Luke 6:3: And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Mathew 1:23: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
The narrative of John the Baptist has many lessons for us. In this short essay, I would like to focus on a couple of the less obvious ones: first, our faith can fall short of what it should be, yet we can still be considered blameless. Secondly, we can all have a different way to serve and dedicate ourselves to God: so to speak our devotions and callings are custom-made.
The story of John the Baptist begins with his father and mother, Zacharias and Elizabeth. The Scripture describes them as righteous and blameless. Singling out Zacharias, we see that although he was righteous and considered blameless he was not without fault.
While performing his priestly duties in the temple an angel appeared to Zacharias. The angel announced that he and Elizabeth would have a child and his name would be called John. Zacharias was elderly and Elizabeth was way beyond child bearing years and childless. The possibility of having a child so late in life coupled with naming this promised son a non-ancestral name was very hard for Zacharias to accept. He essentially cross-examined the angel. This questioning was unacceptable to God and was considered unbelief.
The angel countered by making Zacharias unable to speak until his promised son was born: that is, until Zacharias had a chance to demonstrate his faith by naming his son John, a non-ancestral name in total obedience to God and by doing so openly acknowledged that John was sent from God. The encouraging lesson here is God forgave Zacharias for his faithlessness, as I suspect was done many times in his life. Yet, he was characterized as righteous and blameless. Although we are far from blamelessness we can be counted blameless. This marginalization of our faults and forgiveness of our sins is at the heart of the Christmas Story.
If we fast forward the narrative, John the Baptist is now dedicating himself to God, following a monastic path. John the Baptist was living in the most barren parts of the region, eating insects and honey and clothed in rough and simple garments. John was called to a special dedication, indeed. Although these disciplines are noteworthy, when John emerged from the wilderness and began to live and preach among the people he did not ask his followers or those who heard him to exemplify the same kind of life or dedicate themselves in the same way that he did in the wilderness. John’s message was not monastic but honesty and repentance so that those who heard him preach might get ready for Jesus who was to come after him.
As Christians our experiences and callings are no doubt helpful to us as we devote our life to God. However, we should never expect others around us to follow our blueprint for devotion, spiritual progress and callings. This can lead to a critical and judgmental disposition toward our fellow Christians and create a stumbling block to people outside the church. The Christmas Story is not about one size fits all when it comes to our devotional lives and callings.
John the Baptist came out of the wilderness and Jesus came down from heaven to meet us where we are and works with us until we can get to where He wants us to go and what He wants us to be. Yes, there are tenants of the faith that are consistent and infallible, but the expressions of what God has done for us and in us are experienced in a very personal way. We could say that Christmas has come down from heaven and is meant to be personal. The Scripture we hear so often this time of year reminds us of the kind of relationship we have with Jesus; and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us There is nothing not personal about this!
Part Two next week: The Christmas Story: Mary, Joseph and the Birth of Jesus
Joseph C. Hutchison
Rochester Hills, Michigan
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