Nix the Entertainment2
Who doesn’t love Christmas? It’s just so Ho! Ho! Ho! holly and jolly! Even Scrooge and the Grinch couldn’t maintain their animosity toward the holiday.
Whether infused with or devoid of spirituality, the season is viewed by all -- or nearly all -- as festive and entertaining.
We are entertained with TV specials, holiday movies, cheerful music everywhere, season-specific food, colorful and silly clothing -- even store displays are designed to entertain as well as attract our dollars.
What about in church?
More entertainment! From kiddie skits, to organ recitals, to full-blown pageants with live animals, the entertainment factor is high.
Well, maybe not this year. Which could be a good thing. After all, there was no merry at the first Christmas, either.
On that first Christmas, which actually played out over weeks, months, and years, what was happening was enormous and provocative and not fun.
Jesus (Remember him?) was injected into human history as a baby -- a tiny containment vessel for an infinite God. It was a hard and messy business for all the primary players.
The event was so significant, so dark-earth-shattering, that angels -- a whole host of angels -- were commissioned to announce it to shepherds, not kings.
Why not kings? Because this was something that was most meaningful to the least of the least, the smelliest of the smelly. And it was all about an unlikely King, by earthly standards.
There was nothing about what unfolded that was particularly entertaining for Mary and Joseph, or anyone else involved. Far from it. If anything, it was often nerve-wracking, frightening, exhausting, emotionally and mentally taxing, dumbfounding.
Good but dangerous
That first Christmas -- and all the events that surrounded it -- was not entertaining, but it was glorious. And dangerous. And treacherous.
The glory, in part, was that this was the culmination of centuries of prophecy. Isaiah declared very specifically that, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.” Emmanuel means “God with us.”
You can’t get much more glorious than that. But this was not an easy glory.
The danger was manifold. The reputations of Joseph and Mary were under threat. Her life was at risk since stoning wasn’t out of the question for a pregnant virgin. Then there was the difficult 100 mile or so trip on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Followed by a messy, non-antiseptic birth in a queasy setting.
No Uber, no Motel Six, no brightly lit sanitary hospital.
The treachery came years later with the wisemen being diverted from returning to Herod, the enduring threat of Herod’s sword, the slaughter of toddler boys, and a desperate flight into Egypt. Again on foot and on the sly.
So how should we view this season?
Perhaps, in between bites of figgy pudding and sips of wassail, instead of seeking entertainment we could seek soberness and a greater sense of solemnity.
The word entertain also means “to consider; contemplate: entertain an idea, to hold in mind; harbor.” These conjure a mood of quiet, focused meditation. Perhaps pointing us to an attitude of mind more appropriate for the season than one of seeking endless entertainment.
Being merry at Christmas, enjoying the sights and sounds, getting caught up a little in the hustle and bustle is not a sin. But it is important to not miss the heart of Who we are celebrating.
COVID-19 could be just the gift we need this year to help us refocus.
Rather than lose Jesus in the hustle and bustle, the parties and presents, we can bring Him front and center. We can take time to marvel at the mettle of Mary and Joseph and their stubborn faithfulness in the face of crippling hardship. We can allow ourselves to be humbled to our knees by the perseverance of God to move history in our favor. With the fun toned down just a little, we can tune up our sense of awe and attitude of worship more.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).
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