“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:38)
Christmas approaches with its delightful merriment, and we extend our arms like eager children waiting to receive the wondrous advent of “peace on earth.” The beauty and brilliance of the Christmas season is completely integrated into Easter’s glory as the details of Jesus’ birth are mirrored in his journey to the cross and out of the empty tomb.
Amidst the olive trees in Gethsemane, the Savior surrendered. “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36), he declared with his face to the ground, and the weight of the world squeezing life from him like a vicious viper. Sweat like blood marked his brow where the crown of thorns would soon leave its mark.
In the Christmas story, we hear the similar sound of surrender from Mary as she yields her will to the Father. After the angel explains the miraculous plan to her, she does not falter or shrink from the daunting task. She simply agrees to what was asked: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Servants do their Lord’s bidding even when the cost is supremely high.
The Roman government was the earthly vehicle God used to relocate Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Caesar Augustus issued a decree “that all the world should be registered,” and Joseph “also went up” to Bethlehem to fulfill this Roman requirement (Luke 2:1, 4). Later, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, would sentence Jesus to death on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem (Luke 23:24–25). God’s hand moved the governments of Rome to ensure where Jesus would be born and where he would lay down his life.
The magi brought Jesus a gift of myrrh (Matthew 2:11), and then at the foot of the cross the soldiers mixed this same myrrh with wine (Mark 15:23). The wise men asked an important question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) and knelt down in worship when they found the Christ child. This same title, “King of the Jews,” was the inscription nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head after the battalion of guards “were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him” (Mark 15:19). The wise and the foolish came face to face with the Savior of the world.
The merry sounds of Christmas are a radical contrast to the somber notes on that mournful Friday morning. The loud, glorious declaration of the Christmas angels that lit up the Bethlehem skyline is juxtaposed against the silent, solemn daytime darkness when the earth wore blackness as Jesus was crucified. But, of course, the story does not end there. The “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10), which the shepherds heard on the Bethlehem hillside, was echoed by the angel’s talking to the women inside the empty tomb. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
This Christmas, may we realize as never before the extent of this good news of great joy. May we view Christmas through the submission and sacrifice of God’s beloved Son and follow the examples of Mary who surrendered and the wise men who presented him with the gift of adoration.
Elizabeth A. Mitchell