Monday, December 19, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

This week opens Christmas week.  Normally come Christmas Eve or Christmas day, people finally come to spending a few moments remembering the real reason we celebrate Christmas.  Right now, most of us are finishing up our holiday shopping and worried that we have the right gifts for the right people.  Many are getting ready to travel to spend time with a family they only really get to see on holidays.  Others are planning their holiday meals.  Many are doing all of the above.  We drive around looking at Christmas lights, we decorate our houses with all kinds of holiday imagery with a lighted and decorated conifer being the centerpiece.  I hope that this year we all take a step back now, before it gets lost in everything else, and put in the front of our minds, the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Luke 2:4-9 NKJV
And so we have the story of the first Christmas.  There was no white Christmas.  There were no lighted and decorated conifers.  There were no decorations at all really.  Santa Claus did not come, nor were there any letters written to him.  It was nothing like what we celebrate today.  The first Christmas was all about Jesus and the gift He was to the world.  Let us see what this first Christmas really was like. 

First of all, we have the main characters.  We have Mary and Joseph, a young newly married couple who are doing anything but spending time with family with a great big meal.  They were young, married less than a year (remember Mary was already pregnant with Jesus before they were married), and they were poor.  They could not even get a room at any of the local inns as the city was packed with people coming back for the census.  I guess in that, it is similar to our Christmas with everyone traveling to their home city, but that is about where the similarities end.  Not only did they not find room at an inn, but they also did not even have family to stay with.  So what we have is a young poor couple, alone in a crowded city, with Mary about to give birth to her first child.  Not only that, but both she and Joseph knew that this child was the very Son of God.  I can't begin to imagine what must have been running through their heads!  I think we need to add scared and confused to what Mary and Joseph were going through this fateful night.

Now let us look at the setting.  This was not some calm serene nativity scene that we see on people's lawns today.  It was loud, i was stinky, and it was certainly not any kind of sterile environment to birth a child.  I am sure there was animal excrement all over the place, not to mention just the general smell of unclean (in the literal not spiritual sense) animals.  I am sure the animals were not particularly quiet  I am sure where was no comfortable place or way for Mary to actually birth a child.  Then there was the manger.  When we think of it, we associate a soft straw-lined basket.  But have you ever actually sat in hay?  It is not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world.  And the manger itself was literally a food trough for animals.  It was not used as a place of comfort, but a place of necessity.  The newborn Lord was birthed in a dirty uncomfortable humiliating place and laid to sleep in a food trough. 

As for the weather, it was not a Winter wonderland as we often associate Christmas with.  That is really a western idea that has no place in reality.  In fact, in the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls during summer.  The only white there is the sand on the beach!  As for Jesus, he was not born in December and Jerusalem is not known for snow at all.  It is not even known for cold weather.  This is probably a good thing considering that our Lord was born in an open air animal dwelling. 

Of course, the story of Christmas is not about family reunions, snowy weather, nativity scenes, or even about Mary and Joseph.  The story of Christmas is the story of Jesus.  The setting, the parents, and the birth were all to fulfill prophesies given about our Lord long before He was born.  It needs to be like that for us as well.  Everything we do this Christmas needs to be about Jesus, otherwise what are we celebrating?   Whether it be decorating our house or giving gifts, and whether it be traveling to see loved ones or preparing your home to receive loved ones, it all has to be about Jesus.  Jesus is not one part of Christmas, but Jesus is Christmas.  It is not Santa Claus, snowmen, or reindeer.  It is not decorated trees, holly, ivy, mistletoe, or any other holiday plant.  It is not about eggnog, family meals, singing "Christmas" carols about the weather, candy canes, yule logs, or any common part of our imagery.  Christmas is about Jesus and nothing else.  Everything else must be seen in that context.  Every gift you give has to be a representation of Jesus.  Every song you sing should be about Jesus.  Every meal you eat should be eaten in thanksgiving to Jesus.  Every family reunion must be a reunion of believers or a chance to share what Christmas really is all about.   Jesus should not be put in the context of all of our holiday celebrations, but all of our traditions and celebrations need to be in the context of God's greatest gift to mankind, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas, everyone.
Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this [will be] the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  Luke 2:10-14 NKJV

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