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    Blessed: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

    Ever since I studied the life of Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’s mother, and wrote a 31-day devotional study, I choose my words with care around the concept of blessing. I think twice now before using the phrase “I am blessed” or the hashtag “blessed.” In the western world, blessings typically refer to our good fortune or whatever makes our lives comfortable. We feel blessed when a new countertop graces our cabinetry, the trip goes without delay, our children make us look good, or the Wi-Fi is strong. However, problems arise when we equate material blessing with God’s favor. If we are blessed because we possess physical comforts and live in…

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    The Magdalene: Mary from Magdala or Mary Tower?

    Who was Mary Magdalene? Because early New Testament manuscripts were more difficult to search than today’s books, Mary M. has at times been confused or combined with other Marys. “Mary” is a form of Miriam, the name of Moses’s sister, whom the Bible describes as a prophet and leader. Some have conflated Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus (Luke 7). Thus, Mary M. has been described in prose and depicted in art as a reformed prostitute.  Others have suggested she had a romantic relationship with Jesus—or even married him!   But the Scriptures suggest none of these things about her past. The actual details (given in Luke’s Gospel) are…

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    Proclaiming Jesus’ Birth

    Luke 2:22–40 forms part of the lectionary readings for the first Sunday after Christmas, which is December 27th. We learn that following Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph stayed on for a while in Bethlehem. During that time, the family traveled at least twice to the temple in nearby Jerusalem to fulfill their religious duties. On one occasion, the parents had Jesus circumcised. Another time they presented Him to the Lord. On the second visit, two elderly people—Simeon and Anna—recognized Jesus’ special nature and made pronouncements concerning Him. In a sense, they served as two credible Jewish witnesses (one male and the other female) who affirmed the truthfulness of Jesus’ status…

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    Releasing Expectations

    Snowflakes fall silently from the sky as bright-eyed little faces peer out frost-covered windows. Best friends gather around a candlelit table, dishes clanking, laughter wafting in the air. Family members from far away places knock at your door, excitement erupting into hugs and hellos the moment you welcome them inside. An ideal Christmas is easy to imagine. But it’s hard to live out. Despite what commercials portray and Facebook depicts, life’s celebrations are often far from perfect. Our children misbehave at the worst possible moment. Our plans get altered at the last minute. Our family’s disfunction erupts at the table. If there’s anything I’m learning this Christmas season, it’s to…

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    Mary, a joyful bondservant

    Luke 1:26–38 forms part of the lectionary readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent, which is December 20th. As with last week’s passage, the present focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus. As previously noted, for around four centuries, God’s voice through the prophets had been silent in Palestine. The Roman army had nearly crushed the Jews’ hopes that the promised Messiah would come to deliver them from their overlords. Many undoubtedly wondered whether God had forgotten His people. In the first century AD, the Jews enjoyed limited political and religious freedom. Roman administrators had appointed the civil and religious leaders of Judea. When small groups of zealots tried…

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    Mary, the birth mother of Jesus

    Luke 1:46–55 forms part of the optional lectionary readings for the third Sunday of Advent, which is December 13th. The focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus. A short time after Gabriel departed, Mary made preparations and quickly traveled from Nazareth to an unnamed town in the hill country of Judea. This is where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived (Luke 1:39). Mary possibly journeyed 50 to 70 miles by herself, which would have been a considerable distance for a single, pregnant teenager in her day. Perhaps Mary went to stay with Elizabeth to be secluded from inquisitive friends and neighbors. The privacy would give Mary an opportunity to reflect on…

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    The Gift of “God With Us”

    A wailing scream pierces the air. The new mother cries tears of sheer exhaustion and joy. The father stands speechless, astounded, holding a wriggly bundle in his arms. Mom and dad lock eyes and they silently ask each other, “What should we name him?” (Para español, lea abajo.) A name means something. Depending on the culture, a name implies family respect, honor, and tradition. In the Latino culture, for example, parents typically name their firstborn child after the father or mother. If the father is Luis, the baby boy is Luis. If the mother is Elizabeth, the baby girl is Elizabeth. In doing so, the parents preserve their family legacy.…

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    Pondering Treasures

    Every year around this time, I head to the garage and pull out the red Rubbermaid container packed with our Christmas ornament collection. I crack open the box with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning. I breathe in the scent of the Maine balsam fir pillow tucked at the bottom and smile. I know precious memories await me, as I weed through the packing peanuts safely protecting my nostalgia.  I love the mystery that surrounds what I will pull out first. This year, my hands grabbed the handprint Christmas wreath I made with my now four-year-old son on his very first Christmas, and I remembered all the first…

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    Life Interrupted: Lessons from a Teen Pregnancy

    Mary’s story has always fascinated me, but never more-so than a few years ago in a darkened theater. I went to the movies with a friend, and we watched as a young woman portrayed the confused teen who found favor with God. My own life had been freshly interrupted by God. Mary’s confusion echoed my heart’s response. The friend sitting next to me gasped as she saw Mary’s surrender: “Oh God. I can’t believe she said yes.” That’s the rub. A young Jewish girl agreed to have her life forever altered to be part of God’s purposed story. The account we read in Luke is short and yet so much…

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    The Gift of “God With Us”

    (Para español, lea abajo.) A wailing scream pierces the air. The new mother cries tears of sheer exhaustion and joy. The father stands speechless, astounded, holding a wriggly bundle in his arms. Mom and dad lock eyes and they silently ask each other, “What should we name him?” A name means something. Depending on the culture, a name implies family respect, honor, and tradition. In the Latino culture, for example, parents typically name their firstborn child after the father or mother. If the father is Luis, the baby boy is Luis. If the mother is Elizabeth, the baby girl is Elizabeth. In doing so, the parents preserve their family legacy.…