Everything about Christmas cries 'miracle'


By Allison Trussell 

Dec. 2
Called to Believe!
Lesson Scripture:
Luke 1:8-23
Background Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Key Verse: “But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” – Luke 1:20 

Poor Zechariah! As a priest, surely he knew God. He must have known God would answer his prayers. Right? And yet, when confronted with the answer to his prayer, he questions it.

Aren’t we like that?

Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, wanted a child, wanted a child badly. A childless woman in those days brought disgrace on the woman. She must have some fault or flaw was the belief.

Regulations required a priest such as Zechariah to marry from among his own kin (Leviticus 21:13-15). We can conclude Elizabeth was of a priestly family, and we are told she was righteous.

And so Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed earnestly, faithfully to God for a child.

Zechariah has a visitor, Gabriel, who tells him his prayer – the persistent prayers through the years – has been answered. Elizabeth will bear a child, a son.

Does the priest shout in joy or pump his fists or even say thank you? Nope, he, like many of us, says, “Right. Do you know how old we are? How do I know you’re who you say you are? Give me proof.”

How do you define miracle? St. Augustine of Hippo defined it this way: “Miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature.”

“The miracles of Jesus were the ordinary works of his Father, wrought small and swift that we might take them in,” said George Macdonald.

Do miracles have to be something incredible? Or something rather ordinary?

Some might say that Elizabeth’s pregnancy wasn’t a miracle, but an act of nature. Nothing special to see there. And yet, Elizabeth sees it as a miracle. Zechariah does eventually, I think. Perhaps he sees his loss of speech as the first miracle; it is certainly a “sign” for which he asked.

What miracles have you witnessed in your own life, in the life of someone you know or have heard about, or in your church?

How many proofs of God have we overlooked because we wanted something more, something tangible?


Dec. 9
Called to be a Vessel!
Lesson Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
Key Verse: “Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” – Luke 1:38

Like Zechariah in last week’s lesson, Mary receives a visit from Gabriel, who comes with a message from God. The message is remarkably similar: “You’re going to have a baby.”

But unlike Zechariah, Mary doesn’t ask for proof. She just asks how this is going to happen. She is, after all, a virgin and not yet wed to Joseph.

She doesn’t question the overwhelming prophecy about Jesus. She doesn’t question that her son will reign over all or that his kingdom will never end. Once Gabriel explains the how, Mary is accepting, offering herself, “Here am I.” Her words echo those of Isaiah and foreshadow the words of her son in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Do we offer ourselves as vessels for God? Or better yet, do we allow ourselves to be used by God? Or do we, too often, question God? Our questions aren’t even necessarily “how” but “why.”

Mary, interestingly, never questions why God has chosen her. The Bible gives us example after example of God choosing the foolish, the weak, the humble and the despised. We are told again and again that we are special, we are chosen by God.

Why then do we question whether God has chosen us to do something special? If we are chosen – and we believe ourselves to be – then shouldn’t the question be, “What kind of response will we make?”

Too often the church focuses so much on the how we’re going to affect the world that we often forget why we need to affect the world. We lose sight of the fact that God is the power behind our efforts because we worry so much over buildings and committees.

We, like Mary, are called to be vessels of God. If we trust him, if we say yes to him, then he will remove all barriers.


Dec. 16
Called to Proclaim!
Lesson Scripture:
Luke 1:67-80
Background Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
Key Verse: “Immediately his [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” – Luke 1: 64

This week, we’re back again with Elizabeth and Zechariah. John has been born, and Zechariah gets his voice back and begins praising God.

We’ve all had significant events happen to us. Some are joyful – like the birth of a child – some, disheartening and some, depressing. But how they affect us and our reaction to them are the subject of this week’s lesson.

Zechariah, the pious priest, now has what he has wished and prayed for all these years. I suspect that if I had wished and prayed for one thing for a long time, I might become discouraged. A friend of mine told me she had been praying continuously for a husband for years before the right man came along. I admired her tenacity. Our society has become focused on the now. We want it immediately; there’s no room for waiting or patience.

