Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
As I have been thinking of my word of the year and processing what it means for me.
I was reminded of the time many years ago when I was in our Lamaze class preparing to have our first baby.
The instructor told us, when a contraction comes close breathe through it as you count, relax and breathe.
I have found myself doing that pretty much all my life since then.
Breathing in, a cleansing breath and breathing out the old.
It is both relaxing and good for one to slow down just enough to breathe.
In fact when it was time for me to deliver our daughter who is almost 39 years old, I remember clearly the breathing I did.
All night long, I felt it was not time to deliver but just a lot of pressure.
Breathing, in and out, deep cleansing breathes.
When we arrived at the hospital I was very close to delivering her and I didn’t even know it because I was so relaxed and so focused on the breathing process.
I think that is what we all need.
To focus, slow down and breathe.
It has been cold outside in our area in fact snow fell last night and the air was very cold when we were outside.
We went for a walk and I found myself focusing on the cold air, breathing in and breathing out.
I found it healing in a way for me to not only walk for health but to also focus on breath.
I could feel it, and I kind of felt like I needed an inhaler to help me, but the air was cold and it was so good as I kept walking.
As we focus on breath let us remember this one thought.
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6
Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
Every year for the last five years or so I have received what is called, “my word for the year.”
Last years word was REVEAL.
I wasn’t sure at first why that word, but as the month’s moved on, it became very clear to me.
My best friend was diagnosed with a life threatening illness and I was diagnosed with early diabetes.
Major life choices and changes had to take place for both of us, revealing the necessary disciplines we both needed to get the help we needed to learn how to take care of ourselves in a better way.
It is strange how a word just fits. It became a life challenge.
Reveal – exposing what is hidden. Maybe one could even say a rude awakening?
It has been hard to hear the news about my best friend, my prayers are with her.
In reality diabetes can also be life threatening if not taken seriously.
The new word I have sensed for this year, is simple but very necessary.
It has depth of meaning on many levels.
We sat in a room one time with a man who was dying.
His labored breathing was the indicator of how soon, he would be leaving.
It’s strange how that is, what we listen for when a baby is born.
That cry, that first breath. That pours oxygen into a little soul or in the case of someone passing,
that last gasp from the lungs.
Without it we cannot live.
Without it there is no spirit connected to soul.
In Genesis 2:7 it says:[He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.]
(Reminding me of what takes place when CPR is done.)
When Jesus was with the disciples in the New Testament, it says in John 20:22
[Then he breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.”]
It all involved on thing. One purpose. One life giving measure.
In Daniel 10:17 we read: [‘”My strength is gone, and I can hardly breathe.”]
While we were in the room with our dear friend who was dying, we had turned the tv down to almost a mute tone while we watched the quiet screen in front of us. Then one of the ladies said, “silence”… we sat in the quiet while she counted, One, Two, Three.
Three deep gasps and then he was gone.
In Psalm 144:4 It says: [They are like a breath of air, their days are like a passing shadow.]
In the book of Job in the Old Testament, it says:
[But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.]
It was just like that. He was no more the man we remembered.
In a moment in time we saw life then we saw no life, all because of breath.
My new word of the year is breathe.
For the last few weeks we have gone back and studied and remembered what it took for the Christmas story to take place.
The many people like casts in a play, each had a role, each had a circumstance they were involved in.
God directed and placed each and every one of them in a certain role so that the story could be fulfilled.
John 3:16-18The Message (MSG)
[16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it.
And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”]
I believe nothing was by accident. God KNEW Mary needed Joseph, HE knew Joseph needed her, He KNEW Mary would need the encouragement of Elizabeth.
He knew that the Shepherds would not be believed as credible witnesses had they NOT seen the baby and proclaimed with ‘conviction’ what they had seen.
God KNEW everyone would need the guidance and shock value of the Angel Gabriel to make HIS point.
It was all thought out and all master planned.
Isn’t it wonderful?
Isn’t it so simple?
John 3:16Revised Standard Version (RSV)
[16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.]
I hope you have come to believe too.
Matthew 2 The Message (MSG)
Scholars from the East
[1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East.
They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews?
We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth.
We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well.
Herod lost no time.
He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land, no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East.
Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared.
Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned.
As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”
9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off.
Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies.
It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.
They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother.
Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod.
So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.]
The story is wrapping up and soon Mary and Joseph would go not be able to go back to their homeland with their baby boy.
Herod was very angry that the wise-men did not do what he told them.
So they headed to Nazareth where they stayed for many years.
The birth of Jesus is full of intensity, of miracles, of communication between angels and man.
