We never heard the phrase a decade ago. It is a recent social phenomenon—and a fun one. Great idea to catch a crowd off guard at a big mall with a powerful rendition of the “Halleluiah Chorus.” People light up to the eye-catching adventure.


Flash mobs began really taking off in mid-2007. Last year they gained international notoriety during the Christmas season and now are thrilling crowds on a weekly basis.


Flash Mob America is a full-service flash mob production company with the sole purpose of creating joy through surprise. Their website announces, “We are The Flash Mob Experts.”


Negative. God’s the expert. He outdid everyone to honor His Son. Whether He emptied out heaven or not, we do not know. We do know that a multitude of the heavenly host (translate host “army”) showed up in the Bethlehem skies. One angel appearing at the Mall of America would get everyone’s attention. God likely sent thousands or more. Birth announcements are catching the flare of creativity like flash mobs have. God takes first in that category as well.


The joy of flash mobs is the surprise element. “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” “Okay, we’re listening. You have our attention.” When one angel showed up, “they were filled with fear.” What would a sky full of them do?


Check out the top ten flash mobs on youtube. Then read about the greatest flash mob ever to announce a birth in Luke 2. It had the largest group of participants ever to join in a flash mob—and the least number of spectators. That is God for you.


The shepherds said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Wouldn’t you after those heavenly fireworks? The spectacular nature of the announcement stood in stark contrast to the actual scene of the birth. Unless they had been told about the sign, they would have missed it. That for this? There’s a disconnect somewhere. Yet the angel prepared them for the change in venue. They took it all in as humble shepherds could do, then left “and made known the saying which had been told them concerning the child.”


Flash mobs often bring praise to God where folks don’t expect it and where some would object if it came any other way. Hard to interrupt the Air Force band and say, “I object.” Notice that the first angel made the announcement about the baby. The flash mob showed up to do what they did best, to worship God: “…there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest…”


This flash mob not only changed their night—it changed their life. May it change ours as well. Whether God is captivating us with the dramatic or disguising His presence in the mundane, like out back of an overcrowded motel, we can do our part to both worship the Lord like the angels, then spread the news like the shepherds. He has come, He is here, and He is King! Blessed 2016!





The Bible says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Some wise men, maybe from Babylon, understood and went on a search for God’s king. They worshiped at the end of their search and gave kingly gifts. How did they know their search was over? A star told them. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Sounds like divine guidance to me.




“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him'” (Matthew 2:l,2).


Every middle-east court had its wise men. Could have been teachers of Persian kings, skilled in philosophy, medicine and natural sciences. Think Daniel. These men somehow learned about the promised birth of a Jewish king and linked it to an unusual star.


Seekers ask questions: “Where is he…?” Jesus was born right under the nose of Jewish leaders, but they were not seeking. They were giving answers when they should have been asking questions. They even told Herod the answer: “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet” (2:5). They sat five miles away, and didn’t move an inch. Sitters, not seekers. Most people, even religious ones, are too passive to go after Jesus.


The wise men wrongly assumed that if Jesus were a king, he would be found in Jerusalem. Seekers need to be guided more by revelation than by reason. A star got them moving. The same star guided them to Bethlehem when they got back on track.


On the day of Pentecost, seekers asked questions, “’What do these things mean?’ Others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine'” (Acts 2:l2b,l3). Such statements close people off to seeking new truth. Seekers ask—and keep asking.




It may take a while, but seekers are finders! “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother…” (2:10,11).


Their journey was long and costly, but they found the Messiah. God led them first by a star, then by a scripture (spoken by religious legalists), again by the star, then by a dream. God will do whatever it takes to help seekers find Jesus. Remember that!




When the wise men found the King, “they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).

Jesus is the threat of sitters and the goal of seekers, who end up worshippers!


The wise men could have been disappointed. Yet they somehow knew that they had found what they were looking for, and they gave all they had. We can do the same in the year stretched out before us. We can seek Him with all our heart, then worship with all our heart!

























The mass choir makes sense, the audience does not. Why not the whole Bethlehem crowd? It was tax season. Or “the city of the great king”—Jerusalem?


Negative. A huge crowd of angels sang their hearts out—to a few shepherds, clearly on the low end of the social food chain. God is making a statement loud and clear.


