Reclaiming Christmas

It is not even October yet. I know, but my heart is full of joy as I have been pondering the coming King! And it seems wrong to contain it. Let me explain…

I have been doing a study through the book of Luke this fall with my church sisters. It has truly been remarkable. Honestly, the first chapter was so incredible I find my mind hanging out there there still, even though we have moved on to chapter five.

What a rich, beautiful book! Did you know, Luke and Acts are the only books of the Bible written by a Gentile? Luke was a Greek doctor. He was loved, highly educated, and well, that made him a very thorough and thoughtful author of two inspirational books in the New Testament.

Luke begins the story of the gospel with an angel…wait…back up…with the name of an evil, pagan King named Herod. Herod, like so many Roman kings and emperors was completly full of himself. He killed people ruthlessly, including his own children, and as we read later, all the babies in an entire city. He was beyond didespicable.

Four hundred years of ordinary preceeded Herod’s reign. The Jews had no prophecy fulfilled, no miracles…life had been what we would call ordinary. Yet in the ordinary, their hearts longed for their promised Messiah. It was the constant prayer on their lips, and the ever burning hunger in their souls. Some, like, like Anna, who we read about in chapter two, spent their lives praying and fasting for His return!

The priest, Zechariah was no different. So, when God extrodinarily allows him to be chosen to burn incence at the alter one Sabboth, it is no wonder that his prayer would be for God to fill the promise of sending the promised King to deliver.

Here enters Gabriel, the messenger angel who stands in the presence of God himself. Gabriel let’s Zechariah know his prayers have been answered! His wife will have a baby, even though she is barren and a woman who has long passed menopause! A stunning miracle, but not a new one, since Sarah was also given a promised child, Issaac, hundreds of years before.

Yet, Zechariah is skeptical. His response is sarcastic, like, “Really? Prove it!” Instead of jumping for joy, he is not faith filled, but disbelieves what God has just told him.

Sometimes, even though we have been given incredible displayes of God’s power, and grace we struggle to embrace the promises wholeheartedly, do we not? Instead of rejoicing and claiming the fulfillment of God’s promise, Zechariah shakes his head in disbelief. And it even frustrates the messenger from God’s throne standing right before him.

So, God gives Zechariah a sign and strikes him, so he cannot speak or hear. Zechariah lost the privilage of being able to proclaim this wonderful news! But guess what? God did not need him. In fact, God is fully capable of presenting the good news without any of us! It is a complete privilage, to speak the gospel and we should hold as an honor.

That discussion is for another day, back to the story…

Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, did get pregnant. She kept it quiet and stayed at home.

Five months passed…

Then Gabriel has another message to share. He appears to Mary, an engaged girl from a podunk town called Nazereth. Now, I was always led to believe that Mary must have been some special girl for God to choose her to be the mother of His Son. But in fact the opposite is true. Gabriel states that she is favored by God because God has chosen her to be the mother of His Son!She is favored and chosen not because she was exceptional in any way. God simply set His heart on her, to use her for His glory!

Well, Gabriel continues to speak to Mary, and tells her that even though she and Joseph are not married yet, and haven’t had physical relations, a baby is going to be put in her womb by God, and she will give birth to Emanuel…God incarnate…naming Him Jesus which means, Savior.

Unlike Zecheriah who struggled to believe Mary immediatly accepts the idea, simply wondering how God is going to do that since she is a virgin. Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit is going to be at work in that miracle and has already been at work by aiding in her aged cousin Elizabeth’s conception. Mary sweetly responds that she is God’s to do with as He chooses!

We all know an unwed pregnant woman, even in our day, has a hard road before her. But despite the difficulties, and unknowns, Mary is happy to be used of God. How often do we fight the paths God leads us through in our journey of life instead of graciously rejoicing in the fact that we are privileged to walk where He leads?

Mary is so overcome with the news. She packs up immediatly and heads over to see Elizabeth to talk about all of it! She is greeted by Elizabeth, who immediately feels her six month old unborn baby dancing inside her. Even an unborn baby is rejoicing!

Then Elizabeth pours out her joy in exclaiming how blessed Mary is! I can picture this highly filled emotional moment…a fat womb rolling with movement, an old pregnant woman embracing her young cousin, and with tears rolling down all their cheeks, repeating over and over how blessed they are!

Then Mary, bursts out in song worshiping God who has brought this inexplicable promise to reality through her! She magnifies God with every core of her being proclaiming,

My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever” Luke 1:46-55.

What complete praise! But it doesn’t end with Mary. Baby John is born a few months later, and his Daddy, Zechariah, you know the one who did not have faith in God’s word? Him. As soon as his tongue is loosened, he too is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to prophecy! He rejoices without restraint at the good news, saying things he has no idea about, but in simple faith, releasing every joy in his soul at this wonderful beginning of a long desired promise…fulfilled.

As we read on in chapter two we see an entire army of angels proclaiming this good news to shepherds at night. Then Shepherds glorifying and praising God at this thrilling wonder of God incarnate. We see the heavenly star proclaiming the news to kings. An old man, Simeon and an old woman, Anna utterly full of exuberance at finally being able to meet the Promised Messiah they have prayed for for so long!

Then there is me.

1) After such rejoicing, what feeling fills my heart when it comes to worshiping the king? Am I so filled with joy that my worship is unrestrained? Or do I withold worship from my God? He is worthy of my loudest praise in song. He is worthy of my outstretched arms in praise. He is worthy of my proclamation of His kingdom in words, in song, and in every act of my life!

Yet, how often I restrain myself! I put the fear of man above the fear of God. Actually, I put myself and my comfort zone above the fear of God! What an outcry of shame my heart has experienced as I have seen the unrestrained joy of these people in the book of Luke as they welcome the good news of the gospel into their lives!

2) The Kingdom of God has come! Yet, do I fully embrace it? With my whole heart, do I willingly seek what God has for me each day as I walk with the King himself! Do I boldly proclaim my king to my neighbors, to the man sitting on the street corner, even to fellow believers? Do I see myself as blessed because of Him? Do I cherish the privilage to speak of my King?

3) And then there is Christmas. Why in the world am I so fearful of over celebrating it? Maybe it does not come at the exact time of Christ’s birth. But it is the day the world recognizes in celebration of it. Why wouldn’t I want my house to be the brightest, most festive on the street? Angels proclaimed the news of Jesus’ birth from the heavens! Certainly my rooftop is a small space in comparison! Why shouldn’t I guiltlessly throw my heart into the festivities of celebrating my King’s coming to earth? There is every freedom to rejoice in this good news! My fear of being caught up in the commercialism of Christmas has unfortunatly caused me to under celebrate this amazing season! And as a result, I have stifled the outpouring of my rejoicing!

In fact, why reserve this celebration for one day a year? The incarnate God is a major part of the gospel story, so without a second thought, I will be singing “Joy to the World” throughout the year!

Rejoice! Emanuel has come!

My Soul Magnifies the Lord!