One of my dear friends asked me recently for a Christmas reading that her church could use. Instead of a grand Christmas tea or event, their members are receiving a goodie bag to help them host mini-Christmas parties in their own homes. I think it is a beautiful idea, because it deconstructs the creeping notion that we should leave the gospel to “professional” Christian events and brings it back to the simple, lovely, Body of Christ in action. Hospitality isn’t Martha Stewart, hospitality is love.
At any rate, I was given the great privilege of adding a devotional contribution to their church’s gathering kits, and I thought I’d share it with all of you. Maybe you’ll be hosting a holiday dinner? Maybe you’d like to go a bit deeper? Feel free to use what follows, if you like.
Children notice the most ordinary little things. If you take a child on a walk, for instance, the child will point at every squirrel, every fallen apple, every bright-eyed bird. If you take a child to see Santa, chances are that while you’re trying to point out the man in the bright red suit, the child will bend down to pick up someone else’s broken candy cane. And if you bring a child to a live nativity, the child might just wriggle right up to the manger to take a closer look. “Do you see what I see?” Is it a real baby inside? Is he cold?
Kids have a gift that many of us adults have lost along the way—the gift of wonder. Children are not too busy to pause. They are not too important to listen. And they are not too proud to sing (loudly, and usually off-key.)
But the Christmas season is a perfect time to awaken our sense of wonder. There are candles and wreaths and stars popping up all over, good smells floating from the kitchen, shiny presents piled high. And if you have a childlike soul, you might pause long enough to peek into the manger.
Maybe you remember the old Christmas carol:
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold,
Let us bring Him silver and gold.
Let us bring Him silver and gold.
Sometimes it takes a child to see what’s most important. Like a shepherd boy—who wasn’t too busy or too sophisticated to pay attention. Can’t you picture the shepherd boy in the song instructing the mighty king? “Hey, king—do you know what I know?” Perhaps the king would be too warm and well-fed to be bothered by such a far-fetched tale. But what sort of person would stop and listen?
It’s interesting in the Christmas story to notice which people take the time to pause and pay attention—which people are sufficiently hospitable to welcome an inconvenient visitor. God, searching for someone to embrace and love His Son, skipped over palaces and princesses and sought out a poor peasant girl. The angels, searching for someone to hear the good news, skipped over the busy businessmen and headed for the hills, startling the wits out of a bunch of scrubby shepherds.
Mary and Joseph were more practical. They knocked on the door of professionals—innkeepers who would surely welcome a pregnant girl on the brink of giving birth. Sadly, the very people most suited to offer hospitality, a warm bed, and a hearty meal, turned them away, and Mary gave birth to the King of kings in a cow pen.
I wonder if the innkeeper’s wife made eye contact with Mary. Did she look with pity on that anxious face, or did she see right past her? As the night wore on and Mary went into labor, did the innkeeper’s wife hear a cry across the field? Did she pause with a dishrag in hand to listen?
Do you hear what I hear?
Do you see what I see?
What would you see if you had the eyes of a child this Christmas? Would you notice the kindness of strangers? The gratitude on someone’s face who has very little to be thankful for? Would you see past the grand decorations and notice the ordinary miracle of starry skies or perfect snowflakes?
Would you see with fresh eyes the picture of an infant lying in a manger?
The Christmas story is full of wonder for those of us who take time to really see. God, King of the universe, overflowing with love, so wanted to share that love with us that He sent His only Son, to be born not in a castle but in a lonely cave. A birth so important that it was announced by angels, but so inclusive that the first birth announcement went to the down and out. As we sometimes sing, “All the poor and powerless, all the lost and lonely, all the thieves will come confess, and know that You are holy.”
Beggars and children put us to shame with their wonder, their openness, and their ability to really see. May we this Christmas have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to receive the love that is offered for us in Jesus. May we, unlike the innkeeper, offer hospitality to whomever knocks on our front door, and more importantly, may we offer hospitality to the Lord when He knocks on the door of our hearts.
Joseph also went up… to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem… to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
What are some things that impair your ability to feel a sense of wonder?
What part of the Christmas story has the power to amaze you the most year after year? Is there any part of it that confuses or troubles you?
Whom do you relate to most: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, or the innkeeper? Why?
In what ways do you sense God knocking on your heart today?