Take up your cross

Every person who chooses to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces signs a document stating that while they remain in the military they adhere to the conditions and expectations of service.  This document is validated with the member taking an oath declaring:  “I, __________, do swear (solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and  successors according to law.  SO HELP ME GOD (delete if declaration)”

It is not a vow to be taken lightly because, in military service, people will lose their lives.  The military’s commitment to helping their members keep their oath is the pledge to provide training and resources.  The success of each soldier, sailor or airperson is based on their willingness to almost deny their former mindset, commit to possible hardships, train hard, utilize their resources, and follow their leaders.

Many readers of this newsletter have made a decision to follow Christ and become His disciples. They spoke some words to declare their hope and faith in Jesus and went about learning how a disciple responds to this call.  Many understand the cost of allegiance to Christ has both eternal and day-to-day consequences.  Jesus shares in scripture that rewards of discipleship will be great but the journey could be difficult to navigate; difficult especially without the willingness to rely on His teachings and resources.  Jesus knew that many would suffer in their struggle to accept His calling.  Some would even lay down their cross and become bystanders content to watch others stay on mission with Him.  Serving in the military without faith in the mission does not validate the oath taken.  Not all recruits make good members of the military family; some even quit without actually resigning.  They think they can serve in the military and behave as bystanders serving under their terms.  However the oath is not meant for bystanders but calls to those willing to sacrifice.

Sadly today we live in a world of compromised loyalty and “bystander Christianity”.  Bystander Christians are those who want to be numbered among the flock, but seem to care less about following the Shepherd.  They want the forgiveness Christ’s cross offers, but never intend to carry their own cross.  They want warm, fuzzy moments on Sunday mornings but offer no commitment to Jesus the remainder of the week.  They want the crown without the cross (thoughts from Pastor John Raulerson sermon).

Jesus knew many would think they could become Disciples on their terms but He clearly shows us we must come to Him on His terms.  He alone is the Way.  Disciples worship God, read scripture, fellowship with other believers, and pray.  We want to assist you on your walk with Jesus and starting the first week of July we will begin a 9 week prayer adventure aimed at helping us stay closer to God, to ourselves and to each other.  FACEBOOK will be our primary tool to relay each week’s prayer guide, however other electronic forums will also be used.

We challenge you to become committed disciples and join us on a journey to validate our faith and hope in Christ.

Anton

Saying goodbye

There is no universal way to say good bye to someone. Cultural, gender, familiarity and even seasons influence our good byes. We have some preparatory gestures to set the stage for departures. As a man I have hinted to my visiting guest that it was time to say goodbye by unbuttoning my pants and plopping down on the sofa. I have noticed women begin to re-tidy the kitchen suggesting she wants the house back in order and everyone should leave. Whether we enjoy the company of the person leaving or not we do try to make the act as polite as possible always suggesting we expect to see that person later.

When Jesus sat with His disciples and ate their last Passover meal together it was obvious to an observer that He was saying goodbye to them. Yet, they did not seem to pick up on it, or probably did not want to. He had dropped hints before that evening but his friends, family and followers seemed to ignore Him. They loved Him and wanted no part of His conversation that suggested He would be gone from their presence for a long time. He told them He would suffer and be murdered but it was difficult for them to accept, after all He was healthy, young and affected the lives of those who watched Him perform miracles or listened to Him speak. He was a good man who was funny, gifted and loved by many. But, because He choose to say goodbye to His earthly ministry that night, we never have to say goodbye to anyone without the possibility of seeing them again.

On Monday I gathered with others to remember the life of a believer who had succumbed to cancer. We sang songs, heard some great stories and were reminded that Bob was in heaven. Although we said goodbye to his earthly vessel, many present knew that separation was not permanent. Bob was a good man who was funny, gifted and loved by many. However Bob, like others gathered to say goodbye, believed they would meet again not because of who he was, but because of who He believed. Bob’s hope and belief rested in Jesus’ truths and promises and so believers saying goodbye knew they would see Bob again.

