Christmas Peace

584px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622)During this season we celebrate Christ’s birth and reflect on the events surrounding it. While we focus on the incarnation, there are many lessons to be learned from the stories of those who walked through those times. We see how God worked in their lives to lead and provide as they faced the profound events that unfolded. God continues to lead and provide for His children, so the lessons we learn from their experiences help us in our walk.

Consider Zechariah and Mary, who each experienced supernatural visitations and incredible pronouncements. We can learn from their responses about trusting God’s promises.

Zechariah was ministering in the temple when an angel appeared to him and declared that Zechariah’s elderly wife Elizabeth would soon conceive and give birth to a son who would be great before the Lord. Zechariah replied with uncertainty:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Luke 1:18–20 (ESV)

The angel, who stood in the very presence of God, was speaking for God Himself. Thus, Zechariah’s disbelief of the angel was really disbelief of God, and Zechariah was struck mute as a result.

Mary also had an encounter with Gabriel and although it seemed similar, there was a crucial difference.

Mary was betrothed to be married when the angel appeared to her and declared that she would conceive and bear the Son of God. Mary replied with a question.

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” … And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:34–35, 38 (ESV)

Later, Mary visited Elizabeth. When Elizabeth saw her, the child within stirred and she blessed Mary:

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:41a, 45 (ESV)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth spoke with insight about Mary’s belief in what God had said. Unlike Zechariah, Mary believed what God had spoken to her. “Belief” is sometimes translated “faith”, often with the idea of putting one’s trust in someone or something. In this case, putting one’s trust in what God has said.

The need to trust God’s promises is woven throughout Scripture. Since His ways are not our ways, we cannot depend on our own understanding. Yet, because of His unfailing love, we can trust that He will work all things out for good. His faithfulness is everlasting, so when we have experienced it in the past, we can confidently expect it again. How many times have you faced a troubling situation, only to have Him bring you through it smoothly?

The specific examples of Zechariah and Mary illustrate the importance of believing what God says, which includes promises we have in Scripture. Mary bore a Son just as God promised, and He later taught about God’s provision:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25,32-33 (ESV)

Jesus did not teach to wait passively, but to deliberately seek the kingdom and righteousness. Lean into it, learn to understand it, strive to see it, work to be a part of it. Into this active seeking, Jesus spoke a promise of provision that echoed the Psalmist’s declaration, centuries earlier, about delighting ourselves in God:

Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

These passages stress the importance of setting our minds on the things above, walking by faith, and focusing on the nature of God and His provision. We can’t simply neglect the physical, but do need to avoid the tendency to focus on it so much that we ignore the spiritual.

One way to start focusing on the spiritual is to approach everything in prayer. Paul taught that to the Philippians in his letter to them:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV)

Learning from Paul’s instructions to the Philippians, we are to take everything to God in prayer, giving thanks to Him even as we present our requests. This helps us start focusing on the things above, learning to place our trust in Him first. We gain power over anxiety when we turn things over to Him in trust. This is a promise of peace.

Trusting God with everything gives us peace; how appropriate for this season in which we celebrate the Prince of Peace!

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