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ev BL 1 8 Wh Rees

%, Discovery Houle Pp

Ministries, Grand Rap

Nall Discovery House books are exclusively by Barbour s| Uhrichsville, Ohio.

Discovery House Publishers, P.O. Grand Rapids, MI 49501 3


Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptu New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by T Foundation., La Habra,

Interior Design by Sherri L. Hof Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Pul PRINTED IN ITALY

08 09 10 11/ L.E.G.O. /109876


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o. never cease to be amazed at the privilege of putting words on paper. To be allowed to enter the stream of ideas that have been collected, put into print, and presented for the purpose of chal- lenging the hearts and minds of men and women is a daunting privilege, and not one to be taken lightly.

It is also not a task to be undertaken alone. It is only because of the help and skills of wonderful people that the ideas that percolate in my heart make it to print in a way that will be, hopefully, valuable to you, the reader. That is why I hope that before you read the rest of this book, you will read the rest of these acknowledgment pages.

The creative team at Discovery House Publishers isa group that I am honored to be identified with. They are great partners in ministry, and great professionals in their craft. From Carol Holquist (publisher), Bob DeVries, and the DHP Publications Committee, who were kind enough to approve this project, to the won- derful editors, Judith Markham and Annette Selden,


who help my heart find words Seociery oreo se cringing at the length of this sentence), to Peg Wie ane

lison, who proofs the copy and combs out the errors, va to the support team of Kathy Comer, Judy Grothause, | By Melissa Wade, and Kim Fowler, these are not just colleagues —they are friends for whom bi am uteri : grateful to God.

It is also a task that requires a different kind support from my family. In recent years our kids have slowly begun leaving home, but each of them has made and continues to make an impact on my heart that will never fade away. That is why this book is dedicated to them Matt and Jamie, Beth, Steve and Kimberly, Andy, and Mark. : don

And above all is my life companion —my wife, Mar- lene —who is the true north that keeps me from losing


my balance and my perspective, and who loves me in spite of my frailties and failings. Thanks, darlin’. +

And in a book like this it can never be an after- thought to give thanks to the Christ who came, and who lived, and who died, and who lives forever. In Him is life, and hope, and joy —the message of Christ- mas wrapped in infant flesh. I can only hope that what

follows here pleases Him.



see oa

a. am a Christmas junkie. I love everything about it—the trees, the lights, the food, the gifts, the songs, the food, the celebrations, the tradi- tions, the food, the special worship opportunities, the family gatherings, and, yes, the food. Our family, like most families that celebrate Christmas, has developed its own traditions, and each of those expressions of joy brings its own shading and flavoring to the celebra- tion of the birth of Christ. Each one gives another layer of experience, and provides another slant and perspective on the familiar Christmas story and its celebration.

Life is all about perspective, and our own percep- tions can be clarified and enriched by seeing life's events through a number of different windows. The more familiar something is, the more valuable these windows become. A fresh look, a different angle can revolutionize our appreciation of truth that might be in danger of growing stale and tired. This reality was

underlined for me in a fascinating way by filmmaker



Clint Eastwood. As a lifelong history buff, I anxiously

awaited his film Flags of our Fathers, about the World War II battle on the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima, and I was not disappointed. I learned things that I had never known about that historic fight and its even more famous flag-raising. But it was all from the per- spective of the Americans fighting there. Eastwood followed this with a second film, however. Letters from /wo Jima told the same story, but from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers entrenched there. Eastwood let us look through their eyes by following the let- ters they wrote to those at home, as they described the awful conditions and intense fighting that took place there. The two films recount the same battle, but the vision of the conflict is very different, It was an important lesson to me on the value and significance of perspective. 2 In the Christmas story, this fresh look can be found in the familiar Scripture of Luke 2. There we find six different perspectives on the events of the nativ- ity, and we can share these perspectives by looking through the windows provided by those who were there, allowing us to see and feel what they saw and felt, and to learn from their responses to these wonder-

ful and powerful events. These timeless wonders:


Foe er a RY UT

e Call us to kneel at a humble hea Na anticipate the horrors of a cruel cross.

