There are some Christmas Traditions that just won’t die – like shaking the package and trying to guess what’s inside. As a child we all did it. We waited until our parents weren’t in the room. We began sizing up the packages in our mind with imaginary x-ray vision, prying at what might be inside. We took out our list and checked it twice. Checking the size and shape of each package.
And if we were really quiet, and really sneaky, and really brave – we actually touched the packages. With the same care an antiquities professor in a library handles a rare and fragile manuscript – we would pick up those mystery gifts wrapped in colorful paper with ribbons and bows. Quieter than our parents could ever remember us being, we would gently shake the package, and if we were lucky, we would hear something rattle or rock within giving us giddy emotion about possibilities.
Could it be that new video game that everyone wants this year? Would it be that doll we saw in the store? What about the Drone or new phone we asked for? Would Christmas day find us tearing off the paper to find exactly what we wanted? No matter how we shook it, not matter what noises came from within the wrappings, we couldn’t and wouldn’t be sure until Christmas morning.
Mary must have been feeling like that after the angel left. There are two words that when you say them or hear them will change your life forever. “I’m pregnant.” For some, those words come as a shock. As in this wasn’t the plan. Attached to them are chains like “My life is over” and “I’m not ready.” The future is cloudy with sudden realization of responsibility, nurturing, providing, and caring for another living being.
“I’m pregnant.” For others these words come with hopeful surprise. Attached to them are dreams of doll houses and catching balls. The future is a bright sunny day with endless possibilities about what might lay in store for the new family.
Like a gift wrapped under the tree, one that we weren’t aware that we might be receiving, Mary goes through a flood of these emotions. “I’m pregnant.” At first, she was in shock. “How can this be. I’ve never been with a man!” “God this isn’t the way things are done down here.”
We’ve all told God this once or twice in our lives, maybe we’ve just used other words. “Lord, if you’ll just let it happen this way…” “God, what I really need is…” “Jesus Christ, why can’t anything ever go my way!” We shake the package. We size it up in our minds. We try to tell our parents what it should be because we have this sinking feeling that it isn’t what we wanted it to be.
I’m sure Mary instinctively put her hand to her stomach as she said those unsure words, “I am God’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
According to Google Maps and most commentaries, it would take a person about one week to walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem in the ancient world. We actually don’t know where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. Scripture only says, “Judean Highlands” which describes a lot of territory. But it probably was around or near Jerusalem – Zechariah being a priest. It may have even been near Bethlehem as Adam Hamilton suggests.
So put yourself in Mary’s shoes. An angel just told you your life is ruined. “I’m pregnant.” You run to family, but preferably not mom and dad. Maybe go and check out what the Angel said about cousin Elizabeth. And you’ve got 7 to 9 days walk to think this thing through.
It’s amazing how taking a walk can change your perspective. All the research these days says that sitting is killing us. Sitting in chairs at our offices, sitting in lazy-boys in front of television and devices. Our sedentary lifestyle is killing us. And it’s not just our physical health – walking is emotionally healthy.
Mary probably thanked God for the walk. I imagine that Mary was deep in thought the whole way to Elizabeth’s house. I imagine her praying to God and going through the different stages of grief. “I’m pregnant. Not, that’s impossible. Nothing is impossible with God.” “I’m pregnant. Why did you pick me God? Isn’t there a princess somewhere who’s better suited?” Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance. Mary must have traveled the gambit of the wheel of emotional response with each step she took south.
Walking helps her. Her perspective does change. She looks at her stomach with growing anticipation. She sizes up this gift, wondering how it will fit into her life’s dreams. She rubs her stomach wondering who he will be? No matter how she shakes it, no matter what feelings come from within the wrappings, she couldn’t possibly be sure until Christmas.
But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming. After her walk she praises God “With all my heart I glorify God.” After her walk she realizes that this burden she thought she was carrying has become a blessing, “From now on, everyone will call me blessed.” She realizes who God is and who God’s son will be
- A man of mercy
- One who lifts up the lowly and pulls the powerful off their thrones
- Feeding the hungry
- Coming the aid of the oppressed
- A Savior – Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us.
Mary realizes that she has been given a gift.
No matter what is under the Christmas Tree for you this year, one thing is true. It doesn’t matter what kind of wrapping paper is on it. It doesn’t matter how perfect the bow is tied or how big the box is. It doesn’t even matter what it cost for the person to give it to you. What matters is once you’ve opened it, how will you use it?
No matter how you shake it, once you’ve opened the gift, you’ve got to decide what you will do with it now. Will it be put on the shelf with other ‘things’ you own but never use? Will it be put in storage with other gifts you’ve been given that you didn’t really want to receive but can’t quite bring yourself to get rid of because “even an ugly sweater from Aunt Cathy is still a gift from Aunt Cathy.” Or will this gift be the gift that changes your life.
A father took his two children to the mall to do a little shopping. As they drove up, four eager eyes spotted a Mack Truck parked with a big sign on it that said, “Petting Zoo.” The father knew what was coming. The kids jumped up in a rush and asked, “Daddy, Daddy. Can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?”
Wanting to give his children a gift, the father said “Sure,” flipping them both a quarter before walking into the department store. They bolted away, and the father felt free to take his time looking for a Christmas gift for his wife.
A petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their moms and dads shop.
A few minutes later, the father turned around and saw his little girl walking along behind him. He was shocked to see she preferred the department store to the petting zoo. Then he saw that she was crying. He bent down and asked her what was wrong.
She looked up at him with sad brown eyes and said, “Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave my brother my quarter. It was an early Christmas gift for him.”
Together, the father and his daughter walked over to the Petting Zoo and watched her brother enjoy the gift she’d given. The father watched as they stood there. There was another two quarters burning a hole in his pocket that he was about to give her. But as he watched his daughter, something changed. The sadness disappeared. The burden was lifted and became a blessing. The gift she had given became a gift of joy for her.
She had opened an unexpected gift. Without sizing it up beforehand, no shaking it, no guessing at what it could be. She had simply tore open the gift of love and shared it with her brother, and in the sharing she had been the one who was blessed.
Church, we’ve been given a gift. “We’re pregnant. We’re pregnant with baby Jesus.” This unexpected gift has shocked us, surprised us, and got us wondering. It doesn’t matter what kind of wrapping paper is on it. It doesn’t matter how perfect the bow is tied or how big the box is. It doesn’t even matter what it cost for God to give it to us. We’ve been shaking it, guessing at what it might be, dreaming about what could be.
Christmas is coming. Once we’ve opened this gift, how will we experience Jesus? How will we share Jesus? After all, that’s all that really matters anyway.