THE MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [Luke 1:41-42 (KJV)]

Yesterday, I mentioned Dr. Frank Crane’s comments about the wonders of everyday life. After saying, “The miracle of miracles is life,” Crane adds, “The most amazing, baffling, mysterious thing in all the universe is a seed.” While cutting into an orange this morning, I looked at the seeds hidden in the juicy fruit and recalled his words. Think how a single orange seed can grow into an orange tree that produces countless flowers that almost miraculously transform into oranges that will then produce even more seeds. The amazing power and potential held in the core of one small seed is there because it was designed by God.

It was my granddaughter’s 17th birthday recently and, since I couldn’t be with her, I looked through old photos of her instead. I recalled the day I first saw her. Only a day old and small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking, Bree was in her mother’s arms. The sight of the two of them took my breath away. For some odd reason, I recalled Elizabeth’s greeting to the Virgin Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” I’d read and heard that phrase countless times yet I’d never really considered it. But there, right in front of me, was my daughter, the child who’d been the fruit of my womb, and she was holding her own child, the fruit of her womb. By extension, that infant also was the fruit of my womb along with my mother’s and grandmothers’ and the wombs of their mothers before them. That little girl’s DNA held fragments of people she’d never know. Both past and future were locked within her being. Remembering that sense of wonder I felt upon seeing her, I thought of Crane’s words about the miracle of miracles: the life within a seed. How does God pack soul, blood, hair, skin, teeth, eyes, bones, nerves, talent, heart, personality, imagination, sense of humor, fingernails, and the ability to love, laugh, and cry into the two microscopic cells that join to become a human being?

We just celebrated the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation when God took on human flesh. He became a fetus in a woman’s body—the fruit of her womb—and was born. In some miraculous way, the hand of God touched a virgin and impregnated her. How He did this is a matter beyond our comprehension and yet He did. As Christians, we attest to the virgin birth in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. There are, however, some people who accept all of Scripture’s miracles except for this one. Yet it really is no more amazing than God’s many other miracles. Parting the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Jericho’s destruction, turning water into wine, stilling a storm, the sun standing still, feeding a multitude, giving sight to the blind, walking on water, resurrecting the dead, and ascending into heaven all defy the laws of nature.

We don’t have to look to Scripture to be witnesses to God’s ability to do the unbelievable; just look at the miracle of miracles—life itself! The birth of a child, even when conceived the usual way, is miracle enough to convince me that the author of nature’s laws can rewrite them any time and any way He wants. The Human Genome Project spent thirteen years mapping all 3.1 billion base pairs in human DNA—the entire genetic blueprint of a human being—and yet they never found the innate sense of right and wrong that exists within each one of us from the moment we’re born or the very essence of humanity. What is the DNA of an immortal soul? My 23andMe report doesn’t say and the Human Genome Project still doesn’t know!

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. [Nicene Creed]

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [Matthew 1:23 (KJV)]

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [Luke 1:34-34 (KJV)]

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THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD

Men know about God. He has made it plain to them. Men cannot say they do not know about God. From the beginning of the world, men could see what God is like through the things He has made. This shows His power that lasts forever. It shows that He is God. [Romans 1:19-20 (NLV)]

alstromeria - Peruvian lilyIn one of his four-minute essays, Dr. Frank Crane posited that that the Seven Wonders of the World weren’t the most wonderful things in the world; the wonders of everyday life were! I have to agree. The seven wonders are man-made and, of the original seven, only the great pyramid in Giza remains. On the other hand, the night sky has been there since God created it when time began. Within our galaxy there are some 300 billion stars. The Milky Way, however, is just one of some 2 trillion galaxies (making for a total stellar population of roughly 70 billion trillion.) Since that’s just in the observable universe, there probably are plenty more that haven’t yet been detected. That those trillions of stars are orbiting around an ever expanding universe boggles the mind! Nothing made by man even comes close.

I look over at the Alstroemeria (Peruvian lilies) my husband brings me each week. How is it possible that no two of those flowers are exactly alike? Yet, there’s no duplication in them or in snowflakes, zebras, fingerprints, butterflies, and those 70 billion trillion stars either!

As wondrous as God’s creation is, I wonder if we appreciate it. In 2007, a young man exited the metro station in Washington, DC, took out his violin, and began to play. The violinist was virtuoso Joshua Bell and his instrument, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1713, was worth $3.5 million. Bell played for three minutes before anyone even turned a head, another half-minute before someone dropped a dollar into his open violin case, and six minutes before anyone stopped for a moment. Sure that people would notice and recognize Bell, crowd control had been the initial concern for this experiment. There was no need to worry. Although 1,097 people passed by Bell during his 43-minute concert, only seven stopped for at least a minute to listen to a man who easily commands $1000 a minute to play a concert and for whom standing ovations are the norm.

