The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
~Luke 1:19 – 20 NIV~
Every year at Christmas, I watch my favorite movie about the birth of Jesus, The Nativity Story. In the beginning of this movie, they show Zechariah in the temple, praying. He is interrupted by Gabriel, an angel of God and given the prophecy of the birth of his child, who will be later known as John the Baptist.
Because Zechariah is so set in his ways and is in the midst of performing his prayer “ritual,” he seems reluctant to believe the angel’s words and so, the angel strikes him dumb until such time as his son will be born. You can read all about in Luke 1. By the way, the book of Luke is a great book to read during the Christmas season. But, the point I’m trying to make here is that as Zechariah was entrenched in his normal routine, even while doing the things which he believed made him a more “Godly” man, God interrupted him to tell him that something else was getting ready to happen and that it most likely wouldn’t fit into what he through the normal course of events should be. How often are we cruising along, doing our thing, staying within the lines of our prescribed set of daily activities and trying to be the best us we can be when God tries to interrupt us with some fascinating news about our future and we shrug it off like it couldn’t possibly be true?
In this movie, when Mary is approached by the angel with the prophecy of the birth of Jesus, she has her doubts about why she would be chosen, but she presses forward and accepts the prophecy. She knows that this prophecy will likely cause problems in her life as it is currently structured, but she is more focused on doing what God wants her to do than on creating a life that she believes reflects someone else’s interpretation of His vision for her life. She doesn’t consult with any church elders to see if she should go forward with the pregnancy. She doesn’t try to create any elaborate ruse to conceal the birth of the child. Though, I’m sure she probably wished that she could hide somewhere under a rock when people started accusing her of being unfaithful to Joseph to whom she was betrothed or of simply being a promiscuous woman. She goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife and confirms what the angel told her. She receives that confirmation when she sees that her cousin is pregnant. And she stays with them until it is time to go back home to her family and to Joseph.
During those times when we follow what God is telling us and it conflicts with what our “religious” friends or family would have us do, things can get pretty ugly. After all, only you will be able to hear His words to you. Only you will be able to understand His direction to you. It’s all very personal and very much tailored to the path He has drawn out for you. He will tell you how to listen and how to hear. He will tell you how to look and how to see. He will tell you how to think and how to believe. But, you first have to allow Him into your heart and mind so that He can guide you in this way. Knowing your Bible verses is great, but if you don’t know why you are reading a certain passage, it really is just like any other book to you. Knowing which passages we will need to study at certain times during the year does you little good if you don’t understand the history and significance of why those passages were written, who they were meant to address, and what the overall message was supposed to be. God’s word is so powerful, but you can water it down if you are reading it with only one eye open. He is not going to give you all of that wisdom if you don’t have the faith and strength of spirit to know what to do with it.
In the last ten years or so, I’ve spent lots of time studying God’s word and trying to understand how it fits into what I had learned outside of church. The truth is not freely given to us. We must seek it out. When I went back to school to learn about Christianity and Christian history, I was so surprised to see how easily this information could have been taught alongside all of the other “selected” history that I was taught in school. And then I was very upset. Putting it all together would have helped things make so much more sense. My daughter is also getting only half the story and like most parents, I had trusted the schools to teach her what she needs to grow up and be successful. This is how we are conditioned by society. We send our kids to school and we leave God out of it. We have been taught and shown that if we want our kids to learn about Him, that’s up to us. They aren’t teaching our kids how to listen, how to hear, how to see, how to look, or how to think. They are teaching them what to think, and that’s so dangerous when they are leaving out major portions of the story.
Sadly, the same goes for Christian schools. I’m happy that there are such institutions, but I feel that they are leaving a major piece of the puzzle out of their equation as well. If Christians are to do what we are tasked to do here on this earth, we must understand how to function as people with a heart for God in a world that has no room for God’s heart. We must insist that Christianity be understood in the context of His word and not just our inherited interpretations which have been perverted by those who have used His word to justify abuse or neglect. Those who counterfeited His word to bring prosperity into their lives. I don’t say any of this to bring division. I say this to open the eyes of those who have been blindly following the people and not the prophecy. This is for those who insist on maintaining the style instead of teaching and living the substance. It’s not easy to hear, but it needs to be said.
In my house, we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it with decorations, the tree, the gifts, the cheesy Christmas movies, and, most importantly, the Bible. I remind my daughter that Jesus is why we are able to do any of the things we are able to do. I have spent so much time encouraging her to think past what she is being taught outside of our home. It is so important that everything be processed through the lens of His spirit. Whatever is happening outside our four walls, we must seek to process it with His word and intent in mind. And if we can’t understand it, we must pray and pray and pray for His guidance and clarity so that one day, it will become clear to us.
There are those who will say that by celebrating Christmas, we are honoring a “Pagan” holiday, but I beg to differ. As a Christian who knows the reason for the season, putting up this tree does not take one bit of power away from the story of His birth. And the gifts that we exchange are symbolic of the gifts that were brought to Mary and Joseph by the shepherds when Jesus was born. I don’t do Christmas as a worldly activity meant to bring me entertainment. I do Christmas because I know exactly what it means. I do it because when we cease to use this time to celebrate and to proclaim the joy that comes with knowing just how important the birth of this particular child is to us, we concede to the enemy that it was just another day. No, I will celebrate this day with as much exuberance as I can muster. Even though there are so many out there who would tell me that it’s not even okay to say “Merry Christmas.” In my opinion, we should celebrate it every day of our lives.
How we listen and how we hear will inevitably determine how well we are able to serve God in this world. And we must understand that when He calls us to do things, not everyone is going to understand what we are doing because not everyone can hear what He is saying. This is why it is so important that our focus be on Him and Him alone. We can’t serve Him if we are constantly worrying about whether or not our style of worship or celebration of Him is in “good form.” I pray that you will not only read these words, but that you will understand that what I’m saying is meant only to encourage you to follow Him in the way He instructs you to follow Him. He will show you where and how to gain your knowledge. He will show you everything that you need to know. When you are ready to trust Him, He will make it all clear to you. Today, I celebrate the knowledge that my God has been and will always be leading me to something greater than myself. I don’t know what could bring more joy than that.
Merry Christmas and God bless you.
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
~Luke 1:46-48 NIV~