Whew, what a year! We couldn’t wait to get past the election and all of its stress and strife. Maybe the holidays will be better, we thought. Maybe people will be nicer, we hoped. Then came Thanksgiving with the in-laws. Surely another helping of pumpkin pie will cure all that ails us.
Now as Black Friday turns into another Monday and the calendar and the world turn the page to December complete with headlines blaring about school violence, election recounts, and dictator passings, one has to wonder, should we bother to pull out the tinsel and garland or just fast-forward to the New Year?
Do we really need another Christmas? We sing the same songs, put up the same tree, and shop for the same socks and sweaters every year. Is the message of peace on earth, good will toward men still relevant? Still possible?
Consider the story behind Christmas. Hollywood would recast Christmas. Joseph’s collar is way too blue. Mary is green from inexperience. The couple’s star power doesn’t match the bill. Too obscure. Too simple. The story warrants some headliners. A square-jawed Joseph. Someone of the Clooney vintage. And Mary needs a beauty mark and glistening teeth. Angelina Jolie-ish. And what about the shepherds? Do they sing? If so, perhaps Bono and U2?
Hollywood would recast the story.
A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in a feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.
A good public relations firm would move the birth to a big city. See what Roman palaces they might rent, what Greek villas they could lease. The Son of God deserves a royal entry. Less peasant, more pizzazz. Out with the heads of sheep, in with the heads of state. Shouldn’t we ticker tape this event? Maybe throw in a little Trump Tower escalator entrance.
But we didn’t design the hour. God did. And God was content to enter the world in the presence of sleepy sheep and a wide-eyed carpenter. No spotlights, just candlelight. No crowns, just cows chewing cud.
God made so little of his Son’s coming. No hoopla at his birth. Is this a mistake?
Or is this the message?
Perhaps our world, and your life, resembles a Bethlehem stable. Crude in some spots, smelly in others. Not much glamour. Not always neat. People in your circle remind you of stable animals: grazing like sheep, stubborn like donkeys, and that cow in the corner looks a lot like the fellow next door.
The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: There is no place he will not go. If he is willing to be born in a barnyard, then expect him to be at work anywhere: bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, and brothels. No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person he cannot reach. There is no limit to his love. When Christ was born, so was our hope.
Actually, I think we need Christmas more than ever this year.
We could use a season that is dedicated to giving, not receiving; to caring, not critiquing. Put away our differences. Put up the Christmas tree. Take comfort in the familiar story and the ancient carols. Our world, like that of Bethlehem, is difficult and crowded. Our days can feel as cold and uncertain as that midnight manger. Yet in the midst of it all, let’s do what Mary did. Let’s invite the source of peace to enter our world. Let’s find hope, once more, in the infant King.
God became one of us so we could become one with him. That is the promise of Bethlehem.