Michelle Ule's Blog

December 16, 2014


George de la Tour‘s St. Joseph the Carpenter (Wikipedia Commons)

As we enter the third week of Advent, my Bible study has turned to Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

So, who was this man and how did he find himself in an impossible situation orchestrated by God?

The book of Matthew gives us a genealogy and several interesting points about him.

A descendant, like Mary, of the great King David, Joseph was a carpenter–which could be interpreted as mason or builder. He made things with his hands, which would be typical of the time!

He lived in Nazareth, a fairly insignificant town not far from a trade route, in the hills southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological research suggests Joseph may have worked in the nearby city of Sepporis which was being rebuilt at the time.

The text does not tell us how old Joseph was, but certainly he would have been much older than his devout bride. He could support himself and a family. He probably had memorized the first five books of the Bible–the Torah–and undoubtedly was a devout Jew.

He entered into a betrothal with Mary–who was a devout young woman.

At that time, Jewish marriage had several stages. The family agreed to the union; the couple announced their betrothal (similar to an engagement, but the relationship could only be broken through death or divorce. No physical relationship allowed). This stage usually lasted a year, some thought to ensure the bride was not pregnant. Finally, they were married and lived together with all rights and privileges.

Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph as being a “just” or “righteous man.”

We do not know when Mary approached him to reveal her pregnancy. Some believe Mary’s trip to Elizabeth was an attempt to avoid an “honor” killing because of the pregnancy. We have no record of who told Joseph–Mary or a member of her family. The Scriptures say only “before they came together, she was found with child by the Holy Spirit.”

What would “she was found with child by the Holy Spirit” mean to Joseph?

“Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things . . .”

Because of his character and undoubtedly because he wanted to marry Mary, he thought–prayed?–about what to do with this pregnancy. He probably had chosen the young woman because of her chastity and her devotion to God, but now circumstances suggested he might have misjudged her character. Who was she really?

Imagine how Joseph must have weighed what he thought he knew with evidence that called his understanding into question.

Would Mary have used the term “Holy Spirit?”

Joseph was within his rights to divorce her or call for her stoning. He decided to bestow grace, to not add to her shame, by “putting her away secretly.” Perhaps the pregnancy would not last, perhaps the child would be stillborne. Joseph was trying to shelter Mary from shame.

Rembrandt: Joseph’s Dream

But he was a devout man, still turning things over in his mind when the supernatural happened to him.

“Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Don’t you think it’s interesting that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream?

Zacharias and Mary met the Angel Gabriel, but this godly man only dreamed about the angel. (Note Elizabeth never saw an angel, but did have the experience of her babe in utero being filled with the Holy Spirit!)

How did Joseph know this was true?

The angel knew his name and his lineage. He spoke to Joseph’s fear. He corroborated what Mary must have said about the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps most significantly, the angel used the name “God will save,” and explained what he would save “His people from their sins.”

The angel just told Joseph Mary carried the Messiah–the one Jews had been waiting for, so full of anticipation that they always set a place for the Messiah at the Passover meal.

The Angel Gabriel did not tell Mary the baby she carried would save God’s people from sin.

She probably knew that’s why the Messiah was promised, but the angel-in-a-dream spelled out the baby’s significance to a devout man who needed reassurance of the value of his personal sacrifice.

He finished off the explanation by sending this Jew back to the Isaiah passage he would have known:

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Not only would that baby save the world, his presence was a definitive sign the God Joseph worshiped, would be with him.

Joseph and shame

The decision to embrace Mary and wed her despite this pregnancy would have reflected poorly on Joseph’s character in the small village.

The assumption would have been that Joseph and Mary violated their betrothal when Mary became pregnant. (Remember? That’s why the year between betrothal and marriage).

Joseph sacrificed his personal integrity when he married Mary. But he did so knowing the end: God’s glory.

Truly, he was a man of God and a worthy sinner in need of that step-son.

By all accounts further in Scripture, the people of Nazareth never suspected Jesus was anyone but Joseph’s son. God placed him in that family to shelter him, to nurture him in humanity, so that when he did arrive on the Israeli stage 33 year years later, he came as fully man and fully God.

In part because of the obedience, grace and humility of a carpenter from a small town in the hills.


Who was Joseph, husband to Mary, in the nativity story? Click to Tweet

How Joseph of Nazareth dealt with the shame of Mary’s pregnancy. Click to Tweet

What would “she was found with child by the Holy Spirit” mean to Joseph? Click to Tweet

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December 14, 2014

Davalynn SpencerDavalynn Spencer’s The Snowbound Bride feels very close to home.

