The traditional advent theme this week is peace. This is a challenging theme for a chaotic time of year. There are gifts to buy, parties to attend, cookies to bake, trees to decorate, light shows to watch, etc. etc. and etc. Couple all of this pressure to find the perfect gift and host the perfect party with the struggles our culture is facing, such as terrorism and the presidential election, and we’ve gotten ourselves into a financially and mentally overwhelming situation. Estimates show the average American spending $850 dollars on Christmas this year. That’s more than $450 billion dollars total. Sometimes we get so busy and caught up in consumerism. We think a good Christmas –a “real” Christmas- consists of having all the bells and whistles.
Let’s look at a “real” Christmas. For a moment, let’s look at the first Christmas. It too occurred in the midst of chaos. We know that during Jesus’ birth most of the known world was occupied by the Romans. Many territories were proud to be a part of Rome because it offered them protection. The Jews, however, hated the Romans. In fact, there were even small groups of Jews called The Zealots (Remember Simon?) who led rebellions against the Romans by means of killing Roman soldiers. We get a hint of this tension in the nativity story; the NIV translation of the Bible tells us that a census was taken during the birth of Jesus, but the KJV tells us why, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Not only were the Jews taxed, their temple had been desecrated decades earlier and some 12,000 Jews were killed as the Romans seized Jerusalem. The Jews hated the Romans.
Yet, in the midst of all this political chaos, in the small middle-of-nowhere town of Bethlehem, the real meaning of Christmas was taking place. Jesus had every right to be born in the most beautiful palace with riches and glamor and that still would not have been enough to honor His majesty. Instead, the palace was occupied by an earthly King afraid of losing control. While outside in a lowly manager, wrapped in simple cloths, is a baby who is actually in control of everything. It’s a simple but powerful picture.
You see, we’ve made Christmas more chaotic than it needs to be. We’ve made it about the bells and whistles when the very first Christmas didn’t really have any. In fact, when Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to make sacrifices to Jesus we read this: “And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24) It’s significant because Leviticus 5 tells us that the sacrifice is supposed to be a lamb or goat, unless you are so dirt poor that you can’t afford it, then you bring two pigeons. You might be thinking, “but there was Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh!” Even the ornate gifts the wise men brought, were believed to be presented to Jesus some two years after His birth (See Matthew 2:16). No bells and whistles. Just a simple manger in a simple cave with the smell of a barn animals filling the air.
When did Christmas change from a simple, quiet manger to being lost in loud crowded shopping malls and how can we find it again? In the midst of the chaos this Christmas, how can we simplify things?
Spend Less- I have been saying in other posts that this isn’t about foregoing Christmas gifts and it isn’t. It’s about giving more meaningful gifts instead of giving something just for the sake of giving. The best part is meaningful giving doesn’t have to cost a lot financially. What if you bought one less of those “just because it’s Christmas” gifts and opted for a handmade present or the gift of spending time together? You could then use the money you saved to give to someone in need. What if instead of hosting a Christmas party, you hosted a volunteer day? These are just a couple of ideas. I don’t know what you should do or what organization you should give to, but the point is, do something meaningful to resist the chaos and find the real essence of Christmas.
Ponder things in your heart- There is a verse in the nativity story that always stands out to me. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) I want to encourage you to take some time to ponder the story of Christmas in your heart. In the midst of the chaos have some quiet time. Take a cue from Jesus who “often withdrew to lonely places to pray” (Luke 5:16). Turn off a Christmas TV special, quiet the jingle bells for a moment and spend some alone time the first couple of chapters of Matthew and Luke.