¢ Teach us the glory of the incarnation—and the tragedy of human sin that required a Savior who would bear our sins in His own body:

* Allow us to celebrate the miracle of birth —and rejoice in the miracle of new birth!,

In short, they allow us to enter into events that altered forever the world and its inhabitants —to join the humble worshipers who welcomed Christ at His birth. They give us what we often need most —fresh



eres *-, Bs = ie a “rate



ie: hildhood impressions are hard to shake. ¥, My dad loved huge Christmas trees, and he made quite a production of trimming those trees (a tendency that also was hard-wired into my own genetic code). First we would wrap all the lights on the tree, then cover it with ornaments and tinsel. Then I would watch as Dad placed the angel on the top branch—the final act of the

C WORE far tree trimming ritual. It seemed such a grand ges-

ture. Only moments before the tree had somehow appeared incomplete, as if something important was missing. But with the placing of the angel, the

house was finally ready for Christmas.

OF course, as I remember it, the angel was blonde, feminine, winged, and robed in a white gown that sparkled. For years afterward, when- ever I thought of angels, my mind envisioned that figure on the top of our Christmas trees. What a shock it was, years later, when I learned that whenever angels are named in the Bible they have masculine names, and that it is highly unlikely they were blondes in sparkling gowns!

Yes, it is hard to shake our childhood impres-


sions. Still, I was right about one thing: angelic beings played a significant role in the events of


Tle Mrgel

the Nativity. Without their involvement, there wouid® be a hole in the story —incomplete as an unfinished

Christmas tree. And to help us understand the role of

angels in the Christ's birth, let’s take a closer look-at

the heavenly beings themselves.


If you were to ask me that question in the context of everyday life, my knee-jerk response would prob- ably be, “They are my favorite baseball team, and they play in Anaheim, California. And, by the way, they won the 2002 World Series over the San Francisco Giants.” Unfortunately, much of the current cultural thinking about who angels are and what they do is no more biblically accurate than that. From paintings to poems to movies to television shows, it seems that angels need a new press agent. They just aren’t being well-represented. Of course, it helps to remember that

their best and most accurate representation comes to

us in the pages of the Bible.

Angels are seen throughout the Scriptures and are called by a variety of names, including cherubim, vraphim, and living creatures. Sometimes they are

described as men, often in shining garments. They




are seen guarding Eden, waging war, rescuing from prison, worshiping in the presence of God, a tragically, in the case of some angels, rebelling a God. They carry names like Michael (“Who is God"), Gabriel (“warrior of God”), and Lucifer (‘ bearer,” before he became Satan—the Adverss They are the often mysterious, sometimes mercu ur servants of God that are at the center of many of His dealings with men and women in the Bible. _ «neg The word angel itself comes from the Greek term } angelos, which is defined as “a messenger, envoy, one i who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God.” The prix mary definition is messenger, and that is exactly what they often are seen doing in the pages of the Bible: od agi oy * Sometimes they carry a message of warning, as with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). * Sometimes they carry a message of rescue, as with Shadrach, Meschech, and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace (Daniel 3). ¢ Sometimes they carry a message of instruction, as with Hagar, Sarah's handmaiden Com 16).

A * In each of these instances where we see angels active on earth, they are delivering messages from _


The Angel t )

God. While angels unquestionably do more than sim- ply carry messages, it is impossible to underestimate their critical role as messengers making arecrinee: ments from heaven to earth. Which may be why the New Testament word for “preaching the gospel” (announcing God's message to people) is ewangelios, which comes from the same word as “angel.” The gos-

pel (good news) was first delivered to the world by angelic messengers during the events surrounding the birth of the Savior.




So, we come back to my childhood Christmas tree. Why an angel on the top of a tree? Certainly some people use a star, but many, like my family, use an angel. Why? Because the Christmas story is filled with angels, busy carrying messages to people who are inte- gral to the story.

