“Greetings, Mary, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.
Mary was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.
Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call this name Jesus.
He will be great, and called ‘Son of the God Most High’ He will reign on the throne of his father forever.
But how? I’m still a virgin. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the child you will deliver will be called Holy, Son of God.
Mary, did you know that this very moment, your cousin Elizabeth, as old as she is, she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
(Luke 1:26-37, combination of NIV, MSG, and author’s paraphrase)
As I began to prepare my heart for the Christmas God directed me to two different angelic accounts thousands of years apart. One angelic account with Mary when she was told she would give birth to the Messiah. The second angelic account, I was unfamiliar with, Moses and the Israelites just prior to the Red Sea crossing.
The Scriptures is full of angelic greetings. God uses angelic greetings to prepare His people for big challenges—life altering challenges. Here is Moses’ angelic encounter recorded in Exodus 23:20-31 (NIV):
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”
I love how God uses past tense grammar for a future victory. “I am sending an angel ahead of you…to the place I have prepared.” A future promise for a past tense victory. I don’t know about you, but that just resonates well within my soul.
Mary and Moses had two distinctly different angelic greetings and challenges. Yet, these greetings possessed the same purpose; to prepare the way for freedom.
Moses led a million man march, a motley crew of former slaves, out of Egypt through the Red Sea towards freedom. God in is mighty way parted the Red Sea and the people marched right through toward freedom. They marched on dry ground towards freedom.
Mary, a quiet unassuming girl, became pregnant with the Holy Spirit. (Yeah right, who’s going to believe that, others whispered behind her back). Her dreams of the picture perfect wedding were shattered, because God had other plans for her. Mary would deliver the One who would deliver freedom through salvation in Christ.
Through both these angelic encounters, God reminds us that He has already prepared the way for freedom. There is freedom in Christ, but we have to take possession of it. We have to be willing to say, “Yes Lord” even when:
- It is something we don’t want to do.
- It doesn’t make sense.
- It changes our plans.
We must be willing to:
- Seek His Face.
- Take faith steps forward, even when we don’t see the staircase.
- Grasp the promise of freedom, Christ has already delivered.
I don’t know what Red Sea challenge you are currently facing. Perhaps it’s the need for a job, your health, or a wayward child. Perhaps it is a move to Texas, New Zealand, or to become an Army Ranger. Perhaps you take care of so many loved ones that you don’t have strength for yourself. Or perhaps your Red Sea challenge is your health.
My Red Sea challenge is also my health. When I was asked months ago to share tonight, I did not know then that just two days ago, I would be diagnosed with CIDP, a rare neuromuscular disease. There is no cure. But when scientific research says ‘there is no cure’, God leans in and whispers, ‘There is HOPE!’ Because of Christ we have hope!
Friends, because of Christ, there is HOPE! But we must be willing to take possession of the hope and freedom that Christ has already delivered. I encourage you today, with the angelic greetings spoken to Moses and Mary:
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.
I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.
Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
Merry Christmas dear friends!
Written by Sonia Hancock
The holiday season is now in full swing and with it comes sweet Christmas carols and hymns of the Christ-child. Cherished lines from our favorite songs will be hummed in grocery store lines, sung at family gatherings, and played hundreds of times over the air waves during the next few weeks.
O Holy night. Beautiful star of Bethlehem. Away in a manger. Infant holy, infant lowly…
With all the sentimentality and joyful expressions of these wondrous tunes, I wonder how often, if ever, we stop to think about the words we’re singing and how lowly that Holy Night really was.
A lonely couple in the throes of labor frantically searching the streets for a place to stay, not knowing what to expect or what was to come.
A baby born on the dirty floor of a barn, the air filled with the stench of animals and manure.
No assistance of a midwife or another woman to help the young girl through the grueling agony of childbirth; no man to aid Joseph in the anxiousness of knowing he was about to parent the son of the Most High God.
Mary baring her vulnerable, teenage body to the older man who she, up until that night, had never before been intimate with. Besides feeling fearful and overwhelmed, both Mary and Joseph must have felt the awkwardness.
After the labor, there was no sink to clean up the blood or afterbirth. No soft pillow could be found for Mary to rest her exhausted head as she lay on the hard floor most likely surrounded with scratchy, uncomfortable straw.
