One of my most clear Christmas memories occurred when I was 10 years old. I vividly recall receiving a pretty blue robe, and the best thing, a new AM-FM transistor radio. A big deal for a 10 year old back then!
It is possible that I remember this so well because there was a photo of me taken by my parents that somehow did not get lost or damaged. Those visual aids strongly influence our memories.
It isn’t a big leap at this time of year to go from the idea of physical presents, to the deeper concept of spiritual presence. They do connect in a way. While raised in a Christian home, I was too young to fully recognize the amazing presence of God, but I saw it in the demonstration of my parents love and giving, and it has developed as an adult.
In reading through the Christmas story once again, I was drawn to the more peripheral characters involved. I noted Zechariah, who was a priest in the temple in the days that Jesus was conceived and born. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had an encounter with the presence of the Lord during that time, and were chosen to be John the Baptist’s parents. In the flesh and blood sense, Jesus and John were related because their mothers were related. They all played a pivotal place in the Christmas story.
When the angel came to Zechariah and announced that he and his wife, Elisabeth, were going to have a son, Zechariah understandably had some doubts. (Luke 1:8-23) Number one, he was really old. Number two, an angel appeared and told him the news-not exactly an every day occurrence. To his credit Zechariah recognized that God was doing this, and even though he was mute for a time because of his initial disbelief, when John was born Zechariah by faith wrote on the tablet, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63) because the angel had instructed him so.
It would have been fascinating to know Zechariah’s thought processes during the time of John’s gestation. This experience would shake anyone up. In the same sense, what did Elisabeth think in this season of her life? The Bible indicates she recognized God’s presence and His work when she said, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me to take away my reproach among people.” Luke 1:25 (ESV)
Elisabeth also understood and felt God’s presence when she greeted Mary, who had come for a visit. Elisabeth had only to hear Mary’s voice, and her spirit and that of John, yet unborn, reacted to that anointing on Mary and the nearness of their Messiah. She knew that her relative was pregnant and carried Jesus. We probably all know her response by heart. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” In her wonder, she also states: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:42-43 (ESV) There was no previous indication that Elisabeth knew her relative was pregnant beforehand, and no record that they had visited recently. Mary was only three months pregnant at this time. The spirit revealed it to Elisabeth. What an encouragement this must have been to Mary! It was likely confirmation to her at a time she most needed it.
Another peripheral player but still very important was Simeon, known as a righteous and devout man. He had been praying for the Messiah to come for many years, who knows how long- but the Bible says the Holy Spirit was on him too. When Jesus was brought to the temple to present him to the Lord at eight days old, as was Jewish custom, Simeon was there. (Luke 2:22-35) And to Simeon’s joy, he recognized the Consolation of Israel indwelling the baby Jesus. No one anticipated the Messiah coming in this innocent, sweet little package, but by the spirit, Simeon saw. “‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…’” vs. 29-30 (ESV) He had the ultimate visual aid right in front of him-in his arms as he held Jesus. I wonder if he knew that Jesus would die for him one day, and hold him in return?
This blog post has stirred questions in me. Do I recognize Jesus in this season beyond the manger scenes and songs about his birth in Bethlehem? Do I recognize the presence of the Lord every day? Can I say that I not only feel his presence, but see him at work? And if I see Jesus, do I have the reaction that Zechariah, Elisabeth, Simeon and the babe-in-womb John experienced? Oh, I want to! I look for it and I look for him.
It comforts my heart that the Lord promises, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) The fact that my actions do not always prove pure, simply means I am a work in progress. The footnotes from my NIV Full Life Study Bible simply explains “pure” as someone who lives to please God, not themselves. And the word “see” in this verse is defined in Strong’s Concordance this way: to gaze with wide open eyes, as at something remarkable. My prayer is that you and I recognize his presence this holiday season and every day, so that we can devote ourselves even more to him!
“The whole of our life inside and out is to be absolutely haunted by the Presence of God.”- Oswald Chambers