Her home in Colorado, that is, where she loves seeing the snow come down every Christmas! ”

During my childhood, Christmas was always about Jesus, and I have continued with that joyous celebration in my home as an adult. Scent plays a part as well—the tree, clove-studded oranges, hot cider, cinnamon bread. Christmas always smells good.

After I married, I moved to Colorado and discovered snow! Of course there is snow elsewhere, but its crystalline beauty here against our blue Colorado skies is breathtaking. I wanted to express the contrasting power and beauty of a snowy holiday in my book, as well as the simple joy of receiving the Christ child.”

Set on a ranch not far from where Davalynn currently lives, her The Snowbound Bride, which releases as an ebook on December 15, tells the tale of a woman fleeing a vicious relative, only to wind up snowbound with total strangers for–more than the holidays. You can purchase it here.

The plot originally came to her as a contemporary story, but she wondered what the situation would look like in the 1880s. “12 Brides

Once I began exploring the differences, the characters took on color and ran off with the tale!” Davalynn’s paternal family came west, one uncle served as the doctor on a wagon train, long ago. She used some of that experience in her research, coupled with investigations she made from a recently released trilogy of western stories.

“My characters in The Snowbound Bride are working ranchers trying to make a living off the land and their horses in the 1880s.

“Like many families of that time, they don’t have a lot of money for baubles and store-bought trinkets, so decorations as well as gifts are homemade. Dried berries and popcorn adorn the freshly cut tree, and hand-made cookie cutters fashioned from empty tins are used to make star-shaped cookies tied on the tree with yarn. One character is particularly talented, and carves a nativity scene from willow branches.”

An unexpected character turned up while she wrote: “Beetle the dog surprised me. Almost as suddenly as he surprises Ara! He stepped out of my heart and onto the page without any planning, and established himself as an important background character. I love animals, and all my stories have dogs or cats or horses—sometimes all three.”

Davalynn found a sequel for next summer’s The 12 Brides of Christmas, in one of her minor characters.

“Nate’s uncle, Buck, showed himself to be such a tender yet crusty fella, that I wanted to know more about him and his dreams. I based my sequel, The Columbine Bride, on him.” The Columbine Bride releases as an ebook on June 8, 2015. The theme of The Snowbound Bride is simple and yet important:

“Trusting God’s leading is key in my life, and I believe it is for others as well. However, I still want to see where I’m going and it doesn’t always work that way. That’s where the trust comes in. The Lord has this incredible way of using things that we think are failures or mistakes or disasters, and often those very things become our greatest blessings.”

Who is Davalynn Spencer?

Davalynn Spencer Click to Tweet

Novelist and speaker Davalynn Spencer is an award-winning journalist whose background spans the city crime beat and the national rodeo circuit.

She’s both the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters. When she’s not writing inspirational romance or teaching as an adjunct professor, she enjoys speaking and leading worship at women’s retreats. She makes her home in Colorado where she continues to be amazed by God’s creative splendor.

For more information about Davalynn, visit her webpage: http://davalynnspencer.com/

In social media, you can find Davalynn here:



You can purchase The Snowbound Bride here.

Davalynn ends with a word to readers: “I hope readers will enjoy this brief trip into Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, warm themselves by the home fires of love, and come away with a good helping of faith and fresh hope.”

For those of you who prefer to read on paper rather than in pixels, The Snowbound  Bride is  part of  Christmas Wedding Bells , a collection sold in Walmart stores nation-wide .


12 Brides

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December 11, 2014

Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas is about Jesus, but it would not be celebrated without the faith, determination and joy of a young woman named Mary.

You know that.

Mary was probably about 14, living in the hill country southwest of the Sea of Galilee when a most unexpected event occurred: an angel appeared to her.

We discussed the incident in detail in my post about Elizabeth and Mary, but I’ve been marveling at the aplomb with which this young woman reacted.

It’s important to note a fourteen year-old was a mature young woman in that time and place. She would have been well versed in the stories we now find in the Old Testament, knew how to care for a home and was preparing for marriage to a devout man named Joseph.

Nothing about her in the text indicates an extraordinary woman, other than the mention she had “found favor with God.”

Think of it, though. God chose her to be the mother of his child.

