Christmas is over again for another year. All of the presents (for the most part) have been opened, and already, the department stores have long lines in the return department.
I’ve done things a little different this year, and it hasn’t actually occurred intentionally, at least not all of it. Let me explain…
I’ve been behind this year. I’ve been recovering from eye surgery and vision that hasn’t yet been restored and well, it’s gotten me late in many way… Behind on shopping, decorating, baking… preparing. When you mix in, being the pastor of a church and all that involves, let’s just say… well, I’ve been… behind…
Right after Thanksgiving, I had my children bring the Christmas decorations out of our attic. We decorated our tree, and the rest of the boxes just sat there, full of beautiful decorations. A week went by… and then two and I just couldn’t seem to get to it. Finally I asked the girls if they would mind putting the decorations up. After all, Christmas was quickly approaching. One of my daughter’s finally had the courage to say, “Mom, really? What’s the point? We have our tree, and the beautiful nativity… why do we have to put anything else up when we will just take it down in another week?” I looked at the other girls and they all shook their heads in agreement. And at that moment, a huge sigh of relief came upon me!
I quickly said to the girls, “Well, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all week, just take those boxes back up to the attic!” And they did. And I have one beautiful Christmas tree and one amazing nativity. No wreath on my door, no lights on my house, no cute Christmas decorations on my walls. And guess what? I had an amazing Christmas.
About the same day that we returned those boxes back to their spot, I was in the sanctuary of my church. We have a rather large Nativity (life size) there because I have been doing a series during advent about it. As a walked by the nativity, I happened to notice that the manger was empty. Baby Jesus had not yet been placed in the manger because Christmas had not yet arrived.
It caught my eye, and I knew that something was stirring in my heart. I even took out my phone and snapped a picture of it. (see above).
I went into my office and pondered the emptiness of that manger. I’ve been pondering it a lot lately.
It seems the world is happy that Jesus is “out of the picture”. I read a news clip that a town in the US was up in arms that a church wanted to display the Nativity during the town’s annual Christmas Parade. The town council voted, and guess what? Yep, Jesus was not allowed in the parade!
A few years ago, the big news was that department stores would not allow their employees to wish the customers “Merry Christmas” but they needed to say “Happy Holidays”. They didn’t want to “offend” anyone.
Taking Jesus out of Christmas is so strange to me. It’s like not allowing the guest of honor to come to his own birthday party, for fear someone might be offended that he’s there.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting a bit older… or maybe it’s because with losing my eyesight, I’ve taken notice of what’s more important… but for me… I want to live more intentionally. And at Christmas, I think we need to be intentional. We can become so caught up with making sure that all the decorations are “just right”, the yearly cookies are baked, and all the many gifts are purchased, and we may not even give thought to whether or not Jesus is in the Manger.
What has Christmas become? Is it about the gifts? Or the Gift?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to think I’m becoming “Grinch-like” in my character. I LOVE presents. I love giving gifts more than ever… I love this season more than any other.
And yet, I know that I must be intentional about why I’m celebrating, or the focus could become all wrong.
One tradition that we began with our girls when they were little is that before any gift is opened, we read the Christmas Story from Luke 2. We intentional take time to place our focus on the true meaning of our celebration.
In a few days or weeks (depending on your tradition), the tree will come down, the presents put away, and life will return to “normal”… but let’s not take Jesus out of the Manger. Let’s not miss the point that He came, not to just celebrate a holiday, but He came to change lives. He came to be our Savior and Lord. He came to fill our lives with love.
So, I’m challenging myself and inviting you along… let’s be intentional in how we celebrate Christmas… let’s put Jesus back where He belongs… In the manger… in the forefront… as the focus. After all, not putting decorations up is not really a big deal… but taking Jesus out of the Manger… well, that is just not acceptable!