The birth of the Christ Child is just the beginning.
told by Deborah
After the baby John was born, his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has visited us and brought forth redemption for His people, and lifted up a shout of deliverance from the family of David His servant — as He promised through the holy prophets of old: deliverance from our enemies, and from the power of all who hate us, as a sign of His compassion for our ancestors — in remembrance of His holy covenant; the promise He gave to Abraham our father, so that we, being delivered without fear from the power of our enemies, might serve Him in holiness and justice throughout all of our days.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of redemption through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender compassion of our God — which shines upon us with the radiance of a sunrise; giving light to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, guiding our feet along the path of peace.”
And the child continued to thrive and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the wilderness until his first public appearance to Israel.
This scripture passage is a “song of deliverance” in more ways than one. Zachariah was celebrating God’s compassion toward the people of Israel as well as the divine blessing that had just been received in his own family. It is a birth announcement, and a shout of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.
Like a midwife, the Beloved had brought forth the people from out of Egypt, and had delivered them from their enemies, beginning with Pharaoh. So, too, had the Lord brought forth a surprising, late-life pregnancy, and safely delivered to Elizabeth and Zachariah a full-term, healthy baby boy — despite the many risks and dangers to both mother and child; a son whose first cry was a shout of victory, a holy promise fulfilled. John’s joyful father recognizes and affirms the parallels: the gracious Almighty is the source of life and new beginnings in large ways and in small. He proclaims the power and goodness of the One who can be trusted and relied upon, and calls on the people to rejoice, be thankful, and keep the faith.
Zachariah’s assertion of John’s future mission is as much a promise as a prediction; a vow that this divinely-sent child would be dedicated to the work of the Lord. The little boy will be raised with an acute awareness of the specially-blessed circumstances of his birth, and a knowledge of the God who graciously gives and forgives. He will do great things.
At this point neither we nor Zachariah know what will happen next. With confident faith and courage — inspired by the arrival of his newborn child, he imagines a wondrous future in which all people will come to know the same delight and trust in God that he is feeling on this day: “the tender compassion of our God — which shines upon us like the radiance of a sunrise.”
We who live in contemporary Western society forget how rare, and how cherished, were babies that were successfully brought to term, and who “thrived and became strong.” Infant mortality was high, perhaps thirty percent or more died within their first year of life, and new mothers were often buried alongside their children. Zachariah knew that a healthy mother and baby were a cause for rejoicing; their lives were gifts delivered by God.
They still are.
As we approach Christmas Day, our thoughts are focused on the gift of the Infant Lord Jesus: the Child of Hope and Promise, the confirmation of God’s love. He is, as the saying goes, “the reason for the Season.” And there is more to the Story.
The life of Jesus of Nazareth was a sacrament: a holy gift through which the Light of heaven shone forth “with the radiance of a sunrise” upon all the earth. His birth was a revelation of God’s continuing faithfulness and abiding concern for us. In His life we have been given life; a knowledge of the Way to follow: living with compassion and courage, loving freely, hating none. It is indeed a Reason for a Season of celebration.
But we must be wary, lest we be so dazzled by the birth of the Radiant One that we forget why He came. Christmas is a time for us — each of us, personally and particularly — to recognize the inherent holiness within ourselves. Through His incarnation — in taking on human form, Christ sanctified all humanity. Every person, every life, is sacred because of God’s unfailing love for us. We are, quite literally, holy, heaven-sent gifts.
No matter what you’ve been told, no matter how you’ve been treated, no matter what you’ve done or said or thought, you are a gift from God. You. Specifically, particularly, and personally. You. Your life is sacred, your spirit is blessed, your soul is treasured. You are loved beyond measure. That is the ultimate reason for this season: the confirmation of God’s love for us.
This Season, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, I ask that you take an opportunity to cherish all of those He came to serve — especially you. It is easy to get lost amid the hustle and bustle and often-forced joviality, the crowds and the commercials; it may take a concerted effort to focus some attention on yourself. Be kind and gentle to that dear soul; realize that it has come a long way, and seen and suffered many things.
Christmas, as we repeatedly insist — perhaps only half-heartedly believing — is not about piles of gifts and demands for selfless giving, but, astonishingly, it is a holy day to take delight in receiving. In the barren depths of cold midwinter, we celebrate that God brought forth a springtime promise of new beginnings: a Child was delivered to us, for us. Love divine, all loves excelling.
It is never too late to nourish and encourage the divinely-sent child that you see in the mirror. Look at that face with compassion and gratitude; give thanks for all that you are, and all that you have experienced. The gift of life is precisely that: a gift — and you are the gift and the recipient. You are a glorious being, a sacrament brought forth with great love; yours is a holy life to celebrate.
May the peace and grace of of the Lord shine brightly upon you during this holy Season and throughout the days to come,
Rejoice, bless, and give thanks for the gift of life that you have received.