Christmas always tends to sneak up on me. It’s not that I don’t know it’s coming, it’s just that it comes faster than I expect it to. Of course, that was not always the case. Of course, Christmas at 50 is different than Christmas at 5. Christmas at 5 took forever to get here and when it did, it was magic. There were no video games then, and the little red wagons were solid metal. The Tonka trucks were built like tanks, even if Mom did buy them used at a garage sale.
We talk a lot about the extravagance of Christmas, the commercialization, and it’s true, but still, we can never be more extravagant than God . So perhaps our attitudes need adjustment. God gave all that he could. He gave himself. Do you think he really frowns when you spend a bit too much on your kids or spouse?
So, we light up the world, we get out the manger scene, we watch the children sing Christmas carols and it’s all good, it’s all beautiful. Should I interrupt the party with the images we don’t put on the mantle?
Like a painfully young and scared Jewish girl whose swollen form writhes on the hay in the agony of labor. She doesn’t wear a halo and her robes are neither white nor clean, but stained with blood. The incarnation itself is a divine mystery, but the birth is normal and messy as births tend to be. With due respect to my Catholic friends, we tend to put Mary on too much of a pedestal, I think. The serene smile and clean robed Mary kneeling adoringly at the foot of the manger without a hair out of place-do you really believe that’s how it was? Perhaps a more accurate image would be of Mary kneeling and trying to sop up Jesus’ blood after his torture session, in the “Passion of the Christ.” Whether this scene really happened or not, it is a perfect illustration of Mary’s role in his story. And it does show both her humble acceptance and raw courage. And isn’t this what good mother’s do? Mopping up after their children both figuratively and often mopping up blood literally, while bleeding inside because she can’t take her child’s pain onto herself. That is a mother’s heart.
But, still, faith is always about trusting in spite of fear, in spite of doubt. I think she felt fear, felt doubt, and cried out in pain and begged God for a normal life. I think she got irritated, even angry, at her perfect son for his sometimes baffling behavior. Because she was human and like the rest of us, in need of forgiveness. As Mark Lowry wrote in “Mary, did you know?” the child she delivered would later deliver her. She needed a Savior as much as the rest of us do.
As another song says, it must have seemed to both her and Joseph, “Such a strange way to save the world.”
We like to say God came to earth in the most humble of ways, but to put an even finer point on it, even if Christ had been born in a castle, the son of a noble woman, on silk sheets, it still would have been a humble birth for the son of God.
The wonder of that night isn’t only in the miracles and the songs of angels and the worshiping shepherds. The wonder is also in how seemingly ordinary it all was. An ordinary girl has an ordinary birth, in an ordinary small town and probably later faces the ordinary gossip by those who knew she was pregnant too soon. What kind of God begins his most important mission with scandal and a helpless baby instead of a warrior and armies?
Sure, the birth was announce by angels, but only to a few grubby shepherds. Other than that, God goes incognito, speaking to Joseph in dreams and nightmares, telling only a handful of people about the most important news the world has ever seen. The Savior sneaks into the world as if on a covert op into enemy territory, which was exactly what he was doing. Certainly, it was a Holy Night to those few who knew that this was no normal baby. To the rest of the human world, the whole thing went unnoticed for a couple of years, at which time King Herod murders a bunch of baby boys because of his paranoia and the loose lips of some “wise men.” from the east. And God doesn’t do anything too dramatic, even then. He sends some more dreams to the not so wise men and to Joseph, so they can get out of Dodge while the getting is good. He doesn’t zap Herod or send an army of angels to protect Jesus. He just has the key players sneak over to Egypt for awhile.
Just a side note: Did Joseph ever get confused about all the dreams? Did he ever wake up and say:
“Mary, we have to get out of town! I had a dream last night that a white elephant knocked the house down and stepped on your foot!”
And Mary rolls her eyes.
“Joseph, not every dream means to run for your life. It was probably just too many egg rolls mixed with the old wine last night.”
