I remember it was around 6:10 p.m. Christmas Eve. I was sitting on a lone stool in the far corner of a candlelit room filled with about 600 people singing “Silent Night.” I leaned up against the wall, drinking in the sweet serenity of the moment, I wanted the “Christmas feeling” to last.
In a few moments, I would be on stage, sharing “Christmas Eve thoughts” for the last of six Christmas Eve services at our church. As the Lead Pastor, our annual candlelight Christmas Eve Communion services have become my favorite service of the year (OK, perhaps second only to Easter services).
As I sat there in the beautiful glow of candlelight, I paused to drink in the moment of the season that is anticipated by our culture for months each year. Among other things, the devout look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ. The shopper anticipates holiday deals in a shop-til-you-drop mode, and kids look forward to time off from school in order to use and enjoy the the fruits of the earlier-mentioned shopping frenzies of parents and grand parents.
My vantage point is a little different, because of what I do for a living. The Christmas season is dominated by the way our team plans to celebrate the birth of Christ in corporate worship services. We had four different services at our church in December that focused on the Christ in Christmas. We considered “Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future” on the weekends, and on Christmas Eve, we considered “The Strange will of God.” (Strange in the purest Webster sense of “unusual, out of previous experience.”)
Christmas is now 4 days behind us, New Year’s is just around the corner, and the vacation days I planned to spend “over the holidays” are already half gone (I go “back to work” Saturday.) I’m nostalgic, fighting a little melancholy feeling that “It’s over,” and I don’t yet feel the adrenaline of a new year kicking in.
So, in the interest of the Christmas that just was, I’ll look back and highlight the four most impacting thoughts for me this Christmas season. I’m hoping to create some insights with “staying power” for me, and perhaps stir meaningful reflection in you, the blog-reader, one more time before 2015.
FIRST: CHRISTMAS PAST…The most impacting thought that stood out to me in reviewing the personalities of the first Christmas was the humility of Joseph. In a day when confidence and self assertion are prized personality traits, I was struck (to be honest, challenged and almost humiliated) by his humility. Joseph shows us what Romans 12:17,18 looks like in real life.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
As far as he knew, Joseph had been betrayed by his fiance Mary. She was pregnant by “not him” and yet, he sought to end their engagement quietly. He planned this out of love and respect for Mary, even though initially he believed she cheated on him. He was willing to “turn the other cheek” relationally, in spite of the fact that this “secret” would eventually result in whispers that would slander his reputation (“She got pregnant by someone else”…or…”So that’s why they broke up, trying to avoid shame.”)
Looking back on THE FIRST CHRISTMAS made me wonder how “in check” my ego really is. Am I humble enough to not “settle the score” even when I’m the one who has been wronged? Do I turn the other cheek to those who hurt me? No wonder Joseph was labelled a “righteous man” in scripture. He lived the humility we would later see in Jesus himself.
SECOND: CHRISTMAS PRESENT…in this sermon we looked at the word “present” as a verb, noun, and adjective. As a verb, Christmas was “presented” in unprecedented fashion. Indeed, the Angelic host announced to the shepherds in royal fashion that the hope of all creation…the Prince of Peace, was born in Bethlehem.
We reflected on the royalty of Jesus. After all, He is the “King of Kings” and “Prince of Peace.” When I consider the royalty of Christ, I’m struck by the casual relationship we tend to have with Jesus in our culture. I fear most of us relate to Him far more like a good friend, than Lord of the Universe.
Good friends aren’t infallible, everyone knows that. On top of that, every good friendship is “mutual.” There is a “give and take” between friends. Sometimes we agree to disagree; we do what you want to do this time, but next time I decide. Ultimately, if friendships don’t work out, they can be “de-friended.”
Unfortunately, we tend to keep Jesus in “friend mode” rather than King. My involvement in Swaziland, Africa has taught me about Kings (they have the last monarchy in Africa.) Kings are best addressed as “Your majesty.” Their word is final, their very presence is revered. CHRISTMAS PRESENT convicted me of my too-casual approach to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What He says, goes…or at least, should…”Your Majesty!”
THIRD: CHRISTMAS FUTURE…When we celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, we are celebrating His “First coming” to Earth. This miraculous entry into human history by the God of the Universe was foretold by prophets in specific detail (down to the small town He would be born in) five to seven centuries before baby Jesus let out His first newborn cry.
The first Christmas makes me a person of great hope in the future. You see, the greatest hope of Christmas is not in Christmas past. Christmas in the past assures me that God will keep his promises of Christ coming again in the future. If God kept over 300 promises of Christ’s first coming (beginning with His birth in Bethlehem), I am certain God will fulfill the promises of Christ’s second coming. (see John 14:3…”If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”)
CHRISTMAS FUTURE makes me sure of the future. God has proven He is faithful to keep His promises. He did it in the past, He can be trusted to be faithful today, and in the future!
CHRISTMAS EVE: THE STRANGE WILL OF GOD…If you ever stop and just think about that first Christmas, much of it was “strange.” Strange in the sense of unusual, extraordinary or curious. The angelic announcement wasn’t a strange way to announce the birth of infinite divine royalty. It wan’t unusual that “wise men” would travel from far-off lands, guided by celestial wonders.
What was strange, unusual, were all the “fallen” dimensions of Christ’s birth story. Mary ended up on a 70 mile donkey ride and the young couple endured financial hardships of an empire-wide taxation effort that required each person to return to their hometown to pay. Mary and Joseph dealt with the disappointment of finding no room in the inn for which to give birth to Jesus. Loss and trauma surrounded Christ’s birth, as Herod issued a death sentence for all baby boys in the region, the list goes on and on.
Through all this, Mary treasured these things in her heart, and Joseph stayed true to their divinely imposed mission. There is no record of their complaint, second-guessing or doubt of the unexpected events involved in the will of God. Again, this dimension of the Christmas story has humbled me. “God forgive me for being deterred by the unexpected, for being dismayed by the inconvenient, and for despairing in the difficult dimensions of what it means to follow you.”
This year, 2015 I resolve to take the STRANGE in stride. I resolve to experience unexpected times peacefully; to take struggle without complaint, to faithfully consider the darkest of nights to be silent, holy ones…entrusting myself and my loved ones into the tender care of the one who is Emmanuel, God with me.