THE TRUE BLESSINGS OF CHRISTMAS (LUKE 1:26-45)
There is supposedly a blessing for everything in Judaism, from food to drink, from people to nature, from illness to danger.
If you have seen Fiddler on the Roof, you may remember that the rabbi of the tiny Jewish community in Russia was asked by a student concerning a blessing for the Tsar of Russia. With the song “Tradition” playing in the background, the student came up to the rabbi, the town’s most important person, and asked him how to pray for the powerful Tsar: “Rabbi, Rabbi, may I ask you a question?” “Of course,” the rabbi replied. “Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?” The Rabbi said, “Blessing for the Tsar? Of course. May God bless and keep the Tsar…far away from us!”
Around Christmas time, most people, especially kids, ask themselves if they’ve been naughty or nice, bad or good, crying or not.
Christmas, however, is never a difficult or depressing experience. It is first and foremost a blessed experience. The word “blessing” does not quite fit the theme of Christmas. Traditionally, we greet each other at this time of the year “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Christmas is anything but a blessing now; it is a burden or a break, for revelry, recreation or reunion time.
Why is Christmas a blessing to the world and a blessed time of the year? How are we blessed? What do we have to do to receive and experience this blessing?
Count Your Blessing from the Lord
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:26-29)
A Persian fable says: “One day a wanderer found a pale-looking but sweet-scented lump of clay. Curious at the lump of clay’s fragrant smell, the wanderer asked the clay, “What are you? Are you a beautiful gem?” The clay said, “No, I am not.” “Are you a rare plant?” the wanderer again questioned. The clay again answered, “No, I am not that either.” The wanderer next queried, “Then you must be a costly merchandise?” The clay retorted, “No, I am just a lump of clay.” The frustrated wanderer then asked, “Then, how did you smell so good?” The lump of clay finally confessed, “I smell good because I have been dwelling with the rose.” (7,700 Illustrations # 7143)
Recorded in the KJV but not NIV is the additional but helpful clause in verse 28, repeated in verse 42: “Blessed art thou among women.” The Greek word “eulogeo” (v 28) to describe Mary’s blessing is an unusual greeting, whether used for men or women, the dead or the living. The English equivalent is “eulogy,” a part of a funeral program. To eulogize someone is not merely to talk generally about the person but to speak highly of the person, or “good words” literally, especially at the person’s funeral! Unlike its English usage, the Greek word is a dynamic and living word, not a dead word and a belated honor for the deceased.
Christmas is the best of times despite the worst of times. Soon to be rocked by scandal, reviled by society and rife with questions, Mary understandably was “greatly troubled” (v 29) - shocked, stunned and shaken. The angel’s presence, ironically, did not ease her mind or help things out; it was enough to stress her out. Already an angel’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth’s family, specifically to the husband Zechariah, six months ago (Luke 1:24-26) was the talk of the town, a tall tale at best, a terror even to skeptics. Zechariah was silent and unable to speak (Luke 1:20), remaining speechless since until who knows when.
Christmas is, in fact, the occasion of three “troubles.” The first “trouble” describes how Zechariah was “startled/troubled” and was gripped with fear by an angel’s appearance (Luke 1:12). The last “trouble” sent shock waves, stirred a city, spawned much discontent and stimulated for change, recounting how King Herod, along with all Jerusalem, was “disturbed” by the magi’s news (Matt 2:3).
Sandwiched between two “troubles” is the mother of them all. Half a year after Zechariah’s trouble, Mary was “greatly troubled” (v 29) by an angel’s appearance and announcement. This Greek word (dia-tarasso) makes its first and only occurrence in the Bible, meaning “thorough/throughout” (dia-) and verse 11’s “troubled” (tarasso). Zechariah was troubled (tarasso) (Matt 2:3), but Mary was greatly troubled” (dia-tarasso). No one could imagine the tension, her turmoil and test.