31. Provision

The Great Production Meditations No.31: Provision

Mt 2:11 they bowed down and worshiped him… and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Have you ever read of God as Jehovah Jireh – the ‘God who provides’ or ‘God will provide’ (Gen 22:14)? He sometimes does it in strange ways but as this particular ‘play ends’ [yes, there’s lot more for another time perhaps] can we see these Magi, wise men, or kings, as that, God’s provision for this little family, gifts to be sold off to keep them going in a foreign land (Egypt Mt 2:13-15). Security comes from knowing you are being cared for. As we go into the next year, can we go with this security, this knowledge that God IS our provider. Amen?

We must leave our ‘play’ for other things in the New Year call for our attention; perhaps we may return to it at some future date for the great production carries on whether we are aware of it as that, or not. Life moves on and we are ‘players’ in it. Perhaps we are central figures in our small part, parents, employers, leaders, people who others look to. Perhaps sometimes we are just called to be ‘bit players’, those who have just a small part to play in some bigger drama, just a few words to be spoken that make sense of the whole thing for others. Maybe we are those who are on the receiving end of blessings, perhaps we are those who are to bring blessings.

The ‘wise men’ were, I believe, God’s means of provision for this little family at this time but they came as aliens from another land. They had travelled many miles over many days to get there and they had been guided by a ‘supernatural star guidance’. Sometimes we have to follow our star – our unique plan that God has for us, sometimes just ordinary day after day putting one foot in front of the other, while at other times we have a sense of amazing guidance being provided by God. But we have a God-given goal. It may have come with an amazing prophetic word, more often it comes with a sure inner sense that this is what we’re called to. As parents we’re called to be there creating a safe environment for our offspring and being the ones who provide for them, until the time comes when they stand on their own two feet and we stand in the background, praying, watching, still with them when they need us.

The Nativity play is all about the bringing into being a new family that would be all this for the Son of God. We’ve seen that behind it all is the plan of God, and the plan is going somewhere. The same is true of us, even if it does sometimes take us a long time to realise it! What is the part you are called to play today? It may require grace, strength, wisdom, patience, perseverance, endurance, self-sacrifice. We’ve seen all these things in this ‘play’ we’ve been observing, and God is good at providing all these aspects of love. Play your part well.

30. Encouragement

The Great Production Meditations No.30: Encouragement

Lk 2:16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”

So on stage, we now move to the next scene. The baby has arrived, and they are new parents, away from their home, although it is probable that other members of their family may be nearby, of the same family having to be in Bethlehem. They have various needs, needs that are probably beyond most of us. I confess I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have been a pre-teenage or just teenage girl having a baby in a stable / shed /cowshed / cave (take your choice, they’re all as bad!). Her mother quite possibly, coming from a different family name might have had to go somewhere else to be counted.

This girl and her young man need some serious encouragement but where, in the middle of the night do you get encouragement? Who’s around in the middle of the night to bring some form of encouragement? God, we could do with a miracle, we could do with some encouragement please! And at that moment some scruffy heads peer round the door opening and then they venture in.

Yes, this is the shepherds who had seen a celestial vision that has blown them away – all the way down the hillsides to a back shed/cave behind the local pub. The king of Israel might have not have deigned to visit (if he knew) but sheds are familiar places for shepherds, home from home. The middle of the night is a familiar time for a shepherd; nothing out of the ordinary here for them! Why are they there? They were told to go. Why? To be a welcoming party to cheer up this couple I suspect. God is good at encouraging people, but He does it through other people.  Do you want to become an ‘encouraging shepherd’ in this year ahead and change the lives of those around you?

Have you ever thought about it like this? These shepherds had been motivated by an incredible experience seeing angels and hearing a heavenly choir. Perhaps they needed something as dramatic as that to get them off their hillside and to be God’s encouragement to this little family in Bethlehem. Perhaps God was so overjoyed with the arrival of His Son on the earth that He just had to express it through these singing angels, and the only people around and awake were these shepherds. Perhaps He wanted to make a point for those with eyes to see, that the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36, Rev 5:6,12) had just arrived in a stable and the most appropriate people to welcome him were shepherds. You and I may not have such dramatic motivation to become encouragers but that shouldn’t stop us. Who in our vicinity is feeling low and in need of encouragement? Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the ones you can bless today.

