It’s Christmastime again. A Christmas set during a year of profound sorrow afflicted by plague, political unrest, and change. Many of us, too many to count, have faced this last year as a trial with the jury still out deliberating our fate. I know that I have prayed to God for help and guidance, and despite my sin and obstinance, He has given me and my family blessings and genuine, if tenuous, peace.
This year I have given thought to that moment when, two thousand years ago, a young virgin was visited by an angel and told that she would bear a son…not just flesh and blood, but God and man as one. For so long the story seemed too bizarre, too outrageous for me. But I have come to believe.
Imagine being her. That young woman betrothed but not yet married. Put yourself in her sandals, approached from out of the blue by something certainly not human, who announces to her:
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And at this incredible, unbelievable statement, you humbly reply:
“I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary accepts the impossible – God has sent this messenger to her and has told her she will be a mother to His son! She accepts this gift as a gift. There is no second thought, no momentary hesitation. She rushes out to visit her relative Elizabeth (who is also pregnant with an important messenger), to tell her this news. When she walks in the door, Elizabeth’s child jumps for joy within her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth tells Mary that she is “blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of her womb.” At this, Mary is so moved she sings her praises to God:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Mary encapsulates not only her feelings of thanksgiving for God’s great gift, she also manages to summarize her son’s future as Savior: Jesus will bring the mighty down from their thrones, he will feed the hungry and raise up the poorest; he will send the rich away empty-handed but show them mercy regardless. He will be the Savior of all humankind, not just a messiah for the Jews of Israel.
He will be as Simeon, who said when moved by the Holy Spirit in the temple in Jerusalem:
“…for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Here then is the story of the birth of God become man and God together, a Light for us in darkness. The presence of salvation needed in desperate and trying times. This Christmas we can look to Jesus to guide us and give us the support we need to overcome not just sorrow, not just anxiety, but also the Evil One and the miasma and machinations that surround him. I wrote this poem as a meditation on the gift of Christ’s birth:
THE PEACE TO COME
The shepherds lay nearby to each other, the sheep asleep.
Some were staring into the crystal clear night, counting the stars
abounding through the Milky Way.
Suddenly there was intense light –
a chorus of angels caused them a terrible fright.
And one of these angels spoke to tell them as they starred agape,
the story of a Savior in Bethlehem, just an infant born among the animals
lying in a manger that smelled of their food,
causing those angels to sing in rapture:
“Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth, good will to men!”
These same men took off running, not in fright
but to see this Savior, there in the long hours of the night.
Brought to life to live as man should live…sin-free and righteous.
And despite knowing that his fellow men will fall far short
he who will become He is nonetheless willing to die for them
to fulfill his promises, to assert his domain:
The conqueror of death who will save us from our graves
Those shepherds that found the baby boy, find also that Jesus Saves.
So here and now, in a world so shaken with violence
So broken by hate and fear, by sickness and death
Find within the peace that God provides
In prayer, in hope He abides.
Ageless as the universe
As close as a heartbeat.
God bless you and yours this year and in the New Year to come!