My mind, crazed by a long to-do list of commitments, was anything but tranquil. I felt hollow and restless. Christmas at the church and at the mall and at my house all felt the same to me: complicated, loud, busy and futile.
I was ready to bolt when I noticed shadowy figures illumined by the hallway's exit sign. I recognized them immediately: the holy family huddled in uncanny silence. The sweetly painted ceramic faces of Mary and Joseph radiated love and unexplained wonder.
Their gaze pierced through the shadows into the painted eyes of a tiny baby lying in a chipped manger. They appeared so real I almost felt I'd disrupted an intimate family moment. I stopped, gently touched the well-worn figures, and fell to my knees. This baby Jesus, made of clay, wasn't on center stage. He'd been abandoned to the darkness.
My backdoor encounter compelled me to consider Christmas in a new light. Maybe Jesus didn't come for the show. Perhaps He came for the darkness, to dispel the shadows.
At the foot of a neglected crèche, I began questioning what truly mattered. I wondered why my soul felt empty even though my calendar was full. Do the activities that capture my time, money, energy and devotion come close to what Jesus intended when He gave up a heavenly throne for a bed of straw?
To understand how to celebrate His birth, I returned to the Gospel of Matthew to study His life, priorities and values. It wasn't long before I sensed that my outrageous gift lists and my frenetic activity would fall short of His main concerns.
Trading the list for the light
Throughout His teaching, three concepts took precedence: justice, mercy and faithfulness. While railing against religious excess, He extolled the life of humility, gentleness and compassion. He said the Kingdom of God is filled with those who love and trust like little children. And it's of such high value one should be willing to give up all he has to gain it. Jesus cherished solitude, quiet reflection, contemplation and prayer.
He modeled unconditional love by literally touching people with hands of compassion and healing. He cared for the sick, poor, neglected and the outcasts in His community. He embraced and blessed little children and comforted widows. The King of Kings came to love and to serve.
Sounds good, but how does quiet contemplation work in my crazy "One-Day Sale" world? How do I care about justice, mercy and faithfulness when I'm struggling to survive? How am I supposed to trust simply like a child when I'm overpowered by choices at Toys R Us?
How, in the light of Jesus' priorities, do I live and celebrate Christmas? Are my holidays characterized by the cacophony of the production? Is there something to be said about being the light in dark places?
Though the sounds of pain and brokenness constantly surround us, at the holidays those sounds are amplified. "Merry Christmas" seems hollow and distant if one is hungry, in prison, desperately ill, or when one's only clothes are in shreds. Yet these are the very ones Jesus asks us to love. What would Christmas look like if we took Jesus' priorities of justice, mercy and faithfulness to heart?
It took a small, worn and discarded crèche to remind me of Jesus' priorities. The Old Testament prophet Micah said it best: "Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Leona Bergstrom is director of Re-ignite.net ministry. She and her husband Richard have six grandchildren and live in Seattle. This article first appeared in HomeLife magazine. Learn more about LifeWay's family magazines at LifeWay.com/magazine.
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