Mary the Prophet

The virgin Mary was a prophet. She composed one of the songs we find in Luke’s version of the Christmas story. Hers was an echo of the ancient hymns of the Hebrew scriptures. It reminds us of the songs of Moses, Miriam, and especially, the song of Hannah. Mary’s song is a prophetic vision of a future time when God in Christ is going to put our broken world back together.

Singing is an important part of the celebration of Christmas. Connie and I got to attend, for a second time, the Christmas festival at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where our grandson, James Randall Faulkner III, sang in one of the choirs. They sang a modern rendition of Mary’s “Magnificat” by Carolyn Jennings:

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble put on strength. Those who were full are hungry and those who were hungry are filled. Strong is the arm of the Lord, who has scattered the proud in their hearts; God has put down the mighty and lifted those of low degree. … My heart o’erflows, Alleluia!

Mary’s song tells how God is going to turn history inside out, keeping his covenant promises to his people. She repeats the themes of the prophets of Israel who predicted a time when Messiah would come in power to disenfranchise the kingdoms of this world, dethrone tyrants, exalt the humble and invert injustice. Surely this is what we pray for when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

In her prophetic anthem, Mary recites God’s word at least fifteen times. Her song mirrors the song of praise uttered by Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 2. Just as Hannah spoke prophetically of a new age and kingdom, so Mary spoke prophetically about when her Mighty God would “help Israel remembering to be merciful” (Luke 1:54).  This would be through the Messiah who was even then in her very womb.

Thus, wherever the message of Jesus has gone, it has “clothed the naked, fed the hungry, served those that harmed it, comforted the sorrowful, bound up the wounded, and sheltered the destitute”  (Menno Simons, 1539). “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.”

It has opposed unjust practices such as the caste system, child marriage and the immolation of widows in India, human sacrifice in South America, polygamy and slavery in Africa. Those missionaries who stood for justice against evil “understood that their faith was not merely private and devotional, but had implications for all of society. … (They) dispensed Jesus’ message of grace to the world. It was Christianity, and only Christianity that brought an end to slavery, and Christianity that inspired the first hospitals and hospices to treat the sick. The same energy drove the early labor movement, women’s suffrage, prohibition, human rights campaigns, and civil rights” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?).

According to Mary in Luke 1 :46-55, there is coming a future, fuller manifestation of God’s mercy. Her words are consistent with those of the ancient prophets who foretold a time when God will bring all of civilization under the rule of his anointed Son. This will mean the end of war, universal justice, the healing of nature, and a spiritual renewal in which God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. God’s moral law will be the governing principle of that kingdom.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote, “The birth of Jesus did not happen in a vacuum. He was born after generations of promises attached to Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Age after age God had renewed his promises and now they were fulfilled in space and time.”

In the same way, those who believe in Jesus as savior and king will be welcomed into that future glorious manifestation of God’s kingdom. Mary was so sure of its fulfillment, she sang about it as if it had already come. Mary was a prophet.

She reminds us to pray this Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Mary’s Attractive Humility

One of the most attractive features of the Virgin Mary is humility. In her famous song, known as the “Magnificat,” she praises God because “he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). God “has lifted up the humble,” she says in Luke 1:52.

Mary is not boasting about her humility. She is, rather,  acknowledging her lowly social position. She is a young woman engaged to a common tradesman, a carpenter. Her town, Nazareth, is not a prestigious city. It is a crossroads village on a trade route traveled by Gentile merchants and the Roman army. The people of Judah scorned “Galilee of the Gentiles,” saying, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

There is something other than status consciousness or class distinction evident in Mary’s song. It is faithful submission to the will of God for her life. It is a sense of wonder. She is amazed by the honor entrusted to her that she would be the mother of the Savior of the world.

Alexander Maclaren said of Mary, “Think of that simple young girl in her obscurity having flashed before her the certainty that her name would be repeated with blessing till the world’s end and then thus meekly laying her honors down at God’s feet.”

Indeed. That is what Mary does. She glorifies the Lord, not herself. The angel says to her, “You are highly favored. The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), and “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Mary’s response is wonderment and obedient surrender. “I am the Lord’s servant. … May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Think of what would happen because of Mary’s humble submission to God. She would bear the whispered ridicule of neighbors. She would risk losing the love of Joseph until the angel appeared to him too (Matthew 1:18-25). She would endure the journey to Bethlehem in late pregnancy, on a beast of burden or in a rickety cart over unpaved roads. She would go into labor and give birth to her firstborn Son in a stable, of all places. Humility on display!

