giving is a Christmas tradition ever since the Wise Men went bearing gifts to
the baby Jesus.
all may have gift giving traditions in your family. We do. The whole family –
all 20 of us – go to my parents house on Christmas morning as we have for my
whole life. We eat breakfast -pretty
much the same menu for 60 years. Egg dish, biscuits, ham, fruit, something
sweet and the Le Conte Sunrise, a fruit slushy. We hear the Christmas story and
then in descending order of age, we descend down the stairs to the basement,
pausing to have our picturemade on the
last step and enter Christmas wonderland. The gifts are stacked in the exact
same place as the year before and the year before, etc. We each know exactly
where to go. Then we begin the opening. Some years we try to bring more order
than others, but with the tribe increasing, it takes too long to wait on every
person to open a gift before moving on to the next. If family members are
getting the same gift, we make sure they open them at the same time. It’s all
complete organized chaos and a whole lot of joy. Then we all simmer down and
watch the matriarch and patriarch open their gifts. There are always a lot of
laughs and some tears, for someone always manages to give a framed photo of a
momentous occasion and we all ooh and aah and snap the cameras. Yes, gift
giving is an important part of celebrating in my family.
Giving is important because of the effort, love and
time it takes to make or purchase an appropriate gift. And in wrapping, mailing
or delivering it! There is usually a lot of love wrapped up with gift giving!
Some of us enjoy giving even more than receiving. We rejoice in our ability to
create little blessings in people’s lives, by the things we are able to do for
also need to make a Spiritual Christmas Gift List. Who are the people that you
need to show the love of Jesus to during this season? Are there people you come
across in your everyday life that need a little dose of Jesus?
The women of Christmas – Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna –
offered spiritual gifts.
we close, let’s look at the gifts our women of Christmas gave.
gift was joy. Elizabeth was joyful in her own news and in Mary’s news. It’s
easy to be joyful when good things happen to us but how joyful are we with the
good news of others? Elizabeth stayed
joyful even when she didn’t understood how in her old age she could bear a
child. She stayed joyful when Mary arrived to share her own good news.
Mary’s gift was faith. Mary didn’t understand the news the angel brought. How
could a virgin conceive.However,
because of her faith she accepted what she was told and was honored to be a
part of God’s big plan.
gift was gratitude. Anna was an old and lonely widow living in the temple. She
spent her time worshipping God day and night and waiting for the redemption of
Israel. She responds to the visit of the baby Jesus with thanksgiving. She’s
thankful even after many years of hardship and loneliness.
pay attention to the gifts these women brought.. This Christmas, I pray that
you use the gifts these women have brought: the joy of Elizabeth, the faith of
Mary, and the thanksgiving of Anna.
us pray that God will show us the individuals in our world who still need the
gift of Jesus. Let’s add them to our spiritual Christmas List.
Mary and Joseph
had a life interrupted, so to speak. This happily engaged couple must have been
in the middle of wedding plans when their lives took a sudden turn. You know
what it’s like to be engaged - picking out the location, the cake, the guest
list, and making all the other hundreds decisions betrothed couples make.Then…the angel visits. Suddenly, their lives
center on very different decisions. Joseph finds himself with an unmarried but
pregnant fiancée. His initial knee jerk reaction was to quietly divorce her. He
could have embarrassed her, disgraced her, or let her be killed…but he
“considered these things.” I’m sure there were many potential joy stealers in
Nazareth waiting to pounce on any bit of scandal! Joseph listened to the angel
and considered God’s opinion before making his final decision. The gospel
writer Luke tells us Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Luke
God when his life was interrupted.
So what do you do
when your plans get interrupted? Who do you consult when your plans are dashed,
your ideas are nixed, when you experience disappointments, defeat or failure.
Whose opinion do you consider when people attempt to bring disgrace to you? The
naysayers and joy stealers? When life is interrupted, it’s important to consult
God, the one who came to bring joy, not steal it.
Not only were
there plans interrupted but Mary and Joseph had to deal with the reactions of
the townspeople. I’m sure there were the gawkers, the critics, and the judgers.
How about those who might have even be envious? These people would make many
attempts to steal the joy right out from under Mary and Joseph. We’ve all
experienced joy stealers.Desperate
people take desperate measures to steal our joy. God created the beautiful deep
blue oceans for us to enjoy and to provide us food, yet sharks still swim in
the ocean. And so it is with people. God created people to do good and to love
each other, but there are still “sharks” among us. What’s so sad is these joy
stealers in Joseph and Mary’s lives probably believed they were doing and
saying God’s work and righteous Jews.Self-righteous, sanctimonious people sat in judgment on the work God
himself was doing. You know what is wonderful to think about? Mary and Joseph
had a God who gives joy and doesn’t steal it. They both trusted God. And think
about this, Mary and Joseph had the truth on their side. They lived in the
truth, an important lesson when someone tries to steal our joy with lies and
Do you think Mary
and Joseph recalled the words of Samuel when they were dealing with joy
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he
drew me out of deep waters. 18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from
my foes, who were too strong for me. 19 They confronted me in the day of my
the Lord was my support. 20 He brought me out into a spacious place; he
rescued me because he delighted in me. 2
Samuel 22:17-20 New International
What can we do
when our plans are interrupted and when people try to steal our joy?
