Monthly Archives: December 2021

The Shepherds’ Confirmation to Mary and Us

“So [the shepherds] went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger.  They made known the message that they had been told about the child.  And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  (Luke 2:16-17, 19) 

What was it that Mary was reflecting on in her heart?   Could it have been that what the angels had told the shepherds confirmed what the angel had said to her; that the son she bore was to be the savior of the world? 

How loving and merciful of God to give Mary a confirmation of her momentous decision to say yes to his plan for her to be the mother of his Son!  

God providing confirmation of important decisions is not confined to the Holy Family, but is something available to anyone who seeks an ongoing relationship with him and asks for guidance in the decisions of life. 

Let me share a story involving my mother when I was teenage boy, growing up in Mason City, Iowa.  I was born with a deformed sternum bone that was inverted inward and had the effect of crowding my heart and lungs as I grew older.  When I was 15, it was determined that it was causing my heart to enlarge with serious consequences on my future health and life expectancy.  A thoracic surgeon in Des Moines had developed a procedure where the sternum bone would be cut from the rib cage lifted out and a bone strut placed across the ribs from one side to the other and then the sternum laid back down over the strut with everything wired back together. 

Since this was in the 1950’s and the surgery was considered unusually invasive and experimental, my parents agonized over the decision to proceed.   After seeking second opinions, deliberating extensively and praying, they decided to go forward with the surgery. 

The Sunday before we were to travel to Des Moines for the surgery, my mother was earnestly praying at mass, asking God for some kind of assurance that they were making the right decisionAs she was praying, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  It was distinctly physical.  She paused, looked behind her, but there was no one there or anywhere nearby.  She knew it was a confirmation from God of their decision to go ahead with the surgery.  Sixty-seven years later, I am still here to share the story.

“All who heard [the angels’ message] were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18)

Has God given you a sign or assurance with a difficult decision?

An Incarnation Analogy

Do you ever struggle with grasping the full meaning and purpose of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus Christ? 

For many years radio commentator Paul Harvey shared the following story at Christmas to help us understand.


The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man; generous to his family, and upright in his dealings with other men.  But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time.  It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.  He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man. 

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.”  He said he’d feel like a hypocrite.  That he’d much rather stay at home, but that he would wait up for them.  And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall.  He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.  Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another.  Sort of a thump or a thud…at first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony.  That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.  Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.  He opened the doors wide and turned on the light, but the birds did not come in.  He figured food would entice them.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable.  But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.  He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm lighted barn. 

And then he realized that they were afraid of him.  To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them.  But how?  Because any move he made tended to frighten them and confuse them, they just would not follow.  They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language.  Then I could tell them not to be afraid.  Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn.  But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”  At that moment the church bells began to ring.  The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind.  And he stood there listening to the bells, listening, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.  And he sank to his knees in the snow.


May you and your loved ones have a blessed Christmas!

Freedom to Choose – God’s Gift

“May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, we see that God did not force his will on her.  We may tend to take her decision for granted, but it was not automatic.  However holy and righteous Mary may have been, it was still within her power to decline the role God desired for her.  He gave her freedom to reject his invitation, but she chose to say yes. 

Even Jesus had the freedom to choose when he prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of torture and death he was facing be taken from him, but then he submitted. “Yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) 

Like Mary and Jesus, God has given us the freedom to make choices.  When I was in my mid-40’s, I was offered a promotion in my work that would have required our family to move. Everything in my work experience was calling out to me to accept this apparent advance in my career, but we had three teenage daughters and a young son at the time.  My wife and I discerned that under the circumstances it was not in God’s will for us to make this move. We will never know what might have happened had I accepted the assignment, but we do know what did happen – an apparent initial sacrifice was transformed into a cup overflowing with a multitude of blessings.  Since that time God added another special child to our family.  The first four children are now raising Christian families of their own, adding 13 grandchildren to our overall family. 

How precious is the gift of freedom which God gives to each of us!  He preserved it even in the midst of his most important act after creation – his intention to become one of his created in the person of Jesus in order to overcome evil and save the world from sin and death. 

We honor and revere Mary for her decision of faithfulness and obedience to God’s desire.  As we read the Gospel of Luke, we may tend to gloss over all of the real and practical complications, second guessing, and judgments Mary must have endured in saying yes to God’s messenger.  Even Joseph intended to divorce her until God spoke to him in a dream.    

Without this freedom to choose, love, faithfulness and obedience have no meaning.  A coerced love is no love at all.  Freedom is a precondition to love.  It’s the way God set things up, and Mary illustrates it perfectly in agreeing to be part of something that had never happened before in human history. 

Do we appreciate the gift of freedom that God has given us? 

An Important Announcement

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mt. 3:11) 

In today’s world if we had an important announcement, we would likely hold a press conference at a noteworthy location such as the nation’s capitol, with various news reporters and TV networks beaming the message across the land, coupled with postings on all of the internet social media.

God took an entirely different approach in announcing that he would become one of us in the person of his son, Jesus.  First, he speaks through the prophets in sometimes obscure ways hundreds of years in advance to people who could not possibly be alive when the event takes place.  Next he takes a more direct, but very private approach, by sending angels to speak personally to Mary and Joseph. 

On the day of the grand event – the birth of his son, Jesus – he sends a group of angels not to the temple in Jerusalem to speak with the leaders of the Jewish faith, but to a group of obscure shepherds in the remote hills outside of the small village of Bethlehem.   While Luke reports that the shepherds made known the message they were given, and “all who heard it were amazed,” the number of people who heard this news from these unlikely heralds had to be minimal. 

Any reputable public relations firm today would consider all of this a complete communication failure. 

But God was not done.  He still had John the Baptist, whose initial effort was not so much involved with announcing the coming of Jesus as it was in preparing people’s hearts for the coming.  He was calling people to repent of their sin.  Instead of John going to where the people were, he went out to the desert along the Jordan River and the people came to him.  Mark reports, “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” (Mark 1:5)  

Think of how powerful the Spirit of God must have been working in John to cause people to make the strenuous journey, walking for a day or more over rugged roads from Jerusalem and other parts of Judea to the Jordan River! Then, after they got there, he asked them to confess their sins and be immersed in the river.  Even the Pharisees and Sadducees made the trip.  What a revival it must have been!

God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” (Is.55:8)  We see a foretaste of the power of Holy Spirit working in John which he says Jesus will pass on to us. 

Come Lord Jesus!  Come Holy Spirit!