Christmas is upon us! Entire streets sparkle with multi-colored lights. Last-minute shoppers pack the aisles. Christmas music echoes in the malls. Traditional performances: The Messiah, The Nutcracker; A Christmas Carol; White Christmas along with children’s pageants at school and church. What would Christmas be without 6 and 7 year-old magi, shepherds and angels retelling the story while parents capture it all on video?
Holiday movies dominate our screens, big and small: It’s A Wonderful Life!; Miracle on 34th Street; The Grinch Who Stole Christmas; the Santa Clause and the new Netflix blockbuster, Christmas Chronicles, which I have seen 3 times with my 7 and 5 year old granddaughters, at their request. (Somehow we have to sort through all the fantasy and fact.)
We search for Christmas in the spectacular: the spectacular event, spectacular lights, the spectacular gift. We want to re-create the perfect Christmas moment that we wish exemplified our lives.
The first Christmas had little resemblance to our contemporary traditions. The birth of Christ occurred in the chaos of the common and the ordinary: a common stable surrounded by common animals in a common village. Few took notice. There was no extravaganza staged in the cities. The angels’ announcement occurred in a remote region with only a few simple shepherds present. The Magi, who observed the star in the east, came and went almost unnoticed.
It was for the common and the ordinary that Christ came. He grew up in a carpenter’s shop in the remote village of Nazareth. He owned no house and had no possessions. He had no place to lay his head. And, after a brief public ministry in which he healed and taught thousands, he died upon a common cross outside Jerusalem and was buried in a borrowed tomb. In birth, life and death, Jesus redeemed the common and the ordinary and elevated each of us to an extraordinary relationship with God.
The first Christmas was an “out of control” event for Mary and Joseph. The tax summons that took them to Bethlehem could not have come at a worse time. The baby was due. She was in no condition for such a long and arduous journey. When they arrived, the town was a bedlam of people. No one wanted to be there. They had come because they were obligated under Roman law. Of course, it was not out of God’s control. What appeared to be an onerous obligation and an inconvenient time was actually a fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Perhaps God planned it this way to teach us that His intervention must be experienced in the common and the ordinary chaos of life. When we look for Christmas in the spectacular, we can only experience it once a year. But when we discover Christmas in the common and the chaotic, it can change our life every day.