29. Discomfort

The Great Production Meditations No.29: Discomfort

Lk 2:7 (JBP)as there was no place for them inside the inn, she wrapped him up and laid him in a manger.”

In the previous study we spoke of ‘adventures with God’ which are open to all such believers but suggested we need to be realistic about it in as far as we recognise that, living in this fallen world sometimes means life can get tough. When we watch Joseph and Mary, we see just how true that is.

Would you believe it, you trek ninety miles for over nearly a week from our home in Nazareth, all the way down here to Bethlehem just at the whim of the emperor and when you get here there’s nowhere to stay! Typical! Hold on, there is some shelter out back of the inn where the animals are kept, we could stay there. So the Son of God is welcomed to the earth on a pile of straw (probably). Mothers will probably appreciate that more. God is clearly in the risk-business, with a young girl, a ninety-mile journey, and a stinking stable. At first sight they are all alone; tough stuff. Who said life was easy?

But that’s it, in our materialistic haven in the West (certainly a haven in comparison to some other parts of the world and other times in history), we expect life to be easy but when it isn’t, we grumble. If I may use a light-hearted illustration, (future historians note) back in an earlier illustration I quoted my barber who I visited for the first time for a long time because of the various lockdowns (thanks to my wife for cutting my hair!) and he referred to a young man (not his words!) who came in complaining about what a terrible time it had been, having been locked in for so long, “with only the tele and my computer games.” The fount of all wisdom, my barber, replied, “Count yourself lucky son, if you had lived just over a hundred years ago you would have been carted off to fight in the trenches in the First World War” No sympathy there, but a good point made nevertheless. There were two aspects to that. First, what we have to ‘put up with’ today is minor and, second, in comparison to other times is almost inconsequential.

But problems and difficulties are still problems and difficulties which is why mental health has become such a big issue in recent months, but perhaps it is because the population is largely godless and doesn’t turn to God for help (Phil 4:6,7). Mary, some months pregnant has to face the risks and discomfort of a long journey on a donkey (if she was lucky) – but is living with a purpose. Joseph is having to care for her and is probably not quite so clear on his purpose. Both have divine calling but that doesn’t mean they escape the hardship of travel and then having to stay in a shed where Mary has her baby. Most inconvenient of God. That’s life! 

28. More Interventions

The Great Production Meditations No.28: More Interventions

Lk 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world”

We suggested yesterday that we can be open-hearted as Joseph appeared to be, by being open to hear God speaking and then being responsive to what we hear. We spoke of ‘adventures with God’ which are open to all such believers while the rest of the world struggles on with its business, focusing on self-needs. Some of us are jaded by the past, our own failures, or the things the fallen world dropped on us, but the truth remains, we can explain away why we are not like Joseph, but it still means we miss out on what could be in this ‘great production’ of life. God will rarely force us unless He sees that it really would only take a little forceful nudge (as with Moses – Ex 3 & 4) to get us into world-changing events.

But we mustn’t be ‘romantic’ about these things because sometimes these ‘adventures’ with God can be scary (but then isn’t life like that sometimes anyway? How much better to be in the ‘scary’ with God rather than on your own!) It was scary with Moses, it was often scary being a disciple with Jesus, being led into storms on a lake, or into confronting demoniacs, let alone being opposed by the authorities!

But there is something else in all this, as our starter verses directs us. Whether it is the direct intervention of God, simply His nudging, or simply ‘things going wrong’ in this fallen world, stuff does happen sometimes that is out of our control – and the Pandemic was exactly this for many – and it requires action on our part that, given a choice, we would much rather have not done. In the time and place in history we are considering, all power resides (with God’s permission) with Caesar Augustus in Rome, but the long arm of Rome stretches across a large swathe of the world that includes Israel and so a census is imposed whereby everyone had to return to their family’s hometown and be counted. This was a nuisance because it meant Joseph (of the family tree of David) would have to go to David’s hometown, Bethlehem – with his pregnant wife, a ninety-mile trek! There are times in this world when people or just circumstances turn the rudder of the boat of our lives in a different direction – and it’s a nuisance! For Joseph it was a pregnant wife and now an unwanted journey. For us it’s been nearly two years of Covid. Grief may have come, stress may have come, illness may have come, but the thing in all of these things – especially when we have been talking about ‘adventures with God’, is can we see the perspective of life around us with God presiding over it, Jesus reigning in it (1 Cor 15) so we count our blessings that WERE there in the midst of it, his provision that IS here for us, whatever is going on in us and around us? 

