Bible Reading: Luke 2:1-4; 1:11-18 and 30-34

 Caesar Augustus…that name inspires a certain awe and authority. For sure, the decrees of this Roman Emperor were not to be trifled with. Joseph had no choice but to follow the Caesar’s decree and head to Bethlehem for the census.

Caesar’s decree required that Joseph take a long difficult trip with his young, pregnant wife that he didn’t want to take. And yet, despite the problems this trip created for Joseph and Mary, God was orchestrating every detail. Despite all of the unknowns that Mary and Joseph were facing, God had planned every step. He was in perfect control. In fact, Caesar was nothing more than a puppet God was using to fulfill the prophecy found in Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

 Sometimes our lives seem like a meaningless series of unrelated mishaps and misfortunes. Sometimes our lives feel so chaotic. We feel like we’re being tossed around by circumstances that we can’t control, that are beyond our control. In those times we need to remember that God is in control and He’s always working in the background to fulfill His plan.

 He is above every power, authority and situation that comes across our path. Isaiah 9:6 states, “Unto us a child is born, and the government will be upon His shoulders!” That verse assures us that Jesus is in control. He can carry the weight of our situation and is more than capable of getting us to our destination.

 In order to embrace the truth that God is in control and everything’s going to work out requires a willingness to trust on our part. The Christmas story is all about the willingness to trust God when we can’t see how things are going to turn out in the end.

In Luke 1:11-18, Zechariah receives the promise that he will have a son. This child was long-awaited and much-prayed-for! Yet, Zechariah doubted and questioned God. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? After all, I’m an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 

Because his situation was so improbable, Zechariah doubted God’s goodness and power. He believed more in his inability than God’s ability. All of us have felt that way at times? We want to believe, but when we look at our circumstances, it’s hard.

In Luke 1:30-38 when Mary hears the news that she will have a son who will be the long-awaited Messiah. Her attitude and response is markedly different.  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” She didn’t doubt God’s ability to bring his plan to pass. Instead, she asked God how He would accomplish what she believed He would do.

I don’t know what you’re facing this Christmas season, but I know everyone has challenges. Regardless of what you’re facing, do you believe that God is still in control, even though your circumstances look horrible in the natural?

 Are you questioning God power and ability to come through for you like Zechariah? Or, like Mary, are you trusting that God is going to work things out in the way He deems best according to His plan?

Prayer

Father, as I read about the Christmas story and the marvelous unfolding of events prophesied hundreds of years before that, I stand astounded by Your power. There is nobody or anything that can thwart your plans. Remind me that YOU are in control! Remind me that when You speak…You act. Remind me that when You promise…You fulfill. Help me not to doubt Your power and goodness. Thank You in advance for fulfilling Your promises to me and giving me victory over my situation. Amen.

Bible Reading: Luke 1:35-38

Maybe this Christmas you just don’t have it in you to celebrate. Maybe this past year has been overshadowed by a heaviness that refuses to budge. Perhaps you feel like the joy has been sucked out of you. Sure, you go through the motions: the tree is trimmed, the lights strung, the treats baked. But the joy of the season? It seems overshadowed by problems.

The Christmas story reminds us that Jesus didn’t come down for those who have it all together. He came for those who are broken, hurt and disappointed. He came for the messy and the forgotten. He came to heal the brokenhearted. He came to restore joy. He came to flood your heart with peace that just doesn’t make sense in your situation.

All Jesus is asking you to do this season is “Just Believe.” We see that tagline plastered everywhere this time of the year. It’s often accompanied by delicate snowflakes, the tinkling of bells and a dash of glitter. It’s the feel-good message seen in Christmas movies and cards: Just Believe in the magic of the season.

When we look back to the very first Christmas, we find an example of someone who “just believed,” in a very difficult and trying circumstance…Mary, the mother of Jesus. She received God’s promise that her son…the son of an unwed teenager, would be the Savior of the world. She probably went through an array of emotions. But in the end, Mary chose to take God at His word. She didn’t make back-up, “just in case” plans. She didn’t try to pray the situation away.

Instead, she poured out her heart in praise to God in the midst of her circumstance. What an amazing example of trusting God when nothing seems to be going right, of praising Him through the unknown. Her cousin Elizabeth recognized Mary’s heart of obedience when she said, “Blessed is she who believes that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

Whatever you’re going through right now…would you be willing, like Mary, to choose to take God at his Word and Just Believe His promises for you? He will not let you down!

Prayer

Father, Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I’m in control. But the only way I can come to You is in complete humility. I cannot do this thing called life in my own strength. Help me remember that You bring life and healing and hope to the hopeless. “I need You, oh I need You, every hour I need You.” Thank You for your promises. Help me “Just Believe.” Amen.

Bible Reading: Luke 3:3-6

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” That’s a familiar line from the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World.” It’s like Isaac Watts, who wrote the song back in 1719 knew that almost three centuries down the road, we would face the Crisis of Christ-less Christmas. He probably had an inkling that in the midst of our celebrating we would forget the Guest of Honor. Mr. Watts had stumbled on one of the greatest ironies: we get so wrapped up in our gifts that we forget to unwrap the Greatest Gift of all.

I recently heard a pastor mention that the antithesis to fearing God is forgetting God. Not denying Him. Not offending Him. Just omitting Him. Isaac Watts reminds us that Advent is a time of anticipating the arrival of the King. I liken it to preparing your guest room for the arrival of guests. Hosting another family in your home requires a huge time commitment. It requires clearing your schedule to make sure they’re comfortable, entertained and have clean towels.

Often, our guest room is also used as a home office, a playroom, and the room where one parent crashes when the master bedroom is too full of little people who don’t belong there. As a result, before house guests arrive, there’s always a heap of stuff that has to be moved or carted off to Goodwill as the spare room gets a mini-makeover. It’s like the HGTV crew came in – on a very, very low budget. Our sofa bed magically transforms into a queen bed, we re-arrange furniture, empty shelves of toys, and display accent pieces that have nothing to do with Lego Star Wars. Those little changes make our guests feel at home.

This Advent I want to challenge you to focus on ridding your schedule of the unnecessary. Learn to say “no” to one or more of your usual commitments. And learn to say “yes” where it counts. De-cluttering Christmas may be just what your soul needs.

Sometimes we need little tweaks to nudge us closer to Christ. Rethink, re-arrange and refocus so Christ has room in your life. No matter how perfectly arranged the room is, though, if we don’t have a heart of love for our guests it will soon become obvious. I don’t want to do what I’m doing because I have to. I do what I’m doing as a response to our friendship.

In the same vein, we can’t force ourselves to make room for Christ. We simply do it in response to the Sovereign One who gave up His majesty for a manger, who traded in His Kingship for a Cross. Is there room for Him in our hearts this Christmas? Or will we turn Him away because our lives are too cluttered to accommodate the One who gave up everything? Will you “make room” for Jesus this week?

Prayer

“Father, help me re-prioritize my life so that I make room for Christ this Christmas. Enable me to do so as a response to your amazing, unconditional love. Thank you for sending Jesus – the One who poured out His life for us.

Father, this Christmas I want to live out the words of the Psalmist David, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple… Amen!”

– Susan Marsala