Too often, that’s been my response since I became an enlightened Christian. Leave the pagan trees, lighted Santas, twinkling lights, and Walmartites to the materialistic holiday worshipers while the rest of us opt out. Or as much as is culturally possible, anyway.
Oh well, I just remembered. Encouraged by my interior decorator (my wife), I bought a string of 400 lights last week. Got them at Walmart. Obviously. Where else? Elbow to elbow, pushy people, everywhere! It’s modern day Christmas. Tis the season when people get weird…and pushy.
Luke’s version of the Nativity (Luke 2) is the most often read in the Bible. The more I read it the more I realize the first Christmas was kind of odd, too. According to Luke, because of a new tax law passed by Rome, families were crisscrossing the world, returning to their hometown, forced to register for taxation. The tax office was probably brimming because Rome required the Jews to register so the government could extract taxes from them.
The first Christmas happened at a time when you would have thought God to be fed up with fickle humanity. Read the record of history up to the time of Christ’s birth. We would give our allegiance to God one day, and drop Him the next. Yet, for some strange reason, God came down here in this confusion with us. As the story goes, He sends an angel named Gabriel to a teenager named Mary to tell her that she’s been chosen to be part of this new plan. God’s coming to earth and He’s going to use her to get here.
I feel the hectic pace of life in Luke’s description. Reminds me of Walmart shoppers on "Black Friday." This is the mob that lines up in front of the mammoth superstore waiting for them to open their doors at 4 am! They’ll mix it up with all kinds of folks to buy one precious item.
Personally, I like John’s version of the first Christmas. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). To the point—no nonsense—and just the facts. The two words in his statement that grab me are flesh and dwelt. I know what they mean, but just for fun, I looked them up anyway. Here’s what I found: Flesh—the meat of an animal; Dwelt—to occupy or reside with.
Back to Walmart.
For my part, I’ve come to like the oversized market because I can get everything I need under one roof. That was Sam’s plan. But oh! I hate the buggy traffic. (In case you don’t know, some southerners still call shopping carts “buggies.”) There they are, slow, creeping shoppers, hauling a loaf of bread in their buggy as they look. Visiting grannies park in the middle of an aisle while they catch up from their last visit…last Christmas. And to make matters worse, when I’m in a hurry, I’ll run into someone who takes thirty minutes to ask me to pray for their aunt’s, cousin’s, sister’s, brother. If you’re in a hurry, don’t go to Walmart during the Christmas season. I guarantee there’s someone there you know, and they’ll find you. Or bump into you—literally!
I can’t imagine anyone, especially God, wanting to reside among this confused crowd called the “human race.” But then, that’s what makes God…God. He does. He’s crazy about us. This Christmas He’ll listen to us sing “Joy to the world the Lord has come,” and after the song we’ll waddle on and go about our routines without giving Him another thought. Treat Him as we do, He still longs to be with us.
John says He came and “dwelt among us,” hinting that He came to stay. No matter how we regarded Him, He wasn’t leaving. In spite of our inconsistencies, more attracted to yuletide lights than the Light of the world, God came to earth to be near us. Immanuel, “God with us.” The name fits, doesn’t it?
If that’s not enough, John says God didn’t just move near us, He became like us. He left heaven to come here. That’s weird. But God becoming flesh? Come on. It’s one of the ways He proves how much He wants to be with us. He makes Himself real to us. A God, if you will, with "meat." No one can ever say to God, “Pa-leeeeze. Get real!” Because He did. He can point to a Bethlehem manger. And Walmart.
Walmart? Yep. That stampede who bash their buggies against mine and shove each other to grab a good deal, looks a lot like that first Christmas. People galore! Hurrying to wait in line. Buying gifts and paying sales tax. Traveling miles. Praying there’s a vacancy at the local hotel so they can eat at Uncle Fred and Aunt Sarah’s on Christmas day.
The Bible says that God waited for just the right time to come. And of all times, He chose to come to one of the most chaotic places, while everyone was scurrying about in a rage. There was quite a commotion going on in the world when the Babe was born.
Silent Night? Hardly. The way I read the story, it was more shaky than silent. And yet, in the middle of this hurly-burly chaos, God came. Not with judgment, but justice. Not condemning, but consoling. Not pointing-the-finger, but pining with love. The Message captures John’s Christmas best: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Most likely, right beside Walmart.
Christmas. Weird ain’t it?
It may sound bizarre, but I can imagine the Lord patiently waiting in front of Walmart for the door to open at 4 am, looking for that Rollback special—His cherished prize.
He did this in heaven, you know. He waited patiently. Then the Father said, “It’s time.” The Son peeps over the arches of heaven and sees a frenzied mass. Or was that a “mess”? They’re running to and fro. Crying babies. Tired, pregnant ladies. Dads hoping to find a vacancy at the nearest Inn. Hungry-fussy kids. Whew! Gives me the willies! Just like Walmart at Christmas! But God came, right in the middle of it all. And you know what? Immanuel is not leaving. Ever.
God came to be with us. Every one of us. The best of us. The worst of us. Old and young. Fat and skinny. Black, white, and brown. Muslim. Methodist. Buddhist. Baptist. He came to all of us. We call it Christmas.
It’s when God stood in line, mingling, waiting to purchase one precious item. You. It’s you He was after all along. Weird, huh?
You may not realize you are that special. There’s a lot of clamoring that goes on over you. That’s why He waited. You’re just that valuable to Him. Like a true bargain hunter, God pushes through your crowded life, embraces you, cradles you. For Him, you are worth waiting for.
He chooses you and proceeds to check-out, and pay for His long awaited trophy. And pay He does—with His own blood. If that’s not enough, He dwells with us mysteriously by living inside us and promises to be Immanuel in us, forever.
This is the story that lights my life. It puts tingle in my tinsel. The story may sound a little bizarre, but only to those who don't understand how dear they are to God. He’s the insistent patron that stands in line and waits patiently until you open the door of your heart to His love.
During this holy season, some silly people attempt to secularize this sacred time of year into an all-inclusive, politically correct holiday. I wish all of you, but especially them, a great-big “MERRY CHRISMAS!”