Each year at this time my wife and I bundle up and venture out into the neighborhoods to see how creative our neighbors have become. Yards that normally sit quietly as the sun departs behind the horizon are now lit up for the season with multicolored lights, jolly Saint Nicks, glowing reindeer, and sparkling trees.
A number of homes, ours included, display manger scenes depicting a small child looking up into the adoring eyes of a mother and father. Around them stand a few farm animals and an assortment of interested spectators. Some dressed as royalty bearing gifts, and others are clad in rags holding nothing but a staff. It is a scene we have all become so familiar with that it’s difficult to imagine it any other way.
Christmas has been so well packaged and sold to the American psyche we’ve made the people and events more like cartoon characters in an animated fantasy. We don’t even talk about this extraordinary event in church but once a year. Why is that? Maybe it’s because it is difficult to see the relationship between a baby in a manger that never ages year after year, and a risen Lord who was put to death on a cross.
The most profound occurrence in human history is relegated to a once-a-year observance, that is itself lost in the chaos of Black Friday and the mesmerizing flicker of ornamental lights.
It is not my intent to cast a disparaging shadow over this most joyful season, but to bring a little reality to those who were there on that eventful day. What was it like for those who participated in the events we are about to celebrate?
Take a few moments and put yourself in their sandals and imagine that you’re sitting with each of those unique characters that make up this amazing story. How would you have reacted if an angel showed up in your life? How receptive would you have been to the kind of news he brought Mary? These were real people, with real lives, living out real events.
Laying still, staring at the ceiling, a young man sees the angelic face of a young girl painted like a portrait in his mind. His heart begins to race when his thoughts turn to the responsibility that awaits him. Can he provide for her? Will he be a good husband, a good father?
Closing his eyes he whispers, “Almighty Jehovah, if you choose to count me worthy, I will do all I can to instruct my children to be men and women of God.”
Little did he suspect the news he was about to receive. No man would. It’s not gossip but truth about his future bride’s condition. It will expose his love and his character to the world for thousands of years to come.
Just across town lay the gentle form of this young man’s dreams. Her mind was also on the future, picturing a strong, honorable young man, a home filled with laughter, the smell of fresh bread and the sounds of children.
But this night is different than any other for it will usher in the greatest event of all time because Mary had an appointment with God. Her life will take a turn that will alter the lives of every man, woman and child who ever existed.
In the stillness of the night came, “Greetings!” It was not a threat, but when it comes from a stranger in your bedroom at night, the natural response is fear.
“Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. And, oh, by the way, you’re going to have a son. You are worthy to bear God’s only Son. It is your blood that flows through His body, and His blood that will flow for men’s souls.”
Mary listens, not in fear but in wonder, as Gabriel continues, “Such a honor does not come cheaply, for there is a great price to be paid. That is why God choose you, because He knows you. You will be condemned and rejected for Him because none will understand. You will hear the whispers of gossip, see the eyes of judgment, and feel the sneers of contempt. But Mary, the reward is He will cling to you and call you Mom.”
Mary’s hopes and dreams have been turned upside down, but her words reflect her character, and the character of her Son. “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled,” she said.
Sooner than any mother would fear, her Son will echo the essence of those words in a garden, on the eve of his death, “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.”
As you cruise through your neighborhood and enjoy the festive lights, I hope you come across a manger scene or two and think of what this season truly represents, a gift that cannot be put in a box because it’s just too big. It is the love of a real God, expressed through the willing hearts of real people.
Merry Christmas. for to you a Son is born…
See you next time … Ben
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