The first ange! we encounter in the story is Gabriel, an archangel —apparently the highest ranking in the command structure of the angelic realm. Gabriel vis- its planet earth to inform the principal players, and, ultimately, the world that the “fullness of time” has



come —that long-awaited moment in history w! promised Messiah will arrive (Galatians 4:4).

+ mage

Announcement #1 _ 2: et

The coming of the forerunner of Messiah, Johi Baptist (Luke 1:5—22). Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, an aged, childl priest who was performing his priestly functions in 4 the temple. At first the old priest was troubled by this _ phenomenon, but the terror of the moment turned to NE comedy when he heard the angel’s message. Gabriel 5 declared to Zacharias that he and his wife Elizabeth ea, would have a son who would be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. (Malachi had promised that God _ would send an Elijah-like figure who would prepare the way for the messianic Redeemer.) When Zacha- rias, understanding the physical realities faced by himself and his aged wife, questioned the possibility of a senior-citizen childbirth, Gabriel informed him that he would be mute until the child, who ee ;

named John, was born. fy a

beeen le

Gabriel's announcement came true, and John ‘ih Baptist arrived to “prepare the way of the Lord” —step one in the process of bringing Christ into the world.

1 do SEED

a 4

Six months later, Gabriel came to the village of Naza-

Announcement #2

reth to give a message from God to a young woman named Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

Gabriel informed Mary that she had been selected for the role that had long been the desire’ of Jewish women —the privilege of giving birth to the promised Messiah. Her response was one of submissive con- fusion: she was ready to do the Lord’s bidding but mystified as to how sucha thing could occur. She was a virgin, and, being betrothed to her fiancé Joseph, had no intention of violating her vows of purity. The angel assured her that she would in no way violate her vows, and that the child would be the result of the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Further- more, when the child was born, He was to be named “Jesus” (“the Lord is salvation”) —defining both His character (as the Son of God) and His mission (as Redeemer). At that point Mary's response was one of simple availability: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” * (Luke 1:38).

Following his visit to Mary, Gabriel also visited her husband-to-be, Joseph, and gave him the same mes- age —Mary’s child was of God, not man (Matthew


1:20-25). Joseph could take her to be his wife with full confidence in her purity, veer 1,4 el Nine months later Gabriel returned with ¢ another message —this time not a message of pation, but one of arrival, ue ty

Announcement #30

He hho The angel of the Lord (presumably Gabriel) app' in the Judean skies over the shepherds’ fields of lehem (Luke 2:9-14), We The shepherds of Bethlehem were endu: yet another cold night tending the sheep when they ud a denly beheld a brilliant, heavenly light show! This time the glory of the Lord accompanied the ange i message, and the shepherds were terrified by the sight. And the message itself could not have been more

dramatic. , le ne y tage

sath eld The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for \y

behold, I bring you good news of great joy which tg I will be for all the people; for today in the city of, ip q David there has been born for you a Savior, who vy is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you he will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying ina ; manger” (Luke 2:10—12). be j

Me Dngpals

"hese simple herdsmen clearly were not equipped§ io handle this! Angels were supposed to appear to priests, not shepherds, They should be calling on the current managers of the temple in Jerusalem, not men and boys who were at the lowest level of the Jewish social strata,

We have heard this ity so many tines that we have become inoculated against its power and maj- esty. We talk about angelic appearances like they were an everyday occurrence —but they weren’t then, and they aren't today. '

No one could have anticipAttd that such an audi- ence would be the first to hear the angels give the uangelios —the good news of the Savior’s arrival!


Up to this point in the Christmas story the angels have served as God's messengers. But carrying messages is not the only function of angels. In fact, it may actually be secondary to their primary activities in heaven praise and worship. Notice how this plays out in both the Old and New Testaments:


¢ The prophet Isaiah was transported int throne room of God where he witni angelic worship of God in heaven as the winged seraphim declared the glory and sii ness of God: ]

{ad “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, fi The whole earth is full of His glory” he

(Isaiah 6:3).

