31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 19 – an angel visits Joseph

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Joseph considered divorcing Mary from their engagement when he heard the news that she was with child. But that was not God’s plan. This becomes the third time an angel appears announcing the baby Jesus – first to Zecharia, father of John the Baptist, then to Mary, and now Joseph. And the angels are not finished yet with this Heavenly celebration!

Matthew 1:20-22,24
But after Joseph had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.

I pray that you will know the God of joy and celebration this Christmas season.

* Merry Christmas *

In Jesus’ Words: How to be Blessed (Matthew 4-5)

beatitudes“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 4:17

What did Jesus mean by that?  What had happened from that time on?

I hope you will spend a few minutes with me on my journey of reading through Jesus’ spoken words in the New Testament; to block out all the noise of our society and just listen to what Jesus has to say.  If Jesus is who he said he was, then the only thing that truly matters are his words.

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The gospel of Matthew records one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, called The Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew had been a despised tax collector of his time, but he had changed.  He gave away his wealth, relinquished his power, and even went so far as to pay back those he had cheated, all to follow this man Jesus, who at that time was not yet even fully known for all that he would later become.

Jesus first announced his ministry through his baptism by John the Baptist in Matthew 3.  As his ministry grew, he began to be known throughout the regions for healing the sick and the poor, and teaching in the synagogues.  People were amazed at his words and large crowds followed him everywhere.  But there were also those who were opposed to what he had to say.

“When Jesus had heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.” (Matthew 4:12).  Jesus was burdened for John, who was the one who had come before him, preparing the way and preaching of the Messiah to come.  Now, Jesus begins to call his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, and starts to preach.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
 Matthew 4:19-20

Not since Moses’ time had people seen anyone like Jesus.  The crowds and disciples gathered on the mountainside while Jesus began to talk to them.  He taught them a new way to live; how to be blessed.  The first eight statements in his Sermon on the Mount are known as The Beatitudes, or declarations of blessedness.  Being “blessed” means much more than being happy in the moment.  It reaches beyond our current situations, beyond our pain and hurt, and gives us an eternal joy and hope; the big picture; the faith we cling to when everything else fails us.  In today’s society, we don’t hear as much about the Beatitudes.  Most of us are familiar with The Ten Commandments given to Moses from God.  But now, Jesus had come to complete the law and show us how to live a blessed, eternal life.

I did not take it lightly, while reading through Jesus’ opening words of his sermon.  I meditated on the words for awhile, letting them sink in and thinking about what it means to us today.  It’s easy sometimes to skim over words like “poor in spirit” or “blessed are the meek”.  So, along with the help of my study Bible, I provided further understandings in parenthesis.  I also found it interesting that the very first and last beatitudes from Jesus tell us how to receive the kingdom of heaven.  Here is what Jesus said:

~ Matthew 5:3-12  The Beatitudes ~

“Blessed are the poor in spirit (not prideful, depending on God instead of ourselves), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn (caring for others beyond ourselves), for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek (not after worldly power), for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (pursue God), for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful (kindness to others), for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart (not deceiving others), for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers 
(concern for the peace of the world instead of concern for self), for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (stand firm in their faith), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (for Christ is with you). Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I imagine when Matthew heard Jesus’ sermon, he probably thought, “I’ve got to write this down!”  It was the voice of God speaking.  Just like God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to guide us in how to conduct our life, Jesus came from heaven, as the voice of God, to show us how to live our lives joyfully, fully, and eternally.

The Anticipation

As I sit here on Christmas Eve, the anticipation begins to build.  No matter if you are young or old, everyone stops for a moment on this Christmas eve, as the old familiar carols play, and will think of their hopes and dreams, presents and sweets, and family and friends. It is a time like no other. Christmas Day is the only day of the year where the entire world stops for a day.  Even wars have called a truce on this day.  Peace.  A time to celebrate the day God chose to make Himself known to all mankind in a personal way.  Jesus Christ.  And for all that Jesus represents to the world – peace, love, forgiveness, joy, kindness, understanding, compassion, helping the poor.  No other person, no other religion, no other doctrine, can offer what Jesus offers.  We as human beings, will squabble and disagree from time to time among ourselves – after all, none of us are perfect; but on this one day, the anticipation builds to the coming of that day from two thousand years ago, when God came to earth in the form of a baby in the manger.  The world has never since been the same.

The anticipation of it all.  The time when the world is quiet and we reflect back on the year and realize everything culminates into this one day – our families, our hard work, the struggles – it is all for this one day.  For Jesus.  For God so loved the world.  It is the time when strangers greet you with a smile, we all sing Christmas carols and laugh at the silly elves and flying reindeer, and grown adults still put cookies out for Santa.  The world lightens up a little, and we forget our troubles, even if for one day. Why? Because we have chosen to focus on the good on this day, and the source of all things good. God.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.  Philippians 4:18

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little feet  Merry Christmas!

Shopping for Jeans

Shopping for jeans in the wintertime is about as depressing as shopping for swimsuits in the summer.  I’d be happy to stay with my comfortable old jeans, but now that I can wear jeans to work, I thought it might be worth the adventure to the mall for a new stylish pair.  I tried on jeans with all the embellishments and some mystery called “skinny jeans”, until  a young sales woman approaches me and says with a smile, “Are you actually going to try that on?”  That should have been enough to make me run to the nearest gym, but instead I run back to my familiar store where the sales associates are over the age of twenty, and I buy a couple of pairs of my favorite jeans.  Maybe next summer…

It was a long time before I was able to write something like this with humor instead of tears.  I wasted so many years of my youth obsessing over my weight.  Then having a child of my own began to change my focus to what is really important, and I finally realized that nothing in my life had ever been won or lost over a few pounds.  True joy, true confidence, and true beauty really do start from within.

beautiful

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30little feet

Lessons from the Sea ~ King of the Sandcastle Fort

I saw a young boy, about 3 years old, sitting in the sand.  He had made a fortress of sandcastles, shaped from those little plastic molds, all lined up around him on each side.  He was sitting in the middle of the fort playing with his bulldozers and trucks, and on his head, he sported a sahara type hat, which obviously kept him cool during his work.  He looked quite content, being the king of his sandcastle fort.  As I passed by on my morning beach run, I paused for a moment, hoping to capture some of that pure joy this boy obviously had.  Sometimes I think the very young and the very old know the secret to life, and those of us in the middle are just trying to find our way back. Do children know something we adults have forgotten?

Later the same day, I saw another small child walking down the beach tottering behind a young adult.  The adult stopped to ask me if I had seen which direction the child came from.  No, I had not, and then they proceeded on to the lifeguard stand.  I guessed that the child was lost, and I began to scan the beach for the looks of a frantic mom, knowing that would be the easiest way to spot the parents.  A few minutes later, sure enough, I see a young mom sprinting down the beach flapping her arms in all directions.  As she got closer to the lifeguard stand, the young child spotted her too, and started running toward her.  With arms flung outward, they embraced and hugged.  I was glad she didn’t scold him.  Then she thanked the Good Samaritan and the Lifeguard, and they sauntered back home.  What a reunion – parent and child.  Only so much more does our Heavenly Father want that same reunion with His children – arms open, not scolding, only happy to see us.

Thinking on both these things today, the happy boy with his sandcastle fort and the young mom and child, I am reminded of our Heavenly Father’s comforting words from the sea.
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If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  Psalm 139:9-10

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves arise, You still them.
Psalms 89:9

The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  Matthew 8:27 

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(photography from my son @ facebook.com/JohnMcCuskerPhotography)