By: Pastor Landon Galloway
According to the Gospel of Matthew, as you have read elsewhere in this edition, Jesus is presented as Immanuel, “God With Us.” Christmas is a poignant reminder that we are never alone because our God has come to us in the person of Jesus. He chooses to identify Himself as One who is with us, who will never leave us nor forsake us. He is the one who will be with us even until the end of the age. And because He is with us, then He is for us, and if He is for us then nothing and no one can be against us!
However, that is only part of the story. Christmas is not only about God being “with us;” it also about God being “with them.” I believe that is the message that Luke is trying to get across to his readers. The birth of Jesus isn’t just for “us.” It’s for “them.” Christmas is not just about us. It’s about others, particularly those who have been marginalized. When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field, he said: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. (Luke 2:10)” Good news. Great joy. All people.
These three phrases summarizes the Christmas story. Christmas is good news. The long awaited Messiah and the Savior of mankind became like us, lived like one of us, and ultimately gave His life for us. Christmas is great joy. The coming of Christ is the cause of great celebration. Good news always brings great joy. We don’t have to struggle through life alone; our long-awaited Savior has come to us. Christmas is for all people. This is the crux of Luke’s nativity narrative.
First, The angel appears to the humble Zacharias, who belongs to belongs to the lowest rung of the priestly hierarchy. Zacharias and Elizabeth have suffered the social shame of barrenness. In a society that estimated a woman’s worth primarily by her ability to bear children, one can only imagine the embarrassed experienced by Elizabeth. Luke’s introduction of the priestly couple hints at how much the experience of barrenness defined their existence:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7)
He had a good job. She came from a good family. They were righteous, devout, and blameless. But, they were childless. They could never outlive this reality. Their barrenness defined them. This explains why after Elizabeth discovered that she was indeed pregnant, she kept herself hidden for 5 months saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people. (1:24)” She took a praise break that lasted 5 months! The reproach that had marred her entire life had been removed.
Christmas shows us that God is with them. He is with Zacharias and Elizabeth. He is with people that have experienced shame and disappointment. He is with those who think they have been forgotten and for those overdue for a miracle.
The second angelic visit is to the peasant, teenaged girl named Mary from the obscure village of Nazareth. The virgin Mary was engaged to the common laborer Joseph. That’s right. The Messiah was birthed by peasants rather than priests or Pharisees. One would expect the Great High Priest to be born into a Levitical family. Or, perhaps the Righteous One should belong to a family of Pharisees. After all, they were the guardians of righteousness. The religious elite often scorned commoners because they could not afford to frequently pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the sacrificial system and because they lacked the education to understand the minutiae of the law. However, God chose to entrust His Son to humble and lowly peasants.
Christmas shows us that God is with them. He is with Mary and Joseph. He is with ordinary people who feel overlooked and are stuck in obscurity. He is with those who have the wrong last name and the wrong pedigree. He is with those who have been marginalized because of their place of birth.
When Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, the two miraculously pregnant cousins take turns singing out spontaneous praise for all that God had done for them. During Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, she boasts:
His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. (1:50-53)
Christmas shows us that God is with them. He is with those who fear him, particularly the lowly, the poor, and the hungry. He is with those who have been abused by powerful people. He is with those who have suffered injustice. Jesus is Savior- God with them.
This theme is repeated throughout the next several verses. Zacharias declares that his son, John, will go on before the Lord, who will “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death (1:79).” God is with them, those who occupy the darkness and abide in the shadow of death.
Jesus’ birth is announced to the lowly shepherds who were keeping the nightshift on the outskirts of town. God is with them, the people who are despised and isolated, relegated to the outskirts of society. The elderly duo of Simeon and Anna are the only people in the Temple to recognize Jesus’ identity. The religious hierarchy castigated commoners, but God trusted them with the Christmas message. God is with them, the elderly who feel that their purpose is located in their past and that their best days are behind them.
This Christmas, I need to be reminded that God is with me AND that He is with them. He is with those that have been forgotten, those that are grieving, those who are lost, and those who are hurting. Christmas is good news of great joy for all people, especially those who we tend to forget about.
In the Christmas classic, The Grinch, the young Cindy Lou advocates for the curmudgeonly Grinch to be awarded a special Christmas honor by the people of Whoville. She is met with indignation and opposition. According to the townspeople, the honor of “Cheermeister” is reserved for those who exemplify the Christmas spirit. It would thus be inappropriate to award it the infamously grumpy Grinch. However, she has read the “Book of Who” and presents the following quote: “But the Book does say the Cheermeister is the one who deserves a backslap or a toast. And it goes to the soul at Christmas who needs it most.”
Our book says essentially the same thing. The good news of Christmas is primarily for those who need it the most.