The role of the seraphim is the aaa ship of God, exalting the beauty of His holiness. ih e The apostle John was given a glimpse of the | 1: heavenly landscape (Revelation 4-5). He saw the “living creatures” (another term for angels) declaring the holiness of God and calling on the redeemed to worship God for the wonder of His _ creation and to worship Christ for the grace of His salvation (Revelation 4:11; 5:12). All the residents of heaven then joined the anthem as _ they praised the Father and the Son for their powerful intervention into a fallen world.

Whereas in Revelation 4 and 5 the angelic realm celebrates God’s creation and Christ's salvation, in the Christmas story they assemble in a glorious mass choir to celebrate His invasion of the broken planet


that is the object of His eternal love (Luke 2). When the angel announces the arrival of the Son of God i in human form, the heavenly host can remain silent no longer. They raise their voices in exaltation of God for His glory, for His Son, and for His plan to rescue the lost, tired, and confused race of men and women who, like the sheep guarded by the angels’ bedouin audience, had long since gone astray. This response of exaltation becomes the great thread of worship that began that first Christmas and continues in our wor- ship today. Their message was powerful:

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and


“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among [those] with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:13-14).

What Isaiah and John witnessed in the sanctuary of heaven, the shepherds experienced on that Bethle- hem hillside. They heard the angels affirm the glory of God and announce that Christ had come to offer peace with God to a race in rebellion against Him. The rec- onciliation between God and mankind —the solution



for the human condition of sin ~is simple word peace. It is important, however, to stand that this peace is not simply the abser flict ~it is the presence of the Christ who is des: by the prophet Isaiah as the “Prince of Peace” 9:6). It is, through Christ, the reality of relations with the God of peace (Philippians 4:9). The H 2) word for peace, shalom, encapsulates this idea, fc carries the weight of such realities as completeness, soundness, and contentment. Peace, The angels could * offer this promise of peace to the shepherds (and us) _ because the Christ who makes such peace available to _ us had just arrived on planet earth! rt heated The voices of the angels, raised in exaltation of the living God, continue to ring out in our celebrations | today. The hope of peace, the longing for glory, the gift of Jesus. All these things that reverberated in the hearts of those shepherds continue to resonate with the deep- est longings of our own hearts two millennia laters: 4.

Hiner © nivel eo Ie How Dip tut ANGELS

+ heath! SERVE THE CHRIST? are baci

How disappointed the shepherds must have been when the glorious bright angels left and the sky returned to


The Dagely

its cold darkness. But the angels were not he. They would continue to be involved in the ministry of Christ for the next thirty-plus years, particularly during critical moments of danger or declaration:

An angel warned Joseph to take the Christ child out of Herod’s reach: “Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:13).

Angels served Jesus following His testings in the wilderness: “Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him” (Matthew 4:11).

An angel ministered to Jesus during His suf- fering in the garden of Gethsemane: “Now an

angel from heaven appeared to Him, strength-

ening Him” (Luke 22:43).

An angel opened the tomb on resurrection day: “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it” (Matthew 28:2).



* Angels announced the resurrection of Christ “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid for I know that you are looking for Jesus who - has been crucified’... and she saw two angels in in white sitting, one at stak head and one at the

Angels snciiiial sdenbh return of Jesus to heaven: “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men _ in white clothing stood beside them. They also _ said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking _ into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken _ up from you into heaven, will come in just the _ same way as you have watched Him go into “i heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). pale ")

Paul may have been considering a similar catalog- ing of the activities of angels in and around the earthly mission of Christ when, in writing to one of his young a ministry protégés, he gave a summary statement of the < incarnation of Christ in 1 Timothy 3:16: »

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:

The Ancyels

He who was revealed in the flesh,

Was vindicated in the Spirit,

Beheld dy angel,

Proclaimed among the nations,

Believed on in the world,

Taken up in glory. . ‘4

There was great interest among the angelic host

concerning the earthly mission of the Lord of glory. The events of the incarnation were not merely “seen by angels”; these divine activities were “beheld” —that is, gazed upon—with great interest. In other words, Christ’s redeeming work was, and is, an ongoing source of fascination for the angelic company. Notice how the apostle Peter describes this:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven —things into which angels long to look

(1 Peter 1:12, emphasis added).

