Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Miracles

            I love the classic film Miracle on 34th Street, directed by George Seaton and starring Maureen O’Hara and John Payne.  In the film, Kris Kringle is horrified to find the Macy’s Santa Claus drunk on the job, just before the big parade in New York.  After he takes the derelict’s place, he is offered a job as the Macy’s Santa.  He takes the position, inspiring many by his honesty and surprising knowledge.  But his boss is convinced that he is insane because he thinks he is the real Santa Claus.  I won’t give away the rest of the movie if you haven’t seen it, but the miracle involves restoring faith in Santa to many people, and a surprise ending to a court trial that determines whether or not Santa Claus does in fact exist.  It’s a charming Christmas movie that, along with It’s a Wonderful Life , I could stand to see year after year.  But, even if it were a true story, would it be an example of a miracle?
            Hollywood likes to throw around the term “Christmas miracle,” but gravely misunderstands what a miracle really is.  Often, Christmas films portray Santa’s fulfillment of holiday wishes as Christmas miracles.  But miracles have nothing to do with St. Nick.  Miracles are a display of God’s power—sometimes by breaking natural law and sometimes simply as natural “wonders” that inspire awe of God.  Searching through the Gospel texts, I found twelve Christmas miracles that demonstrate God’s power.  The first eight are examples of the kind of miracles where God breaks His own natural law.  The last four are examples of events that are perhaps less supernatural but are startling nonetheless.

  1. Appearance of the archangel Gabriel to Zechariah (Lk 1.11).  Nobody could doubt that the actual appearance of an angel is an out-of-the-ordinary event that transforms a person.  Zechariah’s life would never be the same after his angelic experience.
  2. Stopping of Zechariah’s speech (Lk 1.22).  When the old priest didn’t believe the angel’s message, Gabriel glued the man’s tongue to the roof of his mouth.  His missing speech ability would prove to his neighbors that he really had seen an angel.
  3. Conception of John (Lk 1.24).  Zechariah and Elizabeth’s conception of their son John was a miracle because they were well past childbearing years, and Elizabeth was believed to be barren.
  4. Appearance of an angel to Mary (Lk 1.26).  The same archangel appeared to Mary and predicted the birth of her son Jesus.
  5. Conception of Jesus (Lk 1.31-35; Mt 1.23).  Though Gabriel’s description of the conception process is puzzling, it is clear that God’s only begotten Son was to be conceived like no one else.  Neither Joseph nor any other man was the father of Jesus.  God’s son was born of an actual virgin (Greek, parthenos), meaning that she had never been with a man, and not that she was simply a young woman.
  6. Releasing of Zechariah’s speech (Lk 1.64).  When Zechariah wrote that his newborn son’s name was John, in obedience to Gabriel’s command, his tongue unstuck and his speech was restored.
  7. Appearance of angels to the shepherds (Lk 2.9-14).  Not just one angel, but a multitude of the heavenly host, announced the Savior’s birth.  They filled the air with their voices, declaring peace on earth and God’s good will.
  8. The Christmas star (Mt 2.9).  Much debate has raged over the nature of this star.  Some suggest that it was a conjunction of planets.  Others say, “If the Bible says it was a star, then it’s a star.”  Still others suggest that it was an angel, since angels are often referred to as “stars” in the Bible.  Any way you slice it, a moving light in the sky that led visitors to Jesus’ home was miraculous, and literally pointed to God.
  9. Prenatal John leaping inside his mother’s womb in the presence of prenatal Jesus (Lk 1.44).  Jumping John may not be miraculous in the supernatural sense, but it certainly provided an “aha!” moment for his mother.  Elizabeth saw significance in the fact that the baby leapt at the exact moment that pregnant Mary drew near.  This is miraculous in the sense of God speaking to a person supernaturally, through their experience of a natural event (like a sunset, the ocean, etc).
  10. Zechariah’s words of prophecy (Lk 1.67-79).  Anybody can guess the future, but the old priest’s words seemed inspired, and certainly came true.
  1. An angel appearing to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1.20).  Everybody dreams, but a dream that comes from God has momentous importance.  Because of the angel’s appearance to Joseph, the man agreed to take Mary as his wife, despite her unexpected pregnancy.
  2. Both Matthew and the Wise men are warned in dreams, about Herod’s plot to kill Jesus (Mt 2.12-13).  Again, dreams are natural things, but they gain supernatural significance when they come from God and give directions like these. 

            The Christmas story gives twelve examples of miracles that God did, just to bring His Son into the world.  But miracles don’t just happen in the Bible.  They are real-life occurrences of God demonstrating His power in people’s lives.  Sometimes God performs miracles that break natural laws, and other times God simply uses natural events to supernaturally speak to people.  Both of these types of events are often called miracles.
            Just this past week at Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, Virginia, eight-year-old Joshua Martin was revived after being clinically dead for an hour and a half.  One of the medical personnel attending to young Joshua describes himself as an atheist.  Yet after being involved in this display of divine power, he declared the event to be a miracle.  Joshua’s mother asks believers to pray for her son’s continued recovery.  He is proof that miracles still happen today.  And not just at Christmas.
            Perhaps you’re in need of a miracle in your life today.  It may be a financial miracle, or a restored relationship.  Maybe you need God to grant physical, spiritual, emotional, or psychological healing for yourself or a loved one.  Or you might need a message of wisdom or encouragement from the Lord.  You might be praying for physical protection, or deliverance from evil influence.  Christians can have confidence that God still performs miracles today.  We can’t dictate the way that God will act in our behalf, but we can trust that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Eph 3.20 ESV).”   We can know that, as the angel told Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God (Lk 1.37 ESV).”

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