Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ponder the Majesty and Mystery!

Dear Friends,

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:8-19 

I like the imagery invoked in the painting of Mary by Henry Ossawa Tanner who was the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim. Our Christmas cards often show a brightly lit stable crowded with cute animals and packed with shepherds, wise men with gifts, angels and the Holy Family in a party-like atmosphere. Tanner, known for his religious paintings, particularly ones of the Nativity, always shows Mary in a quiet, dimly lit place in deep contemplation – pondering the incarnation of God. I’m wondering if perhaps we should be doing the same.

The incarnation is the divine Son of God, existing from the beginning of time, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made a human being. Just ponder that miracle for a moment. And yet in our Christian worldview, we’ve developed this odd dichotomy between the glory of the incarnation and the celebration of Christmas. Let me show you what I mean.

It was many years ago that I asked a coworker how he’d spent his Christmas. The night before Christmas, he and his wife and their two young children had gone to his in-laws for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. He told me that his mother-in-law goes all out for Christmas and her house looks like Santa’s village. The next morning his kids rushed into the living room to find that Santa had filled their stockings and left presents under the tree. His wife made their family’s traditional Christmas breakfast and then it was time to open the huge pile of Christmas gifts. Later that day, his parents came over and his wife made a crown roast with all the fixings and a traditional Christmas yule log cake for desert. More gifts and a very special time between his parents and his step-children. He told me that he and his wife love Christmas and said that his family had a wonderful time together on Christmas day. I marveled at this because everything he told me, even down to the crown roast and traditional Christmas yule log cake, was almost exactly how my own family had just celebrated Christmas. I was thinking this family definitely knows how to do Christmas right! Because of last minute Christmas preparations, we had not gone to a Christmas church service but I asked my coworker if he had. He laughed and told me that he, his wife, his parents and his in-laws were all atheists. Oh. I see. Have I mentioned to you yet that my Christian family had spent Christmas nearly the exact same way that his atheist family did? I spent a long time pondering that...

The danger is how easily we can get caught up in the preparation and pageantry of Christmas while leaving the manger empty of Christ. For too many of us, Christmas Day is not an experience of glorious joy at the birth of Jesus, but a feeling of relief that all our work to prepare for this day is finally over. 

On Christmas morning, let’s look to Mary to show us how to make the day Christ-centered. As Mary pondered the birth of Jesus in her heart, we may also need to give ourselves a time out just to sit and dwell on the mystery and majesty of the miracle. December 25th is your salvation story. Ponder the wonder of God who loved you so much that He sent His Son to you personally. As the angel said on that night, “..a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” And our only response to that can be to raise our hands to heaven and give praise to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all the glory be from now until forever.  Amen.

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