God looked through all the course of history and determined this young woman could best rear his son/himself in the humanity of man–to know what it meant to learn to walk, eat vegetables, memorize Torah and prepare for his father’s business.

She and Joseph also provided him with siblings, so Jesus, God, grew up knowing what it meant to share.

The challenging first nine months

But the first nine months, her pregnancy with the Son of God, had trials.

First she had to explain what happened to Joseph–which put her at risk for stoning.

Who knows what she told her family, but they agreed to her visiting Elizabeth, a 75-100 mile trip at a time when walking was the usual transport for non-wealthy people.

Mary and Elizabeth

St. Mary Church Gdansk

She stayed with Elizabeth and Zacharias for three months and then must have walked home, unless she could ride in a litter. Remember, someone would have traveled with her–she wouldn’t be traveling alone.

She returned to Nazareth where she learned Joseph had had a supernatural experience–he believed her story and arranged to marry her. This would be earlier than customary and by now the neighbors would realize she was pregnant.

Surely, Mary was relieved, but Joseph’s decision meant he joined her in the shame. They both knew the truth, perhaps her parents did as well, but none of the neighbors would have believed the story.

Nine months into the pregnancy, when she would have been preparing to nestled down and give birth to her first child, her devout husband had to take her with him to Bethlehem for the Roman census.

Why then?

I don’t know. Perhaps they waited as long as possible, hoping the baby would come before they had to travel?

God knew the right timing and place, but wouldn’t they have been checking the Scriptures and learned the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? See Micah 5:2.

Would she have suspected they’d end up in Egypt? See Hosea 11:1.

Maybe they did know all the above!

Mary had to go with Joseph, so she said goodbye to her family and joined her husband on another 80 mile (111 kilometer) trip to the Judean hill country–where the inhabitants were still buzzing about the miraculous birth to Elizabeth and Zacharias.

My mother told me once that one of the hardest things she ever did was watch me climb into a car six months pregnant with my first child, to drive across the country and give birth–hopefully with my husband present–far from home.

I can’t imagine what Mary’s family thought when she followed her husband down the narrow track to the road leading south.

At Bethlehem–with kinfolk or without?

Here’s a question, though. Would Mary and Joseph have traveled alone, or in an entourage of family? Wouldn’t all of their family have needed to return to King David’s ancestral village for the census? (Consider Luke 2: 41-42, the family traveled to Jerusalem for Passover together).

The text says nothing about family, but it does not indicate they traveled alone, either. All we know is that by the time they arrived in Bethlehem–a town packed with kinfolk–there was no room for them at an inn. Instead they ended up in a warm shelter, she gave birth and swaddled her child, laying him in a manger for a crib.

That’s a lot to have happened in less than a year to any young woman.

(My husband likes to point out that the Joseph family may only have been in the “stable” a short period of time. Once the shepherds arrived and ran around town announcing the birth, he’s sure ever woman in town would be stopping by to see the baby, check out the mother, bring food, gifts, etc. Given they were all related to King David, Joseph may have been offered a job! By the time the wise men arrived, it could have been months, maybe even a year, and the family undoubtedly had a real home. Don’t let the creches fool you!)

Joseph and Mary

St. Mary’s Church Gdansk

Regardless of what happened, Mary had a significant year: given to her by God, encouraged by family also experiencing miracles, and in combination with a good man and “God with Us.”

Filled with shame, potential death, possible worry, plenty of hiking, uncertainty and youth, Mary, the mother of Jesus, approached her God and her confinement with a humble, blessed confidence.

Can we do any less in our lives?

A blessed nativity to you all!


Mary had quite a year, but God was with her! Click to Tweet

Might Mary and Joseph have traveled with family to Bethlehem? Click to Tweet

Why didn’t Mary and Joseph check the Messianic prophecies? Or did they? Click to Tweet

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December 9, 2014

Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli (1503) Oil on wood, 232 x 146 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Advent story, of course, includes not one but two surprise pregnancies: that of Zacharias‘ wife Elizabeth and her kinswoman Mary.

As noted last week, once Zacharias returned from the shocking visit by the angel Gabriel while he served his once-in-a-life time offering at the Jerusalem temple, he knew his past-childbearing-aged wife, Elizabeth.

Just as Gabriel predicted, Elizabeth became pregnant.

She went into seclusion and stayed that way for six months.

That may have been to ensure the viability of the pregnancy, the make sure it was real, to deal with the awe that what Elizabeth had dreamed of for so long had come true, whatever.

