One of the many interesting parts of the Christmas story is how God communicated with its various characters. He began His messaging about the coming of the Son of God to the earth centuries before He came by foretelling some of the specifics through the prophets. Isaiah wrote in the eighth century before Christ that God would come in the form of man and be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6). A few years later, through the prophet Micah, God revealed that the child would be born in the town of Bethlehem. But as the time of the Savior’s coming drew very near, the Lord chose to speak to His chosen people by either sending an angel, giving them a dream, or both (having the angel appear in a dream).
God sent the angel Gabriel to two different people. The first was Zechariah, a priest who was on duty for burning incense in the presence of God in the temple. The angel appeared to Zechariah while he was carrying out his priestly duty, and told him he would have a son. (This son would be John the Baptist who would turn many people to the Lord.) Zachariah had trouble believing that he, an old man, and his elderly wife, who had been barren even as a younger woman and was now past the age of child-bearing, could have a child, so he asked the angel for a sign. Wrong answer. Here’s the thing. If you’re standing in the very Holy of holies, the one place on earth that God has committed His presence (at the time), and an angel, the one who stands in the Heavenly presence of God awaiting His instructions, appears to you and gives you a message from the Almighty, accept it. Regardless of how many obstacles to that message exist, believe it. The lesson? God’s Word trumps any obstacle, all obstacles.
A little over six months later, Gabriel stood in Nazareth before a teenaged girl named Mary. She was engaged, and a virgin, and heard the angel say that she was about to have a positive pregnancy test. After hearing Gabriel explain that she would conceive, not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit, and that her baby would be the eternal King, and called the Son of God, Mary gave the right answer: Let it happen to me as you have spoken. The lesson? Always say yes to God, because with Him nothing shall be impossible.
So Mary is pregnant before she marries her fiancé Joseph. There must’ve been quite the buzz around Nazareth. Everybody could see the emerging bulge, and there’s only one way it could’ve happened, right? So was Joseph premature in becoming intimate with his promised bride (Could he not even wait until they were properly married?)? Or was Mary so promiscuous that she sought pleasure from someone other than her betrothed? Doubtless, Mary’s story about an angel and the Spirit of God was met with whispers and sneers from the Nazarene town folk. And Joseph must’ve landed somewhere amid angry, confused, and puzzled about how to respond. But then the only thing that could clear this whole thing up happened, at least for Joseph. God spoke to him. And He did it in a dream. The Lord told him how Mary, indeed, became pregnant (by the Holy Spirit), what he should do next (marry the girl), and what he should name the child (Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins”). (Jesus means Jehovah saves.) And Joseph did as the Lord commanded him. The lesson? When circumstances confuse, let God’s Word clear it up for you.
Once Mary became Mrs. Joseph, and the newlyweds, their marriage still not consummated, traveled to Bethlehem for a Caesar-decreed census, and the time came for the child to be delivered, God again sent an angel with a message. This time the angelic message was announced to shepherds near Bethlehem. A child had been born in town, and this child is the Messiah, the Savior. Here’s how they’d know it’s Him. He’d be swaddled and lying in a feeding trough. The shepherds did go into Bethlehem and verify what the angel said, and they worshipped the baby Messiah. But before they left the sheepfolds in the pastures, a multitude of angels joined the one who’d delivered the message, and they all praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest way! And may peace now come to the earth and goodwill come to mankind!” The lesson? Don’t be surprised. God may speak to anyone anywhere anytime.
Wisemen from the East later came, following a phenomenon in the sky, probably the one we just experienced on December 21st, when Jupiter and Saturn moved into alignment from earth’s perspective, presenting as a super-brilliant star. They found the Christ child in Bethlehem, gifted Him generously and worshipped Him. When the time came for them to return to their home, God spoke to them in a dream, warning them to take a route that wouldn’t lead them through Jerusalem, where King Herod awaited their information about the child born King of the Jews, so he could carry out his secret plan to abort Him. The lesson? God’s Word will direct us as we play our part in His greater plan.
Since Herod was a danger to the child, God gave another dream, this time to Joseph again, and in this dream was an angel who warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt, because King Herod wanted the child dead. Joseph did immediately what God instructed him to do, and it preserved Jesus for His purpose. The lesson? Immediate obedience to God is key for us as we fit into His big picture.
The Christmas story is a story of God expressing Himself to mankind. Christ, Himself, is the expression of God in human form. And God also spoke to individuals by angels and in dreams. The lesson? Always be ready to hear God speak. He usually does when He’s about to do something phenomenal. (Read the whole story of Christmas in the first two chapters of both Matthew and Luke. And have a Merry Christmas!