Mary is an example to us. In a Facebook and Twitter culture that honors proud boasting, bullying insults, hatred, factions, and divisions, we need the virtue of humility now as much as ever. Mary’s Son said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Did Jesus think of his mother when he said that?

The great God who said heaven was his throne and earth his footstool said this:  “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). It is little wonder, then, that Mary was highly favored by the Lord.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



Mary the Theologian

The blessed mother of our Lord was a theologian. She expressed her belief in God in a magnificent hymn of praise. She revealed the knowledge of God that was in her head and the adoration of God that was in her heart. It has been said that her song was “a biblical theology in miniature.”

Mary’s hymn was a response to the miracle news that she was to be the mother of the savior (Luke 1:46-55). Her hymn is called the Magnificat because the Latin version of its opening words are “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” This could be translated, as in the New International Version, “My soul glorifies the Lord.”

Mary was reflecting deeply on who God is and on what God has done. This is a good thing for us to do during this Advent season. With a spirit of joy and gratitude, Mary praises God for his attributes: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

During this season of expectation and preparation, there can be no better theme, no better preoccupation, than for us to concentrate on God. Mary sets the example. We join her in praising God because he is powerful, the “Mighty One.”

“Holy is his name,” Mary exults. This is God’s set-apart-ness, his other-ness. “God is light and in him is no darkness,” says John (1 John 1: 5). He is separate from all that is corrupt and evil. “His mercy extends to those who fear him” brings us close to God. It makes him accessible, a welcoming God. Good news for worshipers during Advent.

Mary goes on to rejoice in what God has done for her and her people. “My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. …He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” Mary acknowledged God as her savior, indicating that she was trusting in the Lord for her own salvation.

God is a God who knows those who belong to him (2 Timothy 2:19). He takes notice of what goes on in their personal lives, and he cares (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7). Mary calls our attention to this fact. She seems to be saying, “I trust this God and you should too.”

The reference to God’s mighty arm is a figure of speech, describing God’s powerful intervention on behalf of Israel. His past deliverance is the promise of a future deliverance for her nation, Mary believes. She took God’s promises literally and did not explain them away.

Mary was, in her own way, a theologian. She had a God-centered worldview. In a time when many people seem embarrassed to talk about God, seldom pray, or seek God’s will in their decision-making, Mary has given us a way of thinking and praying, singing and testifying, during Advent.

Richard Foster wrote, “In contemporary society our adversary majors on three things: noise, hurry, and crowds.” Let’s do as Mary did, slow down and reflect quietly and deeply, on God.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Advent: Mary’s Song

Advent: Mary's Song

Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, was a simple village girl from Nazareth in Galilee. The picture we have of her is one of purity, devotion, humility and above all, obedient faith. She had heard the scriptures and she believed the prophecies that God would send his Messiah to deliver his people.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced the miracle that she was to be the honored mother of the Son of God, she responded with surprise and perplexity. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked.

“The Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel said in reply. She was to be the human vehicle for the incarnation of God in the infant who would be named Jesus. This miracle always prompts amazement.

We can only imagine the heart palpitations, the rush of adrenaline and the tears that must have flowed when the angel explained that Mary had found favor with God and that she would bear a son, “the Son of the Most High.” He will be a king in the line of David and his kingdom will have no end.

Her response is an example to us. She surrendered to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant.” In the quaint language of the King James Bible, she calls herself the Lord’s “handmaid,” or household slave. If we want the Advent season to have special meaning for us, then surely we will want to surrender our lives anew to the will of God, as Mary did.

This humble maiden expressed her devotion in a profound and beautiful hymn which is recorded in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:46-55). Her song quotes freely from the Old Testament, indicating that Mary knew her Bible. Samuel Terrien said that Mary’s song is “a biblical theology in miniature. It begins and ends in exaltation — not of Mary — but of the Lord.”

Right away we notice how Mary glorifies the Lord. This is a song of worship. It calls attention to what God has done for his people. It is a song of gladness. “My spirit has rejoiced,” she sings. Why is she glad? Because her song is also a song of salvation.  God is “my savior,” Mary exclaims. She is expressing solidarity with the rest of humanity. She was not exempt from the need for a savior from sin. And neither are we.