Later, when viewing a video of the experiment, Bell said he understood why a crowd didn’t gather—after all, it was rush hour and people had to get to work. What mystified the violinist was that people didn’t even notice him; it was if he were invisible. There was no applause or acknowledgement of his music until near the end when one woman passed by him. Having been to one of Bell’s concerts, she recognized the violinist and stopped to listen. When he’d played his last note, she thanked him before continuing on her way to work.

Those commuters in DC have become so accustomed to the noisy busy world around them that they totally missed seeing and hearing Joshua Bell. Like them, has the noise and busyness of our lives dulled our senses so much that we no longer see or hear the wonders around us? We don’t need to leave our homes to see the wonders of the world. The Great Wall of China doesn’t hold a candle to the sky on a clear night. As impressive as is Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, it’s really no match for a field of summer wildflowers and the marble structure of the Taj Mahal pales in comparison to the structure of the human genome.

Because God hasn’t hidden His glory from our senses, the Apostle Paul says there is no excuse for not knowing of His existence. Yet, just as people were deaf and blind to Joshua Bell, even those who know God are often as deaf and blind to His glory. We have eyes and ears but, in our rush, we neither see nor hear. Like Bell, God is an artist whose handiwork is worthy of a standing ovation yet, like those commuters, we frequently fail to acknowledge His presence in the everyday wonders of the world. The next time you hear a bird sing, smell a flower, see a rainbow, or bite into a juicy piece of fruit, thank God for the intricacy, beauty, and wonder of His creation. He’s a virtuoso!

O Lord, how many are Your works! You made them all in wisdom. The earth is full of what You have made. … I will sing to the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May the words of my heart be pleasing to Him. As for me, I will be glad in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24, 33-34 (NLV)  

When I look up and think about Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in their place, what is man, that You think of him, the son of man that You care for him? [Psalm 8:3-4 (NLV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PASS IT ON

Christmas lightsThe Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

Last year, our entire family celebrated Christmas in the Keys and we were able to worship together Christmas Eve. Typical of most Christmas Eve services, everyone received a small candle when entering the church. At the end of the service, the lights were dimmed and the first person’s candle was lit from an altar candle. As we sang Silent Night, the flame from that first candle was passed to the next person and continued to be passed from person to person until everyone’s candles were burning brightly. It was a tiny church with about one hundred worshippers. Nevertheless, even though each individual candle gave off only a little light, by the time the song was finished, the sanctuary was 100 times brighter than when we’d started.

While listening to praise music today, I heard an old favorite from my Girl Scout days: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser. The words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” got me thinking about those candles. When we light a candle, we can pass along the flame without our own light diminishing. In fact, as the light gets passed along, it only gets brighter! Just as the flame of a candle doesn’t weaken as it is spread around, neither does love—it simply grows larger and stronger. While having more children may lessen the amount of money we can spend on each child, it certainly doesn’t lessen the love we have each one of them. In fact, our love increases so that we still can love each child as if he or she were our only one. That’s how it is with our Heavenly Father’s love; His love is limitless and He loves each and every one of us as if we were his only child.

This year, my family was separated by thousands of miles and we only saw one another on Zoom. Instead of going to a church Christmas Eve, we attended church on our computers. No flames were passed from person to person and no candles illuminated a darkened church as we sang Silent Night. Nevertheless, it only takes a spark to get the fire going and we don’t need a candle’s flame to spread the blessings of God’s grace and love. Let us remember these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” It can’t extinguish God’s love, either!

The candlelight from last year’s Christmas Eve service was limited by the number of people in the church but there is no limit to the brightness that can be brought into this dark world by Christ’s church. What if every one of us took the light of God’s love with us and passed it on to all who cross our path? Remember, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going!”

I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top;
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. [1 John 3:23 (NLT)]

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THAT CHILD WAS GOD!

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

nativityHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in His eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed carrier. It was God incarnate who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, and bruises that came with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk, and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be potty trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. The One who was the Word had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. Fully God and fully human, Jesus got tired, dirty, and hungry just like every other child!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. Jesus could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

How can God stoop lower than to come and dwell with a poor humble soul? Which is more than if he had said such a one should dwell with him; for a beggar to live at court is not so much as the king to dwell with him in his cottage. [William Gurnall]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

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CHRISTMAS EVE – THE CHRIST CANDLE

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:2,6 (KJV)]

angel

No Christmas Eve seems complete without reading Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth. Although my husband and I usually read from the NLT, it will be from the King James tonight, which is the Bible translation we both knew as youngsters. Seventy plus years ago, the Sunday schoolers at my husband’s church recited Luke’s words every Christmas Eve and he always seemed to have the same verse: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Although many of the words and phrases of the KJV (like “espoused wife,” days that were “accomplished,” and being “of the house and lineage of David” or “sore afraid”) seem dated, it will be comforting to read the familiar and beautiful words found in this old translation.

