Well, Christmas season is over. I took down all of the Christmas decorations this week. I sent my boys back to school today. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with my family this season. I intentionally made my schedule less hectic and planned for time to just be with my family while they were in town. Still, we kept busy. We hit the Magic House and the Science Center and two Christmas Eve services, we celebrated Christmas three times in one day and hit the road 12 hours later for Oklahoma City to do it all again.
In OKC we hit a lego exhibit and the lego store. We shopped, we visited the Oklahoma City Memorial and museum, we played a lot of games and celebrated some more. I stayed up way too late reading but slept in longer than I have in years. Over the break, I finished reading the book Havah: the story of Eve by Tosca Lee. The fictional book is written in the voice of Eve, the first woman. It was beautiful and poetic and haunting. Though I’m not sure I agree with a few small points of the book’s theology, it gives imagination to a short story in the Bible and brings it to life as the reality it may have been. It imagines the relationship between the first man and woman and their Creator. But the part that haunted me most was the description of the DEPTH of the fall. We don’t even realize how far we now stand from how we were created to be.
That’s our problem with every Bible story. We read the words and we commit them to memory, but we don’t give life to them by imagining the reality of the story. That’s the problem with the Christmas story. We’ve heard it so many times. We know it backward and forward. We can recite it in our heads in Linus’ voice “And the glory of the Lord shown round about them and they were sore afraid.” This year, I got out four different nativity sets and played with them with my boys over the holdiay. We told the story of Jesus’ birth in our own voices just like we’ve read it in Luke chapter 2. It was fun.
But can we imagine how it really must have been? More than the words, but the sights, the sounds, the feelings? I’m sure we have the nativity picture in our heads of a bright star over a stable and angels singing over shepherds but here’s the deal: God promised centuries before that he would send a savior; a king to save his people. Prophets spoke about him and gave very specific instructions about who this king would be. I’m sure for years and years, people waited in eager expectation of their savior. They probably had high hopes for every son born in the city of David for years and years, but the reality of the situation was this: He did not come and God and his prophets were silent for 400 years. People probably lost hope over the centuries. They probably stopped expecting each new boy to be Him long ago.
Then one day God approached an angel. “Gabriel,” He said, “it’s time.” Gabriel’s heart started pounding. Did He really mean that NOW was the time that he would send his son to save the world?! This was the moment the universe had been waiting for for thousands of years. Since the day that Eve gave the fruit to Adam and they both disobeyed their Adonai.
Gabriel was sent to visit a teenage girl and she was given the shocking and exciting news. Still they had to wait another 9 months. The angels in heaven were taking polls and guessing when the baby would come. They knew it wouldn’t be until Mary and her betrothed took their trip to Bethlehem. But the wheels were set in motion. Joseph and Mary set off on their journey. They took their time and arrived about seven days later. There was no room in the inn, but they found room for this couple.
Sometime while they were there Mary had her first painful contraction. The angels waited with eager expectation. They timed her contractions and as they became closer and closer together, from the heights of Heaven they cheered her on. “Breathe,” they chanted. “Push!” they yelled. It was about time to celebrate!!!
After much labor, He was born. He was here. God was on earth. It was done. Jesus gave up his crown and came to earth to be born of a poor carpenter’s young wife. He would be beaten and bruised. Mocked and tempted. He would have acne and colds and the stomach virus. He would have to work hard and study harder. He would have to feast and fast. He would have to suffer in this life like we all do, and suffer like no one in all of eternity has or will with the weight of all of our sin on his shoulders. But first, he would have to eat, sleep, cry and get dirty like every other human born on this earth as a baby. As he entered the light, the tiny baby, God himself, took his first breath and let out a gurgling wail.
The angels cheered! God, in heaven wept over the beauty that is new life. Over the knowledge of how his son will live and die. Over the pride he had in his newborn son.