That is why God sent his, and Mary’s, son. “You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Many of the songs Christians love to sing are testimony songs, songs about what the Lord has done for them. That is what Mary is singing. She is testifying about what the Lord is doing for her. “My spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” is precisely the testimony song every believer in Jesus can sing during this season of Advent.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



The Christ Candle

Some of the traditions we associate with Christmas were borrowed from pre-Christian nature religions. One is the celebration of the solstice, a festival of lights. This was to ward off the darkness of the longest night of the year, Hence, the Yule log burned brightly to commemorate the one day when the sun was at its lowest point in its apparent path across the sky and to hold at bay the long night’s darkness.

Many people who are dissatisfied with the spiritual emptiness in American culture are turning to observances of revived pagan mysticism. According to some sources, thousands of people will be observing  a secular “Yule” in pagan rituals this week.

In ancient times, these rituals were rooted in fear and superstition. Today, instead of  the fear of evil spirits, neo-pagan worshipers seek answers for pervasive spiritual exhaustion, alienation, depression and sadness. The trouble is they are looking for light in the wrong places.

Spiritual darkness

As an answer to this need, Jesus made the astounding claim: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). “I have come,” Jesus said. His coming to our spiritually dark world from the brightness of heaven was a rescue mission to lead us out of the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Three times in John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus said that he is the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46).

The prophet Isaiah wrote that when Messiah (Christ) appeared on the scene, the world would lie in spiritual darkness. “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you” (Isaiah 60:2). He also prophesied, as if it had already come to pass, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). These prophesies were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

I once read the account of a cave explorer who got careless and was separated from his companions. He lost his light when he accidently dropped it into a pool of water. He could see nothing, not a reflection, not a shadow, not a pinpoint of light. The absolute darkness was overwhelming and disorienting. He had to stifle an impulse to panic and sit and wait until his friends found him. He said, “That experience in the darkness made me realize that a light source is the most important single tool for a cave crawler.” What a parable of our world’s spiritual darkness and the need for the true light of Jesus Christ!

The light of the world

The apostle John introduced his gospel by affirming that “In him (Jesus, the living Word) was life and the life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). When Jesus offered himself to the people of Israel, he  spoke in these same terms, of light and darkness.

He said (and I paraphrase), “I am with you now. This is your opportunity. I have come to illuminate your darkness. Trust in me, the light. If you do this you will become children of light” (John 12:35-36). He was telling his own people, the beloved Jewish people of his day, “Don’t let the darkness overtake you. I have conquered the darkness. There is no need to stay in the dark.”

Children of light

When Jesus told the people that by believing in him they would be sons and daughters of light, he was saying that his light could shine through them. “You’ll not only have the light, you will be the light!” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “How utterly absurd it would be for these disciples . . . to try to become the light of the world! No, they are already the light, and the call has made them so.”
So what are they to do? As Jesus’ disciples what are we to do? The purpose of light is to shine! In old England lighted lanterns were hung in some of the church steeples at night. Others were hung in front of people’s homes for navigation and safety in the streets. The night watchman on his rounds would call out at dusk, “Hang out your lights!” That is the call of Christ to us this Christmas and every day. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Advent candles symbolize this for many people. They are a tradition dating back about 1500 years. Four weeks, four candles, representing the themes of the Advent season: the prophecy candle, the Bethlehem candle, the shepherds’ candle, and the angels’ candle. In the center of the wreath is the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas eve, with the words of John’s gospel, “I am the light of the world.”

If you light a candle this Christmas, let it remind you that you are celebrating, not merely the winter solstice, or the promise of longer days to come, but Christ the true light of all mankind. Remember too, that his light shines through you!

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Mary’s Sword of Sorrow

“Then Simeon blessed them and said  to Mary his mother . . . a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2 :35).

These words cloud the Christmas story. A sword is a symbol of pain, suffering and violence. These prophetic words were spoken in the temple by Simeon at the dedication of the baby Jesus. I wonder if these words hung over Mary as her son was growing to manhood. Doubtless she later heard his repeated predictions of the death he would die.

Maybe this was one of the things she pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). I think it was a detail she shared with Luke the historian if he interviewed her about the life of Jesus for the writing of his gospel (Luke 1:1-4).

Joseph and Mary brought the infant boy to the temple to be consecrated. This was in accordance with the law of Moses: “You are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb” (Exodus 13:12). Joseph and Mary brought a sacrifice of two doves for the occasion (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8). Simeon and the aged Anna were two eyewitnesses to the naming of the child.

