RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- I'm way late getting ready for Christmas this year.
I haven't started shopping for gifts. Guys typically don't start until the last minute, anyhow, but I haven't even made a list. Can't seem to get motivated.
Maybe it's because our kids are more or less grown up -- and, therefore, too cool to act excited about the big day -- but have yet to produce grandchildren we can shower with gifts and hugs.
Maybe it was the spectacle of predatory bargain hunters pummeling each other to claim the latest gizmos before Thanksgiving Day even ended -- a symbol of the pagan orgy of consumption the "holiday season" has become.
Maybe I've just become my father. After I reached the approximate age my kids are now, he used to grumble, "Can we just cancel Christmas this year?" At the time, I chided him for being such a Scrooge. Now I understand his weariness with the whole giving-getting business, if all it means is a boost for retail sales.
Or, maybe I have yet to prepare a place in the "guest room" of my life for Jesus, the promised Messiah.
"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," reads the Christmas story in Luke's Gospel (Luke 2:7, KJV). However, as Ben Witherington III noted in Christianity Today several years ago, the Greek word for "inn" Luke used in his account of Jesus' birth, kataluma, also can be translated "guest room."
Bethlehem was a "one-stoplight town," Witherington wrote, and might not have had a separate inn for travelers -- even during the time of Caesar Augustus' great census. "Archeology shows that houses in Bethlehem and its vicinity often had caves the back of the house where they kept their prized ox or beast of burden, lest it be stolen," he reported. "The guest room was in the front of the house, the animal shelter in the back, and Joseph and Mary had come too late to get the guest room, so the did the best they could by putting them in the back of the house."
Is that the best we can do today? Giving a quick nod toward the "true meaning of Christmas" while gorging ourselves on holiday diversions doesn't even rise to the level of putting Jesus in the back room with the livestock, spiritually speaking.
Nothing brings me back to the truth of the first Christmas like reading the Gospel accounts of that silent, holy night, when the Lord entered space and time via the portal of a "one-stoplight town." And nothing reminds me of the living truth of Christmas like accounts from missionaries and followers of Christ about ways Jesus is revealing Himself around the world today.
-- "Last year on December 25, my friend told me she was going to church for Christmas," writes a new believer in Vietnam. "I didn't really understand and thought it was a bit strange. I'd heard of the holiday before but thought it foreign. Why didn't my friend just go to the temple like everyone else? But now I know the truth. Now I know that Jesus was born for me. Jesus was born for everyone. Last summer someone shared a Bible with me. I read it and knew in my heart that I needed God. Now I can't wait to celebrate my first Christmas as a believer in Jesus Christ. I'm excited to tell everyone around me about Jesus, born as their Savior."
-- "Christmas is a time of giving, sharing and remembering the Christ Child who came to give the greatest gift of all: His life as a sacrifice so that we might live," reflects a missionary in Africa. "When I look at the pastors in Zimbabwe, I see this same kind of sacrifice. Many don't receive a steady monthly salary. They have difficulty paying their rent and putting enough food on the table so their families won't go hungry. Yet they spend their days out among their people, witnessing to the lost, praying for them, visiting the sick and helping to bury the dead. Often people come to the house of a pastor, looking for help with money or food. Our pastors give to those in need, even though they themselves could be classified as the needy ones! These dear, faithful ones aren't giving out of the overflow of their wealth, but out of great poverty."
-- Another missionary in Africa writes: "The truth is ... life on the field isn't as glamorous as one might imagine when first stepping off the plane. We aren't camped under a mango tree every day, bringing the Gospel to masses who've never heard it before or distributing food to starving people on a daily basis. There are plenty of mountaintop experiences like that when we just look at each other in awe because we get to do this for a living. But the truth is ... life happens, and ministry sometimes takes a back seat when it does. Sometimes we find ourselves broken down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. On our way to the capital to collect a volunteer team one month, the engine of our SUV exploded. Lottie Moon Christmas Offering dollars rebuilt our engine and provided a loaner car in the meantime. Sometimes we find ourselves scooping rainwater off the kitchen floor. Our recently renovated roof cracked in two during a rainstorm one night, flooding our house. Lottie Moon dollars paid for our rent and for the necessary repairs. The truth is ... we need you and ask you to pray that people will give sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year so we can stay on the field, doing what we came to do -- glamorous or not."
OK, that last one was a plug for Lottie Moon giving. But what better Christmas gift can there be than one that helps deliver the Good News of Christ to every "one-stoplight town" on the planet that has yet to hear of Him?
Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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