I have been thinking a lot about the early church and the first believers in Jesus as Messiah. Acts 2 has long been a chapter that has inspired me as I think about the church today and how I desire ministry to look in my own life. But this Christmas my thoughts have gone back even further. Further back to the first people who stepped out in faith believing God as He told them he would send a Messiah to save the world. I think of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Mary and then Joseph. The shepherds. The Wise Men.
Christmas, traditionally, is full of lights, cookies, food and celebrations. In America, we are extravagant as we move into the holiday season. Logic of wallets and waistlines often go out the window in the name of giving and fellowship. This isn’t necessarily wrong. This isn’t a bah-humbug, bash Christmas post. I love Christmas. The sweetness. The stopping. The lights. The family. Yet this Christmas for me there has been a bit of a forced stripping away. Unexpected circumstances in the life of my family has brought the characters of the first Christmas into clearer focus.
Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the shepherds and the Wise Men – these story lines that meld to give us a reason to celebrate, their lives weren’t indulgent. They weren’t filled with plenty. Plenty of money, food, family or perfect circumstances. Think of a young pregnant girl and a young man standing by her, an older women with a tentative thread of hope in the form of a child blooming within her. A husband understandably wary to believe. Shepherds witnessing the birth of a king and Wise Men doing the unwise looking thing traveling many miles giving the most precious gifts to a struggling carpenter and his family who will soon run for their lives. The people who we’ve built a holiday around were so far from celebrating one themselves.
And maybe this is you this Christmas. Your life is not all lights and gifts and food and family. I don’t know if I am more aware or if there is more hurt this year but it seems everywhere I look someone is going through something really difficult. And it seems almost cruel that difficult things would happen in more abundance at Christmas. But maybe it is God’s way of helping us understand more fully what the first believers in the Messiah experienced and how, like them, our faith in the Savior of the world and his birth can bring us joy in the midst of uncertainty, healing for our pain, peace to counter the anxiety, love to counter the rejection, and true riches to make up for the poverty. Maybe the true gift of Christmas is to experience that hard thing that appears to be the antithesis of Christmas so that we can begin to comprehend what we have in the gift that laid in a manger.
Zechariah and Elizabeth believed in a dream they thought had died. Mary and Joseph followed in faith at the risk of their reputations, community, finances and dreams. The shepherds left their post to seek out what the angels had told them about and the Wise Men followed the star for a long time sacrificing wealth and time. But friends, what did they gain? They saw the miraculous. They were a part of the redemption plan for all creation. They met God in ways others didn’t. Their enduring faith sat them in the front row of God’s redemption plan entering the world.
What does that mean for you and for me this Christmas? I hope it means that my faith through pain is working out for a greater glory as I believe and trust and follow. As we cling to hope and stake our lives on the character of God in a world that values the shiny and the grand I believe, like the first believers, that God is working out his great and miraculous plan in our lives. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.
This front row seat to the working of the Creator of the Universe and Savior of the World truly is a most beautiful Christmas gift. I pray that no matter where you are this Christmas that God, his majesty, his glory is what you celebrate this Christmas for this is our true joy. Jesus is our peace. Our life. The only thing that matters and satisfies. And to overindulge in him is what will bring the true magic that we crave at Christmas.
Friends, I pray, that as you rest in the abundance that is your Savior you truly have a Merry Christmas.