We know the tale. Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would bear a son. Traveling beside Joseph, her betrothed, the very pregnant mother of God rode a donkey to Bethlehem, where there was no room at the inn. Therefore the babe was laid in a manger. Angels sang, shepherds praised, and the world rejoiced when the Christ child was born.
It’s a great story, right? One of the greatest ever told. We repeat it time and again in books and carols and nativity pageants. Yet we know Christmas is actually something much bigger than a story; it’s the start of a grander plan. Because 33 years later, at the cross, that child changed the course of eternity.
Christmas matters not just because the babe was born, but because He grew up.
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)
In Luke chapter 1, the Christmas story unfolds with the tale of John the Baptist, Jesus’s predecessor of sorts. John was born to “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76–77). That’s a pretty big job. And later in the book of Luke, we learn more about what that looked like as John baptized people in the river and called them to repent. But first we’re given this little nugget, back in Luke 1, the Christmas story:
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)
Do you know what that says to me? A child’s upbringing matters.
Between John’s birth and public ministry, the Bible is largely silent. Likewise, the life of Jesus between infancy and ministry is also mostly untold except for a notable scene in the temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41–52). We may never know the details of their youth. Yet we do know this:
What parents do in the unseen years of raising a child, pouring into him, praying over him, teaching him right from wrong and leading Him in the ways of the Lord—it all makes a big impact on who that child becomes.
God had a purpose for John the Baptist even before he was born. He could’ve created a fully grown prophet out of thin air to do His bidding, but that’s not how God works. First He placed the infant John in a family—with a set of parents—to learn the ways of faith, to develop integrity, and to grow.
All this happened in the desert, long before John stepped foot into a public arena.
Do you ever feel like you’re in the desert? Like all this homework help, lunch packing, playdate scheduling, and sideline cheering is unseen, underappreciated, unglamorous work? It’s not. Childhood is preparation for God’s personal plan for each of us. And we get the privilege of playing a major part it in for our children.
Both John and Jesus spent decades living in the quiet, the ordinary, before God called them to fulfill their purposes in the spotlight. And who do you think was there helping them, guiding them, and shaping them toward God’s will all the while?
What you do matters.
Let’s remember that, and rejoice in it this Christmas—and all year long.