Six months she remained at home. When she emerged, there would have been no doubt in the minds of her neighbors that she was pregnant.


One hundred miles to the northwest near the sea of Galilee, her young kinswoman Mary also was visited by the angel Gabriel. Her story is told in Luke 1, as well.

Elizabeth and her pregnancy played a crucial role for the teenage Mary when she took in just what the angel said to her:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

As with Zacharias’ encounter with Gabriel, he told her not to be afraid and made his announcement.

Throughout Luke 1, Mary demonstrates admirable knowledge of the Old Testament. She knew about the promised Messiah and when Gabriel told her the unexpected child she’d give birth to was named “the Lord saves,” she knew the baby was the Messiah.

Quite a bit to take in.

This glorious announcement, using all , would have been challenging to comprehend, but apparently a practical girl, she went to the most pertinent question: “how?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary knew Elizabeth. She knew Elizabeth was old and barren, well past the age of having a child. Given the angel’s words, it’s probably Mary did not know her kinswoman was pregnant.

By Jan Boeckhorst (called Lange Jan) (Germany, active Flanders, Antwerp, 1605-1668) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary did know her Old Testament, and stories of other barren women made pregnant because of God’s miracles must have raced through her mind: Rachel, Hannah, Sarah.

Given the unexpected pregnancies of those women, could God not work a miracle in her own womb?

Elizabeth’s pregnancy confirmed God at work in amazing ways and possibly gave her confidence. Her next words were straight to the point:

“Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

She then traveled to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Mary meet.

Some have conjectured Mary traveled to the Judean hill country to avoid an honor killing by her betrothed Joseph and his family.

I’m not so sure about that.

Gabriel said the Holy Spirit would come upon Mary and she would become pregnant, but did not indicate when that would happen. It’s interesting nothing is said about Mary’s family in the text–how they reacted, in particular.

While a trading route frequented by Gentile merchants and Roman soldiers did pass through Nazareth, a young woman is unlikely to take off by herself to visit relatives. Someone probably escorted her, though the text indicates she went to Elizabeth very soon afterwards.

Would Elizabeth have known she was coming and why?

Who knows?

When she entered Elizabeth’s presence, however, several things happened to reconfirm Gabriel’s words.

As soon as Mary’s greeting sounded in Elizabeth’s ears, “the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

Six and a half months into a pregnancy, Elizabeth would already have been feeling her’s child’s movement. Elizabeth recognized this was different and characterized the baby as leaping for joy at Mary’s words.

Mary could see, and now had been told, the truth: Elizabeth was pregnant with a viable child, just like the angel told her.

But then Elizabeth, no doubt powered by the same Holy Spirit that would overtake her husband’s tongue in 10 weeks, confirmed what Mary had been told:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Mary would not have looked pregnant. How Elizabeth have known unless God revealed the truth to her?

More, why would Elizabeth have called the young unmarried woman the mother of her savior?

I love how God confirmed for Mary the truth of what an angelic being had told her. Mary accepted Gabriel’s words, but the confirmation by Elizabeth must have encouraged her even more.

God would demand much of Mary over the course of her life. I’m gratified that he gave her a godly kinswoman to encourage her and  help her with both the practical and spiritual aspects of her suddenly changed state.

Advent is about God reaching down and meeting people, real people, in their circumstances–so he could provide the Savior of their souls, and ours.


Elizabeth provides confirmation to Mary, the mother of God. Click to Tweet

Advent: Elizabeth and Mary, pregnant together Click to Tweet

What was Elizabeth’s role in the nativity? Click to Tweet



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December 7, 2014

Amanda CabotWho would have guessed that at one time Cheyenne, Wyoming had the highest number of millionaires per capita in the country?
Amanda Cabot discovered that fact and many others while researching her novella The Christmas Star Bride, part of The Twelve Brides of Christmas ebook release this holiday season.

Such a surprising fact spurred her imagination and intrigued her writer’s sensibility.

“Ever since I moved to Cheyenne and learned a bit of its history, I’ve been fascinated by the era of the cattle barons when Cheyenne was the wealthiest city per capita in the country. Not only was Cheyenne the capitol of Wyoming Territory, but it also boasted beautiful parks, the only opera house west of the Mississippi and even had electric lights.   What better time and place to set a story?”

