“I bring 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.”
The sounds and smells and sights of Christmas are everywhere, tickling my senses. I confess to loving it all. Yes, ’tis the season to be jolly, or happy, or merry—as you wish. For sure the traditional greeting, Merry Christmas, embodies the spirit of celebration for those who love Jesus. How shall we then make merry?
How about a trip to the Gaylord Texan to snow tube down their two-story ice slide, or skate on their outdoor rink—an outdoor rink, for 6 weeks, in Texas?! Or put on a parka and see “mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap” along with the rest of the Night Before Christmas story carved out of 2 million pounds of ice. Then top it all off with the breath-taking, crystal-clear, full Nativity.
Or maybe you’d rather start closer to home with your precious child or grandchild’s Christmas extravaganza—certain to make you merry. Sue Monk Kidd’s story in her book When the Heart Waits, may top yours, or not:
When my daughter was small she got the dubious part of the Bethlehem star in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal she burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.
“What exactly will you be doing in the play?” I asked her.
“I just stand there and shine,” she told me.
There is nothing like the wonder of a little child. We are so caught up in the wrapping paper and tinsel, we forget the reason for the season. God the Father knew, way back when, the role His child would play:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders,
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Luke 1&2 are loaded with wonder. Consider Zechariah and Elizabeth, way too old to have a child. How about Mary, when Gabriel told her she would birth the Savior? And the shepherds keeping watch in the fields—first to visit the Christ in the manger. I wonder if the angels wondered?
Every Christmas I am prompted to wonder by the haunting melody of this traditional Appalachian carol, by John Jacob Niles (1933):
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I …
A couple of years ago my youngest grandson began the process of wonder. What a Christmas day it had been. Up at 6—grandma, it’s time to see if Santa’s been here—followed by the Christmas story, stockings, breakfast, gifts, lunch, more presents, play, dinner, more play, exhaustion. It’s time to lay down those sleepy heads. But Ty had one more thing to do—write a letter to God with his brand new fluorescent pens:
Tell your son I said happy Birthday.
Thank you for giving us the stregth (sic) to take our eyes off the Christmas tree and think about the real reason we selabrate (sic) Christmas. Amen.
And then, last spring break when the conversation turned to the upcoming Good Friday service, Ty asked, “What’s Good Friday?” As we explained it was the day Jesus died on the cross, his puzzled response was, “So, what’s good about that?” In unison we all exclaimed: “It was good for us!”
The cross is certainly an unlikely topic amongst the glitter of Christmas, but think how apropos it really is. Jesus was born for Good Friday so Sunday could happen. Max Lucado sets the tone in his book, Six Hours One Friday, p.5:
“To the casual observer there was nothing unusual…to the casual observer this Friday was a normal Friday. Six hours of routine. Six hours of the expected….Enough time for a shepherd to examine his flocks, a housewife to clean and organize her house, a physician to receive a baby from a mother’s womb and cool the fever of one near death. Six hours. One Friday.”
And yet you and I know those six hours were far from routine that day at Golgotha. The Son hung—naked, thirsty, miserable—on a cross, for six hours, separated from the Father by your sin and mine. Six hours of pure agony so you and I can spend eternity with Him in heaven. Christmas cannot be divorced from the cross. In our house a crown of thorns has become the topper for the tree, a Christ-nail reminiscent of the piercing spikes in both hands and feet is hidden in its branches.
By summer Ty had caught the message of the cross. “The real reason we selabrate Christmas” had been percolating along in his mind. Understanding what was good about Good Friday fit perfectly into the puzzle.
Many of our Christmas songs elicit a thrill of spiritual delight. In 1741 George Friedrich Handel composed the Messiah. Online sources tell the story that Handel’s assistant walked into Handel’s room one day and found him in tears. As he held up the score to the Hallelujah chorus he proclaimed: “I thought I saw the face of God.” King George II was so mesmerized by the Hallelujah movement that he jumped to his feet for the entire Hallelujah chorus, necessitating the audience to do likewise. Today we, who know that tradition, stand as well.
Make time then to enjoy your favorite version of the Messiah. Or tune into the Cloverton’s Christmas version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on YouTube as sung by 10-year-old Kaylee Rodgers and choir. It will bring tears to your eyes. Kaylee may be both autistic and ADHD, but her singing will thrill you:
I've heard about this baby boy
Who's come to earth to bring us joy…
With every breath I'm singing Hallelujah.
And then wonder along with Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene:
Mary, did you know…this Child that you delivered will soon deliver you?