But the Christmas season has a harsh way of bringing the worst of pains or personal demons, and the hardest of difficulties, into the front-and-center of our existence. This time of year, we are all in need of help. Odds are each one of you reading this has had a Christmas (or several) that found you thinking, “There isn’t much peace on Earth this year.” Maybe, for you, that’s this year.
We tend to get caught up in the splendor of the fact that the wonderful baby Jesus was born all those years ago, and his parents were so happy and blessed to have him when he arrived. But let’s not forget for a moment that this child was born to a couple who had to have been terrified about what was going on in their lives because of that pregnancy.
“Mary was greatly troubled at [the angel’s] words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be,” says Luke 1:29.
She was a virgin. Honor was everything in her culture, especially among family and in her home village. Being pregnant out of wedlock would cast a looming shadow over her life. She had tried to be honorable with her fiancé, Joseph, and everything had probably seemed to be going according to plan. Until this. Now, even though this startling news was coming from a radiant being sent from God himself into her living room, there was no avoiding the dread that clenched her heart and the worry that immediately put that lump in her throat.
“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.’ “
Those words seemed to do enough to put a little peace back into her heart for the moment, enabling her to fight back the tears of confused emotion and say before the angel left, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38).”
But we all know what it is to be human. Mary wasn’t made perfect that day the angel visited her. She surely wrestled with severe doubt, dread, and confusion within herself in the days, weeks, and months that followed. As that belly grew, even though Joseph had nobly decided to stick by her side and not quietly break off the engagement, she probably saw some other relationships fall away or come under attack. Did friends disown her or look at her sideways? Did townspeople all whisper to each other disapprovingly as they passed in the market? Did Mary’s own family understand enough, or even believe a story about an angel in her living room? Her world was most likely upside down for the 9 months that followed, all the way up until the night Jesus was born.
Those are the times when fear drives us to an abortion clinic. Or to just file for divorce. Or to just deny you have an addiction and keep on smiling like you’re fine. Or to just hold that grudge over that family member who destroyed your trust. Or this or that…. When our peace is gone, fear drives us.
But the angel’s words of assurance surely echoed in Mary’s head, and her faith carried her through.
“Don’t be afraid. You are favored by God.”
Don’t be afraid, dear reader. You and I may have our worlds upside down and feel zero peace on Earth this year. But we are favored by God. Don’t let the devil convince you that’s not true just because it looks like the favor isn’t right in front of you. The immense proof of favor was found 2,000 years ago in the straw of that manger, in every day lived by a man who never sinned, and in the drops of Christ’s blood that fell from his body on that cross of Calvary. Jesus died under the weight of God’s wrath to make sure we knew God’s favor.
Our current circumstances can, and will, from time to time, become incredibly messed up. We’ll have unplanned pregnancies, loved ones will die too soon, careers will end, houses will burn to the ground, terminal illnesses will befall us, and friends will turn their backs on us. The DUIs, the divorces, the IRS audits, the smearing of your name in the workplace, and the child lost to miscarriage are all a part of this sin-stained world. This life will get messy and ugly.
But don’t be afraid, it’s not about the size of your mess, but the size of your God. You have found favor with God. Immanuel means “God with us” in Hebrew. He could choose not to be, but he IS. The words to Mary were to all of us. God loves you passionately, and has a way for you. It’s not a way out of your circumstances necessarily, but a way into heaven with him, where today’s lack of peace on Earth will be forever forgotten.
The promise of heaven and eternal favor with the Lord of this Universe, was wrapped in those linens and placed in a manger. May we hold that gift tightly in our hearts this Christmas, and always pass him along to everyone else whose peace on Earth feels lost.
Merry Christmas, you who are highly favored!
Jeff is a husband, father, and graduate school student. He attends Hope Lutheran in Oconomowoc. Jeff’s background in ministry education and future in the counseling field reflect a heart that loves to serve others and make a difference. He shares his personal or spiritual reflections in his own time at www.missionpossiblejeffulrich.blogspot.com