December 23, 2007
By Alan W. Dowd
“I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my savior.” The words are Micah’s, and they were written some eight centuries before his savior finally appeared in a most unlikely, unexpected place—as a newborn baby in a manger.
Of course, Micah’s expectant words could just as well have been written by you or me. Our savior—Micah’s savior—promised to come back. And today we wait for His return. Waiting is a part of faith. Just as we await the savior’s second coming, the prophets, the patriarchs and the everyday people awaited the first. With the Christmas season approaching, how do we measure up with those others who waited for the savior’s arrival? Are we really ready to welcome the Messiah?
Surrendered to the Savior
Mary, like all expectant moms, knew about her baby’s arrival before anyone else. And like all expectant moms, she knew what lived inside her was something miraculous and wonderful—something that would change her life forever. Of course, in her case, the child that grew inside her would change the world forever.
Few of us can measure up with the way Mary awaited the Messiah’s first coming. After all, in Luke, we are reminded that an angel labeled Mary “highly favored” by heaven. Elizabeth called her “blessed among women.” Some traditions take this to excess, even elevating Mary to a position on par with her son. In an effort to resist and correct this, many Christians seem to overlook Mary and marginalize this very special person in the history of heaven’s interaction with humanity. In doing so, they miss a wonderful example of someone who welcomed the Messiah with all of her heart and all of her life.
Remember, after the angel explained all that God would give her—and take from her—she said yes. She didn’t have to, but she did. In doing so, Mary opened her heart to the Holy Spirit, her life to the Son, her future to the Father. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she told Gabriel. “May it be to me as you have said.”
She defers to heaven, accepts her mission and awaits the Messiah with joy. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she exults. “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”
Whatever our station in life, that should be our prayer and our attitude as we await the Second Coming. If you think that’s an unfair standard, remember that Mary was nothing more or less than a woman. The only thing that set her apart from others in her neighborhood was her obedience to God—a decision to do right, a choice, to use today’s parlance, to live a life that catches the attention of heaven.
You and I can live such a life, but only if we surrender everything to heaven.
More or Less?
Mary would spend the last few months of her pregnancy with a relative named Elizabeth, who was also waiting for the Messiah’s first coming. Again, Luke tells us that Elizabeth was “upright in the sight of God”—but probably not in the sight of her neighbors. After all, Elizabeth and her husband took in the unwed but pregnant Mary. It’s not hard to imagine the whispers and gossip that floated around their neighborhood when Mary arrived, with child but without a husband.
Taking Mary in was made all the harder by the fact that Elizabeth herself was pregnant—and she was much older than Mary. Luke explains that Elizabeth and her husband “were both well along in years.” Yet Elizabeth was happy for Mary and happy for herself. She knew all the pains and strains of the moment would be outweighed by the joy to come. As Jesus would later put it, a mother forgets the anguish of pregnancy and labor “because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”
And when Elizabeth’s child was born, she raised him to be a servant of heaven. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, had a heart for the lost and the passion of a prophet. He pointed people to the Messiah. In fact, in the words of the Messiah, John forcefully advanced the kingdom of heaven into this world. And when the time was right, he died to himself so that the Messiah could be magnified. “He must become greater,” Elizabeth’s son declared. “I must become less.”
Are we anything like Elizabeth? Are we opening our homes and hearts to those who carry the Good News today? Are we helping the abandoned and scorned, the left out and passed over, the ones who are embarrassing or sinful or alone? Do we gossip about them or love them?
Are we raising children who will prepare the way for the Messiah? Do our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, see the Good News lived out in our lives—or do they only hear it? Do they see us as different people on Sunday morning—or are we people of integrity? Are we raising a generation that, like John, has the heart to follow the call of heaven, the courage to speak the truth, the humility to become less so that Jesus can become greater? That is the kind of son Elizabeth and Zechariah raised.
Anytime is God’s Time
Few people took notice of the first coming. In fact, a nameless innkeeper couldn’t even find a room for Joseph and the very-pregnant Mary. So the savior of mankind, the Son of God, would be born in a trough used to feed animals. If only they had known what Mary held inside her, the people of Bethlehem would have found room. But that’s the very point God was making: Why not treat all people as if God Himself lives inside them?
Of course, the savior’s first coming wasn’t completely unnoticed. The Gospels tell us that a few shepherds and their flocks were on hand. Even so, it wasn’t exactly a red-carpet welcome for the King of kings. There were no Pharisees to confirm the miracle of heaven colliding with earth, no physicians to make sure the healer was healthy, no photographers or writers to capture the story of the ages.
As time passed by, some listened to John’s anxious call to prepare the way for Jesus; but most stayed focused on their little lives. Even the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth failed to notice much about the savior’s arrival. Matthew reminds us that when Jesus returned to Nazareth, the people were amazed that He had wisdom and power. They obviously had never taken any time to know Him. Mark adds that they expressed more contempt and doubt than pride in their native son. A disappointed, deflated Jesus left “amazed by their lack of faith.”
Are we like the people of Bethlehem and Nazareth—so close to the truth that we cannot see it, so certain of ourselves and our interpretations and our little versions of the Messiah that we miss what the real Messiah is doing all around us? Are we standing in the way rather than preparing the way? Are we unwilling to accept God on His terms, to realize that He can come from nowhere and arrive at anytime?
Ready or Not
If the Messiah was overlooked the first time He came to us, He won’t be next time around. The apostle John makes that unmistakably clear in the Bible’s final book. “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” John cries, “and every eye will see him.”
Every eye: Micah and the prophets, Gabriel and the angels, the innkeeper and the rest of an indifferent world, John and the martyrs, Thomas and the doubters, Caiaphas and Pilate, you and me.
So, as we remember the first coming and look forward to the second coming, the question is not will we miss out on the greatest event since God said “Let there be light,” but rather will we be ready for the Light?