8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
The images are mesmerizing, in a deep, haunting sort of way. A baby held high over a barbed-wire fence. Hands reaching up from the other side, it's the only chance the baby has. Or the fire in the background, chasing the panicked family into the unknown, unknowable future. The year of our Lord 2017 has seemed anything but the year of our Lord. Most poignantly, we seem to be living in the time of the dispossessed, the refugees, the voice-less. Who will take them? Where shall they run? Those questions haunt us as much as the pictures, because those questions are about us. We quickly breathe out a reminder to ourselves, "There, but by the grace of God..." What would we do with our baby? Where could we run?
This time of year, it's a little too easy to let the sentimentality of Christmas anesthetize the reality of Christmas. At the center of that reality is a teenage girl from up north, where lots of foreigners live. God-fearing, contemplative and quiet, Mary found herself with child. Trouble is, she was without husband. And in that time, that place, and that culture, she faced the certainty of a lifetime of shame, or worse. Who would take her? Where could she go?
She had been told by Gabriel himself that God Almighty had chosen her to bear the Christ-child. Then her own relative Elizabeth and in utero John the Baptist confirmed the telling. And what did she do? She sang about it. This barely grown girl used lyrics to remind us what God's Word had taught her all along.
God's way, His pattern, is to use the things that seem foolish, or weak, or impossible to bring good to His people and Glory to His name. And in particular, He has regard for the sojourner and the poor and the voice-less. Mary sings about it, because she knows the Bible proclaims it and the history of God's people affirm it. She knows God and knows that God will do what He has promised. And she praises God that she participates in that reality.
Dear friends, as 2017 draws to a close, look at the images of our world. See yourself in them, because you are in them. And if there is no answer in your heart to assuage the fretful anxiety, maybe now is the time. Maybe the same Holy Spirit who spoke to Elizabeth about Mary's baby is speaking to you. Come to Jesus. Cry out to Him in faith. Abide in Him. And let these words, spoken by her boy, our Savior, remind you. In Christ, you are always blessed and never, ever alone.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:2-12)