Earlier in the day, while looking at FACEBOOK, I had seen a notice about a colleague who had suddenly passed away on Sunday. I had last seen him in 1998 and although we had exchanged email and messages, we acted as if we would see each other soon. My friend was a good man who was funny, gifted and loved by many however I admit I do not know what he believed. A couple of times as I listened to stories of Bob’s faith, I could not help but think about my friend and what his farewell gathering would be like. I could not help but feel guilty of not taking my goodbyes seriously. I realized some people whom I’ve said goodbye to recently, I may never see again.

ACTION

Are there people you know whose goodbye could be for all of eternity? Are there people you can love-on and be used by God as His messenger of truth?   All of us can answer yes to both those questions and so we must do something to take away the sting of goodbye. Every goodbye doesn’t have to be offered as if it was going to be the last. Before followers of Christ we see God’s glory they are called to participate in the adoption processes helping people understand what God has in store for them as His children. Between the goodbyes we offer our friends, we can talk with God about how we can share His truth with those who do not know Him as Lord. We can make the effort to be the shoulder to cry on, the ear to listen, or even the hand to help up. We can ask to be a voice that shares His story.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we praise You for the joy of life, the emotional and physical experiences You grant us and the people You place around us. We know we have been given only a short time on this earth and are grateful for whatever time we have, however impress on us that You created us to be in eternal relationship with You and others. Help us share Your truth by our witness and our words so that our earthly goodbyes are truly only temporary events and that our friendships can last forever. We do need You to help us love others as You desire, with unselfish words and actions that may reveal Your heart to those we encounter. Thank you for our life and help us share its eternal purpose with all those we encounter. Amen

We are made for each other – Ecclesiastes 4:10

genericIf either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:10

I was surprised to hear some statistics regarding the number of homeless individuals who, even after receiving assistance, end up living back on the street. The statistics were linked to people who had belonged to a program designed to help them back on their feet. The clients were offered a life that mimicked that of the world around them including their own small apartment, meals, employment training and even treatment or help for medical or social problems. They did live alone but ate all their meals in a communal setting. Once they were able, the clients moved into their own apartment located elsewhere in the city. Staff did follow up with former clients to see how they were faring. They would find some outside their facility talking with those who continued to live there or at food kitchens where the homeless hung out. They were surprised at the number who were back living on the streets only months after leaving the program. When asked what happened the usual response from the client was, “its terrible being alone all the time”. It would seem that even though they had a home, a job and some material possessions, they missed relationships with others and so they went back to the street to feel part of a community.

God created humanity to be in relationship with Him and with others. He made Eve because He noted that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Jesus taught that God’s intent for His human creation was for them to unconditionally love Him and one another and that could only happen if we sought fellowship with Him and each other. Without a connection to other people we cannot experience life as God desires; we need to be with others. When Solomon wrote the words in Ecclesiastes 4:10 he was sharing how awful it was for someone not to have a friend. How awful it is not to have someone visit on holidays, phone or text, or share a cup of coffee and chat. He was saying how awful it is that so many people in our cities are surrounded by others but stare out their windows day after day wondering why their family does not call them, why the neighbours never say hi, or why they go to sleep every evening feeling so lonely.  When someone experiences loneliness it can be overwhelming and yet it could be alleviated with just a few kind words.

ACTION: Do you think there is something we could do to make someone feel alive? Do you have family, friends, and neighbours who would jump for joy at being invited for a cup of coffee? There are seniors living in nursing homes, prisoners locked up, and hospitals filled with lonely people who would love to have a small group visit them. Are we too busy to listen someone into existence?

PRAYER: Gracious Father, we come before you to humbly ask that you comfort those who are experiencing moments of loneliness. We ask that you be their shelter in the midst of the storm, that you walk beside them every step of the way. We know many feel so alone, they cry out for attention, in desperation, looking for some sort of acknowledgement from a single soul. Lord, touch our hearts so we can offer some kindness that may bring lasting benefits to these men, women and children. Amen

Anton Topilnyckyj

Are you living a new life?

