It is always surprises people when I tell them that when I was growing up, I didn’t even know when Christmas was. I wasn’t totally clueless – I knew it was a December holiday that generated a lot of cool Christmas cartoons (Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and two local favorites, Suzy Snowflake and those three zany elves, Hardrock, Coco and Joe), but my Jewish parents emphasized that Christmas was their holiday. In my 99% Jewish neighborhood, electric menorahs, not plug-in electric Santas, lit the windows of the houses. We celebrated Chanukah – the translation in my head was “Jewish Christmas”, meaning . I knew the story of Chanukah, but those 8 days of presents (and the 8 nights of candle-lighting that accompanied the loot) was the primary focus of my material girl heart.
After I came to faith in Christ, I couldn’t wait to celebrate Christmas. I thought a proper Christmas celebration included church attendance, carols on the radio, a tree, snow, presents, parties, concerts and baking cookies. So much of what I thought Christmas was supposed to be had nothing to do with Christmas. I figured that out quickly, but have played along with some of it all these years because some of this stuff is pretty fun – it’s our yearly attempt to chase the darkness out of these short days and celebrate the people in our lives with gifts, parties and decorating.
In true parable fashion, this thing we celebrate badly with plastic lawn ornament Santas, drunken office parties and overheated Visa cards – or celebrate well with visits to the nursing home, gifts to needy families and participation in church Christmas pageants – is nothing less than the near-invisible invasion of planet earth by a Baby born to an unwed teen mom in the ancient equivalent of a garage off the alley.
But maybe, celebration is an incomplete response to this invasion. Worship, after all, is how the original party guests responded:
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about…(After visiting the manger) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” – Luke 2:13-15, 20
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1, 2
As we round the bend toward Christmas this year, it’s something to ponder.