What does it mean, these “things into which angels long to look”? Bible teacher and commentator Adam Clarke described it this way in his commentary on 1



[They] stoop down tothe posture of those wh

are earnestly intent on finding out 4 thing, espe-— cially a writing difficult to be read; they bring it

to the light, place it so that the rays may fall on it as collectively as possible, and then stoop down in order to examine all the parts, that they may be able to make out the whole. There is evid an allusion here to the attitude of the che

term it, poring (over) it. Even the holy angels struck with astonishment at the plan of human redemption, and justly wonder at the incarnation , of that infinite object of their adoration. If then nm these things be objects of deep consideration the angels of God, how much more so should they wg be to us; in them angels can have no such i inteneey) ly as human beings have. galldi Why is this so? Because it involves “the incarnation q of that infinite object of their adoration” —the Son of } God, Jesus Christ. The angels exalt Christ for who He is and for what He has done. They exalted Him in His j birth, ministered to Him in His life, supported Him in

"Te asgash

His anguish, announced Him in His resurrection —a because He is the Christ. All because He chose to do all of that for an undeserving, sin-stained race. All because He chose to express His inexpressible love in such a mysterious and wonderful way —and pour it out on His wayward creation. yy The angels know what we too easily forget: that the Lord Jesus Christ is ever and always deserving of the highest exaltation. And, as Clarke said, if the angels, who can only observe redeeming love but never experience it, exalt the Christ for His grace, how much more should adoration of the Savior drive the hearts and passions of the men and women who have been granted this great grace! This marriage of awe and exaltation from observ- ing angels and redeemed humanity finds wonderful expression in one of the most familiar of Christmas


Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King: Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th angelic host proclaim,


May we, with grateful h of the Christ, God’s glorious gift oy taney’

suites is sol tenet aay »



(és. ne of the most haunting Chris songs is the folksy, airy tune “I Wo as | Wander.” In the tone and style of a spi it speaks of the mystery of the Christmas s and the miraculous intervention of God. It to express in word and note how difficult it is f the human heart to understand what God ch to do—and why He chose to do it.

7 wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die. or poor ornery people like you and like I... J wonder as I wander out under the sky.

I can't imagine a more appropriate word to. describe that miracle than wonder. But I suspect that, in our world today, wonder isn’t all that wonder-ful anymore. A recording artist who flops after his first recording is considered a “one-hit wonder.” ee of the plainest white breads on q

how these things don’t seem to ieee an ya sei. iate use of the ward wonder.


Hanging Gardens of Babylon) may more closely cap- ture the essence of wonder—something that over- whelms the mind, reminding us that we are too small to think and process things at a certain level. But even those great and often mysterious engineering feats fall short. They were, after all, created by humans just like us. We may not know quite how they did it, but there is an explanation for it, even if that explains is yet undiscovered.

No, wonder needs to be reserved for that which is beyond human explanation. Wonder speaks of omnipo- tence and omnipresence and creative power. Wonder speaks of God. So thought the songwriter who penned

the words:

There's the wonder of sunset at evening,

The wonder of sunrise I dee.

But the wonder of wonders that fills my soul 1s the wonder that Good loves me.

Oh, the wonder of tt all,

The wonder of tt all.

Just to think that God loves me!

Why on earth (or in heaven for that matter) would

God love me? That defies understanding. I know me,


and frankly I’m not all that lovable, So why woul do that? Wonder. \ thug Qi Maude loll But to add even more to the sense of wonder : rounding that love, why would He love me He did—sending His Son to die for my sins ar

and there is no easy answer, aside from the na God Himself: love. tat pA Because the wonder of God’s love found its f expression in the coming of Christ on our behalf, let's look at the Christmas story through the perspective o a young woman who had more cause for wond any other person involved in the story.