 The Christmas Star Bride releases as an ebook December 8. You can purchase a copy here.12 Brides

This is not Amanda’s first visit to nineteenth century Cheyenne. Two of her Westward Winds books, Waiting for Spring and With Autumn’s Return, are both set in Cheyenne during this period.

In this particular story, however, she wanted to tell the story of “an older couple, one who’d suffered through the War Between the States, and how love comes when it’s least expected.  Once I realized what Jeremy and Esther had endured, the story practically wrote itself.”

“The Bible verse I chose for this story is Psalm 34:22, “The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”  Both Esther and Jeremy have had desolate periods in their lives, but thanks to their faith in the Lord, they are redeemed.”

Amanda noted that while her characters are not based on real people, “my heroes and heroines frequently embody my personal values.  Because I believe in justice and happy endings, readers will find that my protagonists do, too.  They’ll also find the recurring theme of the healing power of love, since that’s something I believe in.”

Because she lives in Cheyenne, Amanda often walks the streets her characters inhabited. She’d not personally like to have lived in that time period (too dangerous to be ill), but she would love to have seen the opulent homes now gone.

As to her 12 Brides of Summer sequel, Amanda enjoyed finding a connection between the two stories:

“I had so much fun with Esther and Jeremy that I decided they should play a role in The Fourth of July Bride, and they do.  The hero and heroine of that story meet in Esther’s bakery when Jeremy is painting the hero’s portrait.  They are, of course, very different from Esther and Jeremy, and their love story takes a far different path from Esther and Jeremy’s.”

The Fourth of July Bride releases just in time for the holiday on July 6, 2015!

Amanda Cabot

Who is Amanda Cabot?

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Amanda Cabot is the author of more than thirty novels, including the CBA bestseller Christmas Roses and Waiting for Spring.  A Christmas-time bride herself, Amanda now lives in Cheyenne with her high-school sweetheart husband, where they celebrate a fairly simple Christmas tradition.

For more information about Amanda, please visit her website at http://sff.net/people/amanda.cabot/ or read her blog.

You can also find her on



The Christmas Star Bride can be purchased here.

For those of you who prefer to read on paper rather than in pixels, The Christmas Star Bride is be part of  Christmas Wedding Bells, a collection sold in select Walmart stores beginning November 4, 2014.  

Amanda had one last word: “I hope everyone who’s reading this has an opportunity to read all of the 12 Brides of Christmas novellas.  I’ve had the privilege of reading each of them, and I can tell you that you’re in for a treat.”

12 Brides

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December 5, 2014

Christmas letterIt’s time for me to write the Christmas letter. Today.

How about you?

I’ve always loved Christmas letters, a peek into the lives of friends who live far away; an opportunity for me to reflect on and sum up 365 days of my family’s life.

(Facebook gives me an immediacy I didn’t have until recently, so perhaps the letter isn’t as important to you, but I still love them.)

For now, though, I’ll write and tell my annual stories–hopefully in an entertaining way.

Here are five points to remember when composing a Christmas letter.

1. The letter is about connecting with people you love

I like to think about the recipients of the letter–what do they want to hear about me and my family?

Owing to our military years, many of our loved friends live far away (more than a dozen in Washington, D.C., for example).

Many of them knew us during strategic times in our lives and would be interested in what happened to those boys who played in the yard, that surprise girl who provoked such joy.

I need to include information about them, as well as my husband and me–which means our letter is two pages long and edited squeaky clean to get everything in!

2. Happiness should play a role

It’s Christmas, the point of the letter is to touch base and make your friends happy they read the letter.

Please don’t complain–about anything.

I try to say humorous things–though not in a deprecating way–that will make the letter an enjoyable experience. Rather than dwell on the negative, I like to salute the good–even if it’s minor in my life in a particular year.

I suspect one of my lines this year will be: “We’re so thankful for the recent rain in California!”Yuletide Bride Christmas letter

3. Be honest, but be careful

Some years have been difficult. While I don’t minimize what happened, I don’t dwell on it either.

The years we lost  family members, I mentioned it, but then went on to say something along the lines of, “because of these losses, we’ll be holding each other close this Christmas and overlooking those things that might have separated us in the past. We’re mourning, but we’re doing so together and with our faces turned to the future.”

At the same time, please tell me about awards in general so I can cheer you on, or check out your book on The New York Times best seller’s list, myself!

Okay, I admit this year I’ll be including my most recent Christmas novella. I’ll be giving away the novella to some of my dearest friends.