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 2.13.12 PMJesus’ life, death and resurrection leads us to thoughts of forgiveness of sin but we should keep in mind that it brought victory over circumstances that can bind us.  That first Easter also brought about reconciliation and restored our possibility of having a harmonious relationship and eternity with God.

Our relationship was broken when Adam and Eve decided to live outside God’s guidance. Since that day the powers of evil have contributed to negative habits and behaviours of humanity that are less than admirable. The choice to live as we desire is a gift from God but He intended for us to include Him in our life. When Adam and Eve allowed temptation to focus on self it prevented them from having the relationship God intended for humanity. God did not give up on His creation and set about mending the relationship. Jesus took human form to help us better understand and connect to Him. His earthly ministry reminded us of God’s expectations for all to love Him with our complete being and to love those around us.  Jesus taught that a mended relationship was not only possibly but desired by God. The reconciliation became real when Jesus allowed Himself to be taken to the cross to die. When He arose three days later He not only sent the message that God was in control of the universe and that evil did not control the destiny of humanity, but that God desire us and wants us to desire Him.

Anyone who has planted a garden knows that care is required to keep it healthy. Weeds that once owned the garden area, want to reclaim it and only our desire and effort can keep that garden area new. If we wish for the garden to keep its new purpose, we must maintain it by constant weeding, cultivating, and watering. Jesus promised His believers that we would become new creations because He was going to dwell in us. He was going to help us keep our relationship with Him strong. When we believe we realize that Jesus is in His Father, and we are in Him, and He is in us. We must maintain and cultivate our new lives by seeking to overcome self defeating behaviours that bind us. We must always be doing something to improve our connection to God. We should remember our new life is much more powerful that the evil around us and that it exits because we are in relationship with God.

Easter’s message is about forgiveness of sin however we must not forget it also brought about victory over conditions that bind us.  Reconciliation with God can bring hope to those who struggle to break free from the chains of mental health issues, addiction, shame, guilt. They don’t need to be forgiven for these afflictions but released from them and Jesus’ victory at the cross offers this.   They need to hear how Christ in them will create a new being from which good will flow and changes occur.

HE IS RISENWith God’s grace the truth of Jesus message can be heard and understood.  Jesus’ truth is about new life and freedom. Will you take some time to think what that means to you and then pray asking how you can share the message of reconciliation with someone else.  When you look at the cross this Easter, remember it symbolizes the sacrifice and suffering Jesus went through to bring you a new life.  Will you remember those who need to be freed and invite them to hear the Easter story?

What is expected of me?

MCF - NEWSLETTER 2017-02-03 WHAT IS EXPECTED OF ME

When Jesus told His disciples that He would be taken prisoner, suffer at the hand of religious leaders, and be killed, Peter exclaimed: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matt 16:22). Scripture says Peter rebuked Jesus; the original Greek translates that Peter admonished or even forbid Jesus. However “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt 16:23). Jesus was pointing out a stumbling block that infects followers; many focus on things that concern humanity or themselves instead of that which concerns God.

Followers lose their way when their expectation of discipleship differs from Jesus’; when they anticipate earthly rewards in place of that associated with living a holy life. A life not based on conservative legalism, pious expectations or restrictive customs missing but one that allow us to experience the goodness of life God has for us. The reward of one following Christ is the blessing of happiness; the inward joy, peace of mind, contentment with life, love of all people, and hope of eternity. [1] However, there is a cost to following Jesus.

The disciples’ friend, leader, and messiah had been crucified. When they gathered behind locked doors, uncertain as to what was going to happen next, did they recall Jesus saying whomever wants to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross? Did they wonder if they were to go into the streets to be martyred? Were there concerns at the time about their future expectations and desires? When Jesus visited them shortly after His resurrection He pointed them back to God. He placed them on ministry to spread His truths to the world and lined them up with God’s concerns.  He knew that with faith and the Holy Spirit, they would find the answers to His expectations for followers.

