I love Christmas! I’ve always loved Christmas!
One of the things I love most about Christmas is that people do things they wouldn’t do at any other time of the year. Families come together. People do things for each other. People are generous!
What I don’t like about Christmas is that there’s so much going on – even at church. There’s no time to reflect. For me, that’s the key to a meaningful Christmas: carving out time to stop and consider what God has done, to think, to listen…
One of my frustrations growing up was that while there were lots of parties and things, the church services themselves that led up to Christmas didn’t touch on the subject. Christmas wasn’t even mentioned until the week before, when we had carol services. The early chapters of Matthew and Luke weren’t preached. They were read, but no one actually went through them.
There are some incredible stories in there. The songs of Christmas are amazing: Elizabeth’s song, Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song… And look at some of the characters. If you go through those and think about the message they contain, they’re deeply profound!
If we’re too busy and too focused on other things, we miss all of this. That’s one of the biggest challenges of Christmas – making sure we don’t miss things.
I now make a point every year of reading through the Christmas story in Scripture. I strongly recommend this. When you do it, you’ll notice that the central characters are all people who very easily could have been missed. Many of them were outcasts – people on the fringes of society that we might have overlooked.
Take Mary and Joseph, for instance. They’re coping with an embarrassment of being unmarried with a baby on the way. It was a stigma beyond belief in their day. In fact, by the letter of the law, it could have led to severe punishment. They go to Bethlehem and can’t find a place to stay. Which is strange since everyone was going to their hometown to be registered. That means their family didn’t even have a place for them! That’s what it means to be outcast.
The first people to get the news of the Savior’s birth were shepherds. In Israel, shepherds had gone from being respected (think King David), to being despised. They spent days and days with their sheep in the fields. That meant that they couldn’t keep the religious laws, so they weren’t religiously pure. Therefore, they weren’t trusted. They weren’t even allowed to be used as witnesses in court. Yet they were the first people to get the message that Messiah had been born.
Then there’s the wise men. We don’t know exactly when they arrived on the scene, but they were foreigners. For them to have a place in the story of Messiah is remarkable. It was supposed to be about the Jews. But the Jews had lost their sense of being a light to the Gentiles. They had forgotten that God wanted to bless them so that through them, He could bless all the nations.
You also have Simeon and Anna. Simeon was old and strange. He was listening to God at a time when the people around him weren’t. I picture Anna as the weird old lady that everyone avoided. She spent all her time in the temple. She was always there. She was a widow. And yet God reveals Himself to these two.
The people at the center of the Christmas story are people that we would have missed. They aren’t the people we would expect to play the lead roles. And yet, that’s what God did. That’s how God works.
Paul says in the Bible that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the strong and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. That’s exactly what He did in the Christmas story.
As we celebrate this year, let’s remember that God values those who seem to be outcasts. Who are the outcasts in our cultures today? Are we willing to reach out to them and show them the message of God?
Maybe you feel like you’re an outcast today. Maybe you feel misunderstood, like you don’t fit in. It’s for you that God has come.
My prayer this Christmas is that we will look and listen for God in unexpected places. That’s how He seems to make His appearances. Don’t rule out where He might want to do His most awesome work.
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