I have had the pleasure of reading the Bible through a few times, but as you know, it is a complex book. The Word of God provided a challenge to me [as I am sure, to you]. Some parts remain deeply ingrained in memory while other parts do not. No one can expect to remember it all [or for that matter, understand it all]. Recently I was asked to read Scripture for my church on the third Sunday of Advent. I was asked to read Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing in Luke 1: 46-56. I decided to really do some serious study prior to my reading, so I could understand the magnitude of the Scripture and the context of Mary’s response.
I found that I did not recall the context at all. I did not recall that Elizabeth [the wife of Zechriah] was pregnant with her baby [John the Baptist] when she blessed Mary. I did not know that when Mary encountered Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby was filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped for joy in her womb. I did not recall that Elizabeth was far beyond child-bearing years and Zechariah had received an Angelic visit with the announcement that his wife was to have a son.
When I taught Sunday school the morning of my reading, I taught on the “Secret of the Christian Life.” That secret is the secret of joy. This was on the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday when the Advent candle is pink, the liturgical color for joy. I opened my class with “Fa La La La La” and I kept repeating that happy Welsh refrain from Deck the Halls. I kept repeating it until several class members joined in [forced joyfulness?].
I asked tough questions like “What about your life right now is stealing your joy?” I asked “Why should a Christian be joyful?” Squirmy questions. I often ask indirect questions, questions that can prompt a comfortable response that does not reveal things personal things. I have even used rhetorical questions which are statements that are posed in the form of questions: no reply necessary. On this Sunday I let the squirmy questions come out.
Why do we not approach the Christmas season with joy? Some would say that it is a cultural problem. We are influenced too much by “the world” which expects a big, glossy, loud and fast Christmas. Turn on the television and you see it on the commercials and in many Christmas shows and movies. We have to be ultimately happy and of course, the more presents we get under the tree, the happier we will be. Christmas is a mad dash to purchase gifts, the more dear a person is in your life, the more difficult it is to buy them the “perfect” gift. We wind up spending way too much money, wasting way too much time and for what?
I truly do not know.
Ann Voskamp** says that at Christmas, we spend too much time at the foot of the Christmas tree. We think we can understand the story of Christmas there. Instead she thinks we should try to spend time at the Jesse Tree. At that tree we will find hope; we will find true joy.
Isaiah 1 recounts the story of the tree [which really represents the family tree of Jesus]: “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes a Branch bearing fruit from the old root….In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of civilization to all the world. The nations will rally to Him, and the land where He lives will be a glorious place.”
Imagine our obsession with that big real or fake evergreen. Replace that with a stump.
What a contrast.
Imagine our obsession with what the world tells us to do during Christmas: go for the big, glossy, loud and fast. Instead focus on the miracles that are within each of us, focus on making time and space for Christ in the Christmas season, focus on being defiant in the face of a world that seems insane and too stressed. Wait for the coming Christ. Wait……..
What a contrast.
From out of that stump grows a sprig, a hopeful spring, a sign that hope still exists, is alive and well in this world.
The gift that really matters is coming; the gift of Jesus Christ. On Christmas day we celebrate the greatest gift. On Christmas day the Light comes into the world, the Light that shines in all the dark places of this world, all the dark places in our hearts.
When Christmas comes, the Jesus candle burns brightest, burns hot, gives its light to the world. The greatest gift comes into the world for you and for me. Christ came into the world for all of us; we come into the world for Him.
Like the shepherds at the manger, when we consider what we have been given, we want to spread the word to the world. “When you’re a manger tramp who came with nothing but your ragged heart and leaned in close over that crèche, when you’ve beheld His glory, the white heat of a Love like this; who doesn’t tramp out of the manger and into the world with a glowing heart like hot embers in your chest? A heart like this could catch the world on fire” [Voskamp, 258].
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9: 6].
When Christmas comes, we get our greatest gift….
God is with us…
“Christ, the always Gift for all our days.”***
When Christmas comes, we understand Christian joy.
Christ the Christian’s secret…Christ, the source of our joy…
*Commenting on J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God has been challenging. Since beginning this blog on December 30, 2014 with Kyle Idleman’s AHA!, I realize how far it has come. Idleman’s thoughts are exemplary, full of well-intended discussion of the “aha” moments we can find in our spiritual lives but Packer’s work is much more dense, more thorough and more complex. I began in 2014 by posting almost every day. Recently I have been posting on a weekly basis and that is ok, because Knowing God is so difficult. Recently I have been commenting on chapters that are the hardest to comment on; “God the Judge” is not full of “happy” news as we have had to confront the fact that Jesus Christ will decide if our body of earthly work is good enough for salvation or condemnation. At this Christmas season, I have decided to suspend our discussion for one post because the next chapter is “The Wrath of God.” I would like to be uplifting in my thoughts five days before the birth of Jesus. Hopefully the discussion in today’s post will be acceptable for all who follow this blog and to anyone who visits…
**author of The Greatest Gift
***Voskamp, The Greatest Gift, 259.