About 3 years ago, it was the very end of December and I was not in a good place. I was frustrated and honestly I was mad at myself. Our schedule had been out of control and I was worn out. We hadn’t planned well that season and the result was that everything felt stressful. If I’m truthful, Christmas just didn’t feel very meaningful. It wasn’t enjoyable, it wasn’t fun, and it certainly wasn’t Christ-centered. I felt disconnected spiritually and the whole Christmas season just seemed like a grind.
Have you ever had a Christmas season like that?
We can find some hints from the Christmas story in Luke 2 that will help us in this week before Christmas to recapture some of the wonder that we preach about.
Luke 2:17-19 says When they (the shepherds) had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were AMAZED at what the shepherds told them. BUT Mary TREASURED UP all these things and PONDERED THEM in her heart.
Let me back up just a bit in the story. Luke 2:8 says There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night… and an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them… and they were terrified.
In an ordinary moment they had an extraordinary encounter
I think growing up I saw too many Christmas cards. And now I carry around a mental picture of the Christmas story that is a far cry from reality. We have sterilized and sanitized all that surrounded the birth of Jesus. Look at the “nativity scenes” we have sitting out on our tables. Our mental images come closer to a Christmas card than the actual setting.
Take the shepherds for example.
We have glamorized these guys. We have given them long, flowing, colorful robes. We have put perfectly shaped shepherds rods in their hands. Everyone’s beard is perfectly trimmed and of course they are kneeling in a very reverent pose. And, I saw a Christmas card the other day where baby Jesus is smiling and he looks like he is waving at the shepherds.
These guys were just ordinary shepherds. They were blue collar workers. Made just enough money to survive. Rough hands, clothes that were dirty and tattered from a life out in the open fields. And as they came to Jesus, they probably didn’t smell like peppermint.
Here is what I do know… these were ordinary men doing an ordinary job on an ordinary night when they have an extraordinary encounter with God.
There is a great lesson to be learned here. We often look for God in the spectacular, rather than the ordinary.
When I read the gospels, there are very few instances where anybody made an appointment to meet with Jesus. 98% of the stories of Jesus are divine encounters in the course of just living life.
Over this next week as you approach Christmas, put your antenna up and look for divine encounters in your every day life.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them
This is huge. Mary is trying to soak it all in. In the middle of a stable and surrounded by noisy animals, with excited shepherds telling their story, and a newborn that she is trying to take care of, in her soul she creates her own little sanctuary. And for a few moments takes time to treasure and ponder all that is happening. and all who heard it were AMAZED at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Notice that everyone hears the same thing but they have 2 very different responses.
The crowd is IMPRESSED, but Mary is IMPACTED.
The crowd LISTENS, but Mary LINGERS.
I really believe that the richness of your holiday season is directly related to your ability to linger over God-moments.
Lingering helps me to slow down, to savor, to deeply experience. Honestly I’m not very good at this. My default mode is to quickly move back into the world of productivity, tasks, projects, and lists.
Brene Brown, in one of her books shares a story about her daughter Ellie. One day when Ellie was in the first grade, Ellie and her mom spent the day at the park. At one point they were on a paddleboat feeding the ducks. And then Ellie stopped pedaling, leaned her back and closed her eyes.
After a minute or two when Ellie didn’t move from that position, Brene asked “Ellie? Is everything ok?”
“I’m fine mom… I am just making a picture memory. It’s a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy.”
Maybe this Christmas there needs to be some moments when you stop “pedaling” and you lean your head back and you close your eyes and you ponder and treasure.
Let me give you a challenge for these next few days…
DON’T LET YOUR WORK AND MINISTRY OVERSHADOW THE WONDER AND MYSTERY OF THIS SEASON.
It’s not good for you to hoard “things” but it is good for you to hoard “holy moments”.
I believe Mary treasures and ponders the miracle and wonder and beauty of the incarnation. God has come in the flesh.
Down he came from up,
and here from there.
A long leap,
an incandescent fall
to naked, frail, small,
into our chilly night air,
shrunk, in infant grace,
to our damp, cramped
the shivering sheep.
And now, after all,
there he lies,
My prayer for you is that when you get to the end of December that this season would not have just been TOLERABLE, but it would have been TREASURABLE. And you would have a collection of “holy moments” that fill your soul.
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Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. – Acts 20:28-29