Joy. It’s a popular word this time of year.
It’s printed on pillows, formed into stocking hangers, and a common refrain in Christmas music.
We want joy. Yet many of us lament we don’t feel joyful during December.
It’s hard for me to imagine the Messiah coming in any other fashion than Jesus’ bodily form.
I think that’s because it’s the only way I’ve ever heard, or known, the story. A baby. In a manger. But when I stop to consider that God put on human flesh, I really can’t imagine that either.
Seriously. God. In bodily form. The One Who caused “the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9) walked upon its very soil. He Who designed our bodies to need nourishment ate meals with family, friends, “sinners” and disciples. Our God — limitless in power — temporarily limited Himself to live in our circumstances and culture. Jesus was willing to release the equality He shared with God (Philippians 2:6) to serve us.
I’m not sure I’d apply for the job.
The Levitical preisthood, descended from Aaron among the tribe of Levi, had a job I’m not convinced I’d want. When I reflect on their duties, I have a mixed reaction. One part of me esteems their role highly: what a privilege to be chosen among the thousands for such important duties. They taught and blessed the people. They led them toward God and interceded on their behalves. They entered the Holy Place in the tabernacle (and temple) and burned fragrant incense.
Another part of me experiences revulsion at what their daily duties entailed: the bloody sacrifices of animals for guilt offerings. (Do you think the teenage Levites from Aaron’s line dreaded adulthood and having to go into the family business?)
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The wise men of the nativity story have much to teach us…
…despite their fairly brief appearance on the pages of scripture. Not the least of which is the reason for the name of our Bible study. (Pop over to Facebook for a video explanation on that.) A short reading of of Matthew 2 reveals much about these men, even though it leaves a good bit unsaid. Three things for us to learn:
Know the Word.
These men — and we don’t actually know how many there were, we know only the number of gifts — obviously knew the Old Testament prophecies well enough to set out on a long journey in response to them. Perhaps their knowledge was as a result of Daniel’s or Esther’s influence in Persia from long before? They arrived in Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews (a logical, but errant, assumption to find Him in the Jewish capital). Matthew 2:2 reveals their knowledge. The chief priests, then, in 2:5, quote Micah’s prophecy directly (Micah 5:2). The Magi knew enough to respond; the priests knew the very words of the prophet. We, too, must know the Bible well enough that we can readily recognize truth, and act upon it.
What do tonsils and Advent have to do with one another?
Seemingly nothing, at first glance. The two have coincided in my life this year, as my daughter is having hers removed today, December 18.
At age twelve, we’ve only recently discovered that her oversized tonsils are obstructing her sleep. Dangling like two red ornaments into her airway, those tonsils cause her breathing to stop about every three minutes throughout the night; her brain arouses her to shift into a position that will enable respiration again.
It’s the Christmas tradition I’m ready to ditch.
Living away from extended family means most of our holiday celebrations are either shared with friends or spent with merely my four fellow Holmbergians. More often than not, it’s the latter. As an introvert, that’s often okay with me. Other times it produces a subtle but steady pain, similar to a headache that you don’t quite realize you have until you find yourself spitting nails at your spouse — utterly unprovoked.
Her disgust was vocal and overt.
My friend and I had both received Christmas cards from a third friend. Over the course of the preceding year, we had walked through some significant and painful territory in the life of our mutual friend: a miscarried pregnancy, a grave illness in her extended family, and an arduous household move. Yet the Christmas greeting that arrived in our mailboxes mentioned none of these; rather it was graced with a smiling family photo and written sentiments that noted only pleasurable travel experiences, milestones achieved by children, and professional successes. My friend was visibly agitated by the dissonance between what we had observed in person and what was recorded on paper.
Senseless, untimely deaths.
Loneliness and depression.
Weariness and fear.
All juxtaposed against the holiday that’s supposed to be happy.
Approaching Christmas in December seems to press on the tender, raw places in our lives. We’re more aware of our loved ones’ absences because we’re rightly accustomed to gathering with them to celebrate. The world around us seems to go merrily on its way while we bear our burdens. Somehow, facing such difficult circumstances during December seems more unjust.
If Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus (and it does), how can we give a gift to Him?
At first the answer may not seem obvious, but with a little searching of the scriptures, Jesus tells us exactly what’s on His birthday list this year… and every year:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
— Matthew 25:37-40 ESV
When we feed or clothe a stranger, or visit someone in the hospital or prison, we have blessed the King. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m not bothered by the gift-giving at Christmas. But I do hope that we give with a sense of purpose: to honor Him.
Perhaps this Christmas consider giving to someone in need — an individual or to an organization that meets the needs of individuals — as a way to give to Jesus. For example, our family loves cycling, so one year we donated money to purchase a bicycle for an itinerant pastor in Africa through a para-church organization. Another year we specifically outfitted a child who couldn’t afford clothing that met his school’s dress code.
No gift has thrilled me as much to give as the ones I’ve given to Him in such a way.
I like to think He enjoys ‘opening’ them, too.
I share these stories as examples of ways to give in this fashion, not to have our deeds seen by men. I’d love to hear your ideas and stories so that all of us can be similarly inspired. Will you consider sharing in the comments?
It’s a line from a song in one of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music. Though it’s not the intended meaning, I can’t help thinking it aptly describes much of ‘giving’ that goes on at Christmas…
“Brown paper packages tied up with strings…”
We’ve turned the page on the calendar from November to December and simultaneously shifted from being thankful for all God has given us to setting out to acquire more. (Though we’re shopping to give to others, most of our purchases end up under our very own roofs, don’t they?)