The First Christmas. An Ordinary Day?

For most of us, Christmas is no ordinary day. We prepare for it, we take time off, we meet with family, we play special music. This is no ordinary day. Yet the first Christmas was actually quite ordinary in many ways. It was not marked on anyone’s calendar as being a holiday, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet there was something extraordinary about that first Christmas. Let us consider the many ways Christmas Day points to both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Mary. An Ordinary Woman. An Extraordinary Calling!

Mary was an ordinary young woman, like every other young woman. We don’t know too much about her, but we can assume that she had quite an ordinary childhood. Like other young women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Her life was quite ordinary, until she had an extraordinary calling from God.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Joseph.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT) 26

Joseph. An Ordinary Man. An Extraordinary Family!

Joseph was also quite an ordinary person. He was a descendant of David, but he was also a normal man like any other man. In fact when he learned that Mary was pregnant, he decided to do what any good man would do, he decided to call off the wedding. However, this was no ordinary child Mary was carrying. As it turns out, while Joseph was an ordinary man, he would have an extraordinary family.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

Bethlehem. An Ordinary Town. An Extraordinary Fulfillment!

That first Christmas took place in an ordinary town. Bethlehem at that time was probably no bigger than the small town we live in which only has 2000 or so people. It had a rich history, with King David being from Bethlehem. However, living in Bethlehem would feel no different to the locals than living in a small Canadian town does today. Life there was quite ordinary. But something extraordinary did happen there.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

While being an ordinary town, through the birth of Jesus this town became the site of an extraordinary fulfilment of prophecy.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)

The Shepherds. Ordinary People. An Extraordinary Invitation!

You might think that the birth of a long awaited king would be announced to a long list of important people, like rulers or religious leaders. God chose to announce the birth to quite ordinary people, shepherds working nearby. In doing so, God indicated that ordinary people are important people. They are important to him.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

Jesus. An Ordinary Baby. An Extraordinary Baby!

Jesus himself was quite ordinary in some very important ways. He was a baby like any other. Despite the claim of a favourite carol, he cried like any other baby would. He needed fed like any other baby. He probably kept his parents awake at night, like any other baby! But he was also extraordinary. He was the incarnation of God. He was “Immanuel,” God with us.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-4,14 (NLT) 

Christmas. An Ordinary Day. An Extraordinary Event!

That first Christmas Day was a very ordinary day. It was not marked as special on anyone’s calendar. There were no decorations. There were no Christmas carols. There were no Christmas trees. There were no gifts under the trees. There was no Christmas shopping. It was such an ordinary day, that really the only ones who knew about it were Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and perhaps a few others. The Magi probably didn’t arrive until later. It was actually a very ordinary day with a very ordinary birth.

Yet that first Christmas Day was an extraordinary day. It was a day which would lead to the possibility and opportunity for reconciliation with God. Because of the Son of God, Jesus, who was born on that day, we could become God’s children.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT)

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:10-12

We could go on to speak about how ordinary people would experience the extraordinary teaching, miracles, and presence of Jesus. We could speak of his crucifixion, unfortunately an all too ordinary event in that time and place. We could speak of God’s extraordinary love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we may feel like we are far far extraordinary people, we can experience that extraordinary love.

My family and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Shortbread for Christmas on a Journey of Grief.

If there was ever something consistent about a Dixon Christmas, it was shortbread and “stale cookies.” They were not actually stale, for with me around there was never opportunity for them to get stale. They were custard creme cookies, which a cousin of mine did not realize were supposed to be soft and crumbly, hence the new name based on his opinion of them! Whatever name they went by, they were consistently at happy Christmas festivities. Until recently.

My Mum presided over a shortbread and stale cookie factory every year until her memory started to fade. Stale cookies, being more involved to make, stopped making their appearance first. But then shortbread, which didn’t normally wait for Christmas, also stopped. I can’t remember the last time I had my Mum’s shortbread. Sometimes you don’t know when you are experiencing something for the last time.

