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Keeping the Focus of the First Christmas

Greetings Narrow Gate,

I pray that you each are doing well and looking forward to Christmas. We all know that this can be difficult time for many people. This year especially. I would encourage us each to be open to the Spirit of God, ready to recognize and intervene and bless those who are in need.

It's funny, but for many of us, we put a great deal of planning into Christmas. Some of us shop year round. Some of us even shop for next Christmas, the very day after this Christmas. I have to admit, that's a little intense for me. Being an ex-retailer, I was always so busy at Christmas I would just collapse Christmas Day, like a long distance runner crossing the finish line.

Ponder with me a moment. Let's think about that first Christmas, the night that Jesus was born. Do you have that image of Mary, Joseph and Jesus surrounded by all the animals. Was it cold or warm, what were the sounds, we know it smelled funky, right? Now compare that Christmas with your traditional Christmas, however it is that you normally celebrate. I would guess that all of our Christmas celebrations differ greatly from that night in Bethlehem. I'm not laying a guilt trip on you, remember where I started. We plan our Christmases today. The night that Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary didn't have a plan, they didn't even have a room. They were just doing as the angel of God told them.

Some of us want our Christmas celebration to be perfect. We like to put a crisp edge on our wrapping along with the perfectly matched bow or ribbon. If we are having a meal, everything must be right, down to using mom's china and grandma's recipes. But that first Christmas was far from perfect.

I remember being a first time dad, along side a first time mother. Talk about stress. Do you think Mary was concerned about where she was going to deliver her baby? I honestly believe that she was not concerned. The angel had told her to not be afraid. I guarantee she was calmer than me with our first child. I guarantee she was calmer than me with our third child (I was 46 at the time). When Kristi told me her water had broke, I jumped up and ran around the house like a chicken with no head (I could not find my overnight bag, because I had not even packed one).

I believe that Joseph and Mary were at ease with this fact: God was indeed in control of this event. They were a part of it, important parts, very important parts. However, they were not in control. For those control freaks among us, this is a reminder that it's OK for us to not be in control of everything in our lives. We have to put our trust and faith in someone other than only ourselves. It's healthy for us to be vulnerable and to depend on others. Sure we may get burned, but it's healthier and more fun with others, rather than on our own island of control. This little baby being born in Bethlehem would grow into a person that each and everyone of us would be able to trust. He would prove, by his sacrifice, that we could put our hope and faith in him.

Something else about that first Christmas, it was a surprise. A surprise for those on the earth. I have a feeling that in heaven, a party was ready to bust out. Naturally, I don't know about heaven definitely. But I have a feeling that the heavenly host knew what they would be singing. Let's go to our scripture for today, a traditional Christmas reading for my family as it is with many of yours, Luke 2:8-15. But instead of me typing it out, I invite you to click on the link that I have provided below. I'm sure this isn't the first time that you've seen this presentation of Luke 2:8-15.

For the shepherds and their flocks it was just another night at work. They'd determined who had what watch, and those whose turn it wasn't, and they were thinking about sleep. All of a sudden, heaven literally opened up above them. Verse 9,

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."

They were terrified. Remember the Old Testament teachings, if you see God, you die. Heaven had just opened up, there was a bright blinding light, the shekhinah glory of God, but no sound effects, yet. Just the angel telling them, "Do not be afraid".

And then the angel said something else, in verse 10-12,

"I bring to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (also translated Messiah or the Anointed One). This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

I can just imagine the shepherds looking at each other and smiling. First, it looks like they're not going to die. Next, something very special has happened and they are now a part of whatever this special happening is. Then in stunning fashion, as their eyes are adjusting to the bright light, the sound effects kick in, verse 13 (cue the heavenly host),

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men and women whom his favor rests.'"

I would have been awestruck. I am sure the shepherds were. This is the feeling, right here, at this point in time, that we all want to feel every year in December. That surprising, stunning, overwhelming, emotional, visceral feeling of Christmas. We try to replicate it, yet we never can seem to get it right. We work hard on the planning, and things go well, but something is still missing.

We transpose all of our modern understandings of Christmas with the food, the fellowship and the gifts,

and then we're left disappointed, some even depressed, when the celebration is over. The problem is what we have transposed with all the food, fellowship and fun. We have, each of us (me included), left Jesus out of it, to a certain extent. The celebration has become the focus, not Jesus.

A few days back we talked about Jesus not just being the reason, but the reasoning behind Christmas. The birth of Christ was an event, but it also was an earth shattering, eternity changing, humanity saving, purpose filled process. This process involves the manger as much as it involves the cross. One without the other is meaningless.

I pray that we all can empathize with the shepherds, like Linus did. The feeling that we all search for every Christmas, is that same feeling that we had as a child. Maybe this is why Jesus said in Matthew 18:3-4,

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

We are all trying too hard, every Christmas. Sure, some of it is fun, but admit it, some of it is hard work and stressful. We focus and become concerned with things that really are not important. In a way, we are too grown up. We have to get back to being child like, if we can, being like Linus.

Jesus understood this, he taught this. But more importantly, he lived this. You see, he was a child also.

This Christmas, I pray that we each can find that same excitement, that same jaw dropping thrill that the shepherds had at the first Christmas. May you and yours have a blessed and Christ filled Christmas. Merry Christmas Narrow Gate!

Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.


Thad Brown

Opportunity House

and Harmony UMC

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