Have you ever found yourself just worn out leading up to Christmas? Often, we find ourselves in a bad place, spiritually and emotionally, near the end of December. Sometimes it’s because our schedules are crazy, and we don’t have free time to even breath. I hope and pray that you are not having a Christmas season like this, but I know that I have felt that far too often.
I think we can find some great lessons to finding joy in Christmas from the Christmas story in Luke 2. It is my hope that we can recapture some of the wonder and joy that we often talk about.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, ESV)
This is real life, not a Christmas card. Growing up we saw too many Christmas cards and now, we carry around a mental picture of the Christmas story that is a far cry from reality. We have sterilized and sanitized all the reality that surrounded the birth of Jesus. Look at the typical “nativity scene” we see. What we imagine is closer to a Christmas card than to actual life.
Take the shepherds for example. We have glamorized these guys. We have given them long, flowing, colorful robes, perfectly shaped shepherd rods in their hands. Everyone’s beard is perfectly trimmed and of course, they are kneeling in a very reverent pose. I even saw a Christmas card that depicted the baby Jesus is smiling and he looks like he is waving at the shepherds.
This is real life. These guys were just ordinary shepherds; blue-collar workers, making just enough money to survive. Rough hands, clothes that are worn and dirty from a life out in the open fields. These guys probably didn’t smell like peppermint. Here is what I do know… these were ordinary men doing an ordinary job on an ordinary night until they have an extraordinary encounter with God.
There is a great lesson to be learned here. We often look for God in the spectacular, rather than the ordinary. When I read the gospels, there are very few times where anybody made an appointment to meet with Jesus. 98% of the stories of Jesus are divine encounters during everyday life.
Over this next few days as you approach Christmas, put your antennas up and look for divine encounters in your everyday life.
“And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17–19, ESV)
This is huge. The shepherds are quickly sharing their story, but Mary is trying to soak it all in. In the middle of a stable, surrounded by noisy animals, with excited shepherds telling their story, and a newborn that she is trying to take care of Mary creates her own little sanctuary. And for a few moments, she takes time to treasure and ponder all that is happening.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Notice that everyone hears the same thing, but they have 2 very different responses. The shepherds are talking, the crowd is impressed, but Mary is impacted. They are moving, but Mary lingers.
I really believe that the richness of this holiday season is directly related to your ability to linger over God-moments and your ability to let it impact you. Lingering helps us to slow down, to savor the special things, and to deeply experience the moment.
Honestly, I’m not very good at this. My default mode is action: to quickly move from one thing to the next. Brene Brown, in one of her books, shares a story about her daughter Ellie. One day when Ellie was in the first grade, Ellie and her mom spent the day at the park. At one point they were on a paddle-boat feeding the ducks. And then Ellie stopped pedaling, leaned back and closed her eyes. After a minute or two when Ellie didn’t move from that position, Brene asked “Ellie? Is everything ok?” “I’m fine mom… I am just making a picture memory. It’s a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy.”
Maybe this Christmas there needs to be some moments when you stop “pedaling” and you lean your head back and you close your eyes and you ponder and treasure.
Let me give you a challenge for these next few days. Don’t let the work and worry overshadow the wonder and excitement of Christmas. It’s not good for you to hoard “things” but I want you to selfishly hoard up some of these “Holy Moments.” I believe that Mary’s ability to treasure and ponder this great event is what helps her see the beauty and wonder of what is happening.
God has come in the flesh and for Mary that was a treasure, she wanted to hold onto.