Don’t Miss Christmas
By Michael Bowman
O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; wherewith you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Here we are at the culmination of the chaotic and craziness that is our consumeristic holiday season as we know it. We have come to the day that we have been anticipating and singing about. The day that we have been frantically buying gifts and wrapping them so that they can be torn into this morning and possibly even forgotten about this afternoon. It is Christmas.
In the midst of the cultural craziness, we chose throughout Advent to slow down and to pay attention to all that was happening around us and within us. We stopped “doing” and we began “waiting.” We were, of course, eagerly anticipating Christ’s coming, remembering he has already come and that he is coming again. And after all our waiting, Christ has come.
So, pause. Do not miss it.
The Birth, According to…
In our Bibles, we are fortunate to have four different Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. That is, four different narratives telling us about Jesus and the life he lived– all that he did and said. It is interesting, however, that only two of them actually give us an account of Jesus’ birth: Matthew and Luke. And even in these two gospel accounts, the birth narrative focuses more on those who actually took notice of the birth rather than the birth itself.
This is significant. The authors want us to take notice of who it was that actually recognized that the Christ had come. Because it may not be exactly who we might have guessed. So who was it? Who were the ones who actually took notice that the Savior of the World had been born?
According to Luke, the only people who noticed were some shepherds sitting out in a field watching sheep do sheep things when an angel of the Lord showed up out of nowhere and began talking to them. Even if it was good news, this had to at least startle the shepherds. But then, as the angel told them about this baby that has been born, an entire angelic army appeared suddenly, shouting out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14 NRSV)
So the shepherds looked at one another (probably picking their jaws up off the ground) and said together, “We got to go to Bethlehem and see what this is all about.” (My translation of Luke 2:15-16.)
In Matthew’s account, we jump from an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph to some “wise men from the East” showing up in Jerusalem asking King Herod where this newborn “king of the Jews” is so that they may “pay him homage.” It needs to be noted that the word used in the Greek here for “homage” is translated throughout the New Testament as meaning to kneel or prostrate oneself in reverence or respect.
But who were these “wise men?”
We Three… Dudes?
These “wise men” or “magi” as most scholars agree are better referred to as astrologers. They were not kings, and there is no evidence that there were only three of them (don’t believe the Christmas carol.)
These men studied the stars, and in their studies, they had been led to believe that a great new leader had been born in Judea. Being “from the East,” these men were likely Gentiles. Fast forward in the story and we find these “wise men,” following a star (how’s that for a GPS?), arrived to see the newborn king, though he was no longer a newborn but a toddler close to the age of two. And as soon as they step into his presence, the men knelt down and worshipped Jesus, offering him gifts fit for a king.
Now, why is it important we understand that in our two Gospel accounts that include a birth narrative, the only people who took notice of Jesus’ birth were some shepherds who were working a late shift and some Gentile star-gazers?
Because seemingly everyone else missed it.
Where were the priests? Where were the good, highly religious and ritually-pure folks? Where were those who never missed a prayer service? Where were those with “perfect attendance” in Sunday school? Honestly, where were the God-fearers? Where were those who knew their Scriptures, who memorized and followed their Torah? Do you mean to tell me that the ‘religious elite’ missed the birth of Jesus?
It can’t be more clear: they all missed it.
The Free Gift of Christmas
So, here is my plea for you (and me) this Christmas: let’s not miss it.
We know how chaotic this time of the year can be. We know how easy it can be to get swept up in the consumeristic cultural Christmas of our day. It is easy to even believe that Christmas is about gifts, receiving or giving, time with family or friends, or Santa Claus. It is easy to use the nostalgia that Christmas offers to escape the harsh and difficult realities in our daily lives. And all of this muddies the waters of what Christmas truly offers us.
Christmas is a season of possibilities.
In the middle of our distortions, God comes to us. At Christmas, we retell and remember the story of God coming unexpectedly as a baby born to a poor and lowly family…to a virgin and unwed mother…born homeless and born to die…so that the world might be made whole again. He came quietly, almost unnoticeably as we have seen, showing up in the middle of the everyday jumble and mess of life. His birth was easy to miss, even then.
May we not be those who miss it. The Creator of the universe, as Eugene Peterson translates the disciple John’s words, “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” And with him came new possibilities for the dark world the moment he was born.
Christmas reveals that God comes for all people – those who are eagerly looking for him and even those who are not – offering new possibilities…offering new life. Light is now shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not and will not overcome it.
Jesus is here. Come now and adore Him.
Michael Bowman is the Student Minister at Christ Church UMC. He is the grateful husband of Sara and dad to Grady. Michael earned his B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, where he met Sara. He also holds a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, playing basketball, and playing with their two dogs, Gus and Lily. As a good Memphis native, Michael is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.
Follow him on Twitter: @bichaelmowman