Today, we are going to talk about two central themes of the Christmas story that we don’t talk about very often and then explore a challenge that might impact how we enjoy the next few days of celebration.
One undeniable thing is that even before His birth, Jesus brought earth-shaking changes to everyone included in His story.
Ten months before his birth, an angel appears to his mom, Mary, and says, “Greetings, highly favored one! The Lord is with you.” The angel proposes a holy scheme to her, and she agrees to a plan that will cost her everything. With her yes, Mary loses her reputation, and her pregnancy wounds the people she loves most. Her whole life goes up in smoke, and she is the one who lit the match. It often takes courage to say yes to God.
But it isn’t just Mary. There are a lot of people in the Christmas story that were asked to say yes to something that took courage.
Zechariah encountered an angel who said, “Do not be afraid; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Then, as we know, an angel tells Mary she’s having a baby, and despite all the imperfect circumstances, Mary is told, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”
After this, an angel appears to Joseph during his questions and doubts about marrying a woman who is scandalously pregnant and is told, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”
Not only that, but when Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds who were minding their own business one night, and the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”
It seems that one of Christmas’s central messages is, ‘Do not be afraid.’
Or, as Madeleine L’Engle says, “The nativity is a time to take courage.”
The second concept immediately follows, “Do not be afraid; there is good news and great joy.” Who doesn’t love that Jesus has brought great joy for all people? But do you ever need to remember that includes you? Great joy for all people, and more specifically, you.
Sometimes, we forget joy isn’t just a nice idea or a theological concept. It’s meant to be experienced in our bodies. Occasionally, we resist Joy because we think it can only show up when everything is perfect, but that isn’t the story of Christmas.
There is a poem that a friend sent me by Donna Ashworth that sums this up:
Joy does not arrive with a fanfare
on a red carpet strewn with the flowers of a perfect life.
Joy sneaks in as you pour a cup of coffee,
watching the sun hit your favorite tree just right.
And you usher joy away
because you are not ready for it.
Your house is not as it must be
for such a distinguished guest.
But joy cares nothing for your messy home,
or your bank-balance,
or your waistline, you see.
Joy is supposed to slither through the cracks of your imperfect life,
that’s how joy works.
You cannot truly invite her, you can only be ready when she appears.
And hug her with meaning,
because in this very moment, joy chose you.
Our challenge today is based on something my friend Brit once told me. She described her mom and said she “attended her own parties.” She didn’t relegate herself to the kitchen while missing the lively conversation around the table. She savored the meals. She took great joy in her guests. It’s something her kids remember and appreciate about her. She modeled how to experience great joy.
The gift of Christmas is courage and joy.
So, greetings highly favored one; there is the good news of great joy just waiting for you to say yes to.