah prophesied centuries before, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us.” (Isa. 7:14b)

Mary was highly favored by God, according to the angel, so the purity He required in the mother of His holy Son was not only physical but spiritual. In her simple faith Mary exhibited qualities which pleased God, such as trust, faithfulness, humility and obedience. All these traits are evident in the telling of Mary’s story in the first chapter of Luke. Most noticeable is her unerring faith and willingness to believe that what the Lord had said to her would be accomplished. “ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

Not only was she a willing vessel to carry the Son of God, she also would have realized that judgement and condemnation would come with her role. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but they were not yet man and wife, so her pregnancy would bring with it shame and reproach from those who knew her. No one would believe in her purity, except Joseph, who had it revealed to him by an angel of the Lord. She graciously accepted the damage to her reputation for the singular privilege of bearing God’s Son.

A vessel is open at the top to receive the contents intended for it. I picture Mary’s spiritual posture as open, receptive to whatever her Lord would pour into her willing heart. I have much to learn from the mother of my Savior by her servant attitude and humility. The treasure of God’s Spirit is contained in this body of mine, this earthen vessel, so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from me. (2 Cor. 4:7) My supreme privilege is to be poured out for Him.

Beautiful Disruptions

IMG_0529One day on a beach walk with a good friend, I told her about an e-mail I received that morning from a man I did not know. It seems I knew his brother and sister-in-law a long time ago. I watched the waves beat their way to shore, scuffed the sand with my shoe.

“He asked if it would be alright if we wrote to each other.” When I glanced at my friend, she was smiling. She said, “I have such a strong sense that from this day out, things for you will change for the better. God is up to something.”

My heart gave a hopeful little leap, then settled back to the cautious beat of one familiar with pain, disappointment and struggle. For several years all I had known was the war zone of a messy divorce and a life-threatening illness. Hope was hard to come by. But now when I look back I recognize that moment on the beach as one of God’s beautiful disruptions. Sometime later I married the man who e-mailed me and moved on to a whole new life full of love, joy and fulfillment.

Webster’s dictionary defines disruption as causing something to be unable to continue in the normal way: interrupting the usual progress or activity of something. A disruption is at first stressful because it throws things into disorder, putting us off the course we were used to. But God has a way of disrupting lives that opens up possibilities never imagined, even if at the time the disruption is unwelcome.

The scriptures are full of beautifully disrupted stories where God suddenly steps in to redirect the current path of someone He wants to use to fulfill His purposes. In Exodus 3, Moses has spent many years tending his father-in-law’s flock on the far side of the desert. God captures Moses’ attention when He speaks from a burning bush. He sends Moses on a mission back to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery. As a country herdsman spending days on end with only sheep for company, Moses’ life is beautifully disrupted when he becomes God’s chosen instrument to lead His people to freedom.

As a lowly shepherd boy on the hills around Bethlehem, David was unlikely to be chosen for any significant role. But God changed David’s life by sending His prophet, Samuel, to anoint him as the future king of Israel. God’s beautiful disruption caused David to become a mighty king, a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV) and a forefather of Jesus, the Messiah.

In the most glorious disruption of all, a Jewish peasant girl is visited by an angel announcing she is to give birth to the Son of God. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she becomes the mother of Jesus, God in human flesh, whose life, death and resurrection provides salvation for all who believe in Him.

Sometimes God reveals Himself to me in subtle ways. To be honest, I would prefer He direct me slowly and gently. But when I think of the mountaintops of my spiritual walk, it is the beautiful disruptions that stand out. Those times when God breaks suddenly into my mundane life speak of a love so great He would do the extraordinary to capture my attention. Such beautiful disruptions cause me to exclaim, only God.
Only God could orchestrate so many details to fulfill His purposes.
Only God interrupts by making me breathless with His beauty and majesty.
Only God beautifully disrupted time by stepping down from eternity to live among us.

©Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Joseph’s Journey

Joseph and Mary( I hope you enjoy this devotional posted last Christmas. Its purpose is to evoke the very first Christmas night, when our Savior came to dwell with us.)

After three days of travel, Joseph is weary and footsore. His pains are minor compared to those of his wife, Mary, riding the donkey behind him. She clings to the donkey’s mane with one hand while holding her swollen stomach with the other. She gives a low moan, prompting him to pick up their pace along the rocky road approaching Bethlehem. If it weren’t for the enforced census decreed by the Roman emperor, Mary would be at home with her mother as she prepares to give birth, instead of  in a strange, crowded town. Nothing about this child is normal, he muses, and now it seems it would not even be born at home.

As he plods through the dusty twilight Joseph relives the night of the dream. He had fallen into a troubled sleep, heartsick over having to break his betrothal to the young woman he loved, because she was with child. Only it wasn’t his child. In the dream a clear white light emanated from a heavenly figure, who called him by name and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the child she carried was from the Holy Spirit; a son to be named Jesus, who would save his people from their sins.

In spite of the disapproval of many, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary home. She slept in a small alcove in his house, and he did not go to her. Sometimes she would gently take his hand and hold it to where the child moved within her. They knew of each other’s angel visitations, but spoke rarely of the event to come. It was too awesome to fully comprehend.

Now the time has arrived for the baby to be born, and Joseph does what he can to prepare. The innkeeper has no room, but he kindly gives them a small oil lamp and a hastily swept corner of his stable for shelter. Amidst the dust, stench, and noise Joseph helps Mary off the donkey to slump against a grimy wall. By the time he returns with a bucket of water, her pains have increased. He is a most unlikely midwife, but he alone is here to help her. He wipes her face and grips her hand, thoughts flashing through his mind like lightning.

“Almighty Yahweh, if this is how you choose to bring Messiah to us, I do not understand! Shouldn’t there be a golden cradle, a silken blanket, a royal proclamation? Instead, he is brought forth in pain, in a dirty cattle stall, with barely enough thin linen to wrap around him, and no one to hail him.” Mary cries out again. He feels so helpless.   

“Forgive me, Yahweh, for questioning you. Your ways are higher than my ways, and your thoughts higher than mine. Help me bring this blessed child into the world and I will do all in my power to care for him as my own.”

Then he is too busy to hear his own thoughts. From Mary’s body into his waiting hands comes the Messiah, no differently than any other child. His tiny fists flail, his plaintive cries echo in the stable. Joseph wipes the shivering infant, then places him on his mother’s breast to nurse for the first time. Mary smiles weakly, examining each minute limb to see all is perfect. Joseph sits back on his heels, exhaling a weary sigh. A cow lows close by, the oil lamp flickers as a cold draft whispers across the dirt floor. All is as it was before this child entered the world, yet Joseph knows nothing will ever be the same. Unbidden to his mind come the words of ancient scripture, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us.” He is finally here.

In Simeon’s Arms

Simeon's Moment - Ron DeCainniSimeon’s robes flowed out behind him as he strode to the temple. Blood surged strongly through his aged limbs, making him feel years younger. How eagerly he had waited for this moment! Long ago God’s Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. This very morning in his prayers a fervency came upon him to hurry to the temple, for he knew the time had come.

The temple courts were crowded and noisy, the air thick with the smell of animals and smoke from the altar of sacrifice. The din reached Simeon as if from a distance as he listened in his spirit for the confirmation he knew was to come.

They were no different than many others in the crowd, yet Simeon’s heart hammered in his chest when he saw them, a young couple standing by a pillar, dusty and weary from travel. With one arm the man circled his wife’s shoulders protectively and in the other was a wooden cage containing two pigeons. The young woman held a child in her arms. This was the one.

Simeon was familiar with the prophecies about the Messiah coming as a child. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us”, the prophet Isaiah foretold. Yet how could the Redeemer, the Prince of peace, he who would be King over all the earth come as a mere helpless infant? If Simeon had learned anything in his years of faith, it was that Yahweh was a God of mystery and paradox. He no longer questioned, only trusted the Spirit within him.

