December has been an abundantly fruitful month for me. I sang and spoke in prisons, churches, a baseball stadium, a coffeehouse, a country club, and on Mackinac Island! Most folks love Christmas music and ask me to bring familiar carols and some holiday cheer. My favorite part is not the music, however. I love inviting people to think about the mystery of Christmas! People who would not normally think about spiritual things may take a moment to wonder if the familiar narrative about angels, a manger, a star, and three magi could be more than just a nice story.
Christmas is an invitation to ponder the possibility of a world beyond what we can see. If the story of Jesus’ birth is really true, how does He affect our lives? Could there be a God who has a purpose and plan for us? How we long to peek beyond the wrappings of this world and see into the next!
When I was growing up, the days leading up to Christmas were full of anticipation. My brothers and I knew all the places Mom usually hid the gifts, and we couldn’t resist trying to peel back a corner of the wrapping paper to see what was inside! Whether we guessed the contents of the carefully wrapped packages or not, we had to wait until Christmas morning to open them. Sometimes there was the excitement of finding exactly what we wanted under the tree, like the year I got my first John Denver album and a sleeping bag from Sears - both of which I still have. Other Christmases were less satisfying, like the time I got a white cowgirl suit with a skirt and a tiny gold horse pin. How was I supposed to ride a horse in a skirt, and what was I to do with a horse pin? I wanted a real horse!
Regardless of the gifts we received, it was the heart of the giver that was shown, however. Beneath the shiny paper, ribbons, and bows, we found the love of our parents. And love is what shepherds found lying in a manger in Bethlehem not so very long ago…
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold,an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
When they least expected it, the greatest Christmas gift of all time - a Savior - was found by those who needed Him most and deserved Him the least. The shepherds of Jesus’ day were from the lowest class of that society. They had no civil rights and could not be admitted into court as witnesses. Shepherds were considered generally untrustworthy, and their daily work made them ceremonially unclean. And yet to the least of these the wrapping of the natural world was pulled back and lowly shepherds got to see a piece of heaven. To those who thought they were rejected and alone, Emmanuel - God with us - was born! Why didn’t the townspeople in Bethlehem hear the angelic choir or see the heavenly light? Perhaps the noise and lights of the city kept them from noticing the miracle. They were too distracted by the things of this world to see into the next.
Like the townspeople in Bethlehem, it’s easy for us to see only the ‘wrapping paper’ of our lives and miss the gift inside the box. When we are focused on our circumstances - our grief, disappointments, fears, losses, and loneliness - life can seem like a gift we never asked for and wish we could exchange.
But Christmas is that wonderful reminder that if we, like the shepherds, are watching and listening, we just might catch a glimpse of what is beyond the wrapping paper. Could there be a gift for us even inside our sorrows? If we take our eyes off the cares of this world and seek Jesus right where we are, we can find Emmanuel, God with us! No matter what we are facing, God is there. If we seek Him, we can find His peace, His comfort, His joy, and His life born where we least expect it.
This Christmas, I invite you to come away from the noise and distractions of life and seek the Savior. Take your eyes off your circumstances and look for God in the midst of your circumstances. Peel back the paper, open the box, receive the gift of God’s great love for YOU. Don’t be afraid - He is the Gift that never disappoints!
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”