2012 Blog Year in Review

My most popular posts this year were:

1. For the Kids – the Penn State Dance Marathon

Apparently a lot of people doing internet searches for Penn State’s Dance Marathon stumbled onto my post.  Cool.

2. Pimps are Criminals who Beat Women….Which is Not Cool

This might be my favorite post of the year, so I am glad to see it got a lot of views.  Here’s an excerpt:

Let me say it again: pimps are criminals.  Pimps make thousands, millions, of dollars selling girls and women for sex.  And in case you want to say that the women chose that life, the average age of entry into prostitution is twelve years old so even many, if not most, women who are prostitutes over the age of 18 are victims of child abuse and rape.Next time you want to talk about making your car or house or lunch better, choose a word other than “pimp”.  Let’s eliminate any positive reference to “pimp” in our vocabulary.  Instead, may we focus on the fact that pimps are criminals who should be locked up.

3. Please Stop with the Gas Price Thing

This was me trying to be quasi-political.  I am sure I wrote far better stuff this year!

4. The Hobbit vs. Les Miserables

This was me looking forward to both movies.  When they finally hit theaters, I loved both of them.  Rarely do films live up to expectations, but these two did for me.

5. We are More than Football

This was my reaction to the penalties the NCAA laid down on Penn State back in July.

6. The Mind Matters (or, not everyone leaves Christianity because Christians are jerks)

This was the post with the most comments, including a number of comments from the book I referred to in the post.

 

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The Best Books I Read This Year

I read a good many books this year, not as many as in previous years but I suppose that comes with parenting.  Here is a list of my favorite reads in 2012.  Note, these are not all new books that came out in 2012, they are books I read in 2012.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – One is a classic, considered one of the greatest novels ever.  The other is a few years old and recipient of numerous rewards.  Both were stories that grip the reader and the sort of books that make me want to read more fiction.

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor – Probably the best book I read this year, or at least the most demanding.  Taylor tells the story of how we went from a culture where it was nearly impossible not to believe in God to one in which faith is just one possibility among many.  What does it mean to live in a secular age?  How did this change come about?  This book stretched my mind and I am sure there were parts I did not fully grasp.  That said, it was amazing and rewarding.  Taylor’s work explains much in the debates and issues and arguments we see in the world around us today.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – If I had to recommend one book to people, this would be the one.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  It is disheartening and stomach-churning at times, but the stories the authors tell about the plight of women worldwide are ones we all must hear.  We must not just hear such stories, we must allow them to get inside of us and to change us, to cause us to take steps to help our fellow humans.

All is Grace by Brennan Manning – This is the sort of book that I would want to reread when I am depressed or doubting, because Manning’s story makes me want to be a better Christian.  That is probably the best compliment I can give.

Simply Jesus by NT Wright – I have read a lot of books by Wright, yet this one may have been my favorite.  He presents a vision of who Jesus was, what Jesus did and why it matters.  The Christian community would do well to hear Wright and catch this vision.

The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans – Funny and thoughtful, provocative and encouraging, this book is probably the most controversial on my list.

On to another year of reading!

Advent – Attack of the Dragon…umm, not Smaug (Day 19)

I saw The Hobbit last Friday night with some of my students.  Going in I had mixed feelings – my high hopes were tempered by reminders of previous movies that did not meet the hype.  I have to say, I loved nearly every bit of the movie.  Sure there was the totally unnecessary cameo by Frodo in the beginning (mostly so people could say, “oooooh, Frodo, I remember him!“), but other than that I enjoyed it.

I have come across a few reviews in recent days that are critical of the film in almost odd ways.  I’ve read people who loved Lord of the Rings but complain the Hobbit strays too far from the book, to which the only answer is, “did you read Lord of the Rings?”  I’ve seen people complain that a character like Radagast seems unnecessary only to wistfully desire a Tom Bombadill appearance in the next film (again, did you read Lord of the Rings?).  Someone complained that many of the dwarves were not developed as characters in the movie, only later to complain that the movie strays from the book.  This reviewer must have forgotten that most dwarves are not developed as characters in the book either!

One thing I am thankful for is that the movie confirmed the pronunciation of the dragon, Smaug.  You do not say his name as “smog” like the pollution in the air, you say it “smowg” like the sound you make when you stub your toe (owww).  Smaug is a dragon who years prior to the film decimated the dwarf kingdom of Erebor.  Now a group of dwarves has a plan to defeat the dragon and regain their kingdom, with the help of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.  We’ll see how this plays out in the next two films (or just read the book…and the “Quest for Erebor” in the Return of the King appendix).

