It is the week of Christmas and collectively the feeling of “a weary world rejoicing” has taken a new meaning. While we each have experienced our own personal struggles and disappointments, never has the world experienced a pandemic of this magnitude in our lifetime. We had hoped that by now Coronavirus would have declined. We had hoped that the weeks and months of shutdowns and closures would have wiped out COVID-19. We had hoped that this Christmas we would be able to hug our loved ones and celebrate the season together. But the unexpected is becoming the expected as we plan quieter holidays and more intimate gatherings.
There is another who might understand the trepidation and timidity with which we are approaching the holidays. The very first Christmas was filled with the unexpected for Mary and that year of her life did not go according to her own plan. She was betrothed to Joseph and likely planning her marriage and life with him. But then she received an unexpected visitor with a message that would change her life and the future of the world.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. He told Mary that she found favor with God. “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Like Mary, we may not understand what God is trying to teach us through the events of this year. As we have navigated difficulty and disaster, we may have wondered, “Why is this happening? What can this possibly mean?” Gabriel explained to Mary what was to come and we learn, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18, emphasis mine). This was not what Mary expected. This is truly the definition of “unprecedented”. This pandemic has been called unprecedented, but there have been horrible plagues and viruses before. We may not have much information on the coronavirus, but we have some previous experience from which to move forward. A virgin birth had never occurred in the history of mankind and has never occurred since that time. But novel does not mean unplanned. Several hundred years earlier the prophet Isaiah prophesied, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). In the same way, coronavirus did not catch God off guard. It did not surprise Him. This allows us to respond to our fear or frustration with this year with faith in our all-knowing God. “‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1: 37-38).
This year, expectant mothers have face the unexpected. The birth process this year has been unlike previous years. Expectant mothers have worried they may not be allowed their spouse or support during delivery and the fear of entering the hospital during COVID-19 loomed over preparations. As each baby was born and celebrated, they were looked at as the bright light of 2020 and brought so much joy and comfort to their families. Mary’s birth story was also filled with the unexpected and was not quite as comfortable as she might have desired. “And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The humble start to the life of Christ, Savior of the world, is humbling to me as I am tempted to complain of my isolated holidays, with my family, in my comfortable home. The very heavens declared the glory of God with the star in the sky. Creation bowed to its Creator with the animals giving up their feeding trough. Lowly shepherds were the first to see the Savior and share the good news with others. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 19-20). Today, we have the good news. We know that not only was Jesus Christ born, but that He conquered death and rose again bringing eternal life to all who believe. With this truth, do we glorify and praise God for all that we have heard and seen? Do we focus more on the momentary joy and comfort from 2020 babies or do we rightly reflect on the tidings of eternal comfort and joy given to us by the newborn baby in a manger many years ago?
So why should the weary world rejoice? What is the cause to rejoice when there are so many unknowns? “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’” (Luke 2: 10). Earlier in the pandemic, there was an uplifting bit of relief through a broadcast called “Some Good News”. New episodes aired as pieces of some good news made us smile for a moment, but the days of this pandemic dragged on and we needed more good news to refresh our spirits. But THE good news remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Promised Offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15) had finally come and His name is Immanuel, meaning “God with us”. The angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2: 14). We rejoice because God is indeed with us. We rejoice because He brought peace on earth. We rejoice because the very unexpected first Christmas gives us hope for any unexpected circumstance we may encounter because Christ remains by our side.
As we near the end of this year and we think back over our unfulfilled hopes for the year 2020, let us remember another pair who had unfulfilled hopes as they traveled a road to Emmaus. After the crucifixion of Jesus, they said, “But we had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel” (Luke 24: 21). Let us remember that our hope is not in physical health, not in a vaccine, and not in holiday gatherings with family and friends. Our hope remains the same as the disciples on that road. Our hope is in Jesus, the Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 1, 4-5). Jesus was in the beginning and Jesus will be at the end. At Christmas we celebrate when Jesus first come to earth as a baby and we look forward to when He will return and establish the new heaven and new earth. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21: 23). The hope of the unwed, virgin mother; the hope of the lowly shepherds; the hope shared by the heavenly host of angels; and the hope of the travelers on the road is the same hope in our hearts. We hope in Jesus Christ who is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. We rejoice in the Light of the World that drives out the darkness and directs our paths.