So far this year, life at university has been tough. It's been tough being apart from families, tough to make those 'lifelong friendships' and tough to plan for life after graduation. Our hope for the future, sense of security, happiness and even self-confidence have all been called into question. It's probably felt exhausting.
But you're not alone. Many in the nativity story felt this way. Throughout history people have felt this way. But someone came to offer us a hand up, and show us the way out…
These four devotions in Luke 1–2 show us how Jesus' birth is cause for genuine joy, even in times like these. We're praying that these thoughts on His Word and the work of His Spirit will encourage us this Christmas.
You can read Luke 1–2 here.
I’ve been struck by how many news headlines in the last month have chosen to lead with stories of the long-awaited Covid vaccine finally becoming available, and the promise of science winning through. In all of them, from the Guardian to the Financial Times, the news is summed up with one tantalizing word: hope. Hope is vital to us. We need to know that good is coming, to get us through times that are bad. This explains something of why 2020 has been so difficult – because the constant uncertainty of the pandemic has almost made hope seem futile. But praise God, hope is not futile! This part of Luke’s Gospel shows us why. This is the story of two women: a young virgin girl, and an older woman who can't conceive – yet we discover that they will be the ones to carry two babies into the world. Into a situation that we would say is hopeless, God speaks absolute hope, reminding them that ‘no word from God will ever fail’ (v37). And in saying this, God isn’t just talking about keeping His promise to two unlikely mothers, but keeping His word to the whole world. (The Old Testament prophets foretold a coming Messiah who would be born of a virgin, in the line of David, living in Galilee… through Jesus’ birth, God was fulfilling the promise made to His people many years ago). God's word does not fail. And so, we can know with absolute certainty that this same God will continue to accomplish His purposes to bring salvation to many through Jesus now – including in our universities. But maybe you can relate to Mary’s question, as you seek to live and speak for Christ on campus: 'But, Lord, how will this be, since…?' '…since we aren’t allowed to book rooms or run events?', '…since everyone is being sent home early?', '…since there seems to be so much despair on our campuses and among our friends?’. Hear God’s answer and let it give you hope as you find any means possible to share the good news of Jesus: ‘No word from God will ever fail.’ Not ever. And keeping His word in impossible circumstances is God’s specialty… just ask Mary and Elizabeth.
This year, is Christmas really ‘the season to be jolly’? Can we actually ‘be of good cheer’? It was a lonely November in lockdown, without festive markets, parties and dinners, and a strange and sudden end to term. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t exactly feel like breaking out into song… But here in Luke, that’s exactly what we see Mary doing. In a very real sense, her situation was difficult – while she had the huge honour and excitement of being mother to the Messiah, she also faced shame for having a child outside of marriage, potential rejection from family and the loss of her fiancé. But Luke doesn’t show us an anxious Mary going to a friend to tearfully fret about the lot God has given her, no! It’s a Mary who can’t help but sing for joy. What’s her secret? The answer is found in her song. Perhaps surprisingly, only two verses of her ten-verse song are about being made mother to the coming Saviour. The other eight are simply all about who God is – merciful (v50), mighty (v51), just (v52), caring of the poor (v53), faithful (v54). God’s character delights her so much that she can laugh at the same time as experiencing worries and hardship. In other words, she doesn’t find her happiness first and foremost by looking to her situation, but by looking to who God is: considering Him, marvelling at Him, enjoying Him. In verse 45, Elizabeth says it better than any of us could: ‘Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her’. And the great news of Christmas is that we can have this joy too! Let’s act as Mary did, and fix our eyes on our constant God rather than on the highs and lows of life. Because, through the sacrifice of His son Jesus, come to earth for us, no matter what you are facing you can know that God is wonderful, and He loves you. Look to who He is and find a happiness that can never be taken away. Blessed are we who believe.
For some of us, the Nativity story is as familiar as the children’s stories we grew up with. Add to that the romanticised, Hallmark images of a cute baby Jesus wrapped up warm, and everyone smiling down adoringly at Him (including the animals), and we can quickly forget how different the reality was. The events leading up Jesus’ birth were some of the most challenging that Mary and Joseph had to endure. God was asking for an incredible amount of trust when He gave Mary the task of carrying the Messiah: as an unmarried couple, they would have faced shame for carrying a child out of wedlock, the journey to Bethlehem would have been uncomfortable and stressful and they had to resort to an outhouse holding animals for the birth. Anyone in their situation might have wondered if God had abandoned them. Our struggles right now look different, but they are just as real and it may be tempting to wonder if God has abandoned us, too. We are quick to believe the lie that the presence of need equals the absence of God. But it is a lie – see how God remained with Mary and Joseph in their need and hardship, providing for them at the right times. In fact, these events around His birth are a tangible display of God’s unchanging desire to be with us in our real and messy lives. They are a tangible display of why Jesus came in the first place. Immanuel, one of Jesus’ names in the Bible, means ‘God with us’. As we discover by reading through the rest of the Gospels, Jesus came to meet our most real need by taking our sin on the cross and offering eternal life through His resurrection – making a way for God to be with us. This Christmas, He might be asking for more trust from us than we have ever given to God before, but let’s remember God has given us Himself to be the rock that carries you through this season.
As kids, my sister and I would sing the alternative Christmas carol lyrics, ‘While shepherds washed their socks by night...’. To this day, I prefer our version. It reminds me how these shepherds were just ordinary people going about their ordinary business, spending most of their lives outside of the city, unnoticed and unimportant. Yet, God chose to give them His world-changing message – into that dark night’s silence, the sound of hope erupted before them, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’. And the He chose them to witness God humbling Himself and stepping into His creation as a baby – these lowly shepherds were some of Jesus' first visitors! In many ways, this reminds us of why Jesus came in the first place. The great message of hope for this world is that because of Jesus, precious child and promised saviour, we can rest in the peace of God’s favour no matter who we are or what we have done. What greater gift could He have given? He has brought salvation for all people. So, whatever your ‘washing socks’ or ‘watching flocks’ equivalent might be, as the dark nights of winter draw in, fix your eyes on the marvellous light of this truth: Christ came as a child to rescue you. He made himself ‘fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:17). That extraordinary promise was given to ordinary shepherds, and we have received the same. Ordinary as we may feel, extraordinary love is ours in Immanuel, God with us.
These four blogs were written by members of UCCF staff (top to bottom): Liz Hume (Executive Assistant & Company Secretary), Milla Ling (Communications Officer), Laura Prime (Development and Communications Administrator) and Naomi Sherwood (London CU Staff Worker).
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