I shared this reflection this morning at The Vine Church.
I read recently that we will spend $2.9B on wrapping paper for Christmas this year.
The average person will spend 3 hours this Christmas season just wrapping gifts. Sometime this week, after our girls go to bed, Rochelle turn the DVD player on (or rather, ask me to do it) and put in “You’ve Got Mail,” It’s her favorite Christmas movie. And while she’s watching, she’ll wrap gifts.
There’s something about us that loves the packaging.
When we lived in Houston, our church was about a mile and a half from the most expensive real estate in the city. On it was a Starbuck’s coffee. And right behind that, a “Container Store.” In that Container Store, you could find any kind of container you wanted. Short ones, fat ones, tall ones, skinny ones. Containers shaped for corners, some to slide under a bed, just about anything.
We love the packaging. Maybe there’s something in us that thinks the more precious the gift the more beautiful, robust, and elaborate the packaging must be.
That’s one of the reasons that when Jesus comes into the world, so few people recognize Him. The packaging isn’t that impressive. It’s simple. Plain. Unimpressive.
Nowadays, when parents have babies we have a lot of options. I’ve have friends who had their kids at home surrounded by family and friends, others at clinics for midwives, and then there’s the most audacious of labor and delivery options – birthing suites.
Doesn’t that sound nice? A Birthing suite. It sounds like the kind of place where a woman could give birth while getting her nails done and a hot stone massage.
Not so much with Jesus. Just two scared parents, hay and manger, and a promise. If you lived in the first century you’d know that hay and manger are kind of everyday things. Not a very flashy container even though the content of the container was terribly precious.
Though we love flashy things, every now and again we are reminded that the flashy things aren’t the final things – final being the parts of life that the last!
Friday, in Newtown CT, we were reminded with tears of the beauty, power, and import of the simply and lasting things. The daily things, the .99-cent things, the manger kind of things. We rediscovered that the manger kind of things are the most important things – home, family, close friends, our faith, love and being loved.
My Facebook feed exploded with people just like me, people with young children. We all had the same instinct. We wanted to scoop up our kids and hug them tightly.
These were not the moments when we thought, “Let’s take a trip to DisneyWorld” or “what’s the most elaborate Christmas gifts we can afford to give.” This was a sit on the couch, drink hot chocolate and let’s be close moment. A simple, manger moment.
Amazingly, the meaning of the coming of Jesus is so wonderfully simple that it defies all the categories we have for it.
It’s no surprise then that in the gospel of Matthew, when Herod asks the Magi about the coming of Jesus – the Advent of Jesus – they have to reach back all the way back to the prophet Micah who said, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are no poor relation–For from your people will come a Ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.”
The Magi relay a simple message to Herod: A shepherd is coming.
Shepherds care for the flock. They sacrifice their lives against the ravages and wars of the wolves. Armed only with a hook, they steer, encourage, protect and prod. Having a shepherd sounds even better than having a birthing suite.
But do you know what Herod did in response when he heard about this shepherd? Herod starting going after children!
Both in the Bible and in today’s headlines, we are reminded that this world is a dark place. Our world is not the world God intended when God first spoke the words, “Let there be light.”
And we are not what God envisioned when He scooped up the dust and dirt of earth, formed a human being and breathed life into humankind.
You don’t need me to tell you that. We all experience outbreaks of horror in our own lives – sometimes in ways we see and sometimes in ways we don’t.
But it’s into this world that God says, “I’ll going to go down there myself.” It is into our world that God determines, “I’ll move into the neighborhood. Become one of them. I’ll live next door. And though there are eruptions of evil, I am a good God, I have made a good creation and there is still goodness. On the first day, I said it was good and I and determined that it will be good again.”
And this good will be accomplished through the simplest of things.
The prophet Isaiah puts it this way:
“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 increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7
All of this world that we find hurtful and distressing; all we disdain as evil and wanton of pain will be remedied. The treatment will not be elaborate or ornate; it will not be extravagant nor expensive.
It will be a baby in a manger. A simple thing.
Long before Friday morning, and smack in the face of all the seemingly hollow words, there has long been an old hope for Newtown. There is a old hope for your town and mine – your life and mine. And this hope is found in the simplest of things, a baby in a manger.
For unto us is born a tiny heart whose blood will save us.
For in the words of the Apostle Paul,
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This idea is the only thing that gives me hope.