I may be a bit slow out of the gate, but a bulb (Christmas bulb?) lit up in my brain recently.
One of God’s gifts at Christmas is the gift of choice and examples of how our choices affect not only our own lives but the lives of those around us.
We so blithely read through the Nativity narratives and often see no more about the accounts than what is portrayed in the warm and fuzzy childrens’ Christmas pageants; we lose sight of the drama to be found in the choices made by so many over 2000 years ago. Choices that still impact out lives today!
Consider the divine choice.
The world was in chaos back then. God seemed silent and detached. Over 400 years had passed since the last recorded holy words written down in the Hebrew Bible’s text of Malachi. It seemed God had chosen to leave us to self-destruction and moved on to create again elsewhere. But that isn’t the nature of God –
God chose love
John 3:16 – God loved the world so completely and unconditionally that the divine came to earth and was made man. He chose to live out divine love in our midst as an example of what God desires of the created. God was willing to Self-sacrifice for the good of the world and God’s glory. Ironically, this self-sacrificing love would require humans to choose to come alongside but what choices would the willfully independent creation make?
She was given a choice – to give birth to God’s own Son – in the eyes of the world, an unwed mother. Such a pregnancy could have cost her her life by stoning for adultery. At a minimum, she could expect to be shunned by her family and community; left to begging, prostitution, and starvation.
Mary chose life
Even so, Mary chose for the greater good of mankind and the glory of God. Luke 1:28-38
Then there is Joseph.
A gentle man apparently betrayed and disgraced by his fiancé, but a man whose compassion was stronger than his need for justice. He couldn’t bring himself to punish Mary; instead he would at help her make a life for herself and her child in another village. Sounds like a good choice, but God had a better one: marry the girl and raise her child as his own. Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph chose humility
No matter that the neighbors would think him a fool, Joseph chose for the greater good of Mary and her Child at great personal sacrifice and social standing, and God was glorified.
What about the innkeeper?
His choice is historically depicted as between compassionate care of the homeless couple and his self-interest. Luke 2:6 Quite frankly, who is to say that he didn’t choose compassion? Not me!
Sure, he could have just driven the couple away – but he didn’t. Instead, he offered them a quiet place to deliver their child away from prying eyes and the raucous noise of travelers; and all without any expectation of financial compensation. Such an interpretation is probably a stretch for some, but I believe
The innkeeper chose compassionate care and consideration
This personal sacrifice might not have been much, all things considered, but the birth place of the Child powerfully set the stage for His life – a life in and among the poorest of poor.
On to the shepherds.
They, too, had a choice to make: leave their flocks and ‘go and see’ or ignore the angels and get back to the familiar life in the fields. Luke 2:8-20 The shepherds were by nature loners, positioned at the lower end of the social scale; to choose to go as the angel directed was way beyond their comfort zones! Besides, what if it wasn’t true? They would become a laughing stock-life was hard enough already!
The shepherds chose to step outside their comfort zones
The shepherds couldn’t even FIND their comfort zone anymore! They told everyone who would listen about the angels and the Child! Sharing such divine truth for the greater good in hopes that others might go and see was worth the sacrifice of personal comfort zones and feeling foolish!
Others made choices as well:
chose to protect the Child by not letting Herod know where He could be found. Instead they took a more arduous journey home Matthew 2:1-12; a seemingly small sacrifice perhaps, but nonetheless a sacrifice for a good beyond themselves and in keeping with God’s holy purpose.
Of them all, only Herod’s choosing was not for the greater good, but for his own self-interest. His was a choice for death not life – a choice often made when a human’s sense of personal power and identity feel threatened! Because of his choice, innocent lives were destroyed all for the sake of the one. Matthew 2:13-18.
Christmas choices continued to play out profoundly in the life of that Child born in the stable.
Our Lord struggled with the same choices we have to make day in and day out: choices for God and others as opposed to choices made in our own self-interest. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, even on the cross, even in His resurrection appearances – Christ could have chosen self, but He always chose us. He always chose life and goodness. His choices always glorified God and raised up humanity.
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This Advent season, how are we being called to use our gift of choice? Are we willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good? And to do so humbly, lovingly, compassionately, and with life-giving care? Or are personal power, identity and freedom the most important thing?
How do our choices glorify God? God’s gift of choice is a gift to be used wisely, as our choices impact not only our lives but the lives of others beyond our knowing.
And to God be the glory! AMEN.