It may be surprising that a dragon makes an appearance in the Christmas story too.  Not in the well-known stories of Jesus’ birth found in the gospels  of Matthew and Luke, but in the final book of the Bible, the mysterious Revelation of John:

12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Right in the middle of this book, in the midst of all sorts of crazy, eye-popping and mind-bending visions, John gives us a glimpse at the birth of Jesus.  The woman, probably symbolizing the people of Israel and not specifically Mary, brings forth a child.  This child is a threat to the evil powers in the world, so a great dragon seeks to devour him immediately upon his birth.  God rescues the child from the threat of evil.

Now the book of Revelation is confusing and open to many interpretations, as anyone who has read it knows.  To try to keep it simple then, just think of the common nativity scene.  You have Mary and Joseph, the wisemen and shepherds and a cadre of animals all focused on a glowing baby.  It is peaceful, idyllic.

What the story in Revelation does is pulls back the curtain to reveal a much deeper conflict behind the scenes.  The hope of the world, the light shining in the darkness, is born.  Evil in the form of a dragon wants to snuff it out.  There is conflict in our world…

Light versus darkness.

A dragon versus a child.

Evil may win some battles.  Smaug was successful for a while, and looked unbeatable.  In the real world, violence and poverty and sickness and suffering and death look relentless.  The message of Christmas is that there is hope, hope that the dragon can and will be defeated, hope for a better world where light triumphs over the darkness.  

 

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 18)

We’re not fully human yet.  

Christians believe that God has been fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  What this means is that in some mysterious way, Jesus is God in the flesh.  When a Christian begins to talk about the identity of God, we really ought to begin and end with Jesus.

There is another truth in the Christmas story though: Jesus Christ is the total human.  It is not that Jesus was God and thus just pretending to be human, as if he floated two inches off the ground.  In some mysterious way, Jesus is both fully God and full human.

What this means is that the more we become like Jesus, the more human we become.  Christians talk about becoming like Christ all the time.  This is a central part of what it means to live as a Christian: to become more like Christ.  We do not always look deeply at what this means though.  It means we are not fully human yet.

What does it mean to be human, to be like Jesus Christ?  There are lots of scriptures to go to, but just one that helps is Colossians 3:12-17:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Compassion.

Kindness.

Humility.

Gentleness.

Patience.

Forgiveness.

Love.

The more we are those things, the more we are like Christ and on our way to becoming human.  May we become more human today.

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 17)

I forgot to post yesterday (the text we read was John 3:1-21).  It was a busy day, I never got on the computer.  Today’s verse comes from the Psalms and it was one I needed to hear.

Day 17 – God has done Great Things for us – Psalm 118:19-29

19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.

21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;

23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

From the house of the Lord we bless you. 

27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.

With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 

 

So often in the Psalms we see the poets giving praise to God even in the midst of bad times.  A psalm may start with the writer talking about how horrific life is before moving into praise without any indication the situation in life has changed.

It is easy to doubt God, to wonder why God does not do more to alleviate suffering in the world.  It is also easy to get angry at God for not doing more.  Perhaps, the doubt says, the growing and vocal minority are right, perhaps God is a delusion or a figment of the imagination.  Yet if that is so, life is ultimately devoid of any sort of meaning (or morality, beauty and heroism).  So I’ll admit it: on one hand I believe God to be real and the Christian story to be true.  But I also want it to be true.

I want there to be hope in the hopelessness.  

I want there to be light in the darkness.  

I want there to be meaning in the meaninglessness.

I stare at the darkness of a meaningless and godless world and reflect on what that means.

I look at the icons and images of a baby born in a manger with the promise of peace, justice, joy and love and reflect on what that means.

I recognize that God has done and will do great things.  And I praise God for those great things, even the ones that have not happened yet and even though we still live in a messed up world.

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 15)

Day 15 –The Word Became Flesh – John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

We live in a dark world.

Sometimes this darkness is thrown in our faces, such as happened yesterday with the massacre in Connecticut.  Other times we manage to move through life, ignoring the darkness because it seems so far away.  Every day thousands of men, women and children are killed in war zones, are raped, starve to death, die of preventable diseases and suffer in horrific ways I cannot even imagine.  Then it happens a bit closer to home and I am reminded that the darkness is real.

Lots of things play a part in creating this dark world: emotional diseases, desire for power, weapons that kill, the glorification of violence in everything from movies to sports to video games.  All of these things, and others, help the darkness grow.  None of them is solely responsible.  The simple fact is that we live in a dark world.

The hope of Christmas is that there is a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Hard as it may be to believe it on a day like today, the light shines.  There is hope for this dark world, found in a baby born in a manger.  There is hope for this dark world in the dream of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life, suffering alongside all innocent people, to demonstrate that there is a better way to live.

