I recently polled Facebook to see what people did to prepare for Christmas.
“We donate to an organization and place the card on the Christmas tree and open it last.”
“My wife and I will decorate our tree in the living room, and that night camp out on the floor and watch a christmas movie under the tree.”
“We fill a boxes with items marked with the countdown till Jesus birthday! ( usually starts on December 15th) It’s filled with small gifts, letters, sayings and love! We are making three this year!”
“We bake MANY Christmas cookies to give to friends and relatives. My mom did it and now we use many of the same recipes.”
There were favorite movies listed – from Andy Griffith’s to How the Grinch Stole Christmas to White Christmas , the participation in Christmas Eve services, and even some experiences of Christmas caroling. Oh, and lots of food-related traditions!
I remember growing up, Christmas was a full-time sprint. Even now, the day after Thanksgiving, when my family travels to my parents, we go out and cut down a Christmas tree, Griswold-style. [This year, my father really went against the grain- he replaced the blade of the saw for the first time in twenty years! Needless to say, the tree was cut down in record time.] An afternoon was spent making dozens of Christmas cookies, my mother wrote over a hundred Christmas cards, we went Christmas caroling, and I had an annual spot as a wise man in the Living Nativity. And I remember that I just wanted to cut to the ‘good stuff,’ the present getting. [Off the record, the truth is that I hated decorating. Don’t know why; I just did.]
But the older I get… the less I care about the Christmas present getting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty of fun to receive gifts from people who know and love me. But along with the gift-getting not being the only thing I look forward to, there’s also a change in my attitude toward all of the preparations for Christmas.
Now, I write nearly two hundred Christmas cards. I’m the one searching out new Christmas music to add to the collection: from Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Third Day to this year’s Pentatonix and Idina Menzel. I’m the one showing our boys the Christmas specials from the tried-and-true Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman to new classics Prep & Landing and Elf. [They’re not ready for The Santa Clause or A Christmas Carol yet!] I’m the one who is giddy about Christmas like Arthur, the youngest Claus in Arthur Christmas– and somehow, all of those preparations my parents worked to accomplish before Christmas seem super important now.
Those preparations may get me “in the mood” for Christmas, but it’s the work of our church that really fires me up – whether it’s collecting coats or making turkey baskets, or meeting new people who come to check out our church at Christmastime. There’s joy in the preparation, not just in the actual celebration. There’s wonder in the buildup, in Advent itself, as we roll toward something, epic. Something so epic it took a whole squad of angels to announce, so epic that they went to the least, the last, and the forgotten-about in the society of Jesus’ day to get the word out.
Yep, they went to the shepherds.
The shepherds keeping watch of the flock – someone else’s flock because they were too poor to own the flock – by night. Then one angel appeared to them and the glory – the brightness – of the Lord shown around them, and to quote Linus, they were sore afraid. They were so afraid it hurt. They did not see this coming – they were unprepared.
But the angel said one of my favorite lines in the Bible – a message that God is speaking into our world right now: “Do not be afraid – for this is good news of great joy for all people- the Savior, the Messiah, is born!”
Friends, these unprepared, simple shepherds were told where to find the baby and they went. If no one had told them where to go or what to look for, they could not, they would not, have found Jesus. But the angel showed up and gave them the good news and told them to look for a baby in a manger.
I don’t know about you, but I can get sucked into thinking that Nativity Scenes are pretty normal looking. They’re in front of churches, at zoos, even in front of the bank! But no one, not even in Jesus’ day, expected a baby to be born and placed into a trough that animals eat out of. They might not have had USDA or Health Code regulations, but it was just common sense!
And the angel said that the baby would be in a manger – and that they should go look for him because he was the Savior of the world.
So, these men, who moments before had been scared stiff, so afraid it hurt, sore afraid, recognize this message of great joy for all people, and they go.
They went with great haste and found the baby lying in the manger, and told everyone there – Mary? Joseph? the innkeeper? Others who were clued in? what the angels had told them. And “the shepherds returned [to the fields] glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
The shepherds were renewed in their effort of being good shepherds because of what they had seen. They knew this was different, spectacular, and they had to tell people about it. It wasn’t for them to keep it in – they had to share.
So, let’s recap:
-God chose to send angels to deliver the news to the lowest of the low – otherwise they wouldn’t have known. God picked the shepherds intentionally but they also needed to be told.
-The shepherds went fast– they knew it was important.
-The shepherds could not be silent because they knew it was great news.
These shepherds became the first evangelists, the first preachers, the first bringers of good news without any preparation or advanced thought. And the word of what had happened spread like wildfire.
So, I ask you today, have you heard the good news? Do you know that a Savior was born 2014 years ago, who would grow up to be the man who would live and die so that you could be forgiven? So that your relationships with others and God could be made right?
Do you recognize that there are people outside of churches and families and communities – and inside them to – who don’t know the good news because no one has told them?
Are you ready to move with great haste – without reservation – to grab your coworker, your spouse who won’t come to church, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your friends and say, “There’s good news, not just for later, but for right now, and you need to hear it?”
Darius Rucker sings,
“I wonder what God wants for Christmas
Something that you can’t find in a store
Maybe peace on Earth, no more empty seats in church
Might be what’s on His wishlist
I wonder what God wants for Christmas
What do you give someone
Who gave His only Son
What if we believe in Him
Like He believes in us.”
I love Christmas, I really do. Not for the trappings, not for the doing, but because it’s the moment when the world, whether it’s ready to accept it or not, says Jesus’ name. You see, I don’t believe you can keep Christ out of Christmas – you can only try and deny it – but it’s our job to keep Christ in Christian, to be prepared to give an answer for the joy we know.
I think God wants for us to believe – and for us to believe enough to share that good news with others. So I hope you know – not know about or mentally understand or have heard of – the joy of Christmas this year. I hope you believe.
I’m praying that this year, you will take the next three days and boldly invite people to church. Quite frankly, if someone doesn’t get it on Christmas Eve – well, it’s going to take a Christmas miracle. [I’ll get to that on Wednesday.] The truth is that people want to be invited, want to be welcomed, want to be told that they’re loved. So, if we know how all of that can happen – how they can meet the God of the universe and we don’t tell them, it’s like having the best Christmas gift in the whole world, plenty for everyone, and not sharing!
I hope that you will wrap yourself in bows made of family and friends, drink deep of the cheer spent singing loudly for all to hear, eat well in the nourishment of God’s holy word, and experience that excitement, that absolutely electric energy that the shepherds knew that day.
I hope you’ll spend a lifetime running to the manger – and then shouting, celebrating, sharing, excitedly, the good news for all people.
It’s the best way to prepare for Christmas.