I have always loved the Christmas story, and with a name like Merrie and being the pastor’s kid, I was a shoo-in for the Lord’s mother in more nativity scenes than I can remember! It was a time of childlike wonder for me.
But then I grew up and married a pastor. Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in organizing Christmas plays and Christmas concerts and Christmas Eve services where I’d threaten our kids within an inch of their lives, “to act decently on stage because the entire church is watching,” which, quite frankly, never worked.
The truth was I was simply going through the Christmas motions. I think I did a pretty good job of it. I’d make mile-long lists, cross stuff off and just barrel my way through the season. The church was happy. My kids were mostly happy. Everyone was happy but me. And I’d lie awake at night and wonder, Where did all the wonder go?
It can happen to all of us if we’re not careful. The repetition of even the extraordinary can become ordinary. Humdrum. The same old same old.
A few years ago, I decided I couldn’t do this anymore. I didn’t want to do this anymore. And so, on December 1, I turned to the book of Luke and committed to reading one chapter a day until Christmas Eve. It was the perfect solution for my apathetic holiday heart.
I needed to be reminded of the truth found there, because sometimes we can get so busy and so distracted during this season that we forget what we know. I needed to be reminded of what I knew.
The writer Luke doesn’t waste any time; he immediately sets the stage by introducing us to Zechariah and Elizabeth. A God-fearing priest and his wife who, despite following the commandments of the Lord fully, had not been able to conceive. A heavenly messenger is dispatched to them, and not just any messenger but the angel Gabriel who stands in the very presence of God. And this is what he says, “I have come to tell you that your prayer for a child has been answered!” That is good news. Very, very good news.
One commentator says that the Greek verb that’s used allows for this possible translation: “I’ve come in response to prayers that you don’t even pray anymore.” That stopped me cold. Would God respond to prayers that we had given up hope of ever seeing an answer for? Would God in his goodness respond even when we’ve stopped praying? Well, that’s exactly what he did with Elizabeth and Zechariah. He broke into their world with the unexpected news of a long-awaited son.
But it gets better, for you see this wasn’t just good news, it was miraculous news! Luke tells us that Elizabeth was old and Zechariah, well, he was really old. Don’t you just love it when everything in your life says, It will never happen, there’s no way, the game’s over, just walk away. And then God steps in, and everything changes. But why the delay for this baby boy? The achingly long delay. Friend, don’t forget, this promised son would grow to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. He could not have been born any sooner. God’s timing was perfect. God was strategically aligning things just as they needed to be. God’s delay doesn’t necessarily mean God’s denial. I needed to be reminded of that.
Six months later, Gabriel finds himself on another assignment. He stands before a young virgin in the village of Nazareth. Just an ordinary girl from an ordinary village. And Gabriel says to her, “Grace to you, young woman, for the Lord is with you and so you are anointed with great favor.” Mary was deeply troubled over the words of the angel and bewildered over what this may mean for her. But the angel reassured her, saying, “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the Lord has found delight in you. You will become pregnant with a baby boy, and you are to name him Jesus.”
Mary’s response to this life-altering news? “As his servant, I accept whatever he has for me. May everything you have told me come to pass.” She simply said yes. Unequivocally yes. I read the account again and begin to list all the reasons she has to say no:
- Who would ever believe such a wild story? An angel appeared to you? Umm OK, sure.
- Joseph would most certainly leave her.
- Her parents would have every reason to abandon her.
- The community could stone her.
It’s a wonder that the fear of what could happen didn’t cause her to refuse. And God knew that, and had Gabriel speak directly to that when he says in verse 30: “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the Lord has found delight in you.”
Do not yield to your fear, Merrie. I wonder how often fear has kept me from saying yes. Fear has caused me to shake my head in refusal. Fear has stolen the adventure of just saying yes. Here’s the truth: It’s in the times when we beat back the fear and dismiss all the reasons we have to say no that God has proven himself in ways we could never imagine. I needed to be reminded of that. Maybe you need that reminder as well.
May this formerly stressed-out, freaked-out, worn-out pastor’s wife offer a suggestion as this Christmas season approaches? Set aside the lists for a while, quiet your heart, read that old familiar story again – not for the church, or the women’s group, or your kids – but for you. Just you. And let the wonder of it all capture your heart anew.
Merrie Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with her husband, Marshall. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.