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FIRST-PERSON: What Christmas can teach us about our troubles

"Annunciation," by Leonardo da Vinci, via Wikimedia Commons

NASHVILLE (BP) – We live in an anxious, troubled age. Many are troubled about a number of things – politics, economics, race, family, education, health and the list only grows from there. We are easily offended, quickly triggered, and constantly believe our rights have been violated. The fast food is not fast enough and the service is not good enough. Our troubled, anxious age has turned many of us into demanding, self-absorbed individuals who are intolerant, impatient and ungrateful.

But the fact that we experience trouble over these important issues is not new. Each generation must face its own troubles. What we do with our troubles is what matters. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is instructive in this matter.

When the evil genius, empire-building, murderous Kind Herod (37-4 B.C.) heard about the birth of a new king, Matthew 2:3 notes that “he was troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him.” If Herod wasn’t happy, no one would be happy. Sound familiar?

King Herod was an odd mixture of intellectual genius and murderous madman. He built a palace at Jericho, the fortresses of Herodium, Machaerus, Sabaste, and Masada, the harbor and city of Maritima and a new temple in Jerusalem. He financed magnificent structures in Antioch, Nicopolis and Athens. He was a stable, kingdom-building ruler, so long as no one questioned his authority.

Herod was a kingdom-building ruler because he couldn’t tolerate other rulers or opinions. He was the originator of “fake news,” feigning his desire to worship baby Jesus. He was a jealous, petty, self-absorbed, narcissistic ruler. He murdered his own wife and several of his sons when he suspected their disagreement and disloyalty. One of the sons who did survive – Archelaus (4 B.C.-6 A.D.) – was just like his dad, suspicious and disruptive.

Herod’s way of dealing with his troubles – that is, the perceived as a threat to his person and kingdom in the birth of Jesus – was a murderous rage that led to the slaughter of a couple dozen baby boys in and around the region of Bethlehem (Luke 2:16-18). Herod’s troubles made him destructive.

When Mary, the mother of Jesus, first heard the words from the lips of the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a baby boy in a miraculous way, Luke 1:29 states that she was “greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” In fact, the Greek notes that she was thoroughly troubled. Every fiber of her being was nervous, fretful and anxious.

But Mary didn’t lash out or become destructive. Mary was a woman of conviction, yet with a demeanor that was willing to learn and understand. She listened, pondered and embraced her perceived troubles with humility, service, courage and submission.

While she received the word of the angel with passive humility, she was no pushover. She gave birth to the Son of God, traveled with her infant son to Egypt and then back to Nazareth. She lived under the constant threat of the murderous reigns of Herod and his son. She was a woman of humble conviction.

Trouble will come our way. We can either allow our troubles to morph us into of person filled with anger, bitterness, envy and destruction. Or we can learn from the miraculous story of Jesus’ birth and turn our troubles into creative commitments that honor God and benefit others.

The difference is in how we respond to the birth of the Servant King this season. Jesus will either be a threat to our already troubled, self-absorbed souls and personal kingdoms or he will be a loving Lord who offers us transformation, peace and good will.

When we come to the fork in the road called “trouble,” we can either turn down the long road of destruction or we can turn down the road of dedicated, humble service. God working through our response to His lordship in Jesus Christ is the difference between the two. Mary’s response to Gabriel in Luke 1:38 ought to be ours as well: “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”