TOPSY TURVY (LUKE 1:26-38)
Christmas spirits are down every five years or so in the 21st century, as typified by the down years of 2002 and 2007. War and more rumors of war are in the air, unemployment is up and stocks are down, hearts are anxious and worried.
In 2002, more than two years of economic insecurity and instability wrecked havoc to many workers and their families. Many churches’ offerings were down 10-20%.
In 2007, fire threatened southern California, housing prices were down across the country and the mortgage crisis was felt throughout the world. Fortune magazine reports that the best minds – top banks and brokers - on Wall Street lost untold millions and billions as a result:
J. P. Morgan Chase - $339 million
Bear Stearns - $450 million
Bank of America - $527 million
Lehman Brothers - $700 million
Credit Suisse – 948 million
Morgan Stanley - $3.4 billion
Merrill Lynch - $7.9 billion
Citigroup - $9.4 billion (‘Wall street’s Money Machine Breaks Down,” Fortune, 11/26/07)
The first Christmas was marked by uncertainty, unease and uprooting. The Jews were unhappy under the new political realignment. The strength and influence of the Greek rule and culture horrified, dismayed and repelled the Jews. The age was as good as any age for the Messiah’s coming, but His coming did not usher in an era of conquest. The Jews’ problems did not end with Jesus the Messiah’s coming. The enemies were not defeated, an army was not raised and an uprising did not occur.
Why not? What characterizes the Messiah’s coming? What kind of Prince is Jesus and what kind of kingdom does He rule?
Christmas is the Advent of God’s Peace.
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. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
A study on ‘worry” was carried out on more than 1,600 men ages 40 to 90. At the start, they were given personality tests. They were tracked for 17 years to see how a trait called neuroticism affected survival. Those who score high in the neurotic trait are “worrywarts” who cope poorly with stress and tend to be highly anxious or depressed, says study leader Daniel Mroczek of Purdue University. “They don’t let things roll off their backs.”
Among men who were high in this trait at the start and became even more so over time, half had died 17 years after the study started. Among those who were high in neuroticism at the start but didn’t increase - the less neurotic, 75% to 85% were still alive. The good news: “People can change,” Mroczek says. “If you learn to worry or fret less, you may add time to your life.” But the findings apply only to men, he emphasizes.
Women are more likely than men to overthink, says psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema of Yale University, who has studied rumination for years. Women brood about things that make them sad or anxious; men are more likely to stew about anger, she says. And you don’t have to be an adult to suffer bad health effects. In her latest, four-year study of adolescent girls, she found that girls prone to ruminating were more likely than the others to develop eating disorders, alcohol problems and depression. Future chronic ruminators often were anxious little kids, Nolen-Hoeksema says. “It’s not the stress that kills us, it’s how we respond to it.” (“Brooding Weighs on Mind and Body,” 5/8/07 USA TODAY)
Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ in times of trouble.
The social implications of the angel’s announcement, without doubt, crossed virgin Mary’s mind. Motherhood seemed to be an insurmountable problem, an unbearable burden and an overwhelming responsibility. The disclosure was way over her head. It was way too much for her, and she was way too young. Her fiancée was about to leave her, the wedding was about to be cancelled and a child out of wedlock was about to be her fame, but her life did not spiral out of control. She did not have a nervous breakdown, cry at her misfortune or ask the angel for time to think, reconsider and decide.
Mary had peace because the Lord’s presence with her (v 28). Christmas does not mean the absence of danger, trouble and adversity but the presence of God’s peace in times of danger, trouble and adversity. The angel could not stop repeating the root word of “grace,” or charis in Greek (v 28). The first greeting from the angel was the word “grace,” (“greetings” in NIV) and the next word in Greek - “highly favored” - is also a modified version of the word “grace.” The first two Greek words are “Grace” and “highly- favored” - the linking verb “you who are” is missing in Greek. She had peace, wonderful peace, because of the presence of Christ our Savior (Titus 1:4, 3:6) and Lord (1 Tim 1:2, Jude 4, 25), the Lord of all (Acts 10:36) and God over all (Rom 9:5), and the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6) in her life. God’s peace transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7) and is perfect to those who trust in Him (Isa 26:3).