The weeks leading up to Christmas have always been my favorite. Decorating the house, baking cookies, and spending time with those I love most are some of my favorite traditions. One tradition, in particular, that is a favorite for my kids is wandering the familiar streets of my hometown. The first Friday of December is light-up night, and the streets of my girlhood home fill with the faces of those I have known for most of my life. My kids huddle together with their grammy and papa to watch the tractor parade, wade through the crowds visiting local businesses for a treat and walk for what seems likes miles to fill their cards with stamps that give them a chance to win a prize. The evening draws to a close after a cup of hot chocolate and an arm’s length of raffle tickets is given, and my kids strategically place tickets in bags at the Chinese auction in hopes of winning a new toy. Every year, we head home exhausted, but filled so completely with the love of family and the joy of celebrating this season together.
This year, though, things look a bit different. The traditional light-up night will not be as are so many other traditions that we look forward to in this season. If you’re like me, the changing of each season throughout this past year brings a fresh wave of grief. A longing for some semblance of normalcy in a world that looks so different. A longing for something familiar and stable when this current life leaves me filled with such uncertainty. A longing for a Christmas like the ones of years passed. But, in the midst of this longing, I’ve felt God challenging me. I’ve felt Him challenging me to turn my eyes from the what once was and look at this season in a new light. I have felt Him challenging me to look at Christmas through His eyes.
He took me to the book of Luke, and to the story of those who were there that first Christmas. The story begins with a young woman named Mary.
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’ Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.’”
Luke 1:26-35 (NLT)
Place yourself in Mary’s shoes. What thoughts do you think may have been racing through her brain in those moments? Here she is, a young, engaged woman, and she has just been told that she is going to become pregnant. While that might be exciting news for many, it likely wasn’t for Mary. Having a baby outside of marriage wasn’t done. Her pregnancy would likely cause a scandal within her village. She faced the possibility of divorce, being banished from her father’s home, and even being killed. If you were Mary, how would you have responded to this message from God? I think I would have been scared out of my mind. I also think I may have felt some anger towards God for placing me in those circumstances. In the next few verses, we find Mary’s response to what the angel told her.
“’What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.’ Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.”
Luke 1:36-38 (NLT)
How does Mary respond? She chooses to believe that what God has said to her is true, and in doing so, she chooses to trust Him. She chooses to trust Him even though the path before her looks nothing like what she had expected. She chooses to trust that His plan is greater than her own. When we find ourselves in seasons that are hard or in places that are unexpected, do we respond as Mary did? Do we make the choice to believe what God says is true and trust that He is at work in our lives?
Continuing in Luke, we read more about how Mary responds to the news that she’s going to be a ma ma.
“A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.’ Mary responded, ‘Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.’”
Luke 1:39-50 (NLT)
Mary chooses to give thanks. She chooses to be grateful for what God has given her even though this gift of a child would take her down a path that is difficult. That got me to thinking. In this season, am I merely passing the days waiting for things to get back to “normal”, or am I choosing to see and be grateful for the good that can be found in my present? Am I making the choice to give thanks in this season? In 1 Thessalonians, we are encouraged to:
“Give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (VOICE)
Reflecting on the first Christmas, I wonder what this season in my life would look like if I chose to respond to God as Mary did. What if I chose to believe Him and trust Him? What if I chose to be thankful for the people and circumstances in my life? And what if I chose to look expectantly look for His hand moving?
This Christmas season, friend, I challenge you to take a lesson from Mary. Turn your gaze upon Him. Believe those things He says to you and trust Him. Choose to give thanks even when you don’t feel like it and look expectantly for Him to continue His work in you.