27. Reassurance

The Great Production Meditations No.27: Reassurance

Mt 1:20 an angel of the Lord …. said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.”

I said yesterday that I’m not focusing on the usual things we focus on in the Nativity and part of that reason is because we tend to miss all the sub-plots. So when we come to Joseph we just focus on him getting guidance through a dream, that helps him through his righteousness conundrum, the puzzle over what to do about Mary without unduly showing her up for what he thinks must have happened.

Joseph, fairly naturally, struggles over Mary’s pregnancy; he’s not the father but, looking more deeply, I suggest we see here the goodness of God who comes in a way that best suits Joseph – he believes in divine dreams (he gets lots of them), and so God gives him a dream. I’m sure we take this for granted as we read it every year, but the reality is that God could have sent the angel Gabriel to Joseph as He did with Mary, but He doesn’t, He just gives him a dream because the angel seems to turn up on seriously ‘difficult-belief’ situations, such as that which confronted both Zechariah and Mary. Joseph just needs a dream – and he’s going to get a lot more along the way – but that’s all he needs. He’s not only righteous, he’s open-hearted towards God, and such people are quicker to believe than others of us.

As we go through this barren place called post-Christmas, towards another year of uncertainty with Pandemic vagaries, know that the Lord is still here, understands all our feelings, and desires to communicate with us – in the best way suited to us as individuals. For some, the Lord communicates through nature, for others through dreams or visions, for others through His word, for others through prayer or worship, and for others through friends or circumstances – but He does communicate. Now that raises two further questions.

First, are we listening and able to hear? Now it isn’t automatic that because He speaks, we will hear. Often His words are drowned out by distracting thoughts or things happening around us that call for our attention. I wonder if it is the people who are expecting to hear from Him, who do hear, simply because they are more alert to Him? Second, are we openhearted like Joseph appears to be so that our lives can be moved, we can be guided and directed by simple things? Again, merely because we hear, it isn’t automatic that we will be blessed by it. It is the people who are open-hearted who are responsive and who live in the excitement of being led by Almighty God. We’ll ponder on this a bit more tomorrow, but these are the people who embark on adventures with God, while the rest continue in the mundane affairs of the world, missing the spiritual opportunities that God offers. Let’s not miss out!

26. Ordinariness

The Great Production Meditations No.26: Ordinariness

Mk 6:3Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?”

This year I am finding I am not focusing on the usual things we focus on in this Nativity story so now, before we more on to Joseph’s objections, let’s note something simple and yet so basic we rarely think about it.

Yes, our starter verse is a quote from later on in the story but we need to note something about Jewish society, something that rarely happens today:  sons followed in their father’s business most of the time so almost certainly Joseph is a carpenter. We don’t often think about this, we think about how law-abiding Joseph was (Mt 1:19) and we miss something of the ordinariness and practicalities of life.

As this young man comes on stage, he is a very down-to-earth person who almost certainly works with his hands. He’s not super spiritual, we’re not told he was handsome, he’s not got a wealthy or noble background. No, all those things are absent. In fact in this incredible story we call the Nativity it is almost as if God shuns the great and the good, the important people of their world, the movers and shakers, the influencers, the rich and important. No, all these people are absent (except at the end). The only people who are in that category are Caesar Augustus, who is shown as a fame-hungry despot who throws his weight around demanding to see the greatness of his empire, and Herod who appears as a Machiavellian figure plotting the death of an apparent competitor. No this is a story about simple people.

So what do we learn? God steps into the lives of ordinary people, the likes of you and me, and for the most part doesn’t expect us to change that, but simply let Him change what He will. We follow Him in the midst of the ordinary. The apostle Paul summed it up: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth…. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:26-28)

Don’t confuse this with being stupid or naturally foolish; God doesn’t want us to be stupid, but He does want us to be humble. Joseph is not a prince or a noble, he’s just a carpenter, maybe a jobbing building, so he doesn’t appear in the world’s hall of fame. But neither, probably, do you and me. Yes, there are big names who are movers and shakers and impact the world for good and we shouldn’t demean them, but one wonders who of them will appear in heaven one day. The values of the kingdom of God are things like graciousness, humility, compassion; there is no room for celebrity status in Christian leadership which is why God is humbling so many of us. Where pride has reigned, He pulls the rug out so humility can come. Be warned.  God is looking to work in and through the ordinary!

