Hello again friends! This Christmas time, I would love to direct your attention again to the scriptures. So many of us invest time and money in preparing our homes for Christmas – and that’s great. It’s important to also prepare our hearts for the coming of The Lord and we do that by firstly listening to His word – the Bible. Next week I want to look at some of the men in the Bible connected to the story of the first Christmas, but first I want today to tell you a little about four women connected to the birth of Christ.
Please read Luke chapters one and two: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1-2&version=NIV
Before I tell you who the four women of Christmas are (and the fourth one might surprise you!), I think that it is important to note that God works His sovereign purposes out through people. God can make things happen by the power of His voice, as we see in the creation narrative in Genesis. He can also send angels to do His work, as we see in both Old and New Testaments. However, God choses in His infinite wisdom and power, to work through human-beings. If you have read today’s text in Luke 1-2, you will see that that absolutely includes women, who are central to this great narrative.
Elizabeth is a wonderful character who Luke introduces us to in his gospel. When we meet her in his narrative she is an older, godly, women. She had been married for decades, but to her great sadness (and social shame in that culture) she had been unable to have children. This sadness was compounded by the fact that when Luke describes her, she was well beyond child-bearing years.
As you will have seen in the reading, God did a remarkable miracle for Elizabeth. With her husband she was supernaturally enabled to conceive and give birth to a son, who would be known to history as John the Baptist.
There are two great lessons for us to take and apply from this remarkable woman and her encounter with God. The first is that in her waiting, sadness, disappointment and social-shame, she did not lapse into despair, self-pity or anger; rather she turned to God. Now that is something which is perhaps easier to say (or write!) than to achieve, yet is it is the secret to a contented spirit in a broken world. We all know that our lives here on earth can be filled with disappointment. Don’t let these things turn you away from God, instead make sure that when this world leaves you empty, that you fill your soul with the comfort and joy of The Lord.
The second exemplary thing about Elizabeth is her gratitude to God, when He had blessed her. The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” In chapter 17 of his gospel, Luke will introduce his readers to 10 lepers healed by Jesus – of whom only one bothered to say thankyou! In his song “Blessed Be Your Name”, Matt Redman sings, “Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise!” That song is sung in churches all around the world, and you’ve probably sung it somewhere. The question though is this: do you turn blessings back to God in praise? All good gifts come from God: children, homes, work, health, our skills and abilities, food, shelter, music, laughter. It is so important that we are not selfish consumers of God’s gifts, but grateful worshippers of our kind, generous God.
Take a moment now, get a pen and some paper and write down ten things you are grateful for. They can be as dramatic as The Everglades, or as small as a glass of cool, clean water to drink. Spend a few minutes thanking God for each of them.
Our first woman of Christmas (Elizabeth) faced shame because she was too old to have a child. Our second faced social derision because she was too young – pregnant and not yet married. Yet – she was absolutely central to plans of God. Luke 1: 26 -56 is a quite amazing portion of scripture by any measure! We could do weeks and weeks of studies on it, but for now I’d like to draw your attention to two things.
The first is that the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary was supernatural, and occurred because of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian faith cannot be reduced to rational or philosophical arguments (although it is never less than these), it is more than an ethical or doctrinal system too, and it is definitely far, far more than what people call “organised religion”. The very heart of our faith is the power of God at work within human history. Becoming a Christian does mean being convinced about the claims of Jesus, being persuaded that he died for you and rose again and is the Son of God. However, it also means receiving new-life, being born-again, or “regenerated” by God as He adopts you into His family. The Christian experience is no mere system of arid doctrine, Christ lives in our hearts by faith – every bit as much as he grew within the womb of Mary. In his classic work from the 1600’s, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”, Henry Scougal wrote: “Christians know by experience that true religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation in the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, “it is Christ formed within us.” Yes and Amen!
The second thing about Mary’s story to note is that God used a woman, to bring His Son, the messiah, into the world. God could have merely appeared amongst us, He could have come riding on the clouds, or blazing through the skies. Instead he chose the human process of gestation and birth. In doing so, he not only honoured humanity as a whole, but women and motherhood especially. We see this again when Mary met Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s unborn baby leapt in the womb as Mary approached – because Mary was carrying Jesus. While that was a unique moment in history, Christians experience something similar too. When God moves, we sense it, know it and our hearts leap within us even today.
