Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I'm a gift-giver. I think I got that passed down from my parents, really. I love any excuse I can come up with to give someone a gift--even if it's just a little encouragement. However, when a holiday comes around where I can actually spend the money we saved up throughout the year to give someone else a gift, I really, really get excited! I love to think intently on what each person would want, I love looking over their lists to find the one gift they want that matches what I'd love to get them, I love feeling like giving someone this gift would remind them how much I care about them, I love watching peoples' reactions as they open them, I just love all of it.
This past Saturday night Micah and I spent our date night wrapping up all the gifts for our kids and extended family members. This is a tradition itself! Put on the Christmas music, bring out the wrapping paper and bows, get markers ready to sign the tags (or the wrapping paper as I did not think about getting tags this year), and have fun discussions throughout the evening as we wrap away. This Christmas is going to be especially fun because of the main present we are giving our kiddos. Fortunately they are young enough I can post this on here and they will never know! : ) Micah came up with the idea to design, cut out, and build a beautiful castle for them (and he did an incredible job on it!) and I helped paint it once he had it all put together. Here, take a look...
Isn't it awesome! I can't wait to see the kids' faces when they open it up. They love to play with their kings, queens, princesses, knights, dragons, and soldiers, but they have yet to own a "home" for all of them to play in so this will be a wonderful addition to their playtime. What I love about this gift (beyond that their Daddy made it for them), is that it symbolizes, for me at least, what Christmas is all about. A home that a king came to inhabit. A home that THE KING came to inhabit.
On Sunday, Jay Shetler, our pastor and dear friend at Maple City Chapel, preached a sermon on Christmas that was not your typical Jesus as a cute little baby in the manger sermon. It was about the war around us daily and Jesus' role in that war. How, as a tiny baby, He became much like a secret sleeper agent infiltrating our world in order to win the largest and best victory He could ever win. He talked about the dragon mentioned in Revelation waiting to devourer that precious little baby the moment He was birthed and yet how the angels rallied in battle in order to protect the rightful King and fought the battle alongside Him until that dragon (Satan) was defeated. A dragon, a King, angels in battle, little princes and princesses needing to be saved...I can totally see my kids playing this very story within the walls of the castle their Daddy just made them.
It was a sermon that stirred up a voice inside me that said, "YES!!!! That's my faith! That's the God I serve. That's the story I am a part of! That's the Jesus who saved me! That is what we should be celebrating this Christmas season." Far too often I feel Christmas is downplayed by the quiet little scene of a stable with peaceful animals, a Mary who does NOT look like she just gave birth, and winged angels smiling from the sidelines (trumpets in hand) at a little full-head-of-hair baby boy looking up with a calm smile, while a halo hovers over his head. That scene just doesn't stir up in me a gut-level desire to learn more about this little baby and share it with the world. It just seems too quaint and, well, fake. Part of what annoys me about that scene is that I've been to Bethlehem and the stable was most likely a cave, but that is besides the point. If I had to paint a picture of the scene it would look different.
It would most likely have two worn out people all sweaty and dirty from a massive day's hike and then childbirth on top of it all. They would be curled up together in some dirty blankets trying to get some much needed sleep but fighting the urge to look once again at the baby they just added to their family because it still seemed a bit unreal to them. It would maybe have Mary looking at her first child in wonderment--the kind that says I've known you for 9 months now in my womb, but here you are! You are precious...and I'm so glad you are OUT of me--what a huge relief, that was exhausting! : ) Baby Jesus would be bald and still a bit cone-headed from his big entrance to the world. He may be sleeping with them or he may be making the cooing and grunting noises of a newborn, or maybe he would be nursing from Mary as Joseph tries to console her from the amount of pain she is now in from that first latch on. It would involve animals still, but they would be off to the side caring less that those people were there--they would be eating the straw in their pens or pooping in the hay because that's what animals do. It would show a tremendously bright, intense light around the place that no one could explain. All around people would be seeing this light and wondering what on earth it could be. They would feel a mixture of holy trembling and fear that sent them face-down on the ground as well as a peace in their hearts no one could explain because this was no ordinary light--this was a light that had to be from the heavens.
My imagined scene may still be "common" in those days, but isn't it a little more realistic? Either way, I guess, it still leaves room for ordinary people, Christian people, non-Christian people, Jews and Gentiles, to skip over it and chalk it up for nothing more than another baby being born (maybe besides the intense light). However, as a mom who has gone through natural childbirth three times now, I relate to my version of the picture better and I desire to connect to those people more because they seem like me. And, as I read it, that was Jesus' main goal of becoming human--to become like us.
I was thankful for Jay's sermon on Sunday because it struck a cord within me that reminded me that even though this birth was something I could relate to, this was NO ordinary baby being born. This was the baby who brought (or bought) me the freedom I have been experiencing first-hand in my life over 2000 years later. This was the baby who fought the good fight on the battle grounds to the very end and came up victorious...for me....and for you. This was the baby who, instead of being devoured by a huge dragon, stood up on the unshakable ground of God and fought to the death (and beyond) to bring us hope, peace, joy, and an everlasting home in Glory with Him. That's the Christmas gift He gave us that day. That's the Christmas gift I truly want to give to others. The gift of a story they are a part of...a true story they are a part of...a true story they can relate to...a true story they were meant to know beyond the quiet scene of a manger. The story of an epic battle where two sides were fighting for each one of us and the One who won that victory was first born as a baby in Bethlehem. I'm excited this Christmas because, after all, I am a gift-giver.
Oh, and as far as what I want as a gift most for Christmas this year, well, this pretty much sums it up for me. The chance to make sure this story is told, believed, and embraced by another little baby in this world...
And while we are at it, I'll throw in one of my favorite Christmas songs...it's not a traditional one, go figure! It's also not exactly the video I want with it because the pictures show the exact depiction of the birth of Christ as I mentioned leaves me feeling a little unmoved, but just close your eyes if you need to and listen to the words--those are what's important! : )