One of my favorite stories during Advent is the story of how John the Baptist was born. His parents are Elizabeth and Zechariah. They have been praying for a child, but now both are old and that dream appears to be out of reach. But Luke tells us that Zechariah was performing his priestly duties in the temple when the angel, Gabriel, comes to tell Zechariah his prayers have been answered. “Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son and you will call him, John.” Zechariah however has little faith that this can really happen. He tells Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this. I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Gabriel tells him he stands in the presence of God and has been sent personally to tell Zechariah this good news, but because Zechariah did not believe the good news, he will become mute until the birth.
Sure enough, Elizabeth becomes pregnant and John is born. When the time comes to circumcise and name the baby, Elizabeth says his name will be John but her relatives say no one in the family has that name. Turning to Zechariah they ask him what he would name the child. He gets a tablet and simply writes, “The child’s name is John.” At that moment his tongue is set free and he begins to praise God for redeeming his people and giving him a son who will be a light in the darkness.
Like Zechariah, our faith at Christmas is often tested because of challenges in our life. Maybe we have lost a loved one or our own health is declining. Perhaps we’ve lost a job or our family is splitting up due to a divorce. There are so many things that can obscure the good news of Christmas and we simply can’t believe the words of Luke who tells us, “I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” We may think, “not this Christmas. That good news is for someone else this year.”
It’s at times like this the good news is actually so much more relevant for us. The good news at Christmas is that we matter to God. In good times and bad, it is God who is for us, not against us. God sent his Son into the world so He could relate to us. He wants to know all about us…our heartaches and our failures.
Rick Warren, the author of the Purpose Driven Life has written that “Christmas is not about religion.” Whether you are Catholic or Methodist or Baptist it doesn’t matter. Warren says, “Jesus didn’t come to give you religion. He came to give you a relationship.”
God wants to know all about us and he cares when we’re hurting. That is joyful news…Good News at Christmas.
Rev. Dave Poteet, Pastor of Congregational Care