It is a wonderful outpouring of God’s great love for us.
A baby was born so we could see that God would go to great length’s for us to be saved and have salvation.
There is more to the story for us found in the New Testament books.
The baby grows and becomes a KING and humbled himself on a cross so we could have hope.
I pray we can see and feel this wonderful love through the Christmas story.
The next cast of characters we see in this story of baby Jesus, were the Wisemen.
In our modern day ‘versions’ of Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the manger we often have the Wise-men arriving when the shepherds were there.
That actually was not a very accurate bit of information for it was months even up to a year or two, before they saw the child.
There were no names given that we could know but modern ‘theologians’ say they were named, Gaspar, Melchior and Bathasar.
I am not sure how anyone would know that, but some say these men were considered wise men or Magi.
They brought to the baby special gifts not normally given to a young child.
Gold was considered to be a symbol of divinity, frankincense was a symbol of righteousness, myrhh was a spice used for embalming it symbolizes bitterness, suffering and affliction.
Now if Mary or Joseph knew any of this information it would be quite unsettling for them I would assume.
As young parents you are not expecting these type of gifts given to your tiny little son.
It has been said they arrived on the scene after traveling 800-900 miles on camel or by walking.
It took a long time of travel to get there.
There were no fast cars or ways of travel in those days.
They were sent by Herod who had a motive unknown to them as they traveled.
They were actually doing a ‘duty’ for him, only we will find out later it back fired on Herod.
Some of the nativity story as we know it has been created to make a ‘wonderful little’ story book setting.
It actually was a rough road for many who journeyed their way to Bethlehem.
The travel was long, hard and tiresome.
The marvelous ways God showed up were amazing, and the story continued with each and every character.
The next cast of characters were the wise men, playing a part of the role that God had chosen for them.
They followed the star and trusted in the process.
The teach us to listen to the stillness of God. To follow what they knew to be true.
They humbled themselves and they recognized the worth of their gifts, for they knew the word of God
and they knew it was a appointment for them orchestrated by God.
The story continues as we journey towards the end.
As they were in the temple with Simeon, Mary and Joseph met another one who had waited for a life time for this moment.
[Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman.
She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers.
At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.]
Anna becomes one more important character in this cast of characters.
She was married at a young age we can assume, her husband passes away after seven years. (which by the way is a number that is often used as biblical)
Then it says she was a widow for eighty-four years. So like Simeon she was very old, ninety two plus at least fourteen years. (my guess)
She had patiently waited in the temple for the messiah to come.
Every week, she waited and prayed. Can you even imagine the patience and trust it took for her to believe it would happen, someday?
Every time a young couple would come in with their precious little baby, she wondered and waited and asked herself, is he the one?
When she saw Simeon she knew by the words that he had said, and perhaps by his countenance shown, that THIS was the one.
How exciting for her.
Finally the waiting was over.
Did that mean she could finally leave the temple? we are not told the ending of her story.
We can only begin to believe that God orchestrated each character and each time frame like a scene in a play.
To finish what was started. The theme was “A baby would be born and HE would be the Messiah”.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
We can begin to be thankful, deep within our hearts just like Mary did, and know that God went to great lengths, to bring us salvation.
The story continues for Mary and Joseph.
Their little baby becomes a week old and they learn as they can, the responsibility of becoming new parents.
A tradition when one had a little boy was to do the rite of circumcision on the 8th day.
[When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.]
It was a formal gathering where the baby was given the name chosen and then it was officially done.
On this particular day it was most meaningful for someone who had been waiting…many years.
[In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel.
And the Holy Spirit was on him.
The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died.
Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple.
As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:
God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.]
[Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words.
Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted— the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are.]
This I am sure was not the plan of Joseph and Mary when they took baby Jesus to the temple.
But God…set it up for Simeon to see, (again seeing with our own eyes) the baby.
He had waited all his life and he anticipated this moment many times.
He knew what to look for, as he was in tune with the HOLY SPIRIT’S leading.
This had to be both very exciting and a little confusing for Mary and Joseph.
Still not fully realizing the magnitude and the depth of ‘their little baby boy.’
What we begin to understand while reading this story over and over, is the orchestration of God.
It all happened at the right time, for the right reason with the right people so scripture could be fulfilled.
What we can learn from this story is for sure obedience and acceptance and even intense trust.
When we read this verse. In Luke 2:
[8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep.
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.]
First we have to realize who these sheepherders were. They are a group of men who were considered outcasts.
The majority of people in the villages had nothing to do with them. They were rough and rugged.
Not much terrified them. They were used to fighting off wild animals while protecting their sheep.