When Simeon recognized who the child was, he uttered his cryptic and disturbing prophecy. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that  will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your heart also” (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon’s mysterious words refer to the way Jesus would raise those who believe in him. He will also be the final judge against those who reject his offer of salvation. In the final judgment there will be no place to hide. Everything will be revealed.

We cannot know the effect of these words on Mary. Luke says she and Joseph “marveled” at what was said. We can only imagine the sense of foreboding in her heart as she pondered the prophecy. The reference to a sword meant that Mary was destined to experience deep anguish of soul because of the world’s response to her son.

Simeon’s words about the sword came true at Calvary, where Mary watched her son die. She stood at the foot of the cross. She saw the crown of thorns, the scourge, the nails, the piercing of his side with a spear. She witnessed the cruelty of the soldiers. She heard the mocking insults of the religious leaders. She heard his dying words of loving concern for her as he entrusted her to the care of John the beloved disciple (John 19:26-27).

We honor Mary’s grace, dignity, courage, and obedience. She was found among Jesus’ most faithful disciples. After his resurrection she was associated with them in the prayer gatherings at the beginning of the Christian movement (Acts 1:14). God had used her to be the earthly mother of his son. Then he used her to strengthen the worship and testimony of the early church.

All that Mary witnessed, the ministry, the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, was in keeping with God’s sovereign plan. Simeon’s words to Mary at the beginning prove it. Mary’s life magnified Jesus. She knew he was the son of God. She believed in him. Her example teaches us to do the same.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Anna: Every Day Faithfulness

Anna was one of the biblical women who emerge from historical obscurity to be immortalized in the Christmas story. She was present when Simeon spoke his famous prophetic words over the infant Jesus and his mother.

Anna’s life demonstrates an important quality: every day faithfulness. Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:38-40) says she “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” This tells us something important. All of her life was lived for God all of the time. Every day.

C.S. Lewis delivered a sermon to students at Oxford University at the beginning of the second world war. He attempted to answer a question that was on the minds of the students and faculty: what is the relevance of pursuing a university education in war-time? Many in the academic community knew that the war would change everything about their way of life. Many of the students would be sent to fight or serve the war effort in other ways.

He preached that there has never been a time in history when the world is free of crises, alarms and emergencies. If we wait until life is absolutely secure to pursue knowledge and beauty, we will never do it at all, he said.

He added that the life we have been given is for us to prepare for eternity. War simply causes us all to be more acutely aware of that fact. So the normal daily activities of our lives are to be offered to God. Lewis quoted Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not come from faith is sin,” and 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Do all for the glory of God.” He said, “All merely natural activities will be accepted if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest will be sinful if they are not.” He said that, yes, we should continue in war-time to study and learn as at any other time.

Anna was part of a movement of the Jewish faithful who were bursting with anticipation. These people “were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). I wonder if they were familiar with the prophecies of Daniel who gave his people a time-line for the coming of Messiah (Daniel 9:25). Those who knew the scriptures believed that the time for his coming was drawing near.

Of course they did not know their Messiah would be born in a stable, grow up in Nazareth of Galilee, and live among the poor. But Anna was also a prophet of God. She was given special insight. When she saw the child Jesus at his dedication in the temple, she gave thanks that she was seeing the holy child who was the salvation of God (Luke 2:30).

Anna was 84 years old. Despite her advanced age, she remained active and faithful in the service of the Jewish temple. It has been suggested that she may have been a caretaker, or servant, or housekeeper for the priests. Every day faithfulness.

Luke includes an interesting detail about Anna. She was of the tribe of Asher. This was one of the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel who were conquered in 722 B.C. by the Assyrian army and scattered among their provinces, one of the “ten lost tribes” of Israel.

How then could her tribe be identified and why were there descendants of Asher in Jerusalem? The answer is because when Jeroboam led the northern tribes in revolt against the Judeans in the south, “some from every tribe of Israel . . . set their hearts on seeking the Lord” (2 Chronicles 11:13-17). They rejected idol worship and migrated to Judah to live so they could worship the true God in his temple. Their descendants remained in the south, one of whom was Anna. Faithfulness to God was her spiritual heritage.

She was faithful in prayer. She was thinking of others as she prayed. She was thinking of her nation as she prayed. Like devout Simeon, she was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (the coming of Messiah). Her prayers were for the advent of the Christ!

