I was asked to deliver a Christmas message to families shopping at a Christmas store. Our church collects Christmas gifts for children of all ages, and the parents who are involved with one of our partners get to come in and shop for presents for their kids. The event usually opens with some holiday songs and a message about Christmas. As one of the event organizers, I have seen many messages delivered by many people. Some of those messages blew me away with how good they were. I was beyond honored to be asked to do this. Once I accepted, I remembered all those previous messages and got so anxious about it. It took me days to finally remind myself to pray. God is faithful, and he will give me the needed message. I calmed down, chided myself, and wrote the following.
I thought giving a Christmas message was going to be so easy. Instead, I struggled. I worried that I would bore the pants off everyone. I worried that I wouldn’t adequately express the beauty of the Christmas story. After doing that for several days, I finally got smart and began praying about it. I don’t know why that isn’t my first step every time. It’s something we should all be doing right? First, seek God?
Seeking is what the Christmas story is all about. The Old Testament told us to be on the lookout for the birth of Jesus 800 years before his birth. Micah 5:2 tells us that an insignificant town will no longer be that because, from Bethlehem, a ruler over Israel will come. Isaiah 7:14 tells us that we will know which baby is God’s because he will be born of a virgin, and he will be called Immanuel or God with us. Hosea 11:1 states that God loved his son and called him out of Egypt. The Israelites and teachers of the law knew they were supposed to be on the lookout or seeking the birth of this child.
We know that everything about how this story unfolded is difficult. It starts with a young, virgin woman engaged to a fine, upstanding young man. She is visited by an Angel and told that she has conceived a child of God. Joseph, who could have lost his mind about her infidelity and had her publicly punished, was going to take the high road and quietly let her off the hook while he moved on. But then he was visited by an Angel who told him to marry Mary and name the baby, who was God’s Son, Jesus. People were the same then as they are now, so I think I am safe to say that Mary & Joseph were the subject of a lot of gossip and probably more than a bit of rudeness. But these two followed through and married each other. But as the birth was imminent, God had them leave their town and go to Bethlehem for a census count where the birth of his son occurred in the most humble of circumstances.
The religious leaders of the day were supposed to be on the lookout for this event. Despite there being no 24-hour news channels and no social media, stories spread quickly, and no doubt a woman and her husband claiming they were virgins but had a baby would have been one of those. Each town had religious leaders who were trained to know the Scriptures I just said. But those leaders were expecting something grand. They weren’t seeking something as modest as a baby born in a stable. They weren’t seeking, they were expecting.
A friend recently reminded me that God used angels to announce the birth of his son to the lowest of the low. Being a shepherd was not a job with prestige or money. Not only did these guys work overnights, but they also spent all their time in the fields with the sheep. God could have told anyone that the savior of the world was born. But he chose the powerless over the powerful. He didn’t do it quietly either, the sky was filled with singing angels. It was a spectacle. It’s no wonder those shepherds immediately went to seek out this family. When they got there, they told everyone they saw their story of the angelic announcement. Luke tells us that all who heard their story were amazed. Even when they returned to their fields, they continued honoring and praising God.
Shepherds weren’t the only ones seeking this baby. The wise men from the east were and King Herod was as well. We know the wise men followed the star to Bethlehem to see this son of God and gave him gifts. But they were also sent on a mission by Herod to find this child and report back to him. We all know that Herod did not have the savior of the people in mind when he was looking for this child. He saw the son of God as a threat to his own power. But his fear fulfilled the prophecy that this child would end up in Egypt before coming back to start his ministry.
Not much has changed. Seeking God is what we are all still doing. People all over the world, regardless of religion, are still looking for the one who is in control. One who loves us and wants what is best for us. One who loves us even when we mess up. Or one who patiently waits for us to seek his wisdom instead of worrying, We know some people may not be outright evil but are looking for God for the wrong reasons. These are people who are looking to enhance their own status or pockets. Maybe they are trying to tell God what he should do for them, instead of listening and doing what he wants. In all those questions and worries we aren’t really seeking answers. We are seeking hope. We want to see that there is hope for the world and for people.
I think we can all acknowledge that the last year and a half of this pandemic has been hard in different ways. We can see the evidence of our shared trauma in how people are treating each other. Obviously, violent crime is setting records in our city. But it’s the micro-aggressions that happen each day at work, the store, and events. It’s in the lack of patience or politeness. I believe that this season, this year, is asking us to seek hope more often. We go to prayer and ask God to provide us with grace and love for others. We ask that for each of our neighbors and community leaders. We should all ask God to give hope to so many who feel hopeless during this time of year. We should all ask God to help us be that hope. Whatever your prayers may be or who they may be for, I pray that you leave here today with joyful interactions. That you see there are so many people who you haven’t met that care about you and that you continue to seek.
Today is the day that we commit to being the person we are praying for. That today we choose to be patient and gracious. When we leave here let’s be the people who show love and kindness to others each day. Let’s provide joy for others and gratitude to God for showing us the way.