Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Wonder-ful Story of Christmas

This Christmas we will all read or hear once again, the old familiar stories of Jesus’ conception and birth. Some of us have read the nativity story every Christmas throughout our lives; for others it may still be a fairly new experience. But the wonderful thing about scripture is that no matter how many times we may have read or heard a passage, God, through His Holy Spirit, always wants to speak to us in a fresh way and to reveal to us something new that we didn’t see or hear before.

This will be my seventh Advent and Christmas season in the Lord, and as advent approaches, I am reading and rereading the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke with an open and expectant heart. Advent is a wonderful time of anticipation as we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world as a baby. It’s also a time of looking forward to His coming again. But what I love most about advent is that each year we have the opportunity to invite Christ to come into our hearts and our lives in a new and deeper way. That is my prayer as I read the nativity stories. I feel a sense of excitement and wonder and my heart swells with love for the Baby Jesus, our Lord, and with joy at His coming into the world. I also feel a sense of admiration for the woman who bore Him and raised Him, and for the man who was used by God to protect her and the newborn Christ child.

Why did God choose Mary and Joseph above all other people to be the earthly parents of His One and Only Son? From a human perspective there was nothing special or extraordinary about either of them; they were poor and simple people. It’s obvious that God looked on the hearts (1Samuel 16:7) of both Mary and Joseph and favored them greatly (Luke 1:28). From the text we can assume that some of the character qualities He saw in them were faith, righteousness, obedience, vision, and most of all humility.

When God called to them through His angel, both Joseph and Mary believed Him and obeyed. Although the text doesn’t tell us much about their thought processes, they must have considered the cost. Mary’s untimely pregnancy would have raised an outcry among their family members. They would certainly have been the subject of gossip, scorn, and perhaps even ridicule among their neighbors. Yet, for both Mary and Joseph, their reputation and what others thought of them was not the main concern. Although they were unable to understand what God was going to do through this strange and seemingly scandalous plan, they chose to obey God and to trust Him. Their hearts were completely surrendered to God and to His will for their lives. Mary’s response to the message the angel brought was, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Luke 1:38 (KJV)

We would do well to imitate the character qualities of Mary and Joseph, for we too have been given the life of Jesus Christ, the One and Only Son of God, to carry within us, to nurture and to raise up to maturity. And, like Mary and Joseph, God has a plan to use each one of us. But if, as the world teaches us, we are always looking out for our own interests, we render ourselves unusable and ineffective for God’s Kingdom purposes. I love the way Rick Warren starts his book “The Purpose Driven Life”. The first line is short and shocking - “It’s not about you.” It shocks us because we are so used to thinking of ourselves first, and our motive for reading the book may be self-centered. The question that’s uppermost in our minds is often, “What’s in it for me?” or perhaps it is, “What can I do for God?” Neither Mary nor Joseph asked these questions. Their first thought was not for themselves.

Philippians 2:4-11 tells us what our heart attitude should be: that of Christ’s. If we were to live our lives with this heart attitude; if we were to imitate Mary and Joseph, being filled with faith and humbled by the majesty of God; if we were to wait and watch for the Lord to direct us and respond to His guidance with obedience instead of taking the initiative ourselves, He would be able to use us in amazing ways to reach those who are still lost. This is His plan and His purpose for every one of us: to be used by Him to reach out to the lost. It was His plan and His purpose for Mary and for Joseph. Although they could never have imagined the impact their obedience would have on the rest of the world throughout history, they did understand that it wasn’t about them. They were in the habit of praising and glorifying the Living God, and The Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, gives witness to this (Luke 1:46-55). As we behold God in all His glory and majesty, we are humbled. The more we time we spend beholding the glory and majesty of God, the more we want to worship and to praise Him and the more we want to serve Him and obey Him; our lives are transformed into Christlikeness (Philippians 2:4-11), and people will be drawn to us because we reflect His glory in an ever increasing degree (2 Corinthians 3:18).

As we journey through this advent season, we can make a commitment to behold and experience the majesty and glory of God anew; and as we do, the life of Christ with which we have been impregnated will grow within us. When we humble ourselves before God and allow His Spirit to work in our lives; when we obey Him and trust Him even when we don’t understand what He is doing, God will use us to advance His Kingdom here on earth. He will send people to us, just as He sent the shepherds to Mary, Joseph and the Christ child, and like the shepherds, they too will be encouraged and transformed by the life of Christ in us.

The story of Jesus’ birth fills us with wonder each year because it is so astonishing. To think that God would send His One and Only Son into the world to be born to poor and lowly parents and then laid in a manger for His bed! To think that the people God sent His angelic host to proclaim the news of Christ’s birth to were poor shepherds – the lowest of the low - watching over their flocks on the hills around Bethlehem! Because of His action through these events, it’s obvious that God sent His Son into the world for the sake of those who are poor and despised by the rest of the world; that He loves and blesses and even uses those who are humble and lowly. In His Sermon on the Mount, the first thing Jesus teaches is that the poor in spirit are blessed of God because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. This is the story of the first Christmas. It was for people who know their “humble estate”, as Mary’s Song calls it, that God sent His Son into the world, and it was people of humble estate that God chose to birth Him and raise Him to manhood.

What an awesome God we have! May we remember daily to surrender our wills and our lives to Him and to give Him all of our worship; may we always remember that it’s not about us; and may we all be filled with wonder at the glory, the majesty, and the goodness of our Father in Heaven and His perfect plan to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Luke 2:14 ESV

(This is an article I wrote for our church Christmas newsletter.)

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