As someone who works with his hands, I think it’s way cool that Jesus didn’t grow up spending all his time studying behind a desk. Some have speculated that Joseph was probably more of a stone mason than a wood worker. Still, Jesus grew up learning a craft that required skill and muscles and hard work. The Creator of the Cosmos learned to create the slow and painful way instead of speaking planets into existence.
I heard a sermon once where the main point was that if Joseph had not married Mary, the world would not have had a Savior. Well, I think God is more resourceful then that, and big enough to work out the plan of salvation in spite of what Jesus’ parents did. Still, it seems like God picked the right step dad. Joseph could have said:
“I didn’t sign up for this.”, and dropped Mary like a hot potato. Worse, he could have shamed her in public and had her stoned. But he was an honorable man and Jesus no doubt learned about honor from him, imperfect as Joseph was. Perhaps he learned about subtlety too, and when it was needed, he kept his mission private from most until the time of fulfillment arrived. Jesus knew when to speak and when to remain silent, which is a rare talent for any leader. Is it speculating too much to say he may have learned from his human father that actions speak louder than words?
Now, I know it’s hard to imagine God learning anything, even God in human form, but scripture says he did just that. What does it mean to grow in favor with God and man? There is a question you sometimes hear-whether it was possible for Jesus to sin. We know he didn’t, but could he have? Right off the bat, this brings up another question, just what is sin? Sure, we know the obvious ones, outlined in the Ten Commandments, but what about the not so obvious ones? Jesus would say later that if you did something in your heart, you were guilty of it. How could Jesus, who was already perfect, grow in favor with God? Doesn’t this suggest that God can change somehow? That already being perfect in all his intentions, he somehow became more perfect in his actions?
What did Simeon prophesy about him? (Luke 2:34)
“He will be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
Uh-huh. Jesus offends some people. People get uncomfortable when he’s mentioned. We call him the Prince of peace, but he himself said he came to bring division:
34Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…36A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
Wow, that doesn’t sound too peaceful. He came to divide those whose hearts would choose to accept him and those who would harden their hearts against him. Notice how Simeon puts it: “The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” This sword of his cuts not flesh and bone, but it cuts to the heart and lays bare our true selves, so we MUST choose to accept or reject his message.
People like to say: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The truth is, even people who do not know him say it sometimes, I suppose because it sounds nice and who doesn’t like a cute baby who never cries, laughing at the antics of the animals around his manger on a “Silent Night”? First of all, I think Jesus did cry and I don’t think the animals went out of their way to entertain him. But, who knows? But, in reality, despite appearances, this wasn’t a silent night. Not where it really mattered. This was the night when God invaded Satan’s territory and you can bet swords clashed in the heavens.
It’s great that you love the baby, but he doesn’t stay a baby, and he’s coming back as a warrior king… and that’s a story you don’t hear much on Christmas. If you listen closely, behind the singing angels you might hear the screams of demons being thrown back into the pit. You might hear the sound of a million praying saints and a million sinners cursing them for their prayers. You might hear a crowd chanting; “Crucify him!” and Satan laughing with delight. Or Disciples shouting “He is risen!” and the happy laughter of some of the same people who called for his death, celebrating their own re births. For over two thousand years, a war has raged over this child in the manger, over this bloody, naked man on a Roman cross, and history was split by his coming, B.C. to A.D.
The baby has grown and his question haunts all who care enough to listen:
“Who do YOU say that I am?”
That’s the only question worth thinking about when you know what Christmas is-Christ Mass. Mass meaning “A sending out”. So when you tell someone “Merry Christmas.” you are saying “Merry Christ sending”. He was sent to save a dying world. And that sending was a mission that included his death. Some have taken great offense to the thought that Christ Mass can mean: “Merry Death Sacrifice.” Because, that is what they celebrate. Mass includes the Eucharist-Communion to us Protestants. We celebrate Christ’s birth this time of year, but you can’t celebrate the birth without the death. Remembering the Cross at Christmas isn’t morbid, and you can’t have the baby without the blood. Celebrating his death is totally appropriate, as long as we know death doesn’t get the final word.. and He lives again that death may die.
So, Merry Christ’s Birth and Death and Resurrection to all and to all a good night!