Too many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus while neglecting Christ himself. This negligence is because, though many of us would like to experience the joy of our salvation, our indulgence in worldliness cuts us off from it. We have lost the reason to celebrate. Many of us also desire the Lord to use us in significant ways, but we do not live lives suited for it, so we take up other pursuits. As we enter this Christmas season, our minds immediately go to the manger, but Luke starts the story by telling us of a man and woman stricken in years.
The lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth should instruct us (Luke 1:5-25). They were uncommon people. They may have appeared ordinary in the eyes of the world, but they stand out, even amongst the children of God. As children of God, we should follow their example. Luke tells us they were righteous before the Lord. They followed his word so closely they were blameless. Blameless does not mean they were sinless, but, as Matthew Henry points out, no one could accuse them of any open or scandalous sin. They lived in service to God. Like the rest of us, however, their lives were not perfect.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were also childless and had been praying for one for years. They knew, like arrows in the hands of a warrior, children are a blessing from the Lord, but they did not have any. Their quiver remained empty no matter how much they tried or how earnestly they desired one. Despite this disappointment, they trusted God and walked closely with him. Our discouragement should not drive us away from God but closer to him.
Being well advanced in years, they had pretty much given up hope of having a child. Until an angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him his prayer had been heard. This older couple was not only righteous and blameless; they were people of prayer. They lived in close communion with their God and, in that intimate communion, asked him to grant them the desires of their heart. The fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16).
Rarely do we, as Christians, live with this level of devotion. We have forgotten about the power of prayer, and we are often so distracted and overstimulated by the world’s trinkets that taking time to spend with God feels like a bore. In this, we sacrifice more than our time and attention to spiritual things. We produce little to no spiritual fruit, and God’s deep and abiding peace that should fill our hearts with joy is nowhere to be found.
Not only would Zechariah and Elizabeth have a son, but that son would also be John the Baptist. To have a child is a blessing; to have a godly child is a double reward. John, too, would live a life of uncommon devotion to God. Instead of constantly indulging in all the world had to offer, he lived a life of self-denial.
Like his parents, John was filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus would be born only a few months after John, and John would prepare the people’s hearts to hear his gospel. John was set apart to such a degree that he went in the power and spirit of Elijah. Like Elijah, he would call the people to repentance, and the hearts of fathers would turn to their children, and the disobedient would turn towards wisdom.
Few Christians today live as wholly devoted to God as Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. The hunger for holiness and close communion with God is so low in many churches that we forget it is even possible. For some, our spiritual lives have been at a low ebb for so long that we no longer know what we are missing. The abundant life offered in Christ no longer seems like a possibility.
This spiritual stagnation causes Christmas to pass us by without spending time with our Savior, neglecting the very one we are celebrating. Many of us will enjoy the warmth and merriment of the holiday, yet even for us believers, our celebration will lack its spiritual significance because the joy of our salvation has grown dim.
Perhaps we need to prepare our hearts for Christmas by following the example of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John. May we repent and put away our worldliness by living lives of self-denial. May we devote ourselves to the word of God and prayer and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
As we move into this Christmas season, may the Lord use us to call others to our great Savior as we speak of the season’s true meaning. Finally, may the story of Jesus’ birth be more than a story we rehearse. The child born that day is still alive and well, and believers can commune with him even now. All that are weary and heavy laden can come to him, and he will give them rest. May we celebrate this Christmas with Jesus himself and experience the joy of our salvation.