Mary, of course, burst into prophetic song:
My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
Our third lady in the Christmas story is Anna, who the Bible describes as a prophetess; “an authorized spokesperson for God, with a message that originated with God” (Walter Kaiser Jr). He notes that prophecy is mentioned over 300 times in scripture and that “prophetess” appears 6 times in the Old Testament and twice in the New. Because prophecy originates with God, He alone choses the recipient of His message, and women were amongst those He chose in this way, in the Bible.
We do not know a huge amount about Anna the prophetess – other than that she had served and prayed in the temple for decades. She had been widowed very young, and had since that sad day, devoted herself to God. This old, godly, righteous lady had not retreated into bitterness, or anger; but had found solace in God’s presence. As we saw with Elizabeth, this world is full of many sorrows – and we cannot control which of these come into our lives. While we wait for The Lord to return and make all things new, wise people find their shelter, comfort and consolation in His presence- and Anna is precious example of this and an encouragement to us.
The Apostle Paul wrote these amazing words in Romans 8, “14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Christian people are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Simeon was stirred to go to the temple to meet Jesus on the day that Mary and Joseph presented him there for thanksgiving, blessing and the completion of the ritual laws of Israel. Anna too was moved by the Holy Spirit and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna’s dedication to God for all those decades of prayer, worship and fasting was in that moment complete. As she had turned her sorrow in this world to God, longing and waiting for Him to do something remarkable; she would not have known what He was planning. Yet – when she saw Jesus, her spirit leapt too! She encountered the Living God.
One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is that the Holy Spirit continues to stir our hearts today. When a Christian hears the gospel being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, something unmistakable stirs within them. I know a very spiritual lady, who is deeply devoted to God like Anna. She says that at times when she’s aware of God’s word being proclaimed with the anointing of The Spirit, she has a distinctive physical reaction. The same Spirit who inspired the writers of scripture, who raised Christ from death, is the same Spirit who indwells us now. And when we encounter the things of God, there is deep resonance within us. Likewise, when we meet evil, error or people wanting to distort the truth, we sense the Spirit recoiling. These experiences are a great source of assurance for that we belong to Christ, because we sense this work of His Spirit, moving us like Anna is moved here in Luke’s gospel.
You may be surprised that I have listed Eve amongst the women of the Christmas story! You might think that doing so is a bit strange, so let me show you why the first woman is here in this list.
As I am sure you know, the idyllic scene in Genesis 2 in the Garden of Eden is wrecked when the serpent tempts Eve to break God’s rule, and Eve entices Adam to follow suit. God’s judgement falls upon humanity, and chaos and disorder soon follow their exit from the beautiful garden. God’s judgement falls most heavily though, on the wily serpent who instigated the fall of humanity, saying: (3v15)
This is the first prophecy about God’s plan to save the world – and it occurs right at the very start of the Bible, almost as soon as sin has entered the picture. God says that a descendent of Eve will be struck by a serpent, but that he will crush the serpents head. The language is poetic and requires a little interpretation, but we can see clearly that a descendent of Eve would be hurt by evil. Nevertheless he would crush it. The Apostle Paul explains how this is fulfilled by Jesus in Colossians 2:13- 15:
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.[e]
So Jesus was a son of man – a real human, a descendant of Eve. He suffered deeply on the cross, he was struck by Satan, and killed. However, by taking away our sin, reconciling us to God, and rising again from death; Jesus both triumphed over evil and humiliated it. He crushed its’ head. Ultimately this means that the serpent will be hurled into the lake of fire in permanent destruction – where he will tyrannize the world no longer; and his vile rebellion against the good rule of God will be ended.
And this all the work of Christ! The Apostle John wrote: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8). God kept his promise – even though there was a very long wait to see it fulfilled. Know this – the promises of God are always, always, always kept!
The Four Women of Christmas
So here are our four women of Christmas:
Elizabeth – who kept praying, and seeking God through long years of pain and disappointment. She wasn’t too old to see God’s fulfilment in her lifetime.
Mary – who wasn’t too young to be used by God, and was blessed to be the bearer of His one and only son; the Christ, the Messiah!
Anna – who served all her life, and was holy and dedicated to God. She saw all her hopes realised when she saw the face of Jesus.
Eve – who’s tragic story reminds us that God is faithful, and that Jesus is the victor over evil.
Until next time.