This isn’t something new in our culture. Francis of Assisi dealt with this same situation in the 12th century.
“Many people spell Christmas without Christ, the glory of a Holy Day being supplanted by the glitz of a holiday—a problem that reaches back to the days of St. Francis of Assisi.
“Francis was born in 1182 in central Italy, son of a rich merchant. After a scanty education, he joined the army and was captured in war. He came to Christ shortly after his release, and soon he began traveling around the countryside, preaching the gospel. At a February 1209 Mass, Francis was gripped by words being read from Matthew 10: As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff … (NIV).
“Francis felt that Christ Himself was speaking directly to him. He decided to obey those words as literally as possible, preaching the kingdom and possessing nothing. It is as though a 1,200-year bridge were crossed, putting Francis in the shoes of the original wayfaring apostles themselves.
“He spent his remaining days making Christ real to everyone he met—a passion leading to history’s first living nativity scene. On December 24, 1223, Francis found a cave near Greccio, Italy, and brought in animals traditionally associated with the birth of Christ. (Francis loved animals and sometimes even preached to them.) He built the crib, arranged the hay, and finished the scene. Crowds gathered full of curiosity and wonder; and there on Christmas Eve Francis preached the wonder of God made man, born a naked infant and laid in the manger. ‘Behold your God,’ he said, ‘a poor and helpless Child, the ox and donkey beside Him. Your God is of your flesh.’
“Glitz gave way to glory that evening as the people of Greccio learned afresh how to spell the word Christmas.” —From On This Day
This Advent season, let us remember that there is no Christmas without Christ!
I’ve been sharing some quotes from On This Holy Night, which is a great pre-read before Christmas. Here are two passages from Bill Hybels, who wrote a chapter entitled “Seeing The Christmas Scenery.”
“Let God determine the best way to lead you to His Son. The wise men would probably have preferred a more personalized kind of guidance, but the point is they were responsive to the guidance God provided. We should be too, however it comes, through whomever it comes.”
“God chose the stable for His Son to be born in for a very important reason. You see, when God sent His only Son to live on this earth, He made a strategic decision not to shelter Him from the harsh realities of this life. God had no intention of shielding His Son by having Him born into the make-believe world of the rich and famous. God wanted His Son to experience life in its blue-collar boldness. … From day one, God the Father determined not to shelter His Son from the rude, crude realities of life on planet earth. … For our sake, Jesus was given no aristocratic advantage. He had humbler beginnings than any of us. He was born into a real family, and He worked a real construction job. He lived in a neighborhood. He had real friends. He suffered hardship like the rest of us have, and He died a cruel death for a crime He didn’t commit. So when the Bible urges people who are going through disappointment and pain to pour their hearts out to the now-ascended Savior, we Christians can do so with the absolute assurance that Jesus understands. He’s been there.”
I have been listening to an audio production of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The one I’m listening to is a podcast performed by Patrick Horgan (very well done!).
Two things have stood out to me—
(1) The genius of Charles Dickens. Check out this brilliant piece of wit.
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hand shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will, therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
(2) The biblical message which comes through so vividly.
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now begin to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, ringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes in which its light would have conducted me?” (emphasis mine)
We love presenting the message of Christ’s arrival in Bethlehem to our Cedar Springs community.
Once as we were getting things setup around our manger for our annual living nativity, I was carrying a baby doll to the manger for our Mary to hold as the newborn Jesus. A young boy standing nearby innocently asked me, “Who is that?”
I asked him, “Who do you think it is?”
He paused for a moment, and then a smile lit up his face, “Is it baby Santa?!?”
I can understand his confusion! In America today our celebrations of St. Nicholas’ Day and Christ’s Mass have blurred together in a weird mishmash of names and ideas. Here is a wonderful video from Phil Vischer and his What’s In The Bible characters trying to sort this all out.
I’m excited that Calvary Assembly of God has been asked again this year to present our Living Nativity during Cedar Springs’ Christmas tree lighting event. This will take place on Saturday, December 1, at 5pm.
We are need of some helpers:
If you are available to help, please click here to email me.
I’m looking forward to sharing the real Christmas story with our city!
Being the techy guy that I am, I really enjoyed this modern portrayal of the nativity.
Last week I was at the B2B (Business-to-Business) meeting in Cedar Springs. We were talking about events that bring people into the downtown area, like the Spook-tacular, at which we did our Light The Night carnival. The next item on the agenda was the upcoming Mingle With Kris Kringle event.
Out of the blue I was asked, “Hey, do you think you could setup a nativity scene?”
I wanted to say yes, but I was mulling over my response for a second. Someone else offered, “Yeah, just grab a couple of sheep and you’re good to go!”
<POW!> The proverbial light bulb went off, and I immediately said, “Yes! We’d be happy to do that!”
Right away I began texting a bunch of people in our church:
In a matter of just a few moments I got back a whole lot of Yeses. We’re under the gun to get everything done (we have to present this on December 3), but we’re going to make it happen.
Just imagine if I hadn’t been at that meeting … or if I hadn’t got so many yeses … or if I hadn’t wanted to take the risk … none of this may have happened.
I truly believe my steps are ordered by God. He places me in the right place at the right moment. So those moments are God moments where I get to say a wholehearted “Yes!”
When was your last God moment? How did you respond?