Yet another year has arrived and I feel the squishy feeling of underwhelming excitement for Christmas. It’s been at least four years now that I lost the girlish anticipation looking forward to that special day. The years precede our economic hardships, so I cannot blame those woes for my apathy.
I have tried to analyze my own feelings year after year and have come up short. Perhaps it has to do with the overcommercialization of the day — the bad holiday music that, without any spiritual depth beneath, robs the soul of the miraculous. Maybe it’s because I haven’t felt that hushed feeling in my spirit that marks the sacred in a long time. I’m unsure. All I know is that stars are just balls of fire millions of light-years away instead of guiding lights leading anywhere. And babies are continually presented to me in Hollywood as inconveniences instead of welcomed miracles. I rarely hear of angels and good news. Nor do I hear people use the phrase “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Man” in any form. This cold lack of feeling may signal I’m losing a battle. I am beginning to believe them.
So, this post is my reviving of an old story. I want to awaken the sacred places in my heart. I’ll try to battle those forbidding lies that try to whisper there is no meaning, that Christmas is just a family holiday to give gifts, endure repetitive music, and get through rather than treasure.
The Christmas Story begins in the beginning of all things, at the creation of the world, when the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Consider Christ as the Word — a spoken expression of God of greater dimension than we know how to experience. Some believe that we are here because God is speaking us into existence — that because God speaks, we are — that if He would stop, we would too. I picture us all suspended by the spoken Word of God, usually unsuspecting, often denying, that the ground beneath us, the relationships we have, the trials, the sorrows, the joys and triumphs are being sustained by something beyond our reason.
Then, the greatest feat of foreshadowing occurred — over the course of several books, mentioned by several authors,and spanning thousands of years, the birth of a Savior was mentioned by various members of the persecuted and wandering tribes of Jacob.
Isaiah 7:14 is one of many. It says, ” Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (God With Us).
Then, one day, he came.
And look at how God shared the news. Not like we would, with fanfares and parades or news announcements and headlines. God started building suspense by striking a priest dumb in the Holy of Holies. Gabriel met him there and told him he would have a son in his old age and his name would be John, who would prepare people’s hearts for the Messiah to come. But since Zacharias the priest did not believe him at first, he was doomed to at least nine months of deafness and mute observation of his little world. He did not hear or speak again until his son was born.
Such a wierd happening is bound to make people talk. As the women were doing the washing, as the children were playing in the streets, as the men walked to the temple, the word carried fast that Zacharias had seen a vision in the Holy of Holies. What did such things mean?
Then, another shocking incident occurred about six months after Zaccharias’s vision. His wife, Elizabeth, came out of hiding, obviously pregnant. Usually that wasn’t so strange — but Elizabeth was an old woman. She was so old, everyone had accepted the fact that she would never have a child. But here she was … joyfully heavy with child. Imagine the word spreading in the market, on the temple steps, and through the houses.
The angel Gabriel was very busy in those days, for not so many months after reprimanding Zacharias, he appeared to a young, teenage girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. And he told her she would also become pregnant without ever sleeping with anyone first. This is where the chaff and the wheat are divided. For it is here, at the conception of Christ, that there is no human explanation available.
Zaccharias’s silence? A mental breakdown. Elizabeth’s baby — just happened to be the right egg. But a pregnant virgin? Come on! Now you’re asking us to believe too much. To believe in Jesus’ virgin birth is to suffer the scorn of being thought naive, hoodwinked, unwilling to accept … more natural, sensual, plausible explanations. To accept the virgin birth is to become a fool for Christ. Don’t worry, though, you’re not the only one. We fools are 2.5 billion strong. I’m happy to be counted among them.
Mary had the greatest risk, though. Stonings did occur. Until I watched The Stoning of Soraya M., I didn’t realize how brutal it was. I sort of imagined it like an out-of-control mob. I pictured a stoning to be like getting beaten to death. I thought the stones piled up quickly.
But no. At a stoning,
they tie her hands behind her back.
They bury her up to her waist. Then …
they take their time.
They aim carefully.
They take turns.
The process takes hours. One stone at a time, hitting her in the face … the head … the breast … the eye.
What Mary risked was not just some sniggers, dirty looks, and nasty comments about her stained virtue. She risked her life — and the possibility of one of the most horrendous, lengthy deaths available. Stonings did occur. Had she seen one? Was she worried? Probably — for there is not much value in anything but a hard decision.
Listen to her answer, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
I like this next part. So many times, the familiarity of a story overshadows the powerful realities within it. She receives God’s son into her, but then what? Gabriel doesn’t hang around to continue giving her advice and assuring her God’s got it under control. She’s left on her own to deal with the nasty gossip and condemning stares soon to come.
So she flees to her cousin Elizabeth’s. And like all good gal pals, Elizabeth reassures her with a blessing. But she doesn’t assure her over a quiet cup of tea. She loudly proclaims it, daring all the gossiping neighbors to deny that Mary is not only innocent, but the mother of our Lord! I wonder if Mary was somewhat shocked and scared when Elizabeth loudly proclaims her secret! Did she feel some doubt or misgivings at Elizabeth’s greeting — where the streets were narrow and voices carried and whispered gossip was carried swiftly by meddling feet?
Perhaps she felt a pang of fear, then a sigh of surrender. It is out of my hands now — she may have thought — it’s only a matter of time before Joseph hears.
I imagine there was an inner struggle here — perhaps only for a moment. Then, she proclaims the Magnificat — a song of praise and rejoicing. A song that I treasure more if I can picture the struggles in her heart — the back and forth of courage and fear — receiving and fleeing — cringing and proclaiming.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until the birth of John. When Zaccharias’s mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, the people living around the area were filled with fear and wonder, discussing with each other, imagining, “What kind of child will this be?”
Then, Zaccharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about his own son preparing the way for the Lord — someone who would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Christmas should be a time of peace.
To our culture, Christmas means bustling — hurrying, shopping, sometimes (in the case of Black Friday) even trampling. There’s the tree to get and decorate, the lights to light, the cookies to bake, the presents to wrap, the dinners to attend or host … does anyone ever feel like me and just want to scream STOP! At times like this, I wish I could be in another country where the focus isn’t so task-oriented. I’d forgo the snow and the bells for a nice Costa Rican beach and a long book.
Or I would love to exchange that ridiculous fat Santa Clause for a more solemn Father Christmas — like I said, I’m looking for a silent place. A sacred place. I want a hushed feeling in my soul and heart. I hustle and bustle always — can I escape this somehow?
Here I can plug the Advent Conspiracy: www.adventconspiracy.org, an international movement restoring Christmas by replacing consumption with compassion. Check it out.
But that’s not all. I’m hoping for candlelight in my spirit. I want to hear the cows lowing in the stable. I want to be awestruck by angels. I want to see Jesus.
I’m making my way there.
It’s in Matthew that you can see Joseph’s struggle, “being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” He didn’t wish to drag her into the public square and denounce her as a whore. He perhaps had the power to do just that — and possibly the accusation could have brought her the sentence she “deserved” — death.
But instead, he wanted to take care of the matter quietly. He was probably deeply saddened, hurt, and embarrassed — but he still loved her. He didn’t lash out.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the son will save people from their sins. But imagine the courage of Joseph — who would always look like a cuckholding simpleton to the townspeople. They would question his machisimo behind his back and sometimes to his face.
Later, the Pharisees would make a snide reference to Jesus about his questionable birth — but I bet Jesus grew up watching Joseph patiently ignore the ignorant. He watched his stepfather refuse to be baited. He probably saw people snigger … and Joseph walk on, back straight and tall, unwavering. Joseph let God define him — not others.