Our Wonderful God of Christmas
What is God like? Here’s a look at what God teaches us about Himself through the account of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
For more than 50 years, Charles M. Schulz’s animated classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, has touched millions of television viewers. In it, Charlie complains, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”1
Many people can relate to Charlie Brown’s dilemma. The Christmas season leaves them empty instead of nostalgic, overwhelmed instead of joyful, or bored instead of excited. Schulz’s cartoon bemoans the hollowness of commercialism and, instead, takes viewers to the Christ Child in the manger, with Linus reciting the full Christmas account from Luke 2.
Christmas is not about elves, the North Pole, chubby cherubs, or roasting chestnuts. Christmas is about God who sweeps real people up into His amazing plan.
The Bible is full of people whom God touched, and the Christmas record is no exception. Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherds were real, normal, and flawed human beings—like you and me. They are not the heroes of Christmas. God is. He is the One who revealed Himself through Christmas, used ordinary people to do so, and transformed them in the process. So what is He like?
God Is Powerful
Consider Zacharias and Elizabeth. Before writing the familiar words telling us of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2, historian and Gospel-writer Luke focused on an aging couple God chose to use in a special way. Before learning of the Baby in the manger, we learn about the unlikely parents of John, the Messiah’s forerunner.
Zacharias (meaning “Yahweh remembers”) and Elizabeth (meaning “promise of God”), both from priestly Jewish families, were “well advanced in years” and had long grappled with the pain of infertility because “Elizabeth was barren” (Lk. 1:7). The disappointment of having no heir was compounded by the stigma of a culture that considered childlessness a judgment of God. Luke, however, made it clear God had not punished them: “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments…blameless” (v. 6).
Zacharias was one of thousands of priests living near Jerusalem in the Judean hill country. His division of Abijah served in rotation two weeks a year. Because of the number of priests, burning incense in the Temple’s Holy Place was limited to once in a lifetime. After years of waiting, the day came when the lot fell to Zacharias. He found himself lifting Israel’s petitions as the fragrant incense wafted up from the incense altar and the crowds outside lifted their own morning or evening prayers.
Suddenly, he was terrorized by the glow of a brilliant angel to his right, between the altar of incense and the holy candelabra. God’s messenger told him not to fear but that his wife would bear him a son. This boy would be the Messiah’s forerunner who, as prophesied in Malachi 4:5–6, would “go before Him [Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:17).
After years of childless disappointment, having a child seemed unlikely to the old priest, who protested, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (v. 18).
Never argue with an angel of God! “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 . . . until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words” (vv. 19–20).
Perhaps Zacharias needed to have been more like Mary. When the same angel told her she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah, she questioned the means, not the fact, and was told, “With God nothing will be impossible” (v. 37). The God of Christmas is all-powerful. Zacharias would be mute for nine months to ponder that fact.
Do you feel weak? The God who miraculously healed Elizabeth’s barrenness and sent His Son by virgin birth has all the strength you need. No prayer is too big for Him to answer, no problem too hard for Him to solve, and no person too lost for Him to save.
God Is Trustworthy
Christmas also assures us God keeps His promises. Elizabeth became pregnant, just as the angel said. Scripture records her gratitude: “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (v. 25).
Scripture also records Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s encouragement to her young relative after Elizabeth’s child leaped inside her in the presence of the unborn Messiah: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (v. 45).
When Elizabeth’s son was born, God got the credit, as “her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her” (v. 58). When others tried to name the baby Zacharias after his father, she spoke up in obedience to the angel’s words: “No; he shall be called John” (v. 60). John means “God’s grace.”
God had proven Himself trustworthy, and she honored His instructions. When people motioned to Zacharias to determine his wishes, he wrote, “His name is John” (v. 63). “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God” (v. 64).
Just as God was keeping centuries of promises in sending His Son to Earth, He also fulfilled His personal word to the individuals He selected to use in unfolding His plan. Life is difficult; and just like John Bunyan’s character in The Pilgrim’s Progress, we sometimes find ourselves prisoners of “the giant despair.” What delivered the pilgrim from depression was “promise.”2 It reminds us to hold fast to specific biblical assurances and count on God, whom we can trust in our own circumstances.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zacharias prophesied. His inspired hymn in verses 68–79 is full of Old Testament references and focuses on God’s plan of salvation through His tender mercy. For example, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God” (vv. 76–78).
God would certainly fulfill His covenants with Israel; and He had used Zacharias and Elizabeth in His unfolding plan. Their son John—a Levite, later called John the Baptist—would introduce the Savior to the nation.
Forgiveness of sin is our greatest need. We have offended the holy Judge of the universe and deserve His punishment; but Christmas shows us that He is a saving God to all who trust His Son. The angel instructed Joseph, “Call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). Come to Him and be saved forever.
Christmas is about God. It reveals His absolute power, total trustworthiness, and saving strength. Zacharias and Elizabeth were transformed by joining God in His unfolding plan. When our Christmases and our lives focus on Him, we become filled with confidence, peace, and joy.
Charlie Brown’s friend Linus always carried a security blanket. But he dropped it once. As someone pointed out in A Charlie Brown Christmas, he let go of his blanket at the very moment when, part way through Luke 2, he recited, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy….For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord [KJV].”3
Knowing the God of Christmas changes us. We no longer have to fear or clutch our earthly securities. Let this God and Savior transform you this Christmas.
- “A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Movie Script” <goo.gl/ixhGF1>.
- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. W. R. Owens (1678; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; reissued 2008), 114.
- “Linus Drops His Blanket – The Moment You Never Noticed In A Charlie Brown Christmas,” sunnyskyz.com, December 17, 2015 <tinyurl.com/yb5r6sjj>.