May we catch the vision of Jesus, become people of light and push the darkness back.

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 14)

Day 14 –Joseph’s Story – Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, t because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” w (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus

The Christmas story that many of us know is not literally told in the Bible.  That is, there are two Christmas stories in the New Testament, one in the gospel of Matthew and one in Luke.  Matthew seems to focus on Joseph and the wisemen while Luke focuses on Mary and the shepherds.  There are other differences, I just highlight those two.

Some people see this as a contradiction, near proof that these stories did not happen.  Others see the two stories, put together, as the real story of what happened.  Are they two different stories told for two different purposes, or complementary stories that fill each other out?

I’ve written a little bit about Mary – the angel appearing to her, her song of praise – but today we swing to Joseph.  Joseph is truly a mystery figure.  While Mary appears throughout the stories of Jesus, up to the crucifixion (see John’s gospel), Joseph does not appear again after the birth stories.  What sort of man was Joseph?

He was clearly honorable.  When his fiance was discovered to be pregnant, Joseph had every right to divorce her.  He probably could have done far worse to her then divorce her, it is likely he could have had her killed.  It was a patriarchal culture and as a man, apparently wronged in a horrid way by a woman, he had the ability to seek revenge nearly however he wanted.

But being an honorable man, he goes above and beyond the requirements of the law and seeks to divorce her quietly.  Perhaps Joseph was thinking that though she had apparently ruined their relationship, he was not going to ruin her life.  Eventually he decided to stick by her, with a little revelation from a heavenly messenger.

I imagine that Joseph was the butt of many jokes.  His friends, and his enemies, would have known Jesus was not his true son.  They probably mocked him – “his wife cheated on him with another man and he let her get away with it and is raising the b****** baby.”  It may have been brutal for Joseph and Mary to face the dirty looks and violent words.

Yet Joseph, like Mary, knew there was more going on here.  They endured because of their faith.  They knew God was working great things through this child so they persevered.  I think that is quite encouraging.

Joining the Advent Conspiracy and Refocusing on What Matters

I’ve been posting scriptures with brief reflection related to the advent season, the time we look ahead to the coming of Christ.  You can read about why I am doing this here.  Today’s scripture is one of my favorites, from Isaiah 55:

55 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you,

because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.

Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it

without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” 

The rest of this post is a reflection I wrote a couple of weeks ago on Advent Conspiracy.  But I have not had a chance to post it yet, so here it is.  I think it goes along well with Isaiah 55, as we ask the question: are we spending our money, strength and effort on things that will truly satisfy us?

The holiday season started with gusto on Black Friday (or was it Thursday?) as crowds of people shoved and fought there way through Wal-Marts, Targets and even Victoria’s Secrets in search of low-priced deals.  You do not have to look far in the virtual world we live in to see videos that could lead a rational person to wonder if this is the downfall of western civilization.  I’ll spare you by not offering any links other than this one that mentions a few horror stories from Black Friday, including shootings and an abandoned child.

Many conservative Christians, assuming they are not joining in the pushing and shoving for deals, spend a large portion of the holiday season complaining over the word “holiday.”  Wish such a person “Happy Holidays” and risk getting a sharp response reminding you that they are celebrating Christmas.

I am all for getting back to the real meaning of Christmas.  I think too many people in our culture are obsessed with the wrong thing, primarily getting more and more stuff.  Americans spend about 450 billion dollars on Christmas each year.  With  much of that ending up on credit cards, many exit the Christmas season with a lot of new debt.  But I honestly don’t think it matters whether a person says “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.”  You can say “Merry Christmas” all you want and still miss the point of the holiday season.

This is why I am so grateful to have learned about Advent Conspiracy in the past couple of years.    Advent Conspiracy is “a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering. But doing this means doing things a little differently. A little creatively.”  There are four principles of Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  Many churches spend four weeks teaching through these four principles, and the Advent Conspiracy website offers some helpful resources for that.

I work as the part-time English Minister at the Korean Church of Lehigh Valley right outside of Allentown, PA.  We are learning about these four principles during Advent this year.  This past Sunday we spent time talking about both spending less and giving more.  At first glance, these two principles may seem to contradict each other, how do you give more if you are spending less?

The point comes when you realize how many of the gifts you buy people, you only buy out of necessity.  You often buy a gift for a person because you feel like you have to, even though you know it is not something they want or need.  We can all remember receiving gifts that we pretended to like.  That is if we remember the gift at all.  It is a struggle to remember the gifts we got just last year, let alone many years ago.

