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Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

A Decorated Season

“Bright lights wrap around trees, indoors and out. On some houses, lights start at ground level and climb to the rooftops. On a clear night, it looks as if they are strung across the sky and come down on the other side of the street. The season is decorated with both strings of light from Wal-Mart and the likes of Betelgeuse and Polaris.”

(from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 16)

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Among the memories of childhood Christmas, there is one that continues to surprise me. Every Christmas, without fail, we received a pair of pajamas from grandma. The same pajamas every year. Shirt and pants that snapped together at the waist with metal buttons. Pajamas with feet in them. Pajamas decorated with Winnie the Pooh characters.

Looking back, the surprise is not that we received them. The surprise is that we wore them. The bigger surprise is that Dad allowed this to happen.

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We loved everything that came with Christmas morning. Rushing downstairs, opening packages, and making our way to grandma’s house. There, we would compare gifts with our cousins. We would stand politely while our aunt’s pinched our cheeks and told us how we had grown. And we would wait for our uncle’s to come in, one by one, to tell us “hope you got everything you wanted this year, because last night I accidentally shot Santa Claus.”

When we were real young, we wondered which of them was most likely to be telling the truth. It wasn’t too many years before we finally figured that out.

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A Christmas Reading

The waiting is over, a child is born
The waiting is over, a Son is given
The waiting is over, the government is on his shoulders
The waiting is over, his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

We light the first candle to remind us of hope in a dark place. We light the second candle to join heaven and earth in celebration. We light the third candle in thanks that the news has come to us. We light the fourth candle because God welcomes surprise visitors.

Tonight we light the Christ candle because the waiting is over.

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We approach Christmas with good intentions. We quote the prophets. We place angels and shepherds and wise men carefully in the nativity scene. Yet, we wonder, would we have believed a story about a carpenter and a virgin and a baby born from God? Would we have believed he was born in Bethlehem in order to affirm his connection with King David? It is likely that many saw the star but did not follow. It is likely that people heard the shepherd’s story but did not believe them. The scholars in Herod ‘s palace knew exactly where to find the child but did not make the attempt.

Still, we approach Christmas as if we would have believed from the start. As if we would have stood with the prophet against the king. As if we would have joined the angelic choir in song. As if we would have run to Bethlehem with the shepherds. As if we would have worshipped with the wise men. We would have been there, the shepherds and wise men and us. Yeah right.

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I bet Isaiah 7.14 sounds like Christmas to you. At least it does to me. I can almost hear carols in the background while reading it. It makes me feel like I am opening a Christmas card. I feel a twinge of excitement. I think I can smell Christmas while listening to it. And then, after Isaiah sings it, Matthew sings it again – a remix.

But unlike Matthew, Isaiah was not thinking about Christmas. He was thinking about politics. He was thinking about a clash between prophet and king. He was thinking about how different the world of faith is from the world of fear.

During this time the world power was Assyria. They made the rules and made sure the rules were followed.  The neighbor kings are tired of this and try to get King Ahaz and Judah to join forces to overthrow Assyria. Isaiah goes to the king with a message and a sign. But the king knows how the world works. He knows where the power is. He ignores the request of the neighbors and tries to snuggle up with Assyria. His worst decision, he ignored the message of the prophet. He refused the sign.

The sign that Ahaz ignored becomes important. A woman will be with child. She will have a son. His name shall be Immanuel. Immanuel means literally “God is with us.” A significant part of the sign for Isaiah is timing. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the lands of the kings will be forsaken. It seems the child will be living without fear, enjoying meals of curds and honey. In other words, the original sign is to alert the king that God truly is with his people. When this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused “God with us.”

Centuries later Matthew repeats the sign of the prophet and paints for us a picture. There is a woman with child. She will have a son. He shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God is with us.” We are more familiar with this story. We know something about this child. We might feel a twinge of excitement. The sign is of great importance. When this sign occurs, when this child is born, when this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. This child is the visible physical evidence that God is with us.

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Matthew chapter two opens with the birth of Jesus and a search for the one born King of the Jews. We have become familiar with this story and its characters; Joseph the husband of Mary, a dreamer born into a kingly bloodline. Magi from the east, willing to give time, effort and treasure in their desire to worship the rightful King. And King Herod, the ruler of a corrupted earthly kingdom who contrasts with the Kingdom of heaven that God has in mind.

Perhaps because of our artificial chapter breaks or perhaps it is due to the obvious years that have passed in between, but we sometimes fail to see how chapter two and three go together. However, it is unnecessary to ask whether Matthew sees a connection between the kingly discussion of chapter two and the announcement made immediately in chapter three that “The Kingdom is at hand.”

This part of the text carries with it romance and heartache, treasure and tragedy, a royal bloodline and an imposter, murder and narrow escape, secrets, espionage, dreams, angels. Just saying, if you open your door and find Magi standing outside, you may be in for a wild ride. But this story about the one born King does not stop there. It takes us into chapter three where we find John the Baptist announcing “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He might as well have said it like this “Your King is at hand.”

It becomes important for us to remember that the story of this Kingdom does not stop with gift giving in Bethlehem. Christmas is not the end of the story. The Kingdom story continues and we are in on it. The Kingdom continues in the ways we choose to follow the rightful King.

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