Christmas. Much like Buddy the Elf, I have very positive feelings about the holiday. I love the glitz and glitter of this season— magic fills the air and our hearts. The fireplace roars while Bing Crosby serenades us with hopes of a white Christmas. Snow piles high on fences, matched by the whipped cream atop mugs of hot cocoa. As the old carol expresses, “Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.”
Except, judging from my own very small world of past experience, I know that it is neither calm nor bright for many people during the holiday season.
The truth is, some homes will wake up Christmas morning to family members wracked by addictions. Refugees will wake up in camps with little hope in their hearts of ever returning to their own hearth-side chairs. Some people will wake up and wish for the day to pass as quickly as possible, aching for loved ones lost. In many countries people will go to work as usual without the slightest notion that much of the world has pressed pause.
No western, romanticized notion of Christmas morning will bring any real hope for these circumstances. In fact, for much of the hurting, broken world, the day may pass unnoticed, disappointing those who thought the glamor of the season could end their pain.
With this reality in mind, I can’t help but think the first Christmas morning, delivering to us the world’s greatest hope, also passed unnoticed and undecorated. Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother, who was most assuredly rejected by her community. As for his entrance to this world, Jesus was born in the lowliest of places—the stable—his birth only witnessed by a humble, young family and the animals grazing.
Rather than herald the kings who reigned, God chose lowly shepherds to receive the good news first: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). Those shepherds hiked up their robes and ran to bow before Jesus, having waited long enough for the promise of salvation.
All this so beautifully portrays that rather than appear in a perfectly-decorated home to people who already had their holiday lists checked, Jesus came as the lowly, for the lowly. No pretense adorned that first Christmas, only soiled swaddling clothes and the dirty feet of shepherds believing in faith that the tiny Christ child was indeed born to save them from their sins.
Yet we celebrate with elaborate meals, expensive gifts, and, if you are like me, a selfishness to protect our time and comforts of the season. While there is nothing innately wrong to celebrate big (personally, I love to), these fanciful things are not the essence of Christmas.
Christmas is staring the homeless person in the eye, acknowledging his humanity, and feeding him a meal. Christmas is my friend leaving a Jesus film in a small street-side restaurant plagued by spiritual darkness in the middle of a country many couldn’t point out on a map, whose inhabitants barely know what Christmas even means. Christmas is inviting a lonely neighbor in for dinner, even if it’s just for canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Christmas is realizing I am the lowly for whom Christ came.
Christmas started in lowly places and with lowly people, and the story of redemption rises from there.
What if we celebrated not only by decorating, spending money, and posting photos on social media? What if, instead, we found some low places and sat there for a while, like Jesus did?
Christmas is the celebration of Immanuel— God with us in our lowly state. May we also be Immanuel to those who may not know Christmas is for them, not just as a side thought, but specifically. This is no form of Christmas charity, where we deign to give a bit of our excess to the hurting during the holidays. Christmas is for the lowly, and I find myself gladly as one of them, for the lowly are God’s key players, center stage. They have been from the start.