An American Express credit card ad used to “Membership has its privileges.” They promoted credit card by appealing to the human desire for be: select and elite, for having an opportunity that others could only imagine. The world is divided between th haves and have nots, between the welcome and the excluded, between the privileged and the outsid: People on the outside look in with envy and aw’

the lucky few access their “privileges.”



Some privileges, however, are more than just a spe- cial treat or amembership card. They carry with them the sense of amazement that you have been selected above all the rest. I don’t believe I ever understood this until I met Marlene, the young woman who later became my wife. i"

Marlene and I had been dating less than two weeks when, while eating dinner together, she said she needed to tell me something. The somber tone of her voice made me assume that I was about to hear about the boyfriend back home or the fiancé in the military, but that wasn’t the case. She wanted to tell me that she was adopted. After heaving a huge sigh of relief, 1 asked her to fill me in on the details. After listening to her explain how she had gone from being Kathy

in Washington County, Virginia, to Lili Marlene in Raleigh, North Carolina, I asked her, “Have you ever wanted to find your real parents?”

“These are my real parents,” she said. “They had an entire orphanage full of kids needing a home—and they chose me. They could have chosen anyone, but they chose me. Je.”

For Marlene, privilege was the joy of being chosen!

i suspect that young Mary felt the same way when the angel Gabriel told her that she had been chosen to




give birth to the Christ child. Ever since the prc a Messiah had been given, young Jewish wom longed to be selected for this privileged role. came and went, and no Messiah arrived. Then, t sage came: the time had come for Messiah to be 11 and Mary was to be His mother! Even in Gabr greeting, the wonder of privilege is clear: “‘t favored one! The Lord is with you’” (Luke 1:28) Luke tells us that Mary was “perplexed,” a1 she “pondered” at the meaning of such a strange g ing. These are strong words! Penplexed means distressed” and pondered comes from the same

herself, in her own mind, about the sae: this. nt

Sensing her confusion, Gabriel calsne further:

with God. And behold, you will conceive inyour womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son a of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His’ kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33)..quaeae :



“Found favor” meant that Mary was privileged, Talk about wonder! And Mary’s response —that she was a virgin—shows how difficult it was for her to grasp such a thing. Gabriel reassured her that even as her cousin Elizabeth had become pregnant in her old age, the God of the impossible was capable of grant- ing this privilege to her. Awe and wonder dissolved into trust and willingness of heart. Her response to Gabriel was firm and direct: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38). !

The New Living Translation puts it this way: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Amazingly, Mary understood the magnitude of what she had been chosen to do, and she accepted with humility. Imagine her emotions, her disbelief, her sense of unworthiness, her joy, her amazement. Imag-

ine the wonder in her heart. of THE WONDER OF PREGNANCY

Marlene and I have five children, and their births each of those precious children —remain the most

miraculous things I have ever witnessed. It is amazing



to see a baby enter the world. To h tor the first time and wonder whet he boy or a girl. To see the ultrasound and feel of the unborn child. ‘To watch the mirac behind the veil of the mother's body. To take its first breath, Few things in life com for sheer wonder. ais The Scriptures are largely silent abbadh i months Mary carried the incarnate Christ, b make some assumptions based on what we k life. It would have been a time of new experien which Mary felt things she had never before len She had no frame of reference for what she wa: ing, physically and emotionally, with every day o baby’s growth. Added to that, she undoubte dly had to endure the looks and whispers of her neighbors in the village of Nazareth—ordinary people with ordi- nary questions about the true father of the extrao nary child she carried. The sting of pointed wo disgusted looks must have cut her deeply. And th certainly might have been times when Mary doub her own understanding —“Did I really see an ange 1? Did it all really happen like I remember, or is every one right in what they say about me and my child —until the wonder was affirmed. ae

iy 4 Early in her pregnancy, Mary traveled to the Judean hill country around Jerusalem to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the baby who would grow up to be John the Baptizer. The Bible does not tell us why Mary went to visit Elizabeth, but it is possible that she left Nazareth to escape the harsh looks and wagging tongues. Seeking safety and support, she sought out Elizabeth. They were two women, separated by age, but connected by family. Separated by miles, but connected by history. Both the unlikeliest women to be pregnant —one too old and one a virgin.

Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth declared: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1:42—43).

Mary's affirmation had come from a most unex- pected source —the unborn baby that had leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary's voice, Mary's response, sometimes called “the Magnificat,” shows the true sense of wonder she felt at the privilege of

her pregnancy:

My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my




For He has had regard fo of His bondslave; a“

For behold, from this time on all will count me blessed.

For the Mighty One has done | for me; Pr

And holy is His name (Luke

and thankagitih The wonder of this divi trated pregnancy had grasped her he with true and uninhibited wonder.


Tur WONDER OF CHILDBIR! When Mary was nearing the end of her preg she and Joseph began the long, arduous jourt Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in the impe

ines the struggles of the journey this way: -~

They were bound for Bethlehem, the city wi King David had been born one thousand | : before, because Joseph was descended from

house of David.


Mary rode the donkey. J oseph had fashioned asmall rolled saddle to support her back. She had nearly reached the term of her pregnancy...She | was breathless and tired, swollen in her hands, wrists, and ankles. Her long hair had lost traces of its beauty . .. Mary was determined to with Joseph to bear her boy in the city of his father Dawid.

Though this is just one piece of the overall wonder of the Christmas story, I find it no small thing that, in essence, the sovereign God put the entire Roman Empire in motion for the single purpose of getting Mary where she needed to be at the moment Christ would be born. Perhaps because nothing short of an imperial edict would make a woman nearing child- birth travel eighty-plus miles on the back of a donkey (Luke 2:4-5)!

Another miracle. Another wonder.

The Kindness of Strangers

Bethlehem, the home of Joseph's family and ancestors, vas a village located about five miles south of Jeru- alem, not far from the foothills of the Judean desert. Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph

found the small community flooded with pilgrims



who had come for the census. The i under the weight of overflow no place for the young couple to sle birth to a child. The city of David for the young woman who was ready tc Yet someone (according to Ch most church Christmas program: keeper) was willing to go above and beyon duty. He or she cared enough to make acco for Mary and Joseph in a stable. Tho this provided them shelter from the el the evening chill, and privacy from theme ob ple. That simple act of kindness guaranteed a stage was set for the most marvelous reality

The Birth of tha Sami

While they were there, the days were com for her to give birth. And she gave birth firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, z laid Him in a manger, because there was nor for them in the inn. (Luke 2: 6-7) \ Sieg aay Buea ul I am always struck by the simpy description. This remarkable event is so unde! so matter-of-fact, that you could slmougsanall


blinked. So much is left unsaid that you are compelle 1 § |

to read it again . .. and again.

A veil of silence is pulled over the young woman as she agonizes through childbirth. The shouts of joy are left unrecorded as Joseph, apparently serving as Mary's midwife, delivers the baby and hands Him to His mother. :

On one level, Mary must have experienced every wonderful emotion felt by every new mother as she held her child for the first time. But on another level she had to have been overwhelmed by the realization that this child she cuddled and nursed was the Son of God, and by the thought of what this child had come ‘o do—rescue a lost race from their sins (including herself, His own mother). This Son—promised by an angel, conceived by the Holy Spirit, affirmed by the then-unborn John, carried in the womb to Bethlehem,

and surrounded in birth by farm animals —was the One whose name would be called “full of wonder”

(Isaiah 9:6). oe

Nothing in Mary's childhood or young life could have prepared her for all this. She was a normal first-century Jewish girl from an ordinary family living in an ordi- iary small town. Yet with wonder and obedience she



hes oe


embraced the extraordinary impli extraordinary plan for her life. lab ad nine-month emotional roller coaster br one simple response: “Mary ensured all pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)

“Pondering.” Remember, that was al to the message of the angel Gabriel nine (Luke 1:29), Once again she, in her o logue, in her own mind, was trying to d that was happening. Today, in our technology-drix culture, we would say that she was “p