People are often excluded. Lack of money, prestige, position, influence. The circle is drawn—and they are outside. Not when God draws it. He does not goes after the high and mighty but the low and poorly. Brains will not get you into the favor of God but humility will. You won’t buy your way or manipulate your way. Going low works. God has a predisposition for the needy. David wrote that “he is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” “Near” establishes proximity.


Shepherds definitely were on the outside. Their testimony did not even count in court. Their influence was limited to the few sheep they were fortunate enough to own—or that they shepherded for the owners.


Paul wrote, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no one may boast before him” (I Cor. 1:26-29). There’s the statement God made on Christmas. And that is the way God is. As scripture attests, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” money or no money, influence or none.


If you are wondering what to do in your baffling situation at work, in a marriage that has ground to a halt, in a menacing relationship with a neighbor, consider humbling yourself. It is never inappropriate, and it always gets the attention of heaven, even when you would not expect it (like with Ahab—I Kings 21:29 and Manasseh—2 Chron. 33:12).


God doesn’t need our influence. Trust me—He has plenty in the universe. He doesn’t need our brains. His ways are higher (though He wants to use whatever brainpower He has given us). He doesn’t need our money. (He wants us to understand that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”). He does want our heart, the one that says with Mary, “Let it be according to your word,” rather than the one that tries to negotiate a deal.


The shepherds went for it. Instead of replying with skepticism (“Sure, a king in a feeding trough; right!”), they responded with genuine excitement: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” And “when they had seen him, the spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:15,18,20). God proved that He went to the right people. Way to go, lowly shepherds! Way to go, humble Christian!



Hearing God’s voice can prove difficult.


Things were going well for Joseph. Then Mary delivered the news. He would have preferred hearing that she had died.


Then God intervened. Joseph had already made a good decision by choosing a pure bride. Now he would make the hardest decision of his life.


“Joseph, son of David…” The angel identified his subject: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was telling the truth. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20,21). What looked like shame just turned to honor.


We assume the job of listening rests on our ability to hear. Scripture puts the ball in God’s court. The disturbing news that just destroyed his future had not tampered with God’s. Some truths surface about hearing:


One step at a time. Don’t expect the entire scenario. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” He could do that. If you stand at point A, ask B questions. “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.” You need the next step. Nothing more.


God’s will is good. The angel said, “Do not be afraid,” because Joseph was terrorized by his option: “Divorce the lady.” God’s strategy proved just the opposite: “Marry your beloved and raise the Son of God as your own.” Fitting into the purpose of God does include suffering, but the presence of the Almighty gives purpose to pain.


God speaks with clarity. “His sheep hear his voice.” The more confident we grow in God’s ability to speak, the more we will hear. By morning, Joseph knew what to do. Those who find themselves paralyzed by indecision need to act. Quit worrying that you might miss His “perfect” will and affirm that He lets you walk in it.


God’s messages are often counter-intuitive. They don’t spring up in our minds as if created by interior logic. They sound more like God than us. When Joseph heard from the angel, he didn’t say, “I should have known that the Holy Spirit did this.” Yet those learning to walk in the Spirit find that their intuition begins to track with God’s will.


What God says agrees with what God said. God proves the present word with a past one. He links destiny with history, making His will verifiable. Matthew adds his commentary: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’ ” (22,23).


Hearing means heeding. To hear and not obey is not to hear. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (24).


We desperately need to hear from God—and desperate people do! Those more casual will turn guidance into a technique: “Give me three sure-proof steps,” while men like Joseph know it flows out of relationship.


The story could have read, “When Joseph woke up, he divorced Mary.” And he would have missed his God-appointed. He obeyed—and Jesus called him “father.”








Joseph had waited nine painful months. The child’s real Father had been waiting since before creation. The fullness of time had come. That is what makes it hard. We expect God to do things differently.


You’ve heard of chili con carne, chili with flesh, with meat. Here is God con carne. He had been with his Father in creation, then he became a part of it. He came as a baby, not super-God. The Mighty One showed up–incognito.


He took on flesh. The untouchable could now be touched. Look at the vulnerability of our eighteen-inch God.



To say that Jesus became flesh says that he entered this frail human race. He was “found in human form” (Phil. 2:8). To enter a virgin’s womb was a step down for divinity. Every religion attempts to make man spiritual; Christianity makes God physical. The destiny of the human race was implanted in the uterine wall of a virgin girl.


