Advent


Every year I hear the statement that Christmas is for children. The statement is thrown out as if people beyond the age of twelve have no stake in the holiday. I will admit that there are parts of our traditional celebration that make my heart skip a beat, and pull an all-to-seldom-used smile to the corners of my lips simply because of the wonder and excitement that I witness when children are fully engaged in Christmas.

To be sure, some of the greatest stories about Christmas center around the child-like celebration of the event. Stories like The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson which has been adapted for stage and screen and tells of the Herdmans—a family of underprivileged children who invade and disrupt the church Christmas pageant only to teach those who will listen the true meaning of the season—and (one of my favorites) a story related by radio personality Mike Trout of a Church School pageant that is filled with chaos and children who don’t really want to be there, but warms the hearts of everyone involved, bring us to a point of realization: if indeed, Christmas is for children, it is for the child in all of us. After all, that’s how Jesus invites us to come—like a child.

 “Jesus, however, invited them: ‘Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’.”  —Luke 18:16-17

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At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, let me repeat a saying that for some has become cliché: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” This year, as we go through all the trimmings and trappings that have become Christmas to us, it is worthwhile to pause for a moment of devotion. Christmas is not about presents or trees or pretty lights. And although carols and angels and shepherds and stars have all become fixtures for us, it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder that Christmas is Christmas because of a birth.

This birth was normal in the respect that the mother carried the child in her womb as the baby developed his fingers, his toes, his eyes, ears, and nose. It was typical because a hard travelling trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem most certainly put a strain on both mother and child during pregnancy. It was unassuming since the mother dreamed about what her baby would look like, how healthy he would be, and what kind of man he would become (although this mother already had an idea because of the circumstances).

But Christmas is about a birth that was anything but normal. The setting was difficult at best—away from home, no room at a traditional stopover place, makeshift shelter and a makeshift bed, all after long, arduous travel because of governmental interference with normal, everyday life. It was beyond typical because the child was the Son of the Living God. It was more than perfect since He would grow up to provide salvation for all the world (including yours and mine). Like our traditional Nativity Scenes, let us make Christ the focal point of our Christmas this year.

 “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  —Luke 2:12

Recently, on social media, I noticed many of my friends complaining because they were hearing Christmas music being played in stores and on radio stations in mid-October. Granted, the reason for seasonal music was probably to start getting customers in the “giving” mood. Retailers are notorious for trying to commercialize on the spirit of generosity that washes over us during Christmas. But let’s don’t blame the music for getting us in the mood. After all, songs have been part of the story of Christmas as long as there has been a story of Christmas.

Some purists will tell me that in the story the wording does not suggest singing, but saying, “Glory to God!” Personally, I would err on the side of angels singing when the worship of the One born King of kings and Lord of lords was being announced. I have noticed that whenever I worship God, either alone or corporately, music just becomes a natural part of the process. It sort of wells up and overflows—leaking out of me as if I could not hold it back. And music at Christmas does this for multitudes of people.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the “flash mob” videos that are popular around this time of year: in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, a lone shopper with clear, bright voice begins to sing the first strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” quickly joined by another voice, and another (this is part of the plan), but by the end of the song almost everyone in the crowd is either singing along or else listening in rapt attention to the worship of God. What a great Christmas song.

“Sing a new song to the Lord; let the whole earth sing to the Lord.”  —Psalm 96:1

With Thanksgiving behind us, most Americans are now in full-swing Christmas mode. We are listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas movies and television specials, shopping for the perfect gift for this friend or that family member, getting the decorations up and fluffy, and dreaming of all manner of Christmas goodies to eat.

According to the calendar, the Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth. Often this happens the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving (although in years like this one, the official start is not until next week), and we really start counting the days until Christmas.

This year, I would like to suggest that you take a few moments to truly savor the story of the Savior. Read, re-read, listen to, and contemplate the famous passages from Luke chapter 2. Consider the opening verses that teach us that at the right moment in time, for the right reason, and in the perfect season, Jesus was born. Pause in your traditions of family visits and Christmas tree lighting, of present wrapping and eggnog drinking, to consider the moment. It probably wasn’t in the middle of the night on December 25 (although there are indications that it was at night). It probably had little or nothing to do with snow on the ground (although the sugary icing makes a beautiful picture). But in the perfect moment, tucked away in a stable behind someone’s house (because there was no room at the inn), the Savior of all the world was born. Let’s celebrate His timing all month long.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”  —Luke 2:6

Traditionally, angels have brought two emotions to the front of the mind of humans: Fear and Glory. I find it interesting as I note that nearly every instance that an angel visitation is recorded in the Bible, he introduces his mission with words like this, “Do not be afraid!” The angel said it to Mary when he told her she would be the mother of the Messiah. He said the same to Zechariah upon the announcement of his son John the Baptist’s upcoming birth. When Joseph dreamed of an angelic messenger, he was told not to fear taking Mary to be his wife.

And the moment that seems to top them all: when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the messenger said, “Do not fear! Look! I have great news for everyone!” and then with the help of a sky-full of angels told of the birth of Jesus that very night.

On the heels of the word of comfort, we see the angels announcing glory to God. And so, at Christmas time, one of the things that touches the heart and lips of celebrants of the Christ-child everywhere is glory to God. We like to use the Latin form of the word to bring to mind the season we celebrate, “Gloria!”

  “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth..”  – John 1:14

Jesus started His life, lived His life, and completed His life (on this earth) amidst miracles. Everything about Him is miraculous. As a matter of fact the miracles run rampant through the Christmas story. For instance, the birth of John the Baptist is filled with miracles—the miracle of his birth to a woman barren into her old age. The fact that he recognized the voice of the Savior’s mother even in the womb (see Luke 1:44). A few years ago I imagined what someone witnessing the world at the time of John’s and then Jesus’s birth:

It was a time for miracles. Miracles were all around me. I don’t know why. I can’t reason it out. I just know that I witnessed miracles, and I am glad to have been there to witness and can now report. It was a time for miracles.” (A Time for Miracles, p. 13)

Many people today would like to explain away that which is miraculous, but the Spirit of Peace that hovers over homes of those who celebrate Christ’s birth at this time of year gives witness to the miracle of Christ. The continued insistence of story and song writers to bear witness to the change that visits people at Christmastime gives us cause to believe. And we can say with Carlton C. Buck who wrote, “I believe in miracles, for I believe in God!”

  “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose that not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.”  – John 21:25

There should be no confusion. The popular song from the early seventies tells us that “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and he sang “joy to the world.” The time-worn Christmas hymn tells an entirely different story. Perhaps Three Dog Night and the society in which we live would find joy to the world in the disguise of a friendly bullfrog with a “mighty fine wine.” But true joy can be found in only one place.

This Christmas season, as we consider the words of a host of angels to shepherds on a remote hillside over 2000 years ago, it is appropriate to see the importance of joy. It is more than contentment, although contented people often have joy. It is more than family ties, although our families are often a source of joy for us. It is more than a newborn child, although whenever we hear the cooing of a brand new, infant our hearts leap for joy. Yes, Joy is more than mere happiness, it is a state of being that can only be found in Christ. The Christ of Christmas.

You cannot manufacture nor imitate true joy. It can only be encountered when you encounter Jesus. So, this season as you sing of Joy to the World, let the Joy of Jesus flood your heart and extend to all the people you meet.

  “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’”  – Luke 2:10

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