When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”
Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Now, the word for angel in the scriptures is the same as the word for messenger, one of our own Christmas songs is “Hark the herald Angels sing.” which is a redundant – redundant title because an angel is a herald. It’s a messenger.
So when this messenger approaches Mary we don’t know the context, the bible doesn’t say wings, or bright lights or halos or flowing robes, it simply says a messenger approached her and said “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”
And then, the bible records a typical human response. Mary was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Imagine this happens to you – you’d probably wave sheepishly back and say, “Hi” back. She, like Zechariah is a little taken back.
We have two visitations by angels – and two birth announcements – both of which seem unlikely – Elizabeth is old and barren, she and Zechariah have never known the joys of being parents. Mary is the complete opposite she is young and is not even married; and both of these birth announcements are received very differently.
I think there are those people who respond to Christmas differently than others, it doesn’t instill the same sense of Holiday cheer and wonder and instead it creates feelings that are covered in shadow. We as Christians are so proud of our Christmas story that we hang tinsel on it and decorate it with lights, but we forget that the story starts with fear and caution. The story begins with surprise visitors and strange predictions. In truth we celebrate Christmas more for how it ends than how it begins.
This holiday season, if you are feeling blue, or you feel like someone punched you in the chestnuts – know that the miracle of Christmas isn’t finished. Perhaps, for you, Jesus has not come yet – and that’s ok.
It’s hard to say “Merry….”
It’s hard to say “Happy…”
If you’re not.
I know for me, holiday cheer is only found in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is born. This Christmas i’d invite you to attend a local Christmas pageant, a Christmas eve service, a candlelight service or a midnight mass. You can sit in the back, you don’t have to sing, just go and allow the story of Christmas to take over.
Sure, it’s a story you’ve heard before and afterwards you probably won’t feel much different. But this year, do something different.
Keep going back.
Stories are much better in context – that’s where they develop meaning. If Christmas has no meaning or joy for you, then please keep going to Church. The more you participate in the story the more it will begin to resonate for you and who knows… maybe by next Christmas things will be different.