A Messianic Jewish root to Christmas? I can almost hear some of you think aloud, “Impossible… an oxymoron … mishighas!” But I hope you’ll hear me out. If you do, I daresay you’ll be blessed with fresh insight and inspiration.
The Messianic Jewish root to Christmas has nothing to do with traditional Christmas practices or pagan influences. It concerns instead an incomparable biblical figure we Messianic Jews and Protestant Christians sometimes tend to ignore. I refer to that eternally esteemed Jewish mother in Israel named Miriam. Known to most Christians as Mary, this humble teenage girl from Nazareth stands in Scripture as the first Messianic Jewish believer in history. She is the first to personally know, love and follow the Son of God. From the beginning, her faith and obedience is unwavering.
It’s time we looked to Miriam (“Mary” in Hebrew) as an instructive, perhaps even prototype, Messianic believer. For too long, some evangelicals have neglected her in overreaction to traditional Catholic doctrine. Prophetic charismatics have marginalized her as an idolatrous queen of heaven. But as a Jewish mother in Israel yearning for Messiah, I regard her with both admiration and affection.
Miriam uniquely prepared the way for Yeshua’s first coming during a season of political and spiritual upheaval. What can we learn from her as we, His corporate Body, prepare the way for His second coming during a time of somewhat comparable upheaval? I believe Miriam’s relationship with God offers prodigious guidance in at least seven key respects.
1. Miriam knows God’s Word. This young teenager of humble means possesses a fine command of the Scriptures (Luke 1:46-55). Bear in mind that as a girl, her opportunity to study the Word would have been limited mostly to home school. But like another Mary, the sister of Martha in Luke 10, her soul longs for God. She loves His ways. In these last days, as darkness covers the earth, the truth of God’s Word must be our sustenance. It is the essential weapon of our warfare. (2 Corinthians 3-5)
2. Miriam surrenders her will to God’s, despite the political incorrectness of it all. In other words, she obeys. A uniquely surrendered vessel, Miriam finds unprecedented favor with God. (Luke 1:30) He entrusts her with perhaps the most politically incorrect responsibility, by human standards, of all time. Yet to the angelic pronouncement of divine pregnancy, the girl meekly replies, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38, NIV) Never do we see Miriam intentionally disobey God.We do see her bear the shame and pain of political incorrectness throughout her life. But she makes peace with being misunderstood, falsely accused and wrongly rejected. Are we willing to do the same? You and I are in this world but not of it. If we’re not challenged to stand politically incorrect, to what extent are we obediently following Messiah?
3. Miriam worships. Miriam’s spectacular song of praise at the annunciation reflects not only her knowledge of the Scriptures, but most likely, a lifestyle of worship. Have you discovered how worship intimately bonds you with God’s heart? He inhabits your praises; His presence enfolds you; you are strengthened in your inner person by His Spirit. Here in Jerusalem, amid ongoing circumstantial instability, we’ve seen over and again the importance of worship as a lifestyle.
4. Miriam trusts during times of upheaval and uncertainty. Surely her faith is stretched as she journeys, nine months pregnant, across rugged terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to accommodate a sudden census. Along the way, in a dank cave without the customary help of midwifery, the acute anguish of childbirth befalls her. Soon thereafter, Miriam receives a prophecy that a sword will pierce her soul. (Luke 2:35) Next she’s forced to flee to Egypt. Political movements are rising and falling; life is in upheaval; the coming of the Son of Man is at hand. But through the shakings, Miriam steadfastly trusts God. No complaint comes out of her mouth. Amid the shakings of a world awaiting Yeshua’s second coming, will we trust as she did?
5. Miriam embraces the cross. The worst agony a parent can endure is the death of a child. Yet this highly favored woman, now widowed, suffers the excruciating pain of watching her sinless son brutally murdered. God alone can comfort her; only He can share in the parental grief of the crucifixion of this Son. Thus, while all the disciples but one (John) forsake Yeshua at the cross, Miriam stays. Broken beyond description, she embraces the cross, that altar of holy atonement. We too are told to take up our cross and follow Messiah. His last days’ warrior-bride will gladly lay down her life for the One who did so for her. Now, interestingly, all the disciples except John (and Miriam) are eventually martyred. Embracing the cross at Calvary, it seems these two have, in a sense, already died. Could it be that as a result, the spirit of death did not have quite the same hold on them as the others? Whatever the case, to the extent you and I cling to the cross of Christ in days ahead, we gain the goal: knowing Him and the unconquerable power of His resurrection life. (Philippians 3:7-11)
6. Miriam’s directive in Messianic Jewish life. As the first Messianic Jew, Miriam beautifully summarizes the essence of Messianic life. “Do whatever He tells you,” she says in John 2:5. In our day, Messianic Jewish revival has brought a needed restoration of the Jewish roots of Christian faith. But let’s not get overly immersed in the peripheral details of Jewish customs at the expense of loving and following the Jewish Savior. Especially during times of upheaval, we need to do whatever He tells us. And we really don’t need extensive training in the Talmud or Mishnah, or any other extra-biblical text, for that.
7. Miriam loves the saints. During times of difficulty and change, Miriam is found fellowshipping with Yeshua’s disciples and friends. (Acts 1:14, 12:12). She does not consider herself superior to them. She’s free of pride over the fact she alone physically bore the Messiah. She’s forgiven the disciples’ past misdeeds toward her son. She’s let go of the disappointment at being misunderstood by some of them. She’s not jealous when not appointed to leadership. A true mother of the faith, she loves the brethren. In times of difficulty and change, we’re called to follow her example. Fellowship may well take new forms, as it did in Miriam’s day, with believers gathering in homes rather than synagogues. But love for the brethren and intimate connection to the Body will be needed to sustain spiritual life.
At this season, when many celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God/Son of Man, Miriam will be remembered throughout the Christian world. This singularly blessed (Luke 1:48) Messianic Jewish woman spent much of her life misunderstood. Indeed, she’s still misunderstood by many. But one thing is for sure: she had a lot to do with Yeshua’s first coming. As we prepare for His second coming, it’s time to give Miriam appropriate honor and gladly learn from her. Like Miriam, let’s be passionate about His Word of truth, cultivate a lifestyle of worship, hold fast to the fundamentals, trust and obey, and love one another. Blessings to you at this special season!