So this is my last blog for the Year. I plan on unplugging from the world wide web and heading out for some much needed vacation with the family. We are headed to Arkansas to spend time with family, unless you are a robber, in which case, we are staying in Abilene for the entire break.
It’s strange reading the Gospels during the Christmas season. It’s as if every single story that we read demands to be interpreted in light of Bethlehem. And that got me thinking this morning about some of my favorite Jesus stories. What did Christmas originally mean to these people when it happened.
She was probably a teenager when the birth at Bethlehem happened, but she had no idea what was going on over there, babies are born everyday, and she just happened to live in Samaria. Maybe she was dating someone, or maybe she was already pledged to be married. After all, she was going to have to start early to go through four failed marriages and be working on her fifth serious relationship by the time she would meet Jesus. Life was really going to put her through the ringer. Maybe it was that she would make some bad choices, or maybe she was going to be the victim of bad men. But for whatever reason, by the time Jesus came along she had hit rock bottom. She was alone in every sense that mattered. But he saw her. Up until that point no one knew who Jesus was. He hadn’t told the Kings or dignitaries, but he told her. He gave her life dignity again.
Or what about this other woman…I imagine she probably had all the dreams that go along with marriage. She was probably dreaming of children and growing old together. But little did she know that her life, like most of us, was going to turn out much differently than she was planning. She was going to meet someone else, someone not her husband, and one bad decision was going to lead to another, and then it would happen. The worst day of her life, when the mistakes she had made would go public, not for restoration but for her exploitation.
The Pharisees were going to use her just as much as any man ever would. But then He would step in. He would draw in the sand, take the attention off of her, and turn the tables on her accusers. But not yet. Right now, theone who will rescue her is in diapers.
I picture him as just having gotten his career started. Zach needed a job and the Romans were hiring. Sure it meant that he was selling out a little, but the pay is good and the possibilities seem endless. He doesn’t know where this road is going to lead, that he is going to get every dream he has fulfilled and come to the awful realization that his dream was too petty. It will cost him his family and friends, but by God, Zaccheaus will be rich. But he will also be miserable. And at the same time he’s starting his climb up the wrong ladder, the one who will save him from his own bad decisions has just reached the bottom of His own.
I picture her as middle aged when Jesus was born. In my mind’s eye she was happily married, and maybe he was a good man. Really we don’t know that much about her, except that she was poor. She doesn’t know that her husband is not going to be around much longer. She has no idea how little he is going to leave her behind with. That one day soon she is going to be down to just a couple of coins to live on, and she is going to give even those up. Her life will end in a quite act of desperation for a God who will just happen to be watching from the ground floor.
This baby that is just being born is going to make her life matter for the rest of history. She has no clue that every church that will ever have a fundraiser from here till the end of time is going to tell her story. That she, a culturally obsolete character of little significance, is going to change the world…because this baby is going to grow up and tell everyone her story.
And this is the undercurrent of Christmas. Because, to be honest, not very many people were there at the beginning of the Gospels. It was just a few shepherds, some magicians and a teenage couple in way over their heads. There are thousands of people who lives were changed at Bethlehem, they just didn’t know it yet.
I read recently that 24% of Americans were depressed at Christmas. Not just sad…depressed. And that’s understandable. Because Christmas is a time that celebrates all that is right with the world, when families are reconciled, where men no longer are at war with each other, where God enters our world and the soul feels it’s worth.
But that’s not where a lot of us are.
The world still feels cold and dark. That family member isn’t talking to us anymore, or can’t. It’s your first Christmas without them, and the great memories from Christmas’ past only make the absences of Christmas present more painful.
And maybe that’s why it’s good to remember the first Christmas again, and not just the nativity story, but all the other stories that go along with it.
Because they had no idea that God had entered the world…their world. Some of them might not have even known at the time how much they were going to need him. But Praise God, he was there when they discovered it.
And He still is.
Merry Christmas from the Storment family to yours.