And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-11 NIV).
I thrill to the Christmas Season every year. Yes, I like the lights, trees, and time to be with beloved family and dear friends. And I like the presents — both getting and giving! I get caught up in the greenery, travel, and broad smiles. Sure, there is a downside too. I get caught up in the tension and rush.
The thing I truly love about Christmas, however, is the part that seems increasingly to go missing. I love the story of Mary and Joseph. Bethlehem and the manger. Shepherds and Magi. Angels. The infant. God with us!
Stores and ad agencies have stolen the story. Writers have pilfered it. TV specials — as one I saw promoted last night as "great family television" — recast it to "reveal the true meaning of Christmas — families being together!" Humbug!
Precious as they are, Christmas isn't about families. It is about Easter.
No, I haven't confused winter with springtime. I am simply reminding those of us who believe the baby was born to be both Son of Man and Son of God that the "true meaning" of the story does not surface at Bethlehem. Not even on the awful hill named Golgotha — "place of the skull." Only at the empty tomb.
The birth of every healthy infant to a loving family still brings joy and hope. Everything else is suspended for a time as hearts are warmed by love's soft glow. Beautiful face. Fragile form. Warm embrace. Dreams of what can be. From the hearts of believers come both praise and prayers. Love becomes flesh.
The death of every beloved soul still brings sadness and confusion. Only this week, I watched anguish sweep over the face of a young widow. Death is our enemy. It is ugly and unrelenting. Cold. A destroyer of dreams. Even for those who believe life will emerge triumphant, grief and tears overwhelm.
Only resurrection makes sense of things — whether Christ's coming as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world or your life and mine as mixed experiences of joy and sorrow, occasional triumph and too-frequent failure. It is Easter's empty tomb that gives meaning to Christmas then or now.
So rejoice. A child is born in Bethlehem! But remember that the Christmas Story is not about babies, family togetherness, and tender feelings. It is not about crowded airports, new iPads, and overeating. It is about the rescue mission of God come among us. Love for wayward sons and daughters that cannot be conquered. The once-for-all sacrifice for our sin. And life. New and eternal life.
God came to a sinful and suffering world, took all its evils upon himself, and triumphed. In his triumph over sin and death, you and I find our hope.
If you long for heaven's peace, receive its Raised and Glorious Prince.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5-6 NIV).