Her hope was realized. It was not mere happenstance that she appeared “at the very moment” that Joseph and Mary brought the child to be dedicated in the Temple and Simeon gave his prophecy. (Can this be a reminder to us that the events of our lives are not to be attributed to mere luck or coincidence? Is there not a higher purpose behind them?) Luke implies that her coming “at that very moment” was significant. She had been praying expectantly, and now in this defining moment, her prayers were answered. There before her was the infant Messiah, the Redeemer, the Consolation of Israel.

The rest of the New Testament explains this. This dedication of the child to the Lord was also a public naming event. Joseph and Mary named him “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Simeon said that he was seeing God’s salvation embodied in this redeemer-child.

I read once about a pastor, who, on the Sunday after the tragedies of September 11, 2001, stood before his congregation and said, “I have nothing to say,” and sat down. The effect was dramatic. But his words reflected a failure of Christian hope. What he might have said was, “I have nothing to say. But God has spoken. Hear the word of the Lord,” and then read the consoling words of the scriptures.

Anna lived in a time when there was plenty of bad news. Her nation was under the domination of a ruthless world empire, corrupt rulers and hypocritical spiritual leaders. But she knew there would be people who would welcome the good news of the Christ child. “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” She did not keep this to herself. She was faithful to speak about Jesus. That is a good reminder to us.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Elizabeth: Filled and Favored

During this season I am writing about some of the women of the Christmas story. Elizabeth is remembered as a woman of faith who inspired Mary  and influenced John the Baptist. She was a recipient of God’s grace, and an example of faithful discipleship, and an important witness to the truth.

Luke chapter one mentions Elizabeth at least ten times. She is described as a devout woman living with her husband Zechariah, a priest in Judea. Like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, she was supernaturally destined to become a mother in her old age. Her child would be John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus.

Her world (Luke 1:5-6)

If you sometimes feel that your world is unfriendly to your faith, you have Elizabeth as a kindred spirit. Her world was dominated by rulers and religious leaders who were morally corrupt. King Herod had a reputation for serial adultery and for unspeakable cruelty. He is the ruler who ordered the murder of the male babies around Bethlehem when he learned of the birth of Jesus, the king of the Jews. The religious establishment in Jerusalem was controlled by high priests who were known for political intrigue, spiritual pride, and hypocrisy.

In contrast, Elizabeth and her husband lived lives of quiet devotion and faithfulness to God. They were childless, and this fact added a feeling of shame inflicted by their world (vv. 7, 25). But they did not allow this personal disappointment to make them bitter toward God. It did not stop them from praying, worshipping, or serving him.

Her womanhood (Luke 1:8-17)

When her husband Zechariah was to take his turn to serve as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, it was at an appointed time in redemptive history. He and Elizabeth would be participants in a cosmic drama. Messiah was coming! God was moving!

The Lord’s angel appeared to Zechariah as he performed his priestly duties. “Your prayers have been heard,” he said. What prayers? we wonder. Were they the prayers he and Elizabeth had prayed many years before for a child? Were they the prayers he now led for the advent of Messiah, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for deliverance for Israel?

The angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would become a mother. He named her. He stated her destiny in God’s plan. She would fulfill the last prophecy in the Old Testament, the one about the appearance of the forerunner of Messiah (v. 17, Malachi 4:6, 3:1). That prophecy would be fulfilled in her womb. Her son would be “great in the eyes of the Lord.” He would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah and prepare the way for the Lord.

Luke tells us that Zechariah had doubts about all this at first. As a result, he was struck dumb and was unable to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (v. 20). In contrast, Elizabeth believed. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said (v. 25). Her faith shines brightly.

As a mother in Israel, she influenced her son to become the man God wanted him to be. There is a vivid description in these verses of the kind of man John would become. Where did John get his deep conviction, his boldness, his dedication, and his humility? Surely his first teacher, his mother, had something to do with his spiritual formation.

Though she lived in obscurity, her son would turn the hearts of many to the Lord their God (v. 16). It says something great about this woman that she would be a guiding influence in the life of one who would be called the greatest of all the prophets. It has been said that John prepared the way for Jesus; Elizabeth prepared the way for John!

Her witness (Luke 1:39-45)

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Elizabeth got a visit from a younger relative from up north, in Galilee. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary approached (vv. 41-42). She uttered a magnificent song of praise, the words of which are repeated every day all over the world: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (v. 42).

