I don’t celebrate Christmas. Not really. And I don’t say, “Put Christ back in Christmas,” because I don’t believe He was ever there. At least not in what our culture has come to know as Christmas. But before you paint me with pine tar and turkey feathers and run me out of town on a yule log, please hear me out.
What we call, “Christmas,” today is an event fueled by commercialism, secularism, romanticism, and paganism. I have no problem with celebrating the birth of Christ. None at all. I love Handel’s “Messiah” and Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” I like turkey and cranberries. I give special gifts to the people I cherish. I value time with my family. I like the smell of balsam firs and freshly-baked cookies. I enjoy times of quiet contemplation and nighttime walks in the snow. I love reading O. Henry’s, “The Gift of the Magi” and “Gian-Carlo Menotti’s, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” But none of these things has any real bearing on the Incarnation.
So when December rolls around, I begin doing two things every year: studying the gospel account of the birth of Christ, and listening to Handel’s MESSIAH. Each of these activities helps me to focus on my real appreciation for this time of year, disconnected as it is from the more likely timing of the Incarnation around Passover. One of my goals as I undertake my annual reading and listening is to learn something new.
This year, Madeleine and I are reading Luke’s account of Christ’s birth together. In Luke 1, I was struck with two things.
The first is the fact that Zechariah, John’s father, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, ask the Angel Gabriel the same question: “How?”
Upon hearing the announcement of the barren Elizabeth’s delivery of a son in her old age, Zechariah asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (LUK 1.18) Gabriel tells him he will be mute until John’s birth: “…because you did not believe my words.” Zechariah’s question is related to the possibility of John’s conception.
Jesus’ conception was even more improbably than John’s, though they were both miraculous. When Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the Son of God, she also asks, “How?” Her question concerns the process of Jesus’ conception, not the possibility: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (LUK 1.34) She believes the angel, but wonders how God will bring this about.
The same question. Two different reasons for asking it.
The second thing I noticed this year is Mary’s summation of her exchange with the Angel Gabriel. After he explains how she will conceive and tells her that Elizabeth is already pregnant, he reminds her that “…nothing will be impossible with God.” (LUK 1.37) In the next verse, Mary responds simply, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Would that God would give me Mary’s believing heart and submissive will!