It was our church nativity service last Sunday. Various people contributed and much hard work went into costumes, scenery, the allocation of parts, and the coaching of the children. Every child below a certain age was chosen to play a part. Despite the inevitable worries of the Sunday School teachers it all went well on the day. Several characters stood out for their performances, resulting in a lot of laughter from the congregation at times.
I often wonder about the choices God made as He prepared for the first nativity, particularly the people. First there were Zechariah and Elizabeth, the elderly priest and his wife who couldn’t have children. Who would have thought that they would be blessed with a child at such a time in life?
Why did God choose Mary, a young peasant girl, who was engaged to the village carpenter? What about the carefully timed encounters with angels? How did Zechariah, Mary and Joseph feel after such events? How long did they walk around dazed and confused and questioning?
The birth of Jesus could not have put an end to the questions. Add into the equation a specially chosen innkeeper who just happened to have no rooms to rent, a bunch of smelly shepherds, and a group of astrologers who had been on the road for months, apparently following a star. But these fellows were not lunatics. They were from the other end of the social spectrum to the shepherds. What on earth did they think they were doing?
In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel introduces himself to Mary by telling her that she is ‘highly favoured’ or ‘specially honoured’ by God. It is evident that Mary was specially chosen. As were Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, the so-called wise men, Anna and Simeon in the Temple, and a ragtag bunch of fishermen and other predominantly working class people who subsequently featured in the life of Jesus.
Today there are people who think of Christmas as little more than a nice story. Jesus has largely disappeared from the Christmas that is celebrated in most Western countries, where He has been replaced by coloured lights and tinsel, by Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays.
But Jesus hasn’t gone away. He isn’t in hiding. He isn’t a character from a storybook, but the Son of God. He stepped into our world to live an ordinary life among ordinary people. Which when you think about it is extraordinary. Despite the ordinariness of the people Jesus chose – the people who became followers, the fact remains that to follow Jesus in faith and obedience brings with it the knowledge of being highly favoured by God. Loved. Wanted. Sought after. The first Christmas and the events that followed it show that God hungers for contact with people like you and me who are probably better known by their mistakes and failings than any human achievement. We need to realise that we too are highly honoured by God’s interest in us. Like Mary we need to walk in obedience and accept that nothing is impossible with God.
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. 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 1:26-38 NLT)