Each year I write a guide to prepare people for Christmas. Today I started writing the guide, so I thought I’d share the first reading with you.
READING 1 – THE QUESTION OF CHRISTMAS
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
- Luke 1:5 – 7
The Christmas story begins all wrong. God had promised his people that they would always have a king sitting on the throne. But they don’t. Instead they are being ruled by a Roman appointed king named Herod, who was both paranoid and abusive. Additionally, God had promised his people that obedience would lead them to blessing. But it hasn’t. Zechariah and Elizabeth walked blamelessly before God but Elizabeth’s womb was lifeless and empty.
These details take Luke only a few sentences to record and could quickly be passed over as just the preamble to the rest of the story. But wait. Slow down. Remember what took you less than 20 seconds to read, took others decades to experience. Elizabeth and Zachariah were advanced in years. God’s people had waited for over 400 years for God to keep his promises to them.
And in the long years of waiting and the dark nights of trying to bring life into an empty womb, the question of Christmas was conceived: Can God be trusted?
At first glance this question seems improper to ask. It seems to point to doubt and the dying of faith. But consider for a moment that this is a question God wants us to ask because it points to our awareness that things are wrong and it gets us ready to receive an answer from God.
After all God’s power and goodness should mean that life triumphs. But in our world death seems to get the final word. We read about the death of nations, the death of marriages, the death of careers – obituaries without end. And so our lives are often a picture of how the story of Christmas begins. Everything is wrong.
Now we can dismiss the reality that something is wrong, or we can face reality, which leads us to the question of Christmas: Can God be trusted?
All the different miracles surrounding the Christmas story give us God’s answer to this question. But here is what I want you to consider today. You won’t be ready to celebrate God’s answer, unless you first feel how much your world is barren.
Think about it like this. Imagine a friend tells you that he has paid a bill for you. How should you respond? You have no idea until you know the size of the bill. In other words, until you know how much he paid, you do not know whether to shake his hand or fall down and kiss his feet.
So before we get to all the great miracles of Christmas consider these questions. What feels barren and empty to you this Christmas? What seems wrong with your world? Are there areas in your life where you feel like God has failed you?