Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Than One Christmas Story

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Every year around this time of the year I find myself struggling. I'm not a Scrooge who hates the holidays or cynical by the commercialism of Christmas (well maybe a little) nor do I feel guilty by how much we have and how little the rest of the world has. I mostly struggle because I feel like I'm missing the point of why we celebrate Christmas. I mean really. Over 2 thousand years ago there was a birth of a baby born of a virgin which many prophets foretold and this baby was to be the savior of the world for all eternity.  And every year we try our best to celebrate this miracle. How do we often celebrate?? By trying to give gifts we think others need.

I mean really, don't you feel like you're missing the point?

So at the beginning of the season my stress level usually heightens just a little bit by how much we're going to spend to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our children always make asinine gift requests, that could possibly put us in debt if we give in. Then there's the pressure to spend thousands on airfare to visit family (I love my family but shouldn't we show them we love them throughout the year and not just Christmas?). Then there's the holiday parties that require your house to look a certain way; instead of friends coming together celebrating a mysterious happening that is much greater than ourselves; greater than our little minds can fathom. Do you see why I dread the season? It's not Christmas I dread, it's all the required stuff we create around Christmas I dread.

And there's nothing wrong with exchanging gifts, nothing wrong with gathering the family together, nothing wrong with buying your children expensive gifts, nothing wrong with beautifully decorated homes and nothing wrong with Christmas traditions that create fond memories.  My only concern: don't miss the point; don't miss the mystery.

Christmas is probably one of my favorite "holy-days" to celebrate. During Christmas there's a sense of excitement, a sense of preparation for something major getting ready to happen. It's like waiting to see your favorite musician perform live for the first time. You plan months ahead. You purchase your ticket to ensure a good yet affordable seat. You get dressed in clothing that resembles them. You get your voice ready to sing along. You get your dance moves ready to dance along. You get your cameras ready for pictures. Well, that's Christmas for me; Christmas is the waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah to grace us with his presence and to step on that stage. That's huge! For hundreds of years stories had been told about him, people have been waiting in Hope and Christmas is the celebration that He came!!!!!

So how should we celebrate?? To me, a brand new iPhone 5 does not quite do it. To me we need to use Mary, Joseph, and the Magi as examples of how to bring on a celebration only fit for a King. They brought their best: not just presents but their presence. They showed up, they celebrated right there in that smelly old barn.

I can only imagine how disgusting that "barn" had to be and the unwelcoming smells had to be everywhere.

I have a thing for smells. I smell everything.  And that's not always a good thing because I drive my family crazy; candles and air fresheners everywhere.  When serving in Prison, I can't stand the smell of food trays mixed with body order. When I travel internationally, the smell of animals and human waist is everywhere and this OCD woman with a bionic nose is usually greatly challenged.

Why can't we allow our sense of smell to be challenged to remember the birth of Jesus?

Why hasn't the smelly and unpleasant part of the birth of Jesus caught on as we celebrate?

Do we realize the chaos that was taking place during the time of Jesus birth?

Why can't we choose to be where Jesus was born and sit in the unpleasant smells and unpleasant circumstances and just be present and worship?

Mary, Joseph, the Magi chose to celebrate right then and there giving their presence and giving up their right for comfort.

This Christmas will we choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus in an unconventional way? Will we choose to go to those places we just know no one will show up on Christmas Day to celebrate? Will we go to the prisons? Homeless shelters? Broken homes? Bars? The hated in-laws? And just be present?

I have to tell you, the thought of breaking traditions and going counter culture really makes me anxious. However, I believe sometimes it's necessary in order to fully engage in the mystery of the Virgin Birth.  Sometimes it is necessary in order to see how big of a sacrifice it had to be for God to give up his only, perfect Son to be born in a humble place and circumstance. Sometimes it is necessary because when we look at the mess of our lives thinking "nothing good can come out of it, there can be no hope out of this situation", we should remember that Jesus was born in a very messy condition and out of the messy birth came hope for the entire world. 

So Go for it and break the mold this Christmas and sit in the mystery of hope out of the messy and hopefully you will get a sense that you did not miss it.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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