The scene of Jesus’s birth is etched in my mind like a creche: Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, magi, sheep, maybe a donkey or two, and a bright star overhead. It’s a beautiful scene, condensing the reality of the Christmas story onto one stage, but there were several other people involved in the miracle of Jesus’s birth.
Before Jesus was born, Zechariah was visited by an angel announcing John the Baptist’s birth, which was unexpected because his wife, Elizabeth, had never been able to conceive and was well past childbearing age. This wasn’t unheard of as the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hanna, who were all childless until God intervened, tell us. Still, Zechariah had a little trouble believing this and was struck dumb until John was born.
Mary, who had her own angelic encounter, visited Elizabeth, and upon hearing Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth exclaimed,
As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!Luke 1:44
After John had been born, Zechariah, who’s voice returned, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he stated, “…you, my child, will be called prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76). John, the last of the Old Testament prophets, wearing camel’s hair clothes and eating wild honey, went on to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
A month after Jesus’s birth, Simeon and Anna, who had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel,” both met Jesus when Mary and Joseph took him to the Jerusalem temple to consecrate him. Simeon, who had been waiting to see the Messiah, praised God, saying, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people…” (Luke 2:30-31), and Anna, who had been at the temple fasting and praying for decades, “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
They had all remembered, believed and were looking ahead.
Elizabeth believed, for she who had lived to old age without having children gave birth to John. Mary believed, because she was a virgin and yet she was pregnant. Zechariah may not have believed at first, but he no doubt did later when the Holy Spirit filled him with prophecy. Simeon and Anna had been waiting for what the Lord had promised for a long time, and they believed they would see the fulfillment of his promise. They did.
Luke records all of this in the first two chapters of his gospel, then he jumps twelve years to when Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus, who had stayed in Jerusalem while the rest of his group took off for home. Luke is the only gospel writer who included that story, which makes me wonder who his sources were. Luke was a Gentile and was not part of Jesus’s earthly ministry, so someone, maybe Mary?, told him of this event. It sounds to me like a story a mother would remember. Fast forward eighteen years in Luke’s gospel to read of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord and the beginning of Jesus public ministry, when Jesus was about 30 years old.
I wonder if those angelic appearances, Holy Spirit inspired prophecy, and delight had lost their impact after 30 years. Today, we read it in a matter of minutes, but for Mary it was years of parenting, working, good days and bad, other children; life. Mary pondered these things in her heart when Jesus was born, but years later, it could have been a distant and often forgotten memory.
I’ve had wonderful moments with God, but what I pondered in my heart thirty years ago is anyone’s guess. My children were young, and my days were full of diapers, naps, walks to the park, stepping on Legos, macaroni and cheese, lots of laundry and cleaning was pointless. I pondered one day at a time. If that.
The miraculous moments surrounding Jesus’s birth no doubt made a tremendous impact on those who experienced them, but I imagine they were eventually lost in the midst of a busy life. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna probably were not around when Jesus began his ministry. Other people, who had heard about these events but hadn’t experienced them, would have little memory of them thirty years later.
Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna remind me that God notices when we believe that he will accomplish what he promised to do. The Bible is full of stories of those who believed what the Lord had said he would accomplish, and stories have been written and are still being lived out by those who believe the Lord’s promises.
This Christmas, take a moment and remind yourself of the promises that God has kept in your life, and if you are still waiting, remember Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, who were well past their prime when God revealed the astonishing truth that Jesus, the Messiah, had been born.