They were not ‘lightly’ startled either, they were keenly taught to be sheep herders.
Were they standing around the camp fire and all of a sudden someone appeared right beside them?
We are not told what the angel looked like, and how it actually happened.
What about the glory blazing around them, that had to have been very amazing, and a bit scary.
[At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.]
Was it a flash mob of angels in the sky singing and praising God?
That would be enough to make one rethink some thoughts. In awe and wonder and also maybe disbelief?
I find it interesting they sang ‘the right language’ so the sheepherders understood the song.
[15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over.]
Then to see the angel choir go back into the heavenly clouds? that would be amazing too.
The sheepherders talked it over among themselves and said ‘we must go quickly.’
[“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
They left, running,] We have to remember these sheepherders would never leave their precious sheep for any reason.
They knew that it was not an option to leave the sheep unprotected. Yet they did.
They ran quickly. What we can learn from these men is their desire to see with their own eyes.
The baby born in a stable laying in a manger.
[They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing.
They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.]
The other significant issues around this is the sheepherders were not often thought of as reliable resources.
Not believable, not someone who you would trust with information.
They learned to speak with impressionable language and believable attitudes and behavior.
The verse says ALL were impressed. NOT some but everyone.
Kind of like they were the first missionary’s on the stable floor.
They saw, they shared and they were truth tellers for the first time.
What we can learn from this story is the life changing ability of a little baby named Jesus.
The men who were outcasts became acceptable, the men who never were listened to, became credible witnesses.
They told everyone they met, about this life altering experience and as they returned to their field of sheep.
I am sure they shared among each other, the experience and the reason why they all ran to the stable.
The time came for Mary’s son to be born and with Joseph by her side, she delivered her first child.
A baby boy who they named Jesus.
[In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David.
His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary.
Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.
But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you:
You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-28 MSG]
As she was remembering, I am sure she was overwhelmed with emotions.
The road to the stable was long and hard and she was tired.
You can imagine her feeling exhausted, sad that she left her family, weary from the days of travel.
I am also sure she was overwhelmed with the ‘thought’ of this little baby being someone very special.
As they rested she probably thought back on all the conversations she had shared with Elizabeth.
She remembered how Elizabeth’s baby responded to her voice and how powerful that moment was for them.
So much was on her heart and in her mind and mixed with her emotions of just giving birth.
The next cast of characters to arrive on the scene are the Shepherds.
In Luke we find the story.
[8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep.
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.
This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over.
“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
Seeing was believing. (THIS is what WE SEE with our eyes)
They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child.
All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.
It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!]
Mary went with Joseph on the trip to do the census in the town of Bethlehem.
She didn’t have to go as she was not ‘his’ wife, and the custom was for families to be counted.
[Luke 2: He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.]
Our Pastor said today there were a few ‘ideas why’ she went with him.
Joseph was told by the Angel to name the baby Jesus.
If he had gone on without her the baby might have been born before he got back; and his name might not have been ‘chosen to be Jesus.’
Being young the ‘family’ might have chosen a different name for him.
The other idea was she was so far along Joseph didn’t feel right about leaving her alone, so he took her with him to be close to her.
Another idea was to protect her; for to be pregnant without being married would be cause for her to be stoned.
He was saving her life by taking her with him and walking with her on the road together.
The other idea was he had to follow the ‘direction given’ for them to have a baby in a manger, fulfilling the prophecy written.
[6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn.
She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel there.]
Remember this is in the middle of a census which would mean many rooms would be full and many homes not available.
We often remember the ‘story’ of Joseph going door to door asking for a room, and the Innkeeper saying, “there in no room in the inn.”
We don’t really know if that actually happened or if it has been a story passed down just to make it more interesting.
I also read somewhere that if he was to meet family on his side they might have not been accepting of her, since they were not married.
What we do know, Mary and Joseph were to have their little baby in a quiet little stable among the sheep and cows.
Maybe after being with Elizabeth Mary had an idea of what to do during birth, she might not have had a midwife help her.
I am not sure if they tore the donkey’s blanket and made it a swaddling cloth for the baby.
Perhaps they had brought a few baby things, just in case they would need it, before leaving on this road trip.
We are not told about conversations between the two of them, or the discomfort Mary had felt while traveling this ‘long journey.’
Anyone who has ever been expecting knows and understands this would be a very long hard road for her.
Whether she walked part of the way or rode the donkey the whole time, it was not easy or comfortable.
We don’t know many things about this Christmas story, but we do know, it was planned and it was supposed to take place.
In the little town of Bethlehem, so that scripture could be fulfilled.