Not only did she honor Mary, but she also honored Mary’s Son (v.43). She recognized who Mary’s child would be, the divine Lord, the Son of the Most High (v. 35) who will reign as king forever. This incarnate Son she calls “my Lord,” as an expression of her personal faith.

Applying the word

Several points of application stand out in this story. Zechariah and Elizabeth were saddened and disappointed that they had been childless for so many years. What are we to do with our disappointments? Rather than become bitter, we may learn to respond as they did, with quiet faithfulness and persistent prayer.

Elizabeth illustrates the power of influence. Think of her influence on her son John. Perhaps he was great in the sight of the Lord because his mother instilled qualities that made him great. Think of her influence on Mary. Did the three months Mary spent with her help the mother of our Lord grow into a fuller appreciation for what God was doing in her, for her, and through her?

It is likely that Elizabeth was the first person in history (other than Mary herself) to accept by faith the theologically important doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ!

She expressed her faith in the incarnate Lord in Mary’s womb. “Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). Her faith was focused on what God was doing though the living baby in the womb of the virgin mother. He is the Lord from heaven. Mary believed (v. 45). Elizabeth believed (v.25). Do you believe?

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Advent Season Is Here

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the holy child Jesus. Advent, meaning “coming,” or “arrival,” invites us to think deeply about the significance of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. It also reminds us to live in anticipation of his second coming.

Some families observe this season with Advent wreathes and candles. Traditionally these represent the four themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Scripture readings usually emphasize the prophecies of Christ’s coming, as well as the story of the town of Bethlehem, the shepherds, and the angels.

In churches all over the world the next four weeks will be marked by scriptures, songs and liturgies that recall other themes, events, or personalities surrounding the coming of Jesus. This year on this site I wish to honor some of the women who are associated with our Lord’s birth narratives.

Four of these women appear in Jesus’ family history (Matthew chapter 1). This is surprising since Old Testament genealogies did not usually include women. The fact that the apostle Matthew did so, is a reminder of their significance in the plan of God. The genealogy of Jesus also shows us that the entire Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of Messiah the King of the Jews, a theme of Matthew’s gospel.

There is something unusual, unsavory, or scandalous associated with these four women. The same is true, of course, of some of the famous men of the Bible. Abraham lied on more then one occasion. David’s great sins were adultery and murder. Solomon became an idolater, as did many of his kingly descendants. All of them were sinners in need of God’s grace.

The Holy Spirit wants us to remember these four women, not for their failures, scandals, or exclusion, but for what God’s grace did for them. Their lives are evidence of what grace can do for us as well. Grace transforms sinners and outcasts. It operates in all kinds of difficult situations. It reverses tragic outcomes.

Tamar (Matthew 1:1-3)

Tamar’s story is found in one of the strangest chapters in the Bible (Genesis 38). Her story is simply awful, embarrassing to read. She was a victim of treachery who turned around and committed treachery. (How many victims of abuse become abusers? How many children of addicts become addicts themselves?) It is surprising to read such a story in the Bible.

Tamar’s story is a messy tale of hypocrisy, deception, revenge, and sexual sin. Matthew’s brief account says that she became the mother of the twin sons of Judah, who were ancestors of King David and of our Lord Jesus. What he doesn’t say is that they were sons of an incestuous relationship.

We learn from this that God is merciful and he is able to turn human sin into an opportunity for his grace. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Rahab (Matthew 1:3-5)

Rahab was an outsider, a Canaanite woman, who was a prostitute. Her civilization was under God’s judgment (Joshua 2 and 6). The scriptures tell us that despite her unsavory reputation, she chose to be identified with the covenant people of God. When the Hebrew spies made their way into her city of Jericho, she protected them. As a result, she and her family were spared when Jericho was conquered.

She is identified in the New Testament as an example of saving faith in the living God (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25-26, Joshua 2:8-11). So here she is, a converted prostitute, in the Christmas story, a part of the ancestral heritage of Jesus, the king of the Jews!

Ruth (Matthew 1:5-6)

Ruth’s story is found in the Old Testament book that bears her name. It occurred in the days of the Judges in Israel. She was a Gentile, like Tamar and Rahab before her. This fact reminds us that God’s grace was not limited to the people of Israel, but that he intended to save Gentiles too.

Ruth’s husband was a Hebrew from Bethlehem, living in Moab. When he died, she and her mother-in-law Naomi were destitute. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth was determined to leave Moab and go with her, surrendering her life to the God of the Hebrews. She thus wanted to be identified with the people of God in the land of Israel.