Suddenly a bright star appeared in the night. Even the rocks and gases of this universe exploded in celebration. Wise men hundreds of miles away saw the star and knew that this was huge. Something big just happened. The One that people had prophesied for years about was here. The new King. And they set off for years on a journey to find that king.
Shepherds who were watching their flock at night were startled as a light shone above them. It was a being of some sort. Too bright to see clearly but speaking to them. They were terrified! What was going on? The sheep were probably terrified as well and there was a second where everyone was running around trying to make sense out of what was happening when the angel spoke. He could hardly keep his cool he was so excited. He had to spread the good news!!!
“Calm down, don’t be afraid. Shh, shh. Listen up! I just have some great news I HAVE to share with you! You’ll want to hear this it will bring you great joy. Everybody, PEACE!” The shepherds stopped, stunned. The sheep calmed, too. They all listened intently to what this being had to say. “Today, just now… He’s here!!!” The angel grabbed his head still in disbelief. “The baby, The Savior was born tonight in Bethlehem! He’s the One we’ve all been waiting for. He’s the Messiah, the LORD! Go, find him! He’s lying in a manger and wrapped in cloths. GO!”
An army of angels were watching the whole conversation but they couldn’t contain themselves any longer. They appeared and rejoiced and whooped and hollered and started singing and dancing. I assure you they did not stand still like a choir. The shepherds, still dumbfounded started laughing at the excitement in the angels. They watched in awe as the angels continued the celebration. Then as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone; off to celebrate somewhere that smelled better than the sheep stenched fields.
The shepherds stood in silence. They looked at each other, not sure if they had just awoken from a dream. “What just happened?” they asked each other. “Apparently the Messiah was born tonight in Bethlehem,” the smart one said. They decided they should check it out just to reassure themselves that they weren’t going crazy. They left the sheep where they were and started running towards town.
Then they found it. I don’t know how they found the place where a baby was lying in cloths in a manger, and I don’t think they knew how they found it either, but there they were. And there He was. “So, it’s true? This is the One? This is the Messiah, here to save us all?”
Mary looked down at her precious baby, “Yes, this is Him. This is God’s son. He will save us all”
The shepherds could hardly believe their eyes. What an amazing night. Centuries they had been waiting for this moment and it was here!!! They ran out of the house and told everyone they saw on the streets. They went home and told their mothers who asked where the sheep were and who was watching them. They spread the news until there was no one left to tell and they went back to the room where the Messiah was sleeping. They fell to their knees and started crying. “Adonai, God, you have fulfilled your promise. You said that He would come and he is here. You sent angels to announce his birth and they told us where to find him and it’s just as they said. You told me. You let me be a part of this night. I will never forget this. I will tell my children and they will tell their children and my family will be blessed because you invited me into your story. May this baby boy grow up to be strong enough to save us all. May it be as you said. Thank you!”
And Mary, the mother of God’s son, just took it all in. She didn’t get any sleep that night. The shepherds were there and people from the street started peeking in to see if what the shepherds had said was true. She dried her eyes and prayed with the shepherds, “Thank you,” and took it all in and kept it in her heart. For thirty three years, and even longer, every year on this day she told her son the story of his birth, unlike any other birth in history. A long anticipated night, celebrated by the heavens and earth. It was huge.
And we recite the story in Linus’ drone. It. was. huge. Much bigger than I can even imagine.
God, may we be surprised by your story. May we never grow bored with the miracles that you have performed. Give us a glimpse into the reality of your story. You created us with an imagination, help us to remember to use it like children do on a regular basis. And thank you for inviting US into your story. Thank you for using regular people to spread your word and good news. Thank you for giving us hope that we can be used in spectacular ways even though we don’t feel like spectacular people. You are the God of the poor, of the normal, of us. Thank you for giving up Heaven and coming to earth. May we never forget your sacrifice. May Christmas always seem like a huge deal and something to celebrate with whoops and hollers and singing and dancing.