A season of response.
“That’s all? What else is there?” my six year old daughter innocently asks as she tosses the unwanted dress to the side. She peers into the gift bag, searching for something more, only to find tissue paper. “I didn’t want a dress, I wanted a new doll,” she mumbles, obviously dissatisfied. My husband and I, are, of course, beyond embarrassed. Didn’t we go over this on the car ride to Auntie’s house? I quickly respond, “Oh, what a beautiful dress! Look how pretty it is! Thank you so much! We love it.” Mean while, my husband is fuming. All the coaching in the car on how to just smile and say “thank you” was futile.
Children just blurt out whatever they are thinking, whatever is in their heart, and a six year old little girl doesn’t want a dress for Christmas. Thankfully, most people grow out of this phase. We learn how to be grateful for the thoughts and consideration of the gift giver, rather than be ungrateful for the gift that wasn’t quite what we wanted.
Our Responses Reflect Our Heart
However, I know for myself, personally, when I receive news or something doesn’t go quite the way I expected or wanted it to go, my first response isn’t always the right response. This is something that I am always working on – taming my tongue – which starts with aligning my heart with God’s.
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
– Matthew 12:34
In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, as we read about the Christmas story, we learn about the different ways Zacharias, Elizabeth and Mary responded to news they had been given, and the results of those reactions.
When given unexpected news, there are a variety of ways you might respond. Let’s take a look at a few of those responses and how these three characters handled the unexpected news.
Responding with questions of disbelief.
In Luke 1:5-25, we read the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth. The text tells us that they were an older couple that were never able to have children, and were past the child-bearing years. One day, when Zacharias, a priest, was in the temple of the Lord, an angel appeared to him.
The angel said to Zacharias, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. (v. 13)
And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” (v. 18)
And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (v. 19-20)
The first response counts. After Gabriel rebuked him for his disbelief, you can bet that Zacharias believed what he said was true. But the damage was done. Sure enough, he was unable to speak until after the birth of his son nine months later. If only he would’ve believed right away, he would’ve been able to run out of the temple doors, shouting out the good news and praising God for blessing him and his wife with a child. Instead, he was mute, and I’m sure it was fun trying to explain to his friends how one of God’s angels appeared and spoke directly to him and he didn’t believe.
Responding with a question and a heart of obedience.
Also in Luke 1, we learn that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married, to start their lives together, when an angel appeared to them with news that would forever rock the whole world.
The angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!…. you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (v. 28-33)
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v. 34)
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God….. For with God nothing will be impossible.” (v. 35-37)
Mary must’ve had the most pure heart to be so readily accepting of such shocking news. She didn’t say, Why me? Don’t you know I already had my life planned out? No, she embraced the news and obeyed God. God knew Mary’s heart before he even sent his angel to deliver the message.
He knows our hearts, as well. He knows how we will respond. Do you know how you will respond? The ultimate goal for us when we are faced with unexpected circumstances, when news comes along that messes up our plans, is that we would respond immediately with belief, obedience and joy.
Responding with joy.
During her pregnancy, Mary went to stay with her cousin, Elizabeth, for a few months, and upon arriving, it says, “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v. 41)
As we learned earlier, Elizabeth also became pregnant after receiving news from an angel. She carried John (who would one day be known as John the Baptist), whom the angel said, “will be great in the sight of the Lord… He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit… And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (v.15 – 17)
Elizabeth was so filled with joy of the news of Mary carrying the Son of God.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (v. 42 – 45)
Mary, also filled with joy, responded:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me.” (v. 46-49)
Oh, to be so pure in heart that my first response to news that causes me to have to change my plans. This is my desire. I know I often relapse into responding like a six year old, even though I know better. I pray that I will one day draw so near to God, that my first response is a direct reflection of my relationship with God.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
– Psalms 51:10-12