The woman’s gentle eyes looked at him in question as Simeon eased the swaddled baby from her arms. He smiled in reassurance and she nodded trustingly. Simeon suspected the young mother of his Lord was getting used to unusual happenings concerning her child. He cradled the infant close to his chest, feeling the warmth from the little body spreading deep into his soul. The child opened his eyes and gazed up at Simeon. There were no earthquakes or shooting stars, just an indelible imprint on his heart. Here in his grasp was the one who would bind up the brokenhearted and comfort all who mourn….the long-awaited consolation of Israel. Lifting the child towards heaven, Simeon sang forth a hymn of praise.
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The young couple marveled at what was said about their son. Like all parents, they thought their child was special, but did they know who he was destined to be? Simeon gently placed the baby back in his mother’s arms, speaking a tender blessing over the family. His eyes filled with tears and his heart was heavy as he imparted to the woman what the Spirit impressed on him. This child was meant to suffer according to Yahweh’s sovereign plan, so his mother too would feel the sword of sorrow pierce her own soul. She nodded perceptively at what Simeon said, then bent over her son. A small hand reached for her face and she smiled. Simeon knew that for now this was enough. This beloved child would bring much joy to the world, as he had brought it to an old man waiting at the temple, who could now go home in peace.
(based on Luke 2:21-35)

painting by Ron DiCianni

Perfection Born

IMG_0317 As a child I remember having a constant sense of anticipation, of longing for something I didn’t even know how to name. In hindsight I now recognize that vague feeling as a desire for perfection. Within my childish heart God stirred the memory of life back in the Garden, when perfection was reality and nothing stood between the Creator and His creation. Of course, I did not know it as that, only as a yearning without words.

I remember moments which seemed on the verge of perfection, only to fall short of realization. Sitting on a cushion of springy moss in a sun-dappled forest, I experienced the piercing epiphany of seeing beauty in a furled sword fern shoot. The symmetrical detail of  the tightly curled fern captivated me, bringing unexpected tears. Those tears surprised me, later becoming a sign for identifying longings not quite realized. I’ve had many ephemeral moments of near-perfection since then, but I’ve discovered only one moment in history which fulfills my longing completely.

When a star shone on a lowly stable …
When a woman cried out in the pains of childbirth …
When a feed trough was prepared for an infant’s bed …
Then perfection was born.

Perfect man, perfect God.
Jesus, God’s son, came at the perfect time in history.
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV)

Born of a woman, veiled in flesh as a man. Born to a virgin, a pure woman. As the angel told her, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35b NIV)
God’s son, conceived without sin, because He is sinless.
“But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

He came to fulfill God’s perfect plan. A plan wrought before time began, because He knew we needed a Savior to redeem us from our sins. And only perfection would do.
“He is, therefore, exactly the kind of High Priest we need; for he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin, undefiled by sinners, and to him has been given the place of honor in heaven. Under the old system, even the high priests were weak and sinful men who could not keep from doing wrong, but later God appointed by his oath his Son who is perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7: 26 & 28 TLB)

He gave Himself, His very life, as the perfect sacrifice, so we could stand clean before God. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”(Hebrews 10:14 NIV) What an amazing provision! We are made perfect because of His perfect sacrifice.

What kind of paradoxical thinking brings perfection into the world in a dusty animal barn, as a helpless infant, with a poor, adolescent mother? God, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, created this plan and gave it to us as a gift, whether we understand it or not.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  ( James 1:17 NIV)

The perfect gift of Jesus, our Savior, requires acceptance from humans hopelessly flawed. God’s perfect plan is implemented when His Son is acknowledged for who He is and invited to live His life within us.

And so my childhood yearning for perfection at last finds rest, completion, fulfillment in a baby in a manger. In that tiny infant hand, reaching to where He came from, destined for cruel nails, He holds my heart and I am content.