In the first two chapters of Luke we read the Christmas story. Included in these chapters is the foretelling of John the Baptist, Mary’s conception and finally the birth of Jesus. Unique to Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ is the inclusion of three angelic visits.
The first visit, as told by Luke, was to the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah. The angel came to tell Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth, would bear a son. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both advanced in years so it was hard for Zechariah to believe that his wife and he would become parents. Zechariah was so incredulous at the thought of becoming a father that he actually argued with the angel:
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18
The third appearance is on the night of Jesus birth. This appearance occurred to shepherds who were working outside of Bethlehem:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12
This angelic interaction was characterized by Luke as “terrifying.” If we think about it, it’s not hard to understand why the shepherds may have felt “terror.” Imagine standing out in the country, a long way from any population or roadways. Suddenly, not only does someone appear out of nowhere but that someone has an aura or other appearance around them that makes them look unlike any person you’ve ever seen before. It’s not hard to understand how at least the initial response, might be terror.
The other angelic appearance was to tell Mary that she was going to be the mother of the prophesied Savior:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26-28
Initially, we are told Mary was “troubled” by the Angel’s statements but the visit ends with Mary’s confident statement of trust in God’s provision:
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38
About now you’re asking why you’re reading this and why I’m reprinting Luke for a post.
My Bible study looked through these chapters of Luke over the past few weeks. As we looked through the passages it hit me how different, even though each of the angels were bringing a message directly from God, the reaction to each of the three angelic visits were. The Priest, the person who you could argue should have been most comfortable with the idea of an angel acting on behalf of God, argued with the angel. The Shepherds, arguably the bravest of those visited by the angels, were terrified. The young girl who was just told that she would be pregnant out of wedlock, an offense for which she could have been stoned to death, responded with complete confidence in the Angel’s statement and God’s plan.
As I contemplated these chapters, I thought about how my reactions to God are so much like those of the people visited by angels those many years ago.
There are many times where I argue with God. Oh, I don’t yell or shake my fist. By my actions, my thoughts and words, there are numerous times where I show or indirectly tell God that I’m not happy or satisfied with the plan He has for me. Can’t he move faster, why can’t XXXX happen, I need answers…NOW are all ways that I argue with God.
There are other times where I am terrified of God. Yes, I’m a Christian and yes, I know the saving grace of Jesus. But, regardless of the veneer of “a pretty good life,” I’m a sinner, and as Paul said “… the worst sinner.” I guess it is this recognition that confirms my Christianity but it is also this recognition that at times, leaves me terrified when my faith slips a bit and leaves me exposed to what my future would be without the saving grace of Jesus.
Finally, there are times when I can respond as Mary and say, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Times when I am at peace and have confidence in the promises God has made to me as a believer. Admittedly, there have not been many of those times as of late. I won’t bore you with the details, let’s just say that a reason to be anxious seems to hide around nearly every corner I have turned the last few months.
Christmas is nearly here; the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the promise of a different life if we believe and take him as our Savior. It’s also the time of the year where most of us spend time thinking about the year. I think about the blessings I’ve had and begin the process of gearing up for the new year.
After looking at the passages I’ve listed and doing some contemplating this past week, I know I have a choice to make as I enter the new year. I can chose the path Zechariah took and continue to argue with God about the things He has allowed in my life or, like the shepherds, I can chose to be terrified of things that don’t fit into my paradigm of how things should work. Or, like Mary, I can CHOOSE to exert my faith more and trust the God who has never left me and has fulfilled every promise He has ever made.
2,000 years ago, Mary made her choice as to how she would respond to God’s calling on her.
This Christmas, as we hear the Christmas story and reflect on our year, each of us will get a chance to choose how we will respond to God’s desire to be in our life.
I know how I will respond.
How will you respond?