“Here I am — at Christmas”
General Paul A. Rader
Joseph was bewildered. He was, after all, only an ordinary tradesman from the small village of Nazareth in Galilee. A good man–and a skilled carpenter, too. But these things were a mystery to him. First, there was the puzzling pregnancy of Mary, his betrothed. And now a radiant angel had visited him, just as Mary said an angel had come to her, announcing that the child taking shape within her womb had been conceived by the Holy Spirit for a holy mission. “You must call the child’s name, Jesus,” Joseph had been told, “for he will save his people from their sins!”
“Save?” he must have thought. What wonder in that word! All Israel lived with the prayer that a savior would come one day. An anointed one–the Christ! “Jesus!” He must have whispered the name to himself again and again: “Jesus! Jesus!” That name expressed his people’s heart cry for as long as he could remember: “Jehovah our salvation.” True, it was a salvation from the heel of Rome and the oppression of Caesar they most wanted. “He will save his people from their sins,” the angel had said. It was all too wonderful. But Mary’s child? Jesus? Whatever that “salvation” would mean to Joseph and Mary, to Israel, or the whole world, for that matter, it was surely something much greater than his mind could grasp.
In fact, the whole matter was far beyond all the principal actors in this drama. When the skies above the shepherd hills exploded in glory and angel songs of heavenly peace and favor thrilled the night, even the simple shepherds knew something epochal was breaking into their story from beyond them. The brilliant star that would guide the Magi to the Christ Child was itself a sign of this “breaking in” to the human story from beyond.
The mother of Jesus was still only a girl when an angel made the startling announcement that she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High!” She bravely put herself–her very body–at God’s disposal. In effect she said, “If there is going to be a miracle, let it happen to me!” Somehow she knew that what was at stake was the magnificent plan of salvation which God had been preparing since the beginning of time. “Here I am,” she said, “the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word! (Luke 1:38 NRSV). “Here I am–at Christmas!”
There is a striking similarity between Mary’s words of submission to the purpose of God and the words of the Lord Jesus himself. For the writer of the Hebrews records: “When Christ came into the world,” he said; “sacrifice and offering I did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”…Then I said, “Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll–I have come to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7). “Here I am–at Christmas!”
We are not sure when Jesus might have said these words or even thought them. But they are certainly the testimony of his whole life and, even more, of his sacrificial death. Just before the cruel events that led to his execution began to take their inexorable course, he struggled with his destiny in the Garden of Gethsemane, finally crying out: “Not my will, Father, but yours be done!”
Christmas is about the working out of God’s grand purpose to recover us to fellowship with the Father and a restored place in his forever family, through the life and death of his son. A plan of love born in the heart of God was being played out that first Christmas. Prophets spoke of it. Angels watched in wonder its dramatic development. As for Mary, the Gospel writer notes that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).
The final unfolding of that plan of love and salvation required the willing participation of persons–his mother Mary, and Jesus himself. They were the ones who were there–at a given point in history–“the fullness of time” as Paul once observed. “When the fullness of time had come,” he wrote, “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV). The saving purpose of God intersected the human story at the point of the willingness of Mary to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord!”
Christmas still happens when someone says, “Here I am. Let it happen to me.” Through her willingness a body was prepared for Jesus in space and time, through which the dream and desire of God for our salvation could come to reality. Making the Christmas reality available to people today requires the willingness of those who will say, “Here I am, Lord. I am at your disposal. I know my life is intended to be about more than pleasing myself. I am here to do your will–your loving, saving, miracle–will through which others can experience the gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Sometimes that will is expressed in simple deeds of kindness and caring at Christmas, done in the name and spirit of Christ. And there is no better time than the Christmastide for all of us to share in communicating the love of God to others. Quite unexpectedly, small acts of Christmas kindness have sometimes opened the windows of darkened souls to the light and hope of a savior come to be with us. Some have discovered that in our own self-giving lies a sign and promise of God’s inexpressible gift of light and love in his son, Jesus.
Our presence is crucial to God’s purposes–in the home, school and work place, or in the trenches of engagement with the agonies and injustices of our world. As Christ came to identify with us, to live among us, to lay down his life for us, he calls us, especially at Christmas, to be present to others–“Here I am…to do your will!” He calls us to be available and attentive to our own children, or to stand at the side of someone suffering through a terminal illness, or with a couple trying desperately to hold their home together, or to stand with teenagers in trouble who need someone to believe in them and to model character and Christian conviction. Some he calls to live in the midst of a community struggling to survive amidst grief, appalling poverty and suffocating oppression–at home, or across the world. When we can say, “Here I am, for you and for them,” then we become part of that plan of salvation that broke into the human story on the first Christmas Day, a salvation that can transform our lives, our homes and our communities here and now, this Christmas.