Perhaps Zechariah had reached that point in his life. Was he simply going through the motions, believing with his head and not his heart, when Gabriel appeared to him?

But his reaction, his proclamation of praise and prophecy, to the event is significant. The birth of his son opened his heart to God, allowing his tongue to be released.

In his joy, he also offers joy to his community, focusing on the fulfillment of the nation’s messianic hope. Zechariah reminds his people of the hope they’ve had and have. He speaks in certainty of what God has done and what God will do for his people.

It doesn’t take much to brighten my day – a simple smile or silly goof will often do the trick. What Zechariah told the people around him surely served to fan the spark of hope they’d lived with during the dark days of oppression. Zechariah reminds them and us that God is with us.

How does our relationship with God change during significant events? How do we react to the event, to each other and to God?


Dec. 23
Called to Rejoice!
Lesson Scripture:
Luke 2:1-14
Background Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Key Verse: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” – Luke 2:11

Today’s scripture is among my favorites, in no small part because of the shepherds.

While shepherds may have at one time been esteemed members of society, by the time of Jesus’ birth, they were considered transients and vagabonds.

The angels don’t appear to the rulers, to the important people of society. Nope, they appear to the lowest. How great is that?

The message is meant for them personally – “For unto you” – as well as the world – “which shall be to all people.” This simple message of great joy is one that the Jewish nation has been waiting for for centuries. This birth is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the promises of God.

When a promise is fulfilled, do you celebrate? What promises has God kept and what do those promises tell us about God?

And so the shepherds make the journey to Bethlehem to see what the angels had proclaimed, and when they find the child, they rejoice and tell their story to others.

We, too, rejoice each Christmas over the simple birth of a baby in a stable, in part because the angels appeared to the lowly rather than the mighty.

That could easily be called the theme of Luke’s Gospel, which seems to focus on the poor and outcasts. Why are they often the subject of God’s work? The lesson’s writer suggests the lowly exhibit more openness and responsiveness to God than do those who focus on wealth, status and power. Luke inevitably shows us the transcendent invading the ordinary, how God works through regular people like you and me in everyday settings.

So rejoice, celebrate this happy morn, and “let the simple story of simple folk call us to a singleness of heart as we join the angelic hosts in praising God and offering God’s peace to all who will receive God’s gracious love.”


Dec. 30
Called to Witness!
Lesson Scripture:
Luke 2:22-35
Background Scripture: Luke 2:22-38
Key Verse: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed … .” – Luke 2:34

Good news, regardless of topic, is something to be shared.

This week we look at Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. We are told the Holy Spirit rested on him and that the Holy Spirit led him. Because he lived with a Spirit-directed goal in life, Simeon had perspective, insight and purpose, and assurance that the goal would be filled.

So he goes to Jerusalem to the temple, and sees a child and knows – not thinks, but knows – this is the Messiah. Does he run away from the fulfillment of his goal? No, he takes the opportunity to praise God and witness to all that this is the “salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon recognizes the universality of this Messiah. Jesus isn’t there to rule over the conquerors of Israel, he is the consolation, comfort, hope of God’s people everywhere, Jews and Gentiles.

What would happen if we saw Christmas with eyes of the Spirit? Would we see how we fit in God’s plan and how we can tell the others the good news?

Simeon also sees divisiveness and pain in Jesus’ life. We, too, know what lies ahead for Jesus in the coming chapters of Luke, including success, failure, despair and hope. But Simeon and we take comfort and joy from the child at this point.

We don’t always know what’s coming toward us in life, but we do draw comfort from the knowledge that God is in control. If we are like Simeon, we will learn to let God lead us where he may and not necessarily where we want to go.

Christmas is an opportunity to see God’s purposes and work in our midst. The birth of the Messiah allows us to testify that God’s light is shining on us and guiding us to a future built on God’s will.

Trussell writes for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.