In the first half of Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller, which we are reading together as Nettie’s Book Club, we studied what Christmas means to us: illumination and spiritual light from God; reconciliation and peace with God by grace; and God taking on human nature. Now, Tim Keller teaches us how we can respond to the gifts of God. This week we will be inspired by the faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus in Chapter 5 and the faith of the Shepherds in Chapter 6. Both Mary and the Shepherds were visited by angelic messengers, and in both cases, “they listened well, overcame their fears, and went out into the world carrying the joyful news to others” (Page 74).
During week 3 we will read Chapter 5 with Luke 1:27-55 and Chapter 6 with Luke 2:8-20.
In the gospel of Luke, we get a precious glimpse into Mary’s response to the angel’s message that she will give birth to the Messiah. Her reaction can serve as a “model for what responsive Christian faith looks like” (page 59).
Firstly, Mary does not respond with blind obedience. She admits that her heart is “greatly troubled” at these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Through her interaction with the angel she doubted and questions, “how can it be?” She is a mirror for our response to the Gospel. We can contrast her reaction to the angelic message with that of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. He also doubted the angel’s message but there is a difference between their responses. Zechariah showed the kind of doubt that is a sign of a closed mind – the message is impossible and unbelievable. Mary, however, doubted with an open mind. She was open to the truth and willing to “relinquish sovereignty over [her life] if [she] can be shown that the truth is other than what [she] thought” (Page 60). Doubting is good, but we should doubt to understand not to disprove God’s word.
Mary’s response is also an example to us of how faith develops in stages. Her first reaction is “how can it be?” (Luke 1:34). If you hear the true Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time you should have a response of disbelief. Tim Keller goes so far as to say “if you have never stood and looked at the Gospel and found it ridiculous, impossible, inconceivable, I don’t think you have really understood it” (Page 62).
The next step is to ask for more information and then accept the message with the simplest (and toughest) attitude of “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Even though she (and we as Christians) don’t understand the message, she accepts it from where it comes. Finally, her faith developed into an active faith from the heart. Just like Mary, “God has to open our hearts and help us break through our prejudices and denials” (Page 64). This is not something we can do for ourselves. The acceptance of God’s grace can only be revealed and understood through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7).
As Mary ponders the implications of what the angel is saying, she is filled with wonder. Similarly, if we begin to grasp the Gospel, we can only respond with wonder to what God has done for us. Christianity is something done for you, not by you. If this truth takes hold of your heart you cannot help but wonder at the miracle of God’s grace in your life.
Mary’s next step is to surrender to the will of God as expressed by the angel. Tim Keller uses a test he was presented with at a conference to use to measure whether you are truly a follower of Christ:
- Are you willing to obey anything the Bible clearly says to do, whether you like it or not?
- Are you willing to trust God in anything he sends into your life, whether you understand it or not?
If our answer isn’t a confident “yes” to both these questions, are we really Christians? I don’t know about you, but I come short daily.
Another important point Tim Keller raises is the magnificence of Jesus Christ’s power to hold together all of creation, the whole universe. “If Jesus Christ holds all this together with just a word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) – is he the kind of person you ask into your life to be your assistant?” (Page 67). Jesus Christ should be the Lord of our lives, not a consultant we ask for an opinion when we need some advice.
How do we follow in Mary’s footsteps?
“The call to theologically grounded, willing, glad surrender is the most radically countercultural summons possible in the modern Western world that values personal autonomy over all things.”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
When we read of the heroes of faith, like Mary and Abraham, and their total surrender to the commands of God, it is tempting to think that they had more spiritual resources than us to do what we feel is impossible to do. This is not true. We have more resources than they did, even Mary.
It is important for us to understand that God wants a relationship with us and if we commit ourselves to Him, we can trust that he will commit himself to us. This does not guarantee us an easy life, but the hardships and difficulties can drive us closer into the arms of God, growing our identity and hope into “more grounded, resilient, happy, and wise” children of the Most High.
Our surrender should follow the example of Mary, in that our motive should be to love God for what he did for us, and not what he will do in us. Mary surrendered to the will of God before she knew what Jesus would do for her. We already know the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Our service flows from this gratitude.
Unlike Mary, we can read the whole of Scripture and study the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation. We see how he surrendered himself to become the “Great Servant” – all for us. Mary did not have the full Bible – she probably couldn’t even read – and she did not know what the baby from her womb would accomplish years later.
“If she, a human being like all the rest of us, could do it without knowing yet about the cross, then we can do it too.”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
Let’s surrender our whole lives to Jesus Christ. He already did it for us.
Here is one of my favourite new Christmas songs for your enjoyment.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of the books studied by Nettie’s Book Club. I am not profiting from the sale of these books. I will carefully select books that have had a significant impact on my faith. My goal is simply to share the wisdom in these books with others so we can assess and apply the wisdom of these authors to grow in understanding of our faith together.