The Quiet Gift – Christmas Eve 2016

Mary Places Jesus in a Manger
Mary Places Jesus in a Manger. From “The Boys of the Bible,” by Hartwell James, published by Henry Altemus Company, 1905, 1916 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I read somewhere that in December of 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground and into the air at Kitty Hawk. Thrilled over the accomplishment, they telegraphed a message to their sister Katherine.  They didn’t have texts and email then.  They said, “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news—for the first time in human history, man had actually flown!

Christmas can be like that for us. Many people around the world celebrate Christmas.  But what do they celebrate?  Black Friday?  Cyber Monday?  Are the ads for a bigger and better than the one you are watching part of the message?  Do the Newspapers stuffed with ads for toys for adults and children contain the news?  Is it in the 24 hour-a-day Santa movies that are shown on some channels.  Or do the Blockbuster movie premieres proclaim the real meaning?

As a culture we like big and flashy.  We want the news of an event heralded with the fireworks of a super bowl half-time show.  But God didn’t herald his gift that way.  He quietly gave us the most important gift of all time.

The story of that quiet gift actually starts thousands of years before Christ was born

God created Adam and Eve – but they chose to disobey.  Later God called Abraham and used him to build a great nation.  But that nation ended up in slavery in Egypt.  So God sent Moses to rescue them.  And Moses led the people of God out into the desert.  God promised to make them his people.  They promised to follow and obey him.  But over and over again they chose to disregard God and go their own way.

But really the problem is much bigger than just Israel and its relationship to God.  There was  a problem affecting all of mankind.

The problem was that in those days the world was bound by darkness and sin.  There was cruelty and hate.  Neighbor went to war against neighbor.  The strong dominated the weak and the rich oppressed the poor.  And no one seemed to know that God cared!  Even the religious leaders of the time, the ones who should have spoken for God, were more interested in building their wealth and gaining political power than truly representing God.

But, if we are honest, we have to admit that the world is still held in bondage.  It is still in darkness.  And if I’m really honest, I have to admit that my own heart often reflects the darkness and sin around me.  And so I recognize that this world still needs God’s gift; I need God’s gift.  And that is what is so wonderful.  It is not a something that is cemented in history—good for 2000 years ago but having no significance for today.  God’s gift weaves through history.  It’s like a melody that dances in and out, through the movements of a symphony.  It’s there, ready to be taken into the heart and sung by anyone who hears it.

God Announces the coming Gift

So God devised a plan to send his son as a light into that darkness, and then announced that plan through his prophets.  And when the people heard the plan, they began to wait—the people of God were waiting for God’s plan to be instituted, and the gift to be given.  They were Waiting for the coming Messiah.

And they waited.

700 years later God announced his plan again.  But this time he announces it to the young woman who would play a central role in that plan. The future mother of Jesus may have only been thirteen or fourteen years old—that’s when girls in that culture got engaged—so imagine Mary’s surprise when the angel tells her that she is going to get pregnant with God’s child.  And without the benefits of marriage, husband, or honeymoon!

Mary might have been nervous.  She probably was scared.  But hear her response: “May it be to me as you have said.”  She responds with faith.  At this point Mary doesn’t know the full content of God’s plan, or what it will mean for her.  She only knows that she has been cast for a major role, and she is willing to accept her part.

Mary was invited to enter into God’s plan, and she said, “Yes,” which started a scary, exciting, joyous, painful, amazing journey.  And that’s what God does.  He invites us to join him and become a part of his plan for this world.

Another nine months pass.  The baby is born!  The promise is fulfilled—Oh there is much more that needs to happen.  But the Christ child is born.  God is a living breathing human being.

There is a Christmas song that starts, “O Little Town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!  Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.”  To most of the world there was nothing special about that night.  Even those close to the town of Bethlehem knew nothing about the events that were about to unfold.  It would be only after an angel had announced them to shepherds who were in nearby fields that anyone in the vicinity would even be aware that something had happened.

Even to Mary and Joseph it would have been difficult to see the miraculous in the events.  Certainly any birth is a miracle, but Mary and Joseph had traveled long and hard to reach Bethlehem.  And then, the only place that they could find for Mary’s baby to be born was a stable.  Not miraculous surroundings.

Yet, even though no one could see that a miracle was about to happen, God was at work bringing about the plans he had set in motion centuries before.  Of course, God had spoken about what would happen through the prophets; and the people had the words of the prophets written in scripture.  And Mary and Joseph had heard God’s plan from the angels.  They had been told that something miraculous was about to happen.  But to the naked eye there was nothing special about that night—the night when God did the most miraculous thing imaginable: he became a man.

And if that night looked like any other, then isn’t it possible that God is “up to something” right now, and we are not even aware of it?  We have God’s promises in scripture.  We know God’s love for us.  We know that because of his great love he is continually working to accomplish his purposes and bring about his kingdom.  So, we must recognize that every moment is pregnant with the possibility of the miraculous!  We must allow Christmas to remind us that regardless of our circumstances, we are to live expecting God to amaze us.

Invitation to Accept the Quiet Gift

We have a Nativity scene set up on our library table.  The people and animals are ceramic figurines painted in muted colors.  There is also a wooden shed.  Gathered around the manger are Mary and Joseph, the angel, the shepherds, the wise men, a donkey, a cow, and a sheep.  We arrange them so that they are all facing the baby Jesus.  It all looks so peaceful.

As I saw that scene this morning an image came to mind.  It was like one of those shots in a movie where they start close in, and then the camera moves away, showing more and more of the surroundings.  I imagined the shot pulling back to show the surrounding town of Bethlehem, then the Judean countryside, as the shot continues to pull back we see the teeming city of Jerusalem, then the population centers around the Mediterranean: Egypt with its pyramids, Athens of Greece with its long history of philosophy and thought, Rome, the center of the empire, with its colosseums and magnificent temples.  The shot continues to pull back until we see the entire earth.

What I realized this morning is, that handful of people gathered around the manger are the only ones paying any attention.  They are the only ones that know that the quiet gift has been given, that the child has come, and God’s plan for mankind is being fulfilled.  The rest of the world is oblivious.

Often people think that becoming a Christian means following a long list of dos and don’ts.  Or they think it means believing all the right things and making sure you don’t believe the wrong ones.  But God, cuts through all of that and invites us to see the silent gift and join the Christmas story—an amazing story that stretches from the very beginning of time through the manger and through the cross to the end of time.  In some sense he invites us to join a revolution; to live in the light instead of darkness.  He invites us to join a ragamuffin band of people who have gathered around the manger and said, “Yes,” to his invitation.  A band of people who want his quiet gift of love and who will share it with the world.

If you enjoyed this post you might like my website of Christmas Meditations.  Click Here to be taken there.

Copyright 2016 byRob Devens

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