When we celebrate together all the great things God has done for each of us, we experience a better kind of Christmas joy than the world experiences in Christmas traditions and family gatherings.
For example, as you and I think of the joy of Christmas what usually comes to mind? If you’re anything like me it’s friends and family getting together, it’s a Christmas tree and other holiday decorations, Christmas music, traditions or rituals we’ve done for years. One of my favorites is watching older Christmas movies like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, and my all-time favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life!
If you’re a fan of this flick you might want to check out episode 45, “Seven Relationship Lessons from the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made.” I’ll have a link to it in the show notes, or you can just go to johncertalic.com/045.
I find joy in all these things. But it’s a fleeting kind of joy. It’s like watching a bright yellow goldfinch landing at your bird feeder, picking at a few seeds, and then quickly flying off with them. The joy is so brief.
So it is with all the trappings of Christmas. This type of Christmas joy is all about reliving nostalgia for a brief time. Then it’s gone. Because so very little of the cultural customs of Christmas have anything at all to do with Jesus.
There’s a better kind of Christmas joy though. The joy found in relationships brought together by a relationship with Jesus. Today’s episode is an example. So keep listening.
The backstory of the Christmas story continues
Last week we started a December series on what we can learn from the relationships that make up the back story to the Christmas story. In that episode, no. 133, A Jewish priest by the name of Zechariah modeled for us several helpful relationship principles. I’ll have a link to that episode in the show notes, or you can just go to johncertalic.com/133 to listen or read about it later.
Today, though, we look at another Christmas backstory relationship between two unlikely characters. What we see in their relationship will give us some ideas we can use to enhance our own relationships.
God sends an angel
We pick up the story of this unlikely relationship in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The first person in this relationship is Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth. He describes her as “well along in years” and who has never been able to conceive a child. She is now 6 months pregnant when the apostle Luke introduces us to the 2nd person in this relationship with this:
… God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,favored woman! The Lord is with you!
Gabriel is the same angel that appeared to Zechariah to tell him that despite his advanced age, his equally aged-wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son who would become John the Baptist. We learn from Luke’s account that
Mary is in a relationship with this man Joseph. They’re engaged to be married. We’ll talk about him in a future episode. There is a better kind of Christmas joy in that story too.
Mary’s reaction to the news she receives
For now, though, we see Gabriel greeting Mary, declaring she is a favored woman and that the Lord is with her. Her response and interaction with Gabriel illustrate a high degree of relational intelligence we can learn from.
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.
Mary deals with her emotional state by using her mind to process what she just experienced with this greeting from an angel. She tried to think of the implications of what just happened. Mary uses the cognitive ability God created her with to listen to what her emotions are trying to tell her.
Mary doesn’t just feel. Feelings are intended to lead us to think. Feelings are not the end game. They are a means to an end – understanding what is true at the moment we feel.
Gabriel is sensitive enough to pick up on Mary's emotional state. He starts by giving a name to her confused and disturbed condition: fear. And then tells her not to be afraid.
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her
Dealing with fear
Many times when we’re confused and disturbed it is because we’re afraid of something. Try this out; the next time you’re interacting with someone who’s confused and disturbed, ask yourself, “I wonder what they might be afraid of?” The next time you feel this way, try asking yourself the same question, “What am I fearing?”
Now if Gabriel were to stop here, he could actually have made things worse with his “don’t be afraid” comment. This comment, without any explanation, could serve to minimize and discount Mary's fear.
But Gabriel doesn’t do this. Instead, he gives her reasons why she doesn’t need to be afraid. He gives Mary facts, information to address her fears. He points out what reality is going to be for her in the future. Gabriel gives her a vision for what her role will be in advancing God’s plan. He says “don’t be afraid…
for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
It helps to talk it out
I love how Mary deals with her confusion and disturbed state. She talks about her feelings with someone. She talks with God’s representative. Mary goes to the source of her confusion and fear. What a great example for all of us when we are confused and afraid. Talk to God about it.
She doesn’t ignore her emotions. Mary uses them for the purpose God designed them. Namely, to try and figure out what is causing the emotion. What are my emotions trying to tell me? What is going on that I need to be aware of? It’s a cognitive act.
Mary asks for more information in order to understand her feelings. Sometimes all we need to ease our fears is to just ask questions of those who have the facts. Especially when our experience flies in the face of what we know to be true, as in Mary’s case. Virgins don’t give birth to babies.
Back to the story of Christmas Joy
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
Gabriel gives her 3 facts to answer her question of “How can this be?
1.The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
2. The power of the Most High will overshadow you.
3. The baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
This is an important relationship lesson. Some people just need a lot of information to allay any fears they may have. Gabriel continues:
But wait! There’s more to this story of Christmas joy
What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.
Imagine what Elizabeth must have experienced coming out of 5 months of seclusion from her pregnancy. “Where was she?”, the townspeople must have wondered. Then when they see her, “Boy, it looks like old Elizabeth has put on a lot of weight.”
Here Gabriel tells Mary she isn’t the only one involved in this story, that Elizabeth is involved in part of it, too. In essence, he’s telling Mary that God is doing something that looks to be impossible with her relative too, just like he is doing with her. You’re in this together with her, Mary.
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
I love the phrase, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Mary sees her role is to serve God’s plan. Not for God to serve hers.
I wonder in what way God wants you to be his servant? Some people will bristle at the thought, I know. But when you get right down to it, our life is not our own. Back to the story.
Mary visits Elizabeth
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped for joy within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
This raises several questions for me. What about Mary’s parents? How did they respond to their daughter suddenly taking off for 3 months to visit Elizabeth? Did she tell them what Gabriel told her? What about her fiancé, Jospeh? How did he feel about her being gone for so long? We know from Matthew’s gospel account that he was ready to break off the engagement when he learned Mary was pregnant.
Back to Luke’s account of a better kind of Christmas Joy
Mary enters the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, then
Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Elizabeth is such an intriguing character. Unlike her husband Zechariah, she doesn’t doubt God when she learns she will become pregnant in her old age. She doesn’t question the meaning behind what God is doing, like Mary wonders. Elizabeth just basks in the joy of her childless shame being taken from her, and the joy of her connection with Mary and being a blood relative to Jesus the Messiah. Her baby jumps for joy literally in her womb because Elizabeth is jumping for joy figuratively.
Notice how their meeting begins, old Elizabeth is six months pregnant which must have been an astonishing sight to see. Her pregnancy is a miracle that has already happened, but instead of talking about that, Elizabeth talks about the miracle yet to come for Mary, giving birth to Jesus. She puts her full focus on Mary and says nothing about herself.
Be a friend like Elizabeth
Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a friend like that? Someone whose first thought is to share in the joy of what you are experiencing, rather than to begin talking about her own joy? What a great relationship example here.
Another thing Elizabeth does is she finds joy in what is going to happen in the future. This is a better Christmas joy than the joy focused on what has come before. And it’s joy rooted in God’s unfolding plan to expand his kingdom. That’s real joy. A better Christmas joy. The best Christmas joy.
Finally, I wonder if Elizabeth’s last comment to Mary, You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. I wonder if this is a bit of a dig at her husband Zechariah who did not initially believe the Lord would do as he said? Maybe he was in the same room or in proximity to overhear his wife’s comment to Mary. Maybe just a bit of banter going on between the two of them. We don’t know.
The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise
In this moment of shared joy with Elizabeth, Mary responds by praising God from the depth of her being. She gives voice to a better kind of Christmas joy than most of us experience on Christmas day. Here’s what she said:
…. Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
In her praise to God, she derives joy in thinking about all the great things he has done for her, but mostly joy in remembering all the great things God has done for humanity. He scatters the proud and elevates the humble. He meets the needs of the poor and sends the rich away empty-handed.
Clearly, God plays a central part in the connection Mary has with her elderly relative Elizabeth.
What about You?
What part does God play in your relationship with people? Does God play a part in a relationship with you?
Here’s the main point I hope you remember from today’s episode
A better kind of Christmas joy comes our way when we focus on the great things God has done for us personally, the people we know and love, and for all of mankind.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at] caringforothers [dot] org. Or you can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Comment” box at the bottom of the show notes.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and act by nurturing the better kind of Christmas joy found in our relationship with Jesus, and with each other. You can do this, you know because You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week about another important relationship we see in the Christmas story. See you next week.
Related episodes you may want to listen to
045: Seven Relationship Lessons from the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made
133: Relationships – The Back Story to the Christmas Story
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