Through the providence of God, she was maneuvered into the recognition of a wealthy landowner named Boaz. What followed was a beautiful love story. Her story is also an example of how God’s laws provided for economic justice for the poor.

Boaz married Ruth and they became great-grandparents of king David and members of the genealogy of king Jesus, who would be born in Bethlehem, the hometown of Boaz and Naomi. Ruth’s story is another example of God’s grace in operation. It was activated by her obedient surrender to the Lord.

Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6)

The fourth woman’s behavior was so shameful that Matthew does not name her. She is the woman who committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12). It is the tragic story of how David abused his power as king to steal Uriah’s wife, devalue Uriah’s loyalty, and authorize his murder. She cooperated with David in this sin.

The prophet Nathan confronted the king with these words: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil?” When David repented, apparently Bathsheba did too because, in his grace, God blessed them with a son, Solomon. Solomon was given the name “Jedediah” by God’s prophet, which means “loved by the Lord.” Surely this was an indication that God had forgiven them and was promising a new beginning.

Applying this Advent Lesson

Three of these women were Gentiles. Their stories are not interruptions in the outworking of God’s plan. God would have his gospel to go to people of all nations. Matthew, writing as a Jew for Jewish readers, about the coming of the king of the Jews presents Jesus as savior of Gentiles too.

Our Lord’s genealogy is more than a list of names. It is a testimony to God’s grace in redeeming sinners. Elsewhere Matthew reminds us that Jesus did not come for the righteous, but “to call sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).

There is hope for all of us, no matter what we may have done. We all have things in our lives we would be ashamed to have displayed for all the world to see. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Jesus invites us to come to him for forgiveness and mercy.

Pastor Randy Faulkner



God’s Christmas Tree

Writing in the December issue of Christianity Today, Timothy Larson reminds us that the origin of the Christmas tree was medieval European sacred plays performed at Christmastime. These plays told the biblical story of redemption and included a decorated evergreen tree which represented the Tree of Life. This became a symbol of the season.

I have read that it was the German reformer Martin Luther who added candles, their lights representing starlight shining through the branches of the Christmas tree. Most of us have memories of being charmed by the mystical beauty of the decorated and lighted Christmas trees of our childhood. Perhaps it is the desire to recover that innocent joy that prompts us to decorate the tree again each year at Christmas.

As you enjoy your Christmas tree, consider the fact that there is another tree. It has no ornaments. It has no lights. It is not a thing of beauty. Rather it is a stark testimony as to the reason why Christ came to earth. Older English translations of verses like Acts 5:30 tell us that our Lord died on that tree.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the the tree so that we might die to sins and live unto righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). 

The latest edition of the New International Version translates “tree” as “cross.” The meaning is the same. The Greek word xulon in this context means a wooden pole, beam, cross, or gallows; a cruel means of execution. The cross upon which Jesus died may be thought of as God’s Christmas tree.

Romans 5:1-11 emphasizes the death Christ died for sinners. It repeats the words “death,” “died,” “die,” and “blood,” to explain why the Lord Jesus came to earth at Christmas. He died on that tree for a reason, in fact, for several reasons! Think about this as you gather with your family around your Christmas tree this year.

Here are some of the reasons Jesus died on the tree. These are like Christmas presents we receive when we trust in Christ as savior.

Peace with God. The Lord’s sacrificial death for us sinners makes possible a new relationship to God. Where once we were enemies (v. 10), now believers are at peace with God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

Access. Jesus, through his death on the tree, ushers us into the very presence of God where we may enjoy fellowship with our heavenly Father every time we draw near to him in prayer.

Hope. Christian hope is confidence that the purposes of God will be fulfilled in our lives according to his word. This hope never disappoints. One of the themes of this Advent season is hope. “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (v. 3).

Love. God demonstrated his love for us in the death of Christ on the tree. He “poured out” his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to every believer.

Joy. Believers in Jesus may have joy because they are reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Indeed, they are justified though his blood and saved through his resurrection life. Joy to the world!

All of these gifts are real and attainable for those who will have faith in the Christ of Christmas. The manger is not the end of his story. In the words of Hannah King, “Jesus came down from heaven and then went further still: to the very depth of human shame and suffering. He did this for our sake.” He was born to die on the tree.

That tree, the cross, may be for you and me the Tree of Life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner