Unpacking Christmas - for Good!
When I was growing up, every Christmas season, my mom brought out the Christmas glasses. These were a set of twelve drinking glasses with the Twelve Days of Christmas depicted on them – you know, from the partridge in a pear tree and two turtledoves to the eleven ladies dancing and twelve lords a-leaping. My personal favorite was the nine drummers drumming. At any rate, we would take call the other glasses in the cupboard and pack them away for about a month in favor of these special, festive glasses; and everyone looked forward to them – even my father’s poker friends who visited the first Friday in January.
That wasn’t all. Mom had special pillows for the couch, a tablecloth for the dining room, candles throughout the house (which were never lit), towels for the bathroom, and even a special winter-themed shower curtain! When Christmas arrived, there was absolutely no doubt that it was there!
Maybe you have such things too. Perhaps you decorate your house with lights and wreaths and inflatable Santa’s, snowmen, or Baby Yoda. Maybe you’ve seen those houses with the over-the-top light displays synchronized with a holiday playlist. The point is that our entire house says, “It’s Christmas time; Check it out!”
I’m sure this is similar to the experience of a family expecting a baby’s birth. Everything begins to revolve around that child, and once he or she arrives all our attention is oriented toward their needs – every little cry, every sneeze, every strange behavior calls us to attention. “The baby is here! Pay attention!”
Mary and Joseph certainly knew this experience. Today, we hear that even the nearby shepherds were drawn into the arrival of the newborn King. The angels point them in the direction of the sleeping Jesus – talk about an over-the-top light display! The entire heavenly host appeared to them! And there’s a very good reason for that message from the angels: Jesus Christ is born! Things can never be the same.
Friends, we are here together because of that night. Better yet: we are here together because of that Child – Jesus! We are not just pulling out the Christmas glasses or decorating the house for a month. We are not just catching glimpse of some special event and returning to our regular lives. Rather, with the birth of Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, and our invitation into a relationship with Him, our lives are completely upended and changed. We cannot call ourselves Christians – disciples of Christ – and simply go about life as usual. Those days are gone. God has a unique plan for you!
This is what the coming of Jesus means for us. We are not meant to bring out our attention or faith at particular moments or when it is convenient or necessary. Rather, Jesus is meant to be the center of our lives – all the time. Everything about us should say, “Jesus is Lord! We are redeemed! God loves us madly!” An encounter, a relationship with Jesus cannot leave us unchanged. It may only take a moment, but it is lived truly for a lifetime.
Consider Mr. Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He had a transformative experience in one Christmas Eve night, and he realized what the spirit of Christmas truly was – the transformation of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” That could not be lived by showing up at church once in a while or a little Christmas pageant or giving a gift once a year; it means more than just getting out the Christmas glasses or stringing lights around our bushes; it is not a one-time thing to be boxed up and saved for some other time. For Scrooge, it became a way of life. For those shepherds too; for Mary and Joseph, for Jesus’ disciples, and for every saint throughout history. Christmas changes people – if only we experience it truly and properly.
So that brings us back here – where we are gathered to remember, yes. We recall the humble birth of the Lord on that first Christmas. We are prepared and decorated now to welcome this Christmas. And Jesus will be present tomorrow and the next day. But we have all those other moments ahead of us. We will encounter them alone – without Jesus? Or do we make this a moment of divine transformation – when Christ’s light shines into the darkness of our lives – the darkness of doubt, loss, and fear; the darkness of addiction, illness, or estrangement; the darkness of meaninglessness, listless faith, or just feeling lost. That’s what Jesus wants to encounter in you, and that is what only He can transform into the joy we expect this Christmas. Scripture tells us that Jesus is not just “born,” but that He comes and “dwells among us.” That’s important – Christ is not just an occasional visitor to our lives; He is a permanent resident, provided that we welcome Him and keep Him present.
So, break out the Christmas glasses! Put up the lights and the inflatable Santa! Sing the Christmas carols! But do not let them fade into the coming new year. The heart of the joy that these things bring is not powered by elven magic or pixie dust. Nope. It flows from a living Savior who breaks into your life right here and now. Take Him home with you; and carry Him wherever you go! Unpack Christmas - for good!