Like many Christians, I have been reading some devotionals this week. Many of them discussed some of the main characters in the Christmas story. I was compelled to read these key passages again.
There are four individuals whose response to announcement of the Messiah’s birth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke that are worth pondering now as we quickly move through this Christmas season. According to Luke, these were among many “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2).
Recording the story of Jesus’ birth was a priority to Luke. It is a priority with me for the very same reason: “it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you. . . so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Let me highlight a bit of what occurred.
In Luke 1:39-45, we get a glimpse of Mary’s visit to her relative, Elizabeth. When Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth, the baby in her womb (John the Baptist) leaped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She loudly declared that Mary was blessed among women and that the child she carried was blessed also. In divine wisdom, Elizabeth recognized that Mary was the “mother of my Lord”.
Elizabeth knew without a doubt that God had worked a miracle in her own life (Luke 1:25). She knew that God had done something miraculous in Mary’s life as well. She also knew that Mary was blessed for believing that what God had told her regarding this child would indeed be done as he had said.
In response to Elizabeth’s statement of God’s faithfulness, Mary gives her own.
In the next section, Luke 1:46-55, Mary reflects on the announcement given to her by the angel Gabriel earlier in this account (Luke 1:26-38). She magnifies several of God’s unchangeable attributes, ones that every Old Testament believer would have understood well from the Hebrew Scriptures:
- “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” – God delivers (v. 47)
- “He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” – God knows all (v. 48)
- “The Mighty One has done great things for me” – God is all powerful (v. 49)
- “Holy is his name” – God is holy (v. 49)
- “His mercy extends to those who fear him” – God is merciful (v. 50)
- “He has brought down rulers” – God is sovereign (v. 52)
- “He has filled the hungry with good things” – God provides (v. 53)
- “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful” – God is faithful (v. 54)
It is worth noting here that Mary connects the baby in her womb, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2-3), where Yahweh promised Abram that “all people on earth will be blessed through you.” This blessing to the entire world would come through Jesus.
Zechariah begins by praising God for his presence at that very moment and for redeeming his people. He recognized that his son’s destiny was connected with that of the chosen Messiah, whom God had raised up to fulfill Old Testament prophecy indicating that he would come from the house of David.
He praised God for this salvation which would bring deliverance from their enemies, revealing God’s mercy based on faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham. The point of this rescuing was so that God’s people could serve God “without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Next, this father who had been silent for several months spoke truth directly to his son. He told John that he will be called a prophet who will go before the Messiah to prepare the way for him. John will tell of the salvation found in Jesus, which will be marked by forgiveness of sins that flows from God’s mercy. It will bring light and peace to those who are “living in darkness and in the shadow of death”.
The first three individuals’ testimonies that reminded Luke’s readers of God’s faithfulness all came before the traditional “birth narrative” that we read in Luke 2:1-20. This last one takes place when Jesus is presented in the temple in Jerusalem on the eighth day, when Jesus was to be circumcised.
We learn about a man called Simeon in Luke 2:25. Luke states that he was “righteous and devout”. In these few verses (Luke 2:29-32), Simeon expresses a beautiful prayer to God in response to seeing his Messiah that he had waited for. As he took Jesus in his arms, Simeon reflects back to God what he knows well, regarding God’s divine promises, plans, and purposes for this little child.
Simeon begins his praise by acknowledging God’s sovereignty in fulfilling his covenant promises to his people. He expresses gratitude that he was able to catch a glimpse of the one who would bring the salvation that God prepared for “all people”, a light for the Gentiles and glory for the Jewish people.
Each one of these believers put their trust and confidence in the God of Israel to keep his covenants and were anticipating the arrival of the promised Messiah who would bring them a new covenant.
This Christmas, may we also trust in the promises of the new covenant that are found in Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:8-12, which quotes Jere. 31:31-34). More importantly, may we anticipate Jesus’ return, this time not as a babe in a manger but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to reign forever and ever.
(Note: This is the seventh Christmas article I wrote and posted on this blog. The first one was about the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story and the second one was about the visit by the Magi , both written in December 2015. The third one was a devotional on some non-traditional Christmas verses that I wrote in December 2017. I wrote a fourth one on God’s presence at work during the holidays in November 2018 and a fifth one was about the man and the birds illustration (a well-known Paul Harvey radio broadcast) in December 2018. I wrote a sixth one about our family Christmas in 2019. I invite you to check out these articles.)
About the author:
Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)