As I read the Christmas story this year, I found myself struck by a different aspect of the story that manifested in the familiar words:
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” (Luke 2:16).
Mary has just given birth, in a manger of all places. Despite our romanticizing of the nativity, her situation was far from ideal. She had just given birth to a child—naturally! without the comforts of modern medicine and home birthing tubs and prenatal yoga!—in the middle of a shack that smelled like animals. She was far from home. The previous joyous sharing of the news with Elizabeth, the comfort of community, was very distant.
Yes, she had God’s word to her But I know, as you know, that it is human to second-guess God’s promises even when we know that we know they are true. And I think that at the very least, recovering from childbirth as she looked at a baby that no doubt looked much like every other wailing baby in the world, Mary probably felt lonely. Tired. More than a little confused.
This…is it happening like you wanted, Lord?
I ask the question a lot myself. Even when I know God has placed me somewhere, even when I know He is working somewhere, I find myself wondering if He is entirely certain about all the details. As matters go haywire and everything goes not according to plan, I ask: Um, is this really how you planned it? Is this what you wanted? Are you sure?
I ask without asking if God has taken His hands off the wheel.
But then the shepherds come. I can’t imagine how startled Mary and Joseph must have been to glance up and find a bunch of expectant faces peering at them. Suddenly, guests—strange men—have arrived to look at Mary’s baby, and perhaps Joseph wonders how they’ve heard the news, and then—
God told us.
And having satisfied themselves of the truth of the matter, the shepherds go and tell everyone else what they have seen and heard about the baby. Scripture tells us Mary pondered these things and treasured them in her heart, but I cannot help but think how very comforting it must have been: the simple confirmation that everything, however strange and unexpected, was working out exactly how it should.
Yes, this baby is special. Yes, this is the plan. Yes, God knows exactly what is happening and is joyfully announcing it to the world.
Confirmation matters. Even when it is confirmation of something we already know to be true.
This is mirrored in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Elizabeth states to her family that her child will be named John. She receives a fight from her relatives, who find the naming very non-traditional and seemingly inappropriate; they know no Johns. They want the child to be named Zechariah, instead. Or, really, after any relative.
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of strong family disapproval knows how this feels, even when you are making a right choice. Is this really okay…? Everyone is so upset. Aunt Jacinda looks…really angry, actually.
But Zechariah comes through. His relatives summon him to be the arbiter of the issue—with the implicit undertone that he really ought to overrule his silly wife. But, still mute, Zechariah writes down, “His name is John.”
Elizabeth’s choice is confirmed and affirmed by her husband. In return, God loosens Zechariah’s tongue.
It means a lot to have people outside of us who confirm what we know to be true. External support and validation is deeply meaningful. Roughly half of my desires, goals, and dreams start when I turn to my mother or my husband and ask, “Is it crazy, or could I possibly…?”
Their answer is always yes, it is possible. No, you’re not crazy. They confirm and affirm.
I’m not indicating here that we ought to confirm and affirm everything for everyone all the time. We should dissent and disagree where necessary. But a lot of times we think people don’t need our confirmation or assurance. Susan knows God loves her; why should I go on repeating it? Well, I know Sarah’s struggling with cancer but she’s such a strong Christian reminding her of the promises of God would only be redundant. I’m sure she’s thought of them.
But it helps to have someone who repeats and confirms the truths we need the most.
Yes, God loves you.
Yes, God has His hands on the wheel.
Yes, none of this is what you planned, but it is all as God planned.
Yes, God is listening.
Yes, God cares.
The specter that haunts the hurting heart is doubt. In times of great trial and sorrow, even the things we know to be true can feel paper-thin and far away. It’s not coddling or spoiling someone, at those times, to step in and offer support with the reassurances and reminders of truth, goodness, and love.
In fact, I would argue it is healing and hopeful to do so.
Keep your eyes and your heart open to the people in your life who might need those reassurances as we enter into the winter. And commit God’s promises to your own heart so that you are ready to recall them when the time comes that they are needed.