Christmas was a special holiday in my home growing up. One year, after my brother and I went to bed, my mother and father tied clues to the Christmas Tree with strings attached. Each of us had to follow our string all over the house reading new clues stashed here and there until it led us both back into the living room behind the couch. There we found a special gift that my brother and I still cherish. Inevitably, we could barely wait for the wrapping paper that was on yard-long cardboard cylinders to run out. Then, we would have sword fights with the cardboard cylinders. I think we were the kind of young kids that were almost more interested in the boxes in which toys were packaged than in the toys themselves.
Also, when my family gathered for Christmas Dinner, my father, who was also a pastor, took out his well-worn Bible and read part of the Christmas story—from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, if memory serves. You could sum up Christmas in my home in two words: family and faith.
I have since become painfully aware that in many homes, the Christmas season does not evoke fond memories. For many, it recalls scenes of pain and sorrow, including abuse and neglect, even abandonment or death. It may call to mind the awkward attempts to try to relate to parents who are separated by divorce, having Christmas in two places, all the while wondering why things can’t be more like they were, or more as they imagine other families are.
Now as an older adult, I appreciate even more the impact of the story: God comes down into the muck and mire of broken humanity. He humbles Himself to enter the world as a helpless infant. He is born to ordinary parents. His human life is threatened almost immediately by the human powers that could hardly celebrate the rumored birth of a “king.” And all of this is announced to the people least likely to receive a royal announcement to anything, the shepherds.
In Jesus’ time, shepherds had a bad reputation. They were usually unable to leave the flocks to maintain the Hebrew ceremonial law. They were suspected of stealing as they moved about the land. The Jewish Talmud (collection of oral traditions and interpretations) decreed that their testimony was inadmissible in court because they were unreliable. Yet, these particular shepherds were chosen by God to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth. As the angel said to them: “I announce as good news to you a great joy which will be for all the people, because today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, has been born for you in the city of David. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12, my translation and emphasis). I think these guys really got the point: “I announce … to you a great joy which will be for all the people ….”
So, Christmas is a bold statement that the coming of Jesus is meant for “all the people” of God’s world. That means I must both take it very personally, and that also I must not keep it only to myself. It is equally meant for “all the people.”