by Linda Rex
December 25, 2022, Christmas Day—Lately I’ve noticed the tendency by those reporting the weather to focus on a big story. Rather than reporting the everyday weather and its tedious ordinariness, they sensationalize the next big winter storm or the possibility for severe weather. What will bring about the greatest amount of anxiety or fear seems to be the center of their reporting, rather than more positive, constructive stories which may encourage people and create hope.
But isn’t that really our tendency as human beings? We tend to gravitate towards the big story, no matter what it might be, simply because it will draw the greatest attention to ourselves or bring in the biggest payback. Why else would we exaggerate the size of the fish we caught or the size of the rack on a deer we harvested? When we talk about our promotion at work, do we add a few embellishments to make ourselves look really good?
On this particular Sunday, we have the unique experience of being able to celebrate Christmas Day. Our gospel passage for this Sunday is Luke 2:8–20, which, along with verses 1–7, is often read on Christmas Eve or morning in many homes. It tells the biggest story of all, of when God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, being born of Mary and placed in a lowly manger.
The first one to tell this story was not human, but an angel, sent by God to shepherds. These hard workers were out in the fields at night, tending to their flock of sheep. It is possible that the lambs in their flock were destined for the altar of sacrifice in the temple. Though these shepherds were considered unclean by the religious leaders because of their occupation, it is instructive that God valued these people who were ostracized. The angel appeared to these everyday, ordinary people, telling them their Messiah had been born and was lying, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a manger.
To back up his big story, the angel was accompanied by a large number of angelic messengers who began praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (NASB). Imagine what an impact such an experience must have had on these down-to-earth shepherds! After the angels left them, the shepherds immediately made plans to go and see for themselves that this story was true.
Like good reporters, these shepherds went to double-check their facts, looking throughout the small town of Bethlehem’s stables to find the baby laid in a manger. They soon found Mary, Joseph, and the baby just as the angel told them. Now they had the biggest story of all to be sharing with everyone they met, and so they did. Their story created a sense of wonder and astonishment in the hearts and minds of those who heard it.
I wonder sometimes if the traditions and merchandising of Christmas has caused us to lose sight of the reality that we have been included in the biggest story of all. Do we realize how magnificent what happened that night really is? We get wrapped up in making sure we observe the correct day, or have the correct traditions, or the best presents, or even that we spend the day with the right people, and we miss the wonder, the glory of the greatest story ever told—that God came to be with us, that God took on our human flesh. What is more amazing than that?
What was it like for Mary that blessed night? She had to give birth in a strange place under very uncomfortable circumstances without the comforts of home. She knew the angel had told her the child she gave birth to was the Messiah, but now there were shepherds coming and telling her they had also seen and talked with angels. It is no wonder Mary often pondered these things in her heart, mulling them over and coming to terms with the wonder of being in the midst of a story much greater than herself—something which began long before she was born, yet included her and Joseph, and the little baby Jesus, lying in the manger.
Perhaps we need to follow Mary’s lead, and take some time this Christmas Day to drink in the wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we ought to quietly contemplate the significance of the incredible gift of love the Father gave in giving us his Son by the Spirit in such a down-to-earth human way as a baby born in humble circumstances, laid in a manger, swaddled, fed and diapered like every other baby his age. What does it mean that God gives the biggest story of all to humble misfits, who are considered unworthy to be included in temple worship? What does it mean that God became man, to live and die like we do?
It is not enough that we just consider all this, though. The lesson we learn from these shepherds is that we take this biggest story of all and we share it with others. We include others in the good news that Christ has come. We let others in on the story, letting them know that they too have an important role to play in what God is doing in this world. What man may deem is unimportant, is considered essential by God when it comes to telling his story. How might God be wanting you to share this good news with others? How might God be wanting you to be a part of his story?
Heavenly Father, how delighted you must have been to see your Son in a new way, a way you had never seen him before, as a human baby, held and cared for by human hands. May your celebration of your Son’s human birth remind us to celebrate anew Jesus’ birth with a deep sense of wonder and gratitude, and to share this good news with those around us. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to us and becoming one of us, so we could be with you and the Father forever in the Spirit. Amen.
