SINCE 1965 WHEN IT FIRST APPEARED as a television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas may have done more to communicate the essence of the gospel than any thirty-minute sermon ever has. In the program, Charlie Brown, the cartoon character from the Peanuts comic strip, searches for the true meaning of Christmas only to be disappointed and disillusioned. Finally, Charlie's thumb-sucking friend, Linus, walks onto an empty stage and recites from the Gospel of Luke, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11 KJV). Linus finishes by saying, "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Despite the growing commercialization and secularization of the holiday season, most people today are still hungry to know what Christmas is all about. Our next five readings on the birth of Jesus will help us understand the meaning of Christmas. We'll cover the familiar story of Joseph and Mary trekking to Bethlehem, an unlikely birth in a manger, and the shepherds, angels, and heavenly hosts welcoming this special child.
You'll notice the birth of Jesus was not a random act; we see God clearly at work orchestrating this wonderful event. Several times God sends angels to announce important messages or to guide certain people at critical moments. When you think about it, the fact that this child was born of a virgin and destined to become the promised Messiah was a mind-boggling concept to accept. That had never happened before. God had to take extraordinary measures to communicate these truths.
You'll also notice several references to Old Testament prophecies. As we discovered in the earlier readings of The Essential Jesus, God had given many future clues, previews of coming attractions, that he was planning to send a Savior to the world. The good news is that the time had finally come. No more previews; it was finally time for the main event. God entered the world in the person of his Son, Jesus.
Finally, it's fascinating to examine how all the different people in these next readings reacted to the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and wise men, the religious leaders, and King Herod all grappled with what was happening. Centuries later, we can more fully appreciate the truth as expressed in one of the names used to describe Jesus: Immanuel, "God with us." Don't take my word for it. It would be best if you discovered the true meaning of Christmas on your own, and that's what this next section is all about, Charlie Brown.
PRAY: "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" (Luke 1:46-48).
READ: Luke 1:26-56
REFLECT: How would you feel if an angel appeared to you? I want to think I'd be cool and stand my ground; more than likely, I'd just run. The Bible indicates that Mary was "greatly troubled" (v. 29) and afraid (v. 30), but at least she stayed and listened. Perhaps she sensed this was a messenger from God (v.26).
Mary is one of the great heroes of the Bible, a fact the angel confirms in the most incredible way (v. 30). That raises an important question: how can we find favor with God today? Let's take a closer look at how Mary responded to this surprise visitor to see if we can find some clues.
First, we notice that she is confident in her relationship to God. She's not proud, nor is she falsely modest. She sees herself simply as "the Lord's servant" (v. 38). As followers of Jesus today, we too are favored by God, not because of anything we've done but instead because of what he's done for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). Mary demonstrates that God uses people who have humble confidence in him.
Second, we notice her willingness to live by faith (vv. 38, 45). She reminds us of another Bible hero, Abraham, who left everything to follow God's call (Genesis 12:1-9), a fact that reverberates throughout the Bible (Romans 4:3; Hebrews 11:8-12). Mary teaches us the power of believing and acting on God's Word.
Finally, we notice her heart for God (vv. 46-55). Mary's song (often called the Magnificat) is filled with Old Testament imagery and indicates that she was a young woman who had spent time reflecting on the Scriptures. Mary teaches us the value of being saturated in God's Word.
Our passage also contains one of the most popular verses in the Bible, "For nothing is impossible with God" (v. 37). Short and positive, it's sure to give us hope when life gets stressful. In its context, the verse shows us that God intervenes in people's lives, like Mary, who developed a lifestyle of faithfully seeking him whether they are in the spotlight or not.
APPLY: Which of Mary's qualities do you see most in your life? Which do you want more of in your life?
PRAY: God, I want to seek more of you in my life, but I don't always know how. Show me some practical ways I can find favor with you today.