God’s Christmas Gift

As we enter into this week before the celebration of Christ’s birth, it is so important that as Christians we remember without the Christ of the cross, Jesus is just a baby in a manger. The beginning of the story is amazing and wonderful. But without the end of the story, salvation is not possible. Celebrate and rejoice in the birth of the Christ child, but also give thanks for the sacrifice He made so that you and I could spend eternity with the Father.

That is the true gift of Christmas. That is the story foretold. That is what makes the season magical.

Christ’s gift to us. His life to save ours. This. Just. This. Is the true story of Christmas.

In the book of John, Jesus leaves us with a message about his love. We all know John 15:13, but without the verses before it, and the ones that come after, for me the message is not clear because verse 14 says “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (vs. 14).

A friend of Jesus. A sister to the King. A follower of the Christ child who came into the world willingly, fully knowing the end of the story.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:9-17.

That sweet friend, is the true gift of Christmas.

Mary’s Story

Sometimes I wonder what Mary was like before this.

Before Gabriel visited her.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.'” Luke 1:26-28

As she listened, the bible says “But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” Luke 1:29. This young girl, probably alone in her room, is visited by an angel.

I’m sure that kind of thing didn’t happen every day. Not to anyone, but certainly not to a young girl.

Realizing her apprehension, Gabriel tries to put her mind at ease. Luke 1:30-33 recounts the conversation for us. “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;  and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Before God chose her, she was just Joseph’s fiance, but after the words of the angel, she learns she is to be the mother of the Christ child and she reacts as any young woman would “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34.

I can’t even imagine. How do you reconcile this if you’re Mary? Even at her young age she would have been aware of what had to happen for her to have a child. So she asks the question any woman would ask. How?

Gabriel is ready for the question and his answer still takes my breath away almost 60 years after the first time I heard it.

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:35-37.

She would be the mother of the Savior of the world. This young girl who had no royal lineage but who had the faith she needed to be God’s chosen one.

Mary never hesitates. At least if she does, the bible doesn’t tell us. No, according to Luke 1:38: And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Gabriel’s job was done. Mary knew her role and when she acknowledged it Luke 1:38b says “And the angel departed from her.”

But Mary’s story doesn’t end here.

Luke 1:39 – 44 tells us of her hasty visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

What better way to confirm what she had heard than to see for herself that Elizabeth was indeed with child.

The Bible tells the story like this:

Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.

Elizabeth is pregnant and her baby’s reaction to Mary’s presence is all Mary needs to believe. As Elizabeth tells her:

In response Mary speaks what has become known around the world as Mary’s Song. Luke calls it “The Magnificat”. Mary’s faith, her trust in God, and her belief that what has been told her all comes together in these verses.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

But before she was the mother of Christ, she was just a girl. She was just someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend, and Joseph’s fiance.