Tinsel, lights, and taffeta. Christmas concerts, specials, and spectaculars. Griswold-style Christmas lights, budget-busting gifts, and ginormous car-wrapping bows. Whether out of tradition, wonder, or flat-out consumerism, many celebrations and representations of Christmas are fancy, elaborate, or ostentatious.
Many of our traditions are fun and bring cheer and special memories. Others, like Christmas Cantatas, harken back to the wonder of witnessing the angel chorus on that first Christmas. And, some other ways of celebrating Christmas … well, they stress us out and have us running around like crazy people trying to keep up with expectations, a frenzied pace, and the Joneses.
Yet, that’s not how it all began. The first Christmas is much better characterized as humble than ostentatious. The setting for Jesus’ birth certainly wouldn’t win any Christmas decorating contests. The central players were mostly commoners who wouldn’t have owned fancy clothing. They weren’t putting on elaborate, well-planned productions. The VIP guests to the first Christmas party were stinky shepherds – fresh from the not-so-fresh-smelling fields! The central players didn’t have a Pinterest-perfect first Christmas – they experienced and embraced significant changes in plans, changes that left them humbled, and even vulnerable.
Young Mary, betrothed but not yet married, was to become pregnant before marriage, and not by her betrothed, putting her in a vulnerable position. Yet, she humbled herself, embraced the message delivered by the angel, and trusted God’s plan for her and for the world.
Joseph’s plans were disrupted when he found out that his betrothed was to bear a child – and he knew he was not the father. Rather than react out of pride or self-righteousness (the laws and customs were certainly on his side), he humbly accepted God’s plans as related by the angel and became Mary’s protector rather than her accuser.
The magi had been watching and interpreting the skies for years and had an expectation that the new king would be found in the usual trappings of royalty: born in the palace, in the seat of power. Yet, they accepted changes of plans – presenting their precious gifts to the Christ child in a humble home and heading home by a different route. The magi protected Jesus and his parents not by their own wisdom; rather, they humbly submitted to the instructions they received in a dream to not return to King Herod.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us of how Jesus humbled himself to be among us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (2:6-8)
Why all this humility? To what purpose? What truths lay in the humble versus the alternatives? And what does this teach us about how to seek healing and wholeness within God’s plans for us today? What can God work through the humility of the people of St. Andrew’s?
Join us this Sunday as we go back to the first Christmas –even BEFORE the first Christmas—to meet a little servant girl and a proud general as we continue our Advent series: Every Story Whispers His Name.
See you in church!