Followers must continue to ask what it takes to be a follower. However they must not avoid the questions regarding denying one’s self and the cross they must take up? The first step to following Jesus is accepting Him as saviour. Then we must seek out His teachings with the aim of following and sharing them. As followers engage in scripture reading and study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, answers to what is expected of them will become clear. As a follower’s life is transformed, holy living will be modelled. Answers to denying one’s self will be revealed as will a symbolic or literal cross and God’s blessings will help them bear those expectations.

Jesus told His followers that they will not walk alone and will be given a role model, guide, and encourager while as they seek to do God’s will. He also suggested that the journey will not be easy but it can be rewarding both in heaven and on earth.  Discipleship is not a series of objectives to be achieved but a life that displays constant worship and love for God. Ask to be a follower. Ask the Holy Spirit to be your escort. Pray for a mentor or guide to share your walk with, so to keep you pointed in the right direction. Acknowledge and be thankful for the rewards of discipleship.


[1] Thoughts developed following from a lecture provided by Dr Dinkins formerly of Asbury Seminary

Becoming a disciple

MCF - NEWSLETTER - 2017-01-27 Becoming a disciple

Discipleship is the process of devoting oneself to a teacher to learn from and become more like them. For the Christian, this refers to the process of learning the teachings of Jesus and following after his example in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship fundamentally involves all of one’s being, not just the mind or intellect. All of the biblical terms used to convey the concept of discipleship involve more than just academic engagement. Moses made clear that the teaching of the law was meant to result in obedience to what it said rather than just intellectual acceptance (Deuteronomy 4:5). The obedience is reflected when, as Moses directed, we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). Jesus’ expectation for discipleship goes beyond an individual standing before others and telling them they believe and want to follow Jesus. He expects commitment to knowing and doing.

In Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew we can read about an encounter Jesus has with people who tell Him they want to follow Him. Jesus offers two thoughts regarding expectations that sadly cause many want-to-be disciples to freeze in their tracks. In verses 18-22, He shares that it will be tough and requires immediate commitment. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”, reveals that our basic comforts will be challenged. His response “follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” seems harsh to the individual who asks, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” but it does suggest the commitment is now. Consider what this man asked, did his father just die? Was there a sense of urgency to get home to bury him and if so, why was he stopping on the way to listen to Jesus talk. Was he asking to be allowed to fulfil his obligation to an elderly parent until his father died and then he would be free to follow? Scripture shares that family is important but it should not be our excuse for inaction. We can love God as He intended and we can be disciples while life happens around us.

Discipleship begins when we believe that Jesus is that path to salvation and that His truths are the guiding light. Discipleship can be wrongly perceived as a set of steps that one completes in order to achieve discipleship status. That approach allows us to think we are able to delay them until we have completed whatever else we think needs to be done first. Regardless of how wonderful and meaningful this activity may seem they become excuses that prevents the commitment God desires. Becoming a disciple requires a mindset change. Discipleship is not something that occupies the time in-between our work, our pleasure or even our Sunday worship. It must become a way of life where we are mindful of Jesus’ teaching and God’s expectations causing us to want to apply them as we work, play, and worship.

Lastly, discipleship not only involves the process of becoming a disciple but of making other disciples through teaching and evangelism. As followers of Jesus we should be able to identify three phases of our journey, which we can share with others. We know what our life was like before we chose Jesus; we know the circumstances that led us to choose Him; and we should know what our life is like since we became followers. Wanting and actually sharing this discipleship journey with others should be a response to being a follower.

There is intentionality required to identify Jesus’ teaching in order to understand and apply them. Scripture study is necessary, so is communication with God (prayer), and so is fellowship with others. There are numerous books, studies, tools, sermons etcetera that are available and accessible. They help us understand discipleship as they often consolidate Jesus’ teaching into a package that allows us to comprehend, grow and apply His teachings. We can assist you with recommendations as to what tools you might consider however only you can decide to become a disciple. Becoming a disciple requires we learn and follow the teachings of Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to empower us to do so. Choose the path you want to be on now. Choose to be a 24/7 intentional disciple of Jesus.

