Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Hope Within the Nativity: How Christmas Teaches Our Souls of their Worth

The first Christmas night, the most holy of nights. Classically captured by the nativity sets that fill the stores, and front of cards, and our homes. Have you ever looked at these sets with a critical eye?  For example, in our set, why is there one camel for three wise men?! Did they take turns?  Did they all pile on?  Which one had to sit in the space between humps? These are questions I ask.

Why does Mary always look AWESOME?  She just had her first baby. In a barn. All-natur-al. And yet every single nativity has her put together, hair smooth, tummy taut and flat.  I'm not buying it.

And one last thought, and I don't mean to ruin anyone's Christmas, but many scholars believe the Bible says that the wise men followed a star to Jesus when he was a child, not a baby.  So the shepherds and the magi never actually posed for the Christmas-card-worthy photo shoot at the manger.

I know, I know.  I'm sounding like a bit of a grinch.

But most of us are very familiar with the Christmas nativity. And discrepancies aside, I find myself looking closer, and deeper, in the manger scene this Christmas.

Never mind the timing,  two very different breeds of visitors came to that God-child on the first Christmas. Shepherds from outside the city, and wise men from the far corner of the known world.  Each lured in by hope.  Perhaps not sure what they would really find within the manger, on that divine night.

As I approach Christmas, led by the same hope as those visitors, could you lean in with me, and together see what the Christmas baby has for us?

On that Holy Night, the gospel was preached not from a pulpit, but from a feeding trough.  It's Christ, coming to us. Wether our year has us feeling like an educated and successful king of sorts, or an isolated shepherd, he bids us come.  As we huddle near the God-in-flesh, we notice as we near each other,  that we are just as loved as the guest next to us.

We are all, together, so very undeserving of this hope-filled invitation, yet we are all, graciously welcomed to the sacred ground of the manger. The gospel that came from that manger, that is what teaches our soul of it's worth.

Maybe your invitation is like that of the outcasted shepherds. You are metaphorically on the outside of town, like them.  Maybe you feel alone this year, because of broken relationships, changes, life's surprises, or straight up heart-fatigue.  Your work has seemed thankless, or mundane, like a shepherd. Our invitation of hope, comes from the heavens and maybe it scares us like it scared the shepherds. Because for some, maybe you actually feel safer, going unnoticed, or being a loner. But there is an announcement for you, and it is of good news and great joy! The announcement is that Jesus has come, for you.  For me.  Yet, sometimes we lack the faith to believe the good news, or we are too jaded or depressed to go find that great joy.  BUT, the hope of the invitation is stronger than any comfort or fear that fights to keep us detached. So, believe that announcement, Shepherds. Believe it, if just a mustard seed enough, to come closer to that Jesus this Christmas. His invitation of grace rings loud and clear, much like a multitude of angels.

Or perhaps this past year has you feeling more like a magi. Maybe success and learning has been your song. Of course there is nothing wrong in that, unless it keeps you from needing this Messiah baby...

Or do they seem familiar to you because of their journey? They definitely learned the value of a journey, of a process.  And maybe you are like the magi, and me, and you have learned that Jesus has journeys for us, away from comfort, and lands that we know. Sometimes Jesus has to pull us away from our comfort zones where our talents are recognized, to show us his glory.  And no journey or wandering is a waste if it's Jesus we are after.

We are all sojourners of grace, discovering the most about ourself and our Savior along the way.

Maybe their invitation is one you can relate with.  A mysterious star, an unavoidable brightness, on the canvas of darkness. A lightness stretching across lands like a grace that stretches beyond our weaknesses, or hurts, or doubts.  A mysterious light, that takes us further than our self sufficiency, education, or abilities ever could.

Could we look deep within the barn of Bethlehem and see that this Diety in skin came for each of us? And loves us all the same. See, the dirty, holy ground at the foot of the manger is level. The gospel levels the playing field, when we come close. And for me, this year, that changes every single relationship.

Because from the position of a level playing field, I get so much hope that I don't have to do this alone! Because kneeling on an even ground, my gaze held by the hope of this Savior, I will love my fellow travelers, with the same love I'm getting from this Emmanuel.

 Because this God-child, chose itchy, dirty hay over his throne.  As if to say he delighted to jump into my mess.  My mess of selfishness, and insecurity, and pride. And in drawing both the wise men and the shepherds to himself, wasn't he saying that he came for all kinds of people?

Because this newborn would soon put that truth into words-- when he would announce that he came for the sick--the sick shepherds and the sick scholars. A sickness that would otherwise be unto death. The wallflowers, and the independent diva-type?  On that holy night, and each night since, he finds me laying in my sin and error pining.  The anguish of my soul, that pining--that is why he appeared that night.  So as we gather to this unlikely nursery, and lean in closer yet, could we sense a new level of neediness for this Christ-child being born?

He may not be what we thought, this baby.  He may not behave according to our expectations, arriving humbly and wanting to change hearts before circumstances.  For the first visitors, perhaps this rustic church service wasn't what they hoped for.  If a bright star invited them, a chorus of angelic beings belted his praise, perhaps the barn with its smells, the plain parents and humble babe actually confused the guests?

Sometimes church isn't what we expect. Sometimes Christmas isn't what we hope for, it's not always as magical as I remembered as a young child.  Sometimes Christmas falls at the end of year so tough, that the tinsel and sparkles are like salt in a wounded soul. (I am so sorry if this was true for you...)

So, that thrill of hope they talk about?  That thrill that invited both the put together magi and the tired, lonely shepherds? That hope is that this Christmas baby is making all things new. If I allow myself to be stilled, and take in the wonder of the nativity, I will find myself like Mary, pondering these things in my heart.

I will find myself, as the song says, falling on my knees. Together, with fellow visitors at the tiny feet of the Messiah.  This baby, in his first hours here, preached of grace and freedom.  Grace to come to him messy, leaving behind all credentials or guilt.

Freedom to come closer still, and find myself near other hope-hungry-grace-parched guests.

Weary world, weary friends, this thrill of hope, it is real and it can be yours this Christmas. This thrill of hope that Jesus loves us enough to come to us, each and every day, it is big enough to carry us across lands, and across trials, and into fellowship.

As I reflect on God's faithfulness this year, I am lowered to my knees by the weight of it. I am quieted and stilled, on this holy nativity ground. We have been led by hope this year, lured on by the love of the Savior,  because chains shall he break, friends. Chains of fear, judgement, and insecurity. They are undone, not by any man's goodness or strength, but by the grace of Jesus.

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