There is no Christian Holy Day as at odds with the culture as Christmas. For example, we begin celebrating Christmas with the first Sunday in Advent (usually the first Sunday after Thanksgiving); I saw stores decorating for Christmas and offering Christmas “specials” before Halloween.
Another big difference is in the mood of Christmas for Christians as opposed to the culture. In Scripture, Christmas comes to those who are quietly going about the business of life—Zechariah in the temple, Elizabeth at home, Mary in a solitary place; and Joseph asleep, dreaming. Zechariah is literally given an unspeakable joy he must contain in himself until the naming of his son, (Lk 1: 63-64). Elizabeth goes away for five months to relish her pregnancy, (Lk 1:25, MSG). Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart, Lk 2: 19). Joseph had to ponder the situation, and then, after his dream, did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife, (Mt 1:24). Two were joyful beyond belief, Mary was deeply troubled, and Joseph was probably heartbroken; but all are presented to us in Scripture as both thoughtful and solitary…and they continued that way for some time. Words like favor, blessing, mercy, forgiveness, joy, and peace echo again and again; phrases such as overwhelmed with mercy and deep reverential fear are used to describe the mood around the birth of Jesus. No one would use those words or phrases to describe the way culture celebrates “the holidays.”
This is not a tirade against the culture—its celebration is too pitiful and empty to be taken seriously and the sadness of it all is too deep to be mocked. Trying to buy fulfillment for one’s self or lasting joy for someone else is a doomed enterprise. I merely want to point to those first four participants—the primary actors in that great drama—as our guides for understanding and celebrating the birth of Jesus. There is a sense of solitude, silence, and reflection that pervades each of their stories. In the end all journey to the Christ child and all come away in awe and reverence. In the birth of that child in the most ordinary—even impoverished—circumstances four ordinary people find their lives transformed forever.
Perhaps we should follow their example this Christmas. In the midst of our regular old lives let’s carve out some time and space to be solitary and silent (after all we can’t really listen while the voices in our heads chatter on). Let’s put down the lists of things to do, buy, and engagements to attend, and ponder—focus and reflect on—the gift that God has given us in that child. Know this: according to the angel that child is every bit as much a gift to you as he was to Mary. Listen, listen to the angel’s words to the shepherds in the fields: 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. Take time, make space, this Advent Season to receive the gift of the Christ child.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie