Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Just a couple of days before Christmas, I had to go pick up some last-minute things at Walmart. Signs of Christmas that once filled every aisle and was visible on every endcap was now much harder to find. The green and red colors gave way to pink and red. Valentine’s Day candy and decorations now filled the shelves. Most of what was left on Christmas shelves were either picked over or starting their approach toward the clearance aisles.
Oh, how quickly the world moves on from Christmas…
On the day after Christmas, my wife and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Just a couple houses down from us, we passed a home that was already done with Christmas. Outside lights and inflatables were taken down and put away. Christmas tree, already void of any decorations, were thrown out to the curb.
Oh, how quickly we turn the page from Christmas…
To be sure, many of the celebrations and most of the family gatherings have ended. Presents unwrapped and cookies eaten. Non-stop Christmas music radio stations have gone back to their normal playlists. Given some truth serum, perhaps you would admit that you just want to get Christmas boxed back up and out of the way. It’s clutter, and you’d just as soon put it behind you. Has the joy of Christmas quickly disappeared in your home? Time for us to gaze back into the manger scene. We still must keep Christ in Christmas—even if the rest of the world has quickly forged ahead. To do this, we don’t bake more cookies or buy more presents. Instead, we bask in the reality of the meaning of Christmas, the Incarnation. For us, Jesus is not a babe whose manger is getting old and dusty. He is a living person, whom we know, a reality who has become a living presence. For Christians, Christmas is not a festivity but a birthday—a beginning! Enriched by this celebratory time, we begin to ponder the coming year.
Do you remember the verse from the Gospel of John (1:14), often read on Christmas morning, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us?” The word “to dwell” meant “to pitch a tent.” Eugene Peterson put it graphically as he paraphrased, saying, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son… generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
Did you catch his phrase, he “moved into the neighborhood”? In other words, Jesus relocated. “From heav’n above to earth I come to bear good news to ev’ry home; Glad tidings of great joy I bring, whereof I now will say and sing.” (LSB 358, stz. 1) God with us indeed! The real Jesus stepped down from His heavenly throne and moved into our neighborhood. He took up residence in the brokenness of the once perfect world He created. Therefore, life for us can never go back to what it was before He came. We don’t simply turn the page and move on. “Getting on with business” after Christmas must include living with same joy and excitement that filled our hearts on Christmas Eve. Our joy to the world was not a fleeting moment, but a reality that permeates far beyond December 25th.
No matter what type of greeting cards Hallmark is pushing or what colors fill the stores, Christmas never stops impacting how we live. As you “get on with business,” make sure dispensing His love and grace is your business. May we enter the New Year with eyes that see those who need Him most.
This week's devotion was inspired/adapted from an online article, which I can no longer find to reference the author.
This past Sunday in our service we reflected on the very first worshipers of Jesus at Christmas—the shepherds. They were an unlikely invite to the royal guest list. Stinky. Dirty. Underappreciated. These were not men that were overly respected or valued in their 1st century community. Yet, there they are, with their staffs in hand, worshiping the newborn king on the night of that first noel.
For them that night started off like every other. Nothing strange. Nothing out of the ordinary. The shepherds were out doing what they did every other night. They were simply doing their job—a blue-collar, bottom-rung, minimum wage, underappreciated but absolutely necessary work. In an instant, their lives, and the entire course of history changed forever. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:8-9) There is something here we can easily overlook; and if we miss it, we can’t duplicate it. The only reason the shepherds showed up and found that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was because they were invited. The shepherds may have noticed a brighter-than-normal star hanging in the sky, but they would not have made any connection to Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled. They certainly would not have left their flocks and hurried off into town. They would not have even known there was a miraculous birth that night which would change the world forever. If the angel had not shown up to extend the invitation, they would have missed the whole thing. They wouldn’t have been there. Can you even imagine a Christmas program or nativity set with no shepherds?!? It’s preposterous. That would be baa-ed.
I remember talking with an old neighbor several years ago. He was born and raised in the church but had become disenfranchised with organized religion. He had long walked away from his faith. He considered himself an agnostic. I invited him to church. He said, “A lot of my friends go to church. They talk about their church. But you’re the first person to ever actually invite me to attend.” He came not long after to check us out.
Allow me to take you back to our Live Nativity this past Saturday night. So there I was… trying to faithfully embrace my role in this year’s production as “wise man #3.” I’ll save my sulky gripe-fest about being unceremoniously demoted from “wise man #2” for another day. 😉 The mission was simple; and I was ready to accept it. All I had to do was approach the manger, bow reverently, and offer my gift of frankincense. I was also privileged to lead Al the alpaca (clever name, must’ve taken awhile to come up with that one) along with me. No lines to speak. Nothing to memorize. Just walk, bow, and kneel. Easy enough. Much like my fellow wise guys, things were going smoothly. We arrived on the humble scene, gently nodded to Mary & Joseph, gave our gifts, and treaded back to the right of the manger. For the final two hymns, all we had to do was kneel before the creche and gaze adoringly at the Christ Child. A touching, living picture to replicate the awe and worship of the wisemen after their first visit with Jesus. That’s when Al and I locked eyes. It was as if this large, fluffy, don’t-you-dare-call-me-a-llama creature was peering into my soul just trying to get me to break my “wisemen” persona and smile. He would stoop down, eat some grass or hay from the ground, and then come up to chew—with his mouth open and tongue flapping, might I add! He did this repeatedly, all while staring at me from about 8 inches of my face. It worked. I cracked. I broke character. I couldn’t keep focused. My eyes frequently shifted from our baby Jesus to the stinky-breathed herbivore in front of me. Cautiously wondering what was running through his mind. And as if making occasional eyes at this four-legged barn animal wasn’t bad enough, during the last stanza of ‘Joy to the Word’ my new friend sneezed on me. Yup, that’s right. My new pal, Al, sneezed all over the left side of my cheek. My contemplative gaze into the manger was done. I stood up and retreated back behind the manger scene, trying not to laugh while wiping my face clean.
My favorite Christmas inflatable is waning. The lights have weakened to a barely noticeable glimmer and the motor now runs with a half-strength whimper. My animated Gingerbread Man no longer pops up with his same yuletide enthusiasm; he will likely not even make it to Christmas. The hot cocoa party is over. This is a bummer. It has been a staple in our Christmas display for many years. I did look at some online videos and considered purchasing replacement parts—but it appears to be a bit too much hassle and more money than I originally purchased it for. I'll see what I can do this weekend to rig it up and squeeze a few more weeks of life out of it. But this might be a bit tricky as not even duct tape or WD40 is going to solve the problems. So as much as I hate to admit it, until another suitable replacement is found, there will be a large, mug-sized void in our front yard.
Pastor Steve Vera