If you are a regular reader of this column, you may have noticed that my posts have decreased in frequency. You may have also noticed that of late, my focus has been more on reviewing books than of reviewing my thoughts, In these challenging times, I’ve found it easier to write about other people’s words than to share my own. But here we are, a few days before Christmas. Don’t feel much like celebrating? Me either. But here’s why we still can…
For many people, Christmas is the highpoint of the year, but this year, suffocating under the weight of so much sorrow, it might feel hard to celebrate. Families slaughtered in their safehouses. Others taken hostage. Still others buried beneath the red rain of rockets. The diaspora of the desperate, crossing oceans and mountains and jungles in search of shelter. The hungry, the lonely. Those who’ve lost their way. Those who’ve lost loved ones. Those who’ve lost their homes.
And yet, it was into this darkness that the Promised One came. We quote it from our pulpits. We sing it in our carols. We reenact it in our pageants, with bathrobed shepherds and garlanded angels. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” Matthew quoted from the prophet Isaiah. “And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined” (Matthew 4:16, NLT).
The Child in Bethlehem’s manger was no ordinary babe. Conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, distinguished by a star, heralded by angels, proclaimed by shepherds, worshiped by wisemen, marked for death by a king. Even his name was unusual. Jesus. “The LORD saves.” Immanuel. “God is with us.”
Growing up in the crossroads of Nazareth, toiling among field workers and traveling caravans, he might have been easily overlooked, this carpenter’s boy. But as a youth, he spoke about God in a way that astonished his teachers – as if he knew God first-hand. And as a man, he was pursued by the hopeful and the curious. “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Then there were the miracles. Restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the Deaf, raising up those who were powerless to stand, and giving a voice to those without speech — also prophesied. “Your God is coming … to save you, and when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!” (Isaiah 35:4-6).
Words echoed by ancient Ezekiel, who promised that God himself would come to search for his sheep – those who had been mistreated, robbed and preyed upon by those in power. “You have not taken care of the weak,” the prophet derided the religious leaders (Ezekiel 34:4). “You have not tended the sick, or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost.” As a result, God promised to come as a shepherd and rescue his sheep himself.
And so, on that star-bright Bethlehem night, Jesus – the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep – entered our darkness, so that we who are living in the land where death casts its shadow can walk in God’s light.
This is the “good news” prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled by Jesus. And it is why, in the midst of so much horror and heartache, we who celebrate the Savior’s birth still have a reason to rejoice. For the good news of Bethlehem is still the good news today.
Jesus – “The LORD saves.”
Immanuel, “God is with us.”
Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, and of the Lantern Hill Farm picture book series, celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. She writes and reads in a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. Connect at: meadowrue.com