By Jackina Stark
“’Tis the season to be BUSY.” The way-too-much-to-do usually begins the day after Thanksgiving. Or is the Christmas holiday stressful for only me?
Just making my gift lists can wear me out, despite the fact one son-in-law never wants anything but a gift certificate. And most years rushing from store to store to purchase these gifts is a misery, with or without gale winds whipping icy snow into my face.
And then, of course, those gifts I’ve toted home and hidden eventually have to be found and wrapped. I’m thrilled, of course, that my husband Tony wraps the presents (cutting paper the right size and taping being no problem for him). But I’m the one who must locate the boxes, put some kind of ribbon or bow on them, and say something pleasant on each tag.
I wish the sweetness of gift giving didn’t seem like such a chore.
Most Christmases Tony wants to make a batch of fudge. And, without question, he’ll whip up his extra-special version of chocolate chip cookies. And who has to clean up after him?
Once the kitchen is cleaned, wouldn’t it be nice to sit down and eat one of those cookies while we listen to the Christmas music I finally loaded into the CD player? But there is no time for relaxation. There is a program, or concert, or party to attend. “Grab a cookie,” I say to Tony, “we can eat it on the way.”
But before most of this starts, there is the decorating, for which I have little aptitude. Not that ambiance isn’t important to me—I’ve watched my share of HGTV. I’ve taken care to decorate my home nicely. “Warm,” people say when the come in. “Inviting.” And I don’t like to risk messing it up with seasonal stuff. But even I make an exception at Christmas, though each year I put off until the second weekend of December placing the tree in the front windows and taking down the picture over the mantle and putting in its place a large wreath covered with little white lights.
Even though I don’t look forward to the whirlwind of decorating, cooking, filled calendar, and checked-twice list, those things, for the organized and energetic, are all wonderful aspects of Christmas. Nevertheless, the Christmas carol we love doesn’t say:
O Come, let us “shop ‘til we drop!”
O Come, let us “put on the pounds!”
O Come, let us “run ourselves ragged!”
O Come, let us “pretty this place!”
No, Christians are invited to “come and adore him!” Of all the things to do at Christmas, this is by far the most important; this is the reason for anything else we do. We can’t let other “things” crowd out adoration and worship. We must pause and reflect on the magnificence of incarnation.
The event was not marked by the extraordinary, except Caesar Augustus did issue “a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world,” which necessitated everyone to go “to his own town to register.” And Magi from the east did “see a star” in the east and traveled far to worship the “one who has been born king of the Jews.”
But most did not notice. How was an innkeeper to know the child about to be born came from God? If he had, would he have provided the one who was “with God in the beginning” a better birthplace than a stable, a better cradle than a manger? The chief priests and teachers of the law knew the prophecy, however, and exactly where Christ would be born. I would guess indifference, not ignorance, kept them from following the Magi to Bethlehem to kneel before Immanuel.
But some experienced incarnation, and they worshiped.
No one worshiped more completely than the humble girl who became God’s servant, though she could not fathom how she would give birth to his Son.
“How will this be,” she asked, “since I am a virgin?”
I’m not sure the angel Gabriel cleared things up for her when he explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her and the child she conceived would become the “Son of God.”
But her response was one of sweet obedience and faith: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
The man she was pledged to marry worshiped with the same humble obedience. When an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him that what was conceived of Mary was of the Holy Spirit and that this baby would be called, “Immanuel, which means God with us,” Joseph woke up, left anxiety behind, and made Mary his wife as the angel commanded.
Their willingness and obedience was the truest expression of adoring worship.
Heaven sent a host of angels to sing the night Mary settled into the cleanest hay Joseph could find in the stable and gave birth to this promised Son and Savior. On a nearby hillside, an angel appeared to lowly shepherds, “keeping watch over the flocks.”
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
After the angel had told them how to find this baby, a company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” With this announcement, they rushed off to find the baby and worship him. Afterwards, they “spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child” and returned to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
Fast forward a few days to Jerusalem. The time had come for Joseph and Mary to present Jesus to the Lord and “to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord.” As they entered the temple, two more people rushed to adore the incarnated Christ.
Simeon, righteous and devout, “lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel” (Luke 2:25, The Message). The Holy Spirit was on him and revealed he would not die before he had seen Christ. Seeing the baby, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God.
