“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven.” O Little Town of Bethlehem, Phillip Brooks
How can this be is the question Mary asked when the angel Gabriel told her that she was going to have a baby. How can this be is the question Elizabeth asked when she realized Her Lord was with her, in Mary’s womb. And perhaps it was the question Zechariah lived out, mute and suddenly a father. Perhaps it was the question Jospeh lived out after the angel appeared to him in a dream. Perhaps this is the question the shepherds and the Magi asked as the blessing of His heaven became real to them.
It’s a question that I have lived out this past year as things have happened to me and I am sure the same it true for you. How can this be - when the unimaginable hardships and challenges come. How can this be - when the unimaginable blessings and opportunities come. How can this be?
One of the things I love about the Christmas story is the fact of it. It happened in a real place: Bethlehem. As the song says, “O LIttle town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” It happened in a real town with real people. It was one ordinary night when Jesus was born. It was one night like any other. The fact of it is significant because you are in a real place right now. Just as Jesus appeared in a real place and time in Bethlehem, He will appear to you.
Henri Nouwen says, “The Lord is coming. Always coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment in your life. Life is advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.”
The hearing and the seeing and the recognizing are hard. There are times when God will appear in a dramatic way like when Paul is struck blind on the Road to Damascus but most of the time it comes like the song says, “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.”*
It came silently in the temple when Zechariah was at work. It came quietly to Elizabeth in the seclusion of her home. No words from her husband, only a son growing within her. It came quietly to Joseph in a dream. It grew quietly within Mary over time until she was with Elizabeth and she suddenly heard and saw and recognized the power of the Lord with her in a real way.
It comes quietly as we hear, ask questions, and see the reality of something more, something beyond us. It comes as we realize, as the song says, our hopes and fears are met as God enters into our hearts — as he is born in us.
It is not always easy. Zechariah loses his ability to speak. Mary and Jospeh need to travel 80 miles to Bethlehem during the later days of pregnancy and then give birth to Jesus alone, in a stable. People around them did not understand the reality of what was happening. Even today, it can make you shake your head. It all happened in an unlikely place with ordinary people. It was not grand in the eyes fo the world but it was glorious and true — a miracle. It is still beyond us. How can this be?
The answer is simple and profound. It’s not something you can get right or wrong. It’s the key to living. It shows you how to live. The angel tells us the answer and Mary shows us how to apply it to our lives.
The angel says, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary says, Surely I am blessed, “The Mighty One has done great things for me." (Luke 1: 37,48-49) That is how our hopes and fears are met. The Lord God, the Mighty One will do great things for us. Whatever comes our way, we can count on him to be with us. With him, we can overcome our unimaginable hardships and realize our unimaginable blessings. This is the secret to living well — to hear God and see God and recognize God in all things — and to give him thanks and praise for everything. Mary shares her joy and amazement of the wondrous gift of God blessing her by praising God.
Wherever you find yourself today, know you are not alone. There is a wondrous gift awaiting you today, Jesus wants to be with you. God is bigger than we think. His ways are more wondrous than we can fully know. His love is greater than we can ever imagine.
Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)
Now is the time to hear the voice of the Lord. Now is the time to open the door of our heart and our mind. Now is the time to ask Jesus to come in and to be with him.
“Come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”*
* O Little Town of Bethlehem, Phillip Brooks