Luke has drawn us into a story of unique characters who stand out in their context. Some are not named but represent very real lives and circumstances with very real hope and sorrows.
The story actually begins with two women—the cousins Elizabeth and Mary and separate birth announcements. The angel Gabriel first came to Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth with surprising but very good news. His barren wife, yearning for many years to have a child, will now soon give birth to a son and his name will be John. Elizabeth was beside herself with joy as she said, “This is what the Lord has done for me!”
In the sixth month Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to the young virgin Mary. The angel said,” Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you will be with child and give birth to a son and you will give him the name Jesus.
This was not good news for Mary, engaged to Joseph. “How can this be,” she said, “for I am a virgin.” What a predicament for this young woman; she might have been stoned to death. “No problem”, the angel assured her. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, remember nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary, bless her heart, is able to reply. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” The angel departs most likely with a great sigh of relief. Gabriel has completed his mission successfully.
So far, so good. Blessed Joseph remained with Mary and together they went up from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register as required. While they were there Mary delivered her first born, swaddled him in cloth and laid him in a manger.
Now the shepherds are introduced. One might note that it’s the lowly shepherds that are given more space in this account than anyone else, even the angels and the baby. We find them out tending their sheep in the night watch, doing what shepherds do. Suddenly an angel stands before them. The glory of the Lord shone around and they were frightened out of their wits.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Born this day in the city of David is a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Suddenly the angel was joined with a huge choir singing God’s praise. “Glory to God in the heavenly heights. Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven the shepherds talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed.” They took off running and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing is believing.
They told everyone they met what the angels had said. All who heard the shepherds were impressed. The shepherds returned and let loose glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they had been told. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Mary is not only the servant of the Lord but she quietly considered the meaning of these amazing events. Such was the miracle of Christmas—anticipation, along with signs of doubt, fear, and wonder.
The agent of God is born in Bethlehem, the house of David, the shepherd King. His name shall stand forever. That name to us is love.
When the eighth day arrived it was the day of circumcision and the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. In naming Jesus God is telling us something about who he is. The name Jesus is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means, the Lord helps or the Lord saves.
Before any preaching, teaching, healing and miracles this eight day old tiny baby is identified as the one through whom God will save the world.
What was God thinking? How could a tiny baby even live up to these expectations? And yet scripture reminds us God is able to do more than we can even conceive or imagine.
Today, January 1 we honor the feast day of the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the naming of a tiny child we already catch a glimpse of God’s audacious plan to save the world through the gift of a vulnerable human being.
Remember at baptism we are named and sealed by the Holy Spirit marked as Christ’s own forever. We too like the shepherds have good news to share with others. In his Holy Name we claim our true identities as children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. AMEN.