Anna, the prophetess, was always in the temple. Married seven years and a widow for 84, she remained in the temple day and night, fasting and praying. As Simeon finished speaking, she came up to them and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
By the time the Magi reached Bethlehem, by way of Herod and Jerusalem, the star they had followed for so long stood over a house where Mary and Joseph were staying. The Magi (also called wise men) were overjoyed to have finally arrived, and “when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they bowed down and worshiped him.” Then they honored him further by opening their treasures and presenting him “with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:10, 11).
He deserved such homage.
Like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and the Magi, we have some inkling of what God has done for us. Like them, adoration should well up within us. And like these first worshipers, we can express our adoration in three distinct ways.
Praise him with joyful hearts—The psalmist praised God so well that we have leaned on him for expression for thousands of years. “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart,” David writes. Even generic psalms seem appropriate for Christmas praise: thank God that when we “lie down and sleep” and wake again, it is because he sustains us (3:5); that he has never “forsaken those who seek” him (9:10); that he “has made (our) lot secure” (16:5); that he “reached down from on high and took hold of (us)” (18:16); that “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him (32:10); that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (34:18); that “under his wings (we) will find refuge” (91:4); that he forgives our sins, crowns us with love and compassion, and satisfies our desires with good things (103:3-5); and that his love is with those who fear him from everlasting to everlasting (103:17). I, like David the psalmist king, want my heart to sing and not be silent. “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” (30:12).
New Testament passages can help you praise God at Christmas too. Praise him and thank him that he has “called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Praise him that he has become our intercessor, our great high priest, that we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Thank him that when the host of angels brought “good news of great joy” to the Bethlehem hillside that holy night, it was for “all people,” and we now have peace with God. Join the angels in saying, “Glory to God in the highest!”
I once read that only 10 percent of parents testify to their children about what God has done for them. How good it would be then to praise God, as it says in Deuteronomy, “when (we) sit at home and when (we) walk along the road, when (we) lie down and when (we) get up” (6:7). There’s no better time to start than Christmas.
Open up our treasures and give him gifts—I suppose gift giving became a part of our celebration because the Magi brought gifts—or perhaps because of God’s gift to the world, his Savior Son. Giving to those we love at Christmas is not a bad thing at all, but one way we can adore our Lord is to bring material “gifts” to him. After all, it is a celebration of his birthday.
We can bring him gifts that are not material but are just as significant. “Shall I play for you” the wonderful old Christmas lyric goes, “on my drum?” This ability is all the little drummer boy has to offer, and the image of him standing by the manger in his rags, wanting to give what he has, always touches me. Perhaps you don’t play a drum, but there is something you can do for him with the talents he has given you.
Madeline L’Engle says the artist (think of that in broad terms) is “a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense,” she says, “the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.” L’Engle says that whether the work is of great genius or something small, the artist either agrees to give it birth and says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” or refuses. “Not everyone,” L’Engle writes, “has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary” (Walking on Water, 18).
Bow before him in awe and reverence—Giving and praising are, in a sense, ways of bowing before him. But I’m wondering, how long has it been since in some private place we have literally fallen on our knees, like the beautiful Christmas song says, overwhelmed by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? Perhaps this could happen if we somehow slow down and listen for the angels’ voices and visualize the miracle of the “night divine” and contemplate all it means.
Short of that, or along with that, I try to find things to display in the house for Christmas that represent a bowing heart. One is an ornament that hangs in the middle of my tree at eye-level. It is a pure, white Lenox china circle. Cradled in the bottom of the circle is the baby Jesus. At the top of the circle opposite the Christ child, written in script, is the word Behold. I’ve held each grandchild up to see it. We exchange a smile. The children know its significance, understand its preeminence. Another testimony sits on my mantle. It is a gold-colored bust of a wise man, head obviously bowed in reverence.
Such are good reminders when I’m racing through the house with wrapping paper and a stack of boxes or rushing out the door with a plate of cookies for another holiday get-together. The white lights twinkling on the wreath over the mantle and on the tree by the front windows reveal what matters most at Christmas: the Christ child—and a wise man bowed in reverence before him.
Jackina Stark teaches English at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri.