Every December, we celebrate Christmas, often with a tree and a Nativity scene. We exchange gifts and worship the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
We often give generously to others in gratitude for the blessings we have received throughout the year – through the practice of Biblical stewardship.
Food pantries throughout our nation anticipate this generosity. Often, the food received will carry a pantry into February or March. Most people who drop off a bag of groceries have no idea how important this donation is to the shoppers and volunteers in the pantry!
Seeking facts surrounding this annual celebration, I read Bible stories and sermons, essays, and books on the birth of Jesus written by priests, pastors, missionaries, and Bishops.
The story I found is not so much an account of what happened as it is a chronicle about a group of people and an angel on a spiritual journey to fulfill a prophecy.
Over time, and throughout the world, parents consult with Gabriel for strength and guidance concerning challenges they experience during child conception or adoption, and early childhood.
Archangel Gabriel is a patron of communicators, including TV, radio, computer communications, and telephone; even postal workers.
Research showed me this story brings meaning for today. Both personal and political transformation involved every character on this journey.
GABRIEL AND ZECHARIAH
For me, the first scene begins with Elizabeth and her spouse, Zechariah. Elizabeth was an older cousin of Mary living in Judah. They tried for years to have children.
Gabriel first appeared to Zechariah in the temple.
“Elizabeth will give birth to a son. John the Baptist will convert many people to God. He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to drink wine or fermented drinks. He is filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”
Zechariah questioned this news: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel replied: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. I have been sent to bring you this good news! You will be silent and not speak until this happens.” (Luke 1:19-20)
Zechariah left the temple, unable to utter a sound.
GABRIEL AND MARY
Mary enters the story as a young girl growing up in a small town, Nazareth. Mary was born into a devout Jewish family in the time of Herrod, about 4 BC.
Having reached puberty, Mary was ready for marriage. Because she was a practicing Jewish girl, her parents Joachim and Anna felt they should find a suitable Jewish man for her.
They settled on Joseph – an older man in the community, a carpenter.
Mary pledged to marry Joseph. Both Joseph and Mary were excited about this.
Before her appointed wedding day, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with a surprise: “You are to conceive and become the mother to the Messiah. You shall name him Jesus.”
Mary responds: “How can this happen? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34) This is when Mary discovered her destiny.
Tradition has it that her parents were horrified when Mary told them about Gabriel and the coming Jesus.
Mary disgraced her family because this news brought them shame. Mary and Joseph were engaged but were not yet living together.
Community customs offered Mary, her family, and Joseph three options, all bad:
She could marry Joseph.
Joseph could publicly denounce her and divorce her, possibly result in her stoning.
Finally, he could marry Mary and then quietly divorce her. Legends tell us Joseph preferred this third option.
Mary’s parents were so upset by her news that they sent her to visit Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin, living in the hill country of Judea.
When Mary arrived at her home, Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb, and she explained to Mary:
“Blessed are you among women. And, blessed is the child you will hear!” (Luke 1:42).
“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.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but he has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55).
GABRIEL AND JOSEPH
Legends and historical references indicate that Mary returned home from visiting Elizabeth when she was about six months pregnant.
While Mary traveled home, Gabriel visited Joseph in a dream:
“Joseph, do not be afraid to marry Mary. The child she carries is from the Holy Spirit. You are to name him Jesus. He will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)
Joseph brought her into the home he had built, and they lived together. It was clear to Joseph that this was the work of God.
Meanwhile, back at Judah, at the time of the birth of John the Baptist, Zechariah was filled with the holy spirit and spoke again. He voiced a prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
As he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the
hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenent,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and
before him all our days.
And, you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)
A short time before Mary’s expected due date, the Roman government decreed a census. Everyone had to return to their hometown to register.
Joseph and Mary packed a donkey and took for Bethlehem. They stayed in an overcrowded inn where Jesus was born. They ended up in the barn with Jesus sleeping in a manger filled with a freshly-made straw bed.
Jesus was vulnerable here; yet powerful, in the barn. He quietly witnessed the event.
A star appeared to lead Magi, teachers, shepherds, and priests to the inn.
The angel Gabriel appeared to them: “Do not be afraid. I bring good news that will cause joy for people. A savior has been born to you. He is the messiah.”
When the star stopped, they found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They bowed down and worshiped the baby Jesus.
A multitude of angels joined Gabriel singing,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace to those whom his favor rests!” (Luke 2:14)
Having been warned of danger, they gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and then returned to their country by a different route, spreading the word of Jesus as they went.
GABRIEL AND JOSEPH
After they left, Gabriel again appeared to Joseph in a dream:
“Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you.”
Joseph got up, took Jesus and Mary in the middle of the night, and headed for Egypt, where they stayed until Herrod died. (Matt. 2:13-14).
Tradition has it that Joseph took comfort in a favorite psalm.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your sevant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
Because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds:
You alone are God.
Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
Give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart.
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.
Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
ruthless people are trying to kill me –
they have no regard for you.
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and have mercy on me;
Show your strength on behalf of your servant;
save me, because I love you
just as my mother did.
Give me a sign of goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
John hung out in the desert wilderness as an adult, preaching repentance and baptizing people in the River Jordan. “Repent for the Kingsom of God is at hand.” (Matt. 3.2)
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you.
who will prepare your way”-
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord,
Make straight paths for him. (Mark 1:2-3)
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matt 3:4)
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt 3:11)
People went to John and listened to his message because they looked for prophecy. They sought signs of redemption and salvation. (Matt. 11:7)
Their journey did not end here. They traveled on, calling from their hearts. Following Christ, they experienced a balance between human and divine.
Jesus was both the son of Mary and the Son of God.
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Scripture quotations were taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV
Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
If you have further questions or remarks, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennette Nearhood and Michele Garner provided the artwork of Mary and the Angels.
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