Christmas has come and gone. Now it is the season of the Epiphany. Now we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. Think of the Christmas scenes we are all familiar with. The angels came to the Jewish shepherds out on the hillside and announced the birth of the messiah. The Jewish people had looked forward to the coming of the messiah for centuries. It was a major part of their history. Now it had come to past. But, amazingly, the messiah who came to fulfill the Jewish prophecies, also came for those who were not Jews. The Jews of that time could not even imagine that. But God becoming flesh, the incarnation, was too big a thing to be limited only to the Jews. He came for all people!
The wise men who came to worship Jesus were not only Gentiles, they were people of another faith. Most likely they were Zoroasteric priests. They studied the stars and were amazed to see the bright star of Bethlehem. They knew that it announced the birth of a great king. And so, they followed it to worship and bring gifts to the Christ child. They probably had no idea the role they were playing in this great drama of God’s that was unfolding. But we look back and see it clearly.
There in the stable in Bethlehem, two groups are pictured worshiping the Christ child. First, the lowly Jewish shepherds. Second, the wealthy gentile wise men. No one was left out. The baby born that day was Lord of All! King of Kings! Savior to the world.
You are invited to join us on Christmas Sunday to worship Christ, the newborn king. Our service is at 10 am followed by a time of refreshments and fellowship.
Come again on Christmas Eve at 7 pm for a candlelight service. We will come together to praise God for sending his son to a weary world in need of a Savior. God became flesh and dwelt among us.
This Christmas may your heart rejoice in knowing you have received from God the greatest gift of all. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3: 16
Christmas is a wonderful time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ. We gather with others to worship the newborn king. The imagery of Christmas invokes joy in us all. Think of the manger scenes, the shepherds on the hillside with angels in all their glory singing, the splendor of the mysterious kings traveling from afar following the star of Bethlehem. Add to that the vivid reds of poinsettias, the fun of buying and wrapping gifts to place under the decorated Christmas trees, and the smell of once-a-year goodies coming from the kitchen. Christmas is indeed a special time.
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the pageant that we put on at church. Almost every year we have a live baby to play the part of baby Jesus. All of my grandchildren have played that role except for one that was born the day of the pageant and one who was John the Baptist this year. The scary part of the pageant has been the part of King Herod which is played by David Gray. To quote Dr Suess about the Grinch, "He's a mean one!" Especially with that sword!
That's why King Herod doesn't seem to fit in the Christmas story, There are no King Herods in the manger scenes that proclaim Christ's birth. I have never seen a Christmas card with the verse from Matthew 2:18, "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation." We don't like that part of the story, but it is part of the story. Even in the midst of blinking decorations and flickering candles, darkness threatens the light.
We usually imagine angels speaking in soft, reassuring tones. But the angel in Joseph's dream shouted: "Wake up! Hurry! Run!" So they escaped to Egypt. They were far from home, but the baby was safe. Not everyone was safe, however. Many baby boys were killed by Herod's soldiers. Even the birth of the Prince of Peace didn't stop the suffering. We need to understand that Christmas is God's response to our sorrows. The part of the Christmas story that we often leave out -- the sadness, suffering, and death -- is also important. God comes to the worst places and the most painful circumstances to share all aspects of our lives. Christ came to bear our sorrows,
The holy season is the promise that God's joy is deeper than our sadness. Ultimately God's goodness overpowers evil. Christ is the light that shines even in the darkness. This good news worth telling.
Sometimes the daily news is more disturbing to us than usual. This is especially true during the holiday season, when the unfortunate events that happen to others seem to strike an especially responsive and sensitive cord in our hearts.
It seems like we have been in a season of bad news, and I find it easy to grieve with and for others I do not even know. It really makes no sense, but I find myself caring as if they were personal friends, rather than names in a newspaper.
Of course the tragedy that has wiped out a whole family in Arlington is enough to make most people at least wince, if not burst into tears. For those of you reading this from a distance and do not know, a husband and father apparently killed his wife and twin boys, and then himself. The twins would have been one year old this week.
I find myself raging. How could anyone do this? How could it be done just before a milestone birthday party? Just before Thanksgiving, a time we are to draw close to our families and thank God for the blessings of life? And just before Advent and Christmas, the time we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace? How can this be? How can I feel the loss so personally, when all involved were strangers?
The answer, or at least a partial step toward an understanding, comes when we realize our yearning for things as we wish them to be during the holidays. As a young boy I lived in a small town that celebrated the 4th of July with a fireworks display. I remember lying on my back in the grass with friends watching the bombs bursting in air, the glorious colors exploding across the night sky, the smell of gunpowder drifting down and settling over the enthralled crowd. As an adult, I realize the fireworks display was probably quite limited and meager, given the financial resources of the community and the fact that so many years ago it didn’t take as much to impress us. Yet there is still something within me that says the colossal fireworks spectaculars here in Boston aren’t nearly as awesome as those of yesteryear in small town Kansas.
Likewise, we want our Thanksgiving and our Christmas to be as we wish them to be, and not as they are. We yearn for the magical spark of delight and perfection that is buried deep within our memories. Unfortunately, as we age, our memories tend to expand and become exaggerated. The Christmas tree we decorate today will never match the ones of our youth.
I can not remember a family squabble marring the holidays of my youth. I do not recall the hard work of preparing, serving, and cleaning up after a Thanksgiving feast. I am certain my mother was never disappointed in whatever homemade Christmas present I took such delight in giving to her. And I am sure there were no tragedies in my home town like the one here in Arlington, nor were there problems anywhere else in the world. Everything was perfect.
Unfortunately, Normal Rockwell is no longer painting Saturday Evening Post covers this holiday season. If you come to our house at Christmas, you see a Christmas tree thrown thrown together minus the ornaments we could’t find, presents that may or may not be adored, and family members who occasionally fuss with one another. We live as real people in a real world that is a far cry from the dream world of our childhood. We can wish and wish, but yearning for perfection doesn’t change the actuality of our world.
The bittersweetness of living in a world that is full of incredible goodness, yet is at the same time so broken and marred comes to the front during the holidays, and especially at Christmas. We sense this, we live this, still tantalized by our memories and expectations, and find ourselves jarred when reality doesn’t match our hopes. When reality is especially harsh, such as the Arlington family murdered by who knows what evil forces, we immediately tie the loss into those countless other losses we have personally experienced over the years. It joins right in there with my always yearning for a perfect Christmas like those of my childhood. Unfortunately, there are times when we do not have a white Christmas, and people sometimes do bad things.
Different situations in our lives can cast deep shadows. We can choose to be overcome by the darkness, or to be a light in the shadows. We can continue to trust Jesus Christ’s heart, even when we can not feel his hand upon us. We can choose to believe, trust and follow our God, even if his plan does not live up to our expectations. God does not need our approval for his will to be done.
We do not always get the Christmas we wish. We do not always get life as we wish it to be. Sometimes, from our perspective, life is worse. Sometimes it is better. Always, we can trust that God works through all things to bring good to those who love him. Stay close to him and see how that good will be worked out in your life. That could be the best gift of Christmas you will ever receive.