In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!” (Luke 1:39-45)
Many unexpected treasures are embedded in the Christmas story. One of these treasures is the simple but life-changing truth that God often works through the unlikeliest of people to accomplish the greatest of wonders. There are three operative human characters in Luke 1:39-45. Each of them is an unlikely character in the first noel.
Mary is a very young woman—possibly even a teenager. She’s a virgin. She’s engaged but not yet married. The girl may be young, but she’s not dumb. She knows how babies are made, and she’s not about to have a baby. Then, through His messenger, God calls her to believe a biological impossibility (vs.35-38, 45) that would change every dream she had ever dreamed for her life. In Luke’s gospel, we really don’t know anything about Mary’s parents. She just shows up on this page of Scripture, unexpected and unannounced. But it was God’s delight that, of the tens of millions of women living under Roman rule in that day, a betrothed, teenage virgin from an inconsequential home would show up on the first pages of New Testament history as the mother of the Son of God. How unlikely a character for so great a wonder.
Elizabeth is a barren, old woman, righteous and faithful in God’s sight but plagued with infertility all the many years of her marriage to a respected temple priest. How many decades had she and Zechariah prayed in faith that God would bless their home with a child? How distraught must she have been closing in on this final season of life never having received the one thing she wanted most from God? Then, by God’s grace, she conceives a son in her old age—John the Baptist, a son of ancient prophecy who is to become the voice of one crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. And here, even before the birth of her son, Elizabeth becomes the first recorded prophetess in Luke’s gospel as she is filled with the Holy Spirit (vs.42-45) to proclaim the blessings of the incarnate Christ. She is an old woman with a new lease on life. How unlikely a character for so great a wonder.
Preborn Baby John
John is a gift from God—an incubated, developing treasure. He is six months in the making (v.36). God is still forming his little body, knitting him together beautifully and wonderfully in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). He is fully human though not yet seen, possessing all the inherent dignity and value of an image bearer of God. At six months, hair is just beginning to grow on his soft, tiny skull. Fingerprints and toeprints have recently formed their unique, one-of-a-kind shapes. His red, wrinkly skin is still translucent enough to trace the course of the little veins carrying lifeblood throughout his body by a fully functioning, magnificently complex cardiovascular system. His eyelids are beginning to part to allow for the opening of his eyes although he can only see, at this point, the cradle of his mother’s womb shielding him from the dangers of a world he does not yet know. John is 12 inches long, no more than two or three pounds. But at the voice of the mother of the incarnate Christ, he leaps for joy in his mother’s womb (vs.41, 44). A preborn infant would be among the first to testify to the greatness of this moment, when God incarnate was conceived in the womb of a human virgin. How unlikely a character for so great a wonder.
This sense of wonder is embedded into the Christmas story, from its first pages until now. Can’t you feel it? Even today, God often works through the unlikeliest of people to accomplish the greatest of wonders.
The wonder of Christ’s incarnation should cause all our souls to leap for joy in these cradles of flesh. Yes, because of the magnitude of the grace of God who tabernacled with us. But also, even if only in some small way, to know that God often works through the unlikeliest of people to accomplish the greatest of wonders. Unlikely people like you and me are on every page of God’s redemptive story unfolding through the generations. So, let’s steward our moment with simple faith and obedience. Let’s believe God for impossible things. Let’s tell the world about it. And let’s marvel at the wonder of it all, together, as his redemption story passes through our generation.