Recently there has been talk about making Christmas bigger and better than ever. And something about this just hasn’t set right with me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and big family gatherings and all the festivities around the church. But bigger and better than ever? I’m not quite sure those are the values that should qualify Christmas. It almost seems like more and more this is how society is trying to shape what began as something very different. You need to buy this better gift or your friend, spouse, kid, coworker, etc. won’t have a Merry Christmas. You need to make sure your debt ratio is getting bigger and bigger or Christmas won’t be complete. We have to make sure we capitolize on this season in our churches with as many activities to draw people in because this may be the only time of year we get to see them (well at least until Easter). We need to make sure everyone around us knows how big and important this holiday is because otherwise they’ll never understand the true meaning of Christmas.
To me it just all feels a bit off. The idea of shopping and planning and stressing and exhausting schedules seems so far removed from Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. One of my favorite versions of the Christmas story in scripture was actually written by Paul to the church in Philippi. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The Christmas story is best categorized by words like emptied, slave, less, weak, humility, frail, fragile, etc. Not words like bigger and better. When God stepped into our world He became less. God became small. In fact, if you weren’t a shepherd or a magi (I’m not sure if I ever got to be one in one of the kid’s Christmas pageants) you probably didn’t even know about the first Christmas.
You may ask yourself though, why am I taking such issue with this? Because Christmas should represent our values as Christ followers and not as economists. Perhaps we should seek to embody the shepherds and seek out those who appear to be weak, vulnerable, less, frail and fragile this season. And when we find them it might be an opportunity for us to practice a Christmas value as we seek to enter into their situation with them. Perhaps Christmas is more about becoming like the broken, outcast, unloved, untouched, smaller and weaker because that is what God did for us at Christmas. So maybe for a moment this holiday season we all might find a way to try something different. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture or anything massive, but maybe the smallest thing might become the most Christ-like as we seek to emulate the God who emptied Himself and became smaller and less for our sake.
As I sit here in the stillness of the morning I find myself transported once again. I can’t seem to get away from the Bethlehem hills this Advent season…
The night is still and shrouded in darkness while the smell of sheep surrounds you. It’s been a long day and you know the night has potential to be even longer. You and your fellow shepherds get to exchange watch throughout the night to protect your charge against potential threats. So you strain against the darkness not knowing what is out there, but being completely on your guard. Suddenly the darkness is broken by a violently bright and unfathomable light.Everyone is on their feet and yet cowering as well, not knowing what this new danger may be. Out of the light you make out a figure that is both lovely and terrifying and you suddenly hear a voice, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12
Then it is as if the remaining darkness explodes into thousands of points of light as the messenger is joined by scores of other heavenly beings who burst forth in song, ““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:14 It seems as if time is standing still and then all of a sudden it’s over. You and your comrades are left speechless in the cool night air wandering what just happened. Then someone speaks up, “Could it be true? If so, what are we waiting for.” Quickly you make your way into town completely forgetting about your responsibility in the hills and you find everything just as the messenger had said. Here he is…a newborn baby…wrapped in cloths just like your family did with you. The promised Messiah…David’s own descendant and you are some of the first to lay eyes on him. The joy and energy bubbling up inside of you is uncontrollable. As you and your fellow shepherds prepare to leave you know it is going to be a noisy exodus, but you don’t care. Everyone you bump into is going to hear about this story. Friends, strangers, pharisees, tax collectors, drunkards…even the sheep are going to hear all about the miraculous event that you have just been included in. With abandon you become the first witnesses to the redemption of God for all mankind.
I wonder where you find yourself today, 2,000 years later? Do you need to experience the in-breaking of Heaven again? Do you need to be reminded that there is nothing to fear? Do you find yourself caught up in praising and glorifying God as witnesses to God’s redemption brought about through the birth of Jesus? Or do you find yourself fearful of what others might think or whether or not this story could even make a difference in the world around you. Take heart! The angelic announcement still rings true today and we are now ambassadors of that same gospel announcement, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” May we find ourselves proclaiming this same message with abandon for the sake of the world that God has not abandoned.