Column for December 25, 2005
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
When I was a little kid, like all little I guess, I loved Christmas. You got out of school (and it was a nice long break back in those days), you got to eat candy, and best off all, you got presents. What’s not to love? Even when I went off to college, Christmas was still great. I still got the long break from school, still got to eat candy, and still got presents. When I got married, I learned new ways to enjoy the season: now I had someone to buy presents for. Of course, when we first got married, my wife and I were so strapped for money our Christmas “presents” to each other were usually the electrical bill or the rent (same as our birthday and anniversary “presents”), but it was still fun. Then we had kids. And that’s when I learned what my parents had known for years: Christmas is a pain in the butt. There’s never enough time to get everything done. The lights aren’t up (I recently discovered the joys of red and green floodlights), the cards aren’t addressed. The crowds are awful, the traffic is murder, people are pushy and rude, and how the heck am I going to pay for all this? But, in spite of all that, you know what? I still love Christmas. Yeah, it’s hard to see under the layers of tacky storefronts, materialism, greed, political posturing and so forth, but the important lesson of Christmas is still there, if you look hard enough. I also love Christmas music, but I tend to be kind of old-fashioned about my sacred music. My wife loves Contemporary Christian music; I can’t stand it. I really only like hymns that were written decades or centuries before I was born, songs like Amazing Grace, Victory in Jesus, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, How Great Thou Art--that’s what I want to hear. I don’t even really care for modern covers of the classics, though Randy Travis does have a voice that was made for gospel, and I’m not very big on any musical instruments in church besides a piano or an organ, although the little electric guitar combo in my church is amazingly talented. Maybe that’s grandmaw’s Church of Christ rubbing off on me. At any rate, I much prefer the older sacred songs of Christmas (The First Noel, Silent Night, Angels We Have Heard on High) to fluffy commercial stuff like Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I make one exception, though, and that’s The Little Drummer Boy, especially when it’s sung by a choir. Yeah, it’s trite and schmaltzy, but it reminds me of the real, important lesson of Christmas.
The lesson is this: God, all-powerful and all-knowing, created the Universe. He created the Earth and every living thing on, under or above it, and he created humanity. And, like many kids on the day after Christmas, we turned out to be whiny, greedy, spoiled ingrates. One rule He had in the Garden of Eden, just one! Don’t eat the apple, how hard is that to follow? But we blew it. In fact, pretty much the entire Old Testament can be summed up in three words: we blew it. Time after time after time, God rescues His people, and we respond by ignoring Him, defying Him, turning our backs on Him. If any of us had a friend like that, what would we do? If you bought somebody a house, paid all his bills, and otherwise kept him out of trouble, just to have him ignore you, would you keep doing it? Heck, no! But what was God’s response? Did He give up? Did He just wipe the slate clean again and start over with some new more grateful intelligent species? No, He gave us His only child, knowing full well that we would despise Him and eventually torture and murder Him. Who would do something like that? Who would sacrifice everything that was important to them to save a rotten bunch that didn’t deserve it? A parent.
Now, here’s where Christmas and The Little Drummer Boy comes in. You have the Son of God, and how does he come to Earth? As a conquering general like the Maccabees? That’s what the Jews were looking for. You’d expect that the living embodiment of God made manifest would be a king, or at least rich. Instead, He’s born to a poor couple of a conquered race, from a tiny insignificant village, in a remote backwater province at the hind end of the Roman Empire. And He is so poor, his parents are essentially homeless and He’s born in the equivalent of a parking garage. “I am a poor boy, too,” the little drummer boy says. Our Savior comes not as a mighty ruler commanding great armies and great wealth, but delivered up in a stable, the adopted son of a lowly carpenter. That, for me, is the most important lesson of Christmas: the incredible humility of Christ. Knowing all that He knew, consider the spirit of Christ in being born into such humble beginnings, and remaining that way, poor and consorting with sinners, His whole life. Consider the love that God must have for us to send His Son to live in poverty and squalor to give all of us wretched sinners one last undeserved hope for salvation.
I think we could all use a dose of that kind of humility, and not just at Christmas. And in that humble spirit, we should reflect on how greatly we have all been blessed in material wealth and remember those who are poor: the homeless, the downtrodden, the ignored. And remember those who even today are serving us in a humble spirit: the soldiers away from their families in distant and violent lands, the police officers, EMTs and firemen who are working while we’re at home, opening presents. Maybe, instead of worrying so much about “keeping the Christ in Christmas,” we should be more concerned about keeping Christ in our hearts, and living our lives in a Christ-like manner. Merry Christmas to us all. Da ni s ta yo hi hv!