(It's been a while since I've written here. Holidays and school and life piled up and I just haven't had a lot of time to write, or really had the words to put a cohesive post together. I think I'm making up for all those missed words with this post ;) I apologize ahead of time for the wordiness of this post...but it is my one and only Christmas post for this year, then I will try to get back to blogging a little more regularly after the new year :) So here goes...my Christmas post...)
If you look at today’s media, take a stroll through the local shopping mall, drive around our neighborhood, or even walk through my own home, it seems that Christmas is a lot about things like twinkling lights and glittery trees, festive music and fun traditions, candy canes and gingerbread, and presents…lots and lots of presents. There are special church services, festive themed parties, reindeer on rooftops and Santa coming in his sleigh. It’s exciting. It’s flashy. And it’s so. much. fun!
I love all these things about Christmas. I really do. We love to bake cookies and decorate gingerbread houses. We love watching Christmas movies and driving around looking at Christmas lights. We love stories about Santa and Frosty and Buddy the Elf. Christmas is so much fun!
But Christmas can also be quite crazy.
There is a lot to do and a lot to buy…there are places to be and people to see…and lists upon lists upon lists can pile up fast and before I know it the pace quickens to hyper-speed and I barely have time to think, let alone focus on the most important things.
In my head and in my heart, I know that Christmas is about Jesus. But a lot of times, my actions say that Christmas is about everything else and Jesus is just a side thought, just a nativity set on the table or a chorus of Joy to the World in the middle of shopping and wrapping and baking and running around like a crazy person.
This year I’ve been trying to be very intentional about slowing down. I’ve said no to a lot of events. I’ve eliminated a couple of things that we usually do every year. I’ve tried to keep more days blank on the calendar than are full. It’s been a challenge. And I can’t say I’ve done a super awesome job of it. There have still been some very busy days, there have still been some very long lists, and there have still been more than a few moments of stress and chaos.
But intentionally slowing down the pace, intentionally making space in the schedule, has allowed me to intentionally focus on Jesus. And that has made all the difference.
Isn’t that always what makes all the difference? Time with Jesus.
And in those slow moments, I’ve been thinking a lot about that first Christmas, trying to imagine that night when Jesus was born.
Have you ever really tried to imagine it?
I know we see the Nativity scene a lot around Christmastime…the pretty little stable with Mary and Joseph looking lovingly at baby Jesus who is laying in a manger that looks a lot like a snuggly cradle.
I love Nativities.
But I’m not sure they quite capture what that night was really like.
Ours certainly doesn’t…
This is our Nativity. It’s a Veggie Tales classic…we’ve had it for years, ever since the girls were little toddlers and Bob and Larry were daily friends on the tv screen.
I love it. It’s awesome. It even plays “O Little Town of Bethlehem” when you press the star. It’s so cute!
But I don’t think the scene in Bethlehem that night was quite so cute.
And I don’t think it looked anything like Christmas does now.
There were no twinkling lights and no glittery trees. Just another plain old night…just a dirty barn and smelly hay.
There was no festive music or carolers singing outside the stable. Just the sounds of Mary giving birth, the cries of pain and struggling, and the sounds of the animals bleating and snorting all around her. (Can you even imagine giving birth surrounded by stinky messy animals?! Umm…ew!)
In those days there were no stories of Frosty or elves or a man in a red suit coming to bring presents…just one old promise that God would send a Messiah, a Present, a Gift that would bring hope to everyone.
But in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, God had been silent. No messages from above, no angels or visions of angels, for hundreds of years. Those old stories must have sounded more like fairy tales than truth in those days.
Hope was elusive. God seemed so far away.
And then Mary sees an angel. (What was that like?)
And the angel says she is pregnant with God’s Son. (Wait…Huh?)
He says that all those old stories are true and now is the time and she has been chosen and her son will be the Messiah. (Say what?!)
I keep trying to put myself there. I keep trying to imagine what that was like to be Mary right then.
I know what I probably would have thought… But I’m engaged! What will Joseph say? He will never believe me. He’ll think I’m crazy. He’ll leave me. He’ll think I’ve done something awful. Everyone will think that. They will never believe this. What do I say? What will I tell my parents? Do I tell them that God got me pregnant? That sounds insane. No one will believe me. They’ll talk about me. They’ll judge me. And why me? I’m not anyone special. I’m not a queen or a princess. How can I give birth to the King of the Jews? This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand. This isn’t how they said it would happen. Like this? With me? I just don’t understand. How can this be?
I’m not sure what exactly Mary thought. I’m not sure how everyone around her reacted to her news or how that made her feel or how hard it must have been. Did her parents disown her? Did her friends write her off? Did her neighbors shun her?
This unwed young girl giving birth in a barn.
It must have been scary. It must have felt lonely. It must have been painful.
But even the scariest, loneliest, most painful things can be doors to the most holy places…God’s glory can shine pretty bright in the darkness.
I keep trying to imagine that first Christmas…
Mary crying, Joseph trying to comfort her…surrounded by the animals, the dirt, the stink, the mess.
But they believed. They believed the angels. They gave up their own plans of how they thought their life would go to be a part of God’s story.
But the story wasn’t happening the way anyone expected.