All that being said, I just had a piece of shortbread with my morning coffee. It was the same melt-in-your-mouth kind of shortbread my Mum always made. This time we made it. We used the same recipe, read from the same book, using the same weigh scales, which have been in the family longer than I have, and used the same pan, which in typical Mum fashion, is an odd size. It worked out okay. My Dad’s allotment did not see the next sunrise. Even Mum said it was good! We will have Mum’s shortbread this Christmas. It will not be the same. But it will be good. This is how journeys of grief go. When we lose, or are losing, a loved one, whether suddenly or slowly, we must realize that things will never be same. But they can be good.

For all the talk of Christmas traditions, Christmas has actually seen a lot of change over the years. The Magi did not come bearing gifts of shortbread and stale cookies. Although with the journey involved, any cookies they did bring would have been truly stale. Many Christmas traditions are quite recent and have very little to do with that very first Christmas. What has been consistent, is the recognition that God did an amazing thing when he stepped into our world as a baby. As much as we might like to keep things from changing, this baby changes everything, for the better!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NRSV)

Whether celebrated when life seems stable or in upheaval, the birth of this baby is worth celebrating. The pace of change in our lives and in society may be dizzying. The kinds of change that come may be worrying. Change will come. Grief will be part of life, even during Christmas. Because of Jesus, we can know it will all be good again.

My Family and I wish you every Christmas Blessing.

Giving Thanks When We Are Broken

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was grateful. Even when I turned around to see our eldest son bailing out furiously, I was grateful. We had just launched our recently acquired sailboat and I was about to go sailing for the first time in over a decade. The launch went well enough with neither the van, nor the boat-trailer being lost at sea. But I didn’t expect to return from the parking lot to see my son sinking! Nevertheless, I was grateful. The problem turned out to be an open self-bailer, which evidently does not work while sitting at dock. But even if it had been a leak, I would still have been grateful.

I was grateful. Second sail, with the self-bailer closed, and this time with another son on board as crew. It was very gusty and my son was very gutsy to come along. The strongest gusts were such that with both of us “hiking out” to the windward side, the boat was sometimes heeled over with the opposite deck going for a swim. It was an exciting sail, especially so when a piece of the deck ripped apart from the force of the wind pulling on a stay, a wire that keeps the mast secured to the boat. We managed to get back to dock without the mast falling over or the deck ripping further. Despite the fail, I was grateful.

The boat first showed up on a lawn in Grafton with a For Sale sign. In my mind that was a For Sail sign and I just had to enquire. “I think my husband wants $150”. That couldn’t be right, it seemed to be the complete package with boat, sails, rigging, and trailer all there and almost ready to sail. So I called the husband when I got home. “$100 or a case of beer.” Not knowing the price of a case of beer I showed up the next day with $100. I was grateful to have the promise of sailing again at such a bargain. I would have taken the boat home that day but the trailer was missing some important parts. So we had to rent a trailer to get the trailer and boat home. With some new parts and some effort the trailer was roadworthy, and the boat seaworthy, again. I was grateful. Now that the boat is no longer seaworthy, I am still grateful.

“ . . . give thanks in all circumstances . . .” Even when you may seem to be sinking and falling apart. Though our boat needs repairs, gratitude is easy to come by, for it can be fixed and is still worth much more than what we have put into it. Gratitude is easy when we focus on the big picture.

As Christians, gratitude can still happen in the midst of brokenness when we focus on the big picture. We see God’s amazing grace, we see the free gift of eternal life; “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. We see the promise of what is yet to come; “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18.

“ . . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We might think this as a difficult command imposed on us, that we must muster up some gratitude even as we are sinking and falling apart. However, we can miss the fact that God’s will is to give us so much to be grateful for. Back to the big picture! There is nothing broken in our lives that cannot and will not be fixed. Though winter may be approaching and the boat may be broken, there is great sailing ahead.

Wishing you a Happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)