There was no plush baby blanket to wrap around her child, only ripped strips of worn-out cloth. The only visitors were not parents, close friends or extended relatives, but complete strangers – shepherds bringing along more animals and stench. No flowers, no cards, and no gifts. It’s good to remember that the wise men didn’t show up until a year or two later to Joseph and Mary’s modest Bethlehem home. When we add those beautifully adorned kings and their 3 gifts to our nativity sets and Christmas cards, we do so to make the scene more palatable and glamorous, but there was nothing glamorous about that night. This picture of the most holy of nights is not a pretty one.
The images we conjure up of that Silent Night are of a haloed couple, all smiles, gazing lovingly at their cute little baby boy surrounded by clean, adorable animals who seem to be smiling as well. Dimple-faced cherubs fly around the manger while a little drummer boy is playing a tune, and the Bethlehem Star is shining through the crack in the roof filling it with an unnatural incandescent glow. The actual setting in which our Savior appeared was far from this tree-ornament nativity scene. It was beyond humble and lowly, yet we do get a glimpse of loveliness here. Amid the moo’s and baaa’s, tears and sweat, confusion and pain, we behold the beauty of the extended love of the Father toward us in sending His son on that difficult and unattractive night. We witness a holy perfection in the tiny Messiah and see the beauty of Peace and Goodwill that he brought to all humanity.
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Is. 9:6
This year I will still be singing along but with a different and more grateful point of view. Dwelling on its reality brings a new meaning of humility to O Holy Night…
“Oh holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine”
Sonia possesses a wonderful gift of writing and depth of the soul.
You can read more of Sonia’s gift of penning grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merry Christmas, April Dawn White
|Andrew gave all that he had.
The Wade Family Christmas is a large affair, with a gathering of over one hundred, our clan mostly dressed in Wranglers and boots, gather at a local reception hall. Each year, our extended family chooses a family in need. Often we donate food and firewood, and money. This year my parents, and the kids and I packed up our firewood to give to a family member going through a difficult time. After dinner, the monarch of the family announced another collection would be used to purchase new dentures recently lost at the nursing home.
A few days later, I discover money and a note on the kitchen counter. I counted the money and read the note from Andrew: “New teeth.” I called Andrew into the kitchen to explain. He said, “Well, it’s not a lot, but it’s all the money I have, except for Wal-Mart gift cards. You can’t buy new teeth with a Wal-Mart gift card can you? We know two people who need new teeth and I want them to have my money. I have teeth. Everyone needs teeth, mom.” I cried. I lifted my head to the heavens and thanked the Good Lord above for this boy!
We spent Christmas Eve with my parents, my sister and her children. After the presents were opened, my mom announced she had one more gift to give. She handed Andrew a crisp twenty-dollar bill and said, “Andrew, I heard about you giving all your money away to help buy new teeth for Wilton. This is for you!” Andrew’s eyes lit up with excitement, and then he spoke, “But Grandma, this is too much. I only gave away $18 not $20.” She smiled at her only grandson and said, “No, you keep it!” From across the living room cluttered with wrapping paper, I asked “Andrew, what is it I always say about giving?” With a huge grin, he erupted, “YOU CAN’T OUT GIVE GOD!” It’s true; we can never out give God! In fact, the Bible says to test God on this subject.
“Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
I received many treasured gifts this Christmas. However, the most treasured gift was watching Andrew walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudge to give; then watching his face light up when he received back more than he gave. That’s how God works. You can’t out give God!
Two small words have set me off on an exploration this Christmas season. I have read the story of the shepherds and wise men numerous times. Yet this year, two words have had me chasing and researching events surrounding Christ’s birth more than ever before. Those two words are: His Star.
For we saw His star when it rose in the East and have come to worship Him.”
His star, until now I have never noticed the use of the personal pronoun, His. I know it might sound simple, but these two words “His Star,” have made a profound impact on me this Christmas season. Think about it, the use of the word His star rather than the use of the word the star, places ownership on the star.
Out of all the stars in the evening sky, how did the wise men know it was His star? What made Hisstar so different? Who were these wise men and what made them so wise? How did these men follow the star hundreds of miles? Why did God reveal Himself to Magi (wise men) from afar and to the neighboring shepherds? These are the questions that have plagued my mind for weeks.