This comes home to me as the parent of a nineteen month old.  My world revolves around my daughter.  As she grows up, do I want her Christmases to be all about the myriad of presents she gets?  Will I teach her that life is all about what you can get?  Or is there something I can do to teach her the value of giving more, while at the same time spending less.

One way to give more is to get creative.  Instead of just buying a gift card for someone so you can check them off the list, what is something you can get them that shows you care?  I know that the best gift I could get my dad would be tickets to a baseball game and the promise of father-son quality time together.  But if you’re not creative, don’t worry, you can Google “creative Christmas gifts” and get all sorts of ideas.

A second way to give more is to give money in a way that will change a person’s life.  This is something my wife and I have tried to do for the last few years.  We were the weirdos in our family that gave people a card saying, “A goat has been donated in your name to a family in Uganda”.  But most people in our family really appreciated it.

The cool thing is, there are so many ways to do this that are much more meaningful than just giving money.  Many relief organizations have gift catalogs, so you can look through there, with your children if you have any, and decide what gift you want to give.  It could be school supplies to a girl in Pakistan or a cow to a family in Zaire.

Another way to give is micro-finance loans.  Here you do not just give charity, you empower someone to start a business.  I first did this a few months ago, motivated by the amazing book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky.  Through an organization called Kiva, I contributed $25 to a woman in Tajikistan so she could buy some cloth to start a business.  Then a few months later I got an email telling me she had repaid the loan!  Here I was with my $25 back, so I made a new loan.  It is so awesome not just to give money to an organization, but to give it to a person and then see how they use it to change their lives.

As we put more thought into the gifts we get for those close to us and as we make an effort to give more to those in need around the world, we are joining the conspiracy.  We are breaking free from the bondage of consumerism.  We are encountering some of the deepest beauties of Christmas.  When God visited this planet it was in the form of a helpless baby born to an unwed peasant teenage girl.  Yet through the smallness of this act, the world was turned upside down.  We renew our commitment to Jesus and learn that small acts such as spending less and giving more can change our lives and the lives of others for the better.

In other words, a truly fulfilling holiday does not come from fighting through crowds at Wal-Mart or from all the presents under the tree, it comes from a life centered on the one whose birth we celebrate and a life lived in seeking to give love to others as he gave love to us.

Places to give:

Kiva.org

World Vision

Global Giving 

International Justice Mission

Heifer International

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 11, Mary’s Hymn of Praise)

Day 11 – Mary Praises God – Luke 1:46-56

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful

55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

This is Mary’s hymn of praise after the angel visits her and tells her she would be giving birth to the child who would change the world.  It is certainly one of the most amazing passages in the Bible.  Mary shows such a confidence in God that she speaks in the past tense of things that have not happened yet.  Further, what she is praising God for would have been seen as treasonous.

NT scholar Scot McKnight writes of this, “If you were a first-century poor woman, if you were hungry and oppressed, if you had experienced the injustices of Herod the Great, and if you stood up in Jerusalem and announced that the proud and the rulers and the rich would be yanked down from their high places, it is likely you’d be tried for treason and put to death for disturbing the ‘peace’” (The Real Mary, 23).

Mary’s faith and theology was steeped in the scriptures of her people.  When Luke later says that Jesus grew in wisdom (2:52), who do we think was teaching him?  Comparing what Mary says here with much of Jesus’ teaching, it is clear his mother played a key role in his education.  And as McKnight later points out, Jesus did take the same stand against oppressive leaders and in favor of the poor and needy…and he was executed for it.

May we today take the same stand for justice, speaking truth to those in power and helping those in need.

Advent – Preparing for the Coming King (Day 10)

Day 10 – The Angel Visits Mary – Luke 1:26-45

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

 

Mary is awesome.

Growing up in church we often learned about great heroes from the Bible.  Over and over again we heard the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den and Noah with his ark.   Most of the time the lesson from the story was an encouragement to have the same sort of faith in God that these people had.

I don’t recall seeing Mary presented as one of these heroes of faith.  I think in some places there is a sort of fear of appearing “too Catholic” if we talk about Mary too much.  She gets trotted out at Christmas for a few minutes so we can recognize her great faith and then she is forgotten until next year.  I think she deserves much more.  At the very least, when we go through the list of people who had great faith in God, she deserves a place up there with Peter, Paul, David, Daniel and the rest.

Maybe it is just because I have a daughter now, but I feel that I have been searching for more strong female role models in scripture.  It was not something I thought of much as a boy growing up.  But I want my daughter to see that there have been great women used by God throughout scripture: Ruth, Esther, Junia (her namesake), Mary and many more.

A couple years ago I read a fantastic book on Mary and I recommend it here: The Real Mary by Scot McKnight.