Wanting to be a disciple of Jesus

JESUS IN THE TEMPLE 2017-01-19

When in Jerusalem it was Jesus’ habit to sit in the temple courts and share thoughts about God and His kingdom. Onlookers initially included people from the community but eventually religious authorities, such as Pharisees and teachers of the law, began to observe and even engage Him. Jesus taught that worship of God is enhanced when we recognize that His love for us is central to everything. He shared that when we are transformed because of a relationship with Him, God’s love will be evident in our everyday behaviour. Jesus also taught that when we regard God’s laws as statements of love as opposed to restrictive guidelines, then true worship becomes possible.

Jesus’ audiences often included those responsible to interpret and teach God’s laws and those who often felt oppressed or restricted by them. Listeners were sometimes confused with what he spoke about but were also intrigued by His teachings.  The Gospel of John shares that during one of these sessions Jesus is approached by religious authorities who want Him to endorse the stoning of a woman they have dragged before Him. She has been caught sinning and they want the full punishment of the law to rain down on her. Because of what Jesus does and says (John 8:7-11) the accusers slip away; most likely realizing they are also guilty of some sin and could be punished. Those remaining might have wondered whether the laws, that were central to their lives, were still applicable or whether there was a greater meaning behind them.  Jesus never taught that the laws were to be abandoned but that God desires more than ritualistic acts. Throughout His ministry He taught truths about practical applications of God’s guidance. It is these teachings He speaks about when He tell believer’s how His disciples would respond; they would follow His teachings.

Jesus offered truth about who He was. At one point He made the statement that if people just followed His teaching they will know the truth and be set free. He wanted to set them free from the mindset that had developed because of their religious approach to honouring God, an approach that was inhibiting their worship of Him. Their worship appeared to stem from a desire to be obedient rather than to love and honour Him.

Jesus calls those who believe to be His disciples. Unfortunately many hesitate because they think it means following rules that might restrict their behaviour thereby isolating them from their friends and family. Some get into a worship rut and end up going through the motions. They attend weekly service because they should. They read their bible so they can say they did, and they pray ritualistic without pausing to think why they are praying. Some might call themselves followers even though they have skipped the need to seek Jesus truths, study them, apply them to their lives and allow them to transform them such that they want to share those truths with others. Some want the jacket with the word DISCIPLE emblazed across the shoulders without seeking the relationship or understanding what makes disciples; activities that require a yearning for God and time.

Over the next few weeks we are going to share some thoughts as to what makes one a disciple of Jesus, why we should all want to be a disciple, and what are the expectations that come with being a disciple. Our desire is to help free you from the thoughts and actions that hold you captive to routine and prevent you from experiencing what God has intended for us while we are on this earth and when we go to eternity. Please take some time and reflect in your commitment to being a disciple of Christ and ask God to help you change. Seek to worship God in truth, Jesus’ truths.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj

MCF Prayer Coordinator

Look at ME – 2017-01-06

MCF - NEWSLETTER IMAGE STARR 2017-01-05
 
 
In the book of Acts, chapter 3:1-6, the Apostles Peter and John encounter a lame beggar on there way to temple.  The lame asked the Apostles for money to which Peter replied and scriptures say, they both looked at the man and said: “look at us”.  When all three were looking at each other, Peter said: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you”.
 
Have you ever watched people approach a street beggar? Many will move to the opposite side of the sidewalk or, if they are unable to do so, will either lower their head and look at the ground or fiddle with their phone or something else to suggest they are too busy to notice someone seeking help. Have you ever wondered what the panhandler’s thoughts are when they witness this avoidance tactic? Most homeless people and street beggars are not naive to their situation. Many acknowledge that they contributed to their current situation and none will ever say their dream was to live on the street and beg for assistance. Regardless how they got there, their situation is both demoralizing and humiliating and watching people look away makes them feel like pariahs in their own communities. 
 
