Christmas with a Difference

In a world of business and entertainment, the secular world does better in celebration. I don’t need to tell you that this season is the best for business world. Look at the advertisement world—they have capitalized on our Christmas hymns to entertain us. Think of the songs “It Came Upon Midnight Clear,”  “Silent Night and Holy Night” and “Away in a Manger” and many more…. These are the songs you hear everywhere you go. They sound melodious to our ears but what is not clear is the message that they are trying to convey. It is everything but calm no more. It’s Christmas without the little baby in a manger. Are the hymns meant for the business world or for Christians? Why are the churches so empty this season and the streets so filled up? Why can’t we capitalize on those meaningful hymns of Christmas? Why should we make this season just to please our eyes and ears and take on merry making as our focus?
The story of Christmas is buried deep inside the stuffs that keep our Christmas season busy. Look at the disfigured Santa Claus and the funning looking Christmas father taking the center stage during this season. It’s a ho ho ho ho…Christmas. The baby in the manger is no attraction because it remains offensive to the world and they have successfully truncated the essence of Christmas and filled our eyes and mind to what works for them and we simply have accept. Has anyone one seen a meaningful and solemn Christmas carol in the town? I would like to see one other than those carols where neighborhood kids sing jingle bell, jingle bell and go around home to home for donations. The birth narrative with insightful stories has taken the back seat. It’s a birthday celebration without the birthday boy. That is why we get too busy with ourselves.   
Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Oh, sometimes I get turned off when I hear the expression: “it’s that time of the year.” It makes things so casual and predictable. To be busy is taken as usual and to be fulfilling social obligations are part of that “time of the year” and so forth.  It becomes just a hallow phrase as if you want to be the first one to say it to avoid further conversation. It also gives the impression that “that time of the year” is a wearisome and burdensome time. Soon we will find ourselves that it is finally gone. We try hard to live out in the spirit of the season but when it is gone we forget everything and have nothing to hold on to. That’s sad isn’t it?
We don’t need to go far to get the spirit of the season. Lights of different colors are twinkling everywhere. Stars are hanging red in almost all the roof top of the buildings. The streets are getting packed and everyone is saying: “it is going to be busier this year.” Traffics are picking up and the dust too. Soon we will all be receiving greetings and Christmas jokes in your mobile. Perhaps, I will forward one to you too because some of them really gives a good expression, sometimes which is so contextually correct. It is not just about the pork season, annual meeting season, and services that try to resurrect the meaning of the season. It is not just a season to be retelling the story to children. In fact, it is the story to be lived. The meaning of the season is the corner stone of our faith, the touch stone of Christian history, which theologically is term as soteriology (salvation history). That time of the year is about love manifested as John the beloved disciple recorded “And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.”  It is the story of God visiting our planet earth in love. It’s the divine love story for his created being so simple yet so profound. Just imagine, because God loves us he came to us in the form that we could recognize him and speak to us in a language that we could understand so that, we behold him, the one manifested in the flesh, Jesus Christ our savior who became our Emanuel, God with us.
What God did at Christmas, is the crowning reason of our Christmas celebration. He did not come to entertain us, to simply make us wonder of the event and to make us busy neither to make us realize that social obligations are part of life nor to make us feel good in some other way round but to save us from eternal damnation. But this aspect of the truth is often buried deep inside the kind of things we do during this season. What must be done differently is to celebrate our salvation in God. To think of what we can do as an expression of our gratefulness not because we can every repay him for what he did but to show that we are indeed, truly thankful.  And nothing can be more worth giving than giving our heart to him during this Christmas. So what are you thinking about doing differently this Christmas? Are you just in the season and therefore, say “it’s that time of the year?”
What could be the best gift that you can think of? Don’t let the season pass you by without pondering on this question. Those that do well are not those to perform more, give more, and receive more but those who give all because they have received all of God’s love. This will generates in us a genuine reason to celebrate the season with a difference. Without this, no matter how we try to make it different and meaningful there is no other way. The decorations, the presents, the social obligations, the merry making and services (worships) planned for Christmas will just become performances.  It just adds to “that time of the year” phrase. No amount of present we wrap and give out, no amount of sacrifice we make, without God’s love in us it is just a face saving-make you feel good performance. Sounds rude and cruel right? But this is true to its core!
So that time of the year as we often say is about love. How love came down from heaven to earth. How Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Magi all reacted to the news of love. Mary reacted with fear, troubled mind and confusion. Joseph thought seriously about the consequences and thought of the unthinkable. The shepherds were frightened and fearful. The Magi head right to see it. All these reaction make the story of Christmas more appealing because they reacted like any human being would in the kind of situation we find them.
