Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Story, A Picture

Don’t you just love all of the Christmas decorations and lights all over the place during the holidays? I love driving around at night when so many homes are all lit up with festive, bright lights.
And then if you venture out to one of the shopping malls, you can just about be overwhelmed with the decorations and glitz and noise and clamor of the season.
For a few weeks, all of our surroundings just seem to scream, “IT’S CHRISTMAS! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!”
And there’s the music being played in stores, all over the radio, and even in churches – from White Christmas, Jingle Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, Feliz Navidad, to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and Go Tell It On The Mountain.
There are just so many ‘in your face’ sights and sounds that can serve to help instill or reinforce that ‘holiday spirit’.
Now don’t get me wrong about all that stuff, I enjoy it like the next guy. Those ‘over the top’ displays, jingling bells, bright ribbons, etc. help put a little extra smile on my face and pep in my walk. They get me whistling carols and wishing strangers a ‘Merry Christmas’.
But they don’t help me get to the real focus of what we are celebrating.
To do that, I need to turn down the ‘holiday’ volume. I need to strip away the bright and shiny.
I’m not even talking about nativity scenes, Mary and Joseph, swaddling clothes, or a chorus of angels singing to shepherds.
In many families, like ours, Christmas morning is officially started by the reading of ‘The Christmas Story’ from Luke’s gospel. You can close your eyes and just about hear Linus start to recite it: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. . . “
But I’ve come to realize that Luke’s account is not really the ‘The Christmas Story’. It is, of course, an account of the birth of Jesus. But that – the physical birth of Jesus – is only a fraction of ‘The Christmas Story’.
Where I found a more complete and compelling version of ‘The Christmas Story’ is way back in the New Testament, in Philippians.
We know that Jesus existed eternally before He was ever born in Bethlehem. We know that His glory and majesty were (and are) beyond anything we can imagine. And yet He chose to – well, God’s Word can say it far better than I can:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:6-11, NLT)
At our home this year, we have put up a Christmas tree, hung garland on the mantle and on the banister, placed a wreath on the front door and lights around the house. Bright red bows adorn the barbed wire fence along our country road, a gingerbread house is taunting me from the kitchen counter, nativity scenes are displayed in several rooms, and Christmas music is piped throughout the house.
But at their best, those things remind me of only a part of ‘The Christmas Story’.
However, out in front of our house, sitting all alone where very little grass ever grows, we have erected a rag-tag, run down looking feed trough (or manger) with a little hay in it. At one end, a large, shiny, ‘jewel encrusted’ gold crown appears to have been removed from its rightful place and temporarily set aside.
For me, that particular ‘decoration’ embodies ‘The Christmas Story’ more than any other we have – more than all of the others put together in fact.
The majestic, all-powerful Creator of all things, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stepped away from His throne and all the glory to which He is rightfully entitled, and He became a man. And not just a man - He came as a baby.
In the most humble of settings, and in a subtlety we scarcely associate with Christmas celebrations – God came to us.
In those moments when I can get just a glimpse of the magnitude of what that means, I experience first-hand what is proclaimed in the passage from Philippians - because that glimpse makes my knees bow down and my tongue confess: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”

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