25. Invitation

The Great Production Meditations No.25: Invitation

Lk 1:31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

Christmas Day has become a focal point for wholesalers and retailers alike as they seek to make up their loses from earlier in the year by persuading gullible customers they must empty and hand over their bank accounts and maybe accrue massive debt that will take the next three months to pay off. Around the community in some parts of the world (the affluent parts!) families compete to see who can spend the most for the most extravagant Christmas lights to cover their houses and fill their gardens with glowing reindeer, but a month later when the dark returns and the lights have come down and the bank statements come in, life is still the same – empty. How tragic.

Whether this day or some other day on the calendar, the most important event in history occurred – God arrived on earth in human form, the baby Jesus. It would take thirty-three years for his work to be completed but he’s arrived! Hallelujah!

Miracles of healing are great and of provision, deliverance etc. etc. but having a baby when you don’t have a husband in a very traditional culture…. er? There is something here that may challenge our comfy Christian experience and beliefs in God – He is a God who sometimes asks us to do things that might be uncomfortable (to say the least!!) and embarrassing and misunderstood by family and friends. But this challenges our absolutely basic belief – did we accept Jesus as Saviour AND Lord, because he really can’t be one without the other.

So the Lord of Glory has arrived in our midst and even as quite likely he will be hidden in the midst of our festivities, so he was hidden from the eyes of most of the world. But it started here, nine months earlier when the angel Gabriel pronounced the will of God on earth to this young girl – You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”   She is going to query this but only in as far as she wants to know how she can conceive without a husband.

But there is something very obvious but very profound here that is true of every couple who decide to try to bring a child into the world. Mary is being invited to receive the Son of God into her life, not in some spiritual way as we do, but in a very practical way that will impact every waking hour of her life – babies do that! The day of their arrival might be noisy but that is nothing compared to the upheaval they will cause on a daily and hourly basis for years to come. Inviting another ‘person’ to share your personal space is the most momentous thing we can do. Remember this reality today in the midst of all else that is going on, believer, you have another person with you here in your home now.

24. More Interventions

The Great Production Meditations No.24: More Intervention

Lk 1:26,27 God sent the angel Gabriel to …. Mary.”

We suggested that Scene 2 of Act 1 came to an end with Elizabeth’s lovely, simple declaration,“The Lord has done this for me.”  As she stands there centre stage and makes this testimony, the lights dim and the curtains close on that scene. Scenes divide off one event from another. We’re about (even though it is the same chapter in Luke) to see another angelic intervention.

So the next scene finds a young girl, not quite a teenager, on her own on the centre of the stage. Suddenly she is no longer alone, another spotlight comes on to highlight the same angel who came to Elizabeth now appearing again, and she hears those famous words, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v.28)

Now some of us may struggle with this, as we’ve previously pondered when we were considering the difficulties with believing good news in earlier studies, but this is the truth for US today – we ARE highly favoured AND the Lord IS with us.

How can I say this? Jesus came to proclaim, “the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:19) That ‘year’ started then and has NOT finished!!!! If you have been born again and the Holy Spirit indwells you, tell me that you are not highly favoured and that the Lord is not with you!!!!! Whatever circumstances surround us, those two truths are unchanging.  Rejoice in that.

Now we have to keep on repeating these things because I believe there has come such a sense of defeatism is many parts of the church that we feel we have been marginalized by society (and Satan), have been made to look a bunch of unloving bigots (which, let’s be honest, some of us have been), made to look a bunch of idiots who believe in fairy tales rubbished by science, and have simply not been taught and equipped to counter these misunderstandings or even lies, so that we remain silenced, feeling inadequate, disarmed and powerless. Around us the Christian press keeps on telling us about leaders who have fallen from grace by one means or another, and we feel rubbish. Now this may sound over-negative but it is the truth for many; I hope not for you. But because of this thinking we have lost the sense of the truth that I declared a couple of paragraphs back, that Jesus has declared that THIS IS the year of his favour, this IS the year when he wants to take us, envision us, empower us, and use us. This doesn’t mean that you are to be a raving evangelist or minister (although for you, you might!) but as we seek to be both available and obedient, we open ourselves to him to come and, yes, take us, envision us, empower us, and use us. May it be so. 

