Do you remember the “good ol’ days” when we all went to the mall on Thanksgiving Evening? It was an American rite of passage! We called it “Black Friday” but it started on Thursday.
One year, I found myself the University Mall in Tuscaloosa. Technically, it still felt like Thanksgiving Day – we left the house about 10:00 pm (so, we hadn’t been to bed!). After Alex and I stood in line at Target for some forgotten bargain, we met Belinda and Frannie at the mall.
I sat on one of the benches, just like all the other “old men!” Thousands of people hustling back and forth with bags and boxes representing even more thousands of dollars in cash purchases and credit card debt. They carried sale flyers, celebrating each acquisition with glee.
Over the din, I could hear the faint strains of Christmas carols over the loud speakers . . .
“O Little Town of Bethlehem . . .”
“What Child is this, who laid to rest . . .”
And perhaps the most ironic – “Silent night, Holy night . . .”
There was very little “holy” about that night. No child “on Mary’s lap” would sleep through this commotion. The “hopes and fears of all the years” probably wouldn’t meet until the bills came due in January.
One of the other old men on the bench turned to me and said, “So, what’s you do to deserve this?”
“Oh,” I replied, “Nothing. I’ve been pretty good this year,” laughing.
“That’s not what I mean . . . My wife and grandkids are somewhere in this mess. We’re in good health, did pretty well, so we feel pretty blessed. A lot better than I deserve.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I haven’t thought of it that way. I guess you’re right. It’s a lot better than I deserve, too. Thanks.”
The old man, with snow white hair and beard, laid a finger aside his nose, gave a nod and a wink and from the bench he rose. “Peace to you, Buddy.”
“Same to you, Santa!”
Even when its “Hark the Herald Angels” versus “Holly Jolly Christmas” peace is possible.
While this Christmas will be different, one of the blessings might be a little more peace, a little more quiet. We’ve been complaining about all the hustle and bustle and commercialism for so long, we may just assume its here again! But, is it?
We may look back and decide that COVID-Christmas was a much more peaceful holiday. It’s a lot more peaceful to order something off the internet than it is to fight with some anonymous person over a $10 Crock Pot – or whatever!
Probably, that first Christmas was relatively tumultuous, too. But in a different way. Imagine that young Mary was easing into the future as the wife of the local carpenter, Joseph. Her life was pretty much set! Barring any unforeseen circumstances, she would be cared for and provided for. She could count on her own integrity and faithfulness to her husband. She could be also be sure of good ol’ reliable Joseph.
She didn’t expect any angelic visit!
26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
35 The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.
Then the angel left her
All of a sudden Mary’s plans were disrupted. Sound familiar?
She had it all planned. Married life with a stable provider. God had a different plan. God had an impossible plan.
A few months ago, we preached about Jeremiah 29:11 – I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.
That verse came to mind. The people to whom Jeremiah was speaking were in the midst of a COVID-level crisis: exile, separation, suffering. The plans God had for them seemed a long way off, impossible even. There was a lot of work to do to help God’s for “a future filled with hope” to come to pass.
“It came to pass in those days,” that Mary, young Mary, scared Mary, said “yes!” The New Revised Standard puts it like this: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
How did peace come to Mary amidst her fear? By faith.
There was no proof that the impossible would be possible. In any moment of divine revelation, amid the glory, there’s always confusion. There’s always that feeling of “Are you sure, God? Is it really me you want?” There may be a feeling that you could never deserve the goodness and blessing you are receiving.
How can we find peace among the confusion, the commotion?
How can we experience the peace that passes all understanding amid suffering and hardship?
By trusting God.
By listening to God.
And by saying yes!