Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nix the entertainment. There was no merry at the first Christmas.

Who doesn’t love Christmas? It’s just so holly and jolly! Even Scrooge and the Grinch couldn’t maintain their animosity toward the holiday.

Whether infused with or devoid of spirituality, the season is viewed by all -- or nearly all -- as festive and entertaining.

Yes, entertaining.

We are entertained with TV specials, holiday movies, cheerful music everywhere, season-specific food, colorful and silly clothing -- even store displays are designed to entertain as well as attract our dollars.

What about in church?

More entertainment! From kiddie skits, to organ recitals, to full-blown pageants with live animals, the entertainment factor is high.

We entertain guests and relatives in our homes with lavish food, drink, and elaborate gift-giving.

For weeks, from Thanksgiving to just after the New Year, entertainment is the focus and the goal.

Entertainment, in part, is “something that amuses, pleases, or diverts, especially a performance or show” (American Heritage Dictionary).

In this season we gravitate to what we like, we gorge on what makes us feel good, we are distracted by fantasy away from reality, and we generally put on a happy facade for the holidays.

We manage to muddle through the endless merriment. Our biggest challenges are enduring the crowds in the stores and making it to all the parties. And maybe nursing a hangover or two.

In all of this the whole point of the event being celebrated is totally missed, completely camouflaged and muffled by all the entertainment.

Reality check

On that first Christmas, which actually played out over weeks and months, what was happening was enormous and provocative and not fun.

Jesus (Remember Him?) was injected into human history as a baby -- a tiny containment vessel for an infinite God. It was a hard and messy business, especially for Joseph and Mary.

The event was so significant, so dark-earth-shattering, that angels -- a whole host of angels -- were commissioned to announce it to shepherds, not kings.

Why not kings? Because this was something that was most meaningful to the least of the least, the smelliest of the smelly. And it was all about an unlikely king, by earthly standards.

There was nothing about what unfolded that was particularly entertaining for Mary and Joseph, or anyone else involved. Far from it. If anything, it was often nerve-wracking, frightening, exhausting, emotionally and mentally taxing, dumbfounding.

Good but dangerous

That first Christmas -- and all the events that surrounded it -- was not entertaining. But it was glorious. And dangerous. And treacherous.

The glory, in part, was that this was the culmination of centuries of prophecy. Isaiah declared very specifically that, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.”

You can’t get much more glorious than that. But this was not an easy glory.

The danger was manifold. The reputations of Joseph and Mary were under threat. Her life was at risk since stoning wasn’t out of the question. Then there was the difficult 100 mile or so trip on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Followed by a messy, non-antiseptic birth in a queasy setting.

No Uber, no Motel Six, no brightly lit hospital.

The treachery came with the wisemen being diverted from returning to Herod, the enduring threat of Herod’s sword, the slaughter of toddler boys, and a desperate flight into Egypt. Again on foot and on the sly.

A little like life in Aleppo and other parts of Syria right now.

Starting over & over

Consider that Mary and Joseph had to cobble together from scratch a new life while in Bethlehem, sustaining their fledgling family for at least two years before the wisemen showed up. After having to escape to Egypt, they had to rebuild their lives all over again. There were no housewarming parties for them.

This was not a life where they were served or entertained by angels, but always warned by angels. An angel arriving on the scene probably did not send shivers of joy up and down their spines. More likely their first reaction was to cringe a little. An angel appearing out of nowhere is a little terrifying on its own.

If the first Christmas was reenacted accurately, instead of being wowed, we would experience waves of fear bordering on terror, deep doubt, nauseating uncertainty, threatening conditions, unpleasant odors, and some small awe to be packed away and pondered later.

A party or a pageant is a far cry from the reality that was Christmas.

Arighting Christmas

So how should we view this season?

Perhaps, in between bites of figgy pudding and sips of wassail, instead of seeking entertainment we could seek soberness and a greater sense of solemnity.
  • Instead of being merely amused, take hold of the deep sustaining truths of God’s Word as in Him we live, and move, and have our being.
  • Instead of being merely pleased, grasp the deep sense of costly joy that is sparked by Christ breaking the hold of darkness on the world.
  • Instead of being diverted, be immersed in the gripping and sustaining reality of the Most High God with us.
  • Instead of performing, open up to be transformed as we stand transparent and needy before our Creator, offering ourselves in service and love to a needy and hurting world.

Finding Jesus

“Entertain” also means “to consider; contemplate: entertain an idea, to hold in mind; harbor.” These conjure a mood of quiet, focused meditation. Perhaps pointing us to an attitude of mind more appropriate for the season than one of seeking endless entertainment.

Being merry at Christmas, enjoying the sights and sounds, getting caught up a little in the hustle and bustle is not a sin. But it is important to not miss the heart of Who we are celebrating.

Rather than lose Jesus in the hustle and bustle, the parties and presents, let’s bring Him front and center. Let’s marvel at the mettle of Mary and Joseph and their stubborn faithfulness in the face of crippling hardship. Let’s be humbled to our knees by the perseverance of God to move history in our favor. Let’s tone down the fun just a little and tune up our sense of awe and appreciation more.
“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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

Christmas a happy time of year or a sad time of year for you? Why or why not? Have you ever stopped to truly consider what the event was really like for May and Joseph? Thinking about it now, how does this impact your feelings toward the season? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

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