Everybody loves the Christmas story. (I’m talking about the narrative recorded in the New Testament’s Matthew and Luke, not 1983’s popular cinematic comedy.) I suppose I should qualify: almost everybody loves it; multiplyingly, there are seasonal scrooges who mewl about the town square’s decorated tree or the courthouse crèche. These, happily, remain the meager exception. So, other than the seasonal sourpusses, the account of the young woman giving unlikely birth to a child in emergency, makeshift lodgings as angels herald the occurrence and shepherds mysteriously visit holds an allurement for most who are audience to it. Songs are sung about it, religious services held to commemorate it, an annual holiday — at least officially — devoted to it.
Perplexingly, for too many that’s where the impact stops. Perhaps a hushed wonderment or wistful tingle stirs for a day or two as the other-worldly event is recalled — then December 26 rolls around and life goes on unrepercussed.
I’m betting God had a lot more meaningful reaction in mind when he initially sent that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”. Why wouldn’t He? When we speak about the circumstances that prompt our modern Christmas celebration, we’re recounting something that ought to stop us in our tracks every time; and radically transform our lives in every way, including the most practical ones.
Quite a few years ago, my church made plans for its Christmas Eve service. We rented a hall for the special occasion and I casually drove up to the spot an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Just as I was pulling in — or perhaps I ought to say attempting to pull in — I realized something was amiss. It had snowed heavily a few days previously, supplying the precious white Christmas Bing Crosby and so many others reputedly dream about, but creating a disconcerting problem for me that chilly December evening: No one had bothered to plow the lot. Eight or so inches of heavy, wet, thoroughly inconveniencing snow covered everything. Not a single parking spot in sight and I had a sizable crowd of holiday revelers on the way, all of them presumably delivered courtesy of motor vehicles which, at that moment, had nowhere to occupy.
I found a single shovel, but really, what was the point? If I’d had two hours, I might have been able to clear away enough room to accommodate some of them? Then collapse in a sodden, exhausted heap? No, that wasn’t going to work.
But hold on! We were assembling to honor the miraculous advent of a child made possible strictly because the Creator intervened in the natural order and, against all odds, made it happen. Born of a virgin? Check. Of the line of Judah, tribe of Jacob, family of David, in the backwater of Bethlehem? Check. All of it predicted hundreds of years before its fulfillment? Check.
Dealing with a little wintry precipitation? Plainly, not a problem for that kind of God.
I remember vividly lifting my voice quietly: “God, what should I do? Help.” Then, immediately … looking out into passing traffic; a pick-up, complete with snow removal attachment, puttered past. I waved frantically, he seemed to move on heedless and my heart momentarily sank — when, suddenly, the brake lights flared, the driver executed a smart turn — and two minutes later I’d struck an agreement with a co-operative motorist who gladly offered to scrape the area clean for me. I could send payment in the mail that week.
Again, my Heavenly Father – the One who manipulated circumstances and history over the course of thousands of years in order to deposit the Savior of mankind on our desperate planet in precisely the manner He’d long before detailed through His prophets — doesn’t break a sweat over remedying an oversight that could have derailed a Christmas Eve soirée. Easy peasy. Christmas confirms it; as did that evening. Couldn’t be more encouragingly down-to-earth.
Any believer facing any crisis really should remember: Christmas!
So, fast forward to mere days ago: my wife and I drove two hours north to attend another holiday function, this one in a hamlet most folks in my state probably never heard of. At brumal dusk we found the tiny chapel along a country road, huddled in a snow-blanketed field. Inside, one-hundred visitors cramped into a narrow room, lit by candles alone, heated — over-heated, actually — by wood stove. Carols were plucked tenderly on a harp. The ineffable Christmas-time atmospherics were delightfully overwhelming.
We entered just in time to claim, literally, some of the last available seating. As the service began, latecomers continued bustling inside. An older woman wandered in after ten minutes and stood beside me. You know where this is going, don’t you? I was raised to be a gentleman. Gentleman volunteer their seats to the fairer sex when none else are available.
I confess, that Advent evening amidst the candlelight and sacred music, I wasn’t thrilled with this incommodious proposition. As I’d mentioned, we’d traveled a considerable distance to be a part of the festivities. We’d been anticipating the trip for weeks, rented a hotel room, made arrangements for someone to care for our dog, massaged our schedule so we could participate. And now a stranger ambles in, tardy, probably a local living just down the road — and I’m grappling with this persistent inner-nudge to surrender my place and spend the rest of the proceedings away from my spouse, on my feet or cross-legged on the floor? Seriously?
“I’ve gotta give this lady my seat,” I rasped to my wife, with probably not the most exemplary attitude.
So, yes, down on the floor I went for the balance of the time. I wasn’t able to nurse aggravation or self-pity too long however because, abruptly, I remembered: I’m here to worship God for dispatching His beloved Son to a desperate world. There, Jesus slummed it as a human being — first a baby, ultimately a sacrifice, placing every other person’s need before Himself. Live that way, exhorted this end-of-year holiday to me. Step aside so the lady can take your chair.
Selfishness couldn’t be annihilated in a more pragmatic way.
Christmas means: God can handle our needs, our dilemmas if we’ll trust Him. It also calls us to live for other people, reinforcing we sometimes have to set aside our preferences for others. It’s good news and a challenge wrapped up in a single holiday. And meant to be applied to living, the day after Christmas and each one following.
Image: CCO Creative Commons; https://pixabay.com/en/lights-christmas-luminaries-night-1088141/