Moving toward Christmas: At the Foot of the Manger
December 24, 2012
Merry Christmas! Christmas is about a lot of things, isn’t it, many of which can drive us crazy. We put up what we hope is the perfect trees and decorate them with ornaments. We string lights on our rooftops and decorate our lawns. (I don’t understand plastic manger scenes and giant inflatable figures, but if they are meaningful to you, God bless you.) We try to buy just the right presents and wrap them with just the right paper. We sing carols and bake goodies. Growing up, most of our Christmas was done Christmas Eve. We’d get to open one present before dinner and the rest afterward, hopefully dodging the socks and underwear. Of course, attending church would be squeezed in there. For many years, until my dad’s bachelor brother got married, Uncle Floyd would join us, “As long as you promise not to get me anything,” which, of course we agreed to and then promptly ignored.
Christmas was both predictable yet surprising. My only sister would always get a doll of some sort and it was devastating when we all realized one year that she was too old for them anymore. We would all go to great lengths to disguise our presents, especially for my incurably snoopy sister. One year, I disguised a record album by placing a cardboard tent over it; it drove her nuts. And my parents would go to great lengths to make sure they spent the same amount on all four of us, right down to the last penny. One year, that meant that we all got identical clock radios.
At the heart of these traditions and memories is the fact that Christmas is about relationships. Christmas is about being together, about creating, sustaining and nurturing our connections with each other. When I moved away and then when Cindy and I got married, we made the journey back to our homes, until moving too far away and then having children of our made going home impossible. Even then, we found ways to be together, always within our local church. Of course, we made new memories and traditions with our children. We know these relationships are important, because it is so painful when we don’t have them or when they aren’t what we want them to be.
The Christmas story is all about being together, about the lengths God will go to be with us. If the story of Jesus’ birth as told in Luke’s gospel were a movie, it would open with a wide shot. The recounting of the historical situation with all of the powerful people is panoramic and majestic. Virtually, the whole known world is encompassed and you can feel the influence of the powerful people. However, as the story progresses, the camera makes tighter and tighter shots, focusing on this little country, then a small region, a provincial town, and then the humblest of people and places. Finally, the camera focuses on a young married couple and their baby boy, lying in a manger.
Yet, as we read on, the camera begins to pull back to wider shot, very different from the first. Here we have an angel appearing to not the rich and powerful, but to despised shepherds. These startled outcasts, far from the positions of influence, are confronted with a host. The host is not the infamous Roman centurion army, but rather an angelic host with a different message. The birth of humble Jesus is good news of great joy for all people, for he is Savior, Messiah, and Lord. This news is so good that the shepherds just have to share it and see it for themselves.
The effect of the Lucan cinematography is stunning, but the point is even more stunning to us. The good news is that Jesus is being born not where expected, but where people need him the most. This is important for us to remember all year long, not just at Christmastime. We need to be reminded that God not only came in the flesh that Christmas time 2,000 years ago. God continues to be embodied in the world, through you and me as we go out into this hurting, broken world that needs to hear that God is with us, that God knows what it’s like to be one of us.
We’ve been making a journey toward Christmas this Advent Season, and as we arrive at the foot of the manger, we realize that our journey is really only beginning. The fact is, we don’t meet Jesus as much as Jesus meets, having made a much longer trip to reach us, taking on human flesh and coming down to be with us. Wherever you are tonight, however your celebrate Christmas, know that God is meeting you where you are and is being born in your heart anew. Cherish the traditions you have, but even more so cherish those with whom you share them. Merry Christmas, everyone! Amen.