You’re welcome to check out The Yuletide Bride, yourself! Only 99 cents. :-)

4. Spare us the unnecessary details.

Too Much Information is unnecessary. Suffice it to say “my daughter graduated from college this year and we’re thankful.”

“My child continues looking for work and we’re cheering him on. Anyone need an astronomer?”

“My health has had some challenges, but I’m grateful I can dance Zumba every morning–at the ungodly hour of 6 am.”

You can tell me your child won an award, or was accepted to 20 colleges, but I don’t need a list of every single one. And be very careful you’re not gloating.

5. Don’t forget to run the letter past your family–get their okay if you’re writing about them.

I pass the letter on to my husband and children, asking for comments. Last year, my daughter-in-law pointed out a mistake I made. I hadn’t seen it the same way, and quickly amended the description.

Sometimes I get facts wrong, and it’s important I correct them.

Family members may have a different point they’d like to mention.

The end of the year is a time to reflect: to count our blessings and to remember the good things God has provided in a given year. For me, it’s a time to reflect on the why of Christmas: Christ born to save the world.

For me, that reason for the season is reflected in the card we send. The Christmas letter is the bonus.

What do you like about Christmas letters?

Any other pointers you’d like to mention?


5 points on writing the annual Christmas letter  Click to Tweet

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Handling grief and pride in the Christmas letter Click to Tweetsetting Christmas letter

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December 2, 2014

Zacharias and GabrielMy Bible study is working through an Advent book this Christmas and today we examined Zacharias meeting the angel Gabriel–as found in Luke 1.

Somehow over the years, I’d missed several interesting aspects of this event.

Let’s start with the first: who were Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth?

The both were members of the Aaron line–the family of priests. In 4 BC, which is when this event probably took place, Zacharias would have been familiar with the Torah and Elizabeth probably was as well. Zacharias could read and write, as noted in the text.Most priests lived ordinary lives in their small towns.

They lived in the hill country of Judea, an area that stretches basically from Jerusalem in the north to Hebron in the south–in the hills. No surprise, Bethlehem is in the hill country. You can view the area on this map.

“They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.”

This was at a time when a barren woman was considered cursed by God.

What did Zacharias’ priesthood mean?

Many priests lived in Israel at the time, numbers run between 8,000 up to 20,000. With so many, they were divided into 24 divisions. Abijah’s division was the eighth in a twice-a-year rotation to serve at the main temple in Jerusalem.

Twice a year divisions journeyed to Jerusalem for one-week service in the temple. Some eight priests served for the two daily sacrifices–one in the morning and one at night. Lots were thrown to determine which priest would get which task. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be given the opportunity to burn the incense offering to God.

As a righteous man who loved God at a time when the priesthood was riddled with corruption, Zacharias undoubtedly felt honored when the lot came for him to offer the sacrifice.

The Tabernacle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The priests entered the temple into the Holy Place, separated from the most sacred spot– the Holy of Holies–by a thick “veil.” They set about their assigned tasks individually, and once finished the next priest entered.

According to the Mishnah,crowds of worshippers waited  outside. The priest who kindled the incense offering would exit and bless the people once their sacrifice rose to God–their prayers rising up to God like incense.

What’s the story on the angel?

“So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”

On this great moment in Zacharias’ life–a life that lacked the joy of children–he entered the Holy Place and kindled the fire in a hushed and quiet space. He was all alone.

Except, then he wasn’t.

How startled would you have been to look up and suddenly see someone who definitely shouldn’t have been there, had no way of getting in and probably looked different than anyone you had ever seen before?

“The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”

What prayer was heard? The praise of God when Zacharias offered the incense?

A good and worthy sacrifice, acceptable to God, but what about the other half of that clause? Weren’t Zacharias and Elizabeth being given the desire of their hearts? A child?

Like any good angel–this is how you know it’s an angel I’ve always told my children–he tells Zacharias to “fear not.” Notice he calls him by name.

If you were Zacharias, what would you conclude?

There’s more:

“He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zacharias was an educated priest. He couldn’t miss the importance of that reference to Elijah.

It had been 400 years since God had spoken through a prophet. Among the last words were these, from Malachi 4:5:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet/ Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

The angel just told Zacharias that the Messiah was coming and the child his wife soon would carry would be the forebearer, pointing the children of Israel to their coming Messiah.

The angel then introduced himself. His name was Gabriel, which means “power of God.”

Zacharias’ response. What would you have done?

As one commentary noted, “His age spoke more loudly to him than God’s promise.” He blurted out a logical question in that time before assisted reproduction techniques: “how can this possibly be?

For that lack of faith, Gabriel told him he’d be mute–and so he was.

Outside, the crowd grew restless-what had happened to the priest?

“But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.”

They all knew something was up, but what?

The answer came nine, maybe ten months later. Silent the entire miracle pregnancy, when it came time to name the baby–everyone assumed he would be called Zacharias– Zacharias was given back his speech.

 “And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled.  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed,and he spoke, praising God.”

What is significant to me, and what I’ve missed for years is the next sentence:

  “Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.”

The people who lived around Jerusalem recognized something miraculous had occurred. They discussed it all over the countryside. They had to be waiting and watching, wondering what God was up to.

Given that, did Jesus really come into the world in an insignificant way?


On Advent: who was Zacharias? What did the angel mean?  Click to Tweet

Did Israel suspect the Messiah might be coming in BC 3? Click to Tweet

Zacharias and the angel Gabriel: something’s up in Judea. Click to Tweet



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November 30, 2014

Diana Brandmeyer

Diana Brandmeyer’s The Festive Bride starts us off in December as we close in on Christmas.

Diana’s novella is a poignant story of love between a widow and a widower, which reflects her own personal experience–though she didn’t have to fall in love quite so fast!  

The 12 Brides of Christmas stories all feature gifts and that’s where Diana began thinking about her story. “I wanted to set my novella long enough after the Civil War that healing had begun; it was a time for the country to breathe.” ”

It took some thinking to find out what was available at the time that could be used.

“I wasn’t sure paint would have been used on glass. I asked my son, an artist about the paint Alma uses for Roy’s gift and found out I was on the right track.”12 Brides

As she wrote, she fell in love with the quirkiness of her heroine’s character. “She was fun to write. I named her after a friend of mine which could be what made her so special.”

As happened to many of us, other characters grew out of our novellas and captured our hearts. Most of them will find their way into The 12 Brides of Summer sequels coming out next year.

“Pete Dent is the hero in my next story. When I wrote his small part in The Festive Bride his character wanted to be bigger so I had to hold him back until The Honey Bride could be written!”

The Festive Bride releases on December 1, 2014. You can purchase it here.

The Honey Bride will release as an ebook on June 15, 2015.

Diana’s own family traces back to Revolutionary days, though she wouldn’t want to be a pioneer herself.  “I like reading about this time period, love looking at the old houses and wondering what it would be like…but live during that time? No. I’m way too spoiled by microwaves, cell phones and warm cars!”

Diana is thrilled to be part of The 12 Brides of Christmas ebook collection. “This has been one of the most exciting writing endeavors I’ve had, 12 authors one topic-Christmas!”

For her, personally, Christmas was a simpler time growing up. “Our family Christmas’s were not huge affairs. My mom stressed the importance of making gifts and the love that goes with that effort is worth more than an item you can buy.”

Who is Diana Brandmeyer?

Click to Tweet A multi-published author, Diana Brandmeyer began her career in 1987 writing devotionals for children. From there, sheDiana Brandmeyer

 “followed the stories that God placed in my heart. I’m not saying He told me to write them, but the ideas that I get I feel do come from him.At first it was contemporary fiction, then I was led to write about the journey my family took to become well blended. Now I’m writing a historical fiction novel. I love the surprising way God works.”

She writes historical and contemporary novels and a non-fiction book based on her experiences joining two families into one:  We’re Not Blended-We’re Pureed, A Survivor’s Guide to Blended Families

Together, Diana and her husband have three sons, several daughter-in-laws and an adorable grandchild.

She lives in Illinois, not far from where The Festive Bride takes place.

For more information, you can visit Diana’s website: http://dianabrandmeyer.com/

Or find her on social media:




The Festive Bride can be purchased  here.

For those of you who prefer to read on paper rather than in pixels, The Festive  Bride is part of   White Christmas Brides , a collection sold in select Walmart stores nation-wide.  

12 Brides

Got them all?

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November 28, 2014

peaceI don’t know about you, but I’ve tried to handle family relationships with peace over the years.

This Thanksgiving I’m not having problems, but in the past, I’ve run into difficulties.

It’s not my fault if the in-laws, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and even children don’t agree with my brilliance.

Er, don’t see eye to eye with me on a variety of matters.

So, what’s a person to do?

Or, perhaps more accurately, what’s a Christian to do, since that’s what I am?

