The essence of Christmas is GOD’s coming into the world – the greatest gift known to humanity – the hope of planet earth!
God who is so great, the Creator of our ever-expanding universe, became so small, to be one of us, so that we who are so small can know him, and become so great in him. Christmas is the mystery of God’s coming into this harsh and cruel world, not to add to human pain by killing others to set up his Kingdom; but he came as humble love and tender mercy in a vulnerable baby, to save the world.
In keeping with Pope Francis’ declaration of an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (begun 8 December 2015), God’s coming into our world in the little baby of Bethlehem was the Jubilee of all Jubilees, “The Year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18), The Day of Salvation, The Moment of Mercy that changed history forever. Francis said, in light of the harsh realities of our cruel world – the Syrian civil war with 300 000 killed and millions of migrants on the march, the horrendous massacres by Jihadist terrorists, and the many other sources and forms of human pain and tragedy – we need mercy! We need to show mercy, to receive mercy. We need a revolution of tenderness, to be kind and gentle with others. There is no more tender and merciful story than Christmas: God’s coming into our world as a little baby, to begin a revolution of tenderness – that we must join!
Read Luke 1:26-38. Gabriel announced to the teenage Mary that God’s coming into the world would be through her – her young body. Paul “spiritualizes” that same reality: God comes into this world again and again in and through every believer, as “Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). The early church fathers used Mary as model for all believers in Christ. As Messiah was physically born in her, so he is spiritually born in us who believe. Just as Mary’s life, body and relationships took the shape of the Christ formed within her, so our lives, bodies and relationships, take the shape of Christ being formed in us. And the purpose is to literally save the world around us!
In the Luke text we find four characteristics in Mary that facilitated God’s tender and merciful coming into the world as the baby of Bethlehem.
- Believer: Mary believed God. She believed the word of the angel: God will come into the world through her – the Holy Spirit will conceive the Messiah in her, and he will save the world (Jesus, Yeshuah, YHWH saves). It sounded impossible, so she asked: how will this be as she was still a virgin? This was not unbelief or skepticism. It was faith seeking understanding, not scared to ask the hard questions. On hearing the angel’s explanation, she accepted it, believing God can do the impossible by his Spirit. We too must decide to believe God, to believe his word to us, that by his Spirit Messiah is being formed in us, to come through us, to save the world around us.
- Be-Loved: The Hebrew word for Mary is Miriam, which means “Beloved”. Mary was be-loved of God, highly favoured… God was with her. God chose her, to come into the world through her, because he loved her! Not because of her purity, or spirituality, or care for others, or whatever else we may think is required by God for him to use us as his instrument in the world. It’s simply because God loves us. We need to learn how to be Mary, to be-loved by God, and not feel inferior, inadequate, unworthy, or whatever. Know that God loves you! It’s God’s love alone that qualifies you. He chooses you in love to be his instrument of love, to save this world for love.
- Be intimate: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Love leads to intimacy, to tenderness, to new life and fruitfulness. Mary made herself vulnerable to God, receiving the intimacy of the indwelling Holy Spirit, for the creation of new life. We must learn not only to be-loved, but make ourselves vulnerable to the mystery of mutual intimacy between God and us. This may sound too intimate for you – of the sexual kind – which it is not. It’s a profound spiritual reality that we can have union with God in love. This results in the Holy Spirit birthing God’s life and purposes in us… for the world. Learn to be intimate with God, to allow the Spirit to overshadow you, so that his warm intimacy, gentle love, and tender mercy, comes through you to all those around you.
- Be humble: Our text ends with these remarkable words, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” This is amazing humility. She saw herself simply as the Lord’s servant. Humility is not groveling before God believing one is not worthy – a cover for poor self-image. Pride is seeing yourself in inflated egoistical terms. Humility is accurate self-knowledge of who you really are in God. Be-loved Mary saw herself as God’s humble servant, ready to be and do whatever he wanted, whatever he said, whatever he required of her. Astounding! Challenging! John Wimber repeatedly said we are simply small change in God’s pocket to be spent as and when he pleases. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. He looks for humble people with a servant’s heart, willing to do whatever he wants in and through them for the world.
God comes into this world, and keeps coming into this world, in a revolution of mercy and tenderness, through people who Believe him, who Be-loved by him, who Be intimate with him, who Be humble in him.
Is that you? Happy Christmas!