I wonder if they ever wondered why it happened the way it did. Why did the God of the universe come as a baby? And why in a dirty smelly stable? The God who birthed the stars and who breathed life into every living thing, He couldn’t at least give them a room for this? He couldn’t have at least arranged a quiet place, a soft bed, a beautiful setting? This is supposed to be the moment that all of history was pointing to…this is supposed to be the Big Event, the one thing that would change all things, the event that would forever change the course of history…and it’s happening in a barn? With two outcasts, two nobodies from nowhere special who couldn’t even get a room to sleep in? It doesn’t make sense. This wasn’t at all how anyone expected it to happen.
I wonder if Mary ever wondered about that. I wonder if Joseph ever felt highly inadequate to do this thing he was asked to do…I mean, he couldn’t even get them a room. The girl he loved was about to have a baby, a very special baby, and all he could manage to get them was a messy old stinky barn? This baby was God’s only Son and all they could get to lay him in was a feeding trough?
The picture-perfect perfectionist in me shudders at the thought. This is all wrong. This is not the pretty picture of a Messiah come to save the world.
This is messy and bloody and loud and not at all the kind of entrance that the Son of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace deserves.
And yet….God comes.
He arrives in the middle of the mess.
He comes right there, in the middle of all the stink and all the dirt, and he arrives like a light bursting through the darkness.
That dirty barn floor became holy ground that night. Because Jesus was there.
Isn’t that how it still goes today?...Jesus comes to us, right where we are, right where we don’t expect Him, right in the middle of our mess. And all of a sudden, that dirt that we’ve been standing on is holy ground…that mess we’ve been surrounded by is suddenly shining with God’s glory. Isn’t it always a miracle how that works? Sure, we can glitter up and light up Christmas as much as we want, we can have the shiniest stars on our trees and the prettiest bows on our gifts, but underneath it all aren’t we all just a bit of a mess? Aren’t we all just a bit dirty and stinky and downright messy? And yet…Jesus comes to us. Right here, right where are, just as we are. Seriously, who can ever get over the miracle of that?!
And there may not have been carolers singing songs of joy outside the stable that night, but there were angels filling the sky! Filling the sky with so much light, shining with the very glory of the Lord, so bright that I’m sure those shepherds had to shade their eyes for the glory of it. And they sang…they sang the first Christmas song of all: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
Oh my goodness, what was that like?!!
He came. God came!
He said He would come, and He did! It wasn’t at all like anyone thought it would be, but it was completely everything that everyone needed it to be.
God. With. Us.
(Side note: So if your life is nothing like you thought it would be…if things didn’t exactly go the way you thought they would, if everything just looks like a mess, if you’re drowning in sorrow and sadness and Christmas is just plain hard…keep looking, keep waiting, because miracles happen where you least expect them…Jesus comes right in the middle of the dark, in the middle of your hurt, in the middle of everything that seems hopeless, right in the middle of all the mess…and He offers you the one thing you ever only need: Himself. God with you. You get Jesus, this Christmas and always. Is there ever a better gift?!)
And the angels came too…a multitude of them filled the sky! But they didn’t go to the kings in palaces…not in the town square for all the busybodies to see and hear…not even to the Temple or the priests or the faithful church people. They went to the fields, to the shepherds, to those left out in the cold. And they sang Glory to God. And they told them the way to Jesus…they told them how to find the Messiah.
(Ever wonder if maybe you’re singing glory to all the wrong things in all the wrong places? If maybe there’s someone out there in the cold who just needs to be told the way to Jesus? I’ve been wondering that a lot lately…but maybe that’s another post for another day… ;) )
That first Christmas.
I just can’t stop thinking about it.
That first Christmas looked nothing like the Christmases we have today.
And yet that first Christmas is what gives purpose and meaning to every Christmas…to every day.
I still love all the lights and baking and fun, all the movies and stories and traditions.
But I never want to lose sight of why we celebrate.
I want my girls to experience Christmas not as a time of hurry, but a time of slowing down…a time not full of crazy stress, but a time of intentional focus…a time that centers not around presents, but around experiencing the presence of Jesus.
Sometimes it seems hard to give my girls that kind of Christmas. I have to be intentional.
And I’m not all that perfect at it…at all.
But any time focused on Jesus makes a difference. Every conversation about His love makes an impression on their hearts.
So as we are busy making memories this Christmas – as we are baking cookies and making ornaments and singing songs and wrapping presents – we will make sure we remember Jesus.
He is Jesus, our Immanuel, God WITH us…with us as we bake those cookies, with us as we sing songs, with us as we wrap presents and sip hot cocoa and watch Christmas movies and light the candles. He is Jesus…that baby who was God, born in the middle of a mess so that He could be with us in our mess and make a way for us to be lifted out of our mess and made right with God. Jesus, that Son of God who laid his head down as a tiny baby in a wooden manger; Jesus, who was later hung as a bloody and broken man on a cross; Jesus, who three days later rose from the dead as our triumphant Savior and King, crushing the head of Satan, shattering the dark with everlasting light, becoming all our hope and all our peace and all our joy forever and ever!
And that’s something worth celebrating!
Merry Christmas, everyone!!!