The verse that has meant the most to me in these tricky situations comes from Romans 12:18

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live in peace with all men.”

Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and that verse gives me hope.

The verse can be broken up into three parts.

1. “If it is possible.”

Sometimes no matter what I do, people choose not to live peaceably with me. But the onus of this passage is not on their reaction to me, but on my reaction to them. It calls to mind Matthew 5:23-24:

 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

God looks at the attitude of my heart when hearing my prayers. If I spend all my time telling God how awful someone else is, that may be legitimate, but what he really wants to hear is my heart toward whomever I’m wrestling with (even if only in my mind and heart). If I have an objection to something someone did, I need to deal with them about it.

How can I tell if I’m having a problem? I won’t feel at peace.

But what if I can’t discuss the situation with them? What do I do then?

2. “As much as depends on you.”Peace

Go back to my own heart. Examine the circumstances, look at Scripture, pray for forgiveness for myself and then forgive the other.

That’s the way of the cross.

Again, God is looking at my heart–what do I need to do to love that individual?

I find it helps to “turn the prism,” and look at the individual from a different point of view. I doubt most people I cross emotions with get up in the morning thinking, “how can I vex Michelle today?”

I know I don’t.

So, why would I assume the difference of opinion is because they hate me or want to do evil to me?

When I finally realized one day how my attitude toward someone was a stereotype and I’d never really gotten to know this relative, I decided to make a change.

We’ll never agree on a mountain of issues, but we can agree on several:

1. We love our family.

2. We’ll always be part of the same family.

3. We share a number of similarities and values.

So I focused on what we have in common and ignored the rest.

I love my relative dearly.

3. Live in peace with all men (and women)

My decision to live peaceably with my contrary relationships is a an act of my will.

You make choices about relationships all the time.

I’ve chosen the following:

1. I’ll ignore what I cannot change, but will continue to pray.

2. I’ll chose not to take offense.

3. If need be, I keep interactions to a bare minimum.

4. I pray before I talk with people who upset me.

5. I leave the results to God.

I don’t live in a dangerous part of the world where people are trying to kill me. I don’t know how these ideas would sit with me if I did.

But for 21st century America, this is how I’ve chosen to live: in peace with those round about me.

And for good relationships with many with whom I disagree, I am thankful this Thanksgiving.



Three tips from Romans 12 on living in peace with relatives. Click to Tweet

What does it mean to live in peace with all men and women? Click to Tweet

Living in peace with challenging people. Click to Tweet



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November 25, 2014


Thanksgiving past!

We are thrilled this Thanksgiving because some of our vegetarian relatives will be joining us.

I’m not sure if they’ve ever been with us on this holiday that centers around eating turkey.

Menu aside, it’s about time we got together!

As in so many things, we’re all trying hard to accommodate each other’s needs, which include finicky toddlers, nursing moms with allergy issues, adults with blood sugar issues and family memories.

That’s a lot to put on one dinner!

Negotiations were conducted via email and here’s the menu:vegetarian

2 Turkeys–two cooks from two generations

Stuffing–cooked outside the birds so the vegetarians can eat some

Mushroom gravy–made without flour for the wheat allergy problem vegetarian

Regular gravy–for the mashed potatoes

Lots of homemade rolls–a specialty of a bread maker

Sweet potatoes– made with my mother-in-law’s recipe but hopefully with at least half the butter removed and a lot of the brown sugar.

Relish tray–a tradition made this year by a woman just in from Hawai’i

Green salad–because everyone likes it

Fantastic vegetable–roasted Kabocha squash glazed with a pomegranate-rosemary reduction

Dragon Kale to round out the vegetables

Scrumptious-sounding tofu dish–I think. Maybe that will be Friday’s dinner!

vegetarianHome made cranberry sauce–made by an astronomer

Mashed Potatoes–my brother-in-law’s specialty

2 traditional pumpkin pies

1 vegan pumpkin pie–an experiment by an experienced baker

1 pecan pie–a love gift for a first time mom

2 apple cakes made with Fuji apples for those who aren’t keen on the other pies

2 chocolate tarts–because everyone in the family adores chocolate

Infamous green bean casserole–a tradition from another family

Whipping cream–hoping a quart will be enough

Martinelli’s cider–long a family staple, but the majority of diners will be adults this year, so

plenty of Sonoma County‘s Pinot Noit!


 Happy Thanksgiving!vegetarianvegetarian


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