Who were these Wise Men and what made them so wise?
Magi is the Greek term for wise men. These men were well educated thinkers, astronomers, astrologists, and early scientists. Being that these men came from the East, it is possible that they had been trained and educated under the ancestors of Daniel and others of the Babylonian wise men. In his article titled The Wise Men and the Star, Paul Taylor writes, “Daniel and his companions were already counted among the wise men, because they had been trained as such and interviewed for the inclusion in the ranks of wise men. (Daniel 1: 18-20).”
These men were educated in the writings of the Scriptures and the prophets. They had studied the Scriptures surrounding God’s Shekinah glory, and they remembered the stories told of the pillar of fire. They knew their Messiah would come from the line of Jacob and David from Israel. While they had never witnessed God’s Shekinah glory themselves, they knew what to look for because they had done their homework and were prepared.
I behold him, but not near:
A star shall come out of Jacob,
And a scepter shall rise out of Israel.
Scientists have proven that stars rise in the East and are stationary. Simply put, stars don’t move. It is imperative that you understand that bit of astrology to understand the significance of His
star. The Messiah’s star appeared the moment Christ was born in Bethlehem. While we don’t know the exact location of the Magi, most scholars agree they were from the East (probably Persia or Babylon). This means the wise men would have traveled nearly 800 miles from Persia to King Herod in Jerusalem.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:1-6 NIV)
After their discussion with King Herod, the wise men traveled from Jerusalem, southwest to the little town of Bethlehem. Overall this journey from Persia to Bethlehem would have taken months to years. Remembering that stars rise in the East and don’t move, how could the wise men have followed a star West to Jerusalem, then Southwest to Bethlehem? The Bible tells us that the shepherds worshiped Jesus in the manger. However, by the time the Magi had arrived, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had already moved to a nearby house.
They departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
What was so special about His star?
When I researched the phrase His star in Biblical commentaries, I learned that many scholars don’t believe it to have actually been a star at all! What? Rather, they believe His star was actually God’s Shekinah Glory of God.
Hang on; don’t check out on me yet.
According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Shekinah (sha-kine-ah) is the “transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “the one who dwells.” It clearly originates in Old Testament passages which describe God as dwelling among a people or in a particular place. God, whose dwelling is in heaven, also dwells on earth. In its narrower uses the term is applied to the “shekinah glory,” the visible pillar of fire and smoke that dwelled in the midst of Israel at Sinai, in the wilderness, and in the temple.” The word Shekinah “became a comprehensive term for any form of the presence of God; it could be used as a designation for God or as a circumlocution for references to the face or hand of God.”
From reading the Old Testament we learn that God lived among his people and his presence was this “shekinah glory”. His presence was visibly seen as cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. What does all this mean? It means that God’s presence was visibly seen by his people by day or night. God’s people, who were traveling in the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, only moved when the cloud or fire moved.
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exodus 13:21 NIV)
What about the neighboring shepherds?
The shepherds were rough and tough men who lived outdoors among the livestock. They lead, guarded, and guided their flock. These men would have been taught of their ancestors Abraham and David as well as from the prophets. These men probably didn’t graduate from the University of Bethlehem, yet God’s presence or Shekinah glory was also revealed to these men. In the New Testament, God’s presence is often associated with light and glory. We can read how God revealed His presence to shepherds working the night shift:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 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.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Whether, a light on high, a pillar of fire, or a star, follow God’s pre-lit path for your own life. Be willing to follow His star wherever He leads into a way of peace. The purpose of His Shekinah glory is to bring glory to himself and to shine light upon our way, guide our journey through the darkness, and pave a way for peace.
Because of and through the heart of tender mercy and loving-kindness of our God, a Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit [us]
To shine upon and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct and guide our feet in a straight line into the way of peace.
Follow His Star into the way of peace.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord. (Psalm 96:11, 13 NIV)
A mixture of magenta and tangerine splayed across the sky. A hush fell over the car as the kids and I watched with wonder. I pulled off the side of the road to photograph yesterday’s sunrise. They too felt it and tried to capture the moment on their electronic devices. Spectacular! My cell phone camera does not begin to capture the beauty our eyes beheld.