23. Confession

The Great Production Meditations No.23: Confession

Lk 1:25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said’”

We are so slowly moving towards the announcement of the coming Messiah, but we’re doing it slowly because we sense that so often we skim through these verses in our familiarity as we read them each year.

So Elizabeth has been alone at home – childless – while Zechariah serves in the Temple in Jerusalem. When he arrives home, to her surprise and no doubt consternation, he seems unable to speak and so, if we are to assume he can write (see later in v.63) he probably wrote down for her what has happened while he was burning incense in the Temple. She was no doubt amazed but in the course of time she finds she IS pregnant. At this point she declares the above testimony.

Now this may sound amazingly obvious that she does that but actually the skeptical would have said, “Oh, it would have happened anyway,” and the faint-hearted would keep quiet about it not wanting to appear too pious. We’re like that sometimes! But Elizabeth gives glory to God when the miracle occurs. She knows she is past child-bearing age, but she also knows that God HAS spoken to Zechariah, for there could be no other way to explain how he has returned home. More than that, both of them – she included – have been declared righteous people (v.6) and righteous people in her culture meant someone not only keeping God’s laws (v.6) but also having a heart to please God and love God. She is a believer – and that includes when miracles occur.

Now you may think I’m making a meal over this, but I’ve observed so often people either keep quiet when God has done something for them, or they have simply explained it away – it would probably have happened anyway. But when God has spoken beforehand and said He would do it, we have no room for that excuse. It may have only been a whisper in our spirit or even just a verse standing out as we read Scripture, but deep down, at that moment, we knew it was God – He had spoken. So, if He’s spoken and it has happened, let’s give Him the glory for it.

Don’t be afraid to testify that, when someone prayed for you, you were healed, that when in impossible circumstances you prayed, and God delivered you. It does sound obvious but it is easy to keep quiet or even listen to the enemy who whispers, “It would have happened anyway.” No it wouldn’t, God did it, let’s not be ashamed of being naively simple in our faith; the people around us need hope and this is one way of opening the door for them. Seriously, I have concluded watching this down through the years, testimony is one of the most powerful tools in our spiritual armoury that the Lord delights to anoint so that the listeners are impacted and maybe even convicted. Go for it!

22. Help Needed

The Great Production Meditations No.22: Help Needed

Lk 1:24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant.”

It is sometimes said, “Do what you can do and ask God to do what only He can do.” The uncomfortable bit comes when God instructs us to do what we know we cannot do naturally. Thus Jesus called Peter to walk in water (Mt 14:29), servants poured water that became wine (Jn 2:7-9), the disciples kept feeding a very large crowd with minimal supplies (Mt 14:19,20).

But now the angel has told Zechariah that Elizabeth will conceive. Note there is no sense that when he gets home he will already find her pregnant; that only happened with Mary a bit later. No Zechariah had a part to play here.

The equation, man + woman = conception sometimes needs the help of God. I don’t know how He does it, but He does. Twice I’ve had the scary privilege (I hate the possibility of raising false hopes) of saying to a childless couple, you will have a child in a year – and they did. I suspect this now broken, tender-hearted old priest came home and, maybe or maybe not, told Elizabeth what the angel had said. But old people still make love but this time Elizabeth finds something happening she can hardly believe. Long past menopause, she starts finding something going on within her that she had only ever dreamed about. God is a fulfiller of godly dreams. Have you got any as yet unfulfilled godly dreams? Check it out with Him.

We have touched on the question in the past, why did God wait to do this for this couple and I suggested then that sometimes the greater the waiting means greater the appreciation that this is a miracle – from God! But there may also be a timing element in all this as well, God was waiting for just the right time. We considered this in some depth in Study No.13 but just as a reminder, Paul wrote when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son.”  (Gal 4:4) and also “You see at just the right time… Christ died for the ungodly.”  (Rom 5:6) Timing is important to God, we’ve said, and sometimes He waits patiently for a multitude of things on earth to come in line, so to speak, so that His plans can proceed without a hitch. So why a childless couple? Well who else to make a point that this son is going to be seriously special. If He had just spoken to a young couple or a couple with a child already, they would be glad but not especially impressed. Now, in this situation, there is no question about this, this is special, this is noteworthy, this is a miracle, this is God turning up like He hasn’t turned up for over four hundred years, this is God making a big entrance – for those with eyes to see, of course. It is always like that, it’s those with eyes to see, with open hearts, who see it. Are our eyes open to see His moving?