Children plop globs of silver foil on plastic pine and frown, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” Fathers struggle with sputtering strings of colored lights while mothers mutter, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”
A stressed out holiday shopper grumbles, “Bah, humbug! This isn’t the way Christmas is supposed to be.”
Everyone has their idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, yet hectic shopping trips still tie knots in places other than on top of red and green packages. Beloved childhood traditions woefully go AWOL, never to be celebrated again. Even gift-buying is polluted; purchasing with all the wrong reasons. And somehow Christmas doesn’t seem quite right.
Is it too late to remove the layers of artificial glitter? Is there a fine golden glow of satisfying reality buried beneath it all? What is Christmas supposed to be anyway?
Luke’s gospel runs the story of the first Christmas (which likely wasn’t December 25), but lo, it was even more crowded in ancient Bethlehem than modern West Edmonton Mall! Noisy thousands were there for a census. It may have been a bit better on the outskirts where the shepherds put their sheep to bed, but for the most part, there goes the calm, quiet Christmas card scene of fond imagination.
Not only that, Mary and Joseph found themselves in a stable for the night. Stables smell; even with mounds of clean, fresh mown hay. No fragrant spruce tree, no warm, glowing lights, no decorations, no soft background music either, nor tantalizing smells of roast turkey and apple cinnamon eggnog. So much for a prototype that appeals to the senses.
The Magi came with gifts, but that was two years later and under duress. The givers furtively left town, avoiding the local governing authorities who later slaughtered hundreds of babies hoping that the Christmas baby would be included in the blood bath. So the first Christmas didn’t even have presents -- instead it looked forward to horrendous mass murder.
But before the commercialized, what-we-have-now Christmas begins to seem more appealing, there was a sequence of events that first Christmas worth an annual rerun. It is from Luke 2, where the shepherds were told the good news - the Christ of God had finally arrived.
Their Christmas began with DISCOVERY: “So it was, when the angel had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (vs.15)
Simple shepherds believed God’s messenger and discovered profound Truth wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. He still waits to be discovered today, no longer a babe but the risen Lord who bids hectic Christmas shoppers and all others weary and heavy laden, “Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest for your souls.”
After the shepherds found Jesus, they SHARED THEIR DISCOVERY: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled.” (17,18)
When they found this unique newborn babe, they could have kept the moment for themselves. Besides, hearing angels? Indeed! God in a manger? Sure! They risked rejection by telling. Some might think they’d had some liquid “cheer.” But these joy-filled shepherds celebrated the first Christmas by taking their good news to everyone.
Thirdly, the shepherds went back to their regular jobs, but they went without a hangover, without complaints that their gifts didn’t fit or that the kids made too much noise over the holidays. Instead, and from then on, they LIVED CHANGED LIVES, “glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen.”