This morning on the way to church I was listening to the radio. I don’t often do that but there is Christmas music, so I turned it on. They were asking people to call into the show to finish the sentence…It isn’t Christmas until… The answers were funny and thoughtful. Some were practical and others filled with faith. One person called in and said it isn’t Christmas until all the batteries are bought. Another said it was when the holiday baking is finished and yet another when the gifts are all wrapped and under the tree. For some it was getting the outside decorations up and others, finishing the inside decorations was the sign it was really Christmas. One person said all those things were true but for her, it was truly Christmas when she was standing in the candlelight of her church, singing Silent Night.
So, I started to wonder, when is it Christmas for you? Working in a Hispanic focused grocery store we knew it was close when the tamale making display was built. It was coming in early in the morning and smelling all the fresh produce ingredients needed to make ponche de Navidad…holiday punch. You could smell the sugar cane and the fresh guavas. In the store on Buckeye Road, it meant stockpiling such wonders as black eyed peas and greens…mounds of mustard, turnip, and collard greens. It was pallets of chitlins and more pallets of tripe for Menudo.
At home it was the decorations, inside and out. It was candy making…truffles and turtles, bon bons and caramels, fudge and chocolate covered cherries. It is Krumkake, Rosettes, and lefse. But mostly it is setting up the nativity sets, each from a different country, each different and unique. All of them tell the same story…the reason we celebrate in the first place.
The story is nearly 2,000 years old, but it is from even older than that. The words, familiar. Perhaps we recited them in a Christmas pageant when we were young. Maybe it is simply such a beloved story we have it memorized. The radio station played the story this morning, the Charlie Brown Linus version. There is something about hearing Linus say, that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown that gets me every time! But who among us can see Linus standing there in the middle of the stage, blue blanket wrapped around his head like he was a shepherd. “And in came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the City of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the City of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” And the story continues on.
We see the miracle of God, His one and only Son who left the splendor and majesty of heaven to be born here as a baby. Not a child of privilege. But the child of parents who were poor. Parents who were faithful. Parents who were no doubt overwhelmed by everything. And even though the last nine months had been a challenge, they had no idea what was in store, especially Mary. How exactly do you raise the Son of God? They thought they were alone in the stable, but soon shepherds showed up. Shepherds were considered unclean. They could not go to the temple. They were often looked at as thieves and as unreliable. But it was to these shepherds God gave the birth announcement for His Son. Scripture tells us several times that Mary kept things, pondering them in her heart. This was one of those things no doubt.
We know Jesus had other visitors as well. Wise Men came from the East, a journey of perhaps a thousand miles. They saw His star in the east and knew they had to make the journey. That star will be visible again on December 21 just after sunset on the southwest horizon, the first time Saturn and Jupiter have aligned since sometime in the 1,200’s. They brought peculiar gifts…gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is a gift fit for a king, and Jesus is the King of kings. They brought frankincense, a gift for a priest. And Jesus is our great High Priest. And they brought Myrrh. Myrrh was used in burial rituals and we know that Jesus came to die…for us and in our place.
Christmas Day is two weeks away, literally. That is what the calendar says. But when does it become Christmas for you?
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W