We give thanks, as we should, for the Baby born in Bethlehem. But don’t forget who he is before he was born, and who he has become through his life, death, and resurrection. In Colossians 1:15–20 Paul describes something that is almost beyond our comprehension.
Understand who Christ is. He is the image of the invisible God. God is invisible. He is Spirit. Yet, Christ is his exact image. He is the one who expresses God’s own nature, Hebrews 1:3. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Crucial to your redemption is the fact that Jesus Christ is more than just a man.
Darkness is not just seasonal nor the challenges of 2020, whether medical, political, or cultural. At the heart of the darkness that Zechariah describes in Luke 1:76–79 is the darkness of sin.
Believe because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Believe the good news! Gabriel’s news had been overwhelming to Zechariah, and he was struck mute until the birth of his son, John. The punishment worked faith in Zechariah. Picture his frustration at the inability to speak. Imagine trying to explain (in writing and through gestures) that the reason you are unable to speak is that your faith was not great enough to accept the message of an angel that you and your aged wife were about to become parents! But during the nine months, Zechariah’s faith grew. Every time he tried to speak and couldn’t, he was reminded that at least one thing the angel had said was coming true. He came to believe, not only what became progressively obvious, that they were to become parents, but also that this child would indeed be the fore-runner for the Messiah. God calls you to believe the good news that in his Son he is involved in our lives. He comes to deal with our deepest problems–the sin that separates us from a holy God. Remember that the trials in your life can be used to help nurture your trust in your God.
It took nine months of enforced silence before Zechariah could sing, but notice the prompt joy of the women in the narrative. Elizabeth tells Mary that her son in her womb leaped for joy, Luke 1:44. And Mary responds with a song of joy, Luke 1:46–56 Notice especially how Mary’s joy is intertwined with her recognition of the holiness of God as she glorifies her Lord.
God calls you to rejoice in your Savior. The blessed Virgin Mary had grounds for rejoicing. She is properly called “blessed.” After hearing Gabriel’s news she promptly traveled to Judea. Elizabeth greets her with an inspired greeting, and Mary recognizes that many others will call her blessed, verse 48. God has indeed honored her. You properly avoid worshiping her, or ascribing divine titles to her. But recognize that God honored her uniquely in choosing her to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. Her joy is in God her Savior. She is not sinless, but looks to God for salvation. Her song celebrates his saving work—in her life as well as in the hosts that would come to God through her Son. While her song does not explicitly name her Son, the wonder of the incarnation, the truth of what Gabriel had told her, motivates her hymn. You can’t really appreciate the joy of her song until you recognize your own need for this Savior. He’s not just a sweet little Baby—he is the Messiah, anointed to be the sacrifice for your sins. “[T]he Son prepared the whole world, including Jews as well as Gentiles, for his coming in the flesh. The world and humanity, land and people, cradle and stable, Bethlehem and Nazareth, parents and relatives, nature and environment, society and civilization—these are all components in the fullness of the times in which God sent his Son into the flesh. It was the Son himself who thus immediately after the fall, as Logos and as Angel of the covenant, made the world of Gentiles and Jews ready for his coming. He was in the process of coming from the beginning of time and in the end came for good, by his incarnation making his home in humankind…. Now this entire preparation of the incarnation in the preceding centuries is concentrated, as it were, and completed in the election and favoring of Mary as the mother of Jesus. Mary is the blessed one among women.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pages 280–281)
Good news and 2020 don’t seem to go together. But Isaiah 40:9–11 gives you good news, not just for the people in Isaiah’s day, but for you as well.
Behold! Your God! Listen to the good news. Much of the first part of Isaiah had been warnings of coming judgment. He was to be a prophet to people whose ears, eyes, and hearts were closed. He spoke not only of the contemporary threat of Assyria, but also the future judgment to come from Babylon. Sin brings judgment. Israel would be exiled away from their land, away from the presence of the Lord. But starting with Isaiah 40 he looks beyond that, not only to the return from exile, but the full redemption and restoration that the suffering Servant would bring. You and I have the same problem as Israel. Our sins separate us from God and his presence, jus as Adam’s sin caused him to be driven out from the Garden of Eden. Our problem is not just that we may feel burdened and guilty—we are guilty. We are alienated from God. Isaiah 40:9 brings you good news. Listen to it! “Isaiah 40:1 prophesies that end-time Israel will be ‘comforted’ by God because ‘her iniquity has been removed,’ with the result that ‘like a shepherd. . . in his arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom’ and ‘will gently lead the nursing ewes’ (Isa. 40:11).” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 549)
Have any Christmas cards arrived at your house with a picture of the holy family? Jesus talks about a holy family in Matthew 12:46–50, but it’s not limited to those pictured on the card.
Recognize the holy family. Give honor to Mary and to Joseph. It is wrong to worship Mary, but don’t overreact by failing to recognize just how important she is in God’s great plan. Gabriel calls her highly favored by God. She willingly assumed the role she was told she would have—being the mother of the Messiah. Luke tells us of her visit to Elizabeth, with whom she could share this marvelous news. But how many were there in her home town of Nazareth who would have believed her story? And Joseph was a godly man, confronted with news so strange that Matthew’s Gospel tells us that an angel had to explain to him that Mary had not been unfaithful. He assumed the role of the human, adoptive father of Jesus. He protected Mary and the Baby by taking them to Egypt when Herod sought to kill the Christ. The Baby is truly human as well as truly God. The hymn, “Away in a Manger,” doesn’t get it quite right when it says, “no crying he makes.” How else would the infant Jesus have let Mary know he was hungry?