Mary gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. – Luke 2:7 CEB
Just a few of my mom’s many miniature nativity sets.
We arrived safely at our Christmas destination. Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way. Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.
As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.
First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:
That’s it. Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.
Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:
Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey. I think of
May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.
I was so focused on the messengers (aka angels) in my last post, I paid scant attention to their messages. I know the message in each case was just as surprising as the appearance of the messenger and that there was a subversive tone to the text. But I can’t recall the details.
This is what I remember:
Between the Charlie Brown Christmas television special, theological education, dozens of Christmas pageants and who knows how many Christmas Eve services, I should remember more. But not at the moment.
(Pause here to get a Bible and reread the passages from Luke 1 and 2.)
Every time an angel appears we hear “don’t be afraid.” Of course I knew that; I just didn’t think of it a few minutes ago!
“Fear not” is an oft-repeated phrase throughout scripture. Yet we fear. We are afraid for all kinds of reasons – real and imagined, large and small, for ourselves and for others.
Maybe we don’t admit it. At least I don’t often admit the fear. But I will worry. My husband could testify that I am quite good at imaging the worst. Being anxious is second nature to me. A daily dose of an anti-anxiety prescription helps. Remembering the birds and the lilies helps (“so do not worry about tomorrow” – Matthew 6:34). Having people who love and encourage me helps. A walk outdoors helps. Reading the Psalms helps (Psalm 91 is my favorite). Piecing a quilt helps. Humming a song helps.
Holy One, sender of messengers and messages, quell today’s fears and tomorrow’s worries that we might know the hope, joy, love and peace of your presence among us. Amen.
Angels are messengers from God.
They are – or at least one is – busy in the story of Christ’s birth as recorded in the gospel of Luke.
The angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah his wife Elizabeth will have a son whom they will name John. Never mind that they are both “getting on in years.” After questioning the angel, Zechariah is struck speechless until after the boy is born. (Luke 1:20, 64) When she determines she is pregnant, Elizabeth seems to simply wonder and be grateful. (Luke 1:25)
God sends Gabriel to visit a rather young woman with the (good) news that she will bear a child who will be called “the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32) Mary also questions the angel. Does she ponder Gabriel’s reply at all? For a moment, an hour, longer?
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1: 38a NRSV
Nine months later an angel of the Lord visited shepherds to tell of the Messiah’s birth. The shepherds, with little hesitation, decide to go and see what has taken place. (Luke 2:15)
Quite honestly, if an angel visited me with that kind of news my first response is likely to be disbelief. Frankly, if an angel of the sort pictured here visited me I’d probably pass out.
But what of other kinds of angels, the ones with human faces? Like the pastor who sent me a note wondering if I’d ever consider seminary. Like the doctor who called a friend to see if they would adopt another child. Like foster parents who open their home with love and compassion. Like seniors who spend time at an elementary school listening to children read. Like the couple who trained their dog to do pet therapy and now all three visit a nursing home every Tuesday afternoon. Like the harpist who plays at a Hospice home. Like ….
Tell me of an angel you’ve met!
It seems a strange start. After a few verses of introduction the gospel of Luke launches into the story of Jesus by telling us about Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children … and both were getting on in years. – Luke 1:6-7 NRSV
Zach is a priest. As the story begins he is in Jerusalem at the temple offering incense in the “Lord’s sanctuary” (CEB).
The people who have gathered to worship are outside praying.
Until a few days ago I’d never noticed the worshipers in this story. They were outside PRAYING.
No word on the content of their prayers. But as I read it on Monday I imagined they were praying for the priest. Priests and pastors and preachers and worship leaders of all kinds appreciate prayers on our behalf. We may not mention it. Most of the time we don’t think about it. But when church life is crazy or busy or both (like before Christmas!), knowing that even one person has offered a prayer to God for you is a precious gift.
While the people are praying, Zach’s public ministry takes a decidedly personal turn. An angel appears and tells him HIS prayers have been heard. He and his wife – who are older than old (kind of like Abraham and Sarah of years gone by) – will become parents.
Somehow I don’t think become a parent was Zach’s prayer that day. Because of their advanced years I suspect both Zach and Liz were no longer petitioning God for a child. Not that they didn’t continue to long for a son or a daughter. But no longer believing it might happen.
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and are very old.” Luke 1:18 CEB
Zach’s response rings true with me. It’s honest. And it’s the last thing he’ll be able to speak aloud until his son is born.
Once he’s home, Liz becomes pregnant. Her response: “This is the Lord’s doing.”
This part of the story causes me to pause. I think of would-be parents who have been unable to conceive and the parents whose children died at – or before – or shortly after – birth. So much heart ache. Lord, in your mercy.
Zach and Liz’s child is, of course, John. Not Jesus. It’s John, the one who will prepare the way. A strange start, I think, to the story of Jesus.
With prayers for Pastor Dave and Pastor Amy (my pastors), for all who lead worship, and for parents and would-be parents, Teressa
I tend to think of Jesus’ birth narratives as family stories. Once you get through the genealogy in Matthew, the tale is told from Joseph’s perspective. Joseph is visited by an angel. Joseph has dreams. Joseph moves the family to Egypt and back.
Luke focuses on the maternal line. Mary is visited by an angel. Mary goes to see her relative Elizabeth. Mary gives birth, wraps the child in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger.
Birthdays in my family inevitably lead to stories. I was born on my father’s second day of student teaching. When it was time for Mom to head to the hospital for my sister’s birth, I was sent me down the hill to stay with friends of theirs. When my brother was born, Dad handed out tootsie roll pops to his students.
Looking at this family reunion photo, I remember that we are family by birth, by marriage, by legal adoption, and by informal adoption (a foster child become daughter and sister). Grandma Mary is the matriarch pictured, but I knew her mother – Great Grandma Grace. Of those not in the picture, I recall my Aunt Marlene who died too young (alcoholism is insidious) as well as Grandpa Art (life ending heart attack).
The family tree has changed in ten years. Marriage. Divorce. More great-grandchildren. Grandma Mary thinks she might live to be 100. In the meantime she never misses a birthday; no matter how you made into the family you get a birthday card and a $20 bill!
“I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” – Philippians 1:3-4
I’ve been sending Christmas cards with a Christmas letter since 1987 (or maybe earlier). It’s the one time of year I can count on connecting with some favorite people of my past and present:
The list shifts a little every year. Some have died. Some of us (including me) have changed addresses one too many times to keep up. Life’s journey means we sometimes lose touch. There are also new friends, strengthened family relationships, and sometimes a reconnecting with co-workers of yesteryear.
The correspondence is a prayer. For good health. For joy filled days. For comfort in sorrow. For wisdom in decision making. For courage in hard times. For strength. For rest. For renewal.
“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and insight to help you determine what is best…” – Philippians 1:9-10a
May you have a song in your heart, practice kindness with yourself and others, and find joy in every day life.