Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are You Afraid of Christmas?

It sounds like a silly question ... but lately I've been wondering if people are afraid of Christmas.

I started thinking about it yesterday when my wife, who is employed by a local school district, informed me that the principal at her school had issued an edict: "No one will play Christmas carols in the office!"

Yes, he was serious.

Apparently the edict came down from the school district head office. No Christmas carols! Not even a mention of the word "Christmas." This is a winter holiday. School districts and other public entities now live in fear of certain organizations might sue them for not being "politically correct."

She was telling me this as we were driving with my aunt, a 50-year veteran missionary from the Republic of Niger, recently retired, to a major local holiday lights display. Two miles of lights arranged in fantastic displays ... touching on almost every topic and theme you can imagine related to the winter holiday, from Christmas trees and poinsettia, to elves, lots of elves; to Santa shooting gifts out of a cannon, to aliens in flying saucers, to reindeer leaping over cars, to heavy construction equipment building gingerbread houses, and even tanks and military hardware (we live near a major military base).

Almost everything you can imagine ... except the most obvious! At the end of the display, my aunt asked, "So ... where's the manger?"

Miles of Christmas lights, but ... no manger. No Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no magi. No Christ child. Someone is apparently very afraid of Christmas!

This morning, again, I read the real account of Christmas in Luke 2. I am going to repeat portions of it here -- just because I can. (No, I'm not afraid!)

And there were shepherds living 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."

The shepherds were terrified -- and no wonder. The most unusual thing they had ever encountered before, out there in the fields at night, had been the occasional sheep-hungry bear or lion. Scary enough. But an Angel of the Lord, lighting up the heavens? A heavenly host shining forth the glory of God and singing his praises? Probably not in the job description of the average shepherd.

Someone else was terrified, too. Herod, the puppet of Rome, was the ultimate representative of the Powers That Be in that region. The magi told Herod they were looking for the prophesied Messiah, the ruler of Israel, born that very day in his region. Herod too was terrified -- but for a different reason.

The shepherds turned their terror to joy once they realized the implications of the fact that the God of the Universe chose to announce his Good News first and foremost to them. A favorite Christmas carol recounts:

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why these songs of happy cheer?
What great brightness did you see?
What glad tiding did you hear?

Herod, on the other hand, turned his terror to hate. In an attempt to kill the Christ of Christmas, he had all baby boys 2 years or younger murdered by his henchmen.

In a nutshell, these are the two extremes of human response to the fact that God enters human history and is about to do something unimaginably big. Joy ... and hate.

I often find myself asking simple-minded "Why?" questions in response to what I read in Scripture. Here are three:

Why shepherds?

Shepherds occupied the lower echelon of their society. They were the poor, the dispossessed. Why would anyone listen to a shepherd?

But God loves shepherds, and He loves the poor. Shepherds protect sheep, and God loves sheep! King David was a shepherd. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd."

God chose the lowest echelon of society to make his announcement that the King of the Universe had been born -- in an animal stable. Hmmm. His venue? The outskirts of a backwater town. He could have sent the angels to Herod's palace in Jerusalem. Or he could have woken up the entire town of Bethlehem. But he chose the outskirts. Why?

(By the way, did you ever wonder why the commotion in the sky above the shepherds -- which surely should have been visible and/or audible in Jerusalem proper -- didn't attract more attention in the town of Bethlehem? It's amazing to think that all those people simply slept through such a celestial event. But that seems to be the way it goes when God does something truly big -- most people just sleep right through it.)

Why fear?

It makes sense that the shepherds were afraid. But the angel said, "Do not fear." The poor have nothing to fear from God. The Savior was for them. His activity is in their favor. Their fear turned to rejoicing.

But the power structures of this world have much to fear. Because of his hatred, King Herod ended up in a spiral of self-destruction. Who mourned when he died? The world breathed a sigh of relief as Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned from their self-imposed exile in Egypt.

Why joy?

God is for the poor! He identifies with them. Jesus was born in a manger. The angels appeared to shepherds in the field. His Word to them was truly "Good news." It was unto them the Savior was born.

Jesus said he came to preach good news to the poor. The good news is: "Grace is the great leveler of the world's playing field. There's hope. There's forgiveness. There's freedom. I'm here for you!"

World Vision, as a ministry, exists to extend that message of "good news" to the poor. To be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing hope, help, forgiveness, and freedom. We speak to power -- and they're not always happy about it. Those who would exploit the poor to strengthen their own position of power have much to fear from the Gospel. God is against them ... and He is for the poor!

We invite you to "join us in joy" this Christmas! Proclaim it from the rooftops. "God is for the poor!" Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came for us, the poor and broken! Hallelujah!


A.K said...

This message has really touched my heart. As a young beliver for Christ, i am very happy that there are wonderful, loving and caring people out their such as World Vision and the many other sponsorers that wants to make a difference to the needing children. I hope in the early new year (2008)that I can also make a difference, by sponsoring one of those speical children. I've been thinking about sponsoring a child for the past two years, i hope next year is the year that i can make a difference.
-God Bless


Rachael said...

Nice blog post! It makes me mad at the school districts who are afraid of participating in Christmas, which is undeniably part of American culture. But that's another discussion entirely.