"Now while the people were in a state of expectation, and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, John answered and said to them all, 'As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.' " Luke 3:15-16
Every Christmas our families descend on my parent's home for dinner. Mom turned 89 this month, and Dad will be 88 in March 2010. Mom began a tradition in 1977 of making Christmas stockings for her four kids, their spouses and her grandchildren. For a couple of years, the mantle looked a bit bare. Yesterday, 32 years later, their little living room is lined with red flannel. The original four made for Roger, Gary, Joy and Ken have grown in number. Mom has had to make quite a few trips to the fabric store. There is now a total of 35 stockngs representing spouses, additonal grand children, and great grand children.
Dad always gathers everyone around the room after dinner, and asks for each member of the family to share something about The Christmas Story. This year, the question had to deal with what is the one thing that stands out in your mind about the story of the birth of Jesus. I enjoyed sitting back and listening to the responses. I had a lot to share, but didn't say anything this year. Sometimes listening is the best way to learn. There is alot of truth to the proverbial statement, "If you are talking, you aren't learning anything."
After driving home, and thinking about the question, I have a few observations that I would like to share with you. With my apologies to the great Paul Harvey, I refer to my thoughts as, "The Rest of The Story."
The Angel Gabriel: The angel struck the right balance between being a faithful messenger for God, and a great comfort to Mary. He did not just deliver the message and depart the scene. He responded to her fear. By exhorting her, and exalting God, he set the bar for every messenger of God. It is not enough to hit people with the shock and awe of the Word of God. Gabriel knew his audience. He honored the One who sent him by making sure the message was not just sent, but it was received. His famous last words ring true to this day, "For nothing will be impossible with God."
The Virgin Mary: She offered up the ultimate response to the Word of God, she received from the angel. "May it be done to me according to your word." If obedience is the immediate response to the word of God, with the right heart attitude. Mary is the role model for us all.
The Cousin Elizabeth: This lady teaches us how to rejoice when God is doing something great in another person's life. Rather than look down on a family member or friend with the green-eyed, two headed monster of envy and jealousy, Elizabeth shouted to Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"
The Forerunner, John the Baptist: The apples does not fall far from the tree. John leaped for joy in his mother's womb, even before he was born. When he was born and came of age, he ran out ahead of Jesus to let people know that the Messiah was on His way. John is the poster boy for those who are called to preach. They may draw a huge crowd, but they never fail to deliver the right message. For two thousand years, the message is still the same, "The King is coming."
The Dreamer, Joseph: Five times God spoke to Joseph in a dream. Each time Joseph heard from God, he responded by changing his plans in order to get in on what God was doing in his life. Very little is known about Joseph. He was a carpenter. He was chosen by God to provide and protect His only Son. To this I would add, Joseph never missed God. His is a legacy that any father would be proud to leave his family.
The Heavenly Host: The army of angels gives us a glimpse of heaven. They praised God, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." The angels remind us to believe in the reality and the sovereignty of God. They also provide evidence for the statement, "You believe in God, but God also believes in you." His pleasure in His children led Him to send them a Savior in spite of their sin.
The Watching Shepherds: They were faithfully carrying out the same work once done by King David. When God called him to be anointed King of Israel, he was an unknown, and forgotten shepherd boy watching his father's sheep on the same hills outside of town. Hundreds of years before, the angels announced the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God had chosen a king from this village. The shepherds raced to the stable, and served as an honor guard for Jesus. Their presence is a reminder for the people of God to never forget where they come from, and never doubt the greatness that He can bring out of small people in obscure places.
The Waiting Priest, Simeon: This dear priest was used by God to announce the coming of The Messiah, and declare He would be a light for the Gentiles. As a representative of the established Temple bureaucracy, he had never let the system overshadow the Savior. His heart and his hands had not grown calloused handling the holy. While he was waiting, he remained tender to the touch of the Holy Spirit. When God placed His Son in His hands, Simeon was grateful. He did not harbor resentment, and spew, "It's about time." His eyes had been dimmed by age, but he could see the big picture, "The Savior of the World." He shouted with confidence overflowing from the fulfillment of his heart's desire, " For my eyes have seen Your salvation."
The Prophetess, Anna: Rather than allow death and destitution to become her destiny, Anna attached herself to the one place in her world where the love of God could breath new life into her heart. Her ancestors had been banished from the Presence of God, and dispersed all over the known world by the Assyrians. The Northern Kingdom had rejected God, and replaced Him with idols, but Anna broke with her past, and found redemption of God being offered through the Christ Child. She thanked God for His gift, and told people she met about Jesus. This lady reminds me that we are never too old to tell the good news to the people who are seeking the Savior.
The Wise Men: Long before Mary heard from the angel about the birth of Jesus, God had sent a star to guide them all to Bethlehem. When they arrived, they worshiped Jesus and they gave Him gifts. The journey took them approximately two years. It extracted a great cost in time and treasure for them to find their way to the home of Mary and Joseph. Their response to finding Jesus is a great inspiration to those who desire to put Christ back in Christmas. They fell down and worshiped Jesus, and gave gifts to Him and not to one another. Too many people want to throw a birthday party for Jesus, but they want to be the birthday boy and walk away with all the presents. If giving gifts are a meant to be part of Christmas, a look at The Wise Men reminds us of who should receive the very best. After all, it is His birthday, not ours.
The Impostor, Herod: God is always up to His best in the worst of times. Satan is always going to try and counterfeit the creation of God. His character is corrupt, and depraved. His fall from heaven was a result of leading a rebellion that tried to usurp the power and the praise that belonged only to God. He continues to have puppets on thrones and in places of prominence who carry out his work. When evil attempts to thwart the will of God, it brings the shadow of darkness over the lives of all who must walk through it. There will always be impostors who try to intimidate believers into doubting in the dark, what they know to be true in the light. It may have looked like Rome and all its regimes were in control of the world, but God was up to something that was greater than anything the world had ever seen.
The Savior, Jesus: The Rest of the Story is not complete until Jesus moves from the manger, and into the hearts of people who know they need a Savior. He never told His followers to celebrate His birthday, but He told them to remember, "His death, burial and resurrection. The baby Jesus is not the focus of the Christmas Story. God intends for people in need of forgiveness, to receive His Son as their Savior. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."