What Are We Celebrating?

It’s that time of year again!

Time for making cookies, shopping for gifts, decorating the Christmas tree and all our house inside and out. Time for family gatherings, parties at friends, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. The list goes on and on.

As I listen to people talk about the holiday, it almost seems at times as if it is more of a stressful time for some than a joyous celebration. People wonder if they will get the right gift for that special someone, if their decorations will look as nice as the neighbor’s next door, if they will have enough time for all they need to do to celebrate this holiday.

And I have to ask myself: what are we celebrating?

The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas. For them the important date was the day Jesus arose from the grave. Granted without His birth He could not have grown up and died for us. But for the Early believers, the important thing to celebrate was His resurrection. Two of the Gospels do not even mention the birth of Jesus but all four Gospels give great detail of the last days of His life as He was crucified, buried and rose again. The Aposle Paul shared that this was the heart of the good news.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Doing some research into church history, I discovered that the first Christmas was celebrated December 25, 336. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed this celebration to take place throughout the Roman Empire and Pope Julus I selected the date of December 25. Bible scholars tell us there is nothing in the Bible or in Early Church history to know the date of the birth of Jesus. Many reason that it was more lately that his birth was in the spring. Would shepherds be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter?

Many pagan societies observed this date as a celebration of the winter solstice. This was the shortest day of the year and would lead to the return of the sun. In ancient Germanic cultures, they would burn a Yule log, light bonfires, tell stories and drank ale. Ancient Romans had a seven-day celebration, Saturnalia, beginning December 17. They would have a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by several days of a carnival atmosphere. oldest winter celebrations in the world.

It is believed by many scholars that the Pope chose December 25 to try to turn people away from the celebration of Saturnalia and begin to follow the Christian way of life.

Whatever the reason for the choice of December 25 it has come down to us as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But again, I ask: what are we celebrating?

I recently visited a Christmas celebration at a local mall. I wondered what someone who had no knowledge of our customs and came to the celebration would think it was all about. There were all kinds of items with Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer. But I saw nothing about the stable, the manger, Jesus.

Now – do I sound like Scrooge?

I certainly do not mean to. I love the decorations, the Christmas movies of the Elf on the Shelf and all that goes with our holiday in America. This week I will be busy putting up my tree and decorating my home all in red and gold, looking for that perfect gift for my husband.

But I wonder: What if you were told your friends were going to have a party to celebrate your birthday. You get excited and come to the party expecting greetings from everyone – and maybe some presents. You arrive early because you are so happy your friends want to celebrate this day with you. When you arrive, no one acknowledges your presence. No one offers you a seat at the table. There are no signs saying, “Happy birthday.” Instead, another person is seated at the head of the table. Everyone is talking to him, wanting to have their picture taken with him, toasting him. You are totally ignored.

You might go home wondering: what were they celebrating?

I hope you will enjoy this month and all the food, decorations, shopping, family gathering, parties. But I hope you will truly remember who and what we are celebrating.

I hope you will take time to listen to this song – and ask yourself: what am I celebrating?

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The Complete Story of Christmas

Recently I posted about the “real” story of that first Christmas.  How different it was from the beautiful Christmas cards we see where everything is so neat and tidy and there are beams of light coming from Jesus and sometimes even from Mary and Joseph.

The “Real” Story of the First Christmas

Today I wonder if we truly understand the “complete” story of Christmas.

What is the complete story of Christmas?  Is it more than angels appearing to shepherds?  Is it more than wise men from the East bringing gifts?

We read in Philippians of the complete story of Christmas – what it is really all about.

Jesus has always been as God is. But He did not hold to His rights as God.  He put aside everything that belonged to Him and made Himself the same as a servant who is owned by someone. He became human by being born as a man.   After He became a man, He gave up His important place and obeyed by dying on a cross.   Because of this, God lifted Jesus high above everything else. He gave Him a name that is greater than any other name.  So when the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow down before Him.  And every tongue will say Jesus Christ is Lord. Everyone will give honor to God the Father.”

The complete Christmas story is summed up in John 3:16:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

The complete story of Christmas is about you.  It’s about how much God loves you.

All about the cross

Right from the beginning God’s love has reached, and from the beginning man has refused to understand.  But God keeps on reaching.  Today, after two thousand years, patiently, lovingly, Christ is reaching out to us.  Right through the chaos of our world, through the confusion of our minds.  He is reaching…longing to share with us…the very being of God.

It’s my prayer this Christmas that you see beyond the baby in the manager to the savior on the cross and the empty tomb.

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The First Christmas – Mary’s Story

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Christmas!  What a magical time!

We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a little baby who makes no crying and of a night where all is calm.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

What about Mary?

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What an honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Can you imagine the response of her parents to that announcement?

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Certainly he would have questions.  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.

Do I trust God?

Mary had to decide.

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The trip to Bethlehem

How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would journey-to-bethlehem-1062729_jpg_1418849826391_journey-to-bethlehem-1062729come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

What a place to give birth!

I can’t imagine giving birth in a cold stable with possibly no help in delivery except my husband who is a carpenter and maybe some strangers who offered help.  To lay my new-born baby in a feeding trough for animals.

Baby Jesus did not cry?????

I find it hard to believe that baby Jesus just laid there quiet and calm.  After all, the Bible tells us that He came to “be like us,” to understand our weakness and frailty.

  • As He began His ministry, He experienced temptation just like us.
  • We see Him falling asleep after an exhaustive day ministering to the multitudes.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried out for deliverance from the cross.
  • He felt the agony of feeling forsaken by the Father on the cross.

One of the main points the writer of the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus experienced human life as we know it, so why would He as a baby not have felt the cold, the hunger?  Why would He not have cried as all new-born babies do?

Enter the shepherds!  Wake up Mary!

Imagine Mary, worn out from giving birth, quieting her baby and watching Joseph tenderly lay him in the manger.  Perhaps she thought about the visit from Gabriel and his words about this son she just gave birth to.  Perhaps she wondered why, if this boy was the savior of the world, they were sleeping in a stable and he was laying in the place where animals took their meals.

Finally, she leans back on the hay to try to get a little sleep when suddenly the stable is invaded by a group of shepherds straight from the hills where they had been tending their sheep.  Pos002-christmas-shepherdssibly they did not smell all that pleasant.  They no doubt were very excited and loudly proclaiming what they had seen and heard.  As they shared the stories of the angels, no doubt Mary remembered her visit from Gabriel.  What reassurance to know that others now had heard the wonderful message that this child was sent from God.  She and Joseph were not alone in knowing the wondrous news of this birth.

The visit to the temple

Soon it was time to take the little baby to the temple and present the sacrifices required after giving birth.  We can see from the gifts they brought of two turtledoves or two young pigeons that Mary and Joseph were among the poor of the land.  Leviticus 12 tells us requirements for this offering.

“These, then are the procedures after childbirth.  But if she is too poor to bring a lamb, then she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigoens.

Standing in the temple still reflecting on all the events of the past few days, Mary was again reminded of the importance of her son when a man named Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying

Lord, now I can die content!  For I have seen him as you promised me I would.  I have seen the Savior you have given o the world.

But Simeon’s next words must have given Mary pause as he told her

A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejcted by many in Israel, and this to their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy of many others.  And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.

Mary’s first Christmas

How different Mary’s experience of Christmas is from ours.  But as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we go beyond the bright lights, the food, the music – may we, like Mary, experience the wonder of this miracuous birth.  May we trust this Savior and like Mary, may we say

I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything You say about me come true!