As we continued to drive to school, I shared with Andrew and Rachel that everything God does is to bring glory to Himself. This stunning sunrise resonated a glimpse of God’s glory, smiling over all of creation.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music. (Psalm 98:4 NIV)
As the day progressed I recalled the verses I wrote in my journal. I took poetic license and substituted the word ‘harp’ for ‘violin’ in Psalms 98:5 I was a jangle of nerves about my upcoming violin recital, I asked God to forgive me for being more worried and focused on my playing rather than honoring Him. “It’s not about me, it’s about you,” I wrote in my journal.
Praise him with strings! (Psalm 150:4 NIV)
Eleven hours after the glorious sunrise, I was prepared to check an item #6 off my bucket list:
Learn to play the violin.
Dressed in all black, I stood in the back row with the other adult violinists. I was thankful to be somewhat hidden behind the two rows of children. As the newest student, with only a dozen lessons under my belt, I was worried I would play the wrong note and everyone would turn to look at me. As we began playing, my confidence and my hands were shaking. (Shaking hands with the violin is never a good combination.) “To my audience of one” I prayed:
Let them praise your great and awesome name- He is Holy! (Psalms 99:3 NIV)
The Christmas violin program was comprised of eighteen songs, however I only learned eight songs for the program. When we progressed to the songs I did not know, I quietly stood in the rest position. With the violin tucked under my right arm and the bow dangling from my right hand, I waited my turn. A strange phenomenon occurred while I was in this rest position. The violin began to resonate!
Merriam Webster defines resonate as: verb-
1) To continue to produce a loud, clear, deep sound for a long time
2) To have particular meaning or importance for someone
3) To affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way
There is a significant amount of physics to describe how a violin resonates. Since I hated physics in college, I won’t subject you to that misery now, but I will give a simple explanation of what I learned. The violin continued to resonate because of all the excited air molecules produced by the other violinists.
While waiting my turn to play, I listened to a beautiful symphony of songs honoring the Christ child. God reminded me of the conversation I had with the children earlier that day: “Everything God does is to bring glory to Himself.” Whether a stunning sunrise or a resonating violin, all of the earth and everything in it will rejoice before the Lord!
“May you and I be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1:12
|Popsicle stick/Clothespin Nativity ornaments
made for the Kindergarten class.
It was about this time last year when God began whispering the word “Abundance” over me. Scripture verses, snippets of songs, and phrases containing the words abundance would fill my heart and mind. Since I had been praying for God to give me a verse for 2014, I soon realized that the verse would contain the word abundance. It seemed ironic to me that God would choose the word abundance, because in 2013 I had staged a mutiny against excess in my heart and life. I had committed to not spend any money on myself for an entire year. Why? I wanted to make room for God. I wanted complete dependence on him to see his provision. So imagine my curiosity as my year of self-denial in 2013 was being replaced with a new year of abundance.
“How abundant are the good things the Lord has stored up for those who fear him;
good things to be given for those who seek refuge in Him.”
In January we began to have an abundance of problems around the house. The heater in my car was broken and the tub drain leaked flooding the laundry room. Then, the heat pump stopped working during an 18 inch snow storm leaving us without heat for eight days. To make matters worse, we ended up owing more money in taxes! All these problems left me feeling frustrated. An abundance of problems was not what I was expecting! Through it all God abundantly provided. Sometimes he provided supernaturally, other times he provided extra shifts and overtime for Chris and I to earn the necessary extra money. If there was one thing God taught us, it was that faith in God includes faith in his timing!
“When you can not trace God’s hand
you must learn to trust his heart.”
As I reflect on the past year, I realize that God chose 2014 to answer an abundance of prayers! Prayers prayed often and by a faithful few. God not only answered prayers in the lives of our family but also our friends. Chris has not traveled nearly as much this year and God provided an opportunity for him to move into another position within the company. Having daddy home more and happier is a huge answer to prayer! For years I’ve prayed for three different sets of friends; one to meet God’s chosen help mate, the second to expand their family (either by birth or adoption), and the third to be approved for an international adoption. The answer to prayers began in May when my dearest friend married! Months later our friend’s family expanded with the birth of another baby girl! Finally, our third set of friends became the new parents of 7-year-old twin girls from Bulgaria. Thanks to modern technology we were able to watch a video of the girls running across the plaza into the arms of their new parents. My favorite part was hearing the camera woman singing in a thick Bulgarian accent “BRAVO! BRAVO!” I do believe all of heaven was also crying and singing “BRAVO! BRAVO!” to each of these answered prayers!
