Birthing Stories, Christmas and the Inverted Kingdom

by Liam Glover

[4 minute read]

 

I remember in the halls of the hospital when our boys were born conversations being shared between nurses and mums about birth stories. First time and seasoned mothers alike would discuss the arrival of their new born. Comparing and sharing stories of life seems to reflect who we are as humans.

In the gospel of Luke we read two stories connected to the arrival of two contemporaries in first century Jerusalem – John the Baptist and Jesus. These two stories seem to sit in parallel to one another, inviting a comparison – probably less about the metrics connected with each and more about the meaning.

The Story of John the Baptist

We read in Luke 1 that Zechariah was on the roster that week. (Who in Christian ministry doesn’t love a good roster?) He was down to serve. Zechariah had the right credentials, the right lineage, the right experience, the right spouse, with Scripture recording that he was, “righteous in God’s eyes” (1:6). But for being sonless (and at an age beyond progeneration), he epitomised all that was required to be most closely connected to and consecrated for God.

Whilst ministering at the right time in the holy of holies (reserved as a place of service once per year), on the right-hand side of the altar, an angel of the Lord appeared (1:11). Right is a position of favour, power and blessing. And the angel delivers an amazing prophecy over his future child, one that any parent would cherish.

Zechariah queried the veracity of the prophecy, “How will I know that this is so?” (1:18) with the result that the angel said, “because you (Zechariah) did not believe my words, you shall be mute and not speak” (1:20). (I know there a few people who know me well who would appreciate me receiving that sort of visit from an angel.)

Fast forward nine months and we discover that Holy Spirit filled John is born to Elizabeth and lives a life preparing the way for the coming Messiah, as prophesied by Zechariah (1:67-79).

The Story of Jesus

If Zechariah culturally was for all the right reasons right for divine intervention for progeneration, Mary was not. Mary was a novice. She wasn’t of the priestly order, she wasn’t on roster, she wasn’t experienced, she wasn’t male and she wasn’t married. Why would she experience an angelic visitation?

Mary queried, “how can this be? I do not know a man (code for ‘I am a virgin’)” (1:34). Mary knew enough about the birds and the bees to require further understanding. The angel supplied the answer, to which Mary is recorded as having responded, “Here I am, the servant of Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

Again, fast forward 9 months Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is born and this is the reason Christmas has been celebrated, each year, throughout the generations.

The Inverted Kingdom

It would make sense, in our thinking, that Zechariah and Elizabeth should bear Jesus the Messiah. They have the right resume, the right experience. Seasoned practitioners in the ways of Yahweh.

But the inverted Kingdom doesn’t work that way.

Both divine visits caused fear. Both Mary and Zechariah were urged not to be afraid. Both divine visits explained what was going to happen. Both Mary and Zechariah asked a question.

Zechariah’s response was one of lack of belief. Mary’s response was one of humility and trust.

Mary a young, unmarried, lacking religious pedigree, seemingly nobody was chosen to carry the saviour of mankind. She was chosen to fulfill the mission of God.

So often we can feel that we don’t have all that is required, all that it takes to fulfill the mission of God. The requisite experience, qualifications, networks, relationships, resources or personality. The great news of the Kingdom of God is that the King inverts what man might measure.

David’s brothers were overlooked when anointing the next King of Israel. The demoniac, the woman at the well and the disciples were prioritised by Jesus over the righteous religious.

When God speaks into your heart about your future, when he reveals through his word promises for what’s around the corner, when he inspires you to a new tomorrow through the counsel of the saints, can I encourage you to be like Mary and respond with humility and trust to simply say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

You may just never know what God’s up to.

Jesus’ invitation for me and for you is to follow him. Not to know everything before we set out, but to walk in faithful obedience.

 

May this Christmas be a time of refreshment and renewal, as you calibrate your life around following Jesus.