“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’ When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Luke 2: 8–20 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitthe-big-story.pdf ]
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By Linda Rex
As one who has suffered on occasion from the blight of depression, I have a sympathetic heart for anyone who experiences living in this dark place. When a person is in the midst of such sadness and grief, it can take all of his or her effort just to do the simplest tasks of life.
This is not a place other people can come to and pull the sufferer out of. It is rather a place where those near and dear can come alongside and offer support, prayer, and encouragement. The best gift a person can offer to one suffering with depression is a constant and faithful relationship—a living presence with a willingness to sit in the darkness with the one struggling.
Sometimes we choose our darkness. Sometime the darkness is a result of other people’s bad choices. And other times, the darkness just is—it exists through no fault of our own. It is merely a result of health issues or circumstances. Darkness—an inner weight of crushing sadness and grief, or just loss of joy—can happen to anyone. Being depressed is not a sin, although it may at times be a symptom of an inner struggle.
For some of us, being depressed comes easily. The negativity through which we see the world becomes a lens which darkens our view each and every moment of our lives. This causes us to miss many opportunities for joy. We can be so used to the darkness that when the light enters, we close our eyes to protect them from its brightness.
Here during Advent, as we approach Christmas and the New Year, we may find ourselves resisting the holiday spirit, and feeling overwhelmed by loss and grief for various reasons. It is hard to feel upbeat when your heart is broken and your thoughts are filled with memories of what was and what could have and should have been. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness during a season which should be filled with great joy.
The Holy Spirit calls to us during Advent to remember the One who joined us in our darkness, who didn’t feel it was enough just to say he loved us, but who actually came and sat in the sadness, grief, sorrow, and death with us. For God it was not enough just to be gracious and loving—he did gracious and loving. He took on our humanity and lived shoulder-to-shoulder with each of us.
God’s judgment on sin and our proclivity to evil and our preference for the darkness was the precious gift of a baby in a manger—the Word of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. God’s judgment on our darkness was a gift of joy in the Person of his Son. He judged all humanity worthy of grace and worthy of salvation, worthy of his presence in the midst of their evil, suffering, and death.
That dark, starry night as the shepherds sat with their flocks on a hill outside of Bethlehem, God entered this broken world welcomed by Joseph and Mary as the fulfillment of the word of God through an angel. This little baby may have seemed insignificant and unimpressive in his humble circumstances, but his birth was the cause of the celebration of the angels. As we read in Luke 2:
“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!’” (Luke 2:8-14 NKJV)
Here was a message from God to his people—a message of peace and good will from God toward his people—a message of joy. These shepherds were astonished and overwhelmed, but their response was to seek out this baby to welcome him.
In our personal darkness, we may feel as though God has forgotten us, or as though we are lost in a dark night, barely holding ourselves together. But the truth we need to be reminded of is that God’s heart toward us has not changed. He is faithful and he still loves and cares for us. God has come into our darkness in the Person of the Word of God, and in Jesus Christ has lived our life, died our death, and carried us from death into life in his resurrection.
And it was not enough for God to join us in our broken humanity. He also sent his Spirit—pouring out on all the gift of life in his Son. The call to faith, is the call to believe in and embrace the joy, the good will of God toward each and every person in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. God has given us an inner source of joy in the gift of his personal presence in and with us in the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist said: “All my springs of joy are in you.” (Ps. 87:7b NASB)
The reality is, when we are in a dark place such as depression, depravity, or despair, we need a source beyond ourselves to raise us up and deliver us. We need a source of joy which is real and endless, and which will not be squelched by our stubborn desire to remain in the darkness. We need “springs of joy” to draw upon.
And God has given us this in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. We celebrate the breaking in of heaven into our darkness this time of year, and we find in the birth of Jesus Christ the hope, peace, and joy we would never have otherwise. He is the source of our true life, a life which God has lived in for all eternity, a life he is determined to share with you and me for all the eons to come. He calls us to trust—to believe in the truth: God is here. God is near. And he is with us forever. Immanuel—the most precious gift of all!
Dear Abba, thank you! Thank you for the precious gift of joy. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, sorrow, grief, and depravity, but giving us a way out—your own Son. Fill us by your Spirit with all your hope, peace, joy, and love—we do not find these things within ourselves. They are a gift. And so we thank you, and praise you with the angels, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98 NASB