December 24th: Praise

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praiseAnd the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:20

The overwhelming response to the news of the birth of Christ throughout the Christmas story is one of praise. It is in Mary’s Magnificat (the Latin verb for ‘glorifies’) in which Mary gives a shout of exultation followed by a series of reasons why God is to be praised. It is in Zechariah’s prophecy which has become known as the Benedictus (the Latin word for ‘praise be’). It is in the Gloria that the angels sing to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest”. It is in the way that the powerful Magi fall down in front of the tiny infant and worship him. It is in the way that the shepherds return ‘glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen’.

And honestly, there is plenty to be praised! These worshippers tells us, each in their own unique and individual ways, that this baby means justice for the oppressed, a Saviour from sin, the reconciliation of God to his people, the possibility of serving God by living holy and righteous lives, light for those in darkness and death, peace on a troubled earth, good news for all people, a King whose reign is eternal and a Shepherd to protect and provide for his flock. And these are just a few things; if you read through the Magnificat or the Benedictus you will find more. Read through the Bible you will find even more!

It is a strong reminder that the only appropriate response to this overwhelming news of what God has done is our praise and worship. As we turn our praises to God, worship also has a way of transforming the worshipper; it takes us away from our current troubles and concerns and focusses our minds on the bigger picture. For the people in the Christmas story, this was not the end. Yet the challenges ahead, whether the safety of their new baby, the return to a dark and unwelcoming hillside or a long journey home, must have paled to insignificance as they praised God for what they had just seen and witnessed.

Father, we worship and adore you for this amazing story of how your Son entered our world, how He took on human flesh to be with us and to save us. May we sing with full and glad hearts of what you did all those years ago and for its continuing truth and relevance for us today. This Christmas, as we celebrate with family and friends, we acknowledge that our greatest celebration is in what you have done for us. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 7th: Mary

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MaryAnd Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Perhaps one of the most controversial and at the same time central figures in the Christmas story is Mary. Over the centuries, people have been intrigued by this young woman chosen to bear the Messiah. Beside Christ, she is perhaps the most depicted figure in religious art throughout the ages, and has been imagined in every type of setting, clothing and posture. Protestant reaction to the Catholic churches adoration of Mary has led some to be quite dismissive of her role, while the Catholic churches focus has sometimes tended to the other extreme. Nevertheless, one thing that can generally be agreed upon is the example that she sets each one of us in her humility before God and the way in which she points us to His saving work.

In Luke, the angel Gabriel refers to Mary twice as having favor before God, once in verse 28 and again in verse 30. When Mary goes to visit her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah, we are told that Elizabeth greets her with a loud cry of blessing, questioning why it should be granted to her that the mother of the Lord should come to visit her. Yet Mary does not let these words go to her head, in fact when the angel appears to her she is troubled, a sign that she possibly feels quite unworthy of the honor the angel bestows on her by addressing her as ‘favored one’. Her ultimate response to the angel’s news is one of humble submission; however we see her, at that moment, in the presence of the heavenly angel, Mary sees herself first and foremost as the Lord’s servant. The most truly admirable thing about her, as Elizabeth says, is that she believes that God’s word will be fulfilled (Luke 1:45).

In her song of praise that has become known as the Magnificat, Mary again acknowledges her humble state before God; she tells us in her own words that it is the great things that He has done for her that is the reason so many generations call her blessed. She seeks not to take the glory for herself, but to give Him the praise as she utters the words that have rung down the centuries; ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’. Think about that word ‘magnifies’ for a moment. As the Lord’s humble servant, Mary’s one desire is that her own soul would bring into greater focus the mighty works of God.

Lord, thank you for the willingness with which Mary approached the task of bearing your Son, despite what she may have endured as an unmarried mother carrying a child. Would you help us to be imitators of her example; grant us the same servant hearts that are willing to go to great lengths to do your work and fill us with faith that what you speak you will do. May we, like Mary, seek to turn your blessings back into praise that magnifies your glorious name. Amen.