In the name of Jesus, Peter gave the lame man the ability to walk. He could feel like a member of society; like a human being. He could go home, face his neighbours and participate in his own upkeep. Peter and John did something that reminds us that the needy are created in the image of God and are deserving of our love and respect. Peter and John made the effort to look and talk with the lame man and see his need. They were able to bring Jesus to another by simply acknowledging his existence. Those who are homeless or use food banks or suffer from invisible illnesses desire this acknowledgement not judgment or contempt. 
 
God created us to live in relationship with one another but many don’t because they can’t get past outer appearances. On street corners there are visible reminders of people in need but many are blinded to them because they choose to look the other way or not to listen when they talk. Jesus taught that we must interact with those whom society overlooks or looks down upon. Followers should decide whether they should emulate Jesus’ behaviour or look the other way. Can we offer more than silver and gold to those around us? Can we do something about those needing food and shelter? Can we help those with family troubles, invisible illnesses such as PTSD, or a lack of hope? Can we look at and face someone who had been marginalized by society and see his or her need? 
 
People need Jesus regardless of their status in society and followers of Jesus can offer Christ to them. It is easy to look at the misery in the world and ask: “why does God allow this to happen.” However, do you wonder if God asks the question: “why are we letting things happen around us when we are able to help?” We have the ability to help those around us but do we have the desire to face someone in need and say: “look at me” and listen them into existence?

Prepare to share

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ” John 14: 1: 4

 
I recently watched the 2014 movie The Gospel of John and admit that the last supper conversation seemed to affect me a little deeper than it has in the past. As I listened to the narrator, who read the NIV gospel version verbatim, I closed my eyes and imagined Jesus was speaking directly to me. He acknowledged the special bond believers have with Him and reminded us that there is a place set aside for those who believe. Jesus shared that He was leavening and at first that may seem sad. However, because I know the whole story He shared, I was listening for the joyous messages that are part of the Christmas story; the ones that remind us that He was born so our future home can be with Him. 
 
During Christmas we often hear messages about Joseph and Mary’s commonness, the lowly setting in which Jesus was born, and how Angels shouted out the night He was born. We don’t often link it to the fall in the Garden and our subsequent sinful nature which brought about the need for Christmas as well as Easter. We don’t often mention that, because of our inclination to be naughty, God had to put a plan in place so that the many rooms in His house would be filled with all those who believe in the birth, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the plan that sees Jesus coming back to earth one day and fulfilling the promise of taking believers with Him into His Father house for all of eternity. This is part of the Christmas story that many do not know but should hear. 
 
During this time of the year we laugh, sing, eat and are merry. Many are open to reconciling and connecting with those we avoided all year and so opportunities to live our faith in front of another are increased because of the spirit of Christmas. Please remember the reason behind the season and pray that you can be witnesses to someone so you can share the promise behind the birth.  Fire and brimstone talks will get you talked about, but inviting someone to break bread with you and enjoy this time of year together will guarantee a second encounter and maybe a room mate in eternity. Pray that God prepares someone to hear the whole story and that may be part of sharing some or all of it. Ask God to prepare you for an encounter. Enjoy this season. Remember the reason. Preach the gospel and, as Francis of Assisi says, if necessary use words. 

We all need a true friend.

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This month we will hear scripture that foretold the birth of our Saviour, read the words Gabriel shared with Mary about her pregnancy and be reminded of different reaction to that news.  Sermons will share that during this time in Israel’s history, being pregnant while engaged was shocking but claiming to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, while being a virgin, was even more difficult to try to explain. Someone will tell us that Mary was in an unenviable position and another will say Joseph’s was not much better because both were subject to cultural and religious expectations regarding pre-marital activity; any breech of expected behaviour could have had dire repercussions. 