wisdom, guidance, and peace. Sing prayer of praise to God in the middle of the
Mary sang, My soul glorifies the Lord and
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:46
the information. Look for the truth of the situation. Deal with what you know
to be true.Consider these questions: are
you dealing with a life changing interruption or a momentary bump in the road?
Is this interruption a true catastrophe or are you dealing with catastrophic
thinking? Look at the reality. Find where God is in the situation. Live in the
truth of what you know and not in the speculation of the unknown.
Mary and Joseph
trusted the angel. They believed that God could do a miracle through the power
of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure they had many discussions about the unlikelihood
that Mary had been unfaithful, but they lived in the facts of the situation and
trusted God with the details.
Properly React After praying and
processing what you know to be true, be intentional, assertive, positive, and
proactive in your response. Avoid knee jerk, negative actions that you will
regret. Joseph initially
had a very human knee jerk reaction. He wanted to completely distance himself
from Mary. However, after processing what he knew to be true, he properly
reacted. He acted as God would have him act. Providence
God is in control. God is in control. He is waiting to give his love and
support and his peace in the interruptions. There’s an old gospel song that my sister
and I sing out every once in a while called, “God’s still running this
world.”When we have doubts,
interruptions, or come across joy stealers, we can find comfort in knowing that
God is in control. We can lean into him.
Just as Mary and Joseph experienced interruptions, so do we. Our lives don’t
always go as expected either. There are people who want to interrupt us and
those who want to steal our joy. When they come, let’s give them to God and
praise him in the middle of them. God will work things out.
The gospel writer Luke uses the story of Elizabeth and
Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, to set the stage for the birth of
Jesus. This couple had lived a long and happy life together seemingly content
even though they didn’t have the child they longed for. Elizabeth’s barrenness is
seen as a disgrace and the couple endure years of people attempting to dishonor
them or shun them. However, they are more concerned about what God thought than
what others thought - a good foundation
for a marital relationship, by the way!
Then… Gabriel is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells him
Elizabeth will bear a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord and who
will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Unfortunately, in the most
momentous encounter of his life, Zechariah doubts. As a consequence, he is
struck speechless. Luke tells us,
Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into
seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she
exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Luke 1:
For the entire pregnancy Zechariah is speechless. However,
he remains faithful to God. After the birth, at the circumcision ceremony, Zechariah confirms the name when he writes
it on the tablet. “His name is John.” Instantly, John could speak again. His
first words were of praise to God.
Elizabeth and Zechariah serve as heroes of the faith. Zechariah
represents those who may doubt God for a moment but are willing to obey. Elizabeth
embodies those who remain faithful and praise God even when they don’t
understand his workings. Even though
they felt hopeless, God was waiting for the right time to encourage them and
take away their disgrace. We see through them that God can do great things to
anyone who allows God to work within.
This is the most exciting thought for me – God is working
behind the scenes on our behalf too even when we don’t realize it. Imagine all
the days, months, years of forethought that went in to choosing Elizabeth and Zechariah
to give birth to John the Baptist the man who would prepare the way for the
Messiah. Imagine all the years people had attempted to bring shame to their
name, to dishonor them, to discredit them because they were childless. All
along, God was working behind the scenes on their behalf. Elizabeth and
Zechariah would have known the words of the prophet Jeremiah: God “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope
and a future.” He had a plan and purpose for their lives and when
the time came for him to reveal it, they were found faithful.
Elizabeth and Zechariah offer us encouragement when we face
doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us. This righteous couple
trusted in God and held on to each other during the times when people must have
scorned them. And when the pronouncement came from the angel that Elizabeth
would give birth at an old age and then she appeared in public for the first
time, I’m sure the naysayers and doubters attempted to stir up a scandal. But through
it all Elizabeth praised God and proclaimed, “The Lord has done this for me.
How kind the Lord is.”
Let’s remember that God is working behind the scenes on our
behalf. God wants us to know our purpose and to live an
exceedingly abundant life. When we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people
attempt to disgrace us, let’s remember that God is faithful. In order to live
in our purpose and enjoy God’s abundance we need to do as Elizabeth did: trust
and obey. The old hymn tells us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To
be happy in Jesus we must trust and obey.”
For more of my lesson on Women of
Christmas: Elizabeth, click the audio link below.