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Angels

I know I announced that I would be taking a few weeks off from the blog, so I will keep this short: I can’t get over the Christmas story! Yes, I’ve read it in Luke and in Matthew every year for 44 years but this year it is hitting me hard. I’m guessing that certain elements of the story stand out to each of us at different times in our lives. Thinking back to my first Christmas as a Christ follower, I remember being blown away by the sovereignty of God. I would wait for my parents to leave the house to go Christmas shopping and I would have that time alone to just worship God and spend hours in wonder and awe.

This year I can’t get over the angelic realm employed to celebrate and establish the big event. The supernatural birth of John the Baptist marks the beginning of Luke’s gospel. The angel Gabriel is met with distrust from John’s father Zechariah. He replies, “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” (Luke 1:19-20) Ok, boom. Note to self: when an angel speaks, believe him!

Gabriel is a busy angel because he soon goes to Mary and gets a completely different response. He said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Scripture tells us Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Gabriel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33) Ok, wow, think about that! 

Mary has a pretty logical question for Gabriel: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It is okay to ask genuine spiritual questions! The heart of distrust and stubborn unbelief is where we go wrong. Gabriel replied to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” And here’s what I love: “I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:34-38)

This encounter, along with others described in Luke 1 and 2, carried Mary through many difficulties, all the way to the end at the cross, which was also the beginning. She took God at His word. Period. Was her life easy? No, I kind of don’t think so! She had to face false accusation and judgement that Jesus was in some way, illegitimate. But listen to her heart, written in her words of praise, a song recorded in scripture, the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:46-52) Keep reading Luke 1 and 2 to hear even more!

I am finding moments in the busyness of the holiday to give Him praise. Even a few minutes in the morning to say My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! I sense the nearness of the angelic realm and I wonder if heaven longs to release answers to the cries of our heart. This year I honestly couldn’t care less about gifts. I don’t care about parties or recipes or travel. I just want to hear what heaven has to say.

Dear friends, seek the Lord while He may be found. Center this Christmas on Christ alone. I’ll write more in the New Year. Till then, blessings on you and your household! If you haven’t gotten a copy of my book, please order it today! Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.

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Straight Ahead

“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

I was reminded of a funny experience I had years ago on a golf course in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I was a beginner golfer. In the classic art of college instruction, we had worked on drills all semester but had never actually played a golf course. The final in the class was to go shoot 9 holes. I went with three other gals who also had never been on a golf course. As we approached the first tee we couldn’t remember what the different colors in the tee box meant: was red the closest to the hole or was it for expert golfers? We decided (incorrectly) it was for experts and thus our gaze followed it to white then gold and out into the horizon.  We couldn’t see the green or the pin to which we were shooting. I shrugged, saying, I’m sure it’s out there and teed up my ball, ready to fire off my first shot at a real golf course. I checked my grip, made sure my clubhead was square to the ball, and went through the mental checklist of knees bent, chin down, head still. Just as I was bringing my club back, a man’s voice boomed from the clubhouse speaker: Ladies, you are facing the wrong way! Turning and looking the opposite direction, sure enough there was the green with a flag waving on it.  All four of us fell to the ground rolling in laughter.

Have you ever been so caught up in getting the details right that you didn’t even notice you were facing the wrong direction? I bring it up now because we are headed into the holiday season and it’s kind of easy to make this mistake. Well, maybe you aren’t teed up to fire a ball off into the hinterland but there are plenty of other missteps out there. We can care more about showing the picture-perfect holiday experience than actually connecting with people and loving them well. We can overspend, overeat, overdecorate and never consider the poor. We can celebrate the birth of baby Jesus without celebrating His actual rebirth of our hearts. 

In Matthew 23 we do not meet “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” but rather, kick-ass Jesus setting us straight. (And who doesn’t need some correction now and then?) “Woe to you, religious leaders, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23) This sounds like posturing and virtue signaling of the first century type. But I wonder if we have fulfilled all kinds of religious or social protocols and yet been unjust jerks to our coworkers and neighbors or completely lacking in mercy and goodness toward strangers. Jesus sums it up: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” We don’t want to be overfocused on minutia while completely missing the hurt of a generation over justice, mercy, and faith. We need a serious faith-one that is genuine, thoughtful, and honoring to God and people.

Jesus continues with another blistering indictment: “Woe to you religious hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28) Have we ever done all the right things religiously yet felt dead inside? Are we the same person when no one is looking? Let’s ask God to show us where we are full of hypocrisy or disobedience to what we know to be true. Rather than going to such lengths to look good, we could work on just being good.

In a season when our mental checklist can be spinning with superficial details about recipes, decorations, time off, flights, hotels, our waistline, insta posts and so on, isn’t it a time to seek God’s guidance on facing the right direction? We need His voice on the loudspeaker when we are heading off-course, whether it’s in our parenting, work, a relationship, health, spending, or whatever. Don’t just shrug and say well I’m sure what I’m doing will hit something out there and fire away. Now is the time to seek His face. Ask, are we living with a tender heart toward God and people? Do we like who we have become? And most importantly, how can we walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, the Son of God? This passage ends with a heart-filled lament: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37) Jesus has always been willing to connect; honestly, we often are not.

Friends, I know my tone is a bit heavier than normal and I’ve been reflecting quite a bit with God this week. I’ve felt more sober minded but also more deeply in love, in awe, with Him. I don’t want to miss what Jesus is saying in these days. Can you imagine if we ignored the booming voice over the loudspeaker that day? What does that guy know? And who is he to tell us what to do?! It would not have gone well. Blessings to you as we journey and listen together. Get my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassionanywhere books are sold. Remember to sign up to receive this blog in your email- simply scroll to the end of Mondays with Margaret.