This Christmas I hope you will hear this story afresh, the story of Mary, a virgin, who lived in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. As it goes, an angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus. At first, we were told that Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel's words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, "How will this be?" The angel explained that the child would be God's own Son and, therefore, "nothing is impossible with God." Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior. Mary reflected with wonder on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."  
The story continues. While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, she miraculously became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as foretold to her by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced. He knew the child was not his own, and Mary's apparent unfaithfulness carried a grave social stigma. Joseph not only had the right to divorce Mary, under Jewish law she could be put to death by stoning.
We were told, Joseph's initial reaction was to break the engagement, the appropriate thing for a righteous man to do. He treated Mary with extreme kindness. He did not want to cause her further shame, so he decided to act quietly. But God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to verify Mary's story and reassure him that his marriage to her was God's will. The angel explained that the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that his name would be Jesus and that he was the Messiah, God with us.
When Joseph woke up from his dream, he willingly obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife, in spite of the public humiliation he would face. Perhaps this noble quality is one of the reasons God chose him to be the Messiah's earthly father.
Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the words found in Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."  
At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, and every person in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph, being of the line of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Probably due to the census, the inn was too crowded, and Mary gave birth in a crude stable. She wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger.
This Christmas, listen to the story of the shepherds while they were out in the fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel announced that the Savior had been born in the town of David. Suddenly a great host of heavenly beings appeared with the angels and began singing praises to God. As the angelic beings departed, the shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child.
There they found Mary, Joseph and the baby, in the stable. After their visit, they began to spread the word about this amazing child and everything the angel had said about him. They went on their way still praising and glorifying God. But Mary kept quiet, treasuring their words and pondering them in her heart. It must have been beyond her ability to grasp, that sleeping in her arms—the tender child she had just borne—was the Savior of the world.
The story culminates with the Magi bringing gifts to Jesus. As it goes, after Jesus' birth, Herod was king of Judea. At this time wise men (Magi) from the east saw a star, they came in search, knowing the star signified the birth of the king of the Jews. The wise men came to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and asked where the Christ was to be born. The rulers explained, "In Bethlehem in Judea," referring to Micah 5:2
Herod secretly met with the Magi and asked them to report back after they had found the child. Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship the babe. But secretly Herod was plotting to kill the child.
So the wise men continued to follow the star in search of the new born king and found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem. They bowed and worshipped him, offering treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh. When they left, they did not return to Herod. They had been warned in a dream of his plot to destroy the child.
This story as narrated above in a nutshell is what constitutes the Christmas narrative. It is different from the story the world tells us and wants us to listen and live by it. It is the redemptive story.
As I approach Christmas I ask myself these questions: So how should I celebrate this Christmas, as usual or differently? The usual way seems to be entertaining and it keeps me very occupied. But at the end I find little fulfillment. I sigh and I say—it’s gone again. I find myself doing very well fulfilling the social obligations during this season. But at the end I get tired and exhausted and sometimes burned-out that on the 26th I don’t even feel like listening to Christmas songs anymore. That’s odd. Isn’t it?  I keep myself occupied and seem to be really busy. But I accomplish little or nothing towards the end. And it dawn upon me that this too will pass and I am alarmed if Christmas, the real meaning of Christmas is missed or cornered out making it look like a road show piece.
Why Christmas with a difference? It is simple: to get the spirit of the first Christmas for without it Christmas is never a Christmas! Two thousand years later we as Christians celebrate this event. But today our distress is caused by too much rather than too little. Too much “stuff,” that is. Stuff like business, social and religious bustle can put the No Vacancy sign on our lives. No room for the only One who is the source of peace and joy. This Christmas take down the sign, make room for the Lord Jesus. Say to yourself, I will celebrate this Christmas with a difference.
In The Bleak Midwinter by Christina George Rossetti, Chryle Brynee picked up the last stanza and expounded it meaningfully. And as I think of Christmas it is worth sharing so that we can prepare ourselves for Christmas with at difference. Here is how:
What can I give Him,   poor as I am,
If I were a shepherd I would bring Him a lamb,
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
But what can I give Him? I will give Him my heart.
I will give Him my heart, offer my soul,
With all of my mind, I’ll let Him have full control,
For there's only two things, that I can lay at His feet,
It's my heart and my life, these are my gifts to the King!
So what is your answer, I heard Him say,
If you are willing, then I am able, to show you the way,
So don't worry or wonder, how this love came to be,
 Just believe in forgiveness, through the blood of Calvary!
So just give Him your heart, offer your soul,
With all of your mind, just let Him have full control,
For there's only two things, that you can lay at His feet,
It's your heart and your life, these are your gifts to the King!
I surrender all, I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior,  I surrender all!

Christmas began in the heart of God. It is only complete when it reaches the heart of man (Anonymous)