The Christmas story is odd.
Have you ever noticed? Perhaps you’ve fallen into the same habit I’ve fallen into, letting familiarity mask the strangeness of the story. It happens. We know the Christmas story inside and out, backward and forward. Or so we think…until we stop and really consider it.
When I take the time to truly consider this “familiar” story, questions toss through my mind. How could a culture of hospitality allow a baby to be born in a stable? I mean, really? I have lived in the Middle East. I know the hospitality traditions and unwritten rules. And, let me tell you, God really did a work when He arranged the details just so and caused His Son to be born in a barn. It was no accident. It was no error or happenstance. It was engineered.
That doesn’t even begin to address the many other circumstances orchestrated by God hundreds of years before, such as when He placed Daniel in Persia, establishing the teachings and traditions that were handed down through generations of “wise men” – including the wise men who ended up on their knees before the Christ Child. (Oh, and just to throw a wrench in the whole system, how many wise men were there? What does the Bible say? There were three gifts…but how many wise men?)
Yes, the true history of Christmas makes for an odd story. And, it is a story that has given birth to interesting holiday celebrations around the world. Yet the celebrations have drifted. They have become secular and commonplace. And, in the process, even we as Christians have lost the wonder of the history of Christmas.
What if we were to rethink our entire approach to Christmas? What if we were to return to the history of Christmas and let it restore our celebration? Maybe I should share a warning here, because if we do this, our celebration will become as odd as the story itself.
What does this look like practically, you might ask?
Well, first, we will need to look at what we are teaching our children. In all other areas of education, we try to teach our kids to think. We seek out curricula, lesson plans, books, and resources to help us broaden our children’s minds and equip them to stand on a biblical foundation against the cultural inclinations of our time. So, why do we just accept the culture’s celebration and teaching of Christmas without even stopping to think about it?
Think of the excitement of truly digging into the Christmas story like we dig into other topics and subjects! We could look at it in an academic manner as well as in a spiritual and celebratory manner, not studying the wonder out of it, but increasing its wonder because we truly see it in context of history. We could pay attention, separating the Christmas story from cultural traditions and storybook adaptations. We could dig into cultural norms of the time and explore just how beautifully odd Jesus’ birth story is. (Can you imagine Mary in a circle of birth-story-sharing moms? I think she’d have us all beat!)
Once our study and exploration has breathed new life into the Christmas story, the revived celebration follows beautifully and naturally.
Just as Jesus’ birth was different and odd when compared to the cultural norm, so can our celebration of His birth stand out from the way the world celebrates their secular gift-giving occasion, whether they call it Christmas or “winter holiday.”
What does that look like? Well, I can’t say exactly, because it will probably not look the same in your house as it will in mine. But, a few things will be constant: selflessness; true, unharried joy; and the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Think about it. What if the angels had celebrated by singing in heaven instead of in front of the shepherds? What if the shepherds had celebrated amongst themselves and their sheep instead of spreading the news throughout the countryside? What if the wise men had just been content to hear that the prophecies had been fulfilled instead of giving their lives to studying them, then sacrificing time and precious stores from their wealth to actively find the newborn King who fulfilled those prophecies? How different would the story have been?
I don’t know about you, but when I really look at the unique story of Christmas, it excites me! It makes me want to stop celebrating like the rest of the world does.
Instead, I want to celebrate like the wise men, the shepherds, and the angels. I want to get away from my little circle and piled up presents and self-centered thoughts, heading out instead to give like the wise men gave, share like the shepherds shared, and proclaim like the angels proclaimed.
In doing so, the celebration of Christmas will become the mission of Christmas, renewed to more perfectly match the history of Christmas.
Yes, it sounds a little odd. People probably won’t understand. But, I’m ready! Will you join me?