The Beatitudes One More Time
A Christmas Rendition
Blessed are you….
— Matthew 5:3-12
Following the Call—chps. 3-12
Intermission. Christmas Beatitudes for the slow of heart. Your turn.
Those who are blessed are people of inner vision, who see the essential. They bear the world’s suffering.
— Eberhard Arnold, Salt and Light
Christmas is again upon us. It’s a time to reflect upon Christ’s birth and to prepare for that which is yet to come from God. So I plan to take time away from the keyboard but then resume in January. I pray that the piece below will both comfort and inspire you. May we all become people of inner vision. Wishing you a very meaningful Christmas and a hope-filled New Year.
Christmas Beatitudes for the Slow of Heart
When I read the Beatitudes I often feel slow of heart, even bewildered. Why didn’t Jesus expound more on what he meant? How are the poor and the persecuted really fortunate? Why should mourners be happy, or the meek have hope? Is it really worth thirsting and hungering for goodness in a world that is spiraling in the opposite direction? I try and grasp what Jesus is saying, but am left unsure.
This is one reason why I love to read and re-read the Christmas story. In it I feel as if I get a better glimpse into what Jesus meant to teach us. Through the story of how the Word was made flesh, through the responses of Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, Zechariah and Elizabeth, even the Magi, I get a picture of what the blessed life depicted in the Beatitudes is all about.
Blessed are the poor. The shepherds – ruffians on the margins of society. The glory of the Lord shines around them. They are nothing. Yet the great news of salvation is announced to them. The heavenly host appear to them. Yes, to nobodies! They are the first to find Mary and Joseph, poor refugees as they are, and their babe in a stable – the glory of God lying, of all places, in a feeding trough. It is they who witness the Promise born on earth. Theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who mourn. Zechariah and Elizabeth, upright in the sight of God, faithful servants, yet well along in years and barren, miserable in disgrace. And then their mourning turns to joy! Miracle of miracles! A child – a prophet – is born to them, one who will be filled with God’s spirit, who will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of righteousness (Luke 1:17). Their son will prepare the way for the Lord, Israel’s redeemer. What news! They and all of Israel shall be comforted!
Blessed are the meek. Joseph, a righteous man, who in obedience to the law is prepared to divorce his betrothed quietly on account of her supposed unfaithfulness. Joseph, a manly man, hard-working, who eventually journeys hundreds of miles on dusty roads for the sake of Mary and child. Joseph, a humble, obedient man who refuses to make Mary a public disgrace, and instead brings her home to be his wife, protecting her innocence and the One who was conceived in her. Joseph, God’s servant, ready to do his bidding even at a cost to himself. Yet, he inherits the earth. No, more than the earth—he inherits the creator of the universe!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Simeon, a devout man, and Anna, a prophetess whose whole life is the temple, each waiting for the consolation of Israel. Simeon hangs on by a thread to the promise given him: he does not die before seeing the Messiah. Bursting forth with praise, he sees God’s salvation and coddles the Holy One in his very arms. Anna too. She prophesies out of the overflow of her heart about the savior child lifted up before her very eyes. Simeon and Anna: righteous, yet hungering and thirsting for more. They are filled to overflowing.
Blessed are the merciful. Regal, mysterious Magi, bearing gifts from afar to pay homage to Israel’s newborn king. They are meek and humble, but they are more than this. Whether by divining the star above them or by learning from some other mysterious source, they bring the Christ-child very precious gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh. This child is King, High Priest, Suffering Servant. A suffering Savior? Yes, hence an embalming oil in preparation for his death. The Consolation of Israel is himself shown mercy. And so too are the Magi, who return to their country secretly, escaping Herod’s murderous hoard. God’s mercy is upon them all.
Blessed are the pure in heart. Mary. A young, peasant virgin, pledged to be married. The Holy One is born to her. How can it be? Yet nothing is impossible with God. Mary believes, and becomes the “mother of our Lord.” Her childlike surrender compels her to hurry to Elizabeth, who is also with child. Together they rehearse the great tidings told to them. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son . . . full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And so Mary sings for joy, exalting in God’s favor. She treasures and ponders, carrying the eternal Word in her own flesh. She sees God as no other had before her.
Blessed are the peacemakers. The angel of the Lord, the heavenly hosts too. Their words? “Be not afraid! Fear not! Peace be unto you!” The angel of the Lord brings peace: guiding Joseph’s confused heart, helping Zechariah overcome his unbelief, calming Mary’s troubled heart, announcing glad tidings to bewildered shepherds, and protecting the holy family from evil and harm. God’s messengers reveal what Isaiah foretold long before: A child is born, a son is given – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Indeed! Peace on earth, good will to men.
Blessed are the persecuted. Jesus, the Son of Man, suffers not only want but rejection. “He came to that which was his own,” the apostle John writes, “but his own did not receive him” (1:11). King Herod, as will the scribes and Pharisees thirty years later, attempts to rid his kingdom of Christ’s authority. Jesus indeed causes the rise and fall of many, even piercing his own mother’s heart. Innocent children suffer death on account of him, while he eventually comes to a similar end. And yet Christ is blessed from beginning to end – honored and crowned with glory. “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). His is the kingdom, and the glory, and the power forever and ever.
If the Christmas story says anything, it tells us what the blessed life is like. It also tells us that God’s favor does not rest on the virtues we possess but on whether we are willing to respond, even if feebly, to God’s will. The poor in spirit, the heart that weeps and suffers, the meek and unassuming, the ones who can’t help but be moved by the sin and suffering of the world – they all experience light breaking into the darkness.
With the miracle of Jesus’ birth, the Beatitudes are made readily manifest. Jesus’ words are not, after all, just bits of wisdom, but divine facts that incarnate themselves in those who wait and believe. And this is what all of us can do. Whoever we happen to be, whatever we have done or failed to do, whatever state we find ourselves in, each of us can partake in the blessed life by taking part in God’s unfolding plan of redemption – today and tomorrow.
Joyful news indeed! Ours is not only the kingdom, but the King himself. A Savior has been born to us; he is Christ the Lord. Halleluiah!
What are you finding most meaningful in the Christmas story this year? Just reply to this email to leave a word of encouragement.