 
Reflecting on the Mary’s response we know her acceptance of pregnancy was not an indication of indifference to her situation. Being engaged and pregnant (and not by the future husband) was a potential death sentence for her. We know Mary’s conversation with God’s angel allowed her to recognize her condition as a blessings as she shared these words “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. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49. As blessed as Mary felt, her pregnancy could have set off wagging tongues, led to discrimination and mistreatment, and her life could have become very difficult. So what did Mary do when faced with this very real difficult situation? Mostly likely she would have spoken to God seeking comfort and assurance but we know she confided in another person; her cousin Elizabeth. Mary went to someone with whom she knew she could talk with about serious matters. Her visit was immediately corroborated as the right decision because Elizabeth’s child (the future John the Baptist) jumped in her womb as a sign of acceptance. (Luke 1:41). In addition to seeking God, Mary sought out a loving and comforting individual and confided in her. 
 
Scripture suggests Mary did not immediately tell Joseph she was pregnant and only did so after her visit. After spending a few months with Elizabeth, Mary returned home to talk with her future husband about their situation.  As Mary shared the news, Joseph would know he was not the father and could have suspected adultery and called for Mary to be stoned or publically humiliated.  He himself could have been subject to some disgrace, as people would have assumed he was the father. Betrothed people were not allowed to be intimate until after their wedding, which occurred one year after engagement. Mary did tell Joseph that her condition was the result of the Holy Spirit’s interaction, and although he knew her to be a good woman with a fine reputation, that was a difficult story to accept. In his mind he probably felt she was carrying another man’s child and so he left her presence troubled. There is no indication that he spoke with a friend or discussed his situation with anyone else. He went to bed that evening mulling over the idea of quietly divorcing her; a necessary action to end an engagement. However, that night he was visited by God’s angel who told him not to be afraid and to follow through with the marriage. He was also told that Mary was indeed impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that their son Jesus would save His people from their sin.  
 
We know Joseph and Mary married, Jesus was born, and salvation was brought to humanity. We can see this as a joyous story and may feel inclined to talk about the next encounter with Jesus without any thought to the fact that two people, not unlike us, were in a very difficult, potentially dangerous situation that was fuelled by cultural and religious traditions that threatened to destroy their lives. If stoning was avoided, the potential humiliation and mocking would have followed both of them and their child for the rest of their lives. We can however conclude that their prior relationship, trust and adoration for God, for whom nothing was impossible, helped them overcome their situation. They willing accepted the truth and wisdom shared by God’s angel, which turned out to be their saving grace. 
 
Upon reflection we can’t help but wonder if Mary was able to adjust to her situation more quickly because she had someone who loved and supported her; someone she could talk with. The time she spent with Elizabeth certainly prepared her to speak with Joseph. I take liberty to suggest that Elizabeth’s support affected Mary’s mannerism and demeanour during the talk about pregnancy and may have affected Joseph’s positive response. Scripture doesn’t say Joseph screamed or hit Mary but that he still thought of her as good and respectful.  Mary’s interaction with Elizabeth could have prepared for the talk whereas Joseph seemingly goes through this trial without another human to comfort or guide him. Although he made the right choice in the end, it could not have been easy. 
 
Christmas reminds us, that the gift of eternity with God was realized when Jesus took on human form. It reminds us that we are designed to be in harmony with God and one another and, like Joseph and Mary we must seek God daily in the good and bad times.  The Christmas story also reminds us that life is better when you can share the joys and struggles with another. Do you have a friend with whom you can confide? Is there someone who cares about your spiritual and physical health; who wants to share your joys and your struggles? Will they stand with you and be bold enough to point you in the right direction to get you over life’s obstacles? This friend is not a biological brother or sister or a spouse, but a child of the most high who will speak tough love and truth into your life.  Pray for a spiritual companion of the same gender as yourself, so you can mentor each other in the ways of Christ. Pray for a friend to be there in the time of adversity.