“He emptied himself…” He went from everything to nothing. Paul says that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). He had his earthly beginning in back of an overcrowded motel.



–that man with flesh on was and is God: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). God the Father packed undiminished deity into that six-foot frame.


Here’s our problem–the God/Man. Putting both in the same person stretches us. Sects do weird things with the concept. At the center of Christianity is this five-word proclamation: “And the Word became flesh.”


The person on the throne next to the Father is Jesus–and he is a man. When we get to heaven, we will see scars to prove it. Bethlehem says a mighty “Amen” to the promise of Immanuel, and a resounding “no” to every teaching that makes Jesus either less than God or more than man.



What’s the big deal? Only the eternal salvation of humanity. We sinned. We carry the death penalty. God had no penalty to pay, so he could die as our substitute, but only as a part of our race. Because he was God, he could defeat the devil who was stronger than us. Because he was man, he could step into the race and begin a new destiny as the second Adam.

A Sunday school teacher asked her class to draw a picture from the Gospels. When she asked one boy what he was drawing, he said, “God.” So she explained, “But no one has seen Him. We don’t know what God looks like.” To which the boy replied without looking up, “They will when I get done.”


Jesus came to us and identified with us. Do you suffer? So did Jesus. You feel cramped. So did he, especially on the cross. Do you ever feel lonely? Jesus did too, and forsaken. He lived among us, suffered and died. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He said to Philip, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John l4:9). When he got done, we knew what God looked like—the man Jesus!




The spirit of Christmas captures folks. Not sure what it is, but one reading of the Christmas story in Luke tells me that the spirit on that first Christmas was the Holy Spirit.



The announcement came to Zechariah during his course of duty: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son…and many will rejoice at his birth…He will be great…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:13-15).


God had his eye on John before John had his eye on God. What would make this child great? His diet? Abstinence? Demeanor? No, his filling! It is the Spirit that makes people good—and great!


He would “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord” (16). How? Persuasive preaching? No. “He will go before him [Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah” (17). The same Spirit empowers you and me. Incredible!



Mary received the shocking news that she would have a baby. When she asked about it, the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing will be impossible with God” (35,37). Matthew wrote that “she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (1:18).


It didn’t look that way. What appeared as an unholy moment of passion proved the quiet work of the Spirit. People looked at her getting bigger and wondered, while she looked at God, who grew bigger in her eyes. When Mary asked, “How?” the angel said, “The Holy Spirit,” the answer to every human impossibility, including yours. Jesus said, “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).



Mary’s visit with an angel was followed by a visit to her relative. When Elizabeth heard her greeting, she “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” the same Spirit that moved on John, still in her womb. He responded to the presence of Jesus, less than a month along. Elizabeth burst into prophecy. It was likely her first time ever. Nothing strange about a kick in the womb, but it was this time, because it was the Spirit moving, not just John. The Spirit does the same for us, turning a conversation into an encounter.


Meanwhile, Zechariah had a nine-month time-out. But when he opened his mouth after the naming of John, resisting tradition, he “was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (Lk. 1:64,67). Before he had doubted. Now he spoke powerfully and prophetically. The Spirit that shut him up now welled up—in his body. Trust the Spirit to do the same in you.



Simeon’s timing was right on. He came to the temple “moved by the Spirit” (Luke 2:27). How did that happen? ”The Holy Spirit was upon him” and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (26). Same for Anna. She came “at that very hour” (38).


Were these people superstars? No, common folks who yielded to the divine Spirit. Do you need the Lord’s leading—toward the right job, the right mate, the right decision. Paul says we prove we’re in the family by the way the Spirit leads us (Rom. 8:14).


The spirit of Christmas is more than a party with good friends. It is the Holy Spirit, filling us to cooperate with God’s purpose, to speak His truth and recognize His Son! Have a Spirit-filled Christmas!



Evangelicals need not hesitate. We don’t worship Mary, but we call her blessed, as the Bible does. The greatest thing in the world is to find favor with God. Mary did. If earned, it’s not grace.


Yet we do things to invite it. God resists the proud but graces the humble. How did Mary welcome grace?



