“There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born — Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:8-12, Good News Translation)
We’ve heard this story, or parts of it, so many times over the years its burrs and sharp angles been worn smooth. Or maybe Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth doesn’t seem as preposterous as it once did because in our day, shepherds are respectable, stables are antiseptically acceptable, and the thought that the master of the universe would enter our sphere as a member of a small, disenfranchised people with a troubled history doesn’t seem to trouble us.
But it should trouble us, the fact that God would choose to appoint the least trustworthy (shepherds) in ancient Judean society to broadcast word of His Son’s arrival; or that He would use a feeding box for animals (manger) for His cradle; or that He would enter human history as a member of a misrepresented, misunderstood, and mistreated class of people (Jews). It should trouble us because, unlike God’s selections, our heroes never seem flawed or lacking.
God’s employment of the stable; and His deployment of the shepherds, reminds us that He is always more interested our availability than in our apparent capability.
God can — and does — choose flawed people for his agents. God can — and does — use crooked sticks in His designs. This ought to encourage us immensely because it gives each one of us, regardless of our deficiencies, the opportunity to work with God!
As we see in the Christmas story with the Virgin Mary, and Joseph, and the Magi, and the shepherds: There is no limit to what God can accomplish through an obedient heart, and an available life. – Luther
The scriptural accounts of Jesus’ birth are full of barbs, pricks, and leaps; yet, over time we’ve become so familiar with the story that we now fail to grasp (let alone appreciate) the blessed disruption that always seems to occur when God appears.
Now, allow me to briefly examine the second of three things wrong with the Christmas story as we commonly hear it: The under-appreciation of Elizabeth’s choice to be hospitable.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’” (Luke 1:39-45, NIV)
Like Joseph, whom we briefly discussed in yesterday’s post, Elizabeth acted against the prevailing sentiments of her day in obedience to God. The book of Proverbs says that “a brother is born for a time of adversity,” and it is during adversity that loyalties are proven.
When Mary learned of her crucial role in the Incarnation, it turned her world upside-down. Understandably, Mary “got ready and hurried” to her relative Elizabeth, perhaps in hope that Elizabeth might provide her “context” for her situation, since she had recently experienced her own miracle — with all of its attendant uncertainties.
Often, when God leads us through a desert it is because we are being prepared to help those who will follow. In this regard, Elizabeth did not disappoint. Elizabeth’s first words to Mary were words of affirmation and hospitality. May God help each of us to gladly welcome and to affirm those who seek our counsel. – Luther