In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.      John 1:1


Many years ago, a friend gave me an incredible gift, one that keeps on giving. She gave me a Bible reading schedule that takes me through the whole Bible in a year. I love it because it integrates the Old and New Testaments enhancing the richness and understanding of both. I’ve used the schedule for decades, and I’ve found the organization of books so helpful for my growth. It only takes about fifteen minutes a day, and each year I gain more knowledge and understanding.*

This season I decided to add something to my Advent disciplines: I set out to read all four Gospels during the Christmas season and to compare and contrast the texts from the perspectives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For example, they each had different objectives and audiences; they all had different experiences; and they were of varying ages and occupations. And so, in reading these narratives within the same time sequence, the Person of Jesus and his message become more vivid and endearing.

Each Gospel can be read in less than a week taking just a few hours per day or night. Without the stops and starts of piecemeal reading (such as in a devotional time), the story comes alive, and we become part of the scene. We see Jesus frustrated, compassionate, angry, loving, patient, and full of grace and truth. There is clarity about his clash with the Pharisees and religious leaders and amazement at his empathy with the marginalized and outcast of society. And there is heartbreak having walked with him as he revealed himself and his mission and then watching everyone (that would be all of us) abandon him to envious, self-seeking Jews and Romans. We see him suffer wordlessly, die bearing our sins that cut him off from God, and then gloriously resurrected. We have been with him, and we see that everything he said was true.

There is time during this holiday season (Christmas goes up to Epiphany.) to read all the Gospels and to walk with Jesus and his followers from his obscure birth to his majestic ascension. If we just put aside our usual evening indulgence and spend time rehearsing the old stories in an expectant way, we will be inspired, refreshed, renewed, and changed. Prepare yourself for the New Year with a fresh glimpse of Jesus.

Father, refresh our vision of our Lord as we press on to know him. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
*If you’d like a copy of the schedule, let me know.



But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Our staff was challenged this past week with what anxieties and stresses Mary might have faced in her unique situation—pregnant, young, unmarried and living in an orthodox Jewish society—and how she handled them. Responses ranged from the frivolous, “Finding catering and wedding flowers in a strange place and the possibility of a shotgun wedding,” to real concerns such as having a baby without a mother or family members to help. After all, this was a young teenager who’d never been a mother, much less, the mother of Emmanuel, God with us.

The text in Luke (2:19, 51) provides insight to the strength that would carry Mary to Bethlehem, home to Nazareth, Jerusalem, various parts of Galilee, and finally to Golgotha: Mary treasured…these things and pondered them in her heart. What things might Mary have treasured? First, there was the visit from the angel Gabriel who announced that she would bear God’s Son and then the joyous affirmation by her cousin Elisabeth at her impromptu visit, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:44)

In wonder, Mary would gather the memories that would flood her young heart and carry her through a lifetime of awe and suffering with her child, Messiah. She would be amazed at the coming of the shepherds and their tale of angels announcing the birth of their Savior and later as the distinguished visitors from the East recounted their miraculous tale of following a star to find the new King.

Mary would marvel when the Baby Jesus was presented at the temple for two elderly people there would give thanks to God for allowing them to see the promised child.  Old Simeon even said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

When he became an adolescent, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem … and discovered on their return trip that Jesus wasn’t with the group. When they located him back at the temple, how baffled she was at the rapport her Son had with the scribes and teachers. Another wonder to treasure in her heart.

We don’t know all the signs and miracles Mary witnessed during Jesus’ short life, but we know she saw him turn water into wine and must have seen healings and transformations that came from Jesus’ ministry. After all, John said (21:25) that “if every one of [Jesus’ works] were written down…even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So all these things Mary treasured in her heart. And she pondered them. What did they mean and how would it all turn out?

At the cross Mary lived out a mother’s most severe pain, the unjust suffering and death of her precious Son. This would be the time for Mary to look inside her heart at all those treasures she had been storing—the miracles, the wonders, the promises. And these would be the things that would sustain her through that Black Friday night and those incredibly long days that followed.

But on the third day, “…blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises…” Mary would again see an angel, this time sitting on a stone inside her Son’s tomb with another message of Good News, “He is not here; he is risen.” And she would see her Son again, alive and glorified and ascending to his Father. Those promises she had remembered and trusted would carry her to Pentecost and on to see her Son, her Emmanuel, throughout eternity.

“…blessed is she who…believed.”


Father, give us just a modicum of the faith of Mary that we may follow you always until we, too, see you in eternity. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.



I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.      John 15:11


This Christmas season, I’ve seen something I’ve never before witnessed. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there before, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it: People not enjoying Christmas. I’m not speaking of people who’ve suffered loss of some sort; I’m thinking of people who just don’t seem to be able to access the joy that’s come to the world.


I’m part of at least two different communities. In one I’ve learned that a handful of people have withdrawn from times of sharing and prefer to carry on as if this is not a wonderful time of celebration and remembrance. With the assistance of some Christmas elves, we’ve made certain that everyone knows that he or she in that community is loved and cared for. Lest you think there are Scrooges amongst them, none of these folks is financially stressed. Something else precludes their celebration.


The other group of which I’m a part does have a Grinch (or maybe two). Will that temper my reaching out in love? Why should it, as long as I’m gentle, sensitive, and thoughtful? We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. And that doesn’t just mean material items.


