Filling Out Your Christmas

An over-the-top Christmas light displayLike many people, I am fascinated by anyone who can perform those slight-of-hand tricks we often refer to as “magic”. One of the favorite illusions performed by these prestidigitators involves covering some solid object with a handkerchief or large cloth, saying the appropriate “magic words”, and the making the object vanish! When the cloth is removed, there is nothing left but thin air. Whatever it was that hid “filled out” the cloth, giving it its shape, is now gone.

In many ways, that is what has happened to Christmas down through the centuries—especially here in America. Thanks to the popular children’s story, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, Christmas has been covered up with the trappings of a secular, merchandising holiday. It has been so covered up, in fact, that when the gifts and tinsel and groaning food-ladened Christmas tables are removed, what is revealed? Often nothing at all. Somewhere along the way, Jesus has vanished and has been replaced by a jolly fat man and eight tiny reindeer.

I’m not suggesting that Santa and the reindeer should be banished from the Christmas season. I AM suggesting that we need to once again “fill out” our Christmas celebrations so that the real reason for this season is not lost forever amid the glitter and tinsel and ribbons.

In order to “fill out our Christmas”, we need to do three things.

Conscious…Not Cultural

Ho...Ho...Ho... Christmas winter signLike many other days, we are in danger of reducing Christmas to a “major” holiday that is not much different from Labor Day or the 4th of July! In the business world, it’s becoming “just another day off”, so that we can use the time to sleep late, eat a big meal and visit with relatives.

Culturally, in America, that’s what we are  supposed to do. But, consciously, we may be forgetting what this day is all about—THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. God became a living, breathing human being. He could understand all the frustrations and hurts and hopes of you and me. That’s worth celebrating! That’s worth shouting about—even within the context of gift-opening and visits from Santa.

Have you ever made a CONSCIOUS decision to celebrate Christmas—perhaps in the middle of the summer? In Ocean City, there was a hotel where one of the events each summer was called “Christmas in July”. At first, to the guests, it seemed a bit silly—decorating the lobby with trees and manger scenes, playing carols on the speaker system. Slowly, the Christmas Spirit began to pervade the guests and staff. Everyone began to understand what it meant for Christ to be born.

What was missing from this event? All the merchandising hoopla! No store was stocked with Christmas lights or candy canes. It was Christmas with Christ—consciously, deliberately, without all the cultural trappings. People treated one another more kindly, and somehow they even seemed to be more peaceful. The true meaning of the holiday shone through—even in the middle of 90-degree weather in July!

We need to make a CONSCIOUS decision that we will celebrate Christmas because Jesus is born—not because the calendar or the TV ads and stores tell us it’s December 25.

Meaningful…Not Mechanical

Pile of colorful gift wrapped Christmas gifts of assorted shapes and sizes in brightly colored patterned paperToo many times we allow the time-honored traditions of Christmas to obscure the real meaning of the holiday. It’s a tradition to buy gifts for each other during the holiday season. I’m not suggesting we do away with gift-giving. But, why do we do it? Because “it’s always been done that way”?

Suppose as we purchase each gift that we thought to ourselves, “I’m glad to be buying this gift for ______ because of the Gift God has given me in Jesus.” Suddenly, there would be meaning behind the mechanical purchasing of merchandise.

Suppose as we sang the familiar carols that we really paid attention to the words. The music of Christmas is lovely, definitely contagious and “hummable”. Yet, how often do we stop to think about the words in “Silent night” or “O Come, All Ye Faithful”? Here again is the message: THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US.

Do we really stop during the Christmas season to mediate on what we’re celebrating? Have you stopped at some place other than church to really consider what Christmas is all about? Or do we just “go through the motions” of following the societal norms of buying cards, exchanging gifts and being with family?

The event that took place in Bethlehem is utterly earth-shattering! Because of the birth of Jesus Christ, the lives of millions of people—hollow and empty lives—have been filled to overflowing with the love of God. Perhaps you are one of those whose life has been changed because Christ as born into it through the power of the Holy Spirit. At one time, you were able to make room in your heart and soul for this Child. Remember that moment next week—next Christmas and bring a new meaning to the mechanics of Christmas.

A Time For Renewing…Not Just Remembering

Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger under a bright star in the night skyWe fondly remember how wonderful Christmas used to be. We try to recapture the Christmases of yesterday as a child—believing that Christmas is just for children. In the glow of the Christmas lights, as we try to recapture the feelings of past Christmases, we feel a certain sadness.

Yet, there is a tremendous renewing power in Christmas. There is the powerful realization that God is STILL with us. He did not abandon His people in Bethlehem centuries ago and He will not abandon us today! When we are feeling down and unloved, Christmas can renew us! God DOES care! He is here in the flesh for everyone to see. Don’t feel that Christmas is only for children! How terribly wrong you would be!

An artist sketched a picture of a cold, snowy day in February, 1809, in the woods of Kentucky. The scene is one of a farmer stomping the snow off his boots as he enters and old country store. Underneath the picture this bit of conversation has been captured.

“Anything going on around here?” the farmer asks.

“ Nope,” replies the clerk. “Nothing important. I hear there’s a new baby up at Tom Lincoln’s place—a boy, I think. But that’s all. It’s been a long time since we had any real news.”

No news!?! Nothing of importance! No—nothing but the birth of Abraham Lincoln!

What’s the news from Bethlehem? “Nothing much. Oh, there was an emergency birth in a cattle stall, but nothing exciting. Baby and mother are OK.”

That’s exciting news, friends! That’s not just something to think about fondly as you view a manger scene. This Birth is a sin-shattering, life-transforming event—and it will renew you today and every day for the rest of your life if you will let it!

Fill Out Your Christmas

Don’t load up your Christmas with so many outward trappings (fine as they may be) that the inner meaning and essence of this season disappear. It’s not a magic trick. There’s no slight-o0hand here. Christ is born. That’s a fact—no trick! And knowing that and letting that change your life will fill out your Christmas today and every Christmas you celebrate for the rest of your life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

John 1:1,14a

…To you born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:11

Maple UMC Calendar

March 2023

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