As I spent the afternoon reading previous Christmas letters. I smiled at all the references of home repairs, Jeep repairs, and Chris’ projects. This year was no different. I failed to mention earlier that when everything was falling apart in our home we were in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Pots and pans were everywhere and the stove was on the back deck. We painted our cabinets, re tiled the back splash, installed new counter tops, lights and fixtures. Our latest project is almost complete. Our wood paneled family room began to feel dark and dated. (If you need a visual, think of the Brady Bunch family room.) With Chris’s carpentry skills and a couple cans of paint, we radically changed the feel of the room. I am so thankful to be married to someone who can build. Even as I type this letter I hear the sound of a wet saw in the background.
This summer we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary in Ocracoke, NC. This year we convinced my parents and my sister and her family to join us. It’s been twenty-four years since my parents took a vacation. I’d say they’re past due! Soon after digging our toes in the sand, my mom turned to me and said, “Next year when we come…” I will forever cherish the memories of all the grand kids burying my dad in the sand, riding bikes with my sister, Chris grilling burgers from the back of his custom made by him Jeep trailer, and watching my mom truly relax! The rest of the summer passed quickly and quietly except for the hollers of “Cannonball! Or Hey, watch this!” <Splash!>
The school year took off like a bolt of lightening and we were ill prepared for the rapid pace school sports presents. Andrew is 11 (soon to be 12) and is in the sixth grade which means he started <insert gasp> MIDDLE SCHOOL! Andrew made the Middle School soccer team at RVCS and he played for the local recreation team and there went all our free time! From August to mid-October he played soccer six days a week. His hard work was abundantly rewarded. His local rec team went undefeated two seasons in a row while the Middle School team won the championship! What a great way to begin middle school!
Rachel is our 9-year-old free-spirited child. She dances through life without a care in the world. Her world is filled with rainbows, clouds, music, giggles and anything that sparkles. I wish I had just a sliver of her carefree attitude. Rachel’s sport is softball which she plays in the Spring. This year her coach focused Rachel’s training on playing the position of pitcher and first base, which Rachel loved. We were excited that Rachel could add the completion of Suzuki Violin Book One to her list of accomplishments this year. She has temporarily laid aside the violin, but she continues making music with the piano.
You know the old cliché about teaching old dogs new tricks. Well, I took the advice of my physician to learn something new and began violin lessons from Rachel’s teacher. Learning to play the violin at 39 is hard, but most days I enjoy the challenge that it brings. The violin is a very technical instrument to play, which I never knew until I played it for myself. Rachel plays it with such ease and grace that she really does make it look easy. I am glad I have Rachel as my in home tutor to help me practice. It has been fun to play dueling violins or play a duet with me on the violin and Rachel on the piano. My first violin Christmas program in next week and I am very nervous. Rachel keeps telling me to relax and have fun. Hmm, I wonder where she heard such great advice?
|Is Christ missing from your Christmas?
Today, I noticed baby Jesus was missing from one of the wooden popsicle stick/clothespin nativity ornaments for the Kindergarten class. I retraced my steps from the classroom to the volunteer work room, but no Jesus could be found. I rubbed my finger over the wooden stick and felt no glue. I wondered if I’d forgotten to include Jesus to this piece. There, in the workroom I could feel the Holy Spirit stir inside me. This humble wooden ornament is meaningless with out the Christ child just as Christmas is also meaningless without Christ. Later tonight I discovered the missing piece on my craft table. I had accidentally left it out. Dear friend, I pray that you would examine your heart to see if Christ is missing. Has he been accidentally left out of your Christmas? If so, invite him in. Jesus really is the only reason for the Christmas season.
From our family to yours,
Chris, April, Andrew, Rachel White
(Guinness and Kinsey too)