Just look at Jesus’ gift catalog:


• At a wedding where he was a guest, his mother pointed out the need for wine. To avoid shaming the family, Jesus provided a sommelier’s dream, the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Jesus gave happiness and honor to the family.
• In an encounter with an outcast woman at an obscure well, Jesus probed deep enough to find her heart’s longing. He gave her forgiveness and respect.
• At Bethesda Pool Jesus touched a lame man and gave him healing and a new life.
• In other instances, Jesus brought a son back to life and returned him to his mother; he gave an adulteress a second chance and offered her forgiveness; he caused a blind man to see and gave him a Savior; he fed people who had no access to food, meeting their physical and spiritual needs; he forgave his fearful and faithless disciples and gave them eternity. And he gave us himself.
• Jesus gave because of love, and he continues to give us everything we need “for life and godliness.” And have you noticed that all of his gifts have come from his heart?


There are gifts that each of us has that don’t cost a penny. They may require time and creativity, but they are vehicles for us to express Christ’s love and the true “reason for the season.” No need for humbugs—if we know Jesus. He gave us the greatest gift and brought joy to the world.


Father, cause us to initiate an explosion of love and joy this year as we celebrate your Son’s glorious Advent. AMEN.


Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”  Luke 7:47


I had an encounter with Jesus. It was some time ago when he was in town, and I’m almost ashamed to talk about it—but it changed my life.

I’ve not always been a good person. You could say I’ve made a number of mistakes, and my decisions haven’t always been the best. But I’ve done what I had to do. My husband had always taken us regularly to temple. He was a good provider, and he’d always paid his tithe and his offerings at all the set occasions. But after years of faithfulness, when he got sick, and when we had no food for the baby, the elders and the priests were nowhere to be found. And when my husband and baby slowly declined and when everything that was precious to me was buried in the grave, where were those religious leaders?

So I did what I had to do. There was no one there for me, and the elders, when they did notice, just pointed their fingers. I did what I had to do. And then, one day they found me with a man who wasn’t my husband, and they grabbed me. They said they were taking me to the temple. (What about that man? Why didn’t they bring him?) They dragged me over the cobbled streets scraping my legs and cutting my feet, jeering at me. I tried not to cry, but as their torment increased, angry tears mixed with the dust from the street.

And they brought me to the temple. These men who had visited me night after night. They brought me to the strange, young rabbi who was teaching in the porchway. They brought me to the man who said he was the Son of God. They brought me to Jesus. And they threw me at his feet. “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?”

Tears of hatred and anger coursed down my cheeks as I waited.

Silence thick as death filled the porch and held me to the marble floor. No one spoke. The Son of God didn’t say a word. I raised my head and saw that the Teacher was writing in the dust. There were words I couldn’t make out, but he just kept writing. They kept badgering him. Finally, he straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, cast the first stone.” And then he went back to writing.

I was frozen to the floor as I readied myself for the pain that was to come. I waited. And I waited. Softly, I began to hear shuffling of sandals, one pair and then another, as feet were moving across the pavement. And then he spoke to me, “Ma’am, where are your accusers?” My eyes had been fixed on him, but I turned and looked around.

“Sir, there’s no one.”

“Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

That was my encounter with Jesus, the Son of God. I went back home; I took a few coins from my clay vessel and bought seeds for a garden. It’s been two harvests since I met Jesus, and I’ve heard that he’s returned to Jerusalem and is dining tonight with Nicodemus, a ruler of the synagogue. I am taking all the coins I’ve saved and will buy a jar of fragrant ointment to pour over his head in thanksgiving. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I have. I want him to know how he’s changed my life, how I’m a different person than the one he saved in the temple. I want him to know I love him.

I wonder if he will remember me?


Sweet Jesus, each of us has a story to tell of your redemption. Give us time in heaven to share the miracles you have done in our lives. And provide us opportunities here on earth to demonstrate our great love for you. AMEN.



He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 137:3


One of my favorite Advent traditions is to play Messiah as I prepare my house and myself for Christmas. After the orchestra’s overture, Handel immediately assigns the task of setting the scene to the tenor who sings,

“Comfort ye,
comfort ye My people,
saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Make straight in the desert a highway
For our God.” (Isaiah 40:1-3)


The Children of Israel had experienced a long history of disobedience that finally resulted in exile away from the land of Promise. They were broken-hearted and could no longer sing the songs of Zion. Their sin had cut them off from God. But God in his love and compassion forgave and spoke hope and renewal to them. Their warfare was accomplished, and their iniquity was pardoned. And Messiah will come.


Our nation has been suffering greatly this year with unexpected deaths, suicides of young people, the opioid crisis, fires, anguish on our border, disunity, and foreign perils. Like Israel, we desperately need the comfort that only God can bring. We need forgiveness; we need healing; and we need renewal.


Messiah stirs us with the suffering that was inflicted on the Lamb of God. As we listen, we are drawn into the anguish that brought about our peace and salvation while there is always the reminder that redemption is near. The underlying motif continues to remind us that God’s salvation plan has been in place from time’s beginning, and Part 2 ends with the glorious Hallelujah Chorus. As we listen reverently to Part 3, the triumphant notes remind us that our Redeemer lives, death has been conquered, and he who is worthy reigns.


If you haven’t yet sat down in your easy chair by the fireside and listened to Messiah for this season, stop now and prepare yourself for a fresh encounter with the King of Kings. Hallelujah.

Father, thank you for the comfort we have with the coming of our Lord. May we rejoice and be glad in him. AMEN.