She chose virginity. You say, “All of them did back there.” Then you have not read the Old Testament. Purity is a decision—in any age. And she chose a pure husband. They lived together and travelled to Bethlehem, and she remained a virgin. Call it self-control.


When the angel told her she would bear the Messiah, she did not say, “Well, I had better get married quick.” She said, “I have no husband.” Simple—and holy. When God looks for a vessel through whom to bring His plan, He looks for a pure one. Mary was.



When greeted by the angel, she did not say, “About time someone recognized me.” Some think humility means ranking on yourself: “I can’t do that.” Oh, what a humble, self-effacing person. Wrong. Mary said, “All generations will call me blessed! Isn’t God wonderful?!” Humility puts God at the center, and let’s God be great—even in you.



She said yes—when it would cost. She was pregnant, without a husband. And the one who already proposed almost dropped her. Some would rather compromise than lose a man.


Mary called herself “the Lord’s bondservant.” Here I am, at your service. No footnotes like, “Please share this with my parents, and work it out with Joseph.” Having a baby without a husband can be fairly easy in our culture, not in theirs. You will pay, and Mary did.


Some look for ways to get permission. People like Mary look for ways to please God. Her question was not out of doubt like Zechariah. She just needed clarification—to surrender.



In the most moving meeting of two women ever, when Mary is being commended for believing the extraordinary, that she would have a child without a man, she deflected the applause toward heaven: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”


It is not hard to complain in the face of suffering and disappointment. The first Christmas looked like anything but Christmas—no family, friends, warmth, or even a home. Yet this teenage woman lived full of praise: “He that is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Great people know they aren’t—but God is! I want to be like Mary. And I want to be like Mary’s Son, Mary’s Lord!




A couple is getting married, expecting a family. They won’t have one—for about fifty years. Would you tell them? Heaven didn’t. For an all-powerful God, He sure is quiet.


God graced Zechariah and Elizabeth for special blessings. People interpreted no baby as dis-grace. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” The next word is “but.” Having children is a good thing. Childlessness was regarded as divine displeasure. Just two of them–a quiet household.


But the neighbors weren’t. Liz was assigned the “B” word, “barren”—unfruitful, sterile, as in “barren land.” And what did God do? Zechariah had prayed for years. It’s not what God did—it’s what He didn’t—answer their prayers or tell them what was happening. The silence of heaven can be hard.


Most likely Zechariah regretted his inappropriate question. He asked for a sign—and got it, a nine-month time-out. Liz went on a silent retreat herself: “After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion” (Luke 1:24). She said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people”(25). Elizabeth was discredited, but that was changing. The hide-away produced evidence that quieted brutal tongues.


Then Gabriel was sent eighty miles north to a young girl instead of an old man. What Elizabeth deduced by virtue of pregnancy, the favor of God, Gabriel spoke to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (28). Gabriel announced what Mary didn’t know: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age…For nothing is impossible with God” (36,37).


God is orchestrating this event. “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth” (1:26). Right on schedule. Elizabeth is coming out of seclusion. A month earlier Mary would have missed her. Now she travels south.


“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’” (41-45).


In place of disgrace–incredible revelation; she received God’s plan for her young relative. Rather than concentrating on herself, she now blessed the life in Mary’s womb and the mother of that Child. She counted herself privileged to be in the company of One to whom she would bow, though that Child was only two centimeters. She dares to call Him “my Lord.” God revealed it in a moment—as quick as a kick. This is the most remarkable encounter of two women to ever.


What can Elizabeth teach us?

  • We trust God’s unwavering character and sovereign plan when we don’t see it. This is not a time for anger.
  • We look for miracles masquerading behind impossibilities. They are there.
  • The level of our shame is matched by the level of God’s grace—in the very place of our humiliation.
  • Suffering, stewarded well, produces sterling character, heightened revelation, and growth in gifting. Thank you, Elizabeth!



Two visits by one angel, five month apart. Two people, an old man and a young woman, both devout. Two angelic proclamations about two sons. Good news, miraculous, unbelievable—a child past child-bearing years and a child without a husband. Never happened before or since. Two opposite responses to the incredible news.


Two sons destined for greatness, one the greatest of the Old Covenant and the other the greatest of the New Covenant, both named by heaven, bypassing traditional names: John (“the Lord is gracious”) and Jesus (“the Lord saves”). Two regions, Judea and Galilee. The priest needed to live near the temple at Jerusalem. Galilee would light up in thirty years like never before: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus was born in the south and ministered in the north.


