It’s too early to think about Christmas!
If you are observing the season of Lent, you know that we are in the fourth week of Lent with less than three weeks until the great celebration of Easter. Celebrating Christmas is probably not on your radar at all. And that’s understandable. However, this week there is an observance that draws our attention to the Nativity even amid possible abstinence and fasting: the Annunciation.
Nine months before our Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem, was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, the angel Gabriel appeared to his mother Mary and announced that she would be the mother of the Son of God. Christians traditionally celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, and many of them observe the date of our Lord’s conception by the Holy Spirit, the Annunciation of Our Lord, on March 25.
“Don’t be afraid!”
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Son of God, Jesus, he knew that his presence was not an everyday occurrence. He said to Mary the same thing that he said earlier to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist: “Don’t be afraid!” (Luke 1:13, 30).
It is completely normal and acceptable to be fearful when we are faced with a new and uncertain future, and especially when we are about to encounter suffering or a great trial. We may even experience fear in the less intense, but difficult things in life. What do we do when these trials come our way? Throughout Scripture we are encouraged to give our suffering and fears to our heavenly Father and ask that his will be done. Jesus, himself, did this in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he was arrested (see Mark 14:36).
I write this from home instead of from my office at American Bible Society as we practice self-containment due to the virus that causes COVID-19. Many around the world are taking precautions to “flatten the curve” of new infections. Yet, even with our precautions we are sensing degrees of fear and anxiety. This morning the president of our organization, Robert Briggs, shared a passage from Isaiah 43:1-3 (GNT) that speaks to our fear and gives us God’s perspective in times of crisis.
Israel, the LORD who created you says,
“Do not be afraid—I will save you.
I have called you by name—you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the holy God of Israel, who saves you.
Does this makes us feel like we should be spared from pestilence or trials, or that no difficulties will overtake us? Do God’s people have some special immunity when the latest plague hits? Of course not! We live in a world subject to disease, natural disaster, and even the evil choices that people make. All these things can impact us: the deep waters, troubles, fire, and hard trials—but God promises that he will be with us, and that ultimately these things will not overwhelm or destroy us.
Many of our Christian forebears put themselves in harm’s way to minister to those devastated by plague and disaster, putting their own lives on the line, caring more about showing mercy and love, than for their own protection. Many of them succumbed to the very dangers from which they sought to deliver others. That does not mean we throw caution to the wind. Ultimately, we seek to preserve life and health for ourselves and for others, yet in all things we trust God with our life and future.
At the Annunciation the angel said to Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 ESV). We are told in the Gospel of Matthew that he was named Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21 ESV). “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, meaning “to deliver, to rescue.”
The Word Became a Human Being
The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.
Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another. God gave the Law through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:14, 16-18 GNT).
One of the greatest mysteries of our faith is that God became human and lived among us. The way God chose to do this has the most extensive ramifications for our existence. Jesus entered our world as a helpless baby, born of a woman, into a family. While still fully God, he became fully man. He became one of us. Salvation comes through one who was fully vulnerable but not overwhelmed even by death. This great mystery was set into motion at the Annunciation.
Now all this happened in order to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”) (Matthew 1:22-23 GNT).
Take a moment to thank God today for the gift of salvation, that he did not leave us in our weakness, corruption, and separation from him. Thank you, God, that “when the right time fully came” you sent your own Son, “as the son of a human mother” … “so that we might become God’s children” (Galatians 4:4, 5 GNT).
Thank you, God, that you continually remind us to not be afraid. We don’t know what may come tomorrow. We can’t see the end of this latest pandemic. We don’t know how it will affect us. But we know that “God is with us” and we can take comfort in his words to us: “Don’t be afraid!”
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