What does Christmas mean to you?

So let me ask, what does Christmas mean to you?

I mean, what does Christmas REALLY mean to you?

We all have favorite Christmas images, memories, thoughts and experiences we carry with us and bring out to lovingly and affectionately recall at this time of the year.

But let me ask, is that really what Christmas is all about? Memories? Images? Reminisces? Even traditions?

Many of these things we cherish so much about Christmas require us to emphasize keeping things the way they have always been or making sure we do once again what we did last year or in previous years. Deviation from tradition or “changing” the order of Christmas celebrations, get-togethers and gatherings is not always embraced nor readily accepted.

Yet the reality is, Christmas is all about change. When God orchestrated that First Christmas, God changed everything the world had ever known or accepted as being true. That First Christmas turned everything in the world upside down and topsy-turvy by establishing an entirely new definition of love.

The theme for Middleburg UMC’s Advent/Christmas season this year is “Changing The World” and centers around examining how God did indeed change everything with the First Christmas and how we can both change ourselves and change the world one heart, one soul, one life at a time, with our annual Christmas celebration. Here’s the reality: the birth of that one little baby in a manger in a small, unobtrusive and overlooked village in the Middle East has changed the world ever since like no other single event in the history of the world. The world has never been the same since that First Christmas occurred. Have you ever looked at Christmas that way?

The birth of Jesus and the consequences of that birth have toppled powerful nations like Rome; it has spawned a church and a faith that is the world’s largest; it has prompted wars against evil kings and countries; it has melted iron-hard hearts; it has brought love and mercy to the downtrodden, and the list of the changes this one single birth has produced could fill this magazine 1,000 times over.

Yet those changes would never have come about nor happened if it wasn’t for a handful of very ordinary, very everyday people named Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, and a handful of no-name shepherds. These were individuals whose lives were changed forever by what God asked them to do at that First Christmas. The remarkable truth is they were not exceptional, spectacular people known for their previous great achievements and accomplishments. No, they were everyday, down-to-earth, ordinary folks just like us whom God used to achieve extra-ordinary things.

So often, we tend to over-romanticize, idealize and sentimentalize these individuals. The popular images we have of Mary, for example, show a serene, demure, quiet, modest and reserved individual who is always calmly caring for what appears to be a perfect baby in a quiet, clean manger.

The truth is, that image is anything BUT honest in what actually happened that First Christmas. Mary was barely a teenage girl, since Jewish girls of that time were typically betrothed for a year at age 12 so they could marry when they reached childbearing age 13. Mary was barely a teenage mother and experienced all the fears, the emotions, the roller coaster of doubts and worries that all teenage girls have ever experienced. So often, we neglect to comprehend the truly traumatic experience this birth was for Mary, discovering she was pregnant by no choice of hers, facing the very real threat of being abandoned by her betrothed husband, and even worse, being stoned to death for breaking her betrothal vows and committing adultery. Couple that with the physically demanding 70-mile journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, being forced to have her baby in a dirty animal stable without her mother and other women who could help with the birthing process, and then being forced to flee to a foreign land just to keep herself and her baby alive.

We fail at Christmas to realize the sacrifices Mary made and the life changes she willingly endured just so she could follow God’s will for her and her precious baby. Mary would have been anything BUT serene, calm, cool and collected during this entire time. But her faith in God and her trust in God’s will sustained her and helped her find the courage and strength to continue on this path.

We’ve been using a video series from The Skit Guys called “First Christmas” which portrays these folks in a very personal light. It’s excellent; I highly recommend it and it’s available on the web.

But in the Mary video, the young Mary makes a wonderful statement, which applies not just to Mary but also to all of us. When she talks about the angel giving her the news about being the mother of the Savior/Messiah, Mary says “Was I afraid? Yes, but who was I to tell God that God was wrong in choosing me?”

Who are we to tell God that God is wrong in choosing any of us to help bring needed changes into this world around us which is broken, hurting, directionless and needs changed? The truth is, God is not pleased nor happy with how the world operates, how it mistreats the least, the last, the lost and the lowest; how we have allowed evil, sin and injustice to become part of our normal everyday life; of how we have stood by silently and not gotten involved in combating and fighting against these things.

God used people like Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph and the shepherds to make that First Christmas a reality — and these simple, everyday, next-door-neighbors allowed God to use them to bring about the needed change. If God could use a teenage, unwed mother like Mary to help change the world, what can God do with each of us to bring needed change into the world as well?

We like to complain about things being so bad in the world; especially at this time of the year, we’re very critical of how secularized and commercialized Christmas has become, and we cry out for change and we want to see changes made. Maybe, though, the real changes need to be made within us first. Maybe, the real changes need to be our priorities, our hearts, the way we live and the manner in which we let God use us to first change our life and in the process, to bring meaningful change into the world.

To accomplish this, I don’t expect you’ll get an angel visit this Christmas nor do I expect you’ll have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like Christmas ghost experience. I do expect you will have many opportunities with your Christmas celebrations, gatherings, get-togethers, etc. to honestly look at how you celebrate the First Christmas and what that world-changing event means both for the world but primarily for you personally.

Have a great and glory-filled Christmas.

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