Every year when I unpack the Christmas decorations, there’s a devotional book on advent that I unpack as well. It’s called “God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s a compilation of sermon notes, letters he wrote to his fiancé when he was in prison during WWII, and quotes from contemporary authors as well. Rather than the typical Hope, Faith, Joy and Love themes that are part of Advent – this one centers around Waiting, Mystery, Redemption and Incarnation. I think that is why I love this devotional and do it every year – because it invites me to stop and think of the Christmas story a bit differently.
Today’s reading spoke of the mystery of God coming in the flesh – how absolutely incomprehensible it would have been to think that the God who created all of the universe, the one who had been invisible and holy – so much so that everything of God’s needed to be handled with great care and ritual – now would be coming and be handled by everyone… because of course babies are loved and who doesn’t want to hold one? Holiness that couldn’t be undone by the stain of sin, by the brokenness of humanity. Holiness that could be touched and cared for. Unfathomable.
It took me back to read about the time when Gabriel spoke to Mary that she would bear a son, and her visit to Elizabeth shortly after. Luke tells the story of how she stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth for about 3 months. I can only imagine the conversations they had over that time. I wonder if they sat and poured over the Torah they knew by heart – “Do you remember this? Can you believe Yahweh is doing this now, in our time? We get to see this with our own eyes!”
I wonder what was going through Zechariah’s mind, for he was a priest and must have known the Torah and writings of the Prophets better than anyone in his village. His mind must have been spinning.
The words he spoke when his own son was born are telling: (emphasis below was added by me)
“Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant…..
We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.”
I can only imagine the hope this brought to them, after waiting so long. They only had ideas of what it would mean, and in hindsight we know nothing played out like they expected, but still. Generations of waiting. Being fulfilled here, in his lifetime. Ah, the wonder!
Zechariah then spoke words over his newborn son:
“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us…” (Luke 1:76-78)
Not that every parent doesn’t have great hopes for their kids – but for Zechariah to see that God was going to do something big, and that his child would play a part? I cannot imagine what that would be like as a parent. I mean, I have a story of my own but its nothing like what Zechariah was proclaiming.
You see, when I was pregnant with my oldest (Maddie), a friend of ours from college shared a word he had for me about her: “She will be a lover of truth, and a healer to her generation.” I remember standing in wonder in that moment – knowing that the God who was knitting her together in my womb already knew what she was going to be passionate about, and that blew my mind. I remember writing it in her baby book, wondering how it would play out in her life.
Today, she is definitely a lover of truth (although in her words she’d say it more that she doesn’t take bullsh**). She is an EMT and is on the front lines every day. She has transported the aged from hospital to hospital, holding their dignity every step of the way. She has transported suicide attempts and spoken words of hope to them that there is MORE, they will get through this. I stand in wonder often, admitting maybe I had a different idea in my head – but that God’s way this is playing out is SO much better! I just had to wait almost a quarter of a decade to see it come to pass.
When Zechariah spoke that prophecy over his son, Jesus wasn’t born yet (although the time was close).
Yet still, he had to wait. Wait for the birth of Jesus. Wait for him to grow up. It took over 30 years. What did they do all that time? Life got back to the everyday of planting and harvesting, of building and doing priestly things. Yet I can only imagine in the background, them having this newfound hope that something was stirring in time.
I don’t know how you process the Christmas story, whether it’s full of good memories, whether it holds pain or not.
But I wonder, is there something different, something new that only God can see, stirring in YOUR time? Are you willing to wait for it? Are you willing to trust the process, and accept that it might look different than you thought it would? If there is anything I have learned, it’s that God is not really in a rush to reveal Himself or to lead us into things where we finally see Him.
My prayer for you this season is that that because of God’s tender mercy, you would see light from heaven break out over you too. Bring your joy, your heartache, your questions to the manger of this little baby that made the invisible God not only visible, but touchable. He’s there.
Blessings, my friends!