Two women, one barren, one a virgin. For the first, the news would lift the shame she felt her whole adult life. For the second, the shame would commence when she began carrying a child.


Two impossible pregnancies facilitated by the moving of the Holy Spirit on their bodies, both including prophetic words by the mothers when the sons met in Judea—still in the womb. Both sons would change history, the one serving the other as a forerunner, yet knowing Jesus came before. What revelation!


Joseph had himself heard from an angel, so he took Mary into his home. But now after her angelic visitation, she told Joseph she needed strength from a motherly figure who would understand, whom she found out was also carrying a miracle.


Mary could be stoned for what appeared like adultery. God’s miracles can masquerade behind what looks like mistakes. They also hide behind impossibilities. Both women were graced by heaven but disgraced on earth, one before the baby came, the other during and after.


Important truths:

  1. Suffering needs to be stewarded well. It will shape our character and release the gifts of the Spirit if we do not allow resentment to color our perception of God. Elizabeth said, “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” less than a centimeter long in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth’s remarkable recognition of Mary’s baby came out of the fires of affliction.
  2. Humility brings grace that releases the activity of the Spirit. Elizabeth recognized that her task was dwarfed by a far greater assignment of being the mother of the Messiah. Her humility gave her revelation of the purposes of God. She could have made the moment about herself. If you want to prophesy well, suffer well and stay low.


  1. God has charge of the womb. He works His divine will without checking probabilities. “Against all hope Abraham in hope believed…” With God, it is not as it appears.


  1. We give it all to Jesus. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s bondservant. Let it be to me according to your word,” another way of saying, “Jesus can use my body.”
    A man who owned a donkey said, “Jesus can use my colt.” A woman said, “He can use my alabaster box.” Another said, “Jesus can use my grave.” What can we offer Jesus? Our car, our home, our gifting, our position? It’s yours, Jesus!






It wasn’t that the father of the prodigal was too harsh: he was too kind. The elder brother’s sibling had ruined the family’s reputation, spent his wad in wild living, and he thinks that he can just come home. He can! He has a father who would rather forgive than get even. When mercy triumphs over judgment, it offends those tripping on vengeance and not reaching love.


Jonah knew it too well. He had been singing about it since he was a kid: “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for his mercy endures forever.” That is why he went the opposite direction. He could not tolerate the brutal warriors of Nineveh being let off the hook. He wanted those pagans slaughtered, not saved. He was offended by God’s kindness: “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…” (Jonah 4:2).


Can you think of anyone you’d rather see in hell than in heaven? When we get there, we will be surprised at the people who made it—and those who didn’t. When an American chaplain reached out to Nazi war criminals on their way to the gallows, some decided to accept a radical message of grace. We will meet them in heaven. Others chose to say, “Heil Hitler” at their final breath rather than “Jesus is Lord,” and their judgment is sadly sure. Hell will not make anyone happy to be there.


When vengeance rises up within me for those who clearly do not deserve grace, I must remind myself that no one does: “There is none righteous, no not one.” It is only a matter of degrees. I have earned the same destiny as the Hitler worshipers. I dare not wish hell for anyone. It would reflect an unconverted heart, like the elder brother, who chose law over grace, merit over mercy.


When people misunderstand us, reject us, take advantage of us, malign us, attempt to make our life miserable, something within cries for justice. Silence those yearnings, or you will find yourself imprisoned by unholy vindication.


Jesus told a story to bring this truth home. A man who had been forgiven a massive debt, impossible to pay back, demanded payment of a fellow servant who owed him one twenty-thousandth of one per cent of the amount he had been released from. His master said, “’I forgave you all that debt because you asked me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers [in Greek “torturers”] till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (34,35).


Jesus is urging us to forgive all who hurt us in any way rather than let judgment rise over mercy—and make our lives miserable. Dear wounded brother or sister, forgive your parents, boss, pastor, sibling, relative, spouse, enemy, so your lack of forgiving does not ruin your life. If you do forgive, you are on your way to living an unoffendable life. A friend once said to me, “Paul, just so you know; it is almost impossible to offend me.” That’s how I want to live. Don’t you? No one is more free!