We’ll also read the powerful words found in Isaiah 9—a promise that those walking in the darkness of God’s judgment will see the light of deliverance with the birth of a child who will fulfill God’s promise of a messianic King. It will be difficult to read the titles given to this child without wanting to sing the words so familiar from Handel’s Messiah: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Whether the child would be called both “Wonderful” and “Counsellor” or “Wonderful Counsellor” is a point of contention among translators. While the King James places a comma between the two words, many other translations don’t. Since the original Hebrew had no punctuation, we’ll never really know. Regardless of the punctuation, when we look at His names, it’s clear that the promised child would do more than bring light into the world.

The Hebrew word translated as wonderful is pele’ and it meant far more than just extraordinary. Astonishing to the point of being miraculous, pele’ was so marvelous that it required an act of God! The rest the child’s names are pretty self-explanatory. As a counsellor, he would guide the people from God’s perspective and with divine wisdom. He would have God’s might and power but care for His people as does a father for his children. A father, however, can’t do that forever but this promised child would guard and sustain his people eternally. The child’s final title is that of Prince of Peace. From the Hebrew word shalom, the peace of which Isaiah speaks is far more than absence of conflict or anxiety. It is a sense of wholeness, fullness, security, safety, balance, harmony, tranquility and calm—all of which the world so desperately needed then and still needs now.

The past four Sundays, we’ve lit the colored candles of hope, peace, joy, and love on our Advent wreath. Tonight, after lighting them, we will light the white candle that sits in the wreath’s center: the Christ candle. As we look at those five candles brightly burning, we’ll remember that Jesus truly is the “light of the world” and so very much more!

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. [Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)]

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. [John 12:46 (KJV)]

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THE HALL OF FAITH

It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:31 (NLT)]

red admiral butterflyThere are all sorts of halls of fame, honoring everything and everyone from astronauts to cowboys and hockey players, from blues music to rock and roll and country music. Even small town high schools have a wall of fame recognizing their outstanding graduates. The author of Hebrews selected a number of individuals to go in a Faith Hall of Fame. Pictured on its walls was an Old Testament all-star cast including Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Gideon, David, Samuel and Rahab. Hold it! What’s a prostitute doing in the company of kings, leaders, warriors, and prophets? It wasn’t their profession, however, that got these people selected for honor; it was their faith.

Considering that Rahab is an ancestress to Jesus, there are some who would prefer calling the pagan prostitute an innkeeper. Others, troubled by the implication of Joshua’s spies stopping at her house, would prefer the term innkeeper, as well. The Hebrew word used to describe her, however, was zonah, meaning harlot or prostitute. While Rahab’s house also may have served as an inn, she seems to have offered more than just a bed and breakfast to the men who stopped at her house. The reason the spies were there had nothing to do with Rahab’s profession; God led them to her as part of His plan. Moreover, it was a logical choice—her home was located in part of the city wall at the edge of the city and, with her steady stream of visitors, the spies’ presence could go unnoticed

Whether innkeeper, harlot, or both, Rahab knew all about the Israelites from her previous guests. She’d heard about their crossings of the Red Sea and the Jordan and their success in battle. When she told the spies, “The Lord your God is the God of heaven and earth,” she clearly recognized that the God of the Israelites, unlike the false gods of Canaan, was powerful. Recognizing the truth and acting on it, however, are two different things. This outcast woman took her life in her hands when she bravely defied the authorities and then relied on her enemies to save her. In faith, the prostitute became a traitor to her city and risked everything by trusting in a God about whom she knew very little. She bravely stepped out in faith and was rescued from a cursed city and a life of disgrace. In thanks for her assistance, she and her family were saved from Jericho’s devastation.

Rahab eventually married an Israelite, Salmon, and became the mother of Boaz, the man who married Ruth. Boaz and Ruth’s son (and Rahab’s grandson) was Obed who was Jesse’s father and Jesse was the father of David. Being King David’s great-great-grandmother places the once heathen harlot on Jesus’ family tree! Rahab’s history tells us that change is always possible and none of us need be stuck in a miserable shameful life. Regardless of the sins of our past, we can be saved and redeemed, forgiven and loved.

Rahab’s story of faith and redemption is just a preview of the grace of God seen in the New Testament. Our names never have to be recorded on a wall of shame; instead, our names can listed with the best of them in the great Faith Hall of Fame!

Free grace can go into the gutter, and bring up a jewel! [Charles Spurgeon]

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. [Hebrews 11:33-34 (NLT)]

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