By George Bowers
Now that Thanksgiving is over, our thoughts begin to turn toward Christmas and the celebration of the greatest birth to have ever occurred. Jesus' death and resurrection have provided freedom from mankind's ultimate and most persistent enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus also has provided eternal life for all who will receive him. What a savior! (Indeed, as I write this on Black Friday, many businesses ought to recognize Jesus as their financial savior as well for the boon his birth provides to their bottom lines!)
As I began to ponder anew the wonder of this special nativity, I came across the passage in Luke 11 in which a woman in one of Jesus' crowds called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!" It certainly sounds like a reasonable blessing and one that takes our minds back to the manger of Bethlehem and the virgin mother.
Jesus' answer, however, steers the conversation in a much different direction. Instead of saying something like, "Thank you, she has been a great blessing to me," Jesus responds with a challenge and a great opportunity for each of us. He says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." This succinct response from the savior indicates that you and I can be just as blessed as Mary, and perhaps even more so, by listening to God's word and by living it out. Whenever we begin to put Mary on a pedestal and think we could never measure up to her, let us remember that her son promised greater blessings to those who obey him than those his own mother will receive.
Jesus is God's living word and we can hear him this Christmas by worshipping with other believers at weekly Sunday services as well as special Christmas programs and Christmas Eve services. We can hear God's word by spending time daily reading his holy word, the bible, and by singing and celebrating the precious truths contained there. May each of us make a special effort to hear God's word and so lay the groundwork for receiving God's favor.
The second part of Jesus' statement is the toughest, however, for he challenges us to not only hear his word but to obey it. His half-brother James put it this way, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." It's one thing to worship Jesus as savior and celebrate his birth at Christmas, but it's quite another to love our enemies, to do good to those who hurt us, and to care for the homeless and hungry all year long. But if and when we do, we receive blessings that surpass even those of the holy mother. These good works don't save us, but they provide blessings that we cannot measure or comprehend.
So not only during December, but throughout the year and years to come, let us hear and obey Jesus' words that we, like Mary, may be richly blessed. Let us remember that this babe in a manger grew to be the greatest teacher, preacher, sacrifice, and savior that ever lived. And let us hear and obey his word that we might be richly blessed! Merry Christmas!
George Bowers is the Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of "Blessings," "Valley Verses," and "Valley Verses, Volume 2." He can be reached at email@example.com.