The story of Jesus entering our world is filled with miracles: the Virgin Mary conceiving and giving birth to God’s son; the prophecies foretelling that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, that a messenger would go before him (John the Baptist), and that he would come from the line of David (to name a few); and the wise men following the star that leads them to the holy child. We’ve read the story dozens of times and seen it portrayed dozens of ways. I have a nativity set in nearly every room in our house. We are familiar with this miracle-filled, epic story of how God chose to redeem us.
But as I read the gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke again this Christmas season, I noticed a few less obvious miracles woven throughout the story:
· A sign for Zachariah: Zachariah the priest is chosen by lot to serve in the temple (an opportunity that most likely only happened once in a priest’s lifetime.) The angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that his prayer has been heard. His wife Elizabeth will have a son in her old age, and they are to name him John. Zachariah asks Gabriel how he can be sure of this, since he and his wife are old. In what seems like a punishment, Gabriel tells Zachariah that he will be unable to speak until the baby (John the Baptist) is born. It does seem to be partly a rebuke, but I also see that it was a sign – even a gift – to Zachariah and Elizabeth. He asked for a sign and he got one! Each time he tried to speak and couldn’t he was reminded that this miracle was really happening. The angel had really appeared to him, and Elizabeth was in fact carrying a child who would go before the Messiah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
· Mary and Elizabeth: After telling Mary that she had been chosen to give birth to God’s Son, the angel Gabriel added that even her relative Elizabeth was expecting a baby in her old age, because what is impossible with man is possible with God! So what does Mary do? She goes to visit the one person that might just believe her. The one person who was also growing a miracle in her womb, and when Mary arrives, the baby in Elizabeth’s belly does somersaults at the sound of Mary’s voice. And Elizabeth exclaims, “Why am I so honored that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” What a gift! These women gave each other the gifts of friendship and faith, of walking with someone on an unexpected journey, of being accepted and loved. I’m convinced that Mary needed that, because we all need that. We need someone in our corner, cheering us on. We need someone to believe in us, and we need to know that we are not alone.
· Joseph’s response to Mary: After Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided not to subject her to public disgrace but to divorce her quietly. Keep in mind that the only explanation Joseph would have had as to how Mary conceived was that she had been with another man. He must have felt betrayed and hurt. I am struck by how gracious Joseph was. Scripture tells us that Joseph responded this way because he was a righteous man. He wasn’t self-righteous, like when we think we are better than someone or condemn them for what they have done. He didn’t want to retaliate or hurt Mary in response. Because he was righteous, he was concerned with doing what was right in God’s eyes, not in his own. God is gracious. With God all things are possible, and Joseph would come to realize that God had done something no one could ever have imagined – something so impossible and amazing, it would take more signs and angels and dreams to convince him. But instead of his heart being hard with self-righteousness, it was tender and gracious. Tender, gracious hearts are ready to do what’s right in God’s eyes.
Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause
great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The manger was not only a make-shift crib for baby Jesus since there was no room for the little family in the guest house – it was a sign for the shepherds. It was how they would recognize the baby when they found him.
16-20 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
And the manger became a sign to all who heard about the child, and to Mary, who listened and treasured up all these things in her heart. The shepherds found Jesus just as they had been told. And every sign and wonder compelled them to believe.
· Jesus was born into a troubled world like ours: Our world seems to be coming unhinged. I’m almost afraid to turn the news on in the morning because too often the headlines are filled with mass shootings, racial violence and terrorist attacks. We long for safety and peace, but in so many parts of our world there is poverty and war, violence and evil. Jesus was born into a hostile, troubled world. When he was just a baby, his parents fled with him to Egypt because Herod was killing all the baby boys less than two years old. Can you even imagine? They lived as refugees until Herod died and then moved to Nazareth. This was a tumultuous beginning for a new, young family. And as an adult, Jesus began his ministry amid oppression and corruption. His own cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded in prison, his head presented on a platter to Herod Jr.’s wife (who had requested the brutal murder.)
The people were looking for a King, for someone to deliver them from oppression and make things right. Jesus introduced a kingdom not of this world, He gave up His life to make us right with God, and He promises a day when everything will be made right.
The Christmas story – and the Easter story – are filled with signs and wonders, fulfilled prophesies and rich symbolism, and it’s all for us. Every detail is given for us, so that we will be amazed and filled with wonder, and so that, most importantly, we will believe in the One who came to rescue us from darkness and bring us back to God.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
He is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11