I don’t know about you but I find the first couple of chapters of Luke’s Gospel very uplifting indeed, surely ripe pickings for a musical, as there appears to be rhythm to the story surrounding the birth of Jesus which goes like this: Angel of the Lord, or Holy Spirit, appears to frightened person, delivers some good news concerning their favoured status, recipient of good news bursts into song. This is the pattern of receipt for Mary, Zechariah and, Simeon. All three of their songs of gratitude are included in Anglican liturgy: the Magnificat, the Benedictus and, the Nunc Dimitus.
So what can we learn from the ‘Christmas characters,’ (Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and, Simeon) in terms of their ability to received the most precious of gifts from God?
I would suggest the following:
- An openness to the word of God. Each of them responds to a visitation from either and angel or the Spirit. Their openness is staggering considering their total, unequivocal, commitment to the Jewish way of life. These characters remind us that we can be both totally embedded in our culture whilst, at the same time, being free from its restrictive boundaries.
- Bravery. Mary and Joseph in particular are told not to fear. Simeon must have been afraid that he would not see the Messiah before he died. Elizabeth and Zechariah were also oldies and, as a childless couple, subject to ridicule. Jesus’ healing ministry, it seems, began even before His birth; how ridiculous, paradoxical, marvellous!
- Obedience. They not only receive the word of God, they act on it. Think of Joseph and his renewed sense of commitment to Mary, and what about Mary herself? Zechariah calls his son John, against all cultural norms.
- An awareness of right relationship with God and each other (righteousness). All of the ‘Christmas characters,’ understand that their children are pure gift whilst Elizabeth and Zechariah accept that their son, the eldest cousin, is called to play second fiddle, (the hardest instrument in the orchestra!)
- Patience. For Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and possibly Joseph, the cherished gift is a long time in the making.
- Humility. Just look at the words of the Magnificat.
So there we have it, if we want to be grateful recipients of the most cherished of gifts – Jesus- we need to cultivate, openness, bravery, obedience, righteousness, patience and humility.
Of course the Christian narrative of receipt does not end with the birth of the Messiah, for after his death and resurrection, his followers are given the Spirit, the disciples when Jesus breaths on them (John 20, 22) and, the entire company of His followers at Pentecost (Acts 2, 1-4).
From these accounts we can deduce one more characteristic of grateful, communal, recipients: solidarity (I thought about unity but could the disciples, at this stage, have possessed unity of purpose?).
From John 20 we learn that the disciples, who were all terrified, were together, in Acts 2 we read that ‘they were all together in one place.’ But more on this at Easter time…………
So there we have it the seven characteristics of highly effective recipients (to paraphrase Steven Covey), openness, bravery, obedience, righteousness, patience, humility, solidarity. But, I hear you say you have forgotten the most important characteristic of all gratitude.
Are ‘we’ (whoever we might be) grateful recipients?
p.s. Don’t worry about the size of the gift, after all Jesus was a babe, the widow offered her mite and two loaves and five fish weren’t really sufficient – or were they?