The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ is full of interesting contrasts. From the beginning, these contrasts include doubt and acceptance, fear and trust, and rich and poor.
Contrast: doubt and acceptance
At my house, we always start the Christmas story with Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple upright in the sight of God, who observed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly (Luke1:6). Yet despite their love for God, they remained childless. God’s plan and purpose for their lives—their greatest joy—was about to occur, but they did not realize it. They busied themselves with their daily tasks. The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah while he was serving as priest in the temple and told him his wife would bear him a son. Because Zechariah questioned Gabriel, he was struck dumb.
Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Gabriel visited her relative, Mary. Mary’s response to the angel telling her she would bear God’s son was to ask how this could be and say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
Zechariah wanted further details and answers, but Mary simply accepted what the angel said. She just believed. Don’t you find her faith incredible? I wish I could be more like Mary, but I think I’m more like Zechariah. Questions arise and cause me to fret, to agonize, and to over-analyze the situation rather than accept it. Life could be less stressful and happier by just trusting God who has my best interests at heart and who knows my wants, needs, and dreams.
In Matthew 1:18-24, we learn about Joseph, whom Mary was pledged to marry. As Joseph anticipated his wedding day, he learned shocking news—his fiancé was pregnant. He decided to divorce her quietly so she wouldn’t be stoned. While he considered this, however, an angel visited who confirmed that Mary was pregnant with God’s Son. So Joseph trusted too.
This had to be a difficult situation for this couple. Gossiping and nasty looks must have followed them as they clung to what the angel said would happen. Then to travel a great distance because of the census and learn there was no room at the inn—how discouraging! Mary birthed the child in a dirty stable. Mothers everywhere can imagine her nerves. Having a baby is both exciting and frightening in the best of circumstances. Yet, Mary’s faith strengthened her.
Contrast: fear and trust
Now, let’s look at King Herod, who didn’t know God. Magi visited him. Herod trusted that the Magi knew what they were talking about. Because of their news and quest, Herod acted in fear and jealousy. He murdered innocent boys two years old and under in his attempt to eliminate Jesus (Matthew 2:16).
Joseph, awakened in the night by another dream, hastened to flee the country with his wife and son. No indecision pestered him. He asked no questions. He just obeyed. At once, in the middle of the night, they set out.
The Magi sought the “king of the Jews”. I imagine them as well educated, respected, wealthy men. The Magi were overjoyed to see the star. They persevered over a long journey because they sought something precious. When they saw the child and his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him and gave him gifts of gold, of incense and of myrrh. An angel warned them in a dream also to return home by a different route.
Contrast: rich and poor
Poor, uneducated, disrespected, dirty shepherds minded their flocks that night when an angel appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Terror changed to rejoicing. A great company of heavenly host appeared, praising God. The shepherds believed the angel. They trusted. In their joy and excitement, they shared their experience and praised and glorified God.
Faith sees miracles
Magi sought and found the treasured and precious king. They acted on faith following that star. Mary and Joseph believed the angel and endured a community’s initial scorn. God chose shepherds, neglected and forgotten by society, to share the message of the Messiah’s birth first. What an honor! And they reacted with joy and reverence and spread the good news. God still used cautious Zechariah. May we respond as they did with faith instead of with fear.
Although Herod meant evil, God prevailed. We have much to rejoice over!
I hope you’ll read the complete story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1:18-2:23. May your Christmas be filled with joy and excitement as you celebrate our Savior’s birth!