Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 14 2013 - Luke 1:26-56 – He ... has lifted up the humble

God is on the move. Elizabeth is now six months pregnant and the angel Gabriel is sent out on another vital mission. This time he is sent to an unmarried girl named Mary to tell her that she too will have a child. Mary finds this puzzling since she is unmarried and a virgin. But Gabriel assures her that the child will be conceived by the power of God’s Spirit at work within her. The child who will be formed within her owes his origin to no human father; he is the Son of God. God is entering into his creation in the form of a helpless babe who will become the King of kings and Lord of lords. At this explanation, Mary responds with the wonderful words of submission, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

But Gabriel has also told Mary that Elizabeth, her elderly relative, is soon to have a child. As soon as the angel has gone, Mary packs her bags and rushes off to visit Elizabeth. Her sight of Elizabeth pregnant confirms all that the angel has told Mary and the two women rejoice together at the wonderful goodness of God and at the remarkable things he is doing in and through their lives. In this child, God is coming to fulfil his promises to Abraham (1:55) – to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Part of Mary's celebration consists of the wonderful song we call "the Magnificat" in which Mary celebrates what God has done and shall do through the children that she and Elizabeth are carrying. The Messiah, the Saviour of Israel and of the world is about to appear. But he will not be born to a royal family in the palaces of Jerusalem. Gabriel was sent to an ordinary young girl in the very ordinary village of Nazareth to tell her that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the one whose kingdom will never end.

In her song of praise, Mary recognises the upside-down nature of the kingdom which God will establish through his Messiah, for it has been made plain in his choice of Mary to be the mother to the one who will be Saviour of the world;

My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
  of the humble state of his servant...
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty. (1:46-47, 49-53)

If we so elevate Mary in our imagination that we fail to see her as an ordinary young girl, we will fail to hear the remarkable good news of the gospel. In Jesus, God has come to bless those who know that without him they have nothing.

But equally, we need to recognise the ready response of Mary to God’s call upon her life. God’s call upon our lives will be very different, but our response should similarly be one of readiness of do God’s will and serve his purposes in the world. 

Father God, thank you for the miracle of the incarnation – the living God come to live among us in a human life just like our lives. Help me to comprehend something of the wonder of the God who stoops to serve that I may recognise the emptiness of all human pride and ambition. May I follow Jesus Christ who humbled himself for me and always be ready to spend myself in his service that I may at last share in his exaltation and glory.

Mar 14 2019 - Numbers 11:1-34 – Be careful what you long for

Today's passage begins with complaint. The Israelites, despite their many blessings, were not content with their lot. Even after some of the people had been consumed by the Lord's wrath, still they were discontented, still they complained.

God had provided them with bread from heaven, but now they had become literally fed up with it complaining, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (vv. 4-6).

Moses too is affected by their discontent. He cries out to the Lord protesting that he has to try to look after all these people. Where is he going to get meat to feed them? He also if fed up with the task that the Lord has given him and begs to die.

God responds graciously to Moses. Since he cannot lead this multitude on his own, God will provide seventy leaders from among the people who will share the burden with him. He will give them a share of the Spirit he had given Moses, so that they can help him lead God's people.

And in answer to Moses' complaint, "Where can I get meat for all this people?" (v.13), God promises that he will provide it; "Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you." (v.23). But along with this promise is a graphic warning for the people, "Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month – until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it – because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you."

What happened is later remembered in Psalm 106:14-16:

In the desert they gave in to their craving;
    in the wilderness they put God to the test.
So he gave them what they asked for,
    but sent a wasting disease among them.

We live in a society marked by discontent. Discontent is the engine of consumerism and the power that drives growth – the idol of a godless society. We want something new, something different, something better, something more … and yet we are never satisfied. All the stuff that we have hungered after soon becomes ashes in our mouths; it never satisfies.

This incident, and the recalling of it in Psalm 106, warn us to be careful of what we set our heart on. We may get what we want but find it a curse rather than a blessing. None but Christ can satisfy.

God calls his people to trust in his perfect care and to be content with what we have. Such contentment is grounded in contentment with God himself. Paul writing from prison to the Christians in Philippi says, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:11-13).

Father God, you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us and have promised to care for all our needs with him and in him. By your Spirit, teach us to be content with you, our God; content with the path you call us to tread and content to know that you are always with us and will never abandon us. May our counter-cultural lifestyle of contentment draw others away from the glittering trinket idols of this world to find solid joy and lasting treasure in you and in our precious Saviour.

 

Peter Misselbrook