December is a strange time in America. Everyone and everything is all about Christmas. Religious or not, young or old, everyone shops, bakes cookies and sings about reindeer.
Maybe a strange chemical reaction takes place when you consume equal parts peppermint and eggnog: It suddenly becomes socially acceptable to do things that would otherwise be scoffed at the rest of the year. Teenage girls don hideous sweaters made of pom-poms and sequins. Hipsters pull out Nat King Cole albums and listen non-ironically. And families gather to watch Miracle on 34th Street for the 34th consecutive year.
And don’t even get me started on the Elf on the Shelf.
For this entire month, seemingly everyone is hit with a nostalgia and cheer that is difficult to explain. Even in the midst of the added stress that comes with buying gifts, spending time with extended family, and the overall bustle that comes with the holidays, Christmas brings out a childlike wonder and joy that is rare in our culture today.
Along with the black-and-white TV classics and claymation stories of the ’60s, an even older story is retold this time every year. Nativity scenes depicting Christ’s birth are everywhere, and (even in our politically correct society) it doesn’t feel all that out of place to hear Linus read from the Gospel of Luke in Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.
Sadly, the holiness and splendor of the original Christmas narrative has become another warm-and-fuzzy pop culture symbol that gets lost in joyous North Pole folklore and inflatable yard decor. But Jesus’ birth isn’t just another cheery holiday story; it’s the most important story ever told.
There’s nothing wrong with watching holiday classics on TV or celebrating Christmas in a variety of ways. I definitely don’t want to become a curmudgeonly Grinch shaking my fist at Santa Claus. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle, I encourage you to add a new tradition to your Christmas routine to rekindle the childlike faith the Bible calls us to maintain.
Sometime this week, set aside a half hour to slowly and intentionally read through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. Do your best to clear your mind and read it like you would for the first time. Put aside the flannelgraph images you may have seen in the past of shepherds wearing robes and rich guys with beards bringing hard-to-pronounce perfumes.
Flip over to Luke 2 and imagine the scene where there were too many angels to count, filling the sky singing praise to God. Or think about the Magi from the east, who were no doubt respected leaders — following a star — to kneel down to a baby.
We’re quick to skim right past the miracle that was the virgin birth. Can you imagine the questions Mary (and her parents) had? Joseph is often overlooked in our culture today, but he is a true hero in this story, doing the honorable thing by being a respectable husband against all common sense. Do you think the inn keeper remembered Mary and Joseph 30 years later when rumors began to spread about the Messiah born in Bethlehem?
These events only happened once in human history, and they will never happen again. If those thoughts didn’t make you pause for even a second in a sense of wonder, you’re too familiar with the story (or maybe too pre-occupied with Buddy the elf).
I was raised in the church, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have a hard time reading Bible stories with a fresh perspective. Stories that are truly miraculous and amazing lose their power after reading them hundreds of times. It’s easy to get so accustomed to Noah, David, Mary and even Jesus that we forget these were real men and women who actually lived incredible lives that still impact us today.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably reached this point of the holiday season on autopilot like every other year. You’ve sung, read and passively heard about Jesus’ birth, but it likely hasn’t been anything powerful or special that awakened and encouraged your faith.
Try something different this year. Take a time out, and intentionally spend time reflecting in reverence and wonder. Don’t let the miracle of the real Christmas story become so familiar that you forget the incredible reality of the person of Jesus. Go to your Christmas parties and enjoy an extra cup of hot cocoa, but don’t forget to worship the King of Kings brought to earth in a manger.
Copyright 2014 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.